UNICEF Says 50,000 Children Could Die in Months in S. Sudan
by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 21:40
Conflict in South Sudan has triggered a serious risk of famine that will kill up to 50,000 children within months if immediate action is not taken, the U.N. warned on Friday.
The African country has experienced high levels of malnutrition since it gained independence in 2011, UNICEF said, and conditions have worsened since ethnic conflict broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and supporters of his former deputy Riek Machar.
"Now the ongoing conflict has pushed them to the edge -- unless treatment is scaled up immediately, up to 50,000 children under the age of five are likely to die," the agency said.
It estimates that 3.7 million people are at risk of "food insecurity."
"Sadly, worse is yet to come. If conflict continues, and farmers miss the planting season, we will see child malnutrition on a scale never before experienced here," said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF representative in South Sudan.
"If we cannot get more funds and better access to reach malnourished children in South Sudan, tens of thousands of under-fives will die."
UNICEF's immediate goal is to treat 150,000 severely malnourished children under five with food supplements, vitamins and water purification tablets, and to help pregnant or nursing women.
To do so, it needs $38 million but has so far raised only $4.6 million.
The United Nations, whose World Food Program stocks in the country have been looted, has warned that the fighting puts in danger harvests that are crucial to staving off a worse humanitarian disaster.
Nearly 900,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.
Israeli Military Takes Over Seminary in West Bank Settlement
By ISABEL KERSHNER
APRIL 11, 2014
JERUSALEM — The Israeli military on Friday took over a seminary known for extremism in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank, moving in a company of border police troops after radical settlers clashed with soldiers and destroyed army property there over the last week.
The extraordinary move came after a public outcry over the attacks on the army, and suggested the beginnings of a showdown between the Israeli authorities and violent Jewish settlers as tensions have grown in the area.
In recent years, extremist settlers have been attacking local Palestinians and their property, as well as the Israeli security forces deployed in large part to protect the settlers, as part of a policy the settlers call the “price tag.” The aggressive doctrine calls on settlers and their supporters to exact revenge for any army or police acts against unauthorized building in the settlement outposts and to deter the state from taking further action.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it chose to deploy troops in the seminary, the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva, “for operational reasons and because it had become a forward base for violent activities against nearby Palestinian villages and the security forces.”
The military vowed to use all means to quash the violence. The warrant for seizing the building, signed by the commander of the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, is valid until June 15.
A spokesman for Yitzhar said in a statement to the Israeli news media that the army takeover of the yeshiva was “a hysterical and historic act, of a kind unprecedented since the establishment of the state of Israel.”
The latest string of confrontations began on Sunday, when unidentified vandals slashed the tires of an army vehicle belonging to a senior officer who was visiting Yitzhar. On Monday night, security forces demolished several unauthorized structures in a hilltop outpost and clashed with settlers who rioted in response, reportedly throwing stones and blocking roads.
Yitzhar spokesmen told the Israeli news media that they believed that the demolitions were retaliation by the authorities and “collective punishment” after the tire-slashing episode.
Tensions peaked early Tuesday, when dozens of radical settlers ordered a small group of reservists who were guarding the settlement to leave their post and stand aside while the settlers destroyed their tent and equipment.
The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, met on Thursday with security officials and representatives of the judiciary to discuss steps to contend with the violence.
“We have to relate to these events as we do to terrorism,” Mr. Yaalon said in a statement. “We will not ignore the raising of hands against soldiers, police officers or innocent Palestinians.”
Yitzhar is a religious settlement of about 200 families in the northern West Bank. The Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva has a reputation as a bastion of extremism, publishing a book in 2009 co-written by one of its leaders, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, that offered religious justification for killing non-Jews who pose a threat to Jews, even young children who could pose a threat in the future.
Yitzhar’s community rabbi, David Dudkovitz, called in an interview on Israeli television this week for all residents to abide by the law.
Christian Vigilantes Trap 14,000 Muslims in C.Africa Town
by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 April 2014, 07:20
Stifled by the heat inside a barn in the Central African Republic town of Boda, dozens of emaciated and often sick displaced people subsist in fear of the vigilantes who surround them.
The group, members of an extended family, fled to Boda from the village of Danga 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, seeking shelter from the anti-balaka -- or "anti-machete", mainly-Christian militia groups that have been hunting and killing members of the crisis-torn country's Muslim minority.
But days after the family arrived in Boda, fierce clashes broke out between the anti-balaka and local Muslims, ending with the Christian militia forces encircling the southwestern diamond-mining town.
More than 14,000 Muslims, including the displaced family from Danga, are now trapped inside with no way out and very limited supplies.
"I am suffering very much. No house, no food. The anti-balaka are killing people -- many," said Saifou, one of those sheltering in the suffocating barn.
"I have lost many things, even my cattle. I had 800 of them," said Saifou -- who, like some 200 other displaced people stuck in the town, is from the Fula ethnic group, a predominantly Muslim, herding people whose members are scattered across west and central Africa.
Boda began its bloody downward spiral at the end of January, after coup leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia gave up power under international pressure.
Djotodia was accused of letting ex-fighters from Seleka, the mainly Muslim rebel coalition that swept him to power 10 months earlier, wage a campaign of atrocities against the Christian majority.
Seleka fighters abandoned Boda after Djotodia stepped down, and horrific fighting broke out between people of both faiths. More than 100 people were killed in a week.
The bloodshed -- which typifies the terrifying plunge into ethno-religious violence that has swept the country -- was halted by the arrival of French peacekeeping troops.
- No milk for baby -
Since then, however, anti-balaka forces have laid siege to the town, once called "Boda the Beautiful" for its majestic, centuries-old trees.
A woman in the barn who was nursing a malnourished baby lifted up her shirt and squeezed her breast to show that she had no milk for her infant. Her mother, Khadidja Labi, lay immobile on a mat, already looking like death.
Labi was unsuccessful in signing on for the scarce food handed out each morning by staff of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). The last distribution was four weeks ago, time enough to weaken the family and make them more susceptible to diarrhea and less resistant to diseases such as scabies and malaria.
The most feeble have died. Yet those who could still stand on trembling legs proved ready to stumble forward and greet visitors.
Karim, clad in a brightly colored shirt, came back from the food handout disgruntled.
"The WFP isn't giving us sugar, no honey, no firewood, just rice and maize," he said.
"The Christians wanted to kill us in order to take away our property. We can't even go the mosque in our district," added Karim, who was born in Boda and had wanted "to stay here".
He vented the anger felt by Boda's Muslims over businesses that had been looted and destroyed around the town center, which is crossed by a single long road of red earth, lined by small stalls with virtually nothing to sell. The road is the only territory still open to the Muslims, all gathered into a single district.
Frightened inhabitants can no longer cross three small wooden bridges that traverse the filthy waters of a canal because death is all but certain on the far side. The bridges today lead to a no-man's land of burned-out houses owned by Muslims and Christians alike.
- 'Muslims showed wicked side' -
Facing the main road and watching over the no-man's land with machine-guns, about 100 soldiers from France's 2,000-strong peacekeeping force guard the frontier between communities. Three armored cars are posted on the square in front of the town hall.
To the right of it, a battered old road rises up to the church and Christian districts, which have become home to 9,000 displaced people. Here, a small market remains, along with street kitchens and the sound of music. The mood is less desperate than in Muslim territory and meat, vegetables and fruit are available.
"We want the Muslims to go, since they have shown us their wicked side," said Miguez Wilikondi, a youth leader who has taken charge of the displaced people.
Wilikondi said the Christians had been saved from Muslim militias by anti-balaka forces.
"Thanks to them, we're still alive," he said.
Back in the Muslim enclave, Mahamat, a diamond miner who converted from Christianity to Islam and has 13 children, tried to find room for hope.
"Fortunately we have a well of pure water, otherwise we would be dead," he said.
New Mali PM Chooses Ministers with Focus on Reconciliation
by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 April 2014, 07:45
Mali's new Prime Minister Moussa Mara formed a government Friday, with the outgoing foreign minister becoming reconciliation minister as the deeply-divided nation recovers from months of ruinous conflict.
Former planning minister Mara, 39, was promoted to the premiership last weekend after Mali's first post-war prime minister Oumar Tatam Ly quit just six months into office.
The make-up of the new cabinet, announced by presidential decree on public television, places reconciliation at the top of the agenda.
Mara has promised "to mend the social fabric that has been particularly traumatized by the troubles of the previous years".
President Ibrahima Boubacar Keita's office gave no reason for the resignation of Ly and his ministers, but it later emerged that the outgoing prime minister had become frustrated over being unable to enact reforms in the administration.
Mara said this week that he wants to strengthen governance and public services, improving relations between citizens and the state in post-coup Mali.
Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in Mali's vast desert north overthrew the democratically elected government of president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012.
In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups which imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out punitive amputations and executions.
Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and prompted France to launch a military offensive at Mali's behest in January last year that ousted the Islamists.
Mara said Wednesday that "the safety of all Malians wherever they are, and on the whole national territory" would be the focus of his administration.
Malians need "to mend the social fabric that has been particularly traumatized by the troubles of the previous years", he added.
"We will lead the government with the mindset of absolute integrity among its members," he said, promising loyalty to Keita.
His new government consists of 21 ministers, four fewer than the outgoing administration, including eight women.
Outgoing foreign minister Ould Sidi Mohamed, an Arab from northwest Mali, replaces Cheick Oumar Diarrah as minister for reconciliation.
His foreign ministry is now headed by diplomat Abdoulaye Diop.
Many ministers retain their portfolios in the new cabinet, including
Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga at defense and Sada Samake, the interior and security minister.
Keita's landslide victory in the first presidential polls since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion (2.9 billion euros) in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of Mali's 2012 coup.
In his resignation letter, seen by Agence France Presse, Ly spoke of a disfunctionality and "insufficiencies" which hampered his government's capacity to act.
This is what happens’: Police violently evict squatters around Brazil’s top World Cup stadium
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 11, 2014 16:13 EDT
At least seven people were injured Friday as authorities ousted squatters from an abandoned building and shacks surrounding it just steps from Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium.
With the start of the World Cup two months away, Brazil has stepped up security efforts in the metropolis, where tens of thousands of football fans will fly in for the tournament and which will stage seven matches — including the July 13 final at Maracana.
At dawn, more than 1,600 heavily armored police arrived at the building — which had been occupied by squatters in recent weeks — brandishing an eviction order requested by the Oi phone company, which owns the property.
Meanwhile, cranes and tractors demolished wooden huts built around the building — many still full of the belongings residents had had no time to pack.
Hundreds of desperate and angry residents and neighbors poured into the street protesting the loss of their new homes.
“This is what happens in the (World) Cup country,” was a repeatedly heard lament.
Dozens of furious youths threw stones and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Several buses were set on fire.
Most residents were dispersed within minutes, but about a hundred protesters resisted police orders to vacate the building for several hours. Two were ultimately arrested for refusing to leave.
The newspaper O Globo also reported that suspected drug traffickers from neighboring favelas fired guns at the police.
The official tally from civil defense authorities was seven injured, none seriously. But media reports put the figure higher, at 19, of whom 12 were police.
The confusion and violence later spread to neighboring favelas, where a police car and several buses and trucks were burned, and banks and supermarkets were looted.
In all, police said they had arrested 22 people for the unrest, including 10 who did not live in the shantytown but participated in the later destruction.
Meanwhile, on-edge police officers hit a pedestrian with pepper spray, and then when witnesses protested he had not done anything to provoke the spraying, another officer pulled a gun but fired no shots.
The shantytown emerged on March 31 when about 5,000 people who were homeless or tired of paying high rents in other slums decided to commandeer the building, which had been empty for years, and the surrounding area, where they quickly built makeshift homes.
Venezuela's Maduro, Opposition Spar in Crisis Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 21:41
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leaders traded barbs during six hours of nationally televised talks that ended at dawn Friday, a rocky first attempt to end deadly anti-government protests.
Opposition leaders demanded amnesty for people arrested in two months of protests and the disarmament of radical pro-government civilian groups they accuse of terrorizing demonstrators.
Maduro rejected their demands, but the socialist leader invited his political rivals to another meeting on Tuesday.
The talks put the Venezuelan president in the same room as opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refused to recognize his razor-thin defeat to Maduro in last year's presidential election.
But the more radical wing of the opposition, which is seeking Maduro's ouster through the street protests, was absent.
The protests have left 41 dead and 600 wounded, and prompted accusations of human rights violations by police.
After 15 years of socialist rule, protesters are denouncing rampant street crime, soaring inflation, poor job prospects and shortages of such essential goods as milk and toilet paper.
Maduro has branded the protesters as "fascists" leading a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government. Authorities have jailed three opposition leaders, accusing them of promoting the violence.
The Maduro administration held "peace conferences" aimed at ending the protests, but the opposition refused to attend the meetings, which they described as a sham.
The government and the opposition finally agreed to sit down at the same table at the insistence of foreign ministers of the UNASUR group of South American nations.
The foreign ministers of Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia attended the talks as "good faith witnesses," along with a Vatican envoy.
Maduro launched the talks with a one-hour introduction during which he railed against those seeking his ouster, warning there would be no negotiations "nor a pact."
The chosen political heir of late president Hugo Chavez urged the opposition to "condemn violence as a way of doing politics, as a form and strategy for changing governments."
Capriles warned that Venezuela was "in a deeply critical situation" but he insisted that he was not calling for Maduro's ouster.
"We don't want a coup d'etat or a social explosion," said Capriles, who last year gave the opposition its best election result since Chavez was elected in 1998.
"We want this problem to be resolved," he said, calling for the government to respect the constitution and "end the repression."
Ramon Aveledo, representative of the opposition umbrella group known as MUD, also demanded the government disarm pro-government civilian groups known as "colectivos."
Protesters say the colectivos are armed gangs that have terrorized demonstrators, but the groups describe themselves as social-welfare organizations that work to improve life in the slums.
"I ask for respect for the colectivos. Essentially, they are social work groups," Maduro said.
Luis Vicente Leon, a prominent pollster and analyst, said Maduro had "lost a great opportunity" to accept some of the opposition's demands in order to "raise hope in the dialogue."
Why are geocentrists trying to undo centuries worth of accepted science?
By Travis Gettys
Saturday, April 12, 2014 7:00 EDT
Most people probably assume the scientific debate over the Earth’s place in the universe has been settled for centuries, but a small group of conspiracy theorists have been quietly pushing the idea that Galileo was wrong.
The Raw Story brought them blinking into the light earlier this week with a report on their plans to release “The Principle,” a film narrated by “Star Trek: Voyager” actress Kate Mulgrew and featuring interviews with several prominent scientists, that questioned the Copernican principle placing the sun at the center of the universe.
Mulgrew and scientist Lawrence Krauss both reacted to the controversy by claiming they’d been duped by the geocentrists — and two of their ideological opponents say the group intends to dupe the public.
The film’s producers deny it promotes geocentrism but instead focuses only on the Copernican principle that lends the movie its name.
“The difference between geocentrism and denying the Copernican principle is not subtle,” said physicist Alec MacAndrew. “In the former case, the claim is that the Earth is stationary at the center of the universe. In the latter case the claim is much more vague – that the Earth is somehow in a privileged or unusual position.”
While he called the geocentric view “utter bunkum,” MacAndrew said the Copernican principle offered “a nice cosmological and philosophical question.”
The film’s principle backer – Robert Sungenis — is also developing another film that will focus on geocentrism to be released after “The Principle.”
“There can be no doubt that for these individuals a full-blown geocentrism is the end game in view,” said David Palm, a theologian who has tangled online with Sungenis and his allies over their philosophies. “It has always been the ulterior motive behind finding scientists who could be enlisted to question the Copernican principle. They’re essentially trying to soften up their audiences by presenting less fringe and controversial material before hitting them with the full monty, so to speak.”
The new geocentrists believe scientists have conspired for centuries to undermine religious faith by promoting the heliocentric model of the universe proposed by Copernicus and famously championed by Galileo.
“Just as there are those on one extreme who incorrectly hold that science is antithetical to faith because they have a false or incomplete understanding of philosophy and/or religion, we have the geocentrists on the other extreme who reach the same incorrect conclusion, but because they have a false and/or incomplete understanding of science — and even their own faith,” Palm said. “For these geocentrists, their personal understanding of faith trumps all appeal to reason and physical evidence.”
Americans may be particularly vulnerable to such “bunkum.”
Recent polls have suggested that one in four Americans are unaware the Earth revolves around the sun, just as one-fourth of Americans believe President Barack Obama may be the Antichrist, 33 percent hold creationist beliefs, nearly 40 percent believe global warming is a hoax, and about half believe in one or more medical conspiracy theories.
Against that backdrop are efforts by state legislators to allow or insist teachers teach creationism or intelligent design by arguing that the theory of evolution is somehow controversial.
“A surprisingly wide spectrum of people – obviously anyone predisposed to be anti-science or to believe in conspiracy theories (is vulnerable),” MacAndrew said. “But at a certain level some of the arguments can seem more complex than at first sight, and anyone insufficiently knowledgeable in physics could be taken in — especially since the geocentrists often deploy dishonest, inconsistent or plain incorrect arguments.”
Palm, who maintains the website GeocentrismDebunked, said it would be a mistake to assume geocentrists are stupid or acting in bad faith.
“Belief in this theory seems to be largely a product of being emotionally affected by the false idea that our physical location in the universe must convey something about our existential and/or theological significance,” he said.
Indeed, many of the group’s social media postings plaintively ask: “Are you significant?”
The view has attracted a rogue’s gallery of crackpots who promote a stupefying variety of conspiracy theories – usually anti-Semitic – that casts doubt on the lunar landing, the Holocaust, and the official investigations into 9/11, the JFK assassination, and even the sinking of the Titanic.
One adherent blames the waning popularity of the King James Bible translation for rising sea levels, while others believe Jews control NASA — which Sungenis himself believes creates crop circles using lasers or plasma projectors.
“All NASA would have to do is put a digital pattern in a laser/plasma projector aboard a satellite and then shoot it down to earth, and presto, you have a crop circle,” Sungenis wrote. “It gets everybody talking about UFOs. But really, all they are doing is getting our minds off the Bible and Christ by making it look like neither are true.”
Palm, a Catholic, said he became involved in pushing back against the geocentric fringe several years ago after Sungenis posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on his website claiming an affiliation to the Catholic Church.
His local bishop asked Sungenis to stop writing about Jewish people and issues and ordered him to stop calling his organization a Catholic one after he criticized a catechism related to Judaism.
Palm said he was most concerned that Sungenis had duped sincere Catholics by claiming geocentrism was an official church teaching that had been covered up for centuries.
“That is simply false and it leads people into a very dark and conspiratorial view not just of the world at large, but even of their own church,” said Palm, who fears this can be harmful to faith.
“Of course, for those who believe Sungenis, it no longer really matters what physical or historical evidence is presented because it’s a matter of faith for them,” he added. “He basically sets himself up as the only one they can really trust – he’s the ultimate arbiter of both religious and scientific ‘truth.’ It can be very tough to break through that kind of wall.”
For MacAndrew, an atheist, the danger posed by geocentrism is similar to those posed by “young earth” creationism or anti-vaccine advocacy.
“(It) irrationally (undermines) public confidence in the scientific method in support of a literal interpretation of a religious text,” MacAndrew said.
“’Scientific’ beliefs which are plainly wrong short change people – the actual science is so much more interesting, awe-inspiring and life enhancing,” he added.
In the USA..United Surveillance AmericaBernie Sanders: Greedy billionaires twisting American dream into nightmarish oligarchy
By Travis Gettys
Friday, April 11, 2014 10:17 EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked Thursday whether the U.S. was evolving into an oligarchy during a speech on the Senate floor.
The senator said recent Supreme Court rulings on campaign finance law would further tip the economic and political balance toward the very wealthiest Americans.
“We are moving toward a situation where people such as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson have so much money it would hardly matter to them to write a check for more than both Obama and Romney spent in the last presidential election,” Sanders said. “They could write out a check for $2 billion, and it would be insignificant – a fraction of their increase in wealth over a one-year period.”
The Koch brothers, who fund a variety of conservative political operations, saw their wealth increase from $68 billion to $80 billion in just one year, Sanders said.
He said the loosening of restrictions on campaign spending favored by conservatives had imperiled representative government.
“I do not believe democracy is about a handful of billionaires, such as the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson, being in a position in which they can spend as much money as they want on any political race in this country,” Sanders said. “It is very hard for me to imagine how anybody could defend that as being democracy. It is not. It is oligarchy.”
He said millions more Americans must become engaged in the political process to push back against greedy billionaires who are “not content to have $10 billion or $20 billion in wealth.”
“They feel the need to have more and more and more and to take that money out of the hides of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor,” Sanders said. “They want more tax breaks for billionaires, and then they want to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and every other program that is of importance to working families.”
The senator, who is mulling a presidential run to offer a true progressive option, said he was voicing the concerns of voters all over the country who feared wealth inequality had derailed the American dream.
“There was the feeling that economically what America was about, and what we celebrated, was the great middle class,” Sanders said. “People today, both from an economic perspective and from a political perspective, are beginning in a very serious way to question that reality.”
He said the U.S. had the most unequal distribution of income of any major country in the world – including European countries that still maintain kings, queens, and other hereditary royalty.
Sanders frequently cites a statistic showing that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38 percent of the nation’s financial wealth, while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent of the nation’s wealth.
“If you had a big pizza with 100 slices in it, one person would get 38 percent of those pieces of pizza, if we looked at wealth, and the bottom 60 percent of the people would have to share 2.3 percent of the pizza,” Sanders said. “I don’t think that is what America is supposed to be about, and that situation is getting even worse.”
He said millions of Americans were working longer hours for less and less money while paying more for health care and seeing their pensions shrink.
“Do you want to know why people are angry, why people are concerned, and why people are worried what is going to happen to their kids?” Sanders asked his Senate colleagues. “It is because the median family income has gone down by $5,000 since 1999.”
Meanwhile, he said, 95 percent of all new income generated between 2009 and 2012 – during the Great Recession – went to the top 1 percent.
“More and more income goes to the millionaires and billionaires, while millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages, and while we have the highest rate of childhood poverty, at 22 percent, of any major country on Earth,” Sanders said.
The senator said he was astonished that the typical male worker made $283 less than he would have in 1970.
“Imagine that,” Sanders said. “In the last 44 years, with all of the increase in productivity, with all of the robotics, with all of the space technology, all of the iPhones, iPads, and everything else where people are now producing much more, the typical male worker made $283 less last year than he did 44 years ago.”
Amazingly, he said, the typical female made $1,775 less than she would have just seven years ago, before the recession.
“We have more people living in poverty than ever before, and that is 46.5 million people,” Sanders said. “Here is a fact that should frighten everybody: That is, half of Americans have less than $10,000 in their savings account right now. Can you imagine that? That means if your car breaks down and you need that car to get to work or you have a serious health problem and you don’t have particularly good health insurance, there it goes. It goes.”
That prevents Americans from retiring with dignity, he said because Social Security wasn’t enough to supplement living expenses on just $10,000 in savings.
He compared the top-heavy distribution of wealth to post-Soviet Russia.
“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a small number of bureaucrats were able to steal a lot of public property, and they became multibillionaires,” he said. “They controlled oil companies, banks, gold mines, aluminum companies, television stations, and other state-owned companies, and that is how they became oligarchs.”
That allowed just five oligarchs to control most or all of Russia’s industrial production by 2001, he said.
“That is the direction in which we are moving,” Sanders said.
Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWApW2eliRM
**************Maine Governor Vetoes Bipartisan Medicaid Bill
By karoli April 11, 2014 6:00 pm -
Governor LePage denies Maine's working poor access to health care.
Governor Paul LePage has blood on his hands over this one. In spite of the fact that the Maine legislature approved a Medicaid expansion plan with a bipartisan majority, LePage refused to allow it to become law.
ThinkProgress: Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Wednesday vetoed a GOP-sponsored proposal that would have extended health coverage to roughly 70,000 low-income residents in his state. The governor has been particularly resistant to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which intends to extend public insurance benefits to additional poor Americans who struggle to afford the cost of health coverage. This is the third time he has rejected it.
The state’s Democratic-controlled legislature has repeatedly attempted to get LePage to expand the program. The newest expansion bill was spearheaded by two moderate Republicans and passed with bipartisan support — but it ultimately didn’t matter to the fiercely anti-Obamacare governor, who once called the Affordable Care Act “the degradation of our nation’s premier health care system” and said he wouldn’t lift a finger to implement it.
Even though the federal government would cover the full cost of the first year of the expansion, and up to 90 percent of the cost after that, LePage is still wary to implement the policy. He’s one of a handful of Republican leaders who claim that the government can’t be trusted to follow through on its funding promise.
“Proponents of this bill tout ‘free’ federal money and unspecified state ‘savings’ with no backup for these claims,” LePage said in a statement. “It is shortsighted to think federal funds will always be available, especially after watching the federal deficit climb and witnessing continual delays and changes from Washington.”
It's even more short-sighted, Governor LePage, to deny needy people access to health care. Good luck explaining that one to families of dead folks who might otherwise have lived.
Here's a question for every Republican governor and legislator standing in the way of people's access to health care: Are you violating your residents' civil rights?
***************President Obama Makes Republicans Pay For Trying to Take Away Your Right To Vote
By: Jason Easley
Friday, April, 11th, 2014, 10:45 pm
President Obama gave a rousing and passionate call to action where he told Republicans that he will continue to challenge every single attempt to suppress the vote.
The president said:
Opportunity means making the minimum wage a wage you can live on. It means equal pay for equal work. It means overtime pay for workers who have earned it. It means continuing to extend the right of quality, affordable health care for every American in every state, because we’ve got some states that aren’t doing the right thing. We have states who just out of political spite are leaving millions of people uninsured that could be getting health insurance right now. No good reason for it. If you ask them what’s the explanation they can’t really tell you.
The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo. You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore. But the stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.
Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote. In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they’re registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name. Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.
And as President, I’m not going to let attacks on these rights go unchallenged. We’re not going to let voter suppression go unchallenged. So earlier this week, you heard from the Attorney General — and there’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice. They’ve taken on more than 100 voting rights cases since 2009, and they’ve defended the rights of everybody from African Americans to Spanish speakers to soldiers serving overseas.
What the president was talking about was all part of the same Republican agenda. Denying people access to healthcare while also denying them access to the vote is all part of punishing the “takers” in order to give more to the “makers.”
Republicans deny millions of Americans their fundamental rights, and President Obama isn’t going to tolerate it. President Obama has fought the Republican effort to suppress the vote for years. This president understands that inequality begins with unequal access to the polls.
The Republican governors who refuse to expand Medicaid can’t offer a justification for their actions, but they think that denying people healthcare is good politics. President Obama is the last line of defense for equality, and opportunity. Obama will not be a candidate in another campaign, but he is going fight to make sure that all Americans have access to the polls for years to come.
*************Don’t Worry, Greg Abbott Cited a White Nationalist for Informational Purposes Only
By: Sarah Jones
Friday, April, 11th, 2014, 4:01 pm
State Senator Wendy Davis (D-TX) has been fighting against Attorney General Greg Abbott’s (R-TX) desire, based upon the “ideas” of a white nationalist who hates women, to use Big Government to regulate 4-year-olds to determine if they’ve earned pre-K funding or not.
Abbott is taking refuge in saying his plan isn’t really his plan. It was just there “for informational purposes.” Wendy Davis was not impressed.
Senator Davis is taking Abbott’s failed education plan on today in Corpus Cristi and touting her own plan that is meant to help all kids. According to prepared remarks, she said, “I’ve laid out a comprehensive education plan that begins even before kindergarten through an initiative called ‘Great Start, Great Texas.’ My plan offers every four-year-old in our state an early start on education through full-day, quality pre-K. It also promotes early-childhood reading so that every student is reading at grade-level by the third grade.”
Davis called Abbott out for denying the facts in his own plan, “Now, Greg Abbott is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. His campaign spokesman says that Abbott’s pre-k plan, and I quote, ‘does not impose more tests on four-year-olds and suggestions to the contrary are absurd.’”
But that’s not what the Texas press found.
From the March 31st Austin American-Statesman, Abbott’s pre-K plan would, quote, “include testing and other measurements.”
On April 1st, KUT radio reported that Abbott’s plan was dangled resources to schools based on, quote, “a determination that would be made through testing.”
The April 5th San Antonio Express-News made it clear: “Abbott suggested three ways schools could measure student progress, including direct assessments or “‘norm referenced standardized tests.”‘
As did yesterday’s Corpus Christi Caller-Times, noting that Abbott’s plan uses “measurement, which is another way of saying testing.
Davis then brought up Abbott canceling a press conference he called on education after the whole white nationalist teeny women’s brains thing. Not a great move on his part. And then, “A day later, his campaign claimed that the new tests for four year olds are there for, and – I’m going to try to say this with a straight face – ‘informational purposes only.’”
Yes, she points out, “In 26 pages, the plan never uses the words ‘informational purposes.’”
She hammered her point home (emphasis mine):
And the truth on testing is right here on page 21:
Lawmakers should amend the Education Code to REQUIRE school districts with prekindergarten programs to administer assessments at the beginning and end of the school year. There are at least three methods of assessing students at the prekindergarten level: ● #1. Direct Assessments, norm referenced standardized tests.
So Senator Davis wants to know, “What other unpopular ideas are now for ‘informational purposes only?’ Did you cite fringe thinker Charles Murray in your plan for “informational purposes only?” Well, since his plan is based in part on Murray’s ideas, he already sorta pulled that card.
Abbott’s get out of trouble free card: “Dear Texas, don’t worry, y’all! I only cited a white nationalist for informational purposes. Don’t you feel better now?”
The pre-K brawl is going down just like the fight over Fair Pay brawl: The Texas Republican says and does some foolish things, and then walks them back and tries to claim they don’t mean what they mean, and then eventually Democrat Wendy Davis clobbers him with his own policies by simply revealing them to the public.
So first Abbott tried to claim that his plan does not call for the “testing” of 4-year-olds. But inherently his plan calls for measurements, which is another way of saying testing. This might make more sense if you realize that Abbott, who is the Attorney General, denied that women make less than men and claimed that he loved women because he was married to a woman, so women didn’t need legal protections. But then it turned out that the women in his very office, an office which upholds Texas law, were paid less than men for the same job.
Anyway, that’s a no go on Abbott’s denials about what constitutes testing. He was for it before he was against it, but he’s still for it so long as we don’t call it testing, even though his own plan uses the word testing and this concept is based in part on Murray’s ideas. That whole plan is for informational purposes, y’all!
Lest the parents of Texas breathe a sigh of relief, however, white nationalist Charles Murray is the guy who claims that women’s brains are smaller than men’s. He also believes, “No women has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions.”
It’s almost funny that Abbott is clinging to an Archie Bunker type who needs to believe that women have smaller brains in order to feel better about his place in the world, given the contest thus far between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. What I’m saying (not just for informational purposes, either) is that Wendy Davis seems to be smarter than Greg Abbott. After all, she has him fleeing his own positions and saying really silly things in order to deflect from his dangerous, fringe beliefs. Davis is driving the narrative of this race so far, and this is a race that was supposed to be a cake walk for Abbott.
************Mitch McConnell Asks If Americans Prefer Him Or Harry Reid: Hilarity Ensues
It’s been tough for Mitch McConnell lately. Like Ted Cruz, he attempted to drum up some support for himself on Facebook when things went utterly, disastrously, horrifyingly wrong for him.
Last month, Ted Cruz posted a “poll” on Facebook asking if people were better off now than when Obamacare was signed into law four years ago. While he expected the usual echo chamber response, the comments quickly filled to the brim with support for the Affordable Care Act.
While conservatives should have learned from Green Eggs and Bullsh*t‘s utter humiliation, McConnell decided that he would just try something similar and hope for the best:
He was probably expecting an influx of “Get rid of Reid” style comments, but what he got was…stomped. The comment section flooded with remarks indicating that America does not want him to lead the Senate–or anything else:
Click here to read the reaction/ comments that followed: http://crooksandliars.com/2014/04/mitch-mcconnell-asks-if-americans-prefer
***************David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory and Meet The Press Hit a New Low By Disrespecting A Boston Bombing Victim
By: Jason Easley
Friday, April, 11th, 2014, 5:19 pm
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory’s Meet The Press continues to tarnish the legacy of the show. A Boston bombing victim walked off of the set in tears after the program lied to her and used the bombers’ names after they promised that they wouldn’t.
In a series of tweets Adrianne Haslet-Davis ripped Meet The Press:
Cannot believe @meetthepress chose to use the bombers name instead of respect their guest. Had to walk off set crying.
— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) April 11, 2014
I feel so disrespected @meetthepress I asked politely yesterday and you said yes. Now you choose to use the name instead
— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) April 11, 2014
Let's change the dialect to honor the survivors and not focus on the criminals. Shame on you @meetthepress
— AdrianneHD (@AdrianneHaslet) April 11, 2014
NBC News told Politico that they never promised not to use the bombers’ names, “Adrianne Haslet-Davis is an inspiring survivor with an important story to share. She was due to take part in a roundtable discussion for Meet the Press with three other participants. She requested that the alleged bombers’ name not be used in the entire program, but given the nature of the discussion we couldn’t make that guarantee. We regret any distress caused by this miscommunication.”
It wasn’t a miscommunication. Haslet-Davis made a very simple request that anyone over the age of seven should have been able to comply with. This is a woman who lost part of her leg in the bombing. The least that Meet The Press could do is respect her wishes for one hour.
Someone at Meet The Press decided to use the names of the bombers because they thought it would make for good television. It was a desperate act from a desperate show that has fallen to third place in the Sunday show ratings. Future guests will think twice in the future before they trust any promises made to them by anyone at Meet The Press.
David Gregory "I am not a used corporate condom" has been pushing viewers away for years, and now guests are walking out on the show.
Meet The Press is wilting and dying. Tim Russert would be ashamed of what his show has become.
Xenophobic Chill Descends on Moscow
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
APRIL 12, 2014
MOSCOW — The huge banner was unfurled on Friday morning outside one of Moscow’s biggest bookstores, Dom Knigi, a grand emporium of the written word on Arbat Street across from a Citibank, a Baskin-Robbins and a Dunkin’ Donuts, and down the block from a big movie theater where the main feature at the moment is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“Fifth Column,” the banner declared. “Strangers Among Us.” It showed black-and-white portraits of three of Russia’s better-known political opposition figures and two Soviet-era dissident rock musicians, along with two evil-looking space aliens, one carrying a briefcase marked with the white ribbon that has been the symbol of political protests against President Vladimir V. Putin and the Russian government.
From the moment that Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea cast a new, bitter chill over relations with the West, a sinister jingoistic vibe has pervaded this unsettled capital — stirred up by state-controlled television and Mr. Putin himself.
“Some Western politicians are already threatening us not just with sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front,” the president said in his speech announcing plans to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation. “I would like to know what they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors,’ or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent?”
Moscow today is a proudly international city, where skateboarders in Gorky Park wear New York Yankees hats they bought on vacation in America, and where the designer French or Italian handbags might just as well have been picked out in Paris or Milan as in one of the boutiques in Red Square. Apple iPhones and iPads are nearly as common on the subway here as they are in Washington.
In the weeks since the military incursion into Crimea, however, Russian flags have been hung from the windows of apartment buildings all over the city, just as American flags appeared in profusion after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
There is also now a website with a name that translates as “traitor.net” that includes photos and quotations of public figures who have spoken out in some way against Russia’s policy toward Ukraine. The bottom of the site has a button inviting viewers to “suggest a traitor.”
At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new “state policy in culture.” Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that “Russia is not Europe” and urges “a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance” in favor of emphasizing Russia’s “unique state-government civilization,” according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.
A Russian news site, znak.com, also reported last week that a popular series of math textbooks would be dropped from an official list of recommended educational texts because it used too many non-Russian fairy tale and other characters in its illustrations.
“What do we see from the first pages? Gnomes, Snow White — these are representatives of a foreign-language culture,” an expert of the Russian Academy of Education, Lyubov Ulyakhina, told the site in a question-and-answer interview. “Here’s some monkey, Little Red Riding Hood,” Ms. Ulyakhina continued, “of 119 characters drawn here only nine are related to Russian culture. Sorry — no patriotism — this is not funny; this is our mentality.”
And in a statement last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned its citizens not to travel to countries that have extradition treaties with the United States, saying that the Obama administration “is trying to make a routine practice out of ‘hunting’ for Russian citizens in third countries with the goal of their subsequent extradition and conviction in the U.S. on the basis of, as a rule, questionable charges.”
In some cases, the xenophobic language has been accompanied by an intensified crackdown on political opponents and also on some media outlets that do not strictly toe the Kremlin line.
On the same day that Russian forces initially deployed across Crimea, Aleksei A. Navalny, the political opposition leader and anticorruption blogger, was placed under house arrest in connection with one of the several prosecutions — widely regarded as politically motivated — that were brought against him long before he spoke out against Mr. Putin’s policies toward Ukraine.
Mr. Navalny is generally confined to his home but has also been barred from speaking in public or using the Internet or other electronic communication.
Mr. Navalny’s photo is at the top of the website listing traitors, and he was among the opposition figures pictured on the banner outside the bookstore. In a separate development on Friday, prosecutors announced a new indictment against him, this one involving charges that he and his brother, Oleg, stole about $1 million by overcharging for courier services related to a basket-weaving business owned by their parents.
A previously unknown group called Glavplakat published a statement on its website taking responsibility for the banner outside the bookstore, and it promised additional street art in support of its antitraitor mission.
“Many films have been shot, many books have been written about how aliens have secretly captured the earth masking themselves as earthlings,” the group wrote. “At the time, no one suspects that they are others, enemies. For now we have not encountered real aliens. However, the ‘fifth column’ of national traitors in Russia has unfortunately become an incontestable reality.”
The group added, “In fact these are the very ‘others.’ Pretending that they act in the interests of Russia and our citizens, they serve the interests of completely different ‘civilizations.’ ”
Boris Y. Nemtsov, a longtime political opposition leader and a former deputy prime minister under Boris N. Yeltsin, who also appeared on the banner, wrote on Facebook that the situation seemed worse than during the Cold War. “In my opinion, even the Soviet Union wasn’t like this,” Mr. Nemtsov wrote.
Some of the language on Russian television in recent days has been far more charged than anything heard during Soviet times. One of the country’s most prominent television hosts, Dmitry K. Kiselyov, declared during an evening newscast last month that Russia remains “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”
In a telephone interview, Mr. Nemtsov said he believed that the banner was installed with Kremlin approval, given the prominent location on Arbat Street, a major thoroughfare that leads directly to Red Square and is heavily patrolled by the traffic police.
“March 2014 marks a turn in the country from authoritarianism to dictatorship,” Mr. Nemtsov said, adding, “Could you imagine a banner of the same size hanging on Dom Knigi if it said, ‘Putin get out!’ or ‘Putin stop lying!’ Can you imagine it? Of course not.”
The banner did not last long. It was removed by midmorning. It was also far from clear that Moscow was ready to give up its globalist tendencies for insular nationalism. About 50,000 people protested the military action in Ukraine last month, and last weekend “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened at No. 1 in Russian box office proceeds, taking in more than $7 million.
On Arbat Street, the film, which features Captain America fighting a former sidekick who returns from a near-death experience as a brainwashed Soviet assassin, was showing in 3D, IMAX 3D, and regular 2D. Also playing: “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
'Dead, Wounded' on Both Sides in East Ukraine Police Raid
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 April 2014, 12:41
Kiev said Sunday that several had been left "dead and wounded" in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive east, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said both sides had suffered casualties in the offensive in Slavyansk that threatens to further escalate tensions with Russia, which has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's eastern border and has warned Kiev against the use of force.
"There are dead and wounded on both sides," Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.
"On our side -- an SBU (Ukrainian Security Service) officer. On the side of the separatists -- an unidentified number... The separatists have started to protect themselves using human shields."
Helicopters hovered low over the poor mining town, where a thick column of black smoke could be seen, an AFP photographer said.
Residents, mostly women, huddled in the cold under light rain in front of barricades protecting the police building. Armed separatists have also set up a checkpoint at the entry to the town.
Avakov earlier announced that units from "all of the country's force structures" were taking part in the first stiff response from Kiev to the unrest sweeping the volatile eastern part of the country.
He said the gunmen had opened fire on Ukraine's special forces and were "shooting to kill".
With military precision and dressed in unmarked fatigues, unknown gunmen on Saturday launched a series of attacks against security buildings in the tinderbox eastern rust belt.
This came after a week of soaring tensions as pro-Russians demanding greater autonomy, or to join nearby Russia, stepped up protests in the region ahead of May 25 presidential polls.
The protesters refuse to recognize the new pro-Western government in Kiev, which swept to power on the back of bloody winter protests against fallen president Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject closer ties with the European Union and move closer to Russia.
Moscow has kept up crushing pressure on the new leaders, first seizing Crimea then threatening to cut off gas supplies and trade with the heavily indebted nation all while keeping up a massive military presence along the eastern border.
The West has expressed alarm that Russia is deliberately stoking tension in the heavily Russified east in order to justify a Crimea-style invasion.
"Militants in eastern Ukraine were equipped with Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by Russian forces that invaded Crimea," U.S. ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt wrote on Twitter.
Avakov said the events were seen in Kiev as an "act of aggression" by Russia, which has flatly denied any role in the unrest sweeping Ukraine's east.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and "made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine's border, there would be additional consequences", a senior State Department official said.
A wave of U.S. sanctions unveiled in March blacklisted officials and businesspeople close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to protest at Moscow's takeover of Crimea.
And on Sunday, France said it would support new sanctions against Moscow if there was a military escalation in Ukraine, speaking on the eve of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis.
One killed as Ukrainian forces launch 'anti-terrorist' operation
Residents in Slaviansk told to stay indoors and keep away from windows as government announces 'anti-terrorist' operation
theguardian.com, Sunday 13 April 2014 08.22 BST
One Ukrainian state security officer has been killed and five others wounded in an "anti-terrorist" operation on Sunday against pro-Russian separatist militants in a city in the east, the interior minister said.
On the side of the separatists there had been an "unidentifiable number" of casualties during the operation in the town of Slaviansk, the minister, Arsen Avakov, said on his Facebook page.
"There were dead and wounded on both sides," Avakov said.
About 1,000 people were giving support to the separatists, he added.
Ukrainian security forces launched an "anti-terrorist" operation to end the grip of separatists on an eastern town earlier on Sunday.
The operation came as the White House said that US vice-president Joe Biden would travel to Kiev on April 22 to show support for the Ukrainian government, residents in the eastern city of Slaviansk have been told to stay indoors in anticipation of clashes between pro-Russian militants who have seized official buildings and Ukrainian security forces.
"Pass it on to all civilians: they should leave the centre of town, not come out of their apartments, and not go near the windows," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Avakov as saying.
"An anti-terrorist operation has begun in Slaviansk. It is being directed by the anti-terrorist centre of the state security service. Forces from all the security units of the country have been brought in," Interfax news agency quoted the minister, Arsen Avakov, as saying on his Facebook page.
He also said there was gunfire in the city.
Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border on Saturday, and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.
A Reuters correspondent outside the town's police headquarters, one of the buildings seized, said two military helicopters were flying overhead.
About a dozen women, who had been in the building when it was seized, were evacuated as soon as Avakov's announcement was made known.
A group of up to a 100 civilians, many of them elderly women, stood in front of the building, chanting messages of solidarity to the protesters inside, including "Referendum!", a reference to demands for a local poll to be held to determine a separate status for the region.
On the building's forecourt, which itself was barricaded, protesters beat out a defiant tattoo on shields they were carrying.
Gunmen armed with automatic weapons also took control of the police headquarters in the nearby city of Kramatorsk, a Reuters witness said. An organised military unit of over 20 men wearing matching military fatigues and carrying automatic weapon took over the building around 1700 GMT on Saturday after arriving on at least two buses.
Russia accused of ‘aggression’ by Ukraine as tensions increase
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 12, 2014 17:51 EDT
Ukraine accused Moscow of “aggression” on Saturday after Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen seized two security buildings in its restive eastern rust belt amid spreading protests demanding the Russified region join Kremlin rule.
The coordinated attacks and a series of gunfights between militants and police in two eastern towns underscored the volatility of the crisis ahead of first direct talks between EU and US diplomats and their Moscow and Kiev counterparts in Geneva on Thursday.
They also threaten to lead to further violence as far right forces which hold sway over the ex-Soviet state’s western regions and which played a decisive role in this winter’s anti-government protests watch the nation of 46 million veer toward a possible breakup.
Ukraine’s foreign minister blamed the occupations on the “provocative activities of Russian special services” while a prominent nationalist called on militants in his Right Sector party — branded as a neo-Nazi organisation by Moscow — to “fully mobilise and prepare for decisive action”.
And acting president Oleksandr Turchynov convened an emergency security meeting after his interior minster reported that a “gunfight” had erupted between local security forces and militants who had attacked a police station in the eastern town of Kramatorsk.
“The authorities of Ukraine view today’s events as a display of aggression by the Russian Federation,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.
Ukraine’s interim government has been facing relentless pressure from Russia since its February ouster of an unpopular Kremlin-backed president and decision to seek closer ties with the West.
The seizures highlight how little sway Kiev’s untested leaders have over pro-Russians who have since April 6 also controlled the Donetsk government seat and a state security building in the nearby eastern city of Lugansk.
Moscow has massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border after annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and nearly doubled the rates it charges Kiev for gas.
Russia is now ready to demand prepayment from the cash-strapped government for future gas deliveries or halt supplies — a move that would impact at least 18 EU countries and deepen the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
A letter obtained by AFP and dated April 11 showed European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calling for a common EU response to President Vladimir Putin’s latest energy warning.
A note sent by Putin on Thursday cautioning that gas transits through Ukraine may cease due to Kiev’s debts to Moscow “raises serious issues for Europe’s collective energy security,” Barroso wrote.
Barroso said the issue would be raised at a meeting on Monday of EU foreign ministers and in a conference call with the 28-nation bloc’s energy chief.
He added that the commission would facilitate a “joint approach for a reply” to Russia.
- ‘Men in camouflage’ -
Saturday’s unrest began with morning raids on a police station and local security service centre in Slavyansk — a riverside town of 100,000 about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of the regional capital Donetsk.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said the first assault was led by 20 “armed men in camouflage fatigues” whose main purpose was to seize 20 machine guns and 400 Makarov guns stored in the police headquarters “and to distribute them to protesters”.
An AFP reporter saw the Slavyansk police station surrounded by gunmen in masks and camouflage who had set up a barricade of old tyres and dumpsters in front of the police headquarters.
The interior ministry said some of the same militants had later occupied the city’s state security service building.
“The entire city… will defend the guys who seized this building,” Slavyansk Mayor Neli Shlepa told Russia’s Life News television outside the police headquarters.
The interior ministry later reported that its forces had also repelled an attack on a Donetsk chemical factory that manufactures explosives.
“Protection of the facility, which stores a considerable amount of explosive material, has been stepped up,” the interior ministry said.
- ‘People’s republic’ -
The police said a separate group of assailants had also unsuccessfully tried to seize the prosecutor’s office in Donetsk — a bustling city of one million that was the seat of power of president Viktor Yanukovych before his ouster and flight to Russia.
But an AFP reporter saw about 200 pro-Russian protesters armed with clubs and sticks storm the city’s police headquarters without meeting any resistance.
A few dozen anti-riot police who arrived at the scene were instead sporting orange and black ribbons symbolising support for Russian rule.
The Donetsk administration centre is already being held by gunmen who have proclaimed the creation of their own “people’s republic” and called on Putin to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s embattled Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk promised during an unannounced visit to Donetsk on Friday to grant more powers to the country’s regions and protect the east’s right to use the Russian language.
But the Donetsk and Lugansk gunmen want to hold independence referendums coinciding with snap presidential polls Ukraine will stage on May 25.
- ‘Russian agents’ -
Both Western leaders and Kiev have accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the unrest in order to justify a possible future invasion of eastern Ukraine — a charge Moscow flatly denies.
Kiev said Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov by telephone on Saturday to “stop the provocative activities of Russian special services in the eastern regions of Ukraine.”
But Moscow said Lavrov firmly rejected the accusation and “noted that similar claims… have been made by Washington, although we still have not been presented with any concrete proof.”
Russia on Friday warned that it would boycott Thursday’s Geneva talks should Ukraine try to regain control of the seized buildings through force.
Crisis-Hit Ukraine Eyes National Status Referendum
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 April 2014, 14:27
Ukraine's interim president on Monday made a dramatic about-face aimed at defusing tensions in the separatist east by backing a national referendum on turning the ex-Soviet republic into a federation with broader regional rights.
European powers meanwhile sought to raise the pressure on Russia -- which it blames for fomenting the tensions -- with Britain calling for "further sanctions" on Moscow ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
And Germany signaled its own resolve to take a tougher stance against a partner from which it imports 40 percent of its gas by noting there were "many signs" that armed groups operating in eastern Ukraine were "receiving support from Russia".
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov's u-turn came only hours after pro-Kremlin militants who reject the authority of the new Western-backed leaders ignored an ultimatum to end their occupation of strategic buildings or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" involving both internal security forces and army troops.
The coordinated raids and dual threat posed by Russia's deployment of 40,000 troops on Ukraine's border and warning of a possible gas cutoff have left Kiev's untested leaders desperately seeking Western help in averting a further dismemberment of their crisis-hit state.
EU foreign ministers -- their capitals bracing for what might be the third halt in Russian gas supplies since 2006 -- gathered in Luxembourg to discuss whether to pursue a third and most punishing-yet round of economic sanctions against Moscow.
But Washington has also advised Kiev to devolve powers in order to remove any argument Moscow might make about discrimination against Russian speakers -- a charge that has fed fears of a further invasion following the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea last month.
Turchynov had long and furiously resisted Russia's idea of turning Ukraine into a federation. But he said on Monday that he was ready to put it up for a national vote to prove that most shared his view.
"In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about a national referendum," Turchynov told leading lawmakers in nationally televised remarks.
"We are not against holding a national referendum that -- if parliament adopts the corresponding decision -- could be held together with the presidential elections," Turchynov said in reference to the May 25 vote.
"I am certain that a majority of Ukrainians will support an indivisible, independent, democratic and united Ukraine," he added. "This is my conviction, and I think that all those present share my view."
Pro-Kremlin protesters in rundown eastern rust belt regions such as Donetsk and Kharkiv are seeking local referendums on either broader rights or an option to join the Russian Federation.
Turchynov's announcement stops well short of meeting those demands and it remains unclear how the gunmen -- or Russia -- intend to respond.
The outcome of a national vote on federalization is uncertain because most in Kiev and the Ukrainian-speaking west share more nationalist ideals and support a strongly unified state.
The pro-Kremlin gunmen's latest raids were especially unsettling for Kiev and Western leaders because of their remarkable similarity to events leading up to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The balaclava-clad gunmen were armed with special-issue assault rifles and scopes most often used by nations' crack security troops.
Many wore unmarked camouflage uniforms similar to those seen on the highly trained units that seized the Black Sea peninsula in early March. They also moved with military precision and cohesion.
Turchynov had warned on Sunday evening that he would launch a "full-scale" assault against the militants if they failed to give up by Monday morning.
AFP reporters across the Donetsk region saw no signs of a Ukrainian offensive.
The streets of Slavyansk -- a rundown coal mining town of 100,000 that has been under the militants' effective control since Saturday -- were deserted and silent except for a crowd of 1,000 that had gathered near the seized state buildings to show their support for the insurgents.
Protesters had set up road checks along the main highway leading into the city while many inside Slavyansk itself spoke in favor of joining Kremlin rule.
"We would have preferred autonomy within Ukraine," said a 46-year-old teacher named Oleksandr. "But under current circumstance, we are seeking unification with Russia."
But Donetsk Governor Sergiy Taruta told local residents in an official statement that the army operation had already begun.
"They are terrorists and we will not allow them to lord over our land," the Donetsk governor said.
Yet Another Building Seized in East Ukraine
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
APRIL 14, 2014, 7:09 A.M. E.D.T.
DONETSK, Ukraine — A pro-Russian mob on Monday seized a police building in yet another city in Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine, defying government warnings that it was preparing to act against the insurgents.
Dozens of angry men hurled rocks, smashed the windows and broke into a police station in the city of Horlivka not far from the border with Russia, while hundreds of onlookers cheered them on. Thick white smoke rose from the entrance to the building, from which the insurgents hoisted the Russian flag.
The events in Horlivka were the latest sign of trouble in Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, in which pro-Russian gunmen have seized or blocked government buildings in at least nine cities demanding more autonomy from the central government and closer ties with Russia.
Oleksandr Sapunov, one of the men who took part in storming the police building in Horlivka, said the insurgents were fighting against appointees of the Kiev government, including the local police chief, and wanted to appoint a leadership of their own.
"The people came to tell him that he is a puppet of the Kiev junta and they won't accept him," Sapunov said.
One of the insurgents later announced that some of the police have switched over to their side, retained their weapons and will continue serving on the police force.
Hundreds of onlookers outside chanted "Referendum!" and "Russia!"
One man climbed on the roof of the porch to put up a Russian flag. A policeman came through a window to chase him, and the man fell off the roof. Several minutes later the policeman, his head bloodied, was carried out of the police station to an ambulance.
Acting Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Velichkovych acknowledged Monday that some police officers in eastern regions were switching sides. "In the east we have seen numerous facts of sabotage from the side of police," Velichkovych told reporters.
Kiev authorities and Western officials have accused Moscow of instigating the protests, saying the events echoed those in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month. Ever since pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in late February, Russia has demanded constitutional reforms that would turn Ukraine into a loose federal state.
After refusing demands for a referendum by separatists in the east, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov indicated Monday that holding a nation-wide referendum on the nation's status was a possibility and that such a vote could be conducted on May 25, along with presidential elections. Turchynov expressed confidence that Ukrainians would vote against turning the country into a federation and against its break-up.
Meanwhile, a deadline set by the Ukrainian government for pro-Russian gunmen to leave government buildings in eastern Ukraine and surrender weapons passed early Monday, with no immediate sign of any action to force the insurgents out.
Turchynov had issued a decree Sunday that those protesters who disarm and vacate government offices in several cities in the Russian-leaning east of the country by 0600 GMT Monday will not be prosecuted. Turchynov vowed that a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" would take place to re-establish control over those areas and that the fate of the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia last month, will not be repeated.
There was no immediate comment from the government on the deadline passing.
But Serhiy Taruta, governor of the Donetsk region, where government buildings in several cities, including the regional capital Donetsk, have been seized by pro-Russian gunmen, said an "anti-terrorist operation" was underway in the region, according to the Interfax news agency.
Taruta did not give any details of what the operation would entail. The governor usually does not have authority to launch such measures on his own and he was likely acting on the orders of top security officials in Kiev.
Taruta said the action would be aimed at "protecting the peace and order on our land, which today is being taken away from us by armed, aggressive fanatics cynically and cold-bloodedly," he was quoted as saying. "They are terrorists and we will not let them rule on our land." He did not provide any details of the operation.
The West has accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest. Ukraine's ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, claimed that the Kiev government was coordinating its actions with the CIA.
Russia has warned the Kiev government against using force against the protesters in the east and has threatened to cancel an international diplomatic conference on the Ukrainian conflict scheduled for later this week.
European Union foreign ministers were meeting in Luxembourg Monday to consider broadening the list of people sanctioned because of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine's deadline for pro-Russian rebels to surrender passes
Acting president says operation to seize back government buildings in east Ukraine occupied by separatists will begin soon
Alec Luhn in Donetsk
theguardian.com, Monday 14 April 2014 10.40 BST
An ultimatum issued by Ukraine's acting president for pro-Russian protesters in control of government buildings in the east of the country to lay down their arms or face an "anti-terrorist" operation passed on Monday with no sign of movement on either side.
The deadline – 9am local time (0700 GMT) – passed after the UN security council met in an emergency session in New York, where Russia called Ukraine's threat to mobilise armed forces a "criminal order".
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said on Monday that the operation would begin soon. In a nationally televised address on Sunday night, he promised amnesty to those who had not fired at security forces if they laid down their arms and vacated seized government buildings.
The statement came after pro-Russian protesters seized more government buildings in several cities in the Donetsk region on Sunday, actions for which locals have claimed credit. Kiev and Washington have blamed Russia for inciting the takeovers.
Protesters have been occupying an administration building in the regional capital, Donetsk, and a security service building in neighbouring Luhansk region for over a week, and this weekend they took over several buildings in Slaviansk and nearby cities.
On Monday morning, Sergei Taruta, the Kiev-appointed governor of Donetsk, said an "anti-terrorist operation" was under way in the region and called on citizens "not to react to provocations", but Slaviansk and the capital appeared to be quiet.
A man who identified himself as Vyacheslav Ponomaryov in a video uploaded from a barricade in Slaviansk on Monday said government forces were moving towards the city from an airfield outside it and said one civilian had been wounded in a clash with them. He said the previous mayor had fled and he had been appointed as his replacement.
Also on Monday, the Ukrainian security and defence council head Andriy Parubiy said intelligence services had detained Russian secret agents in Ukraine, but did not provide further details.
The pro-Kiev analyst Dmitry Tymchuk, a Ukrainian army and defence ministry veteran, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Russian intelligence services had created "agent networks" in Ukraine in 2010-13, laying the groundwork for the "saboteurs and co-ordinators from Russia".
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said on Monday that no Russian agents were in eastern Ukraine. He said any powers that encouraged Kiev to use force against protesters must take full responsibility for their actions.
Sunday saw the first deaths in the burgeoning crisis in eastern Ukraine, where a majority speak Russian as their first language. The Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said one state security officer had been killed and five wounded in an operation in Slaviansk on Sunday, and the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that one pro-Russian activist had been killed.
The Guardian found evidence of shootouts in Slaviansk on Sunday, including a clash between government troops and unknown men on a road outside the city.
A video of the aftermath of the gun battle showed a wounded man in camouflage and a man in a black uniform with a machine gun, apparently dead. A witness said the man in the black uniform was a provocateur who had tried to spur the reluctant troops to attack civilians, but other video from Slaviansk showed Ukrainian forces dressed in similar black uniforms in a standoff with unarmed locals.
Troops ultimately pulled back without moving into the city, where locals continue to occupy a police station and a security service building.
Both the US and Nato have accused Russia of staging another Crimea-style intervention, with Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, saying events were following the same pattern as in the Black Sea peninsula, where unidentified military forces took over government installations before the area was in effect annexed last month.
"[The unrest] is professional, it's co-ordinated, there is nothing grassroots-seeming about it," Power said. "The forces are doing, in each of the six or seven cities they have been active in, exactly the same thing. Certainly it bears the telltale signs of Moscow's involvement," she told ABC's This Week.
The Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, described the protests as "a concerted campaign of violence by pro-Russian separatists, aiming to destabilise Ukraine as a sovereign state".
He said the appearance of men carrying Russian weapons and wearing uniforms without insignia was a "grave development" and called on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine's border.
EU foreign ministers are to meet on Monday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said she was "gravely concerned".
Russia calls on UN security council as Ukraine issues deadline to rebels
Ukraine threatens dawn attack on rebels
Russia requests UN meeting, calling Kiev 'criminal'
UK says Kremlin has up to 40,000 troops on border
Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Monday 14 April 2014 07.57 BST
The United Nations security council held an emergency session on Sunday night to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine as the war of words between its western allies and Russia continued.
Just hours before a deadline by Ukraine for pro-Russian separatists in eastern cities to disarm by Monday morning or face all-out attack, the security council convened at Russia's request. Moscow called Kiev's plans to mobilise the army "criminal".
Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, denied western and Ukrainian claims that Moscow was behind the violence, and told the meeting that Ukraine has been using radical neo-Nazi forces to destabilise its eastern region.
"It is the west that will determine the opportunity to avoid civil war in Ukraine. Some people, including in this chamber, do not want to see the real reasons for what is happening in Ukraine and are constantly seeing the hand of Moscow in what is going on," Churkin said. "Enough. That is enough."
Churkin's comments were a direct rebuke to US and its allies which continued on Sunday to link the Kremlin to the unrest in eastern Ukraine.
His US counterpart Samantha Power told the meeting: "These armed units ... raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and have called referendums and union with Russia. We know who is behind this."
Britain's UN ambassador said Russia had massed tens of thousands of well-equipped troops near the Ukrainian border in addition to the 25,000 troops it recently moved into Crimea, which Moscow effectively annexed last month.
"Satellite images show that there are between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine equipped with combat aircraft, tanks, artillery and logistical support units," Mark Lyall Grant said.
Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near the flashpoint eastern city of Slaviansk, Ukrainian acting president Oleksander Turchinov gave rebels occupying state buildings until 0600 GMT (0200 EST) on Monday to lay down their weapons.
"The national security and defence council has decided to launch a full-scale anti-terrorist operation involving the armed forces of Ukraine," Turchinov said in an address to the nation.
He blamed Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region when Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich fled after months of pro-Western protests, for being behind the rash of rebellions across Russian-speaking towns in eastern Ukraine.
"We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of Ukraine," Turchinov said.
The deadline and the standoff with Russian troops at the border have raised fears of a military confrontation with Moscow.
The head of Ukraine's state security service (SBU) said government forces would respond ruthlessly if pro-Russian separatists opened fire.
"If they open fire, we will annihilate them. There should be no doubt about this," Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said in a televised interview.
Earlier, Power said on ABC's This Week that the United States was prepared to step up sanctions against Moscow if pro-Russian military actions in eastern Ukraine continued.
"The president has made clear that, depending on Russian behavior, sectoral sanctions in energy, banking, mining could be on the table, and there's a lot in between," she added.
Ukraine has repeatedly said the rebellions are inspired and directed by the Kremlin. But action to dislodge the armed militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase as Moscow has warned it will protect the region's Russian-speakers if they come under attack.
One Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five were wounded on the government side in Sunday's operation in Slaviansk, interior minister Arsen Avakov said. "There were dead and wounded on both sides," he wrote on his Facebook page.
The separatists are holed up in the local headquarters of the police and of the state security service, while others have erected road blocks around Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border.
Kiev accuses the Kremlin of trying to undermine the legitimacy of presidential elections on May 25 that aim to set Ukraine back on a normal path after months of turmoil.
However, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Kiev was "demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country" and warned that any use of force against Russian speakers "would undermine the potential for cooperation", including talks due to be held on Thursday between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.
Relations between Russia and the West are at their worst since the Cold War, due to the crisis that began when Moscow-backed Yanukovich was pushed out by popular protests in February.
Moscow then annexed Crimea from Ukraine, saying the Russian population there was under threat. Some Western governments believe the Kremlin is preparing a similar scenario for eastern Ukraine, something Moscow has strenuously denied.
In Kramatorsk, about 15 km (9 miles) south of Slaviansk, gunmen seized the police headquarters after a shootout with police, a Reuters witness said.
The attackers were a well-organised unit of more than 20 men, wearing matching military fatigues and carrying automatic weapons, who had arrived by bus. Video footage showed the men taking orders from a commander. Their identity was unclear.
Their level of discipline and equipment was in contrast to the groups which have occupied buildings so far in Ukraine. They have been mostly civilians formed into informal militias with mismatched uniforms.
Washington and Moscow have maintained regular dialogue throughout the crisis and on Saturday John Kerry, the US secretary of state, spoke by telephone to Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
But on Sunday night the US state department released a statement saying that the pro-Russian operations over the weekend were highly organised and "planned in advance" with militants "outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons".
The actions were "inconsistent with political, grassroots protests" and that the Ukrainian government had evidence that Russian intelligence officers were directly involved in orchestrating the activities.
Ukraine warns of 'large-scale operation' against pro-Russian forces after clashes
President sets deadline for pro-Russia militiamen to lay down arms as minister says state security officer killed in Slaviansk
Alec Luhn in Slaviansk and Ian Black
theguardian.com, Sunday 13 April 2014 19.56 BST
Ukraine is to launch a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" to resist pro-Russian forces, the country's president warned on Sunday following a shootout that claimed one victim in the eastern city of Slaviansk. The threat came after gunmen seized control of government buildings and fuelled international alarm about the escalating crisis.
Events on the ground suggested that the authorities in Kiev – anticipating a repeat of the Russian takeover of Crimea – were rapidly losing control of the situation, while Moscow, which denies any direct involvement in Ukraine, warned of the danger of civil war.
Armed men, widely believed to include Russian commandos, took over buildings in Slaviansk on Saturday and targeted four other cities. Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said a state security officer had been killed and five others wounded. There had been an "unidentifiable number" of casualties on the side of the separatists, Avakov said.
Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's interim president, announced on state television that an amnesty would be granted to anyone who laid down their arms by 6am Monday morning, but he warned: "We're not going to allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine's east. Today's Palm Sunday celebrations were marred by aggression and blood. The terrorist troops co-ordinated by the Russian Federation seized a number of government buildings."
Turchynov said the situation was especially dangerous in Slaviansk where "trained criminals, dressed in camouflage and armed with Russian guns", were operating. "The blood of Ukrainian heroes has been shed in a war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine," he said. "The aggressor has not stopped and is continuing to sow disorder in the east of the country."
On a day of high tension fuelled by rumour and propaganda, Mi-8 helicopters were seen hovering over Slaviansk to the sound of gunfire. Residents were told to stay indoors in anticipation of clashes around official buildings occupied by pro-Russian forces. "Pass it on to all civilians: they should leave the centre of town, not come out of their apartments, and not go near the windows," Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Avakov as saying.
A video seen by the Guardian showed the aftermath of the fatal attack, including a wounded Ukrainian soldier and what appeared to be a dead man in a black uniform with a machine gun, thought to be one of the militiamen. It was the first fatal incident reported in eastern Ukraine.
Vladimir Kolodchenko, a council member in nearby Nikolayevka who witnessed the incident, told the Guardian that a convoy of seven armoured personnel carriers had arrived in the city to try to end the occupations. Commanders had gone to negotiate with the protesters and the convoy had come under attack in their absence. After the firefight, the unknown men fled, leaving their car at the scene. The troops later withdrew, he said.
Outside an occupied police station, masked men with machine guns and pistols warmed themselves by barrel fires while others manned barricades on either end of the street. Protesters on the other side of the barricades chanted "Russia!", "You won't put Donbass on its knees" and "Putin, help!"
It is clear that some militiamen are locals, while others, in green uniforms but without insignia, are better armed and more disciplined – and similar to the forces that were deployed before Russia's annexation of the Crimea last month.
Unrest has spread to several municipalities in the eastern part of Ukraine, including the major industrial city of Donetsk, which has a large Russian-speaking population. New checkpoints were appearing along the road between Donetsk and Slaviansk throughout the day, the Guardian found, with civilians checking the documents of those driving through.
Donetsk was the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who was ousted in February following months of protests in Kiev that were triggered by his decision to back away from closer relations with the EU and turn toward Russia. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine's east fear the new pro-western government will suppress them.
Gunmen also took control of police headquarters in the nearby city of Kramatorsk, a witness said. A video from a local news website showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building.
The website also reported that supporters of the self-declared separatist Donetsk People's Republic had occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tyres and flown a Russian flag nearby.
A regional news website, Ostrov, said three important administrative buildings had been seized in another city in the area, Enakiyeve. In Mariupol, a city south of Donetesk on the Azov Sea and 30 miles from the Russian border, the town hall was seized by armed masked men.
A local news website 0629.com.ua said about 1,000 protesters were building a barricade while unknown armed men raised the Russian flag over the building.
On Saturday in Donetsk, witnesses said the men who entered the police building were wearing the uniforms of the Berkut, the feared riot police unit that was disbanded in February after Yanukovych's ouster. Berkut officers' violent dispersal of a demonstration in Kiev in November set off the mass protests that culminated in bloodshed in February when more than 100 people died in sniper fire. The acting government says the snipers were police officers.
Meanwhile, at least 10 people were injured in clashes between pro-Kiev and pro-Russian demonstrators in Kharkiv.
Moscow accuses Kiev of issuing 'criminal orders' and warns of civil war
Russia orchestrating latest violence in east Ukraine and is staging another Crimea-syle intervention, claims US and Nato
Paul Lewis in Washington and Alec Luhn in Slaviansk
The Guardian, Sunday 13 April 2014 20.35 BST
The crisis in Ukraine escalated dramatically on Sunday night as Russia accused Kiev of issuing a "criminal order" against protesters and warned of a civil war in the country, which has been hit by a wave of unrest that America believes has been orchestrated from Moscow.
The Russian statement came after unknown armed men attacked a convoy of Ukrainian troops in Slaviansk, about 100 miles from the border, launching the first gun battle in Ukraine since the standoff began, in which at least one person was killed. Both the US and Nato accused Russia of staging another Crimea-style intervention, with Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, saying events were following the same pattern as in Crimea, where unidentified military forces took over government installations before the peninsula was in effect annexed last month.
"[The unrest] is professional, it's co-ordinated, there is nothing grassroots-seeming about it," Power said. "The forces are doing, in each of the six or seven cities they've been active in, exactly the same thing. Certainly it bears the telltale signs of Moscow's involvement," she told ABC's This Week.
The Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, described the protests as "a concerted campaign of violence by pro-Russian separatists, aiming to destabilise Ukraine as a sovereign state".
He said the appearance of men carrying Russian weapons and wearing uniforms without insignia was a "grave development" and called on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine's border.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, went on television on Sunday night to announce that the army would take part in a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" against the protesters, adding: "We're not going to allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in Ukraine's east." He set a deadline of 6am GMT for the separatists to give up their weapons.
But the Russian foreign ministry said the west should bring its allies in Ukraine's government under control. "It is now the west's responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine," the ministry said in a statement on Facebook. "The situation in south-eastern Ukraine is taking on an extremely dangerous character. We decisively condemn attempts to use brute force against protesters and activists … We are particularly indignant about the criminal order [by Turchynov] to use the army to put down protest."
Alarm at Moscow's behaviour is certain to dominate discussions on Monday when EU foreign ministers, including Britain's William Hague, meet to discuss the crisis. Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said she was "gravely concerned".
Britain also called on Moscow to disown the rebels. "Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Washington and Moscow have maintained regular dialogue throughout the crisis and on Saturday John Kerry, the US secretary of state, spoke by telephone to Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
A senior state department official said Kerry expressed strong concern that attacks by "armed militants" in eastern Ukraine had been "orchestrated and synchronised". "The secretary made clear that if Russia did not take steps to de-escalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine's border, there would be additional consequences."
Sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and western allies have so far been restricted to visa bans and asset freezes targeting senior officials in Moscow accused of undermining Ukraine's sovereignty. However, Washington has repeatedly warned those could be expanded to include far-reaching sanctions attacking Russia's banking, energy and mining sectors.
The White House announced at the weekend that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, will travel to Kiev this month in a show of solidarity with the country's new government, which is planning presidential elections in May.
Europe's rule of law in worst crisis since cold war, says Council chief
Thorbjørn Jagland's report on democracy in Europe argues lack of human rights in Ukraine paved way for Russia's actions
theguardian.com, Monday 14 April 2014 10.40 BST
The rule of law in Europe is facing its most serious crisis since the end of the cold war, according to the chief executive of Europe's largest human rights body.
Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the 47-nation Council of Europe, made his assessment before tensions in eastern Ukraine rose over the weekend and before the council's parliamentary assembly voted last Thursday to suspend Russia's voting rights over its annexation of Crimea. Jagland argues that a lack of human rights in Ukraine has paved the way for Russia's actions.
He writes: "In Ukraine the absence of an independent judiciary, and lack of the checks and balances which a functioning parliament and free media should provide, allowed endemic corruption and misuse of power to thrive unchecked. This caused mistrust, social unrest and ultimately a revolution."
Jagland addressed his remarks to member states in an unpublished report on the state of democracy in Europe. The report is due to be released after it has been considered by delegations from the member governments meeting at a summit in Vienna early next month.
Most of the 72-page report is devoted to identifying "very worrying" challenges to human rights, democracies and the rule of law across Europe.
These include discrimination against ethnic and national minorities (in 39 member states); prison overcrowding (30 states); corruption (26 states); ill treatment by police (23 states); social exclusion and discrimination against Roma (20 states); and restrictions of free expression (eight states).
Problems with the judiciary are identified in 20 countries and deeply embedded judicial corruption has been reported in "many" of the 47 Council of Europe states, the report says. In some, the justice system was "completely corrupt". The European court of human rights, which is operated by the Council of Europe, continues to find violations of the right to a trial within a reasonable period of time. In some states, prosecutors sit in court alongside the judges, exercising powers that are too broad and lack transparency.
To avoid the risk that its publication will be vetoed by member states, the report does not name and shame individual governments. But each country was told last November, in confidence, of the three main challenges it is seen as facing. These are not necessarily its worst violations of human rights; they may include persistent and politically difficult issues as well as those that the Council of Europe believes it can best assist in overcoming.
These problems are not confined to eastern Europe. Calling for an improved gender balance within the judiciary, the report notes that two countries have supreme courts that are over 90% male. The UK must be one of them.
"Senior members of the executive branch in some member states have publicly criticised court decisions," the report continues. That was certainly a problem in the UK at one time, although it's fair to say that members of the present government have been more restrained.
More broadly, the council's monitoring bodies have raised concerns about police and prisons as often in northern and western Europe as in central and eastern Europe. Discrimination and social exclusion are widespread, although targeted groups vary from region to region.
The report identifies more effective monitoring as one of the paths to progess. Some standards, such as freedom of expression, are not specifically monitored within Europe. Others, such as the status of minorities, are monitored by overlapping bodies. And some bodies are too slow to cope with emergencies. The report also finds that some countries are reluctant to seek help because of the damage to the state's reputation that might follow.
It offers reassurance that Europe is not divided into countries that have human rights problems and those that do not. But it adds that Europe can be divided into those that are willing to cooperate in addressing their problems and those that are unwilling to do so.
Inevitably, increased monitoring and support will cost more money, which would have to come from member states – although Jagland says that reforms in recent years have led to a "leaner and more efficient organisation". He also wants to hold a summit next year at which heads of state would agree a five-year agenda for democratic security.
If this goes ahead, its recommendations are bound to need funding. But if they give member states less justification for invading each other's territory, it would surely be a small price to pay.
Most Ukrainians are neither loyal Russians nor fascists
In the propaganda war between Putin and the west, the complexities of Ukraine, and its people's interests, are ignored
The Guardian, Sunday 13 April 2014 20.15 BST
Things weren't easy in Ukraine when I lived there in the early 1990s, just after the country voted to break from Moscow. There was hyperinflation. People lost their savings. There were petrol shortages. The airport in Kiev would close for days at a time for lack of fuel. Nothing got repaired; nothing got built.
But nobody starved. Nobody froze. The electricity was never cut off. The trains kept running, schools and hospitals limped from day to day. Most importantly, horrifying as it was for Ukrainians to watch on the television news how long-peaceful places they knew, such as Georgia, Moldova and Chechnya, were suddenly on fire with heavily armed men strutting across them, they were far away.
There was much grumbling about the Ukrainian government, its incompetence, its corruption. There always seemed the possibility, in the abstract, that Russia might try to come back. In the mid-1990s I wrote an article for the Guardian suggesting a scenario for a new Yugoslavia in the east, with Ukraine as Croatia, Crimea as Bosnia and Russia as Serbia. But I felt I'd pushed it. After all, Boris Yeltsin was no Milosevic.
I remember visiting Ukraine one springtime in the mid-1990s. Days earlier, in Chechnya, I'd seen shell-ruined buildings, terrified civilians, battle-hardened separatists and frightened Russian conscripts. In Ukraine I drove past Ukrainian soldiers gathered around a radar truck; each one was blissfully asleep, bathed in the soft May sunshine. It made me smile. After all, what did they have to worry about? Ukraine had given away its nuclear weapons and in return, the country's territorial integrity was guaranteed in a document signed by Russia, the US and Britain.
And then Russia got its Milosevic. Like his Serbian counterpart, Vladimir Putin is clever, articulate, popular, untrustworthy to those who are not his friends, ruthless, cynical to the point of absurdity and unable to account for his personal wealth. Like Milosevic, he has no compunction in exploiting the messianic, victim-narrative strain of his country's patriotism. Unlike Milosevic, because of Russia's nuclear arsenal, he is invulnerable to military attack from outside. Unlike Milosevic, he has had many years of income from raw materials exports with which to build up powerful, well-equipped security forces to carry out a well-targeted upgrade of Russia's military, to turn the media into a government mouthpiece, to repress or buy off dissenters, and to offer the outside world the convincing illusion that his country is prospering. (It is true that Russian pensioners are somewhat less miserably poor than those in Ukraine.)
Now, a generation later, long after it had been unthinkable, those same chaotic figures with Kalashnikovs and fatigues have appeared in Ukraine, under Russian sponsorship and, all evidence suggests, direction.
First came the direct Russian military takeover of Crimea. The weekend saw an apparent attempt by proxy to separate the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, and perhaps others, from Kiev's control.
There are multiple possible interpretations of what is unfolding in eastern Ukraine. The Pigtinite "men in green", as they are now being called by Ukrainians, for the time being have the active support of some locals, particularly pensioners. But one essential point is beyond dispute. Nothing that has happened in Ukraine up to now justifies either military intervention by Russia or the injection of armed mercenaries and irregulars into a peaceful country.
In the wake of the revolution in Kiev that drove the corrupt president Victor Yanukovych to flee, Ukraine faced a world of problems. Not one of those problems has been made easier by Putin seizing Crimea or sponsoring insurrection in eastern Ukraine. Ever since the revolution, the Pig has promoted the idea that Ukraine is in "chaos". But there was no chaos, so he made some. The only chaos in Ukraine has been caused by Russian intervention.
The Pig has promoted the notion that ethnic Russians were in danger. There has never been evidence for this unless you count as brutal repression a failed attempt to revive an old law making Ukrainian the sole language for court hearings and government forms. The Pig calls for greater autonomy for the south and east of Ukraine, and more rights for Russian-speakers, while doing all he can to obstruct elections that would bring them back into the political process.
A dangerous line was crossed today when a Ukrainian security service officer was killed by one of the "men in green" at a roadblock set up by the Russian proxies near Slavyansk – the first time since the Pig invaded Crimea that blood has been shed during an attempt by Ukrainian government forces to assert control.
The Pig has put Ukraine's weak transitional government in an impossible position: fail to resist and I will invade. Resist and I will invade more, and there will be corpses. Although they would never admit it, the authorities in Kiev are resigned to the loss of Crimea. But they don't know where or when Pig Putin will stop. His strategy has blighted the future of Ukraine's 46 million people, making it impossible for any part of the country to move forward.
Hearing the opinions of people in Britain, Europe and America since Russia began to dismember Ukraine, I've been struck by how disagreement tends to focus on which of the two sides has behaved worst: Pig Putin or the west. The complexities of the people of Ukraine tend to vanish in this binary view, alarmingly close to the Putinite consensus, which is that if you live in Ukraine you must either be a loyal vassal to Russia or a fascist.
The truth is that between the minority of archaic radical nationalists in Ukraine's far west, whose role in the revolution won them a few posts in Kiev's otherwise moderate government, and the minority of neo-Soviet extremists in the east, there is a larger group of Ukrainians for whom the difference between the two cultures and languages is trivial. What they want is for their country to be an east Slav space that is fairer and less corrupt than either Putin's Russia, Yanukovych's Ukraine or Lukashenko's Belarus. Whichever way Europe and the US act, it must be with the interests of that group in mind.
In a haunting article, written during Putin's invasion of Crimea, the Ukrainian writer and ethnic Russian Yelena Styazhkina said: "Ukraine is my motherland. The Russian language is my native language. Let Pushkin save me and liberate me from sadness and anxiety. Pushkin, but not Pig Putin."
Armenia Names New Prime Minister
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 April 2014, 18:38
Armenia on Sunday named parliament speaker Ovik Abraamian as its new prime minister.
Abraamian, 56, takes over from Tigran Sarkisian who resigned earlier this month. Under the constitution, he now has 20 days to form a government.
"Given Ovik Abraamian's experience, we believe that he can and will resolve the problems our society faces," said deputy speaker Eduard Sharmazanov as he announced the appointment.
Sarkisian's government had come in for sharp criticism over a scheme requiring people born after 1974 to deposit five percent of their pay in private pension funds.
Thousands took to the streets to protest what they called a government "racket."
A landlocked country of 3.2 million, Armenia was badly affected by the global downturn and unemployment is a major issue.
The former Soviet state is economically isolated with its borders to Turkey and Azerbaijan both blocked due to ongoing international disputes.
Sarkisian surprised many last year by turning his back on years of negotiations toward a free-trade deal with the European Union in favor of joining the Moscow-led customs union, a pet project of Russian President Pig Putin.
04/14/2014 01:07 PM
Investigating Surveillance: German Parliament Divided over Snowden Subpoena
By SPIEGEL Staff
Berlin has insisted it wants to scrutinize NSA spying in Germany. But actually inviting Edward Snowden to testify before a paraliamentary investigation is proving delicate. Some in Chancellor Merkel's party are now casting doubt on Snowden's suitability as a witness.
It was, of course, purely coincidental that Glenn Greenwald found himself in Berlin last week, just as the debate in Germany was swelling over whether Edward Snowden should be invited to testify before the NSA investigative committee in the Bundestag, the federal parliament.
Greenwald had flown in from Brazil, where he lives, to speak at the presentation of the Liberty Award, a prize honoring foreign correspondents from Germany. And he didn't pass up the opportunity to pay tribute to Snowden, the man whose source material he has relied on in helping to shed light on the global surveillance system maintained by the United States and Britain. "Every country," said Greenwald, 47, has a moral obligation to help Snowden. That, he added, is particularly true for Germany. Top politicians in Berlin were targeted by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ, and Germany would have been none the wiser but for Snowden. Meanwhile, Snowden's visa for political asylum in Russia, where he now lives, is set to expire this summer.
Just a few hours prior to Greenwald's speech, and not even two kilometers away, politicians belonging to Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition made clear that help would not soon be forthcoming. The Greens and the Left Party, both in the opposition, had moved to invite Snowden to testify before the parliament's NSA committee, but conservative and Social Democratic members of the committee are in no hurry and it remains unclear when they might reach a decision. Opposition politicians are furious.
The squabbling within the committee -- which led to the resignation of Chairman Clemens Binninger of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) -- is more than just the standard Berlin bickering. Ten months after the NSA spying affair began, the parliamentary investigation has presented Merkel's government with the perfect opportunity to finally demonstrate its resolve in getting to the bottom of US and UK spying activities in Germany. Berlin has frequently insisted it is committed to probing the depths of the scandal, with Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (of the CDU) even claiming that "boundless" American surveillance would be addressed. But if the handling of Snowden provides any indication, the government's resolve is to be doubted.
It is perhaps not surprising that Berlin would seem to have gotten cold feet. Snowden's presence in Germany would be delicate in the extreme from a foreign policy perspective. And trans-Atlanticists in the Merkel government have for months been uncomfortable with the fact that many of Snowden's closest supporters have chosen the German capital as their base of operations. Should Snowden, 30, be allowed to join them, many in Berlin fear that US-German cooperation could suffer lasting damage, particularly on intelligence issues.
Were Snowden to testify before the Bundestag investigative committee, says Heather Conley, a former US diplomat who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, it would result in significant friction in German-American relations. His testimony, she continues, would intensify anti-American resentments in Germany and Europe just at a time when the Ukraine crisis is demonstrating just how important trans-Atlantic ties are.
Partly for that reason, Merkel decided early on not to grant Snowden asylum in Germany. Her fear of a clash with the US is just as great as her concern over a potentially divisive domestic political debate. Government sources say it could lead to a grave fissure in her governing coalition, which pairs her conservatives with the center-left SPD. The final say over visa issues lays with the Interior Ministry, under the control of de Maizière, one of Merkel's closest allies.
There is, however, an exception: Were a parliamentary investigative committee to subpoena a witness from abroad, the Interior Minister's discretion "could be reduced to nil," according to an expert opinion provided by the Bundestag's research service. On the contrary, he would then be required to do everything within his power to prepare such a visit, unless, the expert opinion notes, the welfare of the state is at risk. That, though, is a "question that can only be answered on an individual basis" -- and parliament has a significant say in the answer.
Both the Greens and the Left Party have been adamant that Snowden should be allowed to come to Germany and the expert opinion produced by the Bundestag's research service has made it clear that the investigative committee provides the best tool to reach that goal. Once Snowden is here, both opposition parties would like to see him stay.
That, though, is an impossibility from the perspective of Merkel's conservatives. "Were Snowden to come to Germany," says conservative domestic policy spokesman Stephan Mayer, "then the government, in my opinion, would be required to accede to the legally unobjectionable extradition request from the US." A final decision in this hypothetical could ultimately lie with the judiciary.
Senior Green party figure Hans-Christian Ströbele says that it is paramount for the investigative committee to learn as much about American surveillance practices as possible. But, he notes, "there is a second important aspect for me: We have to make it possible for a man, whom we have so much to thank for, to live a normal life in a country based on the rule of law." And there isn't much time to achieve that goal, he adds. Snowden's asylum visa in Russia expires in August and nobody knows how long Russian President Vladimir Putin might continue to allow his presence.
The Left Party and the Greens sought to petition for a Snowden subpoena in the very first session of the investigative committee, but conservatives rejected the move. Indeed, the committee chairman, Clemens Binninger, unexpectedly resigned in response last Wednesday, saying that he stepped down to protest opposition efforts to turn the committee into a Snowden circus. In his statement, Binninger said that Snowden was not of particular interest as a witness. "Focusing only on him would lead the committee into a dead-end," he said.
The Greens immediately became suspicious and claimed, with no evidence whatsoever, that Binninger had been pressured into resignation by the Chancellery. Merkel, according to the Greens, didn't want to have a potential Snowden subpoena hanging over her during her trip to Washington at the beginning of next month. Binninger was quick to deny the accusations. "During the entire preparations for the committee, there were no discussions with the Chancellery -- formal or otherwise -- regarding how to approach the witness Snowden," he said, adding that his decision was his alone. Ströbele is not convinced and is now considering subpoenaing witnesses from the Chancellery.
But the Chancellery too was caught off guard by Binninger's sudden resignation. Chancellery sources note that Binninger was apparently unprepared for the political nature of most parliamentary investigative committees. To be sure, Merkel's staff has also denied accusations that it sought to influence the investigation, but sources also admit that Merkel is eager to avoid travelling to the US under the shadow of an impending Snowden visit to Berlin.
During the investigative committee's second session last Thursday -- now under the leadership of Patrick Sensburg -- coalition politicians listed a number of concerns related to the potential Snowden subpoena. Myriad questions pertaining to such a visit would have to be resolved, including organizational issues and Russia's potential stance.
The When and the How
When the Left Party and the Greens refused to back down, coalition lawmakers resorted to a procedural trick. Although the opposition can make as many motions to collect evidence as they like, the majority decides on when and how such motions are addressed.
The majority decided to delay the vote on whether to subpoena Snowden until its next meeting. By then, the government is to determine if and how such a visit could be arranged. Whether coincidence or not, the government has been asked to provide that information by May 2, precisely the date on which Chancellor Merkel embarks on her next trip to the United States to meete with President Barack Obama.
Committee Chairman Sensburg believes this is sensible, saying that it must be determined in advance whether Snowden has "anything relevant" to say. "Only then can we consider the question of when, where and how" it can take place, he said. The politician also said that the questioning didn't necessarily have to take place in Germany. The SPD's senior official on the committee holds a similar view. "I admonish all members of the committee not to use the Snowden issue to create media attention," he said. "That would be cheap and inappropriate."
Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz, on the other hand, is annoyed. "The Christian Democrats and the SPD are defending the government's interests," he said. "If that continues, then the next four years are going to be terrible." He says his faction is considering challenging the procedural tricks now being used by the majority at Germany's Federal Court of Justice. Notz said he finds it absurd that there has been a debate for weeks now on whether or not Snowden would make an important witness. "He is one of the most important ones," he said.
One man suspected early on that people would seek to discredit the whistleblower: Snowden himself. Even as he began his flight, he said that the American government would seek to impose long-term damage to his credibility as a witness.
Snowden wasn't a senior employee at the NSA, but he was an unusually perceptive and critical one. He says he made the decision to turn against his employer when, while working as a systems administrator, he stumbled across a document from the NSA's general inspector dating from 2009. In it, an NSA lawyer at the agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, outlined the tectonic changes that had been made to America's security structures following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It described in detail how the NSA had been given wider leeway for its operations with significant support from former Vice President Dick Cheney.
That's the point at which Snowden came up with the idea of obtaining as many documents as he could. He had been planning his departure from the NSA for over a year. US officials claim that he then used a webcrawler to automatically detect and download data. Among other areas, they claim he used the software program to obtain reports from the powerful technical surveillance unit, which had a sort of online black board behind the firewall where reports were posted with information about various secret operations.
Information about that alone could be significantly valuable to the parliamentary committee. It would allow members of German parliament, who know little about the NSA's structures, to learn how the US intelligence service is organized, which data is stored, where it is stored and for how long, and the importance of certain types of documents. Even just the way he handled the material shows how deeply he dove into the NSA's inner workings. He sorted the data into categories that document the NSA's various secret programs -- the surveillance of other countries or Internet infrastructure, for example. He stored the some 50,000 documents from Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) separately. The papers include diverse clues that are also important for the investigation in Germany. They would spotlight, for example, the close cooperation between the NSA and the largest American telecommunications companies, like AT&T -- a cooperation which, documents show, sought to direct part of international data traffic through the United States to make it possible for the NSA to access it.
Of particular relevance to Germany is a program called "Tempora" which is operated jointly by the NSA and GCHQ. The program, operated out of Bude in Cornwall, is used by the intelligence services to tap parts of international data traffic in the large fiber optic cables that run across Europe. "Tempora is the first 'I save everything approach' ('full take') in the intelligence world," Snowden says. He claims "it sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it." Last week, Bloomberg reported that the NSA has been exploiting the Heartbleed bug in order to tap encrypted data. The US government has denied the allegation.
One of the parliamentary committee's key objectives is to determine the extent to which the NSA is surveilling the German people. Tempora would seem to be an important piece of this puzzle. Snowden spent a lot of time looking into Tempora and would likely be able to say a lot about the program.
Snowden's German lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, is convinced of this. Last Friday, he assured members of the committee in writing that Snowden occupied a "unique work status" in the US intelligence service structure. "He possesses expertise that for this reason alone is of crucial importance because he may be the only specialist of such rank who would also be willing to or is in a position to share his knowledge with the NSA investigative committee."
The decision on whether the former NSA employee testifies is a decision that Snowden himself must make. Diplomatic sources in Berlin suggest that Snowden would have to "think twice" about traveling to Germany. Even if he had hopes for applying for amnesty here, the risks for the 30-year-old in traveling from Moscow to Berlin would be considerable.
Memories in Berlin are still fresh of how vigorous efforts were in July 2013 to force a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales to land in Vienna. At the time, the Americans suspected that Edward Snowden was on board the aircraft.
BY NIKOLAUS BLOME, HUBERT GUDE, RENE PFISTER, JÖRG SCHINDLER AND HOLGER STARK
04/11/2014 03:10 PM
Victim of Its Own Success: German Jobs Program for Southern Europeans Falls Short
By Markus Dettmer and Claus Hecking
When Germany announced a program to attract jobless young adults from Southern Europe, they had no idea how high demand would be. Funding has temporarily run out for travel, training and language learning subsidies.
Luis Ribeiro doesn't know Angela Merkel personally, but he counted on a promise she made. It may turn out to have been a mistake.
"We cannot allow a generation to be lost," Merkel said last July during a crisis summit with the leaders of numerous European Union member states held in Berlin to address the problem of rampant unemployment among young adults in large parts of Europe. At the time, the German chancellor and other EU leaders pledged €8 billion ($11 billion) to address the problem. And Germany already had a program ready to help.
So Ribeiro, who asked that his real name not be published in order to protect his identity, applied for assistance at the end of 2013 through the program, which carries the bureaucratic moniker MobiPro-EU. The program is intended to help young unemployed people, particularly those from Southern Europe, start careers in Germany. At the same time, it aims to help German companies fill vacant job positions in a country where firms in many sectors are having trouble recruiting enough skilled workers.
A Nice Gesture Turns into a Problem
But what was intended as a generous gesture has become a problem for the German government. Ribeiro himself is currently experiencing the program's shortcomings. The 27-year-old, who hails from northern Portugal, studied nursing at a college in Braga, but he hasn't been able to find a job at home. "I have sent out at least 20 applications," Ribeiro says, "but I haven't received a single response." With the economy at rock bottom as a result of the euro and debt crisis, prospects on the labor market for nurses are virtually non-existent in Portugal these days.
Through a private placement company, Ribeiro obtained a contract to work in an old-age home in a town in the Black Forest. For months now, he's been attending daily German classes in Braga; next week, he is supposed to fly to Germany to start his job and complete further language training. The MobiPro program is supposed to pick up the costs of his travel and German classes, but Ribeiro hasn't seen a cent yet.
On March 27, he received a letter from the Federal Employment Agency's International Placement Services (ZAV) office in Germany informing him that his application couldn't be decided on at the moment because the agency hasn't been provided with sufficient federal funding for the program in 2014.
Money So Well Spent There Should Be More of It
Although the program was launched by then-Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen with great pomp last year, it is dramatically underfunded. The program may make sense, pairing as it does young workers from Southern Europe, with its persistently high unemployment rates, with companies in Germany with acute needs for trainees and skilled workers. In addition to travel and language class expenses, the program also picks up costs for vocational training for young people seeking to build a future in Germany.
But it appears that German leaders have been caught off guard by the sheer number of young people interesting in pulling up stakes and establishing themselves here. Figures supplied by ZAV show that 9,000 young people from around the EU had applied for the program by the end of March.
Berlin budgeted €33 million for the program this year. However, the federal government's 2014 budget is still provisional and only part of the funding has been provided. The amount already disbursed to ZAV had already been spent by the end of February, prompting the agency to suspend the processing of applications.
The Federal Employment Agency also appears to have been caught off guard by the massive demand. Sources at private placement agencies claim that the ZAV's central hotline was getting so many calls that it was often unreachable during the month of February. And people who sent in their applications by email got an autoreply: "The recipient's mailbox is full and cannot receive any additional messages."
Berlin Scrambles to Find a Solution
The budget for the rest of the year has since been increased to €48 million, but the Federal Employment Agency's own internal calculations show that it will be nowhere near enough to cover demand. Officials have calculated that after the costs are covered for the 3,500 youth seeking traineeships and 1,300 skilled workers who have already been accepted into the program this year, only €6.7 million in funding will remain for additional applicants. They estimate that will be enough to cover about 500 youth seeking traineeships for the rest of the year, but the agency already has 2,300 such applications. It hasn't even factored in outstanding applications for people applying for the skilled workers part of the program.
Officials at the Federal Labor Office say their actual funding needs for the program this year will be around €100 million, with an additional €105 million needed in 2015, a sum they assume will continue to grow in subsequent years.
Currently, MobiPro is scheduled to run through 2018, with the government envisioning a total of €359 million in funding. If the demand remains as high, though, the needed sum could swell to €800 million.
Politically, it's a hot button issue for Chancellor Merkel's government, which is scrambling behind the scenes to try to find additional funding. The program was in part intended to improve Germany's image across the EU -- an image which had suffered as a result of Berlin's strict stance in the euro crisis. Furthermore, a promise is a promise. Currently, a meeting in German parliament is set to seek a solution on May 5.
By then, Luis Ribeiro should be busy at work at his new job in the Black Forest -- with the hope, of course, that his bills will someday be paid by the German government.
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey
Russia spends more of its wealth on arms than US in 2013
Russian defence spending rises by 4.8% to $88bn, devoting larger share of GDP on military than US for first time since 2003
theguardian.com, Monday 14 April 2014
Russia spent a higher proportion of its wealth on arms than the US last year for the first time in more than a decade, according to figures published on Monday by a leading international research body that highlights Moscow's resurgent military ambition as it confronts the west over Ukraine.
Western countries, including Britain and the US, reduced defence budgets, but Russia increased arms spending by 4.8% in real terms last year to almost $88bn (£52m), devoting a bigger share of its GDP to the military than the US for the first time since 2003, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
China and Saudi Arabia were also among a list of countries that increased arms spending, but overall world military expenditure fell by 1.9% to $1.75tn in 2013. Britain is estimated to have dropped to its lowest place in the military spending league since the second world war.
Under Russia's state armaments plan, Moscow plans to spend $705bn to replace 70% of the country's military equipment by 2020. Although Russia's 850,000-strong armed forces are by far the biggest in the region, dwarfing that of Ukraine, for example, much of its hardware is in need of modernising.
And despite devoting ever more resources to defence, Russia still trails far behind the US in absolute terms. America spent $640bn in 2013 (down by 7.8%) – more than three times than China, with $188bn. China increased its defence expenditure by 7.4%, Saudi Arabia by as much as 14% (to $67bn). Spending on arms by Iraq and Bahrain increased by more than 25% during the same period. Military spending in the Middle East as a whole increased by 4% last year, reaching an estimated $150bn. The Saudi increase is partly owing to tensions with Iran, but also the desire to maintain strong and loyal security forces to insure against potential Arab spring-type protests, says Sipri.
It adds: "Maintaining regime survival in the face of internal opposition is also the likely motive for Bahrain's 26% increase."
Afghanistan accounted for the biggest increase in arms spending – 77%. "Not only did Afghanistan have the world's highest increase in military expenditure in 2013, at 77%, spending had risen by 557% over the decade since 2004," says Sipri.
It adds: "This huge increase is the result of Afghanistan's efforts to build its defence and security forces from scratch, heavily supported by foreign aid. The particularly large increase in 2013 is the result of an increase in salaries and wages for the Afghan national army, which reached its target goal of 195 000 soldiers in 2012, and as a result of preparations for the departure of most foreign forces at the end of 2014."
Military spending in Africa increased by more than 8% in 2013, reaching an estimated $44.9bn. Algeria became the first country on the continent with a military budget of more than $10bn. Angola increased its spending by 36%, overtaking South Africa as the largest military spender in sub-Saharan Africa. High oil revenues appear to be a factor driving greater spending in Algeria and Angola, the survey says.
"The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated", said Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of Sipri's military expenditure programme. "While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races."