Seven arrested for sexually assaulting student during Tahrir celebrations
Video shows police escorting naked and bloodied woman from square while tens of thousands celebrate Sisi's inauguration
Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Monday 9 June 2014 13.05 BST
Egyptian security officials say police have arrested seven men for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old student during celebrations marking the inauguration of a new president.
Video footage posted on social media sites shows the women naked and bloodied as police officers struggle to escort her out of Cairo's Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands celebrated Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi's inauguration until late on Sunday.
Another video clip that has triggered a wave of anger shows a TV reporter telling her news anchor in the studio that there were several cases of sexual harassment in Tahrir during the celebrations.
With a laugh, the colleague in the studio said: "Because they are happy."
Last week the government finally criminalised sexual harassment, which is a widespread problem in Egypt.
Yemen's democracy shift hampered by 'forgotten' humanitarian crisis
Hope of political transition in the country is being jeopardised by hunger, access to safe water and conflict, UN warns
Ellie Violet Bramley
theguardian.com, Monday 9 June 2014 11.41 BST
The international community's failure to focus on the desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen has left the poorest country in the Middle East country facing "one of the most forgotten crises in the world" as it attempts to move towards democracy, the UN has warned.
Although the Arab spring has fizzled out in many Arab countries, its aftermath in Yemen still holds some hope of delivering democratic change, according to Trond Jensen, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen.
He points out that the political transition that began with the end of president Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule in 2011 has brought women, young people and civil society organisations into the political process for the first time.
But if the country's most urgent humanitarian needs are not addressed, warns Jensen, "there's a risk that the political process could fail".
According to the Overseas Development Institute's (ODI) humanitarian practice network, half the country's 23.8 million people live below the poverty line; 14.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 13 million lack access to safe water or sanitation, with water supplies expected to run out in urban areas in 10 to 15 years.
The country's young people are particularly vulnerable: 60% of children are chronically malnourished and almost half of those under the age of five – 2 million children – are stunted. Droughts and internal armed conflicts, which have led to the displacement of 300,000 people, further compound problems. The country is also home to around 240,000 refugees, many of them from Somalia.
Jensen says the combination of an unprecedented number of high-profile global humanitarian emergencies - from Syria and South Sudan to the Central African Republic - and an emphasis on security rather than the country's humanitarian situation, has meant health, education and nutrition have been forgotten.
To make matters worse, there has been a serious shortfall in funding for the UN's humanitarian activities: so far only $122m of the humanitarian requirement of $592m has been received.
According to Jensen, the challenges for delivering humanitarian assistance are enormous.
The sheer number of current conflicts - between the government and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); between security services, the government and the southern separatist movement, al Hiraak al Janoubi, and between the Houthis (Shia) and the Sunni hardline Salafist militias and the Islamist al-Islah party in the north – make negotiating access extremely difficult. With high levels of insecurity making it hard for international organisations to get into many parts of the country, the task often falls to local organisations.
To complicate things still further, many NGOs are now "indelibly associated with the political process," according to Steven Zyck, a research fellow in humanitarian policy at the ODI. Unfortunately many in Yemen, including the rebels, some youth activists and civil society organisations, are said to seriously mistrust the process.
Zyck says the large amounts of foreign aid to Yemen provided as humanitarian rather than development assistance could further risk drawing humanitarian groups into politics and conflict.
"Many donor strategies and UN and NGO plans link living conditions and security," he says. "[This pushes] development actors into some of the most conflict-affected parts of the country – where they will work in close proximity with humanitarian actors, further blurring the distinction between principled humanitarian work and more political development efforts".
If the UN and NGOs are to help the millions of Yemenis who rely on their aid, and shield themselves from further hostility, says Jensen, everyone involved must understand that those involved in humanitarian response are divorced from the political process and that the assistance they provide is needs-based.
Jensen argues that long-term development and resilience need to be supported along with immediate humanitarian requirements - and it is in this "nexus area of resilience" that humanitarian and development actors should join forces. By focusing on building national capacity within NGOs and government institutions, Jensen hopes to get to the vulnerable communities that cannot be reached by international organisations because of the security situation.
But Yemen's problems do not end there. According to panellists an event at the ODI earlier last week, khat - the mild narcotic used extensively throughout the country - is one of the country's greatest, yet least-discussed, challenges. Not only does it use up to 70% of the water available for human and agricultural consumption, it also has a knock-on effect in terms of malnourishment.
Its impacts, combined with the country's rapid population growth – at the current rate of 3% per annum, the population is expected to double by the year 2033 – make the multitude of challenges facing Yemenis all the more urgent, according to Jensen.
Although the country's slow political transition affords some cause for optimism, he says it must not be taken for granted.
"If people are not seeing a change in their daily lives … that transition could be undermined," he said. And given the country's regionally fractured nature, if "somehow Yemen should fail, it would disintegrate".
Israel presses ahead with law allowing force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners
Hunger strikers demand end to practice in which prisoners deemed to be security risk being held without charge or trial
Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 9 June 2014 13.33 BST
The Israeli cabinet is being pushed to fast-track a new law that would compel doctors to force-feed up to 120 Palestinian prisoners being held in administrative detention, some of whom have been on hunger strike for more than 40 days.
The law is designed to overcome objections from organisations representing Israel's medical community – including the country's National Bioethics Council, its highest medical ethics authority – which have said they will resist the new legislation.
The hunger strikers are demanding an end to a long-term practice in which Palestinians deemed by Israel to be a security risk held being held for extended periods without charge or trial. Detention orders are issued by a military court and can be renewed every six months.
A number of other prisoners in Israeli jails have also joined the hunger strike.
According to a lawyer for the Palestinian Prisoners Club, the health of 13 of the 70 who have been admitted to Israeli hospitals is deteriorating with some suffering intestinal bleeding.
The situation has already prompted the intervention of the UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon, who issued a statement on Friday.
"The secretary general is concerned about reports regarding the deteriorating health of Palestinian administrative detainees who have been on hunger strike for over a month," said Ban's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. "He reiterates his long-standing position that administrative detainees should be charged or released without delay."
Sponsored by the public security ministry, the law has been designed to permit a judge to order force-feeding if a prisoner risks dying – a circumstance some in the Israeli security establishment fear could trigger serious unrest in the West Bank.
The law, which has passed the first of three readings in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, comes in response to the opposition of some doctors and the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) to the force-feeding of prisoners.
According to Israeli media reports, IMA representatives have told the office of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that its members would refuse to co-operate.
The prisoners on hunger strike amount to almost two-thirds of the estimated 189 Palestinian prisoners being held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons, several dozen of whom are in Israeli hospitals.
Ziva Mira, a spokesman for IMA, said last week: "Force-feeding is torture, and we can't have doctors participating in torture."
The Israeli government, for its part, argues that prisoners on hunger strike at the US facility at Guantánamo Bay have been force-fed.
The row comes as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Yoram Cohen, the head of Israel's domestic intelligence service, Shin Bet, had reportedly advised Netanyahu not to negotiate with the hunger strikers.
The issue of ending administrative detention is complicated by the fact that it would require legislation to bring the practice to an end.
The last major hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails ended in 2012 with a compromise deal that led to five being released and others held in solitary allowed to associate with other prisoners if they promised not to commission terrorist acts from prison, a deal Haaretz reports that Cohen believes was a mistake. He claimed prisoners reneged on the agreement.
Stories from an occupation: the Israelis who broke silence
A group called Breaking the Silence has spent 10 years collecting accounts from Israeli soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories. To mark the milestone, 10 hours' worth of testimony was read to an audience in Tel Aviv. Here we print some extracts
Peter Beaumont Tel Aviv
The Observer, Sunday 8 June 2014
The young soldier stopped to listen to the man reading on the stage in Tel Aviv's Habima Square, outside the tall façade of Charles Bronfman Auditorium. The reader was Yossi Sarid, a former education and environment minister. His text is the testimony of a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces, one of 350 soldiers, politicians, journalists and activists who on Friday – the anniversary of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 – recited first-hand soldiers' accounts for 10 hours straight in Habima Square, all of them collected by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.
When one of the group's researchers approached the soldier, they chatted politely out of earshot and then phone numbers were exchanged. Perhaps in the future this young man will give his own account to join the 950 testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence since it was founded 10 years ago.
In that decade, Breaking the Silence has collected a formidable oral history of Israeli soldiers' highly critical assessments of the world of conflict and occupation. The stories may be specific to Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories but they have a wider meaning, providing an invaluable resource that describes not just the nature of Israel's occupation but of how occupying soldiers behave more generally. They describe how abuses come from boredom; from the orders of ambitious officers keen to advance in their careers; or from the institutional demands of occupation itself, which desensitises and dehumanises as it creates a distance from the "other".
In granular detail, the tens of thousands of words narrated on Friday told of the humdrum and the terrible: the humiliating treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, shootings and random assaults. Over the years the Israeli military's response has been that these stories are the exceptions, not the rule, accounts of a few bad apples' actions.
"What we wanted to show by reading for 10 hours is that the things described in the testimonies we have collected are not exceptional, rather they are unexceptional," says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the group and a former soldier himself.
Shaul breaks off to greet the European Union ambassador and a woman soldier who served in his own unit whom he has not seen for years. We talk about the solitary soldier in the square, now talking to the researcher. "We'll get in contact. See if he wants to talk. Perhaps meet for coffee. Then, when we interview people, we ask them to recommend us to their friends. We might get 10 phone numbers, of whom three will talk to us."
It is not only word of mouth that produces Breaking the Silence's interviews. At the annual conferences that soldiers leaving the army attend to prepare them for the return to civilian life, researchers will try to talk to soldiers outside. Shaul explains why he and his colleagues have dedicated themselves to this project, why he believes it is as necessary today as when he first spoke out a decade ago about his own experience as a soldier in Hebron. "In Israeli politics today the occupation is absent. It's not an issue for the public. It has become normal – not second nature; the occupation has become part of our nature. The object of events like today is for us to occupy the public space with the occupation."
His sentiments are reflected by the Israeli novelist and playwright AB Yehoshua, who gets on the stage to read a comment piece he had written the day before to mark the event. "The great danger to Israeli society," Yehoshua explains, "is the danger of weariness and repression. We no longer have the energy and patience to hear about another act of injustice."
A man appears holding a handwritten sign that condemns Breaking the Silence as "traitors". Some of those attending try to usher him away while others try to engage him in conversation. A journalist asks Shaul if the man is "pro-army". "I'm pro-army," Shaul answers immediately. "I'm not a pacifist, although some of our members have become pacifists. I'm not anti-army, I am anti-occupation."
ISRAELI SOLDIERS' OWN WORDS
SERGEANT NADAV WEIMAN
2005-08, Nachal Reconnaissance Unit, Jenin
We'd spread out above Jenin on "the stage", which is a tiny mountain top. That evening an arrest mission was in progress, there were riots inside the refugee camp, and we sat above and provided sniper cover for the operation. Things got rolling and there were arrests, some rioting began in the city.
There was random peripheral fire so there were generally no people on rooftops. Some time in the middle of the night, we detected someone on a roof. We focused our sights on him, not knowing for sure whether or not he was a scout. But we targeted him and got an OK to fire because he was on a rooftop very close to one of our forces.
We were several snipers, and we took him down ... Later when we got back to Jalame, it started: "Was he armed or not?" But we'd got our OK from the battalion commander. He was also the one to come and speak with us when we got back to the base in Jalame. We were with the guys with whom we sat to debrief after the action, and it was wall-to-wall, "You don't realise how lucky you are to have actually fired in an operation. That hardly ever happens, you are so lucky."
And according to the way we implemented the rules of engagement, we declared him a target by documenting him. We thought the Palestinian had been speaking on the phone, he seemed to be raising his hand to his head, looking sideways, going back and forth, just like a person scouting and sending information back. You could see the angles of his body, his whole conduct facing the soldiers who were north of him, in the alley below, a few metres away.
Undisclosed Reservist unit, Gaza Strip 2009, Operation Cast Lead
The actual objective remained rather vague. We were told our objective was to fragment the Strip, in fact we were told that while we were there, not knowing how long, we would have to raze the area as much as possible. Razing is a euphemism for systematic destruction. Two reasons were given for house demolitions. One reason was operational. That's when a house is suspected to contain explosive, tunnels, when all kinds of wires are seen, or digging. Or we have intelligence information making it suspect. Or it's a source of fire, whether light arms or mortars, missiles, Grads [rockets], all that stuff. Those are houses we demolish.
Then we're told some will be destroyed for "the day after". The rationale is to leave a sterile area behind us and the best way to do that is by razing it. In practical terms, it means you take a house that's not suspect, its only transgression is that it stands on a hill in Gaza. I can even say that in a talk with my battalion commander, he mentioned this and said half smiling, half sad, that this is something to add to his list of war crimes. So he himself understood there was a problem.
Tal Wasser Tal Wasser. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum
SERGEANT TAL WASSER
2006-09, Oketz (canine special forces), Nablus
Standing at the roadblock for eight hours a day puts everyone under this endless pressure. Everyone's constantly yelling, constantly nervous, impatient … venting on the first Palestinian to cross your path. If a Palestinian annoys one of the soldiers, one of the things they'd do is throw him in the Jora, which is a small cell, like a clothing store dressing room. They close the metal door on him and that would be his punishment for annoying, for being bad.
Within all the pressure and the stress of the roadblock, the Palestinian would often be forgotten there. No one would remember that he put a Palestinian there, further emphasising the irrelevance and insignificance of the reason he was put there in the first place. Sometimes it was only after hours that they'd suddenly remember to let him out and continue the inspection at the roadblock.
Nablus Regional Brigade, Nablus, 2014
"Provocation and reaction" is the act of entering a village, making a lot of noise, waiting for the stones to be thrown at you and then you arrest them, saying: "There, they're throwing stones."
Lots of vehicles move inside the whole village, barriers. A barrier seems to be the army's legitimate means to stop terrorists. We're talking about Area B [under civilian Palestinian control and Israeli security control], but the army goes in there every day, practically, provoking stone throwings. Just as any Palestinian is suspect, this is the same idea. It could be a kid's first time ever throwing a stone, but as far as the army is concerned, we've caught the stone thrower.
Avner Gvaryahu former Israeli soldier Avner Gvaryahu. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum
SERGEANT AVNER GVARYAHU
2004-07 Orev (special anti-tank unit), Nablus
It was when I was a sergeant, after we had finished training. 200 [the number of the commander] said to us unequivocally: "That's how you're ranked. With Xs. Every night I want you to be looking for 'contact' [an exchange of fire] and that's how you'll be ranked."
At some point I realised that someone who wants to succeed has to bring him dead people. There's no point in bringing him arrests. [The message was:] "Arrests are routine, the battalions are making arrests. You're the spearhead, the army has invested years in you, now I want you to bring me dead terrorists."
And that's what pushed us, I believe. What we'd do was go out night after night, drawing fire, go into alleys that we knew were dangerous. There were arrests, there were all kinds of arrests. But the high point of the night was drawing fire, creating a situation where they fired at us.
It's a situation, totally insane, you're in it, it's hard to explain. You're looking through the binoculars and searching for someone to kill. That's what you want to do. And you want to kill him. But do you want to kill him? But that's your job.
And you're still looking through the binoculars and you're starting to get confused. Do I want to? Don't I want to? Maybe I actually want them to miss.
Kfir Brigade, Tul Karem, 2008
There was one checkpoint that was divided into three lanes: there's a settlement, a checkpoint, and then Israeli territory. In the middle, there's a Palestinian village, so they just split the checkpoint into three lanes. Three lanes, and the brigade commander ordered that Jews should only wait at the checkpoint for 10 minutes. Because of that we had to have a special lane for them, and everyone else, the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, had to wait in the other two lanes. I remember that settlers would come, go around the Arabs, and just did it naturally. I went over to a settler and said: "Why are you going around? There's a line here, sir." He said: "You really think I'm going to wait behind an Arab?" He began to raise his voice at me. "You're going to hear from your brigade commander."
Gil Hillel Gil Hillel. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum
2001-03, Sachlav (military police), Hebron
On my first or second day in Hebron, my commanders asked me to go on a "doll", a foot patrol that we conduct in the casbah and Jewish settlement. I agreed, it seemed cool. It was my first time in the field, come on, let's do it. We went on patrol, into the casbah, and I think that was the first time I sensed the existential fear of living under constant threat.
We started the doll and I started feeling bad. The first time in the field is not simple. One of my commanders, the veteran among them, took an old Palestinian man, just took him aside to some alley and started beating him up. And I … it wasfine by all the others … I sort of looked at them and said: "What is he doing? Why is he doing that? What happened? Did he do anything? Is he a threat? A terrorist? Did we find something?" So they said: "No, it's OK." I then approached my commander, the [one] who trained me, and asked: "What are you doing?" He said: "Gil, stop it."
And that really scared me. I was scared of their reactions, of the situation we were in. I felt bad with what went on there, but I kept quiet. I mean, what can I do? My commander told me to shut up. We left there and went back to the company and I went to my commander and said: "What are you doing? Why did you do that?" So he said: "That's the way it is. It's either him or me and it's me and …"
They took him aside and just beat him up. They beat him up, they punched him. And slapped him, all for no reason. I mean, he just happened to walk by there, by mistake.
Nachal Brigade, 50th Battalion, Hebron, 2010
The Jewish settlers of Hebron constantly curse the Arabs. An Arab who passes by too closely gets cursed: "May you burn, die."
On Shuhada Street there's a very short section where Arabs may walk as well, which leads to Tel Rumeida neighbourhood. Once I was sent there and we found three Jewish kids hitting an old Arab woman. Another man from the Jewish settlement happened along and also joined them in yelling at the woman: "May you die!" When we got there they were mainly yelling, but there had clearly been blows dealt as well. I think they even threw stones at her.
I believe the [policeman] was called but ended up not doing anything. The general atmosphere was that there was no point in summoning the police – the policeman is a local settler from Kiryat Arba who comes to pray with the Hebron settlers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Fridays.
Nadav Bigelman former Israeli soldier Nadav Bigelman. Photograph: Quique Kierszenbaum
SERGEANT NADAV BIGELMAN
2007-10, Nachal Brigade, 50th Battalion, Hebron
During patrols inside the casbah we'd do many "mappings". Mappings mean going into a house we have no intelligence on. We go in to see what's inside, who lives there. We didn't search for weapons or things like that. The mappings were designed to make the Palestinians feel that we are there all the time.
We go in, walk around, look around. The commander takes a piece of paper and … makes a drawing of the house, what it looks like inside, and I had a camera. I was told to bring it. They said: "You take all the people, stand them against the wall and take their picture." Then [the pictures are] transferred to, I don't know, the General Security Service, the battalion or brigade intelligence unit, so they have information on what the people look like. What the residents look like. I'm a young soldier, I do as they say. I take their pictures, a horrible experience in itself, because taking people's pictures at 3am, I … it humiliated them, I just can't describe it.
And the interesting thing? I had the pictures for around a month. No one came to get them. No commander asked about them, no intelligence officer took them. I realised it was all for nothing. It was just to be there. It was like a game.
Paratrooper, 2002, Nablus
We took over a central house, set up positions, and one of the sharpshooters identified a man on a roof, two roofs away, I think he was between 50 and 70 metres away, not armed. I looked at the man through the night vision – he wasn't armed. It was two in the morning. A man without arms, walking on the roof, just walking around. We reported it to the company commander. The company commander said: "Take him down." [The sharpshooter] fired, took him down. The company commander basically ordered, decided via radio, the death sentence for that man. A man who wasn't armed.
I saw with my own eyes that the guy wasn't armed. The report also said: "A man without arms on the roof." The company commander declared him a lookout, meaning he understood that the guy was no threat to us, and he gave the order to kill him and we shot him. I myself didn't shoot, my friend shot and killed him. And basically you think, you see in the United States there's the death penalty, for every death sentence there are like a thousand appeals and convictions, and they take it very seriously, and there are judges and learned people, and there are protests and whatever. And here a 26-year-old guy, my company commander, sentenced an unarmed man to death.
Billion-dollar Rosetta spacecraft closing in on comet landing
Sunday, June 8, 2014 9:55 EDT
Rosetta, the European Space Agency's cometary probe with NASA contributions, is seen in an undated artist's rendering. NASA/Handout/Reuters
The three-ton probe with huge wing-like solar panels is named Rosetta because, like the stone that gave insights into ancient Egyptian writing, the mission will reveal much about the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, as Earth and the other planets coalesced into being from a vast cloud of dust that swirled around the infant Sun.
In May, Rosetta carried out the first of a series of major burns of its rocket thrusters to close in on its target, a comet with the inelegant name of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which follows an egg-shaped orbit around the Sun, swinging from beyond the orbit of Jupiter, nearly 500 million miles away, then passing between Earth and Mars.
The billion-dollar mission began in March 2004, when Rosetta was lofted into the tropical skies of Kourou, French Guiana. The successful launch came as a relief to both the European Space Agency (ESA) and to Arianespace, manufacturer of the Ariane 5 rocket that had failed in four of its 18 earlier launches.
Rosetta’s journey has seen it fly past asteroids, slingshot around Earth three times, and once around Mars. In June 2011, far out in the solar system, a lack of solar power to run the spacecraft safely meant that most of its systems had to be shut down.
Then, when the probe swung back towards the Sun in January this year, there was a tense moment when the probe roused itself after two-and-a-half years of hibernation. The team had to wait much longer than expected, as a mystery glitch forced its onboard computer to reboot a second time. “The delay was only 18 minutes but it felt much longer,” said professor Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Senior Science Advisor. “Some people were close to expiring.”
Before Rosetta could phone home, automated commands stopped the spacecraft spinning, warmed up the craft’s components, and pointed its antenna back at Earth. It was forced to use its spare star tracker: the main one was still frozen. Mission control only relaxed when they picked up its carrier signal, prompting a tweet of the classic computer greeting, “Hello world!”
Images taken by Rosetta between March 24th and May 4th show the comet emitting a halo of dust and gas as it approaches the sun, which heats the frozen surface to make gases spout. Jets emerge from the heart of the comet, expanding in a ball to make it look much larger – the so-called coma was revealed to stretch 800 miles into space. The pictures also helped the Rosetta team work out that the comet completes a full turn every 12.4 hours, about 20 minutes less than previously thought.
Last month the probe was within 600,000 miles of its target. Then came another nervous moment: the first major braking maneuver. The reason for the tension dates back to a few years ago, when a leak was spotted in Rosetta’s propulsion system. Though the engineers had devised a way to work around the leak, it had not been tested in action before. Four of its small thrusters had to fire for seven and a half hours to cut the relative speed of the comet hunter. “That was critical and, fortunately, it worked perfectly,” says McCaughrean. “However, there are still two more big braking manoeuvres to go.’”
In August, Rosetta will only be four miles from its target and will slowly work its way closer. There it will map the comet’s surface, gravity, shape and rotation to find a suitable spot to dispatch the metre-cubed Philae lander in November while skimming over the comet at a height of just two kilometres.
The timing comes before the comet – already spewing a mist of gas and dust – gets too close to the Sun, when it will start to spout more debris. However, unlike an earlier comet probe (ESA’s Giotto probe) that was blinded during its close encounter with Comet Halley in 1986, Rosetta will be far less prone to damage because it will travel at a small relative speed of only a few metres per second.
Philae will descend into a tiny target zone, unguided and without intervention from Earth due to a 30-minute delay in communications. The operation will be risky and, in the worst case, Philae could end up tipping over on a rock or falling into a crevice. “We believe that risk is worth taking to make the first ever soft-landing on a comet. But even if the lander is lost, the orbiter will still be there to do the lion’s share of the science,” says McCaughrean. Philae will “harpoon” the comet to hold itself down under the very weak gravity. Once Philae has secured itself on the surface, its batteries will last a few days; then it must survive on solar power, and that will then dwindle as its panels become coated with dust.
Together, Rosetta and Philae will provide a revealing glimpse back in time, since the gas, dust and organic molecules in the solar system’s comets are relatively unchanged since their birth along with the solar system. Comets are not only thought to have delivered a large fraction of Earth’s water but even amino acids, the building blocks of life, though this is still controversial.
Rosetta will circle the comet at the equivalent of walking pace, using cameras and sensors to gaze down in detail, while spectrometers analyse the chemistry of dust, gas, and plasma flowing away from the surface. Meanwhile, Philae will study the comet’s surface structure and make-up.
Both will weigh up the isotopic composition of comet ice – the ratio of normal and heavy hydrogen (deuterium) to see if it matches Earth’s water signature. Philae will even be able to reach about 10 inches beneath the comet’s surface, which may harbour organic materials, and study the chirality (or “handedness”) of any detected amino acids, the building blocks of proteins found in all life. On our home world, amino acids are all left-handed, so finding a predominance of left-handed molecules on the comet would add weight to theories that such a cosmic wanderer seeded life on Earth.
Last November, just as it was sweeping past the sun, Comet ISON disintegrated before the gaze of a flotilla of spacecraft and ground-based telescopes, giving more data on these primordial objects. The passing of ISON provided a valuable dry run for this October, when Comet Siding Spring is due to pass by Mars, enveloping it in its shroud of ice and dust. And to top it all off, there’s Rosetta’s mission: this is indeed the year of the comet.
In the USA..United Surveillance America
McCain: Obama Freed The 'Jihadists Responsible For 9/11' In Exchange For Bergdahl
By David June 8, 2014 11:02 am -
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Sunday asserted that the five Taliban members traded for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held prison of war, were "hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11" and should have been detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay or some other U.S. prison.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Sunday asserted that the five Taliban members traded for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was being held prison of war, were "hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11" and should have been detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay or some other U.S. prison.
"First of all, I wouldn't release these men," McCain told CNN host Candy Crowley.
"Ever?" Crowley wondered.
"Not these men," McCain insisted. "They were judged time after time during their confinement in Guantanamo, they were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release. That was the judgement made."
The Arizona Republican argued that Bergdahl knew when he joined the military that he was taking "certain risks, and among those risks are wounding, death, imprisonment. That's why we cherish and love all of those men and women who serve so much."
Crowley pointed out McCain had supported a prisoner exchange with the Taliban to save Bergdahl earlier this year.
McCain, however, insisted that the president had chosen the wrong prisoners, but refused to say exactly which detainees he would have selected.
"First of all, we're not sending everybody home," he chuckled. "We are going to send them -- even if we close Guantanamo -- we are going to send them to facilities inside the United States of America, that's been the plan all along."
"Second of all, I believe we should keep these people because they are hardcore jihadists who are responsible for 9/11," McCain continued. "Of course, nobody wants to release people who are responsible for 9/11, and these people that are released that were Taliban governing worked hand-in-glove with al Qaeda."
Retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who was the former top prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, told MSNBC on Saturday that the prisoners released in exchanged for Bergdahl were so inconsequential that he did not even know who they were.
"My role as chief prosecutor was to review the information we had on the detainees to determine which ones we could potentially bring war crimes charges against," Davis recalled. "When I saw the names of the five individuals, when they were reported last weekend, my first reaction was, 'Who are they?'"
"I never saw the names before, which means there was not enough information to even make it on our list of potential prosecution," he explained. "To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I'm often critical of President Barack Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal."
Kerry: It Would Have Been 'Offensive' To Leave Bergdahl With People Who Would 'Torture Him, Cut Off His Head'
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, June 8, 2014 13:51 EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry had no patience on Sunday for critics of President Barack Obama's decision to trade Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying the consequences of inaction would have been unconscionable.
"It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what, to leave an American behind in the hands of people who would torture him, cut off his head, do any number of things," Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union," according to a transcript. "We would consciously choose to do that?"
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- who had previously endorsed an arrangement to exchange Taliban prisoners of war in American custody for Bergdahl -- has been one of the most vocal GOP critics of the ultimate deal, earning the chagrin of Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.
On the same CNN program, McCain defended his stance, saying he never approved of the five specific Taliban prisoners who were released under the exchange.
"I never signed off on those individuals," McCain said, although as Kessler notes, the five prisoners who were ultimately released have always been at the heart of negotiations over any prisoner swap. Under traditional rules of war, the U.S. government would be required to release the five POWs at the end of the Afghanistan war.
Conservative pundits and GOP politicians have questioned the Obama-arranged deal, with many saying Bergdahl deserted his post before he was captured. On Sunday, Kerry said that the military would sort out the specifics regarding Bergdahl's 2009 departure from an Army base in Afghanistan in due course, but that it was simply not acceptable to leave an American in the hands of the Taliban as the war winds down. Obama is withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
"There's plenty of time for people to sort through what happened, what didn't happen," Kerry said.
United Stupid America ... USA
Right-Wing Christians and Republican Policies Are Making America Stupid
Sunday, June, 8th, 2014, 10:16 am
Intelligence is defined in different ways, but generally it is a human being’s capacity for logic, abstract thought, self-awareness, learning, communication, memory, and problem solving among many other things including emotional knowledge. As one might expect, emotional knowledge is not always related to intelligence, at least not in the traditional sense. Emotion can be counterintuitive to logic, abstract thought, and problem solving, and in fact emotion is a feeling that is the polar opposite of logic and reason, and a primary driver of emotional knowledge is religion. The preponderance of fundamentalist Christians in America are why so many Americans are comparatively unintelligent when it comes to scientific knowledge that drives the epidemic of stupidity of Americans, primarily in the South, subscribing to hazardous Republican policies.
A short while ago, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said the success and popularity of Fox’s Cosmos was a good sign that science is trending that may have led some to think that maybe America would end its rush to ignorance and anti-intellectualism. Sadly, that is not the case. There are two reasons America, as a nation, is woefully ignorant of the most basic fundamentals of science. First, there is an extremely low level of basic science education in primary and secondary public schools, and second, the rise of fundamental Christianity over the past 30 years that Americans have Republican man-god Ronald Reagan to thank for starting.
According to a Gallup poll released last week; “Americans continue to poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth.” The poll also revealed that 42% of Americans, obviously fundamentalist Christians, still adhere to the creationists’ assertion that Earth, the Universe, and human beings were created in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. In another study conducted for the National Science Foundation, surveys revealed that one-in-five (20% for fundamentalist morons) still believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, cannot fathom that DNA is key to identifying heredity, or that radiation, including from the Sun, has deleterious effects on the human body.
The reason these statistics, and there are many more signaling America as a nation is bible-stupid and getting stupider, are important was best articulated by Susan Jacoby of the “Age of American Unreason.” Jacoby wrote that, “This level of scientific illiteracy provides fertile soil for political appeals based on sheer ignorance.” It is true, and exactly why Republicans are able to convince truly ignorant Americans, primarily in the former Confederacy, to support policies against their own self-interests and interests of the United States, such as combating climate change, planning for the future, or spending even one penny on education.
The source of anti-science ignorance is the Christian bible that evangelical fundamentalists and many mainstream Christians believe is literal universal truths because it was handed to Christians by god almighty. Over a third of all Americans believe every word in the bible is absolute truth, and 60% of Americans are waiting for the war of Armageddon to bring about the end of the world. Interestingly, there is as much ignorance of the Christian bible as science because the majority of Americans cannot even name the first book of the bible, if they even know how to read. It led Jacoby to ask, “How can citizens understand what creationism means, or make an informed decision about whether it belongs in classrooms, if they cannot even locate the source of the creation story?”
There is a direct correlation to ignorance of science and the importance placed on teaching it in public schools; primarily in the Southern United States where fundamental Christianity is an epidemic. In fact, and this is appalling, a University of Texas study revealed that clearly 25% of public school biology teachers believe human beings and dinosaurs coexisted in perfect harmony. It is no wonder that 72% of teabaggers distrust science and scientists, and why they join Republicans crusading to slash funding for education as well as oppose attempts to assuage the devastation of global climate change.
The ignorance epidemic in the South explains their devotion to the GOP’s policies of devaluing, and cutting funding for, public education to make room for tax cuts for the rich, as well as transferring public school funding into private religious and charter (also religious) schools. Bible inspired ignorance is why there is a rush to home school children pushed by idiot Christians such as creation scam artist Ken Ham who convinces ignorant Southern Christians to pull their children from, and oppose funding for, public schools they claim teach satanic science and not the bible. According to Max Brantely of the Arkansas Times, “the charter school movement is another big part of the problem” because they are free to use curriculum that includes teaching the bible as science and history.
For the past five years, even semi-intelligent Americans have been scratching their collective heads and wondering why so many of their compatriots, primarily in the South, have dependably voted against their own best interests by supporting Republicans and teabaggers. It is true it has a lot to do with racism, that is undeniable, but it is also due to Republicans pandering to the fundamentalist Christian cult actively promoting ignorance-by-bible. The various polls, surveys, and studies revealing that Americans adhering to biblical inerrancy and literalism are fundamentally ignorant of the most basic science on the level of Iran, Afghanistan, and Nigeria verifies that not only are Americans dumb and getting dumber, it is why Republicans predominate in Southern states where the bible is science and science is of the Devil. A little over a week ago, The Street compiled a list of the dumbest states in America and not only were the top ten dominated by Republicans, eight of them were located in the most religious region of the nation; the former Confederacy. There is a reason there is a monumental intellectual gap between America and the rest of the civilized world and why Republicans control the former Confederacy and it is down to the Christian religion; pure and simple. It would be foolish to claim all Christians are bible stupid, because they certainly are not. There are Christians who are scientists and who do not support Republican policies by voting against their own best interests.
There are also some Christians who understand exactly what the bible is; archaic man’s attempt to explain the mysteries of the world as well as frighten superstitious Bronze Age humans and 21st Century American Christians into compliance. However, because Christianity is the predominate religion in America, if 60% of the population believes Armageddon is near, 42% believe Earth and humans are less than 10,000 years old, 20% believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, and 72% of tea baggers distrust science, then it is safe to say most anti-science Christians are stupid and it starts with their primary source of knowledge; the inerrant word of god found in the Christian bible. The one they call real science, real history, the real Constitution, and the reason they are a real hazard to America.
U.S. Hopes Ukraine Tensions Will Ease This Week
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 June 2014, 22:54
The United States is hopeful that after months of attacks and tensions "significant progress" could be made this week to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, a U.S. official said.
Washington had been "encouraged" by the talks, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the incoming Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko, in Normandy last week, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
She also welcomed the participation of the Russian ambassador to Kiev at Poroshenko's inauguration.
Pig Putin on Saturday ordered the Russian border guards to reinforce the state frontier with Ukraine and take all necessary measures to prevent illegal crossings of armed convoys, a move which was also welcomed by the U.S. administration.
"I think now we're calling on Russia to follow up its words with actions," Harf told reporters.
"There's a path forward here, we've always said there was, for de-escalation."
She added that President Putin had "called on the separatists" to stop the attacks in eastern Ukraine and "I think we could see significant progress."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that while "there is a great deal of work ahead, the path forward President Poroshenko has proposed would lead to a de-escalation of tensions."
"Ukraine can be a bridge between Russia and the west marked by strong economic relationships with both sides," he added.
Abductions on Rise in Rebel-held Eastern Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 June 2014, 08:09
From international observers and journalists to pro-Ukrainian activists, priests and ordinary citizens, cases of arbitrary detention and abductions are on the rise in the areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
"Kidnappings began from the very beginning of the insurgency and today we estimate the number of those being detained illegally at 200," Maria Oliynik, an activist with Ukrainian rights watchdog Prosvita, told Agence France Presse.
Those held hostage are usually kept in basements and safe houses guarded by gunmen from the rebel "authorities" of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine -- and the United Nations says they can face beatings, torture and even execution.
But after almost two months of bloodshed in the region the situation is chaotic and with rebels splintering into different groups it is sometimes difficult to tell which faction is actually holding the detainees.
For close to a fortnight now two groups of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- totaling eight international monitors and a Ukrainian interpreter -- have been held captive and incommunicado after separatists picked them up, three days apart, in late May.
These latest abductions come after seven OSCE observers sent to Ukraine by the Vienna-based organization to pacify the region and foster dialogue were held for eight days by pro-Russian rebels in their stronghold city of Slavyansk and released in early May.
But while some rebel leaders in Slavyansk have reportedly claimed the observers are in their custody others say that they have no idea where they are.
"We are searching for these observers, but we are not able to control the whole territory (of the Donetsk region)," Aleksandr Borodai, the "prime minister" of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" and in theory the senior rebel official in the region, told reporters on Saturday.
- Killings, torture -
Beyond the headline-grabbing seizure of international observers, the latest reports from the United Nations, OSCE and Human Rights Watch confirm that the scale of abductions is growing.
A recent UN report cited "numerous instances of killings, torture, beatings, kidnappings and intimidation mostly perpetrated by well-organized and well-armed anti-government groups in the country's east".
The report highlights "the alarming increase in kidnapping and illegal detention of journalists, activists, local politicians (and) NGO representatives".
"Although some people were ultimately released, the remains of many others were thrown into rivers and other places," the document from May 16 reads.
- 'Prisoners of war' -
The rebels though deny the allegations of brutality and say the people being held are legitimate targets.
"They are mostly people who engaged in hostile activities, stuck up subversive leaflets and campaigned against the People's Republic of Donetsk," Leonid Baranov, the national security council member in charge of the "commission for the prisoners of war", told AFP.
"A decree was issued by the government to arrest those who engage in activities hostile to the People's Republic of Donetsk," he said.
Claiming that he was not aware of the total number of the "prisoners of war" being held in Donetsk, Baranov said a tentative estimate would be "some 15" people. He rejected as "lies" the testimonies of former prisoners about systematic beatings while in captivity.
International organizations report that those being held come from a wide range of backgrounds: miners union leader Oleksandr Vovk, Polish Catholic priest Father Pawel Witek, Protestant pastor Sergiy Kosiak, local officials from Ukrainian political parties, such as Yaroslav Malachuk and Artem Popyk, and journalists accused of spying.
Sometimes the pretext for detention can be very flimsy indeed, says human rights activist Oliynik.
"It can suffice that your ID card indicates an address in Kiev or in western Ukraine to become a suspect and be arrested. This was the case of the student from Kiev, Igor Khotria, who was arrested when he arrived to visit his family that lives near Donetsk," she said.
But there may be a deeper reason for the detentions, with separatists using those held as bargaining chips in negotiations over prisoner swaps with Kiev for rebel supporters they claim are being held illegally by the central government.
The separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai said Saturday that a prisoners swap was being negotiated with the assistance of the OSCE and U.N. representatives in Donetsk.
"We are in talks to achieve the release of the hostages. Insurgents now hold more than 200 people, citizens of different countries," Kiev-appointed governor of the Donetsk region Sergiy Taruta confirmed.
Ukraine Orders Corridors for Civilians to Leave War-Ravaged East
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 June 2014, 10:05
Ukraine's new President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to escape the war-ravaged east for other parts of the country, his office said Tuesday.
"In order to avoid new victims in the zone of the anti-terrorist operation, the president has ordered the responsible ministers to bring about all necessary conditions for civilians who want to leave," it said in a statement.
Poroshenko has ordered his government to provide transportation as well as food and medical supplies for local officials to be able to handle the expected inflow of displaced persons.
The decision was made public after the president met with senior decision makers including the ministers of the interior and defence.
Ukrainian forces have carried out a military operation since mid-April to suppress a pro-Russian rebellion in the east of the country, with more than 200 combatants and civilians killed so far.
Russians Find Few Barriers to Joining Ukraine Battle
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
JUNE 9, 2014
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia — It was at a barbecue outside a city in southern Russia, this Russian war veteran recalled, that he and some friends met an envoy for the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. They were fighting for their families, the envoy said, against the “neo-Nazis and ultranationalists” who had seized power in Kiev in a February coup.
“We asked him, ‘Do you need help?’ ” the veteran said in an interview on the Ukrainian side of the border. “He said, ‘Yes we do.’ And so we offered to help.”
As warfare has raged in the separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia’s role has been hard to discern. In contrast to the conflict in Crimea, no regular Russian soldiers have been visible in eastern Ukraine, and President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered his troops to pull back from the border region.
But late last week, Ukrainian border guards abandoned a post near Luhansk, blowing a hole in a border that was already considered porous at best, opening the way for men, war matériel and contraband to enter the country. Since then, several other posts have been commandeered by the separatists, who also overran the border guards’ headquarters in Luhansk.
The overall situation at the frontier remains murky; there is no evidence yet of a flood of men and arms crossing the border. Yet it is clear that numerous Russians, most of them war veterans, Cossacks or ultranationalists, have signed up to fight in Ukraine in recent weeks, either with recruiters or through one of several websites established expressly for enrolling them.
Exact figures are elusive, but analysts say that a significant number of Russian citizens have slipped across the border in recent weeks. In one indication, after a particularly intense battle last month, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said 31 of the 40 or so fighters killed were Russians, their bodies subsequently returned for burial in their homeland.
Moscow, held responsible by the West for nurturing the conflict, denies any role in the war, yet it clearly has done almost nothing to stop its citizens from joining the fight. On Saturday, in response to calls from the Group of 7 countries, Mr. Putin ordered the Federal Security Service to tighten the border to stop illegal crossings. But the effects of that order were not immediately evident.
The Dolzhansky checkpoint, one of several on the Russian border that have been taken recently by pro-Russian separatists, was manned last weekend by Cossacks, the traditionally semi-nomadic Russian horsemen of the southern steppes who live in villages on both sides of the border — sometimes even straddling the boundary.
There was no sign of the men, arms and ammunition that the Ukrainian government says are crossing the border in increasing numbers from Russia and stoking the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Sitting on lawn chairs in the shade, the Cossacks waved through a trickle of dusty cars. Some carried men, others women and children. They were not bothering with a passport stamp; they said they did not even have one.
Anybody could pass into Ukraine, one of the fighters said, but guards on the Russian side were not letting weapons through because that would be “an act of war.”
Carol Saivets, a Russian specialist for the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the switch from reliance on local eastern Ukrainian men to a force with more Russians started last month. It is almost certainly proceeding with the blessing and backing of the Kremlin, she said, “even if the Russians are indeed volunteers rather than serving military men.”
She added, “Putin has so stirred up Russian nationalism, and with the propaganda barrage that there are fascists in Kiev, it’s not inconceivable that some lost souls will sign up to serve.
“It’s also clear that Russia has been assisting them in their efforts,” she said, “and now, as it becomes an increasingly professionalized force, there have to be questions about how much support Russia is giving. My bet is a lot.”
Not everything, certainly not everyone, coming into Ukraine has to cross at a checkpoint. Outside the official crossing areas, the borderlands are a porous landscape of wheat fields, oak forests and innumerable ravines and country roads, crisscrossed by militants who can easily escape detection.
The route to the frontier from the Russian side leads across the Don Steppe, an area known in czarist times as the “Wild Field.” It is a rural and agricultural panorama, where ripe winter wheat blows in the breezes, interspersed with dense forests and tiny villages.
On the Russian side of the border stand new concrete buildings and proper fencing, separated by 100 yards or so of potholed asphalt from the Ukrainian side, with its sheet metal guard shacks. Afterward the road carries on, through the same countryside.
Most men come across unarmed, picking up rifles later on that might have been pilfered from Ukrainian military arsenals, web testimonials and Russian volunteers interviewed say.
The soldier recruited at the barbecue, who offered only his first name, Alan, for security reasons, said he slipped into Ukraine in May, long before Mr. Putin’s announcement. The recruiter was a pro-Russian separatist from Ukraine, he said in an interview at a separatist base in Donetsk. “I don’t take commands from the Russian government,” he said.
While the personal touch is no doubt effective — often reinforcing the idea hammered at in the Russian news media of battling neo-fascists who seized the Ukrainian government in a February coup — volunteers wanting to join the battle can simply click on any of several recruitment websites.
“We help people who wish to provide military charity to brother nations and states,” says one site providing the service, dobrovolec.org . (Dobrovolec means “volunteer.”) “In other words, we help you to help others.”
A facilitator at the site, Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, a 27-year-old native of St. Petersburg, said in a telephone interview that he helped a dozen or so Russian nationalists cross the border last month, and has as many lined up for June.
“In my experience, the government doesn’t help, but doesn’t prevent us from getting through,” he said. Volunteers live in hotels, rented apartments and tent camps in Rostov-on-Don, a staging area for the activity.
Interviewed on the Ukrainian side of the border, one volunteer in the Vostok Battalion, Aleksandr, 18, said he learned of the volunteer effort while surfing Yandex, the Russian version of Google, then joined through an acquaintance. Volunteers could come, he said, but “Putin cannot send the army, because that would set off World War III.”
Cossacks, are also volunteering, though they complain about being restrained by Moscow.
“We don’t need a website to cross the border,” Ivan P. Doroshev, a commander of a Cossack unit, the 10th Georgiyevsky Hundred of the Don Cossacks, said in an interview, over a meal of salted fish at his country retreat in the reedy wilderness of the Don River delta, on the Russian side.
It is easy enough to walk across the border, he said. But the Russian government has prohibited Cossack units from crossing en masse. Instead, individual volunteers go to fight. Four from his village have gone, Mr. Doroshev said. One was killed and three returned wounded.
“If they volunteer, they volunteer as individuals and not as my men,” Mr. Doroshev said. Still, among eastern Ukrainian militants, Cossack symbols like sheepskin hats, or the Don Cossack symbol of a deer struck by an arrow — meaning it is better to die free than to live like a slave — are commonplace.
A Facebook eulogy to a Russian nationalist who died in Ukraine, Aleksandr Vlasov, cited the young man’s posts before leaving, and his plans. “We should receive assault rifles” on the Ukrainian side, he said. He planned to buy a uniform and a rucksack in Russia, then slip across.
“Sure, I don’t want to die and leave my children and wife and living mother,” he wrote. “But it would be worse to someday have my son ask, ‘And what did you do while the Nazis killed people?’ ” He finished by writing, “Russians forgot how to die. And we die marvelously. Like none others.”
NATO Launches Fresh War Games near Russia Border
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 June 2014, 22:26
NATO on Monday launched one of its largest military maneuvers in the Baltic states since tensions spiked with neighboring Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Around 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles from 10 countries including Britain, Canada and the United States are participating in the Saber Strike exercises near the Latvian capital Riga.
Russia has voiced its objections to the maneuvers, which move to neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday.
The exercises come as Moscow's March annexation of Crimea and saber rattling in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have sparked fear in the neighboring Baltics.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were unwilling Soviet republics until the 1990-91 collapse of the USSR. They joined NATO and the EU in 2004.
"The exercise is very important given the current security situation," Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told reporters, citing the Ukraine crisis.
Russia was quick to label the games an "act of aggression," according to the Interfax news agency.
"We can't take this military buildup by the alliance next to Russia's borders as anything but a demonstration of hostile intent," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov told Interfax.
"The deployment of extra NATO troops in Central and Eastern Europe, even on a rotational basis is a violation of Russia's agreements with the alliance."
The exercises are being held in the Baltic states from June 9 to 20. Denmark, Finland and Poland are among the other NATO members involved.
Russia in Fresh War Games to Counter NATO Drills
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 June 2014, 10:19
Russia launched military maneuvers on its westernmost edge on Tuesday, a day after NATO began war games near the Russian border that Moscow labeled "an act of aggression," amid simmering East-West tensions over Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry said military drills involving the Baltic Sea fleet, the air force and paratroopers were under way in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave sandwiched between EU and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
"The maneuvers are taking place just as the international games Saber Strike-2014 and Baltops-2014 began in Europe," the defense ministry said.
"The number of personnel involved in the Kaliningrad maneuvers as well as defense ministry hardware are comparable with the number of personnel, weapons and military equipment involved in the drills conducted by NATO member countries on the border."
The Western military alliance on Monday launched one of its largest military maneuvers in the ex-Soviet Baltic states since tensions with Moscow spiked over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
Around 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles from 10 countries including Britain, Canada and the United States are participating in the Sabre Strike exercises near the Latvian capital Riga.
Russia was quick to object to the drills, which it described as "act of aggression" and which were due to move to neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that NATO eastward expansion was counterproductive, saying all countries had an obligation not to beef up security at the expense of others.
Back in the USSR: Belarusian leader who helped bury Soviet Union says it is making a comeback
Stanislav Shushkevich hosted 1991 summit when Belarus, Ukraine and Russia signed USSR into obsolescence. Now, he says the Soviet order is returning
Mark Rice-Oxley in Minsk
theguardian.com, Tuesday 10 June 2014 06.00 BST
The man who convened the meeting that buried the Soviet Union in 1991 has warned that it is being restored in his native Belarus and across the post-Soviet space.
Stanislav Shushkevich – the politician who hosted the 1991 summit at which Belarus, Ukraine and Russia signed the USSR into obsolescence and paved the way for independence – said a mixture of despotic leaders, KGB-revivalism and Putin’s Ukraine interference all remind him of the worst of the Soviet Union.
“What we see now is the restoration of Soviet order, in Belarus most of all,” Shushkevich said in his study in the modest central Minsk apartment.
“Look what happened in Ukraine. It was just the same as in Soviet times in 1990 when they tried to restore control over the Baltic republics with special services. It’s all a play by Russian special services. And in Belarus it’s just like Soviet order, collective farms, it all works like a Soviet regime.”
Shushkevich ran against Alexander Lukashenko in the 1994 elections in Belarus. He says that although that vote was widely regarded as free and fair, everything since has been a sham.
“Lukashenko’s first win was honest,” he says. “He was a populist and he won properly. But 1994 was the first and last proper election. Everything since has been nothing more than an operation by special services.”
Lukashenko’s first win was honest... but 1994 was the first and last proper election
The 79-year-old former physics professor still nominally heads up a political movement, but he concedes that it’s pointless. “Because we have a law that doesn’t permit parties to function normally. Now it’s the KGB who control the electoral process. There are no elections, just a re-appointment.”
Belarus is not alone in finding that Soviet habits die hard. The five central Asian republics have made scant progress towards democratic reform in the two decades since independence. Three - Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - are still led by Soviet era communist party bosses. Azerbaijan is run by a family dynasty, Turkmenistan by a despot who took over from another despot.
Apart from the Baltic troika, which are now part of the EU, the countries with the best records in holding democratic elections are Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. All have lost chunks of their territory to pro-Russian separatists.
Belarus is to join Russia and Kazakhstan in a tariff-free trade union from January 2015, but Shushkevich is sceptical, seeing the move as more of a political demarche by Moscow than a project with compelling economic promise. Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to draw other former Soviet republics into the Eurasian union, but Shushkevich says that real economic development would come from liberalisation of the Belarus economy, 80% of which is still in state hands.
“For the economy to mature it needs to be liberalised. But liberalisation cannot be allowed, because it would be the end of Lukashenko. So I am pretty pessimistic about democratic prospects.”
Now it’s the KGB who control the electoral process. There are no elections, just a re-appointment
He says the best hope for democracy is the large numbers of young people who go abroad to study and come back with different ideas of how a political system can be developed. “If we have young, politically literate people coming through, that is the way to democratise.”
For Shushkevich the reversion to Soviet ways is a big disappointment from the heady days of 1991, when he hosted Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine at the meeting in which the Soviet Union was formally buried.
Yeltsin and to a lesser extent Kravchuk were since severely discredited by their terms in office, but Shushkevich denies that there were any ulterior motives in their December 1991 act of dissolution.
“We did our work. And however much they explain it by [the fact that] there was drinking, or wanting to make money out of it, is just nonsense,” he says.
Shushkevich has a second more curious footnote to add to the history books. In the early 1960s, he briefly taught Russian to Lee Harvey Oswald, who was staying in Minsk at the time.
He says he didn’t get to know Oswald well but remains convinced of one thing: “The man that I knew then was absolutely not capable of doing such a thing.”
*************Dangerous Acts: Belarus Free Theatre battles the KGB, dictatorship and exile - video
Dangerous Acts follows a group of actors from Belarus who defied dictator Alexander Lukashenko by setting up an underground company tackling taboo subjects such as sexual orientation, alcoholism, suicide and politics. Their small theatre space in Minsk is in constant danger of being raided by police and many actors are now in exile, where they tour to great acclaim. Film-maker Madeleine Sackler used secret film smuggled out of Belarus to make her film.
Belarus Free Theatre's later work, Red Forest, opens at the Young Vic in London on 12 June.
Find out more about the film and the group
Win tickets to see Red Forest at the Young Vic with the Guardian's New East network
Click here to watch and read: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/10/win-tickets-to-the-belarus-free-theatre-at-the-young-vic
Facts Are Murky on Location of Dead Babies in Ireland
By DOUGLAS DALBY
JUNE 9, 2014
TUAM, Ireland — That 796 children, mainly babies, died at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home between 1925 and its closing in 1961 is not disputed. A local historian, Catherine Corless, says she researched the death certificates. What troubled her was that she could find burial records for only one child and wanted a plaque to commemorate the lives of the others.
Ms. Corless surmised that the children’s bodies were interred in a septic tank behind the home, and she then met a local man who said he had seen bones there while playing as a child. While even she acknowledges that the conclusion was a circumstantial leap, once it was picked up in the local press, it was sensational enough to rocket around the globe, becoming a story of a disused septic tank brimming with bones.
Since the news broke last week, however, some of the assumptions that led Ms. Corless to her conclusion have been challenged, not least by the man she cited, Barry Sweeney, now 48, who was questioned by detectives about what he saw when he was 10 years old. “People are making out we saw a mass grave,” he said he had told the detectives. “But we can only say what we seen: maybe 15 to 20 small skeletons.”
Where and how the bodies of the children were actually disposed of remains a mystery — and a scandal in tiny Tuam, population 8,200, that has for the moment revealed more about the ways local lore and small-town sleuthing can be distorted in the news media juggernaut than about what actually went on decades ago at the state-funded home for unmarried pregnant women run by the Bon Secours Sisters, a Roman Catholic order.
The claims have provoked calls for a long-overdue independent inquiry — which the government has so far resisted — and revived memories of the many abuses that commonly took place in such homes.
“I think that the facts should be brought together in a coherent form because some of the headlines that went abroad internationally were quite horrendous and gave a very mistaken impression of what actually happened,” Ireland’s education minister, Ruairi Quinn, said on national radio on Monday.
Over the years, thousands of children died in the homes from ailments, including typhus, measles and malnutrition. The death certificates Ms. Corless collected list a range of common causes at a time when infant mortality was much higher than today. The death rates at the homes were always well above the national average, according to official figures. In some years, more than 50 percent of infants died, and there is evidence the state knew this; several commentators have called the homes’ problems “a scandal hidden in plain sight.”
Ms. Corless said on Monday that she remained confident that the babies are buried in the general area of the septic tank, if not all are inside. “If they’re not there, where else would they be?” she said. “That home was surrounded by eight-feet-high walls, and everything seemed to be done inside there.”
She says that to date she has not been contacted by any government officials or by the police, but she expects that she will. “I have presented a case. My words have been twisted in terms of the terminology: I have never used the word ‘dumped,’ for example,” she said, referring to the way the story has been sensationalized.
“But I still believe those bodies are there in that general area,” she said. “There were two babies a day dying at some stages; the chances are they were buried somewhere convenient.”
“It doesn’t matter if there is even one body in that tank,” Ms. Corless said. “That child was buried illegally.”
What matters now to her, and to many others here, is that those children’s lives be acknowledged and respected. Local residents are divided about the procession of national and international journalists and camera crews, but many appear to welcome the coverage. Others are hoping that the controversy will provide the chance to open an inquiry independent of the Irish government and the church into the abuses that occurred at the homes for women, which gained notoriety last year with the release of the movie “Philomena.”
“We didn’t want to bring any attention to those little babies,” said Anne Collins, a member of the committee that has tried to raise money for a plaque at the site. “But if you buried your dog in the back garden, you would want it marked, and that’s all we wanted.”
Ms. Collins said the news media and “church bashers” had hijacked the situation, and she disagreed with the widespread condemnation of the nuns.
“All of the locals knew this was a kiddies’ burial ground, but we didn’t realize they weren’t in tiny little graves,” she said. “But people weren’t overly stunned to learn otherwise or even the numbers involved. They knew the poverty; I lost a sister myself when she was just 18 months old. We grew up hungry in Ireland, and we are able to understand.”
Another committee member, Maura Ryan, who lives opposite the site, said there was little local appetite for a criminal investigation, particularly if it entailed an excavation. “There will be uproar if they take them up,” Ms. Ryan said. “That’s our biggest fear now since all this started. They should be marked and then left to rest in peace.”
In life, peace was rare for many of the children at such homes, according to numerous accounts from those who survived them.
Derek Leinster, who spent time at the Church of Ireland Bethany Home in Dublin, wrote graphically about his experiences and is credited with finding the remains of 219 children from that home in unmarked graves.
“Throughout my childhood, Ireland has always portrayed itself as a very, very religious and God-fearing country,” Mr. Leinster said. “This representation is at odds with the cruelty I experienced during my childhood and the experiences of all those other lost souls and hopeless causes who were raised within the heart of this supposedly Christian country.”
Ms. Ryan’s husband, Johnny, recalled going to school with the “home babies.” They were segregated in the classrooms and in the schoolyard at break times, he recalled, and they were even dismissed 10 minutes before everyone else so they could walk home separately. “It was just the way it was: They were different, or at least we were told they were,” Mr. Ryan said.
In a statement, the Bon Secours spokeswoman said the order would cooperate fully with any inquiry. But none of the sisters who worked at the home were alive, the statement said, and the order handed all records over to the county council when the home was closed in 1961.
The archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said in a statement that the archdiocese was not involved in the home and, like the Bon Secours Sisters, had no relevant records, a stance that has angered some because clerical power is often accused of creating the climate of stigma in which these homes operated. But one of Ireland’s most senior clerics, the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has called for an independent inquiry into all such homes for mothers and babies.
“The indications are that if something happened in Tuam, it probably happened in other mother and baby homes around the country,” Archbishop Martin said. “That is why I believe that we need a full-bodied investigation. There is no point in investigating just what happened in Tuam and then next year finding out more.”
European Leaders Face Voter Impatience After Elections
By ALISON SMALE
JUNE 9, 2014
BERLIN — If there is one thing her admirers and detractors agree upon, it is that Chancellor Angela Merkel moves deftly, and in these past few years of European crisis stuck stubbornly to policies despite dire predictions that they could lead to the end of the shared currency, the euro.
But the outcome of the European parliamentary elections last month has created fresh fissures: broadly speaking, between those who want more European integration, or much less. And these are now pulling Ms. Merkel in visibly different directions, leaving her looking unusually unsure on her feet and Europe bereft of the closest thing it has to a leader.
“It’s not often that Angela Merkel cuts a bad figure,” the weekly Die Zeit pronounced. “But since the European parliamentary elections, she looks almost lost, tugged here and there by forces that she does not control.”
The likely result is that it will take Europe’s bickering leaders weeks more to sort out who gets the top jobs that are opening in its institutions. On Monday, the haggling continued as Ms. Merkel met in Sweden with the leaders of other center-right parties in Europe, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.
Ms. Merkel, nothing if not patient, has stressed that she favors “thoroughness over haste,” apparently even if that leaves Europe looking ever more like a tortoise to its citizens.
It was not supposed to be like this. The leaders of the Europe Union’s 28 nations acknowledged that the mechanisms in Brussels often seem remote or bland to voters, and they thought they had devised a way to make the European parliamentary elections more relevant. The biggest political blocs would each nominate a top candidate, and the winning contender would head up the union’s powerful administrative arm, the European Commission.
But then the nationalists and populists whose agenda is strongly anti-Europe made dramatic gains. In France, they finished a shocking first. In Britain, always skeptical of the European project, they also finished in front, putting even more pressure on Mr. Cameron either to withdraw altogether from the union or at least to make it more palatable to his compatriots by recapturing powers from Brussels.
On May 27, two days after the elections, Europe’s leaders pondered the outcome over dinner in Brussels. Afterward, Ms. Merkel grew uncharacteristically testy with German reporters who questioned her lukewarm endorsement of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister and veteran European functionary who was chosen before the elections as the center-right’s top candidate to be commission’s next president.
Ms. Merkel had signed off on him, but her own Christian Democratic Union campaigned using her face, not that of Mr. Juncker, and Mr. Cameron has made no secret of his opposition.
Then, in the German Parliament last week, Ms. Merkel unexpectedly sang Britain’s praises. Yes, she acknowledged, Britain “is certainly no cozy partner.”
“Britain has already profited and gotten a great deal from Europe,” she said. “But equally Britain has also given Europe much.”
Germany and Britain “share common values and interests,” she stressed, underscoring that “good results in Brussels, which take everything into consideration, have rarely come together hastily. They need time. That we have, and so I am using it.”
She went on once again to endorse Mr. Juncker in terms that left so much room for reversal that even her parliamentary opponents — and Mr. Juncker’s political foes — demanded that once and for all she come out in the open and stop back-room dealings over who leads Europe.
Mr. Cameron has campaigned, so far without success, to block Mr. Juncker. One problem is that Britain, and Mr. Cameron, have little political capital to expend. Another is the lack — so far, at least — of an alternative candidate to Mr. Juncker.
Germany has become dominant in Europe in part through support of European unity. It takes continental union seriously — its participation in the European parliamentary elections even rose from 43 percent to 48 percent, and the results were staunchly pro-European. The news media here cover the workings of Brussels in detail less seen in Britain or France.
So the question of whether Europe’s leaders once again ride roughshod over their citizens and breeze past Mr. Juncker in the hopes of gaining traction with a fresher face is not just an idle debate for a select few.
Commentators and ordinary citizens have seized on the hesitancy over Mr. Juncker to ponder aloud how much longer Europe can scorn those citizens who do turn out to vote for the European Parliament (this year, it was just over 43 percent of the eligible 380 million voters).
If Europe’s heads of state and government “now ignore Juncker’s election victory and haggle out some president of the Commission, it just mocks the will of voters,” wrote Stefan Ulbrich in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday. “E.U. citizens would then feel themselves bulldozed. Europe would simply confirm those critics who see it as a monstrous machine, remote from the people. And at the next European elections, the polling places would be empty.”
Stephen Castle contributed reporting from London.
Jolie and UK's Hague Host Sexual Violence Summit
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JUNE 10, 2014, 6:28 A.M. E.D.T.
LONDON — Actress and U.N. envoy Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday opened a four-day international summit to focus attention on rape of women in war zones and conflict areas.
The summit, to be attended by more than 100 countries, aims to identify ways to better investigate and prosecute cases of sexual violence and provide support for women and girls.
Hague called rape in war zones one of the "great mass crimes" of the last two centuries.
Jolie said she wanted to dedicate the conference to a rape victim she and Hague recently interviewed in Bosnia, who told them she felt so humiliated by what had happened to her she couldn't tell her child about it.
"She felt that having had no justice for her particular crime, in her particular situation, and having seen the actual man who raped her on the streets free, she really felt abandoned by the world," Jolie said. "This day is for her."
Jolie, who has traveled extensively as a U.N. envoy dealing with refugee crises, said she has met with survivors in Afghanistan, Somalia and other conflict zones who have no place to turn for help.
"They live in refugee camps, on bombed-out streets, in areas where there is no law, no protection, and not even the hope of justice," she said.
Hague and Jolie are scheduled to launch an international protocol Wednesday to help strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflicts.
On Thursday Hague will host a meeting focusing on the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, which will be attended by foreign ministers from Nigeria and neighboring African countries.
The group's abduction of more than 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria in April has put attention on the issue of violence against women in conflict areas.
Thousands of migrants cross Mediterranean in effort to reach Europe
European authorities warn of impending humanitarian crisis as up to 600,000 people wait in Libya to make treacherous crossing
Harriet Sherwood and agencies
theguardian.com, Monday 9 June 2014 18.04 BST
Thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean in the past few days, taking advantage of good weather conditions to launch dozens of boats from Libya in a desperate effort to reach Europe.
Up to 600,000 people are estimated to be waiting in Libya for an opportunity to make the treacherous sea crossing, prompting warnings by European authorities of an impending humanitarian crisis.
About 4,500 migrants have been picked up by the Italian navy since Thursday. The largest contingent of 1,300 – including hundreds of women and dozens of babies –was rescued on Sunday and taken to the southern Italian city of Taranto.
Another group of 998, including 214 women and 157 minors, was picked up on Friday in a rescue operation that involved merchant ships flying Hong Kong, Italian, Moldovan and Panamanian colours as well as the Italian navy.
Most of those being brought into port in the past few days are Syrian, Sudanese and Eritrean. Many have been taken to Sicily, where authorities are struggling to cope with the influx.
Enzo Bianco, the centre-left mayor of Catania and former Italian interior minister, warned last week of a looming disaster. "Either there is a strong initiative by the Italian government and by the EU, or we will be facing a real disaster of colossal proportions," he told the Guardian.
Thousands of migrants have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rickety and overcrowded boats run by people-traffickers in recent years. Italy launched the Mare Nostrum rescue operation last October after more than 400 people drowned when two boats sank.
Italy says more than 50,000 migrants have landed on its shores since the start of this year – about the same number as for the whole of 2013. More than 2,000 have arrived in Malta.
The Greek coastguard said a patrol boat rescued 29 migrants from an inflatable speedboat taking on water in the eastern Aegean on Monday.
The rescue took place in Turkish territorial waters, it said, but the Turkish authorities refused to accept the boat's occupants, which included two women and a child. The migrants were taken to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Europe faces 'colossal humanitarian catastrophe' of refugees dying at sea
UN considers Africa holding centres as 'boat season' is expected to bring sharp increase in migrants making treacherous crossing
Harriet Sherwood, Helena Smith in Athens, Lizzy Davies in Rome and Harriet Grant
The Guardian, Monday 2 June 2014 17.15 BST
The United Nations has been forced to consider establishing refugee holding centres in north Africa and the Middle East due to the spiralling numbers of migrants attempting perilous journeys across the Mediterranean in a desperate effort to reach Europe.
The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, has said for the first time that the large-scale processing of migrants and refugees outside Europe, in countries such as Egypt, Libya or Sudan, may be necessary as frontline authorities claim they have been abandoned by Brussels in the face of a "colossal humanitarian catastrophe".
Hundreds of thousands of people are preparing to make treacherous crossings on unseaworthy vessels from the north African coast to Greece and Italy as this summer's "boat season" gets under way, say officials. Figures for the first few months of this year already show a dramatic increase on previous years.
UNHCR's European director, Vincent Cochetel, told the Guardian: "We would not be totally against external processing if certain safeguards were in place: the right to appeal, fair process, the right to remain while appeals take place."
The EU had not found effective mechanisms to prevent migrants dying at sea, he said. Instead of focusing on ever tougher border controls, the EU needed to establish safe routes.
Campaigners for refugee rights have hitherto rejected the idea of large processing camps outside Europe, fearing refugees would be at the mercy of states with poor records on human rights and justice.
"There's no way that could work," said Judith Sutherland of Human Rights Watch (HRW). "In theory, HRW doesn't have a problem with creating channels of access to asylum in the EU from outside [but] you can't imagine [the right] conditions being met in Libya today, or indeed Egypt or Morocco."
Greece, which currently holds the EU presidency, is also pressing for the establishment of holding centres in north Africa and the Middle East in order to process refugees and migrants before they reach European soil. In addition, the Greek government is calling for an international seaborne taskforce to patrol the Mediterranean in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants. Greece will table the proposals at an EU summit next month, according to senior government officials in Athens.
"The shaping of a comprehensive immigration policy is one of the main priorities of [the Greek presidency], as well as the Italian presidency, which follows ours," Greece's deputy prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos, said.
"The Mediterranean countries of the EU are working together closely. But the Greek coastline is longer than the total coastline of the other member states. Without a substantial reassessment of [policies] … we cannot confront the crisis."
Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Greece's merchant marine minister, said processing offices should be set up in Syria or Turkey "to examine who is eligible, or not, before people get on boats, put their lives in danger and trespass our borders".
Italy has pledged to force the migrant issue to the top of the EU agenda when it takes over the presidency in July. "During the European presidency, Europe will not see an Italy banging its fist on the table, but an Italy that overturns the table," interior minister Angelino Alfano said last week.
The shift in the UNHCR's position – and the growing clamour from Greece and Italy for action – comes as the latest figures show a rapidly accelerating problem. About 42,000 people have attempted to cross the Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to the EU border agency, Frontex. Last year there were 3,362 arrivals by the end of April, said UNHCR.
Last week, more than 1,000 migrants stormed a razor-wire fence at Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, in order to reach European territory, 400 of whom breached the barrier. The same day, French riot police bulldozed three camps holding hundreds of refugees in the port of Calais.
The Greek merchant marine ministry said 15,000 undocumented migrants attempted to enter Europe via sea route to Greece last year, requiring a third of the 7,000-strong Greek coastguard to be redeployed to the eastern Aegean.
The numbers have been swelled by large numbers of Syrian refugees seeking to escape the civil war, which has displaced millions of people in the past three years. Some 7,000 refugees from Syria arrived on the Italian coast in the first nine months of 2013, compared with 350 in the whole of 2012. They are the second largest group to arrive by sea in Italy this year, after Eritreans. Most making boat journeys to Greece are Syrian refugees, including women and children.
Since the Greek government erected a 10.5km barbed-wire fence along its border with Turkey, 90% of illegal migration has been channelled through the eastern Aegean, with coastguards engaged in a daily battle with human traffickers.
"It's clear that the [Greek] fence … has rerouted the flow to the Aegean," said HRW's Sutherland. Another fence, planned for the Turkish-Bulgarian border, is likely to have a similar impact. "The sealing of that border will lead to even more sea crossings," she said.
In recent weeks there have been dozens of deaths in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas between Turkey and Greece. The Italian Red Cross has called for a "humanitarian corridor" to be opened for people fleeing war and famine.
In a statement condemning the EU's inaction, Amnesty International said: "With virtually no safe and legal routes into Europe, people are increasingly pushed into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, and are forced to risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels."
At least a third of those heading for Greece end up having to be rescued. Many boats are in poor condition and are overcrowded. In addition, "migrants travelling in small inflatables have explicit instructions from traffickers to sink boats once they see the Hellenic coastguard so they can be picked up in EU waters," Varvitsiotis said.
"We can't deal with this problem forever alone. Europe needs to have an equal burden policy."
Sicily has borne the brunt of illegal migrants heading for Italy since the temporary closure of a reception centre on the smaller island of Lampedusa, and local authorities say they feel abandoned by Brussels and Rome. They predict a continuing rise in arrivals over the summer.
"If strong action isn't taken, it will be a disaster," said Enzo Bianco, the centre-left mayor of Catania and former Italian interior minister. "Either there is a strong initiative by the Italian government and by the EU, or we will be facing a real disaster of colossal proportions. If we're in a crisis with 50,000 arrivals, imagine what will happen if there are 500,000-600,000."
At a funeral in Catania last week for 17 migrants who died off the coast of Libya, Bianco condemned Europe's "deafening silence": "Faced with a looming, colossal humanitarian catastrophe, with almost 800,000 people on the African coast ready to cross the Mediterranean … Faced with these coffins, Europe must choose [whether to] bury our consciences of civilised men along with them."
After 366 migrants died off the coast of Lampedusa last autumn, the European Commission set up Eurosur, a surveillance operation aimed at reacting more quickly to boats in distress. This was strengthened by the Italian search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum, which has so far rescued 30,000 people from the sea at a cost of more than €9m (£7.3m) a month.
Italy says the headquarters of the European border authority Frontex should move from Poland to Sicily to deal with the growing crisis. "Europe is distracted. But Europe can't pretend it's nothing. The problem exists … We need resources," said Luigi Ammatunna, the mayor of the small town of Pozzallo on Sicily's south-eastern coast, which has received 8,500 migrants this year.
The cash-strapped Greek government said it spent €65m to protect the eastern seafront last year, with only €2m contributed by the EU.
Rising numbers of refugees and migrants have fuelled support for rightwing politicians in Greece and Italy. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which has focused on the issue, pulled off a surprisingly strong performance in local and European elections in Greece. The leader of the rightwing xenophobic Northern League party in Italy, Matteo Salvini, flew to Sicily last month to demand an end to the Mare Nostrum operation.
Alfano, the Italian interior minister, adopted increasingly provocative rhetoric with Brussels during the European election campaign, threatening to defy EU asylum rules and "just let them [asylum seekers] go" out of Italy to other countries.
Last week, he warned Brussels to shoulder the €300,000-a-day cost of Mare Nostrum, or the Italian government would deduct it from its EU contributions. Italy, he said, could not "become the prison of refugees who want to go to northern Europe".
Meanwhile, refugees in Sicily are being housed in makeshift accommodation, such as schools and sports halls, with inadequate reception and processing facilities. The arrival of large numbers of migrants, including many unaccompanied children, "creates problems for us – not because we don't want them, but because we want to provide a reception worthy of the name", said Ammatunna. "Receiving these people, then treating them badly, not giving them a proper welcome, not being able to give the services that we would like to be able to give them – this we do not want."
Iran, Germany to Hold Nuclear Talks in Tehran Sunday
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 June 2014, 09:17
German officials will visit Tehran on Sunday for talks on Iran's nuclear drive, top Iranian negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said on Tuesday.
The meeting will follow similar discussions with American, Russian and French negotiators this week ahead of the resumption of political talks between Iran and the main P5+1 group of world powers on Monday in Vienna.
"Mr Hans Dieter Lucas, the German representative at the P5+1 talks, will travel to Tehran to attend a seminar" organized by Iran's Foreign Ministry, Araqchi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
"We will have bilateral nuclear talks with him" on the sidelines, said Araqchi who is in Geneva leading Tehran's negotiators in meetings with U.S. counterparts.
The flurry of bilateral talks seek to bridge differences that have so far hindered progress in negotiations over Iran's atomic program, which Western powers suspect masks military objectives.
Tehran has long insisted that its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.
Representatives from Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany are seeking a comprehensive accord with Iran.
Next week's talks in Vienna come one month ahead of a July 20 deadline for a final settlement, following an interim agreement struck in November last year.
A comprehensive agreement would purportedly curb Iran's atomic activities in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years by the United States and the European Union.
Sunni Militants Seize Control in Iraqi City of Mosul
By SUADAD AL-SALHY and KAREEM FAHIM
JUNE 10, 2014
BAGHDAD — Sunni militants on Tuesday seized control of military bases and the provincial governor’s building in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, as police officers and army soldiers abandoned the town and left weapons, vehicles and even their uniforms to the gunmen.
By midday, the militants, believed to belong to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an extremist group, were in control of much of central and southern Mosul, according to witnesses and local officials. Soldiers who fled the city said the militants had seized a jail, freeing the inmates.
“They took control of everything, and they are everywhere,” said one soldier who fled the city, giving only his first name, Haidar.
As a civilian exodus from the city intensified, the attack amounted to a stunning defeat for government forces, which have spent the past six days trying to beat back a surging militant offensive concentrated in central and northern Iraq. In Mosul, along with the cities of Samarra and Ramadi, the militants have struck at will, storming police stations, government offices and even a university.
On Saturday, car bombs killed scores of people across the capital, Baghdad, in one of the deadliest coordinated assaults in weeks.
Security officials have framed the attacks as an attempt by militants to distract the army from its ongoing battle in the western province of Anbar, where militants have managed to hold territory, including the city of Falluja and parts of neighboring Ramadi, for six months.
The government appeared to face a deep challenge in regaining control of Mosul, a stronghold for extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda and a hub of financing for militants, who run extortion and kidnapping rings to finance their operations in Iraq and Syria.
The fighting in Mosul intensified early Tuesday, when the militants stormed the offices of the provincial governor. Later on Tuesday, the bodies of dead soldiers, police officers and civilians could be seen lying in the streets of the city, along with dozens of burned army and police vehicles, witnesses said. The militants, patrolling the city in pickup trucks and flying the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, tried to calm civilians by saying that they did not intend to fight the city’s residents. But hundreds of families fled.
Zuhair al-Aaraji, a member of the Iraqi Parliament from Mosul, said that government security forces had fled from some places without firing a shot. “They left their weapons and their equipment and ran away,” he said. “All these weapons are under the control of the militants now.”
Iraqi PM Asks Parliament to Declare State of Emergency After Insurgents Seize Mosul
JUNE 10, 2014, 7:28 A.M. E.D.T.
BAGHDAD — Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has asked parliament to declare a state of emergency after Sunni Islamist insurgents seized control of most of the country's second largest city, Mosul.
Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and their allies overran a military base and freed hundreds of prisoners early on Tuesday in a spectacular strike against the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Isabel Coles: Editing by John Stonestreet)
Pakistan Repels Second Taliban Attack on Karachi Airport
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 June 2014, 08:02
Taliban gunmen attacked a security post outside Pakistan's Karachi airport on Tuesday, a day after an all-night siege by the militants left 37 dead and shredded a tentative peace process.
The latest assault on the airport raised further questions about the authorities' ability to secure key facilities in the face of a resurgent enemy, and came as air force jets pounded suspected militant hideouts in the northwest, killing 25 people.
The attack on the security post targeted an entry point to an Airport Security Force (ASF) camp 500 meters (yards) from the airport's main premises, and around a kilometer from the passenger terminal.
Police, paramilitary rangers and army all raced to the site but officials reported there had been no casualties and they had not traded fire with the militants.
"Two people came towards the ASF (Airport Security Force) checkpost and started firing," Colonel Tahir Ali, a spokesman for the force told reporters. "Nobody has been killed or injured," he added.
Army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa confirmed the incident was over, but said three to four assailants were involved.
"3-4 terrorists fired near ASF camp, ran away. No breach of fence, no entry. Chase is on, situation under control," he tweeted.
Flights resumed after temporarily being suspended for the second time in as many days, Abid Qaimkhani, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, told Agence France Presse.
A senior rangers official at the scene who wished to remain anonymous said the gunmen may have fled to a nearby shanty settlement.
"We are chasing them, we will get them, its not easy to hide here, there are no buildings, no population except for two small shanty towns nearby," he told AFP.
The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they were in response to air strikes in the tribal areas.
"Today's attack on ASF (Airport Security Force) in Karachi is in response to the bombardment on innocent people in Tirah Valley and other tribal areas. We will continue such attacks," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said, referring to Pakistani air strikes of suspected militant hideouts.
- Air strikes -
Earlier in the morning, Pakistani jets launched air strikes on a militant-infested tribal district in apparent retaliation for Monday's siege.
The military said nine "terrorist hideouts" were destroyed in the raids, launched after the Taliban stormed Pakistan's biggest airport, killing 37 people in an all-night battle that ended Monday.
The dramatic siege by heavily armed militants targeting Pakistan's economic hub piled pressure on the government to act.
The strikes were the latest in a succession of attacks carried out by the Pakistani military in the tribal belt this year after talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) broke down.
The last was in North Waziristan in late May, killing at least 75 people and triggering an exodus of some 58,000 people -- half of them in the past few days in fear of a ground offensive that has been anticipated for years.
The military's death toll from Tuesday's strikes, in the restive Tirah Valley area of Khyber tribal district, could not be independently verified. The district was also targeted in April, with aerial bombing that killed dozens.
- Resurgent Taliban -
Pakistan entered into talks with the Taliban in February and agreed upon a ceasefire in March, which broke down a month later.
Hasan Askari, an analyst, said the talks period had allowed the Taliban to gather their strength while the government dithered over what to do.
"The Taliban are very clear so far as their targets are concerned -- they want to humble the Pakistani state and they are striving for it," he said.
"They re-grouped themselves during the last couple of months as the talks process continued and they can do these things for the next couple of weeks and then they will need time to regroup again," he added.
Many observers believe the peace process is dead and that the government must now take more strident measures, including attacking the Taliban's North Waziristan stronghold.
An offensive there has been long rumored but analysts say it is unclear if the military has the ability to carry out the operation without assistance from the Afghan side of the border where militants are likely to flee in the event of an attack.
The civilian exodus from the region has been fueled by a leaflet distributed last week by local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is seen as friendly to Pakistan while concentrating his attacks on NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Bahadur's leaflet told residents to leave their homes because the government was likely to begin an offensive, and included a veiled threat to join hands with the TTP if the government did not agree to end air strikes there.