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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 392544 times)
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« Reply #12600 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:39 AM »

Breaking With the West, Afghan Leader Supports Russia’s Annexation of Crimea

By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
MARCH 23, 2014
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan this weekend joined Syria and Venezuela and became the newest member of a select club of nations: those that have publicly backed the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” the office of President Hamid Karzai said, “we respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.”

To the casual observer, becoming the first Western-backed democracy to express support for the widely denounced referendum in Crimea might seem an odd tack for Afghanistan, which is heavily dependent on assistance from the United States and European countries. Those nations wholeheartedly condemned the Russian takeover of Crimea, and were unlikely to be supportive of Mr. Karzai’s decision.

But Russia’s insistence that it is righting a historical wrong in retaking Crimea, which was ceded to Ukraine by Soviet authorities in 1954, resonates in Afghanistan. Here, many believe that the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, were unjustly cut off from their brothers and sisters when Britain laid down a border to separate Afghanistan from imperial possessions in South Asia.

Most of the world recognized the frontier, known as the Durand Line, as the international border when Pakistan became independent in 1947. But Afghanistan did not, and it still lays claim to much of northwestern Pakistan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said that the Russian annexation of Crimea was a “legitimate move” and that the palace statement represented Afghanistan’s official recognition of the new borders.

“Afghanistan always respects the free will of the nations on deciding their future,” he wrote in an email. He did not elaborate.

Apart from dreams of restoring its own historic geography, Afghanistan has other reasons to offer Russia its support.

With the Americans pulling back, it is looking for assistance from other quarters, and Russia has been increasingly active in offering development aid. Given Russia’s heavy influence on countries along Afghanistan’s border, maintaining a long-term relationship with the Kremlin is seen as essential to Afghan foreign policy.

In the shorter term, there is also the matter of Mr. Karzai’s pique with his American and European allies.

The announcement, tellingly, came in the final two paragraphs of a statement about Mr. Karzai’s meeting on Saturday with three visiting American members of Congress.

The statement covered expected ground, saying Mr. Karzai discussed a stalled security deal with the United States and other matters with Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire; Senator Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana; and Representative Stephen Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Then, according to the palace, the discussion turned to matters of “regional importance,” including Crimea. It said that Afghanistan respected the referendum and Crimea’s decision to rejoin Russia. It made no mention of what, if anything, the Americans had said.

For their part, the members of Congress, talking to reporters after their meeting but before the palace released its statement, made no mention of Crimea featuring in their discussion with Mr. Karzai.
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« Reply #12601 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:41 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
India Votes March 24, 2014, 6:47 am

General Elections 2014: Key States to Watch

By VISHNU VARMA   

NEW DELHI — In April and May, nearly 814 million voters will make their way to polling booths across the country to cast their votes in the largest democratic elections in the world.

The general elections, in which voters will choose a total of 543 members to the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, will also decide the fate of the Indian National Congress, the oldest party in the country, which leads the governing coalition in New Delhi.
India Votes

News and analysis on the world’s largest election.

Several political analysts and opinion polls have projected that the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, led by the Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, will have the best chance of forming the next government. But complicating factors include the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party and a host of strong regional players that could turn their collective backs on any national alliance.

Regional players are important for two reasons: One, they often pair with one of the two national parties in seat-sharing agreements that set each up for a sizable portion of parliamentary representation. Two, after the votes are cast and counted, some regional parties shuffle around to align themselves with the clear national winner, or if there is none, form a third-front government of their own.

We take a look at some of the key states in this election and how regional players could influence the balance of power in New Delhi. Together, these states account for 249 seats, nearly half of the members in Lok Sabha. If any of the two national parties want to form a government, it must learn to find inroads into these crucial states:

Uttar Pradesh: This state sends 80 lawmakers to the lower house of Parliament, the largest batch in the country. Both Mr. Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of the Congress party, will be running for their parliamentary seats in this state. Mr. Modi has been declared as his party’s official candidate for the temple town of Varanasi, and Mr. Gandhi is looking to retain his seat in his family borough of Amethi, which he won in 2004 and 2009.

Looking to diminish the fortunes of the two national parties are the Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Mayawati, who goes by one name. Both enjoy strong influence in the state.

West Bengal: The eastern state of West Bengal offers a maximum of 42 parliamentary seats and is one of the few states historically loyal to the Communist parties. The state assembly was led by the Left Front, the umbrella group of leftist parties, for over three decades until it was defeated in the 2011 state elections by the Trinamool Congress, a regional party led by the firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee.

Ms. Banerjee’s party also secured the majority over both the Left Front and the Congress party in the 2009 general elections by winning 19 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Bharatiya Janata Party won a lone parliamentary seat in 2009.

Ms. Banerjee, who recently began the national campaign for her party, wants to take a significant number of seats once again to position herself as one of the prominent regional parties in the national fray.

Maharashtra: With 48 seats, Maharashtra holds a potential political arsenal for national parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, provided they continue to partner with strong regional allies. While the Congress party is allied with the center-left Nationalist Congress Party, a regional party that broke away from Congress in 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party has a longstanding partnership with the Shiv Sena, a right-wing regional heavyweight that has outsize influence on the state’s politics and ethnic Marathi voters.

The Aam Aadmi Party, led by the anticorruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, has so far announced 46 candidates in the state and could pose a threat to the two alliances.

Tamil Nadu: This southern state holds 39 seats and is one where the two major national parties are almost entirely at the mercy of strong regional parties. For several decades, the state has been ruled by the two dominant Dravidian parties, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by Muthuvel Karunanidhi, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by J. Jayalalithaa, which have strong ties to south Indian ethnic groups.

Ms. Jayalalithaa, a former Tamil film actress who runs the state, has her eye on gaining a national presence, and internal fighting within Mr. Karunanidhi’s corruption-plagued party may give her a victory.

Neither leader has agreed to partner with the national parties, though the Bharatiya Janata Party announced a list of smaller regional allies in the state on Thursday.

Bihar: This state has the largest number of different castes and subcastes, whose votes are hard to predict.

Bihar sends 40 elected representatives to the Lok Sabha and represents an interesting three-pronged battle. The first two fronts involve the Janata Dal (United) Party, which runs the state, and the Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, which found a new regional partner after the Janata Dal (United) Party decided to split with the national party.

The third player in the state, Congress, which does not have a large base in Bihar, has allied with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, a politician who was convicted of siphoning hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s animal husbandry department for more than a decade. He was jailed briefly but is now out on bail.


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« Reply #12602 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:43 AM »

Dispute on Sri Lanka War Crimes Escalates

By GARDINER HARRIS and DHARISHA BASTIANS
MARCH 23, 2014
IHT

NEW DELHI — About 100 government supporters marched to the American Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, last week and smashed coconuts on the embassy’s doorstep in a Hindu ritual meant to curse an enemy. “We will not let them take our president to the electric chair!” the protesters shouted.

The next day, thousands of miles away, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department, performed a ritual of her own by releasing a statement that condemned Sri Lanka’s recent arrests of human rights activists.

“It is disturbing that the government of Sri Lanka has taken punitive measures against its own brave citizens who have devoted their careers and lives to investigating alleged human rights abuses by both sides during Sri Lanka’s long and brutal civil conflict,” Ms. Psaki’s release stated.

The dueling rites were part of an escalating conflict between the United States and Sri Lanka that is expected to rise to another level this week with a crucial vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council on whether the international body will start its own investigation into possible war crimes committed by government forces and separatists during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war.

On Tuesday, the Sri Lankan police released Ruki Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent human rights activists, along with the Rev. Praveen Mahesan, a Roman Catholic priest and the former director of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, based in Jaffna. But the two, who had been in custody for three days, were barred from speaking to foreign reporters and ordered to surrender their computers and cellphone memory chips.

Jeyakumari Balendran, an activist working on behalf of families still searching for loved ones who disappeared in government custody, remained in an infamous government detention camp. All three were detained because of their links with a militant, K. P. Selvanayagam, who escaped from government custody and then established an undercover rebel base in Norway, the Sri Lankan government said.

The government reported that it had uncovered a cache of weapons in Kilinochchi, a former rebel stronghold where all three human rights activists were detained. The cache included mortars, grenades and antipersonnel mines. Several human rights organizations condemned the arrests, and some have warned that Ms. Balendran could be tortured.

Also last week, Sri Lanka’s former president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, filed a complaint saying that state intelligence services had placed her under surveillance and were harassing her friends and acquaintances.

The arrests and complaints of harassment led Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, to question the government’s competence in its fight against the resolution at the human rights council in Geneva.

“Is the government trying to prove the case against it?” he asked in a recent interview.

The government sent a diplomatic note to other nations explaining that the police actions “are well within the existing legal framework and following due process.”

Five years after the end of a civil war in which government forces battled Tamil Tiger insurgents, the Sri Lankan government has shown little appetite for any robust investigation into possible war crimes. About 40,000 people, many of them civilians, are estimated to have been killed in the war’s final stages in 2009.

Fearing that a failure to investigate the past could rekindle a violent insurgency, the United States and other nations have lost patience with the Sri Lankan government and are now pressing for an outside investigation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is popular in Sri Lanka because he ended the insurgency, and the country’s economy has revived since the war’s end, but an independent investigation of conduct during the war would be risky for him and at least one of his brothers, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the government’s military campaign.


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« Reply #12603 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:45 AM »

Taiwan Defends Use of Force Against Protesters

By AUSTIN RAMZY
MARCH 24, 2014
IHT

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s prime minister said on Monday that the government had been justified in using force to remove demonstrators from the cabinet building earlier in the day, as students continued to occupy the legislature in a protest against a trade bill with China.

“What happened yesterday wasn’t police suppressing a street march,” Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah said. “It was protesters breaking into the Executive Yuan, trying to occupy this building and paralyze our administrative workings,” he added, referring to the cabinet building.

At least 110 people, including 52 police officers, were injured as the police wielded wooden clubs and later used water trucks to block the expanded protest.

In a statement posted online, the protesters who have occupied the legislature, or Legislative Yuan, since last week said that they “strongly condemn the violence against the unarmed, weaponless students.”

Mr. Jiang said that 61 people were arrested when police cleared the building Monday morning, and that 35 of them faced possible prosecution.

The government faces broadening concerns, as some student groups have now called for a work and school strike across this self-governed island of 23 million to allow more to attend the demonstrations in Taipei, the capital.

In an hourlong news conference Monday at the Executive Yuan, just hours after it had been cleared of demonstrators, Mr. Jiang urged students not to push for a strike.

“The nature of this matter is that all levels of society have different views as to the signing of the service trade agreement, but that is no reason to use as a pretext for a national work and school strike,” he said.

The China trade bill, which would allow cross-strait investment on dozens of service trades ranging from banking to funeral parlors, has touched deep roots of concern, including Taiwan’s own history of authoritarian rule and its uneasy relationship with China, an emerging giant that considers the island part of its own territory that must eventually be reunited.

While many of the student demonstrators oppose the deal outright, others say that they support lowering trade barriers on some industries. Their most fundamental objection, they say, is to the way the deal was moved through Taiwan’s legislature. Members of the Kuomintang, the governing party, forced the motion through to the legislative floor without a promised item-by-item review.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party cried foul. Many demonstrators have described the moves by the Kuomintang as “authoritarian,” a pointed reference to the party’s all-powerful role in Taiwan before democratization in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“Spread propaganda and ignore the opinion of the public, this is neither democracy nor rule of law,” a student leader, Lin Fei-fan, chanted from the rostrum of the occupied legislature Sunday.

The Kuomintang holds a comfortable margin in the legislature, meaning it can eventually ratify the trade pact, which was signed by semiofficial organizations representing Taiwan and China in June 2013.

“What the government has been doing is trying to play this as low-profile as possible,” said Lin Jih-wen, a political science research fellow at Academia Sinica, a state-funded research institution in Taipei.

“It doesn’t want society to discuss this and wanted to just pass this in a short period of time. That exposed not only the outrage of the students but also the general public.”

President Ma Ying-jeou, who has made closer relations with China a key goal, says the accord is necessary for Taiwan to maintain its economic competitiveness. He says that without this pact, which is a follow-up agreement to the 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between the two sides, Taiwan will be unable to pursue agreements with other countries and trade organizations, like the United States-led trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trade between China and Taiwan has rapidly expanded during Mr. Ma’s six years in office, nearly doubling to reach $197 billion last year. But some of the debate over the trade pact revolves around concerns that China may use economics to further its claims to Taiwan.

“Sovereignty lurks behind this at all times,” said Titus C. Chen, an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University in Taipei. “It’s a unique Taiwan concern. I think this service agreement is just one more building block for President Ma to inch toward a peace agreement or fundamental relations with China.”

The students occupying the legislature say that they will continue their protest until the trade bill is returned to committee for an itemized review, and they have asked for passage of a law that will allow for closer scrutiny of agreements with China.

Unlike the protest in the Executive Yuan, the government has expressed a willingness to tolerate the occupation of the legislature for the time being. “The Legislative Yuan is a place for the people’s representatives to discuss laws and governmental affairs, and sometimes, because there isn’t consensus, things stop for several days,” Mr. Jiang said.
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« Reply #12604 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:46 AM »

Japan to Let U.S. Assume Control of Nuclear Cache

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and DAVID E. SANGER
MARCH 23, 2014
IHT

THE HAGUE — Japan will announce Monday that it will turn over to Washington more than 700 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium and a large quantity of highly enriched uranium, a decades-old research stockpile that is large enough to build dozens of nuclear weapons, according to American and Japanese officials.

The announcement is the biggest single success in President Obama’s five-year-long push to secure the world’s most dangerous materials, and will come as world leaders gather here on Monday for a nuclear security summit meeting. Since Mr. Obama began the meetings with world leaders — this will be the third — 13 nations have eliminated their caches of nuclear materials and scores more have hardened security at their storage facilities to prevent theft by potential terrorists.

Japan’s agreement to transfer the material — the amount of highly enriched uranium has not been announced but is estimated at 450 pounds — has both practical and political significance. For years these stores of weapons-grade material were not a secret, but were lightly guarded at best; a reporter for The New York Times who visited the main storage site at Tokaimura in the early 1990s found unarmed guards and a site less-well protected than many banks. While security has improved, the stores have long been considered vulnerable.

Iran has cited Japan’s large stockpiles of bomb-ready material as evidence of a double standard about which nations can be trusted. And last month China began publicly denouncing Japan’s supply, in apparent warning that a rightward, nationalistic turn in Japanese politics could result in the country seeking its own weapons.

At various moments right-wing politicians in Japan have referred to the stockpile as a deterrent, suggesting that it was useful to have material so that the world knows Japan, with its advanced technological acumen, could easily fashion it into weapons.

The nuclear fuel being turned over to the United States, which is of American and British origin, is a fraction of Japan’s overall stockpile. Japan has more than nine tons of plutonium stored in various locations and it is scheduled to open in the fall a new nuclear fuel plant that could produce many tons more every year. American officials have been quietly pressing Japan to abandon the program, arguing that the material is insufficiently protected even though much of it is in a form that would be significantly more difficult to use in a weapon than the supplies being sent to the United States.

Mr. Obama’s initiative to lock down plutonium and uranium around the world was supposed to have been just the first step in an ambitious agenda to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” as he said in Prague in 2009. Now, the downturn in relations with Russia has dashed hopes of mutual reductions in the world’s two largest arsenals. At the same time, North Korea has resumed its program, Pakistan and India are modernizing their weapons, and the Senate has not taken up any of the treaties Mr. Obama once described as vital.

The result is that nuclear security — eliminating or locking down nuclear material — may be the biggest element of Mr. Obama’s nuclear legacy. The only other aspect of his agenda that may yet come to fruition centers on Iran, where economic sanctions, covert action and diplomacy have brought Tehran to the table to negotiate over its nuclear program. But even Mr. Obama says his chances of reaching a deal are at best 50-50.

“The Obama team came in thinking a lot of things would be easier than they turned out to be,” said Matthew Bunn, a professor at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

One of Mr. Obama’s major goals has been to stop the production of new supplies of nuclear material; at the last nuclear security summit meeting, in 2012, he said “we simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.” But Pakistan has blocked his effort to negotiate a treaty that would end the production of more material — called the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty — and it is unclear whether the summit communiqué will contain language urging other countries to disgorge their plutonium stockpiles.

There have been other obstacles to Mr. Obama’s agenda.

He succeeded in negotiating a modest arms control treaty with Russia in 2010, but the rapidly deteriorating relationship with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has all but ended hopes for further reductions in the arsenals of the two countries.

Nonetheless, the effort to secure dangerous nuclear materials in Russia and the former Soviet states has been one of the big successes of the post-cold-war era: Just last year Ukraine, then still under the control of the ousted president Victor Yanukovych, sent more than 500 pounds of weapons-grade uranium from a reactor back to Russia. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons — left over after the fall of the Soviet Union — two decades ago. Had the weapons and materials remained in Ukraine, the current standoff with Russia might have taken on far more dangerous dimensions.

But Mr. Obama’s agenda has also run into major troubles in the Senate. In 2009 and 2010 the White House promised to reintroduce the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated in the Senate during the Clinton administration. It has never been put back in front of the Senate, for fear of a second rejection. Even seemingly noncontroversial legislation, including passage of two nuclear terrorism conventions that deal with the physical protection of materials, has been stuck.
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Gene
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This is nuts! Nothing is stopping China from having nuclear weapons. They, in all probably, do.We are restricting an ally and encouraging...
Kurt
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"Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons — left over after the fall of the Soviet Union — two decades ago. Had the weapons and materials...
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Where are we going to put it, in the ground at Hanford with the other leaking barrels of plutonium? I have to give our gov labs credit,...

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Both administration officials and advocates of major nuclear reductions argue that Mr. Obama has focused a level of attention on securing stockpiles even if his arms reduction efforts have come up short.

“What President Obama has done is put it more on the front burner and accelerated the process,” said Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia who played a central role in creating the American-backed program to help dismantle nuclear weapons and clean up nuclear material around the world.

“Significant progress has been made — not enough,” said Mr. Nunn, the chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a research group that presses for deeper cuts.

The summit meetings, which have taken place every two years, have forced national leaders to focus on their stockpiles of materials and their protections, and engaged the United States on their processes for securing them, blending them down so they cannot be used in bombs, or getting rid of them.

“This process has given us the opportunity to build relationships that have opened new doors to cooperation, some of which we can talk about and some of which we can’t,” said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who heads the effort at the National Security Council and has been negotiating with countries participating in the meeting.

Of the agreement with Japan, she said: “This is the biggest commitment to remove fissile materials in the history of the summit process that President Obama launched, and it is a demonstration of Japan’s shared leadership on nonproliferation.”

Ms. Sherwood-Randall said that even Russia “has continued to work on nuclear security at a professional level,” despite the tensions over Ukraine. But she conceded: “It is true that at this moment, we will not begin a new discussion about new arms control. This is not something the Russians are interested in at this time.”

In fact, Russia is now modernizing its nuclear force. So is the United States: To pass the New START treaty in 2010, the administration told Congress it would spend upward of $80 billion on a “life extension” program for its existing nuclear arsenal, and it will cost far more to upgrade nuclear submarines in years ahead.
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« Reply #12605 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:50 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/22/2014 06:00 PM

Targeting Huawei: NSA Spied on Chinese Government and Networking Firm

According to documents viewed by SPIEGEL, America'a NSA intelligence agency put considerable efforts into spying on Chinese politicians and firms. One major target was Huawei, a company that is fast becoming a major Internet player.

The American government conducted a major intelligence offensive against China, with targets including the Chinese government and networking company Huawei, according to documents from former NSA worker Edward Snowden that have been viewed by SPIEGEL and the New York Times. Among the American intelligence service's targets were former Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Chinese Trade Ministry, banks, as well as telecommunications companies.

But the NSA made a special effort to target Huawei. With 150,000 employees and €28 billion ($38.6 billion) in annual revenues, the company is the world's second largest network equipment supplier. At the beginning of 2009, the NSA began an extensive operation, referred to internally as "Shotgiant," against the company, which is considered a major competitor to US-based Cisco. The company produces smartphones and tablets, but also mobile phone infrastructure, WLAN routers and fiber optic cable -- the kind of technology that is decisive in the NSA's battle for data supremacy.

A special unit with the US intelligence agency succeeded in infiltrating Huwaei's network and copied a list of 1,400 customers as well as internal documents providing training to engineers on the use of Huwaei products, among other things.

Source Code Breached

According to a top secret NSA presentation, NSA workers not only succeeded in accessing the email archive, but also the secret source code of individual Huwaei products. Software source code is the holy grail of computer companies. Because Huawei directed all mail traffic from its employees through a central office in Shenzhen, where the NSA had infiltrated the network, the Americans were able to read a large share of the email sent by company workers beginning in January 2009, including messages from company CEO Ren Zhengfei and Chairwoman Sun Yafang.

"We currently have good access and so much data that we don't know what to do with it," states one internal document. As justification for targeting the company, an NSA document claims that "many of our targets communicate over Huawei produced products, we want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products." The agency also states concern that "Huawei's widespread infrastructure will provide the PRC (People's Republic of China) with SIGINT capabilities." SIGINT is agency jargon for signals intelligence. The documents do not state whether the agency found information indicating that to be the case.

The operation was conducted with the involvement of the White House intelligence coordinator and the FBI. One document states that the threat posed by Huawei is "unique".

The agency also stated in a document that "the intelligence community structures are not suited for handling issues that combine economic, counterintelligence, military influence and telecommunications infrastructure from one entity."

Fears of Chinese Influence on the Net

The agency notes that understanding how the firm operates will pay dividends in the future. In the past, the network infrastructure business has been dominated by Western firms, but the Chinese are working to make American and Western firms "less relevant". That Chinese push is beginning to open up technology standards that were long determined by US companies, and China is controlling an increasing amount of the flow of information on the net.

In a statement, Huawei spokesman Bill Plummer criticized the spying measures. "If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us," he said. "If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation."

Responding to the allegations, NSA spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said she should could not comment on specific collection activities or on the intelligence operations of specific foreign countries, "but I can tell you that our intelligence activities are focused on the national security needs of our country." She also said, "We do not give intelligence we collect to US companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line."


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« Reply #12606 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:52 AM »


Egypt's spring 2014: is the counter-revolution now complete?

The joy of the January revolution of 2011 has given way to the return of a form of authoritarian rule. How much power does the country's new strongman, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, intend to wield?

Patrick Kingsley   
The Observer, Sunday 23 March 2014   
     
The activist Alaa Abd El Fattah is one of at least 16,000 political dissidents languishing in an Egyptian jail and it was from his cell that he wrote the following last week: "Everyone knows that most of those in jail are young, and that oppression is targeting an entire generation to subjugate it to a regime that understands how separate it is from them and that does not want to, and cannot in any case, accommodate or include them."

It is a bleak assessment of contemporary Egypt, three years and two months after a revolution that was supposed to empower Abd El Fattah and many of those in jail with him. In his letter Abd El Fattah highlights the arbitrary nature of many of their detentions, the torture to which thousands have probably been subjected – and the apathy towards, and often enthusiasm for, such malpractice among the public.

Among Egypt's revolutionaries and rights lawyers, it is no longer remarkable to say the country has returned to the era of Hosni Mubarak – or worse. To Abd El Fattah's portrait of a revolution turned on its head, others might add, among many other criticisms: untrammelled police brutality; journalists jailed; a ban on the kind of protests that drove the 2011 uprising; the exile of Mohamed ElBaradei and Wael Ghonim, two of the politicians and activists most associated with Mubarak's downfall. Plus the likely election to the presidency of the army chief whose presence has come hand in hand with the restoration of Mubarak-style oppression: Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In cabinet, writes one former minister under Mohamed Morsi, whose year-long presidency was toppled last July, "there is now no one left that has any link to the 25 January revolution". The nuance of Yahia Hamed's point is debatable, not least because Morsi's own government had autocratic leanings, and the extent to which Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood was involved at the start of the 2011 uprising has long been contested. But Hamed's general premise stands: Egypt's recent cabinet reshuffle saw the departure of the most moderate voices in government – the secular liberals who supported Morsi's overthrow last July, not because they craved greater authoritarianism but because they wanted less of it.

But to what extent all this marks a full-circle return to permanent dictatorship – and how similar such a dictatorship would be to Mubarak's – is open to question. It is sometimes assumed that Sisi's grip on power is total. Certainly he enjoys more influence than any other Egyptian and has a large, sycophantic following. But how much power he wields directly – and how much cohesion there is between his army, the secret police, the cabinet, and the judiciary – is unknown.

"For me, the most outstanding feature of this moment is that nobody is in charge," says Michael Hanna, an analyst of Egyptian politics. "The military is not really in charge and it's not making systemic decisions." Even if Sisi is in favour of it, the thinking goes, he might not be directly co-ordinating Egypt's oppression – which may instead be the result of different factions elsewhere in the state using a vacuum in leadership to assert themselves. "So the real test comes post-election," says Hanna.

"Will a President Sisi – with the backing of the military, and with what he would consider a popular mandate – then decide he can make decisions?"

However he acts, it should also not be assumed that Sisi represents quite the same elites as Mubarak did. Sisi may have been head of army intelligence under the ousted dictator, and Egypt's latest prime minister may hail from Mubarak's National Democratic party (NDP). But in Mubarak's last years, senior army officials were at loggerheads with the NDP leadership, whose neo-liberal instincts threatened the military's vast economic empire. When Mubarak fell, leaving senior generals in charge, it was those NDP officials – including Mubarak's son Gamal – who were among the first to experience retribution.

"The NDP neglected society," says one senior officer, who was keen to portray the army as Egypt's salvation. "Their corruption is the reason people are still suffering. They will never come back and the Mubarak era will never come back. A new era is coming."

As Abd El Fattah's prison letter shows, many fear this new era will nevertheless bear many of the oppressive hallmarks of the old one. But others also maintain that the country's dire economic predicament will not allow any new government to use violence to crush dissent indefinitely. As an increasing range of workers' strikes show, officials have nothing to offer the public in exchange for the removal of their political rights. And even if the immediate outlook is dark, this argument continues, the residue of revolutionary gains will remain.

"I don't think you can roll back the gains of liberal principles in the last few years," summarises Samir Radwan, Egypt's first finance minister of the post-Mubarak era, who believes the country's civil society is still in much better shape than it was four years ago.

Hala Shukrallah, who became Egypt's first female leader of a political party earlier this month, is a case in point. Her rise is one scarcely imaginable four years ago – a reflection, she told the Observer, of "real, deep changes in the psyche of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian youth".

Likewise, several activists were arrested for campaigning against Egypt's latest constitution, which passed in January. But the text itself, though flawed, represented a small incremental gain: it is comparatively more liberal than any predecessors.

Detainees enter police custody expecting to be beaten and tortured – but it has not all been one-way traffic. To the surprise of many, the policemen who murdered Khaled Said in 2010 – the attack was one of the rallying points for the 2011 revolution – had their sentences extended last month. A police captain, culpable for the gassing to death of 37 prisoners inside a prison van last August, was jailed for 10 years last week. These are extremely rare convictions, and farcically lenient in comparison to the sentences some Morsi supporters have been given simply for protesting. But at a time of seemingly unstoppable police influence, two judges have still been independent enough to convict serving officers.

It was intriguing, too, to see the face of Hisham Geneina peering from an Egyptian broadsheet last week. Geneina, Egypt's chief auditor, had given an interview criticising the police for obstructing his employees' post-audit of their accounts – and he later expanded on his allegations to the Observer. The accountants who did the police's pre-audit, Geneina said, were paid by the police – which, he argued, caused an obvious conflict of interest. Meanwhile, Geneina's team on the post-audit were sometimes not given the paper records they needed. It was not the most rebellious outburst but, given the political climate, it was also not the most compliant.

But for the thousands in prison, or the young Islamists growing frustrated with the futility of street protests, a few hints of optimism here and there mean little amid a wider environment of wholesale oppression. In his letter from prison, Alaa Abd El Fattah argues that Egyptians have allowed themselves to become deceived by a bogus promise of gradual progress and the "show" of democratic process.

"The show helps to normalise the situation," Abd El Fattah writes, "it [diverts people] on to useless routes: negotiations, advice, legal representations, efforts with the media – until the common understanding becomes that anyone who's accused is guilty, that it's up to the revolutionaries to avoid being imprisoned or killed."

He ends with a rousing call to action: "Everyone knows there is no hope for us who have gone ahead into prison, except through you who will surely follow. So what are you going to do?"

The success of Egypt's next president may depend on the response.

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

Egypt sentences to death 529 supporters of Mohamed Morsi

Complaints of miscarriage of justice as judge takes just two sessions to find defendants guilty of police officer's murder

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 10.52 GMT    

A judge in southern Egypt has taken just two court sessions to sentence to death 529 supporters of Mohamed Morsi for the murder of a single police officer.

Sixteen people were acquitted after lawyers said they had not been allowed to present a proper defence before the judgment was made.

The defendants were arrested last August during a wave of unrest in which supporters of the former president react violently to the clearance of a pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairoduring which more than 900 people were killed. In addition to the murder, the 529 were accused of attempting to kill two other police officers and attacking a police station.

The death sentences are not final and appeals are likely; similar sentences have often been commuted in Egypt. But families of the accused and rights lawyers described the process as a miscarriage of justice.

Waleed Sultan, whose father was among those sentenced to death, said: "Nothing can describe this scandal. This is not a judicial sentence, this is thuggery."

He added: "The session last[ed] for five minutes, [and] during those five minutes none of the lawyers or the defendants were listened to – not even the prosecution. The judge just came in to acquit [the 16] and sentence to death the others."

Mohamed Zaree, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a prominent rights group, said: "This verdict is a disaster. To rule in the second session of a trial – it means the judge didn't hear the defence or look at the evidence. Even someone from the second grade of the law faculty would never have issued this verdict – it goes against the basic principles of criminology."

The same court will try 683 more Brotherhood supporters on Tuesday – including the leader of the group, Mohamed Badie, and the head of its political wing, Saad al-Katatny.

The defendants are among at least 16,000 political dissidents arrested since the overthrow of Morsi last July, according to police figures. Some rights groups say the real figure may be as high as 23,000, and many of those imprisoned have been tortured by the authorities.

One of the most high-profile detainees – Alaa Abd El Fatah, a secular activist investigated by every regime since Hosni Mubarak – was released on bail on Sunday in a rare instance of judicial clemency.

Additional reporting by Manu Gallad


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« Reply #12607 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:55 AM »

Bodies and Skulls Found in Nigerian 'House of Horror'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
23 March 2014, 15:51

Nigerian police said Sunday they have opened a murder probe after the discovery of rotting bodies and skeletons in an abandoned building the media has branded a "House of Horror."

Police also rescued several severely malnourished people founded wandering in the bush near the building in the city of Ibadan, while media reports said 15 or more had been found shackled in leg-chains inside.

The grisly discovery came after a group of motorcycle taxi riders reported that some of their members had gone missing and were believed to have been kidnapped.

"When we got to the abandoned building in the Soka community of Ibadan yesterday (Saturday), we saw decomposed corpses, skeletons and skulls in the building and surrounding bushes," Oyo state police spokeswoman Olabisi Ilobanafor told Agence France Presse.

"Some malnourished human beings looking like living skeletons were also rescued in the bushes surrounding the building," she said.

Ilobanafor said police had launched a murder investigation and arrested some suspects at the scene in Ibadan, Nigeria's third largest city and the capital of the southwestern Oyo state.

Some victims of kidnapping in Nigeria are often tortured or sacrificed in black magic rituals.

The Ibadan-based Sunday Tribune, Nigeria's oldest private newspaper, showed gruesome pictures of rotting bodies, human skulls and other body parts littering the scene, as well as ID and and ATM cards, shoes, bags and clothes.

It also published a photograph of a haggard woman who was allegedly kidnapped in the southern Edo state in 2008 and rescued at what it called the "House of Horror."

It said said at least one skeletal-looking man was found in the throes of death, groaning in pain as flies hovered around his face.

The Tribune said about 15 people suspected to have been kidnapped were found leg-chained in the eight-room house, but the police spokeswoman declined to comment.

Some other local newspapers carried similar reports about the discovery.

Ilobana said some commercial motorcycle riders had stumbled upon the bodies after complaining to police that some of their members had gone missing in suspicious circumstances.


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« Reply #12608 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:57 AM »

Report: U.S. Sends More Forces to Uganda for Kony Hunt

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 07:07

Washington is sending more special forces commandos and tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft to Uganda to help hunt for fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, The Washington Post reported.

At least four CV-22 Ospreys and refueling aircraft, as well as 150 Air Force special forces personnel and other airmen to fly and maintain the planes will arrive in the African country at mid-week, the Post reported on its website Sunday.

The force began to deploy late Sunday, Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told the newspaper.

U.S. forces will remain in a support role helping African Union forces searching for Kony, the head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and blamed for a string of atrocities, U.S. officials told the Post.

President Barack Obama ordered some 100 special operations troops deployed to Uganda to help find Kony in October 2011.

U.S. forces are equipped for combat, but are banned from engaging LRA fighters unless in self-defense, according to their rules of engagement.

The LRA is a militant outfit whose doctrine mixes African mysticism with Christian extremism. In recent years it has been forced out of Uganda, and Kony is believed to be hiding with a core of fighters in the remote jungles of Central African Republic, northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, or South Sudan.

Kony and two other LRA leaders were indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court in 2005 on charges of butchering and kidnapping civilians.

Ospreys can take off and land straight up like a helicopter, but also fly like a turboprop airplane. This allows the planes to move more troops faster and farther than a helicopter.

The increased U.S. assistance does not mean that the Obama administration's criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for enacting draconian anti-gay laws has weakened.

"Ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violators like the LRA" and protecting the rights of gay and transgendered people "are not mutually exclusive," Grant Harris, a special assistant to Obama and senior African affairs director for the National Security Council, told the Post.


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« Reply #12609 on: Mar 24, 2014, 07:59 AM »

Gunmen Attack, Burn Displaced Camp in Darfur

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 13:17

Gunmen have attacked and burned a camp for displaced people in Sudan's Darfur region, peacekeepers said on Monday, adding to an upsurge of suspected militia violence which has wreaked havoc.

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has reported a series of attacks on villages in the region this month, but the Khor Abeche camp in South Darfur, assaulted on Saturday, was an unusual target.

Recent unrest and a soaring number of displaced has evoked comparisons with the early stages of war in Darfur, which captured the world's attention more than a decade ago.

"The situation in Darfur is beginning to deteriorate for the worse, and has gone back to the days of deepening crisis 10 years ago, and even surpassing it," veteran columnist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih wrote in Monday's The Citizen.

Events in the region "are heading towards catastrophic results" without a quick correction, he said.

UNAMID said in a statement that about 300 heavily armed men attacked the camp, "setting fire to dozens of shelters and stealing livestock belonging to the residents".

One displaced person was reported killed and at least 2,000 sought refuge at the nearby UNAMID base, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northeast of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

Further north on the same day, hundreds of families approached UNAMID's base in Korma, North Darfur, reporting that nearby Kobe town had been attacked.

"One fatality was reported, alongside the looting of property and burning of houses," said UNAMID, which deployed additional peacekeepers to reinforce security for about 1,000 people who sought refuge at their compound.

Korma is northwest of El Fasher, the state capital.

Local sources said militiamen were suspected in the latest attacks.

Rebels from Darfur's black tribes rose up in 2003 seeking an end to what they said was the domination of Sudan's power and wealth by Arab elites.

In response, government-backed Janjaweed, recruited among the region's Arab tribes, shocked the world with atrocities against civilians.

Over the past two years, Sudan's deteriorating economy has led to worsening crime and inter-communal clashes, a February report by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said.

It added that some cash-poor paramilitaries have joined the tribal fighting over gold and other resources.

Analysts say the government can no longer control its former Arab tribal allies, whom it armed against the insurgents.

"The situation is compounded by the conflicts between groups affiliated to the ruling party," columnist Salih wrote, referring to a dispute between North Darfur governor Osman Kbir and Musa Hilal, who was reputed to be a Janjaweed leader and later became an adviser to the federal affairs ministry.

The U.N. said an estimated 65,000 people fled their homes around Saraf Omra town, in western North Darfur earlier this month, after clashes between government forces and paramilitaries led by Hilal.

Most of those forced to flee Saraf Omra have since returned home.

They were among roughly 215,000 whom the U.N. says have been uprooted this year by fighting in Darfur.

That is on top of at least 380,000 people displaced last year, a higher number than in any single year since the peak of the conflict in 2004.

"More than at any point since the Darfur crisis started a decade ago, the people of Darfur need the immediate support of the humanitarian community," the U.N.'s chief in Sudan, Ali Al-Za'tari, said in a statement on Sunday.

A humanitarian crisis in Sudan is the result of continuous war, especially in Darfur, the pro-government Sudan Vision daily said in a weekend editorial.

It warned that perpetuation of armed conflict "will lead at the end to the collapse of the state".


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« Reply #12610 on: Mar 24, 2014, 08:06 AM »

Archaeologists unveil two more colossal pharaoh statues in Egypt

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 24, 2014 7:36 EDT

Archaeologists on Sunday unveiled two colossal statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in Egypt’s famed temple city of Luxor, adding to an existing pair of world-renowned tourist attractions.

The two monoliths in red quartzite were raised at what European and Egyptian archaeologists said were their original sites in the funerary temple of the king, on the west bank of the Nile.

The temple is already famous for its existing 3,400-year-old Memnon colossi — twin statues of Amenhotep III whose reign archaeologists say marked the political and cultural zenith of ancient Egyptian civilization.

“The world until now knew two Memnon colossi, but from today it will know four colossi of Amenhotep III,” said German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian, who heads the project to conserve the Amenhotep III temple.

The existing two statues, both showing the pharaoh seated, are known across the globe.

The two restored additions have weathered severe damage for centuries, Sourouzian said.

“The statues had lain in pieces for centuries in the fields, damaged by destructive forces of nature like earthquake, and later by irrigation water, salt, encroachment and vandalism,” she said, as behind her excavators and local villagers washed pieces of artefacts and statues unearthed over the past months.

“This beautiful temple still has enough for us to study and conserve.”

One of the “new” statues — its body weighing 250 tons — again depicts the pharaoh seated, hands resting on his knees.

It is 11.5 meters (38 feet) tall, with a base 1.5 meters high and 3.6 meters wide.
Archaeologists said with its now missing double crown, the original statue would have reached a height of 13.5 meters and weighed 450 tons.

The king is depicted wearing a royal pleated kilt held at the waist by a large belt decorated with zigzag lines.

Well-preserved alabaster head

Beside his right leg stands nearly a complete figure of Amenhotep III’s wife Tiye, wearing a large wig and a long tight-fitting dress.

A statue of queen mother Mutemwya, originally beside his left leg, is missing, archaeologists said.

The throne itself is decorated on each side with scenes from that era, showing the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The second statue, of Amenhotep III standing, has been installed at the north gate of the temple.

The team of archaeologists also showed several other ancient pieces of what they said were parts of other statues of the ancient ruler and his relatives, including a well-preserved alabaster head from another Amenhotep III statue.

“This piece is unique, it is rare, because there are not many alabaster statues in the world,” Sourouzian told AFP.

The head, shown briefly to some reporters and fellow excavators, has also weathered centuries of damage.

Its nose, eyes and ears are intact, and some signs of restoration centuries ago are clearly evident, archaeologists said.

Close to the head lies a statue of Princess Iset, Amenhotep III’s daughter.
Sourouzian said the aim of her team’s work was to preserve these monuments and the temple itself, which according to her had suffered at the hands of “nature and mankind.”

“Every ruin, every monument has its right to be treated decently,” said Sourouzian, whose dream as a student was to conserve the Amenhotep III temple.

“The idea is to stop the dismantling of monuments and keep them at their sites,” she said, adding that what was required was steady “international funding” to conserve such world heritage sites.

The ongoing work to conserve the Amenhotep III temple is entirely funded through what she said were “private and international donations.”

Pharaoh Amenhotep III inherited an empire that spanned from the Euphrates to Sudan, archaeologists say, and he was able to maintain Egypt’s position mainly through diplomacy.

The 18th-dynasty ruler became king at the age of around 12, with his mother as regent.

Amenhotep III died in around 1354 BC and was succeeded by his son Amenhotep IV, widely known as Akhenaten.

Luxor, a city of some 500,000 people on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, is an open-air museum of intricate temples and pharaonic tombs.


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« Reply #12611 on: Mar 24, 2014, 08:20 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Jimmy Carter Correctly Thinks That the NSA Is Reading His Email

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, March, 23rd, 2014, 4:44 pm   

When former President Jimmy Carter wants to send a message to a world leader, he uses snail mail, because he knows that the NSA is reading his emails.

Transcript:

    ANDREA MITCHELL:

    Now, there’s been a lot of criticism of his policy regarding drones and the NSA surveillance. And the N.S.A. has argued that this kind of intelligence gathering is critical to try to protect the American homeland?

    JIMMY CARTER:

    That has been extremely liberalized and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies. As a matter of fact, you know, I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored. And when I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office, and mail it. (LAUGH)

    ANDREA MITCHELL:

    Old fashioned snail mail–

    JIMMY CARTER:

    Old– yeah. Yeah. Because I believe if I send an email, it will be monitored. (LAUGH)

President Carter was most likely correct. His emails are being monitored. If the CIA is hacking and spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, it is a pretty safe bet that the NSA, and/or other intelligence agencies are spying on former President Carter.

It is a good rule of thumb for everyone. The privacy that you think you have on the Internet doesn’t really exist. Facebook has access to all of your direct messages. The same thing with Twitter’s private messages. Domestic spying has been out of control for a long time.

The spying apparatus is bigger than Obama. It will outlast this president, and future presidents, because that is the nature of institutionalized bureaucracy. It is also the nature of the military industrial complex. The only thing that can stop the rampant plague of domestic spying is an outcry of popular demand.

If the people force their government to stop, it will stop. Otherwise, the spying will never end.


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

New law allows Tennessee to plan record number of executions — and keep details secret

By David Edwards
RawStory
Sunday, March 23, 2014 10:03 EDT

The state of Tennessee has asked to execute a record number of death row inmates — and a new law means that the state can plan it all in secret.

According to the Times Free Press, officials have asked the state Supreme Court for permission to execute 10 inmates, the largest request ever.

The Tennessean reported on Sunday that the state will keep almost every detail of the process secret. Citizens are not allowed to know who conducted the execution, which cocktail of lethal drugs were used to put the inmate to death or where those drugs came from.

A law passed by the Tennessee legislature last year allowed the state to shroud the process in secret.

A group of 11 death row inmates have sued the state, saying the information should be available to the public.

“Tennesseans should be concerned because these executions are ostensibly for them,” assistant public defender Kelley Henry, who represents several of the inmates, pointed out. “They are carried out in the name of the people.

“The people have a right to know that the Department of Corrections isn’t torturing citizens using public funds.”

Legislatures in Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri have passed similar laws after manufacturers began refusing to sell traditional execution drugs to U.S. states. New drugs have been criticized have been criticized for being extremely cruel. In one case, it reportedly took an inmate 26 minutes to die.

Tennessee’s first of 10 scheduled executions begins on April 22.

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

Taxpayers fund creationism in the classroom

By: Stephanie Simon
Politico
March 24, 2014 05:01 AM EDT

Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way from Alaska to New York, a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment.

Public debate about science education tends to center on bills like one in Missouri, which would allow public school parents to pull their kids from science class whenever the topic of evolution comes up. But the more striking shift in public policy has flown largely under the radar, as a well-funded political campaign has pushed to open the spigot for tax dollars to flow to private schools. Among them are Bible-based schools that train students to reject and rebut the cornerstones of modern science.

(Also on POLITICO: Science lessons from the Bible)

http://www.politico.com/gallery/2014/03/science-lessons-from-the-bible/001710-024283.html

Decades of litigation have established that public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design. But private schools receiving public subsidies can — and do. A POLITICO review of hundreds of pages of course outlines, textbooks and school websites found that many of these faith-based schools go beyond teaching the biblical story of the six days of creation as literal fact. Their course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists. They often distort basic facts about the scientific method — teaching, for instance, that theories such as evolution are by definition highly speculative because they haven’t been elevated to the status of “scientific law.”

And this approach isn’t confined to high school biology class; it is typically threaded through all grades and all subjects.

One set of books popular in Christian schools calls evolution “a wicked and vain philosophy.” Another derides “modern math theorists” who fail to view mathematics as absolute laws ordained by God. The publisher notes that its textbooks shun “modern” breakthroughs — even those, like set theory, developed back in the 19th century. Math teachers often set aside time each week — even in geometry and algebra — to explore numbers in the Bible. Students learn vocabulary with sentences like, “Many scientists today are Creationists.”

Some 26 states are now considering enacting new voucher programs or expanding existing ones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One concept that is gaining popularity, on the table in eight states: setting up individual bank accounts stocked with state funds that parents can spend not just on tuition but also on tutors or textbooks, both secular and religious. On Friday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the approach constitutional; lawmakers there are already working to broaden eligibility.

Voucher advocates talk of soon reaching a tipping point, at least in a few key states, when so many students will receive private education on the public dime that everyone demands the option.

Already, about 250,000 students take advantage of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. That’s just a fraction of the 55 million public school students in the U.S., but it’s up about 30 percent from 2010. Some states have built growth into their laws. In Florida, for instance, public subsidies are set to rise from $286 million this year to about $700 million in 2018 even without further legislative action, as long as demand remains high.

The shifting of public funds to religious schools, especially at a time when scientists are making great strides in understanding the origins of the universe, alarms advocates of strong science education.

“I don’t think the function of public education is to prepare students for the turn of the 19th century,” said Eric Meikle, project director at the National Center for Science Education.

Critics also contend that the growth of voucher programs undermines the bipartisan drive to set uniformly high academic standards across the U.S. through the Common Core, which covers math and language arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards, which set out clear expectations for teaching about evolution and the origins of life. Voucher schools are free to ignore those standards and set their own curriculum, generally with little state oversight.

Participating parents, however, say it’s only right that the state should help them pay for an education that reflects their values. In many cases, that means the book of Genesis rather than “The Origin of Species.” Gallup polls consistently show that nearly half of American adults believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

Leah Fernandez, a Georgia mother of two, said she wants her children exposed to all views but used state subsidies to send them to a Christian school because she views a biblical education as essential. When she thinks about her priorities for schools, she said, “My children’s spiritual development is for sure No. 1 on the list.”

A BIG-MONEY PUSH

Voucher supporters have skillfully built strong networks of allies in many states.

They’ve spent heavily to campaign for sympathetic lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans — often targeting primary races to knock out anti-voucher candidates early. They’ve staged rallies packed with cheering families. They’ve funded local advocacy groups such as North Carolina Citizens for Educational Freedom and Hoosiers for Economic Growth. And they’ve worked closely with black ministers to boost demand for vouchers in African-American neighborhoods.

The American Federation for Children, a major pro-voucher group, has spent $18 million on campaigns since 2007, spokesman Matt Frendewey said.

The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity is also a major player. In the last year alone, it has worked to promote subsidies for private schools in 10 states, including Maine, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, said Peggy Venable, the group’s senior state policy adviser. She said the group is motivated by a conviction that vouchers will encourage both private and public schools to compete and improve. “School choice provides accountability simply by providing parents with the power of choice,” she said.

With the groundwork laid, the fight is moving to statehouses.

A Florida bill that would have accelerated the rapid growth of vouchers in the state — where three-quarters of participating private schools are religious — hit a major roadblock last week as Republicans squabbled over accountability provisions. That bill appears to be dead, but existing law still allows subsidies to grow by 25 percent a year indefinitely.

An even broader expansion is on the table in Arizona; it could make more than 70 percent of the state’s students eligible for vouchers. The state House already passed a bill that would allow for modest growth as debate continues on the blockbuster package.

In New York, meanwhile, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is personally lobbying for the state to spend up to $150 million a year on private school subsidies — a policy he hopes would keep some struggling Catholic schools afloat. The initiative has already passed the state Senate and has about 100 co-sponsors in the Assembly.

States aren’t the only source of action: Republicans in Congress are pushing for federal voucher programs, too.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has proposed consolidating dozens of federal education programs into one $24 billion funding stream that states could use for vouchers for low-income students. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has made several high-profile speeches to promote school choice, including vouchers. And Republicans in both houses have vowed to restore funding for a D.C. voucher program that President Barack Obama cut out of his most recent budget.

“It is my personal goal,” Cantor said earlier this year, “that in 10 years, every child in America will have education opportunity through school choice no matter where they live.”

Alexander, for his part, dismissed the risk that students might end up in faith-based schools that belittle mainstream science.

“I would think most parents would use vouchers to choose better schools for their child,” Alexander said through a spokesperson. “There is no evidence that student achievement in Catholic schools, for example, is lower than that of public schools. In fact, the reverse is often true.”

Catholic school students do score significantly higher than public school students on national standardized tests in math and reading. But they are also far more likely than public school students to come from well-educated families, and they are far less likely to be poor, have disabilities or still be learning English, federal data show. A 2006 study by the U.S. Education Department found that controlling for those variables effectively wiped out the private school advantage.

In any case, surveys indicate that parents don’t put too much stock in test scores when looking for private schools.

The Friedman Foundation, which supports vouchers, last year asked hundreds of families receiving tax-credit scholarships in Georgia why they chose a private school. “Religious education” tied with “better education” as the single most important motivation, far above the other choices.

A second Friedman Foundation survey of 1,400 voucher recipients in Indiana yielded similar results. Parents overwhelmingly cited “better academics” as their top reason, closely followed by “morals instruction” and “religious instruction.” Other motivations, such as a safer environment or smaller class sizes, fell way down the list.

The market reflects that demand: In state after state, faith-based schools consistently account for at least 70 percent, and sometimes far more, of the private schools receiving public subsidies.

AP BIOLOGY AS A TRAINING GROUND FOR ‘FAITH IN JESUS’

Not all religious schools, of course, teach creationism. Many have top-notch science programs with multiple Advanced Placement options. Many Catholic schools, in particular, make sure students get a solid grounding in evolution in biology class, no matter what they’re learning in theology.

Still, some of the most popular voucher schools in cities like New Orleans are firmly creationist.

Nationwide, science education activist Zack Kopplin has identified more than 300 creationist schools that receive public subsidies. That’s almost certainly a significant undercount, as his database does not include Pennsylvania, which has a huge program, or Iowa, which has a substantial one. Kopplin also counted only schools that advertised their philosophy online; many church-based schools don’t have websites at all.

Voucher proponents often describe the programs as a chance for students to escape failing public schools and obtain a better education. Yet the review of school websites and curricula found that some voucher schools openly declare that academics come second to their chief mission: training students to obey and glorify the Lord.

One publicly subsidized school in Pennsylvania put it this way: “Although academic quality is a high priority at West Chester Christian School, our primary goal is to maintain our distinctiveness as a Christian school as expressed in our motto: ‘Education with a Bible Foundation.’” Another touts as a key measure of success that its students are more likely than peers to attend religious services and believe in the Bible “as an infallible guide for personal life and behavior.”

The schools also make clear that their goal is to arm students against modern prisms for looking at the world, such as multiculturalism, and to train them to assess every historical event or scientific advance through Scripture.

Calvary Christian Academy in Philadelphia acknowledges on its website that “respected men and women of science, history, mathematics and language” have made great discoveries, but it reassures parents that “our understanding is not complete until we filter it through God’s Word.” Armed with Scripture, the site continues, “we should be able to disprove the fake and vain philosophies of the world.”

Another Calvary Christian Academy, this one in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., describes the goal of its AP Biology course as preparing “students to have faith in Jesus in an age of science by evaluating college-level biology, chemistry and physics from a purely biblical perspective.” Both participate in their states’ voucher programs.

And at Cherokee Christian School in Woodstock, Ga., the biology curriculum presents Charles Darwin’s theories mostly in the context of showing students how to rebut them. Students are taught to argue, for instance, that cellular mutation could not lead to increased genetic variation. A class goal: “Discuss the importance of a right view of evolution.”

That “faith-based, Christ-centered” approach is precisely why Caroline Horne chose to send her two daughters to Cherokee Christian using the state’s subsidized tuition program.

Horne, a veterinarian, said she knows what it’s like to take college science courses with people who dismiss the biblical creation story as fiction. That’s why she wants her children to get “a strong foundation in their beliefs” in high school, she said, “so when they meet people who don’t agree with them, they can defend their view.”

SUBSIDIZED BIBLE STUDY IN THE HOME

Each state sets up its subsidy program differently. Some offer parents vouchers to cover tuition payments. Others will grant individuals or corporations huge tax credits for donating to a nonprofit that then awards scholarships to eligible families. (Federal deductions are often available, too, so some donors can actually make money off their gifts.)

Most programs start out targeted at low-income or disabled children, but they often expand. In Indiana, a family of four with an income of $88,000 is eligible for a partial voucher. In Pennsylvania, families with income above $100,000 can qualify if their local public school posts poor test scores. An Arizona bill would raise the income cutoff by 15 percent a year indefinitely.

The definition of special-needs students is also elastic; in some states, children can qualify if they have food allergies.

Perhaps the most novel program on the books is Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account. The state gives eligible families an average of $13,000 a year in public funds to spend on their children’s education. They can use the money not just to pay private school tuition but also to hire personal tutors or buy home school curricula, including creationist material.

The state superintendent, John Huppenthal, recently recorded calls to thousands of parents calling the program “great news” because it lets families finance “alternative education” on the public dime.

Both houses of the legislature in Mississippi have already approved a similar program that would give parents of special-needs students $6,000 in state funds. A conference committee is reconciling the bills. Voucher advocates estimate about 10 percent of students in the state would be eligible for the program, though participation would initially be capped at 500 children.

Seven other states, including Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, are also considering the concept, up from just two states last year, according to Josh Cunningham, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meikle, from the National Center for Science Education, said he’s uncomfortable with parents picking and choosing a potentially narrow curriculum for their children. “Anything that prevents students from getting good exposure to the broad general consensus on a scientific subject is problematic,” he said.

But Doug Tuthill, who runs one of the largest private school choice programs in the nation, says states have no right to determine what kids should learn, beyond basic math, reading and writing. Other topics, from the age of Earth to the reasons for the Civil War, are just too controversial for a government mandate, he said, even when taxpayer money is at stake.

“Once a child has strong literacy skills, they can educate themselves,” said Tuthill, who runs Florida’s Step Up for Students program. “We don’t have to rely on schools, necessarily.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has also made a forceful case that when it comes to education, parents — not government bureaucrats — should call the shots. Jindal has accused Obama of violating that principle by first seeking to block and now seeking to monitor a voucher program for Louisiana students with household income of up to $60,000 a year for a family of four.

“We believe in empowering parents and giving them the option to remove their children from failing schools and enroll them in schools of their choice,” Jindal said through a spokesperson. He did not address questions about science education but added: “This is not a conservative versus liberal issue — it’s the right thing to do and it’s working, and we need to do this across the country.”

‘MILQUETOAST’ DARWINISM?

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of voucher programs, even when they subsidize religious education, as long as parents who accept the vouchers have a choice in where to use them.

Some state constitutions, however, are more restrictive. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to block voucher programs in New Hampshire and Colorado on the grounds that they subsidize religion in clear violation of state law. Both cases are pending before their state supreme courts; oral arguments in New Hampshire are set for next month. Litigation is also under way in Alabama.

“Taxpayer dollars are ending up in the coffers of religious schools, and they use that money to discriminate and indoctrinate,” said Heather Weaver, an ACLU senior staff attorney.

Weaver notes that religious schools participating in voucher programs are typically permitted to restrict admission to students who sign a statement of faith. Some do not permit openly gay and lesbian students or the children of gay or lesbian parents to enroll.

Another point of contention: accountability.

Voucher supporters often argue that 11 of 12 “gold-standard” studies show that vouchers improve student outcomes. But the evidence is not nearly as strong as that implies. Those 12 studies overlap considerably; many show only small improvements in outcomes for select groups of voucher recipients in select years.

Several of the states with the biggest programs — among them, Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania — don’t require participating private schools to give students the same standardized tests that public schools administer, so direct comparisons are difficult. Often, there’s no provision to cut off the flow of state money to schools that perform poorly.

That troubles Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “We have no idea what these schools are doing with our money,” she said.

Voucher advocates respond that schools are accountable to parents: If they aren’t good, families won’t enroll.

“I expect over the long run, the schools that teach science the appropriate way will be the ones that win” in a free-market system, said Paul Peterson, director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

Advocates also argue that teaching creationism doesn’t necessarily diminish the quality of other science education. “It doesn’t impact the laws of gravity, it doesn’t impact physics, it doesn’t impact the periodic table,” said Frendewey, the spokesman for the American Federation for Children.

Frendewey points out, too, that plenty of secular schools in our $700 billion public school system do a dismal job at teaching science. American 15-year-olds came in 23rd on the most recent international science test — beat out by peers in Canada, New Zealand and Vietnam, among others.

And it’s not as though a secular education guarantees rigorous lessons on the origin of life. The last major survey of biology teachers in public high schools, taken back in 2007, found that 60 percent sought to avoid controversy by toning down their lessons on evolution.

That statistic alone persuades Neal McCluskey, an education analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, that subsidizing private schools is smart public policy. If every family could choose a school that reflected its values, he said, no one would have to sit through “milquetoast” lessons aimed at the mushy middle.

“If you want very rigorous evolution instruction, you should be able to choose that,” McCluskey said. “But you have to let other people choose something else.”


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« Reply #12612 on: Mar 24, 2014, 10:17 AM »

White House 'Very Concerned' by Russian Troop Movements

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 18:03

The White House is "very concerned by the potential for escalation" after Russia massed its troops on the border with Ukraine, a close aide to U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday.

"We are watching very closely, we believe that Russia stands an enormous amount to lose" from any escalation, Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes told journalists as leaders gathered in The Hague to discuss a response to the crisis.

A U.S. military officer told Agence France Presse on Monday the Russian military presence continued to increase along Ukraine's eastern border.

"They're still growing in numbers. They're still in a hot state of readiness," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, there was no sign that Russian forces were about to launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine, the officer said.

"We haven't seen anything to suggest anything is imminent," the officer said. "But if they chose to move, it would not take long."

Ukraine on Monday ordered its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea after the seizure of another military base.

The Russians had roughly 20,000 troops near the border, including air and ground forces, air defense weapons, fighter jets, motorized vehicles, airborne units and cargo planes to move those troops, officers said.

"The full scope of the arsenal" was in place, the officer said.

Russian forces were deployed along main roads leading to the border but had not moved any closer to Ukraine in recent days, he said.

The United States was closely monitoring the situation, he said.

A second defense official said the Russians had more than enough troops in place to launch an operation in eastern Ukraine if it decided to.


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Obama and Xi Discuss Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 16:18

President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States and China can help ensure "respect for the sovereignty of nations" as he held talks on Ukraine with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Obama said his first meeting with Xi this year, held on the sidelines of a major summit on nuclear security here, would deal with "a wide range of issues of mutual interest", including "the situation in Ukraine."

"I believe ultimately that by working together, China and the United States can help strengthen international law, respect for the sovereignty of nations and establish the kind of rules, internationally, that allow all people to thrive," said the U.S. leader.

The United States and the EU, which have imposed sanctions on Russian officials, argue that Russia violated Ukraine's sovereignty by backing an independence referendum in Crimea that led to the Black Sea peninsula's annexation by Moscow.

Sitting alongside Obama, Xi did not address the subject of Ukraine specifically but said there was "greater space where China and the United States are cooperating" and agreed with the U.S. president that Beijing and Washington should forge a new "major power relationship."

Analysts say Xi is unlikely to spell out China's position on the Ukraine crisis on his European trip but Chinese officials have reiterated calls for "calm and restraint".

Xi's four-country trip comes after China lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Crimea's referendum on joining Russia, rather than vetoing it alongside Moscow.

The two leaders are in the Hague for a meeting of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), ostensibly to push forward efforts to prevent dangerous nuclear material getting into the wrong hands, but overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis.

Obama has called an emergency meeting of the group of seven (G7) top industrial nations to discuss the unrest in Crimea, which has plunged relations between Russia and the West to lows not seen since the end of the Cold War.

The meeting was expected to take place later Monday and could see Russia expelled from the wider G8 as a punishment for its annexation of Crimea.

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Russia Bans Entry to 13 Canadians in Tit-for-Tat Move

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 17:36

Russia said Monday it had banned entry to the country for 13 Canadian lawmakers and public figures, after Canada imposed sanctions against seven Russian and three Crimean senior officials over the crisis in Ukraine.

The Canadians now refused entry to Russia include Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign policy adviser Christine Hogan, parliament speaker Andrew Sheer and journalist turned politician Chrystia Freeland, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"This step has been taken as a reaction to the unacceptable actions of the Canadian side which have brought serious damage to bilateral relations," it said in a statement.

It accused Canada of ignoring the referendum results where Crimea voted to become part of Russia and instead supporting the "current illegitimate regime in Kiev" which took power following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The statement said that Russia remained open to constructive dialogue with Canada, including on Arctic issues. "We need such cooperation no more than Ottawa does," it added.

Others banned from entering Russia include Wayne Wouters, Canada's top civil servant, the leader of the government in parliament, Peter Van Loan, as well as Paul Grod, the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress which represents the Canadian diaspora.

The sanctions came after Harper at the weekend become the most senior world statesman to visit Kiev after the fall of Yanukovych.

Canada, with the world's third-largest population of ethnic Ukrainians, was the first Western power to recognize the ex-Soviet state's independence in 1991.


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« Reply #12613 on: Mar 25, 2014, 05:48 AM »

G7 countries snub Putin and refuse to attend planned G8 summit in Russia

Amid fears of further Russian military moves in Ukraine, G7 meets in The Hague without Russia for the first time since 1998

Julian Borger in The Hague and Nicholas Watt   
The Guardian, Monday 24 March 2014 23.15 GMT   
  
Western countries and Japan have suspended their 16-year collaboration with Russia in the G8 group in response to the annexation of Crimea and have threatened sweeping sanctions in the event of any Russian military moves in the region.

The move, a clear and deliberate break from the post-Soviet status quo, was intended to underline Russian isolation. Leaders from the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan met in The Hague as the G7 for the first time since Russian was brought into the group in 1998 to seal east-west co-operation and lay the cold war to rest.

The G7 leaders issued a joint statement, under the title of the Hague Declaration,saying they would not attend a planned G8 summit in Sochi in June but would instead convene without Russia in Brussels. The group's foreign ministers would also boycott a planned G8 meeting in Moscow in April. The declaration said Russia's actions were not consistent with the "shared beliefs and shared responsibilities" that had made the formation of the G8 possible.

As Russian troops appeared to mass on Ukraine's eastern border, the G7 statement hinted at much broader sanctions if Russia made further expansionist moves.

"We remain ready to intensify actions including co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation," the statement said.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, shrugged off the loss of G8 membership as being inconsequential. "The G8 is an informal club, with no formal membership, so no one can be expelled from it. If our western partners believe that such format is no longer needed, so be it. We aren't clinging for that format and we won't see a big problem if there are no such meetings for a year, or a year-and-half," said Lavrov after his first meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia, at the margins of the global Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Ukrainian embassy in The Hague said in its account of the meeting: "Lavrov stressed that Russia has no intention of using military force in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. The two sides agreed to hold emergency consultations at the level of the ministries of foreign affairs and the ministries of defence of both countries in the case of exacerbation of the situation."

Lavrov said little about the meeting but confirmed he had agreed to maintain contacts with the Kiev government.

Before arriving in The Hague, David Cameron has said that Britain and its Nato allies would help bolster the defences of the alliance's Baltic members, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, who have Russian minorities and which fear destabilisation by Moscow.

Obama also sought to deepen Russian isolation in a meeting in The Hague with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in which he asked that Beijing at least maintain its stance of neutrality in the stand-off and continue to reaffirm its commitment to the rule of international law and non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states.

US officials acknowledged that Xi had given little by way of formal response to the request, but the Chinese leader appeared to go out of his way to emphasise a warm and personal relationship with Barack Obama, heaping praise on the US president's wife and daughters who have just visited China and jokingly conveyed Michelle Obama's greetings to her husband.

The US deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, stressed that the crisis was not a return to the cold war, because this time Moscow stood virtually alone. "The fact is Russia is leading no bloc of countries. There's no ideological entity, like communism, that Russia is leading that has global appeal," Rhodes said. "There's no bloc of nations, like the Warsaw Pact, that they're leading. They're isolated in what they're doing in Ukraine. And I think that's very much the message that we want to send at the G7, with the EU, with Nato over the course of the next several days."

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, described the winding up of the G8 as a "huge blow" adding that Obama had made it clear that "it will then be hard to revive that in the immediate future".

Hague insisted that Britain would play a wholehearted part in the tightening of sanctions if the crisis escalated, despite potential economic costs to the UK.

He said tougher sanctions would mean that "many countries bear the cost of that in many ways" but "we have to be prepared to do that".

"Every country would have to do what is necessary if more far-reaching sanctions were applied, accepting that that would affect different economies in different ways," he said. "The United Kingdom is certainly prepared to do that. There is nothing that other countries in Europe have proposed that we have blocked. The United Kingdom is fully prepared to play its full part."

Shortly before his meeting with Lavrov, Deshchytsia, the acting Ukrainian foreign minister, had said his government had been seeking a peaceful settlement to a crisis that was in imminent danger of escalating.

"We wanted to find out what they are thinking about Ukraine and what they are thinking of their plans towards Ukraine," Deshchytsia said. "We want to live peacefully with Russia. We want our nations to coexist and they will coexist. So we wanted to sit down around the table and find a solution, maybe drink vodka. But since we don't know their plans, the possibility for a military intervention is very high taking into consideration the intel information about the deployment of a very big number of Russian troops on the eastern borders of Ukraine."

"We are very much worried about the concentration of troops on our eastern borders but at the same time we are ready to defend our homeland. Our military and civilians living in eastern Ukraine – Ukrainians, Russians other nationalities - are ready to defend their homeland, and our military is also ready to defend Ukraine."

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Russia shrugs off threat of permanent expulsion from G8

Sergei Lavrov says: if our western partners say there is no future for G8, 'then so be it. We are not clinging to that format'

Julian Borger in The Hague
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 19.13 GMT   
  
The Russian foreign minister has shrugged off the threat of exclusion from meetings of the world's largest industrial countries and the suspension of the G8, saying that Moscow was "not clinging to" membership of what he described as an informal group.

Sergei Lavrov was speaking minutes after his first meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia, at the margins of the global nuclear security summit in The Hague. He said that he would maintain contacts with the authorities in Kiev, but gave no sign of any breakthrough in the impasse over the future of Crimea.

He drew a comparison between Crimea and Kosovo and asked whether the west wanted "blood to [be] shed" in the same way.

As he was speaking, leaders from the G7 industrialised countries, including Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel and François Hollande, were meeting nearby in the Dutch prime minister's residence, to discuss how to increase punitive pressure on Russia for its annexation of Crimea. Western diplomats said they expected a joint statement dissolving the G8 group, which has provided a forum for contacts between the western industrialised world and Russia since 1998.

"As long as the political environment for the G8 is not at hand, as is the case at the moment, there is no G8 – neither as a concrete summit meeting or even as a format for meetings," Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said before the talks.

Lavrov presented the threat as insignificant.

"The G8 is an informal club, with no formal membership, so no one can be expelled from it," Lavrov said. "Its raison d'etre was for deliberations between western industrialised countries and Russia, but there are other fora for that now … so if our western partners say there is no future for that format, then so be it. We are not clinging to that format."

He claimed to have won "understanding" for Russia's stance from countries including Brazil, India China and South Africa.

Shortly before his meeting with Lavrov, Deshchytsia, the acting Ukrainian foreign minister, said his government had been seeking such an encounter for three weeks, "to establish a dialogue on how we can peacefully settle the conflict that exists between Ukraine and Russia".

"We wanted to find out what they are thinking about Ukraine and what they are thinking of their plans towards Ukraine," Deshchytsia said.

"We want to live peacefully with Russia. We want our nations to co-exist and they will co-exist. So we wanted to sit down around the table and find a solution, maybe drink vodka. But since we don't know their plans, the possibility for a military intervention is very high, taking into consideration the intel information about the deployment of a very big number of Russian troops on the eastern borders of Ukraine.

"We are very much worried about the concentration of troops on our eastern borders but at the same time we are ready to defend our homeland. Our military and civilians living in eastern Ukraine – Ukrainians, Russians other nationalities – are ready to defend their homeland, and our military is also ready to defend Ukraine."

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/24/2014 04:01 PM

Dancing with the Bear: Merkel Seeks a Hardline on the Pig

By SPIEGEL Staff

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spent many years trying to understand Russian President Vladimir Putin. But even she didn't expect him to annex Crimea. Now, she and her European counterparts are struggling to come up with a response.

Last Monday was a day of historic comparisons for Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Immediately prior, almost 97 percent of voters on the Crimea Peninsula had voted in favor of joining Russia, an outcome that reminded the chancellor of the East Germany where she grew up. "Every result over 90 percent in this world has to be viewed with skepticism," Merkel said. After a brief, dramatic pause, she added: "With the exception of my election to the party chairmanship, of course."

Her comment was greeted with laughter, but it would remain the only buoyant moment that morning. The focus of the meeting was squarely on Russia and the crisis in Ukraine. Hesse Governor Volker Bouffier spoke of the West's "distressing helplessness" in the face of Russia's annexation of Crimea and said he was reminded of the year 1938 when the world did nothing to prevent Adolf Hitler's takeover of the Sudetenland in what was then Czechoslovakia. CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber, who holds a Ph.D. in history, pointed out that, just as now with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, there had been an Olympics prior to the Sudetenland seizure: 1936 in Berlin.

They are comparisons that lead to only one possible conclusion: Europe must stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin: no appeasement, a stern response. Until the Crimea referendum, Merkel had charted a completely different course for Germany in the Ukraine crisis; she had sought to work closely with Moscow in an effort to avoid a direct confrontation. But once Putin annexed Crimea, Merkel was forced to take an uncharacteristically hardline approach. Normally happy to wait and observe as a situation unfolds, Merkel went on the offensive last week, telling German parliament that "without a doubt, economic sanctions will be considered" should the situation become more critical.

For a chancellor who prefers to move slowly, it was a strong statement. For a leader who famously likes to think things through to the end, it was a confusing one. What, exactly, is her strategy? In levying sanctions, it is vital to have a clear understanding of your adversary and what goals he is pursuing. And it is important to have more patience. Does Merkel believe that the mere threat of painful economic sanctions will prevent Putin from sitting down to a meal of eastern Ukraine after his Crimean appetizer? Or is she really prepared to pursue the spiraling logic of sanctions? Whether she wants to or not, Merkel has to dance with the Russian bear. And it is unclear who has the lead.

Isolating Russia

The situation is an uncomfortable one for the German chancellor. But several telephone calls with the Russian president in recent weeks have led her to the conclusion that there is no other option at the moment. Even as the lines of communication to Moscow remain open, travel bans have been issued, accounts have been frozen and targeted economic sanctions have been prepared. The international community is isolating Russia.

On Friday evening, the Chancellery saw the first positive effects of Merkel's clear path on Russia. After days of back-and-forth over a possible observer mission by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) for Ukraine, Moscow finally agreed. It was interpreted as a reaction to Western pressure. The determination and unity showed by the US and EU surprised Moscow, it was said.

But Merkel's path is not uncontroversial, neither within her governing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats nor within her own party. "If we levy economic sanctions and we are the ones most affected in the end, then they serve nobody," said Armin Laschet, deputy head of the CDU. Unsurprisingly, the German business community likewise believes that sanctions are the wrong approach. It is difficult to calculate their true costs and the price tag of an EU effort to provide financial assistance to Ukraine is likewise hard to estimate. One billion euros alone will be needed to stave off an immediate Ukraine insolvency.

And then there are the voters. Merkel knows that Germans are not fond of risk taking, no matter whether the issue is social security reform or a confrontation with Russia. Her election victory last autumn was partly the result of her promise to protect Germany from unpleasantness related to the euro crisis. That is what they are now expecting from Berlin's course on the Ukraine crisis: security and stability.

Thus far, according to a new survey conducted on SPIEGEL's behalf by pollster TNS Forschung, 60 percent of respondents consider the West's response to the crisis to be appropriate. Earlier surveys, however, have shown that more than two-thirds of Germans are opposed to economic sanctions, which would be the next level of escalation. And 55 percent of Germans have sympathy for Putin's view that Ukraine belongs to Russia's sphere of influence. Almost as many believe that the West should simply accept Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Obvious Pleasure

Just how seriously Berlin is taking the crisis in Ukraine can be seen from recent comments made by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. The West, to be sure, has expressly ruled out taking military action. But NATO is considering an increased presence in the Baltic states on the border with Russia. "Now it has become important for alliance members on the periphery that NATO shows its presence," von der Leyen said. "The current situation clearly shows that NATO isn't just a military alliance, but is also a political one."

The minister also defended the expansion of NATO to countries formerly belonging to the Eastern Bloc or the Soviet Union, an enlargement which Russia has heavily criticized. "It is first and foremost the democratic canon of values that has exerted such attraction on new members," she said. That is why NATO grew in the 1990s, she continued, and not because "the alliance made expansion a priority."

Still, it is the European Union and not NATO that will be taking the lead in crisis management in the foreseeable future. When Merkel met with her EU counterparts over dinner last Thursday, the major focus was Vladimir Putin, said participants. With obvious pleasure, those present at the summit related the mocking that Putin was subjected to, the ease with which his body language could be interpreted and the obvious pain Russia's lost power causes him. The latter point is one which Chancellor Merkel concurs with and she has long been closely observing Putin. But she has no prognosis for what might come next.

What will Putin's next step be? Will he annex Transnistria or South Ossetia? Will he instigate the Russian minority in the Baltics or in Kazakhstan? Sometimes Angela Merkel re-watches recordings of Putin's television appearances. She studies his body language and listens closely to the original Russian.

Merkel related to the CDU board last Monday that Nelson Mandela once told her: "I have to know how the other thinks." She then went on to describe the world from Putin's viewpoint. The Russians, she said, feel that the West has repeatedly put them on the defensive. It is an image that depicts post-Soviet Russia as the new kid in the class who initially tries to integrate -- to the West, modernity and democracy. But when he fails, he takes refuge in obstinacy and aggression.

Merkel is convinced that clarity and severity are necessary for confronting Putin. Those who offer no resistance fail.

Underestimating Putin

She has taken note of how the Russian president has changed over the years. When he first rose to power, she saw the admiration he had for the West, his desire to modernize Russia's economy and to regain his country's superpower status. Now, only the latter has remained. His erstwhile admiration for the West has turned to scorn due to what he sees as its unrepentant relativism, its failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the vulnerability it showed in the financial crisis.

In this crisis, the chancellor has had to concede that she underestimated Putin's determination. In February, Merkel still believed she could prevent Russia from annexing Crimea. Last week, she warned European leaders behind closed doors that Putin could not be trusted. She said he had lied to her several times and made promises that he then proceeded to break.

The contact group proposed by Germany early in the crisis to provide a channel for direct negotiations between Moscow and Kiev provides one example. Initially, Putin accepted the idea in a telephone conversation with Merkel. But after days of discussion on the issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suddenly announced that the idea was defunct. The OSCE observer mission seemed to be threatened with a similar fate at first. Although Putin agreed to the mission on March 16, the deal looked to be in danger last week until it was revived on Friday. Nobody, though, seems particularly confident that the agreement will last. During the Cold War, Kremlinologists would offer insight and analysis as to what the Soviet Union was thinking and planning. Now, Berlin is desperate for a "Putinologist" -- the question as to how far the Russian president might go remains unanswered.

There are, however, some certainties associated with the Ukraine crisis, and high costs are among them, even if Europe ultimately declines to apply economic sanctions. Ukraine will have to be saved from bankruptcy. And that too is dependent on Vladimir Putin. Should the Russian state-owned natural gas company Gazprom demand payment of the more than €1.5 billion ($2.07 billion) it is owed by Kiev, the new Ukrainian government would likely be unable to pay, say sources in the Berlin government. Europe would have to plug the gap.

Budget experts in Germany's federal parliament are also taking a close look at the €11 billion aid package that the EU announced at the beginning of March. An itemization compiled by the Finance Ministry indicates where the money is to come from. Up to €1 billion will come in the form of a loan with a further €1.6 billion in development aid being provided from now until 2020. Finally, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will provide up to €8 billion in additional loans.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble believes that the German budget will remain unaffected by the aid package. In contrast to the US, Berlin is not currently planning to provide direct aid to Ukraine.

But officials at the Foreign Ministry of Frank-Walter Steinmeier believe that up to €25 to €30 billion annually are necessary to provide Ukraine with a modicum of stability. Steinmeier's officials are also pessimistic when it comes to the deeply divided country's political future. The list of maladies runs from unchecked corruption to the country's instable currency to the significant amount of influence enjoyed by radical politicians, particularly on the far right. Some in the Chancellery have likewise begun using the term "failed state."

And the historical comparisons have continued. 2014 has been compared with 1914, Putin with Hitler and today's Russia with the Weimar Republic. One connection, though, has not been mentioned thus far: That between the chancellor and Catherine the Great. Merkel is known to have great respect for the Russian empress with German roots and her portrait graces Merkel's desk in the Chancellery. But what few people know is that Catherine the Great was responsible for conquering the Crimea in the 18th century. The peninsula was annexed into the Russian empire on April 8, 1783: "from now until the end of time."

BY DIETMAR HAWRANEK, CHRISTIANE HOFFMANN, PETER MÜLLER, RALF NEUKIRCH, CHRISTIAN REIERMANN, GORDON REPINSKI and GREGOR-PETER SCHMITZ

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley

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Nato to bolster defences of Baltic states amid Ukraine crisis

Cameron says British army will help beef up defences in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia to deter possible Russian aggression

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 13.29 GMT     

Britain is to join forces with its Nato allies to help bolster defences of the Baltic states amid fears that Moscow may use the presence of substantial Russian minorities to destabilise Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

As Downing Street indicated that the leaders of the G7 countries were likely to punish Moscow for its annexation of Crimea by mothballing the larger G8, which includes Russia, the prime minister said Nato would send a "very clear message" to show it believed in the security of all its members.

But Cameron, who was speaking as he prepared to travel to The Hague for a nuclear security summit and a meeting of the G7, ruled out a call by the former head of the army to recruit an extra 3,000 British troops to be deployed in Germany. Lord Dannatt, chief of the general staff from 2006 to 2008, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that an extra deployable brigade would show that Britain took its defence duties seriously on its own behalf and "on behalf of our EU and Nato allies, too".

The prime minister told ITV News: "I don't think it's necessary to change our plans to base British soldiers in Britain but I think what is important is that we send a very clear message to our Nato partners and allies that we believe in Nato and we believe in their security. That's why, for instance, we're helping some of the Baltic states with their defence and their needs. That's what we should be doing and that's what we're very much committed to doing."

The prime minister's remarks highlighted Britain's support for the "collective defence" principle of Nato. Under article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty, all Nato members agree that an armed attack against one member is an attack against all.

Downing Street indicated that leaders of the G7 – the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan – would move to isolate Russia when they met after the nuclear security summit in The Hague on Monday afternoon. Vladimir Putin, who was due to attend the nuclear security summit, has sent his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, after it became clear that a G7 meeting would be held to exclude Russia.

The prime minister's spokesman indicated that the G8 would be mothballed. The spokesman said a "clear message was being sent to Moscow if it continues to choose the path towards greater isolation". The spokesman added: "This is the first G7 heads of government meeting since the G7 was extended to the G8 more than a decade ago. All preparatory work for the G8 meeting in Sochi [in June] has been suspended. The prime minister's view is that it would be unthinkable for the G8 in Sochi to go ahead in current circumstances. The future of the 'G' grouping is the main item for their discussion later this afternoon."

Downing Street voiced support in the EU for the next phase of sanctions which would focus on financial targets. But the spokesman indicated that such a phase, due to be triggered if Russia further destabilised Ukraine, had not yet been engaged despite armed Russian troops taking over a Ukrainian naval base in Crimea.

The spokesman said: "It is clear evidence of a failure to de-escalate and a failure to engage in the dialogue that is so important with the Ukrainian authorities."

On possible further sanctions, the spokesman said: "It is right that work is being done to prepare what further measures may need to be taken."

Britain is showing its support for Latvia and Lithuania as David Lidington, the Europe minister, embarks on a two day visit to the two Baltic states on Monday. The prime minister's spokesman said: "It is an opportunity to underline our commitment to those countries."

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Crimea facing exodus of journalists, activists and Tatars

As pro-Russian forces consolidate power in Crimea many of its citizens are fleeing the increasingly ugly mood in the peninsula

Harriet Salem in Simferopol
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 17.07 GMT   

Ukraine's president has ordered his country's troops to withdraw from Crimea – but retreating soldiers will not be the only people leaving the peninsula to its Russian future.

Journalists, activists and some Crimean Tatars are voting with their feet following the Russian annexation, preferring an uncertain future in Ukraine to the increasingly ugly mood that they face in Crimea.

Independent journalist Irina Sedova from Kerch is one of them. "I was attacked by a crowd at a pro-Russia rally and threatened by armed men while photographing a military base near Kerch," she said. "It became clear it was no longer safe for me to stay," added Sedova, an ethnic Russian who has lived her whole life in Crimea but has now fled to Kiev.

"I knew that if I stayed that they would kill me and my family. When I received threats that my house would be burned down that was when I decided to go," she says. Sedova's husband and children have stayed behind on the southern peninsula while she looks for permanant work in Kiev. "I really hope I get something soon and that they can join me here, this is a terrible time for our family," she says.

Elena, an ethnic Ukrainian from Crimea's vehemently pro-Russian naval city Sevastopol, says her family are no longer free to express their opinions openly. "It was never like this before. But now our neighbours, friends have fallen out with us. They think all Ukrainians are fascists. I am afraid of the people around us, they are going crazy," she says.

Elena and her husband spent the morning saying goodbye to their nephew and helping him pack up his worldly possessions. "He left with tears in his eyes," she says. A deputy prosecutor for the old administration in Sevastopol, Elena's nephew made the difficult decision to leave the southern peninsula, where he was born and grew up, to start a new life in Donetsk, where he has been offered a new position by the government. "It feels like there is no future here for us here, it's hopeless," says Elena.

Yevgeniy Cherednichenko and Aleksandr Lusyan, both officers in Ukraine's dispossessed Black Sea naval fleet, are also waiting anxiously for orders from Kiev about how to evacuate from the region. "I can't leave yet because then I might face court marshal for betrayal of the motherland. But we should receive some instructions about what to do next soon," says Cherednichenko, a Sevastopol native.

"I'm hoping to be offered a position in Kiev, or somewhere else in Ukraine," he adds. Other officers, however, say that they that will stay in their birthland regardless of the consequences.

Underlying the mini-exodus is a very real concern about a backlash against anyone perceived as anti-Russian. More than 20 people have been kidnapped in Crimea since the unrest started. Most have been returned but one Tatar activist, Reshat Ametov, who was last seen being detained by local militia, was later found dead in the forest.

At least three activists, including one Tatar, Ivan Selentsov, are still missing. "We are very concerned for his safety," says Enver Kadyrov, a human rights activist representing his case. "We have been told that he is being detained in the police station, but nobody has been allowed to see or contact him."

Pro-unity Tatar activist Dzhalil Ibrahimov is also facing up to the tough reality of life under Russian rule. At the beginning of the unrest in Crimea the local Tatar population, took an active stance in protesting against the region's Russification. Ibrahimov was one of the leaders of the movement. But as tensions have escalated his family and community have asked him to keep his head down.

"People are afraid that any kind of action will be viewed as a provocation, as an excuse to attack our people. Now the big question is how we will live here."

As pro-Russian forces have consolidated power in Crimea, local militia have stepped up the intimidation of the local Tatar community. "They [local militia] have started to burn fires near the village at night, so we know they are there and they are close. Silence is shame, but to speak out is dangerous," says Ibrahimov.

So far just one family in Ibrahimov's village, Pionerskoe, have left for Lviv, where they used to live until recently. But according to the Ukrainian media outlet, Lviv Gazetta, Iryna Sekh the head of the Lviv oblast administration, has stated that the region is preparing to welcome 2,000 refugees from Crimea, mostly ethnic Tatar.

Not everyone who opposes the Russian annexation is abandoning the new Crimea, however.

Sergei Mokrushyn, one of Crimea's leading investigative journalists, says he is being followed, intimidated and suspects his phone is being tapped.

"The message is very clear: be quiet or leave," says Mokrushyn. "A colleague of mine was approached by armed men, they warned him to be careful. They knew addresses and personal details about his family," says Mokrushyn. Yet despite the threats Mokrushyn says he will not give up his work.

"If I don't do it, then who will?" he asks.

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Kiev Blamed for Blackout in Capital of Crimea

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MARCH 24, 2014
IHT

SIMFEROPOL, Crimea — A power failure plunged much of the Crimean capital, Simferopol, into darkness on Monday, the second partial blackout in two days, as the Ukrainian government in Kiev appeared to retaliate against Russia’s occupation and annexation of the peninsula by sharply cutting electricity supplied from the mainland.

Homes and businesses went dark across a large swath of the city, underscoring the vulnerability of the geographically isolated peninsula, which is dependent on mainland Ukraine for many vital services, including electricity and much of its water supply.

Officials here and in Moscow had anticipated such a move by the Ukrainian government. In recent days, regional officials said they had acquired 900 generators to provide electricity to vital buildings, including hospitals. It was not immediately clear if those generators were in use.

The state-run Ukrainian national energy company, Ukrenergo, issued a statement attributing the blackouts in Crimea to emergency repairs to two major transmission lines.

Ukrainian Marines spoke of their next steps after leaving a landing ship blocked by Russian forces in Donuzlav Bay in Crimea.

Another company, DTEK Krymenergo, which delivers most of the electricity used in Crimea, said the transmission line had been disconnected for repairs, forcing it to sharply reduce the supply of energy.

After an initial blackout in Simferopol on Sunday evening, regional officials immediately blamed the government in Kiev.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said Crimea’s reliance on the mainland was a major risk and also seemed to blame Kiev for the blackouts. At a government meeting, Mr. Medvedev said in the short term the issue should be settled “at international talks,” but he also urged Russian ministries to begin work in Crimea as soon as possible.

“Another infrastructure problem is Crimea’s dependence on Ukrainian power and water supplies,” Mr. Medvedev said, according to an official transcript. “This dependence periodically makes itself felt, including last night”

President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered officials to begin work quickly on a bridge to connect mainland Russia and the Crimean port of Kerch, but that project will take years and cost $3 billion to $5 billion.

The blackouts came as the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, formally ordered the withdrawal of the remaining Ukrainian forces in Crimea, ending an increasingly futile effort by some troops to hold on to their bases after Russia’s annexation of the territory.

The Ukrainian military has been virtually powerless in the face of the incursion late last month by Russian special forces and other units. In recent days, there was a steady capitulation as Russian units seized base after base.

Some Ukrainian commanders who were detained were still unaccounted for on Monday, including Col. Yuli Mamchur, a leader of a base at Belbek, near the Sevastopol airport.

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Japan to Offer $1.5 Billion Aid to Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 March 2014, 06:50

Japan is to give up to $1.5 billion in financial aid to Ukraine, the government in Tokyo confirmed Tuesday, as the club of rich nations booted Russia off the membership list.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the figure as he and fellow world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, cancelled an upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi, and said it would be replaced by a G7 event that did not involve Moscow.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that Kiev needed help at a time of huge strain on the country's finances.

"It is extremely important that each country in the international community gives support so that Ukraine, facing a severe economic situation amid political confusion, will be able to restore economic stability," he said.

"Against that background, the prime minister announced that Japan will provide economic assistance of up to 150 billion yen ($1.5 billion) on condition that the Ukraine government will reach an agreement with the (International Monetary Fund) on economic reforms.

"Of the sum, 110 billion yen will be (low-interest) yen loans."

At the meeting in The Hague, the G7 also threatened tougher sanctions against Russia for its absorption of Crimea, which has plunged relations between the West and Moscow to their lowest point since the Cold War.

The gathering came as Ukraine ordered its outnumbered troops to withdraw from Crimea as yet another of its bases was stormed.

Earlier, the White House had said it was "very concerned" by a build-up of Russian troops on the border.

Tokyo has fallen into line with Washington and its allies in tightening the screws on Moscow, despite the differing strategic priorities for a nation entirely dependent on imports for its energy, with Russia a key global supplier of gas.

Abe has held multiple summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin since coming to office in late 2012 and was one of the few pro-Western leaders who attended the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Others stayed away to register disquiet over Moscow's anti-gay laws.

The Japanese leader has been pushing to expand the two countries' economic ties and resolve a decades-old territorial conflict at a time that Tokyo is embroiled in separate disputes with China and South Korea.

However, isolating Putin over Crimea threatens to derail progress towards resolving the issue, which has prevented Tokyo and Moscow signing a formal treaty ending World War II hostilities.

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Ukraine aid bill clears Senate hurdle after Republicans drop resistance to IMF loans

Despite passing out of committee more than a week ago, aid package had been delayed due to unrelated squabble over IMF clauses

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 March 2014 10.40 GMT       

A stalled US aid package for Ukraine finally began to emerge from Congress on Monday night after the Senate temporarily put partisan bickering aside to vote overwhelmingly in favour of $1bn worth of economic assistance measures.

A majority of Republicans dropped their previous resistance to the bill, which includes controversial reforms to the International Monetary Fund added at the request of the White House, and it cleared a key procedural hurdle by 78 votes to 17.

Despite passing out of the Senate Foreign Relations committee more than a week ago, the aid package had been delayed during recent tensions in Crimea due to an unrelated squabble over whether the IMF clauses would be expensive or weaken US influence.

But the wider Ukraine package, which also includes further sanctions against Russia, still faces an uphill struggle in the House of Representatives where its version of the bill does not contain the IMF reforms demanded by Democrats.

Republican senator John McCain warned that further delays would fuel a Russian perception that the US was not serious about helping Ukraine resist further territorial aggression.

“Pass this legislation as soon as possible and fight about less important issues later on,” urged McCain. “If we get hung up for another week because of our failure to act it sends exactly the wrong signals.”

“I believe [Putin] is watching carefully for the reaction of the West and how we are going to assist the Ukraine,” he added.

Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid went further, accusing Republican opponents of putting the interests of their wealthy political donors ahead of US support for Ukraine.

In a complex twist seen as symbolic of current congressional dysfunction, Reid claims GOP strategists had offered to drop their opposition to the IMF clause in exchange for entirely unrelated concessions over a Internal Revenue Service probe of political donors.

Republicans, on the other hand, accuse Democrats of horse-trading, questioning why the controversial IMF reforms are attached to such an urgent and internationally sensitive piece of legislation in the first place.

Democratic foreign relations chairman senator Bob Menendez, denied the IMF changes would impose any additional cost on US taxpayers, claiming a $63bn increase in donations would be offset by savings elsewhere.

The bill's principle impact though is to strengthen recent White House sanctions against Russia and authorise a series of loan guarantees for the beleaguered Ukrainian economy.

The White House has argued that the role of the IMF is vital to this broader rescue package and included similar language in the G7 communique issued after a meeting of world leaders in the Hague.

“The International Monetary Fund has a central role leading the international effort to support Ukrainian reform, lessening Ukraine's economic vulnerabilities, and better integrating the country as a market economy in the multilateral system,” it said.

“IMF support will be critical in unlocking additional assistance from the World Bank, other international financial institutions, the EU, and bilateral sources.”

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Lavrov and Ukraine Foreign Minister Begin Crisis Talks in The Hague

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 19:10

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Ukrainian counterpart on Monday for crisis talks on the sidelines of a nuclear summit in The Hague, the Russian foreign ministry said.

The ministry posted a photograph on its website of Lavrov meeting Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya for the first time since the Kremlin's seizure and annexation of the Crimea peninsula.

Earlier on Monday, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency said:

"By request of the Ukrainian delegation, a meeting between Lavrov and Deshchytsya has been planned on the sidelines of the summit."

"I am hopefully meeting my Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss how we can peacefully resolve the conflict," Deshchytsya told journalists earlier in The Hague.

Separately, Lavrov said Monday he saw no "great tragedy" if Moscow was expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) club of leading nations for its annexation of Crimea.

"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it. At the very least, we are not trying to hold on to this format, and we see no great tragedy if it (the G8) does not meet," Lavrov told reporters after holding separate talks with both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Deshchytsya.

As Lavrov was speaking, G7 leaders -- the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Britain -- were meeting nearby to decide whether to inflict further punishment on Moscow for its actions on Crimea.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier it was "absolutely clear" that a planned meeting of the G8 hosted by Russia would not go ahead, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "political conditions" were not in place for such a gathering.

However, Lavrov was defiant, insisting that Crimea had "a right to self-determination."

Russia's takeover of the region was not "malicious intent," said Lavrov, but was to "protect the Russians who have been living there for hundreds of years".

"We trusted our Western partners for a long time. We have an idea of the value of the promises of our Western partners," the minister added.

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'Sorry Brother': Ukraine Marines Betrayed by Russian Raid

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 March 2014, 19:22

Just a year ago, Ruslan, a marine in Ukraine's top battalion stationed in the Crimean port of Feodosiya, helped Russian soldiers paint their armored personnel carrier for a military parade.

On Monday, he spotted the same vehicle being used to block the gate to his base as Russians showered its barracks with tear gas and stun grenades in a pre-dawn raid that took the unarmed Ukrainians by complete surprise.

"We thought of them as our own, as our brothers," said Ruslan, who declined to give his last name.

"We trusted them... and they trusted us," he told Agence France Presse at a Feodosiya cafe after spending hours in Russian custody.

"And now they received these orders (to attack us), and what they did was completely inhuman. It's not the Christian way."

Ruslan, who is in his late 20s, said he was torn by Moscow's seizure and annexation of Crimea as his parents live in Ukraine and his wife and children were born on the peninsula.

The Feodosiya base, where he served for six years, is one of the last Ukrainian military bases in Crimea to fall under Russian control.

But it was not the tear gas that stung these marines the most -- it was the Russians who broke a promise to allow them to leave the base peacefully on Monday in exchange for their arms.

"There was an agreement that we hand over the weapons... and at noon today we were to lower the flag and drive out on our trucks to go to the mainland. But that's not what happened," Ruslan said.

The unit locked up its armory and handed it over -- but then was woken up by a raid at 4:00 am.

"They fired bullets at us while we were completely unarmed," said Yevgeniy, another marine.

"My friend had his nose broken with the butt of a rifle for nothing, he put up no resistance.

"They took our military IDs, phones, money -- everything they could lay their hands on."

The marines said that if they had known this was going to happen, they would never have surrendered their weapons.

A soldier Yevgeniy knew tied him up and loaded him onto a Ural military truck at 6:00 am.

"He said 'Sorry brother, we have nothing to do with this. The security services are at work here'."

As Russia asserts its control over Crimea, Ukrainian servicemen note the irony that many of those under attack were themselves born in Russia and felt closer to Moscow than their new government.

In the early days of the blockade, Russians besieging the base carried food parcels to the Ukrainians inside, who then frequently shared the food.

"We resisted for 23 days on dried food, on canned fish. Could defense ministry officials have survived like that for so long?" Ruslan asked bitterly.

"They kept saying, 'Hold on... it's being decided'.

"We asked them for a command, but there was nothing."

The angry marines are ready to go straight to Kiev and raise some hell, said Yevgeniy, who is also in his late 20s.

"We'll go back to Ukraine. If nobody picks us up at the border, all of us will go to Kiev to the Rada (parliament), to the defense ministry.

"We'll storm them, and maybe then they'll treat us differently," he said as he waited for a bus to the border town of Chongar.

Ukraine should have immediately put up barriers at all Russian crossings to protect Crimea, the marines said. They think the peninsula has been lost because of poor leadership.

Former president Viktor "Yanukovych should have used troops at Maidan," Yevgeniy said, referring to the Kiev square occupied by pro-European protesters who toppled the pro-Moscow leader last month.

"He believed the wrong people... and where is he now? And where are we now? We are totally fucked."

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Police Kill Far-Right Leader in Western Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 March 2014, 11:52

Ukrainian police shot dead a far-right nationalist leader in the western city of Rivne in a shootout that erupted when they tried to arrest him, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

Oleksandr Muzytshko, head of the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) in the west of the crisis-hit country, opened fire on the police who shot back, deputy interior minister Volodymyr Evdokimov said, cited by Interfax news agency.

After the gunfight, which occurred at a cafe on Monday night, "he was still alive... but when an emergency services doctor arrived he was pronounced dead," Evdokimov said.

Muzytshko, also known as Sashko Bilyi, had been wanted for organized crime, he added.

Three of his accomplices, who had been armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a Makarov pistol, were arrested in the same operation and taken to Kiev pending an investigation.

Russia had issued an arrest warrant for Muzytshko on suspicion that he fought alongside Islamists in the war in Chechnya where he was responsible for the deaths of 20 Russian soldiers, according to Russian news agencies.

The heavily-built Muzytshko was notorious for YouTube videos in which he was seen brandishing a Kalashnikov in Rivne's City Council, and roughing up the city's prosecutor.

Pravy Sektor, which played a key role in protests that ousted pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych last month, said Saturday it had formed a political party.

Dmytro Yarosh was also elected as the leader of the party, which also announced he would stand in Ukraine's presidential election on May 25.


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PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA

Russian Professor Sacked for Criticizing Crimea Takeover

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 March 2014, 11:56

One of Russia's most prestigious universities faced accusations Tuesday of "political censorship" after it sacked a prominent professor for comparing Russia's takeover of Crimea to Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria.

The Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (MGIMO), which is run by the Russian foreign ministry, on Monday said it had dismissed philosophy professor Andrei Zubov for his public criticism of Russia's actions in Ukraine's Crimea region.

Zubov on March 1 published an opinion piece in Vedomosti business daily where he compared Russia's absorption of Crimea with the Anschluss of 1938 when Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

MGIMO said in a statement that it had terminated his contract and dismissed him from the university.

The university said that Zubov's "statements on the events in Ukraine and Russia's foreign policy cause outrage and bewilderment within the university."

"They go against the course of Russia's foreign policy (and) expose the actions of the government to reckless and irresponsible criticisms," it said.

"This is discrimination against me for my political views," Zubov told AFP, adding that he planned to appeal his dismissal.

The university said Zubov had been handed an official warning on March 5 over his "public statements on the events on Ukraine and Crimea... about their incompatibility with the status of a professor at MGIMO."

Zubov had made "inappropriate and insulting historical analogies," it added.

More than a thousand students and alumni on Tuesday signed an online petition calling for Zubov's immediate reinstatement and accusing the university of "political censorship."

"During my 12 years of work for MGIMO I did a lot of articles and lectures that differed from the Russian foreign ministry's opinion. That didn't cause a problem," Zubov said.

"If everyone is going to be uniformly delighted with the authorities, who will tell them something is wrong? But evidently the times have changed."

Zubov is a historian who lectured at MGIMO on the history of religious ideas.

MGIMO in southern Moscow is the training ground for Russia's diplomats and political elite. Its alumni include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and opposition-supporting television host Ksenia Sobchak.


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