GlobalPost - Home C. 2014 GlobalPost, only republish with permission. Subscribers must independently license photographs supplied by third-parties en ‘Please, please don’t kill him': British Muslims offer pleas for IS hostage <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The Islamic State's most recent threat, to British taxi driver Alan Henning, has drawn deeply personal appeals. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Corinne Purtill </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>LONDON, <a href="">UK</a> — The Islamic State’s public executions of Western hostages have drawn condemnation from Muslims around the world since they began last month.</p> <p>But the most recent threat — to British taxi driver Alan Henning, who was in <a href="">Syria</a> for the purpose of providing aid for Muslims — has drawn deeply personal and heartfelt pleas from Muslims in the UK.</p> <p>“Please, please, please, please show him some mercy,” said Majid Freeman, 26, a Leicester man who was part of the humanitarian  aid convoy from which Henning was kidnapped, in an appearance on the BBC. “Please, please don’t kill him. Please spare him. Just let him come back home.”</p> <p>Known as “Gadget” for his fix-it ability, Henning, 47, is from the working-class north England town of Eccles. Moved by the accounts of civilian suffering in Syria, he began raising money for victims of the country’s civil war and eventually made four separate trips to join humanitarian missions there.</p> <p>Last December, he volunteered to drive an ambulance into Syria with an advance team of aid workers. Thirty minutes after crossing the border, he and the group of Brits with whom he was traveling were kidnapped at gunpoint.</p> <p>All were released soon after except Henning, the only non-Muslim. Earlier this month, he appeared dressed in an orange jumpsuit in an IS video showing the beheading of UK aid worker David Haines. The militants warned Henning would be the next victim.</p> <p>After unsuccessful attempts to secure his freedom in Syria, Henning’s colleagues returned to the UK, where officials requested that they not speak publicly about the kidnapping.</p> <p>Since Henning’s appearance in the video, those who were on the convoy with him have blitzed social media with concerns for their friend’s life.</p> <p>“#Islam teaches us to speak the #truth, even if it’s against ourselves!” Freeman wrote on Instagram. “Islam is about #JUSTICE! Alan shouldn't have to face the consequences for British #ForeignPolicy.”</p> <p>The threat to his life has prompted condemnation from many in the UK who more frequently speak out against government policy in the Muslim world.</p> <p>“I personally vouch for Alan Henning,” said Manchester imam Ustadh Abu Eesa, in a <a href="">YouTube address</a> directed at IS. “However strongly we feel about Western foreign policy, this killing will not help anyone bring closer a solution to their grievances.”</p> <p>“I have stood outside Belmarsh Prison in solidarity with our brothers who are detained without trial,” said Shakeel Begg, an outspoken London imam often branded a radical cleric in British media, in the same video. “I have campaigned for the release of our brothers in Guantanamo Bay. For those same reasons today, I stand with Alan Henning.”</p> <p>The London-based organization Cage, which campaigns for the rights of people affected by the war on terror, issued a statement decrying Henning’s detention.</p> <p>“Alan Henning went to Syria with Muslims and is known to have been helping the people of Syria. He is not involved in any hostility to Islam or Muslims. Therefore, he cannot be considered a prisoner of war under Islamic law and should be released immediately,” research director Asim Qureshi said.</p> <p>This weekend, the Foreign Office released a statement from Henning’s wife Barbara asking IS to spare a “peaceful, selfless man.”</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="">As bombs fall in Syria, Britain inches toward war</a></strong></p> <p>The day before his abduction, Henning was filmed by one of his fellow aid workers at a food court somewhere in Turkey.</p> <p>"It’s all worthwhile when you see what is needed actually get to where it needs to go. That makes it all worthwhile,” he told the camera. “No sacrifice we do is nothing compared to what they’re going through every day on a daily basis.”</p> <p>“Respect, Gadget,” his colleague said. </p> Islamic State Conflict Zones Syria Want to Know Iraq United Kingdom Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:22:00 +0000 Corinne Purtill 6266595 at As bombs fall in Syria, Britain inches toward war <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Cameron gathers support for strikes against the Islamic State. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Corinne Purtill </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>LONDON, <a href="">UK</a> — As US-led airstrikes continued Tuesday against Islamic State targets in <a href="">Syria</a>, Prime Minister David Cameron was preparing for Britain’s reentry into combat in the <a href="">Middle East</a>.</p> <p>He’s in New York, where he’s set to address the UN General Assembly tomorrow in a speech that could confirm what most here already suspect: the UK will join the attack against IS, albeit in limited form.</p> <p>Cameron is expected to recall parliament as early as Friday to discuss British military involvement. The days until then will be spent building support among international partners and politicians at home.</p> <p>The latter task is most crucial for what happens next. Cameron is keen not to repeat the frustration and embarrassment of last year, when parliament refused his request to approve <a href="" target="_blank">airstrikes in Syria</a> after President Bashar al-Assad apparently used chemical weapons.</p> <p>IS, however, scares Britain in a way none of the Assad regime’s atrocities have.</p> <p>Fifty-two percent of the public supports Royal Air Force involvement against IS in <a href="">Iraq</a> and Syria, according to a YouGov poll Sunday.</p> <p>That number stood at 37 percent just a month ago. That was before the <a href="" target="_blank">publicized beheading of British aid worker David Haines</a> at the hands of an IS militant with a British accent, and the parading of two other UK hostages in IS videos.</p> <p>“Jihadi John” — the name used in the British press for the black-clad, London-accented man who has appeared in recent videos of Westerners being killed — is a figure of loathing in the UK. While the militant's garb hides all but his eyes, it is suspected that the same man appeared in the several videos that showed three murdered Western hostages and a fourth British hostage named Alan Henning.</p> <p>Some 500 Brits are believed to have traveled to Syria to engage with the conflict there. The prospect that some of them have joined IS and will bring their brand of violence back home has sold many Brits on military action.</p> <p>Whether that translates to political support remains unclear.</p> <p>Speaking at a Labour Party conference in Manchester Tuesday, opposition leader Ed Miliband said he supported the US-led strikes in Syria. He said the next step should be securing a UN Security Council resolution, a sign that Labour may be cautious of further military action.</p> <p>Given the legal complexities of striking in Syria, which has not authorized the presence of foreign military, Britain will probably limit its involvement to northern Iraq, analysts say.</p> <p>The UK has acted without legal authorization before, in Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in 2003. But the bitter fallout from the latter war still smarts here, and Britain will be wary of another protracted war.</p> <p>“We could do this today if we wanted,” says Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “The issue is when do we stop? The US has declared, correctly, that this is not going to be short-term.”</p> <p>As a result, he adds, British military action would be likely be “calibrated, limited, conditional.”</p> <p>Some voices have already been calling for more.</p> <p>“Airpower is a major component of this to be sure, especially with the new weapons available to us,” former Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote on his foundation’s website.</p> <p>“But — and this is the hard truth — airpower alone will not suffice. [IS] can be hemmed in, harried and to a degree contained by airpower. But they can't be defeated by it.”</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="">US launches airstrikes in Syria, kills at least 70 IS militants (LIVE BLOG)</a></strong></p> <p>Militants wasted no time in using US strikes to further their public relations goals.</p> <p>Within hours of the bombings’ commencement on Monday, IS released a second video showing the British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.</p> <p>He was presumably forced to read a message accusing Western governments of “hastily marching towards all-out war in Iraq and Syria without paying any heed to the lessons of the recent past.”</p> <p>The video seemed to support the idea that the militants’ provocative public statements are intended to draw Western forces into armed conflict.</p> <p>“I think it is entirely plausible that they understand the benefits they might reap from a sustained military campaign against them,” Joshi says. </p> Islamic State Need to Know Conflict Zones United Kingdom United States Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:10:00 +0000 Corinne Purtill 6266503 at Chatter: The US is now bombing Syria <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Last night, the US began targeting the Islamic State inside Syria. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Peter Gelling </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p></p> Home Need to Know Regions Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:50:00 +0000 Peter Gelling 5942065 at Beijing supporters use fear-mongering against Occupy Hong Kong <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Communist officials view the democracy movement as an Arab Spring-like threat. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Patrick Winn </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BANGKOK, Thailand &mdash; At its best, Hong Kong is many things that China is not &mdash; a freewheeling bastion of capitalism, with strong democratic leanings and a reverence for private sector efficiency.</p> <p>Still, the Hong Kong &ldquo;special administrative region&rdquo; &mdash; officially part of China but governed separately &mdash; has a vocal contingency that backs its Communist Party overlords in Beijing.</p> <p>In recent weeks, these Party supporters have had a somber message for their city. They warn of a potential threat that could paralyze Hong Kong, leave bodies in the streets and give bandits free reign. &ldquo;They could kill this city,&rdquo; <a href="">according</a> to the not-so-subtle messaging.</p> <p>The peril is not a nuclear holocaust. It&rsquo;s not an influx of Ebola victims.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s a pro-democracy movement vowing to block traffic in Hong Kong&rsquo;s central business district.</p> <p>That would be a &ldquo;knife in the heart&rdquo; of Hong Kong, according to an ominous video by the pro-Beijing group <a href=";editCurrentLanguage=1378411927453000130">Silent Majority for Hong Kong</a>, which calls the pro-democracy crowd &ldquo;agitators.&rdquo; Their predicted outcome: apocalypse-level gridlock, cops and ambulances stuck in traffic, and Hong Kong plunged into anarchy.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="560"></iframe></p> <p>The current hubbub is rooted in the Opium Wars of the 1840s, when British forces conquered this idyllic seaport region in an effort to rectify its trade imbalance. British rule led to a very different development model in Hong Kong, leading to prosperity and a fierce independent streak.</p> <p>Finally, in 1997, London handed the territory back to China with the understanding that it would eventually enjoy a freedom unheard of under colonial or mainland rule &mdash; the ability to elect its leader.</p> <p>Nearly two decades later, with Hong Kong residents growing impatient, China&rsquo;s Communist Party rulers announced that the long-awaited day will come in 2017. But there&rsquo;s a catch. In late August, Beijing decreed that the election&rsquo;s candidates will be vetted by a panel loyal to the Party.</p> <p>Many in Hong Kong now feel bamboozled. Their frustration has given rise to a movement called <a href="">Occupy Central with Peace and Love. </a></p> <p>Their plan: flood Hong Kong&rsquo;s central district with protesters willing to go to jail until Beijing concedes to truly open elections. Their manifesto preaches &ldquo;civil disobedience&rdquo; inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.</p> <p>This rhetoric may sound noble to Western ears. But to China&rsquo;s authoritarian leaders, who believe public harmony trumps individual rights, it sounds like the coming of the Arab Spring. Beijing has watched uneasily as pro-democracy protests &mdash; a prelude to outright civil disobedience &mdash; have drawn hundreds of thousands in recent months.</p> <p>&ldquo;If we don&rsquo;t have true democracy ... we&rsquo;ll be like any other second- or third-tier city in China,&rdquo; said Lai Chong Au, an organizer for the Occupy Central movement. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not trying to ruin Hong Kong. We&rsquo;re trying to help Hong Kong.&rdquo;</p> <p>Lai Chong &mdash; a banking professional in her thirties &mdash; is fairly emblematic of the city, a financial hub powered by well-educated go getters. This white-collar class also has plenty to lose by taking on the police. Occupy is asking its most devout followers to keep a steady presence of 10,000 people willing to &ldquo;give themselves up to the authorities.&rdquo;</p> <p>The movement hasn&rsquo;t announced when it will execute this plan. But organizers promise it will happen &ldquo;very soon.&rdquo; They have grown increasingly aggravated. Already this week, university students are boycotting classes in protest of Beijing&rsquo;s unfulfilled promise to allow real democracy. Student activists <a href=";_r=0">contend</a> they are ready to fight for years.</p> <p>A statement from the Occupy movement says China has &ldquo;brutally strangled&rdquo; hopes for freer elections. Those are strong words inside a country run by a party that loathes dissent. There are signs that China increasingly views Hong Kong as an unruly child.</p> <p><a href="">According to Reuters,</a> Beijing&rsquo;s top official in Hong Kong privately told lawmakers pushing for open elections, &ldquo;The fact that you are allowed to stay alive already shows the country&rsquo;s inclusiveness.&rdquo; Yet another Beijing-appointed official described the protest plans as <a href="">&ldquo;radical and illegal activities.&rdquo; </a></p> <p>Beijing&rsquo;s ultimate nightmare is that Hong Kong will elect West-leaning leaders who prove hostile to the mainland and stoke the flames of independence. A Communist Party document <a href="">leaked last year </a>warns that citizens advocating Western-style democracy are being manipulated to undermine communist rule.</p> <p>Beijing is mindful of Western meddling throughout history. Chinese school kids learn about Britain&rsquo;s aggressive 19th-century conquering of Hong Kong. They&rsquo;re also taught about America&rsquo;s 20th-century backing of anti-communist forces. It&rsquo;s no secret that Beijing feels it must remain vigilant against modern-day Western interference.</p> <p>But fears of Hong Kong turning aggressive toward the mainland are overblown, Lai Chong said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t see why we&rsquo;d want to go against the Chinese government and ruin ourselves,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;China&rsquo;s a very good market for Hong Kong. We want to work together.&rdquo;</p> <p>Pro-Beijing groups such as Silent Majority for Hong Kong have emerged to undercut calls for civil disobedience. The group warns that &ldquo;just before the dawn of democracy, Occupy Central movement wants to darken this hour of our history.&rdquo;</p> <p>Their slogan: &ldquo;Democracy without chaos!&rdquo; Their message: antagonizing mainland China with &ldquo;social disturbances&rdquo; goes against &ldquo;the fundamental values of Hong Kong and her people.&rdquo; Silent Majority for Hong Kong did not respond to GlobalPost&rsquo;s interview requests.</p> <p>Both sides of the debate claim to embody the true wishes of Hong Kong&rsquo;s people.</p> <p>But polls suggest the population is divided. Roughly half of Hong Kong&rsquo;s inhabitants hope Beijing&rsquo;s plans for communist-vetted elections are turned down, according to a <a href="">survey conducted by the South China Morning Post</a> newspaper.</p> <p>That doesn&rsquo;t mean Hong Kong has much faith in a 10,000-person sit-in challenging China&rsquo;s might.</p> <p>The same poll asked Hong Kong residents if Occupy Central will succeed in securing freer elections. Those who believe the movement will triumph added up to only 5 percent.</p> World Leaders Conflict Zones Want to Know China Political Risk Tue, 23 Sep 2014 04:18:09 +0000 Patrick Winn 6265238 at Why is Ukraine having such a hard time getting its message across? <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Commentary: Disbelief about Western reluctance to aid Ukraine’s military is turning into anger. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Gregory Feifer </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>KYIV, Ukraine — To people in this besieged country, the chain of events that led to their current crisis couldn’t be clearer.</p> <p>Fed up with a choking culture of bribery and corruption under former President Viktor Yanukovych, many supported his promise last year to sign a historic deal with the European Union they hoped would establish at least some accountability and Western values here.</p> <p>Many now believe he was colluding all along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for whom cultivating Moscow’s influence over Ukraine was an integral part of his project to remake his country into a great power.</p> <p>Last September, however, Yanukovych’s last-minute reneging on the deal came as a shock. When police beat a group of protesting students, public outrage galvanized many others against what they saw as an increasingly authoritarian regime.</p> <p>After Yanukovych fled in February, the Kremlin took its revenge on Ukraine’s new Western-looking leaders. <a href="">Russia</a> seized Crimea and launched a campaign to stoke violent separatism in the largely Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, where a nominal ceasefire is now helping entrench rebels whose campaign is having the desired effect of destabilizing a country approaching economic crisis.</p> <p>So the arguments of some in the West who preach tolerance for Putin are generating anguish and disbelief — and increasingly outrage and hostility — toward the countries whose values Ukrainians believe they’re being left alone to defend.</p> <p>In the <a href="">United States</a>, where calling for intervention is largely the domain of right-wing hawks — especially after the debacles of <a href="">Iraq</a> and <a href="">Afghanistan</a> — liberals who direct withering criticism at their own government believe Washington also has no business confronting Russia in its backyard. Citing Russian arguments that Ukraine’s new leaders are no less corrupt than the old, they conclude they’re not worth backing.</p> <p>Some former diplomats have been especially vocal. Writing in London’s Telegraph newspaper, Tony Brenton — who served as <a href="">British</a> ambassador to Russia last decade, when his embassy was besieged by angry mobs organized by a Kremlin youth group — said the idea that the West should confront a revanchist Russia is based on false premises.</p> <p>“Ukraine is a uniquely sensitive case for Russia,” he <a href="">wrote</a>. Both countries “are bound by deep social, cultural, and historical ties. Kiev is known as the ‘mother of Russia cities.’ And even in Ukraine the Russians want influence, not actual territory.’”</p> <p>Putting aside arguments about how truly unified the Russian and Ukrainian civilizations have been, a senior Ukrainian diplomat named Olexander Scherba says such logic conflates apples and oranges.</p> <p>Ukraine may indeed be a uniquely sensitive case for Russia, the youthful-looking head of the ministry’s international communications says, “but that doesn’t give it the right to attack our territory, to shell our military and seize our land. The logic is that I take away your home because Ukraine is a sensitive case for me?”</p> <p>Ukrainians have welcomed Western financial aid and other support as well as sanctions enacted against Russia. But they would like more direct help, especially weapons for their dysfunctional military — something Washington believes would provke the Kremlin.</p> <p>Dismissing another argument against confronting Moscow — that Russia’s actions are a logical reaction to NATO expansion last decade — Scherba says, “How does that justify killing and torture?”</p> <p>Scherba partly blames his own government for what’s seen as lukewarm support from Western countries. Ukraine is “bad at getting the narrative right,” he says, adding that the foreign ministry can’t afford even to send him abroad to make his country’s case.</p> <p>Russia, by contrast, spends millions on its English-language satellite channel Russia Today and other state-controlled media that produce a steady stream of propaganda Ukrainian officials believe they can’t possibly counteract.</p> <p>The Kremlin has another great advantage. The Ukrainian government must rebut each false Russian claim that it’s led by fascists and neo-Nazis bent on killing Russian-speakers — even though a stroll along a corridor in any ministry here would reveal that Russian is most commonly used even among current officials.</p> <p>Moscow, on the other hand, doesn’t have to do more than simply cast doubt on the Ukrainian narrative.</p> <p>The Russian position that Ukraine is no longer a viable state, for example, is influencing Western debate by playing into the belief that financial and military support for Kyiv is futile.</p> <p>“If this country has no chance, then why did hundreds of thousands of people come out onto the streets in the bitter cold and rain — young, old, men and women?” Scherba says.</p> <p>“Ukraine is not Afghanistan,” he adds. “You don’t have to build a nation here, just help defend democracy. People are ready to give their lives for it. We get it. All we need is some help.”</p> <p>Now disbelief is now turning into anger.</p> <p>The growing view here that Ukraine is fighting <a href="">Europe</a>’s battle by defending Western values against a country run by former KGB officers bent on exporting corruption and autocracy is raising the possibility of a backlash.</p> <p>One adviser to the prime minister dismissed a question about Western arguments against aiding Ukraine with a flash of anger. “How can they possibly think that?” she said.</p> <p>Volodymyr Hroisman puts it more diplomatically.</p> <p>“If the West fails to teach Putin about democracy,” says the deputy prime minister and one of the government’s leading reformers, “he’ll teach it about dictatorship.”</p> <p>“If Western countries show that democratic values aren’t important, they’ll simply deteriorate.”</p> <p>European countries are partly to blame, Hroisman adds. “If they had acted in a principled way from the beginning, we wouldn’t be here,” he says. “Now Putin can only be contained.”</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="">Anyone who&rsquo;s anyone is running for office in Ukraine</a></strong></p> <p>Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko is more blunt. He believes those calling for restraint against Putin are seeking to justify their own inaction.</p> <p>“When you’re comfortable, you don’t want to fight for what you believe,” he says of people in the West. “Easier to let someone else do it.”</p> <p>“It’s a cowardly policy,” he says. “It’s a fatal logic for the West.”</p> <p>Still, Fesenko believes Ukraine will slowly reform enough over the next decade for the EU to consider membership, thanks partly to the accession deal that was finally signed last week.</p> <p>However, that’s only if the threat of war in the east subsides.</p> <p>For now, Scherba says, the lack of Western support in that battle shows Western countries simply don’t understand the stakes.</p> <p>“The truth is too terrible,” he says. “Americans don’t want to think about the necessity of confronting a country that’s a nuclear power.”</p> <p><em>GlobalPost Europe editor Gregory Feifer’s new book is “Russians.” He was on leave in Kyiv earlier this month working as a consultant to the government. </em></p> Crisis in Ukraine World Leaders Conflict Zones Want to Know Europe Russia United States Tue, 23 Sep 2014 04:18:00 +0000 Gregory Feifer 6265502 at The United States and Arab allies have begun bombing Islamic State positions in Syria <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The strikes reportedly hit Raqqa, the city in northern Syria that has become the militants' stronghold, and other targets. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lizzy Tomei </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>The US military and partner forces have <a href="" target="_blank">begun a bombing campaign against the Islamic State</a> (IS) inside <a href="">Syria</a>, the Pentagon confirmed Monday night.</p> <p>Using one of the acronyms for the terror group also known as ISIS, press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby wrote on Twitter that the joint forces had started "striking ISIL targets in Syria using mix of fighters, bombers and Tomahawk missiles."</p> <p>The Associated Press reported that the strikes launched by manned aircraft and US ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea "were conducted by the US, Bahrain, Qatar, <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a>, <a href="">Jordan</a> and the United Arab Emirates."</p> <p>The Syrian government was informed about the strikes in advance, the AP said.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>BREAKING: Damascus says Washington informed Syria's UN envoy before striking Islamic State in Syria</p> <p> — The Associated Press (@AP) <a href="">September 23, 2014</a></p></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>The strikes targeted Raqqa, the city in northern Syria that has become the militants' stronghold, and up to 20 other positions, <a href="" target="_blank">ABC News reported</a>. Unverified <a href="" target="_blank">reports on social media</a> by individuals in Raqqa suggested that drones had been flying overhead shortly before the strikes began at 8:30 p.m. EST.</p> <p>Watch ABC's early report:<iframe height="360" scrolling="no" src="" style="border:none;" width="640"></iframe></p> <p><em>This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.</em></p> Islamic State Need to Know Syria War Middle East United States Tue, 23 Sep 2014 04:14:00 +0000 Lizzy Tomei 6265768 at Anyone who’s anyone is running for office in Ukraine <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> It may be cool to campaign for parliament these days. But what does that mean for reforms the country desperately needs? </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Dan Peleschuk </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>KYIV, Ukraine — What do protest leaders, battlefield commanders, career politicians and muckraking journalists have in common?</p> <p>They’re all becoming candidates in the country’s parliamentary elections next month.</p> <p>Iryna Bekeshkina, head of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kyiv, says the phenomenon of field commanders and other war heroes on the ballot is “in fashion” and resembles previous elections that featured singers, sports icons and other celebrities.</p> <p>The all-star lineup may sound like a good thing for attracting voters, but some say it’s cause for concern in a country with a track record of hollow populism.</p> <p>The elections will be crucial for cementing a new pro-reform legislature that would back a planned government overhaul, tackle corruption and institute other changes aimed at staving off economic collapse and battle Russian interference.</p> <p>Observers are split over how meaningful the new trend might be.</p> <p>“It’s a small step toward changing the political process,” says political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.</p> <p>Everyone from President Petro Poroshenko — whose party tops the popularity charts with around 16 percent support — to grassroots activists are hailing next month’s vote as a partial overhaul of Ukraine’s corrupt political landscape.</p> <p>Under former President Viktor Yanukovych, much of the legislature was little more than a rubber-stamp body with murky business interests.</p> <p>Even though last winter’s revolution drove Yanukovych from office, the same lawmakers elected during the 2012 elections remain in place today. Some are alleged even to have supported the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.</p> <p>A new parliament would presumably strengthen the body as a key political institution and help prevent the return of autocratic rule.</p> <p>It would also reflect the new post-revolutionary order in Ukraine, in which civic activists and the commanders of volunteer battalions — paramilitary units on the front lines in the war with the pro-Russian insurgents — have become the newest media darlings.</p> <p>Those figures have been celebrated for their roles on the streets of Kyiv and the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. That may be why so many of them have ended up on parties’ voting lists ahead of the elections.</p> <p>The parties are headed by established politicians, such as Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and their lists include leading investigative journalists, charismatic protest leaders and several field commanders who have gained notoriety for their outspoken criticism of the military leadership.</p> <p>The tactic of recruiting household names for election lists is commonly used by political parties to boost their popular support, raising questions about the sincerity of some of the candidates.</p> <p>Particularly curious has been the inclusion of largely symbolic figures with little or no political experience, such as Air Force Col. Yuliy Mamchur, a virtual unknown who made headlines in March after he refused to surrender his Crimea-based unit to Russian soldiers during Moscow’s occupation of the Black Sea peninsula.</p> <p>Some of those up for election wouldn’t even be able to set foot into the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament building in Kyiv, were they to win seats.</p> <p>Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot kidnapped by separatists this summer and currently standing trial in <a href="">Russia</a> for alleged war crimes, tops the election list of former Prime Minster Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party.</p> <p>Opposition-minded Ukrainians who have sought to maintain pressure on the new authorities to make good on promises of reform criticize what they see as a continuation of Ukraine’s long tradition of personality politics.</p> <p>Veniamin Tymoshenko, a labor union leader who was demonstrating with about 300 others outside parliament last week, said the new legislature should be “more professional.”</p> <p>“That means its members should be lawyers, economists — not just populists who show up and say, ‘I fought on the front, vote for me,’” said Tymoshenko, who is not related to the former prime minister.</p> <p>At the same time, observers say some of the activists who gained celebrity status among protesters following the months-long protests on Independence Square — the “Maidan” — appear to have earned their keep.</p> <p>They include an anti-corruption crusader who successfully lobbied for a sweeping law aimed at weeding out bureaucrats with spotty records.</p> <p>There are also reform-minded legal experts, election monitors and journalists who have built their reputations on investigating official graft. Candidates like those, Fesenko says, may be instrumental in “uniting civic interests with new political opportunities.”</p> <p>Journalist Serhiy Leshchenko, who’s running for a seat on Poroshenko’s party list, said that after his 14 years investigating corruption at the country’s top independent news outlet, Ukrayinska Pravda, he knows “how the schemes work and understand[s] how to dismantle them.”</p> <p>“Whether or not this will work out — I don’t know, honestly,” he wrote in a Facebook post after announcing his candidacy. “But I have to try. Because later you’ll spend your whole life complaining to yourself that you didn’t make use of the chance.”</p> <p>Most observers agree that a smooth political transition only seven months after a bloody street revolution is unlikely, especially given the social and economic crises the country currently faces.</p> <p>Despite so much new blood running for office, many establishment politicians haven’t exactly left the building, but instead help anchor many of the party lists. Even former members of Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions — reviled by many for their role in enabling his autocratic regime — are running on different party lists this time around.</p> <p>The second most popular party in the polls is led by a vigilante nationalist who’s garnered international condemnation for abducting and beating suspected separatist sympathizers on camera.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="">Tens of thousands protest against Russian intervention in Ukraine</a></strong></p> <p>But Yevhen Fedchenko, director the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kyiv, says the flood of diverse new faces, particularly the journalists and activists, represents an important shift away from the status quo.</p> <p>“No one really represented anyone,” he says of the current parliament, which was formally dissolved in August but stayed on to pass key legislation. “It was full of people who represented themselves, their businesses or the businesses of whoever hired them to be there.”</p> <p>Fedchenko, who knows several of the new candidates, says the system they’re aiming to change is “very powerful” and poses a threat to idealistic newcomers who risk being “caught in the mechanism.”</p> <p>“But,” he adds, echoing candidate Leshchenko, “they have to try.” </p> Crisis in Ukraine Conflict Zones Elections Want to Know Europe Russia Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:51:00 +0000 Dan Peleschuk 6265418 at Why thousands of Hong Kong students are marching for democracy <!--paging_filter--><p>Thousands of students braved sweltering heat in <a href="">Hong Kong</a> on Monday to demand greater democracy as they launched a week-long boycott of classes, underscoring a restive younger generation's determination to challenge the Chinese Communist Party.</p> <p>Dressed in white and wearing yellow ribbons, students from more than 20 universities and colleges packed into the grounds of picturesque, bay-side Chinese University where they were greeted by banners that said: "The boycott must happen. Disobey and grasp your destiny."</p> <p>Managing the former <a href="">British</a> colony is proving a challenge for Beijing, which is worried that calls for democracy could spread to cities on the mainland, threatening the Communist Party's grip on power.</p> <p>Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 as a "special administrative region" (SAR) with a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a formula known as "one country, two systems."</p> <p>But Beijing last month rejected demands for people to freely choose the city's next leader, prompting threats from pro-democracy activists to shut down the Central financial district.</p> <p>"We are willing to pay the price for democracy. No one can take away people’s entitled right. No one. Not the SAR government and of course not the NPC," said Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the organizers of the boycott, referring to China's National People's Congress.</p> <p>Chow, 24, who wore a black T-shirt with the words "freedom now," has said he was inspired by a high school teacher who began crying as he played a clip of China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy student demonstrators in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.</p> <p>The protest was peaceful but the mood at the university was defiant as demonstrators demanded nominations for Hong Kong's next leader in 2017 to be open to everyone. China's leaders want to ensure only pro-Beijing candidates are on the ballot.</p> <p>Chow's federation put the number of students attending the rally at about 13,000, describing the turn-out as "inspirational." There was no independent or police estimate.</p> <p>The Occupy Central movement that has threatened to shut down the business district will likely be encouraged by the turnout. The students' ability to mobilise such a large crowd makes their support an increasingly important driver of Hong Kong's burgeoning civil disobedience movement.</p> <p>Students converged on a long boulevard at the university, with some carrying umbrellas to protect them from the baking sun, and many chanting "united we stand" and "democracy now."</p> <p>The Federation of Students said its application to hold a rally in Hong Kong's Central district had been approved for Tuesday to Thursday.</p> <p><strong>'Normal phenomenon'</strong></p> <p>It had written a letter to Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying and planned to gather outside his office on Tuesday if it had not received a reply by then.</p> <p>The Hong Kong government said in a statement it respected the students' "ambition and persistence."</p> <p>"The issue of political system development has been complicated and controversial, so it’s understandable that different groups in the society hold different opinions and arguments, which is also a normal phenomenon in Hong Kong’s diversified society," it said.</p> <p>The student boycott coincided with a trip by some of Hong Kong's most powerful tycoons to Beijing where they discussed Hong Kong with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.</p> <p>"We will continue to carry out 'one country, two systems' and the Basic Law in Hong Kong, which serve the interests of the nation, the interests of Hong Kong people, and the interests of foreign investors," said Xi, who was flanked by former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.</p> <p>"The central government will firmly support and push for the democratic development in Hong Kong and will maintain the prosperous development in Hong Kong."</p> <p>The Basic Law refers to the mini-constitution for post-1997 Hong Kong which enshrines the one country, two systems formula.</p> <p>Leading academics in Hong Kong have voiced support for the student boycott, with some offering to record lectures and post them online for students who miss school to watch later.</p> <p>"As long as the spirit of democracy stays alive, we cannot and will not be defeated," said Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of the Occupy Central movement.</p> <p>The student group Scholarism is planning to lead a boycott of secondary school classes on September 26 to rally further support for the democracy movement, while Occupy is expected to lock down the financial district around October 1.</p> <p>Hong Kong has been dogged by a series of rallies this summer over the issue of electoral reform. A survey by the Chinese University showed more than a fifth of Hong Kong residents are considering leaving the city, spurred by concerns over its political future.</p> <p>(Additional reporting by Venus Wu, Stefanie McIntyre, Diana Chan and Yimou Lee; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)</p> Need to Know Asia-Pacific Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:09:46 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6265286 at Shia rebels guard key offices in Sanaa after Yemen peace deal <!--paging_filter--><p>Shia rebels guarded government offices and army bases in the Yemeni capital alongside troops on Monday after a UN-brokered peace agreement aimed at ending a week of deadly fighting.</p> <p>Sunday's hard-won deal, signed by the president and all the main political parties, is intended to put the troubled transition back on track in impoverished Yemen which borders oil kingpin <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a> and is a key US ally in the fight against Al Qaeda.</p> <p>Sanaa residents began to venture into the streets as the guns fell silent after a week of deadly clashes between the rebels and their Sunni Islamist opponents, AFP correspondents reported.</p> <p>Rebel fighters were manning joint checkpoints with troops outside the public offices they entered in their lightning advance on Sunday, which include the government building, parliament, army headquarters and the central bank.</p> <p>Commanders said they had orders to cooperate with the rebels, known as Ansarullah or Huthis, who had waged a decade-long insurgency in the mountains of the far north before launching a bid for power in the capital last month.</p> <p>"We are working side by side with Ansarullah to protect public buildings and property," a military police commander told AFP at a checkpoint near the rebel-controlled state radio headquarters.</p> <p>The interior ministry had called on the security forces on Sunday not to confront the rebels.</p> <p>The speed of the advance reflected the fragility of the regime three years after a deadly uprising which forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.</p> <p>The rebels brought reinforcements into the capital overnight from their strongholds further north, tribal sources said.</p> <p>They carried out searches through the night and into Monday of the homes of their Sunni Islamist opponents, multiple sources said.</p> <p>They included leading figures in the Islah party as well as General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a veteran army officer close to the Islamists.</p> <p>Sanaa provincial governor Abdulqader Hilal resigned in protest late on Sunday after rebels seized his car at a checkpoint, sources close to him said.</p> <p>The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shia community, that makes up 30 percent of Yemen's mostly Sunni population but is the majority community in the northern highlands, including Sanaa province.</p> <p><strong>New PM to be named</strong></p> <p>They have taken advantage of shifting alliances among the region's Zaidi tribes to advance from their mountain strongholds and lay claim to a stake in power in Sanaa.</p> <p>Under Sunday's deal, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has three days to bring a rebel representative into government as an adviser and to name a neutral replacement for prime minister Mohamed Basindawa.</p> <p>Basindawa tendered his resignation as the security forces surrendered state institutions without a fight on Sunday although it had yet to be accepted by the president on Monday.</p> <p>In his resignation letter, Basindawa accused Hadi of being "autocratic," according to the text released by the council of ministers.</p> <p>"The partnership between myself and the president in leading the country only lasted for a short period, before it was replaced by autocracy to the extent that the government and I no longer knew anything about the military and security situation," he wrote.</p> <p>A security protocol to Sunday's agreement requires the rebels to hand over the institutions they have seized, and once a new prime minister has been named, to start dismantling the armed protest camps they established in and around the capital last month.</p> <p>But rebel representatives refused to sign the protocol at Sunday's ceremony.</p> <p>Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam said they would only do so once the security forces had apologized for the deaths of rebel protesters during an attempt to storm government headquarters earlier this month.</p> <p>The deal also requires the president to name an adviser from the separatist Southern Movement which has been campaigning for the secession of the formerly independent south.</p> <p>The southerners' boycott of Hadi's UN-backed plans for the transition has been another major obstacle.</p> <p>Southern grievances have allowed parts of the region to become strongholds for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula regarded by Washington an the jihadist network's most dangerous arm.</p> <p>UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday's agreement marked a "positive step towards political stability and peace," according to a statement issued by his spokesman.</p> <p>mou-tm/lyn/kir/mm</p> Need to Know Middle East Mon, 22 Sep 2014 15:10:37 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6265234 at The 2022 World Cup may not be in Qatar <!--paging_filter--><p>The 2022 World Cup will not be held in Qatar because of the scorching temperatures in the <a href="">Middle East</a> country, FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger said on Monday.</p> <p>"I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar," the <a href="">German</a> told Sport Bild on Monday.</p> <p>"Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions," the former German football (DFB) chief, who is now a member of the world soccer's governing body FIFA that awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010.</p> <p>Although wealthy Qatar has insisted that a summer World Cup is viable thanks to cooling technologies it is developing for stadiums, training areas and fan zones, there is still widespread concern over the health of the players and visiting supporters.</p> <p>"They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there," Zwanziger said.</p> <p>"Fans from around the world will be coming and traveling in this heat and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor.</p> <p>"That is not something that FIFA Exco members want to answer for."</p> <p>FIFA officials, contacted by Reuters, said Zwanziger was not giving the view of the all powerful Executive Committee.</p> <p>"He is expressing a personal opinion and he explicitly says so," FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said. "We will not comment on a personal opinion."</p> <p>FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in May that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a 'mistake' and the tournament would probably have to be held in the <a href="">European</a> winter.</p> <p>"Of course, it was a mistake. You know, one comes across a lot of mistakes in life," he told Swiss television station RTS in an interview at the time.</p> <p>"The Qatar technical report indicated clearly that it is too hot in summer, but the executive committee with quite a big majority decided all the same that the tournament would be in Qatar," he added.</p> <p>FIFA is now looking to shift the tournament to a European winter date to avoid the scorching summer where temperatures routinely rise over 40 Celsius.</p> <p><a href="">Asian</a> Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa chaired a meeting to discuss the matter earlier this month with the options of January/February 2022 and November/December 2022 offered as alternatives to June/July.</p> <p>However, talk of a potential change away from the usual dates has resulted in plenty of opposition from domestic leagues around the world, worried the schedule switch would severely disrupt them.</p> <p>Both FIFA and Qatar World Cup organizers have also been fending off questions of corruption ever since they were awarded the tournament back in 2010, while Qatar has also been criticized for the conditions provided for migrant workers' in the tiny Gulf state.</p> <p>(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann. Editing by Patrick Johnston)</p> Need to Know Middle East Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:04:00 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6265187 at Ukrainian military says it will withdraw big guns after fall-off in separatist fire <!--paging_filter--><p>Ukrainian government forces prepared on Monday to withdraw artillery and heavy armored vehicles within a proposed 19-mile buffer zone after detecting a lessening of fire from <a href="">Russian</a>-backed separatists, a military spokesman said.</p> <p>The spokesman, Andri Lysenko, told journalists two Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours despite the Sept. 5 ceasefire, but that separatist artillery attacks had diminished and there had been no firing from Russian territory.</p> <p>These factors allowed Ukraine to begin implementing an agreement, reached between Ukrainian and Russian envoys with separatists last Friday, under which the warring sides would pull artillery and other heavy equipment about nine miles back on either side of their battle-line to create a buffer zone.</p> <p>(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Janet Lawrence)</p> Need to Know Europe Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:19:53 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6265156 at More than 130,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State have crossed into Turkey <!--paging_filter--><p>More than 130,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing an advance by Islamic State militants have crossed into <a href="">Turkey</a> in the past three days and the authorities are preparing for more, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday.</p> <p>"We are prepared for the worst scenario, which is an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees," Kurtulmus told reporters in the capital Ankara.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish fighters have halted an advance by Islamic State fighters to the east of a predominantly Kurdish town near the border with Turkey, a spokesman for the main armed Kurdish group said.</p> <p>"Fierce clashes are still under way but the ISIS (Islamic State) advance to the east of Kobani has been halted since last night," Redur Xelil, spokesman for the main Kurdish armed group, the YPG, said via Skype.</p> <p>He said the eastern front was the scene of the fiercest fighting in the offensive launched by Islamic State last Tuesday on Kobani, also known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab. More than 100,000 Syrian Kurds, driven by fear of Islamic State, have fled its advance, many crossing the border into Turkey.</p> <p>The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence in the Syrian war, said Islamic State fighters had made no significant advance in the last 24 hours.</p> <p>The offensive is Islamic State's second attempt to take Kobani since June, when it staged a lightning advance across northern <a href="">Iraq</a>, seizing the city of Mosul and with it Iraqi weaponry including American-made hardware that the Syrian Kurds say is now being used against them.</p> <p>The previous attack on Kobani, in July, was fought off with the help of Kurds who crossed the border from Turkey. Xelil said hundreds had crossed from Turkey again to help repel the current offensive.</p> <p>"There have been no reinforcements apart from some Kurdish youths from Turkey," he said.</p> <p>The <a href="">United States</a> has launched air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and has said it will not hesitate to strike the group in <a href="">Syria</a>, but wants allies to join its campaign.</p> <p>The United Nations said on Sunday the number of Syrian Kurds who had fled into neighboring Turkey alone might have topped 100,000 and was likely to go much higher.</p> <p>"There are still clashes to the west and south of Kobani but not at the same intensity as the eastern front," Xelil said.</p> <p>Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, said Islamic State had made "no progress worth mentioning" in the past 24 hours, but that clashes were "at their most intense."</p> <p>There were conflicting accounts of how far Islamic State fighters were from Kobani. Xelil said they were 12-19 miles away, while Abdulrahman said they were around half that distance from the town.</p> Need to Know Middle East Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:47:30 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6265119 at Think you’ve got it tough? Just be happy you’re not in the Korean army <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> After a soldier dies from brutal hazing, conscripts complain of relentless bullying and abysmal conditions. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Geoffrey Cain </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>SEOUL, <a href="">South Korea</a> — “So you think you can discuss military issues without even having served?” Conservative lawmaker Han Gi-ho hurled that question at conscientious objector Lim Tae-hoon in a parliamentary hearing. “You didn't even go!”</p> <p>Lim is accustomed to such attacks. An openly gay activist, in 2005 he opted for a short prison sentence in lieu of the mandatory two-year military service — to protest bullying and a ban on gay sexual relations. He now campaigns against what he calls the army’s ferocious and unresponsive culture.</p> <p>“Am I mentally disabled?” he snapped back. “If you look at the [army’s] mental condition assessment chart, it says I am sexually disabled.”</p> <p>Lim is one of a handful of activists fighting to pry open what he calls a secretive institution where allegations of bullying have long remained in the shadows, and where commanders, he argues, have a history of acting with impunity against their underlings.</p> <p>The movement has gained momentum recently, riding national anger over the high-profile death of a conscript last April. Flogged and kicked for months, forced to lick phlegm off the floor, and covered in bruises, Private Yoon Seung-joo choked while being force-fed and beaten. He was rushed to the hospital but didn’t survive.</p> <p>Officials didn’t release the bulk of these details for four months. Instead they emerged via a leaked report obtained by Lim’s group, the Center for Military Human Rights.</p> <p>This month, the army upgraded charges against four soldiers from manslaughter to murder, also accusing them of destroying evidence by ripping out the victim’s diary pages and attempting to blackmail witnesses.</p> <p>The tragedy is hardly unusual.</p> <p>Earlier this month, two soldiers died in a mock captivity training after their heads were wrapped in cloth and their hands tied behind their backs. Since July, another four conscripts have killed themselves. Another outcast even snapped and went on a shooting rampage, killing five of his colleagues before a failed suicide attempt. Close to 800 servicemen have taken their own lives in the past decade, according to government figures.</p> <p>The allegations have been explosive in South Korea, a nation locked in a love-hate relationship with the idea of military valor. On the one hand, mandatory service is treated as a prerequisite to business and political success, and able-bodied men who haven’t earned their stars can be ostracized. On the other, two years spent enduring army hardship — with widespread bullying, poor conditions and abysmal pay — is akin to death and taxes: a near-certainty that anxious sons and their mothers dread.</p> <p>Many young men clamor for a way out. One popular route is through a lottery to join the US military as a Korean staffer, while a few even undergo surgery specially designed to damage body parts on purpose, landing a medical waiver. A smaller contingent willfully enter prison as conscientious objectors. Nine out of 10 conscientious objectors behind bars around the world are South Korean, according to a 2013 United Nations report — a number that has drawn the criticism from the organization.</p> <p>Military service is as much a part of public life in South Korea as the anger every few years over stories of abuse. This time, the intensity of the outcry has prompted a rebuke from President Park Geun-hye, who has called for measures to rein in violence. Other civic groups are pushing for greater civilian checks on the military, an institution has far more leeway than other ministries in matters of secrecy and internal policing with little parliamentary scrutiny.</p> <p>Until the late 1980s, South Korea was a dictatorship that placed the military on a pedestal as the first line of defense against its enemy North Korea. It was also the institution that maintained order so the country could industrialize its way out of poverty.</p> <p>Today, South Korea maintains a tangle of Cold War-era national security laws that give the army significant discretion over its affairs, often away from the eyes of civilian policymakers.</p> <p>Lim, for one, seeks the establishment of a civilian watchdog body with the legal power to oversee the military’s judicial system. “The problem is that the military polices itself,” he told GlobalPost. “Army bullying is not just a matter of aggressor and victim, but a wider issue that goes straight to the heart of the twisted culture that the army has created.”</p> <p>In recent months, the Ministry of National Defense has responded with a handful of changes, allowing parents to visit their children more often, offering more flexible leave dates, and renovating barracks to be friendlier places. The military “is deeply considering various things to protect the armed forces’ basic rights, and to improve human rights in the barracks,” said spokesman Kwon Kihyeon.</p> <p>The body defends its record, pointing out that, for the first time in its history, it has opened a public line of communications on the bullying issue, gathering complaints and uncovering 4,000 instances of previously unreported abuses. Earlier, such inquiries tended to stay within military walls.</p> <p>Lim argues that these are cosmetic adjustments, skirting around the deeper attitude of national privilege.</p> <p>“This is a system in which the army cannot discuss its own problems,” said Lim. “The Ministry of National Defense has shown us that it can’t be trusted to handle its own affairs in a democratic way.”</p> <p>Some conscripts agree with that sentiment. “Hazing, verbal nastiness, getting kicked and thrown into the mud for looking a little weak and not speaking promptly enough — we saw it all the time,” said one former marine who completed his service last year, but asked not to be named, fearing that his aggressors would find him. “I don’t know what the president and the army expect to change unless there is a complete overhaul in their way of thinking.”</p> <p>“Korea is a democracy now. But the senior army officials still think like we’re in the 1980s,” he added. “The officers don’t really care if you are beaten up, but they only start caring if our democracy makes them look bad.”</p> <p><em>Max Kim contributed reporting.</em></p> Conflict Zones Want to Know South Korea Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:04:04 +0000 Geoffrey Cain 6260736 at How Mexico’s cartel crackdown smashed its iron industry <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A government offensive against the Knights Templar cartel has had the side effect of leaving thousands of miners out of work. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ioan Grillo </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>AGUILILLA, <a href="">Mexico</a> — Iron ore lies abandoned in titanic piles like a gray lunar landscape amid these green hills.</p> <p>Government security forces descended on an open-pit mine here in July to shut it down and confiscate hundreds of tons of raw metal.</p> <p>The reason? The mine was operated by the bloodthirsty Knights Templar cartel, which has diversified from cooking crystal meth to a range of rackets.</p> <p>It was not the only narco mine. Since soldiers and marines flooded Michoacan in January to fight the Knights Templar, they have helped shutter more than 100 pits of iron, copper and other metals. In total, a whopping 700,000 tons of minerals have been confiscated and are piled up in mounds like this.</p> <p><img class="inline_image-photo" src="" width="100%"><span class="inline_image-src">(Ioan Grillo/GlobalPost)</span></p> <p>The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto has touted the seizures as proof it is fighting organized crime.</p> <p>But the crackdown has had an unwanted side effect. More than 6,000 direct jobs have been lost from the closures, according to the local miners union, which has organized marches to try to get pits open again.</p> <p>One such mine worker, Rolando Chavarria, squats on the Aguililla site under a tarp, cooking beans and tortillas. He normally uses his truck to carry the ore down the hill but is now unemployed and scraping to get by.</p> <p>“It is good the government fights crime but what about us?” Chavarria asked over his boiling pots. “We need some income. I am going to starve to death if they don’t get this mine open again soon.”</p> <p>The glimmering piles of metallic rock and hungry miners illustrate President Peña Nieto’s challenge in fighting cartels that have diversified into a broad portfolio of criminal activities.</p> <p>A decade ago, most Mexican drug traffickers used to simply traffic drugs.</p> <p>Now cartels engage in crimes including human smuggling, sex trafficking, product piracy, oil theft, kidnapping, extortion and gun running as well moving tons of narcotics to American users.</p> <p>The billions of dollars in these businesses fund violence that has claimed more than 70,000 lives since 2006.</p> <p>Many mines are in sparsely policed mountains inside traditional drug-producing areas like Michoacan, so they were easy prey for cartels.</p> <p>Gangsters in Michoacan began by simply shaking down mines for extortion payments. One businessman who owns an iron pit in the state (as well as building sites in Mexico City) says cartel emissaries began to charge him a quota back in 2009.</p> <p>“How could I refuse to pay? I didn’t want me or my employees to end up dead,” the owner said. “It became an extra cost that I had to take into account to run the business.”</p> <p>However, as the Knights Templar saw the bubbling profits involved they started cutting out the middlemen and forced people to sell them — or give them — the mines.</p> <p><img class="inline_image-photo" src="" width="100%"><span class="inline_image-caption"> A police checkpoint in a road to an iron mine in the Aguililla community, in Michoacan State, Mexico.</span> <span class="inline_image-src"> (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)</span></p> <p>The cartel also began excavating in pits without permits and ignoring environmental regulations.</p> <p>While illegal and polluting, the cartel helped boost iron production at a time when Chinese industry has created a huge demand. Michoacan boasts the nation’s biggest Pacific port, Lazaro Cardenas, where container ships sail straight to Shanghai.</p> <p>In the first six months of 2013, a record <a href="" target="_blank">5.5 million metric tons</a> of minerals sailed from the port to <a href="">China</a>.</p> <p>The Knights also shook down Michoacan’s farmers, including its vast avocado industry, a big source of guacamole for hungry <a href="">Americans</a>.</p> <p>Many angry farmers were so furious about paying the gangsters they supported a vigilante movement to fight the Knights Templar. The Peña Nieto government eventually allied with these vigilantes and in May allowed many to be deputized into a new Rural State Force.</p> <p>The combined forces of vigilantes, soldiers and police hammered the Knights Templar and their bloody grip on the state this year.</p> <p><img class="inline_image-photo" src="" width="100%"><span class="inline_image-caption">Western Mexican vigilantes.</span><span class="inline_image-src"> (Ioan Grillo/GlobalPost)</span></p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">How Mexico's west was won: It took a village, and plenty of AK-47s</a></strong></p> <p>But the mining industry has also been shattered. In the first half of this year, the amount of ore heading from Lazaro Cardenas to China hurtled down to 1.2 million metric tons.</p> <p>In Aguililla alone, this has put a total of 500 people out of work in a mountain community with few sources of income, says Adalberto Fructuoso Comparan, a former mayor who joined the vigilantes and is now local head of the Rural Force.</p> <p>“It doesn’t just make the miners unemployed but impacts the whole economy,” Comparan said. “There are people who transport the minerals, people who sell food to the miners, companies that provide material for the mine.”</p> <p>The government promised to reactivate the industry following the closures.</p> <p>“We have gotten past the security crisis. Now we are thinking of the problems of lack of opportunities,” Interior Secretary Jose Miguel Osorio Chong said in Lazaro Cardenas in July. “For this we offer the support of the government to Michoacan.”</p> <p>However, moves to restart the mining industry are slow. In mines that have operated illegally, entirely new regulatory processes need to begin.</p> <p>Only two of the 100 shuttered pits have so far reopened, according the union.</p> <p>It is also unclear what the government will do with all of the properties — and hundreds of thousands of tons of iron.</p> <p>Mexican police normally auction off seized narco assets, from small planes to luxury cars. But that could be more difficult with mountains of iron ore scattered over the highlands.</p> <p>Residents close to the closed pits say the lack of work has led to more common crimes, such as mugging and burglary.</p> <p>“The government needs to move faster to get pits open or there could be consequences,” Comparan said in Aguililla. “The people in these communities need jobs urgently. It is the lack of opportunities that makes people turn to organized crime in the first place.”</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">California deportees enlist in Mexico militias to rout a drug cartel</a></strong></p> war on not just drugs Conflict Zones Want to Know Emerging Markets Mexico Mon, 22 Sep 2014 06:04:03 +0000 Ioan Grillo 6263145 at Ashraf Ghani named Afghanistan's next president <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ghani signed a power-sharing deal with rival Abdullah Abdullah that ended a prolonged standoff over disputed election results. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Agence France-Presse </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared <a href="">Afghanistan</a>'s next president on Sunday, hours after signing a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah that ended a prolonged standoff over the disputed result.</p> <p>Allegations of massive fraud in the June 14 vote sparked a political crisis as both candidates claimed victory, paralysing the country at a key moment with US-led troops winding down their 13-year war against the Taliban.</p> <p>When the long-awaited "unity government" deal was finally signed, Ghani embraced Abdullah briefly at a low-key ceremony in the presidential palace that lasted less than 10 minutes.</p> <p>Abdullah will become "chief executive officer" (CEO), a role similar to prime minister — setting up a tricky balance of power as Afghanistan enters a new era.</p> <p>Neither candidate spoke at the palace ceremony, and it remained uncertain when they would address the nation or when the unity agreement would be officially published.</p> <p>"The Independent Election Commission declares Dr Ashraf Ghani as the president, and thus announces the end of election process," commission chief Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani later told reporters.</p> <p>"During the election process fraud was committed from all sides. That has concerned people."</p> <p>In a move likely to trigger complaints over transparency, Nuristani gave no figures for the winning margin, turnout or the number of fraudulent ballot papers thrown out in an UN-supervised audit that checked every individual vote.</p> <p>Ghani was widely acknowledged to be on the brink of the presidency after coming well ahead in preliminary results released before the audit began.</p> <p>Under the constitution, the president wields almost total control, and the new government structure will face a major test as the security and economic outlook worsens.</p> <p>"Hamid Karzai wishes the elected president Dr. Ashraf Ghani and the CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah success based on the agreement between them," said a statement from the outgoing president.</p> <p><strong>'Two powers' </strong></p> <p>The vote count has been plagued by setbacks amid allegations of massive fraud, emboldening the Taliban insurgents and further weakening the aid-dependent economy.</p> <p>As tensions rose in Kabul, the United Nations and <a href="">United States</a> pushed hard for a "unity government" to avoid a return to the ethnic divisions of the 1990s civil war, which ended with the Taliban taking power in 1996.</p> <p>A ruling coalition between opposing camps is likely to be uneasy.</p> <p>Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter and foreign minister, draws his support from Tajiks and other northern ethnic groups. Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, is backed by Pashtun tribes of the south and east.</p> <p>"There will be two powers in the government, and it will be very difficult for them to work together," Sediq Mansoor Ansari, an analyst and director of the Civil Societies Federation, told AFP.</p> <p>"I think the people of Afghanistan will wonder about their votes, and how their votes have been played with."</p> <p><strong>Possible friction</strong></p> <p>The future of Afghanistan's relationship with the US-led NATO alliance will also be high on the agenda after Karzai refused to sign a security pact with Washington to ensure a foreign military presence after this year.</p> <p>The White House welcomed the election result and the power-sharing deal, which it said "helps bring closure to Afghanistan's political crisis".</p> <p>"We look forward to... the conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement," it added in a statement.</p> <p>According to a copy of the unity government document seen by AFP, the CEO could become the official prime minister in two years' time -- a major change to the strongly presidential style of government forged by Karzai since 2001.</p> <p>Dividing up other government posts could also create friction after the long and mercurial reign of Karzai, who built up a nationwide network of patronage.</p> <p>The UN's country director Jan Kubis lauded Sunday's announcements, but warned that "for the sake of the country, it is time to quickly implement the agreement".</p> <p>After the June run-off election was engulfed in fraud allegations, the US brokered a deal in which the two candidates agreed to abide by the outcome of the audit and then form a national unity government.</p> <p>Abdullah later abandoned the audit, saying it was failing to clean out fraud. He had won April's first round, only to see Ghani come from well behind and win in June.</p> <p>The new administration will have to stabilise the dire economy as international aid falls, and deal with worsening unrest.</p> <p>About 41,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan fighting the fierce Taliban insurgency alongside Afghan soldiers and police.</p> <p>NATO's combat mission will end in December, with a follow-on force of about 12,000 troops likely to stay into 2015 on training and support duties.</p> <p>A spokesman for Abdullah said August 29 had been pencilled in for the inauguration.</p> Afghanistan Afghanistan War Need to Know World Leaders Conflict Zones Elections Sun, 21 Sep 2014 18:12:58 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6264503 at All the people march for climate change <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The 'People's Climate March' in New York has been endorsed by more than 1,400 organizations. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Agence France Presse </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>Activists mobilized in cities across the globe Sunday for marches against climate change, with one of the biggest planned for New York, where celebrities, political leaders and tens of thousands of people were expected.</p> <p>Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, former US vice president turned advocate Al Gore, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were all due to take part in what organizers hope will be the largest climate change protest in history.</p> <p>The "People's Climate March" in New York has been endorsed by more than 1,400 organizations, including environment, faith and justice groups, as well as labor unions. Students have mobilized marchers from more than 300 college campuses.</p> <p>The rallies, including another 2,500 around the world, take place ahead of a climate change summit hosted by Ban Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.</p> <p><strong>'Now we know'</strong></p> <p>In the French capital, nearly 5,000 people protested, according to police estimates, many on bikes, with banners that read "Climate in danger" or "<a href="">World leaders</a>, act!"</p> <p>"Before we could say we didn't know. Now we know. Climate change is already underway," Nicolas Hulot, the president's special envoy for the protection of the planet, told the crowd in central Paris.</p> <p>In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, up to 700 people also took part in a climate change march.</p> <p>Protesters held banners, one reading: "If climate was a bank, they would already have saved it."</p> <p>Hundreds more protested in several other cities in <a href="">France</a>.</p> <p>In <a href="">Madrid</a>, hundreds gathered in front of the Environment Ministry, brandishing signs with slogans including "There's no Planet B," "Change your life, not your climate," and "Our climate, your decision."</p> <p>In Cairns, Australia, where finance ministers from the G20 nations were meeting, more than 100 people wearing green paper hearts around their necks gathered outside the venue.</p> <p>They repeatedly chanted "Every dollar spent, every single cent, 100 percent, green energy" and carried banners including one that read: "Add climate change to the G20."</p> <p>"I'm here because I'm a parent, I'm here because I'm a scientist, I understand what climate change means for our planet, our children, our economy, our health," said John Rainbird, an Australian biologist.</p> <p>Hundreds also gathered in Sydney, Australia, and in <a href="">New Delhi</a>, India, where around 300 protesters carried placards that read "I want to save forests" and "Coal kills", as they shouted slogans and danced to pounding drum beats.</p> <p><strong>'An existential threat'</strong></p> <p>The New York protest started winding its way through midtown on a two-mile route at 11:30 a.m. (1530 GMT).</p> <p>Thousands of people had already gathered two hours earlier, filling Central Park, carrying giant cardboard sunflowers and banners denouncing "dirty energy."</p> <p>Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, a pressure group that is one of the organizers, will present a petition signed by two million people to Ban.</p> <p>"We feel very confident that we will achieve our goal, which is to have the largest climate change march in history," Patel told AFP.</p> <p>After a moment of silence, participants will be encouraged to use instruments, alarms and whistles to make as much noise as possible at 1 p.m., helped by marching bands and the tolling of church bells.</p> <p>New York mayor de Blasio announced that the Big Apple was committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over 2005 levels by 2050.</p> <p>"Climate change is an existential threat to New Yorkers and our planet. Acting now is nothing short of a moral imperative," he said before the rally.</p> <p>The UN meeting Tuesday sets the stage for a crucial conference in Paris in December 2015 aimed at finalizing an agreement.</p> <p>"We are breaking ground here on many different levels," UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told reporters on Friday.</p> <p>"First, we're going to see unprecedented public mobilization for climate action."</p> Global Warming Americas Want to Know France Europe Politics Culture & Lifestyle India Spain United States Sun, 21 Sep 2014 18:03:00 +0000 Agence France Presse 6264472 at Will China help Obama fight the Islamic State? <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Analysis: The terror group’s global reach tests Beijing’s longstanding vow not to interfere. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Robert Foyle Hunwick </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BEIJING, China &mdash; The Islamic State is flush with cash, territorially ambitious and eager for recognition.</p> <p>But is IS a threat to China?</p> <p>That&rsquo;s been a question on foreign policy minds since US National Security Adviser Susan Rice&rsquo;s trip to Beijing earlier this month.</p> <p>The trip, billed as preparation for President Obama&rsquo;s trip to China in November, went off without serious glitches &mdash; other than a mildly <a href="">embarrassing mix-up</a> on state TV with that other Rice (Condoleezza).</p> <p>But Rice&#39;s visit was overshadowed by the unfolding chaos in Iraq and Syria, brought about by IS.</p> <p>Would China be willing to lend its support to an international coalition against this growing threat to world security?</p> <p>The official response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) was boilerplate: &ldquo;The Chinese government staunchly fights against any form of terrorism.&rdquo;</p> <p>Privately,&nbsp;&ldquo;They are interested,&rdquo; argues Chen Dingding, assistant professor of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau.</p> <p>The Communist Party has long insisted on refusing to &ldquo;interfere with the internal affairs&rdquo; of sovereign states, a policy pointedly directed at other powers to stay out of China&rsquo;s domestic matters. &nbsp;But Beijing&rsquo;s status &mdash; as the world&rsquo;s second-biggest economy, with an increasingly powerful military &mdash; is bringing with it the uncomfortable realization that such a simplistic stance is getting tougher to maintain.</p> <p>China now has its own overseas interests to protect &mdash; as demonstrated by its mass evacuation of troops from Libya in 2010 &mdash; and uneasy friendships with countries that have their own bad habits. Russia&rsquo;s annexation of Crimea and incursions into Ukraine have met with only diplomatic blandishments from the People&rsquo;s Republic. &ldquo;A political solution is the only way&hellip; sanctions do not help to solve the underlying problems,&rdquo; a MoFA spokesman said in early September.</p> <p>In fact, as a gathering of scholars at an international conference in Stockholm recently <a href="">concluded</a>, China has been a main beneficiary of Russia&rsquo;s aggression, securing a 30-year gas deal (long in the pipeline), oil and arms exports, energy exports and regional solidarity with its erstwhile foe &mdash; all while (or by) doing nothing.</p> <p>The Islamic State may be a different matter, however. The terrorist group is already seeding <a href="">unlikely alliances </a>against it, such as Syria&rsquo;s President Assad, Iran and the US. IS has included China among a list of avowed enemies and, <a href="">reportedly</a>, a Chinese national fighting for IS has already been captured by Iraqi forces, a fact that MoFA says they are &ldquo;verifying,&rdquo; while police in Indonesia say they have arrested four Chinese men accused of traveling there <a href=";cid=1101">&ldquo;with the intent of connecting with a local [IS] chief.&rdquo;</a></p> <p>If the captured Chinese IS fighter turns out to be a member of the Turkic-speaking Uighur population from Xinjiang, as is widely thought, it would be evidence that China has become a recruiting ground &mdash; and may even have IS cells. That renders a response unavoidable. (China has released no official figures on how many of its nationals have joined IS ranks, although its Middle East envoy&nbsp;has claimed that at least 100 Chinese were training with IS)</p> <p>Xinjiang, an ethnically divided part of northwest China, has long been considered a hotbed of terrorism. Since April 2013, <a href="">over 300 deaths</a> have been reported in incidents that state media term as &ldquo;terrorism&rdquo; but are impossible to independently verify. This year, the violence has worsened and grown more public, spilling over into civilian attacks in outside provinces, such as a horrific massacre at a Kunming train station that left 34 dead and a suicide attack on Tiananmen Square that killed two bystanders. The arrival of any IS forces on Chinese borders could only intensify this unrest.</p> <p>Chen Dingding has made a <a href="">persuasive case</a> for China&rsquo;s involvement in battling IS, arguing that Beijing has nothing to lose, and could meanwhile gain from international standing, cooperation, and military experience.</p> <p>Of course, it also risks exposing inexperienced People&rsquo;s Liberation Army troops to potential defeat and loss of life (and face), as well as entanglement in contentious Middle Eastern politics. Then there&rsquo;s the matter of domestic politics. &ldquo;Some strategists in China have reservations on such cooperation because they view US-China relations as a zero-sum competition,&rdquo; says Xiayu Pu, assistant professor at the University of Nevada&rsquo;s Department of Political Science. &ldquo;In their view, China should not do the US a favor.&rdquo;</p> <p>Most analysts therefore agree that China&rsquo;s role is likely to be political and diplomatic: There will be no &ldquo;boots on the ground&rdquo; for the foreseeable future.</p> <p>&ldquo;China will stick to its non-interventionist policy for a while, though it might increase efforts in peacekeeping,&rdquo; says Chen. &ldquo;It will take time to adjust.&rdquo;</p> <p>Beijing&rsquo;s waiting game may annoy some, but any attempts to rebuke China for complacency risk provoking outrage. After Obama suggested, <a href="">in an August interview</a>, that China had been a &ldquo;free rider&rdquo; in the region, an editorial in <em>People&rsquo;s Daily</em>, a Beijing mouthpiece, <a href="">argued</a> that China was a &ldquo;partner and builder,&rdquo; while the US was an &ldquo;invader and deserter.&rdquo; The article didn&rsquo;t mention that China&rsquo;s first action since the emergence of IS was to evacuate all its 10,000 citizens in Iraq.</p> <p>Labels aside, &ldquo;Most would probably agree that China&rsquo;s dominant strategy has been a low-profile approach in global affairs,&rdquo; argues Xiaoyu. &ldquo;From an analytical perspective, such a strategy is essentially a &lsquo;free rider&rsquo; strategy. As an inward-looking emerging power, China wants to focus on domestic growth without active entanglement with global affairs.&rdquo;</p> <p>And if Obama does persuade a reluctant China to assist in maintaining what is still, essentially, a US-led world order and repair damage caused at least partly by its Middle East strategy, it might find having a new military partner at the table brings with it its own problems. &ldquo;If China abandons its &lsquo;free rider&rsquo; approach,&rdquo; asks Xiaoyu, &ldquo;will the US be ready to share more power and status with China on the world stage?&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Conflict Zones Syria Want to Know Asia-Pacific Diplomacy Iraq Sun, 21 Sep 2014 11:23:14 +0000 Robert Foyle Hunwick 6259653 at What month is it? Oktoberfest. <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany's world-famous festival kicked off Saturday with the traditional tapping of the first barrel of beer. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Agence France-Presse </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="">Germany</a>'s world-famous Oktoberfest kicked off Saturday with the traditional tapping of the first barrel of beer, as millions of revellers are set to soak up the frothy atmosphere in the 16-day annual extravaganza.</p> <p>With the cry of "O'zapft is" ("The keg is tapped"), the amber fluid began to flow at noon after Munich's mayor, Dieter Reiter, with due pomp and ceremony, took a mallet and in four swings breached a 200-litre (53-gallon) barrel.</p> <p>The first liter-size mug, the "Mass," went to the head of the Bavaria regional government, Horst Seehofer.</p> <p>Fourteen giant tents set up in the center of Munich filled up quickly with people eager to imbibe the slighty stronger than usual beer after watching a rain-dampened parade of the brewers through the city's streets.</p> <p>"Oktoberfest is very famous, everyone in the world knows about it. We wanted to see it and now I can tell my friends I've been too," said Moran Chen, 26, originally from <a href="">Hong Kong</a> but now living in Berlin.</p> <p>At the festival site on the Wiesn fairgrounds thousands of serving staff carry millions of "Mass" glasses of beer from one of six historic Munich breweries to punters seated at long tables.</p> <p>Last year more than 6 million visitors drank 6.7 million liter-sized mugs of beer — more than twice the volume of an Olympic swimming pool — during the whole festival run.</p> <p>The price of the beer always touches off a debate and in some tents this year it will creep over the 10-euro mark for the first time — to 10.10 euros ($13), according to officials.</p> <p>It all helps wash down the salty giant soft pretzels, dumplings, pork and grilled sausages that provide the customary hearty accompaniment.</p> <p>For Johanna Kriessl, a 53-year-old from Frankfurt now living in Munich, its magic is the "super, nice atmosphere" and "the tradition of the tracht", referring to the traditional Bavarian costume.</p> <p>Oktoberfest customs call for the wearing of classic southern Bavarian dress — a dirndl, or low-cut blouse with a laced-up bodice and aproned full skirt for women, and the lederhosen leather shorts with embroidered braces for men.</p> <p><strong>'Not German but Bavarian' </strong></p> <p>Foreign tourists, led by Italians and Americans, flock to Munich to enjoy the merriment, but the festival remains largely a Bavarian event with more than 70 percent of visitors hailing from the southern state.</p> <p>"For us it is wonderful for the whole Bavarian nation to gather together in such a small space," said Munich resident Barbara Huber, 50.</p> <p>And she was insistent that the festival should not be seen as quintessentially German. "No, it's Bavarian, it's Munich."</p> <p>It does, however, draw plenty of German celebrities and stars of the TV screen and soccer field, who are often photographed, glass of beer in hand.</p> <p>The Oktoberfest, originally held in October as the name suggests but brought forward to September to take advantage of warmer weather, began in 1810 to mark the marriage of the prince of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.</p> <p>This year is the 181st edition of the legendary festival which was cancelled during two cholera outbreaks, both world wars, Napoleon's invasion of Bavaria and the hyperinflation of the 1920s.</p> <p>It has since been exported around the world and versions of the festival can be found as far afield as China, <a href="">Brazil</a>, <a href="">Canada</a>, the <a href="">United States</a>, <a href="">Russia</a> and Australia.</p> <p>This year's event runs to Oct. 5.</p> Want to Know Food & Drink Germany Sat, 20 Sep 2014 22:32:09 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6263862 at The economy, stupid, behind Scotland's 'No' vote <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland voted to stay in the UK, but not out of love. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Agence France-Presse </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>Scots were driven to reject independence in a historic referendum more out of fears over the economic risks of going alone than a strong attachment to the <a href="">United Kingdom</a>, a survey analysis shows.</p> <p>The post-referendum survey by independent pollster Lord Michael Ashcroft also reveals that young people voted in droves to break up the centuries-old union — suggesting that a future referendum might go the other way.</p> <p>The "No" campaign focused on the economic dangers of independence, in particular warning of uncertainty over the currency after the British government said the separatists would not be able to keep the pound.</p> <p>Ashcroft's survey of 2,047 people who cast ballots in Thursday's referendum, weighted to reflect the 55 percent who voted against independence, reveals that the message hit home.</p> <p>When "No" voters were presented with three options explaining their decision, some 47 percent said the risks were too great when it came to matters such as the currency, EU membership, the economy, jobs and prices.</p> <p>Around 27 percent said they were driven by a strong attachment to the United Kingdom, its shared history, culture and traditions.</p> <p>And around 25 percent said it was the promise of new powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament that would result in "the best of both worlds."</p> <p>By contrast, "by far the biggest single driver for 'Yes' voters was disaffection with Westminster politics," said Ashcroft, a former Conservative party donor, in an online commentary.</p> <p>Seven in 10 "Yes" voters said they were most concerned that decisions about Scotland be taken in Scotland, while 20 percent said they were driven by the feeling that the future would be brighter as an independent country.</p> <p>One in 10 said their main reason for backing independence was to ensure they would no longer be ruled by Conservative governments.</p> <p>British Prime Minister David Cameron's party is currently the biggest in Westminster but has just one Scottish MP.</p> <p><strong>Referendum re-run? </strong></p> <p>Warnings that independence was the only way to save the state-run National Health Service (NHS) from savage spending cuts also made their mark, with 54 percent of "Yes" voters saying it was an important factor.</p> <p>After a slow burning campaign that reached a frenzy in the last fortnight when opinion polls suggested the "Yes" camp might deliver a shock win, two-thirds of those who made up their minds in the last few days voted "Yes."</p> <p>Despite the clear result, the survey indicates that the issue of independence has not been decided for good.</p> <p>Some 71 percent of 16- to 17-year-olds, who were allowed to vote for the first time in a British election, voted "Yes", while 73 percent of people over 65 voted "No."</p> <p>And although Cameron said the issue of independence had now been settled for a generation, many voters believe the referendum may be re-run sooner.</p> <p>Some 31 percent said the issue was settled for five years, 17 percent for a decade, 24 percent for a generation — while 19 percent said independence would never be revisited.</p> <p>The respondents were interviewed by telephone and online.</p> Elections Want to Know Culture & Lifestyle United Kingdom Sat, 20 Sep 2014 18:42:38 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6263715 at 45,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed into Turkey over the last 24 hours <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Islamic State fighters have seized dozens of villages close to the border, prompting the flight of thousands. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Seyhmus Cakan, Thomson Reuters </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>SANLIURFA, <a href="">Turkey</a> — Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have crossed into Turkey over the past day, fleeing an advance by Islamic State fighters who have seized dozens of villages close to the border, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Saturday.</p> <p>Turkey opened a stretch of the frontier on Friday after Kurdish civilians fled their homes, fearing an imminent attack on the Syrian border town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.</p> <p>"Around 45,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border as of now from eight entrance points along a 30-km distance from Akcakale to Mursitpinar since we opened the border yesterday," Kurtulmus told CNN Turk television.</p> <p>Islamic State's advances in northern <a href="">Syria</a> have prompted calls for help by the region's Kurds who fear an impending massacre in the town of Kobani, which sits in a strategic position on the border.</p> <p>Esmat al-Sheikh, head of Kurdish forces defending Kobani, said clashes were taking place north and east of the town on Saturday.</p> <p>Islamic State fighters using rockets, artillery, tanks and armored vehicles had advanced further towards Kobani overnight and were now within 15 km (9 miles) of the town, he told Reuters by telephone.</p> <p>At least 18 Islamic State fighters were killed in clashes with Syrian Kurds overnight as the militant group took control of more villages around the town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.</p> <p>Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called on Friday for international intervention to protect Kobani from the Islamic State advance, saying the insurgents must be "hit and destroyed wherever they are".</p> <p>The <a href="">United States</a> is drawing up plans for military action in Syria against the radical Sunni Muslim group which has seized swathes of territory in Syria and <a href="">Iraq</a>, proclaiming a caliphate in the heart of the <a href="">Middle East</a>.</p> <p>Western states have increased contact with the main Syrian Kurdish political party, the PYD, whose armed wing is the YPG, since Islamic State led a lightning advance in Iraq in June.</p> <p>The YPG says it has 50,000 fighters and should be a natural partner in a coalition the United States is trying to assemble to fight Islamic State.</p> <p>But such cooperation could prove difficult because of Syrian Kurds' ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group listed as a terrorist organization by many Western states due to the militant campaign it has waged for Kurdish rights in Turkey.</p> <p><em>(Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir in Istanbul and Sylvia Westall in <a href="">Beirut</a>,; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Janet Lawrence)</em></p> Need to Know Conflict Zones Syria Military Aid Iraq Turkey Sat, 20 Sep 2014 15:10:20 +0000 Seyhmus Cakan, Thomson Reuters 6263590 at 49 Turkish hostages held by the Islamic State are released <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The 49 Turkish citizens were held hostage for more than 100 days by IS militants. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Xinhua News Agency </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>ANKARA, <a href="">Turkey</a> — Turkish hostages held by Islamic State (IS) militants in northern <a href="">Iraq</a> were released by a "rescue operation" and brought back early Saturday morning to Sanliurfa province in southern Turkey, private NTV news channel reported.</p> <p>The 49 Turkish citizens, who were held hostage for more than 100 days by the IS militants, were kidnapped in Iraq but delivered in <a href="">Syria</a>, according to the report.</p> <p>Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a written statement that the hostages' freedom was the result of a successful "operation."</p> <p>"I thank the prime minister and his colleagues for this carefully planned, detailed and secret operation, which continued all night and successfully completed early morning," said the statement released by the presidential press office.</p> <p>"Our National Intelligence Agency has followed the issue with patience and dedication, and finally performed a successful rescue operation," the statement added.</p> <p>Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier in the day the hostages "came to Turkey at 5 a.m. in the morning. We have followed the developments closely all night ... This happy development prepared us for a beautiful morning ... I am very proud to share this happy news."</p> <p>Davutoglu, who is visiting Azerbaijan, said that he decided to shorten his trip to Baku and will meet the released Turkish hostages in southern Sanliurfa province bordering Syria.</p> <p>A group of IS armed attackers took control of the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq on June 11, and abducted 49, including the consul general, staff and their family members.</p> Need to Know World Leaders Conflict Zones Syria Diplomacy Military Iraq Turkey Sat, 20 Sep 2014 12:52:00 +0000 Xinhua News Agency 6263511 at How Europe's counter-Putin policy could go terribly pear-shaped <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> After the little green men, Putin's new weapons against the West: little yellow fruit. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Paul Ames </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BOMBARRAL, Portugal — The Rocha pear makes an unlikely weapon, but these juicy yellow bundles of sweetness are now a useful addition to Vladimir Putin's arsenal as he battles to undermine Western resolve over Ukraine.</p> <p>Exports of apples and pears are key to the local economy in territory around this western Portuguese town. Russia was a key market — until Putin banned European agricultural products in retaliation for Western sanctions.</p> <p>Now prices have plummeted and farmers' livelihoods are at risk.</p> <p>"Most of them can't meet their loan payments to the banks, they can't buy fertilizer or fuel. The situation is desperate, people are without hope," says Antonio Maria Martins, manager of Bombarral's agricultural cooperative.</p> <p>"They're asking themselves, how can this be happening because of something that's going on so far away in Russia?"</p> <p>Farmers across Europe are posing the same question.</p> <p>European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium estimates that the ban on EU food imports that Putin imposed in early August could cost European farmers $6.5 billion.</p> <p>The boycott also hit farm goods from the <a href="">United States</a>, <a href="">Canada</a>, Norway and Australia, but the tit-for-tat sanctions are hurting the EU farmers most — almost three-quarters of the banned products come from the 28 EU nations.</p> <p>"This affects millions of farmers across the European Union," EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said during an emergency debate in the European Parliament last week. "We are faced with a European crisis."</p> <p>The ban is stoking rancor within the EU, with countries arguing over the share-out of compensation money. Some politicians complain farmers are paying the price for their government unwisely provoking Putin through the EU sanctions slapped on Russia's financial, energy and defense sectors in response to Moscow's military intervention in eastern Ukraine.</p> <p>"The EU's foreign policy can't gamble with the interests of European farmers, who deserve a peaceful and responsible relationship with Russia," Pablo Iglesias, leader of <a href="">Spain</a>'s fast-growing far-left We Can party, told the European Parliament.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">A summer of violence is exposing Europe's foreign policy weaknesses</a></strong></p> <p>In the fruit-growing region around Bombarral about half of the pear crop is exported. Portugal's crisp, Rocha variety is highly priced in <a href="">Brazil</a>, <a href="">Britain</a> and <a href="">France</a> — the main foreign markets. Last year about 10 percent also headed to Russia, says Martins, from the farmers' cooperative there.</p> <p>"The problem is not just that we're banned from Russia," he explains during a lunch break in the co-op's vast fruit-packing warehouse. "Everybody else is banned, so we've got pears from Belgium and <a href="">the Netherlands</a> that normally go to Russia flooding our markets in Europe. It's driving down everybody's prices. The same thing is happening with apples from <a href="">Poland</a>."</p> <p>He says Portuguese farmers are currently getting less than 9 cents per pound for their pears, down from 15 cents last year. Adding to the pain, the Russian lockout follows tough years due to poor crops and Portugal's long economic recession.</p> <p>"People are angry, they've been caught in the middle of this," says Davide Cordeiro of Frutalvor, a growers co-op in nearby Caldas da Rainha, which was exporting to Russia before the ban.</p> <p>"It's not easy, to be growing something and suddenly you find you can't do anything with your produce," he says. "This is a very complicated situation and it’s affecting the whole sector."</p> <p>It’s not just the exporters who are suffering. Erizete Gameiro is a smallholder farmer who sells her homegrown pears, strawberries and sweet Muscat grapes in the market in Torres Vedras, a few miles to the south.</p> <p><img class="inline_image-photo" src="" width="100%"><span class="inline_image-caption">Erizete Gameiro sits behind her fruit stand in Torres Vedras, Portugal.</span> <span class="inline_image-src">(Paul Ames/GlobalPost)</span></p> <p>"Look, I'm selling for 50 cents," she says. "Last year I was getting double that. Look how good they are, but even at this price I can't sell them."</p> <p>In response to Putin's embargo, EU headquarters responded quickly by setting up a $161 million fund to help the worst affected fruit and vegetable farmers. Ciolos was forced to suspend payments, however, after a surge of claims from Polish farmers, which officials in Brussels said went beyond the level of damages.</p> <p>Portuguese fruit farmers around here say they've received nothing in compensation so far.</p> <p>The country's exports of the banned food products to Russia last year are estimated at $16 million. While that's having a major impact locally, it's dwarfed by the $1.3 billion that Lithuania is losing or the $1.1 billion that Putin's ban is costing Polish farmers.</p> <p>Ciolos has also set aside $30 million from EU funds to help European exporters divert fruit from Russia to other international markets, but with so much excess fruit out there, exporters aren't optimistic.</p> <p>"We have to find new markets, but it's not easy," says Cordeiro. "Everybody is trying to do the same thing and there's too much fruit out there. We're looking at the United States, but it's really not easy."</p> <p>In fact, other countries are rushing to take advantage of Europe's exclusion to slip their produce into Russian markets. Nations as diverse as Brazil, <a href="">Morocco</a> and <a href="">Pakistan</a> are pitching their goods as alternatives for Russian consumers.</p> <p><a href="">Turkey</a>, a candidate for EU membership and NATO ally, has irked many in Brussels after officials said the country could double last year's $1.68 billion in food sales by substituting European exports.</p> <p>That opportunism is adding to fears among European farmers that the Kremlin's boycott could have a long-term impact, making it difficult for them to regain lost market share.</p> <p>Ciolos has said he will seek support from EU governments to boost emergency funding for the hardest-hit farmers. “We’ll spend 2 billion or 3 billion euros ($2.3 billion or $3.4 billion) if the member states give the money," he told the EU parliament in Strasbourg, France.</p> <p>Cast-strapped treasuries are reluctant to pay up. But unless they stem the growing rural discontent, Europe's governments may find public support for sanctions on Russia going pear-shaped.</p> BeNeLux food fight Want to Know Emerging Markets Europe Politics Poland Political Risk Russia Sat, 20 Sep 2014 05:19:00 +0000 Paul Ames 6262783 at The US is not giving the public a heads up on when it will strike IS in Syria <!--paging_filter--><p>The <a href="">United States</a> is ready to launch air strikes on Islamic State targets in <a href="">Syria</a> but does not want to telegraph when these will occur, President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Friday.</p> <p>Her comments underline mounting questions over when the United States will expand its air campaign against Islamic State into Syria from neighboring <a href="">Iraq</a> after Obama laid out guidelines for strikes aimed at denying Islamic State militants a safe haven in either country.</p> <p>"I don't think it would be appropriate or wise for me to telegraph from the podium exactly when that will occur, and what steps may need to be taken before that is to occur," Rice told reporters at the White House.</p> <p>"I'm not going to give you any precision or prediction on when that might occur," she said.</p> <p>White House spokesman Josh Earnest said each air strike would not require approval by Obama. "Contrary to some published reports, he's not going to be in a position where he's approving or disapproving individual air strikes in Syria," he said.</p> <p>But Earnest declined to say whether Obama would need to approve the first strike in Syria, saying only that Obama and his team were reviewing plans laid out by the Pentagon.</p> <p>Earnest also said that the United States was taking precautions to limit damage or injury to civilians in Iraq and Syria.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the United States has discussed the threat posed by Islamic State militants with envoys from its traditional foe <a href="">Iran</a> on the sidelines of nuclear talks, the State Department revealed Friday.</p> <p>The department's director of press relations Jeff Rathke said the issue was separate from the nuclear agenda, "but that discussion on this threat did arise on the margins of the meeting."</p> <p><strong>US Congress approves arming Syrian rebels</strong></p> <p>The US Congress gave final approval on Thursday to President Barack Obama's plan for training and arming moderate Syrian rebels to battle Islamic State, a major part of his military campaign to "degrade and destroy" the militant group.</p> <p>The Senate voted 78-22, in a rare bipartisan show of support for one of Obama's high-profile initiatives. With the House of Representatives approving the legislation on Wednesday, the measure now goes to Obama to sign into law.</p> <p>Ten Senate Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no.</p> <p>Obama thanked Congress for the speed in which it acted to back the plan, which he announced on Sept. 10, and said the strong bipartisan support showed Americans were united in the fight against Islamic State.</p> Need to Know United States Fri, 19 Sep 2014 20:02:00 +0000 Thomson Reuters and Agence France-Presse 6263115 at Spain's Catalan parliament approves independence vote law <!--paging_filter--><p>Catalonia's regional parliament on Friday passed a law that its leaders say will authorize them to hold a non-binding "consultation" on independence from <a href="">Spain</a> on November 9.</p> <p>The law was passed with 106 votes in favor and 28 against.</p> <p>The move — announced a day after Scottish voters rejected independence — is opposed by Spain's central government, which has already said it will challenge the Catalan law in the nation's Constitutional Court.</p> <p>Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has argued that only the central government has the power to call a referendum on sovereignty.</p> <p>Proud of their distinct Catalan language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants feel short-changed by the national government in Madrid, which redistributes their taxes.</p> <p>Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in 2006 but Spain's Constitutional Court later overruled that claim.</p> <p>dbh/ds/boc</p> Need to Know Spain Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:31:01 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6263054 at Retailers and consumers can chart a course away from slavery at sea <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Commentary: The dark side of cheap shrimp is human slavery on fishing boats in international waters. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Judy Gearhart and John Hocevar </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; Last June, <a href="">media reports</a> sparked an outcry over human slavery on fishing vessels &mdash; a dark side of the cheap shrimp and other seafood now sold year-round by stores like Costco and Walmart.</p> <p>The horrors uncovered by the Guardian newspaper&rsquo;s investigation included Cambodian and Burmese men being sold to fishing boats, forced to work at sea against their will for months or years at a time, victimized by violence, and left with little or no earnings at the end of their ordeal on the ever-emptier, overfished oceans. These men were packed below decks like sardines and half-starved.</p> <p>The expos&eacute; has led to calls for consumer boycotts of seafood from Thailand, the epicenter of the scandal. This response &mdash; although understandable &mdash; neither helps those already trapped in this industry nor addresses the root of the problem.</p> <!--break--><!--break--><p>In fact, the only way to stop this human rights nightmare is for Western companies to take responsibility for their supply chains.</p> <p>What does this mean?</p> <p>First, companies must require suppliers to ensure that their catch is both free of slave labor and obtained in ways that do not devastate already fragile environments.</p> <p>In addition, consumers and companies should push governments to enact treaties that protect both workers and ocean life. This would help bring an end to forced labor on fishing vessels operated by <a href="">52 countries</a>, according to the US State Department.</p> <p> One step companies can take is prohibiting suppliers from using transshipment, the transfer of the catch onto refrigerated cargo ships at sea. This process keeps fishing vessels at sea and enables them to avoid the risk of inspection while in port offloading fish.</p> <p>This practice is a key driver of forced labor at sea. It has been on the rise because overfishing has required ships to travel greater distances for longer periods of time for their catch, thus raising the cost and increasing the incentive to cheat employees or purchase slaves. The added time at sea keeps the horrific working conditions out of sight, while workers have almost no possibility of escape.</p> <p>Greenpeace encountered such a situation while helping local officials search a ship for &ldquo;long-lines&rdquo; that are typical of the Western Pacific Ocean, where much of the tuna consumed in the United States is caught. Ships using long lines that can stretch many miles in international waters are not illegal, unless the lines take an endangered or threatened species. Taking of an endangered species is a violation of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).</p> <p>While terrified of being overheard, fishermen on the ship managed to relay to Greenpeace inspectors that they had not been to port in 18 months, were badly treated by the senior crew and forced to live in deplorable conditions. They had inadequate access to toilets and showers and slept in shifts on thin, dirty mattresses in dark, poorly ventilated parts of the ship. This situation is all too common, and local government officials are often ill equipped or unprepared to respond, even when it is reported to them.</p> <p>It is common for both workers and employers to pay labor brokers for placing workers in jobs throughout the seafood industry. This is considered a recruitment fee and is attached to the worker as debt, often with high interest rates, and deducted from their pay, leaving them with no income or means to leave abusive situations.</p> <p>In 2013, for example, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) researchers <a href="">worked with partners on the ground</a> in Thailand to uncover debt bondage and document confiscation among workers in Thai shrimp processing facilities that supplied to Walmart and other Western retailers. Even though they weren&rsquo;t stranded at sea, these migrant workers had no way to return home.</p> <p> Various labels now certify seafood suppliers as socially and environmentally responsible. Supermarkets use the labels to screen their supply chain, but they not fool-proof.</p> <p>ILRF found problems in Thailand at a fishery certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance&rsquo;s Best Aquaculture Practices program, an industry-led certification used by Walmart in vetting its suppliers. More rigorous programs exist, but certification auditors are not equipped to inspect illegal fish-food trawlers, especially when the captain carries a gun.</p> <p>Such limitations on certifiers and the existence of hundreds of thousands of industrial fishing vessels trawling the oceans, it is impossible to board and inspect each one in an effort to eliminate pirate fishing and labor abuse.</p> <p>A more rigorous inspection system at port and better protections for workers are needed. Global brands must rid their supply chains of illegal fishing vessels and the practice of transshipment at sea.</p> <p>These initiatives will require greater collaboration among exporting and importing governments, global brands and two global unions &mdash; the International Transport Workers&rsquo; Federation and the International Union for Food and Agriculture Worker. Together, they could enact <a href="">measures</a> that would protect fishers and recognize their right to unionize as a critical piece of the solution.</p> <p>Some will argue that such measures will make shrimp more expensive. Consumers changing their shopping practices can help. The responsibility ultimately falls to retailers who assure transparency and best practices in their supply chain so that consumers can be confident in the seafood that they want to buy.</p> <p><em>Judy Gearhart is executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, a human rights advocacy NGO that works globally to ensure workers&rsquo; rights, and a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow with the&nbsp;</em><a href=";view=article&amp;id=868&amp;Itemid=154"><em style="letter-spacing: 0px; line-height: 15.6000003814697px;">OpEd Project</em></a><em style="letter-spacing: 0px; line-height: 1.2;">. John Hocevar, a marine biologist, is the Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, an environmental organization that works to protect and preserve the world&rsquo;s oceans.</em></p> <p> <em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class='u'></p> Commentary Thailand Rights Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:09:00 +0000 Judy Gearhart and John Hocevar 6260487 at France launches first airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="">France</a> said on Friday its jets had launched strikes inside <a href="">Iraq</a> for the first time since the country promised to join military action against Islamic State insurgents who have taken over parts of the country.</p> <p>"This morning at 9:40 (0740 GMT) our Rafale jets launched a first strike against a logistics depot of the terrorists," President Francois Hollande's office said a statement issued shortly after the raids.</p> <p>The target in northeast Iraq was totally destroyed, said the statement, adding that there would be further operations "in the coming days."</p> <p>Hollande told a news conference on Thursday that French air strikes were imminent and would take place once reconnaissance flights had identified targets. He said the military action would be limited to Iraq, and no ground troops would be sent.</p> <p>France has expressed its willingness to be part of the military, political and financial coalition being created by the <a href="">United States</a> to defeat the Islamic State militants controlling parts of northern Iraq and <a href="">Syria</a>.</p> <p>On Monday, Paris hosted an international conference attended by the five UN Security Council permanent members, <a href="">European</a> and Arab states, and representatives of the EU, Arab League and United Nations. The meeting was intended to coordinate a global strategy against Islamic State group.</p> <p>France began its first reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Monday.</p> <p>(Reporting by Brian Love and <a href="">Alexandria</a> Sage; Editing by Catherine Evans)</p> Need to Know Iraq Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:36:00 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6262750 at In this other really important vote, Scotland actually voted 'Yes' <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> For the first time in 260 years, women will be allowed to join the famous St. Andrews golf club. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Mitch Phillips, Thompson Reuters </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>LONDON — After 260 years of exclusion, women will be allowed to join the Royal and Ancient golf club after an overwhelming members' vote opened the doors to the famous St Andrews clubhouse and paved the way for them to play a role in the governance of the game.</p> <p>More than 75 percent of the club's 2,400 worldwide members, voting in person and via proxy and postal votes, took part and 85 percent were in favor of the change.</p> <p>"This vote has immediate effect and I can confirm that The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is now a mixed membership club," R&amp;A chief executive Peter Dawson said in statement on Thursday.</p> <p>"This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club."</p> <p>Founded in 1754, the Royal and Ancient's members play on the St Andrews links course regarded as the "home of golf" and host to the British Open a record 28 times.</p> <p>Although women have been able to play on the course, which staged the women's British Open last year, they were, until Thursday's vote, generally not allowed in the clubhouse and played no significant part in the sport's rulemaking arm, the R&amp;A.</p> <p>That body, separated from the club 10 years ago, controls golf around the world apart from in the <a href="">United States</a> and <a href="">Mexico</a>, runs the British Open and is made up almost entirely of R&amp;A club members.</p> <p>As recently as last year Dawson said he did not feel there was a need for change but, in the face of sustained criticism and rising concern from sponsors, the R&amp;A announced in March that it would ballot its members and recommend a yes vote.</p> <p>"I think it is great news," Laura Davies, Britain's most successful female golfer, told Reuters.</p> <p>"Back when I turned pro I would never have imagined that this could ever happen. I think it is a huge step forward for the R&amp;A and women’s golf and everyone will be delighted with the result."</p> <p>Leading Scottish player Catriona Matthew was also happy with the outcome of the vote, held on the same day as the referendum on Scottish independence which is expected to produce a much closer result.</p> <p>"This was certainly an easier result to predict than the other vote going on up here today," she told Reuters.</p> <p>"I think it is brilliant news and a great start to such an important day in Scotland."</p> <p>Augusta National, home of the U.S. Masters, finally ended its men-only membership in 2012, when former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore became the first female members, and the R&amp;A's new position was quickly welcomed across the Atlantic.</p> <p>"This decision is certainly a step in the right direction and one that better captures the current diversity and inclusiveness of our great game," the Ladies' PGA Tour said in a statement.</p> <p>Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, agreed, saying his organization "loudly applauds" the decision.</p> <p>Helen Grant, Britain's minister for sport, said she hoped other clubs "that still have outdated same-sex policies" would follow suit.</p> <p>Three other clubs on the British Open rota - Muirfield and Royal Troon in Scotland and Royal St George's in <a href="">England</a> - remain men-only. Muirfield and Royal St George's said on Thursday they were both planning to review their single-sex policy, though Royal Troon, which also has a ladies-only club on the course, said there were no plans to change.</p> <p>The disquiet felt by sponsors may have helped force the R&amp;A's hand and after saying last year that his company was in an "uneasy position", Giles Morgan, HSBC bank's head of sponsorship and events, was pleased and relieved at the change of tack.</p> <p>"As a partner of the R&amp;A and a long-term international sponsor of golf, we welcome this news with open arms," he said.</p> <p>"HSBC is committed to growing the game at all levels and fundamental to this is our commitment to the value of diversity and our support of women's golf which is a cornerstone of our global golf portfolio."</p> <p>R&amp;A members also agreed to fast-track "a significant initial number" of women to become members in the coming months, and though officials did not release any potential names, several high-profile former players and administrators have been suggested.</p> the right to play golf Want to Know United Kingdom Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:04:16 +0000 Mitch Phillips, Thompson Reuters 6262725 at Message to Vietnamese Facebook users: Don’t post incriminating stuff. The cops will bust you <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Crimes unwittingly exposed have included bear poaching, revenge porn and even murder. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Patrick Winn </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BANGKOK &mdash; When shopkeepers caught the little thief, they didn&rsquo;t call the cops. They tied her to a railing. Then they slung a sign reading &ldquo;I&rsquo;M A THIEF&rdquo; over the 12-year-old schoolgirl&rsquo;s neck and left her there to stew in the humiliation.</p> <p>Not so long ago, this minor act of vigilante justice in Vietnam&rsquo;s highlands would&rsquo;ve been village gossip and nothing more.</p> <p>Instead, thanks to Facebook, a photo of the girl went viral &mdash; and much of Vietnam was confronted with the image of a pitiful kid bound to a pole as if crucified. Authorities were compelled to intervene. In April, according to the <a href="">Thanh Nien newspaper</a>, four clerks involved in the spectacle were arrested.</p> <p>In the last 12 months, tales of Facebook users uploading self-incriminating photos have filled Vietnam&rsquo;s press.</p> <p>Binding a 12-year-old to a rail?</p> <p>That&rsquo;s nothing. In August, a jilted lover confessed to a murder in a status update.</p> <p>Facebook is blocked in Vietnam, an authoritarian state with broad powers to strangle free speech. And yet an estimated 30 percent of Vietnamese citizens use it. In Facebook-speak, Vietnam and the social media behemoth have a relationship &mdash; but &quot;it&rsquo;s complicated.&quot;</p> <p>The communist government&rsquo;s Facebook blocks are so weak that almost anyone (even clerks in a rural market) can bypass them with a few tricks. Unlike in China, authorities in Vietnam give Facebook users a long leash.</p> <p>For police, this lax take on social media has its advantages. Social media is a new phenomenon in Vietnam. So new, in fact, that some Vietnamese Facebook junkies don&rsquo;t seem to comprehend that anyone &mdash; including the cops &mdash; can see everything they&rsquo;ve posted online.</p> <p>Some of these users have photos that double as criminal evidence. Others have simply spread panic-inducing rumors, which is a serious crime in Vietnam.</p> <p>In recent years, authorities in Vietnam have been treated to a buffet of evidence uploaded by offenders. The nation&rsquo;s justice system is already heavily biased in favor of state prosecutors. In the Facebook era, some suspects are making their jobs even easier.&nbsp;</p> <p>Here are a few of Vietnam&rsquo;s social media scandals from the last 12 months:</p> <p><strong>Crime: An alleged bear killing</strong></p> <p>A shirtless guy <a href="">popped up on Facebook</a> giving the thumbs-up sign over the corpse of a dead bear. He posted offers in Vietnamese to sell its teeth. None of this is legal without a permit. Authorities are investigating.</p> <p>Penalty: Potentially a $23,000 fine if he&rsquo;s found guilty of trading illegal wildlife.</p> <p><img alt="" class="imagecache-half-column" src="" title="" /></p> <p><strong>Crime: Revenge porn</strong></p> <p>A married 39-year-old man living near Ho Chi Minh City had a fling with a coworker. She broke it off. So he <a href="">posted her nude photos</a> on Facebook.</p> <p>Penalty: One year in prison.</p> <p><strong>Crime: Mocking a Ho Chi Minh speech</strong></p> <p>The communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh helped defeat two Western empires, France and the US. His name is sacrosanct in Vietnam. A 14-year-old schoolgirl altered one of his speeches, which called for uprising against colonial occupiers, and <a href="">rewrote it as a tirade</a> against teachers. Hoping to amuse her friends, she posted it on Facebook.</p> <p>Penalty: Suspension from school and national condemnation.</p> <p><strong>Crime: Smoking opium in prison</strong></p> <p>A 30-year-old man illegally acquired a mobile phone and <a href="http://">posted photos</a> of his opium-smoking session to Facebook. Worse yet, he&rsquo;s an inmate. The man insisted he was only trying to show his wife how life unfolds behind bars.</p> <p>Penalty: Not yet determined.</p> <p><strong>Crime: Concocting a road rage murder story</strong></p> <p>On Facebook, a 21-year-old man wrote that he&rsquo;d just witnessed a sedan driver smash into a truck, step out of the car and shoot two of the truck&rsquo;s occupants dead. He made the whole thing up. His motive, <a href="">according to the Tuoi Tre newspaper</a>, was to &ldquo;lure likes and people&rsquo;s attention.&rdquo;</p> <p>Penalty: $1,185 in fines.</p> <p><strong>Crime: Spreading Ebola rumors</strong></p> <p>Ebola, the virus that makes humans hemorrhage blood until &mdash; in <a href="" target="_blank">at least about half of cases</a> &mdash; they die, has not officially leapt into Vietnam. That didn&rsquo;t stop a couple from spreading rumors on Facebook that an Ebola-infected man was being treated in Hanoi. According to Thanh Nien, they &ldquo;made up the information in order to warn people of the danger of Ebola virus.&rdquo;</p> <p>Penalty: A $944 fine.</p> <p><strong>Crime: Homicide</strong></p> <p>A 29-year-old man got dumped by his younger girlfriend. He stalked and threatened her for years until 2013, when he stabbed her to death in a restaurant. According to <a href="">Thanh Nien</a>, the man then boasted on Facebook that he&rsquo;d just punished her. He then wrote, &ldquo;Tomorrow, I&rsquo;ll go to jail.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s exactly what happened, but then it got worse.</p> <p>Penalty: Execution.</p> Entertainment Want to Know Vietnam Fri, 19 Sep 2014 04:32:00 +0000 Patrick Winn 6260618 at How UK politicians messed up making the case for the union <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Will the Yes side win independence in Scotland? Maybe. Did they have the better campaign? For sure. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Corinne Purtill </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>GLASGOW, <a href="">UK</a> — “I’m English, to start with, and I don’t want to live in a foreign country,” said Jimmy Hearne, 61, as he waited for the pro-union rally to start.</p> <p>The part-time carpet fitter has lived in Glasgow for 40 years. His Scottish wife won’t tell him which way she’s voting.</p> <p>He seemed baffled that support for a 307-year-old union — one a solid majority of Scots said they favored barely two months ago — had fallen to a margin so slim that no one can say which way Thursday’s vote will go.</p> <p>“I don’t know how it got to this point,” he said. “Their campaign’s been better than ours. They’ve made a lot more noise.”</p> <p>The question of whether Scotland should be independent will be answered in the polling stations today.</p> <p>But the question of who ran the better campaign was answered long ago.</p> <p>“The Better Together campaign has been hopeless,” Peter Kellner, president of the polling firm YouGov said last week. “It’s badly constructed. It lost the ground war.”</p> <p>In less than two years, the Yes Scotland campaign has harnessed what it claims to be the largest grassroots movement in Scottish history.</p> <p>Blue Yes placards, banners and Scottish saltires can be found on lampposts, windows, construction sites and <a href="">even farm fields</a> across Scotland.</p> <p>Unionists grumble that’s because Yes supporters are also more willing to abuse or intimidate those who disagree with them, forcing many No voters to stay silent.</p> <p><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="710" scrolling="no" src="//" width="612"></iframe></p> <p>But they also acknowledge that Better Together has been beset by poor leadership and lack of focus.</p> <p>Yes has Alex Salmond, the feisty, wily Scottish first minister whom Kellner called “the one British politician who could be seen making a good fist of a Senate race in Illinois.”</p> <p>Better Together was led for most of the campaign by Alistair Darling. The bespectacled, stern-voiced former chancellor of the exchequer bears an uncanny resemblance to <a href="">the Muppets&rsquo; Sam the Eagle</a> and has the ability to sound like he’s scolding even when addressing supporters. </p> <p>Westminster’s political leaders seemed to be on cruise control when it came to the referendum — until <a href="">a poll two weeks ago</a> suddenly showed the Yes side ahead.</p> <p>The whole experience has been a deeply humbling one for the UK’s governing elite.</p> <p>The Better Together campaign has warned that a Yes vote could lead to a loss of jobs. One of the first to go could be Prime Minister David Cameron’s.</p> <p>The prime minister could face a rebellion after Thursday’s vote, regardless of the outcome — either from MPs furious that he managed to lose the union, or from those appalled at the promises for greater powers and funding for Scotland he’s been authorizing over the last two weeks.</p> <p>Though Cameron insists he won’t resign in the event of a Yes vote, the campaign has forced him to make some uncomfortable public concessions to his unpopularity north of the border.</p> <p>Last week he prevailed upon Scots not to vote Yes as a flip-off to the “effing Tories.”   </p> <p>“If you don’t like me, I won’t be here forever,” he told an Aberdeen audience Monday with a rueful smile. “If you don’t like this government, it won’t last forever. But if you leave the UK — that will be forever.”</p> <p>Cameron’s Conservatives may be anathema in Scotland, but the Labour Party hasn’t fared much better.</p> <p>The opposition party has a lot to lose if Scotland leaves and a reliable base of Labour support goes with it. Nonetheless, they too seem to have been playing catch-up in the last two weeks, with equally embarrassing results.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Labour leader Ed Miliband hit the streets of Edinburgh in an effort to mingle with common folks. Instead of the conversations with undecided voters he was hoping for, he was besieged by reporters and heckling Yes supporters.</p> <p>He managed to have face-to-face conversations with two people — one a confused tourist, the other a Yes voter — before cutting the whole visit short in less than 15 minutes.</p> <p>"I think we have seen in parts of this campaign an ugly side to it from the Yes campaign,” he told the BBC afterward.</p> <p>On Wednesday, with less than 24 hours to go before polls opened, the Better Together team was taking no such risks. A 90-year-old Glasgow auditorium was filled exclusively with guests handpicked from the rolls of local supporters and volunteers.</p> <p>After an introduction by the English comedian and aspiring politician Eddie Izzard, a bagpipe player led the speakers through a sea of waving placards reading “Love Scotland: Vote No.” </p> <p><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="710" scrolling="no" src="//" width="612"></iframe></p> <p>The crowd cheered passionately for all of them. There are not many rooms in Britain where people spontaneously shout “We love you!” at Alistair Darling, but this was one of them.</p> <p>The event closed with a fiery exhortation from Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister, who has stormed the country in recent days making a series of very expensive promises to Scotland that some <a href="">Conservative MPs are already refusing</a> to keep.</p> <p>“This is not their flag, their country, their culture, their streets,” he said of the Scottish National Party, or SNP. “We have no answers. They do not know what they are doing. They are leading us into a trap.”</p> <p>Within the hour, some commentators were calling it the finest speech of Brown’s political career. He left to thunderous applause.</p> <p>The enthusiasm made it as far as the street.</p> <p>“I’m voting yes, 100 percent,” said Ian Anderson, 27, an employee of the printing shop next door. “If the working class people of Scotland were in there, it’d be a different reaction.”</p> Scottish independence Want to Know Politics United Kingdom Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:54:00 +0000 Corinne Purtill 6260938 at Want to fight Ebola? Don't do it like Sierra Leone <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Excessive quarantine isn’t the answer, health workers say. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Erin Conway-Smith </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>PRETORIA, <a href="">South Africa</a> — Desperate to stop the unchecked spread of Ebola, the Sierra Leone government has an aggressive plan: lock down its citizens. All of them.</p> <p>In one of the toughest measures planned so far against the world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak, the entire 6 million people of Sierra Leone have been ordered to stay home for three days starting Friday, with the military enforcing the directive.</p> <p>This has been the typical response to a disease universally feared and little understood: quarantine and isolate. But with the number of cases skyrocketing, and President Barack Obama warning this week that the crisis is “spiraling out of control,” there is growing debate about the ethical considerations of these measures.</p> <p>Frans Viljoen, director of the University of Pretoria’s Center for Human Rights, said a critical question is whether the response to the Ebola outbreak is a rational one, informed by evidence instead of fear.</p> <p>In West <a href="">Africa</a>, quarantine measures have led to riots and been largely ineffective. Internationally, canceling flights and banning travel to the most affected countries — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — has harmed economies and made it difficult to bring in aid. </p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">18 images that show just how hard it is to treat Ebola</a></strong></p> <p>It takes between two and 21 days for Ebola symptoms to appear after infection, making screening difficult.</p> <p>"All [basic personal rights like the right to accept or decline treatment] may be limited but only if there is a justifiable motivation that substantiates the limitation,” Viljoen said at a discussion on ethics and Ebola.</p> <p>“You must think about what these measures mean for the population as a whole, for the economies of these countries. If you can take less restrictive means of achieving the objective, you should.”</p> <p>Human Rights Watch this week said that protecting individual human rights is “a crucial element” in controlling the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Of particular concern, the New York-based group said, are the rights of health workers — who are being insufficiently protected from infection — and the overuse of quarantines that are proving ineffective.</p> <p>“Adopting overly-broad quarantines and other rights-abusive measures can undermine efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic,” Joseph Amon, health and human rights director for the group, said in a statement.</p> <p>“The better approach is to ensure that people have access to health information and care, and to restrict liberty or movement only if and when absolutely needed and with the protections outlined under international human rights law."</p> <p>In August an enforced quarantine in the West Point neighborhood of Liberia’s capital Monrovia led to violent clashes. Quarantine measures have also led to issues such as food hoarding and rioting.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">This unsettling video shows health workers chasing and forcibly detaining a suspected Ebola patient</a></strong></p> <p>Dr. Andrew Medina-Marino, an epidemiologist who recently spent a month in Liberia with Doctors Without Borders (known by its <a href="">French</a> acronym MSF), said there is a sense of frustration and “palpable” fear at the center of the epidemic.</p> <p>He said he found gaps at every level of the response to the outbreak, from a lack of beds and ambulances to difficulties in tracing the contacts of infected people and delays in lab testing.</p> <p>It is these factors — along with the availability of treatment centers, community education and training of health care staff — that will either help bring the crisis under control or usher in greater chaos.</p> <p>Medina-Marino praised the US government’s pledge to send 3,000 troops to help fight Ebola, noting that “militaries as institutions typically are the ones that have the capacity for rapid field deployment of clinical centers.”</p> <p>But it’s the kind of support health workers in West Africa have been seeking, to little avail, for months.</p> <p>“For a long time there’s been a sense of frustration that the cavalry isn’t coming,” he said.</p> Africa Ebola Need to Know South Africa Health Wed, 17 Sep 2014 23:43:59 +0000 Erin Conway-Smith 6260903 at Venezuela’s president is bullying a Harvard professor <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Nicolas Maduro is fuming over a Kennedy School economist’s suggestion that his policies favor Wall Street over his own country. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Simeon Tegel </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p><em><strong>Editor&rsquo;s note:</strong> Harvard Kennedy School professor Ricardo Hausmann has now written a charged op-ed, &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">Venezuela&#39;s president is crafting a disaster</a>,&rdquo; published Thursday on the Boston Globe website.</em></p> <p>LIMA, Peru &mdash; Expressing intense differences of opinion at Ivy League universities is not exactly new. It is actually the schools&rsquo; lifeblood.</p> <p>But it&rsquo;s not every day that you hear an eminent Harvard professor accused of being a &ldquo;bandit&rdquo; and &ldquo;financial hit man.&rdquo;</p> <p>That&rsquo;s how Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela&rsquo;s beleaguered and increasingly thin-skinned president, reacted last week to an <a href="" target="_blank">opinion piece</a> co-authored by economist Ricardo Hausmann about whether the nation should default on its debts.</p> <p>The article reportedly even <a href=" " target="_blank">contributed</a> to a drop in Venezuela&rsquo;s bond prices.</p> <p>Maduro, political heir to Hugo Chavez, instructed Venezuela&rsquo;s attorney general to take unspecified &ldquo;actions&rdquo; against Hausmann, who heads Harvard&rsquo;s Center for International Development and is a former Venezuelan planning minister.</p> <p>Hausmann, you might think, has good reason to worry about the Venezuelan economy. Inflation is around 60 percent. The official fixed bolivar-to-dollar exchange rate is less than a tenth of the black market rate. And the country is plagued by shortages of a lengthy laundry list of basic necessities, from bread to cancer drugs.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Venezuela has one of the world&rsquo;s highest murder rates, with rich and poor fearing to leave their homes even in broad daylight.</p> <p>The governments of Maduro and his late mentor Chavez have managed all that despite Venezuela having the world&rsquo;s largest oil reserves.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">Things must be bad in Venezuela if the government plans to actually charge money for gas </a></strong></p> <p>The Harvard prof has history with the Chavistas. Hausmann&rsquo;s brief time in office was in the elected but deeply unpopular government that Chavez sought to overthrow by force in 1992.</p> <p>That coup failed and the brash young army colonel was jailed &mdash; but not before he gave a televised speech that rocketed him to fame and effectively launched his successful 1998 presidential run.</p> <p><img class="inline_image-photo" src="" width="100%" /> <span class="inline_image-src"> (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)</span></p> <p>Since taking office last year, Maduro has ramped up Chavez&rsquo;s intolerance for criticism, rights groups say, jailing several opposition leaders and overseeing the closure of critical TV and radio stations.</p> <p>But what may really have hit a nerve with the president is Hausmann&rsquo;s suggestion that the government&rsquo;s insistence on honoring its debts to wealthy bondholders is hurting ordinary citizens.</p> <p>&ldquo;The fact that his administration has chosen to default on 30 million Venezuelans, rather than on Wall Street, is not a sign of its moral rectitude,&rdquo; wrote Hausmann and co-author Miguel Angel Santos. &ldquo;It is a signal of its moral bankruptcy.&rdquo;</p> <p>That&rsquo;s a blow to Chavismo &mdash; which claims to rule on behalf of Venezuela&rsquo;s long-neglected poor majority.</p> <p>Maduro&rsquo;s rant brought a predictable rallying around Hausmann. Harvard accused the president of intimidation.</p> <p>&ldquo;It is in the open exchange of opinions and ideas that people and nations can learn and prosper,&rdquo; the dean and provost of the Kennedy School, where the professor is based, <a href="" target="_blank">said in a statement</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, academics and other supporters penned a sharp <a href="" target="_blank">open letter</a> backing Hausmann and accusing the Maduro administration of confusing &ldquo;dissent with treason.&rdquo; Signatories included Mexico&rsquo;s last president, Felipe Calderon, a Harvard fellow himself.</p> <p>Hausmann was on a plane as GlobalPost worked on this story. But in earlier <a href="" target="_blank">comments</a> to Bloomberg News, he slammed Maduro&rsquo;s scare tactics.</p> <p>&ldquo;This is Exhibit A in how Venezuela is not a democracy,&rdquo; Hausmann said. &ldquo;He [Maduro] uses his position as head of state to intimidate people who think differently.&rdquo;</p> <p>Maduro&rsquo;s televised fury will do nothing to fix his country&rsquo;s sinking economy. Many economists say Venezuela&rsquo;s desperate situation appears set to get worse before it gets better.</p> <p>In a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, Maduro even ousted his oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, viewed as a pragmatist who favored reforming the &ldquo;Bolivarian&rdquo; socialist economic policies that have driven the country to ruin.</p> <p>&ldquo;He was the one person in the government that had at least been floating balloons about reforming the exchange rate or raising gas prices,&rdquo; said Harold Trinkunas, a Venezuela expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC foreign policy think tank.</p> Want to Know Emerging Markets United States Venezuela Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:05:00 +0000 Simeon Tegel 6260763 at #IndyRef: ‘Scotland will never, ever be the same’ <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Scotland finally has its chance to seize independence. Will it take it? Nobody here feckin knows. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Corinne Purtill </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>LOCHGELLY, UK — A gray drizzle slicked the pavement outside as Gavin Loudon dropped into a chair at the public library in this Fife, Scotland town.</p> <p>He wore a crossing-guard-style blue vest emblazoned with the Yes logo of Scotland’s pro-independence campaign. He also had a Yes messenger bag, Yes bracelets ringing both wrists and a stack of Yes pamphlets under one arm.</p> <p>The former boxer looked tired but dogged, having knocked on 1,000 doors that day with fellow volunteers. In the last two years, Loudon estimated, the local Yes branch has distributed some 400,000 leaflets extolling the virtues of a sovereign Scotland.</p> <p>He’s dedicated to this movement nearly four years of his life, some $3,000 of his own money and a $1,600 bet on Yes with the local bookie.</p> <p>And on Thursday, it will all be over.</p> <p>“It’s exciting, and butterflies,” said Loudon, 34. “Everywhere you go, the buzz, the atmosphere, the energy — the whole country’s alive.”</p> <p>The pits closed 50 years ago in Lochgelly, a former coal and iron mining town 13 miles as the crow flies across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.</p> <p>The half-century since has been one long, slow decline. There are so many abandoned shopfronts and shuttered businesses on Main Street that it looks like the occupants were spirited away by the Rapture.</p> <p>The town of 6,800 is in the parliamentary constituency of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.</p> <p>While Loudon and his compatriots were papering towns with the Yes campaign’s cheerful placards, Brown was criss-crossing Scotland in an attempt to convince voters that the UK government will offer the Scottish government more powers if people vote No.</p> <p>“Tell them this is our Scotland,” Brown exhorted a cheering unionist crowd in the working-class Glasgow neighborhood of Maryhill on Wednesday. “Scotland does not belong to the SNP,” he said, using the initials for the pro-independence Scottish National Party. “Scotland does not belong to the Yes campaign. Scotland belongs to all of us.”</p> <p>For Yes voters, it is all too little, too late.</p> <p>Supporters like Loudon frame their argument for an independent Scotland as one of social justice. It’s a chance for Scotland to address for itself the festering problems of modern British society: the proliferation of food banks in a wealthy country, diminishing public services.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">These tiny islands may hold the key to Scotland's independence (VIDEO)</a></strong></p> <p>Two years ago, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the Westminster establishment were so certain that a referendum would fail that they dismissed the Scottish National Party’s request for such powers — known as “devo max” here — and demanded an in-or-out vote instead.</p> <p>Two months ago, polls showed the No side in a comfortable 22-point lead, a place they held for virtually the entire campaign.</p> <p>Two weeks ago, the polls showed for the first time that a majority of Scots favored ending their country’s 307-year-old union with England.</p> <p>The polls since then have shown the two sides in a dead heat statistically.</p> <p>The referendum has galvanized voters here like nothing in anyone’s memory. It is the subject of virtually every overheard conversation in Scotland’s buses, pubs, markets and street corners.</p> <p>Nearly every eligible Scot — 97 percent — has registered to vote. More than 80 percent are expected to cast a ballot in Thursday’s election.</p> <p>No one knows what Great Britain will look like when it wakes up to the results in the early morning hours Friday. Only one thing is certain, Loudon said.</p> <p>“Regardless of which way the vote goes, Scotland will never, ever be the same.”</p> <p><strong>Uncertainty or scaremongering?</strong></p> <p>In Edinburgh, the UK’s second biggest financial center, a retired lawyer in a red silk tie smoothed out his copy of the conservative-leaning Telegraph newspaper at a cafe table. A waitress brought him coffee and he thanked her by name.</p> <p>His three children live in England. If Thursday’s vote swings Yes, he said, he and his wife might join them. Over the last two years, the couple has been selling their properties in Scotland as an insurance policy against the uncertain business climate of a newly independent country.</p> <p>“To quote Warren Buffet: always have a margin of safety,” he said.</p> <p>He’s not the only one considering a move if Scotland votes for independence.</p> <p>Scotland-based institutions Standard Life, Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland have all said they would follow the UK’s corporate-friendly tax laws to England in the event of a Yes vote. Several insurance companies have already quietly redomiciled south of the border, the lawyer said.</p> <p>It’s not clear what impact such moves would have on Scotland’s jobs or tax base.</p> <p>For unionists, this uncertainty is one of the chief arguments against disintegration. Dismantling the <a href="">United Kingdom</a> would be an enormous undertaking. Some of the most serious details <span style="font-size: 12.7272720336914px; line-height: 20px;">—</span> the currency that Scotland will use, whether or when it can join the <a href="">European</a> Union — can’t be known until after the vote is cast.</p> <p>The Scottish National Party’s plan for economic independence centers on North Sea oil and gas revenues. But no one knows just how much North Sea oil is left — estimates range from 10 billion to 33 billion barrels — or what the price of any future barrel will be.</p> <p>The independence side tends to dismiss such concerns as “scaremongering.” That doesn’t change the fact that they’ve staked a lot on a commodity of vastly fluctuating price and unknown quantity.</p> <p>Earlier this month, former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars warned that anti-independence companies would face “a day of reckoning” in an sovereign Scotland not “as soft as we have been forced to be.”</p> <p>The lawyer, who asked that his name not be used for this story, found this “chilling.” Like many unionists, he feels Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland, has done little to rein in his camp’s excesses.</p> <p>To him, Salmond is a Hugo Chavez-like figure whose brand of populism relies on class tensions and resentment.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">This map shows all the countries that have declared independence from the British</a></strong></p> <p>“People are genuinely divided,” he says, his brow furrowing above rimless glasses. “They are really, really divided. And do you ever put the division back again? I’m not sure if you do.”</p> <p><strong>‘Bully boy tactics’</strong></p> <p>Despite the passion on both sides, there have been very few instances of referendum-related violence. It’s a campaign of words, some of which have become very heated in recent months.</p> <p>“Problem is most Yes voters have not a brain to think with, if they did they would be voting No,” a No supporter wrote in a typical exchange on Better Together Edinburgh’s <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook page</a>.</p> <p>“I am a yea voter and I do have a brain,” came the reply. “I take it your a torrie [sic] arse kisser cheeky cunt.”</p> <p>Both sides tell stories of aggressive and verbally abusive detractors from the opposite camp. Margaret Pollock, the diminutive 75-year-old Yes campaign head in the unionist stronghold of Helensburgh, said she had objects thrown at her while canvassing.</p> <p>But the impression anecdotally and in the national press has been that most of the “bully boy tactics,” as one Edinburgh unionist called them, have come from the nationalists.</p> <p>Salmond is a polarizing figure in British politics, a tenacious and shrewd tactician whose detractors even describe as a brilliant politician. But the chief driver of the independence campaign isn’t above a little aggression himself.</p> <p>In one publicized instance, the head of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation wrote to Salmond earlier this year questioning SNP fishing policies. Salmond fired back with a letter to chief executive Bertie Armstrong calling his interpretation “ridiculous.”</p> <p>When Armstrong confronted Salmond at a public meeting earlier this month on what he saw as a personal and intimidating attack, Salmond doubled down.</p> <p>“Maybe there has been a change in the types of leader that this industry has. But I can’t think of anybody over the past quarter of a century who would have felt intimidated by a letter,” he told Armstrong in front of a crowded room.</p> <p>Donald Low, the harbormaster in the east coast fishing town of Pittenweem, is not a man easily intimidated. Wearing yellow rain boots and a tie reaching just halfway down his barrel chest, Low was blunt about what he saw as the difference between No and Yes voters.</p> <p><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="710" scrolling="no" src="//" width="612"></iframe></p> <p>“It’s the educated versus what we call the numpties. They’re the lot that don’t normally vote because they’re too thick to work it out for themselves,” he said. “Many people are too scared to speak up [for the union] because they’re afraid to get a brick through their window.”</p> <p>This “silent No” phenomenon is one of the reasons some people think the union will prevail on Thursday.</p> <p>Others say the momentum is on the Yes campaign’s side.</p> <p>“The atmosphere the last few weeks has been absolutely electric,” said Yes volunteer Morwen Boyd, 28, at a booth sponsored by the Green Party in Edinburgh. Supportive motorists tapped their horns while Boyd and fellow volunteers cheered, danced and handed out literature to passersby.</p> <p>The Yes side is exciting. It’s young and passionate and fun. One of Salmond’s many coups in this campaign was to get the ballot question worded so that his side could have the affirmative answer.</p> <p>Supporting the status quo doesn’t have the same cachet.</p> <p>MP Rory Stewart, a passionate unionist whose constituency spans the Scottish border, said his efforts to recruit celebrities went largely rebuffed. Those who have spoken out have been pilloried on social media.</p> <p>Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was called a “traitor,” “whore,” “Union cow bag” and “specky bastard” (a particularly Scottish insult for a bespectacled person) on Twitter after donating $1.6 million to the union campaign.</p> <p>After David Bowie implored Scots to stay in the union during an acceptance speech at an awards show, “cybernats” took to his Facebook page to tell him to “fuck off back to Mars.”</p> <p>“Scotland is a bunch of tribes. Clans. We can’t agree on nuthin,’” said Andrew Christie, 43, a trawlerman from St. Monans. “I think Scotland is a country that has to be governed. We can’t govern ourselves. Too wild. It’s in our genetics.”</p> <p><strong>Healing afterward</strong></p> <p>The polls open at 7 a.m. Thursday. The results will trickle in overnight, with a final verdict expected between 4 and 6 Friday morning. A lot of people are planning to stay up all night. Not much work is getting done in Scotland on Friday.</p> <p>Whatever happens, Scots are going to have to live with each other and with their neighbors south of the border afterward. The campaign has made both sides confident that a better Scotland is possible. The challenge will be to channel that energy into positive change after the vote.</p> <p>“Life is not gonna end on Friday one way or another,” said Rev. Iain May, a former banker turned minister in the working-class parish of South Leith. “What will upset the people of Leith and Scotland is if promises are not kept.”</p> <p>His working-class congregation on Edinburgh’s outskirts is split down the middle on independence.</p> <p>They are no strangers to internecine conflict, May joked — the parish is also divided between Hibs and Hearts, the nicknames for supporters of rival Edinburgh soccer teams Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian.</p> <p>For better or for worse, it will still be the same Scotland come Friday, May said. Every Sunday after services, there are 50 or 60 people waiting outside his church’s door for a hot breakfast. A similar number visits the parish food bank.</p> <p>“They’ll still be there next week,” May said.</p> <p> </p> <!--pagebreak--><!--pagebreak--><p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">The word on the street in Scotland, an Instagram tour</a></strong></p> Need to Know Business Elections Europe Politics Global Economy United Kingdom Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:29:00 +0000 Corinne Purtill 6260728 at As migrants flee eastern Cuba, a town mourns those lost at sea <!--paging_filter--><p>Eighteen-year-old Miguel Lopez Maldonado boarded a homemade boat last month with 31 others, leaving behind this sleepy fishing town on <a href="">Cuba</a>'s southeast coast to seek a new life in the <a href="">United States</a>.</p> <p>The motor broke down after a couple days, and the craft drifted for three weeks. One by one, the passengers died of thirst, the survivors left with no option but to throw the bodies overboard.</p> <p>By the time the Mexican navy spotted them 150 miles off the Yucatan peninsula, 15 had died, including Lopez Maldonado. Of the 17 rescued, two died in a Mexican hospital.</p> <p>Lopez Maldonado's parents say they don't understand why their son left. But others here say many young Cubans see no future in a state-run economy, under US sanctions for 50 years, with few opportunities for private enterprise.</p> <p>"Young people today do not think like my generation did. They are looking for something more that they can’t find here," the dead teen's father, Miguel Lopez Vega, said, sobbing, in the living room of the family's home as neighbors stopped by to offer comfort.</p> <p>"My son wanted to leave Cuba since he was 15. He didn’t want to live in this country."</p> <p>The tragedy, the worst Cuban migrant boat disaster in two decades, is part of a growing illegal exodus from eastern Cuba — a region famous as the launching pad of the 1959 revolution in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains.</p> <p>US authorities say 14,000 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with <a href="">Mexico</a> in the past 11 months, the highest number in a decade.</p> <p>In Manzanillo, a run-down colonial city of 130,000 in eastern Granma province, residents say as many as five boats, with up to 30 passengers, depart in weeks with favorable weather.</p> <p>Passengers in last month's voyage, who were aged 16 to 36, each paid the equivalent of $400 to $600 for the 675-mile trip.</p> <p>The situation threatens to further strain relations between Cuba and the United States. Cuba argues that US policy foments illegal and dangerous departures by granting Cubans a special right of entry not offered to other nationalities.</p> <p>The wave of migration also exposes the fragility of President Raul Castro's market-oriented reforms, in which independent farming and small businesses have been legalized in an attempt rebuild a private sector wiped out in 1959.</p> <p><strong>Tears and prayers</strong></p> <p>Joaquin de La Paz, who works at a rice mill, lost a daughter, a son and two grandsons in last month's tragedy. He said economic hardship and a lack of jobs in Manzanillo, once a busy port handling sugar from nearby cane fields, had made people desperate.</p> <p>De La Paz, 62, said that even though his daughter was a teacher and his son worked for the health ministry, neither earned enough to satisfy their needs.</p> <p>"The kids see people leave Cuba who never even had a bicycle, and then by the time they return within a year their family situation is improved," he said.</p> <p>"Look at me. After 43 years of work, I haven't been able to acquire anything, except sadness and sorrow for my family."</p> <p>One granddaughter decided at the last minute not to join her mother and brother, but De la Paz frets that she will be next. The girl’s 16-year-old brother, Hector, was rescued, but he died on the way to a hospital.</p> <p>De la Paz's wife, Xiomara <a href="">Milan</a>, sobbed alongside him as she recounted how they raised pigs to feed the family. She said all she had left was the hope her grandson would be returned for burial, adding the family did not have the money to repatriate his body.</p> <p>Family members and neighbors said the government and state-run media have been silent about the tragedy. Only the Catholic Church has offered solace, they said.</p> <p>A Mass for the victims was held in the town's main Catholic church on Friday, and prayers were offered "for those who feel the need to find another country to live." One speaker urged people to think hard about the decision and "look for safer paths."</p> <p>There were also prayers that Cuban authorities "achieve the necessary material and spiritual progress" of the country.</p> <p>Relatives of the victims said their only information has come from survivors detained by immigration authorities in Mexico, who have been allowed to call home twice a week.</p> <p>They are pleading with Mexican authorities not to deport the survivors back to Cuba, and to allow them to continue their journey to the US border.</p> <p>Niurka Aguilar, the mother of one survivor, Maylin Perez, said it was her daughter's fifth attempt to leave. Perez, 30, was hoping to join her husband, who made the trip nine months ago and now lives in Texas.</p> <p>"If they send her back, she will just try again," said Aguilar.</p> <p>(Editing by David Adams, Marc Frank and Douglas Royalty)</p> Need to Know Cuba Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:57:52 +0000 Rosa Tania Valdés, Thomson Reuters 6260486 at First volunteer gets experimental GSK Ebola shot in UK trial <!--paging_filter--><p>The first volunteer in a fast-tracked British safety trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline received the injection on Wednesday, trial organizers said.</p> <p>The candidate Ebola vaccine, which GSK co-developed with the <a href="">United States</a> National Institutes of Health, has also been given to 10 volunteers taking part in a separate trial in the United States, and so far there were no signs of any serious adverse reactions, doctors said.</p> <p>The vaccine is designed to specifically target the Zaire strain of Ebola, the one circulating in the West <a href="">Africa</a> epidemic, the worst Ebola outbreak recorded.</p> <p>Since the vaccine contains no infectious Ebola virus material, only one of its genes, experts say there are no concerns that any of the subjects will contract the deadly disease.</p> <p>Latest data from the World Health Organization show about 2,500 people have died of Ebola in an outbreak that started in March and has infected almost 5,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and <a href="">Nigeria</a>.</p> <p>The British trial is being run by a team at Oxford University.</p> <p>A spokeswoman for the Oxford team said the first volunteer in the <a href="">UK</a> trial was vaccinated early on Wednesday, but gave no further information. She said more details would be given later.</p> <p>Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a US Senate panel on Tuesday that "no red flags" indicating serious adverse reactions have been found in the 10 healthy volunteers vaccinated there so far.</p> <p>The trials are seeking to determine not only whether the vaccine is safe, or causes adverse side effects, but also whether it triggers the production of antibodies against the Ebola virus.</p> <p>The aim is to complete the tests by the end of 2014, after which vaccines could be deployed on an emergency basis.</p> <p>GSK says it plans to begin making up to about 10,000 doses of the vaccine at the same time as the initial clinical trials, so that if they are successful, the vaccine could be made available immediately for an emergency immunization program.</p> <p>Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading who is not involved in the vaccine studies, said it was important not to get ahead of the results.</p> <p>"There is clearly a need for this vaccine, but what is not clear is whether it will work well enough to protect someone from Ebola," he said.</p> <p>He said the experimental shot "uses some of the best available technology to give the immune system a good long look at its target, a small but vitally important part of the virus," but added: "We won't really be able to tell whether the vaccine works until it is tested on the ground in West Africa."</p> <p>Study data from an animal trial of an Ebola vaccine similar to this GSK one showed that it was effective for at least five weeks in lab monkeys but required boosting with an additional vaccine to extend its protection to 10 months.</p> <p>(Editing by Janet Lawrence)</p> Need to Know United Kingdom Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:25:02 +0000 Kate Kelland, Thomson Reuters 6260456 at Nearly 50 people were killed in Syrian airstrikes on Homs, monitoring group says <!--paging_filter--><p>At least 48 people including rebel fighters have been killed in Syrian government air bombardments around a town in the central province of Homs, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.</p> <p>Two days of airstrikes left women and children among the dead, including a mother who was killed along with five of her children, said the <a href="">Britain</a>-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in <a href="">Syria</a> through a network of sources.</p> <p>Around a dozen fighters and multiple rebel commanders were also confirmed killed in the bombardment, which targeted Talbiseh, a town north of the city of Homs on the country's main north-south highway.</p> <p>In May, Syrian rebels had abandoned their last stronghold in the heart of Homs city, which had been an epicenter of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.</p> <p>The death toll from the bombardment on Talbiseh — which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday — is expected to rise because dozens of people including children were in critical condition, the Observatory said.</p> <p>More than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict and millions more displaced, according to the United Nations. The conflict began more than three years ago as a peaceful protest movement and turned into civil war after a government crackdown.</p> <p>(Reporting by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Toby Chopra)</p> Need to Know Syria Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:59:00 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6260402 at As oil and terror intertwine, Somalis want more from their government <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Oil dispute could inflame a new conflict in fragmented Somalia. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Yusuf M. Hassan </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>MELBOURNE, Australia &mdash; On September 5, the <a href="">US military confirmed</a> that it killed Ahmed Godane in an airstrike south of Mogadishu. The Pentagon called it a &ldquo;major symbolic and operational loss to Al Shabaab&rdquo; insurgents.</p> <p>A military offensive against Al Shabaab was underway in south-central Somalia, and Godane&rsquo;s death was a necessary if transient victory. Al Shabaab quickly announced its new leader. Shortly, a suicide car bomber struck a convoy outside Mogadishu as &ldquo;retaliation.&rdquo; The convoy was operated by AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, a regional peacekeeping mission.</p> <p>So, Godane was killed, but an uninterrupted war continues in Somalia.</p> <!--break--><!--break--><p>The underlying struggle over control of natural resources sits at the heart of a protracted political conflict in Somalia.</p> <p>In June, Petroleum Minister Daud Mohamed Omar of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was invited to The Hague to meet with representatives of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.</p> <p>A <a href="">joint press release</a> noted that the FGS &ldquo;recognizes the rights of existing concession holders&rdquo; &mdash; referring to Western oil companies that signed agreements in the 1980s but declared circumstances beyond its control after the Somali central government collapsed in 1990.</p> <p> Recently, the FGS issued a <a href="">public statement</a> detailing the petroleum minister&rsquo;s meetings with US officials and oil company representatives in Washington. The statement contains inaccurate legal statements, misinterpretation of the meeting&rsquo;s outcomes and unsubstantiated claims of implied US support.</p> <p> The statement asserts that US officials &ldquo;acknowledged the primacy&rdquo; of FGS in the management of hydrocarbons and minerals. With its legitimacy eroding among the Somali public, the question emerges whether the FGS has resorted to seeking an endorsement of its governmental authority by external powers and interests.</p> <p> The statement blames &ldquo;small hunting oil companies&rdquo; currently operating in Somalia for a host of ills: &ldquo;overlapping concessions, illegal contracts, environmental degradation, clan hostilities and undermining the sovereignty of the country.&rdquo;</p> <p> Ironically, it is the federal government&rsquo;s polarizing policies that provoked instability in the regions of Jubaland, Lower Shabelle, Baidoa and Hiran. In July, a <a href="">UN Monitoring Group report</a> accused the Somali president of &ldquo;exploitation of public authority for private interests&rdquo; in a controversy involving the recovery of Somali national assets overseas. Further bankrupting the government&rsquo;s credibility, <a href="">Human Rights Watch</a> issued a new report raising &ldquo;serious concerns about abuses by AMISOM soldiers against Somali women and girls.&rdquo;</p> <p> The FGS signed a contract with Soma Oil and Gas, a UK company that never worked in the hydrocarbons sector before and lacked the <a href="">requisite capital</a> to satisfy its obligations. Among its founders was a defendant in a New York court case involving fraudulent activities.</p> <p>The lobby group, <a href="">East Africa Energy Forum</a>, condemned the deal, saying it went &ldquo;against the very principle of transparency and anti-corruption.&rdquo;</p> <p>While questions of transparency and capacity are valid, the fact remains that Somalia is a socio-politically complex domain, with a divided nation in arms, vast technical and infrastructural challenges, and a dangerous operational environment for any foreign oil company.</p> <p> &ldquo;The danger is that the race for oil will feed a destabilizing rivalry between Mogadishu and other regions,&rdquo; the Financial Times <a href=",Authorised=false.html?;siteedition=uk&amp;_i_referer=#axzz35brONypS">warned</a> last year.</p> <p> Puntland region in northern Somalia is relatively stable and holds peaceful elections. In 2012, Canadian and Australian oil firms commenced onshore oil drilling in Puntland &mdash; effectively dismantling claims of force majeure.</p> <p>Puntland-Mogadishu relations remain strained in a long-running dispute over federalism. On September 8, Puntland Petroleum Director Issa Farah told a press conference in Bossaso that the federal government &ldquo;is violating the Federal Constitution&rdquo; and declared the state government is &ldquo;constitutionally responsible for the political and economic development&rdquo; of Puntland.&rdquo;</p> <p> The separatist Somaliland region also challenges Mogadishu&rsquo;s rule over resources. Somaliland signed an oil deal with Norwegian company DNO International, which Mogadishu accuses of &ldquo;planning to introduce armed militiamen in areas already in conflict.&rdquo; While Somaliland has not responded to Mogadishu&rsquo;s latest provocation, <a href="">UN experts</a> have warned of &quot;commercial activity triggering conflict&rdquo; in northern Somalia.</p> <p> Dr. Dominik Balthasar, in a report published by a<a href=""> Mogadishu-based think tank</a>, makes a profound argument for caution: &ldquo;There is a real risk that hurried hydrocarbon production that precedes the forging of a political settlement between federal members states and the federal government will spark violent conflict.&rdquo;</p> <p> The FGS has a national mandate and international recognition, but due to its failed policies of confrontation and coercion, remains a de jure state incapable of projecting power beyond Mogadishu.</p> <p>Daud Mohamed Omar, Mogadishu&rsquo;s oil minister, formerly served as a Puntland minister as recently as 2013, consequently illustrating the opportunistic character of Somali politicians, the country&rsquo;s extensive and complex divisions, and the very fluidity and exploitative nature of its political institutions.</p> <p> The Somali people want a federal government that can build peace, support functioning institutions and drive economic growth. The international community expects a responsible partner government in Somalia. Mogadishu should enter into constructive political dialogue with the de facto and emerging state governments to achieve a negotiated settlement within the federal framework that builds national cohesion and cooperation, and which is antithetical to Al Shabaab&rsquo;s extremist agenda.</p> <p> <em>Yusuf M. Hassan, a Somali-American journalist, is a political and media analyst on Somalia affairs. He formerly served as Puntland government adviser. Twitter: @yhassan_</em><br /> &nbsp;</p> <p class='u'></p> Oil Somalia Commentary Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:14:20 +0000 Yusuf M. Hassan 6258343 at Why deflation is so terrifying for Europe <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Fear of a downward price spiral is reviving the specter of Europe's dark times. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Paul Ames </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>LISBON, Portugal — From Putin's hordes massing over the eastern borders of Ukraine to the army of home-grown Islamic State fanatics threatening a murderous return from the <a href="">Middle East</a>, Europe has a lot be frightened of right now.</p> <p>Yet there's another nightmare haunting Europe's economic policy makers: a monster called deflation that's already clawing at the continent's financial fundaments.</p> <p>"We are meeting here at the time when Europe is facing a great threat," Polish Finance Minister Mateusz Szczurek warned in a recent speech.</p> <p>"We are on the verge of deflation," he told a Sept. 4 conference in Brussels. "As Europeans we should never forget that it was depression and deflation ... that brought to power the totalitarian regime that devastated our continent through the world war and unspeakable atrocities 75 years ago."</p> <p>At first glance deflation doesn't sound so bad.</p> <p>Prices go down, what's not to like?</p> <p>Yet the cold economic reality means that when prices fall people stop spending, hoping things will get even cheaper. In response, businesses cut production and lay off workers. That means even less demand, and prices drop further.</p> <p>By then, your economy’s in a vicious downward spiral.</p> <p>Making things worse, those falling prices bring declining wages and worsening debt burdens.</p> <p>Anybody who doubts how bad it could get should look back to the last time the <a href="">United States</a> caught a serious dose of deflation, from 1929-33. They called that the Great Depression.</p> <p>Japan has languished in a deflationary cycle pretty much since the late 1990s, its once-booming economy reduced to "lost decades" of stagnation. The country now lays claim to the world's highest debt — over 1 quadrillion yen ($9 trillion) — more than twice the size of its total economic output.</p> <p>Europe is now teetering on the edge.</p> <p>Seventy-four percent of global investors expressed fears the euro zone was slipping into deflation, according to a recent Bloomberg poll.</p> <p>In August, Italy registered negative inflation for the first time in over 50 years. It joined fellow euro zone strugglers Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia in the deflation club. France's inflation stands at 0.4 percen and Germany's at 0.8 percent, all well below the European Central Bank's 2 percent inflation target. </p> <p>If the trend continues, some economists are predicting a lurch into a long-term stagnation, making the near-catastrophic <a href="">euro zone debt crisis</a> just the start. Growth has ground to a halt in France. Italy is mired in recession. Even Germany saw its economy contract in the second quarter.</p> <p>"The European economy is in an exceptional situation," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday. "It's marked by weak growth and a disturbing threat from deflation that's calling into question all our most reasonable forecasts."</p> <p>Nobel Prize -winning economist Paul Krugman says Europe's economy is performing worse now than in the 1930s.</p> <p>It's not just the economics that are starting to resemble those dark times, he warned, looking to the rise of a new nationalism that threatens to undermine the post-WWII order — when Europe's former enemies came together in what became the European Union.</p> <p>"The European project — peace guaranteed by democracy and prosperity — is in deep trouble," Krugman <a href="">wrote</a> in a New York Times column. "The Continent still has peace, but it’s falling short on prosperity and, in a subtler way, democracy. And, if Europe stumbles, it will be a very bad thing not just for Europe itself but for the world as a whole."</p> <p>Parties seeking to break up the EU, or at least radically roll back its powers, have emerged as major electoral players in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, <a href="">the Netherlands</a>, Denmark and other countries in recent years. Many share strong anti-immigration views. Some stand accused of racism or xenophobia.</p> <p>In Sweden's general elections on Sunday, the far-right Sweden Democrats doubled their vote to 13 percent, and now hold a balance of power in parliament.</p> <p>The Alternative for Germany party has made an electoral breakthrough in recent weeks, capturing seats in three state legislatures on a ticket of scrapping the euro currency and bolstering law and order.</p> <p>"The European project is under threat from all sides," said Valls ahead of a parliamentary confidence vote that his government survived with a much reduced majority. Earlier this month, he warned that far-right political parties stood at the "gates of power."</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">France is a mess, and Europe is worried</a></strong></p> <p>With the risk of a prolonged, deflation-fueled downturn threatening to further radicalize voters, there are mounting voices for Europe to act.</p> <p>Krugman and other critics of the austerity policies imposed since the euro zone debt crisis blew up in 2009 welcomed this month's decision by the European Central Bank to cut interest rates and intervene in corporate bond markets to stimulate the economy.</p> <p>However, they say the ECB has to go further by pumping new money into the economy through so-called quantitative easing, which has been deployed as a weapon against deflation by the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and, since last year, the Japanese central bank.</p> <p>Valls and other left-of-center leaders are also pushing for the EU to relax rules limiting tax cuts and government spending, to give them more wiggle room to push through reforms that inject much-needed competitiveness into their economies.</p> <p>France last week announced it would renege on a pledge to meet euro zone budget deficit targets by next year.</p> <p>Such moves worry Germany, where fear of inflation is branded into the country's economic psyche.</p> <p>Germany's influential central bank opposed even the ECB's limited stimulus moves, and the government in Berlin is wary of easing Europe's austerity targets.</p> <p>Many there view the slowdown in inflation as temporary and beneficial. They dismiss fears of a deflationary vortex, blaming the current downturn on temporary factors such as uncertainty over Ukraine.</p> <p>"Price pressure will gradually recover over the next few years," says Robert Wood, senior economist with Germany's oldest bank, Barenberg. "The euro-zone may have some negative inflation for a couple of months ... but we don't see a risk of broad-based deflationary pressure."</p> <p>Others are less sanguine.</p> <p>US Treasury officials told Reuters last week that Washington will be pushing Germany and other European nations to take aggressive action to boost growth and head off the risk of deflation in the run-up to a November summit of G20 nations in Australia.</p> <p>Fears of contagion from a renewed European recession are likely to ensure other <a href="">world leaders</a> add to that pressure.</p> Debt Crisis Want to Know Europe Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:33:00 +0000 Paul Ames 6259765 at Reacting to IS atrocities, Indonesia claims to be a model of Islamic tolerance <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Yet religious minorities in the country complain that violence and abuse is getting worse. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Marie Dhumieres </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>JAKARTA, <a href="">Indonesia</a> — This country, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, holds itself up as an example for followers of Islam everywhere. Largely peaceful, increasingly prosperous and democratic, Indonesia’s government and religious leaders have issued swift condemnations of the Islamic State terror group.</p> <p> Some Muslims have “lost their identity” and “need role models to follow,” said Indonesia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dino Patti Djalal. “Muslims in Indonesia can become the reference,” he suggested in early September.</p> <p> President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called IS militants’ actions in <a href="">Syria</a> and <a href="">Iraq</a> “embarrassing” to Islam. He banned IS support in Indonesia, and said the authorities had taken decisive steps to stop its spread in the country.</p> <p> “Indonesia is not an Islamic state. We respect all religions,” Yudhoyono stated during an interview with The Australian in August. “No one should be persecuted because of personal belief.”</p> <p> Yet not everyone agrees with this idyllic assessment of tolerance in this sprawling country of 250 million.  </p> <p> Consider Emilia Az, a Shia activist in Jakarta. She says she receives regular threats, her house has been stoned on several occasions, and her dog was killed — all because she advocates for the rights of Shia Muslims and other religious minorities. (Most Indonesian Muslims are Sunni.)</p> <p> “Many Shia hide their beliefs, so they are safe. But I’m used to being threatened by [conservative Sunni] Wahabis in many ways because of my work.”</p> <p> To her, Yudhoyono and his government are “weak,” and “have done nothing for us.”  </p> <p> The president’s statement also left Indonesian human rights activists in dismay.</p> <p> “It is not true,” said Andreas Harsono, Human Rights Watch’s researcher in Jakarta.</p> <p> He says it’s easy for officials to condemn what happens in the <a href="">Middle East</a>, but much harder to admit that the situation in Indonesia is worrying. The truth is that Yudhoyono “has turned a blind eye to religious violence inside his own country,” Harsono adds, arguing that attacks against Shia, Ahmadiyah and Christian minorities have increased during the outgoing president’s 10-year term.</p> <p> “His government institutionalized so many discriminations against minorities,” Harsono says. One example: a 2008 decree that prohibited the “deviant” Muslim Ahmadiyah sect from spreading their beliefs. He also points to a decree restraining construction of churches, which has led to assaults on Christian leaders.</p> <p> Religious violence has been treated lightly in Indonesia in recent years. In 2011, a group of some 1,500 Islamic hardliners attacked a Ahmadiyah community in West Java. Three men were beaten to death. The brutal assault, captured on video, shocked the country.</p> <p> Still, the perpetrators were only sentenced with three to six months in jail.</p> <p> Rights activists say militant Islamic movements in Indonesia target minority groups with total impunity. “The government almost never takes action. When they do, the punishment is insignificant,” says Harsono.</p> <p> The Islam practiced here is overwhelmingly moderate, however, and experts point out that religious violence is limited to certain areas. Nonetheless, it remains a top human rights priority.</p> <p> Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy director of Setara, an Indonesian institute that monitors religious violence, says officials were quick to condemn IS actions because they knew the country’s highly influential mainstream Muslim organizations agreed. Politicians “are very careful when it comes to religious issues,” he says. “The government will act quickly if they can count on the Islamic organizations’ backup. If not, they’ll stay silent.”</p> <p> Still, he contends that the Shia community in Indonesia “is suffering from the conflict in the Middle East.”</p> <p> Last April, a group known as the Anti-Shia Alliance organized a gathering attended by thousands to call for “preventive and anticipative” action against the “Shia threat.”</p> <p> “It’s time that we declared jihad against [the Shia],” one of the speakers said. A call by Shia representatives to cancel the event was left unanswered.</p> <p> President-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who’ll take power in October, has promised to focus on human rights. Harsono urges that the new leader should distance himself from Yudhoyono’s “bad and dangerous legacy.”</p> <p>“Jokowi has to undo what Yudhoyono has done during the past 10 years.”</p> <p> Setara's Bonar says it’s time religious minorities stop facing persecution, intimidation, hate speech, discrimination, and attacks on their places of worships. “The duty of the state is to protect all citizens, no matter what their religion or beliefs are.” </p> Want to Know World Religion Indonesia Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:33:00 +0000 Marie Dhumieres 6256149 at After 47 years, the US is still pretending Israel doesn't have nuclear weapons <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A growing number of US experts say that feigning ignorance about Israel’s nuclear arsenal creates more trouble than it averts. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith, Center for Public Integrity </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p><em>This story was&nbsp;published&nbsp;by&nbsp;The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, DC.</em></p> <p>Israel has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons.</p> <p>Former CIA director Robert Gates&nbsp;<a href="">said</a>&nbsp;so during his 2006 Senate confirmation hearings for secretary of defense, when he noted &mdash; while serving as a university president &mdash; that Iran is surrounded by &ldquo;powers with nuclear weapons,&rdquo; including &ldquo;the Israelis to the west.&rdquo; Former president Jimmy Carter said so in 2008 and again this year, in interviews and speeches in which he pegged the number of Israel&rsquo;s nuclear warheads at 150 to around 300.</p> <p>But due to a quirk of federal secrecy rules, such remarks generally cannot be made even now by those who work for the US government and hold active security clearances. In fact, US officials, even those on Capitol Hill, are routinely admonished not to mention the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal and occasionally punished when they do so.</p> <p>The policy of never publicly confirming what a scholar once called one of the world&rsquo;s &ldquo;worst-kept secrets&rdquo; dates from a political deal between Washington and Israel in the late 1960s. Its consequence has been to help Israel maintain a distinctive military posture in the Middle East while avoiding the scrutiny &mdash; and occasional disapprobation &mdash; applied to the world&rsquo;s eight acknowledged nuclear powers.</p> <p>But the US policy of shielding the Israeli program has recently provoked new controversy, partly because of allegations that it played a role in&nbsp;<a href="">the censure</a>&nbsp;of a well-known national laboratory arms researcher in July, after he published an article in which he acknowledged that Israel has nuclear arms. Some scholars and experts are also complaining that the government&rsquo;s lack of candor is complicating its high-profile campaign to block the development of nuclear arms in Iran, as well as US-led&nbsp;planning for a potential treaty prohibiting nuclear arms anywhere in the region.</p> <p>The US silence is largely unwavering, however. &ldquo;We would never say flatly that Israel has nuclear weapons,&rdquo; explained a former senior State Department official who dealt with nuclear issues during the Bush administration. &ldquo;We would have to couch it in other language, we would have to say &lsquo;we assume&rsquo; or &lsquo;we presume that Israel has nuclear weapons,&rsquo; or &lsquo;it&rsquo;s reported&rsquo; that they have them,&rdquo; the former official said, requesting that his name not be used due to the political sensitivity surrounding the topic.</p> <p>President Barack Obama made clear that this four-decade-old US policy would persist at his first&nbsp;<a href="">White House press conference</a>&nbsp;in 2009, when journalist Helen Thomas asked if he knew of any nations in the Middle East with nuclear arms. &ldquo;With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don&rsquo;t want to speculate,&rdquo; Obama said, as though Israel&rsquo;s established status as a nuclear weapons state was only a matter of rumor and conjecture.</p> <p>So wary is Paul Pillar, a former US national intelligence officer for the Middle East, of making any direct, public reference to Israel&rsquo;s nuclear arsenal that when he wrote an <a href="">article</a>&nbsp;this month in The National Interest, entitled&nbsp;<a href="">&ldquo;Israel&rsquo;s Widely Suspected Unmentionables,&rdquo;</a>&nbsp;he referred to warheads as &ldquo;kumquats&rdquo; throughout his manuscript.</p> <p>Even Congress has been coy on the subject. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a 2008 report titled&nbsp;<a href="">&ldquo;Chain Reaction: Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East,&rdquo;</a>&nbsp;it included chapters on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey &mdash; but not Israel. The 61-page report relegated Israel&rsquo;s nuclear arms to a footnote that suggested that Israel&rsquo;s arsenal was a &ldquo;perception.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;This report does not take a position on the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons,&rdquo; the report said. &ldquo;Although Israel has not officially acknowledged it possesses nuclear weapons, a widespread consensus exists in the region and among experts in the United States that Israel possesses a number of nuclear weapons. For Israel&rsquo;s neighbors, this perception is more important than reality.&rdquo;</p> <p>While former White House or cabinet-level officers &mdash; such as Gates &mdash; have gotten away with more candor, the bureaucracy does not take honesty by junior officials lightly. James Doyle, a veteran nuclear analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was recently censured, evidently left himself open to punishment by straying minutely from US policy in a February 2013&nbsp;<a href="">article</a>&nbsp;published by the British journal Survival.</p> <p>&ldquo;Nuclear weapons did not deter Egypt and Syria from attacking Israel in 1973, Argentina from attacking British territory in the 1982 Falklands War or Iraq from attacking Israel during the 1991 Gulf War,&rdquo; Doyle said in a bitingly critical appraisal of Western&nbsp;nuclear policy, which angered his superiors at the nuclear weapons lab as well as a Republican staff member of the House Armed Services committee.</p> <p>Even though three secrecy specialists at the lab concluded the article contained no secrets, more senior officials overruled them and cited an unspecified breach as justification for censuring Doyle and declaring it classified, after its publication. They docked his pay, searched his home computer and, eventually,&nbsp;<a href="">fired him</a>&nbsp;this summer. The lab has said his firing &mdash; as opposed to the censure and search &mdash; was not related to the article&rsquo;s content, but Doyle and his lawyer have said they are convinced it was pure punishment for his skepticism about the tenets of nuclear deterrence.</p> <p>Neither Doyle nor his colleagues revealed if the sentence in his article about Israel&rsquo;s arsenal was the one that provoked officials to nitpick about a security violation, but several independent experts have surmised it was.</p> <p><a href="">Steven Aftergood</a>, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the clues lie in the Energy Department&rsquo;s citation &mdash; in a <a href="">document</a>&nbsp;summarizing the facts behind Doyle&rsquo;s unsuccessful appeal of his ill treatment &mdash; of a classification bulletin numbered &ldquo;WPN-136.&rdquo;</p> <p>The full, correct title of that&nbsp;<a href="">bulletin</a>, according to an Energy Department circular, is &ldquo;WNP-136, Foreign Nuclear Capabilities.&rdquo; The classification bulletin itself is not public. But Aftergood said Doyle&rsquo;s only reference to a sensitive foreign nuclear program was his mention of Israel&rsquo;s, making it highly probable this was the cudgel the lab used against him. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m certain that that&rsquo;s what it is,&rdquo; Aftergood said in an interview.</p> <p>The circumstances surrounding Doyle&rsquo;s censure are among several cases now being examined by DOE Inspector General Gregory Friedman, as part of a broader examination of inconsistent classification practices within the department and the national laboratories, several officials said.</p> <p>Doyle&rsquo;s reference to the existence of Israel&rsquo;s nuclear&nbsp;arsenal reflects the consensus intelligence judgment within DOE nuclear weapons-related laboratories, former officials say. But some said they find it so hard to avoid any public reference to the weapons that classification officers periodically held special briefings about avoiding the issue.</p> <p>&ldquo;It was one of those things that was not obvious,&rdquo; a former laboratory official said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic. &ldquo;Especially when there&rsquo;s so much about it in the open domain.&rdquo;</p> <p>Israel&rsquo;s nuclear weapons program began in the 1950s, and the country is widely believed to have assembled its first three weapons during the crisis leading to the Six-Day War in 1967,&nbsp;<a href="">according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative</a>, a nonprofit group in Washington that tracks nuclear weapons developments.</p> <p>For decades, however, Israel itself has wrapped its nuclear program in a policy it calls &ldquo;amimut,&rdquo; meaning opacity or ambiguity. By hinting at but not confirming that it has these weapons, Israel has sought to deter its enemies from a major attack without provoking a concerted effort by others to develop a matching arsenal.</p> <p>Israeli-American historian Avner Cohen has written that US adherence to this policy evidently grew out of a&nbsp;<a href=";pg=PA23">September 1969 meeting</a>&nbsp;between President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. No transcript of the meeting has surfaced, but Cohen said it is clear the two leaders struck a deal: Israel would not test its nuclear weapons or announce it possessed them, while the United States wouldn&rsquo;t press Israel to give them up or to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and would halt its annual inspections of Dimona, site of Israel&rsquo;s Negev Nuclear Research Center.</p> <p>As an outgrowth of the deal, Washington, moreover, would adopt Israel&rsquo;s secret as its own, eventually acquiescing to a public formulation of Israeli policy that was initially strenuously opposed by top US officials.</p> <p>&ldquo;Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East,&rdquo; the boilerplate Israeli account&nbsp;<a href="">has long stated</a>. &ldquo;Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction following the attainment of peace.&rdquo; When Nixon&rsquo;s aides sought assurances this pledge meant Israel would not actually build any bombs, Israeli officials said the word &ldquo;introduce&rdquo; would have a different meaning: It meant the country would not publicly test bombs or admit to possessing them, leaving ample room for its unacknowledged arsenal.</p> <p>&ldquo;While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession,&rdquo; then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger wrote in a&nbsp;<a href="">July 1969 memo</a>&nbsp;to Nixon that summarized Washington&rsquo;s enduring policy, &ldquo;what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact.&rdquo;</p> <p>Even when Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at Dimona, provided the first detasiled, public account of the program in 1986 and released&nbsp;<a href="">photos</a>&nbsp;he had snapped there of nuclear weapons components, both countries refused to shift gears. After being snatched from Italy, Vanunu was imprisoned by Israel for 18 years, mostly in solitary confinement, and subsequently forbidden to travel abroad or deal substantively with foreign journalists. In an email exchange with the Center for Public Integrity, Vanunu indicated that he still faces restrictions but did not elaborate. &ldquo;You can write me again when I am free, out of Israel,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>A former US intelligence official said he recalled being flabbergasted in the 1990&rsquo;s by the absence of any mention of Israel in a particular, top-secret, codeword-restricted document purporting to describe all foreign nuclear weapons programs. He said he complained to colleagues at the time that &ldquo;we&rsquo;ve really got a problem if we can&rsquo;t acknowledge the truth even in classified documents,&rdquo; and finally won a grudging but spare mention of the country&rsquo;s weaponry.</p> <p><a href="">Gary Samore</a>, who was President Obama&rsquo;s top advisor on nuclear nonproliferation from 2009 to 2013, said the United States has long preferred that Israel hold to its policy of amimut, out of concern that other Middle Eastern nations would feel threatened by Israel&rsquo;s coming out of the nuclear closet.</p> <p>&ldquo;For the Israelis to acknowledge and declare it, that would be seen as provocative,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It could spur some of the Arab states and Iran to produce weapons. So we like calculated ambiguity.&rdquo; But when asked point-blank if the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons is classified, Samore &mdash; who is now at Harvard University &mdash; answered: &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t sound very classified to me &mdash; that Israel has nuclear weapons?&rdquo;</p> <p>&nbsp;The US government&rsquo;s official silence was broken only by accident, when in 1979, the CIA released a&nbsp;<a href="">four-page summary</a>&nbsp;of an intelligence memorandum titled &ldquo;Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,&rdquo; in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group.</p> <p>&ldquo;We believe that Israel already has produced nuclear weapons,&rdquo; the 1974 report said, citing Israel&rsquo;s stockpiling of large quantities of uranium, its uranium enrichment program, and its investment in a costly missile system capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Release of the report triggered a spate of headlines. &ldquo;CIA said in 1974 Israel had A-Bombs,&rdquo; a New York Times headline declared. &ldquo;Israel a Nuclear Club Member Since 1974, CIA Study Indicates,&rdquo; announced The Washington Star.</p> <p>But it stemmed from a goof.</p> <p>John Despres, who was the CIA&rsquo;s national intelligence officer for nuclear proliferation at the time, said he was in charge of censoring or &ldquo;redacting&rdquo; the secret material from the report prior to its release. But portions he wanted withheld were released, he said in an interview, while sections that were supposed to be released were withheld.</p> <p>&ldquo;This was a sort of classic case of a bureaucratic screw-up,&rdquo; said Despres, now retired. &ldquo;People misinterpreted my instructions.&rdquo; He said that as far as he knows, no one was disciplined for the mix-up. Moreover, in 2008, when the National Security Archive obtained&nbsp;<a href="">a copy</a>&nbsp;of the document under the Freedom of Information Act, that judgment remained unexcised.</p> <p>But Washington&rsquo;s refusal to confirm the obvious in any other way has produced some weird trips down the rabbit hole for those seeking official data about the Israeli arsenal. Bryan Siebert, who was the most senior career executive in charge of guarding DOE&rsquo;s nuclear weapons secrets from 1992 to 2002, said he recalls seeing a two-cubic-foot stack at one point of CIA, FBI, Justice and Energy department documents about Israel&rsquo;s nuclear program.</p> <p>But when Siebert&nbsp;<a href="">filed a FOIA request</a>&nbsp;to DOE for information about the program after his retirement in April 2004,&nbsp;<a href="">DOE&rsquo;s official reply</a>&nbsp;&mdash; written by David Osias, a former CIA official who was then deputy director for Intelligence and Analysis at DOE &mdash; was that the department &ldquo;can neither confirm nor deny the existence of information on the requested subject. Such confirmation or denial of the records at issue, would pose a threat to national security.&rdquo;</p> <p><a href="">John Fitzpatrick</a>, who since 2011 has served as director of the federal Information Security Oversight Office, confirmed that &ldquo;aspects&rdquo; of Israel&rsquo;s nuclear status are considered secret by the United States. &ldquo;We know this from classifying authorities at agencies who handle that material,&rdquo; said Fitzpatrick, who declined to provide more details.</p> <p>Kerry Brodie, director of communications for the Israeli embassy in Washington, similarly said no one there would discuss the subject of the country&rsquo;s nuclear status. &ldquo;Unfortunately, we do not have any comment we can share at this point,&rdquo; she wrote in an email. A former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, was less discrete during a December 2013 conference in Haifa, where&nbsp;<a href="">he said</a>&nbsp;&ldquo;Israel has nuclear and chemical weapons&rdquo; and called the policy of ambiguity &ldquo;outdated and childish.&rdquo;</p> <p>Through a spokesman, Robert Gates declined to discuss the issue. But a growing number of US experts agree with Burg.</p> <p>Pillar, for example,&nbsp;<a href="">wrote</a>&nbsp;in his article this month that the 45-year old US policy of shielding Israel&rsquo;s program is seen around the world &ldquo;as not just a double standard but living a lie. Whatever the United States says about nuclear weapons will always be taken with a grain of salt or with some measure of disdain as long as the United States says nothing about kumquats.&rdquo;</p> <p>Victor Gilinsky, a physicist and former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who has written about the history of the Israeli program, complained in a recent&nbsp;<a href="">book</a> that &ldquo;the pretense of ignorance about Israeli bombs does not wash anymore. &hellip; The evident double standard undermines efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide.&rdquo;</p> <p><a href="">J. William Leonard</a>, who ran a government-wide declassification effort as President Bush&rsquo;s director of the Information Security Oversight Office from 2002 to 2008, commented that &ldquo;in some regards, it undermines the integrity of the classification system when you&rsquo;re using classification to officially protect a known secret. It can get exceedingly awkward, obviously.&rdquo;</p> <p>Aftergood said the secrecy surrounding Israel&rsquo;s nuclear weapons is &ldquo;obsolete and fraying around the edges. &hellip; It takes an effort to preserve the fiction that this is a secret,&rdquo; he said. Meanwhile, he added, it can still be abused as an instrument for punishing federal employees such as Doyle for unrelated or politically-inspired reasons. &ldquo;Managers have broad discretion to overlook or forgive a particular infraction,&rdquo; Aftergood said. &ldquo;The problem is that discretion can be abused. And some employees get punished severely while others do not.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dana H. Allin, the editor of Doyle&rsquo;s article in Survival magazine, said in a recent <a href="">commentary</a>&nbsp;published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London that &ldquo;anyone with a passing knowledge of international affairs knows about these weapons.&rdquo; He called the government&rsquo;s claim that the article contained secrets &ldquo;ludicrous&rdquo; and said Doyle&rsquo;s ordeal at the hands of the classification authorities was nothing short of Kafkaesque.</p> <p><strong>Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity</strong></p> <!-- Place with body copy. Can go at bottom if story is not paginated. If story is paginated, please put on every page. --><!-- Place with body copy. Can go at bottom if story is not paginated. If story is paginated, please put on every page. --><script type="text/javascript" async="async"> //<![CDATA[ (function() {document.getElementById('cpi_widget').innerHTML = '<iframe src=\"//" width=\"0\" height=\"0\" frameBorder=\"0\" style=\"border: none; background: transparent; width: 0px; height: 0px;\">'})(); //]]> </![cdata[></script><!--pagebreak--><!--pagebreak--> nuclear weapons Want to Know War Israel and Palestine Middle East Tue, 16 Sep 2014 21:17:14 +0000 Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith, Center for Public Integrity 6258754 at US could send advisers into combat against Islamic State: Dempsey <!--paging_filter--><p>The US military's top officer on Tuesday raised the possibility that American troops serving as advisers to <a href="">Iraqi</a> forces could eventually be sent on combat missions against Islamic State extremists.</p> <p>"To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL (IS group) targets, I will recommend that to the president," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.</p> <p>Dempsey's remarks contrasted with President Barack Obama's repeated statements ruling out sending in combat forces to battle the IS group, promising there would be no "boots on the ground."</p> <p>Nearly 300 US military advisers are currently working with Iraqi government forces in their fight against the extremist IS group with roughly another 300 advisers due to deploy in coming days.</p> <p>Asked to elaborate on his remarks, Dempsey said the advisers are "very much in a combat advisory role" and that there is "no intention" at the moment for them to enter into combat.</p> <p>"I don't see it to be necessary right now," the four-star general said.</p> <p>But he said if circumstances changed, and if there were an "extraordinarily complex" operation planned by Iraqi forces, then it could be necessary "to provide close combat advising" with advisers heading to the front with their Iraqi counterparts.</p> <p>He cited as an example if Iraqi government forces were planning to take back control of a city such as Mosul.</p> <p>Obama's strategy to fight the IS organization calls for American air power coupled with training and arming Iraqi government troops and <a href="">Syrian</a> rebel forces.</p> <p>ddl-gde/wat</p> Need to Know Iraq Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:55:00 +0000 Agence France-Presse 6259592 at Obama to send 3,000 troops to West Africa as Ebola crisis worsens <!--paging_filter--><p>The <a href="">United States</a> announced on Tuesday it will send 3,000 troops to help tackle the Ebola outbreak as part of a ramped-up plan, including a major deployment in Liberia, the country where the epidemic is spiraling fastest out of control.</p> <p>The US response to the crisis, to be formally unveiled later by President Barack Obama, includes plans to build 17 treatment centers, train thousands of healthcare workers and establish a military control center for coordination, US officials told reporters.</p> <p>"The goal here is to search American expertise, including our military, logistics and command and control expertise, to try and control this outbreak at its source in west <a href="">Africa</a>," Lisa Monaco, Obama's White House counter-terrorism adviser, told MSNBC television on Tuesday ahead of the announcement.</p> <p>The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it needs foreign medical teams with 500-600 experts as well as at least 10,000 local health workers. The figures may rise if the number of cases increases, as is widely expected.</p> <p>So far <a href="">Cuba</a> and <a href="">China</a> have said they will send medical staff to Sierra Leone. Cuba will deploy 165 people in October while China is sending a mobile laboratory with 59 staff to speed up testing for the disease. It already has 115 staff and a Chinese-funded hospital there.</p> <p>But Liberia is where the disease appears to be running amok. The WHO has not issued any estimate of cases or deaths in the country since Sept. 5 and its director-general, Margaret Chan, has said there was not a single bed available for Ebola patients there.</p> <p>Liberia, a nation founded by descendants of freed American slaves, appealed for US help last week.</p> <p>One UN official in the country has said her colleagues had resorted to telling locals to use plastic bags to fend off the killer virus, due to a lack of other protective equipment.</p> <p>Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the charity that has been leading the fight against Ebola, said it was overwhelmed and repeated its call for an immediate and massive deployment.</p> <p>"We are honestly at a loss as to how a single, private NGO is providing the bulk of isolation units and beds," MSF's international president, Joanne Liu, said in a speech to the United Nations in Geneva, adding that the charity was having to turn away sick people in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.</p> <p>"Highly infectious people are forced to return home, only to infect others and continue the spread of this deadly virus. All for a lack of international response," she said.</p> <p>Obama, who has called the epidemic a national security crisis, has faced criticism for not doing more to stem the outbreak. The WHO said last week Ebola had killed more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases in west Africa.</p> <p>U.S. officials stressed it was very unlikely the Ebola crisis could come to the United States. Measures were being taken to screen passengers flying out of the region, they said, and protocols were in place to isolate and treat anyone who arrived in the United States showing symptoms of the disease.</p> <p><strong>'More effective'</strong></p> <p>The president will visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Tuesday to show his commitment. The stepped-up effort he will announce includes 3,000 military troops and a joint forces command center in Monrovia to coordinate efforts with the US government and other international partners.</p> <p>The plan will "ensure that the entire international response effort is more effective and helps to ... turn the tide in this crisis," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday, ahead of the president's trip.</p> <p>"The significant expansion that the president will detail ... really represents ... areas where the US military will bring unique capabilities that we believe will improve the effectiveness of the entire global response," he said.</p> <p>The treatment centers will have 100 beds each and be built as soon as possible, another official said.</p> <p>The US plan also focuses on training. A site will be established where military medical personnel will teach some 500 healthcare workers per week for six months or longer how to provide care to Ebola patients, officials said.</p> <p>The Obama administration has requested an additional $88 million from Congress to fight Ebola, including $58 million to speed production of Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc's experimental antiviral drug ZMapp and two Ebola vaccine candidates.</p> <p>Officials said the US Department of Defense had sought to reallocate $500 million in funds from fiscal 2014 to help cover the costs of the humanitarian mission.</p> <p>The US Agency for International Development will also support a program to distribute protection kits with sanitizers and medical supplies to 400,000 vulnerable households in Liberia.</p> <p>(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Sharon Begley in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Sophie Walker and Jeffrey Benkoe)</p> Africa Need to Know Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:48:42 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6259445 at Islamic State militants shoot down Syrian war plane, monitoring group says <!--paging_filter--><p>Islamic State fighters shot down a Syrian war plane using anti-aircraft guns on Tuesday, the first time the group has downed a military jet since declaring its cross-border caliphate in June, a group monitoring the civil war said.</p> <p>The plane came down outside Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa city, 250 miles northeast of Damascus, during air strikes on territory controlled by the group, a resident said.</p> <p>The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, reported five air raids on Raqqa on Tuesday. Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the organization, cited sources close to Islamic State as saying the plane had been shot down.</p> <p>US President Barack Obama last week authorized air strikes against Islamic State in <a href="">Syria</a>, potentially widening action against a group already being targeted by US air strikes in <a href="">Iraq</a>.</p> <p>The Syrian air force has been bombing Islamic State-controlled territory in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir al-Zor on a near-daily basis since the group seized the Iraqi city of Mosul in June.</p> <p>Syria has offered to join a coalition the <a href="">United States</a> is assembling to fight Islamic State, but Western governments see President Bashar al-Assad as part of the problem and have ruled out the idea of such cooperation.</p> <p><strong>US expands air strikes</strong></p> <p>The US military struck an Islamic State target southwest of Baghdad, US Central Command said on Monday, in an expansion of the Obama administration's campaign against the militant group that has seized large swaths of Iraq and neighboring Syria.</p> <p>"The air strike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit (Islamic State) targets as Iraqi forces go on offense," Central Command said in a statement.</p> <p>The United States is stepping up its military response to the hardline group, which has beheaded several Western hostages and seeks to expand the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq.</p> Need to Know Middle East Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:21:00 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6259389 at Ukraine ratifies landmark EU pact and grants 'special status' to separatists <!--paging_filter--><p>Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday ratified a landmark agreement on political association and trade with the <a href="">European</a> Union, the rejection of which last November by then President Viktor Yanukovych led to his downfall.</p> <p>The agreement, whose ratification was synchronized with that of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, won unanimous support from the 355 deputies who took part in the vote.</p> <p>Referring to the deaths of anti-government protesters who came out against Yanukovych's rejection of the pact with the EU and of soldiers killed in fighting separatists since, President Petro Poroshenko said: "No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans."</p> <p>Yanukovych's retreat from an avowed course of European integration in favor a closer ties with Ukraine's ex-Soviet master, <a href="">Russia</a>, triggered months of street protests in which about 100 people were shot dead in the capital Kyiv.</p> <p>After he fled to Russia in February, Moscow denounced the pro-Western "coup" against him and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and subsequently backed armed pro-Russian separatists in their drive for autonomy from Kyiv.</p> <p>The chain of events has provoked the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War, with the <a href="">United States</a> and its Western allies imposing sanctions against Moscow, and led to a conflict in eastern Ukraine in which more than 3,000 have been killed.</p> <p>Despite the sanctions against Moscow, the European Union and Ukraine agreed last Friday to delay implementation of the free-trade part of the EU deal until the end of next year in a concession to Russia.</p> <p>Russia, which says its economy could be badly hurt by a sudden flood of duty-free EU goods onto its market via Ukraine, had threatened to slap import tariffs on Ukrainian goods from Nov. 1, arguing that the pact would squeeze it out of the Ukrainian market.</p> <p>Under the ambitious agreement, Ukraine will continue to enjoy privileged access to the EU market until January 1, 2016, but, in a concession by <a href="">Brussels</a>, it will not have to cut duties on imports from the EU in return.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Ukraine's parliament passed a law on Tuesday that will give "special status" to the separatist-minded eastern regions including a degree of self-governance for a three-year period, parliamentary deputies, who attended the closed session, said.</p> <p>A second law that was passed would grant an amnesty to separatists who were involved in recent fighting with government forces, the deputies told Reuters.</p> <p>(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing By Richard Balmforth; editing by Ralph Boulton)</p> Need to Know Europe Tue, 16 Sep 2014 12:36:38 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6259357 at In South Korea, real business gets done in brothels and karaoke joints <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Now, the country’s tax office is cracking down on this sleazy billion-dollar corporate write-off. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Geoffrey Cain </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>SEOUL, <a href="">South Korea</a> — “It’s not fair!” complained a South Korean sex industry aficionado, a former “consultant” for a large call girl website. “The tax men are hurting business! Cracking down on company cards!”</p> <p>The consultant, a 32-year-old, chiseled and rakish figure who, as a youngster, mingled in gambling dens and street gangs, is outraged over mounting government scrutiny into South Korea’s executive sleaze.</p> <p>You see, just as companies stateside pick up the tab for employees’ lunch meetings, in Korea they subsidize business entertainment — which tends more toward hard core boozing and even the country’s sex trade (never mind that prostitution is illegal).</p> <p>Not far from glitzy office towers of Seoul are the frenzied hangouts where business is really done: a cacophony of karaoke joints, shady neon-lit parlors, and cluttered barbecue restaurants full of drunken managers ordering their junior staff to pound shots.</p> <p>To Koreans, the business districts of American cities appear staid, orderly and a bit dull. A shop-worn joke here has it that <a href="">North America</a> is a “boring heaven” while their country is an “exciting hell.”</p> <p>No salesman (and the majority are men) gets far here unless he can sing mean, inebriated karaoke and then slug through negotiations the next morning with a thumping headache. South Koreans slam the world’s largest quantity of hard liquor, imbibing 11.2 shots of soju per week, <a href="" target="_blank">more than twice</a> the average <a href="">Russian</a>’s vodka consumption (although soju isn’t always as strong).</p> <p>What happens when this macho after-hours culture goes too far, littering the company tab with payments to prostitutes and hostess clubs? “That’s the business model we depend on. When the Korean men are doing business together, they hang out at these places,” explained the sex industry consultant.</p> <p>There’s a dark logic to the debauchery.</p> <p>“When you’re a man and you do something dirty and sinful with your business partner around, you share your secrets, you share trust like brothers. You can always trust your new business partner.”</p> <p>“At the highest end, people in this industry used to offer up failed celebrities, really sexy ones with killer bodies, as hostess girls for Korea’s richest men,” the consultant reminisced. (He spoke to GlobalPost on condition of anonymity, which is customary in South Korea.) “You know, the powerful men you read about in the news. Top tier. Only the wealthiest executives could afford it. But it’s getting harder to sell with the tax police all over it!”</p> <p>South Korean civic groups and a few lawmakers have long pushed to clean up business and make it friendlier to women and immigrants. Last month, the government tax body finally put a number on the excess, reporting through a conservative lawmaker that <a href="" target="_blank">$1 billion was spent</a> on corporate credit cards on sleazy nighttime entertainment in 2013.</p> <p>That’s a significant slice of the estimated $8.7 billion companies spent on all entertainment services last year, according to the National Tax Service. Entertainment expenses are tax-deductible up to a limit.</p> <p>It’s a number that makes women’s groups uncomfortable, not only because of the ethical issues of tapping into prostitution for business deals, but because the glass ceiling stays abysmally low. "There is definitely a discriminatory and exclusionary element at play in that kind of sexual corporate entertainment culture,” said Shin Sang-ah, a consultant at the Seoul Women’s Workers Association, a nonprofit.</p> <p>"Wining and dining clients or other forms of similar corporate entertainment generally involve male higher-ups in the corporate hierarchy,” she said. “And this goes hand in hand with the fact that Korean women are generally confined to less important roles within social organizations."</p> <p>Although prostitution is illegal, some 500,000 women continue to work in the sex industry in South Korea, reports the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the body charged with protecting women’s rights. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the corporate entertainment report.</p> <p>Of the total, businesses spent about $733 million on “room salons” — essentially premium hostess bars where young women flirt, drink, and sometimes leave the premises with their clients. In second place at $204 million were “danlanjujeom,” which in an oddity translates to “healthy family saloon.” Those are slightly lower-level establishments that contract out work to entertainers, explained the consultant. Finally, there’s the $100 million spent at “yojeong,” old-style saloons where women serve you in traditional garb.</p> <p>Paid sex in Korea is a complicated, compartmentalized business, the consultant explained. There are, for instance, four strata of the fabled room salon.</p> <p>“Ten-pro” salons hold the most prestige as essentially the private dens of aspiring celebrities, who sometimes linger in Seoul’s finest hotels and bars, seeking a wealthy patron with the help of a trendy club. There are the “15% bars” where the establishment takes a 15 percent cut of the hostess’s earnings, followed by “full salons” where customers dish out for all services up front. The cheapest in the hierarchy, the “hardcore room salons,” can get you a lap dance, body shots, and maybe some action, he said.</p> <p>Not all clients can dish out loads of cash, in which case they turn to an array of lower-priced hangouts you can <a href="" target="_blank">read about it here</a>, if you’re really curious.</p> <p>Higher-end haunts can be exclusive, turning away people without invitations and foreigners, who tend to find their niche in US Army districts.</p> <p>The government report added that the amount spent on sexual services has been declining over the past five years. But that doesn’t stop South Korea’s highly educated female professionals from crying foul.</p> <p>“As long as this kind of executive-level sexual corporate entertainment culture is seen as the norm,” said a programmer at a multinational electronics company who asked not to be named, citing the ire of her employer, “it's obviously assumed that women won't be willing to participate, and that can definitely exclude them from certain opportunities."</p> <p><em>Max Kim contributed reporting.</em></p> Business Entertainment Want to Know Food & Drink South Korea Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:50:00 +0000 Geoffrey Cain 6254294 at Mexicans tweet 'WeAreAllApes' after a politician's racist rant against Ronaldinho <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A Mexican politician called the Brazilian soccer superstar an 'ape.' He must know '#TodosSomosSimios' by now. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ioan Grillo </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>MEXICO CITY &mdash; White pop stars aren&#39;t the only ones who embarrass themselves with inane racist ramblings on social media.</p> <p>Carlos Trevino has proved that Mexican politicians can do it, too.</p> <p>Trevino, a former development secretary in the state of Queretaro, has caused outrage by calling Brazilian soccer superstar Ronaldinho an &ldquo;ape.&rdquo;</p> <p>Trevino&rsquo;s moment of bigoted madness came Friday when he was apparently held up in traffic due to Ronaldinho&rsquo;s arrival to play for the local Queretaro soccer team.</p> <p>After two hours in traffic, Trevino angrily thumbed this outrage onto his Facebook <a href="" target="_blank">page</a>.</p> <blockquote><p>&ldquo;Seriously I try to be tolerant, but I HATE FOOTBALL, and the stupid phenomenon it produces&hellip;I hate it even more because people get in the way and flood streets making me take two hours to get home&hellip;And all to see an APE&hellip;Brazilian but still an ape. This is a ridiculous circus.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>Once one of the world&rsquo;s most prolific players, Ronaldinho is of black African descent although like many Brazilians he has a mixed heritage.</p> <p>Trevino is a member of Mexico&rsquo;s conservative National Action Party or PAN, of former presidents Felipe Calderon and Vicente Fox.</p> <p>The comment quickly brought the wrath it deserves here in Mexico.</p> <p>Soccer club Queretaro, known as the &ldquo;White Roosters,&rdquo; demanded Trevino be punished under Mexico&rsquo;s discrimination laws.</p> <p>&ldquo;Racial discrimination is a grave social expression that hurts people&rsquo;s dignity,&rdquo; it <a href=" " target="_blank">said</a> in a statement.</p> <p>The team also launched a Twitter campaign under <a href="" target="_blank">#TodosSomosSimios</a> (We are all apes). The hashtag led Mexico&#39;s trending terms on the social media site for much of Monday. (At times it lost out to another one that translates to &quot;<a href="" target="_blank">How to be a good Mexican</a>&quot; &mdash; it was the country&#39;s independence day after all.)</p> <p>Queretaro&rsquo;s PAN leadership also condemned the comment and said it supported legal action against Trevino.</p> <p>In face of the threat, Trevino apparently removed the comment and issued apologies on his Twitter account.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Una sincera disculpa al <a href="">@Club_Queretaro</a> a su afici&oacute;n por mi lamentable expresi&oacute;n. Como persona y jugador <a href="">@10Ronaldinho</a> tiene todo mi respeto</p> <p> &mdash; carlos trevino (@carlostrevino7) <a href="">September 15, 2014</a></p></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>That translates to: &ldquo;A sincere apology to Club Queretaro and its fans for my unfortunate statement. As a person and player, Ronaldinho has all my respect.&rdquo;</p> <p>Racism has been a problem in world soccer for many decades, and associations have emitted hefty fines and punishments to clamp down on it.</p> <p>In April, Barcelona players including Brazilian Neymar posted photos eating bananas in an <a href="" target="_blank">anti-racism campaign</a>.</p> <p>Mexico has a very small population of people of African descent. Most Mexicans characterize themselves as &ldquo;mestizo,&rdquo; a mix of indigenous and European ancestry, and they often shun talking about diversity, anti-discrimination activists <a href="" target="_blank">told GlobalPost</a>. But &ldquo;whiteness&rdquo; still connotes power and money here and across the Americas.</p> <p><strong>More from GlobalPost: <a href="" target="_blank">In Mexico, social gaps go viral on YouTube</a> </strong></p> <p>While most Mexicans condemn racism, some stereotypical references to black people have provoked controversy in recent years.</p> <p>President Fox made a notorious <a href="" target="_blank">gaffe</a> when he told a reporter that Mexican migrants do the jobs &ldquo;that not even blacks want to do.&rdquo;</p> <p>Anti-racist campaigners have also complained about Mexican comic character &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">Memin Pinguin</a>&rdquo; for showing images of a black child portrayed like a monkey.</p> Stupid is as stupid does Want to Know Brazil Culture & Lifestyle Mexico Mon, 15 Sep 2014 20:30:00 +0000 Ioan Grillo 6258683 at Egypt sentences Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie to life in jail <!--paging_filter--><p>Mohamed Badie, top leader of <a href="">Egypt</a>'s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was sentenced to life in jail along with 14 others on Monday on charges of murder and inciting violence during clashes near Cairo last year.</p> <p>The session had been summoned for witness statements but the judge surprised journalists and others present by issuing a verdict. Badie, 71, is among hundreds of Brotherhood members already sentenced to death in mass trials that have drawn criticism from Western governments and human rights groups.</p> <p>The death sentences are subject to appeal.</p> <p>In what is known as the Bahr al-Azam case, Badie and the other defendants were convicted of the murder of five people and the attempted murder of 100 others during violence that broke out in Giza on July 15, 2013.</p> <p>Then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, 2013 after protests against his rule.</p> <p>Egyptian authorities have since arrested thousands of Brotherhood supporters, sentencing hundreds to death or long prison sentences, while Egypt's oldest Islamist movement has been banned and designated a terrorist organization.</p> <p>Sisi, who went on to win a presidential election, vowed in his campaign that the Brotherhood, once among Egypt's most formidable political movements, would cease to exist under him.</p> <p>Morsi, freely elected in 2012, is also on trial on a variety of charges including inciting violence and conspiring with a foreign power, and could face the death penalty if convicted.</p> <p>Egypt's Brotherhood renounced violence as a means of political change decades ago and argues that it has been robbed of political power won fairly at the ballot box.</p> <p>Badie and 182 Muslim brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death in a mass trial last June over violence that erupted in Minya governorate which led to the killing of a police officer.</p> <p>A court sentenced Badie to life in prison in a separate case in July for inciting violence and blocking a major road north of Cairo during protests that followed Mursi's ouster. He received another life sentence last month, on separate counts of inciting violence in clashes near a mosque in Giza.</p> <p>(Reporting by Lin Noueihed, editing by John Stonestreet)</p> Egypt Need to Know Mon, 15 Sep 2014 16:49:47 +0000 Thomson Reuters 6258506 at Powerful hurricane Odile slams Mexico's Baja California resorts <!--paging_filter--><p>Hurricane Odile whipped through the popular beach resorts of <a href="">Mexico</a>'s Baja California peninsula early on Monday, uprooting trees, dumping heavy rain and forcing thousands of tourists to take cover in emergency shelters.</p> <p>Winds of up to 110 miles per hour buffeted shelters as one of the worst storms on record hit the luxury retreats of Los Cabos, battering Mexico's northwest coast.</p> <p>The US National Hurricane Center said Odile had eased to a category 2 hurricane, but would likely cause life-threatening flooding and mud slides in the next few days.</p> <p>The weather service said Odile was expected to slow as it pushed north-northwest along the desert peninsula and forecast the storm would steadily weaken over the next two days.</p> <p>Winds eased slightly as the storm moved over land. But because it struck in the middle of the night, details were scarce on the extent of any damage early Monday.</p> <p>Tourists in shelters or hiding in the bathtubs of their rooms posted photos on social media showing windows, barricaded with furniture, after they were blown out by the strong winds.</p> <p>"This is really bad. My ears are about to explode by the pressure and I have an inch of water in my kitchen/living room," said Sarah McKinney on her Twitter account.</p> <p>Another woman posted a video online showing workmen erecting sheets of chipboard and boarded-up windows shaking. Dozens of people sat huddled with pillows in the middle of a large room.</p> <p>"I'm sweating like hell. Scary sound of howling wind," Alba Mora Roca said on her Twitter feed. "The windows of the shelter broke. More than 200 people moved to the basement but there's no space. Many are sitting on the stairs."</p> <p>Reuters was not immediately able to contact either woman.</p> <p><strong>Evacuations</strong></p> <p>At least 26,000 foreign tourists and 4,000 Mexicans were in the region, Mexican officials said. Emergency workers and military personal evacuated thousands of people from areas at risk of flooding.</p> <p>Some experts said it was the strongest hurricane to hit the tip of the peninsula since the advent of satellite data.</p> <p>"We haven't seen one get so close and with the possibility of impact, and of such a nature," said Wenceslao Petit, head of emergency services in Los Cabos. "There aren't words for this."</p> <p>Ahead of the storm's approach, people in Cabo San Lucas had rushed to board up windows, clear beach furniture and remove fishing boats and yachts from the water into dry docks.</p> <p>While other beaches in Mexico were packed with tourists during the long weekend leading to Tuesday's Independence Day holiday, the resorts of Los Cabos are mostly visited by <a href="">Americans</a> and are in low season.</p> <p>Luis Puente, the head of Mexico's civil protection agency, said that 164 shelters had been readied with a capacity for 30,000 people. There are no major oil installations in the area.</p> <p>(Reporting by Michael O'Boyle, Tomas Sarmiento, Simon Gardner and Dave Graham; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)</p> Need to Know Americas Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:00:13 +0000 Gerardo Esquerre, Thomson Reuters 6258394 at France opens conference on Iraq, urges 'global' fight on Islamic State <!--paging_filter--><p>French President Francois Hollande called on Monday for united international action to tackle the threat from Islamic State militants as he opened a conference on Iraq bringing together members of a US-led coalition.</p> <p>The <a href="">United States</a> this week unveiled an outline plan to fight the Islamist militants simultaneously in Iraq and <a href="">Syria</a>. It believes it can forge a solid alliance despite hesitancy among some partners and questions over the legality of action, notably in Syria where the militant group has a power base.</p> <p>"What is the threat?" the French leader said as he opened the one-day meeting of officials from some 30 states in Paris.</p> <p>"It is global so the response must be global ... Iraq's fight against the terrorists is also our fight. We must commit ourselves together — that is the purpose of this conference," said Hollande, who last week traveled to Baghdad to meet members of Iraq's new government.</p> <p>Iraqi President Fuad Masum said he hoped the Paris meeting would bring a "quick response" to jihadists who have declared a caliphate or Islamic state ruled under Sharia law in the heart of the <a href="">Middle East</a>.</p> <p>"Islamic State's doctrine is either you support us or kill us‎. It has committed massacres and genocidal crimes and ethnic purification," he told delegates.</p> <p>Foreign ministers from the main European states, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Iraq’s neighbors and Gulf Arab states Qatar, <a href="">Saudi Arabia</a>, Kuwait and the UAE, gathered to discuss political, security and humanitarian aspects of tackling Islamic State.</p> <p><a href="">Iran</a>, which is highly influential in its neighbor Iraq, is not attending the conference.</p> <p>"We wanted a consensus among countries over Iran's attendance, but in the end it was more important to have certain Arab states than Iran," a French diplomat said, signaling that Saudi Arabia had not been keen on Tehran coming.</p> <p>French officials say the coalition plan must go beyond military and humanitarian action, arguing there must also be a political plan for once Islamic State has been weakened in Iraq.</p> <p>They argue that the 2003 US-led intervention in Iraq, in which Paris did not participate, ultimately contributed to the current crisis because it lacked a long-term vision for the different strands of Iraqi society.</p> <p><strong>'No free pass'</strong></p> <p>France has said it is ready to join US air strikes in Iraq but says legal and military limitations make it more difficult in Syria, where Islamic State's main power base lies.</p> <p>Earlier, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said French aircraft would begin reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Monday.</p> <p>"We told the Iraqis we were available and asked them for authorization (to fly over Iraq)," Fabius told France Inter radio, confirming that the first flights from a French base in Abu Dhabi would begin on Monday.</p> <p>"The cost of inaction would be to say to these butchers 'go ahead, you have a free pass'. We won't accept that," he said.</p> <p>A French official confirmed two Rafale fighter jets and a refueling aircraft had taken off on Monday for Iraq.</p> <p>The idea of a coalition has been accepted in Western capitals and 10 Arab states, including regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday it was too early to say what tasks individual partners would take.</p> <p>US officials said several Arab countries have offered to join the United States in air strikes against Islamic State targets, but declined to say which countries made the offers.</p> <p>Norwegian daily VG quoted Foreign Minister Boerge Brende as saying Oslo, which is at the Paris conference, was considering a military presence in Iraq.</p> <p>"First and foremost we have said that there would an additional contribution to humanitarian work. But we are also considering whether we will, separately to the humanitarian help, also contribute with military capacity building," he said.</p> <p>"This could be training of personnel, but it will depend on the demand we get," he added.</p> <p>(Writing by Mark John; editing by Janet McBride)</p> Need to Know France Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:10:00 +0000 John Irish and Jason Szep, Thomson Reuters 6258320 at Al Qaeda hopes to exploit the plight of Myanmar’s embattled Muslims <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> But the terror group is bound to worsen their woes. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Patrick Winn </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BANGKOK, <a href="">Thailand</a> — Myanmar’s Rohingya people have been hacked to death, driven from their homes and quarantined in grubby camps. Many are shrunken from malnutrition and disease.</p> <p>But while most see their condition as a tragedy, Al Qaeda sees opportunity.</p> <p>From obscurity, the Rohingya plight has in recent years exploded into an international scandal. No country will claim them as their own. Though about 800,000 Rohingya inhabit the western shores of Myanmar, the Buddhist-led government there labels them foreign invaders from Bangladesh. Vigilantes have purged them from cities using arson and murder. Human Rights Watch calls this bloody exodus “ethnic cleansing.”</p> <p>The Rohingya also happen to be Muslim.</p> <p>For Al Qaeda, their suffering is a convenient call to arms, especially now that the terror consortium — losing global attention to the Islamic State — is struggling to develop a new offensive in South Asia.</p> <p>This new scheme will seek to “erase the border drawn by the <a href="">British</a> to divide the Muslims of South Asia,” said Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, in a <a href="" target="_blank">video announcement</a> released in early September.</p> <p>The bearded commander wants Muslims in <a href="">Pakistan</a>, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar to unite and form a Muslim <a href="" target="_blank">caliphate</a>. He also sprinkled in a Sunni prophecy about Muslims one day conquering India as a precursor to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who appears as a prophet in the Quran.</p> <p>Among the countries mentioned by Al Qaeda’s commander, one sticks out: Myanmar, formerly titled Burma, a Buddhist land of golden temples and barefoot monks.</p> <p>Al Qaeda has long had deep roots in Pakistan. It can already claim weak affiliates in Bangladesh, a 90 percent Muslim country, and far-flung parts of India, home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population.</p> <p>But Al Qaeda has no known allies encamped in Myanmar, a nation that seldom received overtures from the terror group (or its partners) prior to the Rohingya crisis.</p> <p>A range of extremist groups have since offered their help. The strongest statements come from the Pakistani Taliban, an Al Qaeda ally. They promise that “we haven’t forgotten you” and “we will take revenge of your blood.”</p> <p>Al-Zawahiri insists the Al Qaeda expansion will offer a “cool breeze for the hapless and weak.” But the mere suggestion of Al Qaeda infiltration among Rohingya could justify even harsher treatment against the beleaguered Muslim group.</p> <p>“The worst thing that could happen to the Rohingya is they’re suspected of having a wing affiliated to Al Qaeda,” said Sidney Jones, director of the <a href="">Indonesia</a>-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. “It’s doing Muslims in Myanmar no courtesy to make this announcement.”</p> <p>Myanmar is already rife with strange anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Among them: They’re flush with <a href="">Middle Eastern</a> oil money, they get cash rewards for seducing Buddhist maidens, and they plot to overrun the country.</p> <p>The theories are as groundless as they are dangerous. As these rumors have gained steam, attacks on Muslim quarters in a dozen-odd cities across Myanmar have killed hundreds in recent years.</p> <p>Myanmar’s largest Islamic advocacy group wasted no time in condemning al-Zawahiri’s offer. The Burmese Muslim Association called Al Qaeda <a href="" target="_blank">&ldquo;morally repugnant&rdquo;</a> and vowed loyalty to the nation of Myanmar.</p> <p>The Rohingya families herded into squalid camps aren’t compelled by the convoluted politics of global jihad. They are simply trying to survive.</p> <p>But for global jihadis, Rohingya communities look like fertile ground for expansion.</p> <p>Those seeking to paint Rohingya society as a tinderbox of radicalism can point to various Rohingya armed factions that have come and gone in recent decades. But they have always been pathetically small, according to most accounts. And they’ve always been subservient to larger militant groups in Bangladesh, namely an Al Qaeda-linked outfit called Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami.</p> <p>Even their jihadi friends have treated the small pool of Rohingya militants like cannon fodder. Those funneled to the <a href="">Afghanistan</a> front via Bangladesh “were given the <a href="" target="_blank">most dangerous tasks in the battlefield</a>: clearing mines and portering,” according to a report by Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner.</p> <p>The number of Rohingya militants is currently “so small you can count the number of people in their ranks on your fingers,” said Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy, an analyst with the independent Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in <a href="">New Delhi</a>.</p> <p>Still, she worries that Al Qaeda may finally manage to seed radicalism among bitter young Rohingya men. “They don’t care about global jihad,” she said. “But if Al Qaeda were to offer their support, they’d take it lock, stock and barrel.”</p> <p>That potential support — if it ever actually materialized — would come from a terror network in decline. Al Qaeda now appears weaker in comparison to the Islamic State, which began as a mere Al Qaeda branch. It has since swelled into a well-financed force controlling large parts of <a href="">Syria</a> and Iraq.</p> <p>This turn of events has Al Qaeda struggling to defend its title as the world’s most fearsome terror group. Their attempted expansion into South Asia looks like an effort to play catch up. “That’s got to be the factor driving this announcement,” Jones said. “It’s so clear Al Qaeda has lost ground.”</p> <p>The potential for extremists to enact a massive caliphate over South Asia is hard to take seriously. The scattered Al Qaeda allies in India and Bangladesh are currently held in check by vigilant armies.</p> <p>As for the Rohingya, they are well under the thumb of Myanmar’s army. And though rumors of Rohingya militants have swirled for years, it is telling that none emerge to defend them in their darkest hours, when families are violently purged from their homes.</p> Qaeda calling Conflict Zones Want to Know Myanmar Political Risk Mon, 15 Sep 2014 04:15:46 +0000 Patrick Winn 6254265 at In Baghdad, defending minorities charged with 'terrorism' is great business <div class="field field-type-text field-field-subhead"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> A corrupt legal system and sectarian strife has left young Sunnis imprisoned, with huge bribes required to get them out. </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-type-text field-field-byline1"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Susannah George </div> </div> </div> <!--paging_filter--><p>BAGHDAD, <a href="">Iraq</a> — It had been more than a year after her son was arrested when she took her friends’ and neighbors’ advice and called a lawyer.</p> <p>Um Ahmed, as she asked to be called in this piece, said the man, specializing in counterterrorism law, promised that for a few hundred dollars he would be able to have the charges dropped and her son free within weeks.</p> <p>It’s now been six months and the legal fees have ballooned to $4,000, wiping out the family’s savings. </p> <p>Not only has the lawyer, whose name Um Ahmed declined to give for fear it would jeopardize her son’s ongoing case, been unable to arrange for her son’s release, but she says he hasn’t even been able to tell her where he is being held. </p> <p>“We have no idea, no idea,” she explained, her voice both frantic and exhausted.</p> <p>Sitting in the living room of her small home in the poor Baghdad suburb of Baya, she says she hardly hears from the lawyer. “He hasn’t told us anything except that my son has been charged with being with Al Qaeda.” </p> <p>Um Ahmed’s son is just one of thousands of young men, mostly from Sunni neighborhoods, who have been rounded up and imprisoned on charges of terrorism since the implementation of Iraq’s counterterrorism law in 2005.</p> <p>According to human rights organizations, many of the arrests are arbitrary. The men are almost all tortured, forced to confess to being “terrorists,” and charged based on those confessions.</p> <p>Under Iraq’s purely confessionary-based legal system in which hard evidence plays little to no role, one such confession or witness testimony is all that is needed to secure a conviction. </p> <p>The arrests, which often included prominent Sunni politicians, were just one component of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s rule that many Iraqis viewed as sectarian and divisive, eventually leading to his ouster.</p> <p>Maliki’s opponents claim such policies were part of the Shia leader’s wider effort to squash potential political and military rivals.</p> <p>During the US occupation of Iraq, thousands of men from the country’s Sunni communities were trained and armed as part of the so-called “awakening,” in which local Sunni groups fought against Al Qaeda and eventually helped deliver the country from years of bloody civil war.</p> <p>But the Shia-led Iraqi government has since alienated Sunnis. Maliki’s <a href="">crackdown on protests in Ramadi</a> were even credited with sowing the seeds of the current Sunni militant takeover in the country’s north.</p> <p>So far under the leadership of Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, residents and human rights groups report an ebb in alleged arbitrary detentions, but analysts suggest that could have more to do with general delays surrounding the changing of the guard in Baghdad than any lasting change in policy.</p> <p>In Baghdad, the surge in incarcerations following the withdrawal of US forces created an opportunity for a small subset of Iraq’s legal establishment: terrorism lawyers.  </p> <p>One such Baghdad lawyer agreed to speak, but only by phone and on condition that he was simply referred to as Mr. Ali. </p> <p>“It’s not up to me to get them out, it's up to the cases, to the evidence,” he explained, referring to the confessions that he admitted were often extracted under torture, a practice Mr. Ali described as physical and psychological “pressures.”</p> <p>Mr. Ali explained that before Iraq’s counterterrorism law was implemented, he handled all kinds of cases: divorce, property disputes, criminal cases, but since 2005, almost all of his work has been related to terrorism. </p> <p>Dodging a question about how often he’s able to get his clients out of prison, he explained: “If a person is guilty, not me, not even the one who writes the law can get them out.”</p> <p>Mr. Ali admitted that he does take on the cases of people he believes to be guilty, “but it’s not by choice,” he said defending the practice: “the families, they insist.” </p> <p>Even with these so-called “lost cases” as he calls them, he believes he’s doing the right thing by charging families money for his services, despite the fact that he believes his efforts are ultimately futile. “Whatever the person, they deserve a lawyer.”</p> <p>Not everyone, however, sees the terrorism lawyers’ actions as ethical.</p> <p>“These men, we don’t even consider them lawyers,” explained another Baghdad lawyer familiar with terrorism law specialists. “They don’t even practice law, they just rely on their connections.”</p> <p>The Baghdad lawyer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that speaking out against this aspect of the Iraqi legal establishment could hurt his own practice, estimated that most lawyers who specialize in terrorism law are only able to get ten percent of their clients out of prison — yet charge $10,000 to $40,000 per case regardless of the outcome, fees much greater than what the average Iraqi family makes in a year. </p> <p>“Most of these families, they don’t know much about the law,” he said referring to the relatives of those detained. “They believe that once a relative is in prison, he will be gone forever, so they’re willing to do anything.”</p> <p>Since the fall of Mosul and Iraq’s ensuing political and security crisis, human rights groups and Sunni communities report the number of detentions have soared while court dates and other forms of due processes have been put on hold. </p> <p>While a variety of factors have allowed for corruption to flourish in Iraq’s legal and law enforcement systems, including the lack of checks and balances, questionable standards for the requirements to practice law, and public ignorance, analysts and researchers say in this particular case, the root of the problem is in the way the country’s counterterrorism law was written. </p> <p>“The problem is it’s extremely vague,” explains Zaid Al-Ali, an Iraqi legal scholar and former legal consultant to the UN in Baghdad. “Anyone can be arrested under the terrorism law and there is nothing in the law itself that guards against abuse.”</p> <p>Al-Ali explains that despite other aspects of the Iraqi constitution that clearly call for due process for detainees and explicitly deem torture illegal, violations of these principles are frequent. The legal system, he says, is “decrepit and inefficient.” </p> <p>Daniel Smith, a political and human rights researcher based in Iraq, agrees.</p> <p>He says that while there are undoubtedly some lawyers taking advantage of a broken system to reap large personal profits, Iraq’s legal and law enforcement systems are both so rotten that if you go to prison, regardless of whether or not the lawyer working on your behalf is corrupt or honest, you will have to pay bribes to be released. </p> <p>“There is no other way to get people out,” Smith explains. After spending years interviewing dozens of former detainees, he says as soon as families learn that a loved one has been arrested, their first course of action is to begin to raise as much cash as possible, as quickly as possible.</p> <p>This money is then used to begin to pay bribes to find out where their loved one is being held, improve the terms of his or her detention, and then work on having the charges dropped. “The quicker you get money into the system, the better,” he says.  </p> <p>These lawyers, he explains, are a product of that system and some of them are merely helping families get the right bribes to the right people to move the process along. </p> <p>But due to the arbitrary nature of Iraq’s courts, even large amounts of cash, personal connections and an effective lawyer can’t ensure that you’ll be able to get your loved one out of prison. </p> <p>Um Ali, who’s continuing to pay legal fees despite no word of progress on her son’s case, says she doesn’t know if the thousands of dollars she’s already paid are helping or not, but she’s willing to take the chance. </p> <p>“Sometimes I think the lawyer is a liar, and sometimes I think maybe he’s telling the truth,” she says. “He’s a very good lawyer, he must be, he knows many powerful people.”</p> Want to Know Middle East Mon, 15 Sep 2014 04:15:00 +0000 Susannah George 6255250 at