30 September 2013

Democracy is the best policy

Frank Mitchell

When the Americans give a party, it’s usually an event not to be missed for a whole raft of reasons – the first being that it’s usually the only game in town and if you miss out on this deal, you’ll likely miss out on the next offer too.

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India&Pakistanleaders ‘want better ties’ but reach no concrete agreements

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif have agreed to work to restore a cross-border ceasefire after a spate of shootings in order to improve strained ties, officials said.

Singh and Sharif met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, amid heightened tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours over the Kashmir region, sparked by series of fatal clashes on their de facto Himalayan border.

Indiaemerged from the meeting of more than an hour calling the talks ‘useful’, whilePakistancalled the atmosphere ‘very positive’.

They both expressed a desire to improve ties but agreed that ‘peace and tranquillity across the LOC is a precondition’, Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon told reporters inNew York.

‘We need to address the issues that we face today and then we hope to move it forward,’ he said.

PakistanChristians protest over bloody church bombing

Angry Christians have been protesting across Pakistan to demand better protection after a devastating double suicide bombing at a church killed more than 80 people.

The attack on All Saints church in the northwestern city ofPeshawarafter a service on Sunday September 22 is believed to be the deadliest ever to targetPakistan’s small Christian minority.

Christians demonstrated in towns and cities aroundPakistan, includingIslamabad,Lahore,KarachiandPeshawarto protest against the violence and demand the authorities do more to protect them.

A Muslim man was killed inKarachiwhen scuffles broke out at a Christian protest outside a mosque, police said.

More than 600 protesters blocked a major highway inIslamabadfor several hours during the Monday morning rush hour, burning tyres and causing long tailbacks. Later around 2,000 people gathered to protest outside parliament.

InPeshawar, around 200 demonstrators took to the streets, smashing windows at the main Lady Reading hospital, where many of the victims were treated, and blocking the main Grand Trunk road.

In front of All Saints church, more than 100 people chanted slogans demanding justice and attacking the national government for failing to protect Christians. And they had harsh words for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whosePakistanTehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party runs the provincial government in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

‘White widow’ wanted in connection with Kenyan attacks

Interpol has issued an arrest notice for British terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite at the request ofKenya.

The agency issued a Red Notice, or internationally wanted persons alert, following the recent four-day massacre (September 21-24) at a shopping mall in Nairobi by Islamist militants from the Somali-based al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group. The attack left more than 60 people dead.

Muslim convert Lewthwaite, 29 (who uses the alias Nathalie Webb), is wanted byKenyaon charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a crime dating back to December 2011.

She has been dubbed the ‘white widow’ because she was married to 7/7Londonsuicide bomber Jermaine Lindsay.

Circulated to all 190 Interpol member countries, the Red Notice represents one of the agency’s most powerful tools in tracking international fugitives.

‘By requesting an Interpol Red Notice,Kenyahas activated a global “tripwire” for this fugitive,’ said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K Noble.

‘Through the Interpol Red Notice, Kenyan authorities have ensured that all 190 member countries are aware of the danger posed by this woman, not just across the region but also worldwide,’ he added.

Al-Shabaab recently confirmed witness accounts that those able to prove they were Muslim were allowed to leave the mall.

Netanyahu to press Obama for no let-up onIranpressure

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will warn President Barack Obama in upcoming White House talks that Iran’s diplomatic ‘sweet talk’ cannot be trusted and will urge him to keep up the pressure to preventTehran from being able to make a nuclear bomb.

While Obama will attempt to reassure Netanyahu that he will not act prematurely to ease sanctions onIran, growing signs of a US-Iranian thaw have rattledIsraeland could make for a tense encounter between the two leaders, who have not always seen eye-to-eye on the Iranian nuclear dispute.

They are to meet inWashingtonthree days after Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone in the highest-level contact between the countries in more than three decades. The call fuelled hopes for a resolution ofIran’s decade-old nuclear standoff with the West.

‘Netanyahu does not care that he is the only one ruining the party,’ an Israeli official said.

Obama is expected to voice sympathy forIsrael’s scepticism aboutIran, its longtime enemy, but will make clear his determination to test Rouhani’s intentions and will press Netanyahu for time to do so, US officials say.

For his part, Netanyahu will tell Obama that tough economic sanctions have succeeded in forcingIranback to the negotiating table and ‘they should not be eased, quite the contrary, they should be tightened’, a second Israeli official said.

Netanyahu will urge Obama to reject any concessions by the West and instead demand specific steps byIran, including shutting down its uranium enrichment and plutonium projects and shipping out their fissile material.

Triumphant Merkel starts tough task of seeking coalition

Germanychancellor Angela Merkel has begun the task of trying to persuade her centre-left rivals to keep her in power, after her conservatives notched up their best election result in more than two decades but fell short of an absolute majority.

Even Merkel’s political foes acknowledged she was the big winner of the first German vote since the start of the euro crisis in 2010 thrust the pastor’s daughter fromEast Germanyinto the role ofEurope’s dominant leader.

But despite leading her conservatives to their best result since 1990, with 41.5 per cent of votes putting them five seats short of the first absolute majority in parliament in over half a century, the 59-year-old Merkel had little time to celebrate.

‘We are, of course, open for talks and I have already had initial contact with the SPD (Social Democratic Party) chairman,’ Merkel told a news conference, adding that she did not rule out talks with other potential coalition partners.

Analysts say coalition building could take as long as two months, given signs Merkel’s SPD arch-rivals would play hardball over repeating the ‘grand coalition’ she led from 2005-2009. That coalition worked well for Merkel in her first term but cost the SPD millions of leftist votes.

‘It will be an extremely long road,” said Ralf Stegner, head of the left wing of the SPD which has major reservations about becoming junior partners again to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Bavarian the Christian Social Union (CSU) allies.

India: militants attack police & army bases

India’s prime minister has condemned a ‘heinous terrorist attack’ on a police station and nearby army base in which nine people were reportedly killed.

Militants dressed in army uniform stormed a police station in the Samba region ofJammu, where they shot dead six people and hijacked a truck.

They then drove to a nearby army base where they killed the truck driver and began shooting at soldiers inside the camp, two of whom are thought to have died.

The attack triggered calls for planned talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawz Sharif to be cancelled.

However, Mr Singh suggested the meeting would go ahead as planned.

‘This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of the peace,’ he said. ‘We are firmly resolved to combat and defeat the terrorist menace that continues to receive encouragement and reinforcement from across the border.

‘Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue.’

Mr Singh had been under pressure not to agree to talks while attacks near the India-Pakistan border continue.Indiahas accusedPakistanof 120 ceasefire violations since the start of the year.

Pakistandenies arming or training militants but says it offers moral support toKashmir’s Muslim population, which it claims faces human rights abuses at the hands of Indian forces.

There has been no meaningful dialogue betweenIndiaandPakistansince the Mumbai attacks in 2008 in which 166 people were killed. The Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the attack on the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets.

‘Link foreign aid toUKvalues,’ says Fox

The government should withdraw international aid from countries that do not adopt British values, former UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said.

Dr Fox said countries such as Pakistan received millions of pounds from the British taxpayer every year but Christian communities in the country were facing increasing hostility.

He said if foreign governments fail to uphold British values such as religious tolerance, theUKshould not continue to give them hand-outs.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference inManchester, he said: ‘We should use our leverage to ensure that those ethics of generous British citizens who provide the money through their donations and through their taxes are reflected in those countries whom we assist.

‘We should make clear that religious tolerance and equal rights are an essential part of our culture which we insist in being replicated in the recipient nations and if they are not, then our aid policy should be re-evaluated.

‘We are who and what we are, not just because of economic strength but because of what we believe. Our commitment to political freedom and expression, the economic freedom within a free market framework and our religiously tolerant society have shaped not only this country but many around the globe.’

Responding to a follow-up question, Fox added: ‘I look at countries likePakistan, where a huge amount of our aid goes to and I view a country where religious tolerance is becoming less and less.’

He also drew comparisons with countries such asIndia, ‘which having inherited so much our legal tradition, for example, has enabled itself to become not only increasingly affluent but a stable democracy’.

Can traditional faiths fill moral void inChina?

China’s President Xi Jinping believes China is losing its moral compass and he wants the ruling Communist Party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope that these will help fill a vacuum created by the country’s breakneck growth and rush to get rich, sources said.

Xi, who grew up in Mao’s puritanChina, is troubled by what he sees as the country’s moral decline and obsession with money, said three independent sources with ties to the leadership.

He hopesChina’s ‘traditional cultures’ or faiths – Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism – will help fill a void that has allowed corruption to flourish, the sources said.

But sceptics see it as a cynical move to try to curb rising social unrest and perpetuate one-party rule.

During the early years under Communism,China’s crime rate was low and corruption rare. By contrast, between 2008 and 2012 about 143,000 government officials – or an average of 78 a day – were convicted of graft or dereliction of duty, according to a Supreme Court report to parliament in March.

Xi intensified an anti-corruption campaign when he became party and military chief in November, but experts say only deep and difficult political reforms will make a difference.

Meanwhile, barely a day goes by without soul-searching on the Internet over what some see as a moral numbness inChina– whether it’s over graft, the rampant sale of adulterated food or incidents such as when a woman gouged out the eyes of her six-year-old nephew this month for unknown reasons.

‘Xi understands that the anti-corruption (drive) can only cure symptoms and that reform of the political system and faiths are needed to cure the disease of corruption,’ one of the sources said, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing elite politics.

Greece plans new anti-racism law amid Golden Dawn crackdown

The Greek government has said it will soon present a bill targeting racist hate speech, part of a crackdown on the far-right Golden Dawn party after the killing of an anti-fascist rapper.

‘(The bill) will be submitted to parliament in a matter of days. It has symbolic and moral value,’ Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos told reporters, adding that it would align Greek legislation with European standards.

Greece’s ruling coalition had been at loggerheads over whether it needed a new anti-racism law to deal with racist and inflammatory talk used by Golden Dawn.

Venizelos’s Socialist PASOK party had pushed for a new law, while the main ruling conservative party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had argued that current legislation was enough.

But the murder of rapper Pavlos Fissas on September 17 by a Golden Dawn supporter prompted a crackdown onGreece’s third-most popular party, whose fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric has attracted support amid a severe economic crisis.

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and four other party lawmakers are due to appear in court this week to respond to charges of forming a criminal organisation.

The government is also preparing another law that would suspend Golden Dawn’s state funding on the grounds that its leadership is facing prosecution on felony charges.

‘Democracy can’t fund its opponents,’ Venizelos said.

Tunisia’s Islamists resist proposal to step down

Tunisia’s ruling Islamists have rejected a proposal under which they would step down pending elections, a decision likely to deepen confrontation with secular opponents demanding their immediate resignation.

Tunisia, whose 2011 uprising was the first of a series across the Arab world, has been in turmoil since an opposition leader was assassinated in July, threatening a democratic transition once seen as the most promising in a troubled region.

The country’s powerful UGTT union had been pushing both sides to accept a plan for the Islamist-led government to step down after three weeks of talks to decide on a date for elections and the composition of a new caretaker administration.

But the moderate Islamist Ennahda party has called for more guarantees on the election date and said an assembly writing a new constitution should finish its work before the government agreed to relinquish power.

‘We have said that this government would not step down concretely before the completion of the constitution,’ Rafik Abd Essalem, a senior Ennahda official, told reporters.

Malian army clashes with Tuareg rebels for second day in Kidal

Malian troops have clashed with Tuareg rebels in the northern desert town ofKidalfor a second day, residents said, after the separatists recently ended a ceasefire with the new government.

The clashes threaten to derail peace efforts in northernMaliand complicateFrance’s plan to reduce its troop presence in the West African country following a military operation that destroyed an Islamist enclave.

The fighting began on Sunday 29 September outside a bank in the centre of Kidal, with both the military and the MNLA rebels accusing the other of firing first. After calm returned overnight, shooting re-started early on the morning of 30 September.

Colonel Souleymane Maiga, an army spokesman, said the shooting erupted outside the Malian Solidarity Bank (BMS) where fighting had raged on the Sunday. The MNLA said three of its fighters were wounded in that combat.

Two days earlier, two soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack at the same place, a day after the MNLA suspended its participation in the peace process. The rebels accuse newly elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of failing to honour a June ceasefire accord.

The agreement had committedMalito opening talks on greater regional autonomy for the north within two months of a new government taking office. Keita won an August 11 presidential run-off by a landslide with a pledge to reunite the impoverished former French colony.