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« Reply #14670 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:40 AM »

Indonesia President-Elect Faces Huge Reform Challenge

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 15:24

After his resounding victory in Indonesia's presidential race, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo now faces the daunting task of taking the world's third-biggest democracy forward as resistance to reform lingers.

The softly-spoken former furniture exporter was declared Indonesia's next president by election officials Tuesday, and although his rival, Prabowo Subianto, is contesting the result in court, Widodo is widely expected to prevail.

He is the country's first president to come from outside the political and military elite, and millions are eager to see him deliver on promised reform.

The challenges are enormous: Indonesia's public service is dogged by corruption and tangled in a web of bureaucracy. Around half the population of 250 million people are poor, while persistent weaknesses in the economy threaten growth.

"I'm not going to sugar-coat it, it will be a really difficult job," Indonesian Defense University's Yohanes Sulaiman told Agence France Presse.

"He will have to cut fuel subsidies and red tape -- a lot of people have financially benefited from red tape for a long time."

Widodo has pledged to eventually scrap energy subsidies that eat 20 percent of the state budget. Cutting subsidies is politically sensitive, and has met with fierce resistance from the masses and opportunistic opposition parties.

Prabowo's coalition has more seats in parliament than Widodo's, and even though some parties may jump ship in coming weeks, pushing legislation through will be an ongoing challenge.

Parliament is one of the most corrupt public institutions, attendance by lawmakers is dismal and just a small fraction of bills are made into laws each year.

"The parliament is very hostile –- if Jokowi wants good government, he would have to imprison half the lawmakers. He could easily be blocked by them," Sulaiman said, referring to Widodo by his widely used nickname.

Resistance could also come from within Widodo's own Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), known to be split down several lines.

Legions of PDI-P members are loyal to Puan Maharani, daughter of former president and party leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and granddaughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno.

Some have painted Megawati as Widodo's puppet master, raising fears among those who remember her 2001-04 presidency as aloof and indecisive as militancy and corruption flourished.

- Managing expectations -

Indonesia's economy has begun to bounce back after a woeful 2013 -- when the rupiah dived, inflation soared and the current account hit a record deficit -- but fundamental weaknesses are still hampering growth, economists say.

"It's a huge challenge because of two things. First we're too dependent on commodity exports, we need to ramp up our non-commodity export base," Kenny Soejatman, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management Indonesia, told AFP.

"Second, we're facing competition from other emerging countries. We're facing a weakening global economy and wage pressures. We need to improve our human capital and infrastructure to improve competitiveness."

To make good on some of his economic policies, Widodo will have to better engage the labor unions, according to University of Sydney's Michele Ford.

In the campaign period, Prabowo had the support of major unions that have been able to mobilise millions of protestors and last year spearheaded the huge wage hikes that hurt Indonesia's competitiveness in manufacturing.

"If Widodo can bring unions into the fold, he has a much better chance of being able implement the reform agenda," Ford said.

"Take his plan to cut the fuel subsidy. This will be deeply unpopular with workers," she said, adding he would need to work out trade-offs with unions to avoid massive protests.

But what tens of millions of poor Indonesians are hoping for is a sturdier social safety net.

Widodo has promised to upscale his popular Jakarta health and education card programme to the national level. In the capital, residents received cards that guaranteed free medical treatment and schooling.

Widodo was commended for the smooth distribution of the cards, but many complained of bed shortages and long waits in hospitals that were overwhelmed with patients.

Giving all children an education will also require more than cards. Schools around the country are grossly underfunded. Buildings have collapsed and even killed students in recent years, while teachers often refuse to work, complaining of unpaid wages.

But his first challenge may be keeping the people's hopes in check -- millions are betting on Widodo's fresh man-of-the-people approach to work wonders.

"Managing those expectations in the early weeks and months will be vital for Widodo if he is to bring the country with him," Ford said.


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« Reply #14671 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:41 AM »

N. Korea Defies U.N. Censure to Fire Missile into Sea

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 07:08

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un guided the military's latest rocket-firing drill, state media said Sunday, confirming the missile launch which was conducted in defiance of U.N. censure.   

Saturday's launch was the first since the U.N. Security Council on July 17 officially condemned Pyongyang for its recent series of ballistic missile tests, in violation of U.N. resolutions.

The North's state news agency KCNA described the missile launch by the army as a "rocket-firing drill" to simulate a strike on military bases in South Korea where 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed.

"(Kim) examined a firing plan mapped out in consideration of the present location of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces' bases... and under the simulated conditions of the battle to strike and destroy them before guiding the drill," it said.

The launch was intended to mark the July 27 anniversary of the ceasefire agreement at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, KCNA said.

It did not say where the drill took place.

Seoul's army said earlier the North had fired a short-range missile into the sea Saturday night -- the latest in a recent series of launches that heightened tension on the peninsula. 

The North often fires missiles and rockets as a show of force or to express anger at perceived provocations, but the frequency of the recent tests -- six in the past month -- is unusual.

"The North fired... a short-range ballistic missile into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 9:40 pm (12:40 GMT)," a spokesman for Seoul's defense ministry told Agence France Presse.

- Close to border -

The missile, with an estimated range of 500 kilometer (300 miles), was fired in the northeastern direction from Jangsan Cape in the North's western coast -- only 12 miles away from the tense sea border with the South, he said.

Pyongyang's recent missile launches were carried out at locations increasingly close to the border with the South -- a move analysts say is aimed at stepping up threats against Seoul. 

The flashpoint maritime border on the Yellow Sea was a scene of several bloody naval clashes and the North's shelling of a border island in 2010 that left four South Koreans including two civilians dead. 

The Japanese prime minister's crisis management center said the launch was "extremely problematic" for aircraft and shipping lines, adding on its Twitter account that it would lodge a protest with North Korea.

U.N. resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

The U.N.'s latest criticism on the North met with angry response from the North, which called it "absolutely intolerable" and defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war maneuvers" by the U.S.. 

The launch came at a time when Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent weeks, mixing its tests with peace gestures that have been largely dismissed by Seoul.

The two Koreas are currently trying to sort out logistics for the North's participation in the Asian Games, which begin in September in the South Korean city of Incheon.

"Our military sees the launch by North Korea, conducted while expressing its will to participate in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games, as part of its traditional dual strategy of engagement and pressure," Seoul's military spokesman said.


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« Reply #14672 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:42 AM »

Philippines Welcomes 100 Millionth Baby

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 08:25

A baby girl born early Sunday has officially pushed the population of the Philippines to 100 million, highlighting the challenge of providing for more people in the already-impoverished nation.

The child, Jennalyn Sentino, was one of 100 babies born in state hospitals all over the archipelago who received the symbolic designation of "100,000,000th baby".

"This is both an opportunity and a challenge... an opportunity we should take advantage of and a challenge we recognize," Juan Antonio Perez, executive director of the official Commission on Population, told Agence France Presse.

While a growing population means a larger workforce, it also means more dependents in a country where about 25 percent of people are living in poverty, he said.

He said the Philippines had to find a way to bring services to the poorest families while also lowering the average number of children that fertile women will bear in their lifetimes.

"We'd like to push the fertility rate down to two children per (woman's) lifetime," from the current level of an average of three per woman, he said.

While celebrating the birth of the babies with cake and gifts of clothing and blankets, the government will also monitor each of the designated 100 children over the coming years to see if they are receiving the required health services, Perez added.

Jennalyn's father, 45-year-old van driver Clemente Sentino, said he was grateful for the government aid, but expressed confidence he could support his child and his partner.

He and the child's mother, Dailin Cabigayan, 27, are not yet married. "She just happened to get pregnant. But we do have plans to get married," he told AFP.

"I make just enough to get by but at least my job pays regularly. We will find a way to make it fit," he said.

Efforts to control the Philippines' population growth have long been hampered by the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which counts about 80 percent of Filipinos as followers and which disapproves of all forms of artificial birth control.

It was only in April that the government finally overcame over a decade of Church opposition to implement a reproductive health law providing the poor with birth control services.

Perez said with the law's implementation, about two to three million women who previously did not have access to family planning now do.

Meanwhile, Father Melvin Castro, head of the commission on family and life of the country's Catholic bishops, was quoted by a church-run radio station as praising the ballooning population, as there would be more "young workers" to power the economy.


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« Reply #14673 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:48 AM »


A pause in the bombing by Israeli forces – and the ruins of Gaza are laid bare

Repeated shelling has inflicted a terrible reality on Palestinians as they try to salvage something from shattered homes and lives

Peter Beaumont in Gaza   
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 18.46 BST   

In the dangerous streets around the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the buildings were, by and large, still standing on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, after a day of intense Israeli bombing and shellfire, the hospital in the northern Gaza town was standing in a sea of rubble, its walls pockmarked with gunfire and torn by shrapnel.

The skyline, until so recently regular and neat, had been transformed into something torn and ragged. The tops of a pair of minarets had been blown off, and the graves in a cemetery smashed to pieces. Houses, offices, apartment blocks and shops were collapsed or collapsing.

The bombs that hit these streets in the time between the Observer's two visits were visible, and sometimes audible, across the city as huge explosions sent up eruptions of grey smoke into the sky.

What happened here in Beit Hanoun, and in other neighbourhoods of Gaza hardest hit by the Israeli assault, will inevitably demand an explanation: whether the extremity of violence unleashed in these residential areas in recent days was proportionate, or if the destruction amounts to a war crime.

Those are questions for the days ahead. On Saturday, however, in the midst of a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire, the concerns were more immediate ones, as thousands of Palestinian residents flocked back to their ruined neighbourhoods to see what remained.

As they came on foot and in cars, they were accompanied by fire engines, bulldozers and ambulances of the Red Crescent, whose crews by mid-afternoon had recovered 85 bodies, many of them partially decomposed, buried under the rubble of Gaza's most damaged neighbourhoods. Officials said the death toll among Palestinians had passed 1,000.

If evidence were needed of the failure of diplomacy, the truce that allowed Palestinians to return safely for the first time in days was the only apparent outcome from the mediation mission by US secretary of state John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. Indeed, last night the week-long ceasefire they had hoped to negotiate as a precursor to a wider deal appeared in peril after the Israeli military said rockets had been fired into Israel, while Hamas appeared to reject an extension of the truce.

In some places visited by the Observer whole blocks had been flattened, dozens of buildings at a time reduced to a moonscape from which the smell of death at times wafted. We came across Mohammad Shaweish at the entrance to Beit Hanoun, sitting on a cane chair in a pink ground-floor room that had been ripped open to the street, an electricity pylon lying black and smouldering outside where it had been felled. His family occupied four homes on this corner, all severely damaged by the air strike that ripped off the outside walls.

"We escaped a week ago. We came back at just after eight when the truce started. We took refuge in one of the UN schools," he said as he climbed into the house of one of his relatives to retrieve pots and pans from the kitchen.

"My house, my house," said another man, hitting his head with his hand. Nothing, it seems, had escaped the flying pieces of white-hot metal thrown out by the bombs – not electricity cables, or cars left behind, not windows or doors.

Where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have been there are sandy roads pushed through gardens, parks and farmland, banks of dirt thrown up from where the tanks fired from.

Near the hospital a man leads a horse out of the ruins, a long streak of blood staining its hindquarters where it was struck by shrapnel. Elsewhere, we come across donkeys and cattle killed where they were left tied up in the street, scorched, stomachs swelling with gas.

A group of men show us the home of the Shabat family, seven of whom died when it was flattened by a bomb.

As people search through the debris for their belongings, packing what they can in to taxis, trucks, rickshaws and donkey carts before fleeing the town, Israeli tanks stand by, their crews invisible inside. When one tank rumbles into life and changes its position, it triggers a panic in the crowded streets ahead of us, as cars attempt to reverse or make turns in the rubble.

But in this 12 hours of temporary truce, the Israeli tanks move only on the perimeter of the ruins, visible in the clouds of dust and exhaust they throw up, or as green moving shapes in the far distance.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who did not flee could have survived the attack, but a few did.

"We lived through a night of horror. The shelling was all around our house," says Hanan al-Zaanin, standing with four of her children outside their home.

In Quds Street, close to the hospital, a body is dug out of the rubble and carried past a row of demolished houses. Someone says it is a fighter. We drive on to Sikka Street, close to the Erez crossing, making frequent diversions for roads blocked by broken buildings. Here the sand berm of the Israeli border is visible to one side, and the concrete border wall ahead. Here there are more families sitting in the ruins of their homes or digging for what is left.

Zoheir Hamad is with his wife Umm Fadi next to a home that is little more than a few barely standing walls; the water pumping station next to them is also badly damaged.

A short distance away a damaged Israeli anti-mine vehicle sits in the road, bent and torn by an explosion. As we speak, a man passes, cradling the shape of a machine gun wrapped in a blanket, like an infant.

"We left at the beginning of the war," says Zoheir.

"It is the first time that we have managed to come back." Umm Fadi adds: "We're staying in the UN school in Jabaliya. We came to get clothes for the children. But there is nothing left."

It is the phrase we hear throughout a long day: "Nothing left." And it is true. Whole areas that were once inhabited have been reduced to a landscape of earth and dust and broken shapes.

Although in places there is evidence fighting has taken place, what is hard to comprehend is the Israeli justification for the scale of the destruction, save destruction for its own sake in pursuit of a policy of collective punishment.

Ahead of probable international criticism over the scale of the destruction, some Israeli political figures were trying to deny the scale of the attacks was in any way disproportionate.

"There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted," said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. He added that Israeli troops were "fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there … those are the consequences of such a fight".

Despite the truce, not everywhere was reachable. In two border areas, ambulances were unable to approach because tanks fired warning shots at the vehicles, the Red Crescent said.

And if Beit Hanoun is largely destroyed, Shujai'iya, an eastern neighbourhood of Gaza that has been shelled and bombed for a week, is incomparably worse. The destruction appears to be concentrated on three areas – Mansoura Street, Baltaji Street and Nazaz Street.

In the midst of an area of rubble the size of two football pitches in the last of these areas, we meet three brothers standing on what was once the four-storey building in which their families lived in four apartments. Next to them is a bomb crater measuring 10 metres across and six metres deep.

Alaa Helou, 35, a carpenter, points to what is no longer there. "That was a two-storey house. There was three storeys and over there was four storeys high. We came to see our house. We thought it might have been damaged by a shell. But there is nothing left of it."

"We spent 20 years making our place nice," says his older brother. "We spent all of our money on our homes."

If there is something worse than the scenes of destruction, it is what is visible in the faces in Beit Hanoun and Shujai'iya. A man is led away down one street in Shujai'iya; staggering and blind with grief he his held up by two others. Women sit in the dust, crying.

We find 33-year-old Rifaat Suqr sitting outside his gutted house, a stunned look on his face. "It is like an earthquake hit this street," he says. "An earthquake."

Except that this was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.

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

Protest is latest casualty in Israel as despair and hopelessness set in

The mass protests of past decades have not been repeated this time around, say activists

Harriet Sherwood   
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 23.05 BST

One evening last week a group of people set out to walk along a disused railway in Jerusalem, now a pleasant path through the south of the city. They were mostly families, some with their dogs, some pushing strollers. Among them was David Broza, one of Israel's best-loved musicians.

They carried no banners and chanted no slogans, but the message of their small demonstration – their fourth in recent weeks – was clear from their T-shirts. In black lettering on white cloth, the words in both Hebrew and Arabic read: "We march together, hand in hand." Most of the group of about 200 were connected to a school at the starting point of their walk. The Hand in Hand school is unique in Jerusalem for being a mixed bilingual establishment of Jewish and Palestinian children and staff, with a strong ethos of coexistence and peace. It is one of just five such schools in Israel; all others are segregated.

Maya Frankforter, a Jewish parent, said the school community had decided to march to protest at the violence that erupted in Jerusalem following the murders of three Jewish youths and a Palestinian teenager last month and the ensuing horror in Gaza. She said the demonstrations were "like an island of strength, because I've been feeling suffocated, hopeless and helpless. This empowers me."

Palestinian teacher Widad Naoum said she, too, drew comfort from the protests. "People see me as the enemy. Every day, they point the finger at me. They judge me because I am Arab, no matter what I think or do."

The demonstrators soon encountered opposition from a handful of youths, who shouted "traitors" and "go back to Gaza". On previous marches, women protesters have had the words "bitch" and "whore" screamed in their faces. The parents do their best to shield the children from the abuse.

The picture has been repeated in many cities in Israel in recent weeks. Protests against the bloodshed in Gaza have attracted much smaller numbers than in previous conflicts, in a reflection of the diminishing weight of the "peace camp" in Israeli society.

Last weekend protesters in the northern city of Haifa were assaulted by rightwing activists, who beat up the Arab deputy mayor and his son. Police have been forced to protect a series of peace marches in Tel Aviv, including one last week that was pelted with eggs and plastic bottles. A public reading of ex-soldiers' testimonies about their role in previous conflicts in Gaza, organised by Breaking the Silence, a group of veteran combatants dedicated to exposing military injustices, was barracked by up to 100 extremists.

It is a big contrast with the 400,000 people – then almost a tenth of the country's population – who took to the streets in 1986 to protest about Israel's war in Lebanon. In 1995, 100,000 people attended the rally in support of the Oslo accords at which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. And in 2009 several thousand people joined peace marches during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week assault on Gaza.

Since the start of the current conflict, protests have generally attracted a few hundred, with last Saturday's march in Tel Aviv mustering around 1,000. After another week of carnage, activists were hoping for a bigger demonstration in the city on Saturday night.

The reasons for the decline of Israel's peace movement are, inevitably, complex and interrelated. They include the failures of the Oslo accords and of successive attempts to forge a peace deal; the growing voice of the extreme right in Israeli politics; the "normalisation" of the 47-year-long occupation; and the relative marginalisation of the Palestinian cause both in Israel and internationally.

Added to that mix is weariness and hopelessness. "I think the peace movement became frustrated that nothing changes," said Maayan Dak of the Women's Coalition for Peace. "Things just repeat. People feel there is no point."

According to Tamar Hermann, author of The Israeli Peace Movement: A Shattered Dream, the decline of the Israeli peace camp began in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords.

"Most people felt the government was now taking care of the matter: they could do other things," she said. "And when they realised Oslo wasn't working, they still didn't want to protest for fear they would inadvertently be joining forces with the [anti-Oslo] rightwing."

Other factors she identifies as contributing to the peace camp's contraction include the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising – "when buses are exploding in the street, it's hard to call for peace" – and the shifts in Israeli politics over recent years. People on the left or centre moved to the centre or the right, and people on the far left became more radicalised, supporting a binational state or the boycott movement, she said. "They lost contact with the mainstream."

Uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East, and the increasing focus on the Iranian nuclear threat, pushed the Palestinian cause to the margins.

"The Palestinians were not perceived as a strategic threat to Israel's national security," said Hermann. "People started to believe that they could go on living this for many years. The peace camp was looked on as anachronistic."

Others cite the new threat they feel from rockets threatening major population centres, and from militants using tunnels to infiltrate Israeli communities, possibly to grab hostages and smuggle them back into Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israeli right has become ever more strident. A political culture of antagonism towards and antagonism towards Israeli-Arabs, who make up 20% of the population has fuelled extremism, according to activists on the left. "Politicians have given legitimacy to extremism. Rightwing violence does not come out of nowhere," said Dak.

One activist, who asked not to be named, said: "It's never been like this before, we've never seen this atmosphere of fear and attacks on protests."

Frankforter echoed his view: "The atmosphere in Jerusalem, and Israel as a whole, is very scary. I never felt fear before. I felt frustrated and isolated in previous wars, but never physical fear. People are frightened to speak out. Something is broken in Israel."

Some say the lack of a broader context to the current violence in Gaza is part of the problem in winning support for the peace movement. "Lots of people are appalled at the killing of children and the level of destruction. But they don't connect that to the occupation: they don't see it as part of a bigger pattern," said the activist.

Peace, said Yehuda Shaul of Breaking The Silence, "is a word that has lost its meaning. [Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, [hard right politician Naftali] Bennett, [Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas, even Hamas – they all say they want peace. The real question is: are you willing to end the occupation? Most Israelis don't understand the context of the occupation, that's why people are so silent."

If current efforts to forge a ceasefire deal fail, and the violence in Gaza worsens, protests may grow. Back at the Hand in Hand school, Jewish and Palestinian parents and staff are meeting regularly, despite being in the midst of the long summer vacation, to seek ways to hold their community together and spread a message of peace. "We're together, and that's the way it should be," said Frankforter. "The most important thing is we try to build a life together. But it's getting harder."

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

Gaza violence sparks global protests - in pictures

As Palestinians are granted a 12-hour ceasefire, people in Tehran, London, Paris, Islamabad and other cities around the world have been protesting against the Israeli attacks on Gaza

please click here to view these pictures: http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2014/jul/26/gaza-violence-sparks-global-protests-in-pictures


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« Reply #14674 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:50 AM »


Ugandans begin to question the high price of the growing China-Africa pact

The televised broadcast in Africa of a father's last call to his family before he was put to death for drug trafficking offences has sparked calls to review the imbalance in relations with Beijing, reports Patience Akumu in Kampala

Patience Akumu in Kampala
The Observer, Sunday 27 July 2014   
   
The last words Ham Andrew Ngobi spoke to his wife, Mariam Nabanja, were intended to be reassuring. "Be firm. I am OK," he said, unaware that this was to be his last call to his family. Ngobi was one of two Ugandans put to death in Guandong province, China, in June after they were found guilty of drug trafficking. His last communication with home before he was executed was broadcast on Ugandan television, sparking outcry and demands that the country review its relationship with China.

In the recording, Ngobi reassures his wife that the appeal court will set him free and let him return home. Then comes a chilling second clip, a call from Uganda's deputy ambassador to China, Paul Makubuya, informing Nabanja: "It is not good. They have taken him. He did not understand what was happening, but I eventually told him in Luganda [his local dialect] that he was going to be killed."

Ngobi had provided a decent life for his family. His wife describes him as a loving husband and a man "who had everything he needed. He had built other houses in addition to the family house," she said. "Why, then, would he go into drugs?"

His is part of the wider story of China in Africa, and specifically in Uganda. In 2009 China overtook US and Britain to become Africa's leading trading partner. It is involved in virtually every sector of Uganda's economy.

Africa's growing relationship with China and other non-traditional allies has led to predictions that its long-awaited rise out of extreme poverty, disease and destitution to become an economic giant is near. Unlike the relationship with western countries such as Britain, Africa's relationship with China is untainted by colonialism.

Uganda's relationship with China dates back to 1962, when Uganda won independence from the British. Like most new African states eager to fortify their independence, Uganda looked for alternative development partnerships. China was one of the first countries to recognise Uganda's independence and the two countries built a relationship based on non-interference with each other's internal affairs. The anti-gay law in Uganda this year, and continued western criticism of President Yoweri Museveni's 28-year-old regime, only served to bind the two countries closer.

Ngobi, 39, sought to make the best of the opportunities which the China-Uganda relationship presented. According to his wife, he regularly travelled to China to buy clothes that he would sell in Uganda.

It's not only Ngobi who got caught up in the fallout from growing links between the two countries. Five more Ugandans in China are set to be executed amid warnings from the Ugandan foreign minister about the dangers of getting involved in the drugs trade.

The Ugandan government has said there is nothing it can do to help those on China's death row and that the executions will not affect China's relationship with Uganda. Its inability to save its citizens' lives, despite its close relationship with China, has angered Ugandans, with one journalist, Simon Musasizi, writing in the Ugandan Observer that "illegal traders in ivory also deserve death" – a reference to China's involvement in the illicit ivory trade in Africa.

In Uganda, one of the world's poorest countries, three quarters of the population are under the age of 30. Most are unemployed and unable to resist the lure of money from the illegal drug trade. Uganda's ambassador to China, Charles Wagidoso, said these young people were mostly "victims of economic circumstances" – mere carriers for big drug dealers. The economic circumstances have been worsened by drastic aid cuts, after corruption scandals and the passing of a harsh anti-gay law. Uganda heavily depends on external funding to supplement its budget and to directly support its population with basics such as food, health services and education.

Though China has reduced its number of capital offences, it has the highest number of executions in the world (Uganda retains the death penalty for some crimes). Human Rights Watch has warned that China's legal system does not provide enough safeguards for administering the death penalty. Ugandan human rights activists and MPs blame the government for not doing enough for Ugandans held under arrest in China. "This is a relationship in which China has the upper hand," says Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, an NGO that successfully campaigned for ending mandatory death penalties in Uganda. "China's interest in Africa is trade and not human rights, and Uganda badly needs China."

When big donors such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands slashed aid because of the anti-gay law, the government, in addition to levying new taxes, turned to China, making more investment deals with Beijing. Given the human rights records of both China and Africa, civil society organisations have cautioned that this relationship be monitored lest it becomes one no different from colonialism, with China siphoning off resources, indifferent to Africa's poverty.

Africans are now starting to question the nature of Chinese investment. In the New York Times in May, Howard French, a senior foreign correspondent and author of China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, wrote: "China has peppered the continent with newly built stadiums, airports, hospitals, highways and dams, but as Africans are beginning to fully recognise, these projects have also left many countries saddled with heavy debts and other problems, from environmental conflict to labour strife. As a consequence, China's relationship with the continent is entering a new and much more sceptical phase."

French points out: "The doubts aren't coming from any soured feelings from African leaders themselves, most of whom still welcome (and profit from) China's embrace." Rather, the doubts are coming from an increasingly vibrant civil society that wants to know how ordinary Africans benefit from China's dollars, infrastructure building and mineral extraction.

In Uganda the Chinese presence is everywhere. From owning shops and hawking merchandise to running hospitals and managing multibillion-dollar projects on which the entire future of Uganda rests, China's presence is conspicuous. China National Oil Shore Corporation won the right to develop Uganda's Kingfisher Field for $2bn. The Chinese have further invested in Uganda's $2.5bn oil refinery and a $1.4bn rail construction project across East Africa.

China is also financing the construction of two dams and a highway from Kampala, Uganda's capital, to Entebbe airport. Major government buildings, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President's Office, were constructed by the Chinese. By 2011, China had invested $14bn in Africa and offered £75bn in aid. A big chunk of this money comes to Uganda and by 2013 bilateral trade between Uganda and China reached more than $500m.

It is the sheer volume and importance of these projects that convinces activists that the government can do more for Ugandans facing execution in China. "What China is doing is prohibited by international human rights law and diplomacy," said MP Betty Namboze. "We welcome them into our country, and this is how they repay us?"

Sewanyana points out that the two countries do not have an extradition agreement. In addition, he said: "Uganda needs to first review its human rights record before it reviews its relationship with China. Maybe if we strike out the death penalty completely, then we can ask that China does not administer the death penalty to our citizens."


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« Reply #14675 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:52 AM »


US evacuates Tripoli embassy as rival militias push Libya towards war

Memories revived of Benghazi assault in which American ambassador died as last-minute ceasefire talks collapse

Chris Stephen in Tripoli
The Observer, Saturday 26 July 2014 18.04 BST   

The US embassy in Tripoli staged a dramatic evacuation in the early hours of Saturday, with other embassies debating whether to follow suit as Libya hovers on the brink of full-scale war. Efforts by diplomats and prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni to engineer a last-minute ceasefire between warring militias have collapsed and the capital echoes to the sound of artillery and rockets.

Fighting is also continuing in the eastern city of Benghazi, part of a nation-wide struggle between an Islamist-led alliance and fragmented opposition.

In Tripoli, thousands are fleeing their homes under a rain of rocket, tank and mortar fire. "They phoned us to tell us to get out," said Huda, a resident in the south-western Tripoli district of Seraj. "They told us: you have seen how the airport looks, this will be your district too."

There are no accurate casualty figures because different militias take their wounded to their own hospitals, but estimates claim that more than 100 have died in two weeks of fighting. The health ministry said it had lost contact with its hospitals.

Tripoli's airport is a smashed ruin after two weeks of attacks on it by a militia from Misrata against another from Zintan, which has held it since the 2011 Arab spring uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi. In that uprising, Misrata, 120 miles west of Tripoli and Zintan, 90 miles south, were allies, forming the two most powerful militias which liberated the capital, backed by Nato bombing. Now they are at war.

Misratan brigades are determined to capture the airport, a valuable strategic asset. But the bombardment has reduced much of it to rubble. The main building is wrecked, the control tower holed and on the scorched tarmac are the remains of 21 planes – much of Libya's small commercial fleet. Three volunteer pilots flew surviving jets to Malta last week.

They may not be back for a long time. International authorities have ordered Libyan airspace to be closed on Monday and there is a last-minute scramble by foreigners and Libyans to get out. Many are streaming towards the Tunisian border crossing, with Egypt having already closed its own frontier after 21 of its border guards were killed in an ambush.

The US embassy found itself in the middle of the battle, its position close to the airport road marking the frontline between the two sides. For two weeks its staff hunkered down in concrete bunkers, protected by 90 heavily armed marines. Two rockets landed outside the walls, but the embassy compound itself took no hits. Each night drones and an Orion surveillance aircraft flew low over the city.

Ambassador Deborah Jones tweeted that there were no armed drones. But armed jets linger off the coast, with an aircraft carrier stationedover the horizon and back-up Marines deployed in Sicily.

On Friday, after consultations with Washington, the order was given to pull out. Through the early hours, the sky echoed with the sounds of planes leaving. Memories are still fresh of the fate of the last ambassador, Chris Stevens, who died along with three staff when the US consulate in Benghazi was stormed by a militia two years ago. London has said nonessential staff have been evacuated and a final decision is expected to be taken by EU embassies on whether to evacuate over the next few days.

The Americans leave a city on edge. Petrol shortages have left the streets mostly empty, but on Friday night thousands gathered for a peace rally in the central Algiers Square. Amid elegant Italian-era buildings and palm trees, they chanted "Libya Hoara!" (Libya Free!) and called for all sides to stop fighting.

"This is not what I fought the revolution for," said Mohammed, a student who joined the rebels during the 2011 uprising. "We fought for peace, and instead we get this."

In truth, the fighting never went away. The former general national congress, instead of disarming the revolutionary militias funded them and gave them official status. In June a new parliament, the House of Representatives, was elected and is due to start work next month in Benghazi, triggering a jostling for position among the militias that threatens all-out war.

"I have been saying it all along: it has to get worse before it gets better," said Sami Zaptia, editor of the Libya Herald newspaper. The question all Libyans are asking is how much worse it will get.


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« Reply #14676 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:55 AM »

Jihadists swarm Syria army base, post photos of beheaded soldiers

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 26, 2014 18:11 EDT

Islamic State fighters have seized a Syrian army base in the northern province of Raqa, killing scores of troops and beheading some of them, a monitoring group said Saturday.

But in the central Homs region, government forces recaptured Al-Shaar gas field, seized by IS a week before, the monitor and Syria’s army said.

The jihadist takeover of the base of Division 17 came as the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said IS fighters accused of atrocities would be added to a list of war crimes indictees.

In the two-day assault on the base in Raqa province, an IS bastion, the jihadists killed at least 85 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

More than 50 troops were summarily executed, 19 others were killed in a double suicide bombing and at least 16 more died in the assault launched early Thursday.

Hundreds of troops “withdrew on Friday to safe places — either to nearby villages whose residents oppose IS or to nearby Brigade 93 — but the fate of some 200 remains unknown,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“Some of the executed troops were beheaded, and their bodies and severed heads put on display in Raqa city,” an IS stronghold, he told AFP.

Video taken by jihadists and distributed on YouTube showed IS fighters apparently inside Division 17 living quarters burning a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The jihadists also posted photographs online of the bodies of decapitated soldiers strewn across the ground.

- Headless bodies -

In one, six bloodied heads were lined up together on the ground, and other pictures showed headless bodies, mostly wearing combat fatigues.

Abdel Rahman said IS intended the display as “a message to the people of Raqa, to tell them it is strong, that it isn’t going anywhere, and to terrify” opponents.

But government forces retook the key Shaar gas field in Homs province, nearly a week after it fell to IS, who killed some 270 government troops in the attack, the Observatory said.

“The army has succeeded in ejecting the jihadists, and it now controls the site,” Abdel Rahman said.

The Syrian army also said its forces and regime paramilitaries “took total control of Al-Shaar mountain and its gas field”.

It “killed many terrorists from the so-called Islamic State,” the statement carried by state news agency SANA said.

In the northeastern province of Hasakeh, the Observatory reported heavy fighting between jihadists and government forces in an area where IS killed at least 50 soldiers on Friday.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, 30 troops and pro-regime paramilitaries were killed in an overnight ambush in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.

IS, which first emerged in Syria’s war in spring 2013, has since imposed near-total control in Raqa province and Deir Ezzor on the Iraq border.

In June, the group proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.

Despite opposition by poorly armed rebels fighting both the army and IS, the jihadists have advanced in several areas of Syria, whose three-year war has killed more than 170,000 people.

“For IS, fighting the regime is not about bringing down Assad. It is about expanding its control,” said Abdel Rahman.

- US suicide bomber -

IS was emboldened by a June offensive in Iraq when swathes of the north and west fell out of Baghdad’s control.

Syrian rebels say IS transported heavy weapons captured from fleeing Iraqi troops into Syria.

On Friday, Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, who heads the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told reporters in New York IS “are good candidates for the list” of possible war crime indictees and he was looking into “perpetrators from all sides”.

Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front meanwhile released a video of a young suicide bomber from Florida who blew himself up at an army post in the northwest on May 25.

Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, alias Abu Hurayra al-Amriki, was believed to be the first American to carry out such an attack in Syria’s war.

The Observatory also said six children and three women were among 15 civilians killed on Friday in rebel mortar fire on army-held areas of Aleppo city.

Once Syria’s commercial capital, the northern metropolis has been divided into regime and rebel-held areas since July 2012.


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« Reply #14677 on: Jul 27, 2014, 06:57 AM »

Construction workers in Bolivia uncover mass grave containing hundreds of skeletons

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 26, 2014 17:59 EDT

Construction workers in Bolivia have stumbled upon a mass grave with the remains of hundreds of likely indigenous miners during the Spanish colonial era, a researcher said Saturday.

The workers found the remains this week as they started construction on a new building in the “El Minero” district of Potosi, located high up in the Andes.

“We are talking about a common grave found at about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet), and the human remains are scattered over an area of four by four meters,” said Sergio Fidel, a researcher at a museum belonging to Tomas Frias University.

In the Spanish colonial era, Potosi became famous for its massive silver and tin reserves, which started to be mined in the 16th century.

Local indigenous people, mainly ethnic Aymara, were commonly put to work as both slaves and indentured servants, especially at the famed Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) mountain.

The construction workers, who have had no specialized excavation training, say they found the remains of 400 to 500 people and that there may be many more.

The university got involved when its staff learned the workers were piling the bones in a massive heap, fully exposed as construction continued.

One hypothesis is that they happened on an indigenous burial ground of slaves and indentured servants who would have worked at the mine in precarious conditions, said Jose Antonio Fuertes, a historian at the national mint.

Another possibility is the remains could be linked to the collapse of a reservoir in Potosi during the 1600s, which killed some 2,000 people.

The Andean city, once among the world’s biggest cities, now has a population of 200,000.

Last month, UNESCO placed the city and the increasingly unstable Cerro Rico on its World Heritage in Danger list due to “uncontrolled mining operations.”


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« Reply #14678 on: Jul 27, 2014, 07:01 AM »

A cosmic two-step: the universal dance of the dwarf galaxies

By The Conversation
Saturday, July 26, 2014 10:21 EDT

Over the last few years we’ve been studying the orbits of dwarf galaxies and we expecting to find them buzzing at random around large galaxies. But looking out into the universe, we see some dwarfs undertaking an orderly dance with others, in coherent, well-defined orbits.

Such orbits are completely unexpected within our ideas of galaxy formation and evolution, so what do these new observations hold for cosmology?

The standard model of cosmology

While the cosmos appears to be a very strange place, recent years have seen significant advances in our scientific understanding of its inner workings.

Since the universe was born in the Big Bang, it has expanded and cooled, with gas pooling into stars and planets, guided by the dominating power of dark matter and dark energy.

The fact that the standard cosmological model, known as Lambda-CDM, works so well has left astronomers with a bit of a quandary, namely where do we look to learn more about the universe? Anomalies usually point the way to new scientific discoveries, but everything appears to fit perfectly. Well, not everything.

In recent years, a lot of cosmological focus has moved from the large-scale universe to our own backyard, into the surrounds of large galaxies such as our own Milky Way.

The problem with dwarfs

For more than a decade, astronomers have worried about the missing satellite problem. While we expect a galaxy like the Milky Way to be surrounded by hundreds and thousands of dwarfs, we see only a handful.

Some think that many of these dwarfs were destroyed by violent stellar explosions in the early universe, something that we are only now beginning to understand. Others wonder if the very nature of dark matter prevents these dwarfs from ever forming.

While the missing dwarfs are a head-scratcher, more peculiar dwarf problems are now confronting cosmology.

Last year, we published an extensive study of our nearest cosmic companion, the Andromeda Galaxy.

It too has its own population of dwarf galaxies, and while we expect these to be buzzing around at random, we found that half of the dwarfs are orbiting on a well defined plane.

The existence of such dancing of dwarfs is a serious challenge to our cosmological ideas, especially as our Milky Way is similarly strange, possessing its own Vast Polar Structure of dwarf galaxies.
Strangers in a strange land?

So, the dwarf populations of the Milky Way and its sister galaxy, Andromeda, are weird. Should this bother us? Maybe not.

Maybe our local patch is somehow strange, an outlier compared to the rest of the universe? If so, we shouldn’t worry as the vast majority of the galaxies would behave as expected.

But just how special is our local patch? We decided to take a look.

We wanted to find the locations and velocities of galaxies in the relatively nearby universe, and luckily for us, someone had already done the hard work in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

Covering a huge swath of sky with a dedicated telescope, this data is available to all. For us, we used it to find big galaxies and their associated population of dwarf galaxies.

The cosmic two-step

With this data in hand, we could start to look at dwarf orbits. The test we applied was relatively simple, looking at dwarfs on opposite side of the larger galaxy and comparing velocities.

If galaxies were buzzing about at random, we would expect to see some chance alignments of dwarfs, but their orbital properties, their velocities, would also be random. In half the systems, both dwarfs would be orbiting in the same direction around the larger galaxy, whereas in the other half, the orbital directions oppose one another.

This is precisely what we found when we tried our test within the Millennium Simulation, one of our best synthetic representations of the universe.

But when we applied the test to our sample of galaxies from the SDSS, a rather peculiar signal emerged. Instead of seeing random dwarf orbits, we found that velocities tend to be correlated, with a pronounced signature pairs of dwarfs orbiting the larger galaxy in the same direction.

Our new results indicate that, at least for the dwarf pairs we examined, well defined orbits occur in about half of the large galaxies we looked at, although as we are seeing only the brighter dwarfs, the signal could be stronger.

Our patch of the universe does not seem weird after all!

But what does it mean?

The ubiquity of well defined dwarf orbits pose a significant problem for our cosmological models. We know we have difficulties understanding the complexities of gas physics and star formation in the early universe, but it is a mystery how this could guide dwarf galaxies onto well defined orbits.

For others, these small-scale cosmological anomalies are pointing to a breakdown of the standard cosmological model where we may need to rethink the existence of dark matter or even the law of gravity.

At the moment, we just don’t know what these coherent orbits are telling us. But they are a significant chink in the cosmological armour, and may be the anomalies that are pointing towards new universal physics.

It’s going to be exciting to find out!

The Conversation

By Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney


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« Reply #14679 on: Today at 05:49 AM »

Satellite images released by US 'show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine'

• Dossier appears to show blast marks and craters
• US says artillery for separatists has crossed border into Ukraine

Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 July 2014 19.20 BST   
   
The US on Sunday released satellite images it said backed up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.

A four-page document released by the State Department seemed to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, which were sourced from the US director of national intelligence, showed heavy weapons fired between 21 July and 26 July, after the 17 July downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people onboard MH17 were killed.

The memo is part of the Obama administration's push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine and the release could help to persuade the US' European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.

The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was "imminent”.

Russian officials have denied allegations of Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Sunday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, but details about their discussion were not immediately released by the State Department.

The US images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.

The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have "fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine”.

Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows "ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine."

"The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers," the memo said.

Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it stated is evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units "on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine”.   

Tensions have run high in the region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of the behaviour of Russia's President malignant tumor Pig Putin. More recently, US intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane.

Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social-media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on 17 July.
   
Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack.

US officials said they still did not know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday they were unwilling to share proof that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.

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

Ukraine rebels appeal to WWII spirit with Soviet propaganda

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 7:05 EDT

Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine are turning to Soviet World War II posters to spread their message of fighting against Ukrainian “fascists” in a part of the world that was flattened by Nazi troops.

“The Motherland Calls!” read one billboard accompanied by a vintage print of a stern-looking Soviet woman against a background of bayonets — jarring next to garish adverts for phone operators, vacuum cleaners and bikinis.

Dozens of posters have sprung up on the main roads in and around Donetsk, a rebel-held industrial city and commercial hub for eastern Ukraine.

“We have put up about 100 of them,” said Yelena Nikitina, the minister of information of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic government.

“We Will Win!” read another poster featuring a picture of a mediaeval Russian knight, the Russian general Alexander Suvorov who fought against Napoleon and a Bolshevik fighter from the 1917-1922 Russian Civil War.

Some of the images have been adapted to fit with modern-day circumstances.

One shows a mother and child cowering as a bloody bayonet is thrust towards them and the slogan reads: “Russian Army, Save Us” — a small but significant alteration from the original Soviet version: “Red Army, Save Us.”

Another depicts a Soviet Red Guard fighter in the Civil War with the date 1918, followed by an image of a Red Army soldier with the date 1941, then a modern-day rebel fighter with a surface-to-air missile and the date — 2014.

“They reflect people’s inner convictions. We almost didn’t have to change them,” Nikitina told AFP in an interview in the rebel-held regional administration building where a sign outside reads: “No to Fascism”.

“The terrible thing about this situation is that after 70 years we still haven’t learnt the lesson. The same slogans still apply now! It’s terrible. We have allowed Nazism to appear,” Nikitina said.

‘Russians made of steel’

Pro-Moscow rebels often portray their insurgency as a war against far-right nationalists in eastern Ukraine — a view reinforced by fighting in civilian areas in and around Donetsk and Lugansk, another rebel-held city.

The main aim of the campaign is to encourage volunteers to join rebel ranks.

One World War II image shows a mother and child behind barbed wire and the inscription says: “Everyone defend our native land: We will not allow Nazi concentration camps in the Donbass” — a reference to the Donetsk region.

Nikitina said there had been a “positive” response to the poster campaign but not everyone in Donetsk appeared convinced about their effectiveness.

“The effect of these World War II designs are exactly the same as they would be for any other posters. People would still join the rebellion. The posters don’t matter,” said Oleg, a 41-year-old walking past one of the billboards.

Other Soviet-like posters have also cropped up with entirely new images and slogans about the current struggle including one about the rebel authority reading: “A Republic of the People’s Economy Without Oligarchs or Corruption.”

Another looks like the poster for the film “300″ about the resistance of 300 Spartans in the ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian Empire.

But the image is of Igor Strelkov, a pseudonym used by the rebel authority’s defence minister, a Russian citizen whose real name is Igor Girkin.

The caption reads: “Russians Made of Steel.”

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

U.N.: Downing of Flight MH17 'May Amount to a War Crime'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
28 July 2014, 11:34

The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 "may amount to a war crime,” the U.N. said Monday, adding that fighting in east Ukraine has claimed over 1,100 lives with both government and rebel forces using heavy weaponry in built-up areas.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the Malaysian passenger jet in rebel-held territory that killed all 298 people on board, and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".

"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said in a statement.

"Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are," Pillay said.

The Red Cross officially said last week that Ukraine is now in civil war -- a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.

The U.N. said that latest figures showed that more than 1,100 people have been killed in fighting on the ground in east Ukraine as both government forces and rebels have increasingly used heavy weapons in built-up areas.

"As of 26 July, at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded," the U.N. statement said.

The latest toll marks a sharp rise from that given a month ago on June 18, when the U.N. said at least 356 people had been killed since April.

Pillay described reports of increasingly intense fighting in rebel bastions Donetsk and Lugansk regions as "extremely alarming" and said both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles."

"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," Pillay said.

Some 100,000 people have now fled the conflict zone in the east for other areas of Ukraine, the U.N. said in the report released Monday.

The report also accused rebels controlling swathes of territory of conducting a brutal "reign of terror" in the areas they control, including the abduction, torture and killing of civilians as the rule of law has collapsed.

"These groups have taken control of Ukrainian territory and inflicted on the populations a reign of intimidation and terror to maintain their position of control," the report said.

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

Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW HIGGINS
JULY 27, 2014
IHT

ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.

The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.

The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.

One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.

“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.

Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.

The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.

Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.

On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.

The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.

Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.

After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.

The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.

Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.

The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.

“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.

“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”

Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.

The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.

Correction: July 27, 2014

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly rendered part of the name of the airline whose plane was shot down in Ukraine. It is Malaysia Airlines, not Malaysian Airlines. The article also misspelled, in several instances, the surname of the Australian prime minister. He is Tony Abbott, not Abbot or Abott.

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

Flight MH17: victims’ remains might not all be found, AFP warns

Intense fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces has reduced the chance of a successful recovery

Daniel Hurst in Canberra
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 09.04 BST   

Australians must prepare for the possibility that not all remains will be recovered from the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, a federal police chief has warned.

Andrew Colvin, the deputy commissioner of the Australian federal police (AFP), also confirmed he was uncomfortable with the hazards facing unarmed officers seeking to enter the rebel-held area.

In a briefing to the media in Canberra on Monday, Colvin said the AFP was taking steps to reduce the risks and was in direct contact with the separatists via the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

A multinational team cancelled a visit to the wreckage site on Sunday based on an assessment that intense fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russia separatist forces made the mission too dangerous at that stage.

The 49-member team, including AFP and Dutch officers and OSCE personnel, would attempt to gain access to the “highly volatile area” later on Monday but safety considerations remained paramount, Colvin said.

Flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people on board, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

Asked whether it was now likely that not all of the victims’ remains would get back to the Netherlands for identification, Colvin said: “I think we have to consider that as a possibility.”

He added: “I won't say it's a likely situation but we have to consider, as we have from day one, given a range of factors, given the spread of the crime scene, given the nature of this disaster, the trauma on the bodies of the victims, and now given these added complications of not being certain about when we’ll get access [and] the environmental factors, we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that not all remains will ultimately be recovered.”

Colvin said potential evidence might be lost if intense fighting continued in the area where the Boeing 777 came down.

He said it was a “possibility” that the multinational team would not be able to enter the site “in the near future”.

“Of course, it takes time to get into the site, it takes time for us to set up and do what we need to do,” Colvin said. “We need to be mindful of how much time is required to be effective on any given day. We don't want to put our officers in danger for the sake of a brief look at the site. We’ve had a look at the site already … the next stage of this is to get in there and start the examination.”

Colvin said access would depend on an assessment that the conditions were “permissive”.

It was a region where the sounds of gunfire and shelling were “a normal part of the day”, he said. The OSCE advanced ahead of the rest of the multinational team overnight and came back with an assessment that the risks were too great.

“We are using the monitors from the OSCE as our intermediaries [with the rebels],” Colvin said.

“I say intermediaries but we are there with them along with the Dutch when we meet with the separatist fighters and those that are in a degree of governance of the area to which we need access, so I would say that yes, we are in direct contact with them.

“We’re certainly very confident in the information we're getting, we’re very confident in the role that OSCE are providing, so we're satisfied with the information that we have available.”

Colvin said the risks were “obvious” and “many” as it was a conflict zone where fighting had intensified overnight.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, and the AFP commissioner, Tony Negus, said on Sunday the multinational force would be seeking to enter the site unarmed because this was likely to ensure a safer, more permissive environment.

But when asked on Monday whether he was comfortable with sending his officers in unarmed, Colvin conceded that he held concerns.

“Comfortable is a broad word. No, we can't be comfortable, but … we have mitigated the risk, we have dealt with the risk to a point where we wouldn't send our people into a situation where we didn't think that they would be safe,” Colvin said.

“Of course, this is a difficult environment and the Australian Federal Police have deployed on many occasions overseas to do disaster victim identification, to do responses to tragic events and terrorist events. We haven't deployed into a conflict zone in this manner before.”

Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, who has been involved in talks in Ukraine, emphasised that the nature of the Dutch-led mission was humanitarian in nature.

“This has always been a risk,” Bishop said.

“We’re aware that this plane was shot down over a war zone and that news that the fighting has intensified is perhaps inevitable, but we are planning for those risks, we will mitigate those risks and we’ll make sure that our police investigators are safe when they go in and we won’t take steps that would put them in danger.”

The Labor opposition has offered its “full support” for the deployment of AFP officers as part of a Dutch-led unarmed police operation.

“There is no doubt this will be a difficult mission, but Labor has full confidence in the skill and professionalism of the AFP officers undertaking this task,” the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and its foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said in a statement on Sunday.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/28/2014 12:23 PM

Stopping malignant tumor Pig Putin: The Time Has Come for Europe to Act

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial

Malignant tumor Pig Putin  has ignored Western demands that he cease arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. As such, he shares responsibility for the shooting down of MH17. It is now time for Europe to take tough action.

The Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site is a nightmare, with body parts still lying among the sunflowers. Fully 298 people were murdered here while the entire world became witness to marauding bandits in uniform robbing the dead and taking their dignity in the process.

Here, in the eastern Ukrainian steppe, malignant tumor Pig Putin has shown his true face. Once seen as a statesman, the Russian president has exposed himself as a pariah of the international community. The MH17 dead are also his; he is partially responsible for the shooting down of the flight. And now, the moment has come to force him to back down -- with severe economic sanctions.

Nobody in the West continues to harbor serious doubts that the plane was shot down with a Buk surface-to-air missile system -- one that was almost certainly provided to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine by Russia. One separatist leader even admitted that they possessed such a system -- and the evidence is substantial.

It may be that the shooting down of MH17 was a tragic error. The fighter who launched the missile didn't likely intend to shoot down a commercial aircraft. Still, the incident is the direct consequence of the recent weeks Russia has spent arming the separatists. It is a symbol of Putin's depravity -- and for the failure of Western policy thus far. The wreckage of MH17 is also the wreckage of diplomacy.

While the West initially imposed but mild sanctions and demanded a policy of de-escalation, malignant tumor Pig Putin repeatedly escalated the conflict while vociferously proclaiming his irreproachability. He continually insisted that he wasn't behind the separatists. This web of lies, propaganda and deceit has now been exposed.

Achieving Deterence

The ties between malignant tumor Pig Putin and the separatists are not difficult to see. While it may not be possible to completely control the men in eastern Ukraine -- that is a problem faced by all who engage in proxy warfare -- malignant tumor Pig Putin armed them and he can curb their activities. All demands that he do so have thus far been ignored. Even after the murder of 298 innocent civilians, there has not been a word of contrition or dissociation from malignant tumor Pig Putin.

Europe can no longer continue as before. The agreement among the European Union's 28 member states to impose severe sanctions on Russia was the right move. Among the measures proposed is a boycott of Russian banks as well as a ban on exporting arms and energy technology. It is now crucial that EU member states this week actually enact the full range of measures to put a crimp in the Russian economy and, should it become necessary, to broaden them.

Demanding tough measures to force Russia to back down is not akin to being a warmonger. The only one who has fanned the flames of war in the Ukraine without constraint and who, since the annexation of the Crimea peninsula, insists on gambling with peace in Europe is the president of Russia. It is imperative that Europeans exhaust all non-military means of bringing pressure to bear on Moscow. The goal is deterrence, not escalation, and for that to work, the measures must be credible.

To achieve deterrence, it is imperative that Europe act together and dispense with national selfishness. As long as France continues to insist on delivering warships to the Russians and the British continue coveting profits earned from Russian oligarchs, the EU will be unable to impress malignant tumor Pig Putin. Germany's government and business leaders deserve praise for their willingness to support severe penalties -- even though they are sure to hurt German exports.

Europe can absorb the consequences of such sanctions. Russia cannot. It is economically vulnerable and is in need of Western investment and technology, particularly in the energy sector.

Still, there is no guarantee that sanctions will rapidly have the desired effect. malignant tumor Pig Putin's initial reaction could very well be one of aggression, the imposition of countermeasures. But chances are that he will ultimately have to give in. His rule has thus far depended on keeping the elite quiet by ensuring that they can continue to enrich themselves. He likely would be unable to resist were Russian businessmen, oligarchs and liberals to exert significant pressure. A further devaluation of the ruble, furthermore, would hurt the population at large, which has supported Putin thus far.

Europe, and we Germans, will certainly have to pay a price for sanctions. But the price would be incomparably greater were the malignant tumor Pig Putin allowed to continue to violate international law. Peace and security in Europe would then be in serious danger.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/28/2014 12:52 PM

German Foreign Minister: 'European Peace Is At Stake'

Interview Conducted by Nikolaus Blome

In an interview, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, 58, says the downing of an aircraft carrying 300 Europeans convinced EU leaders of the need for tougher new sanctions against Moscow. German industry, he says, is on board too.

SPIEGEL: The EU wants to increase sanctions against Moscow step by step. What gives you hope that the continuation of a policy which has failed to deliver the desired results over the past several months will now lead to success?

Steinmeier: There are no guarantees in diplomacy, and this applies especially to crisis situations. The fact that we haven't achieved a sustained de-escalation does not, however, mean that a different course of action would have been more successful. I don't know if Russia wants to be our partner or our adversary. We will have to see. What is certain is that it will remain Europe's neighbor, and you have to be able to talk to your neighbors. That's why our course is the right one. We will increase the pressure but we will at the same time be prepared to negotiate a de-escalation of the conflict with Russia. After the tragedy of MH 17, the deaths of almost 300 people who were innocent and in no way involved in the conflict, and after the undignified actions of the marauding separatists at the site of the crash, we were all convinced that new, substantial measures were the correct answer to an insufficient readiness on the part of Russia to seal its borders with Ukraine and exercise its influence on the separatists.

SPIEGEL: In practical terms, the imperative of European unity means that sanctions can only be strengthened in lockstep. Is that still the right strategy given the ongoing military conflict and the MH 17 tragedy?

Steinmeier: We're already way beyond that. We, the EU foreign ministers, have charted the course and shown great unity in our decision to increase pressure. On Friday, the sanctions lists were expanded to include companies and state institutions for the first time. In a few days, we will also have the formal basis for sanctions against political string-pullers and supporters. Economic measures are also on the table. We want to spread the burden fairly with targeted rules that can be strengthened or reduced when Russia moves. We hope to make decisions about them in the coming days.

SPIEGEL: Why doesn't the German government want to strengthen sanctions on its own?

Steinmeier: We can only send Moscow the clear message that is needed when all 28 member states work as one. And when it comes to arms deals, it should be noted that Germany stepped into the lead months ago.

SPIEGEL: Is German industry urging the government to practice moderation when it comes to sanctions?

Steinmeier: There is no question about the primacy of politics. Eckhard Cordes, the head of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (eds. note: an organization representing German business interests in Russia), recently said that industry supports our position 100 percent. Of course we also exchange views with industry and take their concerns seriously when we reach decisions.

SPIEGEL: Is Berlin pleased about its role as the final bridge to Pig Putin because it can also be used as a reason for Germany to be more reserved than many Eastern European countries in the EU debate over increasing sanctions?

Steinmeier: Those forced to live under the yoke of the Soviet Union have a different view of Russia than our Western European partners along the Atlantic coast. We are somewhere in between, with our history of having been a divided country, and we approach this role with responsibility. We have always maintained contacts with Moscow and continue to do so because we need them. I will never tire of repeating that European peace is at stake. This conflict could have unforeseeable consequences for all of Europe.

SPIEGEL: Is there a point at which increased EU sanctions could lead the Russian side to react militarily?

Steinmeier: What we expect from the Russian leadership is neither new nor excessive: We want it to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and to not undermine its territorial integrity. What we need are effective controls at the border to Ukraine in order to prevent the infiltration of fighters and weapons as well as a lasting cease-fire that will make negotiations for a political solution possible. I am certain that if external support in the form of money, fighters and weapons is stopped then the separatists' resistance will collapse. I am even more certain that the people of eastern Ukraine recognize that these armed thugs do not represent their interests.

SPIEGEL: Why are the Americans imposing tougher sanctions than the Europeans?

Steinmeier: President Obama is freer when it comes to the decision he makes because of a different legal culture. For us, it's not enough to have an agreement between 28 states. Our decisions have to be able to bear up to legal reviews that can go all the way up to the European Court of Justice. Added to this is the fact that the political, economic and societal links between Europe and our Russian neighbor are far tighter.


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« Reply #14680 on: Today at 05:56 AM »


The energy-efficient way to punish malignant tumor Pig Putin – and protect the planet

For once Europe’s greens and securocrats can join forces – by reducing the EU’s dependence on imports of Russian gas

Chris Huhne   
The Guardian, Sunday 27 July 2014 19.16 BST        

Europe has a Russia problem, as Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European council, recognised on Friday by sending out the latest draft of the proposed sanctions. Nick Clegg is right that Russia should lose the 2018 World Cup, but that is Fifa’s call. In those areas where it has clout, the EU is going to be tougher than most predict. The shooting down of MH17 has dramatised Russia’s role, and made it harder for European leaders to duck the consequences.

Astonishingly, the MH17 incident does not appear to have even interrupted Russian arms supplies to the Ukrainian rebels. Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president, believes Russia is continuing to supply weaponry – and according to western intelligence sources, he is right. Whether Putin wants to annex the Donbas – Luhansk and Donetsk – as well as Crimea is moot. Some argue that he sees Russian interests as equally well served by a fractured and weak Ukraine. Whatever the objective, the means are clear and hard to misinterpret.

The pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine have been able to rely on Moscow’s support to keep them in the game, even after they lost control of Sloviansk to Ukrainian forces, largely as a result of Kiev’s air power. The Buk missile systems, probably supplied from the growing Russian base at Rostov, appear to have been a deliberate Russian attempt to balance forces. In short, modern Europe is facing a substantial regional power actively attempting to destabilise a sovereign neighbour.

This is deeply worrying. Ukraine is by no means the only country that has big Russian-speaking minorities susceptible to Putin’s tactics in Crimea and the Donbas. Take the Baltic states, all of them now members of the European Union, and also enjoying Nato’s mutual security guarantee. There are more than a million ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and they form near or actual majorities in several easterly regions of Estonia and Latvia. Poland is equally sensitive to the ambitions of its Russian neighbour.

For all these reasons, it would be folly for the EU to allow Putin to proceed with impunity, even though sanctions inevitably hurt those who apply them as well as the targets. As Van Rompuy says, sanctions “should have a strong impact on the Russian economy while keeping a moderate effect on the EU economies”.

The Brussels package looks as if it will straddle arms, finance and technology, and will spread the load across the member states. It is not fair to measure the impact on the City by the size of big Russian deals: City institutions win a small sliver of the face value of lending, and much of the money itself comes from continental savings markets. The EU banks operating most in Russia are Austrian and German, not British.

Russia needs western capital, and restrictions will slow its growth and punish its elite. The Brussels options paper points out that Russian state-owned financial institutions raised $16.4bn (£9.7bn) in EU capital markets between 2004 and 2012, and in 2013 nearly half of all the bonds issued by those banks – about €7.5bn (£5.9bn) – were issued in the EU.

By denying these institutions access to new finance, they will have to raise foreign currency elsewhere, clamping down on Russia’s ability to import. The options paper also suggests targeting hi-tech goods and the arms trade: Russia is still selling $3.2bn a year of arms to countries in eastern Europe, and buys just $300m in exchange.

There will no doubt be a row about the sale of two French helicopter carriers worth €1.2bn, but sanctions should be forward looking, applying to new deals not old. It would be odd to respond to a breach of international law by breaching contract, and respecting old contracts means Russian financial institutions have to repay capital and pay interest on old debt without having the ability to refinance it. That hurts.

Russian gas is explicitly excluded from the sanctions package, recognising that EU members as a whole buy nearly a quarter of their gas from Russia, and that Germany buys over a third. But the share of Russian gas in EU gas imports has been declining for many years, and Russian gas accounts for less than a 10th of the EU’s primary energy consumption.

Nor is this the political armlock that some assume. Russia needs to sell its gas as much as Europe needs to buy it. The toughest EU members on sanctions – Poland and the Baltic states – are the most dependent on Russian gas. Even the herbivorous Germans are becoming more assertive of their national interests. After all, Angela Merkel has just chucked out the CIA’s station chief in Berlin because of US snooping, and has been tougher than expected on Russian sanctions.

Gas storage in the EU is high thanks to the warm winter (and could be even higher, with the right support). Interconnection among the EU member states is still bad, but better than during the Ukrainian gas crises of 2006 or 2009. The market says it all: wholesale gas prices for next winter have continued to fall through the crisis, and are now down more than 15% since January.

The dependence could nevertheless be cut further: the EU summit in October is set to decide whether the 30% energy saving target for 2030 should be as legally enforceable as its renewable targets, something the Germans and the Danes want. Nothing else (certainly not shale gas production – fracking) can reduce energy import dependence more quickly.

Energy efficiency makes sense not just to curb imports, but also to cut carbon emissions. The European commission’s work has shown that gas imports could be down sharply with a modest increase in ambition on renewables and energy efficiency.

The technology is there: more renewable electricity; more biogas from waste; more insulation to curb heating demand; more ground- and air-source heat pumps to replace gas boilers at home; more solar thermal for hot water.

Energy efficiency – insulation of homes, for one – is cheaper than any energy-producing or generating option (which is why the Treasury cuts in the UK’s Eco energy efficiency budget are such folly). For once, Europe’s greens can make common cause with Europe’s securocrats: cutting gas demand makes sense both to protect the planet and to punish.

The energy-efficient way to punish Putin – and protect the planet

For once Europe’s greens and securocrats can join forces – by reducing the EU’s dependence on imports of Russian gas

Chris Huhne   
The Guardian, Sunday 27 July 2014 19.16 BST          

Europe has a Russia problem, as Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European council, recognised on Friday by sending out the latest draft of the proposed sanctions. Nick Clegg is right that Russia should lose the 2018 World Cup, but that is Fifa’s call. In those areas where it has clout, the EU is going to be tougher than most predict. The shooting down of MH17 has dramatised Russia’s role, and made it harder for European leaders to duck the consequences.

Astonishingly, the MH17 incident does not appear to have even interrupted Russian arms supplies to the Ukrainian rebels. Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president, believes Russia is continuing to supply weaponry – and according to western intelligence sources, he is right. Whether Putin wants to annex the Donbas – Luhansk and Donetsk – as well as Crimea is moot. Some argue that he sees Russian interests as equally well served by a fractured and weak Ukraine. Whatever the objective, the means are clear and hard to misinterpret.

The pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine have been able to rely on Moscow’s support to keep them in the game, even after they lost control of Sloviansk to Ukrainian forces, largely as a result of Kiev’s air power. The Buk missile systems, probably supplied from the growing Russian base at Rostov, appear to have been a deliberate Russian attempt to balance forces. In short, modern Europe is facing a substantial regional power actively attempting to destabilise a sovereign neighbour.

This is deeply worrying. Ukraine is by no means the only country that has big Russian-speaking minorities susceptible to malignant tumor Pig Putin's tactics in Crimea and the Donbas. Take the Baltic states, all of them now members of the European Union, and also enjoying Nato’s mutual security guarantee. There are more than a million ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and they form near or actual majorities in several easterly regions of Estonia and Latvia. Poland is equally sensitive to the ambitions of its Russian neighbour.

For all these reasons, it would be folly for the EU to allow Putin to proceed with impunity, even though sanctions inevitably hurt those who apply them as well as the targets. As Van Rompuy says, sanctions “should have a strong impact on the Russian economy while keeping a moderate effect on the EU economies”.

The Brussels package looks as if it will straddle arms, finance and technology, and will spread the load across the member states. It is not fair to measure the impact on the City by the size of big Russian deals: City institutions win a small sliver of the face value of lending, and much of the money itself comes from continental savings markets. The EU banks operating most in Russia are Austrian and German, not British.

Russia needs western capital, and restrictions will slow its growth and punish its elite. The Brussels options paper points out that Russian state-owned financial institutions raised $16.4bn (£9.7bn) in EU capital markets between 2004 and 2012, and in 2013 nearly half of all the bonds issued by those banks – about €7.5bn (£5.9bn) – were issued in the EU.

By denying these institutions access to new finance, they will have to raise foreign currency elsewhere, clamping down on Russia’s ability to import. The options paper also suggests targeting hi-tech goods and the arms trade: Russia is still selling $3.2bn a year of arms to countries in eastern Europe, and buys just $300m in exchange.

There will no doubt be a row about the sale of two French helicopter carriers worth €1.2bn, but sanctions should be forward looking, applying to new deals not old. It would be odd to respond to a breach of international law by breaching contract, and respecting old contracts means Russian financial institutions have to repay capital and pay interest on old debt without having the ability to refinance it. That hurts.

Russian gas is explicitly excluded from the sanctions package, recognising that EU members as a whole buy nearly a quarter of their gas from Russia, and that Germany buys over a third. But the share of Russian gas in EU gas imports has been declining for many years, and Russian gas accounts for less than a 10th of the EU’s primary energy consumption.

Nor is this the political armlock that some assume. Russia needs to sell its gas as much as Europe needs to buy it. The toughest EU members on sanctions – Poland and the Baltic states – are the most dependent on Russian gas. Even the herbivorous Germans are becoming more assertive of their national interests. After all, Angela Merkel has just chucked out the CIA’s station chief in Berlin because of US snooping, and has been tougher than expected on Russian sanctions.

Gas storage in the EU is high thanks to the warm winter (and could be even higher, with the right support). Interconnection among the EU member states is still bad, but better than during the Ukrainian gas crises of 2006 or 2009. The market says it all: wholesale gas prices for next winter have continued to fall through the crisis, and are now down more than 15% since January.

The dependence could nevertheless be cut further: the EU summit in October is set to decide whether the 30% energy saving target for 2030 should be as legally enforceable as its renewable targets, something the Germans and the Danes want. Nothing else (certainly not shale gas production – fracking) can reduce energy import dependence more quickly.

Energy efficiency makes sense not just to curb imports, but also to cut carbon emissions. The European commission’s work has shown that gas imports could be down sharply with a modest increase in ambition on renewables and energy efficiency.

The technology is there: more renewable electricity; more biogas from waste; more insulation to curb heating demand; more ground- and air-source heat pumps to replace gas boilers at home; more solar thermal for hot water.

Energy efficiency – insulation of homes, for one – is cheaper than any energy-producing or generating option (which is why the Treasury cuts in the UK’s Eco energy efficiency budget are such folly). For once, Europe’s greens can make common cause with Europe’s securocrats: cutting gas demand makes sense both to protect the planet and to punish the malignant tumor Pig Putin.


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« Reply #14681 on: Today at 05:57 AM »

Koala survives terrifying 54-mile freeway ride by clinging to bottom of car that struck him

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 6:42 EDT

Timberwolf the koala was lucky to be alive Monday after surviving a terrifying 54.5-mile ride down a busy Australian freeway clinging to the bottom of a car.

The 4-year-old male, who survived with nothing more than a torn nail, was struck by the vehicle near Maryborough in Queensland state on Friday.

The Australia Zoo wildlife hospital said it latched onto the bottom of the car as it sped away, with the family inside not knowing they had a marsupial on board.

It was only when they stopped in Gympie after a high-speed freeway drive that they noticed it, and called the hospital for help.

The maximum speed on the freeway is about 68 miles per hour.

Australia Zoo vet Claude Lacasse said it was amazing the koala, named Timberwolf by the rescuers who brought him in, was in such great health.

“It is absolutely amazing that he has such minor injuries and he survived,” Lacasse said. “It is a truly remarkable story, he is a very lucky koala.”

Timberwolf was given pain killers for the torn nail and is recovering in a tree at the zoo north of Brisbane as vets work out exactly where he grabbed hold of the car so they can return him to the wild.

Australia Zoo, set up by television personality and conservationist Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, treats an average of 70 koalas every month.

Approximately 70 percent of its patients are victims of car accidents or domestic pet attacks.

Thought to number in excess of 10 million before British settlers arrived in 1788, there are now believed to be as few as 43,000 koalas left in the wild, though their existence high in the treetops makes them difficult to count.


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« Reply #14682 on: Today at 06:11 AM »


UK taxpayers underwrite £100m in exports to Russia in year to April

Revelation that government provided credit insurance funding comes as David Cameron calls for tougher sanctions

Rupert Neate   
The Guardian, Sunday 27 July 2014 16.58 BST      

British taxpayers underwrote more than £100m worth of exports to Russia last year, including the sale of Airbus aircraft to an airline leasing firm linked to the state arms company Rosboronexport and owned by a Russian bank subjected to US sanctions.

The revelation that British government financial support is being extended to Russian deals is likely to embarrass David Cameron, who last week called for hard-hitting sanctions against the country's president, Vladimir Putin, and his government.

The credit insurance funding was provided UK Export Finance (UKEF), part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in the year to April 2014 and is shown in its latest annual report. It includes underwriting a £30m deal to help Airbus sell its planes to the Russian state-owned VEB Leasing. On its website, the company says it was "established at the initiative and with the participation of Rosoboronexport with the objective of raising product competitiveness of defence industry and civil engineering enterprises and facilitating their modernisation".

VEB Leasing's main shareholder is the Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), which was subjected to US sanctions earlier this month.

Another £38m of government funding guarantee was extended to help EADS Astrium sell high-powered communication satellites to Russia Space Communication, which is part of the Russian communications ministry. The Russian government said the satellite technology was intended to provide TV and broadband to remote regions.

UKEF funding support is designed to help British companies obtain insurance and credit to help them export goods when traditional lenders may be afraid to provide financing. If the buyer goes bust or refuses to pay, the British taxpayer could be liable for the full value of the deal.

The revelation of UK taxpayer support for exports to Russia comes as the prime minister has called on Europe to impose sanctions on Russia after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Cameron called for action against Russian banks and airlines and for malignant tumor Pig Putin's "cronies and oligarchs" to be blocked from accessing capital. He has also expressed frustration that other EU countries, including France and Germany, had failed to back his calls for the toughest possible sanctions against Moscow. "Those of us in Europe should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries," he said last week.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has also called for tougher sanctions against Moscow. "Think of the economic hit of allowing international borders to be ignored, or allowing airliners to be shot down," he said. "That's a much greater hit for Britain and we're not prepared to allow that to happen." John Mann, a Labour member of the Commons Treasury committee, said the revelations that UK taxpayer funds were used to support Russian deals was highly embarrassing for Cameron. "It is totally hypocritical to be subsidising Russia while calling on Europe to introduce hard-hitting sanctions," he told the Guardian. "Cameron has the power to act on this, but he hasn't. It is tough talk but no action, and it is damaging the reputation of our country."

A government spokeswoman said: "The role of UKEF is to support UK exporters. Historically, some of those exporters have traded in Russia and our annual report for 2013/14 sets out the support we gave for UK exporters selling to Russia. This pre-dated the Ukraine crisis."

She declined to comment on whether UKEF had stopped supporting Russian exports in the wake of the crisis.

The UKEF has long supported British exports to Russia, with £215m of loan guarantees extended in the 2012-13 financial year. That included £53m to support the export of mining equipment to Siberian Coal Energy, Russia's largest coal company owned by the billionaire Andrey Melnichenko.

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

David Cameron 'not surprised' by calls for Russia to be stripped of World Cup

Downing Street warns Kremlin to change course in Ukraine, but stops short of Nick Clegg's call for outright 2018 boycott

Rowena Mason, political correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 27 July 2014 14.16 BST      

David Cameron has distanced himself from calls for a boycott of Russia when it hosts the 2018 football World Cup, although Downing Street said it was no surprise that the issue was being raised.

The prime minister held back from calling for the tournament to be taken away from Russia after Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said it was "unthinkable" that the contest could be held there if the country's belligerence continues.

The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, also on Sunday urged football's governing body, Fifa, to draw up contingency plans for the event to be held elsewhere.

Some German politicians have already called for the bidding contest to be re-run after Russia's reaction to the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine.

The Kremlin denies that any of its weapons were used to shoot down the plane but the UK, US and Ukraine have all said there are strong reasons to suspect the plane was shot down accidentally by pro-Putin separatists using a Soviet-era missile supplied by Russia.

Number 10 would not join those suggesting the tournament should be cancelled, but the fact that this was being mooted by some "shows the importance of Russia changing course, before its international standing is damaged even further", a spokesman said.

"The prime minister does not believe we should reach immediately for boycotts, but it is also not surprising, given Russian behaviour, that people are starting to raise the issue."

Fifa has ruled out a boycott, insisting the tournament could be "a force for good". However, Clegg told the Sunday Times that stripping Russia of sporting events would be a "very potent political and symbolic sanction".

"Malignant tumor Pig Putin himself has to understand that he can't have his cake and eat it," the Liberal Democrat leader said. "He can't constantly push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup.

"If he doesn't change course it's just not on, the idea that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018. You can't have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

"Not only would malignant tumor Pig Putin exploit it, I think it would make the rest of the world look so weak and so insincere about our protestations about Vladimir Putin's behaviour if we're not prepared to pull the plug."

Clegg also raised "question marks" over Russia holding the Grand Prix in Sochi in October. "malignant tumor Pig Putin is a past master at attending these sporting events and, sort of, pretending almost as if everything's utterly normal and nothing untoward is happening around him," he said.

"And if anyone needed any reminding of how dangerous this conflict is in the heart of Europe, just ask any of the family and relatives of those loved ones they lost in that plane incident last week."

Clegg has also joined Cameron's criticism of a French deal to supply warships to Russia, saying it would be "wholly inappropriate" for it to proceed in the present circumstances. "Whilst I can entirely understand that the French may have entered into that contract with the Russians in entirely different circumstances, it is wholly inappropriate to go ahead with that now.

"And as you know, the prime minister has reviewed the outstanding licences that we have got to make sure that we deliver what we unilaterally announced back in March, which was that there would be no exports from Britain of arms products which could in any way fuel or fan the flames of the conflict in Ukraine."

Alexander said Fifa needed to think about who else could hold the World Cup in 2018 if it was proved that Russia had responsibility for the airliner crash.

"If it is confirmed that Russia carries direct responsibility for downing flight MH17, and the Kremlin nonetheless continues to sponsor and fuel the conflict in Ukraine, then Fifa will surely face calls to reconsider if Russia should host the competition in 2018," he said. "Fifa should therefore be undertaking contingency planning now so that, if required, alternative plans are in place in plenty of time for teams and fans from around the world.

"The Ukraine crisis represents not just a threat to European security, but a significant geopolitical moment, and together, Europe must work harder to better influence critical calculations now being made in the Kremlin."

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David Cameron 'must answer for Russian oligarchs' donations'

Ed Miliband particularly questions £160,000 donation Tories accepted from wife of former Russian finance minister

Rowena Mason, political correspondent
The Guardian, Sunday 27 July 2014 13.55 BST   

David Cameron has questions to answer over the money he is taking from Russian oligarchs, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader particularly questioned the £160,000 donation the Conservatives accepted from the wife of a former Russian finance minister, who won an auction offering the chance to play tennis with Cameron and the London mayor, Boris Johnson.

Over the past week, the Tories have been under scrutiny over donations from people linked to the Russian president, malignant tumor Pig Putin. The US and EU have imposed sanctions in reaction to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine.

Figures from the Electoral Commission show that the Conservatives have banked more than £161,000 from people with links to the Kremlin, and Labour has calculated that the Tories have received almost £1m from Russians in general.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Miliband said the money should be returned.

"David Cameron does have questions to answer on the money that he's taking from Russian oligarchs, on the bidding for a tennis match, all of that stuff. Frankly, he can't stand up one minute and say that 'this is the biggest issue and we're going to take the right action'. He's got to really look very, very carefully at who he is getting money from."

Labour has called for Cameron to cancel his tennis match with Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Vladamir Chernukhin, who was malignant tumor Pig Putin's deputy finance minister in 2000. She won the auction last month, but some MPs, both Labour and Conservative, have questioned whether the prime minister should accept the money while attacking the Kremlin over the Ukraine crisis. Cameron has told parliament that if malignant tumor Pig Putin "does not change his approach to Ukraine … then Europe and the west must fundamentally change our approach to Russia". A Tory spokesman said last week that no date had been set for the match but that "all donations are transparent and permissible under the rules set out by the Electoral Commission".

Miliband also criticised the reaction of the EU to the Ukrainian situation, saying national leaders need to get more involved in discussions about sanctions against Russia. The UK has been pushing for tougher penalties against Russian business sectors, such as banking, defence and energy, but so far the sanctions have been limited to individuals and firms specifically linked to Putin and his government.

"We need action. We need a European Council," Miliband said. "The heads of government of Europe should be meeting, they shouldn't have been leaving it to foreign ministers. We need to raise the sanctions on Russia, on individual corporations that have been part of what happened around the big decisions that have been made. We need action on this."

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, joined calls on Sunday for Russia to face the axe as hosts of the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions over the shooting down of flight MH17.


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« Reply #14683 on: Today at 06:13 AM »

New Spain Opposition Leader Vows to Get Country 'Back on Track'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 July 2014, 17:12

The new leader of Spain's main opposition Socialist Party vowed Sunday during his inaugural speech to lead the party back to power and get the crisis-hit country "back on track."

Pedro Sanchez, 42-year-old economist who was virtually unheard of only a few months ago, said Sapin was "exasperated, angry, hurt" after six years of "unprecedented" economic crisis during a speech to an extraordinary party congress in Madrid.

"We are standing up again to get Spain back on track," he said to the applause of some 3,000 party delegates at the congress.

Sanchez won 49 percent of the votes cast by 130,000 party members in a primary held on July 13, putting clear distance between himself and Basque lawmaker Eduardo Madina, who finished second with 36 percent.

The result of the primary was ratified on Saturday at the party´s extraordinary congress.

Sanchez replaces veteran politician Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, 62, who stepped down in May after the Socialists suffered their worst-ever election showing in a European Parliament vote.

Spain holds general elections in 2015.

A tall married father of two nicknamed "El Guapo" or "The Handsome One", Sanchez has cast himself as a fresh face for the party and a credible challenger to the conservative Popular Party which ousted the Socialists from power in a crushing November 2011 election defeat.

The Socialists have struggled to overcome criticism of how their last government handled an economic crisis sparked by the collapse of a property boom in 2008 that has left one in four out of work.

In campaigning, Sanchez fought to fend off the challenge from Podemos, a leftist protest party that did well in the European polls.

In his speech on Sunday, Sanchez said that if the Socialists are swept back to power in 2015 they would scrap a labour law reform introduced by the ruling Popular Party that makes it cheaper and easier to fire workers.

Sanchez has a master's degree in politics and economics from a Belgian university. He served as a top aide to the head of a U.N. high representative during the war in Kosovo.

He has since served on and off as a non-elected regional deputy in Madrid.

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Admission of Tax Fraud Precedes Talks in Catalonia

By RAPHAEL MINDER
JULY 27, 2014
IHT

MADRID — Days before an important meeting in Madrid to discuss the secessionist plans of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, the patriarch of Catalan politics, has admitted committing tax fraud by hiding money offshore.

Mr. Pujol, 84, founded Catalonia’s governing party, Convergence, and was its leader from 1980 to 2003. During that period, he acted as a bulwark against Catalan separatism by ensuring that the regional government cooperated with different central governments in Madrid.

That cooperation, however, turned into confrontation almost two years ago, after a huge secessionist street march in Barcelona, the Catalan capital, and because of a dispute between Artur Mas, Mr. Pujol’s successor at the helm of Convergence, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over whether Catalonia should receive better financial treatment from Madrid.

Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Mas have barely spoken since, but they are to meet on Wednesday in Madrid to discuss whether Mr. Mas and his coalition government can go ahead with a planned Catalan independence referendum in November. Mr. Rajoy has pledged to block the referendum, saying it violates the Constitution.

Mr. Pujol long ago retired from politics but remains an influential figure in Catalonia. He issued a statement on Friday saying he had hidden money in offshore accounts for more than three decades, having previously denied having any Swiss or other undeclared accounts overseas.

Mr. Pujol said the money had been inherited from his father, shortly after he became head of Catalonia’s regional government.

“I am the only person responsible for the facts described and for all their consequences,” Mr. Pujol wrote. He said he was willing to testify before the courts.

But over the weekend, Catalan opposition politicians called for a new investigation into Mr. Pujol’s offshore money, to determine whether it was inherited or came from kickbacks from Mr. Pujol’s time running Catalonia’s regional government.

Mr. Pujol and some of his seven children have already been investigated for fraud. In 2012, El Mundo, a Madrid newspaper, said the Pujol family had 137 million euros, or about $184 million, hidden in a Geneva bank. Mr. Pujol tried to sue the newspaper for libel, but a judge rejected his lawsuit on the ground that the information was in the public interest and was based on a draft police report.

Separately, one of Mr. Pujol’s sons, Oriol Pujol, resigned this month from Convergence after he was indicted in a bribery investigation into the awarding of licenses to garages that conduct vehicle inspections. A former girlfriend of Oriol Pujol also recently testified that she had driven bags of money on his behalf to Andorra, a banking center across the Catalan border.


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« Reply #14684 on: Today at 06:17 AM »

A Dwindling Army Tempts New Recruits With a Charm Offensive

By ALISON SMALE
JULY 27, 2014
IHT

BERLIN — The German Army is fighting for survival. But not on the conventional battlefield.

Barely six months after becoming the first woman to serve as her country’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen has mounted a most unusual campaign and, this being Germany, given it a very long name: an Attraktivitätsoffensive. (Roughly translated, a charm offensive.)

On paper, this program to woo soldiers and modernize the armed forces reads like a mixture of an Ikea catalog — “new furniture sets planned, light, modern, livable” — and a management manual, peppered with promises of “das Coaching” for officers, and an “e-recruiting platform.” There are provisions that allow for more working from home and job sharing for parents, and for extended child care that matches the hours of shifts.

While many might smile, the reason for the courtship is coldly pragmatic: Germany is confronting a demographic crisis, and its all-volunteer army is just one of many enterprises seeking ever-scarcer skilled labor. In order not to lose a prospective soldier to the cozier realms of Deutsche Bank or the auto assembly lines at Opel or Mercedes-Benz, the army needs to appear more attractive.

The conscription pinch, which comes as Germany is debating just how boldly to assert itself amid the crisis in Ukraine and tensions with Russia, presents a signal challenge to the country’s future security.

“The time when we could pick and choose from a large pool of conscripts is over,” Ms. von der Leyen said when rolling out the program, which will cost more than $130 million. “We are facing a huge challenge,” competing more than ever with other employers, and must offer training, conditions and a career path that keep pace, she said, playing down the obvious risks involved in military life.

Ms. von der Leyen, a mother of seven, has taken a fair bit of criticism for being so, well, feminine. Malcontents in the military muttered that a woman who had previously served as family minister and then labor minister was focusing on what she knew how to do, rather than the really serious business of combat doctrine and acquiring multibillion-euro weapons systems.

Ms. von der Leyen “clearly has no idea about the military,” said Harald Kujat, the retired inspector general of the armed forces. Berthold Meyer, an expert on Germany’s armed forces, or Bundeswehr, said, “Many people are still very irritated that there is a woman in that job.”

Although women have been admitted for 10 years, they still make up only about 10 percent of the 183,000 armed forces, short of a 15 percent target, Mr. Meyer added. “The military in Germany is really still seen as a domain for men,” he said.

But Ms. von der Leyen, a brisk, center-right career politician often seen as a rival and potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has recognized a problem that goes beyond gender.

The children who might be the new soldiers of 2024 have, experts noted, already been born. There are just under 700,000 of them, and about half of those are girls less likely to choose the military than their male peers. Encouraging even 10 percent of the approximately 300,000 boys with German citizenship to consider the Bundeswehr is a tall order — and yet Ms. von der Leyen says 60,000 applicants are needed in order to select the best.

Hence the charm offensive and new ads that promote the military as “Out Ahead. Active. Attractive. Alternative.”

But no matter how much the excitement is emphasized, Mr. Meyer noted, “the soldier’s profession per se is not really friendly to families.”

Even with Germany’s mission in Afghanistan ending this year, he noted, “you have to accept that you are going to get sent somewhere on a mission in which it is a case of life and death. There is only so far you can go to make that palatable to human beings.”

In Germany, where history looms large, there is a special difficulty in making the military tempting. A century after German militarism helped set off World War I and 75 years since the start of World War II, the pacifist impulse is strong. As a result, the military here is held in nothing resembling the regard often accorded members of the armed forces in the United States, Britain or France.

“In America,” said Hellmut Königshaus, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, “if someone in uniform arrives somewhere, people may go up and shake their hand, and thank them for their service. In Germany, that is almost unthinkable.”

Michael Wolffsohn, a professor and military expert, said, “That Germans have been so de-Germanized is actually wonderful,” referring to Germany’s brutal history. But he conceded that, practically, diffidence about the military plays out in ways destined to put people off a military career.

It would be unthinkable for American officers to have to house themselves and their families, but the Bundeswehr has no obligation to house junior recruits over the age of 25. Junior forces are often cramped three or four to a bare-bones room with clunky cupboards, no computer and a bathroom in the corridor.

Mr. Königshaus, whose job as independent watchman over the military makes him a conduit for about 5,000 complaints a year from soldiers, cited cases of junior officers expected to make a salary of about $2,820 a month stretch for their own housing in an expensive city like Munich, and perhaps separate accommodation elsewhere for their spouse or partner and children.

Frequent transfers make it ever harder, he said, for soldiers to live with partners who cannot get short-term jobs in a labor market that still favors long-term employment at one company. And the federal system that leaves education in the hands of Germany’s 16 states stymies easy switches between very different schools.

More than 50 percent of men and women in the armed forces commute between their place of residence and their base, with 38 percent at home only on weekends, according to Mr. Königshaus, who said he had not visited one base last year that had adequate quarters to accommodate these “wanderers.”

In light of all this, experts noted, it is also no surprise that the military has not proved to be a path — as in America or Israel — for minorities to assimilate, rise, and help avert any demographic crisis.

A visit to the sprawling Julius Leber barracks in Berlin — the largest military base in any city in Europe, built for Hermann Goering and used by the French throughout the Cold War — illustrated that Germans in their 20s and 30s can feel well served by the army.

Four soldiers selected by the Defense Ministry to talk to a reporter relayed grumbles from others about frequent moves, inadequate housing or lack of family-friendly facilities — “I don’t know any soldier who loves moving every two years,” said Capt. Marija Wollweber, 28 — but all expressed contentment.

Captain Wollweber, who works mostly propagating the army in schools, and two others had had their university studies financed entirely by the armed forces, and all three were planning to leave the armed forces after 12 or 15 years, which included the time at college.

If Ms. von der Leyen succeeds in luring more soldiers, it will be good for both the German Army and perhaps an eventual bid by her for the chancellorship. If she fails, it might end her political career.

But the defense portfolio is notoriously tricky in Germany; Ms. Merkel has had four defense ministers since taking power in 2005. Much to the consternation of Washington, no European country comes anywhere close to matching the United States in military spending. That includes Germany, whose defense budget of about $44 billion amounts to about 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product, compared with over 4 percent for the United States.

Now, in part because of the demands of Ms. Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats, the Defense Ministry faces even steeper budget challenges, Mr. Wolffsohn said. But when it comes to the army, he noted, Germans should learn: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”


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