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« Reply #12225 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:03 AM »

N.Ireland Leader Accuses Blair over Amnesty Letters

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 15:58

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson accused former British prime minister Tony Blair on Friday of deliberately deceiving politicians in the province over an amnesty scheme for fugitive IRA suspects.

In an emergency debate at the devolved assembly in Belfast, Robinson vented his anger over official letters sent to fugitives assuring them that they would not face prosecution for crimes alleged during Northern Ireland's violent past.

Robinson had threatened to quit on Wednesday over the letters after one of them caused a high-profile trial to collapse, but withdrew his threat after Prime Minister David Cameron announced a judge-led inquiry.

During a heated debate on Friday, Robinson said Blair had deliberately omitted to mention the letters scheme in correspondence with the former leader of his Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ian Paisley.

"The answer that there were no plans to legislate and no amnesty would be introduced was a deliberate deception, a deception by omission," Robinson told lawmakers.

The DUP draws its support from the Protestant community that wants Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom, as opposed to the Catholic republicans who want to join Ireland.

Both sides fought a bloody conflict over three decades before signing peace accords in 1998, which paved the way for the current power-sharing executive between the DUP and the republican Sinn Fein.

But the question of how to deal with the past remains contentious, particularly the issue of whether those responsible for more than 3,000 unsolved murders should still be pursued.

Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister and a member of Sinn Fein, accused Robinson of whipping up the letters row for political ends and said the scheme was common knowledge.

He said the threat to resign, which could have brought down the whole administration, was "irresponsible" and condemned the emergency assembly debate as "political posturing".

Sinn Fein insists that the letters scheme did not amount to an amnesty, simply a recognition of those cases where there was no evidence to prosecute.

The row erupted on Tuesday following the collapse of the trial of John Downey, a suspect in the 1982 IRA bombing in London's Hyde Park that killed four British soldiers.

The judge dismissed the case because of an official letter Downey received while on the run in 2007, which stated that he would not face charges if he returned to the UK.

Cameron has said the letter was a "dreadful mistake" and promised the inquiry would look into why it was sent, whether it was the only error, and how the scheme operated.

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« Reply #12226 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:05 AM »

Basque Group ETA Vows to Put Arsenal 'out of Use'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 11:47

The Basque group ETA announced Saturday it would put its arsenal of weapons "under seal" and "out of operational use", in a move towards a historic disarmament by western Europe's last major violent separatist movement.

In a statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara, dated February 24, the ETA confirmed an earlier announcement by international monitors that the group had begun giving up its arms.

The separatist group said the gesture would create a climate of "security" in the Basque Country and clear the way for a solution dealing with "all the consequences of the political conflict."

The ETA appeared to be referring to the imprisonment of its members in French and Spanish prisons. The group has long sought the transfer of these prisoners closer to home as a condition for negotiating its disbandment.

A commission monitoring a ceasefire in ETA's decades-long campaign on February 21 released a video of black-masked members of the group presenting to monitors revolvers, a rifle, bullets and explosives.

"The commission has verified that ETA has sealed and put beyond operational use a specified quantity of arms, ammunition and explosives," the body's spokesman, Ram Manikkalingam, told reporters in the Spanish Basque city of Bilbao.

"The commission is confident that this step is significant and credible. We believe that it will lead to the putting beyond operational use of all ETA's arms, ammunition and explosives," the Sri Lankan spokesman said.

Spain's conservative government shrugged off the move by ETA, which is classed as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

It does not recognize Manikkalingam and his International Verification Commission.

"We do not need these international verifiers," said Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

Spanish media derided the move as a "farce" and said the cache surrendered was ludicrously small.

"The quantity of arms, I think, is partly the result of the fact that they had to do this under clandestine conditions, so I don't think it's insignificant at all," said Manikkalingam.

ETA is blamed for the deaths of 829 people in a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France.

The Spanish and French governments refuse to negotiate with ETA, which has been weakened over recent years by the arrests of its senior leaders in the two countries.

Only about 30 of its active members are thought to be still at large.

In October 2011 it announced a "definitive end to armed activity" but refused to formally disarm and disband.

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« Reply #12227 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:20 AM »

Home ownership in Greece 'a sick joke' as property market collapses

Greece has suffered the second biggest property crash in the EU since the debt crisis began

Helena Smith in Athens, Friday 28 February 2014 18.07 GMT    

There is constant motion on the second floor of 24 Kanari Street. At the Athens office of Remax, Greece's largest property company, clients come and go, agents slip in and out and brokers pace the corridors barking into mobile phones.

For Christos Vergos, it means a frenetic work schedule of 12-hour days and a client base that is ever growing.

"At all hours, people call in wanting to sell or wanting to rent or wanting to expand because places now are so much cheaper," says the estate agent in a conference room overlooking Kolonaki Square.

In a market that has hit rock bottom in the maelstrom of Greece's financial meltdown, basement flats are selling for as little as €5,000 (£4,150) in the less salubrious parts of Athens. On the isle of Mykonos, cash-strapped Greek celebrities have been selling luxury villas for a song.

But Vergos prefers to focus on another figure. "Last year, there were just 3,600 sales in all of Athens – I repeat, all of Athens."

Greece's social and economic crash is reflected in its property slump. Data released by Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, earlier this month showed that the country had suffered the second steepest decline in house prices after Croatia, the bloc's newest member.

Since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis four years ago, property values nationwide have dropped by around 32%, according to the Bank of Greece; estate agents contacted by the Guardian estimated the decline at nearer 50%.

"At their peak, in 2005, in the euphoria of the Olympic Games, there were 250,000 sales in Athens," said the property analyst Christos Bletas. "The lack of interest displayed last year, partly because of the incredible rise in property taxes, hasn't been experienced since the second world war."

Owners may be desperate to offload, but in a climate of pervasive uncertainty there are few who want to buy.

With over a third of households unable to meet tax obligations, four out of 10 Greeks recently told a Kapa Research poll they would willingly hand over properties to the state to fulfil future payments; one in three, unable to keep up mortgage repayments, feared their homes would be confiscated in 2014.

The situation, says Bletas, is so dire that home ownership – at nearly 87% the highest in the EU – has become cause for black humour. "The joke now doing the rounds is: if you want to punish your child, you threaten to pass on property to them," he said. "Greeks traditionally have always regarded property as a secure investment. But now it has become a huge millstone, given that the tax burden has increased sevenfold in the past two years alone."

At no time has there been such a glut of property on the market, according to the Hellenic Property Federation (Pomida), which reckons more than 500,000 property owners want to sell. Across Greece, about 300,000 residences are believed to be empty.

"For northern Europeans who want to buy a holiday home or a plot to develop for business, it's a golden opportunity," says Stratos Paravias, Pomida's president. "The tax burden is not so big when you have one property; it is when [like most Greeks] you have two or more."

With about 500 properties on his books, Manolis Akalestos, who runs the Scopas estate agency on the island of Paros, confirms that view. In the past year he has been deluged with requests for holiday homes from foreigners, many encouraged by the drop in prices and a new law granting non-EU citizens residence permits.

"In 2013, I had my best year yet, with 90% of all sales being made to people overseas," he said. "Before, property prices were incredibly inflated because every Greek was able to get a cheap loan after our entry into the eurozone," he explained. "And foreigners took a step back. Now that prices have calmed down and returned to natural levels, they are coming back with a vengeance."

With the market's stagnation also being blamed for the lack of liquidity in Greece, politicians across the board are quietly hoping that non-Greeks will help save the day.

"In Crete, where I am from, a lot of investment went into housing for foreigners, and it was the first to collapse," said Giorgos Stathakis, the shadow development minister for the radical left main opposition Syriza party. "Foreigners stopped buying, or started selling off their houses, when the crisis began in 2010.

"We are in a very peculiar situation where prices are falling but the market isn't moving. If the recession eases in Europe, and foreigners start to return, it would be part of the solution to one of Greece's biggest problems."

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« Reply #12228 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:23 AM »

Rome spared bankruptcy as Italy approves €500m rescue

Matteo Renzi government's last-minute cash injection comes after earlier deal to plug €816m budget hole was scrapped

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 28 February 2014 18.44 GMT      

Decadent and in decline, its beauty imperilled by physical and moral decay, the Rome portrayed in Paolo Sorrentino's film La Grande Bellezza could end up giving Italy a yearned-for win at the Oscars on Sunday night. But off-screen and far from the glitz of Hollywood, the financial troubles of the eternal city – and the daily trials of its long-suffering residents – are no cause for celebration.

On Friday, at the end of a week which saw the spectre of bankruptcy loom large over the ancient capital, the Italian government said it had approved a last-minute decree that would give an urgently-needed injection of funds to the city, thus staving off imminent disaster.

While not detailing the new plans, cabinet undersecretary Graziano Delrio said the sum to be transferred to the municipality "remains the same" – around €500m – as had been envisaged under a previous decree ditched earlier in the week by the government.

Nicknamed "Save Rome", that decree had become so bogged down in a verbose and venomous parliamentary process that Matteo Renzi's new administration withdrew it and said it would find a new way of helping the Rome authorities plug an €816m hole in their budget.

The decision prompted thinly-veiled hilarity among some in the opposition, with one MP for the rightwing, regionalist Northern League suggesting the best thing for the city would be a takeover by a special commissioner in the mould of hated emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned. But on the Capitoline hill, where mayor Ignazio Marino is based, the decision sparked rage. In a furious outburst, the transplant surgeon-turned-centre-left politician said the capital risked a shutdown of public services as soon as next week if a replacement decree was not passed immediately.

Making it clear he would resign rather than implement swingeing cuts and mass lay-offs, he even said that plans for the canonisations of popes John Paul II and John XXIII in April would be put at risk if a transfer of funds was not guaranteed.

"I promised Pope Francis, in a personal meeting with him, that I would take care to prepare everything," Marino was quoted as saying.

"If there aren't the conditions in which to do so, I will tell the government that there aren't the conditions in which I can be mayor."

His comments set him on a collision course with Renzi, Italy's new prime minister. On the front of Friday's Corriere della Sera, the two Democratic Party politicians were depicted as Romulus and Remus suckling on the she-wolf of Rome's founding myth. "There is no more latte [milk]!" says the unhappy mayor of Rome. "There is no more Letta!" replies Renzi – a reference to his recently-ousted predecessor. "And I am from Florence!"

The new decree appeared enough to ease tensions between the two men, but it will take a lot more to soothe the many dissatisfied citizens of the Italian capital who are indignant following years of parlous finances and bad government.

"You want to bring the city to a standstill and have not realised that the city is already at a standstill," wrote one commentator, Rome-born Marco Sarti, in an open letter to the mayor published on news site Linkiesta in which he cited the capital's potholed roads, its "embarrassing" underground rail network and its general air of "degradation and filth".

Il Messaggero, the Rome-based daily newspaper, joined in the chorus of complaint, presenting a picture gallery, "somewhere between neo-realism and the aesthetic of pain", of what it said were postcards showing contemporary Rome's decline: damaged roads, debt-laden transport body Atac, an opera house that just this week flirted with industrial action, and pigs rifling through overflowing rubbish on the streets.

Marino, who was elected last year following the harshly criticised term in office of centre-right politician Gianni Alemanno, has insisted his administration was saddled with huge financial problems but is making progress nonetheless. He has turned the road around the Colosseum into a partially-pedestrianised area and has closed a highly controversial landfill site.


Matteo Renzi has to break Italy from its past

Italy needs audacious investment in education and infrastructure if it is to embrace the generational change it needs

Ashoka Mody, Saturday 1 March 2014 10.00 GMT      

The brash, 39-year-old Matteo Renzi is Italy's third unelected prime minister since November 2011. Mario Monti lasted 13 months, and his successor, Enrico Letta, resigned two weeks ago after less than a year in office. The generational leadership change is an opportunity. But can Italy break from its past?

Short-lived Italian governments are the norm. The unending political drama reflects the competition for power and resources amid entrenched economic malaise. Chronically unable to put their economic house in order, Italian elites are again thrashing around for a solution, this time at the risk of losing democratic legitimacy.

The simple statistic is that Italian public debt is 132% of GDP – and rising. The International Monetary Fund projects that the debt ratio could start falling if the government undertakes heroic belt-tightening. That means a primary budget surplus (not accounting for interest payments) rising to 5% of GDP, and possibly staying near that high level for years beyond.

Such extraordinary levels of persistent austerity can fray the political fabric. They can also be economically disastrous.

Austerity is to be accompanied by the elixir of structural reforms to spur growth. Even if these reforms materialise, economist Gauti Eggertsson warns that things get worse before they get better. The decline in prices needed to regain competitiveness will cause the debt burden to rise and demand to fall. Anaemic growth and deflationary conditions will follow relentlessly, and the already distressed banks could be pushed into seizure. In January 2014, annual inflation was down to 0.6% from 2.4% a year earlier.

Italy has lived on the edge for four decades. Earlier on, the option existed of inflating the debt away and devaluing the exchange rate to regain a foothold in global markets. The Italian lira underwent repeated devaluations between 1973 and 1976, and the devaluation in 1992 brought the euro's precursor, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, to its knees.

The euro was expected to bring new discipline. It demanded discipline because it closed the traditional vents of inflation and exchange rate depreciation. The euro – which failed to garner support in two European national referendums, and would have failed in others – enjoyed support among Italians weary of their irresponsible leaders.

But, introduced in January 1999, the euro did not help. Any early signs of a new resolve vanished as the swift fall in interest rates eased the pressure.

An October 2001 IMF assessment of Italy concluded: "Growth has disappointed over the past decade … and major fiscal challenges remain." The report spoke of deep-rooted structural problems and "difficult choices in streamlining public spending". Over the succeeding years, nothing changed. The IMF's annual reports predictably repeated the same messages, to no avail. Those admonitions continue to carry an eerie relevance today.

The presumption is that the looming threat of disaster will finally summon the political will and the economic patience to endure the grim years ahead, while Italy's bondholders are kept at bay by the European central bank's outright monetary transactions programme. But is Italy up to the challenge?

The American scientist and author Jared Diamond has warned that crises do not always lead to renewal. Exhausted societies cannot summon the energy to respond to a new crisis. Italy is stuck producing goods that can be made more cheaply in countries where wages are low. In the OECD's 2012 Programme of International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading, Italian students lagged behind their counterparts in advanced countries. Research and development have fallen woefully behind.

It is possible that Italy will thread the eye of the needle. But it is easier to foresee scenarios in which Italian growth and inflation are even weaker than now projected, and debt ratios keep rising. At what point do bondholders gratefully take the ECB's offer to repay them? If the legality of that offer is then in question – or because the ECB's purchases are "effectively limited" – things could get ugly.

The policy choice is straightforward – to stay the course and keep fingers crossed or to take bolder action now to prevent future catastrophe.

Italy can no longer tinker. A true generational change, one that harnesses aspirational energy for a brighter future, requires audacious investment in education and infrastructure. This must be paid for by new budget priorities and, importantly, by negotiating longer, Uruguay-style terms of repayment with creditors. That bargain is in everyone's interests, and is needed to keep Italy in the eurozone.

As Letta left office, he sorrowfully remarked to his associates: "It's true: Italy breaks your heart." The stakes are high. Italy may break more than that.

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« Reply #12229 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:24 AM »

Turkey Passes Law to Shut Schools Run by Erdogan Arch-Rival

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 13:36

Turkey's parliament has passed a bill to close down thousands of private schools, many of which are run by an influential Muslim cleric embroiled in a bitter feud with the government.

The move is the latest blow struck in a rivalry between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gulen which has seen the Turkish government entangled in a graft scandal and shaken to its core.

In a late-night session on Friday, lawmakers in the 550-seat house voted 226 for and 22 against the bill which sets September 1, 2015 as the deadline to shut down the network of schools.

Around 4,000 private schools in Turkey are run by Gulen, and provide a major source of income for his Hizmet (Service) movement, which describes itself as a global, social and cultural movement inspired by Islamic ideals.

Tensions have long simmered between Erdogan and Gulen, who once worked hand-in-hand as the conservative pro-business middle class rose at the expense of the military and former secular elite.

But they reached breaking point in November when government first floated the idea of shutting down the schools, which aim to help students prepare for high school and university.

Erdogan said at the time he wanted to abolish an "illegal" and unfair education system which he charged turned children into "competition horses".

"Those who benefit from these courses are the kids of rich families in big cities," said the Turkish premier, who himself hails from humble roots and has tried to burnish an image as a man of the people during his term in office.

In mid-December dozens of Erdogan's allies were detained in police raids on allegations of bribery in construction projects, gold smuggling and illicit dealings with Iran.

Erdogan accused so-called Gulenists implanted in Turkey's police and judiciary of instigating the corruption probe in a bid to undermine his government ahead of local elections in March and presidential elections in August.

He retaliated by sacking hundreds of police and prosecutors believed to be linked to the movement run by Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

A Turkish court on Friday released the last five suspects detained in the corruption probe, including the sons of two former ministers.

However the corruption crisis, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a cabinet shake-up, has posed the most serious challenge to Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government since it came to power in 2002.

The controversy has widened to implicate Erdogan himself, after recordings were leaked online last week in which the premier can allegedly be heard discussing hiding large sums of cash and conspiring to extort a bribe from a business associate.

The government has said the phone recordings are "fabricated".

Government has also accused Gulenists of wiretapping thousands of influential people -- including the prime minister, the spy chief and journalists.

At an election rally on Saturday, Erdogan blamed Gulen loyalists for "espionage" and "blackmail" and threatened that they would pay a "heavy price".

"Confidential and strategic conversations are being wiretapped," he said.

Observers say the schools law is the latest move by the government to strike back at Gulen's Hizmet network.

Hizmet risks losing millions of dollars in revenue once the Turkish establishments, which offer education to supplement normal schooling, are closed down.

Erdogan's government has also recently pushed through legislation tightening state control over the Internet and the judiciary, generating criticism at home and abroad and raising questions about the state of democracy in Turkey.

Gulen, who has been living in the United States since 1999 to escape charges of plotting against the secular state by the then-government, has denied any involvement in the corruption probe.

The Hizmet movement also runs some 500 private schools around the world.

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« Reply #12230 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:30 AM »

Bomb attack on Pakistani police guarding polio team

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 11 officers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province

Associated Press, Peshawar, Saturday 1 March 2014 13.03 GMT   

Two bombs, detonated minutes apart, struck tribal police assigned to guard polio workers in north-west Pakistan on Saturday, killing 11, police said. The first struck an escort vehicle in the Lashora village of Jamrud tribal region in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Police official Nawabzada Khan said another roadside bomb struck a convoy of tribal police officers dispatched to transport victims of the first attack. He said gunmen also opened fire on officers, triggering a shoot-out. A government administrator Nasir Khan said they had launched a massive hunt in effort to trace and arrest the attackers. He confirmed 11 deaths and 12 injuries.No one claimed responsibility for the two separate bombings, but anti-polio teams or their guards have frequently been targeted in Pakistan by Islamic militants, who say the campaigns are a tool for spying and claim the vaccine makes boys sterile.

Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries where polio persists. In most cases the disease is found in the northwest, where militants make it difficult to reach children for vaccination.

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« Reply #12231 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:32 AM »

Foreign domestic workers across Asia rise up over exploitation

Migrant workers across the continent are treated as second class citizens, but now women are organising and speaking out

Tania Branigan, Friday 28 February 2014 20.00 GMT      

On a dark, damp Sunday afternoon, hundreds of women are massed in a city park. Hong Kong's domestic workers have few places to meet on their only day off; many have huddled under flyovers to stay dry as they chat to friends. But this group is grinning as they brave the downpour. Some are barefoot in the puddles as they dance in plastic raincoats, twisting left to right and raising their hands to the heavens.

"Women united will never be divided! Migrants united will never be divided!" chant women in hijab, dipping and turning alongside others in hot pants.

"With this kind of solidarity, people can be heard," said Eni Lestari, chair of the International Migrant Workers Alliance, as she surveyed the rally. "More and more people are speaking out. But in terms of conditions, it's not getting better."

The numbers of foreign domestic helpers, overwhelmingly female, have soared across the Asia-Pacific region. In 1992, Hong Kong had slightly more than 100,000; now there are three times as many. Malaysia has 125,000; in Thailand, 88,000 were registered in 2010. But the true numbers are thought to be far higher for all three. The Filipino and Indonesian diaspora have been joined by Burmese, Nepalese and Cambodian workers.

But the flow of migrants, and their growing voice, has far outpaced their progress in winning protections. Reports of exploitation by employers and agencies are rife; rights are limited. While Singapore recently introduced a statutory weekly day off, campaigners say it is not being adequately enforced and employers can legally avoid granting it by increasing pay. Migrants in Taiwan have been fighting for the same right, without success.

The One Billion Rising event in Hong Kong – one of many worldwide demanding an end to violence against women – had a particular resonance for the domestic workers who organised and participated in it. Recent allegations of abuse have spurred a fresh push for improved conditions and rights.

In September, a judge jailed a couple who had tortured and beaten their maid with a bicycle chain. Last month, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih returned home to Indonesia with extensive injuries and reportedly weighing less than four stone (25kg). Her employer has since been charged with wounding, common assault and criminal intimidation.

Lestari, who is from Indonesia, knows from experience how vulnerable and isolated workers can be. She said her first employers did not give her a single day off in four months; paid her only half her promised wages; insisted she eat pork despite her being Muslim; and banned her from talking to people outside the house.

"I didn't know where the consulate was; I didn't know the immigration department; my passport was kept by the agency. I ran away and an NGO helped me to find shelter," she said.

First she learned about her rights; then she shared her new knowledge with others. As an Indonesian worker, she credits Filipino women – who came to Hong Kong earlier – for helping teach later arrivals how to organise.

Social media ensures that information spreads fast, particularly since domestic workers are unusually dependent on their mobile phones for communication with the outside world. Improved awareness of their rights enables them to challenge unfair treatment.

But "our problem is not simply bad employers, but bad policies", Lestari said.

Domestic workers' organisations, and the new HK Helpers campaign supporting them, are seeking to end abuses by agencies who charge fees of as much as HKD$21,000 (£1,620) and confiscate workers' documents. The legal maximum is around HKD$400.

They also want maximum working hours legislation and an end to the "two-week rule" – giving workers just a fortnight to leave Hong Kong when their employment ends – and the insistence they live with their employer. Those regulations, say activists, make it harder to leave an abusive situation – especially if helpers have large debts to repay to the agency that placed them.

But even when workers speak out, officials in home and host countries turn a blind eye to problems because of migration's economic benefits, said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific migrant rights researcher for Amnesty International. "Authorities disregard them because they are not voters and have no right to abode." Domestic workers are specifically excluded from legislation allowing foreign nationals to gain permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years. A legal challenge to their exclusion was rejected by the special autonomous region's highest court last year.

Mark Daly, the barrister who represented the workers in court, said the case brought to the surface "the divide between those believing in a multicultural society based on respect and dignity and those believing that you can have second-class citizens … Regrettably, Hong Kong society is slow to change attitudes and I think the HKSAR government is disappointing in this respect."

Joseph Law, founder of the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, accused foreign critics of failing to understand local conditions and of seeing themselves as saviours. He said he was angered by the focus being on claims of violence and insisted problems were "individual and isolated". However, in a 2012 survey of 3,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, 58% reported verbal abuse, 18% physical and 6% sexual.

Law's association rejects limits on the numbers of foreign domestic workers, but also objects to them being given permanent residence. "They might want to work in other places and live separately. Domestic workers are what we need," he said.

Lestari said it was time for Hong Kong to recognise the true contribution made by helpers.

"We free up family members to contribute to development. Fifty percent of our income goes here: food, clothing, transport, phone bills. We enrich Hong Kong culture because we have brought our culture and helped make it a vibrant international city. But they are boxing us in," she said. "It's not only discrimination – it's social exclusion."

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« Reply #12232 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:34 AM »

Mass Grave Found in Sri Lanka ahead of U.N. Rights Meet

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 12:42

Another unmarked mass grave has been found in Sri Lanka's former war zone, police said Saturday, as Colombo braced for a U.S.-led censure resolution at the U.N. rights forum next week.

A family on Friday stumbled upon nine bodies buried in the garden of their home in the district of Mullaitivu, where the final battles of the island's protracted ethnic war were fought in May 2009, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.

"Remains of nine people had been found so far and the skeletal remains were taken for analysis by the judicial medical officer in the area," Rohana told reporters.

The latest discovery came ahead of a U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session starting Monday in Geneva where Sri Lanka faces the third U.S.-led resolution in as many years criticizing Colombo for its alleged failure to probe war crimes.

Last month, the Public Interest Advocacy Center in Australia accused Sri Lankan authorities of exhuming mass graves and destroying evidence of civilian killings, a charge denied by Colombo.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has said he is committed to ensuring investigations into any allegations of wrongdoing by his security forces and challenged his accusers to provide evidence.

The military on Saturday denied it had anything to do with the latest mass grave found in the former conflict area and said the victims could be civilians or conscripted combatants killed by the Tigers themselves.

"Some interested parties are attempting to portray this as evidence of an incident for which the government and security forces should be held responsible," military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said in a statement.

He said there was no "factual basis" to point a finger at government forces.

"The LTTE (Tamil Tigers) unhesitatingly killed any individual or group of people that attempted to defy their orders," Wanigasooriya said. "The skeletal remains found recently near a former LTTE-held area could very well be such dead buried secretly."

The latest discovery also comes days after officials raised the number of bodies found in December in an unmarked mass grave in the adjoining district of Mannar to 80.

It was the first grave uncovered in the ex-war zone since troops defeated Tamil rebels nearly five years ago, following a decades-long conflict over demands for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils.

The final battles between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels were fought in the Mullaitivu district which was a stronghold of the separatist guerrillas for over two decades.

The United Nations estimates the ethnic war between 1972 and 2009 in Sri Lanka claimed at least 100,000 lives.

Last year, construction workers stumbled on another mass grave in central Sri Lanka, hundreds of kilometres from the conflict zone.

At least 154 people were found in Matale district, the scene of an anti-government uprising between 1987 and 1990 unrelated to the Tamil separatist conflict.

Remains from that grave have been sent to China for further tests.

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« Reply #12233 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:36 AM »

S. Korea Warns Japan of 'Isolation' over War Sex Slavery Review

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 March 2014, 08:36

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Saturday warned Japan would face isolation if it pushed ahead with a move to revisit an apology over wartime sex slavery.

Her warning, in a speech marking the anniversary of a 1919 anti-Japanese uprising, coincided with the opening of a rare exhibition on "comfort women" in Seoul, a euphemism for women who were forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is moving to reconsider a 1995 apology for comfort women, putting further stress on the already frayed ties between the two neighbors.

"Historical truth is in testimony from the survivors. Japan would only bring isolation on itself if it turns a deaf ear to their testimony and sweeps it under the rug for political benefits", she said.

Park called on Japan to follow Germany in repenting its past wrongs so that the two countries can put bitter memories behind them and "move forward for a new era of cooperation, peace and prosperity".

"I hope Japan extricates itself from denial of history and starts making a new history of truth and reconciliation", she said.

Hundreds of protesters were killed in a 1919 crackdown on widespread demonstrations by Koreans who were rallying for independence from Japan, which occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The politically-charged issue of comfort women has stoked regional tensions, with South Korea and China insisting that Japan must face up to its World War II-era sexual enslavement of women from across occupied Asia.

- Artworks by survivors -

On display at the exhibition at the History Museum in Seoul were comics featuring the plight of comfort women as well as artworks by survivors.

The display included a diary kept by an operator of a World War II Japanese military brothel, which South Korea says is a material evidence to prove coercion in the sex slavery.

The comics made their debut at an international comic book festival in France last month, sparking a protest from Japanese ambassador to France Yoichi Suzuki.

In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 Korean women, a statement issued in the name of Japan's then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of women into sex slavery.

It offered "sincere apologies and remorse" to the women and vowed to face the historical facts squarely.

But repeated wavering on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.

In remarks in 2007 that triggered a regionwide uproar, Abe in his first term as prime minister said there was no evidence that Japan directly forced women to work as sex slaves.

Last week Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told parliament that the government "would like to consider" setting up a verification team with academics who would look again at the women's accounts.

Tomiichi Murayama, who issued the apology when he was prime minister, said Thursday that the revision of the landmark apology would not serve the country's interests.

Respected historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels.

However, a minority of right-wing Japanese insist there was no official involvement by the state or the military and say the women were common prostitutes.

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« Reply #12234 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:38 AM »

U.S. Says North Korea's Scud Launch Violated UN. Resolutions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 19:45

North Korea's launch of Scud missiles violated U.N. resolutions barring the firing of ballistic missiles, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The Defense Department initially said that the missile launch on Thursday was legal, but now says that was incorrect.

"Yesterday, I erroneously noted that these resolutions allow for North Korea to fire short range Scud missiles. That is not the case," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said in a statement.

U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 prohibit North Korea "from launching any ballistic missile, and this includes any Scud missile," he said.

The resolutions were adopted unanimously by the Security Council in 2006 and 2009 after nuclear tests carried out by Pyongyang.

The firing of the four short-range missiles off the east coast of North Korea coincided with U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.

Analysts said Pyongyang used the missile launch to convey its anger over the drills, which overlapped with the end of the first reunion in more than three years of families divided by the Korean War.

The Pentagon spokesman said the United States closely such monitors missile tests and called on the North to "refrain from actions that aggravate tensions and instead come into compliance with its international obligations and commitments."

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« Reply #12235 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:40 AM »

Uganda Accuses World Bank of Blackmail over anti-Gay Law

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 19:38

Uganda accused the World Bank of blackmail Friday after the lender stalled a $90 million loan over the east African nation's adoption of a draconian anti-gay law.

"World Bank is a multi-lateral institution that should not blackmail its members however small," government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said on Twitter.

The World Bank announced on Thursday that it was blocking the loan, which was intended to help Uganda strengthen its health care system.

Earlier this week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed off on one of the world's toughest anti-gay laws despite warnings from his Western allies.

Museveni capped his defense of the law -- which could see homosexuals jailed for life and requires people to denounce them -- with a lurid description of his particular revulsion to oral sex.

"We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law," a World Bank spokesman said.

Opondo argued in another tweet that "this so-called 'cut' is attempted blackmail to set Ugandans against their government."

Museveni has been in power for 28 years, a record in East Africa.

The move follows action by Norway and Denmark to freeze or change aid programs for Uganda and blunt criticism from the United States and Sweden.

US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the new law as akin to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa.

But Opondo replied by accusing the West of attempting to impose its values on Africans.

"Why does the West criminalize polygamy but allow homosexuality if indeed they are defending (freedom of association)," he said.

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« Reply #12236 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:47 AM »

Hamas Chases Protesters From Gaza-Israel Border

FEB. 28, 2014

JABALIYA, Gaza — Each Friday, Salah al-Najjar, 17, has made his way east of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, where he lives, to hurl rocks at the Israeli forces stationed along the fence that separates Gaza from Israel.

This Friday he was fully prepared to be one of the dozens of young men and teenagers who are regularly overcome by tear gas or even wounded by Israeli Army fire, the means used by the Israeli forces to disperse the protesters and push them back from the border fence. But he came away with a different kind of injury: a bruise on his left elbow caused by a Hamas police officer who beat him with a stick.

“I come here to resist the Israeli occupation, because I love my homeland,” Salah said, sitting in an ambulance as a paramedic applied a bag of ice to his elbow. He stopped talking when Hamas officers approached, before he could comment on his treatment at their hands.

The weekly clashes along the fence began a few months ago as Palestinians began to test the limits of a buffer zone imposed by the Israelis. Local activists said the demonstrations were meant to protest the Israeli closing of border crossings from the Palestinian coastal enclave and other Israeli actions, like firing at Palestinian farmers who get too close to the fence, or fishermen who go beyond the fishing zone permitted by Israel.

Israel withdrew all its forces and Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005, but it maintains strict control of the borders, along with the Egyptian military in the south. The Israeli military says its forces act to prevent infiltrations into Israel and attacks by Palestinian militants. Israeli patrols have often been the target of bombs laid along the border. In October, the Israelis discovered a mile-long tunnel packed with explosives that led from Gaza into Israel.

For weeks, Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza, had more or less ignored the fence protests, neither encouraging them nor preventing them. Adnan Abu Amer, a Gaza-based analyst, said that while Hamas does not believe in unarmed resistance, it does not have many alternatives to offer the people of Gaza, because it is committed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Israel.

“Hamas has limited choices in confrontation with Israel,” Mr. Abu Amer said, “so it studies the scenarios and considers what is least harmful.”

But the protests turned deadly. Since the beginning of the year two Palestinians have been killed and more than 60 wounded by Israeli fire during the Friday confrontations in the buffer zone, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. The episodes have further destabilized the already fragile 15-month cease-fire that brought an end to eight days of fierce cross-border fighting in November 2012.

So this week Hamas deployed police officers and security forces armed with guns and batons to prevent the demonstrators from approaching the fence. Riding in pickup trucks, they chased off young demonstrators, playing cat and mouse with groups of them along the bumpy paths through the fields leading to the border area. They beat off the vendors selling iced drinks and nuts to the protesters. The Hamas forces closest to the border were careful to carry only clubs, not guns, to avoid provoking the Israeli soldiers who were feet away on the other side.

“We did not want the youths to reach advanced points along the fence, in order to protect their lives,” Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said in an interview on Friday. “We told people who call for these protests not to risk the lives of the participants, especially because dozens are wounded each Friday and some were killed.”

Mr. Shahwan denied reports in the local news media that Egypt had passed a message to Hamas from Israel, urging the Islamic group to curb the gatherings.

Deaths of Palestinians along the border have set off chains of events like retaliatory rocket fire by Gaza militants into southern Israel and subsequent Israeli airstrikes destroying facilities belonging to Hamas other militant groups in Gaza, undermining the cease-fire.

“There is a malfunction with the cease-fire agreement today,” Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, said in an interview this week. Israel, he said, “shoots at people near the border, attacks fishermen and keeps the siege in place.”

Muhammad Ziada and two friends were walking between the fields on Friday in an attempt to reach the fence. They said they had come to clash with the Israeli forces in response to a call by a grass-roots Gaza group, the Intifada Youth Coalition. After a Hamas patrol spotted them being interviewed by a reporter, they ran away.

One teenager managed to bypass the Hamas forces and reached the fence. The Israelis promptly fired, wounding him in the leg.

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« Reply #12237 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:49 AM »

Isabel Allende chosen as first woman to lead Chile's senate

Daughter of Salvador Allende, ousted as president by Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup, hopes role will inspire other women

Associated Press in Santiago, Friday 28 February 2014 18.14 GMT   

The daughter of deposed Chilean president Salvador Allende will become the first woman to lead the country's senate.

MPs of president-elect Michelle Bachelet's New Majority party chose Isabel Allende as their leader on Thursday. She takes up her new post on 11 March after Bachelet's swearing-in.

Allende said she hoped her role would help other women to enter politics. She added that she was proud to hold the same post that her father held between 1966 and 1969.

Salvador Allende, who in 1970 became the first Marxist president elected in the Americas, killed himself rather than surrender to coup plotters led by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973. The military coup launched a bloody 17-year dictatorship.

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« Reply #12238 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:52 AM »

Fear and Hope in Cuba over Venezuela Protests

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 21:31

Weeks of protests in ally Venezuela are reviving the concerns of many Cubans dependent on the largesse of the socialist Caracas government while buoying the opposition on the communist island.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is facing his biggest test since succeeding the late Hugo Chavez last year in a narrowly won election, with near-daily demonstrations against his administration leaving 17 people dead since early February.

His Cuban counterpart Raul Castro has described the nationwide unrest in Venezuela -- Havana's prime political and economic partner -- as "complex" and assured his "full support for the Chavismo movement, the Bolivarian Revolution and Comrade Nicolas Maduro."

Cubans do not enjoy open access to unfettered information about the unrest in Venezuela because of restrictions on the media at home, but enough news has filtered through to have many of them worried about the impact it might have on them economically.

The nightmare of the "special period," a time of terrible shortages that followed the fall of the Soviet empire, another key Cuban ally, in the 1990s, is still fresh in the memory of many Cubans.

"Things are bad again," sighed retiree Maria, 59, watching television footage of Maduro proclaiming the student and opposition protests against him were part of a "fascist plot" to bring him down.

Maria receives daily messages from her concerned children in Spain asking how Cubans are reacting to what is happening in Venezuela, which is by far Cuba's number one economic partner, accounting for 40 percent of the island's foreign trade.

It supplies Cuba with 100,000 barrels of oil a day at preferential terms, providing half its energy needs. It is also the top client for services exported by Havana.

Rosa Alina Gomez, 64, a road sweeper, is also concerned, especially for the 40,000 Cuban doctors and health care professionals working in Venezuela's dilapidated healthcare sector.

"It could do much harm to Cuba and other Latin American countries because Maduro's government helps a lot of people," said Gomez, dragging her broom across the cobblestones of old Havana.

Not everyone shares her concerns.

Yamile Portuondo, 45, a social worker, has a daughter working as a laboratory assistant in Venezuela, where students again clashed with security forces on Thursday when about 200 demonstrators tried to block a highway in Caracas. Security forces responded with tear gas.

Students and the opposition have hit the streets of the capital and other cities denouncing rampant street crime and protesting over shortages of basic goods and inflation, as well as against the government's crackdown on demonstrators.

"Nothing will happen and Maduro will get the situation under control," said Portuondo confidently.

Some see the Venezuela unrest as a sign of hope, however.

Yoani Sanchez is a prominent Cuban opposition blogger.

Thanks to Venezuelan Telesur television, she says, widely broadcast in Cuba since last year, Cubans have finally been able to hear the voice of Venezuela's defiant opposition.

It is not clear why Cuba has allowed the channel to be broadcast there.

"For the first time Cuba has heard the Venezuelan opposition thanks to Telesur. Bravo!" tweeted Sanchez, 37.

"Will we one day hear the Cuban opposition too?"


Hero's Welcome for Cuban Spy Freed from U.S. Prison

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 22:04

A Cuban spy who spent more than 15 years in prison in the United States returned home Friday to a hero's welcome, Cuban state television proclaimed in a triumphant broadcast.

Fernando Gonzalez was released Thursday from a maximum-security prison in Arizona and then deported to Cuba.

Gonzalez was one of the "Cuban Five" -- intelligence agents convicted in a U.S. spy case that for years has been a major thorn in U.S.-Cuban relations.

Cuban television broke into its regular programming to announce his arrival.

"The hero of the Republic of Cuba and anti-terrorist fighter, Fernando Gonzalez, arrived at midday today in our country after completing a long and unjust sentence," declared the announcer.

Gonzalez and the other four were part of a ring that infiltrated the Key West Naval Air Station and Cuban exile groups in Miami.

They were arrested in September 1998 after they were linked to the shooting-down of two private aircraft by Cuban fighter jets.

Four members of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue were killed in the 1996 attack.

Gonzalez was found guilty and sentenced in 2001 for not registering as a foreign agent and for possessing false identity papers.

He was the second member of the group to be released, following Rene Gonzalez, who left prison after completing his sentence in October 2011. Rene, who is not related to Fernando, has since returned to Cuba.

The other three are serving life sentences in the United States.

Cuba has acknowledged that the five were its agents but says they were spying on exiles to prevent terrorist attacks.

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« Reply #12239 on: Mar 01, 2014, 08:54 AM »

Venezuela Seeks Brazil Support for Unasur Meeting on Unrest

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 February 2014, 20:30

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on Friday said his government has Brazil's support for a meeting of the South American Unasur group to discuss instability in his country.

Denouncing the protests that have swept Venezuela since February 4, leaving at least 17 dead, Jaua said Brazil had reacted positively to his call for a Unasur meeting.

"From here we shall leave for Surinam to formalize ... a request for a Unasur meeting to discuss this attack on democracy in Venezuela," Jaua said.

Suriname currently holds the regional alliance's rotating presidency.

Washington has criticized Caracas for arrests of anti-government demonstrators but Jaua said the protests were a plot by rightwing groups seeking to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.

Jaua, on a swing through the region, held talks late Thursday on arrival from Uruguay with Brazilian counterpart Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.

Brazilian diplomatic sources made no mention of a potential meeting of the regional body.

Jaua, meanwhile, ruled out Caracas hosting Russian military bases on Venezuelan soil as he addressed comments attributed to Russia's defense minister earlier this week that Moscow hoped to increase its military presence abroad.

The Ria Novosti news agency said Venezuela was one of three Latin American countries, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, being considered.

But Jaua ruled out the idea.

"On constitutional grounds we cannot allow foreign military bases to be set up in our country," he told reporters in Brasilia.

The issue is a sensitive one in Latin America where a U.S.-Colombian security agreement giving U.S. forces access to bases in Colombia caused a storm several years ago.

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