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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1083201 times)
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« Reply #13980 on: Jun 17, 2014, 07:30 AM »

Israel considering expelling Hamas leaders from West Bank to Gaza

Response to kidnapping of three teenagers near Hebron, blamed on Islamist group, follows arrest of 150 Palestinians

Peter Beaumont in Hebron
The Guardian, Monday 16 June 2014 16.06 BST   

Israel is considering expelling Hamas leaders from the West Bank to Gaza as part of its response to the kidnapping of three teenagers, which it has blamed on the Islamist group.

The deliberations come as Israel continued to round up members of Hamas in six West Bank towns for the third night running, including senior Palestinian lawmakers, in one of the biggest waves of arrests in recent years.

Thousands of Israeli troops and police have joined in the hunt for the three seminary students – Gil-ad Sha'er and US-Israeli national Naftali Frankel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 – who disappeared while hitchhiking home from a yeshiva, or religious school, on the West Bank.

The kidnapping has gripped Israel, with constant news coverage and prayer vigils since news broke of the youths' disappearance on Thursday.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, spoke on the phone with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Monday for the first time in almost a year. Netanyahu demanded that Abbas help with the hunt for the missing youths and arrest the kidnappers.

Breaking his silence on the kidnapping and the Israeli clampdown, Abbas issued a statement condemning "the series of events over the last week, beginning with the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and ending with a series of Israeli violations".

Although Israel has insisted Hamas was responsible, it has yet to provide any hard evidence linking the kidnapping to the group. In ominous remarks, the chief of Israel's armed forces, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, said the military was preparing to expand its operations.

Gantz said: "We have a goal, and that is to find these three boys and bring them home, and to hit Hamas as hard as possible – and that is what we are going to do. We are on our way toward a significant campaign. We will get our plans in order."

An Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said Israel was looking to capitalise on the search by enforcing a wider clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank.

In an interview, the aunt of Naftali Frankel, Ittael, expressed the family's gratitude for the nationwide support and for the government's efforts to find him. "We are of course very, very worried," she added. "We really, really want to see him home fast."

Israeli forces have arrested more than 150 Palestinians, most of them from Hamas, over the past four days. The detainees included 10 Hamas legislators – one-third of the Hamas representatives from the West Bank in the long-defunct Palestinian parliament.

Among those arrested in Hebron – which has been the focus of the Israeli operation – was the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council and Hamas member Aziz Dweik, who was arrested in the early hours of Monday morning.

"They came for him at 2.30 in the morning," his son, Anas, told the Guardian at the family's home. "He was expecting it, so he had his medicine ready in a bag. I don't think it's fair. My father has not been arrested for anything he did. He has nothing to do with finding these young men. He is a political figure.

"[After the kidnapping] my father said he thought it was not helpful and would have a dramatic and negative influence on the Palestinian unity government [which is backed by Hamas]."

Elsewhere in Hebron, the city's mayor, Daoud Zatari, who on Monday visited the homes of families raided overnight, accused Israel of imposing "collective punishment" on his city of 750,000 in largely sealing it off. He added that Hebron's residents were afraid of further escalation.

The three Jewish students went missing late on Thursday while hitchhiking at a West Bank bus stop near the Palestinian city of Hebron. They were en route home, two to West Bank settlements and the third, an American citizen, to a small community in Israel. Large numbers of Israeli troops have been involved in a massive search since then, going from house to house in some areas.

Abbas's aides have rejected Netanyahu's contention that the Palestinian self-rule government was ultimately responsible, saying that Israel was in overall control of the West Bank.

The alleged kidnapping took place at a road junction that is under direct Israeli control and is commonly used by soldiers and Jewish settlers.


Israeli military detains 40 Hamas members

West Bank crackdown is being conducted in tandem with a search for three missing teenagers

Reuters in Ramallah, Tuesday 17 June 2014 11.40 BST   

Israeli forces have detained more than 40 Hamas members , the military said, in a West Bank crackdown on the Islamist group that is being conducted in tandem with a search for three missing teenagers.

Israel blames Hamas for the abduction of the Jewish seminary students, who went missing last Thursday. Hamas has neither claimed nor denied responsibility for the kidnapping.

Since the disappearance of Gil-Ad Shaer and US-Israeli national Naftali Fraenkel, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, Israeli raids have spread from house-to-house searches though darkened homes in Hebron, a Hamas stronghold, to other parts of the occupied West Bank.

"We are turning Hamas membership into a ticket to hell," Naftali Bennett, a far-right member of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, told army radio on Tuesday.

The Palestinian information ministry accused Israel of inflicting collective punishment on Palestinians in the territory. "An entire population is being held hostage to the whims of the Israeli occupation," it said.

On Tuesday the Israeli military said it had detained 41 Hamas militants in overnight raids, raising to more than 200 the number arrested since Friday. Israel officials acknowledged the aim of the operation was two-fold – finding the missing teenagers and weakening Hamas.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who signed a unity government deal with Hamas in April, has condemned both the kidnapping and the Israeli raids.

Mirroring scenes played out in other Palestinian communities in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers filed through a street of shuttered homes and shops in the town of Jenin on Tuesday, throwing stun grenades and firing rubber bullets at Palestinian stone-throwers who confronted them.

Israeli and Palestinian security sources said soldiers and police had wounded five Palestinians in Jenin and in clashes near the towns of Ramallah and Nablus.

In Gaza, Israel bombed four militant targets early on Tuesday in response to rocket fire at southern Israel. There were no reported casualties in these incidents.

Netanyahu's security cabinet was scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday to discuss further measures against Hamas. One official said they could include deporting West Bank Hamas leaders to Gaza.

On Monday, Netanyahu said the effort to retrieve the three teenagers, who disappeared while hitchhiking in the West Bank, was complicated and that Israelis "must be prepared for the possibility it could take time".

Giora Eiland, a retired Israeli general, said the chances of finding them were dwindling. But Eiland said the abductions had provided an opportunity to target Hamas in operations that could sabotage the new Palestinian unity government, which Israel shuns and whose formation it cited in freezing peace talks with Abbas in April.

"The fragile links between the [Abbas-led Palestinian] Authority and Hamas could become more of a crack," Eiland said on Israel Radio, a day after the Islamist group condemned as a "knife in the back" PA security cooperation with Israel.
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« Reply #13981 on: Jun 17, 2014, 08:06 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Senator Ron Wyden wants to know why IRS has ignored hedge funds’ tax-avoidance strategy

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 7:53 EDT

(Reuters) – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden has asked the Obama administration why the United States failed to stop a tax-avoidance strategy used by hedge funds, including John Paulson’s Paulson & Co, Bloomberg reported.

Wyden asked the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service what they had done to challenge funds that channel investments through insurance companies in tax havens as a way to lower fund managers’ personal income-tax bills, according to the report. (

“The department and the IRS have been aware of this loophole for over a decade,” and “appear to have made no progress in ending this kind of tax abuse,” Bloomberg quoted a June 12 letter by Wyden.

Reuters could not immediately verify the letter. Representatives for Paulson & Co could not be reached for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.


Death row inmates face execution in three states amid drug controversy

• Georgia says plan for Marcus Wellons is 'state secret'
• Execution would be first since botched death of Clayton Lockett
• Florida and Missouri plan executions as legal battles continue

Ed Pilkington in New York, Monday 16 June 2014 20.16 BST    

Three prisoners could be executed in the US this week amid heightened scrutiny over the secretive way states are putting inmates to death in the wake of recent gruesome botches.

Marcus Wellons, 59, is to be put to death by Georgia at 7pm ET on Tuesday, using a single massive dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital. His lawyers are seeking to block the execution by arguing that the state’s excessive secrecy about the source of its drug supplies is violating his constitutional rights.

Last year Georgia introduced a new law that declared the identity of anyone involved in the execution process – including compounding pharmacies that make up the drugs to order – a “confidential state secret”. The law was upheld by the Georgia supreme court, but Wellons’ attorneys are challenging it in the federal courts.

The legal complaint makes the point that only state officials “know exactly how they plan to execute Mr Wellons on Tuesday night … The simple truth about any drug is that unless you know how it was made –where, and from what and by whom – you cannot know what it is. Accordingly, the decision to use compounded pentobarbital from an undisclosed source poses a substantial threat of undue pain and suffering to Mr Wellons.”

Concern about execution methods increased dramatically with the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on 29 April. The prisoner took 43 minutes to die and was seen writhing and groaning on the gurney. No executions have been carried out in the US since then.

An initial autopsy report released last week by a forensic pathologist found multiple puncture marks on his arms suggesting that those carrying out the execution had struggled to find a vein, even though Lockett’s veins were in good condition.

“Following Lockett’s execution, the courts and the public are looking much more closely at the way death penalty states conduct their business. There’s more burden on the states to justify what they are going to do,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Just a few hours after Wellons is scheduled to be executed, John Henry is set to be put to death in Florida.

John Winfield also may face execution on Wednesday in Missouri, where state officials have appealed against last week’s decision by a federal judge to postpone the procedure on grounds that a prison employee had been intimidated against testifying in favour of the prisoner at his clemency hearing.

The Guardian and four other news outlets are challenging in the Missouri courts the state’s insistence on secrecy over its lethal injection supplies. The lawsuit claims that Missouri is acting against the first amendment right of the people to have access to essential government procedures.

A fourth execution, of Lewis Jordan, has also been set in Pennsylvania. The scheduling is required under Pennsylvania law following the exhaustion of Jordan’s appeals in state court, but in practice is purely figurative as he will now be allowed to appeal his case in the federal system, which could take many more years.

Wellons was sentenced to die for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old neighbor girl, Indiana Roberts, in 1993. Henry was convicted of the 1985 stabbing death of his wife, Suzanne, and her son. Winfield's sentence was for the double-murder of his sister and a second woman during an attack on his ex-girlfriend. Jordan was convicted killing a police officer during a robbery of a Philadelphia area doughnut shop in 2007.

The sudden flurry of execution activity following a recent lull means that both advocates of the death penalty and opponents will be on high alert this week. Any missteps on a level with the grim scenes in Oklahoma could have significant ramifications for the death sentence in America.

“If anything even close to Oklahoma happens again, the death penalty itself could be at issue,” Dieter said.

Georgia has a particularly troubled record in terms of its procurement of lethal drugs to execute prisoners. When supplies of its previous drug of choice, sodium thiopental, ran out as a result of a European-lead boycott of US death penalty states, Georgia began importing the drug from unlawfully from a fly-by-night pharmaceutical wholesaler, Dream Pharma, that operated out of a driving school in Acton, west London.

In 2011, the federal drug enforcement administration seized Georgia’s entire supply of the anaesthetic. More recently, the state has turned to loosely regulated compounding pharmacies to make up pentobarbital for its executions. Nobody knows the identity of the drug outlet involved, as it is covered by the new secrecy law.


Supreme Court Rules Anti-Abortion Group Can Sue Ohio For The Right To Lie

By John Amato June 16, 2014 11:37 am

In another strange and insane ruling by the Roberts Court, an anti-abortion group was granted standing to sue an Ohio law for the freedom of making lying political ads because "freedom!!!"
Supreme Court Rules Anti-Abortion Group Can Sue Ohio For The Right To Lie

In a strange and unanimous ruling by the John Roberts Court, an anti-abortion group was granted standing to sue an Ohio law for the freedom of making lying political ads.


    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an unanimous opinion Monday that the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List has standing to sue over an Ohio law that prevented it from making false statements about a political candidate in 2010.

    SBA List tried to erect billboards in Ohio in 2010 that accused then-Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) of supporting "taxpayer funded abortion" because he voted for the Affordable Care Act.

    Driehaus successfully filed a complaint against the group underan Ohio law that prohibits "false statements" during a political campaign, becausefederal dollars cannot be used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape and incest.

    Driehaus withdrew his complaint after losing his reelection race, but SBA List continued to challenge the Ohio law against false political speech on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech. Two lower courts ruled that the group could not continue to challenge the law in district court because it was no longer facing a sufficiently imminent injury, but the Supreme Court unanimously reversed those decisions Monday in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.

    "Denying prompt judicial review would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the unanimous opinion.

We all have freedom of speech, but not in the context of creating false and lying political ads against those you disagree with. Companies that host these ads are obliged to weed out the lying liars.

As you know I'm part of Blue America PAC and when we create political ads, we have to submit proof of any claims that we make against a candidate. It's really that simple. There is no " religious beliefs" test because they use facts and it's either true or false.

Making sure I get my facts straight doesn't hinder my freedom of speech at all.

Of course, Clarence Thomas would write the majority opinion.


Republican Congressman Tells Right-Wing Radio Host That House Has Votes To Impeach Obama

By: Justin Baragona
Monday, June, 16th, 2014, 7:13 pm      

Here we go again. During an interview with local Pennsylvania radio host Gary Sutton, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) commented that House Republicans most likely have enough votes to impeach President Obama. In an audio clip posted by Buzzfeed, Barletta pointed out that the President is constantly ignoring the Constitution and constantly breaking the law. He then suggested that impeachment would “probably pass” if it came up for a vote. Of course, neither Barletta or the host specifically brought up which laws Obama’s breaking, or how he is ignoring the Constitution. Instead, it was mostly just a generalized discussion about how the President uses politics against poor, helpless Republicans.

The money quote from Barletta is the following:

    “He’s just absolutely ignoring the Constitution, and ignoring the laws, and ignoring the checks and balances. The problem is, you know, what do you do for those that say impeach him for breaking the laws or bypassing the laws. Could that pass in the House? It probably, it probably could.”

This is more of the same old, same old from Republicans, who are merely trying to appeal to their base of angry, old, hardcore racists. Nary a week goes by where we don’t hear a Republican claim that Obama needs to be impeached, or that the House of Representatives has the votes to impeach the President. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has brought up impeachment a couple of times in the last month. Former Congressman Allen West seemingly spouts it daily. Fox News has made a cottage industry out of mentioning impeachment.

Of course, it is all just talk from a bunch of whiny conservatives who still have a tough time dealing with a black man with an African name in the White House. Every single day brings about a new ‘scandal’ to smear the President with, all in the hopes that something will legitimately stick and give them the opportunity to show the American public that they’ve been bamboozled by this Kenyan Muslim Socialist Marxist Nazi who worships at the altar of Saul Alinsky. They have no interest in doing any actual work while in Washington, unless by ‘work’ one means going to the media every chance they get to complain about the lawless one occupying the Oval Office.

As far as Barletta, he’s just another House Republican that got into office due to the racist wave that switched the House over to the GOP in 2010. Prior to finally being elected to the House after 3 failed attempts, Barletta’s biggest claim to fame was passing unconstitutional laws as mayor of Hazelton, PA in 2006. Barletta, in an attempt to gain some publicity for himself and some notice from the national party, passed laws in Hazelton making it illegal for city employees and officials to translate any documents into another language other than English. The law also placed heavy fines on landlords and businesses that were caught hiring or renting to undocumented immigrants. A court eventually ruled the law unconstitutional as it interfered with federal law.


Right-Wing Christians Take It To a New Low By Handing Out Guns In Churches

By: Rmuse
Monday, June, 16th, 2014, 8:23 pm   

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a commonly quoted line from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet appears to argue that the names of things do not matter, only what things really “are.” The line’s meaning is applicable in America in the sense that although the overwhelming majority of religious conservative Americans hate everything Jesus Christ preached and taught, calling themselves Christians and followers of Christ does not change the fact they are anti-Christ in every sense of the name. The notion of so-called Christians exposing themselves as the anti-Christs they really are is being played out in the drive to put more guns in the hands of more Americans, especially conservative Christian Americans; it is no surprise it is being advanced by right-wing Christian churches.

Last month at the Lone Oak First Baptist church in Paducah, Kentucky, a line of people wrapped around the building waiting anxiously to get inside, but not because they sought spiritual guidance from Jesus Christ’s teachings, but to win one of the twenty-five guns being raffled off. One may be inclined to think Lone Oak First Baptist is an aberration among churches purported to be “followers of Christ,” but according to the Kentucky Baptist Convention, handing out human-killing weapons is the best way to get people into church. Last year there were at least 50 “Christian” church gun giveaways in Kentucky alone, and an official at Lone Oak Baptist said handing out free guns is a rallying point to bring people to Christ.

According to Lone Oak Sunday school teacher David Keele, “We’re doing two things here. One, we’re going to talk about the Second Amendment to bear arms. But that isn’t the primary thing. The primary thing is who Jesus is.” The only primary thing is that Keele and Kentucky Baptists lack even a rudimentary understanding of who Jesus was or why calling themselves Christians while crusading for 2nd Amendment rights makes them rank liars and anti-Christs for opposing Christ’s teaching.

The featured speaker at the Baptist gun giveaway was hired by Kentucky Southern Baptists as a traveling full-time evangelist who defended the Baptists giving away guns and said, “if giving away guns allows them to come into the doors of the church to hear that the church has a message that’s relevant to their lives, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.” The paid evangelist wasted little time getting to the Christian message that is relevant to people’s lives and told other Christians that, “There’s no government on the face of this earth that has the right to take this gun from me” to thunderous applause. The evangelist even said he believed in Christ’s message of turning the other cheek, but only to a certain point; a certain point that cannot be found in any of Christ’s teachings.

The idea of Christian churches handing out guns, following the teachings of the NRA, and crusading for the 2nd Amendment is not restricted to Kentucky or Baptists. Other Christian denominations in other states regularly offer guns alongside bibles cementing their proud identity as “followers of Christ.” Christian churches handing out guns brings up a larger point regarding so-called Christians in this country; there are very few, if any, Christians in America. It is especially true of the Christian Right that supports any Republican candidate, conservative policies, or agenda founded on greed and inhumanity. It is highly likely the last American to adhere to Christ’s teachings was not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly understood the value in Christ’s moral teachings. Thomas Jefferson created his own rendering of Christ’s teachings after carefully removing every reference to Christ as a deity, miracle worker, or supernatural being in “The Jefferson Bible.

It is impossible for any American to support conservatives or Republicans and be a follower of Christ no matter how devoutly they claim Christianity as their religion. In fact, it is relatively safe to say that if a person calls themselves a Republican, teabagger, libertarian, or an independent and votes for Republican candidates and claim they are also Christians, they are pathological liars of the first order. It is utterly impossible to support any Republican policy and be a Christian, and yet they are the people most likely to claim their religious devotion to Christianity informs their support of conservatives in general and Republicans in particular.

Any Christian that supports the NRA or adheres to the 2nd amendment as the be all, end all defining trait of being an American, they are a liar and not remotely close to being a Christian. In fact, unless a so-called Christian lives in the wilderness and depends on hunting for survival, there is no reason to own a firearm if they subscribe to Christ’s teachings in the bible that all they need is faith that they will be resurrected by Christ after they die; even if they die at the hands of an armed intruder.

One often hears so-called Christians claim they adamantly support feeding, housing, and providing healthcare for the poor, and in the same breath claim their undying support for Republicans; they are liars. The same people vehemently claim they believe in, and support, the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights for all Americans, and then vote for Republicans passing legislation restricting gay, women, and people of colors’ equal rights. Conservative Christians who oppose the federal government, taxation, and Constitutional prohibition on establishing religion are in violation of Christ’s admonition to pay taxes and obey government authority like a good slave. The list goes on and on, but the point is glaringly obvious; it is impossible to be a Christian and support Republicans on any level.

On a larger scale, it is a near-impossibility to find a so-called Christian of the conservative type that follows the bible they claim is the infallible word of god. It is true they have latched on to a couple of verses that fit their culture of hate, but it is a rare day indeed to hear even one conservative Christian cite one verse attributed to their avatar of light Jesus Christ. The so-called Christians are not even good Jews as part of their storied Judeo-Christian heritage. They worship graven idols like the cross their lord and savior was crucified on, swear allegiance to a symbol of objects in the sky and Earth (American flag), and violate the majority of the Ten Commandments they insist should replace the Constitution. However, it is their devotion and dedication to Republicans, guns, and a culture of greed and inhumanity that informs they are not Christians; they are anti-Christs.


Republicans Self Destruct By Moving To the Far Right After Cantor’s Loss

By: Rmuse
Monday, June, 16th, 2014, 10:44 am   

Over the weekend Iowa Republicans held their state convention, and it was a harbinger of what Americans have to look forward to after sitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his primary race to a libertarian college professor. It was a relative certainty that Cantor’s loss would drive the GOP to completely fall in line behind teabagger extremists who demand all-out war to control the nation or governance comes to a screeching halt; likely they want both. What is curious, is that Republicans are convinced teabaggers are enraged that establishment Republicans did not oppose President Obama over the past five years and that now they demand, and Republicans will deliver, unflinching opposition to the President. Subsequently, establishment Republicans are lurching hard right to embrace teabagger fascism and end democracy if the extremists do not get what they want.

Obviously, Christian extremists are determined to get what they want and one of the convention’s speakers, Bobby Jindal, delivered for the GOP establishment. It was Jindal who this week proved the GOP is in the warm embrace of evangelical extremists and willing supporters of legislation by bible when Jindal signed Christian legislation at a Baptist church eliminating Louisiana women’s reproductive health choices. Jindal also earned bible points with man-love and high praise for Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson who grouped gays with terrorists and said African Americans were happy under Jim Crow because god. Jindal said, to wild applause, that he was sick and tired of the left’s intolerance of religious bigots, racists, and gay-hate like Robertson spews because he had the temerity to say things they disagree with. Obviously extremist Christian views like Robertson’s are part of the new and improved extremist Republicans.

Another convention speaker, Rand Paul, bought in to the idea that the GOP has to embrace the extreme right to satiate the bloodlust of the extremist conservatives the GOP thinks is the Republican base. Paul told an audience that, “There are people who say we need to be more moderate. I couldn’t disagree more; we can be even more bold. It isn’t about being tepid.” Ted Cruz, the epitome of teabagger extremism, believes voters rejected Cantor because establishment Republicans are too moderate and have not kept faith with the base that demands “unflinching opposition” to the President. Apparently Cruz and teabaggers regarded preventing America from defaulting on its debt and not permanently shutting down the government treason against the extremist base and fell short of unflinching opposition to Obama.

Cruz leveled a not-so-veiled warning against establishment Republicans and said “voters decided they wanted something different from business as usual in Washington. That’s a powerful message that I hope every elected official hears.” Republican business as usual over the past five years has been total obstruction of governance, and yet it is not the “unflinching opposition to the President” right-wing extremists, the Christian Right, or Koch brothers demand. Subsequently, the GOP will shift into extreme “unflinching opposition mode” to achieve what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said was “their way or the highway. Without compromise, you don’t have a democracy.” Mrs. Clinton understands the right-wing’s ultimate goal is America without a democracy, but it is difficult to believe that is what the so-called Republican base really wants.

The base that Gingrich and Cruz claim wants “unflinching opposition” to every and anything the President supports is not the mainstream of Republican voters according to polls and surveys revealing they do not support America defaulting on its debt, closing the government, opposing immigration reform, abolishing the minimum wage, blocking assistance for Veterans, or most policies the extremists support. Still, now that the fear of extremists is driving establishment Republicans to the fascist right wing, governance will come to a screeching halt.

It is impossible to comprehend that the GOP’s base believes Republicans have not opposed everything President Obama has proposed; even when a majority of Americans, including the base, support his policy positions. However, as Newt Gingrich said, “What the Republican establishment doesn’t understand is that there’s a large element of America that wants a fight. If you’re a conservative, you think Barack Obama is literally destroying the country you love. And you watch your leadership and they seem unwilling to take him head on.” The idea that the President is destroying America was the topic of discussion on Fox News that incited host Megyn Kelly to get real serious with two neo-cons and wonder aloud “whether the president sincerely wants another terror attack on America – since it would hurt his approval ratings.” That was the extent of opposition to the segment’s assertion that the President was determined to destroy the America he loathes.

As DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “What’s happened is that tea(baggers) have swallowed the Republican party so wholly that they’ve pulled all of their elected officials and candidates so far to the right. There is no mainstream in the Republican party anymore. There is no more establishment.” Wasserman Schulz could not be more correct; the Republicans are full-on extremists who have no qualms bringing the government, and America to its knees to get their way because the voters elected an African American as President. It is not about immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, making sure women get equal pay, or any policies that will actually help improve the lives of working Americans; now it is solely about pleasing teabagger extremists who, as Newt Gingrich said, “wants a fight.” No American should be deluded that part and parcel of that fight is breaking Washington’s ability to govern for the people and replacing democracy with right wing fascism.

Even though he lost a “sure thing” election to a relatively unknown libertarian, Eric Cantor is fully taken in by the extremist teabaggers and joined them by blaming the President for his loss. The loser said, “remember, the Tea Party means taxed enough already. You know, these are moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers that got into the political debate and process back in 2009 after the lurch leftward, expansion of government with Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, cap and trade, stimulus and the rest.” The Republicans have gone so far right to satisfy a right-wing extremist “base” that Cantor blamed the President for his loss because of legally-passed legislation like Dodd-Frank that Republicans have blocked implementation of and cap-and-trade that never materialized. As far as the leftward lurch and government expansion, those are lies that are meant to send a signal to the right-wing fascist base that establishment Republicans are fully behind them.

As Debbie Wasserman Schulz said before the Iowa Republican confab featuring the new extremist Republican Party, “When Eric Cantor isn’t conservative enough to win a Republican primary, it’s clear just how far right the GOP has become. It’s not very good for the country because it means that progress is going to be even harder, and I think Republicans will double down on their obstructionism.” The newly-christened extremist Republican movement is so terrified of invoking the ire of the fascist conservatives represented by the likes of Ted Cruz who demand “unflinching opposition” to democratic governance and just “want a fight” to paralyze Washington, that Republicans will not be satisfied until, as Hillary Clinton warned, “you don’t have a democracy.” What America has now is, as The Dish called it, a Cold Civil War with right wing fascists attempting to bring down the government because Americans elected an African American President.


A New Hillary Clinton Poll Delivers an Avalanche of Bad News For The GOP

By: Jason Easley
Monday, June, 16th, 2014, 9:20 am   

A new CNN poll found that most Americans believe that she will do a better job than President Obama on every issue, which means that Republicans are in a world of hurt if they believe that attacks on Obama will drag Clinton down.

Via CNN:

    Clinton served as America’s top diplomat during Obama’s first four years in office, so it may not be surprising that some of her best marks in the poll come on overseas issues: 63% say she would do a good job on foreign policy and 61% say the same on terrorism.

    But it is notable that 63% say she’d do a good job handling the economy, and 57% believe she’d handle health care well.

    Now compare those to Obama’s latest job approval ratings on those same issues.

    Just 38% questioned in the CNN poll say that they approve of how the President’s handling the economy. That’s 25 percentage points lower than the number who think Clinton would do a good job on the economy. Only 40% approve of Obama’s foreign policy, 23 points lower than Clinton.

Republicans are quickly running out of lines of attack against Hillary Clinton. The age attack hasn’t worked. Bringing up the Lewinsky scandal bombed and an attempt to start a rumor about her health was a total disaster. The news that Bill Clinton is the most admired president of the last quarter century presents an enormous problem for Republicans, but the idea that Hillary Clinton is viewed as separate and as a change from President Obama is even worse.

Republicans were hoping that their candidate would at least have the change argument on their side but the Clinton brand is unique. Clinton can’t be lumped in with President Obama because the American people already know what Hillary Clinton is about. This is why attempts to politically define her will likely be fruitless efforts. She isn’t a blank slate like President Obama was during his first campaign. Voters already know and like the Clintons, so Republican attacks will likely be more preaching to the conservative choir.

If Hillary Clinton has the hope and change argument on her side, Republicans are totally screwed. Staying out of domestic politics has allowed former Sec. Clinton to remain in the public eye without getting stale. Since she previously ran against President Obama, voters are well aware that she and the current president have differences on policy.

Should Clinton keep the momentum going, Republicans will be in big trouble in 2016.


Howard Dean Feels That Eric Cantor’s Loss Can Lead The Way To Big Democratic Gains

By: Justin Baragona

In an op-ed piece for Politico published Sunday, former Democratic Governor of Vermont Howard Dean stated that the recent primary loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) offers five lessons for Democrats in upcoming elections. The former head of the Democratic National Committee insisted in the piece that the Democrats’ grass-roots progressive base is larger than that of the Tea Party and that the progressive base’s push for policies that prove popular to the majority of Americans will eventually bear fruit in the 2014 and 2016 elections. He also pointed out that Cantor’s loss shows that anything can happen in a given election, as nobody predicted that Tea Party challenger David Brat would defeat Cantor.

Dean started off his piece by letting Democrats know that they need to take an all-encompassing approach to elections, running competitive campaigns in every district and state rather than picking and choosing the ones they feel they have competitive advantages in. He also pointed out that dissatisfaction with this current Congress means that voters are willing to take down well-known Republicans due to the obstruction they’ve shown these past four years. Dean then moved on to saying that passion, dedication and door-to-door campaigning will beat out big money any day of the week.

    Third, organization and shoe leather can beat big money. Cantor spent more on steakhouse dinners with lobbyists than his far-right opponent spent on his entire campaign. In an upcoming election in which Republicans’ secret corporate money could dwarf Democrats’ progressive message on the airwaves, Cantor’s defeat should remind us that phone calls, door knocks and one-on-one conversations with neighbors can beat back a tidal wave of cash.

Dean also insisted that base support can win elections. However, that is only true if your base doesn’t offend the majority of people. This is where Dean feels that Democrats have a big advantage over Republicans pandering to the Tea Party.

    Fourth, base support wins elections — unless it drives you outside the mainstream. Cantor’s loss has largely been attributed to his failure to retain the support of a GOP grass-roots base that opposes everything from gun-violence prevention to comprehensive immigration reform. That was bad news for Cantor, but it is even worse news for the GOP nationally. The Republican base is driving the party toward a political agenda that makes its candidates increasingly unelectable for national and statewide offices.
This dynamic stands in stark contrast to the one between Democrats and their progressive grass-roots base, which pushes the party to embrace policy ideas that enjoy broad popular support.

This can’t be reiterated enough. The fact is, the Tea Party has pushed the GOP so far to the right that, in the end, the party’s platform and positions will not be palatable to the average American voter. While they may continue to win some regional elections over the coming years with this strategy, they have all but ceded the White House for the foreseeable future. Also, while it is possible that they can grab the Senate majority this year, there is now way they can hold it for more than a short period, as voters in statewide elections (especially in Presidential election years) will boot out Republicans up for election

Dean’s biggest takeaway from Cantor’s loss is the fact that anything can happen. He says Democrats need to stick it out to the end in every election, as nobody gave Brat a chance last Tuesday, yet he defeated Cantor by a pretty wide margin.

    Lastly, and perhaps most important, Democrats need to learn from Cantor’s loss that anything can happen in 2014. Even on the morning of the election, not a single major pundit or politician thought the majority leader would lose. Cantor was considered invincible, and Republicans were expected to win big in November. But voters have minds of their own and the tea party’s right-wing base helped it usher in a truly unexpected result.

    The fact is, the Democratic base is much larger than the tea party, and polling shows that most Americans stand with us on issue after issue, from expanding Social Security to raising the minimum wage to getting big money out of politics. If Democrats mobilize our base, stand up for what’s right and force a fight on vote-inspiring issues connected to combating income inequality, we can rack up wins that will stun many in Washington’s pundit class — and elect Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in November.

Hopefully, Democratic leadership pays heed to Dean’s advice. If anyone knows anything about organizing grass-roots campaigns, it is Dean.

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« Reply #13982 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:34 AM »

Moscow, Kiev Discuss Ceasefire as Two Russian TV Crew Killed

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 June 2014, 09:30

Russian President Pig Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko held talks on Tuesday over a possible ceasefire in Ukraine, as two members of a Russian television crew were killed in the ex-Soviet state's separatist east.

Poroshenko assured Putin that an investigation would be launched into the deaths, and vowed to take necessary measures to protect reporters covering the conflict, the Kremlin said in a statement following the talks.

"The issue of a possible ceasefire in the area of a military operation in Ukraine's southeast has been touched upon," the Kremlin said.

Moscow had earlier responded furiously to the death of the TV crew members, accusing Kiev of a campaign of "terror" and demanding an investigation.

Kiev in turn blamed the explosion of a vital pipeline used to transport Siberian gas to Europe -- which erupted in a spectacular fireball on Tuesday -- on Russian "sabotage".

Tensions between the neighbors hit new highs this week when Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine in a pricing row.

The move was a further blow to Kiev, which is battling a teetering economy and a 10-week uprising by pro-Russian separatists in the east.

The United Nations Security Council in a statement called for a probe into the deaths of the Russian TV crew, expressing concern about "reported cases of detention and harassment of journalists covering the crisis in Ukraine."

Igor Kornelyuk, a reporter with Russia's VGTRK media group, sustained severe stomach wounds when he was hit by shrapnel after being caught in an attack by Ukrainian forces in the Russian border region.

"He was unconscious when he arrived and died on his way to the operating room," Fedir Solyanyk, chief doctor at the main hospital in the rebel stronghold city of Lugansk, told AFP by telephone.

VGTRK sound technician Anton Voloshin died in the same attack.

Russia's Investigative Committee said it had opened a probe into the deaths and the foreign ministry demanded that Ukraine follow suit, accusing the Kiev authorities in a statement of "unleashing veritable terror against journalists from Russia".

Reporters Without Borders said the violence affecting journalists in Ukraine had reached "unprecedented levels" and called for a "full and impartial investigation" into the deaths.

Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian assistant Andrei Mironov were killed outside Slavyansk in the neighboring Donetsk region in late May.

- Russian gas cut -

The Kremlin, which denies fomenting the unrest in the east, on Monday cut off gas supplies in a move Kiev called "another stage of Russia's aggression against the Ukrainian state".

Russia imposed the cut after Ukraine balked at making a $1.9 billion (1.4 billion euro) debt payment in protest at Moscow's decision to nearly double Kiev's rates in the wake of the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed president.

Weeks of acrimonious debt and price negotiations broke up on Monday, with Russia walking away from a compromise solution proposed in Kiev by the European Union's energy commissioner.

Ukraine receives half its gas from Russia and transports 15 percent of the fuel consumed in Europe -- a dependence that has not diminished despite similar supply disruptions in 2006 and 2009.

A gas shortage is not expected to be felt in either Ukraine or Europe for several months.

Ukraine has bolstered its underground storage volumes and analysts believe that Europe's own reserves are nearly full.

Yet Kiev is seeking to devise a longer-term solution that would eliminate a need to maintain an alliance with Russia to secure gas prices it can afford.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Tuesday that a team headed by Naftogaz state energy firm chief Andriy Kobolev and Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan was flying to Budapest to negotiate "reverse-flow" deliveries along pipelines now used for transporting Russian gas westward.

European utilities have for the most part refused to compromise their relations with Russia's energy giant Gazprom by selling its own gas back to Ukraine at a price lower than that imposed on Kiev by Moscow.

European companies "do not have the right to do that," Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said.

But EU Energy Commission spokeswoman Sabine Berger said such "reverse-flow" deliveries were "legally perfectly sound".

The gas cut has further exacerbated tensions with Kiev after Moscow's March seizure of Crimea and move to mass troops on its border with Ukraine.

On Tuesday, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov -- an outspoken official who has made a recent series of unsubstantiated claims -- called the explosion at the Trans-Siberian Pipeline Russian "sabotage".

"We are considering several versions of events, including the main one -- an act of terrorism," Avakov said in a statement.

"The pipeline's sabotage... is an another attempt by Russia to discredit Ukraine as a partner in the gas sector."


Ukraine President Nominates Peace Envoy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 June 2014, 13:14

Ukraine's new President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday nominated as foreign minister his envoy to ongoing negotiations with Russia on the implementation of an OSCE-drafted peace plan for the separatist east.

The Ukrainian parliament's website said the nomination of Pavlo Klimkin, to replace acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya, was submitted by Poroshenko office on Wednesday morning. His candidacy was expected to come up for a vote later this week.

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« Reply #13983 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:36 AM »

Albanian cannabis growers and 800 police battle in lawless village of Lazarat

Growers trying to thwart attempts to uproot cannabis plantations have machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades

Associated Press in Albania, Tuesday 17 June 2014 14.53 BST   

Gunfire rang out on Tuesday from a lawless village in southern Albania as hundreds more police officers arrived to battle well-armed cannabis growers who were trying to thwart a government crackdown.

By midday, about 800 police officers had surrounded the village of Lazarat after shooting overnight wounded a special forces police officer.

With local television broadcasting the events live, police and the interior ministry urged the village's 5,000 residents to stay indoors and warned others to stay away from the area, 230 km (140 miles) south of the capital, Tirana.

On Monday, about 500 police officers raided Lazarat, where 30 suspected cannabis growers opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy mortars and machine guns. After many of the growers fled, police say they destroyed 11,000 cannabis plants and found cannabis in barrels and sacks, but they could not enter the whole village.

Albania is a major cannabis-producing country in Europe and a transit point for other drugs coming in from Asia and Latin America to Europe. Gangs based in Lazarat are believed to produce about 900 metric tonnes of cannabis a year, worth about €4.5bn (£3.6bn) – just under half of the small Balkan country's GDP, according to the interior ministry.

Over the past few weeks, Albanian authorities have launched a nationwide operation to uproot the cannabis plantations.

Special forces police officers took up positions on Tuesday around the village, taking cover from the gunfire but holding back from entering Lazarat. Police said most of the shooting was coming from two houses that apparently had stockpiles of weapons.

"We are afraid that if we enter (the village) and respond to the shooting, we may cause casualties," a special forces police officer dressed in camouflage and wearing a bulletproof vest told an Associated Press photographer at the scene. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not officially authorised to speak to the media. "Moreover, (they) have all the weapons and equipment we have," he said.

Authorities said six men were arrested on suspicion of participating in an earlier shoot-out and of attacking and robbing a television news crew.

Police chief Artan Didi told reporters in Tirana that police were targeting a "very well-structured and organised criminal group that is keeping the village in its claws".

Albania, a small mountainous country on the Adriatic coast opposite Italy, has just over 3 million people. It was for decades Europe's most isolated country until a student uprising toppled the communist regime in 1990 and a number of Albanians emigrated to Greece, Italy and other western countries.

Another uprising in 1997 led to the extensive looting of military installations, flooding Albania with weaponry, most of which is still unaccounted for.

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« Reply #13984 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:37 AM »

Italian PM seeks austerity relief in return for Juncker backing

Matteo Renzi emerges as key figure in settling row over next head of European commission

Ian Traynor in Brussels, Tuesday 17 June 2014 15.35 BST   
Italy's reformist prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is to demand a relaxation of European austerity policies, challenging Germany to cut some slack for Rome and Paris, in return for agreement on who should be the next head of the European commission.

With David Cameron and Angela Merkel, the British and German leaders, locked in a worsening row over the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister leading the field to head the commission, Renzi has emerged as a key figure in deciding Juncker's fate.

Before a crucial EU summit next week, Cameron appears increasingly isolated in what has become a shrill campaign to try to stop Juncker. Merkel is said by senior diplomats in Brussels to have decided against Cameron and for Juncker. London's main hopes of blocking Juncker hinge on Renzi, but the chances look slim.

On Wednesday, Renzi is to meet Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president who chairs next week's summit and who is mediating between EU national and parliamentary leaders over the incendiary Juncker question.

Van Rompuy is also drafting a policy blueprint outlining the priorities for the next five years following last month's European parliament elections, which returned a verdict of low confidence in EU leadership and against the austerity of recent years.

Italy and France, the eurozone's third and second largest economies, both heavily indebted and resistant to reforms, are seen as the main brakes on EU growth prospects. Renzi and the French president, François Hollande, both on the centre left, are demanding that they be given more time to bring down their budget deficits and that certain categories of public spending be exempted when calculating deficit levels.

"That's Renzi's condition for agreement on any [commission] candidate," said Hannes Swoboda, outgoing leader of the social democrats in the European parliament. "Van Rompuy knows he has to give Renzi an answer."

Van Rompuy is expected to include language in his policy blueprint that would allow Renzi to claim victory. In return, the Italian leader, who emerged as the big winner of the European elections, would agree to join the majority at next week's summit, which looks increasingly likely to nominate Juncker for the commission post despite Cameron's bitter opposition.

Cameron's anti-Juncker campaign has peaked over the past week and shown him to be relatively isolated. He spent two days in Sweden with the German, Dutch and Swedish leaders where Merkel rebuked him for delivering threats about a UK reaction to a Juncker appointment.

At a dinner with the 27 other EU envoys in Brussels, Ivan Rogers, the UK ambassador, delivered a broadside against Juncker, reiterating warnings that Britain could quit the EU as a result. Cameron then wrote a commentary for several European newspapers condemning Juncker as unacceptable and illegitimate, never to be supported by Britain.

In Brussels on Friday, Rogers invited journalists from the main European (non-British) newspapers for breakfast to ram home the message. The newspapers then published articles reporting that Britain was losing the battle.

"More and more it is clear that Juncker will be nominated," said Swoboda.

Diplomatic cables from Brussels to a north European capital reported on the various meetings and negotiations, concluding that Merkel has decided to push Juncker into the commission job in the autumn and that she wanted a decision next week at the latest.

The cables reported on the results of Van Rompuy's mediation, which included two conversations with Merkel and "one very difficult and long meeting" with Cameron.

Merkel, no big fan of Juncker but facing a hostile reaction at home if she abandons him, was said to be "resigned" to proposing the Luxembourger for the job.

"Her concerns are that the longer the debate goes on, the more toxic it is becoming," the diplomats reported. "She fears an outbreak of a 'UK v Germany' debate, which could get nasty. The chancellor now favours moving very promptly to appointing Juncker, and in any event, at the latest at the end of the month."

According to the cables, Merkel told Van Rompuy she had made her position quite clear to Cameron, while the prime minister contested that in conversation with Van Rompuy. The mediator was "confused" and went back to Merkel.

"The chancellor then left Van Rompuy in no doubt as to her position and said that she had been 'very clear' with PM Cameron on her planned next steps … Van Rompuy sees no alternative to the appointment of Juncker."

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« Reply #13985 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:39 AM »

Spain's new king under pressure to tackle Catalonia stalemate

Catalan leader Artur Mas, who will attend coronation, says Felipe should be given time to address independence issue

Ashifa Kassam in Barcelona
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014 16.42 BST      

Growing support for Catalan independence will be the biggest political issue facing Spain's new king, the region's top leader has said before Prince Felipe's ascent to the throne on Thursday.

Artur Mas said he would cut short a planned trip to the United States to attend the ceremony, and he hoped his presence would help to nurture the "institutional relationship between Catalan and Spanish institutions".

Felipe, 46, will take the crown at a defining time for Spain: along with a fragile economic recovery and rampant unemployment across the country, the wealthy north-eastern region of Catalonia has vowed to hold a referendum on independence in early November. The central government, led by the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, is intent on preventing the referendum, which it calls "unconstitutional".

The prince has hinted that he understands the magnitude of the challenge ahead of him. In his first speech after the announcement that King Juan Carlos would abdicate, he urged Spaniards to unite for a better future. "In difficult periods such as the ones we are going through, past experience in history shows us that only by uniting our desires, putting the common good ahead of individual interests and promoting the creativity of each person, do we succeed in advancing towards better scenarios," he said.

Many see the Catalan-speaking king-in-waiting as someone who may be able to break the political stalemate between Madrid and Barcelona. Albert Pont, a pro-independence leader of a Catalan business organisation, told El País recently: "Felipe VI is the last tool available to the state to resolve the Catalonia issue in a peaceful, orderly and agreed manner."

It's a view echoed in the Basque country, where the push for more powers has gathered momentum in recent months, including a declaration of self-determination adopted by MPs in the region. Hours after the abdication announcement, the Basque leader Iñigo Urkullu encouraged the next king to address a new state model "to respond to the aspirations of the various nations that make up the Spanish state".

Catalonia's Mas was more muted in his assessment of what role the new king could play. "From the political point of view, the Catalan issue is the most important one for the new king," he said, adding that it was "too early to know" how successful he would be. "We have to give him some time to try to do something about this issue."

Even if Felipe has the will to navigate the wide gulf between the two parties, Mas said, he will have very little room for manoeuvre. "They don't have real executive powers. So if the central government or the Spanish political forces say no, the king has no real possibilities to impose an agreement."

Recent European election results point to growing support for independence in Catalonia. While the economy and job creation dominated the campaign trail across Spain, Catalan voters were confronted with the question of independence. The hardline secessionists Esquerra Republicana won the election in the region with a 24% share of the vote, up from 9% in the last elections. In total, 55% of Catalan voters backed parties pushing for a referendum on independence, compared with 38% last time.

The results echoed polls showing that a strong majority of the region's 7.5 million residents want a referendum on independence. The proportion who would vote to break away from Spain, according to the same polls, is around half.

In April, Spain's parliament voted overwhelmingly to reject a request by Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence. Mas said the Catalan parliament was now working on a law that would allow the region to hold its own non-binding consultation on independence. The law will probably be approved in September, granting the region powers to push forward with its referendum as planned for 9 November.

Once the consultation law is passed, Mas said, two things can happen. The best-case scenario, he said, "would be that the central government lets us go ahead without intervening in this specific consultation". The worst-case scenario would be a court challenge of the Catalan law by the central government, a move that would see the consultation suspended for at last five months, he said. In that case, Mas said, the "last legal tool" would be to call early elections that could act as a de facto poll on independence.

The Socialists have suggested a third option, an agreement negotiated by the central government parties in Madrid to offer the region more autonomy. Any such offer would have to be put to Catalans in a referendum, Mas said, preferably coupled with the question of independence. "Some people say that it can happen in the next few months," he said of this third option, adding that he was "quite sceptical". 
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« Reply #13986 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:45 AM »

Major: EU would make amends if Cameron loses Juncker battle

Former PM prepares way for defeat in fight over appointment of European commission president

Nicholas Watt and Ian Traynor   
The Guardian, Wednesday 18 June 2014       

Sir John Major has prepared the way for a British defeat over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as European commission president by saying that EU leaders would make amends if David Cameron lost out.

As the prime minister pledged to fight the appointment of Juncker "right up to the end", Major said the EU might choose the wrong candidate for the wrong reasons.

But the former prime minister said the EU would then seek to "make that right" by helping Cameron when he starts to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership. This would help the prime minister to win a yes vote to keep Britain in the EU in his planned in/out referendum in 2017.

The intervention by Major, whose occasional contributions to political debate are designed to help the prime minister, indicates that Downing Street is giving careful thought to how to respond to a defeat over Juncker. Britain is expected to suffer a fresh setback on Wednesday when Matteo Renzi, the reform-minded prime minister of Italy who had expressed concerns about Juncker, will demand a relaxation of European austerity policies in return for agreement on the appointment.

Major, who said he had "no animus" against Juncker, who had made a "very fine prime minister of Luxembourg", suggested Britain was heading for a defeat. He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: "I don't know how it is going to turn out with Mr Juncker. I do not think he is the right candidate. But it is conceivable for the wrong reasons that Europe might elect the wrong candidate."

But the former prime minister said EU leaders would seek to make amends if Juncker was appointed. Major said: "If that is so the way Europe often works is if it has done something that is very much not to the interests of a particular country they often seek, both subliminally and publicly, to make that right in some other way. The question is: can we get a satisfactory negotiation along the lines Britain has been talking about? My answer to that is categorically yes, we can.

"We are not alone in seeking reforms. I often found that when I appeared to be battling on my own for some change in Europe that after the battle had been fought, whether I had won or whether I had lost, I often found I had allies I didn't know were there who hadn't always spoken out.

"I think there is sufficient common interest in terms of common interests across Europe for alliances to be formed when the negotiation proper starts. I genuinely believe David Cameron will be able to come back with a successful, significant reform package that will enable him to put that before the British nation and for Britain then to vote in a clear-cut way to stay as a member of the EU."

Cameron's intervention, during a press conference with the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, came amid a growing feeling in Downing Street that Britain faces a tough fight to block Juncker, who is the lead candidate of the European People's party, the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament. European leaders are due to discuss Juncker's prospects over dinner in Ypres, originally designed to mark the centenary of the first world war, on Thursday next week.

Britain's isolation will be highlighted when the Italian prime minister meets Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, who chairs next week's summit and is mediating between EU national and parliamentary leaders over the Juncker question. Renzi and the French president, François Hollande, both on the centre-left, are demanding more time to reduce their budget deficits and want certain categories of public spending exempted from deficit-level calculations.

"That's Renzi's condition for agreement on any [commission] candidate," said Hannes Swoboda, outgoing leader of the social democrats in the European parliament. "Van Rompuy knows he has to give Renzi an answer."

Cameron made it clear he would not cut any deals as he moved to smoke out Angela Merkel, who shares his concerns about the process that has made Juncker the frontrunner. The German chancellor moved decisively in favour of Juncker after Cameron reportedly told the last EU summit that his appointment would increase the chances of Britain exiting the EU.

Cameron said: "My view is very clear. It is for others to make their view clear. If you are for reform then you need to stand up and fight for reform. If you are against transferring power from the European council to the European parliament, you have to stand up and say so."

Downing Street has not given up on blocking Juncker, although it admits it faces a difficult challenge. "The die is not cast until EU leaders meet next week," one source said. "But it will be tough."

Cameron appears increasingly isolated in what has become a shrill campaign to try to stop Juncker. Merkel is said by senior diplomats in Brussels to have decided against Cameron and for Juncker. London's main hopes of blocking Juncker hinge on Renzi, but the chances look slim.

Van Rompuy is expected to include language in his policy blueprint that would allow Renzi to claim victory. In return, the Italian leader, who emerged as the big winner of the European elections, would agree to join the majority at next week's summit, which looks increasingly likely to nominate Juncker for the commission post despite Cameron's bitter opposition.

Cameron's anti-Juncker campaign has peaked over the past week and shown him to be relatively isolated. He spent two days in Sweden with the German, Dutch and Swedish leaders, where Merkel rebuked him for delivering threats about a UK reaction to a Juncker appointment.

At a dinner with the 27 other EU envoys in Brussels, Ivan Rogers, the UK ambassador, delivered a broadside against Juncker, reiterating warnings that Britain could quit the EU as a result. Cameron then wrote a commentary for several European newspapers condemning Juncker as unacceptable and illegitimate, never to be supported by Britain.

In Brussels on Friday, Rogers invited journalists from the main European (non-British) newspapers for breakfast to ram home the message. The newspapers then published articles reporting that Britain was losing the battle.

"More and more it is clear that Juncker will be nominated," said Swoboda.

Diplomatic cables from Brussels to a north European capital reported on the various meetings and negotiations, concluding that Merkel had decided to push Juncker into the commission job in the autumn and that she wanted a decision next week at the latest.

The cables reported on the results of Van Rompuy's mediation, which included two conversations with Merkel and "one very difficult and long meeting" with Cameron.

Merkel, no big fan of Juncker but facing a hostile reaction at home if she abandons him, was said to be resigned to proposing him for the job.

"Her concerns are that the longer the debate goes on, the more toxic it is becoming," the diplomats reported. "She fears an outbreak of a 'UK v Germany' debate, which could get nasty. The chancellor now favours moving very promptly to appointing Juncker, and – in any event – at the latest at the end of the month."

According to the cables, Merkel told Van Rompuy she had made her position clear to Cameron, while the prime minister contested that in conversation with Van Rompuy. The mediator was "confused" and went back to Merkel.

"The chancellor then left Van Rompuy in no doubt as to her position and said that she had been 'very clear' with PM Cameron on her planned next steps … Van Rompuy sees no alternative to the appointment of Juncker."

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« Reply #13987 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:50 AM »

Social media mass surveillance is permitted by law, says top UK official

Charles Farr's statement marks first time government has commented on how it exploits the UK's legal framework to operate mass interception
• Read Farr's statement in full

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, and James Ball   
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014 20.06 BST   
The true extent of the government's interception of Google, Facebook and Twitter – including private messages between British citizens – has been officially confirmed for the first time.

The government's most senior security official, Charles Farr, detailed how searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as emails to or from non-British citizens abroad, can be monitored by the security services because they are deemed to be "external communications".

It is the first time that the government has admitted that UK citizens, talking via supposedly private channels in social media such as Twitter direct messages, are deemed by the British government to be legitimate legal targets that do not require a warrant before intercepting.

The 48-page detailed defence of mass monitoring by Farr, who is director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, develops a legal interpretation that critics say sidesteps the need for traditional intercept safeguards.

The document, released on Tuesday, provoked calls for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to be overhauled urgently, as well as allegations that the government was exploiting loopholes in the legislation of which parliament was unaware.

The government defence was published in response to a case brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International and other civil rights groups before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which deals with complaints against the intelligence services. A full hearing will take place next month.

The accusation that mass online surveillance is illegal emerged in the wake of revelations from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden about the impact of the monitoring programme codenamed Tempora operated by the UK monitoring agency GCHQ and the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Tempora taps into the network of fibre-optic cables which carry the world's phone calls and online traffic. Its designer described it as "Mastering the Internet", enabling GCHQ and the NSA to process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects. As many as 600m "telephone events" a day can be recorded.

Under Ripa, traditional interception of "internal" communications within the UK requires an individual warrant. Farr argues that in a technologically-fast moving world, where the greatest threat to national security is from "militant Islamist terrorists" operating both abroad and in the UK, identifying individual targets before monitoring starts is too difficult. Those deemed to be "external" can be monitored without an individual warrant.

Farr says: "Any regime that … only permitted interception in relation to specific persons or premises, would not have allowed adequate levels of intelligence information to be obtained and would not have met the undoubted requirements of intelligence for the protection of national security."

His submission explains that searches on Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are likely to involve communicating with a "web-based platform" abroad and are therefore "external communications" which do not "require a person or a set of premises to be named in the interception warrant". Emails sent or received from abroad could be intercepted in a similar way.

Farr's statement notes that the issue was raised during Ripa's passage through the Lords in 2000, implying that parliament was aware of the difficulty of distinguishing between domestic and foreign messages when it passed the legislation.

In one section, Farr says he can "neither confirm or deny" the existence of the much publicised Tempora interception programme, although he does accept the existence of Prism – another interception programme – "because it has been expressly avowed by the executive branch of the US government".

His statement, published by Privacy International and other human rights organisations, is the first time the government has commented on how it operates its mass intercept programmes within a legal framework. Under section 8(1) of Ripa, internal communications between British residents within the UK may only be monitored pursuant to a specific warrant.

These specific warrants should only be granted where there is some reason to suspect the person in question of unlawful activity. "External communications", however, may be monitored indiscriminately under a general warrant, according to section 8(4) of the act.

The Conservative MP David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, told the Guardian: "This is extraordinary. It calls into question the entire evidence that the agencies and Home Office gave to the committee that was looking into the communications data bill.

"If they are trying to claim parliamentary approval for this, they should have said it in terms in the Commons [when Ripa was passed in 2000]. Every time they bring legislation to the House they tell us a very partial story. It appears this was very deliberately byzantine and intended to confuse."

Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has previously called for greater scrutiny of the intelligence agencies, said: "Mr Farr's statement is the best argument I have seen for a thorough overhaul of surveillance law to bring it into the modern age. When Ripa was enacted, social media didn't exist.

"It is fatuous to pretend that elderly laws can cope with modern communications, as Mr Farr convincingly demonstrates. No doubt our intelligence agencies take their legal duties seriously, but the problem is that those legal duties fail to address the 21st century. We need new laws to counter new threats, carrying public confidence with them."

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: "Intelligence agencies cannot be considered accountable to parliament and to the public they serve when their actions are obfuscated through secret interpretations of byzantine laws.

"Moreover, the suggestion that violations of the right to privacy are meaningless if the violator subsequently forgets about it not only offends the fundamental, inalienable nature of human rights, but patronises the British people, who will not accept such a meagre excuse for the loss of their civil liberties.

"The distinction drawn by the government between 'internal' and 'external' communications no longer has any practical meaning. The safeguards provided by RIPA pertaining to the interception of 'internal' communications do not in fact result in any meaningful protections for such communications privacy when applied to the modern communications system."

James Welch, legal director of Liberty, said: "The security services consider that they're entitled to read, listen to and analyse all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms. If there was any remaining doubt that our snooping laws need a radical overhaul, there can be no longer. The agencies now operate in a legal and ethical vacuum; why the deafening silence from our elected representatives?"

Michael Bochenek, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said: "British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications. The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy."

Anne Jellema, chief executive of the World Wide Web Foundation, said: "It seems the UK's spy agencies are using flimsy legal justification to sidestep the need for individual warrants and feel able to indiscriminately collect and monitor the private social media and web communications of anyone.

"[The] revelations mean it is simply unacceptable for the UK government to delay a single day longer in launching a full and independent inquiry into GCHQ's activities, leading to far-reaching changes in law and practice."

Jack Hart from the Freedom Association said: "It is now clear that the security services are happy to justify the large scale monitoring of every Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google user in the UK. The public have never consented to such wide-reaching powers which make us all suspects, often without any grounds for suspicion. The security services are operating within a legal framework that only works in their favour."

A spokesperson for Google said: "We disclose user data to governments in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. Google has not joined any program that would create a 'back door' for government to access private user data."


Britain is an old, declining empire, says official Chinese newspaper

People's Daily takes swipe at UK's 'eccentric acts' as Chinese premier visits London

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, Wednesday 18 June 2014 09.47 BST   
Britain is an "old, declining empire" which resorts to "eccentric acts" to hide its embarrassment over its declining power, an official Chinese newspaper has claimed on the second day of a visit by the country's premier, Li Keqiang, to London.

As China was given the chance to take a decisive stake in the next stage of Britain's energy and transport infrastructure on the first day of the premier's visit, the Global Times said a "rising" country such as China should seek to understand a declining power.

The paper, which is owned by the official Communist party People's Daily, took a swipe at Britain after reports last week that Beijing had threatened to call off Li's visit if he were not allowed to meet the Queen. The premier and his wife began their visit on Tuesday with an audience with the Queen at Windsor Castle.

The Global Times wrote of the reports of a Chinese threat to cancel Li's visit: "Diplomats might break out into laughter at such rhetoric. This hype only serves to reflect the narrow-mindedness of the British media and even the whole of its society. The once-powerful British empire must now resort to such trickery to manifest its pride."

The official newspaper added: "Perhaps Chinese people should forgive Britain's confusing sentiment. A rising country should understand the embarrassment of an old declining empire and at times the eccentric acts it takes to hide such embarrassment. Diplomacy has to be based on realistic recognition of the two countries' power. No matter for China or the UK, it will be tiring if they try to distort this reality."

The barbed comments echo an editorial in the paper during David Cameron's visit to China last December. At the time, it described Britain as "just an old European country apt for travel and study".

The criticism follows agreements between Britain and China on the first day of Li's visit that will allow Chinese companies to own and operate a nuclear power station and to help build high-speed rail lines.

The agreements are among trade deals worth £14bn agreed with Beijing. They have prompted Cameron to declare that Britain is playing a part in the rise of China – something he called a defining event of the 21st century.

The two most controversial aspects of the deals will allow Chinese firms to own and operate a Chinese-designed nuclear power station and to build and operate rail lines in Britain. The Chinese have a mixed safety record on high-speed rail.

On Tuesday, Cameron said: "Ours is truly a partnership for growth, reform and innovation. Our partnership goes well beyond the economic field. The UK recognises that the rise of China is one of the defining events of our century.

"We welcome the fact that China's economic growth is lifting millions out of poverty. As premier Li noted, as China grows in economic power that brings greater responsibilities on the world stage."

The government moved to stem criticism of cooperation in the highly sensitive area of civil nuclear power by saying it was part of an overall agreement to tackle climate change. China and Britain also signed a joint statement on climate change.

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« Reply #13988 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:54 AM »

Isis fighters attack Iraq's biggest oil refinery

Islamist militants launch assault in Baiji as Iran raises prospect of military intervention

Mark Tran, Wednesday 18 June 2014 11.19 BST   

Islamist militants have attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery in the city of Baiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, as Iran raised the prospect of direct military intervention to protect Shia holy sites.

A top security official told the Associated Press that fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) had begun their attack on the refinery late on Tuesday night. The attack continued into Wednesday morning, with militants targeting it with mortar shells, starting a small fire on the periphery.

The refinery accounts for more than a quarter of the country's entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption – petrol, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Baiji refinery was under the control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations. Isis has used its control of oilfields in Syria to boost its coffers.

Any lengthy disruption at Baiji risks long lines at the petrol pump and electricity shortages, putting further pressure on the Shia-led government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq's beleaguered prime minister has fired several top security commanders after Iraqi troops melted away before Isis militants as they captured the Mosul in the north, Iraq's second largest city.

Jihadi rebel forces have reached Baquba, less than 40 miles north of Baghdad, while fighting continues to rage further north in the city of Tal Afar. State television late on Tuesday aired footage of army troops and armed volunteers disembarking from a transport C-130 aircraft at an airstrip near the city.

Isis and disaffected Sunnis have threatened to march to Baghdad, the capital, and the Shia holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf in the worst threat to Iraq's stability since US troops left. The three cities are home to some of the most revered Shia sites. Isis has tried to capture Samarra, north of Baghdad, home to another major Shia shrine.
iraq baiji

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, warned that Iran would do whatever it took to protect the shrines.

"Dear Kerbala, Dear Najaf, Dear Kadhimiya and Dear Samarra, we warn the great powers and their lackeys and the terrorists, the great Iranian people will do everything to protect them," he said, in a speech on Wednesday in Khoramabad, near the Iraqi border.

On Tuesday Rouhani mentioned petitions signed by Iranians who said they were willing to fight in Iraq "to destroy the terrorists and protect the holy sites", which are visited by hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims annually.

"Thank God there are enough volunteer Shias, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq to fight the terrorists," he added.

Thousands of Iranians have volunteered to defend the shrines. Iran is 90% Shia, a group considered to be apostates by Isis and Sunni extremists. Rouhani said on Saturday that Iran had never dispatched any forces to Iraq and it was very unlikely it ever would, but Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was in Baghdad last week to give advice to Maliki.

Amid the fighting, the plight of foreign oil workers has become a concern. The Turkish embassy in Baghdad is investigating reports that a group of Turkish construction workers were among 60 people abducted by militants near Kirkuk. Isis seized 15 Turks who were building a hospital near the town of Dour, in Salahuddin province near Kirkuk.

The reported abduction came a week after 80 other Turkish nationals were seized by insurgents in Mosul, 49 of them from the Turkish consulate, including special forces soldiers, diplomats and children.

The Indian government has not been able to make contact with 40 Indian construction workers in Mosul, with the Times of India reporting that they have been kidnapped.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, said dozens of Indian workers were living in areas overrun by Isis and India was in contact with many of them, including 46 nurses. The nurses are stranded in Tikrit, which is under militant control, with many of them holed up in the hospital where they work. Nurses who spoke to the Indian media said they had been treating people injured in fierce street fighting.

The White House has indicated that it may be some days away from a decision on any US military intervention as senior Democrats expressed growing caution about the risks of being sucked back in to conflict in the country.

Amid signs that Barack Obama is treading warily over calls for air strikes, the administration spokesman, Jay Carney, said the president would "continue to consult with his national security team in the days to come", and there would also be further consultations with members of Congress, including some closed briefings later this week.


06/17/2014 05:17 PM

A Country Implodes: ISIS Pushes Iraq to the Brink


The terror group ISIS has occupied vast portions of Syria and Iraq in the hopes of establishing a caliphate. The jihadists' success lays bare Iraq's disintegration and could ignite yet another civil war between Shiites and Sunnis in the country.

Masoud Ali, a tall, friendly man with a beard and green eyes, was a taxi driver in Mosul until a few days ago. He likes the desert, and he loves his wife and his yellow Nissan. He never paid much attention to politics until now. "Inshallah," he says. Whatever happens is God's will. But then fighters with the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria," or ISIS, overran the city of two million.

An evening curfew has been in force in Mosul since last Monday, says Ali. He and his family heard gunshots near their apartment on Tuesday, and when Ali looked outside, he saw a dead body lying on the street. Then the rumors began. "They've occupied all government buildings and the airport," said a friend. "The power station and the water works, too," a neighbor added. There were television reports of banks being robbed, the release of thousands of prisoners and the confiscation of oil wells. A day later, Masoud Ali loaded his family into his car and stepped on the gas. As they drove away, they could see police uniforms and abandoned military vehicles in the ditch. Government troops, most of them Sunnis, had surrendered to the Sunni ISIS fighters.

Ali, like most residents of Mosul, is also a Sunni. He had heard the mayor calling for the citizens of Mosul to defend themselves against ISIS. "But why should I have defended myself?" he asks. "For the Shiite government? For Prime Minister Maliki, who oppresses the Sunnis?" He shakes his head. "The conflict has escalated because people in Iraq don't like the government anymore."

Now Ali is standing in a tent outside the city of Erbil in the country's Kurdish north, Iraq's newest refugee camp. It's time for Friday prayer, but instead of resting his forehead on the ground to pray, he presses it against the forehead of a child. His four-month-old son Mohammed is lying on a tarp, surrounded by cans of powdered milk, fresh cucumbers and plastic water bottles. He is crying because he has a fever.

There wasn't even enough time to pack a suitcase, says Ali. "We left in a panic. We just wanted to get out." He fans his son's head with a scarf and blows air across his nose, hoping to provide some relief from the unrelenting desert heat. He keeps rocking his child back and forth, as if to shake off the experiences of the last few days.

New refugees arrive everyday, with some coming on foot. On their way in, they pass only a short distance from Ali's tent. Cars are lined up for miles at the Chasar checkpoint, a one-hour drive from Mosul on the road to Erbil. Dust rises between the wheels and thousands of plastic bottles and bags litter the ground. Up to 800,000 people have already left Mosul, with about half coming to Erbil Province. They feel safe there, in territory controlled by the Kurdish regional government.

A New Civil War

These days Erbil is one of the few cities north of Baghdad where calm prevails. The Kurdish regional government has an estimated 200,000 men, known as Peshmerga, and they are the best-trained combat force in Iraq. They are also the only force in the country that has been able to slow down the jihadists. The Peshmerga also secure borders, cities and oil wells around Kirkuk against the advancing Islamists, as well as defending the Kurdish population and its interests.

More than a decade after the American invasion, Iraq is facing the prospect of a new civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. In contrast to 2006 and 2007, when fighting between the two religious groups claimed thousands of lives, the Americans are no longer there to intervene though Washington has, in recent days, beefed up its presence in the Persian Gulf and dozens of troops are now in Baghdad to defend the US Embassy there.

The advance of the ISIS forces is not the reason for the country's collapse, but rather a consequence of it. With the capture of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the Sunni Islamist army, which fought and gained strength inthe Syrian civil war, has achieved its greatest success to date. From Mosul, it continued to advance southward and on Tuesday, ISIS forces advanced to Baquba, only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Baghdad, before retreating.

Within a short period of time, ISIS has managed to unseat Al-Qaida as the world's most vicious terrorist group. It hasn't launched any attacks in the West yet. Instead, it aims to establish a 7th-century style caliphate in the Middle East. The organization, comprised of up to 15,000 fighters, including many young Europeans, is still a long way from being a state. Nevertheless, it now controls a cross-border region the size of Jordan.

ISIS's advance into Iraq didn't come as a surprise. The offensive has apparently been in the works for more than a year and the extremists captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah in January. In Mosul, they have been exacting a "jihad tax" from the population for months in addition to committing political murders and suicide bombings.

ISIS's rapid success notwithstanding, the force which occupied Mosul was likely no more than 1,000 soldiers strong. Potentially only a few hundred continued southwards. There was no need for more. The Sunni minority, which controlled the country under former dictator Saddam Hussein, has increasingly been marginalized under the Shiite leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in recent years. Indeed, most Sunnis are not standing in the way of the advancing ISIS fighters, allowing the radicals to do as they please. And militias of former Saddam supporters, such as the Naqshbandi group, are joining them. Last week, Sunni militias occupied Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, where they raised flags bearing a likeness of the former dictator.

Disbanding Military

The country's lack of cohesion prompted the Iraqi army to largely dissolve when faced with pressure, despite the roughly $25 billion (€18 billion) the United States spent to arm Iraqi troops and the years of training they received to fight Islamist extremists.

In Mosul, two divisions -- a total of 30,000 soldiers -- fled from the roughly 1,000 ISIS fighters, even though the army is vastly superior in terms of arms and equipment. In recent years, the Iraqi government has bought F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters and M-1 tanks. Tikrit saw two divisions disband as well.

The fact that Sunni soldiers and policemen are avoiding confrontation with the advancing ISIS is reflective of a population that tends to see the Islamists as the lesser evil when compared to the hated Shiite central government. Only primarily Shiite divisions have remained loyal to the Maliki government. But even they are increasingly merging with Shiite self-defense groups forming in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

On Friday, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called upon his fellow Shiites to take up arms against ISIS. More than 30,000 volunteers reported for duty in Baghdad to help defend the city.

There has been much talk in recent days about two men who have long been dead. In 1916 Mark Sykes of Britain and Frenchman François Georges-Picot divided the Middle East into French and British zones of influence. They drew the artificial borders between the countries of Iraq, Syria and Jordan, borders that, for the most part, still exist today. The dividing lines forced Kurds, Alawites, Sunnis and Shiites into shared nations.

This fragile order, which paid no attention to tribal history and religion, has long fueled regional conflict and is now in the process of crumbling. Indeed, the ISIS wishes to eliminate the borders as currently drawn. The group posted images online of members tearing down border fortifications between Syria and Iraq.

Ironically, it was the 2003 American invasion that destroyed the region's fragile balance. In Iraq, the Sunni minority of dictator Saddam Hussein, which constituted only 20 percent of the population, ruled the Shiite majority. When Saddam was overthrown, the Sunnis were deprived of their power. Similarly, in Syria, the dictatorship of the Alawite Assad clan suppressed tensions between the two religious groups for decades. Today's bloody civil war is the result.

Steady Influx of Radicals

Starting in 2013, ISIS developed a reputation in Syria for being the most brutal and successful jihadist group around. It is also known to be exceedingly secretive. In its "emirate," which stretches from the cities of Bab and Manbij in eastern Aleppo Province, through the provincial capital Al-Raqqa and into the eastern province of Hasaka, the fanatics ruled with terror and increasingly grotesque decrees. In Al-Raqqa, those who remain outdoors or who dare to keep their shops open are at risk of losing their lives. Hairdressers have been forced to blacken the images of women on packages of hair dye. Music is no longer allowed at weddings, and at livestock markets in the region, the genitals of goats and sheep must now be covered with rags.

ISIS has been spreading through northern Syria since last spring, drawing on a steady influx of radicals from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe and even Indonesia. From the very beginning, the group appeared to be pursuing a dual strategy. On the one hand, there were the foreign jihadists, who came to the region lacking local knowledge or military experience -- and were sent to the slaughter at the front.

On the other hand, the apparently Iraqi leadership of ISIS planned its resistance in a professional way, forming small cells housed in secret apartments and recruiting Syrian informants, often former regime spies. Rebel commanders, local officials and other influential people were kidnapped or murdered, enabling ISIS to take control of entire towns and cities.

The Iraqi leadership of ISIS, which is said to consist mainly of former officers and officials from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, is highly secretive, such that ordinary fighters are only familiar with their local "emir." In addition to the local units, a special force consisting of about 100 Iraqis and Tunisians was formed early on. The group is in charge of abductions, murders and attacks, and it acts independently. It is likely responsible for many targeted killings of rebel commanders outside the territory controlled by ISIS, as well as for kidnappings.

ISIS has no lack of weapons and munitions, partly the result of its recent captures of modern arms from the Iraqi military. But the group would also appear to have plenty of funding, even remains unclear where the money comes from. It profited for a time from the sale of oil to the Assad regime and it presumably received millions from Paris and Madrid in ransom payments for kidnapped French and Spanish citizens in April. It is also thought that the group might have secured as much as $420 million from the Iraqi central bank during its recent foray through Mosul.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi likewise remains in the shadows. He was allegedly born Awad Ibrahim al-Badri in the Iraqi city of Samarra in 1971, and he claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He was reportedly a preacher during the US invasion and, for a brief period afterwards, participated in the Islamist uprising. In 2005, US troops detained Baghdadi and incarcerated him in the Bucca prison camp, where he reportedly came into contact with Al-Qaida. After his release, he joined the terrorist group and became the leader of its Iraqi offshoot in 2010. Three years later, he assumed control of ISIS and had a falling out with Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Americans have since placed a bounty of $10 million on his head.

Reign of Terror

It is unlikely that ISIS will be able to permanently occupy a large amount of territory in Iraq. The rules it imposes on the population are too draconian and its reign of terror too violent. Last week, its supporters boasted of having executed thousands of Shiite soldiers.

"But ISIS is the catalyst for the next civil war in Iraq," says Michael D. Weiss, a US expert on the Syrian terrorist group. Such a conflict could ultimately result in the current territory of Syria and Iraq being divided into a Kurdish, a Sunni and a Shiite state.

There are, however, still Iraqis, like Abdul-Jabbar Ahmed Abdullah, who believe in the continued existence of their country. Abdullah is a political science professor in the Sunni stronghold of Baghdad and a respected analyst. Last week's escalation was "completely predictable," says Abdullah. Since the overthrow of Saddam 11 years ago, "all attempts to developed functioning institutions in Iraq have failed."

Abdullah holds Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the problems. He sees the premier as a religious zealot who is only interested in the dominance of his religious group and his own political survival.

Maliki's behavior, says Abdullah, is marked by a "deep mistrust of everything and everyone," from the Kurds in the north to his fellow Shiites in the south. He is deeply hostile to the Sunni bloc in the middle of the country, says Abdullah. Under Saddam, Maliki was ostracized as a member of the opposition, and he was forced to go into exile to save his life. The fact that he found refuge in Syria and Iran explains his close relationship with the mullahs in Tehran and his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

His government aligned itself with the Americans when it seemed expedient. "Only Iraq's interests are important to us," Maliki said in a March interview with SPIEGEL in his sumptuous office in Baghdad. Maliki swept aside the accusation that he marginalizes the Sunnis with a wave of his hand. Conflict between religious groups is part of "a perfectly normal political process," he said. Besides, he added, each party had "received the share it earned based on its election performance."

The Symbolism of Mosul

When asked about US President Barack Obama's admonition, during Maliki's last visit to the White House in November 2013, that he seek reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites, the premier scratched his beard and made it clear that he was not taking instructions from the United States. "I already advocated national reconciliation before Obama even became president," Maliki said.

The capture of Mosul also has great symbolic meaning, because it marks the end of a 10-year development. In the years after the invasion, the Americans sought to turn Mosul into a model city, achieving calm there by virtue of free spending and a massive troop presence. The first free local elections in Iraqi history took place in Mosul in 2003 and 2004, organized by a then unknown US general, David Petraeus, who commanded 23,000 men in northern Iraq in early 2004. But then, in 2007, the occupying force was suddenly reduced from 9,000 to 3,000 troops, leading to the complete erosion of an already precarious security situation.

President Barack Obama, who came to office in 2008, had always felt that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and wanted to withdraw US troops as quickly as possible. Indeed, for the last two-and-a-half years, there hasn't been a substantial US military presence in the country at all. The withdrawal was widely as it was taking place, but now many experts are criticizing the move for having come too soon. In Washington, Republicans are accusing Obama of doing nothing to prevent Islamist advances in Iraq.

In fact, Obama could soon see himself forced to support the Iraqi government militarily. He said last week that his administration is considering all options but has ruled out the deployment of ground troops. But air attacks or the use of drones do not seem out of the question. On Friday evening, Obama announced that he could imagine providing military support as long as Maliki is willing to make political concessions to the Sunnis. "Ultimately it's up to Iraq as a sovereign nation to solve its problems," Obama said.

'We Will Die for Kurdistan'

Nevertheless, a strange coalition could emerge. Last week, Iran sent out feelers regarding a joint response with the US to the situation in Iraq and the two countries held brief talks on the issue on Monday. Their shared interest is clear: curbing Sunni extremism. Still, both sides said after the talks that military coordination was not in the offing. The US may also opt to support other Syrian rebel groups that are fighting ISIS, despite their misgivings.

Masoud Ali, the refugee in the camp outside Erbil, misses his city and wants to return to Mosul as soon as possible. "I want peace," he says, and yet he knows that peace will remain elusive for now. He doesn't trust ISIS, but he also fears an attack by government troops. He speculates that Maliki could use aircraft to bomb Mosul.

The Kurdish Peshmerga have built a base a few hundred meters from Ali's tent. They use the Kurdish flag as their symbol: red, white and green with a sun in the middle. Aras Muhammad is wearing the flag on the right sleeve of his camouflage uniform, along with sunglasses and a purple beret. He is carrying a Kalashnikov. "We will die for Kurdistan," he says. "A Peshmerga never thinks of himself, but only about protecting others. He doesn't run away. He is strong." The Peshmerga are sending fighters to Mosul to safely remove families from the city. They are also protecting the refugees outside Erbil.

During the day, water from a fountain sprays onto wooden benches lined up on the central square in Erbil, next to a bazaar where sticky sweets are sold. An old man with a deeply wrinkled face is sitting on one of the benches. He is furious. He doesn't want to tell us his profession or his name. All he wants to say is that the United States is to blame for his country's disintegration. He shouts his words and waves his cane in the air. "The Americans shouldn't have simply left," he shouts. "They brought my country to the breaking point."

By Dieter Bednarz, Ullrich Fichtner, Katrin Kuntz, Christoph Reuter and Mathieu von Rohr

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Iraqis raise questions over army's collapse as jihadi advance slows

Several theories spread about why a force touted as the best trained and armed in the Arab world folded in contested region

Martin Chulov in Baghdad and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014 19.53 BST    

Last Wednesday, a day after Islamist fighters surged south towards Baghdad, an Iraqi officer in the town of Jalula heard tyres crunch on the gravel near his window and stepped outside to investigate.

A convoy of Kurdish military vehicles disgorged dozens of troops, known as peshmerga, who told him they had come to take over his base, 80 miles north-east of the Iraqi capital, and seize its weapons. The Kurds were a long way from home, having driven 220 miles south from Irbil, deep into a region that for decades has been fiercely contested by the Kurdish north and the rest of Arab Iraq.

The officer checked the Kurds' request with his superiors, who told him to comply. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing," he said. "The division commanders told us to leave."

Similar scenes were repeated at bases and outposts across the disputed areas of the north and in the K1 base west of Kirkuk, which was also in the midst of a historic changing of the guard. The extraordinary events were the final curtain for Iraq's army – a force that has spent billions on equipment and training and was touted as the best trained and armed military force in the Arab world.

In just three days, the army had simply folded as first the jihadist insurgents and then the Kurds rode into town. Its soldiers returned to their homes and its weapons were carted away, either by the peshmerga or the jihadists, depending on who got there first.

The army's collapse signalled a sudden and dramatic shift in the balance of power between Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. The significance of that shift has been obscured by a week of bloodshed and uncertainty. But as the jihadi advance has slowed, questions are being asked across Baghdad about how a region so central to the bitter feud between Iraq's Kurds and Arabs was so easily surrendered.

One scenario, given widespread credence, is that the three Iraqi generals responsible for Mosul, Tikrit, and Kirkuk simply didn't want to fight for a state that wasn't working. Another is that the Iraqi troops quickly realised they were no match for battle-hardened and ideologically motivated jihadis heading their way.

A third theory is that giving the Kurds the crown jewel of Kirkuk – capital of a region with huge oil reserves – would be the first step in a set of carefully choreographed moves to reframe relations between Baghdad and the Kurds and drag the dysfunctional country from a state of permanent chaos. Central to this theory is the reality that the Kurds had long ago lost faith in prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to serve either their interests or those of Iraq.

Few of Iraq's Shia majority had much enthusiasm for the embattled leader, whose coalition won more seats than any other group in general elections seven weeks ago but nowhere near enough to secure a mandate. The result was sure to be many months of political stagnation.

Iran, weighed down in Syria and also disenchanted with Maliki, would not have cherished the prospect of its regional interests being threatened further by more political drift in Baghdad.

Maliki seems to have next to no chance of forming a government. Diplomatic sources have confirmed to the Guardian in recent days that Washington has also lost faith in its former ally. Iran is yet to declare its hand, but has told Iraqi politicians that it has a list of four acceptable candidates to form a government: Maliki; the former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari; Adel Abdul Mahdi, a senior political figure; or the former US ally and deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi.

Of the four, Chalabi has the support of many Kurdish leaders and has strong links to Iran. His links to Washington were severed more than a decade ago, after he helped persuade the Pentagon to invade Iraq. His return to political centre stage would be a remarkable twist in the contentious history of the former favourite of George W Bush.

"Maliki had no idea this was going to happen," said an Iraqi politician. "He was blindsided. But others weren't."

Officers with Kurdish and Iraqi units say they are still trying to fathom what took place in the north – why the army was told to stand down, and who ultimately called the shots. A Kurdish secret police officer in Kirkuk said Iraqi officers started to flee the day before the city fell. By then, Islamic insurgents had taken Tikrit and Mosul and were on the move east. "We saw many Iraqi officers from Kirkuk mainly Arabs leaving the K1 base [the largest in northern Iraq]," he said. "We asked them why they were leaving when they were on alert. They all said they had orders from their superiors. The officers were leaving from afternoon until midnight.

"The following day … when we asked them why they were leaving they said their officers had left the base and switched off their telephones."

Shakhawan, a peshmerga fighter, said: "The night before [10 June] two Iraqi army outposts abandoned their positions in Kirkuk and we immediately moved in. A few days ago, my cousin who is also in the peshmerga saw an Iraqi army officer who came back to K1 because he had left some official documents.

"The officer was so overwhelmed when he saw the state of the base that he started crying. He said they had orders from their superiors to abandon the base."

Three other Iraqi soldiers told similar stories. All had asked for answers from their superiors, but said they were starting to believe that the questions would be better answered by politicians in Baghdad, the Kurdish north - or Tehran.

"This will all be sorted out sooner than most people think," a senior Iraqi official said. "And clarity will emerge from the mist of last week."

• This article was amended on 18 June 2014. The original version wrongly stated that Islamic insurgents had taken Kirkuk and Mosul, instead of Tikrit and Mosul. This has been corrected.

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« Reply #13989 on: Jun 18, 2014, 05:59 AM »

With War at Doorstep, Iran Sees Its Revolutionary Guards in a Kinder Light

JUNE 17, 2014

TEHRAN — They came to celebrate the short life of Ali Reza Moshajjari, a local boy from a south Tehran neighborhood and apparently the latest Iranian victim of the escalating sectarian conflict in neighboring Iraq and in Syria.

He was a member of Tehran’s 209 battalion of the Imam Ali garrison of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Iranian news media said, and representatives of elite units of the corps stood solemnly in a line, as men clad in black entered the mosque.

As the service got underway, a chanter’s voice boomed through the mosque, echoing in the lofty dome, lined with blue and green tiles. “Our godless enemies behead our soldiers,” he said. From the women’s quarters, behind a panel segregating them from the men, a loud wailing commenced. Men shook their heads, and some clenched their fists.
“Our youth was a special martyr,” the chanter said of Mr. Moshajjari, whose portrait on a stage showed him in a forest wearing a pair of shooting glasses and a jungle vest. “Where others were found by martyrdom, he looked for it. Praise be to God as he will have the fragrance of Imam Hussein.”

War and conflict in the Middle East have been a distant nightmare as seen from Iran’s safe capital, the seat of power of the Shiite world. But the successes of the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, have brought the dead to its doorstep.

And as the reality of war is brought home, the attitude of many here toward the Revolutionary Guards Corps is changing. In 2009, when millions took to the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was the Guards, or Sepah, as they are known here, who attacked many of those on the streets.

But the well-documented mass killings by ISIS, which makes a point of producing graphic videos of its fighters executing Iraqi soldiers as they lie, hands bound and face down, in a ditch, have caused ordinary Iranians to rethink their views.

On websites such as the reformist Entekhab news site, where in the past anonymous commentators rarely missed an opportunity to criticize the Guards, the group is now regularly lauded.

“Why doesn’t our army and Sepah destroy these wild groups?” a user named Dehdashti wrote as a comment under an article describing how ISIS men allegedly killed a man for watching a World Cup soccer game. “Just one unit of our Sepah or our army is enough to destroy these beasts forever.”

An English teacher said: “Such news makes us forget what the Sepah did to us. We are nationalistic and religious. If our shrines are threatened, Iranians will demand that our forces intervene.”

In one comment on the Entekhab site, an anonymous person cheered for Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the shadowy commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, which is said to be active in Iraq.

“Shiites of the world are waiting for you to defeat these atheists,” the respondent said. “May God help you.”

A huge banner with a portrait of Mr. Moshajjari, who leaves behind his wife and 2-year-old daughter, hung outside the Shahid Bahonar mosque. His fellow Revolutionary Guards members listened stone-faced as the chanter recalled how one of their commanders, Abdollah Eskandari, was beheaded in May.

“They placed his decapitated head on a pole and paraded it around,” he said. “They treated him the way they treated the corpse of our holy Imam Hussein.”

For many here, Syria is a distant country, known only for the Shiite shrine to Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the prophet, near Damascus. Iraq, on the contrary, is the heartland of the Shiite faith, a place where Imam Hussein in 680 won a battle by losing it, and where the most revered saints are laid to rest in golden domed shrines.

It is unclear where Mr. Moshajjari lost his life. The conservative Tasnim News Agency said he had died somewhat ingloriously in a car accident in western Iran. One relatively unknown website, Hengamnews, cited a Lebanese news agency for a less-than-credible report that he had been killed in the Iraqi city of Karbala, “defending the shrines.” Little fighting has been reported around Karbala or Najaf, the sites of the holiest shrines.

Banners in the mosque said he had died in Syria “defending the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab,” though there is little or no fighting around that shrine, either.

The line has nevertheless become the standard explanation for the dozens of Iranians who have died in Syria. And even while Iranian officials acknowledge that they have sent military advisers to Syria to help the troops of their ally President Bashar al-Assad, those returning home dead are always called “volunteers” or “pensioners.”

Whatever happened to Mr. Moshajjari, whose age is unknown, his farewell was grand, with hard-line Parliament members attending, together with Revolutionary Guards commanders and a famous ideologue and former militia leader, Hossein Allahkaram.

Mr. Moshajjari’s service was definitely Shiite, with a stream of references by the chanter to the “household of the prophet,” the inheritable lineage of saints related to the Prophet Muhammad, which sets them apart from Sunni Muslims, who do not believe in such family bonds.

But the chanter also continued the narrative that whatever is happening in the region is not a war between Sunnis and Shiites, but a conflict between the forces of good and evil.

“Behold how they kill and rape!” the chanter said. “Are these the actions of humans? Many Sunnis are disgusted by this, too. In Syria, 1,700 Sunnis were martyred fighting these terrorists. In Iraq, they are fighting them, too.”

Of course, not everyone was about to sing the praises of the Revolutionary Guards. “If the Sepah decides to fight in Iraq, it is in order to defend their own interests, not ours,” said Aria, a 25-year-old musician, who asked not to be fully identified, for her safety. “Sometimes these interests align with ours, but we will not forget what they did to us.”


Iranian Leader Vows to Protect Holy Sites in Iraq

JUNE 18, 2014

As Sunni militants continued their incursion in Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran warned Wednesday that Tehran would defend revered Shiite holy sites in Iraq against the “killers and terrorists” battling Iraq’s government, news agencies reported.

Speaking on Iranian television, Mr. Rouhani noted that many volunteers had agreed to travel to Iraq to “put the terrorists in their place” and to protect religious sites, Reuters reported. He said that those willing to take up arms against the militants included Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities, Reuters said.

“Regarding the holy Shia shrines in Karbala, Najaf, Kadhimiya and Samarra, we announce to the killers and terrorists that the big Iranian nation will not hesitate to protect holy shrines,” he was quoted as saying to a crowd in Lorestan Province in western Iran. “These terrorist groups, and those that fund them, both in the region and in the international arena, are nothing, and hopefully they will be put in their own place.”

Mr. Rouhani signaled over the weekend that Iran did not intend to send troops to Iraq. But Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, recently traveled to Iraq to meet with Iraqi leaders. The high-level contact has prompted speculation that the general is mobilizing Iranian-trained Iraqi Shiites to defend the government.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has also called on his followers to take up arms against the insurgent army of Sunni extremist militants who have made territorial gains in the north as they seek to sweep toward Baghdad, although he later said he that was not calling for a full armed uprising.

Mr. Rouhani’s words came as both the United States and Iran, which have a shared interest in containing the Sunni militants, have signaled a growing willingness to cooperate in order to prevent Iraq from falling apart. Underscoring a potential thawing in relations between Iran and the West, Britain announced Tuesday that the circumstances were right to reopen the British Embassy in Tehran.

After the advance by the militants began, Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo News that the United States was “open to discussions if there’s something constructive that can be contributed by Iran.”

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« Reply #13990 on: Jun 18, 2014, 06:04 AM »

Karzai Says Afghanistan will not be a Repeat of Iraq

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 June 2014, 10:28

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has dismissed suggestions that his country could descend into the same chaos as Iraq when U.S.-led troops pull out and leave the national police and army to impose security.

Both countries have been at the center of U.S. wars, and are plagued by insurgencies fighting against local security forces trained by the American military.

The seizure of several major cities by jihadist rebels has taken the Iraqi government by surprise and alarmed the international community, leading to fears that Afghanistan could one day face the same fate.

"Never, not all," Karzai told the BBC when asked whether what was happening in Iraq could happen in Afghanistan.

In an interview released on Wednesday, he said the al-Qaida militant group no longer had a presence in Afghanistan.

Karzai will soon step down, ending his rule, which began in 2001 when a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaida leaders behind the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will end in December after 13 years of fighting the Taliban insurgency.

The next president will be under pressure to open talks to bring peace, and Karzai said he was in daily communication with the Taliban.

"There is even an exchange of letters, meetings, and desire for peace," he said.

Both candidates to succeed Karzai have vowed to sign an agreement to keep some U.S. troops in the country after this year -- in contrast to a similar deal that broke down in Iraq, leading to a complete U.S. troop withdrawal.

But Washington recently said only 10,000 U.S. troop would remain next year and all would be pulled out by the end of 2016.

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« Reply #13991 on: Jun 18, 2014, 06:05 AM »

Sri Lanka Police Arrest 49 over Religious Riots

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 June 2014, 08:47

Sri Lanka's police arrested 49 people overnight over deadly anti-Muslim riots in a tourist region where Buddhist hardliners have set shops and homes ablaze, a senior officer said Wednesday.

Both Buddhists and Muslims were arrested during a police crackdown in the southern resort towns, where two nights of violence have left four people dead, the officer said.

"We have already arrested 49 and remanded 25 of them and further arrests will take place today," Sri Lanka police spokesman Ajith Rohana told Agence France Presse.

A curfew was also lifted in the mainly-Muslim towns of Beruwala and Alutgama, where followers of the extremist Buddhist Force, or BBS, went on the rampage on Sunday and Monday nights.

Hundreds of troops have been deployed to help police contain the violence, which erupted after a BBS mob marched in Alutgama on Sunday, with clashes breaking out as it claimed its procession was stoned by Muslims.

Residents have said authorities did little to stop the violence, which saw dozens of shops and homes torched by mobs armed with guns, petrol bombs and knives.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, one of the world's top Islamic bodies, urged authorities to investigate the violence and take action against those responsible.

OIC Secretary General Iyad Madani said he hoped "every possible effort would be exerted by the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent a further escalation of violence."

"While appealing for calm and peaceful relations between the communities, Mr. Madani urged the authorities to enforce the rule of law, investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice," an OIC statement said.

The attacks are the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island following unrest in January and last year, when Buddhist mobs attacked a mosque in the capital Colombo.

Muslims make up about 10 percent of the 20 million population, but are accused by nationalists of having undue influence in the Buddhist-majority country.

The United States has led international condemnation of the violence, while Western embassies in Colombo have advised their nationals holidaying in the area to stay indoors.

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« Reply #13992 on: Jun 18, 2014, 06:07 AM »

S. Korea's Park Faces Fresh Climbdown over PM Nominee

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 June 2014, 07:12

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was facing a second embarrassing failure in her efforts to appoint a new prime minister, as calls grew Wednesday for her latest nominee to withdraw.

A political novice, former journalist Moon Chang-Keuk was a surprise choice from the start, and his nomination has now become a political battleground because of past comments he made related to the period of Japanese colonial rule.

Park has had problems with a number of her key political appointments, and Moon's withdrawal would be a further blow at a time when her popularity ratings are already at their lowest ebb following the Sewol ferry disaster in April.

Moon wasn't even her first choice. That was Ahn Dai-Hee, a former Supreme Court justice who was forced to withdraw his nomination last month following controversy over income he amassed after leaving the bench and going into private practice.

The premiership is a largely symbolic position in South Korea where all real power lies in the presidential Blue House.

But it is the only cabinet post requiring parliamentary approval and Moon can expect a rough confirmation hearing if his nomination makes it that far.

The controversy concerns remarks he made regarding two linked and hugely sensitive issues -- Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, and the Japanese military's use of wartime sex slaves.

In a 2011 church lecture, Moon had described the repressive colonial period as "God's will" and in an editorial six years earlier said the terms of a 1965 treaty with Tokyo ruled out further compensation for South Korean women forced into Japanese military brothels.

Although Moon insisted his comments had been taken out of context, they triggered such a furor that even members of Park's ruling Saenuri Party have voiced doubts about his nomination.

The Saenuri Party controls 148 seats in the 285-seat parliament, so if only a handful of its legislators rebel, Moon will fall short of the simple majority he needs.

Suh Chung-Won, a senior Saenuri MP who is running for the party leadership, made it clear Wednesday that Moon should step down.

"It would be better for the nominee not to become a burden for the sake of the party, people and the government," Suh told reporters.

Suh is a key Park supporter and his remarks have been taken by some as an implicit message from the president that Moon needs to withdraw.

The motion to confirm Moon as premier was scheduled to be tabled in parliament on Tuesday, but was delayed due to what the presidential Blue House described as Park's busy schedule during an ongoing visit to Central Asia.

The prime minister's job fell open after incumbent Chung Hong-Won resigned amid strident public criticism of the government's response to the Sewol tragedy which claimed around 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren.

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« Reply #13993 on: Jun 18, 2014, 06:09 AM »

Chinese rights lawyers warn of crackdown after arrest of Pu Zhiqiang

Detentions of artist Ai Weiwei's lawyer and numerous others reveal Beijing's fear about growth in rights activism, says expert

Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 17 June 2014 15.09 BST      

Chinese rights lawyers have warned that they are under mounting pressure, with the formal arrest of one of China's best-known advocates, Pu Zhiqiang, and multiple detentions.

One bleak joke doing the rounds is that "even lawyers' lawyers need lawyers" these days. Advocate Liu Weiguo posted a poem online which begins: "If I am arrested one day/Friends, fellow lawyers/You must/Must/Go public, take a stand and make a fuss."

Lawyers complain that some have been seized while trying to meet clients and that others are being repeatedly refused access to detainees.

Teng Biao, a close friend and colleague of Pu now living in Hong Kong, warned: "The current suppression of rights lawyers is worse than in the 2011 'Jasmine' period [when scores of activists were detained after online calls for protest]. It is the most serious since 1989."

Teng and many others were detained in 2011, with several subsequently reporting beatings, sleep deprivation and other abuses.

Pu, 50, has acted in a series of sensitive cases. He represented Ai Weiwei during the artist's detention and helped to raise awareness of civic rights more generally. His niece and fellow lawyer Qu Zhenhong is also being held.

Beijing's public security bureau said on Friday that Pu had been arrested on suspicion of "creating a disturbance" and "illegally obtaining personal information". But his supporters say the charges are an attempt to silence the outspoken lawyer. Many activists have been prosecuted for the offence of creating a disturbance in recent months.

Pu was detained in May after attending a small private event to mark the 25th anniversary of the bloody suppression of Tiananmen Square's pro-democracy protests in 1989.

His lawyer Zhang Sizhi, who was not able to see him until after his first month in custody, has said online that Pu faces "many and broad" allegations.

Meanwhile, 121 legal professionals signed a letter this week protesting the lack of access to two more lawyers held in Zhengzhou, Henan province, since last month.

Mo Shaoping, another leading advocate, said that detention houses were only permitted to deny access to lawyers if the case involved national security, corruption, or organised crime.

But police insisted that lawyers Chang Boyang and Ji Laisong could not be seen because even though they were accused of the ordinary criminal offence of creating a disturbance – not a state security offence – their case nonetheless involved matters of endangering state security.

Dozens of lawyers have travelled to Zhengzhou in recent weeks to highlight the case. One of them, Li Fangping, warned: "Access to clients for lawyers is getting harder and harder … We are very worried that if the Zhengzhou case cannot be corrected, other places will copy it, and this trend will spread."

Chang's wife, who gave her name only as Ms Deng, said authorities had been "shameless", adding: "We believe he got detained because he has been helping people to maintain their legal rights."

Zhengzhou police said they had never heard of either advocate and did not deal with foreign media.

Chang had reportedly been seeking lawyers to help people detained in connection with the Tiananmen anniversary and another detained advocate – Tang Jingling, held in Guangzhou – is thought to have been told by police not to get involved in any commemorations.

But Li suggested recent cases also reflected the broader pressure on lawyers, particularly those known as the "unyielding" group. Authorities appear to be particularly anxious about attempts to harness public opinion or encourage debate about cases.

Two more lawyers, Chen Jiangang and Zhao Yonglin, were reportedly detained in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, on Monday after requesting to see a young activist who has been criminally detained.

Calls to the police station where they are thought to be held rang unanswered.

Earlier this year, four rights lawyers –Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian, Wang Cheng and Zhang Jie – were given 15 days' administrative detention after going to Jiamusi, Heilongjiang province, to investigate an illegal detention.

The justice ministry did not answer repeated calls or respond to faxed queries about working conditions for lawyers in China.

A piece published by the populist state tabloid Global Times last month said activist lawyers such as Pu had contributed to the improvement of China's rule of law and social equity, but had been "politically destructive".

It added: "Judicial means are not the only method they would like to use to protect civil rights, and mobilising online public opinion and even supporting and joining illegal activities have become their new favourites."

Joshua Rosenzweig, an independent law scholar in Hong Kong, said the crackdown reflected the leadership's concerns about the growth in rights activism during the past decade.

"What [Chinese premier] Xi Jinping has done … is basically say: 'Look, we in the party-state share your desire for justice – we are in the best position to help you reach what you want, but you have to fall in line.'"

That message was accompanied by the repression of debates by rights advocates and a reform agenda that has already seen the abolition of re-education through labour camps. On Monday, state media reported that China would launch six pilot schemes across the country to overhaul its judicial system and curb abuses of power and wrongful convictions, while stressing that the Chinese Communist party's control of the system must endure.

Rosenzweig added: "I think ultimately questions will continue to rear their heads [among the public]. They are just postponing the inevitable crisis of credibility."

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« Reply #13994 on: Jun 18, 2014, 06:13 AM »

U.S. Captures Top Suspect in Benghazi Siege, Pentagon Says

JUNE 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — American commandos operating under the cover of night seized the man suspected of leading the deadly attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, the government announced on Tuesday, ending a manhunt that had dragged on for nearly two years and inflamed domestic and international politics.

With drones hovering overhead, about two dozen Delta Force commandos and two or three F.B.I. agents descended on the outskirts of Benghazi just after midnight local time on Monday; grabbed the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala; stuffed him into a vehicle and raced away, according to officials briefed on the operation. No shots were fired, and the suspect was spirited out of Libya to a United States Navy warship in the Mediterranean.

The capture was a breakthrough in finding the perpetrators of an episode that has been politically divisive from the start. President Obama and the State Department have been buffeted by multiple investigations and charges of misleading the public about the circumstances of the attack, which cost the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012. The president and administration officials have strongly rebutted the allegations and accused Republicans of politicizing a national tragedy.

President Obama said that Ahmed Abu Khattala, suspected of being the ringleader in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was being transported to the United States.

Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Through it all, Mr. Abu Khattala has remained free, at times almost taunting the United States to catch him, eliciting more criticism of Mr. Obama for not doing enough to bring him to justice. In recent months, Mr. Abu Khattala had gone underground. But officials said new intelligence obtained last week indicated that he was going to be in a place that was “advantageous,” as one put it, because there would be few people around and less risk to American commandos. Mr. Obama gave the order on Friday to capture him.

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible, and we will bring them to justice,” Mr. Obama said during an unrelated trip to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “And that’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you.”

The capture provided a rare piece of good news for Mr. Obama at a time when challenges have mushroomed in places like Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. Yet even a casualty-free raid generated further debate, in this case about what should happen to Mr. Abu Khattala.

Officials said he would be brought to the United States in the coming days to face charges in a civilian court. A sealed indictment sworn out secretly last July and made public on Tuesday outlined three counts against him in connection with the deaths of Mr. Stevens, Glen A. Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone S. Woods. But some Republicans argued that Mr. Abu Khattala was a terrorist who should be sent to the American military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and held as an enemy combatant.

Either way, the operation brought relief to relatives who had been eager for some sort of action to find the organizers of the attack. “It’s about time,” said Charles Woods, the father of Tyrone Woods, on Tuesday.

“We’ve been trying to be patient, and we’re very happy that this does seem part of the course of justice,” said Greg Doherty, Glen Doherty’s brother. “They assured us that this is not the end of their efforts, and they have a lot of good people working hard, and they haven’t forgotten us.”

Even as they hailed the capture, Obama administration officials were vague in explaining why it took so long to go after Mr. Abu Khattala, who was linked to the attack shortly after it happened and even gave an interview to a New York Times reporter over a strawberry frappé on a hotel patio without apparent fear of being found.

Some American officials, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing sensitive operations, said there had been a proposal to capture Mr. Abu Khattala for at least a year. But it was not clear that Mr. Obama had considered such a plan. “It is not true that the president has had the operation sitting on his desk for a year,” said another official familiar with the White House’s point of view.

Officials said they had been waiting for the right combination of factors that would enable them to know where Mr. Abu Khattala would be at a specific time, in a situation that would minimize the chances of casualties.

While Mr. Abu Khattala had kept a fairly high profile in Libya at first, he changed his pattern after American commandos seized the terror suspect Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai in October in a daylight raid in Tripoli, according to a law enforcement official. He became more difficult to track as he moved around quietly to evade detection, the official said. Then, last week, the official said, the United States obtained information about his whereabouts that enabled an operation.

“We had finally worked out a scenario where we felt it was right operationally to be able to pull it off,” another official said. “The circumstances were right; the environment was right.”

Government agencies on Tuesday brushed off critics who asked why the authorities had needed so long to grab a man who met openly with a reporter. “Frankly, it’s not a surprise that an individual like this would show up for an interview,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman. “We don’t think they would show up for a scheduled meeting with the Special Forces.”

Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, scoffed at the idea that Mr. Abu Khattala should have been captured earlier. “The presumption in the question is that, you know, he was going to McDonald’s for milkshakes every Friday night, and we could have just picked him up in a taxicab,” he said. “I mean, these people deliberately tried to evade capture.”

By the time the president made the decision on Friday, officials said, his national security team was unanimous in supporting both the operation and the decision to bring Mr. Abu Khattala back to the United States for a civilian trial.

Both the Pentagon and the State Department referred to the operation as a “unilateral U.S. action.” An administration official said the United States had not told the Libyan government until after the operation, a choice that guarded against possible leaks and enabled Libyan officials to deny any involvement in case the capture led to popular protests.

The raid proceeded without complication, officials said. “It was very clean, in and out, with no one hurt,” said one official briefed on the details. “It was textbook,” said another.

The Washington Post first reported Mr. Abu Khattala’s arrest. The Post said it had learned of the operation on Monday but agreed to delay its story after a request from the White House citing security concerns.

While the Delta Force soldiers provided the muscle, the raid was carried out under law enforcement authority, not as a military operation under the longstanding congressional authorization of force against Al Qaeda and its associated forces, according to administration officials.

The extent of ties between Mr. Abu Khattala’s militia in Libya, Ansar al-Shariah, and Al Qaeda has been a matter of dispute. While the two groups share similar ideologies, the United States government does not believe them to be formally affiliated.

The F.B.I. agents who participated in the operation were told to preserve any evidence and to ensure that the suspect was interrogated under criminal justice procedures. “This entire operation, from start to finish, was law enforcement,” one official said.

That does not mean that Mr. Abu Khattala was read a Miranda warning of his right to remain silent and have legal counsel. The Obama administration has adopted a policy of delaying that warning for extensive questioning of suspected operational terrorists.

Mr. Abu Khattala faces charges of killing a person in the course of an armed attack on a federal facility, providing material support to terrorists and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. “We retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement.

Among those relieved by the capture was former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been broadly criticized for her handling of the Benghazi attack.

“It took, as you know, 10 years to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” she said on CNN during an event to promote her new book. “It’s taken more than two years to bring this perpetrator to justice.” But, she added, “Khattala has been very much on the minds of our law enforcement, our military and our intelligence professionals since that night in September of 2012.”

Still, others cautioned about celebrating too soon, noting that Mr. Abu Khattala was just one person suspected in the mass attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi. “I wouldn’t say we’ve broken the back by any stretch of the imagination,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on MSNBC.

“This was an important activity to happen, to take someone like Khattala off the battlefield,” Mr. Rogers said. “It sends a very clear message in Libya that we haven’t gone away.” But, he added, “there’s over a dozen individuals of interest, I think, that the United States needs to gather up.”
Correction: June 17, 2014

An earlier version of this article misstated the length of the investigation into the Benghazi attack. It is nearly two years old, not two and a half years.

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