Japan PM Abe Calls for Talks with China's Xi at APEC
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 07:11
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday called for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a regional meeting in Beijing in November, the latest call from Tokyo for a face-to-face meeting amid testy diplomatic relations.
Abe pointed to the neighbors' huge trading and business ties, saying they were "inextricably" linked, despite a row over islands in the East China Sea and historical grievances largely tied to Tokyo's militarism in the first half of the 20th century.
"I want to hold summit talks (with Xi) during the APEC meeting in Beijing," he said, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economic forum later this year.
"My door is always open for dialogue and I hope the Chinese side adopts the same stance," Abe added.
Abe and Xi, both strong nationalists, have not held a bilateral summit meeting since they both came to power more than 18 months ago.
The Japanese premier has repeatedly called for a meeting with Xi and also with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-Hye since he swept to power in late 2012.
During a visit to Australia and New Zealand last week, Abe also called for talks with Xi as did his close adviser Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Tokyo and Beijing have long been at odds over territorial claims and Japan's military record before the end of the World War II.
Rising tensions have seen Chinese ships routinely sail into waters near the disputed East China Sea archipelago, while Japan has scrambled fighter jets to ward off intrusions near its airspace.
Relations dropped again this month after Japan moved to relax restrictions on the use of armed force in a controversial change to its post-war pacifism.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Sunday, Abe declined to say whether he would visit a controversial war shrine on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.
China was furious over Abe's December visit to the shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including some senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes.
Many conservative politicians make an annual pilgrimage to the leafy site in central Tokyo, angering Beijing and Seoul which say Japan has not faced up to its warring past.
Israel says it has shot down drone launched from Gaza
Unmanned aircraft is said to have been downed using Patriot missile near city of Ashdod on southern coast
Peter Beaumont in Gaza City, Orlando Crowcroft in Jerusalem and agencies
theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014 08.18 BST
Israel claims to have downed a drone from the skies above its southern coastline. The unmanned aircraft, which Israel says was launched from Gaza and shot down with a Patriot missile near the city of Ashdod, is the first weapon of its kind Israel has encountered in this conflict.
Rockets were also fired into Israel from Lebanon early on Monday morning, drawing retaliatory fire from Israeli forces. This is the third such rocket attack from Lebanon since Friday. There were no reported casualties.
In the West Bank, a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed in Hebron after clashes between the Israeli military and protesters against the war in Gaza – the first Palestinian casualty in the West Bank since the conflict began.
The dead man – identified in unconfirmed reports as Muneer al-Bardeen – was shot during a protest at al-Samoua junction, 20 minutes south of Hebron.
Link to video: Binyamin Netanyahu accuses Hamas of trying to kill as many Israelis as possible
Witnesses said Bardeen was shot with live ammunition at around 3am, after hours of clashes that began after Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast, and carried on throughout the night.
On Monday morning, Palestinian media reported that two other men were injured in the clashes – Mahmoud Yasser Muhammad Breghith, 21, who was shot in the leg, and Mahmoud Nasser Juma Hitawi, 20, shot in the foot.
Hebron is one of the cities most heavily affected by Israel's incursions into the West Bank following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in June. The two main suspects in the murder of the three boys are Hamas members living in Hebron. They are still at large.
An Israeli Defence Force spokesman could not be reached for comment.
At least 172 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the Israeli offensive began seven days ago. The UN estimates that 77% of those killed have been civilians.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was set to discuss moves to seek UN intervention at an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Monday after another night of air strikes on Gaza in which Israeli war planes struck more than 40 sites, including three training facilities used by Hamas's armed wing, killing two people.
The UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, urged Israel to scrap plans for a ground offensive, saying "too many" Palestinian civilians had been killed.
Thousands of Palestinians fled their homes in two northern areas of the coastal enclave on Sunday after Israel warned it would "strike with might" against what it says are rocket-launching sites – an attack that has not yet materialised.
The exodus from Beit Lahia and Attatra came after Israel dropped leaflets and sent text messages warning civilians to evacuate northern Gaza by midday on Sunday in advance of a large-scale bombing campaign. The area is home to at least 100,000 people.
The UN says 17,000 people have sought refuge in its facilities.
A senior Israeli military officer, in a telephone briefing with foreign reporters, said Israel would strike the Beit Lahia area from late evening on Sunday. "The enemy has built rocket infrastructure in between the houses [in Beit Lahia]," the officer said. "He wants to trap me into an attack and into hurting civilians."
The leaflet warned: "Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware."
As the ultimatum drew near, large numbers raced by in pickup trucks or on donkey carts, waving white flags, with many heading to UN-run schools that were taking in refugees. "They are sending warning messages," said one resident, Mohammad Abu Halemah. "Once we received the message, we felt scared to stay in our homes. We want to leave."
Outside one UN school, there were rows of horses tied up by families anxious to protect their animals.
During a visit to Beit Lahia after the deadline had expired, the Guardian saw that most residents had opted to stay in their homes. Some shops were open and hospitals called for volunteers from medical schools to help treat an expected influx of casualties.
The warning was issued hours after Israeli naval commandos launched an early morning raid on a beach in the Sudaniya neighbourhood in the north of Gaza City, targeting another rocket-launching site. On Saturday, the coastal enclave suffered the bloodiest day of the six-day Israeli assault, with 54 Palestinians reported killed.
There has been speculation that Israel may launch a ground offensive into Gaza, a move likely to sharply increase the number of civilian casualties. At least 30 children were among those killed, according to Gaza's health ministry. There have been several Israeli injuries but no fatalities.
In the worst single incident of the conflict so far, at least 17 people were killed and 45 injured when two large Israeli bombs hit a house in the Tuffah neighbourhood of Gaza City where the city's chief of police, Tayseer al-Batsh, was sheltering. Five other people were missing, presumed dead.
Most of the injured were returning home from a mosque when they were caught by shrapnel from the blast.
Israel has been massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza's borders, which some fear could signal a wider ground offensive that would cause heavy casualties. "We don't know when the operation will end," the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told a cabinet meeting on Sunday. "It might take a long time."
The beach raid by several dozen commandos at 2am on Sunday was the first time Israeli forces have set foot in Gaza since the beginning of the current campaign. Four commandos were reportedly lightly injured after apparently being spotted approaching and being engaged by waiting Palestinian fighters.
Saad al-Dawla, the night watchman of the Mathaf hotel, said he was sleeping when the commandos came to the beach. "I was sleeping in the lobby with a friend. At the beginning we heard shooting from the Palestinian side. I got up and looked out the window and saw that there were people shooting from the water. Almost immediately an [Israeli] helicopter came and started shooting at the water as well," he said. "Later I heard shelling from the sea and the sounded of a warship's siren. The whole thing last about two hours."
Asked whether Hamas or other groups had watchers near the beach, Dawla said he did not know. Ladders at a mosque overlooking the beachfront and leading to its tower strongly suggested that a sentry had been posted there.
Israel has launched more than 1,300 air strikes since the offensive began, the military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said. Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel, according to the Israeli military.
Israel has said it is acting in self-defence against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields.
Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is the main factor putting civilians at risk.
Palestinians Flee Northern Gaza as a Cease-Fire Appears Elusive
By STEVEN ERLANGER and ISABEL KERSHNER
JULY 13, 2014
GAZA CITY — Several thousand Palestinians, defying the urging of Hamas to remain in their homes, fled areas in northern Gaza early Sunday after Israel warned them through fliers and phone calls of major attacks to come.
Israel and Hamas seemed to signal little public interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages. More than 130 rockets were fired out of Gaza into Israel on Sunday, with 22 intercepted, the Israeli Army said, while Palestinians expressed anger over the previous day’s Israeli strikes on a center for people with disabilities and on a home in an attack that killed 17 members of one extended family.
Early Monday, Israel also exchanged volleys with Lebanon, to the north, shelling it in response to a cross-border rocket attack, one of a string in recent days, Reuters reported. There was no word on damage or casualties.
Those fleeing northern Gaza traveled in vehicles, in donkey carts and on foot. Some waving white flags, residents of areas around Beit Lahiya ventured south to seek shelter in United Nations-run schools, cramming into classrooms and piling desks out on balconies.
Rafik Said al-Sultan, 44, walked two hours to a school here with his extended family, carrying the youngest of his nine children. “We left because of the terrifying bombing in the night and because of the fliers that warned that any moving body after noon will be struck,” he said.
The leaflets warned residents in the north to evacuate before what Israel’s military spokesman described as a “short and temporary” campaign against rocket launchers there. Hamas, which controls Gaza, asked residents to stay in their homes and ignore “Israeli propaganda,” but many fled anyway.
Mr. Sultan looked over at the young woman next to him and said: “I don’t need another tragedy. This is the fiancée of my son.” Three days ago, the son, Odai, 21, was killed in an Israeli rocket strike on the taxi he was driving. Mr. Sultan said that he had no idea why it had been attacked, and that it must have been the wrong car.
Isra Abbas, the fiancée, 17, was to marry Odai in September. “The 1948 Nakba is now happening every four years,” she said angrily, referring to the Palestinian exodus, known as “the catastrophe,” during the Arab-Israeli war.
“We pray to God there will be a truce, for our children and ourselves,” Mr. Sultan said, looking around the crowded classroom. “We can’t live here. There are no beds and few bathrooms, and men and women are here together.”
Down the hall, his nephew Muhammad al-Sultan, 26, had come with his wife and two young daughters on a donkey cart early in the morning after air attacks on his farmland. He conceded that many rockets were fired toward Israel from the area around Beit Lahiya. “Many rockets go from there,” he said. “But Israel lands more on us.”
The assistant principal of the school arrived early Sunday morning, and the courtyard was already full of refugees, she said. “It was a shock,” she said, estimating that for the 31 classrooms she had about 1,000 people. The principal, who said she had to turn one family away because the place was full, said she could not be quoted by name without United Nations permission.
According to Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or Unrwa, which deals with the refugees and operates the school, about 17,000 displaced people were already sheltering in 20 Unrwa buildings.
For Israel, poised between international appeals for a cease-fire and a decision on whether to send ground forces into Gaza, the goal now is to ensure a longer lull in Gazan rocket fire, which badly wounded a 16-year-old in Ashkelon on Sunday. That can be achieved only by seriously degrading Hamas’s fighting capabilities, whether by military means or through diplomacy, Israeli officials say. Part of the strategy, they say, is to cause “pain” to Hamas and its leaders, whose houses — even those without weapons stores — Israel is bombing here.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who appeared on American talk shows on Sunday, emphasized that the Israeli Army was “prepared for any possibility” and that Israel wanted “sustainable quiet.” Before the weekly cabinet meeting, he said: “I don’t know when the operation will end. It might take much more time.”
There is little appetite for a return to the cease-fire of November 2012, which lasted about 19 months. Yuval Steinitz, the minister for strategic affairs, told Israel Radio that while the immediate goal was “quiet,” “the strategic goal is demilitarization.” He added, “We have to finally not be satisfied with a temporary filling, but do a root canal.”
But as the bombing and rocketing continued, there was growing international pressure on Israel to settle for a cease-fire, called for by France, Britain and a nonbinding resolution of the United Nations. Those calls were intensified by the bombing that killed some of a center’s disabled residents early Saturday, and the funeral on Sunday for the 17 relatives who died in a bombing late Saturday when Israel tried to kill Gen. Tayseer al-Batsh, the Hamas police chief. General Batsh, who was seriously wounded, was visiting his aunt’s house, which was reduced to rubble, neighbors said, by bombs that sent body parts at least 100 yards.
Local officials and relatives searched Sunday for more bodies before burying the family, including seven children, and a neighbor in 18 graves dug in the same compound. Mahmoud al-Batsh, 48, a relative, said it was too dangerous now to bury them in the cemetery, which is near the border with Israel in northeast Gaza. “The Jews don’t differentiate between the police commander and ordinary citizens,” he said. Some argued in the heat whether the row of graves, lined with concrete blocks, was sufficiently aligned with Mecca.
The attack left scores wounded by shattered glass and explosive compression. There was no warning, residents said; Israeli officials have said they do not warn prime targets whom they are trying to kill.
Munzer al-Batsh, the police commander’s brother and a gardener, said at the scene: “The Jews eliminated an entire family — grandfather, father, mother, even the children, who were sleeping in the homes. They were civilians.”
He said he had heard the bombs but could not see through the smoke and dust. When the air cleared, he said, “there was a three-story house wiped out.”
“I couldn’t remember at first that there was a house there,” he added.
The campaign’s death toll among Palestinians was 158, more than half of them noncombatants, and more than 1,100 people have been hurt, the Health Ministry said.
Abdallah al-Frangi, the Fatah official appointed governor of Gaza last month under a unity government established by the Fatah faction and Hamas, condemned the conflict, which he said Israel had started, and asked the United States to intervene. “The Americans are the people who can do it if they want,” he said. “Netanyahu doesn’t want to negotiate with the Palestinians and doesn’t want a Palestinian state next door.”
Asked why he could not persuade Hamas to stop firing rockets, Mr. Frangi said: “We cannot ask Hamas while Israel is continuing this aggression. If Israel will stop, I’m sure Hamas will stop.”
Some Israeli security experts argue that Israel’s goals cannot be achieved without an invasion. If the objective is “to clean the territory,” said Gabi Siboni of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, “the way to do it is to activate all your forces.”
Hamas has a huge arsenal of weapons of all types, including antiaircraft and antiship missiles, besides thousands of remaining rockets, military officials said.
Hamas is also not an easy enemy to fight on the ground in an urban setting. It has built a network of tunnels and booby traps, and has long threatened to capture Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips for the release of prisoners.
But rocket launchers are hard to eliminate from the air. Most rockets are loaded underground and launched through narrow slits in the areas between crowded-together houses, and those who fire them enter and exit the tunnels from other houses.
Hamas has its own motivations, said Mkhaimar Abusada of Al-Azhar University here. “Hamas has been politically isolated” since the military coup in Egypt last summer led to the closing of smuggling tunnels and the Rafah border crossing, he said. And Israel tightened controls over Gaza after it discovered a Hamas tunnel into Israel six months ago, he said. At the same time, “the unity government with Fatah has done nothing for Gaza or Hamas,” which can no longer pay full salaries to its 40,000 employees.
“So Hamas’s main goal from this conflict is to end the siege,” Mr. Abusada said. “It can no longer survive this way, feeling suffocated by Israeli and blockaded by Egypt and ignored by Abu Mazen,” the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. For now, Mr. Abusada said, with Hamas political figures in hiding, the military wing is calling the shots. Any cease-fire deal, he said, will have to be done with the Hamas political chief, Khaled Meshal, who lives in Qatar.
As for a ground operation to destroy Hamas’s rocket capability, “Israel would have to go deep into Gaza, and that would be very costly to civilians, and I don’t think the United States and the West are willing to absorb that much bloodshed,” Mr. Abusada said.
Malala Yousafzai rallies to cause of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls
Pakistani teenager meets several girls who escaped captors and vows to help free 200 still held by Islamist militants
Monica Mark in Abuja
The Guardian, Sunday 13 July 2014 18.35 BST
Malala Yousafzai,the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to education, has pledged on a visit to Nigeria to help free a group of more than 200 schoolgirls who have been held captive by Islamist militants Boko Haram since April.
The activist, who turns 17 on Monday, held an early birthday celebration with some of the girls who escaped the mass abduction in the north-eastern village of Chibok in April. "I can see those girls as my sisters… and I'm going to speak up for them until they are released," she said during a meeting on Sundaywith some of the parents of the abducted children in the capital, Abuja. "I'm going to participate actively in [the] Bring Back Our Girls campaign to make sure that they return safely." Later, standing beside four visibly delighted children from Chibok, she blew out the candles of a birthday cake.
Malala was shot shortly after boarding a school bus in 2009 by Taliban insurgents in Pakistan's Swat district, an event that turned her into a global symbol of defiance against the militants. Similarly, the abduction of 300 secondary school girls has shone a global spotlight on the atrocities of Boko Haram, whose name means "western education is forbidden".
A social media campaign, #bringbackourgirls, drew support from Angelina Jolie and Michelle Obama. But attention has since waned, and a small but determined group of relatives who hold daily rallies for the girls say they have been intimidated by the government, which has faced a barrage of negative publicity over its handling of the incident.
Meeting a group of parents of the abducted girls, Malala said: "Thank you for your great work and for such courage … you are really brave parents." Some of the parents wiped away tears as she spoke.
Later, parents and four of the girls attended the daily rally in the centre of Abuja, sitting in silence as a crowd chanted. One supporter likened the rallies to a "long battle in which we have faced arrest, intimidation and distractions".
"It's great for Malala to come here and refocus attention on the issue. At the same time, that it took Malala coming to meet our president is an indictment on how Nigeria is handling this crisis," said Toyin, a supporter in her 20s.
Shettima Haruna, whose daughter Margaret was abducted, stood up at the rally and addressed the crowd: "We parents thank you all for standing with us all this while. If not for your support, interest would have died down completely. The only reason this case is till receiving attention is through this group."
Another Chibok resident explained why more of the mothers weren't there: "Some of the women are so devastated by the events they can't even cook any more."
Boko Haram's half-decade battle to impose an Islamic caliphate in Africa's most populous nation has become increasingly bloody in the last year. Civilians have increasingly been targeted, and last year the insurgents burning dozens of schoolchildren alive in their dorms. Pakistan and Nigeria have some of the highest numbers of children out of school. In Nigeria, girls make up around two-thirds of the 10.5 million outside the school system.
According to Justin Forsyth of Save the Children, which is working in partnership with the Malala Fund, 50 million children living in conflict situations are denied their right to education. "In countries like Syria, South Sudan and Nigeria, schools are targeted in attacks and often used as military bases. Many of the children I've met have told me that one of their top priorities is to return to school," he said.
Rival Factions in Libyan Capital Battle for Control of Main Airport
By KAREEM FAHIM
JULY 13, 2014
CAIRO — Rival militias in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, fought for control of the city’s main airport on Sunday, leaving at least six people dead and causing the cancellation of international flights, officials said.
The fighting, with rockets, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, was some of the fiercest in the capital in months and an urgent reminder of the chaos prevailing in the country: Nearly three years after the death of Libya’s dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the fighters who rebelled against him remained locked in a struggle for control of territory, resources and critical facilities, sidelining the central government.
The United Nations mission in Libya, which began to withdraw staff members last week because of security concerns, accelerated that withdrawal on Sunday, said a staff member who was not authorized to speak to the news media. A United Nations spokesman did not immediately return a call.
The deadliest of Libya’s recent fighting has occurred in the eastern city of Benghazi, where troops loyal to an army general named Khalifa Hifter are battling other armed militias, as part of what Mr. Hifter says is a national campaign to eradicate Libya’s powerful Islamist politicians and fighters. The clashes have opened new divisions across the country and aggravated Libya’s violence.
Those divisions appeared to play a role in the Tripoli clashes on Sunday, which also involved militias with a history of animosity. The international airport in Tripoli, a strategic prize, has been under the control of fighters from the western mountain town of Zintan since 2011. Early Sunday, rival militias in western Libya, including those from the coastal city of Misurata, attacked the Zintani brigades at the airport and other sites in Tripoli. In addition to the six dead, at least 25 people were wounded.
Libya has become a source of intensifying alarm for its neighbors, including Egypt. They are worried about the flow of weapons from Libya’s vast stores, as well as fighters, across their borders. Attempts to mediate disputes between rival factions in Libya, by international allies including by the United States, have so far failed.
In an unusually pointed statement on Saturday, the State Department expressed frustration with the relentless fighting, urging the quick seating of a new Parliament. “Libya’s future will not be secured through force of arms,” said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, adding that “dangerous posturing” by the quarreling parties could lead to “widespread conflict.
World Cup 2022 host Qatar blames overseas recruiters for slave-like labor conditions of workforce
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, July 13, 2014 14:01 EDT
World Cup 2022 host Qatar, under international criticism over working conditions for migrant workers, said recruitment agencies in Asia were the main party to blame for any abuse.
A report commissioned by the Qatar Foundation chaired by the ruling emir?s mother charged that the rights of migrants, mainly Asians, are flouted in their home countries from the moment they sign up for work.
“Critics of human and labour rights violations most often shift the blame to Qatar in a rather generic manner,” said the report focused on workers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
“Far less attention has been given to the violations by the migrants? own nationals in their countries of origin, in addition to those who are complicit in Qatar,” it said.
The energy-rich Gulf nation has come under international pressure to clamp down on violations of the rights of migrant workers, specially those building World Cup infrastructure.
The report insisted that this criticism underscores the need to determine the level of abuse committed at the recruitment stage, and introduce legislation in order to stamp it out.
“It is necessary to ascertain to what extent trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour, that largely result from recruitment processes… could be addressed and leveraged by the Qatari authorities,” it said.
The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organisation promoting education, science, and community development. It is chaired by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Masnad — the mother of Qatar’s emir.
The report called for “greater regulation of recruitment and placement agencies in origin and destination countries, respectively” and for more cooperation between these governments.
“Proper legislation is needed to monitor the work of recruitment agencies in Qatar and in the origin countries,” it said.
- Ban agency fees -
The report recommended fees paid by would-be migrant workers to recruitment agencies be “banned”, describing them as a form of “bribe” piling financial pressure on the job seeker.
Any fee should instead be paid by the company hiring the worker.
The report said workers are often forced to take out loans to foot the bill of recruitment agencies and secure a job in the construction and service industries in Qatar, and as a result rake up debts.
“The phenomenon of debt bondage is in large part the reason why migrant workers in Qatar are insecure and vulnerable to exploitation,” the report said.
It also called on Qatar to ensure that workers are paid their wages on time in line with local law and that the employers pay the salaries directly into the workers’ bank accounts.
“Contracts should be standardised with detailed termination provisions, signed prior to departure and checked on arrival,” it said.
Doha has repeatedly rejected charges that construction workers are being mistreated and has announced a series of measures to improve their conditions.
In May, Qatar announced it will abolish its controversial “sponsorship” system which leaves foreign workers at the mercy of employers.
The International Trade Union Confederation warned in June that as many as 4,000 migrant workers could die in construction site accidents by the time the 2022 tournament kicks off.
Fish sperm potions and camel's milk concoctions keep love alive in Nigeria
Business booms for sellers of traditional aphrodisiacs meant to ensure marital stability in conservative country
Monica Mark in Lagos
The Guardian, Thursday 10 July 2014 20.02 BST
Has your love life lost its spark? Too tired after long days at work? Or maybe you suspect your partner's eye has been wandering?
Zainab Usman, a Muslim from northern Nigeria, says she has the solution for all these problems. Walking through a room lined with jars, bottles and gourds, perfumed air trailing in her wake, she ticks off each remedy on delicately manicured fingers. Out come a stream of names that sound like a cross between children's sweets and street slang for class A drugs.
There is the "wonder wand", a vial of peppercorn-sized pills that promise to enhance intimate experiences. Zuman mata, which translates as "woman's honey" in northern Nigeria's Hausa language, is guaranteed to "keep a man coming back". Or how about tsumi, a herb and camel's milk concoction that Usman has nicknamed "cocaine" which, if its effects match up to the claims, is best taken only if the user has several days spare to recover?
This is the world of kayan mata ("women's things"), a five-century-old practice in northern Nigeria and neighbouring Niger aimed at keeping married couples' love lives lubricated, so to speak. Handed down the generations by women, the creams, scrubs, perfumes and tablets are made using local herbs and roots that grow in the arid north. Traditionally meant to prepare a bride for marriage and ensure social stability by keeping couples happily married, they are growing in popularity.
Men have their own version, called maganin maza ("men's potions"), which includes chilli-infused foods.
Neither country particularly needs a helping hand in the sex department: 11,000 babies are born every day in Nigeria, the world's eighth most populous country, while Niger has the world's highest birth rate. But the centuries-old kayan mata is one of the few times when sex is openly discussed amid an otherwise decidedly old-fashioned approach to discussing physical intimacy and its consequences.
"In the north, girls start learning about it at a very young age," said Usman, whose female in-laws presented her with a kayan mata gift box on the eve of her wedding. It accompanied the equally traditional gara – a gift of kitchen utensils as the couple started a new home.
"The south is a good market for me because it's still new here, although I'm not sure Lagosians are ready for this," says Usman, who has started selling her wares in Lagos, hundreds of miles south of her home city of Sokoto.
As two giggling friends visit Usman, a third hovers disapprovingly nearby, though not so far as to be out of earshot.
"Do you have ones that uplift breasts?" the first friend asks.
"Of course," replies Usman, pouring a thick liquid into a tiny jar. For good measure, she adds a green powder called danagadas ("the one from Agadez" – a city in Niger's Sahara desert). "I can't use this one very much, I'd be too tired," she adds.
What happens, one of the women wants to know, if you stop taking the herbs?
"Your husband will notice a massive difference straight away," Usman says, snapping her fingers. The two friends look at each other and fall about laughing.
"You guys are making me feel uncomfortable," Usman says, a hint of reproach in her voice. "I'm trying to help you. It's not a big deal – women have been using this for ages."
The ingredients of kayan mata have changed little over 500 years except, perhaps, that dried camel's milk is now preferred to fresh as the goods travel longer distances. Typically, products have a base of rice, honey, millet and tiger nuts. Fish sperm and manatee fat are sometimes thrown in. Key, though, are the roots of the desert-growing jujube, baobab and catchthorn trees, which have long been used medicinally across the Sahara. Some herbs are so localised English translations are hard to come by.
"There's no reason to suppose that there's not some interesting ethnopharmacology behind the use of these remedies," says James Moffatt, a senior lecturer at St George's hospital, University of London.
Nevertheless some may be placebos similar to the western perception that oysters are aphrodisiacs, he says. "If dim lights, mood music and a plate of molluscs do it for one culture, why not camel milk and dates for another?"
Business is certainly booming. Big-name dealers include one of the wives of former president Ibrahim Babangida.
In the labyrinthine streets of Wuse market in the capital Abuja, Umar Mohammed, 56, sits in his booth surrounded by imitation gold jewellery, intriguingly named fake perfumes, sequinned headscarves and incense burners.
But at a word from two visiting customers, he springs into life and throws open a cupboard full of the familiar vials and powders. "Why didn't you say [what you wanted] right away?" after two elderly women in hijabs spend 15 minutes apparently poring over a single stick of incense.
He tries to sell them a dust-covered box of products whose extraordinary price is justified, he says, as it came from Malaysia. "When a woman uses these products, she will look and smell like a flower, which is how it should be."
U.S. Says Link-up between Yemen, Syria Islamists of 'Extreme Concern'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 20:35
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Sunday that intelligence suggesting Islamist bombmakers from Yemen have teamed up in Syria is "more frightening than anything" he had seen before.
In an interview with ABC News, Holder called the alleged cooperation between expert bomb-makers in Yemen and jihadists fighting in Syria's civil war a "deadly combination."
ABC News, citing unidentified sources, said U.S. intelligence suspects Yemeni bombmakers in Syria have designed an explosive device small enough to fit in a laptop computer.
"I think we are at a dangerous time," Holder said, referring to the link-up of experts with technical know-how and "people who have this kind of fervor to give their lives."
"It's something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern," he added in the interview broadcast on Sunday. "In some ways, it's more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general."
Holder's comments come in the wake of increased security for flights heading to the United States.
Earlier this month, U.S. authorities announced new security measures for air passengers from Europe and the Middle East. One such measure was that smartphones and electronic devices must be able to be switched on before travel.
The tighter security was introduced due to fears that militants linked to al-Qaida are developing new explosives that could be slipped onto planes undetected.
ABC cited a source at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as as saying the unspecified threat was "different and more disturbing than past aviation plots."
In November 2010, the Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), claimed responsibility for a plot to send parcel bombs to the United States.
The group also claimed it put a bomb aboard a UPS cargo plane that crashed two months earlier in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, killing the craft's two pilots.
The man thought to be behind that plot, master al-Qaida bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri, is currently believed to be hiding out in Yemen's restive southern provinces.
Al-Asiri, a 32-year-old Saudi citizen, specializes in building hard-to-detect non-metallic explosives, often using Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, and chemical detonators.
U.S. President Barack Obama warned last month that "battle-hardened" Europeans who embrace jihad in Syria threaten the United States because their passports mean they can enter the country without a visa.
Voodoo won't save Haiti, says cardinal
Traditional faith 'offers no real solutions for the poor' and is a big social problem, says new prelate
Rashmee Roshan Lall in Port au Prince
The Guardian, Sunday 13 July 2014 20.15 BST
Haiti's first Roman Catholic cardinal has described voodoo as a "big social problem" for his desperately poor country, arguing that the religion offers "magic" but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.
Chibly Langlois, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in February, linked Haiti's belief system to its chronic political problems, which he says force poor Haitians – the overwhelming majority of a population of 10 million – to seek supernatural solutions.
"If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the voodoo priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the voodoo priest to get revenge. It's a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," he said.
About 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic; roughly half the population also practises voodoo – though many do not do so in public. "That's why voodoo ceremonies are conducted at night–time. They are ashamed to say they practise it," said Langlois.
Voodoo, which has its roots in west Africa's pantheist religions but incorporates images and rituals of Catholicism, has played a central role in Haitian society since before colonial times. A voodoo ceremony in August 1791 is said to have helped trigger Haiti's first big slave insurrection against the French colonisers. It was banned in 1934 and categorised as sorcery in the penal code.
In the 1940s Catholics in Haiti burned voodoo masks and drums in a series of "anti-superstition" campaigns. Meanwhile, Hollywood popularised the (entirely fictional) image of voodoo as a religion of zombies, devil worship and ceremonies involving wax dolls and pins.
Voodoo remained banned in Haiti until 1987, when a new constitution came into force, and it was not until 2003 that it was given legal recognition as a religion with equal standing to Catholicism.
But after decades of uneasy tolerance by the Catholic church, Langlois declared that Haitians cannot follow both religions. "The church cannot – and does not – ignore the cultural elements and uses of voodoo, like the drum, the rhythm, the way of singing. But you can't be voodooist and Catholic. The Catholic should be pure Catholic; the voodooist should be pure voodoo," he said.
It is a clear, if controversial, message, for the poorest country in the Americas.
Richard Morse, a Haitian-American anthropologist and musician, whose mother was a voodoo priestess, described the cardinal's remarks as dishonest.
"If you want to talk about Haiti's ills, you've got to start with slavery, in which the Catholics were very involved. So I'm not sure what good comes of blaming the victim."
Morse also questioned the Catholic church's right to prescribe for Haitians. "Voodoo was born in Haiti, of Haitians and it is our culture. Catholicism is imported and we respect it and embrace it but we also love the truth."
Jeanguy Sainteus, founder of Haiti's leading dance company, said that he regarded voodoo as being more meaningful than the Catholic faith. "I feel more connected with the lwa [voodoo spirits] than [anything I feel] when I go to church," he said.
"Voodoo is a religion, like the Catholic faith. It's certainly not a big problem for Haiti. If people use voodoo properly and if we are open about it and talk about who we really are, it can only be good."
Sainteus said voodoo's standing as the religion of the poor meant it was "misused and misunderstood". He added that the cardinal and other Haitians "need to see voodoo with their eyes, not their prejudice, because it is the key to Haiti's future".
Langlois, 55, the youngest of Jesuit Pope Francis's recent crop of 19 cardinals, is seen to epitomise the Vatican's determination to refocus the church's attention on the poor.
He says it was this commitment to the poor that led him to broker negotiations between President Michel Martelly's administration and the opposition in mid-March, in an attempt to break political deadlock over the organisation of senate and local authority elections that are more than two years overdue.
"As Pope Francis said, he would rather have a church that gets its hands dirty than one that is closed in on itself," said Langlois. "I should work to help provide a better solution to the country even if I know I'm taking a risk."
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Google, Netflix, Amazon demand net neutrality: ‘We’re going to be pretty vocal about this’
Monday, July 14, 2014 6:30 EDT
Major U.S. web companies on Monday urged regulators to restrict the ability of Internet providers, including mobile carriers, to strike deals for faster delivery of some web traffic and planned a publicity campaign about the government’s proposal.
The Internet Association, which represents three dozen web companies such as Google Inc, Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc, made their case in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, which plans to establish new so-called “net neutrality” rules.
The rules guide how Internet service providers (ISPs) manage traffic on their networks, aiming to ensure they do not unfairly limit consumers’ access to website and applications.
In January, a court ruling struck down the FCC’s previous version of such rules. The agency is now collecting public comments on a proposal that would ban ISPs from blocking users’ access to websites or applications but allow some “commercially reasonable” deals between content providers and ISPs to prioritize delivery of some traffic.
In its comments on Monday, the Internet Association criticized the possibility of ISPs charging content providers “for enhanced or prioritized access” and called for equal Internet traffic rules for both wired and wireless networks.
“The Internet is threatened by broadband Internet access providers who would turn the open, best-efforts Internet into a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today’s Internet,” the group wrote.
The Internet Association argued that allowing technical “reasonable network management” should give ISPs enough flexibility to deal with congested networks, while paid prioritization on non-congested networks is likely to mean faster download speeds for some at the expense of others.
Dozens of tech companies in June called on the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to adopt rules that would protect the openness of Internet, but Monday’s comments represent a more detailed industry position.
The Internet Association in the next few weeks plans to roll out a campaign about the FCC’s proposal and net neutrality, distributing infographics and videos and inviting Internet users to suggest amendments to the FCC’s proposed rules through an interactive document viewer on its website, the association’s President Michael Beckerman told Reuters.
In particular, the Internet Association’s push may spotlight anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules that in the past applied differently to fixed and wireless Internet traffic.
“We’re going to be getting pretty vocal about this issue,” Beckerman said. “It doesn’t make sense anymore to differentiate the way net neutrality applies to mobile and wireline.”
A senior FCC official last month told Reuters the issue will have “big resonance” at the FCC. Wireless carriers argue that stricter rules may hurt how they manage their dynamic shared networks, leading to slower Internet speeds for everyone.
Wheeler on Friday reiterated his plan to reject paid prioritization deals that are struck in bad faith: “If it hurts competition, if it hurts consumers, if it hurts innovation, I’m against it and we’re not going to tolerate it.”
FAQ: What is net neutrality and what is the FCC’s plan for the Internet?
Monday, July 14, 2014 8:13 EDT
(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is collecting public comments until Sept. 10 on new “net neutrality” or “open Internet rules” that may let service providers charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of their traffic to users.
Below are some details about the concept of “net neutrality” and the FCC’s work to regulate Internet traffic.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means companies like Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications Inc should not block or slow down access to any website or content on the Web – for instance, to benefit their own services over those of competitors.
HOW IS NET NEUTRALITY REGULATED?
The FCC, which regulates telephone and cable companies that provide broadband service in the United States, has several times adopted rules aimed at ensuring Internet providers abide by the net neutrality principle.
In 2010, FCC passed an order that prohibited Internet providers from blocking traffic. It allowed “commercially reasonable” discrimination of traffic, but rejected potential “pay-for-priority” deals that may have allowed content companies to pay for faster delivery of their traffic.
But a U.S. appeals court in January ruled against the FCC in a case brought by Verizon, effectively striking down the agency’s net neutrality regulations.
Comcast is the only Internet provider that has to abide by the older version of those rules until 2018, because of a condition placed on its acquisition of NBC Universal. All other major Internet providers have said they support an open Internet.
WHY DID THE COURT REJECT THE RULES?
In setting the 2010 rules, the FCC treated Internet providers like utilities similar to telephone companies, which are more heavily regulated. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that treatment improper because broadband providers were actually classified as less-regulated information service providers.
WHAT IS THE FCC’S NEW PLAN?
The court did affirm the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband, indicating that the agency could use another section of the communications law to restore some of the rules.
Based on that guidance, the FCC has proposed new rules that would ban Internet providers from blocking users’ access to websites or applications and would require them to disclose exactly how they manage traffic on their networks.
Under the proposal, some “commercially reasonable” deals to give priority to certain Web traffic may be allowed, although the FCC also seeks comment on whether “some or all” pay-for-priority deals should be presumed illegal.
The proposal also asks questions about potentially reclassifying broadband providers and how the FCC may address so-called “interconnection” deals that are currently outside the scope of net neutrality rules, but which have been in spotlight in Netflix Corp’s recent spat with Comcast and Verizon.
WHY ARE CONSUMER ADVOCATES OPPOSED?
Consumer advocates say Wheeler’s proposal would create “fast lanes” for companies willing to pay while leaving startups and others behind, which would potentially harm competition.
More than 100 technology companies including Google Inc, Facebook Inc and Amazon.com Inc have warned of a “grave threat to the Internet.”
However, consumer advocates are pushing for reclassification of broadband providers as public utilities, while tech companies in their opposition to pay-for-priority have not supported reclassification.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF REGULATION SAY?
Internet providers say stricter net neutrality regulations could discourage investment in the expensive network infrastructure. Verizon, in its case against the FCC, argued that the rules amounted to government overreach into companies’ business dealings.
Past efforts to regulate broadband providers more like telephone companies have drawn backlash from the cable and wireless industries and Republican lawmakers. Companies have argued that reclassification would create prolonged regulatory uncertainty without preventing pay-for-priority deals.
GOP leader calls for migrant children 'warehouses' in Central America
Michael McCaul, chair of committee on homeland security, leads charge of Republican attacks on president over border crisis
Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Sunday 13 July 2014 17.47 BST
A young migrant girl waits for a freight train to depart on her way to the US border, in Ixtepec, Mexico. Most of the unaccompanied children are fleeing violence and poverty in Central American nations, and must pass through dangerous stretches of Mexico. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP
A senior Republican has proposed that the US government should build “warehouses” in Central America where thousands of unaccompanied children who have attempted to seek asylum in the US could be deported and processed on their return to their countries of origin.
Michael McCaul, a Republican member of Congress from Texas who chairs the House committee on homeland security, has proposed that rather than build extra facilities on domestic soil to handle the surge in numbers of child immigrants attempting to cross the US border, facilities should be located in the territories from which the minors came. “I’m not in favour of building large warehouses in the US to warehouse these kids, I think we have to have deterrence and if we are to build facilities we should think about doing that in the countries of origin in Central America,” he said.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, McCaul said that Republicans would not write a blank cheque for dealing with the border situation, which he said had reached crisis proportions. President Obama last week asked Congress for $3.7bn in emergency funds to expand the system of immigration courts and speed up the process for dealing with child immigrants crossing the southern border, who have exceeded 50,000 since last October.
Republican leaders gave a round of interviews on the Sunday political shows, clearly sensing that the White House is on the defensive over the child immigrant issue. The opposition party has sought to turn the political flurry into Obama’s Katrina, by suggesting that the president’s decision not to tour the border in Texas last week was a sign that he was as out of touch as his predecessor George Bush had been over the New Orleans disaster in 2005.
The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, accused Obama on CBS’s Face the Nation of not caring about what was happening on America’s southern flank, which he called a “monumental humanitarian” problem. He said he had warned the president in May 2012 about the pending crisis with unaccompanied minors but nothing had been done about it.
Barack Obama and Rick Perry shake hands as the president arrives in Dallas to discuss immigration control with the Texas governor Barack Obama and Rick Perry shake hands as the president arrives in Dallas to discuss immigration control with the Texas governor. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP
“It could have been stopped years ago had the administration listened and focused on what was happening at the border. Time after time you see a response from this administration that is, you know, we are really not that interested in the southern border of the United States,” he said.
For their part, Democrats are hoping to rebuff intensifying conservative criticism over the border issue by counter-attacking that Republican leaders are callous and uncaring towards vulnerable immigrant children. The Democratic party currently enjoys widespread support among Latino voters partly as a result of Republicans’ resistance to comprehensive immigration reforms that would provide a pathway towards citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Joaquín Castro, the Democratic Congressman from the 20th district of Texas, said that unaccompanied minors should not be deported back to possible violence and abuse in central America without their claims for asylum being heard. “These folks need to be given the chance to go to court and argue their case. It raises the question: who do we consider to be a refugee in America in the 21st century, and that's a very tough question for us and it tugs at our conscience.”
Castro did concede, however, that it was important for Obama to visit the border area at some point in the near future.
• This article was amended on Monday 14 July 2014 as it incorrectly stated that Joaquín Castro is the newly appointed housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration
Key GOP lawmakers collectively balk at White House request for border funds
Sunday, July 13, 2014 13:52 EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading Republican lawmakers balked on Sunday at supporting a White House spending request aimed at bolstering the U.S. border with Mexico, where thousands of children have crossed recently, while calling for changes in the law to allow faster deportations.
The White House has asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to help pay for border security, temporary detention centers and additional immigration court judges to process asylum cases.
The Obama administration warned lawmakers on Thursday that border security agencies would run out of money this summer if the request was not approved.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said when asked about the spending bill that the priority had to be stopping the flow of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States.
“The best way to do that is for planeloads of these young people to be returning to the country of origin,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “As soon as they (parents) see their money is not effective in getting their kids to this country, it will stop.”
More than 52,000 children traveling alone from Central America have been caught at the U.S.-Mexico border since October, twice as many as the same period the year before.
U.S. immigration officials say the crisis is being driven by poverty and gang and drug violence in Central America, as well as rumors perpetuated by smugglers that children who reach the U.S. border will be permitted to stay.
House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said last week that the Obama administration asked for “too much money” but declined to say what an appropriate figure would be.
Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, also declined to support the spending bill. “We’re not going to write a blank check for over $4 billion,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” McCaul is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
McCaul said he would support changing a 2008 law that requires deportation proceedings for children that arrive from countries that do not share a border with the United States. This would allow authorities to quickly deport newly arrived Central American children, as they do Mexican children.
McCaul said that bill could see action this summer.
“It’s a very tragic human crisis at the border, none like I’ve ever seen before. I think we have to act before the August recess,” he said.
The bill saw opposition from one Democrat, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas.
“That 2008 law, passed under George W. Bush, was passed for a reason,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Many people believe that these kids should have a chance to make their case for asylum. So I think we’ve got to be careful when we consider completely doing away with that law.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry pressed the White House to send National Guard troops to the border to aid the border patrol, which has been stretched thin by the mass influx of minors.
“They need to be right there on the river because that’s the message that gets back to Central America. It’s important to do that because this flood of children is pulling the border patrol away from their normal duty of keeping bad people (out),” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
Perry also said that conversations among Central Americans had been monitored.
“We listen to the conversations. Er, I should say that, the conversations are being monitored with calls back to Central America and the message is, ‘Hey, c’mon up here. Everything is great. They’re taking care of us,’” he said.
Democratic Congressman Totally Exposes GOP’s Racism Regarding Border Crisis
By: Justin Baragona
Sunday, July, 13th, 2014, 6:42 pm
During an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) lit into Republicans regarding their words and actions surrounding the crisis at the border involving migrant children from Central America. The Congressman tore apart Texas Governor Rick Perry’s rationale for wanting the National Guard called to the border as Gutierrez stated that the border is more secure than it has ever been. He pointed out to host Bob Schieffer that the number of deportations has increased under President Obama while the number of illegal crossings has decreased.
Below is from the show’s transcript:
BOB SCHIEFFER: We’re back now with Congressman Luis Gutierrez, whose district is in Chicago, O’Hare Airport, Midway Airport, kind of the northwest and–
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Northwest, southwest side.
BOB SCHIEFFER: –side of it, and we thank you for coming back to Washington to join us this morning. You just heard Rick Perry, some really strong words about the President. He said basically he’s just not interested in solving this problem on the border.
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Well, Governor Perry’s just wrong on that issue. Let’s first go, he kept repeating “the border, the border, the border,” and he wants to put more National Guardsmen in and if he put more National Guardsman in, the children wouldn’t come. The children come, Bob, fleeing violence and torture, murder and rape.
And so, they’re going to continue to come as long as those conditions exist and we don’t fix our broken immigration system. Let’s just put in context what the governor just said. So at the height of George Bush’s President in 2002, I’m sorry, not the height, during George Bush’s Presidency, 1,600,000 people apprehended crossing the border between Mexico and the United States.
Today it’s under 400,000. But George Bush, average of about 200,000 people deported a year, average over his eight years. Over six years of President Barack Obama, 400,000. Over two million deported under already. So (unintelligible) border and border, in terms of deportation, there has been enforcement.
Gutierrez also brought up the law that was first passed in 2002, and then reauthorized in 2008, that allows children from certain countries in Central America to apply for asylum once they’ve reached the border.
GUTIERREZ: So you can keep throwing money and talk about enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, but you’ve got to put money also into your judicial system, and you’ve got to put money in a comprehensive program that deals with the issue. I want to make one last point to the Governor, look, these are children. I’m happy he didn’t demonize the children, but there is a demonization that goes on. And all I say to the Governor is I wish you understood and accepted the law of the land, Governor. And the law of the land in 2008, we adopted in the Congress of the United States an anti-trafficking law. But wait, it wasn’t only in 2008 that we said protect the children, we said protect the children in 2002 when we created the Department of Homeland Security. (unintelligible) signed by President Bush said, “We must treat children who arrive at our shores differently.”
After providing the facts regarding border security and the law of the land, Gutierrez went for the head shot on the GOP. He discussed House Republicans and the offensive way they talk about immigration in this country. Specifically, he highlighted comments made by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who both have made extremely offensive statements in the past regarding Hispanics and immigration.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you about this, because I hear this from Democrats, as well as Republicans, and prominent Democrats are saying, “You know, if the President was going to Texas, he should have gone down to the border and he should have taken a firsthand look into this.” Do you think he would have been better off if he had done that?
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Absolutely. I think the President should have gone down there, stated what the law is. In 2008, Bob, we– look, Louie Gohmert from Texas hasn’t even seen an immigrant that he hasn’t thought was bringing disease to this country. And went on the, no, went on the House Floor this week to compare the invasion of children to our incursion into Mexico to seek out Pancho Villa, to our reaching the beaches of Normandy. So they put it in these terms.
But Steven King from Iowa, he always says they’re criminals. He can never say “immigrant” and “criminal” without (unintelligible). They voted for the 2002 and 2008 law that say, “Protect.” So when there were calmer times, right, levelheaded people thinking about the issue, we put the children’s interests first. Remember bipartisanship? This wasn’t a Democratic bill–
Regarding Gohmert, Gutierrez was referring to a speech that Gohmert made on the House floor last week where he did actually bring up Normandy and likened the situation at the border to an invasion.
It was absolutely refreshing to see a Democrat call out the GOP’s blatant racism regarding not only this humanitarian crisis, but the whole issue of immigration reform. Gutierrez has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality, only to see it killed in the House by Republicans who have allowed the most extreme elements of their party to take charge on an issue that the vast majority of Americans support. You can sense that Gutierrez is just tired of it all and is going to speak from the heart on these issues.
Good for him.
Chaos In The Republican Party as Fox News Hosts and Destroys Rick Perry
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, July, 13th, 2014, 5:12 pm
The Republican Party is crumbling as the crisis unfolds on the border. Fox News Sunday hosted Rick Perry today and promptly tore the Texas governor apart.
After asking Perry why he wants troops added to the border, Fox News Sunday host Brit Hume went after the Texas Governor’s position.
HUME: But if you strung them out along the border, national guardsmen and women, they are not, under the law, allowed to apprehend any of these children that are crossing, are they?
PERRY: Well, the issue is with being able to send that message, because it’s the visual that I think is the most important. And we know that. We listen to the conversations — or I should say their conversations are being monitored with calls back to the Central America, and the message is, hey, come on up here, everything is great, they’re taking care of us.
And that needs to stop, because if you don’t stop the bleeding, if you don’t staunch the flow of individuals that are coming up here, this is only going to get worse. And at that particular point in time, the size of this crisis is even going to be more monumental.
HUME: I think nearly everybody agrees with that, Governor, but the question I’m trying to get at with you is this — if these children who undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won’t shoot them and can’t arrest them?
PERRY: And I think we’re talking about two different things here. And what we’re talking about is sending the message back now so we can staunch the bleeding. Those that are already here to address them, to humanitarily take care of them, to make sure that they are safe, process them as quickly as you can to reunite them with their families. That’s the most humanitarian thing that we can do. …..
HUME: I get that’s the message, Governor. What I don’t quite understand is, how it is with the law being the way it is, the presence of more troops or forces on the border who are not legally able to apprehend these immigrants, these border crossers, is going to change anything without the law being changed first.
PERRY: Here’s the way it will. The presence — and we’ve done this multiple times. We’ve surged large amounts of Texas law enforcement with local law enforcement and coordinating with the border patrol into sectors. We don’t have the ability on a 1,200-mile border to do that. About 20 percent of the individuals coming across are these unaccompanied alien children. You got 80 percent of people out there that these laws don’t fall into, but we’re being pulled away having to deal with these children.
And my point is, you bring boots on the ground to send that message clearly, both visually and otherwise.
There are many reasons why Fox News would turn on Rick Perry. Fox and the Republican Party clearly don’t want Perry anywhere near the 2016 nomination. His anti-immigrant rhetoric is gaining steam because the backbone of the Republican Party is now composed of old Southern white men who hate the idea of letting more non-white people into the country.
Fox News is the gatekeeper for the Republican nomination. The way they treat potential 2016 candidates reveals a great deal about who they believe is viable. Fox became the Mitt Romney network in 2012, and they have been so protective of Chris Christie that they won’t discuss the various scandals that are ruining the New Jersey Republican’s presidential dreams.
Except for getting cutoff in mid-insane rant by ABC News last week, this was a tough interview for him. Gov. Perry had to reveal that what he is proposing is nothing more than an empty gesture. It looks like Fox News is trying to chop down Rick Perry before he gets any momentum ahead of 2016.
Fox News is trying to clear the field for Mitt Romney, or they are in the process of eating their own. Either way, the Republican circus, has come back to town and they are getting warmed up for 2016
Top House Republican Admits That There Are No Grounds To Impeach President Obama
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, July, 13th, 2014, 2:07 pm
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee admitted today that Republicans have no grounds for articles of impeachment against President Obama.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other things you see coming out of this are more and more calls for the president to be impeached, Sarah Palin most prominently this week. Any articles of impeachment would be drawn up by your committee. Is this something you’re considering? Or do you agree with Speaker Boehner who says it’s off the table?
GOODLATTE: We are not working on or drawing up articles of impeachment. The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.
On the other hand, we do believe that the president is not enforcing the law. And there’s a wide array of issues, not just immigration, where we believe that. And that’s why the speaker, and many of us in the Congress, are getting ready to take legal action to stand up for the people’s right, for their elected representatives to be the part of our government that passes laws, not a president with his pen and his cell phone.
There has been a story floating around for the last few days that Speaker Boehner is pursuing a lawsuit against President Obama in order to silence the calls among Republicans for articles of impeachment against President Obama. If Boehner was trying to take impeachment off the table with this lawsuit, he is failing miserably. The lawsuit is whetting the appetite among the Republican rank and file for impeachment. It is almost as if they expect impeachment if Republicans win back control of the Senate.
Goodlatte is correct. Republicans don’t have any grounds for impeachment articles against President Obama. It is rare that a top Republican publicly states that President Obama is not committing a crime.
Rep. Goodlatte may have hurt the Republican case against Obama with his statements because the Boehner lawsuit sounds more and more like the kind of legislative versus executive branch turf war that the courts have historically been reluctant to get involved in.
Republicans have been calling for this president to be impeached for things that George W. Bush did. Currently, some Republicans want to impeach Obama for Bush’s immigration policy. It never stops, but the Boehner lawsuit has thrown gasoline on the fire. Instead of calming the impeachment talk, House Republicans have made things exponentially worse with their lawsuit scheme.
Veteran congressional Republicans understand what impeaching Bill Clinton did to their approval ratings. That’s why they are trying to steer the base away from impeaching President Obama. However, the lawsuit could backfire on the House Republicans. Instead of firing up Republican voters for November, a refusal to impeach might cause them to stay home. Republican voters have been told for years that Obama needs to be removed from office, so they aren’t going to be happy when their elected members of congress refuse to follow through.
Top House Republicans have painted themselves into a corner, and they are being forced to admit that they don’t really want to impeach Obama. The lawsuit still sets up a path to impeachment, but it is clear that the House Republican leadership is losing their nerve and they apparently don’t want to go down that road.
Attorney General Eric Holder Obliterates Sarah Palin With Just Two Sentences
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, July, 13th, 2014, 1:14 pm
On ABC’s This Week, Attorney General Eric Holder dealt with Sarah Palin’s calls for Obama impeachment by using two sentences to call her a bad VP candidate, and even worse judge of who should be impeached.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One person who did stand up this week, Sarah Palin, calling for impeachment over this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN, FRM. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis for me it’s a last straw. It makes kind of a battered wife say no mas. That’s enough. It’s time to impeach.
HOLDER: She wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate. She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
As much as it felt good to hear somebody from the Obama administration push back against Palin’s endless campaign of hate and jealousy against this president, Attorney General Holder did violate rule number one when dealing with her. The rule is that anyone in an official government position should never ever feed the bridge troll of politics known as Sarah Palin. The former half-term governor lives for the kind of attention that Holder gave her.
Palin, with the help of Fox News, will now try to turn this into her taking on the Obama administration. Holder could barely hide his contempt for Palin because she represents much of what he has been calling out during his time as attorney general. For years, Holder has been speaking about the racism in American culture. Sarah Palin has been one of the most shameless practitioners of race-based attacks against this president that date as far back as the 2008 presidential campaign.
Attorney General Holder was correct about Palin. She is nothing but a failed vice presidential candidate. She doesn’t have the qualifications or the judgment necessary to be determining if anyone should be impeached. All officials in government would be wise to ignore Sarah Palin, but Eric Holder deemed it necessary to knock the bag lady of American politics on her can.
Holder hit Palin where it hurts most. He reminded her that she lost. Palin will try to mine Holder’s remarks for attention and profit, but his dismissal of the political flop from Alaska demonstrated why she wasn’t even worth an afterthought.
Why David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory Should Be Fired From Meet The Press, In Two Minutes
By karoli J
uly 13, 2014 9:15 am
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory may have outdone himself in the span of two minutes with right wing talking points.
This is why Sunday shows are seen as increasingly irrelevant. We have actual serious issues to wrestle with, but Dancin' Dave views his role as one where he spews a lot of right wing talking points and false equivalencies.
In the span of two minutes, he managed to say that the Boehner lawsuit is just a fundraising opportunity that 'both sides' are using and bolster Rick Santorum's claim that the middle class and poor are suffering because of Democrats. The icing on the cake was Dave calling today's economy the 'Obama economy.' This follows his earlier question about whether the immigration crisis at the border was Obama's Katrina moment. Yes, he actually asked that, because you know, 'some prominent Democrats' say so. (Shoot me now.)
Enough. There was a time where these shows were actually an opportunity for the press to critically question politicians and try to get past the obvious political ploys. Today, they're just another opportunity to reinforce false equivalencies and Luntz-crafted talking points thanks to non-journalists like "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory.
"I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory could have asked Santorum why, if he's so concerned about the poor and middle class, he supports continuing policies that give more to the wealthy at the expense of those he's so concerned about.
"I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory could have pointed out that the economic policies Obama supports are stalled in a Congress more concerned with re-election than governing.
Instead he just nodded and bobbled and let them all go on with their nonsense, while repeating the very same nonsense.
Will NBC ever grow up and realize how useless Meet the Press has become over the past few years?
Transcript below, via NBC News:
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY:
Let me get into, just as the president wants some action with this with Congress, we've got the specter of Congress suing the president. Talk of impeachment that Boehner struck down. But this is now becoming a huge fundraising opportunity on both sides, Kim Strassel. To what end are we seeing all of this?
Look, I think there's been a lot of talk about whether or not John Boehner didn't do this to gin up his base this fall. But I think that that's actually unfair. If you look at the suit that they're putting together, there's actually been a lot of attention and focus on doing it in a very legally-specific way because there's a huge belief among Republicans that in fact the president has been exceeding his authority.
So they're going to do this in a very narrow way. They're going to look at this particular question of the employer mandate and the fact that the law very clearly said it had to go into effect at a certain time and the president has unilaterally changed that. So there's a lot of substance behind this.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY:
If a Republican president were taking these steps on the Affordable Care Act, Democrats would be crying foul?
FMR. GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM:
Oh, except for George Bush took these very steps when he passed Medicare Part D and took some time to implement pieces of it. Nobody raised it by then. This case is complete hogwash. I mean it is as Akhil Amar--
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY:
That's a legal term, right?
FMR. GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM:
Well, right. Akhil Amar was a legal scholar at Yale.
FMR. GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM:
It's the legal equivalence of birtherism. It's not going to fly. But the reality is, does anybody see the irony in the fact that John Boehner's House voted last year 264-161 to actually delay the very provision that he's suing to have the president enforce right now? There is a bit of irony in this.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY:
Rick, can you answer for me kind of where you see this year in Republican presidential politics? I ask this as a piece of that debate. The party on immigration. The party debating itself over foreign policy. National security policy. And then these kinds of grassroots issues on healthcare and the like.
FMR. SEN RICK SANTORUM:
As I've talked about it across the country, we're a very divided party right now. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. We're having really good debates within the party about our position on national security, our position on immigration, a whole lot of other things.
What we need, though, is a positive vision. One of the reasons I wrote blue collar conservatives just recently, was to provide a positive way forward for the conservative movement, because right now we're arguing about a lot of things that are not, in my opinion, core to where the American public's concerns are. And the American public's concern is that middle income Americans, lower income Americans, aren't rising. Aren't seeing the opportunities. And that's what we have to focus on.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY:
The Obama economy. One of the issues too is the president's leadership. And for the table here, with about a minute left, this question of Iran and its nuclear weapons. Even if there is a deal, Kim, there's going to be a tough sell to Congress to say, "Okay, we think we've got a deal with Iran. We should ease up on the sanctions." It doesn't seem like either party is very willing to let the president get that deal.
Rebels Claim Downing of Ukraine Military Plane
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 15:53
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine claimed Monday that they had shot down a military transport plane.
Three parachutes were spotted in the sky after the aircraft was reportedly hit near Lugansk and and patrols sent to find the crew, rebels claimed.
A Ukrainian military spokesman told Agence France Presse that they had lost contact with a AN-26 transport aircraft in the area a short time before the rebel claims.
Kremlin Denies Considering Strikes on Ukraine
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 16:33
The Kremlin denied on Monday a report that Moscow was considering targeted strikes against Ukraine after shells landed across the border and killed a Russian civilian.
Respected daily Kommersant had quoted a source close to the Kremlin as saying Moscow was considering "targeted retaliatory strikes" against Ukraine, where clashes between pro-Moscow rebels and government troops escalated over the weekend.
But President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the report.
"I don't comment on this in any way. It's complete nonsense," he told Agence France Presse.
The source told Kommersant that Russia was considering the possibility of one-off strikes on positions that were the source of fire directed at Russian territory.
"Our patience is not limitless," the source was quoted as saying, adding that Russia "knows exactly where they (Ukrainians) are firing from".
Moscow said Sunday that a Ukrainian shell had landed in Russia and killed a civilian in what the foreign ministry said was "another act of aggression" that could have "irreversible consequences".
Ukraine denied the claim, saying government forces had never fired on a neighboring state.
Several shells landed Sunday in the small Russian border town of Donetsk, which has the same name as rebels' stronghold city in eastern Ukraine, killing one resident and wounding two.
The deputy speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, Yevgeny Bushmin, said Sunday: "We need to use targeted weapons, like Israel does among others, to destroy those who launched this mine."
Moscow Says Invites OSCE Observers to Russia-Ukraine Border
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 17:44
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invited the OSCE to send observers to monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border, the foreign ministry said Monday.
"As a gesture of goodwill and without waiting for the enforcement of a ceasefire regime, the Russian side is inviting OSCE observers to the Gukovo and Donetsk border posts on the Russian-Ukrainian border," the ministry said.
Ukraine Warns of Russian Invasion, Sets Truce Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 13:12
Ukraine's Western-backed leaders on Tuesday invited pro-Kremlin insurgents to a video-conference aimed at halting spiraling violence and what Kiev has warned was an imminent invasion by thousands of Russian troops.
Kiev sharply raised the stakes in Europe's most explosive crisis in decades by declaring on Monday that a Ukrainian transport plane downed in the eastern conflict zone had been hit by a rocket fired from the Russian side of the frontier between the two ex-Soviet states.
Russia had not publicly answered the charge by Tuesday morning. A Kremlin spokesman had earlier dismissed a Moscow newspaper report of Russia weighing up "targeted retaliatory strikes" against Ukraine as "complete nonsense".
But NATO said Russia had behaved in a "highly destabilizing" manner by beefing up its military presence along the Ukrainian border to 12,000 troops.
A top Ukrainian general went a step further late on Monday by telling a live television audience in Kiev that he feared a Russian invasion was imminent.
"Ukraine, like never before, stands on the cusp of a wide-scale aggression from our current northern border," National Security and Defense Council Deputy Secretary Mykhaylo Koval said on private ICTV television.
Koval said the Kremlin had parked 22,000 troops in the annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and had other units stretching from the north-central region of Chernigiv to the southeastern edge of the Russian-Ukranian border on the Sea of Azov.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office added that Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin had presented "photo and video evidence" of Russia covertly supplying the fighters with weapons and armored vehicles.
Putin rejects accusations of orchestrating the uprising in reprisal for the February ouster of a Russian-backed leader and Kiev's subsequent signature of an historic EU alliance instead of a new Kremlin pact.
But Poroshenko argues that no truce with the rebels is possible until his troops manage to seal the Russian border and halt the continuing flow of gunmen and arms.
- Days of mourning -
The frontier became the conflict's new frontline after last week's evacuation by the rebels of a host of towns and cities that they had held since early April in the coal mining region of Donetsk.
The militias have since concentrated their forces around the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk -- both capitals of their own "People's Republics" -- and are hoping for new weapons deliveries to revive their campaign.
Witnesses in Donetsk told Agence France Presse they had seen the insurgents dispatch four tanks and eight armored transport vehicles toward Lugansk to help them repel an intensifying air and artillery push by Kiev forces on the city of 420,000.
It remained unclear on Tuesday how many of the eight transport plane's crew had died when their AN-26 came down on Monday in the Lugansk region but a military spokesman said two had been taken captive by the rebels.
A top defence spokesman said all Ukrainian jets had been temporarily grounded in the two separatist regions as a safety precaution.
Lugansk on Tuesday declared three days mourning for 17 civilians killed since the weekend in artillery strikes that both sides have blamed on each other.
But the fighting continued and the local city council announced the death of eight more residents overnight.
Donetsk regional officials said four civilians had also been killed in a raid by an unidentified jet on the border town of Snizhne Tuesday morning.
A defense spokesman said six Ukrainian soldiers had also been killed overnight as the toll in the low-scale war approached 600 civilians and fighters on both sides.
- Skype talks -
Germany and France have been spearheading EU efforts to revive a Ukrainian truce that could save the bloc from having to introduce sweeping economic sanctions against energy-rich Russia to which Putin has already vowed to respond.
Indirect negotiations between Kiev -- represented by former president Leonid Kuchma -- and the separatists aimed at extending a shaky 10-day ceasefire fizzled out after two rounds last month.
But Poroshenko's office said he had agreed with Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel to arrange "Skype videoconference talks" that Kiev had first suggested last week.
Merkel and Poroshenko "expressed confidence that this event will be organised on Tuesday," the Ukrainian administration said.
There was no immediate response to the invitation from the rebel command.
Ukrainian Military Plane Is Shot Down as Russia Adds to Presence at Border
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
JULY 14, 2014
LUHANSK, Ukraine — A military transport plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Monday, Ukrainian officials said, while new reports emerged that Russia was building up forces along its border with Ukraine.
A Russian-made AN-26 cargo plane was brought down not far from the Russian border, near the town of Davydo-Nikolskoye. It contained food rations and water, and lay in a crumpled, smoking heap in a field on Monday evening. A spokeswoman for the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, Oksana Chigrina, said rebel forces had taken five members of its crew hostage, although the claim could not be verified.
It was not immediately clear who shot down the plane or the circumstances surrounding the incident. Ukraine’s minister of defense, Valeriy Heletey, said the plane was flying at 6,500 meters, or more than 21,000 feet, well beyond the reach of the shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles the rebels are known to have used before.
He speculated that it had been “downed by another, more powerful missile that probably was launched from the territory of the Russian Federation.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
But many here in this battered eastern city believed the most likely culprits were the rebels, who last month shot down a plane in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 40 Ukrainian soldiers and officers. Ms. Chigrina, the rebel spokeswoman, did not say whether rebels had brought down the plane, but said of the Ukrainians, “obviously they didn’t shoot themselves.”
As relations between Kiev and Moscow continue to deteriorate, a NATO official said Monday that the Kremlin had been rebuilding its forces on the border with Ukraine and now had an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 troops in the area. Russia had amassed about 40,000 troops on the border earlier this year, after a pro-Western revolution in Kiev toppled Ukraine’s government. But Russia subsequently pulled nearly all of them back, with levels falling to below 1,000 last month.
“Since mid-June we have seen evidence of a progressive buildup of thousands of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border,” said the official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “This is not a step in the right direction. It is a step away from de-escalating the situation.”
Ukraine’s state news agency reported over the weekend that a column of rebels in military vehicles, including tanks, had broken through the border from Russia. Western leaders and Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, have accused Russia of surreptitiously arming the rebels, even while calling for a negotiated settlement of the conflict. Russia has denied providing the rebels with military assistance.
Luhansk, close to the Russian border and crucial to the survival of the pro-Russian insurgency, was the scene of intense shelling over the weekend.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Monday that troops had retaken several villages around the city, including Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne. But on Monday there was no evidence of Ukrainian troops in at least two of those areas.
Valentina, an accountant who had come back to her home in Oleksandrivsk from her dacha to collect some of her belongings, said she had not seen any Ukrainian soldiers, but she had heard the artillery, which she described as a quick whistle and then a boom. It was not clear whose artillery hit the area, but many assumed the Ukrainians were to blame.
“They are forcing us to make a choice — become a separatist or leave,” said a young man with a backpack and a ponytail who identified himself only as Yuri, out of concern for his safety. “For every 10 rebels, they kill 50 peaceful people.”
In all, health authorities in Luhansk said that shelling killed six people on Saturday, three on Sunday and at least two on Monday, including a woman who was apparently pushing a baby carriage.
Deepening the mystery, many of the city’s main streets and nearby highways were gouged by tank treads, suggesting a large movement of military vehicles, but whose was unclear.
Several residents said that they saw tanks on Sunday, but that they did not know whether they belonged to the rebels or the Ukrainians. It seemed possible the tanks belonged to the rebels, as the treads continued down a large swath of the highway from Luhansk to Donetsk, the rebel-controlled regional capital.
'I was a separatist fighter in Ukraine'
Artur Gasparyan, 24, is from Spitak in Armenia. In May, he says he was recruited in Moscow to fight in eastern Ukraine. Now back in the Russian capital, he spoke to Mumin Shakirov
Mumin Shakirov for RFE/RL, part of the New East network
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 05.00 BST
Artur Gasparyan Gasparyan during his time in the Vostok battalion Photograph: Artur Gasparyan
You expressed interest in going to Ukraine on a forum on the social network Vkontakte after you read about the fire in the Odessa Trade Union building in which 42 pro-Moscow separatists died. What happened next?
About 10 guys showed up at a meeting somewhere near VDNKh [the All-Russian Exhibition Centre in northern Moscow]. We spoke in the entrance arch of a residential building there. A Slavic man in civilian clothes who didn't give his name met with us.
First, he asked us whether we knew how to handle weapons. He warned us that we would be going to [the eastern Ukrainian city of] Slavyansk, that we were heading to certain death, that the punishment for looting was execution on the spot, which, by the way, I saw was true several times while I was in Ukraine. Two men immediately walked away.
Did they promise you money?
They didn't promise a per diem or payment. Only free food, clothing, weapons, and a guarantee that they would transport our bodies to Rostov-on-Don and give them to our relatives. If, of course, they found them. They insisted that we destroy all our online accounts and, in general, remove any personal information from social networks. I deleted my accounts on [Russian social-media sites] Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki.
How did you get to the Ukrainian border?
On the morning of 12 May, the group got into two cars and headed south. It took about 24 hours to get to Rostov. It turned out that the drivers were also volunteers. One of them, by the way, was killed. They took us to a camp – some small homes near a creek and a forest – I don't know where. They took away all our road maps. Our telephones and other personal things were logged and taken away. We changed into clothes they gave us.
How long were you at this camp?
Nearly two weeks. Every day, more and more new people came. By the end, there were about 100 of us. We didn't rest at all; it was a military schedule. We got up, we went for a run, we had breakfast, we had training, we did orienteering in the fields, in the forest. We learned the hand signals.
What do you mean, hand signals?
They taught us to communicate using gestures and signs in order to recognise each other, to communicate silently at night, to give commands like back, forward, stop, get down, danger, and so on. Now I can speak with my hands like a deaf person. All this was taught by an instructor in civilian clothes. He, like all the other big and small bosses, didn't give his name. We didn't even know one another's real names, just nicknames. Even now I don't know the names of most of the guys who were killed beside me in that hell.
Did you have any combat experience before Ukraine? You were in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh...
Mostly we just had some exchanges of fire, automatic weapons or grenade launchers. In short, it was a low-level war of positioning. Nonetheless, I knew more about war than most of the guys there.
Were there Russian nationalists among them?
I didn't see any nationalists, although most of the guys there were Slavs. Whether they were Belarusians, Russians, or Ukrainian, I can't say. They were good, patriotic guys. None of them looked at me funny because I'm Armenian.
There were a bunch of guys from the Caucasus, some Armenians from Krasnodar and [the Ukrainian city of] Kryvyi Rih. Some Chechens came a little later. I became friends with a few – one guy named Red and another named Small. Both of them were killed in those KamAZ trucks.
How did you cross the border?
Near midnight on 23 May we left the base, about 100 guys in KamAZ trucks. We were accompanied by a guide in a Niva [Russian-made jeep]. We rode for several hours and stopped at the border. There we joined up with another 50 guys from other camps and we were given our weapons: grenade launchers, automatic rifles, pistols, and grenades. Then we got back into the trucks.
Did they teach you to shoot?
Some of the guys knew how to fire grenade launchers. I was made the commander of a machine-gun squad of from three to six guys. They gave me that job after looking over my military-service document. I guess there are some numerical codes there that I never noticed before. When they called me, they asked me to read the code. So they knew how to use my training. Apparently they worked separately with everyone like that.
What do you mean "they"? Were they Federal Security Service, military intelligence (GRU), Interior Ministry? Who were these people who met you, trained you, crossed the border with you?
I don't know their names, even their first names. They looked like Slavs. They were all in civilian clothes. I don't even remember their faces.
When did you cross the border?
It was around dawn on 24 May. On the Ukrainian side, we were met by some high-level representatives of the [self-proclaimed] Donetsk People's Republic. They had taken over some military base in Donetsk and they put us up in a barracks there. We slept the whole day. Then we washed up, got ourselves in order.
The next day, 25 May, we took part in the well-known parade in the city in our KamAZ trucks – the one that the Chechens made famous. They gave interviews, fired their weapons into the air, posed for the cameras. People were cheering and they greeted the volunteers from Russia like liberators. In the evening, we returned to our barracks.
And when did you first see combat?
They sounded the alarm on the night of 25-26 May. There were three guys in my group, from Moscow, Lipetsk, and Chukotka. They were all killed. We were put in civilian buses and taken to the airport. All 100 of us went into the building and there we joined up with some Ossetians. The passengers were quickly evacuated, but employees remained at their posts. In the morning, two planes landed and we didn't interfere with the work of the airport. The building was quickly taken under control.
We positioned ourselves on every floor. My assistant and I were on the seventh floor – the roof. We were ordered to cover a high area about half a kilometre away so that no one else could be there. We set up a machine gun.
What was the point of seizing a civilian airport in Donetsk? The fighting at that time was in a completely different place, near Slavyansk.
To prevent them from sending in troops from Kiev. They told us no one would fire at us. Just pose for the cameras and that's all. They would see us, get scared, give up. We'd disarm everyone and send them home. The airport would be ours.
Who do you mean?
The Ukrainian troops around the airport. There was gossip that supposedly we were so tough and everyone was afraid of us. But it turned out just the opposite.
At 2pm the helicopters came. Then the airplanes, and they started bombing the place. I was on the roof and with my aide, I managed to get to the sixth floor. It was a big attack – I counted four helicopters and two planes.
Did you have mobile antiaircraft weapons?
Our commander from the Vostok battalion [of volunteer fighters from Russia], Alexander Khodakovsky [regional head of the elite Alfa special forces under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych], told us they wouldn't bomb the airport and that "zenits" [shoulder-launched anti-aircraft weapons] wouldn't be necessary. So we left them at the base. Khodakovsky's snipers were there.
Pro-Russian militants on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on 26 May, 2014. Pro-Russian militants on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on 26 May, 2014. Photograph: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
There were agents of the Ukrainian SBU Security Service who had come over to the Donetsk People's Republic. They had unusual rifles that I'd never seen before – not Dragunov sniper rifles. They left somewhere at about 1pm and the bombing started at 2pm.
What happened on your floor?
One Chechen was killed on the roof immediately. Two others were wounded. They fired on the helicopters with everything they had. It took me two or three seconds to get up there. I fired on the high area from where a sniper was shooting at us. They forced us tightly into the building and were bombing from all sides. They had missile launchers around the perimeter of the airport and were firing on the terminal.
Khodakovsky naively thought that since the airport was new – just opened for the European soccer championships [in 2012] – they wouldn't use heavy weapons on it. If we had only had our antiaircraft weapons, none of that would have happened.
Do you think it was betrayal or incompetence?
I don't know. We lost a lot of men. One of the Chechens – a really smart guy –threw a couple of smoke bombs onto the roof and managed to drag his wounded comrades out. We made our way down to the first floor and were just sitting there, waiting to be killed.
Spark told me: "If you question the order, I'll shoot you here." I took my weapon and got in.
We couldn't go outside. Someone contacted the commander – a guy called Spark – and we were given the order to get into the trucks. It was nearly evening. The trucks were standing inside – in the terminal. I didn't want to get in. I knew how risky it was. Spark told me: "If you question the order, I'll shoot you here." I took my weapon and got in.
How many men were in the truck?
There were two trucks with about 30-35 men in each one. A covering squad remained in the airport. They went out on foot at night – they all got away. Spark gave the order to drive out of the terminal and to fire in all directions at anything that moved. We lifted the covers – they were open trucks stuffed with volunteers. Our truck flew out of the terminal and we begin to fire on both sides, up in the air, everywhere. We proceeded along a road for about four or five kilometres. The trucks were about 500 or 600 metres apart. Two trucks speeding along, firing without stopping. It was terrifying.
A Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires decoy flares over a residential area moments after attacking Donetsk international airport on 26 May, 2014.
It's true that I stopped firing when I saw that there was no one there. When we arrived in the city, we saw that the first truck was standing in the road. I didn't understand what had happened. Cars were driving around it and people were standing around – it was the edge of Donetsk.
There were dead and wounded there?
We rushed pass at high speed. I didn't manage to look. Someone was still shooting. After about 500 metres, someone fired on our truck with a grenade launcher. The shell landed in the driver's cabin. We thought we'd been lucky, so we jumped out. We got bruised up a little, but no one was hurt. The truck that they hit first got caught in a crossfire from machine guns. There were also snipers firing at them. At least 30 men died there, no fewer.
Then they began firing on us too from somewhere. I dropped my weapon and grabbed one wounded guy from Crimea. I loaded him on my back and ran blindly through some yards. Our medic found us. He had a weapon, so I took it and started firing in all directions, up onto the roofs. And I ran further with the wounded guy.
Did you know who controlled the city?
We were sure the city had been taken by the National Guard and that they were looking for us. We came to an ambulance depot and I fired toward the roof a couple of times to attract their attention. My comrade was bleeding badly. He'd been shot in the arm and the leg. I shouted to the medics: "Save him! Help!" A woman shouted back: "Don't worry, we are on your side!" We put the Crimean into an ambulance and they took him to a hospital. I told them where the trucks were and six ambulances rushed out. Soon they were bringing guys from the trucks to the hospital.
Someone told me that only three guys survived from the first truck. There was panic and terror. Someone told me that one guy blew himself up with a grenade to avoid being taken prisoner by the Ukrainians. They didn't understand that they were being attacked by their own people. Someone apparently told local militiamen that Right Sector [a Ukrainian nationalist group that was part of the Maidan protest movement] fighters were rushing down the highway in two trucks.
What was the official story?
On television they said something like the militias were transporting unarmed wounded under the sign of the red cross and Ukrainian forces fired on them. At that point, I still didn't know we'd been attacked by our own forces. I was sure it was the National Guard. Sometime in the morning of the 27th, two guys from the cover group that remained at the airport woke me up. They told me that it was friendly fire.
We were asking what to do next. We decided to run away during the night, secretly, on foot, back to the border and to Russia. We found some civilian clothes, changed into them, took some backpacks and left the unit. There was a driver with us who went by "Shumakher." He told us that he had an uncle outside of Donetsk. Six of us arrived at this private house to spend the night. On the morning of the 28th, we heard shouts from a neighbouring house: "Don't shoot! Don't kill us!" It turned out they sent a squad out after us.
How did they find you?
I don't know. Maybe someone gave us away. We threw away our packs and other things and ran off again. We were just wandering around the streets without any money or documents. We came to a town and a checkpoint and told them our story. They took us from the checkpoint to Horlivka [a city in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast] to a commander by the name of "Devil." But that's a different story.
Why did you spend two weeks with "Devil"?
We didn't have any choice. I didn't know how to get away. Devil turned out to be a normal guy, a professional soldier from Horlivka. He promised to send us back to Russia at the first opportunity. All five of us stayed with him. We told them what had happened to us, and he said he wouldn't turn us over to the "easterners." He left us alone. Later, if anyone wanted to fight some more, they stayed. But I left.
What did you do in Horlivka from 28 May until 15 June?
I put on a uniform again. We were given weapons and took part in several operations. They were better organised, more systematic. We carried out some diversions – snuck around, blew something up, snuck away. We blew up a Ukrainian fuelling post in Dokuchayevsk. We snuck in quietly during the night in civilian cars. I covered the position with a machine gun and they blew up the post with a grenade launcher.
Why did you blow up the fuel depot?
So they couldn't gas up their tanks and trucks.
But didn't you need fuel?
We didn't have any vehicles. Stuff like that only appeared among the militias about three days after I left.
What stories on television that you've seen strike you as the most outrageous and disturbing?
When they do interviews with people from the Donetsk People's Republic [DNR in Russian]. The DNR is really a fiction. The DNR, as I understand it, exists only in the offices of [self-proclaimed DNR Prime Minister Alexander] Borodai, [self-proclaimed DNR parliament speaker Denis] Pushilin, [former Ukrainian parliament deputy Oleh] Tsaryov. But decisions are made somewhere else and by other people.
Journalists who have been in the region say that about 20% of those fighting are Russians and the other 80% are local militias
I'd say exactly the opposite. Most of them are Russians, Chechens, Ingush. There are also Armenians like me. I spoke to some locals and they say that they did what they'd been told. I said, "What did they tell you to do?" They answered: "We voted. The rest is up to you." That is, they participated in the referendum on DNR independence but they don't intend to fight. One guy told me, "I want to get my pay and then drink until my next payday." In general, they have no experience. Don't know how to handle weapons. No one had been in the military. I'm talking about in Donetsk.
And in Horlivka?
There, it is about 50-50. But the Russians fight better. They are people who have been in the military. It is a real army – Ukraine hasn't [really] had an army for 23 years.
Why are you telling us all this?
Until now, the people who – basically – betrayed us (what happened at the airport could have been avoided and everything could have been different if they had organised it right) are still giving orders, and volunteers from Russia are still going to serve with them. I want these people to understand who is going to be commanding them. I went. I survived by a miracle. I feel sorry for them. They are on their way to serve such commanders as Khodakovsky and others. I don't know all their names.
How did you get back to Russia?
Devil kept his word. He thanked us, gave us each 1,000 hryvnyas for the road, wished us luck, and sent us home. Three guys came with me. One who was wounded and two others. We rode in civilian cars through Luhansk Oblast, avoiding the customs point, about 150 kilometres. We were met on the Russian side and they took us to Rostov. We ended up at the same base where we'd been trained. They gave us back our clothes, documents, telephones, some money for the road, and sent us home.
You are a citizen of Armenia, from another country....
I even fought under the Armenian flag. I have photos.
Why would you be willing to die for a foreign country?
I don't consider Russia a foreign country. I have the mentality of a Soviet person. My grandfathers fought for the Soviet Union and I am fighting for it. I don't consider Russia a foreign country.
This article originally appeared in Russian on RFE/RL's Russian Service
07/14/2014 06:40 PM
Hunting American Spooks: Germany Prepares Further Spying Clampdown
The latest revelations of US spying on Germany have unleashed unprecedented levels of distrust in Berlin. The government has already expelled the CIA's chief here and may soon be planning additional measures as it seeks answers from Washington.
It was an unusual invitation that took four members of a German parliamentary control committee to London early last week. For the ninth time, lawmakers in the so-called "Five Eyes" countries tasked with supervising their respective intelligence services were meeting in the British capital. They had faced serious accusations of spying within the last year. This time, the British, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders had invited their somewhat disgruntled German counterparts to join the group.
A casual reception was being held at the British Foreign Office to herald the beginning of the conference. On Monday evening, a limousine appeared at St. James's Hotel near Hyde Park to pick up the German delegation. But due to an error on the driver's part, the German parliamentarians were taken to the wrong destination. Realizing that they would be late by then, the lawmakers decided to skip the reception.
The unexplained absence of the Berlin guests was the source of some anxiety among the Five Eyes delegates. Had they boycotted the reception because of the latest unpleasant surveillance scandal?
Three days and yet another spy affair later, the German government offered an unambiguous response. Last Thursday, it took the unprecedented step of asking the senior CIA representative in Berlin, known as the chief of station, to leave Germany. Some 13 months after the beginning of the NSA scandal, it was the Germans' brusquest response yet to the Americans' blatant spying activities in their country. In taking this step, Chancellor Angela Merkel was sending the message that her views on the matter are now more in line with those of German President Joachim Gauck: She is fed up.
At the same time, the government hoped that its diplomatic bombshell could improve its position in a scandal that doesn't seem to want to end. Derision of Germany's coalition government, which pairs Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats with the center-left Social Democrats -- for being underhanded and overly compliant with US President Barack Obama's wishes has expanded beyond the ranks of the opposition. The ritual outrage coming from the chancellor and cabinet members after each new affront by the NSA, the CIA and others had long been exhausted. At least the expulsion of the CIA official suggests some gumption on Berlin's part.
Will Moves in Berlin Sway US Government?
It remains an open question whether the step will be enough and if it will make a lasting impression on the Americans. Further curiosities from the mysterious world of espionage have already come to light, with new rumors circulating almost daily in Berlin's government district. But just because some of it sounds more like a John le Carré novel than fact, it doesn't mean that it's necessarily made up. Moreover, all the details of the two presumed cases of espionage have yet to emerge, and there is speculation that there could be a shocking connection between the two.
The man who set the spy scandal in motion has two names. At the Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe, he is known by his real name, Markus R. But at the BND, Germany's Federal Intelligence, he used his working name, Markus L.
He is short and stocky, has a moustache and wears glasses. His coworkers in the Areas of Operations/Foreign Relations department had to be patient when they spoke with him, because the presumed CIA mole has a speech impediment. The man, who is from a town near Chemnitz in the eastern state of Saxony, never finished high school or attended a university. In addition, he has been handicapped since childhood as a result of vaccination damage.
The extent of this impairment is what his attorney, Klaus Schroth, now wants to have examined in a psychiatric opinion. He says his 31-year-old client strikes him as "not having the qualities and personality structure one normally associates with espionage activities." However, the man who would later become a spy completed the BND's standard "seven-point security review" with flying colors. Apparently it did him little good.
On May 28, Markus R. sent an email to the Russian Consulate in Munich. In it, he offered his services as an informant, and included three internal, BND documents as a sample. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) intercepted the email, and then the BND's Internal Security department pursued the case, with the involvement of the Federal Prosecutor's Office and the Federal Criminal Police Office.
Secret Meetings in Austria
Finally, police arrested Markus R. on Wednesday of the week before last. In his nine-hour interrogation, he apparently told the astonished investigators he had already been working for an American intelligence agency for two years. That relationship had also begun with an email, which he had sent to the US Embassy in Berlin, he explained. R. talked about clandestine meetings in Austria, at which he had allegedly been paid a total of €25,000 ($34,000).
In his testimony, R. incriminated two US contacts he claimed to have met. He said that they had introduced themselves by their first names, and that their conversations were informal. The men were presumably using code names. Based on R.'s descriptions of the two men, along with clues and telephone numbers he provided, the federal prosecutor's office is now trying to identify the US agents, but has been unsuccessful so far.
According to information SPIEGEL has obtained, the operation against the BND was not managed from the US Embassy in Berlin. Apparently the CIA was running its German informant from the US Embassy in Austria. In addition to diplomats, CIA employees work at the picturesque building on Boltzmanngasse 16 in Vienna, and they were apparently the ones who secretly met the BND mole in Salzburg and paid him for classified documents.
Managing sensitive sources from a neighboring country is an old trick in intelligence circles, designed to minimize the risk of the agent himself being exposed. But in this case the modus operandi is also potentially harmful for the CIA officials. If German prosecutors investigating the case succeed in identifying the officers who managed the BND mole, they will lose their diplomatic immunity in Germany. If that happened, the Federal Prosecutor's Office could request a warrant for the Americans' arrest.
Markus R. is suspected of having handed over five files of material to the Americans. As the person in charge of filing and cryptography in his department, he had access to highly classified documents. It is believed that Markus R. smuggled hard copies of at least 218 documents out of his office, scanned them at home and edited them to conceal the source.
The documents are believed to have included descriptions of sensitive activities, such as instructions to the BND issued by the Federal Chancellery, as well as the minutes of meetings between BND President Gerhard Schindler and his foreign counterparts. According to insiders, the cache encompasses "a wide range of documents, from incredibly boring to highly sensitive."
Are Spying Cases Connected?
The latter category includes a document that could explain why yet another case of spying rocked Berlin only a few days after the BND mole was exposed. It was an inquiry the Federal Criminal Police Office sent to the BND in the spring of 2014, requesting information about an official in the German Defense Ministry named Leonid K. -- a second German now suspected of spying for the United States. When investigators discovered this letter in the possession of the BND official they had already taken into custody the week before last, they must have realized that someone could have warned Leonid K.
On the morning of July 9, officers raided the office of the presumed second US informant in Berlin's Bendlerblock complex, as well as his apartment in the nearby city of Potsdam. Suddenly the spy scandal had expanded from the intelligence community to an important ministry within the German government.
Even as investigators searched the 37-year-old's office at the Defense Ministry and seized his work computer, senior ministry officials and military officers in Berlin were receiving little yellow notes with the alarming message that a spy had been discovered within their ranks.
German counterintelligence had in fact had Leonid K. under observation for some time. In 2010, while he was working as a political adviser to the German commander of the Kosovo Force (KFOR), an anonymous tipster accused him of being an informant for the Russians. When the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), which is responsible for counterintelligence in Germany, and the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) turned their attention to the senior lieutenant in the reserves, they came across another suspicious contact of the German adviser.
He had apparently had a good relationship with an American in Kosovo who was working for the US government in the Balkans to help build the local intelligence service. Because of his assignment, the investigators assumed he was a member of US intelligence and suspected he could be K.'s key contact.
There were indications to support this theory over the years, but never any hard evidence. Nevertheless, K.'s resumé alone must have made him seem like the perfect source for foreign intelligence agencies. After studying in Berlin, the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder and at the University of Oxford, he worked repeatedly as a political adviser abroad, with access to military officials in various countries. He spent several years in Kosovo, working at various times for both European Union and NATO officials there.
Suspect Denies all Allegations
The outgoing native of Germany's southwestern Swabia region, whose aristocratic demeanor prompted some to liken him to former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was known to boast to Defense Ministry officials about his international contacts, his experiences far away from Germany and his command of five foreign languages. He preferred traveling with political delegations to places like Uzbekistan over his mundane tasks at home, where he worked as an adviser compiling country profiles for senior ministry officials.
Over the years, he stayed in touch with his old contact in Kosovo. In fact, K. flew to Istanbul several times to meet with the American. These spontaneous trips attracted the attention of German counterintelligence, where it was known that the young political scientist was plagued with money problems. The investigators decided to tap K.'s phone.
Not everything was going well for him professionally. After his stints in Kosovo, K. began looking for a new job. He applied for a position as a consultant to the German parliament, the Bundestag, and had an unsuccessful interview with the German Society for International Cooperation, before landing a job at the Defense Ministry in June 2013. When his American friend suddenly transferred €2,000 to his account in the same year, it raised yet another red flag with German counterintelligence. Nevertheless, German agents still lack solid evidence that K. revealed classified secrets to foreign agents.
When he was questioned last week, he expressed complete surprise and vehemently denied all allegations. He claimed that the American colleague had been a close friend over the years, and that he had merely borrowed the €2,000 from his friend for a wedding, a debt he insisted he had already repaid.
Oddly enough, all contact between K. and his American friend abruptly ended in February 2014. Whether American intelligence services, alarmed by the activities of the BND mole, warned K. and he was therefore able to destroy evidence is one of the questions the Federal Prosecutor's Office must now address. It is quite possible that the somewhat cold trail leading to Leonid K. was only revived recently by the BND case. At any rate, K. still remains at large, as federal prosecutors have no strong suspicions that he has committed a crime.
A Palpable Sense of Insecurity
After the second suspected case of espionage in one week, many in Berlin have tried to downplay the damage. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), characterized as "laughable" the information the Americans obtained through the informant. "At the moment, we can only see this as a minor disaster," say intelligence officials, noting that it is anything but certain that there is more to the Defense Ministry case than an unusual friendship between two men.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said, drastically, that the Americans' actions were "so idiotic" than he could almost break out in tears over the news. Nevertheless, he sounded like a grandfather who had caught his grandson stealing erasers -- an unfortunate matter, but not particularly dramatic.
But the scope of the damage the Americans have inflicted so far is still only vaguely recognizable. Their initial response to the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden in the summer of 2013 was that the Germans should get over themselves -- after all, they insisted, everything the NSA does takes place in the interest of freedom and strictly in accordance with law and order. But then came the revelations of the tapping of Merkel's mobile phone. It was an embarrassing incident for US President Barack Obama, who quickly gave Merkel his personal assurance that US intelligence would refrain from tapping her phone in the future. The inference was that it would be less likely to do so in other cases.
The case of the CIA informant at the BND shows that Washington apparently still doesn't consider the massive technical efforts it undertakes to spy on the entire globe to be sufficient. It helps to explain why the numerous US intelligence agencies still manage human sources, just as they did in the bad old days, even in the nerve centers of Washington's close allies.
The Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe, Germany's top investigative agency, is now pursuing three cases of suspected espionage relating to the United States, supposedly Germany's closest ally. Even the biggest appeasers in Berlin must realize by now that the Americans are dead serious when it comes to their desire to know "everything," to quote an NSA document.
There is a palpable sense of insecurity in Berlin's government district these days. Even lawmakers with many years of experience have become suspicious of the US Embassy, as well as the embassies of France, Great Britain and Russia. They are all merely a stone's throw from the offices and conference rooms where German politicians sometimes meet. Some now view the highly secured foreign embassies as little more than surveillance antennas surrounded by buildings.
Many lawmakers involved with the intelligence services and their supervision have stopped discussing sensitive information on the phone or sending unencrypted emails, and they have taken to meeting in person, in public places, for confidential conversations. If they even take their mobile phones along, they sometimes use them to play loud lounge music, hoping to confuse unwelcome listeners.
A number of parliamentarians also now plan to obtain so-called crypto phones, which, though expensive and impractical, are practically bug-proof. Patrick Sensburg (CDU), the chairman of the NSA investigative committee, has already had crypto phones purchased for his fellow committee members.
The week before last, before the BND spy case became widely known, Sensburg invited the committee representatives to attend an extraordinary meeting. In it, he allegedly highlighted the risk that all members of the committee, formed to investigate the NSA scandal, are in fact being spied on themselves.
In fact, Sensburg believes that the current cases of espionage will not be the last. "I fear that there will be a domino effect," says Sensburg, a lawyer by profession. "I am convinced that even more will be revealed in the coming weeks and months, and that America will not be the only country involved."
The chairman has announced that he intends to make his committee's technical infrastructure as spy-proof as possible. "It would also be advisable for all of us to have the Federal Office for Information Security check our mobile phones."
Is this paranoia? It depends on one's point of view. Last week Roderich Kiesewetter, a retired colonel who represents the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, in the NSA committee, said that he had had his mobile phone tested some time ago. And, lo and behold, technicians had determined that third parties had indeed tapped his phone.
As it appears, Kiesewetter isn't the only German lawmaker whose communications are of great interest to unknown parties. Steffen Bockhahn, a member of the intelligence committee for the Left Party in the last legislative period, was also apparently targeted in surveillance activities.
On July 30, 2013, Bockhahn's closest associate was on the phone in her house in the northern city of Rostock when the conversation was suddenly interrupted. She was alarmed when she glanced at her display. The phone, a Windows Phone 8X, seemingly operated by an invisible hand, had searched through her texting communications with Bockhahn. Then the device's email program was opened without the phone's owner being able to stop it. According to her account, emails specifically related to the parliament control panel appeared on her display. She insisted that a hacker was browsing through the documents. It may be a coincidence, but at the time the committee had been briefed about the NSA scandal almost weekly in closed-door meetings -- and Bockhahn was one of the most vocal German critics of the global espionage operation.
When the lawmaker heard about the mysterious cyber attack, he called the then state secretary in the Interior Ministry, Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, who notified the authorities. The Federal Criminal Police Office and police in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with the help of cybercrime specialists, launched an investigation on Aug. 7, 2013 into suspected computer sabotage and efforts to secure state secrets. But they have been unable to solve the mystery to date.
According to Bockhahn, however, senior government officials told him that he should "assume that this was an intelligence operation," especially as his own mobile phone was also doing strange things during the time in question. For instance, says Bockhahn, he received several empty text messages from anonymous senders. "At some point you come to the realization that you have no way of defending yourself," says the Left Party politician. "It's not what I would call a free society."
Feverish Search for Appropriate Response
It still isn't clear whether intelligence services are actually behind such incidents. And if they are, which ones are they? In any event, it has slowly dawned on the German government in recent weeks that it must give a stronger reaction to American spying activities than just making polite inquiries in Washington.
Merkel's team spent last week feverishly searching for an appropriate reaction to the latest revelations. The fact that the Americans responded to the storm brewing over Berlin with their characteristic silence or platitudes did little to mollify members of Merkel's coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Once again, the Americans had underestimated the scope of the political damage. Washington was still reticent about the scandal days after the BND mole had been exposed, most likely because the CIA operation apparently had not been coordinated with the White House, at least not in detail.
Nevertheless, Republican US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner says that if the Obama administration had wanted to deal with it, there would been ways to do so, such as the president putting in a call to the chancellor. He is critical of the president for not having called Merkel. Sensenbrenner is the first influential US politician to call for an end to spying on allies. Historically, the United States only maintained a no-spy agreement within the context of the "Five Eyes" club. Sensenbrenner argues that the club should be expanded and that Germany would be at the top of his list for new members. The latest incidents have done immeasurable damage, he adds, and now something has to be done to repair it.
Sending a Message that Hurts
So far, the Obama administration seems to disagree. Although CIA Director John Brennan requested a face-to-face meeting with German intelligence services coordinator Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, in it he said nothing about clearing up the allegations. Much to the indignation of officials in Berlin, Brennan didn't even admit to something that seems abundantly clear, based on the facts of the case to date: that his agents were managing the BND mole.
After US Ambassador to Germany John Emerson had sidestepped the issue in a conversation with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German government knew that it had to send a political message that would trigger more than amused smiles in Washington. It had to be a message that "hurt." This time the response was the expulsion of the CIA's top intelligence official in Germany.
The CIA agent, who was asked to leave the country, is not an unknown entity to German authorities. Since G. assumed his position in the summer of 2013, he painstakingly worked his way back up the Agency's list of Berlin contacts, which had cooled as a result of the NSA scandal. He attended meetings once a month, sometimes even more frequently, at the Interior Ministry, the Chancellery, the BND and the BFV, where he was respected for his networking abilities and affable manner.
It is not without irony that G. is the one being expelled. The German government knows that he had little or nothing to do with managing the informant. Instead, he had to go "because Germany needed a sacrifice as a political symbol," as a senior official puts it. This was probably why BFV head Hans-Georg Maassen delivered the order to leave Germany to the CIA agent in person on Thursday.
Berlin Wants Answers
Government representatives later called it a "sign of self-confidence," noting: "Now it's their turn." They want the Americans to finally provide some answers, at least to the most pressing questions surrounding the spying scandal, which were posed a year ago and have since been ignored in Washington.
If Obama refuses to back down, the German government could take further steps. However, Merkel already imposed narrow limits on herself from the very beginning. She doesn't want to jeopardize intelligence cooperation, because she believes that the risk of attacks in Germany is too great to simply dispense with US intelligence information.
But in light of the most recent events, even the most pro-American faction in the government is now increasingly willing to "realign" the intelligence services. What this means, most of all, is that the BFV will probably broaden its focus to include the United States in its counterespionage efforts in the future. In addition, the government is having experts in all government ministries search for weaknesses in communication technology, along with signs of American spying activity.
The hunt for additional moles has also begun at the BND. An investigative team will search data systems in all departments for unauthorized access, over a period of several years.
If the Americans remain obstinate, Berlin officials are even thinking about suspending or even paring back treaties with the United States.
In this context, the so-called Safe Harbor Program could prove to be an effective tool to apply pressure to Washington. The 2000 agreement allows US companies to store and process billions of pieces of data on European citizens, but only if they pledge to abide by European data privacy rules -- with US authorities monitoring compliance. More than 3,000 companies, including giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have already agreed to the rules of the program.
"If we suspend this cooperative program, it will be both an economic and political blow to the Americans," says Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party member of the European Parliament. His fellow party member Renate Künast, chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection in the Bundestag, says: "Under the Safe Harbor Agreement, our data are not secure when transmitted to the United States, but instead are exposed to uncertainty."
The German government is still hesitating before putting the screws on Washington. But at this point no one would bet that further cases will not turn up. "The Americans are furnishing their opponents with free arguments," says a government official.
By Nikolaus Blome, Florian Gathmann, Matthias Gebauer, Hubert Gude, Horand Knaup, Gordon Repinski, Jörg Schindler, Fidelius Schmid, Gregor Peter Schmitz and Holger Stark
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Germany 'may revert to typewriters' to counter hi-tech espionage
Politicians claim communciations technology is mistrusted in wake of US spying allegations and NSA surveillance revelations
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 10.51 BST
German politicians are considering a return to manual typewriters for sensitive documents in the wake of the US surveillance scandal.
The head of the Bundestag's parliamentary enquiry into NSA activity in Germany said in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV programme that he and his colleagues were seriously thinking of ditching email completely.
Asked "Are you considering typewriters" by the interviewer on Monday night, the Christian Democrat politican Patrick Sensburg said: "As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either". "Really?", the surprised interviewer checked. "Yes, no joke", Sensburg responded.
During the ongoing row over alleged US spying operations in Germany, there had been speculation that the CIA may have actively targeted the Bundestag's NSA inquiry committee.
"Unlike other inquiry committees, we are investigating an ongoing situation. Intelligence activities are still going on, they are happening," said Sensburg..
Last year, the Russian government reportedly took similar measures in response to proof of NSA spying, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The federal guard service, a powerful body tasked with protecting Russia's highest-ranking officials, put in an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters, which create unique "handwriting", that allows its source to be traced.
According to German media, revelations about digital surveillance have triggered a fundamental rethink about how the government conducts its communications. "Above all, people are trying to stay away from technology whenever they can", wrote Die Welt.
"Those concerned talk less on the phone, prefer to meet in person. More coffees are being drunk and lunches eaten together. Even the walk in the park is increasingly enjoying a revival".
Eurosceptic Named New British Foreign Secretary in Reshuffle
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 12:17
British Prime Minister David Cameron named arch-eurosceptic Philip Hammond as his new foreign secretary on Tuesday as he unveiled a major cabinet reshuffle before next year's general election.
Former defense secretary Hammond, whose appointment was confirmed on Cameron's Twitter feed, supports Britain leaving the European Union in a referendum in 2017 unless significant powers are returned to London.
Tuesday's reshuffle is the biggest since Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government took power in 2010 and marks a bid to broaden his party's appeal ahead of the election.
He has promised a referendum on Britain leaving the EU in three years' time if he remains prime minister beyond 2015.
Newspapers billed the reshuffle as a cull of the "pale, male and stale" which would open the door for a new wave of women to get ministerial jobs.
Cameron said Hague, who was leader of the center-right Tories between 1997 and 2001, had been "one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation".
He was a leading voice calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad before the House of Commons last year voted down missile strikes on the country in a major foreign policy blow to Cameron.
His appointment followed Monday's surprise resignation of William Hague, who in recent months had worked closely with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie on a high-profile campaign to end rape as a weapon of war and is expected to continue work in this field.
He will continue to serve as a minister with responsibility for managing business in the House of Commons until the general election, when he will step down as a lawmaker.
In a series of tweets confirming the news, Hague wrote: "From May 2015, after such a long period in politics I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do".
He added: "Renewal in politics is good, and holding office is not an end in itself. After 26 years as an MP time will be right for me to move on."
- Conservatives 'not woman-free zone' -
Hammond is seen as a safe pair of hands whose appointment to the Foreign Office would reassure eurosceptics.
"Hammond isn't the kind of politician to set the heather alight," wrote political commentator James Forsyth in a blog posting for the Spectator magazine.
"But the fact that someone who has said that they'd vote to leave if substantial powers were not returned to the UK in the renegotiation is now Foreign Secretary sends a clear message to the rest of the EU about the British position."
As well as Hague's departure, around a dozen middle-aged, white male ministers are leaving Cameron's government.
They are expected to be replaced by a string of younger women, many of whom were only elected in 2010 but whose stock has been rising.
An early sign of Cameron's intentions was the announcement that Nicky Morgan would leave her role as minister for women and take over at the education ministry.
She replaces Michael Gove, whose tenure has been marked by frequent rows with teachers. He is becoming the government's chief whip, responsible for enforcing party discipline.
Liz Truss was also named as the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Political commentator Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times that the reshuffle was "meant to show female voters that the Conservative party is not a woman-free zone".
Cameron's Conservatives have consistently lagged behind the opposition Labour Party in recent polls.
Labor branded the reshuffle a "massacre of the moderates" and a retreat away from the European Union.
"Britain's foreign policy is now set to be led by a man who has talked about taking us out of the EU," said shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher.
"This reshuffle shows how weak David Cameron is, running scared of his own right wing."
Church of England Votes to Accept Women as Bishops
By STEPHEN CASTLE
JULY 14, 2014
LONDON — After years of deadlock and division, the Church of England voted on Monday to allow women to become bishops, overturning centuries of tradition and overcoming a long-running dispute that had undermined the unity of Anglicans.
The vote taken in the General Synod, the decision-making body of the Church of England, was supported by the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who told the BBC before the vote that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
After the result, he said in a statement that he was delighted and described the move as “the completion of what was begun over 20 years ago with the ordination of women as priests.”
The changes will be considered by Parliament. Provided they are approved there, a formal announcement will be made at the next meeting of the General Synod, in November.
The General Synod voted to ordain women as priests in 1992, and ordinations began two years later. Now, around one-third of Anglican clerics are women, and women can hold senior positions such as canon or archdeacon.
Moves to dismantle the legal obstacles to women as bishops began in earnest in 2005. But in 2012, the change was blocked by a small margin by lay representatives in the General Synod, provoking a crisis and prompting the archbishop of Canterbury at the time, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, to say that the church had “undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility.”
Women serve as bishops in Anglican Communion churches in several countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada, but some Anglican churches in developing countries do not even ordain women as priests.
Such divisions surfaced during the debate in England, with some opponents objecting on theological grounds to women as bishops. At times the issue became so divisive that there were fears that groups might break away if they lost the argument, either to align with the Roman Catholic Church or with evangelical African churches.
Those who voiced opposition during a debate on Monday included Bishop John Goddard of Burnley, who said he could not vote in favor of the legislation “out of obedience to God.”
“Out of theological conviction, I must vote no,” he said, according to The Press Association.
The Church of England is recognized by law as the country’s official church and enjoys special privileges. But the church’s decision in 2012 to continue barring women as bishops threatened relations between the church and the government, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, who supported the change, as did the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
“This is a watershed moment for the Church of England and a huge step forward in making our society fairer,” Mr. Clegg said in a statement. “Allowing women to become bishops is another long overdue step towards gender equality in senior positions.”
The latest proposals, which were voted on at a meeting in the northern city of York, included concessions to traditionalists by allowing parishes that are unwilling to accept a woman as bishop to request a man. An ombudsman would be offered to arbitrate disputes.
“Women will be bishops like all other bishops with no distinction at all,” Archbishop Welby said before the vote, “but we will seek for the groups who disagree with the ordination of women as bishops on theological grounds to continue to flourish within the church.”
Turkey's Youngest Mayor Slams 'Ridiculous' Jail Term
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 18:34
A 25-year-old Kurd who is Turkey's youngest mayor slammed on Monday as "ridiculous" a four-year jail sentence she was handed for taking part in protests she claims she did not attend.
A court in the southeastern regional capital Diyarbakir said Monday she had been convicted because judges believed the profile of her nose and mouth matched that of a protester filmed at a violent Kurdish rally.
Rezan Zugurli, who was elected mayor of the Lice district of Diyarbakir in March, was sentenced to four years and two months in jail in May for participating in three rallies in 2010 and 2011 in support of the Kurdish rebels.
In their ruling, judges said they believed a protester filmed throwing stones at police wearing blue jeans and a khaki-colored hooded jacket could be Zugurli because her features looked similar.
But Zugurli, a university student, said the person in the video was not her and that she had not joined in any of the protests.
"It's a ridiculous charge. People can look like each other. I do not accept any of the accusations," she told Agence France Presse.
Zugurli is currently free, pending appeal.
A previous ruling sentencing Zugurli to five years in jail on terrorism charges -- again for attending a rally -- was overturned by the appeals court, which paved the way for her release in June 2013 after 13 months behind bars.
In that case, she was found guilty of on charges of committing crimes "on behalf of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK)" the outlawed group which has waged a deadly insurgency for greater autonomy for Kurds in southeastern Turkey.
Zugurli, representing the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), became Turkey's youngest mayor after victory in March 30 local elections.
Her jailing came despite gestures by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party that have seen scores of Kurdish prisoners released in recent months.
They had been given long jail sentences under Turkey's draconian anti-terrorism laws, whose broad wording has led to the jailing of hundreds, including journalists, politicians and academics.
Picture source: DHA
Thanks but no Thanks: Erdogan Turns Down Rival's Donation
by Naharnet Newsdesk
14 July 2014, 21:07
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected Monday a donation from his main rival in August's presidential election in a highly unusual gesture for the sometimes bruising world of Turkish politics.
The main opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu donated 1,000 lira ($470) to Erdogan's campaign fund and transferred a similar sum to the third candidate, the pro-Kurdish HDP's candidate Selahattin Demirtas.
Ihsanoglu -- a softly-spoken academic -- clearly wants to inject a sense of gentlemanly fair play into what could prove a rough campaign for the August 10 vote.
But Erdogan, who has ridiculed his opponent as a political novice over the last weeks, clearly was having none of it.
The sum was immediately turned down at the request of the prime minister, Erdogan's lawyer Ali Ozkaya was quoted as saying by the Turkish media.
"It was returned with thanks," he was quoted as saying.
Demirtas meanwhile could not resist a dig at Erdogan over allegations he has fabulous amounts of undisclosed wealth, something the premier has always angrily denied.
"Professor, thank you for the trouble," Demirtas wrote on Twitter, addressing Ihsanoglu.
"But the other candidate has a lot (of money), feel free to donate it all to me."
Ihsanoglu, 70, replied like a benevolent elderly uncle to his younger opponent Demirtas, who is just 41.
"We are working to plant the seeds of love, peace and solidarity in this country," Ihsanoglu proclaimed on Twitter.
"Love is our greatest richness, my dear brother," he added.
Ihsanoglu, a former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) faces an uphill struggle against Erdogan, with polls suggesting that the premier could win an outright victory in the first round.