China ‘extremely concerned’ over Japan’s plutonium stash
Feb 18, 2014
Ida Torres Politics
China said on Monday that it is “extremely concerned” over news reports claiming that Japan had only recently agreed to return to the United States around 300 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium that it had been in possession of since the 60s. The US had been pressuring its ally to give back the nuclear material, which theoretically can be made into 50 nuclear bombs.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the media during their regular briefing that Japan should honor its signature on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and “rigorously respect its international commitments to nuclear safety and non-proliferation.” She said that Japan’s refusal to return the plutonium is cause for concern from China and the international community. The material was obtained in the 60s for research purposes, but Japan’s Education Ministry said it is expected that the two allies will reach an agreement at the Nuclear Security Summit this coming March at The Hague.
Chunying also reminded Japan of its three non-nuclear principles, approved by the Japanese parliament in 1971, which states it will not produce, possess or allow entry of nuclear weapons into its territory. She said that following these rules is crucial to the stability and maintaining peace in the region. This comes after Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday hinted that they may allow the U.S. to bring in nuclear weapons into Japan in case of an emergency which may threaten the lives of its citizens. Japan is the only country in the world to have experienced nuclear attacks with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
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Congressmen Randy Forbes of Virginia and Mike Rogers of Alabama convened a hearing on January 28th of their House Armed Services Subcommittees to raise awareness of China’s counter-space capabilities. Members asked thoughtful questions about a genuine strategic dilemma: US satellites are becoming more essential and more vulnerable. What will this mean for US-China relations?
My testimony tried to apply some historical perspective. The United States and the Soviet Union managed to avoid a “space Pearl Harbor” despite an intense ideological and geopolitical competition, severe crises and proxy wars, not to mention a nuclear arms race and a space race.
So how did we avoid scrapes in space? Washington and Moscow understood the escalatory potential of hostile actions in space, acknowledged satellite vulnerability, and retained significant capabilities to wage warfare in space, if the need arose. The last two conditions now apply to Washington and Beijing – but this won’t help unless the first does, as well.
What wavelength are China’s leaders on? We don’t know. Nor do we know whether Chinese leaders and the PLA are on the same wavelength. Civilian and military leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union were definitely not on the same page in preparing to negotiate on strategic arms and missile defenses. Eventually, there were many communication channels to discuss nuclear and space issues with the Soviet Union. Over time, veteran observers were able to figure out stratagems, habits, and red lines. Patterns of cooperation were hammered out despite competitive practices.
In space, the United States and the Soviet Union tested anti-satellite capabilities over sixty times. ASAT talks in the Carter administration went nowhere. And yet, Washington and Moscow agreed in 1975 to a docking of the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft. We cooperate every day on the International Space Station.
U.S. and Soviet nuclear laboratory officials got to know each other during the Cold War. These working relationships helped to lock down nuclear weapons and fissile material when the Soviet Union imploded. After several scrapes at sea that could have escalated into severe crises, Washington and Moscow signed the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement that established a channel of communication between naval officers. As the Cold War was ending, Washington and Moscow signed another code of conduct for ground and air forces operating in close proximity. These agreements didn’t stop competitive practices or the potential for crises, but they provided mechanisms to prevent incidents from spiraling out of control.
Comparable channels barely exist between the United States and China. There are no bilateral negotiations on nuclear and space issues. There’s a US-China strategic and economic dialogue, but nuclear and space issues barely figure in these discussions. Congress has disallowed NASA from any bilateral engagement with Chinese colleagues. Nuclear laboratory exchanges have been limited ever since the Congressionally-mandated Cox Commission raised concerns about Chinese nuclear espionage in 1999. (Yes, the same guy who was asleep at the switch as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission prior to the 2008 economic meltdown.)
It’s hard to know what Beijing is thinking or the state of civil-military relations in China without channels of communication. Have Chinese leaders familiarized themselves with their military’s plans or understand the ramifications of the People’s Liberation Army military doctrine, test practices and exercises? What are China’s intentions in space? How far will Beijing go to press its territorial claims? All good questions that outsiders are poorly positioned to answer.
If the United States and China have scrapes, they will likely be at sea or in space. China’s leaders have no experience in dealing with incidents at sea, and no one has experience in managing the escalatory potential of incidents in space. A US-China Incidents at Sea agreement or a broader regional compact would be helpful. The Obama administration hasn’t championed one. If it did, China’s leadership might not be willing to engage.
The Obama administration has been somewhat more proactive in space. It has endorsed an international Code of Conduct drafted by the European Union that would, among other things, create a new channel for consultation and establish a norm against ASAT tests that cause lethal debris fields, like the one carried out in 2007 by the PLA. Dead zones in heavily trafficked orbits in space caused by debris pollution could become as prevalent as dead fishery zones.
Beijing has endorsed the general principle of an international Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations, but hasn’t yet signed up to the European draft. As long as this isn’t a priority for Washington or Beijing, the likelihood of unintended incidents and accidents grows.
Bottom line: Lines of communication, consultation, and agreements can help avoid scrapes between China and the United States. At present, these mechanisms are either nonexistent or insufficient.
Read a related post: Apollo-Soyuz Redux?, January 13, 2003. -Ed.
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2 Responses to “Avoiding Scrapes with China”
Michael Listner | February 17, 2014
Cooperation with Europe worked well for China on Galileo.
Mark Gubrud | February 17, 2014
I don’t think it’s accurate to say that during the Cold War the US and USSR “retained significant capabilities to wage warfare in space, if the need arose.” Only the USSR undertook an extensive program of non-nuclear ASAT testing and neither side ever deployed more than a few nuclear or any other type of interceptor. That is, both investigated and developed the technology and retained significant capabilities to develop, produce and field ASAT arsenals but neither side ever really produced one.
Today the US is in the process of deploying ASAT-capable “BMD” interceptors in truly significant numbers, and other nations are likely to follow suit. This will create a completely unprecedented situation in which the potential exists (wholly or in substantial fraction) for a major strategic space strike aimed at weakening an opponent’s warmaking potential and narrowing its options at the outset of conflict. Since an actual strike – the opening shot or major escalation point in a major war between nuclear powers – is unlikely, the most damaging effect will be destabilization and the stimulation of further rounds of an increasingly dangerous space arms buildup.
The Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Salam bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Pakistan will raise eyebrows. It comes hardly a month after the visit by the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal to Islamabad. Evidently, Faisal came to prepare the ground for the Crown Prince’s visit.
Most certainly, something big is in the making in Saudi-Pakistan relations and, according to Pakistani reports, defence cooperation seems to be at the centre of it. Riyadh is boosting the ties with Islamabad against the backdrop of Saudi-Iranian tensions.
Interestingly, Tehran today virtually gave an ultimatum to Pakistan that unless the latter cracked down on cross-border terrorism, Iranian security forces might be compelled to act across the border. Senior Iranian military officials are talking tough. The Jeish Al Adl, which organized a deadly terrorist strike recently in eastern Iran bordering Pakistan is a Wahhabi group and conceivably, it works for Saudi intelligence, which would explain why Islamabad is reluctant to crack down on it.
The huge upswing in the Saudi-Pakistani ties is bound to set alarm bells ringing in Tehran. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has mothballed the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project in accordance with Saudi wishes, apart from due to the US pressure. In all likelihood, Iran-Pakistan ties could enter a tense phase.
This of course would have implications for Afghanistan insofar as Tehran will be extremely wary about the Taliban’s return to power. However, the Saudi maneuvering would also be viewed in the context of the forthcoming visit by US President Barack Obama to Riyadh next month. A new proximity is developing between Washington and Riyadh over Syria. Jerusalem Post reported that Saudis will demand a robust American push for regime change in Syria.
Obviously, there is a military content to the Saudi Crown Prince’s current visit, which, reportedly includes the signing of a defence agreement. Clearly, Saudis are raising the ante in Syria and are planning to supply the rebels with sophisticated weapons. The big question is what role it is that the Saudis could be considering for Pakistan here.
One possibility is that Saudis count on Pakistani advisers and trainers to prepare the Syrian rebel force for the long haul. The sacking of the chief of the US-backed Free Syrian Army Selim Idriss underscores that things are really in bad shape out there.
Posted in Diplomacy, Military, Politics.
Tagged with Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, Saudi-Pakistani alliance, Syria's conflict.
Feb 18, '14
THE ROVING EYE Iran's real 'nuclear' revolution
By Pepe Escobar
The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 are back this week in Vienna. The stakes couldn't be higher, and folk with hidden, and not so hidden, agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail - and will spare no effort towards that goal, with those in the West backed already by decades of disinformation
The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are back this Tuesday in Vienna. The stakes couldn't be higher. It will be a long and winding road. Hidden agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail - and will spare no effort towards that goal.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei could be interpreted as a stony realist, when he said that the talks will go nowhere. It's as if the Supreme Leader had read Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, a crucial book by Martha Gellhorn Prize winner Gareth Porter which is being launched today in New York. In the book, Porter thoroughly debunks the whole narrative of the Iran nuclear dossier as sold to the world by the George W Bush administration, assorted neo-cons and the Israeli Likud.
And it gets much worse, in terms of prospects for a final deal to be reached this year. According to Porter, "the Obama administration has introduced the subject of 'possible military dimensions' into the nuclear negotiations. That means that the United States will be demanding an explanation for 'evidence' that the book shows was fabricated. That is a decision that could threaten the conclusion of a final agreement with Iran."
Meanwhile, on Tuesday last week, millions of people hit the streets in Tehran in a massive rally celebrating the 35 years of the Islamic revolution. How come?
For all its economic mismanagement, Iran's illiteracy rate has been reduced to near zero. Women are active, participative voters (try even raising the issue in the House of Saud's paradise). There has been remarkable scientific progress, even under harsh sanctions. Pursuing a civilian nuclear program is a matter of national consensus.
This piece - significantly, published by al-Arabiya, which is controlled by the House of Saud - at least tries not to sound entirely as cheap Arab propaganda, making a valid point about the real threat for the Islamic revolution coming from disaffected youth across Iran.
Yet this is not the key point. The Islamic republic won't disintegrate tomorrow. What's much more crucial is to revisit the key reasons why the revolution happened 35 years ago, and why, when it comes to Iranian geopolitical independence, it remains somewhat popular.
That may also shed light on why the West - and especially the United States - still refuses to normalize its relations with Iran. After all, what happened 35 years ago in Iran was never properly understood in the US in the first place. In geopolitical terms, this was the real "nuclear" revolution - one of the most far-reaching developments of what Eric Hobsbawm defined as "the short 20th century".
And perhaps this is what the Supreme Leader meant about the talks going nowhere; certainly the case as long as Washington, especially, refuses to abandon the reductionism of Iran as a bunch of fanatics.
That Kissinger oil shock
As early as the presidency of Harry Truman, the US supported the Shah of Iran's dictatorship, no holds barred. No wonder those days are sorely missed.
In 1953, after the CIA coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, the Shah - who lived mostly in the French Riviera - was "invited" to rule as a CIA puppet (John F Kennedy had met him in wild parties in the French Riviera and found him to be a dangerous megalomaniac). In return for re-establishing British "rights" to Persian oil, Washington self-attributed 55% for the concessions and the Brits got the rest.
The CIA trained the Savak - the Shah's secret police. It was the best of times. The Shah not only excelled in his role of gendarme of political/economic US interests in the Persian Gulf; as he did not share Arab hatred of Israel, Tel Aviv had access to Persian oil (that ended after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power).
The Shah ruthlessly suppressed and persecuted every political party in Iran and even massacred Kurds (Saddam Hussein was taking notes.) He started to take his own propaganda seriously, including believing in the myth of being a new King of Kings. He became the number one cheerleader of the 1973 OPEC oil shock, to which he got the green light from none other than Henry Kissinger.
In a nutshell, this was a follow-up of the 1972 "Nixon doctrine", when it became clear the US defeat in Vietnam was all but a done deal. That's when Tricky Dicky started to promote gatekeepers all over the "free world". And no region was more crucial than the Persian Gulf.
The Shah loved it. But he was always complaining that he didn't have enough dough to buy all those weapons the industrial-military complex was offering him. So Kissinger - a David Rockefeller errand boy - squared the circle, with the rise of oil prices by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.
With this move, Kissinger instantly inflated the profits of US Big Oil - which at the time accounted for five of the Seven Sisters, and crucially boasted three that were Rockefeller-owned (Exxon, Mobil and Socal). At the same time, since Japan and then West Germany and the rest of Western Europe depended on Persian Gulf oil much more than the US did, Kissinger devised the perfect way to torpedo the devastating Japanese and German industrial and trade competition.
You won't find any of this on Kissinger's turgidly ambitious tomes, or on any US corporate media files for that matter. But that explains much of the world born out of the "oil shock".
Like most US puppets - talk about hubris - the Shah never understood that he was just a puppet. His corporate multinational economic model as applied to Iran had the predictable effects; much like today (even in Europe and the US), a tiny minority consuming like there's no tomorrow and a huge majority increasingly miserable, as the Shah bet on cash crops instead of an agrarian reform to guarantee the subsistence of millions of peasants - many of them illiterate, pious Shi'ites - who had been booted out of the countryside by American agribusiness, which dismissed them as a superfluous workforce.
These miserable masses inflated Tehran and other Iranian big cities, turning into the mass base for Khomeini's revolution. And the rest is history.
Nothing is inaccessible
Then Jimmy Carter - that hick Hamlet - when still campaigning for the presidency against Gerald Ford in 1976, admitted in a debate that the Shah was a torturer. Two years later, as president, Carter now considered him "an island of stability" and "a friend".
During the 1970s, it was "just" for Iran to carry out a nuclear program, among other motives to intimidate revolutionary Arab nationalism. Yet now, under an Islamic republic, a civilian nuclear program is an "existential threat".
The Shah's banker was David Rockefeller, never tired of extolling the "patriotism" and "tolerance" of his client, not to mention his modernizing drive - everything duly parroted by US corporate media even as Amnesty International and the State Department itself had Himalayas of documents proving the Shah was one of the top torturers of modern history. What mattered is that he brought excellent dividends for then Chase Manhattan.
One never lost money underestimating the cluelessness of US corporate media. When the Islamic revolution started, US media as a whole told the world that the Shah was undefeatable; that Khomeini and his followers were a minority of religious fanatics; and that the real motive for the revolution was that the Shah was a Great Modernizer (the Rockefeller script), rejected by those same Muslim fanatics. It's fair to say this script is still being peddled today.
When the Shah fled Iran, the whole US media bought the fallacy of "going for a holiday". When Khomeini boarded that Air France flight from Paris and arrived in Tehran in absolute triumph, no wonder no one in the US had a clue what was going on. US media preferred to mock Khomeini's "fanaticism" - which at the time paled compared with Pope John Paul II, who considered women to be an inferior species.
The Iranian bourgeoisie - modern, social democrat, inheriting the political line of Mossadegh - managed to drive a lot of support from progressives in Europe. At a time when Le Monde was still a very good newspaper and not the sub-American trash it is today, one just needed to read the dispatches by ace correspondent Eric Rouleau to confirm it.
Khomeini, for his part, had the charisma (and that spectral voice on cassette tapes), supported by the only political organization tolerated by the Shah, the roughly 160,000 mullahs, who duly mobilized those wretched masses rendered useless by American agribusiness interests.
Yet, from the beginning, Khomeini negotiated with the bourgeoisie - as when he named Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister and Bani Sadr as president (a socialist and a Western-style modernizer). Only when the Shah system was totally eradicated did Khomeini go into overdrive to purge everyone but his religious followers - recreating, on a smaller scale, the Shah's inferno, but in the name of Allah. Well, as Mao said, no revolution is a dinner party.
As for Jimmy "Hamlet" Carter, he never officially recognized Khomeini as the Iranian leader. Washington didn't even try to talk to him. A whiff of geopolitical intelligence would have the Americans trying to share some tea when he was still exiled in Paris. But David Rockefeller and his parrot Kissinger would scream, so a cowed Carter retreated into his shell. After the Islamic revolution, Washington never returned the estimated US$60 billion the Shah, family and cronies stole from Iran.
This catalogue of disinformation during the 1970s and 1980s is now mirrored by the disinformation of all these past few years about the Iranian nuclear program. No wonder most Americans - and plenty of Europeans - remain clueless.
When Khomeini died - and I vividly remember every newspaper in Europe on June 5, 1989, sharing the front page between that and Deng Xiaoping ordering the Tiananmen massacre - the great philosopher Daryush Shayegan, a former professor at the University of Tehran, published a superb article in Liberation explaining the Big Picture, from the Shah's "legacy" to Khomeini.
Shayegan wrote that both men, the Shah and the Imam, committed the same fatal mistakes and "incarnated, each their own way, two typically Iranian traits: cultural schizophrenia and the dream of grandeur". So the whole drama was about two juxtaposed Irans: Imperial Iran and "the suffering Iran of the blood of the Martyr". Both expressed an impossible dream and, "like the 12th century mystical poet Ruzbehan from Shiraz would say, the same 'dementia of the inaccessible'."
Today, 35 years after the Islamic revolution, what Iranians seek is hardly inaccessible: the end of Western sanctions and the end of sections of the West perennially treating the country as a bunch of religious "fanatics".
Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, other Asian nations, all Latin American nations, all African nations, all treat Iran as normal. Beyond the clash of "heroic flexibility" against American exceptionalism, if only the US establishment would finally get over it, and deal - realistically - with what happened in Tehran 35 years ago. Only then these talks in Vienna will go somewhere, and we may have a final nuclear deal in 2014.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
Clashes as Ukraine opposition presses for parliament vote
Anti-government protesters throw objects towards Interior Ministry officers during a rally near the building of Vekhovnaya Rada, Ukraine's house of parliament, in Kiev on Tuesday Protesters have ripped up cobblestones to try to smash through a police cordon around the Ukraine parliament building
Continue reading the main story
'We're all affected'
Stone-throwing protesters have clashed with police in central Kiev amid tensions over proposed changes to the constitution.
Thousands of protesters attacked the ruling-party headquarters and tried to march on parliament, reports said.
Tumultuous scenes have also been reported inside parliament where opposition MPs are pushing for a vote on replacing the constitution.
The move is aimed at curbing President Viktor Yanukovych's powers.
The opposition has repeatedly warned that failure to act will further inflame mass anti-government protests.
Ukraine's unrest began in November, when Mr Yanukovych backed away from an association and free trade deal with the European Union, and instead agreed to a loan from Russia.
Moscow wants Ukraine to join the Russia-led customs union, where Belarus and Kazakhstan are also members.
Both the EU and Russia have accused each other of interfering in Ukraine's affairs.
Tens of thousands of protesters trying to march on the parliament building have been blocked by lines of police vehicles, according to reports from Kiev.
Some are ripping up cobblestones to throw at police, and others are throwing smoke bombs, while police are responding with stun and smoke grenades and rubber bullets.
Protesters also attacked the headquarters of President Yanukovych's ruling party.
Anti-government protesters react as a smoke grenade explodes near the Vekhovnaya Rada building, Ukraine's house of parliament, in Kiev on Tuesday An uneasy calm in Kiev has been shattered
Interior Ministry police clash with anti-government protesters during a rally near the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Tuesday Protesters clashed with police outside parliament and attacked the ruling-party headquarters, reports said
Several people have been injured, both protesters and police officers, local media reported.
Inside parliament, reported Interfax-Ukraine news agency, about 50 opposition MPs blocked the parliamentary rostrum in protest after parliamentary staff refused to register their resolution on reinstating the 2004 constitution.
"Our deputies have just returned from the draft law registration section. They have just simply locked the doors there on the instructions of [Speaker Volodymyr] Rybak and are refusing even to talk to Ukrainian people's deputies, let alone register the resolution," opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying.
The opposition has been pushing for weeks for a return to the 2004 constitution, which would mean President Yanukovych losing some of the powers he has gained since his election in 2010.
The changes would mean that parliament - not the president - would appoint the prime minister and most cabinet members, as well as regional governors.
The move could also lead to snap presidential elections - a key demand of the opposition.
MPs who support the president have argued that different proposals on how to return to the previous constitution legitimately have not been thoroughly discussed, and more time is needed to iron out all the differences between the two sides.
In a separate development, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Moscow would provide Ukraine with a new $2bn (£1.2bn) tranche of aid "this week".
In December, Moscow pledged $15bn to back Ukraine's struggling economy, but so far only $3bn has been transferred.
The Kremlin had hinted it would freeze the aid until a new government acceptable to Moscow was formed after Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov resigned last month.
On Monday, an amnesty for anti-government protesters in Ukraine came into force after demonstrators ended their occupation of government buildings in Kiev and in the regions.
Protesters had held some of the buildings for more than two months.
But a sprawling tent city remains in Kiev's central square, where some denounced the decision to end the occupations.
Venezuela tense ahead of duel demonstrations
Caracas - A crowd of anti-government activists wrested free an opposition politician as he was being hauled away in handcuffs by security forces following a raid on the party headquarters of President Nicolas Maduro's biggest foe.
Dario Ramirez, a city councilman, shouted "I'm an elected official" as national guardsmen, surrounded by journalists and party activists, frantically looked for an escape route from the Caracas shopping mall where they took him into custody.
Once outside, dozens of activists banging pots and pans in protest attacked the squad, freeing Ramirez by force and speeding him away on a motorcycle.
The dramatic scene underscored the rising tensions that could spill over into violence on Tuesday when pro- and anti-government activists hold duelling demonstrations in the capital.
Ramirez belongs to the Popular Will party led by Leopoldo Lopez, the target of a police manhunt accused by Maduro of inciting violence and leading a US-backed conspiracy to oust him from power.
No serious injury
Maduro's government on Monday gave three US Embassy officials 48 hours to leave the country, charging that the Obama administration is siding with opposition protesters.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the senior US consular officers were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities, the hotbed of the recent unrest, under the cover of doing visa outreach.
The US denied the charges, and is expressing concern about rising violence and the government's attempts to block peaceful protests.
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that Lopez's arrest would have a "chilling effect" on Venezuelans' right to free expression.
More than 1 000 students, among activists who have spent the past week on the streets alternating between peaceful protests by day and battles with police at night, marched to Venezuela's telecommunications regulator on Monday.
They demanded it lift all restrictions on the news media's coverage of the unfolding political crisis, which is being fed by complaints about hardships ranging from 56% inflation to rampant crime.
Police repelled the activists with tear gas and rubber bullets but there were no reports of serious injuries.
Several journalists have been harassed and detained in the past week. Colombia's news channel NTN24 was taken off cable television while covering protests on Wednesday that ended in a battle between student demonstrators and security forces backed by armed pro-government militias.
Three people were killed during those clashes last week - two students and a pro-government demonstrator. News videos and photographs taken at the time indicate at least one of the students was killed when pro-government militia members fired directly at protesters.
‘Baseless and false’
Maduro accuses Lopez of being behind the violence and of leading a "fascist" plot to overthrow him two months after his party's candidates won mayoral elections by a landslide. At a rally with thousands of supporters Saturday, Maduro dared Lopez, a Harvard-educated former mayor, to turn himself in after a court ordered his arrest on charges ranging from homicide to vandalism of public property.
Lopez said he doesn't fear going to jail to defend his beliefs. In a video message Sunday, he called on supporters to march with him in white shirts Tuesday to the Interior Ministry, where he'll deliver a petition demanding the government protect citizens' rights to peacefully protest.
"I haven't committed any crime," said Lopez, who hasn't been seen in public since a Wednesday night news conference after the bloodshed. "If there is a decision to legally throw me in jail I'll submit myself to this persecution."
To avoid another violent clash, Lopez aides rerouted their Tuesday protest away from the central plaza in Caracas where a competing march of pro-government oil workers will take place.
Maduro called for the Tuesday march by supporters in a televised address on Sunday in which he accused the US of trying to stir up unrest to regain dominance of South America's largest oil producer.
As evidence to support those claims, Jaua on Monday presented what he said was a series of emails from embassy officials from 2009-11 soliciting funding from Washington to support student groups in Venezuela. He said more recent communications also exist, but are under wraps during an investigation.
The three expelled officials - Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark - all enjoyed the rank of second secretary, and two of them were vice consuls, Jaua said.
In Washington, the State Department said it hadn't received any formal notification of the expulsions. It said reports that the US is helping organise protests are "baseless and false" and called on the Venezuelan government to engage the opposition in "meaningful dialogue".
Maduro and the military
February 18, 2014 · By Staff Writer · 1 Comment
Opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s administration in Venezuela has escalated into sustained street violence and, in the past week or so, loss of life. The unrest has been growing steadily against the backdrop of a multi-faceted economic crisis that has included skyrocketing commodity prices and food shortages. Mr Maduro’s administration is hugely unpopular with large sections of Venezuela’s middle class.
The current developments are not altogether surprising. The political temperature had been rising even as Hugo Chávez was living out his last days in office. Once it became clear that Mr Maduro had been anointed to succeed President Chávez it appeared that the political opposition came to regard the former trade unionist as ‘soft touch,’ politically, that is, compared with his far more assertive predecessor.
Venezuela has grown used to interludes of political instability and for now at least it seems that the country could be setting a course for the same destination again. For now the Maduro administration is still very much in power though the longer term scenario cannot be predicted.
The two interesting, even disturbing developments, that have materialized on the political script in Caracas in the past week or so have been, first, the killing of opposition demonstrators last Wednesday during street clashes and, second, the deployment of the military in the capital in an attempt to quell the growing unrest.
President Maduro responded to opposition charges that the killings on Wednesday were the work of pro-government enforcers by accusing his opponents of orchestrating the killings to duplicate the political climate of April 2002 when the killing of 19 street demonstrators during violent clashes led to a short-lived coup against Hugo Chávez.
President Maduro says that the unrest on the streets is designed to precipitate a coup and he names the right wing 2013 presidential candidate Leopoldo López as the local mastermind behind the unrest. Externally, he points an accusing finger at former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe whom he accuses of funding opposition activity inside Venezuela. Mr Uribe, it will be recalled, had been an implacable enemy of Mr Chávez, accusing him of supporting Colombia’s FARC rebels. President Maduro believes that Mr Uribe has now extended his ill will beyond the late Venezuelan President.
It is President Maduro’s relationship with the military, however, that is the most intriguing act in the unfolding Venezuelan drama. Last week, he appeared to have little choice but to insert the soldiers into the affray in an effort to quell the worsening disturbances in the capital. Arguably, he would have wished for a more palatable choice.
The cold facts are that less than a year into his civilian administration President Maduro has become heavily dependent on the military to sustain his administration. Last month, in the face of continually eroding relations between his government and the private sector, he had cause to turn to the military, appointing Brigadier General Rodolfo Marco Torres to replace the civilian Finance Minister Nelson Merentes. Currently, around 20 per cent of the Maduro cabinet is occupied by retired or active military officers.
It may be in President Maduro’s political interest to live well with the military. However, while in public statements he has made reference to “civic-military unity” and to the country’s “Chavista armed forces,” cracks have long appeared in the relationship. In a speech made shortly after his election victory President Maduro alluded to “a small group” of military officers whom he said were “under investigation” for contacts with opposition elements that had refused to recognize his election victory.
Nor, one assumes, is Mr Maduro likely to forget that even Chávez, after more than three decades in the military lost the support of some of its elements and almost lost the presidency into the bargain. After that Mr Chávez’s obsession with the loyalty of the military led him to purge 1,500 officers, restructure the military high command and raise soldiers’ pay.
President Maduro would doubtless hardly deny that he is no Chávez, so the question that arises is whether – should civilian opposition to Maduro’s socialist administration persist – the military will keep faith with the former trade union leader, his role as the keeper of Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution notwithstanding.
North Korea atrocities exposed, but what next?
February 18, 2014, 9:53 pm
Seoul (AFP) - Defectors and activists welcomed Tuesday a UN-mandated inquiry's searing indictment of gross human rights abuses in North Korea, but analysts questioned the international community's ability to act on its recommendations.
Pyongyang's grim rights record has already been well documented by specialist monitors. But the size, breadth and detail of the report compiled by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korea -- and the UN imprimatur it carries -- set it apart.
Kim Young-Soon, one of the many defectors who provided harrowing testimony to the COI, said she was grateful to it for recording the "nightmares we went through" for posterity.
"North Korea has not and will never admit the existence of prison camps and this report won't change anything overnight," Kim told AFP.
"But that does not mean sitting back and doing nothing. We need to keep collecting testimony so that someday it can be used as undisputed evidence to punish those behind the atrocities," she added.
Now 77, Kim was a well-connected member of the North Korean elite in 1970, when she was suddenly dragged off to a labour camp as part of a purge of people who knew about the then-future leader Kim Jong-Il's affair with a married actress.
So began a nine-year ordeal in what Kim described to the COI as "the most hellish place in the world" where inmates worked from dawn to dusk, supplementing starvation rations with anything they could catch, including snakes, salamanders and rats.
- 'My heart still aches' -
Family contacts managed to get Kim released in 1979. In 2001, she bribed her way across the border with China and eventually made it to Seoul in 2003, where she works as a dance teacher and lectures on life in North Korea.
"My heart still aches and I still wake up at night sweating just thinking about the prison camp I was in and family members I lost," she said Tuesday.
The COI report detailed murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence in North Korea, which chairman Michael Kirby said carried echoes of the Nazi Holocaust.
A key conclusion was that many of the violations "constitute crimes against humanity".
Hong Soon-Kyung, a defector who now heads the Seoul-based Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, told AFP that no report could truly reflect the brutality of the regime in the North.
Although the COI's findings were nothing new to those working on North Korean rights issues, Hong said their publication was a "very meaningful step" with a UN mandate that would help pressure Pyongyang and its few backers.
North Korea refused to cooperate with the commission, claiming its evidence was "fabricated" by "hostile" forces.
The COI panel said its leaders should be brought before an international court for a litany of crimes against humanity -- a recommendation that many observers suggested was wishful thinking.
Any substantive action on the part of the world community would require the participation of the North's key ally China, which has made clear it opposes any move to refer the Pyongyang leadership to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"Referring the issue to the ICC will not help improve the human rights situation of a country," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday.
- Perpetual emergency -
Noted North Korea watcher Leonid Petrov said there was no simple solution in the current context of a diplomatically isolated, totalitarian state whose leadership is intent on survival at all costs.
The issue of rights abuses "cannot be resolved unilaterally, nor swiftly, without transforming the political climate of the whole region", said Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University.
This would require, he argued, formally ending the Korean War -- which concluded in 1953 with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty -- as well as diplomatic recognition of North Korea and the lifting of sanctions imposed for its nuclear programme.
Otherwise the North would remain in a "perpetual and assiduously cultivated state of emergency" in which human rights were sacrificed on the altar of regime survival.
"Without the goodwill of regional policymakers to address the problem of the Korean War especially, the issue of human rights in Korea is unlikely to be resolved," Petrov added.
Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the UN and a regular visitor to North Korea, said China would probably veto any attempt by the UN Security Council to give the "devastating" COI report any binding legal weight.
But he questioned the notion that North Korea is impervious to such criticism.
"It's an isolated, unpredictable country," Richardson told the BBC, but the shockwaves from the report "could be a source of pressure for moderates in Pyongyang who realise that there have to be some changes".
The American Public's Indifference to Foreign Affairs
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 04:13
By George Friedman
Last week, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains.
Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug.
The Primacy of Private Affairs
The United States was founded as a place where private affairs were intended to supersede public life. Public service was intended less as a profession than as a burden to be assumed as a matter of duty -- hence the word "service." There is a feeling that Americans ought to be more involved in public affairs, and people in other countries are frequently shocked by how little Americans know about international affairs or even their own politics. In many European countries, the state is at the center of many of the activities that shape private life, but that is less true in the United States. The American public is often most active in public affairs when resisting the state's attempts to increase its presence, as we saw with health care reform. When such matters appear settled, Americans tend to focus their energy on their private lives, pleasures and pains.
Of course, there are times when Americans are aroused not only to public affairs but also to foreign affairs. That is shaped by the degree to which these events are seen as affecting Americans' own lives. There is nothing particularly American in this. People everywhere care more about things that affect them than things that don't. People in European or Middle Eastern countries, where another country is just a two-hour drive away, are going to be more aware of foreign affairs. Still, they will be most concerned about the things that affect them. The French or Israelis are aware of public and foreign affairs not because they are more sophisticated than Americans, but because the state is more important in their lives, and foreign countries are much nearer to their homes. If asked about events far away, I find they are as uninterested and uninformed as Americans.
The United States' geography, obviously, shapes American thinking about the world. The European Peninsula is crowded with peoples and nation-states. In a matter of hours you can find yourself in a country with a different language and religion and a history of recent war with your own. Americans can travel thousands of miles using their own language, experiencing the same culture and rarely a memory of war. Northwestern Europe is packed with countries. The northeastern United States is packed with states. Passing from the Netherlands to Germany is a linguistic, cultural change with historical memories. Traveling from Connecticut to New York is not. When Europeans speak of their knowledge of international affairs, their definition of international is far more immediate than that of Americans.
American interest is cyclical, heavily influenced by whether they are affected by what goes on. After 9/11, what happened in the Islamic world mattered a great deal. But even then, it went in cycles. The degree to which Americans are interested in Afghanistan -- even if American soldiers are still in harm's way -- is limited. The war's outcome is fairly clear, the impact on America seems somewhat negligible and the issues are arcane.
It's not that Americans are disinterested in foreign affairs, it's that their interest is finely calibrated. The issues must matter to Americans, so most issues must carry with them a potential threat. The outcome must be uncertain, and the issues must have a sufficient degree of clarity so that they can be understood and dealt with. Americans may turn out to have been wrong about these things in the long run, but at the time, an issue must fit these criteria. Afghanistan was once seen as dangerous to the United States, its outcome uncertain, the issues clear. In truth, Afghanistan may not have fit any of these criteria, but Americans believed it did, so they focused their attention and energy on the country accordingly.
Context is everything. During times of oil shortage, events in Venezuela might well have interested Americans much more than they did last week. During the Cold War, the left-wing government in Venezuela might have concerned Americans. But advancements in technology have increased oil and natural gas production in the United States. A left-wing government in Venezuela is simply another odd Latin government, and the events of last week are not worth worrying about. The context renders Venezuela a Venezuelan problem.
It is not that Americans are disengaged from the world, but rather that the world appears disengaged from them. At the heart of the matter is geography. The Americans, like the British before them, use the term "overseas" to denote foreign affairs. The American reality is that most important issues, aside from Canada and Mexico, take place across the ocean, and the ocean reasonably is seen as a barrier that renders these events part of a faraway realm. Terrorists can cross the oceans, as can nuclear weapons, and both can obliterate the barriers the oceans represent. But al Qaeda has not struck in a while, nuclear threats are not plausible at the moment, and things overseas simply don't seem to matter.
Bearing Some Burdens
During the Cold War, Americans had a different mindset. They saw themselves in an existential struggle for survival with the communists. It was a swirling global battle that lasted decades. Virtually every country in the world had a U.S. and Soviet embassy, which battled each other for dominance. An event in Thailand or Bolivia engaged both governments and thus both publics. The threat of nuclear war was real, and conventional wars such as those in Korea and Vietnam were personal to Americans. I remember in elementary school being taught of the importance of the battle against communism in the Congo.
One thing that the end of the Cold War and the subsequent 20 years taught the United States was that the world mattered -- a mindset that was as habitual as it was reflective of new realities. If the world mattered, then something must be done when it became imperiled. The result was covert and overt action designed to shape events to suit American interests, perceived and real. Starting in the late 1980s, the United States sent troops to Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait. The American public was engaged in all of these for a variety of reasons, some of them good, some bad. Whatever the reasoning, there was a sense of clarity that demanded that something be done. After 9/11, the conviction that something be done turned into an obsession. But over the past 10 years, Americans' sense of clarity has become much more murky, and their appetite for involvement has declined accordingly.
That decline occurred not only among the American public but also among American policymakers. During the Cold War and jihadist wars, covert and overt intervention became a standard response. More recently, the standards for justifying either type of intervention have become more exacting to policymakers. Syria was not a matter of indifference, but the situation lacked the clarity that justified intervention. The United States seemed poised to intervene and then declined. The American public saw it as avoiding another overseas entanglement with an outcome that could not be shaped by American power.
We see the same thing in Ukraine. The United States cannot abide a single power like Russia dominating Eurasia. That would create a power that could challenge the United States. There were times that the Ukrainian crisis would have immediately piqued American interest. While some elements of the U.S. government, particularly in the State Department, did get deeply involved, the American public remained generally indifferent.
From a geopolitical point of view, the future of Ukraine as European or Russian helps shape the future of Eurasia. But from the standpoint of the American public, the future is far off and susceptible to interference. (Americans have heard of many things that could have become a major threat -- a few did, most didn't.) They were prepared to bet that Ukraine's future would not intersect with their lives. Ukraine matters more to Europeans than to Americans, and the United States' ability to really shape events is limited. It is far from clear what the issues are from an American point of view.
This is disconcerting from the standpoint of those who live outside the United States. They experienced the United States through the Cold War, the Clinton years and the post-9/11 era. The United States was deeply involved in everything. The world got used to that. Today, government officials are setting much higher standards for involvement, though not as high as those set by the American public. The constant presence of American power shaping regions far away to prevent the emergence of a threat, whether communist or Islamist, is declining. I spoke to a foreign diplomat who insisted the United States was weakening. I tried to explain that it is not weakness that dictates disengagement but indifference. He couldn't accept the idea that the United States has entered a period in which it really doesn't care what happens to his country. I refined that by saying that there are those in Washington that do care, but that it is their profession to care. The rest of the country doesn't see that it matters to them. The diplomat had lived in a time when everything mattered and all problems required an American position. American indifference is the most startling thing in the world for him.
This was the position of American isolationists of the early 20th century. ("Isolationist" admittedly was an extremely bad term, just as the alternative "internationalist" was a misleading phrase). The isolationists opposed involvement in Europe during World War II for a number of reasons. They felt that the European problem was European and that the Anglo-French alliance could cope with Germany. They did not see how U.S. intervention would bring enough power to bear to make a significant difference. They observed that sending a million men to France in World War I did not produce a permanently satisfactory outcome. The isolationists were willing to be involved in Asia, as is normally forgotten, but not in Europe.
I would not have been an isolationist, yet it is hard to see how an early American intervention would have changed the shape of the European war. France did not collapse because it was outnumbered. After France's collapse, it was unclear how much more the United States could have done for Britain than it did. The kinds of massive intervention that would have been necessary to change the early course of the war were impossible. It would have taken years of full mobilization to be practical, and who expected France to collapse in six weeks? Stalin was certainly surprised.
The isolationist period was followed, of course, by the war and the willingness of the United States to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty," in the words of John F. Kennedy. Until very recently, that sweeping statement was emblematic of U.S. foreign policy since 1941.
The current public indifference to foreign policy reflects that shift. But Washington's emerging foreign policy is not the systematic foreign policy of the pre-World War II period. It is an instrumental position, which can adapt to new circumstances and will likely be changed not over the course of decades but over the course of years or months. Nevertheless, at this moment, public indifference to foreign policy and even domestic events is strong. The sense that private life matters more than public is intense, and that means that Americans are concerned with things that are deemed frivolous by foreigners, academics and others who make their living in public and foreign policy. They care about some things, but are not prepared to care about all things. Of course, this overthrows Kennedy's pledge in its grandiosity and extremity, but not in its essence. Some burdens will be borne, so long as they serve American interests and not simply the interests of its allies.
Whether this sentiment is good or bad is debatable. To me, it is simply becoming a fact to be borne in mind. I would argue that it is a luxury, albeit a temporary one, conferred on Americans by geography. Americans might not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in Americans. Until this luxury comes to an end, the United States has ample assistant secretaries to give the impression that it cares. The United States will adjust to this period more easily than other governments, which expect the United States to be committed to undertaking any burden. That may come in the future. It won't come now. But history and the world go on, even overseas.
Read more: The American Public's Indifference to Foreign Affairs | Stratfor
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Russia Finally Signs Border Treaty With Estonia
MOSCOW February 18, 2014 (AP)
By LAURA MILLS and JARI TANNER Associated Press
Russia and Estonia signed a border treaty Tuesday, the last Baltic country to formalize its border with its giant neighbor.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet in Moscow to sign the deal, which must still be ratified by the parliaments of both countries.
A similar agreement in 2005 was shelved by Russia because Estonian lawmakers added a preamble referring to the Baltic country's independence from 1918-1940 and its Soviet occupations — from 1940-1941 and from 1944-1991 — which Russia said would be unacceptable to its parliament.
Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been lukewarm since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia has bristled against what it sees as Estonia's unfair treatment of the 25 percent of its population that is ethnically Russian, arguing that Russian speakers are discriminated against in schools and in acquiring citizenship.
Lavrov emphasized those issues but still hailed the agreement as an "important step, rather than a pure formality." Paet noted a visit by Lavrov to Estonia later this year — the first-ever from a Russian foreign minister.
"I don't think that between neighbors we should have such long pauses (between meetings), because we must talk about difficult issues," said Paet.
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who has softened his tone toward Russia in recent years, celebrated the move as a "strategic and far-reaching decision."
Around 15% of Estonia's trade is done with Russia and the two nations see high levels of tourism from each other.
"The good news in Russia-Estonian relations over the past few years is the growing economic activity between the two," said professor Andres Kasekamp at the University of Tartu.
Biden: US 'Gravely' Concerned by Ukraine Violence, Urges De-Escalation
Multimedia Ukraine Police Storm Kyiv Protest Camp; 18 Dead
Russia Boosts Ukraine's Yanukovich with Fresh Credit
Kremlin Opponents Accused of Plotting Violent Protest
February 18, 2014
WHITE HOUSE — As the death toll mounts in Ukraine, the United States has expressed "grave concern" about violence and urged President Viktor Yanukovych to "de-escalate" the situation and hold immediate talks with the opposition. Latest reports say at least 18 people have been killed, including police and civilians in Kyiv.
The White House says Vice President Joe Biden delivered the strong words to President Yanukovych in a telephone conversation on a day of violence in the Ukrainian capital.
Biden expressed "grave concern" and urged President Yanukovych to pull back government forces and exercise maximum restraint.
While the United States condemns violence by any side, Biden said Ukraine's government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the tensions.
According to a White House statement, Biden underscored "the urgency of immediate dialogue with opposition leaders to address protesters’ legitimate grievances and to put forward serious proposals for political reform."
Reports late Tuesday detailed a mounting death and injury toll from the violence, including fatalities among police and civilians, as security forces and protesters clashed in Kyiv.
It's the worst violence since protesters began calling for President Yanukovych's ouster after he moved Ukraine closer to Russia and backed away from a trade deal with the European Union.
Earlier, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. is appalled by the violence and reports of armed riot police massing on the edge of Independence Square, also known as Maidan, the main protester camp.
"Force will not resolve the crisis. To restore peace and stability we urge President Yanukovych to de-escalate immediately the situation and end the confrontation at Maidan. We also urge him to restart a dialogue with opposition leaders today to develop a consensus way forward for Ukraine," said Carney.
Tuesday's White House statement on Vice President Biden's conversation with the Ukrainian president said the United States is committed to supporting efforts to promote a peaceful resolution to the crisis that reflects the will and aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
The U.S. embassy in Kyiv issued an update on its website about the latest violence, advising all U.S. citizens to "maintain a low profile and to remain indoors."
The embassy advised U.S. citizens to avoid all protests, demonstrations and large gatherings, saying the situation was "unpredictable and could change quickly."
Fighting between protesters, police leave at least 19 dead in Kiev
Feb. 18, 2014 at 7:22 PM | 0 comments
KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Protesters and security forces engaged in bloody clashes in Kiev Tuesday that left at least 19 people dead and many more wounded, Ukrainian officials said.
With the capital's central square ablaze with bonfires, the air filled with fireworks and smoke, and the death toll mounting, President Viktor Yanukovych was to address the nation after meeting with his political opponents, including Vitali Klitschko, CNN reported.
Throngs of protesters engaged in pitched battles with government security forces, who countered the demonstrators' rocks, bricks and wood projectiles with water cannons and stun grenades, the U.S. network said.
Officials said the 19 dead included seven police officers, 11 protesters and an worker from the ruling party's headquarters, CNN said. Dozens of police officers were injured and dozens more protesters.
City government officials warned people to stay away from the city center and the U.S. Embassy advised Americans "to maintain a low profile and remain indoors tonight."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Yanukovych by phone, expressing his "grave concern" about the situation.
"The vice president made clear that the United States condemns violence by any side, but that the government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the situation," the White House said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also condemned the violence.
"Rather than issuing ultimatums, the government of Ukraine should immediately resume talks with senior opposition leaders and support dialogue through Ukraine's democratic institutions, including parliament, the Rada," Kerry said. "We also call on protesters to refrain from violence of any kind; Ukraine's deep divisions will not be healed by allowing more innocent blood to be spilled."
Opposition leaders called on its supporters to gather at Kiev's Independence Square, saying they feared police would try to get rid of the anti-government encampment that has been operating since Nov. 21.
The deadline passed without an immediate police assault on the square, but troops did storm Ukraine House, an exhibition center taken by protesters in January.
A radio station reported seeking two armored personnel carriers moving toward the center of the city.
The protest originally was called to coincide with Ukrainian lawmakers' consideration of changes to the country's constitution. But the Verkhovna Rada, as Ukraine's parliament is called, declined to take up the proposed changes, and police and protesters soon were in confrontations.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, posted on his Twitter page, "We believe #Ukraine's crisis can still be solved via dialogue, but those on both sides who fuel violence will open themselves to sanctions."
Catherine Ashton, the top diplomat for the European Union, said in a statement: "I am deeply worried about the grave new escalation in Kiev and the reported victims. I condemn all use of violence, including against public or party buildings."
The opposition said more than 100 protesters had been injured by police, the Washington Post said. The Interior Ministry said 37 police officers had been hurt.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "We are appalled by the violence that was already taking place in downtown Kiev and reports of armed riot police massing on the edge of Maidan [Independence Square]. We continue to condemn street violence and excessive use of force by either side. Force will not resolve the crisis."
"To restore, rather, peace and stability, we urge President [Viktor] Yanukovych to de-escalate immediately the situation and end the confrontation at Maidan," Carney said. "We also urge him to re-start a dialogue with opposition leaders today to develop a consensus way forward for Ukraine."
Olesya Orobets, an opposition lawmaker, told CNN ambulances have been barred from the protesters' medical facility outside the parliamentary building.
Protesters are seeking the restoration of Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which they said would solve the country's political crisis. The ruling Party of Regions said it would review a law reforming the constitution, but refused to return to a previous version, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Thousands of demonstrators have flocked to Kiev's Independence Square since November, when Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia.
An anti-protest law later went into effect, inflaming the protests as thousands of demonstrators filled the streets to protest the anti-free speech measures.
More than 2,000 people have been injured in the clashes.
South Sudan rebels say seize oil-producing state capital
By Carl Odera
JUBA Tue Feb 18, 2014 5:09am EST
(Reuters) - South Sudanese rebels said they had taken control of the capital of oil-producing Upper Nile state on Tuesday, in the first fighting in a major town since rebels and the government signed a ceasefire in January.
The Juba government confirmed an assault was launched but denied rebels controlled the town, which lies 650 km (400 miles) north of the national capital Juba. It is also located on the fringes of one country's main oil-producing areas.
The clashes will fuel concerns over the security of South Sudan's northern oil fields - an economic lifeline for the world's newest state - and raise pressure on both camps to revive stalled peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia.
Gathoth Gatkuoth, commander for rebel forces in Upper Nile who is a close ally of former vice president Riek Machar, told Reuters by telephone his forces struck Malakal on Tuesday morning and swiftly retook the dusty market town.
"The rebels have violated the ceasefire and attacked Malakal this morning," Philip Aguer, spokesman for the government army, told Reuters, denying the town had fallen.
Aguer said that fighting continued in Malakal's southern area although he said communication had been lost.
Aguer's comments came after a spokesman for Upper Nile's regional administration told Reuters clashes began at around 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and that the army was engaged in battles in Malakal's northern, southern and central zones.
A Reuters photographer, who had been travelling with rebels in February, said the forces had been moving towards Malakal.
The rebel move on the town may be aimed at strengthening its hand before a second round of peace talks.
Situated on the banks of the White Nile, Malakal first fell to rebels after fighting broke out in mid-December before government forces recaptured it last month.
President Salva Kiir's government and rebels who support Machar have both accused the other of violating the January 23 ceasefire deal brokered by neighboring east African states.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 800,000 have fled their homes since fighting was triggered by a power struggle between President Kiir and Machar, his former deputy whom he sacked in July.
U.N. spokesman in South Sudan, Joe Contreras, said a U.N. camp in Malakal, where many of the displaced people had fled for protection, had been caught in the crossfire.
South Sudan says it has been forced to cut oil production by a fifth to 200,000 barrels per day, all of which is pumped from Upper Nile. Oil accounts for 98 percent of government revenues.
Malakal lies about 140 km (90 miles) from Paloch, an oil complex where a key crude oil processing facility is situated.
"All the oil from the fields around Upper Nile is pumped to Paloch," said Jacob Jok Dut, director of the Centre for Democracy and International Analysis who follows the oil industry closely. "If Malakal comes under rebel control, then definitely there will be tension in and around Upper Nile."
Oil firms in South Sudan, a country the size of France, include China National Petroleum Corp, India's ONGC Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas. Work in some fields has been suspended.
Peace talks had been due to resume last week, but were held up by a rebel demand that four remaining political prisoners held by the government be released and the Ugandan military, which is supporting Kiir's army, withdraw from South Sudan.
Government officials privately acknowledge negotiations are unlikely to make progress until the senior political figures are freed. The government says the detainees tried to launch a coup.
(Additional reporting by Goran Tomasevic and Drazen Jorgic; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Edmund Blair and Jon Boyle)
THE CAPTURE of five Iranian border guards by a little known Pakistan-based militant outfit has stirred up geopolitical undercurrents.
The men from the elite security forces of Iran, Pasdaran-e-Islami, who were abducted in the Sistan Baluchistan region last week, are being held up for a deal. The militant group Jaish Al-Adi has apparently demanded the release of their co-religion compatriots being held in various Iranian and Syrian prisons. The same outfit had also abducted Iranian guards previously and later killed 14 of them. Tehran then in quid pro quo hanged 16 people it claimed were linked to groups hostile to the Islamic republic.
Iran’s war of nerves with radical elements in its restive southern provinces has inevitably graduated into a major foreign policy issue with Pakistan. The fact that Tehran has asked Islamabad to use its forces to rescue the Pasdaran men is no big news. The development, however, is that Iran has warned Pakistan that its forces could consider launching an operation against the Jaish if Islamabad fails to act. This puts the embattled government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a quandary. It is already in an unending — and losing — fight with the Taleban and unable to rescue its own security forces from the militants’ clutches. The execution of 23 paramilitary soldiers on Monday by the Taleban is a case in point. Taleban were holding the Pakistani soldiers since 2010, and the powerful army was unable to secure their release.
How effectively Islamabad uses its influence, if any, in the strife-torn Balochistan province of its own is a million-dollar question. The reason is that the security establishment and the government for long have been at odds with tribal elders and the local militia who have created a state within a state. What is needed at this point is serious coordination between the two countries so that fissures do not come to spark sectarian tensions in the region. It’s high time Pakistan acts against the militants who have extended their reach throughout the country. Rampant abductions and cross-border terror activities in Afghanistan and Iran go on to further the impression that all is not well in the republic of Pakistan, and the state’s writ is in question. Apart from the Jaish, which off and on acts against Iranian interests and puts Pakistan in hot water, the notorious Haqqani group based in Afghanistan has also brought miseries for the war-torn country. If this time the Pasdaran guards are not spared, it is likely to result in a diplomatic rupture.
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Pakistan Calls On Iran To Respect Border
February 18, 2014
Pakistan has urged Iran to respect its borders.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry made the statement on February 18, one day after Tehran said it might send forces into Pakistan to free kidnapped border guards if Islamabad did not take measures to secure their release.
The guards were reportedly seized on February 6 in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province.
Jaish-ul Adl, a little-known Sunni Islamist militant group, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
"Pakistan has already informed the Iranian authorities that its Frontier Corps teams have intensively combed the entire region but could not verify the entry or presence of the abducted Iranian border guards on its territory," said the statement by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.
It added that it was possible the kidnappers, along with the abducted guards, were still hiding within the Iranian territory.
Max Boot | @MaxBoot 02.18.2014 - 1:55 PM
The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.
So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.
And where is the West in all this? While all this was going on in Kiev, two opposition leaders, Arseny P. Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, were meeting in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The reception they received is nice, but it’s no substitute for an economic aid package to convince Ukrainians that they can get a better deal out of the EU than out of Russia. Both the EU and the U.S. are said to have been working on such a package but behind-the scenes negotiations have produced scant results–which is perhaps why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was heard cursing on an illicitly taped conversation, “F— the EU.”
But it is not just the EU that is failing to show leadership. So too with the U.S., with a president distracted by numerous crises at home and abroad, ranging from the birthing pangs of his health-care plan to the latest slaughter in Syria. Amid all these other problems, it is hard for Ukraine to get the attention it deserves. But don’t forget, this is a country of almost 45 million people, which was once the second-largest republic in the Soviet Union and today remains the biggest prize on the borderland between Russia and the West–between Putinism and freedom. The U.S. and its European allies have a major stake in making sure that Ukraine does not once again revert to de facto Russian control, but to avert that fate will require more political leadership starting in Washington.
After 25 die, protesters prepare to stand their ground in Ukraine
By Victoria Butenko. Ben Brumfield and Phil Black, CNN
updated 7:16 AM EST, Wed February 19, 2014
Watch this video
Deadly clashes continue in Ukraine
French, Polish leaders call for sanctions against Ukraine
A journalist died from a gunshot wound to the head
Ukraine's president asks protesters to distance themselves from "radical forces"
Tuesday was the most violent day in the months-long street standoff
Are you in Ukraine? Send us your photos and experiences but please stay safe.
Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) -- They've given up their ground before -- voluntarily, as a political concession. But that seems to be over.
After the deaths of 25 people in clashes a day earlier, Ukrainian protesters are prepared to stand and fight again Wednesday.
Police want to clear them out of central Kiev. Some of them died trying to stay put Tuesday -- using projectiles and burning barricades to keep security forces at bay at Kiev's Maidan, or Independence Square.
It was the deadliest day in the months-long standoff between the government and opposition leaders.
Fires continue amid Ukrainian protests
Ambassador defends U.S. role in Ukraine
McCain: Sanctions needed against Ukraine
CNN reporter caught in police offensive
Thousands of demonstrators have packed Independence Square since November, when President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a decision to sign a trade deal with the European Union and instead turned toward Russia.
The unrest intensified after an anti-protest law went into effect. Throngs of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the law.
Police and protesters were among Tuesday's dead. A journalist and a government employee died, too.
More than 240 others were hospitalized, Ukraine's health ministry said.
Overnight, demonstrators stocked up, passing stones hand to hand, filling Molotov cocktails and stoking flaming barricades with wood and tires.
They prepared a makeshift compressed-air cannon to catapult the projectiles into police ranks.
Hundreds of others came out to give moral support to those holding the square and to add their numbers to the throng wanting to keep the opposition movement alive.
Corporate lawyer Volodymyr Solohub was one of them. Whenever police threaten to clear the Maidan he goes there.
Tuesday, he watched as protesters rushed injured people from the front lines to medics.
"Some of them had broken hands, and blood was flowing down their faces," he said Wednesday.
Barrages of stun grenades shattered the air around him through the night.
"When it goes off, the whole area vibrates," he said. But the barricades held, and it made him happy.
When the sun rose Wednesday, smoke was still rising from them into the sky.
Even as the European Union scheduled a meeting on Ukraine for Thursday and the leaders of France and Poland called for sanctions over the violence, Yanukovych fired fresh vitriol at his opposition.
He pinned blame for the violence exclusively on protesters, but he would have none of it himself.
"This is my life principle -- no power is worth a drop of blood spilled for it," he said in a statement.
Yet he issued a veiled threat to protesters.
Opposition forces should "disassociate themselves from the radical forces that provoke bloodshed and clashes with law enforcement," he said.
Otherwise, admit to supporting them and be treated accordingly, Yanukovych demanded.
Opposition leaders pointed the finger back, painting their supporters as the victims, not the aggressors.
Neither side seems to have a monopoly on the use of violence, and in the mayhem, it is sometimes hard to tell who is carrying it out.
The journalist who died Wednesday was shot the night before, after a group of masked people stopped a taxi he was riding in, according to a statement by his newspaper Ukrainian Vesti.
They wore camouflage clothes and were throwing Molotov cocktails. They beat other passengers in the car, the paper reported.
Hopes dashed hard
Tuesday's violence followed what seemed like a rare breakthrough.
The government had said it would drop charges against those arrested in the political unrest.
After holding Kiev's City Hall for three months, protesters pulled back Sunday and unblocked streets in the city center.
But hope died Tuesday, when the speaker of parliament refused to allow amendments that would limit the president's powers.
Opposition anger reignited and poured into the streets.
The government's prosecutor general accused the opposition of breaking "the truce," thus setting the stage for the security crackdown that ensued.
Riot police plowed into the crowd with water cannons, stun grenades and night sticks. Some demonstrators fought back, swinging what looked like baseball bats.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Party of Regions. But the opposition's headquarters, the Trade Unions House, was also smoldering at daybreak Wednesday.
Authorities accused protesters of firing guns at security forces. An armored personnel carrier charged barricades but was quickly inundated and set alight.
Kiev was the center of the action, as in the past.
But police said the unrest has spread to western Ukraine, with protesters attacking police and local government offices in a number of regions.
Political fuel, spark
Flaming barricades have been a constant for three months all around Kiev's Independence Square.
But Tuesday's bloodshed marked a decided escalation.
Though the strife started over a trade pact, protesters' anger was fueled by underlying sentiments in favor of the West and against Russia.
Their initial call for Yanukovych to reverse his decision on the EU trade deal avalanched over time into an attack on the President's power base.
Yanukovych and his allies responded with some concessions, offering places in government to opposition leaders.
But on-again, off-again talks have gone nowhere.
Both sides have demanded that the other back down first, and neither is budging.
Yanukovych and opposition leader and famed boxer Vitali Klitschko played another round of the you-first game in an overnight face-to-face meeting.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Klitschko said there effectively was "no discussion."
The President demanded the protesters back off first. Klitschko threw the demand back at him. "I told Yanukovych this," he said. "How can we negotiate when there is blood being spilled?"
West vs. Moscow
EU leaders condemned the violence and waved the possibility of sanctions at Kiev's government, placing most of the responsibility on its shoulders.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso threatened "targeted measures against those responsible" in a statement.
"Europe will certainly reconsider the restraint it has shown in deciding whether to impose sanctions on individuals," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
But Russia is also waving money, standing by with billions in economic aid for Ukraine's economy.
Since political tensions began, Washington and Moscow have weighed in on opposite ends and kept doing so Tuesday.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych to press him to stop the violence, placing the responsibility to de-escalate mainly with government.
Secretary of State John Kerry later backed up the Vice President's words. He called for the Ukrainian government to halt violence immediately, and reopen dialogue with the opposition.
Russia accused Washington of meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
Washington is trying to tell "the authorities of a sovereign state what they should do next and how they should do it," an article in Russia's state-run RIA Novosti's read.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the clashes in a statement late Tuesday and called for them to stop.
"He reiterates to all sides that the use of violence is unacceptable," it read.
Ban said preventing more bloodshed is a "paramount priority."
But in Kiev, the call may be falling on the deaf ears of embittered rivals.
CNN's Phil Black and Victoria Butenko reported from Kiev, while CNN's Ben Brumfield reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Greg Botelho, Michael Martinez, Neda Farshbaf, Larry Register and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.
Civil Court Issues Mixed Verdict on Thailand’s State of Emergency
Photogallery Thai Police, Protesters Battle in Bangkok
No Quick Rebound as Clouds Gather Over Thai Economy
February 19, 2014
BANGKOK — A civil court Wednesday upheld the Thai government’s emergency decree, which allowed authorities to detain protestors and hold them for a month without charges. But the judges warned the government against using the state of emergency as a pretext to use force against anti-government demonstrators.
The government declared a 60-day emergency period from January 21 amid continuing protests against it.
It is not immediately clear what impact the court’s ruling will have on arrest warrants issued for protest leaders accused of violating the state of emergency.
Protests against Thai government continue
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, at the helm since her Peau Thai Party won a landslide election in 2011, has been struggling to hold onto power since opponents in November began street protests to oust her.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, said the court ruling will further tighten the noose, put the squeeze on the Yingluck government because the government is facing protests that demand Yingluck’s resignation.
"If the government is unable to resort to some kind of imposition of the law and order then they will look weaker and weaker," he said. "And it will be in a straightjacket like a sitting duck and something else will come along to either depose it or see Yingluck’s resignation.”
The People’s Democratic Reform Committee was on the march again Wednesday, a day after a daylight clash with riot police along a major Bangkok avenue left at least five people dead and dozens injured.
The PDRC and its allied “yellow shirt” mass movement have taken over several major intersections and parks and surrounded some key ministries in their bid to force Ms. Yingluck from office. She remained on as caretaker prime minister since dissolving parliament in December.
Thailand's parliament cannot convene
Those forces allied against her - along with the opposition Democrat Party - boycotted the subsequent election earlier this month. And they prevented millions of people from voting, meaning not enough seats could be filled to convene a new parliament to vote for a successor prime minister. It is unclear when voting will be held in the approximately eleven percent of the electoral districts that were affected.
PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban contends the electoral system is rigged in favor of the Peau Thai because of significant spending of public funds in the mostly poor Isaan region in the northeast, a stronghold for the party. He has repeatedly rejected calls to negotiate a compromise to end the stalemate.
Suthep, backed by the minority urban elite and those in the southern part of the country, wants to appoint an unelected people’s council to run the government for an indefinite period of time in order to cleanse a corrupt system. He has repeatedly ridiculed Yingluck and challenged her elder brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return from self-imposed exile to confront him. Thaksin faces prison for a corruption conviction should he return.
Suthep, along with former prime minister Abhisit Vejijajiva, faces indictment for murder charges stemming from the 2010 crackdown on "redshirts," who form the core of support for the current government.
Suthep was deputy prime minister at the time and oversaw a special security force, implicated in the deaths of more than 90 people during street violence.
Support for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra May be Dropping
Until recently, Yingluck and Thaksin could depend on the critical support of the "red shirts," who have mainly stayed on the sidelines in the northern countryside during the recent upheaval.
But their enthusiasm for the billionaire brother and his sister is waning after the government bungled a rice-pledging scheme. The majority of farmers have not been paid for their crops.
Inter-bank lending this week to fund payments for the farmers has led to a massive net withdrawal of deposits at branches of the Government Savings Bank by concerned customers.
The bank’s president has offered his resignation to take responsibility for lending five billion baht (about $154 million) to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.
Some farmers on Wednesday blocked access to the Commerce Ministry, demanding Ms. Yingluck’s resignation.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday ordered the prime minister to answer charges February 27th of dereliction of duty. The commission contends Ms. Yingluck was aware of corruption involving the rice scheme but failed to stop it.
Shortly before the NACC made its announcement, the prime minister appeared on television to defend the scheme, apologizing to farmers. She said they “are being taken hostage in an unfortunate episode by anti-government groups whose campaign makes it impossible” for the rice-pledging to run efficiently.
Many analysts believe her days in office are numbered.
“Staying in office we will see a prolonged crisis and confrontation in the streets," said Professor Thitinan. "We can see now that Bangkok is completely disrupted in terms of commute and transportation. It’s causing a lot of disruption in peoples’ ordinary lives. So this situation is untenable.”
Protesters keep pressure on prime minister
Anti-government protestors Wednesday gathered outside a defense ministry building in Bangkok where the embattled prime minister has moved her office.
Suthep, speaking at the location, vowed that Ms. Yingluck could no longer use the premises “as her hiding place and her office.”
His supporters will not stop, he vowed, “wherever she sleeps, we will go after her.”
Suthep speaks to demonstrators at length at protest sites scattered throughout the capital nearly every day, frequently declaring the next big rally is the “final” one to force out Ms. Yingluck.
In his latest public remarks he called for a boycott against companies and products linked to Thaksin, whom he says is still trying to run the country via telephones from Dubai.
Yingluck stays on the move
A military official said Yingluck and her Cabinet ministers did not show up at the temporary office in avoid escalating tensions. At times, recently, she has appeared to have run the government from an air force base on the outskirts of the capital.
The powerful Thai military has yet to demonstrate any significant moves of intervening on behalf of either side.
Some nervous government officials have expressed concern the armed forces, which have initiated 18 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, will take action against Ms. Yingluck as it did against her brother in 2006.
The king stays neutral
The nation’s frail 86-year-old King has also not intervened as he has done on several past occasions when the country has been paralyzed by political crises. Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX, is the world’s longest serving current head of state and revered as a near deity in the country.
On his birthday, December 5th, 2013, in his most recent public utterance, the King, struggling to get through the short address, appealed for unity “for the sake of the public, for stability and security for our nation of Thailand.”
Some Thai analysts have hinted the current turmoil is part of a behind-the-curtain struggle among fractious elements of the royal family, the military and political power brokers to prepare for the era beyond Rama IX. However, open discussion of this in Thailand is muted because of strict lese majeste laws.
A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
By Erika Solomon
BEIRUT Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:10am EST
(Reuters) - The al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed a twin bomb attack in Beirut on Wednesday, saying such attacks would continue until Hezbollah forces withdrew from the fighting in Syria and its own fighters were released from Lebanese jails.
The radical Lebanese group, which claimed the attack on its Twitter account, also said it was responsible for a November 19 attack on the Iranian embassy that killed 23 people, using the same tactic of twin suicide bombs. In both cases, most of the victims were civilians.
Hezbollah is a powerful Shi'ite Muslim political and militant group in Lebanon that is funded by Iran. The group has sent hundreds of fighters to neighboring Syria, giving a boost to its ally President Bashar al-Assad against mainly Sunni rebels seeking to topple him.
"We will continue - through the grace of God and his strength - to target Iran and its party in Lebanon (Hezbollah) in all of their security, political and military centers to achieve our two demands: One, the exit of all fighters from the Party of Iran in Syria. Two, the release of all our prisoners from oppressive Lebanese prisons," the statement said.
The three-year uprising in Syria, which began as popular protests but descended into civil war, has increasingly been taken over by Sunni Islamist groups. Some rebel groups have affinities or direct links to al Qaeda or militant groups in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades have strong links to Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps as well as connections with the Gulf. One of its senior military leaders, Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, was a Saudi national. He was arrested by Lebanese authorities last December, who said he died from kidney failure while in their custody.
Several other figures said to be linked to the group have been captured by Lebanese intelligence forces in recent months. Last week, the army arrested Naim Abbas, a man suspected of being a leading member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.
Lebanese military forces described Abbas as the "mastermind of car bombs" that have targeted Shi'ite areas in recent months, of which there have been at least nine.
The attacks have targeted Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods around the capital Beirut and towns on the northern Syrian-Lebanese border, where Hezbollah is also powerful.
In its Wednesday statement, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades said its attacks were a sign of solidarity with the Syrian uprising, now nearly three years old.
"We say to the people of Syria, rejoice, for your blood is our blood, and the Party of Iran (Hezbollah) will not enjoy safety in Lebanon until safety is returned to you in Syria."
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Heavy fighting in Central African Republic capital disrupts U.N. aid visit
By Media Coulibaly
BANGUI Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:57am EST
United Nations »
(Reuters) - Heavy fighting erupted near the airport in Central African Republic's capital Bangui on Wednesday as Christian militia blocked an attempt to evacuate Muslims, witnesses said, disrupting a visit by a top United Nations aid official.
The former French colony has been gripped by cycles of inter-religious killing despite the deployment of about 6,000 African and 1,600 French peacekeepers to halt violence that some diplomats say risked slipping into genocide.
Songokoua Yetinzapa, a Bangui resident living in a vast camp for displaced civilians near the airport, said clashes began after Chadian troops tried to escort a convoy of Muslims out of the city but were blocked by the militia, known as the "anti-balaka".
"I heard several people were killed but I only saw one dead body: a Muslim who was killed by the anti-balaka," he said by telephone as automatic gunfire and an explosion rang out.
Reuters journalists were chased from the scene by machete-wielding youths.
A U.N. official said African peacekeepers had been dispatched to reinforce troops in the area near the airport.
Another U.N. official said the fighting had prevented Valerie Amos, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, from travelling to the north of the country where violence between Muslims and Christians has also scattered tens of thousands of civilians.
Predominately Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, toppled President Francois Bozize last March. Killings and abuses carried while they were in power led to the creation of a mainly Christian self-defence militia known as "anti-balaka".
Around 1 million people have been displaced by the violence. U.N. officials estimate that at least 2,000 people have been killed since the start of the crisis, but say the actual figure will be much higher as mass graves as unearthed and killings continue.
Violence has escalated since Seleka leader Michel Djotodia quit power in January under international pressure. Seleka's retreat has led to Muslims fleeing the south and warnings from a top U.N. official of "ethnic-religious cleansing".
(Additional reporting by Bate Felix and David Lewis in Dakar; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn)
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:27am EST
(Reuters) - Imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez urged supporters to keep fighting for the departure of Venezuela's socialist government, even as he was due in court on Wednesday accused of fomenting unrest that has killed at least four people.
Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, surrendered to troops on Tuesday after spearheading three weeks of often rowdy demonstrations around Venezuela that have turned into the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro.
"Today more than ever, our cause has to be the exit of this government," Lopez said, sitting next to his wife in a pre-recorded video to be released if he was arrested. (t.co/uJGiXVm0AV)
"The exit from this disaster, the exit of this group of people who have kidnapped the future of Venezuelans is in your hands. Let's fight. I will be doing so."
The protests and the violence around them have left three people shot dead, another run over by a car during a demonstration, and scores of arrests and injuries.
Many Caracas residents banged pots and pans overnight in a traditional form of protest, while some protesters burned tires and clashed with police in the capital and some other parts of the nation. The western Andean cities of Tachira and Merida have been especially volatile.
The protesters are calling for Maduro's resignation over issues ranging from inflation and violent crime to corruption and product shortages.
Maduro, who was narrowly elected last year to replace Hugo Chavez after his death from cancer, says Lopez and others in league with the U.S. government are seeking a coup against him.
Street protests were the backdrop to a short-lived ouster of Chavez for 36 hours in 2002, before military loyalists and supporters helped bring him back.
Though tens of thousands joined Lopez on the streets when he turned himself in on Tuesday, the protests so far have mainly been much smaller than the wave of demonstrations a decade ago.
There is no evidence the military, which was the decisive factor in the 2002 overthrow, may turn against Maduro now.
Lopez was being held on Wednesday at the Ramo Verde jail in Caracas, and was due at a first court hearing mid-morning. Supporters planned to gather outside the tribunal, where he could face charges including murder and terrorism.
In an intriguing twist to the drama, Maduro said his powerful Congress head Diosdado Cabello, seen by many Venezuelans as a potential rival to the president, personally negotiated Lopez's surrender via his parents.
Cabello even helped drive him to custody in his own car given the risks to Lopez's life from extremists, Maduro said.
Venezuela's highly traded and volatile bonds have seen prices fall to near 18-month lows on the unrest.
Yields are on average 15 percentage points higher than comparable U.S. Treasury bills, by far the highest borrowing cost of any emerging market nation.
"The heightened social unrest further undermines already fragile investor sentiment," said Siobhan Morden, Latin American strategy head for New York-based Jefferies.
With local TV providing minimal live coverage of the street unrest or opposition leaders' news conferences, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have become the go-to media for many Venezuelans desperate for information on the crisis.
Detractors call Lopez a dangerous and self-serving hothead. He has frequently squabbled with fellow opposition leaders, and was involved in the 2002 coup, even helping arrest a minister.
"I've hardly been in office for 10 months and for 10 months this opposition has been plotting to kill me, topple me," Maduro said after his arrest. "For how long is the right wing going to hurt the nation?"
Though the majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, a radical fringe have been tossing stones at police, blocking roads and vandalizing buildings.
Rights groups say the police response has been disproportional, with some detainees tortured.
The unrest has not affected the country's oil industry, which is struggling from under-investment and operational problems that have left output stagnant for nearly a decade.
Chavez purged state oil company PDVSA of its dissident leadership in 2003 after a two-month industry shutdown meant to force him to resign, making it unlikely workers could attempt something similar against Maduro.
In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines, 'Chavistas' have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor. Many Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare programs should the socialists lose power.
(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas Javier Farias in Tachira; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Chizu Nomiyama)
Europe News Angela Merkel Backs EU Plans for Ukraine Sanctions
German Chancellor Previously Pushed for Economic Aid
By Stacy Meichtry And Gabriele Parussini
Feb. 19, 2014 10:17 a.m. ET
PARIS—German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday backed European Union plans to impose targeted sanctions on Ukraine authorities responsible for a violent police crackdown that killed dozens of protesters in Kiev.
"Today we're looking at sanctions that target the perpetrators of violence," Ms. Merkel told a joint news conference with French President François Hollande.
The comments mark a shift for Ms. Merkel who has pushed the EU to repair relations with Kiev through economic aid rather than sanctions.
The bloodshed in Kiev Wednesday, which has left at least 25 people dead and scores injured, appears to have changed her thinking. Ms. Merkel said the EU's foreign ministers will meet Thursday to discuss a plan to gradually phase in sanctions on individuals responsible for the violence.
"The images that we've been getting for the Ukraine since yesterday are shocking," she said.
"We need to think carefully on how to act," Ms. Merkel said, adding that any sanctions should be "targeted and gradual." Ms Merkel reiterated her view that political dialogue between the government and the opposition was the only way to resolve the crisis.
"The delay tactics that the Ukraine government has adopted recently has only degraded the political process," she said.
Yemeni security forces thwart al Qaeda attack on Aden oil refinery
By Oren Adaki
February 19, 2014 9:53 AM
On Feb. 16, Yemeni security services foiled an attempted attack on an oil refinery in the southern port city of Aden and arrested 27 suspected al Qaeda operatives from Abyan province involved in the plot.
The website of the Yemeni Ministry of Defense reported that authorities arrested six armed operatives on their way to carry out the attack in Aden. The operatives were apprehended after passing through a security checkpoint in the vicinity of Bureiqa. Yemeni sources claimed that the suspects had "modern and sophisticated" weapons in their possession.
The initial arrest led the authorities to 21 other suspected al Qaeda operatives, and Yemeni officials confirmed that among those arrested were operatives in senior positions. Aden police deputy commissioner Najeeb al-Mughalas emphasized that the thwarted operation "was in the preparation phase."
The foiled attack in Aden comes on the heels of a jailbreak at Sana'a prison on Feb. 13 carried out by AQAP in which at least 19 al Qaeda members were freed [see LWJ report, AQAP storms prison in Yemen's capital, frees al Qaeda operatives]. And on Dec. 31, security forces repelled a complex AQAP assault involving a suicide car bomb at a security headquarters in Aden [see LWJ report, AQAP suicide assault team targets security HQ in Aden].
Attacks on oil installations in Yemen by extremist groups are relatively common. The Yemeni Minister of Oil and Minerals, Ahmed Abdullah Dares, told Arabic news outlets that in the two years between March 2011 and March 2013, $4.75 billion in losses were caused by such attacks.
Strategic Horizons: All Options Bad If Mexico’s Drug Violence Expands to U.S.
By Steven Metz, on 19 Feb 2014, Column
Over the past few decades, violence in Mexico has reached horrific levels, claiming the lives of 70,000 as criminal organizations fight each other for control of the drug trade and wage war on the Mexican police, military, government officials and anyone else unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. The chaos has spread southward, engulfing Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Americans must face the possibility that the conflict may also expand northward, with intergang warfare, assassinations of government officials and outright terrorism in the United States. If so, this will force Americans to undertake a fundamental reassessment of the threat, possibly redefining it as a security issue demanding the use of U.S. military power.
One way that large-scale drug violence might move to the United States is if the cartels miscalculate and think they can intimidate the U.S. government or strike at American targets safely from a Mexican sanctuary. The most likely candidate would be the group known as the Zetas. They were created when elite government anti-drug commandos switched sides in the drug war, first serving as mercenaries for the Gulf Cartel and then becoming a powerful cartel in their own right. The Zetas used to recruit mostly ex-military and ex-law enforcement members in large part to maintain discipline and control. But the pool of soldiers and policemen willing to join the narcotraffickers was inadequate to fuel the group’s ambition. Now the Zetas are tapping a very different, much larger, but less disciplined pool of recruits in U.S. prisons and street gangs.
This is an ominous turn of events. Since intimidation through extreme violence is a trademark of the Zetas, its spread to the United States raises the possibility of large-scale violence on American soil. As George Grayson of the College of William and Mary put it, “The Zetas are determined to gain the reputation of being the most sadistic, cruel and beastly organization that ever existed.” And without concern for extradition, which helped break the back of the Colombian drug cartels, the Zetas show little fear of the United States government, already having ordered direct violence against American law enforcement.
Like the Zetas, most of the other Mexican cartels are expanding their operations inside the United States. Only a handful of U.S. states are free of them today. So far the cartels don’t appear directly responsible for large numbers of killings in the United States, but as expansion and reliance on undisciplined recruits looking to make a name for themselves through ferocity continue, the chances of miscalculation or violent freelancing by a cartel affiliate mount. This could potentially move beyond intergang warfare to the killing of U.S. officials or outright terrorism like the car bombs that drug cartels used in Mexico and Colombia. In an assessment for the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, Robert Bunker and John Sullivan considered narcotrafficker car bombs inside the United States to be unlikely but not impossible.
A second way that Mexico’s violence could spread north is via the partnership between the narcotraffickers and ideologically motivated terrorist groups. The Zetas already have a substantial connection to Hezbollah, based on collaborative narcotrafficking and arms smuggling. Hezbollah has relied on terrorism since its founding and has few qualms about conducting attacks far from its home turf in southern Lebanon. Since Hezbollah is a close ally or proxy of Iran, it might some day attempt to strike the United States in retribution for American action against Tehran. If so, it would likely attempt to exploit its connection with the Zetas, pulling the narcotraffickers into a transnational proxy war. The foundation for this scenario is already in place: Security analysts like Douglas Farah have warned of a “tier-one security threat for the United States” from an “improbable alliance” between narcotraffickers and anti-American states like Iran and the “Bolivarian” regime in Venezuela. The longer this relationship continues and the more it expands, the greater the chances of dangerous miscalculation.
No matter how violence from the Mexican cartels came to the United States, the key issue would be Washington’s response. If the Zetas, another Mexican cartel or someone acting in their stead launched a campaign of assassinations or bombings in the United States or helped Hezbollah or some other transnational terrorist organization with a mass casualty attack, and the Mexican government proved unwilling or unable to respond in a way that Washington considered adequate, the United States would have to consider military action.
While the United States has deep cultural and economic ties to Mexico and works closely with Mexican law enforcement on the narcotrafficking problem, the security relationship between the two has always been difficult—understandably so given the long history of U.S. military intervention in Mexico. Mexico would be unlikely to allow the U.S. military or other government agencies free rein to strike at narcotrafficking cartels in its territory, even if those organizations were tied to assassinations, bombings or terrorism in the United States. But any U.S. president would face immense political pressure to strike at America’s enemies if the Mexican government could not or would not do so itself. Failing to act firmly and decisively would weaken the president and encourage the Mexican cartels to believe that they could attack U.S. targets with impunity. After all, the primary lesson from Sept. 11 was that playing only defense and allowing groups that attack the United States undisturbed foreign sanctuary does not work. But using the U.S. military against the cartels on Mexican soil could weaken the Mexican government or even cause its collapse, end further security cooperation between Mexico and the United States and damage one of the most important and intimate bilateral economic relationships in the world. Quite simply, every available strategic option would be disastrous.
Hopefully, cooperation between Mexican and U.S. security and intelligence services will be able to forestall such a crisis. No one wants to see U.S. drones over Mexico. But so long as the core dynamic of narcotrafficking—massive demand for drugs in the United States combined with their prohibition—persists, the utter ruthlessness, lack of restraint and unlimited ambition of the narcotraffickers raises the possibility of violent miscalculation and the political and economic calamity that would follow.
Steven Metz is a defense analyst and the author of "Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy." His weekly WPR column, Strategic Horizons, appears every Wednesday.
Photo: Mexican Federal Police in Tijuana, Mexico (photo by Wikimedia user Lokizho 1, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License).
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This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed. Utterly failed.
-Angela Merkel (speaking out in reference to political correctness)
For centuries, Islamic ideology and the argument for and against progressive fundamentalism has caused many rifts and divisions in the Muslim world. Nevertheless, many Muslim countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe have either adopted or attempted to implement secularism. However, this is not without significant strife leading to conflict and division in the population. Other nations have chosen to enforce Islam as its state religion instead. This has led to controversy and significant argument in Western countries between those that argue for political correctness and equality, and those arguing that Muslims are changing the cultural landscape. Common questions in the minds of policymakers include “How far can fundamentalist Islam be practiced without interfering with the daily lives and cultures of our countries?” and “Is there a politically correct way to implement laws that address the radicalization of Islam?”
“Radicalization is a process of adopting an extremist system of values combined with expressing approval, support for, or use of violence and intimidation as a method of achieving changes in society or encouraging others to such acts” (Szlachter, 2012). The final stage of radicalization is the actual undertaking of a terrorist act. Needless to say, significant research has been done and still needs to be done before we can attempt to address this problem. Many published writers and clerics have argued for the radicalization of Islam, citing the Quran and some going as far as calling for a Jihad, or a holy war. Still, many other published authors have taken the stance calling for an end to the bloodshed, and acceptance of a more secular society. When addressing these issues, one needs to consider the problems that could result in allowing citizens to practice a more radical form of Islam. Conversely, the same can be said about the repercussions of denying such persons their freedom of speech and right to practice said religion. This research addresses the hypothesis that a variety of individual and ideological factors as well as motivations lead a person to radicalism. Furthermore, this article addresses what motivations and specific factors cause an individual to become interested in waging jihad and the implications our Military faces today when addressing these individuals.
The overall consensus is that there is not a single pathway or method in which an individual becomes radicalized. “Several efforts have been made, however, to articulate a general sequence of stages, events, or issues that might apply across and within group types” (Borum, 2011). Several pieces of literature listed below reference the different methods in how a person obtains extremist points of view.
In “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat”, Jerome Bjelopera explores and describes how difficult it is to tackle the problem of radicalization and extremism. He writes that “Intermediaries, social networks, the Internet, and prisons have been cited as playing key roles in the radicalization process”. Furthermore, “Intermediaries – charismatic individuals – often help persuade previously law-abiding citizens to radicalize or even become violent jihadists” (Bjelopera, 2011). An example of a charismatic individual and a key Islamic charismatic influencer of the 20th century was Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was an Egyptian scholar and key leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. While many argue that he advocated for a peaceful fundamentalist movement, “his explanation of such concepts as tawhid, Islamic society and the infidelity of Muslim rulers may have added a further impetus to the charge of extremism” (Ushama, 2007). The Social Movement Theory supports the hypothesis that charismatic leaders can sway groups to a cause. In this theory “Individuals would “join” a movement because they passively succumbed to these overwhelming forces” (Borum, 2011). While these charismatic authors, intermediaries, as well as social networks do persuade people to adopt a more fundamental and ultimately radical approach to Islam, they are certainly not the only factor.
Another important factor that must be considered is where the individual studied or grew up. Individuals who study in groups at madrasas in say, Pakistan, Afghanistan or certain places in Indonesia, have a much greater exposure to radical ideas than do individuals in other nations where a large portion of their population is Muslim. Furthermore, whenever these individuals are fully immersed into a group with these same beliefs, they feel less responsible for their actions. “If an individual acts violently within the context –or in the name– of a group, the mere presence of the group may diminish his perceived agency and therefore lower the acceptable threshold for violent behavior” (McCauley and Segal, 1987). The madrassas where these individuals study are oftentimes funded by wealthy individuals and NGO’s, and often provide their students who otherwise would live in poverty, meals and an allowance. Conversely, someone who has their upbringing in a more westernized Islamic-majority nation such as Kosovo or Turkey has a much lesser exposure to these radical teachings.
The last key aspect that leads people to radicalism is ideology. Ideology essentially means a set of ideas that form a person’s core beliefs. The Conversion Theory focuses “less on the collective movement, and more on the individual process of transforming beliefs and ideologies” (Borum, 2011). For example, the same way a Christian might believe in Jesus Christ as being the savior, a Jew may adamantly oppose him ever being born. Similarly, some Islamic fundamentalists believe that there is no greater honor and reward than becoming a martyr while waging jihad. This may happen progressively through the life experiences of an individual or through teachings said individual receives. The scholarly article “Muslim Education, Celebrating Islam and Having Fun as Counter-Radicalization Strategies in Indonesia” explains how ideology leads to terrorism. For example, “Sunni Muslim extremists combine jihadi radicalism with Wahhabi teachings” and as a result, “Wahhabism and terrorism are now clearly linked” (Woodward, Rohmaniyah, Amin and Coleman, 2010).
Methodology and Research Methods
As stated in the introduction, significant research has already been done to determine the cause of radicalization. These studies have taken the quantitative approach; using statistics to determine what individuals are more at risk, as well as qualitative approaches; involving large studies of the Quran by theologians as well as psychologists attempting to draw a link between the human psyche and terrorism. While we have made several advances in understanding this elusive enemy, we cannot come to a decisive conclusion. “In a series of hard-learned lessons, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency forces confronted the realization that, even as they were steadily removing bad guys from battlespace, the adversary forces were continuing to replenish and expand” (Borum, 2011). While we should continue to further attempt to understand who we are dealing with, the famous saying of “know thine enemy” does not apply here as we will likely never fully know this enemy. Wars have been fought because of religion since the beginning of humanity, and they are likely to continue.
This paper utilizes several theories involving psychology, ideology, and even the writings of the Quran itself to provide a basic framework of what causes radicalism. The dependent variable in this study is radicalism itself, while the independent variables are individual upbringing, ideology, and personal motivations.
After studying several scholarly writings and reviewing various cases of Islamists within the ranks of the US Military and government, it can be assessed that a radical government is the result of a distorted and biased view of the Quran. To further expand on this, there are actually several passages in the Quran that argue for a secular government that voices its support for human rights, a representative government, and the rule of law. The 2008 book “Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia” by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im provides several examples listed below.
“Shura, the notion that leaders should consult with the general public” (An-Na’im, 2008).
“Abolishing penalties against apostasy and heresy in the name of greater religious freedom” (An-Na’im, 2008).
“Mu’awada, the principle of reciprocity and mutual respect” (An-Na’im, 2008).
“A repudiation of the dhimma system to give equal citizenship rights to non-Muslims living in Muslim lands” (An-Na’im, 2008).
At the individual level, there are several theories that explain the human psychology and why/how an individual becomes radicalized and chooses to join an extremist group. These psychological factors are explained in several theories: the Social Movement Theory, the Social Psychology theory, and the Conversion Theory. Examples of each are given in the Literature Review Section in the contexts of the different articles and books reviewed. “Moghaddam, drawing broadly from a variety of psychological constructs, developed the “Staircase to Terrorism” as a metaphor for the process of violent radicalization” (Borum, 2011). The model is displayed below.
Moghaddam’s model is intended to facilitate the viewer in understanding how individuals go through the stages (or steps in the staircase) and become radicalized. As you get higher up the steps, the number of individuals dwindles, hence the fact that in some countries people are motivated enough to burn American flags and speak out against the U.S. but unwilling to actually take action.
What is the right solution to address a growing trend of Jihadist sects from throughout the world and even within the United States? This is a tough question with significant political intrigue behind it. To properly explain the situation; the article entitled “Problems in the U.S. Military” explains that the political and military’s tolerance of extremist forms of Islam within the United States Military is immense. For example, when Major Hasan showed various signs and rhetoric pointing to his intent to kill fellow servicemembers, his ideological views were welcomed by his superiors, who celebrated his cultural diversity and claimed that there was much we could learn from him. This all culminated with him communicating with Al-Qaeda affiliated personnel, stating that “Even when Hasan's communication with al-Qaeda's Anwar al-Awlaki put him on the radar of terrorism task forces, it had little effect on the rose-colored narrative” (Rusin, 2013).
Such is the Army’s attempts to culturally accommodate these groups, that they have gone as far as denying the evangelist Franklin Graham to participate in a national prayer service, they have allowed JROTC students to wear Islamic garbs in their uniforms, issued handbooks to soldiers seemingly justifying Jihad simply as “defense of Islam”, and continued to allow radical Muslim groups to certify chaplains. While further research is needed to assess political correctness in the civilian level, there should be a more clearly defined role of how these religious challenges should be addressed in the military. In order to fully understand how to address these challenges, the Military must first clearly realize that jihad is the enemy and extremists with a jihad mentality often result in terrorism. Our sensitivities to Islam have caused our military leadership to not fully define radicalism as an enemy and thus fail to understand our enemy. “By bending to Islamists' appeals for religious sensitivity, these leaders ignore the most crucial lesson of the Fort Hood massacre: Political correctness can kill” (Rusin, 2013).
An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed. 2010 “Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a.” Harvard University Press, 336 pages
Bjelopera, Jerome P. 2013. "American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat." Congressional Research Service: Report 1-137. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed September 20, 2013).
Borum, Randy. 2011. "Radicalization into Violent Extremism I: A Review of Social Science Theories." Journal Of Strategic Security 4, no. 4: 7-36. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2013).
Borum, Randy. 2011. "Radicalization into Violent Extremism II: A Review of Conceptual Models and Empirical Research." Journal Of Strategic Security 4, no. 4: 37-61. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed September 30, 2013).
Borum, Randy. 2011. "Rethinking Radicalization." Journal Of Strategic Security 4, no. 4: 1-6. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2013).
Falkenburg, Luke. 2013. "On the brink: The resurgence of militant Islam in Central Asia." Small Wars & Insurgencies 24, no. 3: 375-393. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed September 6, 2013).
McCauley, C.R. and Segal, M.E. 1987. “Social psychology of terrorist groups” Group processes and intergroup relations: Review of personality and social psychology. Newbury Park: Sage, pages 231-256.
Rusin, David J. 2013. "Problems in the U. S. Military." Middle East Quarterly 20, no. 2: 19-26. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 6, 2013).
Szlachter, Damian, Waldemar Kaczorowski, Zbigniew Muszyński, Piotr Potejko, Paweł Chomentowski, and Tadeusz Borzo ł. 2012. "Radicalization of Religious Minority Groups and the Terrorist Threat -- Report from Research on Religious Extremism among Islam Believers Living in Poland." Internal Security 4, no. 2: 77-98. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2013).
Ushama, Thameem. 2007. "Extremism in the Discourse of Sayyid Quṭb: Myth and Reality." Intellectual Discourse 15, no. 2: 167-190. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2013).
Woodward, Mark, Inayah Rohmaniyah, Ali Amin, and Diana Coleman. 2010. "Muslim Education, Celebrating Islam and Having Fun As Counter-Radicalization Strategies in Indonesia." Perspectives On Terrorism 4, no. 4: 28-50. International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed October 2, 2013).
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About the Author
Thomas Kruklis is an Intelligence Officer in the United States Army. He has Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Marketing from the University of North Georgia and is working towards a Master of Arts degree in Intelligence Studies at American Military University. He is originally from Brazil and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to English, he is fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish. His past duties included Section Chief of a Human Intelligence Detachment and All-Source Intelligence Analyst as a contractor in support of the federal government. He is currently assisting his Brigade in planning of the Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces mission.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSFEB. 18, 2014, 1:26 P.M. E.S.T.
ALGERIA, Algeria — Algeria's president, in a speech read by a minister Tuesday, said there were no divisions between the military and the intelligence services despite fierce exchanges in the media over the past few weeks.
Algeria's political scene was electrified earlier in February when the head of the ruling party slammed the meddling of the intelligence services in politics. Soon other articles appeared with prominent figures linked to the intelligence services attacking allies of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, including the army chief of staff.
The exchanges come just two months before presidential elections in which there are no clear front-runners.
Bouteflika, who rarely appears in public since a stroke a year ago, has yet to say whether he will run for a fourth term in April elections. Elections in Algeria usually involve a candidate with the clear backing of the military and political establishment who garners a lion's share of the votes.
In the speech commemorating the martyrs of the independence struggle against France, Bouteflika, 76, said this "fictitious conflict between the institutions of the National Popular Army" were part of a plot to destabilize the country.
"This process was unfortunately helped by the irresponsible behavior of some and lack of maturity of others under the influence of the media war against Algeria," he said.
Bouteflika did confirm a widely rumored restructuring of the intelligence services in September, maintaining it was a normal process and not evidence of a crisis.
While holding regular elections, Algeria is widely seen as being controlled by a small group of powerful generals. The recent media war was taken as evidence of internal splits.
By Richard Balmforth and Alessandra Prentice
KIEV Thu Feb 20, 2014 12:36pm EST
(Reuters) - Ukraine suffered its bloodiest day since Soviet times on Thursday with a gun battle in central Kiev as President Viktor Yanukovich faced conflicting pressures from visiting European Union ministers and his Russian paymasters.
Three hours of fierce fighting in Independence Square, which was recaptured by anti-government protesters, left the bodies of over 20 civilians strewn on the ground, a few hundred meters from where the president met the EU delegation.
Riot police were captured on video shooting from a rooftop at demonstrators in the plaza, known as the Maidan or "Euro-Maidan". Protesters hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive the security forces off a corner of the square the police had captured in battles that began on two days earlier.
Kiev's city health department said 67 people had been killed since Tuesday, which meant at least 39 died in Thursday's clashes. That was by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland met for a marathon four hours with Yanukovich and extended their stay to put a roadmap for a political solution to opposition leaders. Diplomatic sources familiar with the discussions said it involved a temporary government until fresh elections.
"About to start a meeting with the opposition so as to test proposed agreement," tweeted Polish minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
Meanwhile their EU colleagues agreed at an emergency meeting in Brussels to move ahead with visa bans and asset freezes on those deemed responsible for the violence, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said.
In a sign of dwindling support for Yanukovich, his hand-picked head of Kiev's city administration quit the ruling party in protest at bloodshed in the streets.
But core loyalists were still talking tough.
Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, wearing camouflage as he made a televised statement, said police had been issued with combat weapons and would use them "in accordance with the law" to defend themselves - or to free 67 of their colleagues his ministry said were being held captive.
Russia criticized the European and U.S. actions, calling them "blackmail" that would only make matters worse. President Vladimir Putin dispatched an envoy to Kiev to join the mediation effort with the opposition at Yanukovich's request.
Ukraine is caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war between Moscow - which sees it as a market and ally and fears protests spreading to Russia - and the West, which says Ukrainians should be free to choose economic integration with the EU.
Raising pressure on Yanukovich to restore order if he wants another desperately needed loan, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would not hand over cash to a leadership that let opponents walk over it "like a doormat".
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Yanukovich to urge him to accept the offer of EU mediation in the crisis.
BOTH SIDES USED GUNS
Thursday morning's bloodshed, in which both sides used firearms, traumatized many Ukrainians, whose 2004-05 Orange Revolution for democracy passed off largely peacefully.
It heightened concern voiced by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk that Ukraine could descend into civil war or split between the pro-European west and Russian-speaking east.
Video of the clashes on the edge of the Kiev square showed "Berkut" riot policemen firing bursts from automatic rifles on the run as they covered retreating colleagues fleeing past a nearby arts centre just off the plaza. An opposition militant in a helmet was filmed firing from behind a tree.
Other protesters used police riot shields for cover, while some fell wounded as the protest camp became a killing zone. A presidential statement said dozens of police were wounded or killed during the opposition offensive, hours after Yanukovich and opposition leaders had agreed on a truce.
The interior ministry's website advised citizens to avoid central Kiev because of the danger from "armed and aggressive individuals". Schools, restaurants and many shops in the normally bustling city of 3 million were closed, the metro was shut down and bank machines were running out of cash.
A statement from Yanukovich's office said organized gangs of protesters were using firearms, including sniper rifles.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko urged lawmakers to convene in parliament and demanded Yanukovich call an immediate presidential election. "Today is a crucial day," the former boxing world champion said. "The authorities are resorting to bloody provocations in full view of the world."
Legislators gathered in parliament, near the main square, but it was not clear any significant decisions could be taken.
"COLD WAR CHESSBOARD"
Wounded protesters were given first-aid treatment in the lobby of the Ukraine Hotel, where many foreign correspondents are staying. Reporters said there were bullet holes in the walls and windows of the hotel overlooking the square.
The crisis in the sprawling country of 46 million with an ailing economy and endemic corruption has mounted since Yanukovich took a $15-billion Russian bailout instead of signing a wide-ranging trade and cooperation deal with the EU.
Russia has held back a new loan installment until it sees stability in Kiev and has condemned EU and U.S. support of the opposition demands that Yanukovich, elected in a broadly fair vote in 2010, should share power and hold new elections.
The United States stepped up pressure on Wednesday by imposing travel bans on 20 senior Ukrainian officials.
"Our approach in the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia," U.S. President Barack Obama said after a North American summit in Mexico on Wednesday.
Some members of Ukraine's team decided to leave Russia's Winter Olympics in Sochi because of the violence back home, the International Olympic Committee said.
In Lviv, a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism since Soviet times, the regional assembly declared autonomy from Yanukovich and his administration, which many west Ukrainians see as much closer to Moscow and to Ukraine's Russian-speaking east.
Yanukovich, who replaced the head of the armed forces, has denounced the bloodshed as an attempted coup. EU officials said the Ukrainian leader would be left off the sanctions list for now to keep channels of dialogue open.
THREAT TO OLIGARCHS
Diplomats said the threat of sanctions could also target assets held in the West by Ukrainian business oligarchs who have either backed Yanukovich or are sitting on the fence.
Ukraine's hryvnia currency, flirting with its lowest levels since the global financial crisis five years ago, weakened again on Thursday.
Possibly due to the risk of sanctions, three of Ukraine's richest magnates have stepped up pressure on Yanukovich to hold back from using force: "There are no circumstances which justify the use of force toward the peaceful population," said steel and coal "oligarch" Rinat Akhmetov, who bankrolled Yanukovich's 2010 election campaign.
(Additional reporting by Natalya Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Vasily Fedosenko and Sabine Siebold in Kiev, John Irish in Paris and Francesco Guarascio and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Richard Balmforth and Paul Taylor; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
Venezuelan opposition leader faces 10 years in prison
Peter Wilson, Special for USA TODAY 12:34 p.m. EST February 20, 2014
"Leopoldo Lopez isn't going to be the person to save the country," Venezuelan President Maduro says in a televised address to the nation.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez may face more than 10 years in prison for his role in a student demonstration that left three people dead, as his supporters Thursday continued to fill city streets in protest.
Government prosecutors charged Lopez with arson, delinquency and conspiracy to promote delinquency during a preliminary hearing late Wednesday night at a military installation outside Caracas.
In an unusual twist, the presiding judge was taken to the Ramo Verde military camp in the central city of Los Teques, rather than holding the hearing in the court in Caracas, El Universal reported.
The location of the proceeding changed as Lopez supporters and opponents gathered at the court. Murder charges against Lopez were dropped.
Lopez, who surrendered to authorities Tuesday after addressing a rally by his supporters, will be held for 45 days while prosecutors collect evidence, the government said.
Neither Lopez nor his attorneys were immediately available for comment. Lopez, 42, has repeatedly denied all wrongdoing in the Feb. 12 protest.
"Leopoldo Lopez isn't going to be the person to save the country," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said during a nationwide televised address before the court hearing began.
Maduro accused Lopez, a Harvard-educated former mayor of Caracas, of being head of Venezuela's "fascists." Maduro also said that the government had uncovered a plot by right-wingers to assassinate Lopez to provoke a civil war.
He gave no proof to his allegations. Maduro repeatedly accused the United States and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe of backing students to overthrow him during his two-hour-long address.
"In Venezuela they are applying a form of continuous coup d'etat to generate a spiral of hatred, and justify a foreign military intervention,'' Maduro said. Throughout his speech, he played several videos showing violent acts by protesters, complete with ominous sounding music.
Maduro's speech provoked renewed protests throughout the country. Many Venezuelans began banging on pots and pans, a traditional form of protest, as Maduro spoke.
Students and their backers were again in the streets and built barricades in several cities, including the capital of Caracas. Security forces were confronting students Thursday morning with tear gas to force them to abandon their positions, Globovision reported.
Venezuela, which has the world's largest oil reserves, has been convulsed by daily protests and demonstrations since the start of the month. The protests, which are being spearheaded by university students, have focused on the country's deteriorating economy, rampant crime and corruption, and the lack of job opportunities.
At least six people, including five students, have lost their lives in the protests.
Students have vowed to continue their demonstrations until the government changes it policies. The opposition has also scheduled a protest march for Saturday in Caracas.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected militant hideouts in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber Agency early Thursday, killing at least 35 people, news agencies reported.
The raids occurred after a government bid to open peace talks with the banned Pakistani Taliban insurgent group collapsed following a series of militant attacks, including the reported killing of 23 paramilitary soldiers in insurgent custody Sunday.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the killings. Thursday’s airstrikes suggested that Sharif’s government, which has resisted pressure from Pakistan’s powerful military for more decisive action against the insurgents, could be ready to take a harder line.
Pakistani media quoted unnamed security officials as saying that at least 35 militants were killed after the bombings, but the reports couldn’t be verified independently because access to the tribal areas in Pakistan’s northeast is severely restricted.
Residents in Miram Shah, the administrative capital of North Waziristan, said the strikes began about 12:30 a.m. and continued for an hour. Zamir Gul, a resident, told The Times by telephone that Pakistani warplanes bombed the areas of Mir Ali, Datakhel and Shawal, adding that residents had fled their homes in fear.
Five people were reportedly killed and three injured in an air attack on a compound in Shawal, a mountainous area along the Afghanistan border.
The raids came a day after the Pakistani Taliban’s chief spokesman said it would agree to a cease-fire if the Pakistani government stopped the alleged killing of militants in its custody. The group said in a statement that the execution of the paramilitary soldiers Sunday was in retaliation for the killings of 23 insurgents in official custody in Karachi and Nowshera.
The insurgent group “is ready for a cease-fire if the government stops custodial and extrajudicial killings and arrests of our workers,” spokesman Shahid Ullah Shahid told reporters from an undisclosed location Wednesday.
The Pakistani government has denied killing militants in its custody.
Ali is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Washington.
AP News Mortar attack against Iraqi town kills at least 22
By By Sinan Salaheddin February 20, 2014
BAGHDAD (AP) — A mortar attack struck a busy area in a mainly Shiite town south of Iraq's capital Thursday, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 50, authorities said.
The five mortar rounds slammed into a busy market, a residential building and a parking lot around 7 p.m. (1700 GMT, 11 a.m. EST) as people returned home from work and shopped in Musayyib, police and hospital officials said.
Police said it appeared the rounds came from the nearby Sunni-dominated town of Jurf al-Sakr, though it wasn't immediately clear who fired them.
The officials gave the casualty toll and details on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release information to journalists.
Musayyib, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Baghdad, is in an area that holds a volatile mix of Sunnis and Shiites and was a flashpoint for some of the worst sectarian violence in past years. On Tuesday, a parked car bomb in the town killed five civilians and wounded 13, authorities said. In 2009, a female suicide bomber targeted Shiite pilgrims there, killing at least 40 people.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, but Sunni insurgents frequently target Shiite areas and security forces. Violence has increased in Iraq amid Sunni anger over perceived mistreatment and random arrests by the Shiite-led government.
Last year, Iraq saw the highest death toll — 8,868 — since the worst of the country's sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2007, according to United Nations figures.
World powers and Iran make 'good start' towards nuclear accord
By Justyna Pawlak and Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA Thu Feb 20, 2014 5:58pm GMT
(Reuters) - Six world powers and Iran made a "good start" in talks in Vienna towards reaching a final settlement in the decade-old stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme, but conceded their plan to get a deal in the coming months was very ambitious.
By late July, Western governments hope to hammer out an accord that would lay to rest their suspicions that Iran is seeking the capability to make a nuclear bomb, an aim it denies, while Tehran wants a lifting of economic sanctions.
Wide differences remain on how this could be achieved, although the two sides said on Thursday they agreed during meetings this week in the Austrian capital on what to discuss and a preliminary timetable for the talks on such an accord.
"We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.
"There is a lot to do. It won't be easy but we have made a good start," said Ashton, who speaks on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Senior diplomats from the six nations, as well as Ashton and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet again on March 17, also in Vienna, and have a series of further discussions ahead of the July deadline.
Tehran denies that its nuclear programme has any latent military purposes and has signalled repeatedly it would resist dismantling its nuclear installations as part of any deal.
"I can assure you that no one had, and will have, the opportunity to impose anything on Iran during the talks," Zarif told reporters.
A senior U.S. official who asked not to identified cautioned that the exchanges with Iran would be "difficult" but the sides were committed to reaching a deal soon.
"This will be a complicated, difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right," the official said. "We will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get that job done."
As part of the diplomatic process, Ashton will go to Tehran on March 9-10.
A diplomatic source clarified that the two sides did not produce a text of an agreed framework for future negotiations or detailed agenda for upcoming meetings, rather only agreeing a broad range of subjects to be addressed in coming months.
While modest in scope, the arrangement is an early step forward in the elusive search for a settlement that could ward off the danger of a wider war in the Middle East, reshape the regional power balance and open up big new trade opportunities with Iran, an oil-producing market of 76 million people.
For Iran, a halt to sanctions imposed by the United States, European governments and the United Nations, would end years of isolation and lift its battered economy.
The six powers' overarching goal is to extend the time Iran would need to make enough fissile material and assemble equipment for a nuclear bomb, and to make such a move easier to detect before it became a fait accompli.
They will want to cap uranium enrichment at a low fissile concentration, limit research and development of new nuclear equipment, decommission a substantial portion of Iran's centrifuges used to refine uranium and allow more intrusive U.N. non-proliferation inspections.
The Vienna talks followed a ground-breaking interim accord between Iran and the six powers in November under which Tehran suspended higher-level enrichment until late July in return for limited relief from sanctions.
That deal was made possible by the election of relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani, replacing bellicose hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last year on a platform of rebuilding the OPEC member state's foreign relations.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, which has a critical role in monitoring the agreement's implementation, issued an update on Thursday showing Iran was living up to its commitments.
Its report said Iran's most sensitive nuclear stockpile - uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a relatively short technical step away from potential weapons-grade material - had declined significantly for the first time in four years and was now well below the amount needed for one bomb, if processed to a high degree.
Since halting this enrichment under last year's deal, Iran has diluted some of the material to lower-level uranium and converted some into a less proliferation-sensitive oxide form.
But many difficult hurdles remain to be settled.
Iran's unfinished heavy water Arak reactor, which could yield plutonium for bombs, and its underground Fordow uranium enrichment site will be among key sticking points in the talks.
"We have begun to see some areas of agreement as well as areas in which we will have to work though very difficult issues," the senior U.S. official said.
The official declined to respond specifically to Iran's suggestions that its ballistic missile programme, which the West worries could be a way to deliver an atomic bomb to its target, would not be up for negotiation.
"All of the issues of concern to the international community regarding Iran's nuclear programme are on the table," the official said. "And all of our concerns must be met in order to get a comprehensive agreement ... Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
Iranian ballistic missile work is banned under U.N. Security Council sanctions targeting the nuclear programme.
Zarif said, according to the official IRNA news agency: "Nothing except Iran's nuclear activities will be discussed in the talks with the (six powers), and we have agreed on it".
A U.S. delegation will be visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia shortly to discuss the negotiations with Iran, the U.S. official. Both countries are upset about signs of a possible Western rapprochement with their common adversary.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Germany must play bigger global role, not dominate - president
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN Thu Feb 20, 2014 3:33pm GMT
(Reuters) - Germany has no desire to dominate other countries but it needs to leverage its post-war experiences of democracy and prosperity to play a bigger role on the global stage, President Joachim Gauck said.
Germany, still haunted by its Nazi past seven decades after the end of World War Two, remains reluctant to send troops abroad even on peacekeeping missions. It faced criticism from allies in 2011 for abstaining in a U.N. vote backing military intervention in Libya and declined to join the operation.
Gauck, 74, a former pastor and human rights campaigner in communist East Germany, caused a stir with a speech this month saying Germany must stop standing on the sidelines and act more quickly, decisively and substantially in foreign crises.
"I'd like to see Germany playing a more active role in the European and global context," Gauck told foreign journalists late on Wednesday in comments partly aimed at clarifying the speech he made on February 2 at the Munich Security Conference.
"It's my view that we need to take on more responsibility," he said, adding that it was not a question of Germany imposing its views because it knows "what's good for the world".
"(It is) rather that we've had good experiences with democracy and we want to share that rather than use it against anyone or to dominate anyone."
In Germany, the president is a largely ceremonial figure with few executive powers but is expected to serve as a source of moral authority above the political fray. Gauck took office in March 2012.
"WHAT ARE YOU GERMANS DOING?"
Gauck told the Berlin foreign press association (VAP) he felt a need to speak out after hearing pleas during his travels around the world for Germany, which has Europe's largest economy and the world's fourth biggest, to do much more.
"I keep getting asked the same questions whether it's in India, in South America, or northern Europe: 'So what are you Germans doing? Why don't you get more involved?'"
Gauck said he did not want to discuss specific ways in which Germany could play a bigger role because that was for the government to decide.
Gauck admitted he once hated Germany because of its Nazi past and said he understood perfectly well why it was difficult for many of his compatriots to endorse Germany getting involved in international issues, including military action abroad.
"When I was younger the words 'I'm proud of Germany' would never have crossed my lips," said Gauck. "When I was a student I hated this country because of the calamity caused by my parents' generation. I felt homeless as did many of my generation."
Gauck said he wanted in particular to reach out to an older generation of Germans, which still bears a burden of guilt from the war, to remind them of the achievements of the past six decades in terms of democracy, civil rights and the rule of law.
"It's an appeal to older Germans to believe in the good things they have created and not only the bad," Gauck said. "Have enough faith to pass the positive experiences to others."
Was President Barack’s Obama’s visit too little too late to salvage Mexico for anyone but the country’s aristocracy in hiding behind fortified walls or in exile, and the drug cartels who seem to rule the country in all but official capacity?
That question was inevitably in the shadows of Obama’s whirlwind visit to Mexico Wednesday--where sweeping trade talks were the agenda but where violence and an ongoing war between cartels and vigilante groups threaten that country’s stability.
Mexican businessmen are saying the instability in the state of Michoacán serves as a reminder of how the nation’s security shortcomings continue to steal the thunder of the nation’s economic promise.
“Michoacán is forcing security back on the agenda,” says Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America. “It has to. Michoacán is hard to hide under the rug.”
In the neighboring state of Guerrero, quasi-military civilian self-defense groups have replaced official authorities in protecting residents, with the Mexican government last month effectively legalizing the self-defense movement through an agreement with group leaders.
“We have no trust in state or local authorities,” says lime farmer Jesús Reyes, who supports the self-defense groups that took control of the area from the Knights Templar cartel.
“Maybe I can actually feed my family this year. This may be a good year for us.”
Back in the industrial city of Toluca, where Obama was meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, locals on Wednesday were openly protesting against energy reform just blocks away from summit.
On the 20th anniversary of the historic North American Free Trade Agreement, the unrest and violence are a microcosm of the challenges faced by Mexico as Peña Nieto tries to promote a new image for a country beset by lawlessness and a great disparity between its rich and poor.
The overall murder rate in Mexico fell about 16 percent last year compared with 2012. But kidnapping and extortions rose, and wealthy Mexicans have intensified their security and protection.
Nevertheless with a lawlessness now seemingly higher than the old Wild West, many Mexicans with means have been taking refuge in the U.S. The number of Mexicans seeking political asylum in the United States has recently skyrocketed more than fivefold — from 6,824 in 2011 to 36,000 in 2013.
Vigilante, Mexico Violence, CAM
Men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan, (CAM), ride on a sandbag filled truck while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel from the town of Nueva Italia, Mexico, Sunday Jan. 12, 2014. Violent scenes such as this one are an everyday sight in the State of Michoacan. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Even more startling, more than 530,000 young people with college degrees have left Mexico for the U.S. in the past decade and a half, according to Mexico expert Jesús Velasco of Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
In promoting his book, “Midnight in Mexico,” author Alfredo Corchado found that “less well known is the number of people who have ended up in Europe, including here in the tranquil capital of Norway — a disturbing sign that the violence in Mexico has left a trail of destruction that knows no borders.”
“Norway is not the first country you would think about when having to leave for security reasons, but the good economic situation that Norway has been in lately has made it an option for those who already have had some connection to the country,” said Benedicte Bull, a professor of Latin American studies at the University of Oslo.
“There have not been very strong connections between Mexico and Norway, but it is in the process of being strengthened.”
An estimated 1,500 Mexicans now live as expatriates in Norway despite its cold weather and high cost of living, according to sources cited by Corchado.
Perhaps as many more have moved to other parts of Europe, and those numbers may be exceeded by the communities of Mexican expatiates now living in Canada.
The old Mexican refrain – “so far from God and so close to the United States” – has been replaced by another.
“We’re very far from Mexico,” said Roberto Rosales, an energy worker in Norway where he now lives with his wife and two children. “But Mexico remains our homeland, and we feel the impact here.”
UN Urges Reinforcements for CAfrican Republic
BANGUI, Central African Republic February 20, 2014 (AP)
By KRISTA LARSON and EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for the rapid deployment of at least 3,000 additional troops and police to conflict-wracked Central African Republic to prevent further religious killings that have forced almost one million people to flee their homes and are partitioning the country into Muslim and Christian areas.
That would bring the international forces in the country to more than 11,000.
Ban's call followed an appeal for more troops by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos at the end of a three-day visit to the country earlier Thursday.
She told reporters she and her colleagues "were shocked by what we saw" in the remote town of Bossangoa, which has been at the epicenter of the fighting between the country's Muslim minority and the nation's Christian majority. She said tensions between communities are high and people fear for their lives.
Ban paid tribute to the nearly 6,000 African Union peacekeepers and 1,600 French troops in the country, but told the U.N. Security Council that the requirements to restore security to the lawless country "far exceed" their capabilities and the 500 troops promised by the European Union.
The secretary-general said he will soon be recommending a U.N. peacekeeping operation with "a robust mandate" to take over peacekeeping duties in the country. But the U.N. deployment will take months and "the people of Central African Republic don't have months to wait," he said.
Ban therefore called for reinforcement of the AU and French troops with additional deployments of at least 3,000 more troops and police "in the coming days and weeks," equipped with aircraft to operate wherever required.
He said French President Francois Hollande has pledged an additional 400 troops, the EU has said it will double its contingent to 1,000, and the AU will propose an expansion of its force.
But Ban said more troops and police are needed urgently "and the wider international community must share the burden." U.N. officials say they are privately hoping that European countries will provide even more troops and police.
The secretary-general called for "a coordinated command" for the AU, French and EU contingents that would focus on containing the violence, protecting civilians, providing security to deliver humanitarian aid to over 2.5 million people — more than half the 4.6 million population — and prepare for the handover to a U.N. peacekeeping force "as soon as possible."
He also urged that African troops joining the force be provided with logistical and financial support, estimating this would cost $38 million for six months.
Central African Republic, long one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, plunged deeper into chaos nearly a year ago when the Muslim rebels from the north invaded the capital and overthrew the president of a decade. The rebels pillaged neighborhoods, raping and killing people with impunity for months, giving rise to the Christian militia. Those fighters attempted a coup in early December, and violence between the two communities exploded in the days that followed.
The president installed by the Muslim rebels has since gone into exile, and a nascent civilian government is attempting to restore order.
The U.N. chief painted a grim picture of the country, saying "it is a calamity with a strong claim on the conscience of humankind."
"Innocent civilians are being killed in large numbers," Ban said. "They are being killed purposefully, targeted for their religious beliefs, for their community affiliation — for who they are."
Muslims have been especially targeted, he said, but former Seleka rebels, who overthrew the government in March 2013, ushering in months of violence against the Christian majority, continue to attack Christians as well.
"Almost one million people have been displaced, with many homes burned to the ground with the purpose of preventing their return," Ban said. "A creeping de facto partition of the country is setting in, with Muslims in one part and Christians in another."
The secretary-general warned that "this separation is laying the seeds of conflict and instability for years, maybe generations, to come."
Many here have called for an official U.N. peacekeeping mission, which would be better funded and equipped. France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Thursday it would likely take five or six months to deploy.
Critics say that the international peacekeeping mission has failed to sufficiently protect civilians in many remote areas outside the capital. In other cases, Burundian peacekeepers stood by as a group of soldiers brutally stomped and stabbed to death a man they accused of being a rebel. The man's corpse was later dragged through the streets, dismembered and set on fire.
Amid such violence against the country's Muslims, the world's largest bloc of Islamic countries agreed Thursday to send a high-level fact-finding mission to Central African Republic and to appoint a special representative to coordinate efforts with the AU and the U.N.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation made the decision in an emergency meeting at the body's headquarters in Saudi Arabia and said it would "urgently dispatch" its high-level mission to the country to visit the capital to explore the situation, express solidarity with Muslims and to contribute to any peace talks.
"It has become imperative for a collective and timely engagement of the entire international community to help the new authorities restore order and stabilize the country because of the implications of the crisis on the peace, security and stability of the wider region and even beyond," said OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani.
Guinea's Foreign Minister, Lounceny Fall, will head the organization's delegation.
The body of 57 Muslim-majority member states also called on member states and others to step up aid to people in need. Ban also appealed for financial support to help the government "establish a minimum capacity to function."
The U.N. refugee agency says it will airlift aid in the coming week that will cater to 20,000 people.
Lederer reported from the United Nations. Associated Press reporter Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.
NATO Head: Afghan Security Pact After Elections
ATHENS, Greece February 21, 2014 (AP)
By ELENA BECATOROS Associated Press
NATO's secretary general said Thursday he believes Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not sign a long-stalled security pact with the United States allowing American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, leaving the task to whomever emerges as his successor after April elections.
The U.S. is the largest contributor of troops to the NATO military coalition in Afghanistan. The international forces' mandate expires at the end of the year, and the U.S. and NATO have been negotiating agreements on maintaining some troops in Afghanistan to train and support local security forces.
"We haven't so far seen any progress as regards a signature on the Bilateral Security Agreement, and actually I believe that President Karzai will not sign the security agreement, so it will be for his successor to make that decision," Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Associated Press in an interview. "Our position is very clear. Our preferred option is to deploy a training mission to Afghanistan after 2014."
Rasmussen said that although NATO envisaged signing a separate pact with Kabul on alliance military presence in the country, it would not be finalized unless Afghanistan also signed the bilateral security agreement with Washington.
"There will be a separate NATO Status of Forces agreement, but we will not finalize that Status of Forces agreement unless the Afghans sign the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan," Rasmussen said in Athens, where he was attending a European Union defense ministers' meeting. "So the two legal frameworks will follow hand in hand."
The refusal by Karzai, who is not eligible to run for a third term in this year's election, to sign the security pact has strained relations with Washington. American-led combat operations are to end on Dec. 31, but the U.S. is seeking to keep up to 10,000 troops in the country for counterterrorism and training purposes. Without a signed agreement setting conditions for the troops, all are expected to pull out at the end of the year.
Rasmussen appeared hopeful, however, that Karzai's successor would sign the deal, noting it was approved in November by a meeting of tribal elders known as the Loya Jirga and that all presidential candidates had said they were in favor of an agreement.
He also stressed that international funding for Afghan security forces could be affected without a deal.
"At the end of the day, the Afghans realize that a lot is at stake because this is not only about our military presence with trainers after 2014, but it's also about financial support for Afghanistan. I'm concerned that if there's no international presence with troops and trainers after 2014, then it will also be difficult to generate financial support to sustain the Afghan security forces," the NATO chief said.
An inability to pay the salaries of soldiers and police would "have a devastating effect on security in Afghanistan," he warned. "And I think the Afghans know that, and this is the reason why I'm confident that at the end of the day we will get that signature on the security agreement."
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