Category Archives: Politics

Greek leftist leader Tsipras claims victory over austerity

ATHENS Sun Jan 25, 2015 6:13pm EST

Head of radical leftist Syriza party Tsipras speaks after winning elections in Athens.

1 OF 14. Head of radical leftist Syriza party Tsipras speaks after winning elections in Athens, January 25, 2015.

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(Reuters) – Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras promised on Sunday that five years of austerity, “humiliation and suffering” imposed by international creditors were over after his Syriza party swept to victory in a snap election on Sunday.

With about 60 percent of votes counted, Syriza was set to win 149 seats in the 300 seat parliament, with 36.1 percent of the vote, around eight points ahead of the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

While a final result may not come for hours, the 40-year-old Tsipras is on course to become prime minister of the first eurozone government openly opposed to the kind of crippling austerity policies which the European Union and International Monetary Fund imposed on Greece as a condition of its bailout.

“Greece leaves behinds catastrophic austerity, it leaves behind fear and authoritarianism, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and anguish,” Tsipras told thousands of cheering supporters gathered in Athens.

European leaders have said Greece must respect the terms of its 240 billion euro bailout deal, but Tsipras campaigned on a promise to renegotiate the country’s huge debt, raising the possibility of a major conflict with euro zone partners.

Tsipras said on Sunday he would cooperate with fellow euro zoneleaders for “a fair and mutually beneficial solution” but said the Greek people came first. “Our priority from the very first day will be to deal with the big wounds left by the crisis,” he said. “Our foremost priority is that our country and our people regain their lost dignity.”

Tsipras’s campaign slogan “Hope is coming!” resonated with voters worn down by huge budget cuts and heavy tax rises during six years of crisis that has sent unemployment over 25 percent and pushed millions into poverty.

With Greece’s economy unlikely to recover for years, he faces enormous problems and his victory raises the prospect of tough negotiations with European partners including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

As thousands of flag-waving supporters hit the streets of Athens, some shedding tears of joy, Germany’s Bundesbank warned Greece it needed reform to tackle its economic problems and the euro fell nearly half a U.S. cent.

Tsipras has promised to keep Greece in the euro and has toned down some of his rhetoric but his arrival in power would mark the biggest challenge to the approach adopted to the crisis by euro zone governments.

“We are delighted,” said 47-year-old teacher Efi Avgoustakou. “We hope our expectations will be fulfilled,” she said. “On Monday in class, we’re not allowed to comment and take sides but we will be smiling.”

With Greece’s bailout deal with the euro zone due to end on Feb. 28, Tsipras’ immediate challenge will be to settle doubts over the next instalment of more than 7 billion euros in international aid. EU finance ministers are due to discuss the issue in Brussels on Monday.

Financial markets have been worried a Syriza victory will trigger a new financial crisis inGreece, but the repercussions for the euro zone are expected to be far smaller than feared the last time Greeks went to the polls in 2012.

If Syriza ends up short of an absolute majority, Tsipras will have to try to form a coalition with smaller parties or reach an agreement that would allow it to form a minority government with ad-hoc support from others in parliament.

Negotiations are likely to begin immediately and both Panos Kammenos, the leader of the small Independent Greeks party and Stavros Theodorakis, head of the centrist To Potami party, said they would be willing to support an anti-bailout government.

If Syriza requires support to govern, it may find itself hostage to its partners’ demands, raising questions over how durable a Tsipras government would prove.

STANDOFF WITH BERLIN

Tsipras has promised to renegotiate agreements with the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund “troika” and write off much of Greece’s 320 billion-euro debt, which at more than 175 percent of gross domestic product, is the world’s second highest after Japan.

Coming after the ECB’s move to pump billions into the bloc’s flagging economy, Sunday’s result will stir consternation in Berlin. A senior lawmaker in Merkel’s conservative party said the result showed Greek voters had turned away from austerity but he said Europe could not accept rejection of the bailout.

“We must not reward the breaching of agreements,” Wolfgang Bosbach told the daily Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper. “That would send completely the wrong signal to other crisis-stricken countries that would then expect the same treatment.”

As well as renegotiating a debt agreement, Tsipras wants to roll back many of the measures demanded by the “troika”, raising the minimum wage, lowering power prices for poor families, cutting property taxes and reversing pension and public sector pay cuts.

Markets had been jittery in the run-up to the vote but growing confidence that a deal could be reached has helped ease fears of a return to crisis.

U.S. investment bank J.P. Morgan said the result could weigh on markets but that it considered speculation over a possible Greek exit from the euro was “a stretch” and a negotiated deal appeared the most likely outcome.

It added: “our base case remains that a Syriza government or Syriza-dominated coalition would alter its platform to retain troika financing.”

Syriza officials have said they would seek a six-month “truce” putting the bailout programme on hold while talks with creditors begin.

Greece, unable to tap the markets because of sky-high borrowing costs, has enough cash to meet its immediate funding needs for the next couple of months but it faces around 10 billion euros of debt repayments over the summer.

($1 = 0.8923 euros)

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos, George Georgiopoulos, Costas Pitas, Angeliki Koutantou, Deepa Babington; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and David Stamp)

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India and US seal nuclear deal as Modi hosts Obama

25 January 2015 Last updated at 16:03 GMT

_80503578_025573539-1Narendra Modi broke with protocol to meet President Obama personally at the airport in Delhi

The US and India have announced a breakthrough on a pact that will allow American companies to supply India with civilian nuclear technology.

It came on the first day of President Barack Obama’s visit to India.

The nuclear deal had been held up for six years amid concerns over the liability for any nuclear accident.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the nations were embarking on a “new journey” of co-operation, with stronger defence and trade ties.

Mr Obama said that the nations had declared a new friendship.

Security is intense in Delhi, with Mr Obama to be the guest of honour at Monday’s Republic Day celebrations. Thousands of security personnel have been deployed in Delhi.

‘Renewed trust’

The nuclear pact had been agreed in 2008 but the US was worried about Indian laws on liability over any accidents.

Now, a large insurance pool will be set up, without the need for any further legislation.

US ambassador Richard Verma said: “It opens the door for US and other companies to come forward and actually help India towards developing nuclear power and support its non carbon-based energy production.”

_80505230_4ymom3z6Mr Obama stands for the anthems at Rashtrapati Bhavan


_80505232_ys9eajmjThe leaders take tea – or coffee – in the gardens of Hyderabad House

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the sides also agreed to increase their bilateral trade five times, from the current $100bn (£66.7bn) a year. The US will also sell more military hardware to India.

Earlier, Mr Modi stressed the importance of the visit by breaking with protocol to receive Mr Obama personally at Delhi airport.

After his arrival, the US president travelled to the presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan, for an official welcoming ceremony.

Mr Obama laid a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial and planted a tree.

At a joint press conference, Mr Modi said the two countries were “starting a new journey” based on “renewed trust and sustained attention”.

He said of Mr Obama: “We have forged a friendship, there is openness when we talk.”

He said the two nations would increase cooperation on defence projects and on “eliminating terrorist safe havens and on bringing terrorists to justice”.

Mr Obama said the countries “had declared a new friendship to elevate our partnership”, which “commits to more meetings and consultations across governments”.

He added: “The new partnership will not happen overnight. It will need patience but will remain a top foreign policy priority for my administration.”

Out of bounds

The BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi says security around the Republic Day parade is generally tight, but this year the high-profile visit has taken preparations to a new level.

_80444894_cb709d49-2464-4b54-af1b-02391aaa1d26The parade venue India Gate and the Rajpath have been out of bounds for most people for the past few days

_80444789_pti1_21_2015_000263bA visit to the Taj Mahal is now off so the president can leave early for Saudi Arabia

India Gate and the Rajpath (the King’s Avenue), where Monday’s parade takes place, have been out of bounds for most people for the past few days, with thousands of policemen on duty.

Security has been upgraded at several upmarket hotels, where the US president and his team are staying.

Traffic restrictions have been put in place across the city, and extra checks have been taking place at metro stations.

Mr Obama’s visit to India has been shortened so he can visit Saudi Arabia and pay his respects following the death of King Abdullah.

It means he will not now visit the Taj Mahal.

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Dear Egyptians: Happy January 25th. For What It’s Worth.

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Egypt’s government has cancelled its planned official commemoration of the January 25th Revolution in 2011. The reason: the seven-day mourning period announced after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Friday. The timing of the Saudi monarch’s demise can be seen as an ironic favor for the pro-revolutionary camp, since it thwarts President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s efforts to appropriate the legacy of the revolution to his own ends. In life, of course, King Abdullah was actually a great proponent of the pre-revolutionary status quo, and systematically sought to undermine the Arab Spring movements. He gave a home to Tunisia’s deposed dictator, actively supported Bahrain’s crackdown on its own protest movement, and bankrolled General Sisi’s brutal and reactionary administration from its first day.

The Sisi Administration has always had a conflicted relationship to January 25th. Sisi wouldn’t be where is today without the Tahrir Square uprising that overthrew Mubarak four years ago, and he claims much of his legitimacy from the revolution — despite the fact that new Egyptian president has restored quasi-military rule and many aspects of Mubarak-era autocracy. His alleged loyalty to the revolution is a crucial plank in his argument against those who see his accession to power as a coup. While January 25th 2011 is hailed by many around the world as the end of a despot, Sisi’s supporters see June 30, 2013 — the day the general overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi — as its logical extension.

This week the Egyptian state chose to celebrate the occasion in the way it knows best: a few hours before Jan. 25, the police shot and killed Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, a socialist political activist who also happens to be the mother of a five-year old son. Sabbagh was part of a small march to place flowers on a memorial to the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square. Security forces brutally dispersed the march even though it had been authorized by the proper authorities. Some have already dubbed Sabbagh “the Rose Martyr.” Her violent death was documented on video, and the images are as heartbreakingas you’d expect them to be. (The photo above shows a plainclothes security officer detaining a demonstrator yesterday at gunpoint.)

The police killed another young woman the day before — 17-year-old Sondos Reda Abu Bakrshot in the head and neck with birdshot as the police dispersed a pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest in Alexandria. The frail teenager was demanding justice for her aunt, who had been killed two months earlier. Activists quickly took to the web to post photos of Sabbagh and Abu Bakr under the title “Sisi, the Killer of Women.”

Today, limited protests around Cairo and other main cities have also been met with lethal violence. By the early afternoon, the ministry of health hadannounced 18 dead today, most clashes between protesters and uniformed or plain-clothed security forces. The actual toll is likely to be higher. 150 protesters were arrested.

The entire cycle seems absurd — and all too reminiscent of the period before 2011, when small protests, met with extreme violence, were the order of the day. The key difference today, however, is the attitude of the general public. Though once silently supportive, perhaps uttering a silent prayer for the protection of the brave protesters, large segments of the Egyptian population are now either indifferent to the protesters and their fate — or, more frighteningly, loudly approving of their killing. A cursory look at public statements by pro-regime media (some of whom were recently revealed to be receiving direct orders from the government on what to say and write) in the immediate aftermath of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh’s killing reveals a now-habitual pattern of denying state responsibility, usually by blaming some other culprit (either the Muslim Brotherhood or a fictional “third party”), then giving way to vitriolic celebration of the victims’ deaths, based on crude insinuations of criminal or subversive activity. The fact that this sort of state-sponsored defamation raises no eyebrows, and that no one dares to demand any sort of investigation (which would never happen anyway), is the new reality that we have to confront.

The dilemma facing pro-democracy Egyptians is that they feel a moral imperative to take a stand against state repression, officially sanctioned killing sprees, and a tragicomically unjust legal system. Emboldened by the recent memory of 2011, when mass protests led to change, the first impulse of the activists is to take to the streets, to chant, to make demands. At the same time, however, these killings and the corresponding culture of official impunity make it all too clear that the act of objecting is a potentially suicidal one, punishable by death or egregious prison sentences and police torture. The current limited protests are a manifestation of this cognitive dissonance, in which, for some, adherence to principles overrides the instinct for self-preservation. However one chooses to resolve this conflict, the courage of the protesters cannot be overstated.

The most heart-wrenching part of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh’s killing may be her last moments, which were recorded on video. As her husband carries her bleeding body through the narrow streets of downtown Cairo, frantically asking for help, for a ride to the hospital, for someone to hail a taxi for him, he is met with shrugs. People sitting at the café he walks past don’t get up to help. No car offers a ride. Finally he sets her down on a chair, helpless and tired, and caresses her hair.

The tragic metaphor is impossible to miss. The apathetic majority stares blankly at the dying embodiment of the ideals held by so many just a few years ago. Bystanders fail to lift a finger in assistance, preferring to watch life seep from her body rather than risk the chance that their tea might get cold.

For the past four years, the Egyptian masses have been so limited by short-term, myopic thinking that they’re willing to do anything — perhaps even to sacrifice their own future — for the sake of that warm cup of tea. Entrusting their destiny to a despot may serve to maintain this illusive “stability” that is constantly being promised, but in the long term, few of them, aside from members of the regime’s inner circle, will emerge victorious. Eventually almost everyone will suffer from systemic injustice, or at the very least from the mismanagement of state affairs by an unaccountable regime.

For all these reasons, this January 25th, despite its heartening associations, is hardly a day to celebrate. As political scientist Timothy Kaldas wrote: “Egypt should be in a state of mourning, but not for a foreign king who beheads his people. It should be in a state of mourning for Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, and the thousands like her who were murdered during their struggle for freedom.”

Happy January 25th. For what it’s worth.

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Obama on Russia: ‘Large countries don’t bully smaller countries’

Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT) January 25, 2015

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See video: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/25/asia/ukraine-russia-obama/index.html

New Delhi (CNN)
The military option is out, President Barack Obama said Sunday, but the U.S. will be looking at all other options to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia” on the issue of Ukraine.

“We have no interest in seeing Russia weakened or its economy in shambles. We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle, which is: Large countries don’t bully smaller countries,” Obama told reporters.

Speaking in New Delhi after a lengthy flight on Air Force One, Obama said Sunday he will “look at all the additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation.”

On Monday, Obama will be the first U.S. leader to headline India’s annual Republic Day parade, a colorful military spectacle featuring marching bands, dancing and lots of heavy machinery rolling down the stately Rajpath Boulevard.

The parade will be a reminder of the decades of sometimes-tense relations between India and the U.S. A military demonstration at heart, the vehicles and equipment parading before Obama will be mostly Russian-made, a vestige of India’s stance during the Cold War.

Russia remains India’s largest supplier of weapons, and while their share is steadily decreasing, Russian military imports still amount to three-quarters of India’s stockpile.

With U.S.-Russia relations worsening to Cold War levels, Obama hopes to balance Moscow’s influence in India during his visit this week.

His visit comes a day after city officials in Mariupol, Ukraine, said shelling in southeastern Ukraine killed at least 30 people, including two children.

Another 102 people were injured, at least 75 of whom needed hospital treatment, and many suffered shrapnel injuries, Mariupol City Council said.

Pro-Russian separatists are blamed for the attack on residential areas in the port city, Donetsk regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said on his Facebook page.

Monitors with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said they conducted a crater analysis which showed the use of Grad and Uragan rockets that likely originated from areas controlled by the pro-Russian rebel group Donetsk People’s Republic.

The shelling comes amid a surge in fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Ukraine and Syria during a phone call, the State Department said.

“On Ukraine, the Secretary reiterated our condemnation of the separatists’ grad missile attack on civilians in Mariupol … and other separatist attacks,” a statement said. “The Secretary reiterated the need for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons, and closing the border.

“He also underscored U.S. readiness to participate in serious settlement efforts, making clear that deescalation is in everyone’s interests, that Russia will be judged by its actions, and that the costs to Russia will only increase if attacks continue.”

Kerry has previously warned of increased international pressure on Russia.

“We call on Russia to end its support for separatists immediately, close the international border with Ukraine, and withdraw all weapons, fighters and financial backing,” Kerry said in a statement Saturday.

The White House says Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday.

They “expressed grave concern over Russia’s blatant disregard for its commitments under the September Minsk agreement and unilateral escalation of the conflict,” the White House said.

Thousands have been killed since the conflict broke out in the spring of last year. A ceasefire agreed to in September in Minsk, Belarus, crumbled long ago.

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Greece ‘leaves behind the austerity that ruined it,’ party leader vows after vote

Untitled7676See video: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/25/europe/greece-elections/index.html

(CNN)The firebrand leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party appeared to be bracing for a bigger battle as he declared victory in Sunday’s election.

Now that his party has apparently won the support of his country’s voters, Alexis Tsipras has another fight in front of him: making good on his campaign promise to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s bailout.

“We are regaining our lost dignity … Now that we are heard by all of Europe, we will fight with the same passion, the same confidence,” Tsipras told cheering supporters. “So let’s go and let’s all continue this beautiful and tough fight.”

With more than 70% of votes counted, Syriza was officially projected to win at least 149 seats in the 300-seat Parliament.

Exit polls also placed the party in the lead. But analysts cautioned that it was still too close to call whether Syriza would win a majority of seats — a key step that would allow the party to govern without forming a coalition government.

Tsipras, 40, who could become Greece’s next prime minister, also vowed to end austerity measures.

“Greece leaves behind the austerity that ruined it, leaves behind the fear, leaves behind five years of humiliation, and Greece moves forward with optimism and hope and dignity,” he told the crowd.

Syriza’s pledges to try to get some of Greece’s colossal debt written off and roll back unpopular austerity measures appealed to exasperated members of the electorate — even if they potentially jeopardize Greece’s place in the eurozone. The election could lead to a dramatic showdown with the debt-laden nation’s lenders.

“That is a gamble that people in Greece seem to be prepared to take at this point, simply because the terms of its bailout have been so severe,” Greek journalist Elinda Labropoulou told CNN on Sunday.

One of those people willing to take the risk is Eleni Antoniou, a former public sector employee.

“People went bankrupt since we entered the bailout, poverty is visible across society, and I believe that hope is coming with Syriza’s program, not only for Greece, but for all of Europe,” she said ahead of the election.

Outgoing prime minister: My conscience is clear

The austerity imposed by Greece’s international creditors has cut deep. Unemployment has soared to 28%, and many people who still have jobs have seen drastic decreases in wages, pensions frozen and the retirement age pushed back.

The governing New Democracy party had pointed to recent improvements in economic indicators as signs things were getting better.

After conceding defeat Sunday, outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said his conscience was clear.

“I got a country on the verge of ruin. I was asked to try and save it, and I did it,” he said. “Most people did not believe we could stand strong, but we did.”

Now, he said, Greece is secure and “slowly walking away from the crisis.”

“And more than anything,” he said, “I give back a country that is a member of the European parliament and the euro.”

‘Not the future of austerity’

In his victory speech Sunday, Tsipras noted that Greece’s election could have an impact far beyond his country’s borders.

“Our victory is, at the same time, it’s a victory for all the people of Europe that are fighting against austerity that’s ruining the common European future,” he said.

His message is one that has resonated in other southern European countries under the restrictions of international bailouts.

Syriza’s victory could boost other populist parties, like Beppe Grillo’s anti-euro Five Star Movement in Italy and the Podemos Movement in Spain.

But it’s unclear how its plans to renegotiate the bailout would play out.

Is Alexis Tsipras man of the moment?

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Radical cleric Abu Hamza jailed for life by US court

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A judge said she could not think of a time when it would be safe to release Abu Hamza

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been sentenced to life in prison by a court in New York for supporting terrorism.

He was convicted in May of multiple charges, including hostage-taking and plotting to set up a terrorism training camp in the US.

His trial followed a lengthy extradition process from the UK.

During the sentencing, his lawyers asked the judge to take into account his missing hands and eye.

They also argued a plan to imprison Abu Hamza in Colorado’s Supermax federal prison would violate assurances the US made to judges in London to secure his 2012 extradition.

Prosecutors argued on Friday that the US government had never made such a promise to the UK and life in prison was the only appropriate sentence.

Judge Katherine Forrest called Abu Hamza’s actions “barbaric” and “misguided” and said she was sentencing him to life because she could not think of a time when it would be safe to release him.

She added she would leave the decision where he would spend his imprisonment to federal prison officials.

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At the scene, 
Steve Swann, BBC News Home Affairs Reporter

Finally, after years of legal wrangling, it all ended here in a wood-paneled US courtroom close to the site where the Twin Towers once stood.

There was none of the trademark ranting from the firebrand cleric who for years had preached hatred and violence.

Today, dressed in prison overalls, when he was invited to address the crowded court he spoke quietly and asked for leniency. He said he was innocent and complained about his treatment in prison.

The judge read out the names of the four British tourists killed in the Yemen kidnapping in 1998 and described Abu Hamza’s actions as barbaric.

The former nightclub bouncer turned extremist cleric was then sentenced to spend the remainder of his life in obscurity.

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The US justice department hailed the sentence.

“Abu Hamza is an unrepentant all-purpose terrorist,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin said in a statement.

“With today’s sentence, he is being held accountable for the many ways in which he supported terrorism and other terrorists through much of his life.

The cleric, who was born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was convicted last May in New York on 11 counts, including involvement in a plot to take Western tourists hostages in Yemen in 1998.

Three Britons and an Australian died when the Yemeni army launched a rescue bid.

Laurence Whitehouse, from Hampshire, UK, escaped but his wife Margaret was killed.

“There has been a gross injustice in the length of time taken in bringing these matters to a conclusion.” Mr Whitehouse said.

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Paris Attack Underscores a Deeper Malaise

JANUARY 8, 2015 | 02:33 GMT

geopolitical-diary

Wednesday’s deadly attack against a French satirical publication has the potential to upset relations between European states and their Muslim citizenries. The strategic intent behind such attacks is precisely to sow this kind of crisis, as well as to influence French policy and recruit more jihadists. Even though Islamist extremism is, at its core, an intra-Muslim conflict, such incidents will draw in non-Muslims, exacerbating matters.

Three suspected Islamist militants attacked the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with high-powered assault rifles, killing 12 people. Among the dead are the editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, who was on a hit list appearing in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine for “insulting the Prophet Mohammed.” Eyewitness said they heard the attackers shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed,” and chanting, “God is Great” in Arabic. This is the third such attack in a Western country in less than three months. The Paris incident involves perpetrators who displayed sophisticated small arms and small unit training.

Whether or not these attacks are the handiwork of self-motivated grassroots jihadists and cells or of individuals tied to international jihadist entities, such incidents aggravate tense relations between the Western and Muslim worlds. This is all the more significant in Europe, where states are experiencing the rise of right-wing nationalism and Muslim communities have long experienced disaffection. The jihadist objective is to get the states to crack down harder on Muslim communities in order to further their narrative that the West is waging war on Islam and Muslims.

While Western states go to great lengths to demonstrate that no such clash of civilizations is occurring, right-wing forces engage in rhetoric that reinforces these fears among many common Muslims across the world. More important, there is a longstanding conflict of values — particularly freedom of expression, which is cherished in the West but seen by many Muslims as a license for sacrilege. Though the vast majority of Muslims will not engage in violence in response to speech deemed as blasphemous, there are many who will. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law has been a subject of huge controversy. Many Pakistani citizens have been murdered by their fellow countrymen for speech or behavior deemed objectionable. At the root of this problem is the extreme discomfort many Muslims have with free expression, although this attitude is not universal. The person of the Prophet Mohammed is all the more sensitive because the traditional view is that he cannot be depicted pictorially, let alone in a satirical manner.

Ultimately, this is an intra-Muslim struggle for power and control wrapped in a debate over what it means to be a Muslim in today’s world and what the boundaries of justifiable action are. Defining those factors is one tool that can be used to gain power; attacks against the West and its interests, meant to force Westerners to pull out of Muslim lands or to attack Muslims and enforce the jihadist narrative, are another. This issue undermines efforts by moderate and progressive Muslims to advance the notion of freedoms based on an Islamic ethos.

The ongoing intra-Muslim debate gives extremists ample ideological and, by extension, geopolitical space to exploit. The jihadist enterprise deliberately targets non-Muslims, in particular the West, in part as a means to gain ground within the Muslim milieu. This strategy also sucks the Western world into what is essentially a Muslim civil war in order to tackle the security threats posed by Islamist militant actors.

However, Western involvement in this internal debate will not help defeat extremism or ease relations between Muslims and the West. The end of jihadism will come only when Muslims defeat their own deviants on the ideological battleground.

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Torture Advocates Outnumbered Critics 2-to-1 FAIR survey finds torturers well-represented on TV news

Jan 07, 2015

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A new FAIR study finds that torture defenders outnumbered critics of torture by nearly 2 to 1 in TV news coverage of the Senate Intelligence Committee report released on December 9.

FAIR surveyed the guests of nine news programs for the week of December 7 to December 14, when discussion of the torture report’s findings was most prominent. The programs included the Sunday talk shows (NBC‘s Meet the PressCBS‘s Face the NationABC‘s This WeekFox News Sunday andCNN’s State of the Union) along with four weekday news shows (MSNBC‘sHardballFox‘s Special Report, the first hour of CNN‘s Situation Roomand the PBS NewsHour).

Of the 104 guests discussing the topic on these shows, 53 expressed a discernible opinion either for or against the use of torture. Thirty-five of those who took a position, or 66 percent, were supportive of torture. This included a few individuals who claimed to be against “torture,” but defended interrogation methods such as waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are recognized as torture under US and international law.

Only 18 guests (34 percent) articulated clear opposition to the CIA’s torture practices–about half as many as spoke up in defense of torture.

Journalists–mostly news correspondents brought on to discuss the report’s release–made up 64 of the 104 total guests; few of these expressed an overt opinion on torture. Thirty-five former and current government officials–including nine CIA officers, seven of whom defended the torture program–were the bulk of the remaining guests.

Many of these former government officials were involved in authorizing or implementing the CIA’s torture program, including George W. Bush (State of the Union12/7/14), Vice President Dick Cheney (Special Report12/10/14;Meet the Press12/14/14), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (Situation Room12/10/14), White House adviser Karl Rove (Fox News Sunday,12/14/14), CIA Director Michael Hayden (Face the Nation12/7/14This Week 12/14), CIA Deputy Director Jose Rodriguez (Fox News Sunday,12/14/14) and CIA spokesperson Bill Harlow (NewsHour12/10/14;Situation Room12/11/14).

Guantanamo prosecutor David Iglesias also appeared on the NewsHour(12/10/14); of the eight former government officials who had a connection to the torture program, he was the only one to express opposition to it.

While those who ordered, justified and carried out torture were well-represented in the debate over the report, advocates for the victims of torture were seldom heard from. Joseph Margulies (Hardball, 12/9/14) and Meg Satterthwaite (This Week12/14/14), two lawyers representing victims of CIA torture, were the exceptions. Representatives of human rights groups and experts on international law were notable for their absence.

Among partisan guests–politicians and campaign officials–Republicans outnumbered Democrats 19 to 7. Sixteen of the Republicans defended torture, while three spoke against it–including Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), who opposed releasing the report or prosecuting torturers, but indicated that as a member of the Intelligence Committee he would block the CIA from conducting similar interrogations. Of the seven Democratic appearances, four spoke against torture, while three voiced no clear opinion.

Guests were coded by occupation, partisan affiliation and their expressed opinion on torture. Sources whose soundbites appeared in short taped segments were not counted as guests.

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I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003

When Vicky Ward profiled Jeffrey Epstein for Vanity Fair, allegations of his attempted seduction of two young sisters were excised from the final piece.

“Jeffrey wanted me to tell you that you looked so pretty,” the female voice said into my disbelieving ear.

It was the fall of 2002. I was pregnant, uncomfortably so, for the first time and with twins, due the following March. I was besieged by a relentless morning sickness. I was sick in street gutters, onto my desk, at dinners with friends. I suffered severe bloating and water retention.

But here was this faux-compliment coming, bizarrely and a bit grotesquely, from a woman I hadn’t met—a female assistant who worked for one Jeffrey Epstein, a mysterious Gatsby-esque financier whom I’d been assigned to write about by my then-boss Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair. (Epstein had caught the attention of the press when he had flown Bill Clinton on his jet to Africa. No one knew who he was or understood how he’d made his money.)

Upon hearing of my assignment, Epstein had invited me to an off-the-record tea at his Upper East Side house (during which I distinctly remember he rudely ate all the finger food himself) and then had his assistant call to tell me he’d thought I was pretty.

At first—it was the early stages of reporting—I was amused at having been so crassly underestimated. For a man who clearly considered himself a sophisticated ladies’ man (the only book he’d left out for me to see was a paperback by the Marquis de Sade), I thought his journalist-seduction technique was a bit like his table manners—in dire need of improvement.

If only it had all ended there. This was what it had been meant to be. A gossipy piece about a shadowy, slightly sinister but essentially harmless man who preferred track-pants to suits but somehow lived very large, had wealthy, important friends, hung out with models, and shied away from the press.

In the last 48 hours I’ve had a journalist from the U.K. Sunnewspaper put herself inside my foyer. I’ve been inundated with requests for TV interviews. And Epstein’s old mentor, the convicted fraudster Steven Hoffenberg, recently released from jail after a 20-year sentence, has been pestering me and my agent to write a movie.

Separately, Hoffenberg’s daughter has gotten in touch—and it’s gotten me thinking. There are some injustices that maybe only time can right. And perhaps now is the time. Things happened then that simply shouldn’t have, and if I don’t talk about them, then probably no one will.

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It became obvious as I was reporting his story that you could essentially divide Jeffrey Epstein’s biography into two themes. One was the hidden source of his wealth—he claimed he’d fueled a lifestyle of vast homes, a private jet, and endless travel by managing the money of billionaires and taking a commission, a story that no one I spoke to believed—while the second mystery was his unorthodox lifestyle.

Then in his 50s, he’d never been married but had had a string of intelligent, good-looking girlfriends, including Ghislaine Maxwell, the raven-haired daughter of the late, disgraced British newspaperman Robert Maxwell whom he promoted from girlfriend to “friend” when it was over. She remained frequently by his side.

But the New York gossip was focused on the many parties he gave at his house, where he regularly hosted a mix of plutocrats, academics from Ivy League schools, and nubile, very young women. Oh, and also Britain’s Prince Andrew, whom he introduced to everyone as just “Andy.”

I got to work on all of it—and Epstein kept close tabs on me. He didn’t want to be seen to cooperate, but he’d do his best to control me. He phoned regularly. I wasn’t altogether surprised to be quickly summoned to the offices of the rich and powerful, sometimes before I’d even asked to meet with them.

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James “Jimmy” Cayne, then the cigar-chomping CEO of Bear Stearns, not only phoned me up, he found the time in his busy day to give me a tour of the office. He was on his best behavior, talking up Epstein’s alleged supposed great brain, his value to the bank—never mind the fact that Epstein had had to leave it quickly in 1981; this Cayne put down to Epstein’s ambition “outgrowing” the place.

I also met with respected real estate developer Marshall Rose; the former Bear Stearns chairman Alan “Ace” Greenberg called me; so too did Leslie Wexner, the founder and CEO of The Limited, who trusted Epstein so much he had given Epstein carte blanche to insert himself into both Wexner’s family and business affairs, according to people who saw Epstein’s contract; they all chattered on about Epstein’s brilliantly creative mind, his intellectual prowess—a mental agility that, to put it bluntly, was simply not evident in the many phone conversations he had with me.

These were conversations that took a fairly grim twist pretty quickly. “What is the nature of the piece?” he kept asking. “Does it have this aspect in it?” “This aspect” would refer variously to his philanthropy, his interest in biological mathematics, his well-known friends, some tycoons, some academic wonks—and yes, the women. “I don’t expect there’d be a piece on me without that,” he’d said, preening.

The women he directed me to were all respectable. There was a doctor, there was a socialite, there was Ghislaine Maxwell; they were all grown-ups, with the appearance of financial independence.

While Epstein’s friends speculated that retailer Les Wexner was the real source of Epstein’s wealth, Wexner (who called him “my friend Jeffrey”) never commented on this, though he did send me an email praising Epstein’s “ability to see patterns in politics and financial markets.”

My investigation began to take on unexpected twists. After a bit of digging I found myself not in some plush office setting but going through the metal detectors inside the Federal Medical Center at Devens prison in Massachusetts, where I met with one Steve Hoffenberg, a fraudster who’d been convicted of bilking investors of more than $450 million in one of the largest pre-Madoff Ponzi schemes in history. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Hoffenberg told me that he’d met Epstein shortly after Epstein had been kicked out of Bear Stearns in 1981 for “getting into trouble” and that Hoffenberg had seen charm and talent in him —“he has a way of getting under your skin”—and had hired him as a “consultant” to work with.

Hoffenberg, officially, ran Towers Financial, a collection agency that was supposed to buy debts that people owed to hospitals, banks, and phone companies, but instead the funds paid off earlier investors and subsidized his own lavish lifestyle. Hoffenberg told me had he had been Epstein’s mentor and that Epstein had made a terrible mistake in doing something so high-profile as flying Bill Clinton, since that would only draw a spotlight to his business dealings. “I always told him to stay below the radar,” he said.

Aware that I was listening to a convicted felon who had lied under oath—he was, after all, sitting before me in an orange jumpsuit—I left the jail determined to get more concrete proof about the source of Epstein’s finances. Slowly, I got there.

It took many meetings of the type you see in the movies. There I was, with my growing belly, in the backs of people’s chauffeured-driven cars, in out-of-the way hotel bars—and finally, in my sixth month, when my doctor had begun to look dismayed and told me to take it easy, a train ride to a law firm in Philadelphia, where I and a research assistant were shown a room full of boxes with legal files, and the man who brought us there whispered, “Good luck!”

Luck did shine upon me that day. I opened the first box, and there was Epstein’s deposition in a civil case explaining in his own testimony that he had indeed been guilty of a “reg d violation” while at Bear Stearns and that he’d been asked to leave the investment firm; it was the nail in the coffin I needed.

I had discovered many other concrete, irrefutable examples of strange business practices by Epstein, and while I still couldn’t tell you exactly what he did do to subsidize his lifestyle, my piece would certainly show that he was definitely not what he claimed to be.

I had to put all my findings to Epstein and, bizarrely, he seemed almost unconcerned about the financial irregularities I’d exposed. He admitted to working with and for Hoffenberg but quibbled with some of the specifics of Hoffenberg’s allegations, reminding me that Hoffenberg was a convicted felon. Third parties in turn quibbled with his accounts, and he was irritated, but not overly so.

I was a little mystified at how benignly he responded to my questions about his business activities. Now, when I look at my meticulous notes, I notice that his tempo quickened—and he was much more focused—when he himself asked: “What do you have on the girls?” He would ask the question over and over again.

What I had “on the girls” were some remarkably brave first-person accounts. Three on-the-record stories from a family: a mother and her daughters who came from Phoenix. The oldest daughter, an artist whose character was vouchsafed to me by several sources, including the artist Eric Fischl, had told me, weeping as she sat in my living room, of how Epstein had attempted to seduce both her and, separately, her younger sister, then only 16.

He’d gotten to them because of his money. He’d promised the older sister patronage of her art work; he’d promised the younger funding for a trip abroad that would give her the work experience she needed on her résumé for a place at an Ivy League university, which she desperately wanted—and would win.

The girls’ mother told me by phone that she had thought her daughters would be safe under Epstein’s roof, not least because he phoned her to reassure her, and she also knew he had Ghislaine Maxwell with him at all times.

When the girls’ mother learned that Epstein had, regardless, allegedlymolested her 16-year-old daughter, she’d wanted to fight back. “At the time I wanted to go after him. I mean, physically, mentally, you know, in every way, shape, and form. And the advice I was given was, you know, he is so wealthy, he can fight you, he can make you look ridiculous, he can make your daughters look ridiculous, plus he can hurt them. And that was the thing that frightened me was that he would know where they lived and could possibly just send somebody when they walk the dog at night or something around the corner, and we’d never hear from them again,” she told me.

When I put their allegations to Epstein, he denied them and went into overdrive. He called Graydon. He also repeatedly phoned me. He said, “Just the mention of a 16-year-old girl… carries the wrong impression. I don’t see what it adds to the piece. And that makes me unhappy.”

Next, Epstein attacked both me and my sources. Letters purporting to be from the women were sent to Graydon, which the women claimed (and gave evidence to show me) were fabricated fakes. I had my own notes to disprove Epstein’s claims against me.

And then there was Epstein himself, who, I’d be told after I’d given birth, got past security at Condé Nast and went into the Vanity Fair offices. By now everyone at the magazine was completely spooked.

But my sources, my young women and their mother, heroically held firm. They were going to tell their story, consequences be damned. And as for me? My doctor insisted that once I filed this piece I lie down on my bed and not get out. One of my babies had started to grow alarmingly slowly.

***

I worked through December 2002 like a dog. I worked with three fact-checkers, the magazine’s lawyer; I sifted through everything Epstein threw at me and defused it. We were getting ready to go to press. And then the bullet came. “Graydon’s taking out the women from the piece,” Doug Stumpf, my editor, told me.

I began to cry. It was so wrong. The family had been so brave. I thought about the mother, her fear of the dark, of the harm she feared might come to her daughters. And then I thought of all the rich, powerful men in suits ready to talk about Epstein’s “great mind.”

“Why?” I asked Graydon. “He’s sensitive about the young women” was his answer. “And we still get to run most of the piece.”

Many years later I know that Graydon made the call that seemed right to him then—and though the episode still deeply rankles me I don’t blame him. He sits in different shoes from me; editors are faced with these sorts of decisions all the time, and disaster can strike if they don’t err on the side of caution.

It came down to my sources’ word against Epstein’s… and at the time Graydon believed Epstein. In my notebook I have him saying, “I believe him… I’m Canadian.”

Today, my editor at The Daily Beast emailed Graydon to ask why he had excised the women’s stories from my article. A Vanity Fair spokeswoman responded: “Epstein denied the charges at the time and since the claims were unsubstantiated and no criminal investigation had been initiated, we decided not to include them in what was a financial story.”

But this wasn’t a financial story, it was a classic Vanity Fair profile of a society figure. I don’t know—because I never asked him—if Graydon still believed Epstein when in 2007 Epstein was sentenced to jail time for soliciting underage prostitutes. But it has often struck me that if my piece had named the women, the FBI might have come after Epstein sooner and perhaps some of his victims, now, in the latest spate of allegations, allegedly either paid off or too fearful of retribution to speak up, would have been saved.

He has a way of spooking you, does Epstein. Or he did. My babies were born prematurely, dangerously so; he’d asked which hospital I was giving birth at—and I was so afraid that somehow, with all his connections to the academic and medical community, that he was coming for my little ones that I put security on them in the NICU.

When they’d been released home some months later, I went out to my first party. There was Jeffrey Epstein, sucking a lollipop. “Vicky,” he said, “you look so pretty.”

Vicky Ward was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair for 11 years. She is the best-selling author of The Devil’s Casino and most recently, The Liar’s Ball(Wiley).

But it didn’t.

I haven’t ever wanted to go back and dwell on that dark time. But then the latest Epstein scandal broke, when Prince Andrew was accused in a Florida court filing of having sex with a 17-year-old girl while she was a “sex slave” of Epstein’s.

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Survey Shows 54 Percent Decline in Satisfaction with Ghani’s Performance

Tuesday, 06 January 2015 20:56

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 11:33

Written by Sayed Abbas Kazemi

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The percentage of Afghans ‘very satisfied’ with President Ashraf Ghani’s performance in office has plummeted by 54 percent in his first 100 days, according to a new survey conducted by TOLOnews and ATR Consulting.

Only 27.5 percent of Afghans identified as ‘very satisfied’ with Ghani’s performance, marking a dramatic drop fom the 59.9 percent who reported being ‘very satisfied’ after the president’s first month in office.

With just 100 days under the belt of Ghani’s national unity government, the sharp decline in public approval numbers comes in tandem with growing criticism among Afghan political and civil society leaders who say Ghani has failed to follow through on his campaign promises. But the extent to which Ghani’s job satisfaction rating as dropped in such a short time is likely to be seen as the biggest rebuke of his performance yet.

“How satisfied are you with President Ashraf Ghani’s performance?” was the question posed to 2,448 randomly selected respondents, who included both men and women in all 34 provinces. Reached by phone between December 27, 2014 and January 3, 2015, the respondents were asked to choose one of four possible answers; ‘Very satisfied’, ‘Moderately satisfied’, ‘Not satisfied at all’ or ‘No opinion’.

The poll results indicate 30.4 percent of the Afghan population is ‘moderately satisfied’ with President Ghani’s performance, while the largest portion of those surveyed – 32 percent – said that they were ‘not satisfied at all’. Just one tenth of the respondents had ‘no opinion’ about Ghani’s performance.

The survey also measured the degree to which Afghans were hopeful that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah would be able to cooperate. Results show 32.5 percent of respondents replied that they were ‘very hopeful’ for cooperation between the national unity government leaders, who ran a close race against each other in 2013’s turbulent presidential election. Meanwhile, 24.2 percent of respondents said they were ‘moderately hopeful’ and 20.3 percent said they were ‘not hopeful’.

The last question of the survey addressed recent controversy over the labels used by government leaders for referring to the Taliban. Although President Hamid Karzai received heavier criticism in his last years in office for referring to Taliban militants as “brothers,” Ghani has been the subject of some pushback since calling the group the “political opposition” in his first few months in office, which saw a flurry of aggressive insurgent attacks and offensives around the country.

According to the survey, 19 percent of Afghans believe that the Taliban should be described as ‘enemies of the state’, while 16.3 percent suggested ‘terrorist’ as the most fitting description. Coming in a close third, 15.3 percent of respondents said that ‘angry brothers’ would be the most appropriate label for the Taliban. Finally, just 12.9 percent endorsed Ghani’s terminology of ‘political opposition’.

The survey is the second poll gauging public perceptions of Ghani’s performance that has been published since the national unity government took power in September of last year. The first took place after the president had been in office for a month, and the third is scheduled to take place after the president’s first 200 days in office are complete.

The most recent poll comes amid a wave of criticism of the new government from Parliament, civil society groups and the general public. The inability to form a new cabinet within the first 100 days, as well as unemployment and the country’s rapidly deteriorating security situation have been the points of greatest concern.

 

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