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« Reply #14625 on: Jul 24, 2014, 07:00 AM »

South Sudan Warring Sides to Resume Talks

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 09:56

South Sudan's warring leaders will resume peace talks by the end of the month, mediators said Thursday, as warnings grow of famine within weeks if fighting continues.

Peace talks between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar stalled last month with each side blaming the other for the failure.

Mediators from the East African IGAD bloc said the rivals had both "reiterated their commitment to the negotiation process," adding that talks were "tentatively scheduled to commence on July 30."

More than seven months of war has left thousands dead and displaced 1.5 million people, while repeated promises and ceasefire deals all been swiftly broken.

Rebel forces last week launched their largest offensive since an oft-broken May truce, attacking their former headquarters in the small town of Nasir.

Previous rounds of talks, held in luxury hotels in Addis Ababa, have already cost at least $17 million (12 million euros) but have yielded little progress and been repeatedly delayed.

Talks were vital to ensure aid to stave off a "looming famine in South Sudan that is likely to affect millions," IGAD added.


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« Reply #14626 on: Jul 24, 2014, 07:02 AM »

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Lopez Goes on Trial

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 07:03

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez went on trial Wednesday on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests that ultimately left 43 people dead.

The Harvard-educated economist, who says the charges are politically motivated, was transferred before dawn from his military prison on the outskirts of Caracas to a court in the center of the capital to stand trial alongside four students.

Lopez was one of the main leaders of protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government that erupted in February and raged for four months, focusing Venezuelans' anger over rampant crime, runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods.

Prosecutors accuse Lopez, the leader of the Popular Will party and a former presidential candidate, of arson, damaging property and inciting violence.

He publicly handed himself in to the authorities on February 12 during a protest that turned violent and ended with three deaths -- the first of the 43 people killed during months of demonstrations that followed.

He denies the accusations against him and calls himself a "prisoner of conscience."

The case has been condemned by the opposition and the International Commission of Jurists, which last month accused Venezuela's judiciary of cracking down on students and dissidents.

More than 200 supporters were gathered outside the court Wednesday carrying signs with messages such as "Free Leopoldo."

Lopez's lawyers, who had vowed to boycott the trial, ultimately turned up to represent him, but said the case was still plagued by irregularities.

"Leopoldo has taken on the justice system, stood up for the Venezuelan people. He didn't abandon the country, he didn't flee, and if he didn't, we can't abandon him either," defense lawyer Juan Carlos Gutierrez told journalists.

The defense team says the trial will likely take two to three months.

Lopez, 43, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

A prominent opposition ally, Maria Corina Machado, said she had been refused entry to the trial and accused the government of violating the independence of the judiciary.

"The entire justice system has dedicated itself to persecuting those who think differently, while the criminal underworld continues business as usual," she told journalists.


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« Reply #14627 on: Jul 24, 2014, 07:04 AM »


Central America's biggest nickel mine reopens amid violent clashes

Guatemala's Fenix mine, closed for 30 years, faces disputes over land ownership and lawsuits for gang-rape and murder

David Hill in Fenix, Guatemala
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 10.26 BST   

The biggest nickel mine in Central America has restarted operations amid violent clashes between indigenous people and security forces, disputes over land ownership, and ongoing lawsuits for gang-rape and murder.

The Fenix mine in Guatemala had been closed for 30 years, and was inaugurated by a visit this month to the site by president Otto Pérez, who called it the biggest investment in the history of the country.

But just one week later a community bordering Fenix known as Lot 8 Chacpayla, who are part of the predominant Maya Q’eqchi’ group in the region, say there were invaded by private security forces working for the firm which runs the mine, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, now a subsidiary of the Cyprus-based Solway Investment Group.

Residents of Lot 8, where large nickel ore deposits are believed to lie, and the neighbouring community, Lot 9 Agua Caliente, told the Guardian that about 10 men turned up unannounced, “armed to the teeth”, intent on preventing a meeting from taking place.

“When we asked why they were there, they said they had been asked to protect the lands of the company,” says Lot 9’s Rodrigo Tot. “They said they wouldn’t leave and assumed a position to shoot. They were out in the corridor, but pointed their weapons at us.”

The community say the private security only pulled out the next day after the intervention of a justice of the peace, the decision by the community to spend the night in the surrounding forest, and the arrival of more private security personnel and then the army and police, which led to a tense standoff.

“Don Rodrigo said ‘kill me’ and started to walk towards them,” said Manuel Xó Cú, from the Defensoria Q’eqchi’. “The others said: ‘If you kill Don Rodrigo, you’ll have to kill us all.’ Neither the army nor police wanted to witness any of this. They left. Then the private security went too.”

Tot told the Guardian that people were particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of events in 2007 when Lot 8 residents were violently evicted by company security, the army and police, and 11 Q’eqchi’ women were allegedly gang-raped.

According to Xó Cú and media reports, Lot 8’s recent invasion was followed two weeks ago by an attempt by police and company security to violently evict another Q’eqchi’ community, Nabalija, in actions that involved burning houses, destroying crops and firing teargas at men, women and children.

These latest events follow years of alleged killings, violence, intimidation, harassment and evictions of Q’eqchi’ residents in the Fenix region – many of whom are attempting to obtain legal title to their land and pose a potential obstacle to mining operations.

Three lawsuits are currently ongoing for the 2007 gang-rapes – allegedly committed by company security, the army and police – and for the 2009 murder of Q’eqchi’ man Adolfo Ich Chaman and shooting of German Chub – allegedly committed by company security – who survived but was left paralysed.

Last year a landmark ruling by an Ontario court stated that the lawsuits can proceed to trial in Canada, given that the rapes were allegedly committed when Fenix was owned by Canadian firm Skye Resources and the murder and shooting after Skye had been acquired by another Canadian firm, Hudbay Minerals.

Hudbay says the allegations are "without merit", calling the Q’eqchi' people "illegal occupiers" and saying that the 2007 evictions were "implemented under court orders", that the rape claims are not credible, and that, "based on internal investigations and eyewitness reports, CGN personnel were not involved with [Ich Chaman's] death."

Hudbay sold the Fenix mine to Solway in September 2011 after the lawsuits were filed – a move which MiningWatch Canada’s Jennifer Moore describes as Hudbay “bailing out".

“The context is a militarised, authoritarian regime that is systematically criminalising mining-affected communities in order to put these projects into force,” Moore says. “There have been continual threats against the Q’eqchi’ people around the mine over the last few months.”

“Impunity and repression are the norm in Guatemala and the global mining industry knows this very well,” says Grahame Russell, from US- and Canada-based NGO Rights Action.

Tot told the Guardian that in 2011 Guatemala’s constitutional court ruled in favour of the Q’eqchi’ legal ownership of Lot 9, but to date it has been ignored. Solway, Guatemala’s ministry of defence and the ministry of the interior did not return requests for comment.


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« Reply #14628 on: Jul 24, 2014, 07:22 AM »

Dinosaur trackways uncovered in Canada suggest tyrannosaurs hunted in packs

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 15:30 EDT

The collective noun is a terror of tyrannosaurs: a pack of the prehistoric predators, moving and hunting in numbers, for prey that faced the fight of its life.

That tyrannosaurs might have hunted in groups has long been debated by dinosaur experts, but with so little to go on, the prospect has remained firmly in the realm of speculation.

But researchers in Canada now claim to have the strongest evidence yet that the ancient beasts did move around in packs.

At a remote site in the country’s northeast, they uncovered the first known tyrannosaur trackways, apparently left by three animals going the same way at the same time.

Unlike single footprints which have been found before, tyrannosaur trackways are made up of multiple steps, revealing the length of stride and other features of the animal’s movement. What surprised the Canadian researchers was the discovery of multiple tracks running next to each other – with each beast evidently keeping a respectable distance from its neighbour.

Richard McCrea at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in British Columbia was tipped off about one trackway in October 2011 when a hunting guide working in the area emailed him some pictures. The guide had found one footprint that was already exposed and later uncovered a second heading in the same direction. McCrea made immediate plans to investigate before the winter blanketed the site with snow.

He arrived later the same month and found a third footprint that belonged to the same trackway under volcanic ash. But the real discovery came a year later, when the team returned and uncovered two more sets of tyrannosaur tracks running in the same south-easterly direction.

“We hit the jackpot,” said McCrea. “A single footprint is interesting, but a trackway gives you way more. This is about the strongest evidence you can get that these were gregarious animals. The only stronger evidence I can think of is going back in a time machine to watch them.”

The footprints were so well-preserved that even the contours of the animals’ skin were visible. “You start wondering what it would have been like to have been there when the tracks were made. The word is terror. I wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley at night,” McCrea said.

From the size of the footprints, the researchers put the beasts in their late 20s or early 30s – a venerable age for tyrannosaurs. The depth of the prints and other measurements suggest the tracks were left at the same time. They date back to nearly 70m years ago.

Close inspection of the trackways found that the tyrannosaur that left the first set of prints had a missing claw from its left foot, perhaps a battle injury. Details of the study are published in the journal Plos One.

During the expedition, McCrea’s team unearthed more prehistoric footprints from other animals, notably hadrosaurs, or duck-billed dinosaurs. Crucially, these were heading in all sorts of directions, evidence, says McCrea, that the tyrannosaurs chose to move as a pack, and were not simply forced into a group by the terrain.

“When you find three trackways together, going in same direction, it’s not necessarily good evidence for gregarious behaviour. They could be walking along a shore. But if all the other animals are moving in different directions, it means there is no geographical constraint, and it strengthens the case,” said McCrea.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #14629 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:11 AM »

Malignant tumor Pig Putin Igniting Dangerous Nationalist Fervor, Says U.S. General

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 09:34

Russian President, the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, military intervention in Ukraine is fanning nationalist sentiments that could spread across the region with dangerous, unpredictable consequences, the U.S. military's top officer said Thursday.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said malignant tumor Pig Putin was pursuing an "aggressive" agenda that flouts sovereignty and seeks to address alleged grievances harbored by Moscow since the demise of the Soviet Union.

"If I have a fear about this, it's that the malignant tumor called Pig Putin may actually light a fire that he loses control of," Dempsey said at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado.

Speaking hours after U.S. officials accused Russia of firing artillery across the border at Ukrainian troops, Dempsey said Putin has appealed to Russian-speaking enclaves and bolstered his country's military in a bid to reassert Russian power.

"There's a rising tide of nationalism in Europe right now that's been created in many ways by these Russian activities that I find to be quite dangerous," Dempsey said in remarks broadcast by the Pentagon.

Nationalism "can be a very dangerous instinct and impulse," he said.

"My real concern is, having lit this fire in an isolated part of Eastern Europe, it may not stay in Eastern Europe," he said.

Under the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, the Russians "are clearly on a path to assert themselves differently," not only in Eastern Europe but towards the rest of Europe and the United States, he said.

"And he's very aggressive about it. He's got a playbook that has worked for him a few times," Dempsey said.

"If you're asking me if there's a change in the relationship (with Russia), I would have to say absolutely," the general said.

Since 2008, Russia's armed forces have increased their combat readiness while investing in "strategic" weapons such as long-range aircraft and cruise missiles, according to Dempsey.

Even amid international outrage over the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, which Western governments suspect was shot down by pro-Russian separatists armed by Moscow, Dempsey said the malignant tumor called Pig Putin is "actually taking a decision to escalate" instead of defusing the conflict.

He said senior U.S. government officials were weighing what assistance to provide the Ukrainian government, which has asked for weapons and electronic jammers to counter missiles employed by the separatists.

"That debate is ongoing," Dempsey said.

Washington was also discussing with its NATO partners how to respond to Moscow's "provocation" by strengthening allied military forces across Europe, he said.

There is "a recognition that we've been a little bit complacent about Europe for probably the last 10 or 15 years," Dempsey said.

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Russia Firing Artillery on Ukraine Troops

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 09:35

The United States on Thursday said it had evidence Russian forces were firing artillery from inside Russia on Ukrainian troops, in what officials called a "clear escalation" of the conflict.

Moscow is also planning to "deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, U.S. deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The evidence was based on "intelligence information" indicating arms were "continuing to flow across the border" into Ukraine since the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner with 298 on board, Harf said.

But she refused to reveal the evidence behind the allegation or give further information.

"They're firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military," Harf told reporters.

Washington, however, was still looking into the downing of two Ukrainian fighter jets on Wednesday. Kiev has alleged the warplanes were hit by missiles fired from Russian territory.

The shelling by Russian forces against Ukrainian positions had been "going on for several days," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren.

"It's a clear escalation," Warren told reporters.

The Pentagon did not specify the precise location of the Russian artillery units or the artillery fire.

The Russian shelling has taken place "within the last 14 days," according to a statement issued by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Russia has continued a troop build-up near the border of Ukraine and kept up deliveries of arms and equipment to separatists since the downing of the Malaysian airliner, US defense officials told AFP.

The Russians have sent at least one battalion a week to the border area in recent weeks, raising the troop level to 15,000 forces, up from about 12,000 last week, said two defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It looks like a steady increase," one official said.

Military hardware has also continued to arrive at a large base set up near Rostov, which is used as a staging and training area before the equipment is transported to the rebels in Ukraine, according to defense officials.

U.S. intelligence officials said this week that artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems recently arrived at the southwestern base in Rostov.

At a briefing earlier this week, U.S. intelligence officials cited commercial satellite photos that showed new structures and an apparent expansion of the base over the past month.

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

Of course .........

MH17 crash: sanctions against Russia are illegal, ambassador claims

Moscow insists documents that show Russians armed the separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines plane are forged

Rowena Mason, political correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 19.47 BST   

The west is imposing "illegal, unreasonable and counter-productive" sanctions against Russia based on internet forgeries that do not prove any of its missiles shot down the Malaysian airliner, the Russian ambassador to London has said.

Shortly before the European Union announced further sanctions against individuals and businesses linked to the Kremlin on Thursday night, Alexander Yakovenko condemned the trade restrictions that have already been imposed and warned that any more "may well trigger a long anticipated endgame of the present global crisis".

The EU agreed at a meeting on Thursday to add 15 people and 18 companies or other organisations to the bloc's sanctions list for undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity, diplomats said. But they failed to reach agreement on economic sanctions and will resume discussions on Friday, they added.

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has joined the US and Ukraine in saying there is strong reason to believe the Malaysian airliner was shot down by pro-Pig Putin separatists using a Soviet-era Russian-made Buk missile, killing 298 people.

On Thursday night, the US state department said it had evidence Russia intended to deliver "heavier and more powerful" rocket launchers to separatists in Ukraine.

However, Yakovenko said Russia had never given weapons to the separatists.

"The ample proof of inconsistencies of the initial narrative by Kiev and Washington has been provided by the closed briefing by the American intelligence officials on Tuesday," he told journalists at the Russian embassy in London.

"I took this from British media. Given media reports, there was nothing convincing, not to say compelling, in those materials.

"The case, as is admitted, is built upon photos and messages from social media sites, placed by Ukrainian authorities and since then proved to be forgeries, as ambassador Churkin demonstrated at the UN security council meeting. Naturally, our American partners say that they have no way of certifying the authenticity of those materials."

He added: "What we do is providing humanitarian assistance and receiving refugees from Ukraine in our territory. I don't have to say that people in Russia entertain strong feelings over the atrocities committed today by the Ukrainian forces against civilians, their ruthless use of heavy weapons and air force to shell and bomb [a] peaceful population."

The ambassador said the war in Ukraine had created "murky waters which are a fertile ground for all sorts of incidents".

The separatists are continuing to hold the site of the accident, but the black boxes from the plane and some of the bodies of those who died in the crash have now been released.

Yakovenko's warnings came after Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, suggested sanctions should only be directed at people in the entourage of the malignant tumor called Pig Putin, rather than Russian business in general. He also warned people not to "lash out" against all Russians.

Johnson previously expressed unease about being asked to play tennis with the wife of a former finance minister of the Pig, along with David Cameron, in return for a £160,000 donation. However, he claimed sufficient checks on the donor have now been carried out to satisfy him that the couple are not "buddies" of Putin.

"We have got to target the people who really count in the evil Pig's immediate entourage, in his regime, the people who are this cronies," Johnson told LBC 97.3.

"That's sensible. People say this will affect London, [that] it will do damage [but] I don't believe it will, because what people will see is a city that knows the difference between right and wrong. I  think it is to the credit of Britain and to London that we are able to do these difficult things.

"I would stress obviously this is not the context for a general lashing out against all Russians, everybody who happens to speak Russian. This is a city that welcomes people from all around the world and there are many Russians here in London who are by no means buddies of the malignant tumor called Pig Putin."

The mayor's defence of the tennis match comes after the Conservatives were put under scrutiny over hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Russians, who Labour said were bankrolling their general election campaign.

An analysis by the Guardian shows more than £161,000 has come from donors with links to the Kremlin's business interests in the last five years.

It also emerged that one of Cameron's trade envoys, Charles Hendry, is president of a pro-Russia business lobby group whose advisory council includes an ally of the evil Pig Putin who recently struck an oil deal with Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and a former chief of the arms company that designed Buk missiles.

The UK and some eastern European countries have been pushing for sanctions not just on individuals and businesses linked to Putin's regime but for some wider sectoral restrictions that could hit trade in areas such as energy, defence and finance. The list of individuals who face sanctions announced on Thursday is likely to be published on Friday or Saturday.

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

Shellshocked Ex-Rebel Ukraine City Uncovers 'Mass Grave'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 12:59

Three hours after the digging began, a piece of white sackcloth was seen in the soil.

A few minutes later, four bodies were being recovered from the hole.

The city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine -- a former rebel stronghold back under Ukrainian military control -- had found its first mass grave.

A 30-strong crowd of police officers, town officials in gas masks, forensic experts and local residents, watched the grim scene unfold.

Everyone looked on, save one man -- the brother of one of the dozens who went missing. He sat on a stone wall with his back to the scene.

Municipal workers dug up the three-meter (10-foot) deep hole with an excavator in an area near the town center, then climbed in to recover the bodies.

"This is a terrible tragedy," said Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser presiding at a brief ceremony for townspeople before the exhumation began.

"In this mass grave are the bodies of four Protestant parishioners, innocents who were tortured and killed by the rebels," he said.

Wreaths and portraits of the four men believed to be the victims had been laid out by the grave site with heartbreaking notes: "To our dear Viktor, from your children and family", "To our dear brother Dima, Lisa and the children", "To our husband and brother".

The men were kidnapped on June 8 as they came out from Sunday worship, and were never seen again. All four were married. One had four children, while another had eight.

"There are likely around 20 bodies in this mass grave. As well as the four men who were tortured, we think there are the bodies of terrorists who died in the battle for Slavyansk against the Ukrainian army," Gerashchenko said.

A town of 100,000 people north of Donetsk, Slayvansk was recaptured by the Ukrainian army earlier this month.

During its three months under separatist control, several dozen people went missing.

"All the people around this area saw the rebels burying people here. That's why we knew of its existence," Gerashchenko said.

"We know there are others in the town but we don't know where. This is the first one that we're excavating," he added.

A bystander, Valentina, who lives nearby, said: "I was outside my house on June 11, when a truck came and made the hole in the morning.

"After 3 pm two vehicles came close to the hole and threw some corpses inside.

"The bodies were wrapped in a white cloth but there was no coffin," she said, as two snipers surveyed the scene from a nearby rooftop above her.

"How can we go on after this?" she added. "We are normally a peaceful people!"

On nearby Lenin Square, dozens of local residents came to watch as the Ukrainian flag was raised over the town hall and the Ukrainian anthem was sung.

The town employees sang along, hands on their hearts and tears in their eyes.

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

U.N. Says 230,000 Have Fled Homes in Ukraine Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 13:53

A total of 230,000 people have fled their homes during the spiraling armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told reporters that the number of people who have left the conflict zone for other Ukrainian regions was now close to 100,000, while some 130,000 had crossed the border into Russia.

"They are mainly from the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. Those are figures that have risen in recent weeks," McNorton said.

The numbers, dating from July 18, are the most recent available, he underlined.

Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists in the two eastern regions for months, with both sides facing accusations of failing to keep civilians out of the line of fire.

"There are a variety of security concerns and a variety of reasons for people making the decision to leave their homes," McNorton said.

Fears of being caught in the crossfire have been a major reason, he noted.

The number of people who have fled the fighting but remained within Ukraine has nearly doubled from the figure of 54,000 released by the UNHCR at the end of June.

The number of refugees in Russia had then been 110,000.

Claims that Russian-speakers in Ukraine are under threat have been cited regularly by the rebels and Moscow, though U.N. human rights probes have said there is little evidence for such fears.

Those fleeing within Ukraine include at least 12,000 Muslim Tatars from the southern peninsula of Crimea.

Mainly populated by Russian speakers and long home to Russian military bases, Crimea was annexed by Moscow in March.

That move came after Russian-speaking militants rose up following the removal in February of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukoyvch by a coalition of pro-Western groups and nationalists.

He was forced from power after months of protests following his last-minute decision not to sign a deal cementing the economically-embattled, ex-Soviet republic's ties with the European Union.

Instead, he opted to turn to former master Moscow for economic backing, sparking uproar in the pro-Western camp.

In the space of just three months, the Ukraine conflict in the east of the country has claimed more than 1,000 lives.

The toll includes the 298 people on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was downed over the east last week in an attack blamed on the rebels.

Russia denies claims that it is stoking strife by sending in men and weapons to Russified eastern Ukraine.

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

Ukraine Forces Take another Strategic City

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 11:06

Ukrainian troops have retaken the strategically-important city of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine, as they press on with their offensive to stamp out a pro-Russian rebellion, President Petro Poroshenko said.

"Ukrainian forces have raised the flag over the town council in Lysychansk," the presidency said in a statement late Thursday.

Operations were continuing to drive the remaining insurgents out of the town, the statement said.

Lysychansk -- a city of around 105,000 some 90 kilometers northwest of the rebel stronghold of Lugansk -- was seized by separatists in early April at the start of a bloody insurgency that has now claimed the lives of some 1,000 people, including the nearly 300 on board downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The government offensive against the rebels has made significant progress since rebels unexpectedly fled a string of key towns earlier this month.

Government forces say they are now closing in on the major cities of Lugansk and Donetsk, where the bulk of the insurgent fighters have dug in and pledged to fight to the death.

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David Cameron Stumbles Over Russia’s Tripwire

By ALAN COWELL
JULY 24, 2014
IHT

LONDON — Just over 14 years ago, Tony Blair recalled in a memoir, he was among the first Western leaders to meet with the malignant tumor called Pig V. Putin as he rose toward the presidency of Russia.

“We were the same age and it seemed shared the same outlook,” Mr. Blair wrote. “I never lost that initial feeling for him, or the thought that had circumstances transpired or conspired differently, the relationship could have prospered.”

Of course, it hasn’t.

Mr. Blair’s courtship of the malignant tumor defined the starting point of a doomed parabola that led from nascent friendship to icy hostility recalling the Cold War and, well before it, the Great Game played out by the rival British and Russian empires in the 19th century.

Now, in its latest unfolding, the current British leader, David Cameron, is discovering that Russia is not simply, as Winston Churchill put it in 1939, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” For Western leaders seeking to mold Moscow’s behavior in the latest crisis in Ukraine, it is also what might be termed a tripwire wrapped in a minefield inside a quagmire.

In recent days, Mr. Cameron has sought to project himself as the muscular champion of a tough European response to Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are accused by American intelligence officials of downing a Malaysian airliner, killing 298 people.

Reinforcing this tilt against the Kremlin, the British authorities have also agreed to a judge-led public inquiry into the death of Alexander V. Litvinenko, a onetime K.G.B. officer and visceral foe of the malignant tumor, who was poisoned to death with radioactive polonium at a central London hotel in 2006.

Urging action against “cronies and oligarchs” in Russia, and striving for the moral heights of the debate, Mr. Cameron seems ready to abandon his cherished aim of securing a warmer relationship with the malignant tumor to advance the interests of British trade — and to criticize those who do not follow suit.

On Monday, Mr. Cameron castigated France over its determination to deliver the first of two warships ordered by Russia. That transaction, he said, would be “unthinkable” in Britain.

Suddenly, the tripwires began to quiver.

On Tuesday, British lawmakers determined that Britain itself had continued to grant licenses for the export to Russia of sniper rifles, small arms ammunition, night-vision equipment, body armor and other paraphernalia worth about $220 million.

The British government denied that the equipment was destined for the Russian military.

Then, however, there was the cozy relationship with Russia’s oligarchs who have settled in London’s most luxurious neighborhoods. As a result, some have taken to labeling the British capital Londongrad.

“When you see how many oligarchs have sought refuge in London,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the first secretary of the governing Socialist Party in France, “David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own backyard.” As for Mr. Cameron’s criticism of the French shipbuilding deal with Russia, he said, “This is a false debate led by hypocrites.”

The broadside came days after Lubov Chernukhin, a British citizen who is a banker and the wife of Vladimir Chernukhin, a former deputy finance minister in Russia, bid a staggering $270,000 in a Conservative Party fund-raising auction. The prize? A game of tennis with Mr. Cameron and London’s Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson.

The timing drew a degree of derision from Mr. Cameron’s foes.

“My instinct is that the malignant tumor just laughs at people who try to have their caviar and eat it,” said Chris Bryant, an opposition lawmaker.

Within Britain’s rambunctious tabloid newspapers, the response was pithier. “Hand Back The Roubles, Dave,” the conservative Daily Mail said in a front-page headline.

Even the decision to order the Litvinenko inquiry seemed to encounter skepticism. “What signal does this send out to the world, except that British justice is a movable feast that depends on the state of our international relations?” the same newspaper said in an editorial.

***********

Ukraine Prime Minister Resigns over Coalition Break Up

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 18:50

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Thursday resigned in a shock move in protest at the disbanding of the ruling parliamentary coalition, plunging the strife-torn nation into political uncertainty.

"I announce my resignation in connection with the dissolution of the parliamentary coalition and the blocking of government initiatives," a furious Yatsenyuk told parliament.

Yatsenyuk said the "government and the prime minister must resign" after the withdrawal of several parties triggered the break up of the European Choice parliamentary majority in a move that paved the way for long-awaited early legislative elections.

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov called on deputies to put forward immediately a candidate for a temporary premier "until parliamentary elections are held."

Early parliamentary elections in Ukraine have been expected since the February ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych following months of deadly protests.

The formal dissolution of the majority coalition in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada gives President Petro Poroshenko the right over the next month to announce a fresh parliamentary poll.

Poroshenko had pledged though that the possibility of upcoming elections would not paralyze the work of parliament at a time when Kiev is struggling to end a bloody separatist insurrection tearing apart the east of the country.

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

Ukraine Seeks to Skirt Political Crisis amid Tough MH17 Probe

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 14:31

Ukraine sought Friday to avoid a political crisis after the shock resignation of its prime minister, as fighting between the army and rebels close to the Malaysian airliner crash site claimed over a dozen more lives.

President Petro Poroshenko called on parliament to heed "cold reason" and pass a vote of confidence in the government, a day after premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk walked out in fury over the collapse of his ruling coalition.

Yatsenyuk's resignation piles on more woes for a country already struggling to cope with a chaotic situation in the rebel-controlled east, where international experts are carrying out a complex investigation into last week's downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that left 298 dead.

The grave challenges facing the country -- where the U.N. said 230,000 people have fled fighting -- go beyond its borders, as Washington accused Russian troops of firing artillery across the border on Ukrainian forces.

The United States has already accused Moscow of supplying the missile system which it believes was used by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine to shoot down MH17. It said late Thursday it had evidence that Russia was planning to "deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers" to the rebels.

Both Moscow and the rebels deny having anything to do with the shooting down of the passenger airliner and have both promised to cooperate with an international probe into the disaster.

A truce has been declared in the vicinity of the vast crash site in rebel-held Grabove, where experts say some remains of the victims still lay decomposing under the sweltering summer heat more than a week after the tragedy.

Dutch authorities have said they are only sure that about 200 of the bodies have been recovered from the scene, as two more planes carrying 74 more coffins left Ukraine for the Netherlands.

To secure the debris scene, the Netherlands, which is leading the probe after losing 193 citizens in the crash, said it was sending 40 police to the site.

Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash, said it already has 90 police in Europe ready to deploy and that it also plans to send troops.

"This is a humanitarian mission with a clear and simple objective, to bring them home," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. "All we want to do is to claim our dead and to bring them home."

The government's offensive to regain control of Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland was given a boost Friday when its forces took the strategically-important city of Lysychansk.

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

Canada Sends Warship to Mediterranean to Join NATO Fleet

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 21:29

A Canadian warship with a crew of 250 headed Thursday to the Mediterranean where it will join a NATO fleet providing increased security in Eastern Europe amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

HMCS Toronto, which is equipped with torpedoes, anti-air and anti-ship missiles as well as a Sea King helicopter, will replace HMCS Regina, which has been part of the NATO operation since May.

"The deployment of HMCS Toronto further demonstrates Canada's steadfast support for Ukraine and commitment to promote security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe," said a statement.

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

Australia to Send Troops to Ukraine Crash Site

by Naharnet Newsdesk
25 July 2014, 11:14

Australian troops plan to join a police contingent in helping secure the Flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday, while stressing the mission would be humanitarian in nature.

Abbott has been highly critical of the response on the ground to the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was carrying 298 people when it was apparently shot down in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

Some 90 Australian Federal Police have already been deployed to Europe for a planned international mission to help secure the wreckage and retrieve bodies.

A further 100 will leave Friday to participate in the operation and "do the right thing by the grieving families", Abbott said, adding that Canberra was close to finalizing an agreement with Ukraine for deployment of the Australian officers.

"Many of the (police) deployed won't be armed, some of them could be armed," Abbott told reporters.

"And, yes, there will be some ADF (Australian Defense Force personnel) as part of this deployment, should it go ahead," he added, without putting a figure on how many.

Abbott's office later confirmed the defense personnel were troops.

The majority of those on MH17 were Dutch, but 28 Australians and nine permanent residents were also on the plane.

"This is a humanitarian mission with a clear and simple objective, to bring them home," Abbott said. "All we want to do is to claim our dead and to bring them home."

He added that given human remains were still be recovered, it was "more important than ever that the site be properly secured".

"I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."

The prime minister said he had spoken twice to the malignant tumor called Pig Putin on the incident since it happened last week.

"President Putin has been full of sympathy, as you would expect from another human being, for what's happened to 37 families in Australia," Abbott said.

"And he certainly has been publicly and privately supportive of securing the site so that the full impartial investigation... can be completed and all of the bodies can be brought home."

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

EU Adds 15 Names, 18 Entities to Ukraine Sanctions List as Moscow Warns

by Naharnet Newsdesk
24 July 2014, 18:53

The European Union will add to its sanctions list 15 Ukrainian and Russian individuals and 18 entities over their role in the Ukraine crisis, an EU source said Thursday.

The source said the 18 entities will be made up of nine companies and nine institutions, such as the local authorities set up by pro-Russian rebels that have proclaimed independence in eastern Ukraine.

The ambassadors from the 28 member states were following through on a decision taken by EU leaders last week to extend the sanctions list.

There are currently 72 names hit with visa bans and asset freezes after Russia showed no sign of meeting demands to reverse course and cut support for the rebels.

The actual names added to the list are most likely be published on Friday or perhaps Saturday, EU officials said earlier.

The EU ambassadors were also discussing plans to move beyond the bloc's current mix of visa bans and asset freezes, under pressure to do more after the alleged shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last week by the rebels using a Russian-made missile.

EU foreign ministers had agreed on Tuesday to speed up sanctions against Russia and to examine tougher measures, including in the defense sector, as a result.

They said the new list would accordingly include "entities and persons, including from the Russian Federation," for their role in stoking the crisis and aiding Russia's annexation of Crimea in March.

They also agreed to finalize work on tougher, sectoral measures and to "present proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defense, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector."

Such tougher measures, however, have proved very divisive because some EU member states, such as Germany and Italy, have extensive economic ties with Russia which they fear could be harmed by wider sanctions.

Other states, led by Britain and including former Soviet-era states such as Poland and Lithuania, want much tougher action.

Washington too has pressed for a harder line, announcing last week that it planned to curb Russian access to its financial markets.

The Financial Times reported earlier that Brussels would consider similar steps but these were likely to take longer to agree, another EU source said.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia's ambassador to Britain said Western sanctions over Ukraine are illegal and further measures would indicate a cover-up over the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Alexander Yakovenko told a news conference in London that the Kremlin was not responsible for supplying weapons to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine accused of downing the airliner.

"The Western sanctions against Russia, first of all we believe they are illegal, unreasonable and counterproductive," Yakovenko told reporters.

"Russia doesn't supply weapons to local de facto (separatist) authorities in eastern Ukraine. No evidence whatsoever has been presented that the Russian government has been doing this," he added.

"Needless to say, we will consider any further sanctions against us and the measures of political pressure as the clear evidence that our Western partners cannot substantiate their allegations and (are) eager to engage in a cover-up of the true causes of the MH17 tragedy."

Both Washington and Brussels have so far held back from sanctions targeting whole sectors of the Russian economy, which Yakovenko said could have serious consequences.

"In my view the sectoral sanctions against Russia will trigger a long-anticipated end-game of the present global crisis," he warned.

The Russian envoy urged Western nations to wait for the results of the investigation into the crash last Thursday over eastern Ukraine, which killed nearly 300 people.


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« Reply #14630 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:18 AM »


Eurozone recovery picks up – except for France

French nearing third recession since banking crisis as other parts of zone see recovery gather momentum after spring dip

Phillip Inman, economics correspondent
Thursday 24 July 2014 19.16 BST The Guardian

The dip in fortunes that has spread across the eurozone since spring was reversed last month after businesses expanded output and order books swelled – with the exception of France, which is nearing its third recession since the banking crash.

A survey of French businesses found sentiment had improved in June, but they still signalled another period of contraction in the currency zone's second largest economy. The French composite purchasing managers' index (PMI) of both the manufacturing and services sector rose to 49.4 from 48.1 in June, but any result below 50 points towards contraction.

Meanwhile, German business activity recovered strongly and other parts of the eurozone saw the recovery pick up speed.

The global outlook, which is clouded by the situation in Ukraine, also improved after Chinese factories saw the biggest jump in activity in 18 months, suggesting that the Beijing government's mini-stimulus measures are working. US manufacturers also reported strong demand for their products.

The German services sector grew at the fastest rate in three years, pushing the eurozone composite PMI to a three-month high. Until the latest figures Germany's economy appeared to be slowing, largely in response to falling orders from China. Analysts said the latest data revealed a turnaround in the summer months that should bode well for the rest of the year.

Lagging economies such as Spain also performed better than expected, with the largest monthly increase in business activity recorded since August 2007 accompanied by a similar surge in new orders growth.

Separate official data showed Spain's jobless rate tumbled to its lowest in two years, although nearly a quarter of the labour force is still out of work.

In France, François Hollande's troubled socialist administration had hoped that a series of major investments and labour market reforms would bear fruit before the summer holiday season. However, unemployment has remained high, order books are low and consumer confidence has waned.

Financial data provider Markit, which produces the PMI surveys, said: "At the heart of France's woes are a stagnant services economy, which points to weak domestic demand and falling confidence among business and households, as well as an increasingly alarming rate of decline in the manufacturing sector."

The euro reacted to the generally positive news by rallying from an eight-month low against the dollar to $1.34. It rose against the pound to 79.20 pence, having slumped to a 23-month low on Wednesday.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/23/2014 05:30 PM

A Tour of France: Examining the New Sick Man of Europe

By Alexander Smoltczyk

The TV images of the Tour de France show an idyllic country, but behind the gloss is a nation where fears of decline are prompting people to vote for the far right. A trip along the route of the world's most famous cycling race reveals the deep uncertainty ailing the French.

There is a new word in the French language: La mannschaft. It's the term used to define everything that is enviable on the opposite bank of the Rhine River -- in other words, Germany's success. It's a success that is the product of the collective and is free of any of the egocentrics, self-deluded, bling-bling divas and "general director presidents," as the heads of French companies are called, that can make France so stuffy.

A week ago Monday, on Bastille Day, newspapers across France sighed that it wouldn't hurt if the country were a bit more like la mannschaft. Instead, unemployment is twice as high as it is in Germany, growth and investments have fallen far and former President Nicolas Sarkozy was recently detained for questioning by police at dawn. La mannschaft is the polar opposite of the other word currently in fashion in France: le malaise. A deep gloom appears to have taken hold in France. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of the French are "pessimistic" about their country's future.

"Viewed from the outside, France under François Hollande is like Cuba, only without the sun but with the extreme right," the newsweekly Le Point recently wrote. The country is "impoverished, over-indebted, divided, humbled and humiliated and finds itself in a pre-revolutionary situation in which anything seems possible."

The only thing missing, it seems is the travel warning, because right at this moment, large numbers of vacationers from the rest of Europe are traveling in the country. Are these vacationers all francophone lemmings on their way to the cliff, blind to anything that doesn't involve a game of boule or finding a camping spot?

Something is adrift in France. Rarely has the public mood been this miserable and the sullenness as omnipresent as it has been this summer. A president currently resides in Elysée Palace who was mercilessly booed during the July 14th military parade. It doesn't seem possible for Hollande to get any less popular, and yet his popularity continues to fall from one low to the next.

But at least the country still has the Tour de France, the grand race that circles the country and serves as a prelude to the summer holiday season. Each year, it provides a long beloved view of a different, rural and idealized France -- one where local firehouses still host annual dances, where there's a memorial to those lost in the wars in front of every city hall and where the people know where they belong. But do they really?

This reporter recently traveled across France to take the country's pulse with the people on the ground. The route followed stayed true to the course of the 2014 Tour de France, taking in cities, towns and villages, and sought to observe signs of the crisis, decline, collective depression and other specters that are haunting Germany's most important neighbor.

Lille (km 710)

The first stage of the tour to take place in France (the first three are in Britain this year) ends at the periphery of Lille in Pierre Mauroy Stadium, a sparkling arena of glass, steel and concrete. The only person in sight is a guard. Lille is one of the few success stories in a French Socialism that is otherwise in a state of crisis. Local Mayor Martine Aubry even managed to get re-elected recently. The politician is the anchor of the Socialist Party's left wing. In contrast to the president, she is cherished by the party base. Aubry also happens to be the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, the father of currency union.

Although Lille has profited from Europe, Joël Leclerc has not. "Lille is for the rich," he says, noting that he doesn't even buy his coffee here. Leclerc is the sole security guard standing in front of Pierre Mauroy Stadium. He's the son of a miner and has a crew cut, as is common among members of the French Foreign Legion. He says he raised his children with a "good kick in the ass." Unlike Lille, he says the village of Avion where he lives isn't home to any "vermin," the highly disparaging term used by Sarkozy to describe the children of immigrants who rampaged through the streets of Paris' suburbs in 2005.

"We still have values here in the village," Leclerc says. He's the archetypical supporter of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National party. Leclerc says he once had aspirations to become a member of the police force, but that he wasn't able to. "My father threw lumps of coal during the 1968 strikes at the CRS, the special police," he explains. "That's what people here in the village do. Avion has been communist for 200 years. People call it Little Russia. Me? Of course I'm a communist. A simple worker."

Leclerc remains loyal to the communists for the same reason that most of his colleagues have since begun voting for Front National -- out of tradition, patriotism and the desire for order. He says his father once lived in Poland, somewhere near Katowice, but, no, he didn't work in the mines there. The place had a different name. He had to stay there for three years. Then, without any special emphasis, he says the name: "Auschwitz."

Arras (km 865.5)

Back when the Tour de France was created, French unity was anything but a given. It was a time when Bretonnians, Occitans and Alsatians, but also monarchists and Catholics all seemed to have problems with the words that are today posted on every town hall: "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité," liberty, equality and fraternity.

The race was intended to be a celebration of the country's beauty. People used the landscape as a stage to celebrate their country. It was a chance for "La France profonde" -- deep France, the real France far away from Paris -- to shine. It was all about the periphery of the country, the Café du Commerce that seemed to be located in every town or faded posters advertising aperitifs like Dubonnet.

Essentially, it is this France where much of the current discontent is coming from. "Revolution is stewing at the edge of France, away from the major cities," French social geographer Christophe Guilluy recently wrote. These areas are home to 60 percent of the French population and 80 percent of those who might be described as the "little man": laborers, pensioners, the middle class -- people who in general harbor the strongest fears of decline. It is here that voter turnout was poor during the communal elections in March. And it is here where Le Pen did particularly well.

Somme is a countryside filled with former mines and battlefields. There are flat fields and sugar beets for as far as the eye can see. The French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre was born and raised here before going to Paris to help the virtuous rise to power, using the guillotine where necessary.

Raffi Ashkar holds a pair of scissors in his right hand. He runs a shoe repair and key making shop in Rue Robespierre across the street from the former Jacobin's home. Ashkar says every era needs a revolution. The question is what kind of revolution? Ashkar, who is of Lebanese origin, is every bit a member of the middle class, or Third Estate as the French called it during the revolution of the late 1700s.

"I understand the French," he says. "There are no values any more. Family and friendship? Each is out for his or her self. Everyone is egotistical. That's why many vote for Le Pen -- out of sheer hopelessness. As long as you behave, the people here are likeable. Unfortunately, there are a lot of foreigners who don't understand that. They have no respect. Let's just take the example of football. Why don't all the players (on the French national team) sing the national anthem? That bothers me. I work here, I earn my money here, and this is my country. Voilà, that's all."

Valmy (km 1,160)

Stacks of books at a local bookstore in Valmy are dedicated to a new genre in French literature: the downfall. It includes titles like "Reinventing France," "France, a Peculiar Bankruptcy," "If We Only Wanted To, "When France Wakes Up," "A Dangerous Game in the Elysée," "Fellow French, Are You Ready for the Next Revolution?" "France, A Challenge, " and many, many more.

Around two dozen such titles were published last month alone. They always seem to have the same central message as well -- that things can't continue as they are and that France is in decline. It seems like the term "déclinisme" has already emerged as its own school of thought.

The Tour de France detours here around the industrial wastelands and decommissioned blast furnaces of northern Lorraine. Instead, on the route between Reims and Verdun, you see a windmill set on a hill surrounded by canons and heroic statues. This is the site of the birth of the nation. The fact that the cannons placed are emblazoned with "Made in Manchester" -- and that it was German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who retroactively identified the Battle of Valmy as an historical turning point -- doesn't detract from the place's symbolism.

During the Cannonade of Valmy in September 1792, the Revolutionary Army halted a Prussian army that had rushed to the aid of the French monarchy. It marked the first time that the French chanted "Vive la nation!" The notion of the nation, as the central point of reference for all French, had replaced that of God and the king. They persevered as well, using team spirit akin to that of la mannschaft.

The term "nation" has been invoked here incessantly ever since -- mostly, unfortunately, to animate the people to charge into bayonettes, grenades, mustard gas and all manner of projectiles. After leaving Valmy, the Tour de France route passes through the battlefields of the last century, those of World War I and II.

'An Excessively Glorified Past that Won't Go Away'
Flirey/Pont-à-Mousson (km 1,271)

The name Pont-à-Mousson can be found everywhere you go in France, be it French Guiana, Martinique or any of the overseas departments. The name of the city appears on French-made manhole covers. The city's main industry is iron casting. Going by the dense smoke billowing out of the blast furnace on Rue nationale, it might come as a surprise to some that the country is in the midst of a crisis. The stockpile behind the plant is filled with pipes -- "for the time being," says Gérard Rothermel, sitting beneath a chestnut tree on a cast-iron bench that, ironically, was made in Spain.

Rothermel then starts to rant. "The six-meter pipes are now being made in Germany. They do what they want." He's spent his entire career pouring iron covers. "Earlier, we used to whistle on our way to the factory. The only thing people think about today is the competition. Leftist politicians lied to us and the right did as well."

Rothermel rails against taxes, but also says he thinks retirement at the age of 56 should be perfectly normal. He says he doesn't like people who just hang around doing nothing or those who take advantage of the welfare state, even though he himself is reliant on the system, receiving government-subsidized social housing and also health care benefits. "French sociologists have a term for people unable to cope with the changes that have been wrought on France: "Petit blanc," or "little whites". Words that were once closely associated with the country -- like education, president, army, nation or labor -- have become empty.

Mulhouse (km 1,622)

Liberal intellectual Guy Sorman says France is the sick man of Europe these days. "The state is sick, the economy is sick, its education is sick and it is sick from an excessively glorified past that won't go away," he says.

Nation, Verdun, Valmy, the Tour de France and the national football team -- none of it seems strong enough anymore to hold the French together. Many are no longer able to identify with the requisite rituals, dogmas, hymns, creeds and even street names. Still, the country has some great principles, ones that are universal and known to everyone. And what could be wrong with a country that has so many streets with the word "freedom" in their names? The problem is that these terms no longer seem to have much meaning for many people, who no longer feel at home in their own country. So what terms could be used instead?

The final stretch of the stage passes through the Rue de la Marseillaise and goes by a spot where Samir Ayed spends a good deal of his time, the Paradise café and bar, a lively meeting place that seems to be a magnet for the very Arab and African immigrant children who populate the nightmares of many in France.

"Liberté, egalité and fraternité?" he asks. "That has never been my experience. Listen to what I have to say to you." He goes on to claim that the only freedom is that of financial flows, the only equality are EU standards and norms and the sole sense of brotherhood is unbridled globalism. That's not exactly what Samir said, but it's a distillation of the phrases, theories, truths and false truths one hears when he speaks. "The French are pansies," he says. "They're allowing their country to be taken away from them -- by the EU, by the Chinese and by those who are really pulling the strings. Do you understand?"

Samir and his buddies, who come from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey, are angry because France doesn't accept them and because they feel the country is going to the dogs.

Yzeron (km 2,104.5)

Here in the countryside, no suffering is visible. Instead, a disquieting quiet becomes noticeable. Many houses have their shutters closed up tight and there are lots of "For Sale" signs. At 6 p.m. on a recent evening, the only person to be seen was a pensioner trimming her hedge. In the local paper, the list of recent deaths is three times as long as the birth register. France's relatively high birth rate is invisible here.

The Tour has managed to make its way through the Alps and now balances on the Massif Central above the Rhône River and Lyon, flying past Au Petit Rapporteur, where Josiane and Jean-Pierre Lambert have been cooking for locals for 19 years. The daily special costs €12 and is produced using local ingredients, such as veal, goat cheese, Andouillette sausage and berries.

An estimated 70 percent of all restaurants in France use frozen ingredients, the New York Times recently reported -- a sign that the country's cuisine is also in freefall. Jean-Pierre Lambert says: "The main thing is that it tastes good." And perhaps, he adds, the Americans also share some of the blame for what is served up in Paris.

Josiane is afraid of flying, but Jean-Pierre recently flew to Cuba with the local volunteer fire department. Neither of them have much use for the word "crisis". "There are still farmers here who make a profit. We survive."

The Lamberts are a like a phenomenon of Quantum physics, only there when you look -- for the brief moment when the peloton speeds past. Afterwards, it disappears back into its parallel universe.

A quarter of all French live in one of the 31,590 communities that have a population of less than 2,000. To a greater degree than in Germany, these people are dependent on what they refer to as "terroir," the specifics of the place where they live. And they are noticing that something is threatening that existence.

The digital revolution is "a new space," a non-space that has eliminated distance, Michel Serres, the French philosopher, at the Sorbonne in late January. This revolution is not a French one, the British columnist Roger Cohen added, continuing the thought. "It is, in fact, an anti-French revolution. It challenges fundamental French values, the French sense of self and the French attachment to the state."

Perhaps that is what is causing the grumbling and complaining along the route of the Tour. People are living next to each other, but not with one-another, they are eying each other with mistrust yet complaining about the coldness between people at the same time. "We used to whistle on the way to work." And throw chunks of coal at the CRS.

Saint-Rémy-de Provence (km 3,038)

Stéphane Paillard trades in vineyards like others do in wine. Bordeaux, Rhône, Burgundy, Provence: He has châteauxs for all tastes and proclivities, starting at €3 million. If you want to spent your retirement walled off from the present in a 17th century property with olive orchards and grape-bedecked hillsides, Paillard is your man.

Elderly Americans stroll past the shop windows, marveling at the Van Gogh-esque colors, the soft light and the sycamores. Saint-Rémy is vintage France, some might call it hardcore. "Some of the largest fortunes on the planet can be found here in the Alpilles," Paillard says, referring to the range of low mountains cutting through the Provence. Americans, in particular, are enamored of the region.

Paillard's trade in vineyards is doing well as a result. But, he says, "in recent years I have noticed a certain reserve among international clients when it comes to investments in France. The government. You know." Luckily, wine is an exception, he says. "The euro might not last, but wine will."

Still, Paillard has also noticed change even in the paradise of Provence, small things mostly. Large stone blocks, for example, have been placed in front of an electronics shop to prevent thieves from driving through the show window. At a bakery, customers are asked to pay using a machine due to security concerns. And fear.

"It is the most insecurity I've seen here in the last 20 or 30 years," Paillard says. "Even in my line of work, you see copycats, tricksters and cheapskates." He blames the Internet in addition to the government.

Beaucaire (km 3,056)

By the time the town's new mayor took office in March, the route of the Tour had already been determined. It would have been difficult to drop Beaucaire from the course. It is one of the towns with over 10,000 residents where the Front National won in spring municipal elections.

Seven file folders are stacked on a chair in the new mayor's office. "Inside, are 200 applications for a job in city hall," says Julien Sanchez. Thirty years old, Sanchez had been Marine Le Pen's spokesperson before winning the Beaucaire vote in March. He says the old system of cronyism and unshakable faith in the state is being thrown out. He is a gentle radical; the picture of President Hollande has been allowed to remain.

"I'm not from here, I come from Paris. I said that there wouldn't be any more subsidies for bullfighting," he says, referring to the town's summer bullfighting festivals. "Going by standard criteria, I never should have been elected. But it turned out to be an advantage not to be a part of the sleaze here."

The old Socialist mayor, Sanchez says, left the town with millions in debt. But one key reason for the Front National's victory in the town was the fact that mainstream parties split the vote, allowing the radicals to come out on top.

It was a tedious election, with very little passion. In contrast to previous votes, inflammatory Front National signs were not plastered onto every tree in southern France and there were fewer complaints about them cluttering up the landscape.

Beaucaire is a town of limestone and sharp shadows. A dike protects it when the Rhône periodically bursts its banks while the walls and citadel shield it from the mistral, the cold winter wind. The town is largely segregated, with immigrants in the city center and those born in France on the outskirts. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, the poor, rejected people from Maghreb. And the native-born French in their single-family homes. The same old story. But that's rubbish," says Sylvestre Balit.

Balit says that he should know; his own father is from Algeria. The French who lived in Algeria in colonial times and then lost their homes once the country was granted independence were among the first to vote for the Front National. Today, by contrast, the party is an option for everybody who is angry and afraid.

"This country is a toilet and the Socialists have shoved my arm into it up to here," Balit says, tapping on his shoulder. "They hand out jobs to Arabs and to other Socialists. That isn't racism, my friend. That is EX-PER-I-ENCE. Humanism is a great idea and all, but it needs rules. Otherwise, you get the jungle."

Sylvestre Balit, 54, is a former paratrooper. His girlfriend gets up at 4 a.m., six days a week, for her job in a supermarket. She is a real French "heroine," he says. He spends much of his time in the café waiting for better times. "I spoke with two former comrades of mine," he says, lowering his voice. "In two regiments, they are currently talking about a putsch. C'est fini la France." France is finished.

An Open Wound that Never Healed
Col du Tourmalet (km 3,213.5)

At an altitude of 2,215 meters (7,270 feet), the Col du Tourmalet is the second highest point on the Tour de France, yet by far the most legendary. And surprisingly, there is no Tricolore flying at its peak. There is, however, a herd of sheep grazing just above the road as it crosses the pass. The fur of some of the animals has been sprayed blue, others red, while still others have been left white. Quite a few of them are black and a large portion of the herd bears a circle A on their haunches. The only thing missing is a shepherd to say: "That is France."

No, the A doesn't stand for anarchy. Rather, it is a reference to his last name, says Eric Abadie, whose sheep they are. Abadie is actually wearing a beret. "Why a French flag isn't flying here? I'll tell you. No garbage service, no Tricolore. They have forgotten about us up here."

Perhaps it is the pure mountain air, but otherwise Abadie has a pleasingly laid-back attitude to the world and, in particular, to his country. "I have seen all of them ride by here: Armstrong, Ullrich, Pantani, Jalabert. First they were kings, and then frauds. That's how it is everywhere. I can understand why everyone is now attacking our politicians. But we don't have any others."

Eymet (km 3,433)

The landscape of southwestern France, leading up to the Pyrenees foothills, is peacefully empty, the population so sparse that it feels like one is traveling through northern Canada. One can see expensively renovated farmhouses and sprawling retirement homes -- along with decaying walls covered in vegetation with cars up on blocks out front. Many of the villages seem to survive only on people trying to get away from it all.

"It's less stressful here," says Tracey Griffin. She is from Warwickshire and works behind the bar of the Café de Paris. With several flights a day to the British Midlands, starting at €40 one-way, tourism from the UK is substantial and, with many permanent residents as well, Eymet has come to distantly resemble Stratford-upon-Avon. Without the British, the town would be dead.

There is an English newspaper, called The Bugle, and a cricket team, known as the Dorking Dads. Tracey Griffin likes it here, citing the food and the people, and has improved her French. "No, the main square isn't British," she says. "That's where the New Zealanders are."

The town of Eymet is symptomatic. Peugeot is partly owned by Chinese investors, Renault is almost more Romanian and Japanese than it is French, the cement concern Lafarge is moving to Switzerland and Alstom's energy division was just sold to General Electric.

In the last 20 years, French industry has lost more than a million jobs and soon, tourism will contribute half as much to the country's economy as the entire manufacturing sector. An economic paper recently asked: "And what if France becomes the world's amusement park?" It perhaps isn't that far off: Last year, some 90 million tourists made their way to France, the Sick Man of Europe.

In his novel "The Map and the Territory," Michel Houellebecq describes a France of the future, one which is more dependent on agriculture and tourism than industry and is thus largely immune to crises. Old handicrafts flourish, as do romantic hotels, vineyard tours and discrete sex tourism. Many were horrified by the vision laid out by Houellebecq when his book was published and saw it as a warning. Not as a travel brochure.

Evry (km 3,523)

In the final stage, riders don't pass each other anymore; it is considered bad manners in the cycling world. But that is not true in politics.

Manuel Valls was the mayor of Evry for 11 years, but now has his sights set on moving into the Elysée Palace, the presidential residence not far from the Champs-Elysées -- where the Tour de France finishes. That, at least, is the gossip. In March, François Hollande had to promote his rival from the Interior Ministry, where he gained a reputation for steeliness, to his current position as prime minister.

Valls wants to lead France out of its depression with decisive reforms. Evry was his training ground.

Evry was one of the new cities of the future surrounding Paris, a model of statist urbanism. There are no smoldering cars here, the trash cans are emptied regularly and there are signs everywhere: "Human Rights Square," "Citizens' Street," "Transport Assistance for the Elderly," and even one kindly noting that "You Are Entering a Zone Under Video Surveillance." It is as though the city is constantly whispering in your ear.

Evry has an ice-skating rink, schools, psychiatric services and a military recruitment office -- "We actually have everything we need." And yet Nelle Basse is missing something nonetheless. She is 33-years-old and works as a hair stylist in the mega-shopping center that serves as Evry's downtown. Her husband speaks six languages, but has been unable to find a better job than as an Air France steward. Both want to move to Senegal, where they are originally from.

"The concierge in my building doesn't like blacks. Yet she isn't French either," Basse says. "When we go visit my husband's family in the countryside, they all want to touch my skin. That's how it is."

In France, every immigrant can become a citizen if he or she accepts the values and culture of the République Français. But that means little to Basse. "Republic? That is just a word, totally empty," she says. "In the 15 years I have been living here, I haven't made any friends. I greet the neighbors, but that's it. Everyone keeps to themselves in the housing complex -- the Congolese, the Arabs, those from Mali, everyone. People are so stressed out. Everyone feels safe, but so alone."

Champs-Elysées, Paris (km 3,660.5)

At 1 a.m., a conspicuously elegant man is rifling through newly published non-fiction at Publicis Drugstore, the 24-hour mecca of luxury retail. "What a great country, where you can write about what a complete idiot the president is," the man says, holding up the book he is referring to.

Born in Belgium, Philippe Jean Crijns knows the Sarkozys and works in the cosmetics industry. His address is Avenue des Champs-Elysées 25, a palace that once belonged to the Marquise de Païva, the 19th century courtesan who married a relative of Otto von Bismarck. "In France, you don't get elected president because the people want you, but because they want to get rid of someone else," Crijns says.

Crijns points to a book that predicts a new revolution; the boulevard outside is packed with tourists. "Everyone loves France," he says, "except the French."

The next morning, a national holiday, Crijns stands on the balcony of the Païva Palace and watches the parade passing by below. Standing in one car, the president looks small, sandwiched as he is between military leaders, and he is followed by boos and whistling as he drives past. He wanted to be a "normal president," but the people didn't want normality. They want an exceptional president that is worthy of the populace. They want everything to get better and to stay the same.

"There are no crises," says Crijns, "only changes. Nowhere else is there as much history as there is in France. Every step is painful. C'est évident." It's obvious.

The Tour de France may seek to celebrate the true and original France. And it ends where everything else leads -- and where one suspects the cause of the malaise can be found.

On July 27, the Tour, as usual, will end with several laps around the Arc de Triomphe after passing by the Elysée Palace and the Place de la Concorde, home to a statue of a woman in front of which a king was beheaded in the winter of 1793. The event opened a wound that the country has never quite recovered from. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so passionate in its scorn of the normal citizen at the helm.

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey


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« Reply #14631 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:20 AM »


Matteo Renzi's plan to abolish Italian Senate runs into 7,850 problems

Senators have tabled thousands of amendments to PM's proposals, and debated only three of them on day one
 
Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 17.43 BST   
   
Asking senators to vote for their own abolition was always going to be a tough mission – even for the ever-confident Matteo Renzi. So it is hardly surprising that the Italian prime minister's flagship reform bill – on which he has staked his career – has run into a few problems in the upper house of parliament – 7,850 of them, to be precise.

Opponents to the proposals – which would see the senate stripped of many of its powers and become a much smaller, unelected regional chamber – have tabled nearly 8,000 amendments which they want debated before the upper house moves to a first reading vote.

On Wednesday, when the debate began in the senate, just three were dealt with. "Another 7,847 and we're there," quipped the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Congratulations."

In the face of what one commentator called an "abnormal mountain" of opposition, the 39-year-old prime minister seems, in public at least, undeterred, insisting with trademark certainty that a vote will be held before the summer recess in mid-August.

But Italy's 89-year-old president, Giorgio Napolitano, is rather less relaxed.

On Wednesday night, during a meeting with the president of the senate, Pietro Grasso, he was reported to have "insisted on the serious damage that a paralysis in decision-making on an essential process of reform would do to the prestige and credibility of parliament".

Earlier this year Renzi, who came to power in a party coup in February, said he would "accept the consequences" if his flagship constitutional reform was blocked by parliament. He argues the changes are essential if Italy is to adopt a more stable and streamlined political system.

But there are fierce challenges from senators in the opposition Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party and Five Star Movement (M5S) – as well as some within Renzi's own centre-left Democratic party, coalition partners and Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia.

In a cross-party pact deemed almost Faustian by critics on the left, Renzi has a deal with the former prime minister, whose party is in opposition, to push through the senate reform – and others. After he was acquitted in a high-profile underage prostitution trial last week, Berlusconi indicated that his party would honour its agreement.

But he remains an uncertain reform partner and, moreover, the perils to Renzi's timeframe are clear. As well as the huge dossier of amendments, there have been more than 900 requests for voting to be carried out via secret ballot.

On Thursday the minister for constitutional reform, Maria Elena Boschi, dismissed the possibility of examining all 7,850 amendments. "The government is still willing to improve the draft, but not to change it completely," she was quoted as saying.

Maurizio Sacconi, senate head of the government's coalition partner the New Centre Right party, demanded the number of amendments be "drastically reduced" or a system of time limits be imposed to make sure a vote was held on time.

Opponents accused the government of giving an ultimatum. "They are trampling on democracy," said one M5S senator, Bruno Marton. "They just want to steamroller through a reform that makes no sense."

The SEL leader Nichi Vendola reportedly said he hoped the threat of time limits was a "joke … because this really stinks unbearably".


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« Reply #14632 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:21 AM »


Germany's current-account surplus is partly to blame for eurozone stagnation

With Germany unwilling to spend, it is up to ECB president Mario Draghi to devalue the currency for a much-needed boost

Robert Skidelsky   
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 15.50 BST   
       
While the rest of the world recovers from the great recession of 2008-2009, Europe is stagnating. Eurozone growth is expected to be 1.7% next year. What can be done about it?

One solution is a weaker euro. Earlier this month, the chief executive of Airbus called for drastic action to reduce the value of the euro against the dollar by about 10%, from a "crazy" $1.35 to between $1.20 and $1.25. The European Central Bank (ECB) cut its deposit rates from 0 to -0.1%, effectively charging banks to keep money there, but these measures had little effect on foreign exchange markets.

That is mainly because nothing is being done to boost aggregate demand. The UK, US and Japan all increased their money supply to revive their economies, with currency devaluation becoming an essential part of the recovery mechanism. The ECB's president, Mario Draghi, often hints at QE – last month, he repeated that "if required, we will act swiftly with further monetary policy easing" – but his perpetual lack of commitment resembles that of Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, whom one former UK government minister recently likened to an "unreliable boyfriend".

The ECB's inaction is not, however, wholly responsible for the appreciation of the euro's exchange rate. The pattern of current account imbalances across the eurozone also plays a large role.

Germany's current-account surplus, the largest in the eurozone, is not a new phenomenon. It has existed since the 1980s, falling only during reunification, when intensive construction investment in the former east Germany more than absorbed the country's savings. The external surplus has grown especially rapidly since the early 2000s, and today it remains close to its pre-crisis 2007 level, at 7.4% of GDP.

Now, however, countries previously stricken with deficits are moving into surplus, which means the eurozone's current account is increasingly positive. Indeed, the eurozone-wide surplus is now expected to be 2.25% of GDP this year and next. The eurozone is saving more than it is investing, or, equivalently, exporting more than it is importing. This is strengthening its currency.

Back in October 2013, the US Treasury pointed the finger at Germany's structural surplus as the source of Europe's woes. Its argument was that if one country runs a surplus, another must run a deficit, because the excess savings/ exports of the surplus country must be absorbed by another country as investment, consumption, or imports.

If the surplus country takes no steps to reduce its surplus – for example, by increasing its domestic investment and consumption – the only way the deficit country can reduce its deficit is by cutting its own investment and consumption. But this would produce a "bad" equilibrium, achieved by stagnation.

Something like this seems to have happened in the eurozone. Germany has retained its "good" surplus, whereas the Mediterranean countries slashed their deficits by cutting investment, consumption, and imports. Greece's unemployment rate soared to nearly 27%, Spain's is almost as high, and Portugal faces a banking crisis.

In November 2013 Paul Krugman wrote that, "Germany's failure to adjust magnified the cost of austerity". Though it "was inevitable that Spain would face lean years as it learned to live within its means", Krugman argued, "Germany's immovability was an important contributor to Spain's pain".

But Germany rejected this logic. Its current-account surplus was its just reward for hard work. Indeed, according to the German finance ministry, the surplus is "no cause for concern, neither for Germany, nor for the eurozone, or the global economy". Because no "correction" was needed, it was up to the deficit countries to adjust by tightening their belts.

John Maynard Keynes pointed out the deflationary consequence of this attitude in 1941. Deficit countries with a fixed exchange rate (as is the case in the eurozone) are forced to cut their spending, while surplus countries are under no equivalent pressure to increase theirs. Keynes's proposed solution to this problem was an international payments system that would force symmetric adjustment on both surplus and deficit countries. Persistent surpluses and deficits would be taxed at an escalating rate. His plan was rejected.

Of course, a creditor country can always help a debtor by investing its surplus there. Germany is willing to do this in principle, but insists that austerity must come first. The problem is that stagnation ruins investment prospects.

China has shown that voluntary adjustment by a surplus country is possible. Until recently, the global imbalances problem was centred on China's bilateral surplus with the US. China used its excess savings to buy US Treasury bonds, which drove down world interest rates and enabled cheap borrowing, permitting America to run a vast current-account deficit. The main impact of low interest rates, however, was to fuel the housing bubble that burst in 2007, leading directly to the 2008 financial crisis.

Since then, China has made great efforts to reduce its external surplus. At its peak of 10.1% of GDP in 2007, the surplus was larger than Germany's; by the end of 2013, it had plummeted to 2% of GDP.

Why was China willing to adjust while Germany is not? Perhaps a key difference lies in the fact that Germany has significant political clout over the deficit countries with which it trades. Germany was effectively able to force austerity upon its neighbours.

That raises an important issue regarding the legitimacy of austerity. Its main proponents are creditors, who have much to gain from it (relative to the alternative of raising domestic wages and forgiving debts). Creditor-debtor conflicts have always been the stuff of monetary politics, and the persistence of austerity has set the stage for a new debtors' revolt.

So we will have to rely on Draghi and quantitative easing to save the euro from Germany. Money will have to fall from the proverbial helicopter before Germany shows any willingness to reduce its surplus.

• Robert Skidelsky, a member of the House of Lords, is professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University


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« Reply #14633 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:23 AM »


UBS to pay €1.1bn while French court investigates tax evasion allegations

Swiss bank, under investigation for allegedly helping wealthy clients avoid tax, will appeal against the payment order

Kim Willsher   
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 13.37 BST   

French judges have ordered the Swiss bank UBS to pay a €1.1bn (£873m) guarantee while it investigates charges that it helped rich clients hide money from the taxman.

UBS has until the end of September to deposit the money, which amounts to 42.6% of its after-tax profits and 2.8% of shareholder funds, with the court.

The bank has said it will appeal against the order and the calculation of the amount of the guarantee, which it described as deeply flawed and highly politicised.

UBS is under investigation for allegedly encouraging tax evasion between 2004 and 2012 and has already been fined €10m by French financial regulators for control failures that could have allowed clients to avoid taxes.

Last year, two French judges ordered a formal investigation into charges of "illegal selling" by the Swiss bank and "complicity" by its French branch, after former staff claimed it had encouraged wealthy clients to set up double bank accounts to hide the movement of capital from France to Switzerland.

An anonymous note sent to the Financial Control Authority allegedly detailed how non-declared accounts set up by French sales staff in Switzerland were to be registered on the bank's computers.

In June last year, regulators who had carried out a separate inquiry fined the bank for waiting more than 18 months before setting up the controls required to monitor and stop such activities. UBS said at the time it disagreed with many of the regulator's conclusions.

The new charge of alleged tax evasion was announced by the two judges on Wednesday and is the latest in a series of damaging accusations against UBS. Last month, the head of the bank's Belgian operation was charged in relation to claims of fiscal fraud. In 2009, UBS agreed to pay $780m for the dropping of tax evasion charges. A similar deal over the French charges was reportedly stymied by government insistence that the investigation continue.

"We have done everything we can to bring this matter to a close. We have also taken significant and broad steps to ensure tax compliance of our clients and will continue to do so. It is not acceptable to us that this has become a highly politicised process," UBS said in a statement.

The move by French investigators comes amid a clampdown on tax evasion by authorities around the world.

This week Credit Suisse said it lost SFr700m (€576m) in the second quarter of the year after paying a $2.6bn (£1.5bn) fine for tax evasion to the US.

On Monday, the OECD said countries had identified an estimated €37bn of hidden taxes through voluntary disclosure by more than 500,000 taxpayers in recent years.


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« Reply #14634 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:26 AM »



    News
    World news
    Belarus

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for 'another Chernobyl' on her doorstep

Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

Nabeelah Shabbir   
theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014 05.00 BST      

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

Her experience with Chernobyl, when radioactive contamination forced around 350,000 people to leave their homes and led to an unknown number of deaths, have left her cautious about nuclear power and distrustful of government safety promises.

“Another Chernobyl cannot happen,” she says.

Novikova has appealed to international environmental authorities to try to stop the NPP project, without any success. In the meantime authorities have already started work on construction.

"The problem is that [Belarusian president Alexander] Lukashenko does not give his citizens a voice," she says.

In a country which does not tolerate activism or public protest – the annual Chernobyl anniversary marches she organises often end in arrests – Novikova has taken her opposition abroad.
Tatiana Novikova at the Belarus Free Theatre, June 2014 Tatiana Novikova at the Belarus Free Theatre, June 2014. Photograph: NS

She is in London to raise awareness about the issue and hopes to spur the EU to put pressure on Belarus, as the plant would be 60km from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

A group of Belarusian activists, including the theatre company Belarus Free Theatre, have launched a petition against the power station – and have won support from some high-profile figures:

    Another Chernobyl?! No thanks! Join me - sign petition to block dodgy new nuclear plant in Belarus http://t.co/lHTUIP09lp
    — Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) June 26, 2014

The petition cites several problems with the plant:

    Construction was started before design plans were in place, and before a license had been issued
    The design is experimental and has not been properly tested
    An assessment by more that 50 independent experts found gaping holes in the government's environmental impact assessment

Novikova says the plans flaunt international regulations; Belarus is a signatory of the Espoo and Aarhus conventions, which specify environmental protections and monitor requirements such as public consultations over construction projects.

She approached the Aarhus committee in Maastricht in June, asking them to prevent the power plant because Belarus had violated the convention by not obtaining official planning permission. The committee came back to her with bad news; they would only issue what she calls a "caution of a caution" to Belarus, believing the government wouldn't listen anyway.

"Lukashenko says [the plant] is important for energy security," she says. "But if technology is so advanced, why not solve [the problem of] nuclear waste? We could improve our energy system by modernising gas plants, or using bioenergy from agriculture."

Presidential elections next year won’t change anything, she says, although she is hopeful that the conflict in Ukraine might change the politics of the region and ultimately loosen Lukashenko's power: "We and Ukraine have the same problem – [the Russian president, Vladimir] Putin."

The proposed new plant in Belarus will be funded by Russia. Belarus's official cost estimate is 9.4 billion US dollars, with one third of this to be spent by 2015. Its reactors would be constructed by the Russian company AtomEnergoMash.

Novikova is critical of the EU for not clamping down on nuclear power in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster of 2011, and points out that some countries are steering away from nuclear energy. "Germany is phasing out of nuclear power; it produced 50% of all electricity generation from more renewable sources last year. The Italians said no in their nuclear referendum."

Like many Belarusian activists, Novikova has faced severe harassment. She was detained in her own home in Minsk during anti-nuclear protests. Her elderly mother has received prank calls which the police confirmed came from the KGB. In Russia, she was arrested and jailed for five days for trying to hand in an environmental petition to the Russian embassy.

She was also was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and can't tell if she was contaminated from radiation exposure from Chernobyl. The WHO says the disaster will cause 50,000 new cases of the cancer among young people living in the worst-affected region. Increased rates of thyroid cancer are also being reported in Japan, post-Fukushima.

But she refuses to dwell on her own problems: "I’m still alive. Mine is not the worst case of persecution of people."

"What should I do? Stop my fight? I lost my health, now I have lost my house," she says. "Why should I run from this problem? I could go to the US or Europe, but it won’t change if I run – maybe I will, if my life will be in danger. Nobody knows. Right now, I have an opportunity to do something."


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« Reply #14635 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:33 AM »

In the name of God .........

Isis orders all girls and women in Mosul to undergo FGM, UN report says

Report says 'fatwa' issued by militant group in and around Iraqi city could affect 4 million, but doubts expressed on social media

Update: Isis denies ordering girls in Mosul to undergo FGM

Reuters in Geneva
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 13.19 BST   

The United Nations said on Thursday that militant group Islamic State (Isis) had ordered all girls and women in and around Iraq's northern city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation.

But doubts emerged on social media about the basis for the report. One document posted on Twitter suggested it may be a year old and have been issued by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, the group's previous name.

Other internet comments, including from Middle East analysts, questioned whether the order fitted with the cultural traditions of the region.

A UN spokesman in Geneva said that it was seeking clarity and trying to establish the facts.

Such a "fatwa" issued by the Sunni Muslim fighters would potentially affect 4 million women and girls, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva by videolink from Arbil.

"We have current reports of imposition of a directive that all female girl children and women up to the age of 49 must be circumcised. This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed," Badcock said.

"This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists," she added.

There was no immediate comment from Islamic State which has led an offensive through northern and western Iraq.

The world body has "zero contact" with Islamic State, but works through tribal leaders in the affected areas, Badcock said. "I can't give you any more details until we have been on the ground to get information," she said of the directive.

FGM, the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, is a tradition practised widely in many African and Muslim countries and often justified as a means of suppressing a woman's sexual desire to prevent "immoral" behaviour.

Worldwide, more than 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM and more than 700 million women alive today were children when they were married.

The practice of FGM previously occurred only in isolated pockets of Iraq, mainly Kurdistan, according to Badcock.

Mosul city currently has about two million residents, more than half of whom are women as there are many female-headed households in the area, she said.

Several more million people live in surrounding areas, she added.

"There are reports of rapes of women, of forced marriages," Badcock added.

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

Isis denies ordering that all girls in Mosul undergo FGM

Doubts grow over UN report, seemingly reliant on year-old document from Syria thought to have been doctored

Ian Black and Fazel Hawramy   
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 18.29 BST   

Jihadi extremists who have taken over the Iraqi city of Mosul have denied ordering families to have their daughters undergo female genital mutilation in order to prevent "immorality" or face severe punishment, as claimed by a senior UN humanitarian official on Thursday.

Supporters of the Islamic State (Isis), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, dismissed the story as propaganda based on a fake document – though residents of Mosul, as well as Kurdish officials, insisted it was true.

The claim about enforced FGM came from the UN's deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, who told reporters that up to 4 million women and girls aged 11-46 faced the risk of genital mutilation. "This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed," she said. "This is a fatwa from Isis. This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by the terrorists."

Reports about the issue have been circulating in Iraqi media for the past few days. On Wednesday a Kurdish website, BasNews, reported that the fatwa had been issued by the self-proclaimed "Caliph" of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as a "gift" to the people of Mosul. BasNews said on Thursday that it stood by its story. "Of course Isis would deny this," the editor, Hawar Abdulrazaq, told the Guardian.

Badcock's comments came in a briefing by videolink from her base in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish regional government, to reporters at the UN headquarters in Geneva.

But plans for a statement by the UK international development secretary, Justine Greening, were dropped as doubts grew about the accuracy of the claim.

Suspicions about its veracity were based partly on the fact that FGM is not required by Islam and is not prevalent in Iraq. It is most widespread in Egypt, Sudan and east Africa.

A document circulating on social media purporting to be the Isis fatwa was in fact dated July 2013, originated in Aleppo, Syria, and was widely described as having being photoshopped. It appeared on Thursday on the website of the Saudi-owned TV channel al-Arabiya.

Ahmed Obaydi, a spokesman for Mosul police, told BasNews: "Baghdadi's decision to have all women circumcised is, as he claims, to prevent immorality and promote Islamic attitudes among Muslims. The decision was made by Baghdadi as a 'gift' for people in Mosul." But Mohammed, a local journalist, told the Guardian he knew no one who had been told by Isis that their female relatives should undergo FGM. "This is mainly media hype with no substance," he said.

Isis supporters quickly dismissed the story as a hoax. "If Isis responds to every lie and rumour they will not be able to control all these areas you hear about," tweeted one. "Please ask UN to prove their claims before you hear from us." The same Twitter account, whose name is derived from an Arabic word meaning "monster", contains multiple images of the decapitated heads of Syrian soldiers taken in the Raqqa areas near the Iraqi border.

According to the Iraqi paper al-Mustaqbal, which also reported on the alleged fatwa earlier this week, the practice of FGM is alien to Iraqi society except the Kurdish provinces. Worldwide, more than 130 million girls and women have undergone FGM.

The FGM story broke against a background of wider concern about the situation in Mosul, whose Christian community has been forced to flee under threat of forced conversion or execution by jihadists who have turned churches into mosques and confiscated property.

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has lambasted Isis for its "criminality and terrorism". Last weekend Isis gave the city's Christians a stark choice: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face death.

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

'They are savages,' say Christians forced to flee Mosul by Isis

Hundreds have found shelter in areas between Mosul and Irbil that are controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters

Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 12.54 BST      

Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee the northern city of Mosul under threat of forced conversion or execution by jihadists have spoken of their terror as churches were turned into mosques and their homes and property confiscated.

The expulsion of one of the world's oldest Christian communities provoked condemnation and anguish from figures as diverse as the pope and Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who lambasted the Islamic State (Isis) for its "criminality and terrorism".

Last weekend Isis gave the city's Christians a stark choice: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face death. "They said there is no place for Christians in the Islamic state," one distraught refugee said from the safety of Bashiqa, 16 miles from Mosul. "Either you become Muslim or you leave." Mosul's last 1,500 Christian families were reportedly robbed at Isis checkpoints as they fled.

Hundreds have found shelter in areas between Mosul and Irbil – the capital of the Kurdistan regional government – that are controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, but they face an uncertain future.

"If Isis stays, there is no way the Christians can return," Father Boutrous Moshi said from Qara Qoosh, a Christian area south-east of Mosul. "It is up to God whether we return or not. They have not burned the churches but they did set fire to the pictures and the books and broke the windows."

Monks at the 4th-century Mar Behnam monastery, a major pilgrimage site run by the Syriac Catholic church, were allowed to take only the clothes they were wearing.

Sarab Hazem, from the Zehoor neighbourhood of Mosul, said that initially there were no attacks on Christians when Isis took the city in a lightning offensive in June, though Isis fighters did capture and take away police, security agents and soldiers. "No one knows what becomes of them," he said.

Then, statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary were destroyed. "They are savages," Hazem said. "This is oppression for no reason. I believe it is no longer possible for Christians to live in Iraq."

Bashar Nasih Behnam, 52, who fled with his two young children last Friday, told a similar story: "They [Isis] threatened us and said you can't stay in Mosul and you have to leave," he said. "They said we have conditions: either you comply with them or you leave. So we left."

Deprived by Isis of Iraqi government rations (a legacy of the sanctions imposed in the Saddam Hussein era) they were too frightened to go out to their church, where the jihadis took down a statue of the Virgin Mary and put their black flag in its place. A monastery was turned into a mosque.

Two nuns who were looking after three orphans were kidnapped but later released. The Arabic letter "N" for Nasrani (Christians) was daubed on the doors of houses – to show that they had been seized as the property of the Islamic state declared by Isis.

"There is not a single Christian family left in Mosul," Behnam said. "The last one was a disabled Christian woman. She stayed because she could not get out. They came to her and said you have to get out and if you don't we will cut off your head with a sword. That was the last family.

"There is not a single family that left and was not robbed. They took our money, gold, even the earrings from their [women's] ears. They took everything, even mobile phones.

"We don't know if we are going to go back. Until now we have no idea if there can be a return. We don't know what our destiny is. They have even taken our houses in Mosul."

Bassem Fadel Zarghit, a shopkeeper from Mosul's al-Rifa'i neighbourhood, said the city's Christians had felt doomed despite initial reassurance from Isis. "There is no one left," he said. "It's not just the Christians. It's also the Shia that are being targeted."

Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, was once among the country's most mixed. Waves of attacks on Christians since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam have eroded its once sizeable Christian population, mainly from the Assyrian and Chaldean denominations.

The decree issued by Isis in Mosul mirrored one that its fighters issued in the north-eastern Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

Human Rights Watch has condemned Isis for its vicious campaign against minorities in the Mosul area.

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

Isis militants blow up Jonah's tomb

Militants say revered Muslim shrine in Iraq, believed to be burial place of prophet swallowed by a whale, has become place for apostasy

Associated Press in Baghdad
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 18.45 BST

Islamic State (Isis) militants have blown up a revered Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah in Mosul, residents of the city said.

Residents said on Thursday that the militants first ordered everyone out of the Mosque of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, then blew it up.

The mosque was built on an archaeological site dating back to the eighth century BC and is said to be the burial place of the prophet, who in stories from both the Bible and Qur'an is swallowed by a whale.

It was renovated in the 1990s under Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein and until the recent blitz by Isis that engulfed Mosul, remained a popular destination for religious pilgrims from around the world.

Several nearby houses were also damaged by the blast, said the residents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared for their own safety.

The residents told AP that the militants claimed the mosque had become a place for apostasy, not prayer. The extremists also blew up another place of worship nearby on Thursday, the Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque, they said.

The attack came hours after Iraqi lawmakers elected veteran Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum as the nation's new president, as they struggle to form a new government amid the Isis blitz that has engulfed much of northern and western Iraq.

Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of US troops amid the offensive by the al-Qaida breakaway group that captured large swaths of land in the country's west and north, including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. The militants have also seized a huge chunk of territory straddling the Iraq-Syria border, and have declared a self-styled caliphate in the territory they control.


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« Reply #14636 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Iraq Picks New President to Confront Militant Threat

By TIM ARANGO and SUADAD AL-SALHY
JULY 24, 2014
IHT

BAGHDAD — Trying to piece together a new government to confront a Sunni militant offensive and growing internal strains, Iraqi leaders on Thursday selected a well-regarded Kurdish politician to be the country’s new president.

Though the post is largely ceremonial, Iraqi officials said the choice was a vital step to try to ease the growing distrust between the country’s northern Kurdish population and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and present a more united front against the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Yet even as the government is trying to rally, the Sunni militants are consolidating their grip over a broadening portion of the map. Along with the nuts and bolts of traditional governance, like paving neglected roads, ISIS is also employing violence and intimidation in the quest to create a hard-line Islamist caliphate.

On Thursday, militants destroyed a shrine in Mosul that was said to be the tomb of the prophet Jonah, and there have been increasing reports of public executions. Reports also surfaced of an edict ordering women and girls to undergo genital mutilation in ISIS-held territory, though some Mosul residents said they had seen no evidence it was being enforced, and some militant-affiliated social media accounts denied it.

Iraqi politicians have begun to position themselves as possible replacements for the embattled Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. These are the four contenders.
Video Credit By Christian Roman and Carrie Halperin on Publish Date June 20, 2014.

The starkly divergent scenes — of a political class in the capital struggling to make the country whole, and militants taking every measure to carve it up — presented a picture of a country in chaos just as President Obama is set to weigh recommendations by the Pentagon for possible military action, which could include airstrikes, either by drones or warplanes.

Six weeks after ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, there is a growing sense that much of the country, even if it does not break into three nations — a Kurdish state in the north, a largely Shiite area in the central area and south and a Sunni state in the west — is likely to remain beyond the control of a Baghdad government for some time.

In testimony before the House on Wednesday, Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, portrayed an increasingly decentralized Iraqi government as the most likely way forward. “There is a recognition in Iraq that from the center out you’re never going to fully control all of these areas, and particularly given the capacity of ISIL,” he said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

Iraq’s leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has been pressing for increased military aid, from the United States and elsewhere.

Hundreds of American military advisers are now staffing two operations centers in Iraq, and American military planes are flying 50 surveillance flights a day through Iraqi airspace. On Thursday, Mr. Maliki met in Baghdad with Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the United States Central Command, and dispatched his defense minister to Russia to seek more military aid. Iranian military advisers are also said to be operating in Iraq, and organizing Shiite militias.

In Baghdad, for one day at least, even as violence continued to engulf the country and just before the nearly weeklong holiday for Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the conclusion of Ramadan, Iraqi leaders celebrated their selection of a new president on Thursday.

Iraq’s Embattled Leader

Elected in 2006 as a compromise candidate, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now heads a shaky Shiite-led government in a fractured country facing a mortal threat from Sunni insurgents.

    From an educated middle-class Shiite background. Active in sectarian politics since the early 1970s, when he joined the mainly Shiite Islamic Dawa Party.

    In 1978 he fled to Syria, returning in 2002, just before the American-led invasion.

    Was deputy chairman of the commission that purged members of Saddam Hussein's party from public life, earning the enmity of many Sunnis.

    Worked to win over Sunni tribal leaders and campaigned against sectarianism in 2007-9.

    Built and maintained ties with Iran, where he spent time while in exile.

    Split with former allies and formed his own political coalition in 2010.

    Did not reach agreement with the United States to retain American troops in the country.

    Has come under growing criticism for amassing personal power and favoring Shiite interests.

The Parliament voted to approve Fouad Massoum, 76, a Kurdish politician and former guerrilla fighter against Saddam Hussein’s regime, as the country’s new president. He replaces Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who had been president since 2005 and was seen as a rare unifying figure among Iraq’s many factions but has been largely absent from the political scene since suffering a stroke in late 2012.

“Everyone likes him,” Abbas al-Bayati, a Shiite lawmaker, said of Mr. Massoum. “He is a moderate man and was agreed to by everyone.”

A week before, Parliament elected Salim al-Jubouri, a moderate Sunni Islamist, to the position of speaker, which was the first step in forming a new government after national elections in April. Under an informal political bargain forged after the toppling of Mr. Hussein in 2003, the Iraqi presidency is held by a Kurd, the speaker of Parliament is a Sunni Arab and the position of prime minister, the most powerful post, goes to a Shiite.

The next political step, the selection of a new prime minister, will be more fraught. That process will determine the future of Mr. Maliki, who has been in power since 2006 but who has become an increasingly polarizing figure as the insurgency has grown and sectarian violence has intensified to a level not seen since 2006 and 2007.

Hours before Parliament voted on the presidency on Thursday, an attack on a convoy of prisoners near Baghdad killed more than 60 people. Later, two car bombs struck a street in central Baghdad packed with restaurants and cafes just as residents were breaking their Ramadan fast. Nearly two dozen people were killed.

The dawn attack on the convoy was similar to two cases last month, which took place in murky circumstances but are regarded as some of the worst recent sectarian abuses carried out by the Shiite-dominated government or affiliated militias.

Mr. Maliki has insisted that he will seek a third term, but he faces an array of opponents and has lost support from abroad. American officials, who believe he has become too divisive to lead the nation out of its current crisis, have been working behind the scenes to push Iraq’s leaders to select someone else. And Iran, which exerts enormous influence here, has signaled it would like to see new leadership.

Last week, several Iranian officials, including Ali Shamkhani, a top national security official, visited the holy city of Najaf, in southern Iraq, and conveyed to religious leaders that Iran would prefer that Mr. Maliki be replaced, according to a senior Shiite lawmaker in Baghdad.

But even if Mr. Maliki were replaced, there is little sense that the Iraqi political class would be able to establish a new political bargain that could bring peace. “There’s no glue to hold whatever grandiose governing coalition that emerges together,” said Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert and fellow at the Atlantic Council. He added, “the idea that if Maliki should leave and then we’d be on the path of reconciliation and compromise is wishful thinking.”
Correction: July 25, 2014

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances surrounding remarks made by Brett McGurk, the American deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, about decentralization in Iraq. His remarks came in testimony to the House on Wednesday, not in a later appearance before the Senate on Thursday.
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« Reply #14637 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:38 AM »


India's rich to quadruple wealth in four years as ranks of multimillionaires grow

A sixth more people are worth at least £2.2m than a year ago and demand for luxury goods is on the rise

Jason Burke in Delhi
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 17.06 BST   
       
They call it the Richie Rich Club, and it is about to get even richer. India's wealthiest will quadruple their net worth in the next four years, a report says, with hundreds of thousands of new entrepreneurs and inheritors becoming multimillionaires.

The survey, based on interviews with 150 ultra-high net worth individuals, comes amid signs of returning business confidence in the world's biggest democracy.

Recent years have seen lacklustre growth, rising prices of basic foodstuffs and a weakening currency. But the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) won a landslide victory in May on a pledge to reinvigorate the ailing economy.

Despite the slowdown, there are now nearly a sixth more Indians worth in excess of $3.75m (£2.2m) than just one year ago, the report for the Kotak Mahindra bank notes.

"Cities are mushrooming, the middle class population growing, opportunities have increased manyfold and the political environment has improved greatly in recent months," according to Murali Balaraman, a co-author.

Between them India's rich hold assets worth a trillion dollars, which is around a fifth of the total wealth in the country. Within four years, that total is likely to reach $4tn (£2.3tn), the report says, making three times as many people multimillionaires.

Serving the new rich – and the old money – is a booming luxury market.

"They really want to show or talk about their wealth in a really subtle way, and consumption of luxury goods is a nice way to do it," Balaraman said.

Abhay Gupta, the CEO of brand consultancy Luxury Connect, said the market for top end goods and experiences would "only get bigger".

"There is a huge aspirational class who look up to what the very wealthy are doing and then copy it," he said.

Cars are among the most popular items bought, the report says. Whereas five years ago locally made SUVs were shown off by the wealthy, now only foreign cars will turn heads. Mercedes saw a 47% surge in sales in India last year. BMW launched a new $200,000 (£117,700) model in Delhi this week.

India's appalling infrastructure restricts demand, however. Lamborghini's chief executive, Stephan Winkelmann, admitted last year that the traffic and roads in India "are not so suitable" for the $450,000 (£265,000) sports cars. In India, Lamborghini sells two models: the Gallardo and the Aventador, which has a top speed of 217mph.

Winkelmann said Lamborghini's Indian customers were much younger than those in Europe, with a typical buyer being in his 30s. However, the most popular investments remain real estate – mainly within India – and jewellery.

India's super-rich have long raised eyebrows around the world with their spectacular spending. Mukesh Ambani, the country's wealthiest man, has built the world's most valuable home in Mumbai, the commercial capital.

The 27-storey tower, complete with helicopter pads, indoor cinemas and a staff of more than 600, is worth an estimated $1bn (£500m).

The three-day wedding of the niece of Lakshmi Mittal, the UK-based steel tycoon who is worth an estimated $16bn (£9.4bn), was reported to have cost $80m (£47m). Hundreds of guests were flown to Barcelona for the ceremony and party, which took place in a museum in the city.

But buyers of luxury goods searching for the psychological satisfaction of exclusivity are becoming increasingly demanding, the Kotak Mahindra report says. One ordered nine cases of Japanese whisky costing over $750 (£440) a bottle for a wedding reception.

The attraction of the imported whisky was that no one who attended the wedding would find out how to source the same drink in India, the report adds.

Another big spender systematically bought identical pairs of Louis Vuitton bags, then cut up half of them to make clothes that would match her accessories.

Even the traditional wedding is evolving fast. Presents such as silver plates, dried fruit or sweets once sent with wedding invitations are being replaced by gifts by top western designer brands.

"These days it's Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton bags," says Gupta.

Almost half new ultra high net worth individuals live in smaller provincial cities.

A high proportion give substantial amounts to charity, though the report notes that the "growth of philanthropic spends in India has not been proportional to overall growth in ultra high net worth individual wealth".

Co-author Balaraman says that growth in the number of rich people would not result in social tensions as a wide gap in incomes and wealth is an "accepted norm" in India.

"People know that someone is rich and someone is poor and they carry on with their lives," he explains.


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« Reply #14638 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:41 AM »

China’s Plan to Limit Coal Use Could Spur Consumption for Years

By CHRIS BUCKLEY
JULY 24, 2014
IHT

HONG KONG — Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions, the Chinese government is considering a mandatory cap on coal use, the main source of carbon pollution from fossil fuels. But it would be an adjustable ceiling that would allow coal consumption to grow for years, and policy makers are at odds on how long the nation’s emissions will rise.

Senior officials are debating these issues as they formulate a new five-year development plan, to be finalized by the end of next year. China emits more carbon dioxide than any other country, so what President Xi Jinping and his colleagues decide will have far-reaching consequences for efforts to contain climate change.

China’s leaders have not detailed their views on coal or carbon emission limits. But there is robust support among senior policy advisers for a firm national cap on coal starting in 2016, Wang Yi, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing who studies environmental policy, said in a telephone interview.

“I think there’s a broad consensus on this, and it’s a question of how to implement it,” said Professor Wang, who is a senior member of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress. “If we can have a cap on coal, that would almost be equivalent to a cap on carbon, because coal is such a dominant source of pollution and emissions.”

Professor Wang and others say a coal ceiling would be easier to enforce than a cap on carbon emissions from all fossil fuels, which some experts have proposed. China accounts for half of global coal consumption.

The coal cap would be stricter than current limits, which are not mandatory and are only loosely enforced. But it would be pegged to expected economic growth and energy demand, so coal use could keep rising for years.

Chinese policy advisers remain divided about how quickly the country should move to cut coal consumption. Some officials fear stricter limits would drag down the economy. They cite the prospect of mine closings, job losses and energy shortfalls if alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear, hydroelectric and solar power, fail to deliver in time.

“The main difficulty is the time it takes to develop the substitutes for coal, and the uncertainties of bringing them online,” said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in eastern China. “The government is now more focused on cleaning up smog, but if the economy falters, then it’s possible the government’s focus could shift back to economic growth.”

Strict limits are also likely to face opposition from the powerful coal industry and allied officials, said Ailun Yang, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute in Washington who works on emissions and energy policy in China. Growth in coal use has slowed markedly in the past couple of years, but the China National Coal Association said last year that it expected the country to consume 4.8 billion metric tons annually by 2020.

“The real debate is about how to engage the big state-owned fossil-fuel companies, and also the big provinces whose economies are very, very dependent on these industries,” Ms. Yang said.

On the other side, some economists argue that bold efforts to reduce coal consumption would be an economic and environmental boon in the long term by encouraging new, clean modes of growth.

And, experts say, there is new pressure on the government from rising domestic anger over smog. Coal burned in power plants, boilers and furnaces is a main source of the grimy pollution that swamps Beijing and other cities, and many steps to cut smog would also cut carbon emissions.

“The whole air pollution situation has changed the debate dramatically,” Ms. Yang said. “There’s a lot more political space to argue for control measures.”

A dozen provinces and major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, have already set firm limits on coal use or goals to reduce consumption.

Yet the most worrisome new threat to China’s carbon-cutting efforts could come from coal gasification plants, which officials have promoted as a way to reduce particulate air pollution, said Barbara A. Finamore, the Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Those plants can feed gas to big cities, cutting coal demand in those cities, but producing the gas emits large quantities of carbon dioxide. A report issued by Greenpeace East Asia this week said local governments in China had proposed 48 such plants, in addition to two already running.

“Without a national cap, there is a real danger that coal production and air pollution will simply move to other parts of China,” Ms. Finamore said.

China’s National Energy Administration called this year for research proposals for “caps for total energy and coal consumption for 2020, and a practical path for implementing caps on energy and coal consumption.”

A recent study that Professor Wang oversaw at the Chinese Academy of Sciences proposed that China aim for coal consumption to peak in 2025 around 4.5 billion metric tons. But other Chinese and foreign researchers say an earlier peak at a lower level is feasible and necessary.

Han Wenke, director general of the state Energy Research Institute in Beijing, has urged China to start cutting coal consumption around 2020. China’s “actual consumption of coal is already very close to four billion tons, which is at the limits of endurance for the domestic environment,” he wrote in a recent paper.

A parallel debate is whether China should set a date for a peak in its carbon emissions, and if so, what that date should be. Other governments have pressed China to set a date so they can better map out how global greenhouse gas levels could rise.

So far, the Chinese government has resisted doing so, partly out of fear that a deadline could become hostage to onerous international demands. But China’s chief climate talks negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, said this month that the government could “propose a peak year for carbon emissions” in the first half of 2015, reported Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

Governments negotiating a new climate change treaty have agreed to propose national contributions to emissions reduction as part of efforts to reach an agreement in Paris next year. Previous efforts have foundered in part because China and other large developing countries have refused to accept calls from rich nations to take on binding emission targets.

China has been the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels since around 2006, when it passed the United States, and most research indicates that its emissions are likely to keep rising for at least another decade, driven by industrialization, rising affluence and the growth of cities.

Just how long they will rise is a question that divides experts, even those close to the government.

“There is major controversy,” Pan Jiahua, an expert on global warming and greenhouse gas policy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said in a telephone interview. “I’m personally more optimistic and believe that 2025 is a viable time for a carbon emissions peak, but others think that’s unrealistic and say we have to wait until 2030 or later.”

At international talks in Copenhagen in 2009, governments agreed to try to hold greenhouse gas concentrations below levels likely to cause the average global temperature to rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial average during this century.

Virtually no country is acting fast enough to be on track to reach that target. Even if advanced countries do far more to cut carbon emissions, China’s must peak by the mid-2020s to keep hope alive for the Copenhagen goal, said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys, a consulting company. He and others said China could do that by around 2025, given the right industry, taxation and consumption policies.

“If a coal cap can help us reach a peak in coal in 2020, we can be confident that the CO2 peak will be about 2025,” said Yang Fuqiang, a former energy researcher for the Chinese government and now a senior adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, referring to carbon dioxide.

But several experts at Chinese government institutes said it would be too economically perilous to peak so soon, and two recent Chinese studies have said that any attempt to do so before 2030 would be impractical.

“If you wanted a peak right now, China could do it by stopping economic growth,” said Professor Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “But the price would be that the ordinary people would go out onto the streets.”


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« Reply #14639 on: Jul 25, 2014, 06:49 AM »


Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 15 and leaves 200 wounded

UN condemns shelling of UNRWA school, saying it asked IDF for time to evacuate civilians, which was not given

• Gaza crisis: Israeli strike kills at least 15 – live updates

Peter Beaumont in Beit Hanoun
The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014 20.43 BST   

Link to video: Gaza hospital overwhelmed with survivors of Israeli strike on UN shelter

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/24/israeli-strike-un-school-gaza-kills-women-children

International scrutiny of Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip intensified on Thursday when more than 15 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in a strike on a UN school in northern Gaza crowded with hundreds of displaced civilians.

Most of the injured were women and children. Among the dead was a mother and her one-year-old baby. UN staff had been attempting to organise the school's evacuation when the attack took place.

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, condemned the attack, which came hours after the agency had warned that Israel's actions in the Palestinian enclave could constitute war crimes. "Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop and to stop now," Ban said.

The Israeli military first claimed, in a text sent to journalists, that the school could have been hit by Hamas missiles that fell short. Later, a series of tweets from the Israel Defence Forces appeared to confirm the deaths were the result of an Israeli strike.

"Today Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire."

"Last night, we told Red Cross to evacuate civilians from UNRWA's shelter in Beit Hanoun btw 10am & 2pm. UNRWA & Red Cross got the message. Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that we gave them."

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works agency said there had earlier been "firing around the compound" and his organisation had asked the Israeli army for time to evacuate civilians. "We spent much of the day trying to negotiate or to coordinate a window so that civilians, including our staff, could leave. That was never granted … and the consequences of that appear to be tragic." Gunness said the Israeli military were supplied with coordinates of UN schools where those displaced were sheltering. UN sources told the Guardian a call was placed to the Israeli military at 10.55am requesting permission to evacuate but their call was not returned.

The deaths in Beit Hanoun raised the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict that began on 8 July to at least 751. Israel has lost 32 soldiers – all since 17 July, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation – and three civilians.

Hours after the attack, a trail of bloody footprints could be seen crossing a deserted playground littered with abandoned possessions. There were pools of blood both inside and outside the school building; more blood splashed over wooden school desks.

The Israeli military, which said it was "reviewing the incident", claimed the incident had occurred during "heavy combat" in the area and accused "terrorists" of "using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields".

Although missiles belonging to Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups in Gaza do sometimes fall short, there was no visible evidence of debris from broken Palestinian rockets in the school. The injuries and the number of fatalities were consistent with a powerful explosion that sent shrapnel tearing through the air, in some cases causing traumatic amputations.

The surrounding neighbourhood bore evidence of multiple Israeli attacks, including smoke from numerous artillery rounds and air strikes. One building was entirely engulfed by flames.

Thursday's assault on the school – one of the grimmest incidents of the war – occurred at about 2.50pm as the playground was crowded with families waiting to be ferried to safety. According to survivors, one shell landed in the schoolyard followed by several more rounds that hit the upper stories of the building.

Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other, waiting for news of relatives. A shell exploded about 50 metres from the hospital building as they waited.

Nour Hamid, 17, was hoping for news of her sister. As she attempted to comfort her terrified nephew, she said: "We were packing up to leave when the attack happened. We were standing outside when they started hitting us, some of the women holding their babies. My sister-in-law was one of the injured. There were bodies everywhere, most of them women and children."

Laila al-Shinbari told Reuters: "All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids."

Sabah Kafarna, 35, had also been sheltering at the school. "At about 11.30 someone from the municipality came to tell us that we were going to be moved because it was too dangerous. But the buses didn't come. That's why [there were] so many people all outside when the shells landed," she said. "The shells came one after the other. I was inside by the windows when they smashed."

Ayman Hamdan, medical director at Beit Hanoun hospital, told the Guardian that medical staff were treating multiple shrapnel injuries and damage to internal organs. "Some of the bodies were blown apart. Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it," she said.

The dead were ferried along with the most seriously injured in a fleet of ambulances to the relative safety of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia. Frantic relatives crowded the morgue looking for loved ones. The hospital's emergency room was plunged into chaos as doctors struggled to cope with the influx.

One father, his white singlet stained with blood, sat on the floor cradling the body of his injured daughter as another relative held a drip above her. Two more children were brought in – one girl injured by shrapnel, and another body whose torso was covered in blood.

Several UN schools have come under fire in the last week. On Tuesday, a school in Maghazi, central Gaza, sheltering about 1,000 people, was hit by Israeli shells as an UNRWA team inspected damage caused by an earlier strike. Thursday's strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting across the territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

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

West Bank rage at Gaza bloodshed as protests erupt over UN school attack

Palestinian Authority calls for 'day of rage' after women and children are killed by Israeli shelling while seeking shelter

Peter Beaumont in Gaza City and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014 09.54 BST

The violence of the conflict in Gaza spread to the West Bank on Thursday with at least two Palestinians killed and scores wounded in one of the biggest clashes seen for several years.

Further protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are expected following noon prayers on Friday, the last Friday of Ramadan, after the Palestinian Authority called for a “day of rage” over the bloodshed in Gaza.

Thousands of Palestinians took part in a demonstration after more than 15 women, children and United Nations staff were killed and around 200 injured when a UN shelter for those fleeing the Israeli bombing was hit.

The Israel Defence Forces insisted it had given the occupants of the shelter time to leave before shelling the area. But the UN flatly contradicted that, saying it had made repeated attempts to negotiate a window during which people could safely leave the area but none was granted. It said it had given the IDF precise co-ordinates of the location of the school.

Meanwhile reports emerged that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had presented both sides with a new proposal for a cessation of violence. It centred around a week-long temporary ceasefire with Israeli troops allowed to stay in Gaza to locate and destroy tunnels; and simultaneous negotiations for a permanent deal, with guarantees by the US, EU and UN that the primary concerns of each side would be addressed.

Kerry was said to be awaiting a response from Israel and Hamas before leaving Cairo to return to Washington later on Friday. Israel's security cabinet was due to meet later on Friday to discuss the plan. It will also discuss the option of expanding its eight-day-old ground operation in Gaza.

Hamas's leader-in-exile, Khaled Mishal, said a truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel's eight-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. "We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that's parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza," he told the BBC.

The school in Beit Hanoun in the north of Gaza was one of the grimmest incidents of the conflict, now in its 18th day and in which more than 800 Palestinians – mostly civilians – have been killed. Thirty-four Israelis and one Thai worker have died.

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, condemned the shelter attack, which came hours after the agency had warned that Israel's actions in the Palestinian enclave could constitute war crimes. "Today's attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop and to stop now," Ban said.

Valerie Amos, the UN's top humanitarian official, described the attack on the school as “appalling”.

The school was hit while its playground was crowded with families waiting to be ferried to safety. According to survivors one shell landed in the schoolyard followed by several more rounds that hit the upper storeys of the building.

Most of the wounded were moved initially to a local hospital where terrified women and children clung to each other, waiting for news of relatives. A shell exploded about 50 metres from the hospital building as they waited.

Following the attack a trail of bloody footprints could be seen crossing the deserted playground, which was littered with abandoned possessions. There were pools of blood both inside and outside the school building; more blood was splashed over wooden school desks.

Nour Hamid, 17, said: "We were packing up to leave when the attack happened. We were standing outside when they started hitting us, some of the women holding their babies. My sister-in-law was one of the injured. There were bodies everywhere, most of them women and children."

Laila al-Shinbari told Reuters: "All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, [there was] blood and screams. My son is dead and all my relatives are wounded including my other kids."

Ayman Hamdan, medical director at Beit Hanoun hospital, told the Guardian that medical staff were treating multiple shrapnel injuries and damage to internal organs. "Some of the bodies were blown apart. Such a massacre requires more than one hospital to deal with it," she said.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have sought shelter in UN premises during the conflict. Several schools run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, have come under fire in the last week. On Tuesday a school in Maghazi, central Gaza, sheltering about 1,000 people, was hit by Israeli shells as an UNRWA team inspected damage caused by an earlier strike.

Thursday's strike occurred during a day of heavy fighting across the territory as Israel pressed ahead with its operation to halt rocket fire from Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

The Israeli military, which said it was "reviewing the incident", claimed the incident had occurred during "heavy combat" in the area and accused "terrorists" of "using civilian infrastructure and international symbols as human shields".

In the West Bank clashes between the IDF and up to 10,000 people demonstrating against the Gaza offensive erupted in the volatile area around the massive Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The IDF said it used "riot dispersal means" – a term used to cover weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas – against protesters, who threw rocks and molotov cocktails at them and blocked a road with burning tyres. It did not say whether live rounds had been used.

According to Israel Radio the protest appeared to be the largest since the Palestinian second intifada, or uprising, which ended in 2005.

Two other Palestinians have been killed in confrontations in the West Bank this week. On Thursday night police also clashed with Palestinian protesters around Jerusalem's Old City.



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