Weekly Newsletter on Bangladesh, Missions and Human Rights  

Year XI

Nr. 482 

Aug 17, 11

This issue is sent to 508 readers and to 6.602 ones in the Italian version






»»  Commentary on Missionary Intention August 2011


»»   Dictators Inc. by Vivienne Walt

»»  Globalisation and the need to form world citizens by Imtiyaz Yusuf

»»  Mentally illness suffer medieval treatment across the globe by Stephen Leahy

»»  No consensus in Security Council on climate change by Inaki Borda

»»  Right to Water Still a Political Mirage by Thalif Deen


»»  Improving sanitation, still a long way to go by Aimable Twahirwa


»»  Asean gets recognition, now it must act by Kavi Chongkittavorn


»»  Norway attacks: We can no longer ignore the far-right threat by Matthew Goodwin


»»  AsiaNews correspondent seized by the authorities in Nepal by Kalpit Parajuli

»»  Autistic children need more care

»»  Government prefers to implement develpment projects with own funding

»»  No more exclusion of any minority

»»  Police extortion on highways troubles drivers: minister

»»  Tribal women take on forest ranger roles by Naimul Haq

»»  75.08pc pass HSC, equivalent exams

»»  Fate of 100000 students uncertain for seat crisis by Noman Chowdhury and Rafiul Islam


»»  Beijing pontificates against Vatican "threats" by Bernardo Cervellera

»»  Beijing: crackdown on Catholics, priests who challenge illegal ordinations denied entry 


»»  The chaos in ruling military council helping Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis


»»  Germany arms Saudis against Iran by Julio Godoy


»»  India's Leading Export: CEOs by Carla Power

»»  New Killings, Torture at Bangladeshi Border

»»  Hunger strike for the rights of Christian and Muslim Dalits by Nirmala Carvalho

»»  India and Pakistan summit meeting to open a dialogue

»»  India’s 'recycled' school teaches green lessons by Shilpa Jamkhandikar


»»  "Food stores are hit, but with what right?" Complains Mgr. Martinelli


»»  Seven million young people are easy prey for criminal organizations

Middle East

»»  Families Cry Out for Palestinian Prisoners by Eva Bartlett

»»  Israel and the others, who recognizes South Sudan?


»»  UN appreciates “constructive” meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar minister

»»  Money and energy fuelling war between Burmese military and ethnic minorities by Yaung Ni Oo

»»  Activists condemn India's arm deal with Burma by Nava Thakuria  

North Korea

»»  US open to Pyongyang over nuclear disarmament


»»  Taliban backs off from attacking civilians by Ashfaq Yusufzai


»»  Aquino speaks to the nation but disappoints Filipinos

»»  Even a truck can become a classroom


»»  Famine in Somalia: When does the world decide to use the ‘F' word?

South Sudan

»»  Mass graves discovered in South Kordofan

»»  South Sudan should not reinvent the wheel

Sri Lanka

»»  In Sri Lanka Democracy Rides on Wheels by Amantha Perera

»»  Sri Lankan prisons inhumane for women by Ranmali Bandarage


»»  Crisis in the relationship between Erdogan and Europe by NAT da Polis

United States

»»  Two Compromises by Joe Klein

Other articles italian edition

Mondialità: La speculazione che affama di Riccardo Moro * L’Onu prepara l’ Arms Trade Treaty di Alessio Pisanò * La secolarizzazione è un grande tsunami nella cultura * Lotta alla deforestazione: una questione di diritto di Piergiorgio Cattani * Nel frattempo siamo troppi di Paul Kennedy  Africa: L’Africa? c’est moi di Alberto Bobbio * Vertice su fame e siccità, esperto Onu: “serve prevenzione” Il legame tra carestia e crescita delle spese militari americane di Gianni Alioi * Corno d'Africa, le dimensioni di una catastrofe di Carlo Ciavoni  Cile: I mapuche, popolo della terra di Fabrizio Noli  Congo RD:  Colera, la catastrofe annunciata di Maria Agata Messina * Editoriale di Congo Attualità 127  Egitto: Giovani Fratelli di Francesca Borri  Giappone: Il Giappone risponde in modo creativo alla crisi di Daisaku Ikeda   Italia: Casta ed anti-casta. Il mondo della pace s'interroga * E la monnezza arrivò a Bush di Stefania Maurizi * Ma chi sono questi 'faccendieri'? di Giorgio Bocca * I big europei in Africa. E l'Italia dov'è? di Giorgio Bernardelli * Venire qui è stato utile anche per questo di Teresa Poggiali * Quel filo sottile che lega la crisi nel Corno d’Africa e il welfare italiano di Gianni Alioti * Pranzo di lusso: sette euro...  Medio Oriente: Gli "indignados" di Tel Aviv di Mario Correnti  Messico: Messico, migranti usa e getta di Alessandro Grandi  Myanmar – L’Onu apprezza il “costruttivo” incontro fra Aung San Suu Kyi e un ministro birmano  * Tensioni in stato Kachin, continua la fuga dei civili  Portorico: Criminalità all'attacco di Alessandro Grandi  Serbia:  Belgrado corre incontro all'Europa  Somalia: I bimbi del campo di Dadaab, vittime dell’inferno somalo di Matteo Fraschini Koffi  Stati Uniti: Niente tasse ai tea party di Guglielmo Ragozzino


The views expressed in these articles are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Banglanews' editorial policy

Web Sites: Bangladesh   Asianomads   Congo   Congo blog  Pamoia na KakaLuigi  Ladymercyindia

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Commentary on Missionary Intention August 2011

Agenzia Fides - Vatican City - July 26, 2011

"May Western Christians, compliant to the Holy Spirit, rediscover the freshness and enthusiasm of their faith"


In the primitive Church, due to persecution and the evangelical zeal of the first disciples, the apostles and their collaborators spread throughout the land known at the time. St. Paul evangelized Greece and reached Spain and Rome, where he was martyred. Even St. Peter gave his life for the Master near the Vatican Hill. From the capital of the Roman Empire, the faith of Christ spread throughout Europe, influencing the culture and permeating all aspects of the gospel in social life. Western civilization was built on Christian values, a vision of man marked by his being the son of God, by his eternal destiny in Christ.

The new evangelization of the continent spread around the world, a culture that is rooted in the Gospel and is inseparable from faith. Unfortunately, the eighteenth century begins with the Enlightenment in Europe, a wave of secularism, which has the pretext to get rid of its Christian identity throughout the West. This wave of secularism leads to Christianophobia, as stated by Pope Benedict XVI. Secularism has the effect of bringing man to live as if God did not exist. This has produced a great lack of hope, which manifests itself in a certain angst about the future, in the decline in birth rate, in the number of vocations, and an inability for the young to make definite decisions for their lives, including marriage.

During his visit to Santiago de Compostela, in November 2010, the Holy Father Benedict XVI said: "It is a tragedy that in Europe, especially in the nineteenth century, the conviction that God is the enemy of man and the enemy of his freedom was affirmed and spread. (...) God is the source of our being and the foundation and peak of our freedom, not its opponent. (...) How is it possible that the first public silence occurred regarding the first and essential reality of human life? "(Holy Mass on the occasion of the Holy Year in Compostela, Plaza del Congreso, on November 6, 2010).

The disciples of Christ in the West must actually recover the enthusiasm for the faith, overcoming consumerist materialism and open up to a transcendent dimension of life. It is necessary to rediscover the person of Christ as Someone who is alive, who is among us. It is necessary to find new space for silence and meditation on the Word of God, to enter in communion with the person of Jesus. So this is why the Pope has called Christians to "follow the example of the apostles, getting to know the Lord more each day and offering a clear and courageous testimony of his Gospel".

May Mary, Queen of the Apostles, obtain for us with her maternal intercession a new effusion of the Holy Spirit so that the Church in the West may be renewed.  


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Dictators Inc. by Vivienne Walt

Time - July 18, 2011  


Hussein Abdel-Hady still shudders at the memory of that morning in 2006 when he was summoned to Egypt's Ministry of Investment and handed a three-page document. "They said, 'Just sign,'" says Abdel-Hady, a ministry official who had been charged with evaluating privatization deals. The document authorized the sale of Omar Effendi, one of Egypt's biggest chains of state-owned department stores, for "the amount stipulated on the attachment," says Abdel-Hady. Yet there was no attachment. When Abdel-Hady hesitated, his colleagues ordered him not to question the document. Three days later, all 82 department stores plus the land on which they stood were sold to a Saudi businessman for about $99 million — a fraction of what Abdel-Hady had previously estimated they were worth. "The government was in a hurry to sell," he says bitterly, "no questions asked."

Now the questions are coming thick and fast. In the space of a few months, the Arab Spring has shattered years of silence over corrupt backroom deals, which have been a feature of business in the region for decades. People are now free to challenge what happened under their ousted dictators and are demanding back billions of dollars that they claim leaders, along with their relatives and top officials, siphoned off and often stashed abroad. "These economies operated under a cloak of opacity," says Anthea Lawson of Global Witness, an anticorruption research organization in London. "Corruption was the entire basis of these uprisings, and people were sufficiently furious to risk their lives and try and overthrow it."

In Tunisia, the economy was dominated by relatives of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who fled on Jan. 14. His family owned houses in Paris, the Alps and the south of France. Switzerland froze about $69 million of the ruling clan's bank deposits, while both the French and Swiss governments impounded private planes belonging to the family.

Among the first demands of Libya's rebels when the revolt erupted in Benghazi in February was for Europe and the U.S. to freeze all assets of Muammar Gaddafi and his family members, who are worth billions, according to estimates by officials who defected. Just a few of those now frozen assets: an office building in London's West End, 3% of the British publisher Pearson, a stake in Italy's Juventus football club and a 7,000-hectare spread on Spain's Costa del Sol.

Egypt's missing fortunes appear equally staggering and were a driving force behind the revolt. Months after Hosni Mubarak finally abandoned his nearly 30-year rule, many in Cairo believe the revolution might have stalled in early February, its activists exhausted and cold, had it not been for an article in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Feb. 4 that estimated the Mubarak family fortune at $40 billion to $70 billion, including homes in Beverly Hills, Manhattan and London's Belgravia district.

The article caused a sensation in Egypt. "I was in Tahrir Square when that story broke, and I trembled," says Hossam Issa, a commercial-law professor at Cairo's Ain Shams University. "My first reaction was, 'This could be a way to topple Mubarak.'" Issa was right. Within a day of the story's publication, tens of thousands more Egyptians poured into the square to join the protests, many of them poor people chanting, "Mubarak stole $70 billion." Within a week, Mubarak was gone.

Yet for all the fury over stolen billions, it will not be easy to take the alleged loot home. In numerous interviews, financial experts in Switzerland, Britain and the U.S. say tracing the dictators' fortunes — including that of Gaddafi, who is still in power — is just the first daunting challenge. Most countries require those trying to recover stolen assets to identify the people who have hidden money, jewels or other riches and where the assets are. "You cannot just go on a fishing expedition," says Lawson. "You have to know what you are looking for."

Government officials in Egypt, Tunisia and rebel-held eastern Libya are scrambling to piece together the puzzle of their leaders' wealth in order to submit the raft of documents required by foreign banks. Their work is greatly complicated by the reluctance of most public servants and other sources to divulge details, which could land them in jail for years, depending on who ends up in power. Since only a few officials know where to look, there is pressure to find the assets quickly. "The risk in cases like these is that nobody knows where the money is and that people die and the documents are never recovered," says Pierre Schifferli, a Geneva attorney who helped recover billions embezzled by Nigerian President Sani Abacha and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. "Marcos' money was so well hidden that not even his family members knew where it was," Schifferli says. "It's like hiding 30 Easter eggs in the garden, and the kids find 28 of them. For a long time you will think, 'Where the heck are the other two?'A quarter-century later, Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi are believed to have deposited assets in dozens of countries, including the Gulf states and elsewhere in Asia, where governments have been slow to help trace them. Wealth left at home is an easier target. Tunisian investigators have uncovered hoards of jewels and cash in Ben Ali's palaces, while Libya's central-bank governor, Farhat Bengdara, who defected in March, estimates that Gaddafi keeps about $500 million in cash in Tripoli, as well as about 155 tons of gold bars, worth about $7.5 billion.

Tracing the missing funds is Step 1. Government officials in Egypt and Tunisia and, if Gaddafi is one day ousted, Libya will then have to prove in court, both at home and in countries where the missing funds are, that the wealth was illegally obtained. "It is not a crime to be wealthy and to have a political role," says Daniel Thelesklaf, co — executive director of the Basel Institute on Governance in Switzerland, who flew to Cairo in May to advise officials on how to try to recover the Mubarak regime's fortunes. The Ministers of Tourism and the Interior under Mubarak have already been convicted of stealing public funds and are serving long prison terms. Mubarak's Finance Minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, fled Egypt to avoid the same fate, but in early July he was acquitted of squandering public funds. Other cases could be more difficult to prove, since so many officials were also major businessmen. "The picture is never black and white," Thelesklaf says. Egyptians say corruption has long pervaded their daily lives and that they still grease palms in order to park a car, rent an apartment or renew a passport. But the multibillion-dollar corruption within the regime's top ranks was more opaque.

Indeed, for those with political connections, there were fortunes to be made during the 1990s and 2000s. As Egypt, Tunisia and Libya began privatizing their state-run economies and opening to Western investment, partly in response to World Bank and IMF demands, there was a frenzy of dealmaking on everything from land to energy, power plants to mobile-phone licenses, with assets hurriedly bought, sold and then resold without tenders. In Tunisia, Ben Ali's in-laws, the Trabelsi clan, ultimately came to control much of the economy by acquiring hugely lucrative multinational subsidiaries, like Toyota dealerships, Carrefour supermarkets and the Orange telecom company, at very low cost.

In Cairo, Ahmed el-Sayed el-Naggar of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies for the government-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, spent years documenting how Mubarak's political associates bought public assets in no-bid deals at fire-sale prices, then resold them for profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2000, Mubarak's close aide Ahmed Ezz, who is now in detention on corruption charges, was allowed to buy a large tract of land near the Gulf of Suez for just $16 per sq m on the condition that he build a factory there. He built a metalworks, which he still owns, then sold the land within months to a Kuwaiti company, making about $37 million in profit. "Nobody wanted to put any obstacles in the way of privatization," el-Naggar says. "Not a single deal was correct."

The Arab revolutions could change all that. In Egypt, dozens of officials face charges of abusing their power in making huge profits. On May 24, Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal were indicted on corruption charges. Tunisian officials have frozen assets of 110 members of Ben Ali's regime as well as numerous Trabelsi relatives. Libya's sovereign-wealth fund, valued at more than $50 billion last year, has been frozen under U.N. sanctions. U.N. investigators are probing whether member states have in fact frozen the assets in the fund, but their task is complicated, since the fund's investments were scattershot and its record keeping erratic, according to KPMG, which the Libyan government hired early last year to try to organize the fund's management. Shortly before the global economic meltdown in 2008, the fund invested more than $2.3 billion with Goldman Sachs and lost about 98% of the money once the crisis hit.

In mid-May, three months after Mubarak was driven from power, an Egyptian judge finally annulled the 2006 sale of the Omar Effendi department stores, ruling that the deal had been fraudulent. For Abdel-Hady, the ministry official who recounted being ordered to sign the sale documents, it was a personal vindication. Egyptian authorities are looking into whether then Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin — who is now managing director of the World Bank in Washington — violated any laws in the flurry of deals under his watch, including that of the Omar Effendi department stores. To the millions struggling to find jobs and make a living in a deeply unequal society, bringing back their countries' lost billions is not only a matter of justice. It would signify that their revolution has been a success. That's a victory the Arab world may have to wait years for.  


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Globalisation and the need to form world citizens by Imtiyaz Yusuf

The Nation - July 26, 2011  


Globalisation is leading to uniform global patterns in consumerism and materialism, however, mutuality in religious and cultural diversity is lacking.

Each ideological group of the world's population - secular, atheist, religious, agnostic - refuses to accept the other and remains entrenched in its own worldview. Such attitudes lead to religious and non-religious forms of fundamentalism.

The problem of entrenchment of prejudices is the result of conditioning in mono-racial, mono-ethnic and mono-cultural environments. Europe was mono-racial and mono-religious until the immigration of outsiders after World War II; the Muslim world was multiracial, multicultural but mono-religious; Africa was largely mono-racial until Arabs, Europeans and Asians settled there; South Asia had been mono-racial until the coming of Islam and Christianity that turned it into a multi-communal region; Southeast Asian countries were always mono-ethnoreligious.

The early historical trends in globalisation occurred in the Indian Ocean because of maritime movements between Asia and Africa; similar movements occurred along the Silk Route, giving these regions early forms of multiculturalism.

The 20th-century trend of globalisation occurred in a different economic and technological environment shaped by the global market and multinational institutions. Contemporary globalisation is based in essential features of modernity such as reason, science, technology and global capitalism; it is also based in the modern philosophy of separation between religion and society. This last feature of modernity has created social tensions in emerging multicultural societies, resulting in the emergence of secular and religious fundamentalism and ethnoreligious separatism.

As the formerly mono-racial Western societies became culturally diverse due to the increase in Asian and African immigration, they faced the challenge of multicultural integration, which caused Islamophobia to grow among the host societies. The roots of Islamophobia lie in the history of contacts between Christianity and Islam, which the former saw as a heresy. Meanwhile, Asia and Africa, in their encounter with modernity and globalisation in a mostly semi-secular environment, witnessed increasing exclusivism focusing on ethnoreligious identities. This resulted in citizens taking refuge in religious conservatism, religious fundamentalism, ethnoreligious separatism and also succumbing to consumer/materialist culture, while other sections of the world population entered into a postmodern condition of unbelief in meta-narratives.

One of the main reasons behind the rise of ethnoreligious conflicts and religious extremism today is not poverty but racial and cultural discrimination faced by the youth, be it in London, Paris, Sydney, New York or in certain Asian cities. As a result, the youth are attracted to religious extremist propaganda or antisocial political rhetoric of a fascist type. In Asia, meanwhile, mono-ethnoreligious communities which had coexisted with other religious minorities without engaging in inter-religious dialogue are succumbing to xenophobia. This scenario is a far cry from historical precedents, with Muslim Spain or the Ottoman Millet system of autonomous communities providing examples of cultures of tolerance in which the Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted peacefully.

Post-war Germany, France, the United Kingdom and others embarked on a policy of multiculturalism to deal with problems resulting from the racial and religious diversification of their societies. Each country interpreted multiculturalism differently depending upon its national ideology. Germany believed that its mostly Turkish workers would soon return to Turkey, while France hoped that its non-European populace would assimilate into French secular culture - but neither happened. Rather, some sections of the second-generation youth of the immigrant community began laying emphasis on their religious identity as a response to social discrimination, while sections of indigenous European youth became radicalised by resorting to rightwing racism. This marked the failure of the multiculturalism project.

In Asia, some Hindu, Muslim and other youth, too, became ethnically and religiously exclusivistic by being drawn into fundamentalism and religious conservatism.

One reason for such developments is the non-development of the human as "homo-religiosus" - total human being rather than a fragmented person, ie, one who has a broader understanding of faith and the history of religion. Besides food and air we also possess the faculty of faith, which enables us to be in tune with cosmic patterns. The modern venture of multiculturalism lacks this aspect; it places diverse humanity into ethnoreligious and cultural boxes. As a superficial project, it has failed to produce multicultural citizens who recognise human diversity as natural to human existence.

Today, all societies face the challenge of accepting human diversity, be it at national or international levels, without which there will be little peace. In the case of the Muslim world today, non-recognition of cultural diversity on the part of its political and religious leadership has resulted in the separation of Southern Sudan, the tragedy in Darfur, the Kurdish problem, etc. It has also led to the rise of the spectre of sectarian violence in the current tumultuous Middle East and inter-religious conflicts in Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc.

The problem of religious conflict is not restricted to the Muslim world; the challenge of pluralism in Southeast Asia, the communal religious tensions in South Asia and the rise of rightwing groups in Europe tell us that there is a worldwide need to produce citizens who recognise cultural diversity as a natural boon and who are ready for dialogue. Such a venture has to be a pedagogical undertaking, otherwise, while being materialistically uniform, we would become dehumanised beings. In the case of the Muslims, it is imperative that they adhere to the meaning of the Quranic references which they often cite, ie, "Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him." (Quran 49:13); "There is no compulsion in religion." (Quran 2:256.) This means that followers of all religions should enjoy freedom to practice their respective religions in all Muslim countries, while members of other religions and ideologies will also need to develop their ways of recognising human diversity from their own sources in a dialogical form. On the occasion of Switzerland's banning of minarets, John Esposito asked the Swiss citizens a question, "Are Swiss Alps Threatened by Minarets?". Obviously, such fears do not augur well for forming world citizens.

Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf is professor of Islamics and Religion at the Graduate School of Philosophy and Religion, Assumption University, Bangkok.  


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Mentally illness suffer medieval treatment across the globe by Stephen Leahy

Ipsnews - Uxbridge, Canada, July 22, 2011 


A young girl in Somalia sits chained to a tree. Women in the Ukraine wander aimlessly in the halls of a decrepit psychiatric hospital. Those are the startling images in a recent article by a global panel calling the world's attention to the extent and tragedy of hundreds of millions suffering from mental illnesses and who go untreated in the global south.

Grand Challenges Canada responded to that call Thursday, announcing 20 million dollars in funding specifically for research proposals to tackle the issue of mental health in developing countries.

"This is the first investment in response to the global panel's call for action," said Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada.

"Mental illness in low- and middle-income countries is perhaps the most neglected of the 'neglected diseases'," Singer told IPS.

Mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, dementia and alcohol dependence represent 13 percent of all diseases worldwide, more than heart disease and cancer combined, the global panel of 422 experts reported in the Jul. 7 issue of the journal Nature.

The panel was convened by the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health initiative and funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases in London.

Some 450 million people are afflicted with mental disorders, and more than 75 percent live in the developing world. In a recent survey, the World Health Organization found up to 85 percent of patients with serious mental disorders did not receive any treatment in the past year of their illness.

In 83 percent of low-income countries, there is no primary care treatment of Parkinson's disease, which causes dementia. In 25 percent, there are no anti-epileptic drugs, the panel reported.

"Finding solutions means doing research, and there is extremely little research funding for mental health in low- and middle-income countries," said Abdallah Daar, co-leader of the panel and chief science and ethics officer of Grand Challenges Canada.

"Mental illnesses are really the grandest of the challenges," Daar said in a release.

Europe has 200 times as many psychiatrists as Africa, but no one can afford to bring that level of care to Africa or many other low-income countries, said Singer. "Innovation is what is needed to improve treatment and access to mental health services," he stressed.

The need for home-grown innovation is paramount, according to Singer. There simply isn't enough money to meet the need in poor countries using the same approaches taken in richer countries to treat mental illness, he argues.

"Services in many countries are at a very basic level, if they exist at all. We are looking for treatment innovations by researchers in the developing world who best know the reality in their countries," he said.

Singer and Grand Challenges Canada are hoping for revolutionary breakthroughs in terms of treatment and access to mental health services.

Ten years ago, most of Africa was without phone services, but the solution was not to copy what Europe or North America did by building a costly network of land lines. Innovation brought the mobile phone and now Africans not only have phone service but are using it in new ways such as transferring funds with Mpesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money), said Singer.

The money to fund Grand Challenges Canada comes from Canada's 228- million-dollar Development Innovation Fund, which was designed to support collaborative research into solutions to global health challenges. This forms part of Canada's recently increased commitment to overseas development assistance.

Grants of a million dollars or more will be awarded to the best proposals from social, scientific, business researchers for significantly improved treatment and increased access to care for patients.

Successful proposals will include treatment practices for remote area health workers, ways to reduce the cost and improve the supply of drugs, affordable community-based care, or the development of mobile and other technologies like telemedicine to increase access.

Equally important are proposals to address the issue of stigma, discrimination and social exclusion of those with mental illness.

"Everyone knows someone who has a mental disability, be it depression or something else," said Singer. "It is not acceptable on any level to chain a child to a tree or lock people up as treatment for mental illness. We need to find new and better solutions."  


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No consensus in Security Council on climate change by Inaki Borda

Oneworld South Asia - July 22, 2011  


Many national leaders have stressed on the enormity of the climate change issue and its anticipated effects on international security. However, the recent Security Council meeting has not taken a strong stand on the issue.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had called the meeting "essential" to raise political awareness and fast-track adaptation and mitigation measures.

"Competition between communities and countries for scarce resources - especially water - is increasing, exacerbating old security dilemmas and creating new ones...These are all threats to human security, as well as to international peace and security," Ban said.

Small island states in the Pacific have been urging the Security Council to act for years, as sea levels rise and the "existential" threat to their nations and cultures becomes increasingly imminent.

Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that, "The Security Council should join the General Assembly in recognising climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism."

Stephen suggested that a special representative on climate and security be appointed and then, as a final step, the United Nations system should be assessed to see whether it is capable of responding to a crisis of that magnitude.  


Against UN involvement

Néstor Osorio, Colombia's U.N. ambassador, admitted that even if responses to minimise the effects of climate change are not within the mandate of the Security Council, "We believe that we are called to play a role in conflict cases that are exacerbated by the effects of climate change."

But not every country agrees with that proposition.

"The Security Council should not interfere on issues like climate change, even though the situation is 'severe' and 'urgent' "Maged A. Abdelaziz, Ambassador of Egypt

Maged A. Abdelaziz, Egypt's ambassador and chair of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, told the Security Council that it should not interfere on issues like climate change, even though the situation is "severe" and "urgent". China stated that its position had not changed and expressed its opposition to the Security Council making decisions about climate change, since, as Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative Wang Min told Inner City Press, there are already "blue" or empty seats at the General Assembly as it loses power.

"The Movement also stresses that climate change and its adverse impacts must be addressed from the perspective of sustainable development, promoting a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of the problem," Abdelaziz said.

This, according to him, can only happen through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and the Commission on Sustainable Development.

"The Movement stresses the importance of fulfilling the international commitments under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol...Therefore, this debate should not result in any form of outcome that undermines the authority of the relevant bodies," he concluded.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Pankin, the country's deputy permanent representative to the U.N., also said that involving the Security Council in the debate could lead to "increased politicisation" of the issue.


UN role critical

However, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice complained that the council's failure to approve a presidential statement is "pathetic, it's shortsighted and quite frankly, it's a dereliction of duty."

The debate took place the same day the United Nations declared a state of famine in two regions of southern Somalia.

With millions of people around the world in danger of running out of water or food as a result of droughts or floods caused by climate change, the stability of those places is at stake.

"We are looking at massive migration issues, water issues, food scarcity issues...and if you put them in geographic regions that are already unstable, the situation becomes unbearable," Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Washington-based Association of Climate Change Officers, told IPS.

"Migration, resource issues are clearly international security issues and something that the Security Council should be looking very seriously at"Daniel Kreeger, Executive director of Association of Climate Change Officers.

Kreeger cited the current tensions among India, China and Pakistan, three nuclear-armed states which are currently fighting over water supplies.

"Those are clearly international security issues and something that the Security Council should be looking very seriously at," he said.

Since the secretary-general issued a report to the General Assembly on climate change in 2009, the international community has reached certain agreements in Copenhagen and Cancún.

"These agreements provide an important, but incomplete, foundation for action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enabling all countries to adapt," Ban said.

He added that the next UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Durban this December must be decisive: "Minimalist steps will not do."

the debate held on the 20th of july 2011 was the second attempt by the Security Council to consider climate change and peacekeeping, the first taking place in 2007.

"The heating of the planet, caused by pollution from oil and coal, is driving social, political, economic and ecological change, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and impairing food production around the globe," said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, in a statement.

"These impacts will have important implications for security in many regions of the world, and it is significant that they are recognised at the highest level of international affairs," he said. "National governments must now consider how best to respond in their own self- interest – in economic and security terms as well as environmental ones."  


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Right to Water Still a Political Mirage by Thalif Deen

Ipsnews - United Nations - July 23, 2011  


When the international community commemorates the first anniversary of a historic General Assembly resolution recognising the right to water and sanitation as a basic human right, there will be no joyous celebrations in the corridors of the United Nations, come Jul. 28.

"I think member states have been slow to react," complains a highly- disappointed Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, one of Canada's largest citizens' organisations promoting social and economic justice.

"I know my own government has still not endorsed it, and still says – incorrectly - that the General Assembly resolution was not binding," Barlow told IPS.

The landmark resolution was adopted by the 192-member General Assembly on Jul. 28 last year, and two months later, was endorsed by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Barlow, a former senior U.N. adviser on water and who chairs the Washington-based Food and Water Watch, said, "I think the most significant progress was the adoption of a second resolution by the Human Rights Council."


Not only did the second resolution lay out the responsibilities of governments to realise this newly recognised right, because it was based on two existing international treaties, but it also clarified that the General Assembly resolution is now binding, she added.

"The human right to water and sanitation is now as binding as any other (resolution) ever adopted by the United Nations," Barlow noted.

Still, the resolution proved politically divisive, with 122 countries voting for it, 41 abstaining, but with no negative votes.

The United States abstained and so did some of the European, as well as industrialised countries, including Britain, Australia, Austria, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

But several developing nations, mostly from Africa, also abstained on the vote, siding with rich industrial countries. These included Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Zambia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Fleur Anderson, international campaign coordinator for the London- based End Water Poverty, told IPS that despite the U.N. resolution, the water and sanitation crisis has continued for another long year.

"And the problem is not water scarcity or climate change but choices by governments not to fund water and sanitation provision for every community," she said.

She said millions of ordinary people around the world could have life-changing water services by next year, "and we keep pushing our governments to treat this as the emergency situation which it is."

Anderson said campaigners for End Water Poverty welcomed the recognition of the right to water and sanitation, and this has led to an increasing number of ordinary people around the world wanting to speak out and claim their right.

But the sanitation Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to reduce by 50 percent the number of people without access to adequate sanitation by 2015, is from being reached so far, she noted.

And governments need to take far more bold action and increase spending on sanitation to one percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Otherwise these rights will remain meaningless for the parents of the 4,000 children who die every day from diarrhoea caused by lack of sanitation, said Anderson.

The 'Sanitation and Water For All' partnership has the potential to prove a leadership by governments and civil society in providing the increased funding, coordination and better planning needed, but governments and member states need to step up to this challenge.

"If the 'business as usual' approach to sanitation continues, the sanitation MDG won't be met for another 200 years, and this makes a mockery of the fine commitments to the right to water and sanitation," she added.

John Sauer of Water for People told IPS that from the U.S. perspective, there has been a step forward in the appointment of a Global Water Coordinator, Christian Holmes.

Also they took another step by signing the Memoradum of Understanding (MOU) with the World Bank on World Water Day. These are two good steps, he said.

Sauer said while certainly more progress is needed, some countries have taken this forward.

For example, in Liberia, they've done a base line survey of all of their rural water points. The government of Liberia and the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Programme used a monitoring and evaluation platform called FLOW, which Water For People helped to create as a part of this base line survey process.

This has helped feed into a national plan that is right now before the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first woman president and a former assistant administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

"All of this has been supported by the new coalition Sanitation and Water for All, which I think is where you should look to ask and see progress of the implementation on the Human Right to Water," Sauer said.

It is particularly important that Liberia has taken all of these steps given that the president of Liberia is head of the African Water Ministers Council. She is certainly trying to set a good example, said Sauer.

Asked what civil society plans to do in ensuring the implementation of the U.N. resolution, Barlow told IPS, "Our global water justice community has been working hard on the next steps."

"Essentially we are working to create a domestic plan of action in as many countries as we can and most will include lobbying their governments to write its plan of action for submission to the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and for this plan to clearly spell out how the government will meet the three required obligations (to respect, to protect, and to fulfil)," she said.

The Council of Canadians also plans to campaign governments to adopt the right to water and sanitation into their own constitutions, thereby removing this fundamental right from the whims of changing political parties.

Additionally, the Council seeks to enlarge the traditional view of a human right from the individually-centred one, currently used at the United Nations, to one that is more inclusive of cultural and collective realities.

"We also want the right to water and sanitation to include the rights of water itself and the rights of watersheds to be protected from extractive industries and corporate and government pollution," Barlow said.

The Council will also target women and indigenous peoples, as well as the most marginalised, for priority services.

It will campaign globally for the wealthy governments of the North to increase their foreign aid and target it to water and wastewater infrastructure investment in the global South and continue to promote water and wastewater delivery systems that are public and not-for- profit.


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Improving sanitation, still a long way to go by Aimable Twahirwa

Ipsnews - Kigali - July 22, 2011  


When Callixte Munyabikari, a potato farmer from Gakenke in northern Rwanda, was rushed to a regional hospital after he fell ill with diarrhoea, he thought it was just a bad case of food poisoning.

"I never imagined that it was an intestinal disease that I contracted from drinking water from (a) neighbouring river. Yes, the river was contaminated. It is used everyday by local residents for cooking and other activities, such as washing clothes along the banks," he said.

Since 2007, the issue of hygiene and sanitation in rural areas has been of major concern as Rwanda's government reduced spending on medical care for patients affected by poor hygiene and sanitation diseases across the country.

"It is important to eradicate the persistent behaviour among rural communities. A number of households used to have access only to a shared latrine," said Rwanda's minister of infrastructure, Colette Ruhamya, while underlining the role of proper sanitation and hygiene as the main component of sustainable development.

"Everybody can dig, and the latrine (and) the roof are lower cost material(s)," she said. Government’s aim is that each household, wherever possible, should have access to its own sanitation facility. Rwanda seeks to be a model of hygiene and sanitation for other African countries.

In fact, it is one of only four countries in Africa which look set to achieve Millennium Development Goal 7 to ensure environmental sustainability, which includes halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The other three countries are Mozambique, Ghana, and Sierra Leone.

Delegates at the Africa Sanitation and Hygiene Conference (AfricaSan 3), which was held from 19 to 21 Jul. in Kigali, were divided on whether poverty was the main cause of poor sanitation facilities and waterborne diseases currently affecting millions of people across the continent.

"There is an urgent need for African countries to address the issue of sanitation and hygiene without relying on donors’ aid," declared Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

According to him, the only inclusive solution to promote measures to prevent waterborne diseases is from local initiatives and without having to rely on foreign assistance.

Kagame’s comments came at a time when experts from several African praised the initiatives undertaken to promote hygiene across the Central African nation.

Since 2001, Rwanda has embarked on strong measures aimed at wiping out unhygienic practices, while sensitising local communities in urban and rural areas to change behaviour and bad habits that relate to poor hygiene.

Other initiatives taken to prevent waterborne diseases include the installation of toilets for each household across the country, while ensuring potable water supply systems in several remote areas across the country. Official statistics show that 61 percent of Rwanda's rural population have access to improved drinking water sources, while 20 percent has access to improved sanitation.

However, some participants expressed pessimism arguing that there is still a long way to go as only four countries across the continent are on track with providing access to safe drinking water, compared to the rest their counterparts.

"It's better to be realistic about commitments made (by governments) toward sustainable solutions, but this implies going along with proposed actions, by ensuring that the majority of rural communities are benefiting (from a) potable water supply and adequate sanitation infrastructure," said the Zimbabwean minister of water resources development and management, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo.

"It is still unbelievable that only four African countries are on track toward achieving (the) MDG on sanitation," Nkomo deplored. He blamed inadequate policies to mobilise financial resources in some African nations as a reason.

Speaking on the fringes of the joint summit by the United Nations and African Ministers Council on Water, Nkomo urged governments in countries still lagging behind achieving the MDG for concrete actions, while identifying that priority was need at grassroots level.

However, civil society is still optimistic that Africa could finally be turning a corner in the sanitation crisis; officials say the big challenge is more about adopting adequate policies in this area to curb the consequences of waterborne diseases.


According to Lydia Zigomo, the head of the environmental non-governmental organisation WaterAid, the challenge (in policy decision-making) remains formidable.

"A total of 584 million people in Africa do not have an improved sanitation, and the poorest are 18 times more likely to practice open defecation," Zigomo said. She said that the issue of hygiene has always been the most neglected and off-track of the MDGs, with little funding, resources or political will to address the crisis.

But some representatives of African governments say that necessary resources are available, and that what was most needed was not money, but educating communities on how they can change bad habits with regards to hygiene and sanitation.

"This includes providing toilets after it has been noticed that hundreds of thousands of Africa's rural population still practice open defecation, while ignoring the worst consequences of hygiene-related diseases," Nkomo told IPS.

Official statistics show that diarrhoea, malaria, schistosomiasis, trachoma and intestinal helminths, are major diseases caused by poor hygiene practices and contamination of water across several developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

"In general, 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoea diseases, which includes cholera, while 90 percent are children under five, mostly in developing countries," a World Health Organization report said.

Northern Rwanda is a region described by health experts as having the highest number of hygiene- related diseases. Here a majority of people consume polluted water from neighbouring rivers, which run across the mountainous region.

Government, in collaboration with local administrative leaders, has implemented a number of measures, including sensitising the population to changing bad habits, and not consuming polluted water.

Since 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross has implemented 23 clean water supply projects in several rural areas in northern Rwanda as a way to prevent against contracting waterborne diseases.  


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Asean gets recognition, now it must act by Kavi Chongkittavorn

The Nation (Thailand) - July 25, 2011  


Asean centrality has moved up one notch with the Hague-based International Court of Justice mentioning Asean in its decision recently in regard to the Thai-Cambodian dispute. No wonder, Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa told his Asean colleagues a few hours later at their closed-door meeting in Bali that "Asean is in the equation".

As such, Asean will have to prove its worthiness in the weeks and months to come. Although the grouping's international profile has many facets involving a myriad of issues, for the time being the reputation of Asean will be judged on its effectiveness in handling the Thai-Cambodia conflict as well as its response to Burma's request for be regional chairman in 2014.

Last week, both Cambodia and Thailand were quick to agree to comply with the court's verdict demanding their troops pull out from the disputed areas near Preah Vihear Temple. Indeed, it was in line with one of the key recommendations at a meeting held within 24 hours by Thailand's top security leaders chaired by outgoing prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. It set in motion preparation for full compliance and an eventual troop pull out by the incoming government.

At the moment, Indonesia is waiting anxiously for the Pheu Thai-led government to make the next move. A new Cabinet is expected to be announced in the second week of August, ahead of the Queen's birthday.

By then, the agreed terms of reference drawn up previously between Indonesia and Thailand under the previous government would be amended following the court's recent ruling, especially the newly defined demilitarised zone on both sides. Certain procedures will still need to be worked out. Cambodia prefers dispatching the observers during the pullouts, while Thailand wants them in after the withdrawal.

Looking forward, the current Asean chair is racing against time to ensure some progress in the next 150 days before its term ends. After the 19th Asean summit at the end of the third week of November in Bali, Cambodia will effectively assume the new Asean chair - although officially the term starts in January.

Tense discussions have already started concerning an appropriate role for the incoming chair, if the Thai-Cambodia conflict continues, which is highly likely. Frequently asked questions include: Will Indonesia continue its current responsibility uninterrupted? Will Phnom Penh, as the future Asean chair, agree to such a plan while it is a party to the conflict?

Lessons drawn from the group's experience in Cambodia in July 1997 could be helpful. At the time, the country was in turmoil due to the coup and political fighting among factions headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and now leader in exile Prince Norodom Ranariddh. During the Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur, they decided to delay Cambodia's membership in Asean, which upset Hun Sen very much. To mediate the crisis, the late Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas was quickly named by Asean ministers to lead a 'troika' together with Thailand and the Philippines. After the scheduled 1998 election with the return of Hun Sen, Cambodia was admitted to Asean in 1999.

With this backdrop, Cambodia is expected to invite Indonesia, unless Jakarta says it wants to quit, to stay on in its current role with the consent of Asean. This way, Cambodia can focus on other important Asean agendas. In particular, Phnom Penh has an important task to secure the visits of leaders from key major powers attending the East Asia Summit at the end of next year - including the Asean-US leaders' meeting. The new chair has to follow up various schemes and initiatives aimed at promoting Asean's profile in the global community.

After 14 years of membership, Burma remains a continuing burden for Asean. The Asean foreign ministers have learnt some lessons and are wiser now. They decided to avoid making a recommendation for Asean leaders in November on the 2014 chair. The issue was not included on the agenda of senior officials and foreign ministers. Apart from the briefing Burmese foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin gave to his colleagues on the country's political situation and readiness to host the chair, other Asean members, except Laos, were muted. During the post-ministerial meetings with dialogue partners, China was the only country to support Burma's chair and commended the progress accomplished after the November election, which had been criticised as faulty.

So far Asean has remained "ambivalent" on whether to award the chair to Naypyidaw. That helps explain why Burma has been enthusiastic to have Marty and his team there for a fact-finding tour. But for the past three months, no trip has eventuated. Indeed, it has been quite embarrassing for Asean to have US secretary of state Hillary Clinton constantly warn Asean of the dire consequence of having Burma as the 2014 chair. In Bali, she asked Burma to release political prisoners, begin dialogue with the opposition and address nuclear proliferation issues, otherwise Naypyidaw would not win the trust of the international community.

Before that eventuates, Burma has to gain Asean's trust. Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, want to see substantive reforms and some progress registered on dialogue with the opposition as well as the ethnic groups before granting the chair to Burma. They also support the US call for the releasing of some political prisoners. Without positive development on these fronts, Marty will certainly delay his visit. In more ways than one, his visit is considered a pre-condition.

Otherwise, without satisfactory progress inside Burma before 2014 that is accepted by the international community, the credibility of Asean would be forever tarnished. Worse still is the prospect of having a chair from a country dreaded the world over, to reign over the preparation of the launch of the Asean Community in 2015 or in 1,255 days. It would not be an auspicious way to launch a 600-million plus community.  


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Norway attacks: We can no longer ignore the far-right threat - July 24, 2011

Breivik is not a Norwegian oddity, but symptomatic of a growing culture of politically motivated violence across Europe


Anders Behring Breivik in a freemason uniform, in footage uploaded to YouTube on 23 July. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The tragedy in Norway this weekend may prove to be a watershed moment in terms of how we approach far right followers, groups and their ideology. Until now, European democracies and their security services had focused almost exclusively on the threat from al-Qaida -inspired terrorism. Rightwing extremist groups and their more violent affiliates were dismissed as a disorganised, fragmented and irrelevant movement.

This conventional wisdom, however, ignored wider evidence of a more violent and confrontational mood that was emerging within European far right circles. This shift may have been a response to the arrival of al-Qaida-inspired terrorism, or a sense that far right political parties in Europe (such as the Norwegian Progress party of which the attacker was once a member) were not having enough influence on issues such as immigration.

Two years ago, anti-terrorism officers in Britain warned of a growing threat from rightwing "lone wolves". At the same time, the US department of homeland security warned of the way in which the wider economic climate and election of the first African-American president could result in confrontations between rightwing extremists and government authorities "similar to those in the past". These past events included the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma that killed 168 people.

The events over the weekend directly challenged the idea that rightwing extremism is only a minor security threat. According to Norwegian police, the perpetrator – 32 year-old Anders Behring Breivik – has confirmed that he worked alone on planning and carrying out the two attacks.

The sources of his ideological influences have started to become clear. He was far from what we might term a traditional rightwing extremist. While he was profoundly concerned about the effects of immigration, multiculturalism, Islam and the growth of settled Muslim communities, he was also dismissive of crude racial supremacist and neo-Nazi ideas and parties that espoused these ideas, naming for example the British National Party (BNP).

It was, perhaps, his rejection of the BNP that prompted his interest in the English Defence League (EDL). While Breivik was impressed by the speed of their growth, he also praised "tactical choices" made by their leaders. This included an endorsement of the EDL's rejection of traditional white supremacist discourse and racism, and their decision to oppose Islam on cultural grounds. This distinction between traditional race-based forms of rightwing extremism (such as those of the BNP) and a new anti-Muslim narrative reflects a broader change within the European far right. Rather than oppose immigration and Islam on racial grounds (an argument that would attract little support), the emphasis shifts on to the more socially acceptable issue of culture: Muslims are not biologically inferior, but they are culturally incompatible, so the argument goes. The aim is to open modern far right groups up to a wider audience.

Like most within the far right, while Breivik expressed profound concern over an array of threats in wider society, he appeared to view the mainstream parties as either unwilling or unable to respond adequately. He was at one time a member of the rightwing Progress party that has also rallied against immigration and voiced criticism of Muslims, but he later denounced members of this party as "politically correct career politicians" who were not prepared to "take risks and work for idealistic goals". More broadly, Breivik was also fiercely opposed to the cultural influence of Marxism and "political correctness" and called on sections of the right to counter this influence by taking control of media and other positions of influence.

It would be easy to denounce Breivik as a Norwegian exception, but this would be a mistake. While he is distinguishable by his actions, it is important to note that some of Breivik's core concerns have also played a prominent role within Norwegian and European politics more generally. I spent four years interviewing far right activists, many of whom rejected political violence. Yet what became clear during this research was that there is, unquestionably, a culture of violence within the broader far rightwing subculture. Many of the ideas that were voiced during this research have also come to light over the past 48 hours: the perceived threat posed by Muslim communities, a belief that mainstream parties are incapable of dealing with this threat and strong emphasis on a "clash of civilizations" between members of the majority population and minority groups.

Through websites, literature and meetings (all of which, it seems, Breivik was exposed to), this movement cultivates several narratives among its followers: the belief that they are engaged in a battle for racial or cultural survival; that their racial, religious or cultural group is threatened by imminent extinction; that existing political options are incapable of responding to this threat; that urgent and radical action is required to response to these threats in society; and that they must fulfil this duty in order to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren.

These motives provide followers of far right and fundamentalist groups with a compelling and convincing rationale for getting actively involved. Foremost, these citizens perceive that a wider community is under threat, whether from al-Quaida, supranational organisations such as the EU or UN, immigration or the growth of settled Muslim communities.

Furthermore, they also contend that this threat is cultural rather than economic. It is not simply about jobs or social housing. It is a profound sense of concern that a set of values, way of life and wider community are under threat, and that only the most radical forms of action can remove this threat.

I recently reviewed an academic book that ended with the prediction that the next wave of terrorism in Europe will come not from al-Quaida-inspired groups, but rather rightwing groups that want to respond to this threat and reassert the position of their wider group. It is far too early to tell whether Breivik's actions will inspire copycat attacks, but one thing remains clear: the threat from rightwing extremist groups and ideas deserves far greater attention.  


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AsiaNews correspondent seized by the authorities in Nepal by Kalpit Parajuli

AsiaNews - Kathmandu - July 26, 2011

Since May 27 the police in Nepal have held William Gomes in custody for no reason. The activist was trying to reach Hong Kong via Nepal after being tortured and threatened by the authorities of Dhaka for his activities on behalf of Christians. Spokesman of the main opposition party accuses the government of Nepal of serious violations of human rights and calls on the Prime Minister to resign.  


After fleeing from Bangladesh after having been tortured by police, William Nicholas Gomes, AsiaNews correspondent and activist for human rights, has for months been in police custody in Kathmandu. Since 27 May the authorities are doing everything possible to deport him, but to date have not provided any explanation.

"I ran away to Nepal to reach Hong Kong and save my life - Gomes says - with the help of the Asian Human Rights Commission. When I went to the office of Immigration, officials delayed the process and then tried to deport me. " The activist said that on July 9, while trying to catch a plane to Hong Kong, the police searched his luggage for the presence of drugs and other banned substances, but found nothing.

"After the control - he says - I was stopped from boarding saying that my documents were not valid for travel abroad. Without further explanation they put me in detention, guarded by two policemen with anti-drug dogs, forcing me to ask the Bangladesh embassy for permission to transit. " The activist said he had obtained all the necessary documents for travel abroad and transit in foreign countries. "There is no reason for detention - he said - I have a visa to stay legally in Nepal, but the police consider me a criminal."

On 21 May last men in a dark car kidnapped and tortured William Gomes, a Muslim convert to Christianity. The man, a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and founder of the Christian Development Alternatives (CDA - a humanitarian organization), was stripped naked, forced to the ground and questioned for nearly five hours. These men, including a native English-speaker, accused him of being in contact with Pakistani intelligence (ISI - Inter Service Intelligence) and receiving bribes in order to "damage the Bangladesh Army." Moreover, they charged that Khaleda Zia had paid him to discredit Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. After the death threats to him and his family, Gomes vowed to leave the AHRC and was released.

Gomes says he's concerned about the lives of his family who are still in Bangladesh. "My wife, my children are in danger. I have become a man without a country, my government is working against me. Where should I go to save my life and that of my loved ones? ". He calls on all Catholics to convince the Nepalese government to release him and save his life.

In recent months the Gomes case has aroused much concern between the Nepali human rights organizations and opposition parties who accuse the authorities of acting without any authority or mandate, in violation of democratic norms and civil rights in the country.

According to Subodh Pyakurel, Informal Sector Service Centre for Human Rights in Nepal, the authorities have no right to hold the man in custody. "When I spoke with the airport authorities to help Gomes they couldn’t give me any concrete reason. The police can not prevent him from reaching Hong Kong and does not even have the right to deport him. "

Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesperson of Nepali Congress, the country's main opposition party, said: "How can our government ensure respect for human rights, when for no reason it holds an activist within its borders." After this scandal, Arjun invites the Prime Minister to resign and called on police to release Gomes allowing him transit to Hong Kong.  


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Autistic children need more care

The Sun - July 27, 2011  


It is a matter of deep concern that autistic children are not taken adequate care of in society as people in general do not have much knowledge about autism. The number of autistic children, according to a report published in daily sun on Monday, is increasing at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. What is worrisome is that they are also neglected at school because of lack of trained teachers; it is tantamount to ignoring their basic rights to education and a decent social life as citizens of the country. That schools lack facilities and trained teachers to give specialised education to autistic children although one child in 250 has symptoms like autism, is deplorable, and it clearly indicates that this ailment has been mostly lost sight of by the subsequent governments while formulating the education policy. According to child specialists and educationists, the ‘inclusive education’ scheme of the government that trains up teachers to sensitise them to the problems faced by the children with disabilities does not encompass autistic children who develop social abilities and communication skills at a much slower pace than their peers. It is a general propensity of the education system of the country to overlook them and their inalienable rights as citizens. At the moment, it is imperative to pay special attention to autistic children to pave the way for them to enter the mainstream of student life, given the fact that autism is a life-long neuro-development disorder which should not be mixed with other physical or mental disabilities.

What has necessitated a special care for them within the existing educational facilities is the grim fact that autism is far from a rare affliction and that of six children with neuro-development disorders four are confirmed as autistic cases at the institute of Child Health in Dhaka Shishu Hospital. Child specialists differ with the policy of the government that mild autistic children should be sent to normal schools and children with severe autistic symptoms should get admitted to special schools. It seems, for the sustained development, autistic children need frequent communication and interaction with normal children. This entails formulation of a comprehensive, inclusive education scheme by the government, which will organise adequate training for the teachers on priority basis with special emphasis on sensitising them to the problems faced by autistic children and by those with other disabilities alike. This will help them overcome their sense of insecurity stemming from a predicament caused by the malady to a large extent.

The authorities concerned should remember that any violation of their rights would be a social crime. To avert the situation they should act expeditiously to make the lives of these hapless children as pain-free and soothing as those of the children leading a normal life.  


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Government prefers to implement develpment projects with own funding to avert donors interference  - July 25, 2011  


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government preferred to implement development projects with govern-ment funding to avert unnecessary interference from the donors. “You can’t imagine how much they (donors) interfere in the project implementation,” she told the newly elected office bearers of the Engineers Institution of Bangladesh (IEB) at Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) yesterday. She said that the government funded projects are more quickly implemented nowadays compared to the donor-funded projects. She recalled that during the tenure of BNP-Jamaat alliance government it was a normal phenomenon that the donors complained that the project implementation was hindered for the slow activities of the government agen-cies. “But the situation has changed a lot. Now, we are complaining to the donors that the development projects are being hindered for them (donors),” she said. The Prime Minister said that the government funded projects are now being implemented more quickly as the present government has taken a motto to implement the projects as soon as possible. “As there is no Hawa Bhaban now, there is none to take commission. That’s why the projects are being imple-mented so fast,” she said. Sheikh Hasina asked the engineers to make the country self-sufficient in each sector. In this connection, she re-quested them to use their innovative and creativity ideas. “You also have responsibility for the country, so you have to act in responsible manner,” she said. She criticized some vested quarters, who often said that the ADP implementation rate is very slow. “We have achieved 92 percent implementation rate, so those allegations are wrong,” she said. In this connection, she mentioned that the government has improved the power generation so quickly and al-ready 1900 MW of electricity has been included in the national grid after the present government assumed power. She said that the government has to improve the power generation further as the foreign investment is increas-ing day by day. “Bangladesh is now an attractive place for the investment, huge investment proposals are coming every day. For more foreign investment we have to provide them electricity and we are committed to improve the situation,’ she said. In this regard, she said that there is a problem that the government is facing regarding foreign investment, which is land. “The land is limited in the country and we will not allow using the agriculture land for any other purpose. We have to protect the agriculture land,” she said. Mentioning that the government has been elected for five year term, she said that the government has many works to complete.


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No more exclusion of any minority

The Sun - July 27, 2011  


The rights of Urdu-speaking minority of Bangladesh came under discussion at a national convention organised by Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit at Dhaka University on Sunday. Some eminent members of the literati and civil society took part in the discussion, according to a report by our DU Correspondent published in yesterday’s daily sun. They included former adviser to the caretaker government Rasheda K Chowdhury, poet Asad Chowdhury and Dr Shahdeen Malik. The former chief adviser of caretaker government Justice Habibur Rahman was the chief guest. The event was also attended by some two hundred Urdu-speaking people from across the country. Participants called for social inclusion of the Urdu-speaking people and demanded of the government to ensure the basic rights of the camp-dwelling Urdu-speakers as they too are contributing to the country’s economy. In his address as chief guest Justice Habibur Rahman said we are observing so-called secularism in Bangladesh where basic rights of minorities are often violated.

We have often urged in these columns that Bengali nationalism should be an inclusive entity where no group should feel marginalised on account of religion, language or ethnicity. Almost every modern democracy cedes some space to multiculturalism. Diversity and divergence are the main strength of unity. We may look towards India – a bewildering welter of languages, religions and ethnicities. India’s may be a classic case but most democracies now uphold multiculturalism in today’s interactive, interdependent world. Our liberation from the stranglehold of Pakistan no doubt has a painful history and due to the force of circumstances the Urdu language in common perception became a tool of exploitation. Pakistan by foisting Urdu on the Bengali-speaking people did a great disservice to that language. And it was a communalised version of the Urdu language that Pakistani rulers were promoting. The people were not allowed to know that Urdu had a great secular and socialist tradition, that many top authorities of Urdu were Hindus, especially in the prose side, and even Iqbal was projected in partial light after excising his secular poetry. (Iqbal was an avid reader of the Vedas and had translated Gayatri Mantra, a hymn in the Rig Veda). We may look back to find that at least two Urdu poets residing in Dacca in 1971 supported the liberation war, chose to stay on in this country and one of them (now deceased) went to jail in 1971.

It is gratifying to note that Urdu department of DU has continued to function. The media reported recently that two top student leaders of the BCL are students of Urdu and Persian department. Urdu speakers are not all stranded Pakistanis. Those aged below 40 years know nothing about Pakistan and had fought, and won, a legal battle to be voters. They should be helped to become active members of this composite nation.  


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Police extortion on highways troubles drivers: minister

NewAge - July 25, 2011  


Shipping minister Shajahan Khan on Sunday alleged that drivers face difficulties on highways because of extortion by the police.

 ‘There are allegations that drivers face difficulties on highways because of extortion by the police, who file cases against them if they refuse to pay any money,’ Shajahan told the 34th meeting of the Advisory Council of National Road Transport in the communications ministry.

Presiding over the meeting, the communications minister, Syed Abul Hossain, directed the law enforcement agencies to be relentless in apprehending the people speaking on cell phones while driving.

The directive came against the backdrop of the deaths of 40 persons, including 38 schoolboys, in the traffic accident at Mirsarai in Chittagong on July 11 that took place while the driver was speaking on his mobile.

The communications minister warned that the people who use cell phones while driving would face punishment and their mobile phones would be confiscated.

 ‘If anyone is found talking on his mobile phone while driving, the law enforcers will not only fine them but also seize their sets,’ Abul Hossain told reporters after the meeting.

He also warned that legal measures would be taken against the drivers of private cars, jeeps and microbuses for not fastening their seatbelts.

The minister also said that directives have been issued to the authorities concerned to take effective steps to ease the nagging traffic congestion in Dhaka and major business centres elsewhere in the country before the holy month of Ramadan, which will begin in the first week of August.

Shipping minister Shajahan Khan, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the communications ministry Mujibur Rahman and representatives of road transport owners and workers, along with others, attended the meeting.

The decisions to ensure road safety, taken in the last meeting of the advisory council on 21 September, 2010, have not been implemented so far, according to officials.

The driver of the ill-fated truck, which was carrying the schoolboys in Mirsarai, was driving recklessly and talking over the cell phone when the tragic accident took place on July 11, according to the police and onlookers.

Shajahan Khan expressed concern over the non-enforcement of the road safety measures that include ban on the movement of non-motorised and unauthorised vehicles like Nasimon/Karimon on highways and removal of illegal structures and roadside markets.

He said it was very sad that the advisory council held the meeting after a gap of almost one year though it was supposed to sit once every three months. The communications minister assured the labour leader-turned shipping minister that the advisory council would sit regularly from now on.

Shajahan asked for effective measures to rein in the highway police personnel who allegedly extort money from drivers.

After a Cabinet committee meeting on law and order on July 13, home affairs minister Sahara Khatun said that the government was seriously thinking of launching mobile courts to ensure strict enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, with a particular eye to checking the use of mobile phones by people while driving.

She said that it is illegal to use mobile phones while driving.

The cabinet committee asked the law enforcement agencies to ensure discipline in the transport sector by strictly enforcing the relevant laws.  


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Tribal women take on forest ranger roles by Naimul Haq

Ipsnews - Dhaka - Jul 26, 2011 


Jasinta Nokrek loves nothing better than to range through the dense Modhupur forest, the way her Garo tribal ancestors have always done.

But these days there is grimmer work. She and her neighbours and friends have been charged with keeping a vigil against illegal logging.

Officially, the women are members of a Forest Resource Management Group or FRMG formed to protect the Modhupur forest, located some 150 km northwest of the capital in Tangail district, from poachers and loggers.

Jasinta, a leader of one of 15 FRMGs working to protect demarcated areas extending about 45,000 acres of the reserve forest, explains that each group functions on a self-help basis with its members drawn from different communities.

The FRMGs are the creation of a number of national NGOs focused on establishing good governance. Members meet once a month to discuss and record their work.

Two years ago the situation prevailing in Modhupur was different, with the Garo tribals on the defensive in their own stomping grounds and living in fear of armed poachers and dishonest forest officials.

Physical assault and even murders forced the peaceful Garos to avoid interfering in the large-scale felling of sal (shorea) forests for the high quality timber that fetches good prices in the cities of Bangladesh.

Corrupt forest officials were known to implicate the local inhabitants in cases of illegal logging, trapping the Garos in long and costly legal battles and leaving them incapable of resistance.

The Garos, who live mainly on cultivating fruits and spices, were slowly but surely being marginalised in their ancestral lands. Moreover, from the state’s point of view they had no legal title or claim to the forests.

What saved the Garos and the forests was an initiative launched some 18 months ago by the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) which supported efforts to narrow gaps between the tribals and officialdom.

After months of mediation involving NGO representatives, the local government and forest office began recognising and respecting all FRMG initiatives towards protecting the forest and environment.

"Our relations with forest officials have never been so pleasant. We maintain full cooperation with the forest department in conserving the natural forests," said Jasinta.

Importantly, all private or government programmes in the forest must now have prior written approval of the tribal leaders. As the tribal leaders asserted themselves a project to wall off 27 acres of forest land in the name of building a so-called eco-park was halted.

"There was a time when the forest department officials did not care to discuss with us what the government planned to do with certain projects. They never even recognised our rights to live in the forest," said Ajoy Mree, head of the indigenous people’s forum in Modhupur forest.

Empowering the tribals began as early as in 2006 when a network of leading national NGOs like BELA, Neejerakori, BLAST, Action Aid, and Ain-O-Shalish Kendra formed the Association of Land Reform Development to help the tribal people.

The NGOs, with specialisation in different areas, trained the local people in matters related to land reform, judiciary matters, forest laws, human rights, national policies on indigenous people and their habitation.

While the other NGOs completed their missions and left, BELA continued to pursue its advocacy and in June 2007 launched a special campaign to organise a series of meetings, seminars, and workshops to build awareness on forest laws and indigenous people’s rights.

BELA’s chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan told IPS: "In order to restore the forests, BELA thought of a process involving the forest dwellers and demanding changes in the forest governance regime".

The whole thrust, she said, was to make forest management inclusive, transparent, accountable and anthropocentric. "It was necessary to involve people who were affected most by the decisions."

As BELA worked to form a strong network of social monitoring through increased understanding, other people became more aware of their rights.

"We believed that knowing the laws and their rights was the main tool for the tribals to fight off intruders and so we focused on empowering them, especially the women," she said.

"One reason to involve the women was because many of the men had been labelled as ‘offenders’ with false cases registered against them for chopping trees," said Samnath Lahiri, BELA’s senior research officer working with the native leaders.

Sulekha Mrong, 51, leader of another FRMG said, "We are the soldiers of the forest. We have a strict monitoring and reporting system. No one can intrude and carry out illegal logging anymore."

"Now that we are better equipped with knowledge of forest laws and our rights intruders can no longer fool us like they used to do before," Maria Chirang, a member of an FRMG, said.

Archana Atiowara, an FRMG leader said, "Because of our presence round-the-clock intruders do not dare to enter our territory. We have constant links with the forest officials to instantly report any intrusion."

The advocacy programme on laws and rights of the native people has been so effective that tribals and officialdom now coordinate with each other for strengthened vigilance.

Decades of illegal commercial logging have, however, reduced the Modhupur forests from its original 60,000 acres of dense woods to less than 45,000 acres, forest officials admit.

Across Bangladesh the forest cover has come down to an alarming six percent from 16 percent over the last 20 years. This is not surprising considering that Bangladesh has 1,142 people per sq km making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Along with rapidly shrinking forest resources many wild animals have vanished as also the natural habitat of many insect species, threatening ecosystems in the region.

Rajesh Chakma, assistant conservator of forests in the Modhupur range, admits that there are real benefits accruing from recognising the rights of the Garos, who number some 30,000.

Garos, a matrilineal tribe, straddle the hilly border between Bangladesh and India’s northeastern states and are estimated to number 2.5 million in all.

"We extend regular cooperation to the FRMGs in monitoring any offence and ever since the groups became functional poachers have become scarce," Chakma said.  


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75.08pc pass HSC, equivalent exams  

The Daily Sun - July 28, 2011

Record 39759 students achieve GPA-5; pass rate better by 0.8pc points


A total of 75.08 percent students have passed in Higher Secondary Certificate and equivalent examinations this year, which is 0.8 percentage points higher than that of 2010.

The number of students achieving GPA-5 has also risen by 10,765 from last year, with 39,759 students securing the highest grade point average.

A total of 764,828 students of 7,179 educational institutions appeared in the examinations under 10 education boards; of them, 574,261 students—310,849 male and 263,412 female—came out successful.

Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid disclosed the results of HSC and equivalent exams at a press conference at his ministry.

He told newsmen that the quality of education is gradually improving as the percentage of pass and the number of GPA-5 achievers are increasing.

Asked if there were any instructions to scrutinise exam papers liberally, Nahid said there was no such instructions from the ministry.

Earlier in the morning, the education minister handed over the results to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the presence of the chairmen of the eight general education boards, and technical and madrasa boards.

Hasina announced the results through a video conference with the students of Chandpur Government Women’s College.

A total of 892 educational institutions have achieved 100 percent success rate; 714 institutions had full success last year.

Twenty-four institutions could not see any passing this year; the number last year was 23.

Under the general education boards, 72.36 percent students have passed; a total of 622,277 students—324,909 male and 297,368 female—appeared in the HSC examinations.

A total of 89.57 percent students passed the Alim exams under the Madrasa Board and 84.05 percent under the Technical Education Board, while 83.95 percent students succeeded in Diploma in Business Studies (DIBS).

A total of 34,385 students achieved GPA-5 under the general education boards, 4,226 students under the Madrasa Board, 728 under the Technical Education Board, and 380 students under DIBS.

Rajshahi Board ranked top in pass rate with 79.01 percent students coming out successful. A total of 5,588 students got GPA-5 while 77,681 appeared in the exams. Pabna Cadet College got the top position in the board.

Under Dhaka Board, 76.89 percent of 208,112 students passed the examinations while 17,786 students got GPA-5. Rajuk Uttara Model College secured the first position.

In Comilla Board, the pass percentage is 68.68 with 1,389 of 62,375 students achieving GPA-5. Feni Girls’ Cadet College emerged as the top scorer.

In Dinajpur Board, 66.18 percent of 73,568 students passed and 2,260 obtained GPA-5. Rangpur Cadet College topped in the board.

In Sylhet Board, the pass percentage is 75.68 with 30,894 students appearing in the exams. A total of 887 students got GPA-5 and Sylhet Cadet College obtained the highest position.

In Barisal Board, 71.12 percent of 35,803 students passed with 1,310 students scoring GPA-5. Barisal Cadet College got the first position.

In Jessore Board, 63.37 percent of 86,077 students passed this year. A total of 3,370 students got GPA-5 and Jenidah Cadet College achieved the top position.

In Chittagong Board, 71.03 percent students passed among who 1,795 scored GPA-5. Faujdarhat Cadet College held the first position.

In Madrasa Board, 76,015 students appeared in the Alim examinations and of them 68,086 students passed. Last year, a total of 73,790 students sat for the exams.

In the Technical Education Board, 52,662 out of 62,654 students passed the exams this year. Last year, 63,671 students appeared under the board.

In Diploma in Business Studies, a total of 3,882 students appeared this year and the pass rate increased by 4.35 percentage points.  


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Fate of 100000 students uncertain for seat crisis by Noman Chowdhury and Rafiul Islam

The Daily Sun - July 28, 2011  


Around 100,000 students who have passed the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) and equivalent examinations this year would not be able to get admitted into the country’s public and private universities due to lack of sufficient seats.

A total of 574,261 students—310,849 male and 263,412 female—came out successful in this year’s examination. A total of 764,828 students—413,675 male and 351,153 female—sat for the exam.

Sources at the University Grants Commission (UGC) said as many as 473,000 seats are available in public and private universities, and colleges. Of them, around 34,000 seats are available in 29 public universities while 65,312 in 51 private universities and the rest in Bangladesh Open University and National University-affiliated colleges.

The smiling faces of many successful students, even highest Grade Point Average (GPA)-5 achievers, have started getting pale on the day of result publication thinking over the admissions in renowned universities for higher education.

Among the successful students, 39,759 secured GPA-5 which is 10,765 more than that of the previous year.

That means over 5,500 GPA-5 holders will not get chance to get themselves admitted into the public universities as those can accommodate only 34,000 students.

According to UGC statistics, Dhaka University has 5,467 seats while Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) 911, Jahangirnagar University 1,606 and Rajshahi University has 3,075 seats for the first year honours students.

As a result, the successful students will have to go through a tough competition to get chances to get admitted into renowned the public universities.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid and UGC Chairman Prof AK Azad Chowdhury on Wednesday said none of the successful students will be deprived of getting higher education.

The education minister said the number of seats in universities and colleges is more than that of the successful students.

 “The students who passed the HSC examination will be able to get admitted into universities and colleges as there are enough seats for them,” he said at a press conference at his office.

The UGC chairman said they will take steps to increase seats in public and private universities if needed.  


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Beijing pontificates against Vatican "threats" by Bernardo Cervellera

AsiaNews - Rome - July 25, 2011

The State Administration for Religious Affairs defends the integrity of the two excommunicated bishops (Leshan and Shantou) and mimics the Vatican saying that the Holy See’s gesture inflicts "wounds" and "sadness" among Catholics in China. It reaffirms the decision to go ahead with the ordinations without papal mandate, but the "resistance" to their dominance of the faithful, priests and bishops is growing. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao should tackle the violation of the "harmonious society" and corruption of representatives responsible for religious politics.  


Against the Vatican’s "unreasonable" and "brutal" "threats", an (unnamed) government spokesman says that Beijing will continue on its path to ordain bishops without papal mandate.

This the contents of a summary statement published by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (Asar, the old Office of Religious Affairs), published today in XinhuaThe declaration targets "the Vatican's accusations against the ordination of bishops of the Catholic Church in China" and in particular the ordinations of Leshan (06/29/2011) and Shantou (07/14/2011).

As is well-known, Fr. Lei Shiyin was ordained bishop in Leshan, a candidate that the Holy See had long rejected for "serious reasons" (see 29/06/2011 Leshan: seven legitimate bishops take part in Episcopal ordination that had no papal mandate) in Shantou Fr Huang Bingzhang, was ordained who had also been advised by the Holy See to step aside, because, there is already a bishop in Shantou, but one who is not recognized by the government (07/14/2011 Eight bishops in communion with the pope forced to take part in illegitimate ordination in Shantou) .

In both cases, once the ordinations had taken place, the Holy See published a statement in which it rendered public the excommunication of the two newly ordained (see: 04/07/2011 The Holy See condemns Leshan ordination and 16 / 07/2011 Holy See condemns illegal Bishop of Shantou, appreciates "resistance" of bishops and faithful).

It should be noted that the excommunication is "latae sententiae", ie, automatic, for the fact that an act of disobedience to the faith was carried out. In this case there was not even the problem of verifying the intent of the two, because both had been repeatedly been advised not to candidate themselves for the episcopate.

The Asar has come out against the excommunication, describing it as an "unreasonable" "threat", a "brutal means" that " deeply wounds" Chinese Catholics and "causes great sadness" to priests and laity. And it is curious that Beijing uses the same terms ("deep wounds" and "cause of great sadness") that the Vatican statements attributed to the universal Church and the pope!

As is traditional practice in the Communist Party, they are using the other party’s charges against them, so that while the Vatican talks of wounds to religious freedom, China paints itself as a victim of the Holy See.

This aping of the Pope and the Holy See, arrives at the climax when the declaration pontificates that "the two newly ordained bishops are devout in their faith, their integrity and competence, they are supported by their priests and lay faithful"; it is somewhat curious that two of the priests of Catholic Church should need a license in orthodoxy from an association composed of atheist secretaries, led by an atheist Party!

Asar’s need to play the victim even results in its delving into the past, the 1950s, to when it claims the Vatican "threatened" bishops and priests with excommunication, and because of this "priests and laity of the Catholic Church in China have suffered a great historical trauma "!

Aside from the historic falsity of the statement - in the past, no bishop or priest has ever been officially excommunicated, and only John XXIII spoke of possible secret schism in the Church in China - the Asar completely overlooks the "sufferings" and "major trauma" of the tens of hundreds of bishops and priests who have faced prison (up to 20-30 years), lagers, torture, mockery within the people's courts precisely because they remained faithful to the Pope as the religious leader of the Catholic Church. If the Vatican were to canonize all the martyrs under Chinese communism, undoubtedly we would have the largest canonization in history!

To Vatican "threats" the Asar responds with another threat: "The majority of priests and believers will more resolutely choose the path of independently selecting and ordaining its bishops, and the government will continue to support and encourage such practice".

Such a threat - to continue the illicit ordinations without papal mandate - was repeated days ago by the illegitimate bishop Guo Jincai who, speaking to China Daily on July 22, said that "at least seven dioceses in China will ordain their bishops elected." He added: "When the conditions are good."


The point is that "the conditions" hoped for by the Asar are far from being good. More and more faithful, priests and bishops are distancing themselves from the illicit ordinations: in Shenyang, Mgr. Pei Junmin resisted being deported to the Shantou ordination (for which he had been designated as the main celebrant), thanks to the defence of the priests and faithful his diocese, and another bishop, Msgr. Cai Bingrui in Xiamen, enlisted for Shantou, managed to hide and is now wanted by the authorities of the government.

In short, throughout China the "resistance" of the Church towards the undue interference of government on religious matters is growing (see 18/07/2011 Chinese Church "resists" excessive power of Government and Patriotic Association). In addition, in recent days, many bishops who were deported and forced to participate in the illicit ordinations, have written to the Holy See communicating their being forced to take part in the act and receiving reinstatement in communion with the Pope.

The Asar declaration speaks of " support and encouragement" to those who want an "independent" and "self-organized" church. In fact, until now there has been deportations, kidnapping and abduction of the bishops to force their participation in illicit ordinations: instead of leaving bishops and priests free to decide on their own, the Asar has preferred to "support and encourage" them by dint of coercion.

With a taste for paradox, the Asar statement concludes with an invitation to dialogue: "The principles and the position of the Chinese government to improve relations with the Vatican are solid and clear. We hope to begin a constructive dialogue with the Vatican and we hope to explore ways and means to improve relations. "

The declaration then calls for the "removal of the excommunication" as a condition to continue "the right path of dialogue".

Apart from the grossness of attempting to be "the Pope’s pope", ordering the Pope about in matters of faith, this note on dialogue and diplomatic relations is important. It is a sign that there are still those in leadership who want to modernize China providing real religious freedom and opening to relations with the Vatican. And these figures are within the entourage of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. For this - with fear and dread, and completely inconsistent with the rest of the statement - Asar is attempting to align itself with the supreme leadership.

In fact, however, Asar policies against the Catholic Church are completely counterproductive to Hu Jintao’s proclamation on the "harmonious society" and "fighting corruption". The members of the government's Religious Affairs Bureaux and the Patriotic Association are dividing communities and creating not harmony, but new tensions in Chinese society. In addition, the way they prey on the goods and property of the Church opens an entirely new chapter on the stinking corruption inside the party.

Will Hu Jintao succeed in healing this most recent front of concern in Chinese society? Only days ago Cardinal Zen, in an appeal published in the Hong Kong Apple Daily, asked the two leaders to "dedicate a little of their time to Catholics" in China (see 13/07/2011 Urgent appeals by Card. Zen and Bishop Tong against illicit Shantou ordination). We too join in this appeal.  


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Beijing: crackdown on Catholics, priests who challenge illegal ordinations denied entry

AsiaNews - Hong Kong - July 27, 2011

The canceled visa of Fr. Mella, a PIME priest, is not an isolated incident. AsiaNews sources report "several similar cases” in recent weeks. The crackdown the result of tensions between China and the Vatican over illicit ordinations. It could "go on for some time" and is a source of regret to the faithful who desire "unity with the Pope."


The denial of a visa to China for Fr. Franco Mella "is not an isolated incident," because in recent weeks "there have been some similar cases." Beijing "has tightened entry controls" after increasing tensions with the Vatican over the illicit ordinations of some bishops. A priest based in Hong Kong, who requested anonymity for security reasons, confirmed as much to AsiaNews. He adds that "the crackdown on Catholics could go on for some time" and is a source of "deep regret and sadness" among the faithful, who desire "unity with the pope and the Church."

Last week, immigration officials in Shenzhen, in Guangdong province in southern China, denied entry visas to Fr. Franco Mella, an Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). For the first time in 20 years, a missionary based in Hong Kong has been blocked by border authorities. Behind the gesture is their adherence to recent protests over illicit ordinations decided by the Patriotic Association (PA), strongly criticized by the Vatican. Yesterday card. Zen, archbishop emeritus of Hing Kong also spoke on out on the issue (see 26/07/2011 AsiaNews, Cardinal Zen: the absurdity of an atheist government that wants to lead the Catholic Church).

"They kept me for over an hour in a room," says the 62 year old PIME priest, "asking me to watch TV. Then they came back and told me that my Chinese visa was canceled. " "They gave me no explanation," then three officials "escorted me to the Hong Kong border crossing." He wanted to visit the province of Henan and had obtained clearance a month ago.

The case of Fr Mella "is not an isolated incident," said a Catholic source for AsiaNews in Hong Kong, because "in recent weeks there have been some similar cases." One priest’s entry visa to China was cancelled, others were "blocked at the airport and sent back on board the first available flight." The increasing control on entry "affects only some cases in particular," because others "were able to regularly enter China." "Beijing - the source adds – targeted some personalities" and the choice is motivated by their recent support for protests against the illicit ordinations of bishops.

The Catholic community is concerned that "the restrictions will continue for the foreseeable future" and much will depend on the evolution of relations between Beijing and the Holy See, and if there are "new illicit ordinations" by the PA. Certainly, says the source, among the faithful there is a climate of "deep regret and sadness" about what is happening. "The desire for unity with the pope and the Church is strong, but there are formidable obstacles are." (DS)  


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The chaos in ruling military council helping Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis

AsiaNews - Cairo - July 26, 2011

Following clashes in Cairo on Sunday that left 298 people injured, the situation appears to be slipping out of control from the military. Ranking officer denies any rumours the Council wants to set up another authoritarian regime. For Fr Greiche, Egypt is in chaos and badly run. Many Christians and Muslims fear the country is sliding towards extremism.  


Ongoing clashes between young supporters of the revolution and security forces are undermining the Egyptian military’s hold over the country as critics from all directions accuse the ruling Supreme Council of failing to manage the situation ahead of next November’s elections.

Yesterday, Major General Mohamed al-Assar, Egypt’s assistant defence minister and a top-ranking member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, met important international figures at a meeting in Washington. He reassured his interlocutors that the Egyptian military was not planning to set up another dictatorship.

According to Fr Greiche, spokesman of the Egyptian Catholic Church, the military is facing internal chaos and is incapable of running the country after the fall of Mubarak.

Clashes between demonstrators and police on Sunday in Abbasseya, in Cairo, left 298 people injured. Pro-democracy groups were outraged; they accuse the police of using knife and stick-wielding thugs to provoke the clashes in order to arrest demonstrators.

For the clergyman, the military is losing control of the situation. “The Supreme Council includes 17 top generals with different opinions and ideas what to do. This is leading to chaos,” he said. This has eroded the military’s credibility.

Meanwhile, the army has accused members of the 6 April Movement of trying to destabilise the country. The latter have countered by blaming soldiers for the violent attacks against demonstrators.

 “Residents in downtown Cairo are tired of the never-ending strikes and protests that block the city, with serious consequences for the economy, especially for bars and restaurants, Fr Greiche said. “Residents often call on the police to move against protesters.”

In latest case, the military did nothing to spark the violence, the priest said. They just guarded the Defence Ministry, where the demonstration was taking place. Instead, the police force, which is linked to the old regime, provoked attacks against the demonstrators, by sending in criminals and thugs to create panic and spark clashes.

The situation of insecurity and especially the total lack of credible interlocutors for the government are allowing extremist groups, above all the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, to expand without hindrance, launching their proclamations and threatening opponents of Sharia and an Islamic state.

Indeed, the Board of State Commission on Monday withdrew a cultural award from the Egyptian researcher Sayyid al-Qemny after he was convicted of contempt of religion.

In June 2009, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture had awarded him almost US$ 30,000 for his achievements in social sciences.

However, for the Commission, “The State Merit Award in Social Sciences is granted from taxpayers’ money, not from businessmen, and thus should not be squandered be squandered on renegades from God and his teachings.”

Egypt’s poor are also increasingly afraid of extremists, Fr Greiche said, since the latter now are free to operate as they please. Increasingly, poor people realise what the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis stand for.

Similarly, because of the military’s indifference, discrimination and crime are up, raising the fear level among both Christians and Muslims.” (S.C.)  


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Germany arms Saudis against Iran by Julio Godoy

Ipsnews - Berlin - July 25, 2011 


Germany’s delivery of armoured tanks to Saudi Arabia is not aimed at repressing local or regional popular uprisings, but to improve Saudi military capabilities in a likely war against Iran, diplomatic and military experts say.

The German government’s decision to deliver 200 state-of-the-art Leopard 2 armoured tanks to the Saudi monarchy - a deal estimated at 1.8 billion euros - has triggered a wave of criticism by opposition leaders, commentators, the church and human rights groups.

Despite this criticism, the German government has defended the delivery of the tanks to Saudi Arabia, arguing that the Saudi monarchy, albeit a despotic regime, is "a pillar of stability" in the Middle East.

The German government also cites lack of U.S. or Israeli opposition, as justification for the deal with Saudi Arabia.

Contrary to the apprehension expressed by opposition leaders, commentators, and human rights groups, diplomatic and military experts believe that the Saudi regime will not use the German tanks to repress local popular uprisings demanding democratic reforms, but to eventually wage a war against Iran.

"To repress domestic enemies, the Saudis can use better suited equipment, including some 2,000 armoured troops transport vehicles," said Josef Joffe, publisher of the weekly newspaper ‘Die Zeit’.

Joffe is considered one of the most outspoken defenders among German media of the U.S.-Western European military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). He also has links to the U.S. and to the Israeli governments.

By delivering the Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia, Joffe added, "Germany, together with the U.S.A. and Israel, is sending a message to the region, specifically to Iran: Here is more [military] deterrence. This argument should not be sneezed at."

Joffe recalled that Germany recently delivered similar military equipment to other Arab governments. "In 2009, Germany delivered 36 Leopard 2 tanks to Qatar," he said.

Additionally, the German army, the Bundeswehr, has admitted to carrying out military exercises in the United Arab Emirates to test the Leopard 2 tanks capabilities in the desert. The tests were apparently satisfactory.

Other Western governments - especially the U.S., Britain, and France - have for decades helped the Saudis to improve their arsenals.

Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Berlin, and current president of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Association, agreed with Joffe. "Saudi Arabia uses other military equipment better suited to combat domestic popular uprisings," Primor said.

In their recent intervention in Bahrain to help the repress the popular protests against the al-Khalifa family regime, the Saudis used light AMX armoured tanks and not the heavier M1A2 Abrams tanks, of U.S. manufacture, Primor explained.

The Leopard 2 tanks are addressed to Iran specifically, Primor said.

Primor recalled that officially, Saudi Arabia is still at war with Israel. "But Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common enemy, Iran," he said. "The Saudis consider Iran the most dangerous threat."

Similarly, he added, "Israel has an urgent interest to strengthen the Saudi military capabilities, as a fortification against the Iranian danger, and as a stable power in the now unsecure Arab world."

However, Primor said that the critique of human rights groups against the delivery of military equipment to Saudi Arabia is "understandable". "The Saudi regime is quite archaic," he said.

Despite such arguments, criticism of the tank exports is not going to end soon. Reinhold Robbe, until last year parliamentary commissioner for the German army, said that Saudi Arabia "is surely not a country that can stand up to the western standards of democracy and human rights."

Such standards should be the guideline of German foreign policy, including military aid, Robbe said.

The Catholic Church also criticised the deal. "Germany should not deliver weapons in regions in military crisis, or to regimes that violate human rights," said Bishop Stephan Ackerman, head of the church commission ‘Justitia et Pax’.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the Saudi human rights record "dismal", and emphasised that the regime is one of very few countries in the Arab region whose government has offered no human rights reforms in the wake of the popular uprisings spreading through neighbouring countries since the beginning of the year.

"The sight of Saudi tanks rolling into Bahrain signalled the start of Bahrain’s crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters there," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Saudi Arabia researcher at HRW. "Saudi reformers may well interpret selling tanks to Saudi Arabia at this time as German support for repressive regimes."

But the German government is turning a deaf ear to such criticism. Instead, it has been offering military equipment to other regimes with similar human rights records.

During a recent trip to Angola in mid-July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered the government of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos patrol boats and other military equipment.

It is not clear as yet, whether the boats will be delivered to Angola, but commentators are aghast that Merkel ignored the wave of criticism caused by the delivery of the Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia and instead acted as "a sales manager for the military industry", said Claudia Roth, president of the opposition Green party here.

For Thorsten Denkler, foreign policy analyst for the daily newspaper ‘Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung’, "Merkel’s sensors seem to be failing." Angola, Denkler added, "is one of the most corrupt regimes of the world, where even the constitution cements the one party system."

Denkler also recalled that Amnesty International repeatedly condemns the human rights violations in the South West African country.

Denkler complained that Merkel’s appeals for a real political understanding of military exports ignores the basic moral prerequisites of foreign policy. "It is not that Germany should not export weapons," Denkler said. "But such exports should only occur towards states where democracy and the rule of law are guaranteed."  


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India's Leading  Export: CEOs by Carla Power

Time - August 01, 2011  


What on earth did the Banga brothers' mother feed them for breakfast? Whatever it was, it worked: Vindi Banga grew up to become a top executive at the food and personal-care giant Unilever, then a partner at the private-equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. His younger brother Ajay, after heading Citigroup's Asian operations, was last year named CEO of MasterCard — all without a degree from a Western business school and without abandoning his Sikh turban. When Ajay took over at the credit-card company's suburban — New York City headquarters, the Times of India crowed that he was the first "entirely India-minted executive" at a multinational's helm.

The brothers laugh when asked for their mother's breakfast menu, deflecting suggestions that they were raised by a Bengal-tiger mom. Instead, they cite an itinerant childhood as a key ingredient in their success. The sons of a lieutenant general in the Indian army, they moved to a new posting every couple of years — perfect training, it turns out, for global executives facing new markets and uncertain conditions. "You had to adapt to new friends, new places," recalls Vindi. "You had to create your ecosystem wherever you went."

The Banga brothers are two of a growing roster of global Indian business leaders, a roster that includes CEOs such as Citigroup's Vikram Pandit and PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi as well as the deans of both Harvard Business School and INSEAD. Yes, ArcelorMittal's Lakshmi Mittal had the advantage of growing up in the family business, but now the family business has grown into a global powerhouse under his leadership.

What factors account for the rise and rise of India-trained business minds? "Our colleagues in our Asian offices are asking the same question," laughs Jill Ader, head of CEO succession at the executive-search firm Egon Zehnder International. "Their clients in China and Southeast Asia are saying, 'How come it's the Indians getting all the top jobs?'" It could be because today's generation of Indian managers grew up in a country that provided them with the experience so critical for today's global boss. Multiculturalism? Check. Complex competitive environment? Check. Resource-constrained developing economy? You got that right. And they grew up speaking English, the global business language.

It's risky to generalize about India, a subcontinent of 1.2 billion people, just as it's simplistic to stereotype the Western executive or the Chinese business leader. Motorola's Sanjay Jha or Berkshire Hathaway's Ajit Jain, one of those tipped as Warren Buffett's successor, succeed due to talent and drive, not because they're Indian. And bosses like Nooyi spend most of their formative career years outside the country. Is it that they may just happen to be Indian? As Ajay Banga notes, "You are who you are because of what you do, not the color of your skin."

The data suggest Indians are scaling corporate heights. In a study of S&P 500 companies, Egon Zehnder found more Indian CEOs than any other nationality except American. Indians lead seven companies; Canadians, four. Among the C-suite executives in the 2009 FORTUNE 500 were two mainland Chinese, two North American Chinese and 13 Indians, according to a study by two professors from Wharton and China Europe International Business School.

For multinationals, it makes good sense to have leaders experienced in working with expanding Asian markets. And India is already the location of many of their operations. "If you look at companies like Pepsi or Hewlett-Packard or IBM, a huge chunk of their global workforce is sitting out in India," says Anshuman Das, a co-founder of CareerNet, a Bangalore executive-search company. "India and China are also the countries of future profits for the multinationals, so they may want their global leaders to come out of them."

Competitive and complex, India has evolved from a poorly run, centrally controlled economy into the perfect petri dish in which to grow a 21st century CEO. "The Indians are the friendly and familiar faces of Asia," says Ader. "They think in English, they're used to multinationals in their country, they're very adaptive, and they're supremely confident." The subcontinent has been global for centuries, having endured, and absorbed, waves of foreign colonizers, from the Mughals to the British. Practiced traders and migrants, Indians have impressive transnational networks. "The earth is full of Indians," wrote Salman Rushdie. "We get everywhere." Unlike, say, a Swede or a German, an Indian executive is raised in a multiethnic, multifaith, multilingual society, one nearly as diverse as the modern global marketplace.

Unlike Americans, they're well versed in negotiating India's byzantine bureaucracy, a key skill to have in emerging markets. And unlike the Chinese, they can handle the messiness of a litigious democracy. "In China, you want something done, you talk to a bureaucrat and a politician — it gets done," observes Ajay. "In India, if you talk to a bureaucrat or a politician, there are going to be 600 other people with their own points of view." There's an old saw about Asian business cultures: "The Chinese roll out the red carpet; Indians roll out the red tape."

Maybe that's why Indian managers are good at managing it. They have cut their teeth in a country ranked 134th by the World Bank for ease of doing business. To be fair, it's also the reason some of them left home. They're practiced in the exasperating culture of local, state and national permits. "To build a factory in China, a CEO will have to get two or three different permissions from various departments," observes Signe Spencer, a co-author of The Indian CEO, a 2007 study from the HayGroup consultancy. "An Indian CEO may have to get 80 different permissions from 80 different places." No wonder Indian executives spend much of their time networking and lobbying — tasks Western CEOs leave to their corporate public-affairs departments.

India's economic liberalization, which began in 1991, was another blessing for this generation of executives. It gave them exposure to a young and fast-growing consumer market. "Liberalization unleashed a level of competition that makes you stand on your toes," recalls Vindi. "We had to learn to compete with international players but also with very good, extremely fast local ones." In 1987, when Vindi was CEO of Hindustan Unilever, the company's leading detergent, Surf, faced off against Nirma, a locally produced brand. "It didn't cost 5% less, or 10% less," says Vindi, shaking his head. "It cost a third of our product. We had to make a product that was better, for the same price." Within 12 months, they had.

Competition starts early in India, as students vie for admission to the state-funded Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management. The system produces a self-selecting and highly disciplined elite; there are tales of children starting to study at age 7 for the exam they take a decade later. When the current crop of CEOs came of age, it was typical for 300,000 applicants to vie for 2,000 places. "People in India think Harvard and MIT are second choices and an IIT is their first," says Spencer. (Ajay Banga, an IIM alum, just like his brother, disagrees: "I'd have given my right arm to go to a Harvard or MIT!")

There's a spartan quality to these institutions, including shabby buildings and tiny dorm rooms. Two years ago, 1,500 IIT faculty members went on a Gandhian fast to protest their low pay. But what the institutions lack in glamour they make up in prestige and a tight-knit global network. "They all still know each other's test scores and class rank when they're 60 years old!" says Spencer.

Once they leave and begin climbing the ranks, Indian managers tend to look abroad — or to multinationals within their country — more than their Chinese peers do. "In China a lot of the senior executives are political appointees," says Ader. "You get much more credibility leading a Chinese organization. If I call a Chinese candidate and say, 'Do you want to go on a board in the U.K. or U.S.?' they say, 'Why would I?' If you call an Indian, they will." The HayGroup study on the Indian CEO found Indian leaders' networking to be particularly "bold and focused," with the intent of obtaining useful information.

One of Indian managers' great advantages is their native disadvantage: they have learned their skills in a country with huge aspirations but an often faulty infrastructure. Ajay remembers his first day at Citibank in Chennai, when he wondered what the banks of machines "big enough to power jet engines" did — preserve data in case of power cuts — and then found out that this was only the first line of defense. "I learned that not only do you need a backup, you need a backup to the backup to the backup," he says. "That's not a bad way to think about management. You've got to have a Plan B and a Plan C, and they have to be somewhat robust."

Indian managers suit tough times, accustomed as they are to making complex systems work, even with finite resources. For Indians, "navigating uncertainties is an art, not a source of complaint," says INSEAD's dean, Dipak Jain. "We have the training to deal with complexities." Growing up in a nation where resources are often tight "forces you to blow through the constraints and find the answer," agrees Nikesh Arora, Google's senior vice president and chief business officer. "You tend to take a look at the problem, argue about the constraints, argue about the boundaries and see how to solve it within those boundaries."

Early in the 1980s, when Ajay Banga was first working at Nestlé, he had the job of selling chocolate in India, where temperatures can hover above 38°C for months. Try selling Kit Kats in towns that don't have electricity, let alone refrigeration. Banga ended up having to create a refrigerated supply chain — with specially designed carts for cooling the chocolate en route to villages — then installing generators to run the air conditioners to keep shop storage spaces cool. "And we were doing it having been schooled in the fact that 'You will not compromise on the Nestlé products or value,'" recalls Banga. "Think about that. Think about trying to live that dichotomy!"

In Hindi, such adaptability using finite resources has a name: jugaad. Jugaad is the spirit behind Indian products like the $2,500 Nano car, designed to be assembled using chemical glues rather than expensive factory-based welding. It's also what Vindi Banga employed when trying to figure out how to sell Unilever products to rural Indian women. Instead of spending on advertising, the company established the women as small-business operators, providing loans to buy Unilever products and resell them in their communities. The women got jobs, and Unilever got a new distribution channel, notes Banga. "These ladies became brand ambassadors, brand teachers and brand distributors — all in one."

It is not surprising that Indian executives tend to pay particular attention to the lower-middle-class consumer and the so-called bottom billion, the poorest customers. After all, more Indians live on $2 or less a day than don't. But attention to value pays dividends when profit margins — and pocketbooks — are shrinking. "In emerging markets, companies work very hard to get the value equation right," Vindi observes. That's an ever more valuable skill in a climate where even wealthy consumers are looking for value.

Another reason Indian executives are thriving in a world traumatized by the global meltdown: a sense that businesses need to do more than just make money. "When you talk to these top CEOs, there's a sense that the corporation is embedded in society," says Harbir Singh, a Wharton professor and a co-author of The India Way. "Most of the executives we surveyed said, 'You cannot succeed if you don't help society around you to have a better life.'"

Research on top executives shows South Asians tend to be guided less by the bottom line than by a bigger goal. "They think about what will not only benefit them but the greater good," says Spencer. "When they make business decisions, they take that seriously into account. You interview an American CEO and it's classic McKinsey strategic thinking: How do we make money in this market? But the Indians are showing us a level of business ethics that we don't see in the West."

Those ethics may get tested as Indians wrestle with the demands of institutional shareholders in the large corporations they are now running. But the HayGroup's leadership survey includes an inner-strength category, examining how morals and values affect leadership. The only groups that scored as high on inner strength as Indian CEOs did? Catholic nuns and monks.  


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New Killings, Torture at Bangladeshi Border - July 24, 2011

Revised Instructions from Delhi Not Stamping Out Abuses


Despite orders from New Delhi to end killings and abuse and to exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are being reported.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch

(New York) ­- The government of India should undertake a speedy, fair, and transparent criminal investigation into fresh allegations of killings, torture, and other abuses by the Border Security Force (BSF) at the border with Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said today. Those against whom there is credible evidence of culpability should be prosecuted as part of an effort to end longstanding impunity for abuses along the border.

In December 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report, "Trigger Happy," documenting extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment by the BSF. In the past decade, the BSF has killed Indian and Bangladeshi nationals. After the release of the report, Indian authorities assured Bangladeshi officials that these killings would be stopped. The government announced that it would order restraint and encourage the use of rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition, steps welcomed by Human Rights Watch.

While the number of deaths due to shooting has substantially decreased in 2011, the Bangladeshi non-governmental organization Odhikar has documented at least 17 alleged killings of Bangladeshis by the border force and other instances of severe abuse since January. Local groups have documented several cases of deaths as a result of severe beatings by the BSF.

"Despite orders from New Delhi to end killings and abuse and to exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are being reported," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "The government has issued some positive new directives, but it needs to prosecute those who commit abuses so the soldiers will understand they can't act with impunity."

MASUM, a Kolkatta-based non-governmental organization that conducts fact-finding in the border areas, reports that while the number of shootings at the border has significantly reduced, BSF soldiers have been brutally beating and torturing suspects. Indian residents in the border area, while expressing relief that the indiscriminate shootings have stopped, have complained about aggressive intimidation and beatings.

In one recent example, MASUM reported to the National Human Rights Commission of India that on July 13, a group of soldiers from the 91st battalion of the border force threatened a local human rights worker, Kanai Mondal, in the village of Char Rajanagar, holding a gun to his head to demand that he take down posters calling for an end to torture. The soldiers also threatened other activists and confiscated posters, MASUM said.

On June 30, BSF forces killed Mizanur Rahman, 25. According to Odhikar, he had slipped into India along with four other cattle rustlers, when border guards intercepted them. The others escaped, but the soldiers allegedly beat Rahman to death and dumped his body into the Saniyazan River.

On June 2, Odhikar documented two cases where BSF soldiers intercepted groups of cattle smugglers. According to Odhikar, Rafiqul Islam, 35, from Satkhira, was badly beaten and then dumped inside Bangladeshi territory, where Bangladesh Border Guards found him and took him to a hospital. In a separate incident, Indian soldiers caught Fazlur Rahman and his accomplices near the Panitor-Gazipur border. While the others escaped, Fazlur was badly beaten and left unconscious inside Bangladesh.

On April 18, 2011, border force soldiers killed Rekatul Islam, 17, as he and his accomplice, Mohammad Shahdat Hossain Odhikar, tried to smuggle cattle across the border. Shahdat said they were stopped by BSF soldiers as they tried to cross the border with 10 cows. Shahdat was injured, but escaped.

On April 9, MASUM reported that Biswanath Soren, an elderly Indian man, was beaten by border force troopers he believes were intoxicated. They brandished their firearms to intimidate him and finally released him, he said. Soren sent a written complaint to the police, but no action has been taken.

"The excessive use of force and the arbitrary beating of people along the border are unjustifiable," Ganguly said. "These abuses call into question India's stated commitments to the rule of law."

Many people routinely move back and forth across India's frontier with Bangladesh to visit relatives, buy supplies, and look for jobs. Others engage in petty and serious cross-border crime. The border force is mandated to address illegal activities, especially narcotics smuggling, human trafficking for sex work, and transporting fake currency and explosives. It also works to stop militants planning violent attacks in India's restive northeast.

In many of the cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, however, the victims were cattle rustlers, farmers, or laborers who said they were hoping to supplement their meager livelihoods by working as couriers in the lucrative but illegal cattle trade that is rampant at the West Bengal border.

Local police forces rarely register complaints against border security and sometimes encourage the victims to drop their cases, telling them that nothing will come of it. One victim told Human Rights Watch that the police informed him that the border forces had committed no crime since they were there "to beat the people."

The Indian government needs to do more to ensure accountability for violations committed by the border force soldiers and to ensure compliance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said.

"While the Indian authorities vigorously protest attacks on fishermen who enter Sri Lankan waters, they seem unwilling to act against their own border forces when they commit crimes against Bangladeshis," Ganguly said. "As a regional power, India should lead by example in South Asia to end the culture of impunity for security forces."  


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Hunger strike for the rights of Christian and Muslim Dalits by Nirmala Carvalho

AsiaNews - Mumbai - July 26, 2011

For Mgr Vincent Concessao, archbishop of New Delhi, the mass hunger strike (25-27 July) is “a warning” because “History has seen the downfall of many apparently powerful governments when justice was denied.” The strike will on 28 July with march on parliament.  


More than a thousand people have gone on a hunger strike to convince the Indian government to extend the Scheduled Caste status to Christian and Muslim Dalits. The three-day protest action (25-27 July) will end in a march on parliament on Thursday, which will be joined by bishops, other religious leaders, as well as Christian and Muslim faithful and human rights activists.

 “This is our clarion call for constitutional justice for the weakest of the society, our Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims are being discriminated on the basis of their faith,” Mgr Vincent Concessao, archbishop of New Delhi, told AsiaNews.

The fight for equal rights for Christian and Muslim Dalits has been going on since 1950 when parliament adopted Article 3 of the constitution, which recognises Scheduled Castes. Based on such constitutional principle, the government has granted specific economic, educational and social rights for Hindu Dalits. In 1956 and 1990, the same rights were granted to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.

 “The Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government is solely responsible for the denial of rights and equality for Christian and Muslim Dalits,” the archbishop said. “This hunger strike is a warning to our politicians. History has seen the downfall of many apparently powerful governments when justice was denied.”

As a reminder, on 27 December 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, called untouchability a “blot on humanity”, Mgr Concessao said. “Regrettably, Christian Dalits are crushed by double discrimination, purely on the basis of their faith.”  


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India and Pakistan summit meeting to open a dialogue

AsiaNews - Delhi - July 27, 2011

Today in Delhi the foreign ministers resume talks, broken off after the Mumbai bombings in 2008, which India believes Pakistan responsible. "We want a common border, free from terror," says Krishna. "We should not be hostage to the past," says Hina Khar, the 34 year old woman appointed Islamabad Minister of Foreign Affairs a week ago.  


The Foreign ministers of Pakistan and India are meeting today for the first time since dialogue between the two countries was stalled in 2008 as a result of the Mumbai attack’s that caused about 170 victims. India believes Pakistani elements behind the massacre. The Pakistani delegation is led by a 34 year old woman, Hina Rabbani Khar, called a few days ago to lead the Pakistani foreign ministry. The Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna said before the meeting that his country wants to see "a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan".

Hina Rabbani Khar, who comes from a family deeply rooted in Pakistani politics, said the two countries "should not be hostage to the past. It is in Pakistan’s interest that dialogue is oriented towards concrete results. We must be positive in our commitment, and we are ". Indian and Pakistani officials resumed contact in February on a wide range of topics to find a way to restore confidence between Delhi and Islamabad. India is said to "be ready to discuss all issues with an open mind," and insist that justice is done to the victims of Mumbai. The Pakistan will definitely open with the theme of Kashmir autonomy. Hina Rabbani Khar yesterday met separatist leaders of Kashmir in Delhi. The Himalaya region is claimed by both India and Pakistan, but split in 1948. It has the cause of three wars between the two countries. Analysts do not expect concrete results from this first large-scale meeting, but bears witness to the will of both to stabilize relations. Krishna said: "We want a common border, free from terror, and a stable, peaceful and reliable Pakistan."  


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India’s 'recycled' school teaches green lessons by Shilpa Jamkhandikar

Oneworld SouthAsia - 22 July 2011

Constructed from recycled material, Aman Setu School of Pune is inculcating environment awareness among its students.Children sit in a room with mud plastered walls, re-use text books and grow their own vegetables  


A student entering the classroom through a small door at the Aman Setu School/ Photo credit: Reuters

Pune, India: On a regular school day, four-year-old Kush Bhattacharya can leave his mathematics class to run barefoot on grass, hide from his friends in a cave made of cow dung and return to recite nursery rhymes in a red bus that doubles up as a classroom.

Kush is a student at the Aman Setu school in Pune, an educational and technological hub three hours drive from Mumbai.

Almost every part of the school premises is made out of recycled material, including roofs made out of old hoardings, walls built from plastic bottles and hand-stitched uniforms made out of eco-friendly 'khadi', or handspun, cloth.

"It isn't a marketing thing, it's what we believe and how we live," says Madhavi Kapur, who started the school in 2008 with just four students. The school now has more than 140 students studying up to grade five.

"We didn't have too much money to begin with, and one of my (former) students, who is an architect came up with the idea of using recycled materials to build the school on a piece of land leased to me by my brother," she said.

Starting off with a modest 600,000 rupees ($13,500) Kapur and architect Saurabh Phadke devised ways to build walls from mud and old cement bags. They were then tamped down and plastered with mud.

"We don't mind students walking out of a maths class, feeding their favourite fish, taking a barefoot walk in the grass and then coming back in. We want them to be one with the surroundings"

Bano Bhagwat, teacher at Aman Setu School

Consisting of just two one-storeyed structures which house four classrooms, students at Aman Setu, which means bridge of peace, sit on rattan mats on a cow dung-plastered floor, use text books handed down from other students and grow their own vegetables in a small garden.

Children get to feed fish in a tank, watch a robin's egg hatch and travel to school by community transport - all in an effort to make them more environmentally conscious.

Kapur also acquired an old bus from the government transport authority, stripped it down, and refurbished it as a classroom.

"We don't mind them walking out of a maths class, feeding their favourite fish, taking a barefoot walk in the grass and then coming back in. We want them to be one with the surroundings," says teacher Bano Bhagwat, as she teaches a gaggle of excited kids how to make lemonade.

It might sound like a school straight out of a fairy tale, but it wasn't all smooth sailing.

"Parents weren't willing to send their kids to a school which had an old bus doubling up as a classroom. We started off with just four students, and I've had a hard time convincing parents that it was a safe environment" Kapur said.

Now that the school has grown she has an entirely different problem persuading parents that they should not tear down the concrete building down the road -- into which they have already moved some classes -- for a more environmentally friendly structure.

"We have moved to a bigger structure down the road. But that is a concrete building, and parents don't want their kids to move there. They want me to stay here." says Kapur.

"Now, they are giving me lessons in the environment. But for me, tearing down a concrete structure is also not ecologically sound."

For now, Kapur hopes to replicate her eco-friendly teaching methods at the concrete school as well, with plans for a rain water harvesting facility, a vegetable garden, and of course, a fence made of old plastic bottles.'

"This is a way of life, we plan to continue it no matter where we go," she says.

Source : Reuters  


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"Food stores are hit, but with what right?" Complains Mgr. Martinelli

Agenzia Fides - Tripoli - July 26, 2011  


"They are hitting civilian targets such as food stores" denounces His Exc. Mgr. Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli to Fides. "A few days ago, NATO warplanes hit a food store just outside Tripoli, which contained oil, pasta, tomato sauce. A river of oil came out of the warehouse which was destroyed. I know they have also hit a social center. By what right does one hit a food center? "Asks the Bishop.

"In addition, but I found out about the news in an indirect way and I have not personally verified, there seems to be demonstrations in the mountains near Tripoli in favor of Gaddafi. Again even in this case there were bombings. I have no news about casualties, and I do not think there are any, but it is clear that all of this is aimed at frightening people by bombing near their demonstrations ", said Mgr. Martinelli, who also refers to the psychological pressure which is affecting the population, because " NATO aircraft continue to fly , especially at night".

"The Libyans, however, show gratitude to the Church. Two days ago a group of women came to thank us for our the prayers in favor of peace. Yesterday I received another sign, simple but touching, the gratitude of the Libyans to the Church: a gentleman gave us a basket of figs, saying “these figs are for you because you are a sign of friendship ", concluded Mgr. Martinelli . (LM)  


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Seven million young people are easy prey for criminal organizations

Agenzia Fides - Mexico City - July 26, 2011  


Seven million young people do not study and are unable to find a job, and risk being sucked into the criminal organizations that perfection their networks to recruit more and more young people who live in this desperate situation. The alarm comes from the weekly "Desde la Fe" of the archdiocese of Mexico, a copy of which was sent to Fides. The magazine notes that, according to official reports, in Latin America there are nearly 40 million young people between 15 and 29 years of age with an uncertain future, because they do not study or work (they are called “Ninis”): This figure represents the fourth part of the population of that age.

In Mexico, that number reaches seven million young people and is made up of the most vulnerable young population. The archdiocese observes that "while the network of organized crime improves and expands its potential to attract millions of young people without opportunities, the public policies to assist them ‘ Sleep the sleep of the right ’. The text of the archdiocese continues : “This is the most vulnerable young population, because it does not have a job or a profession, it falls in bad habits, or lives in the desperate search of a job opportunity that does not come, so they are tempted to accept the proposals from organized crime who offer lots of money, even knowing that there is a risk of losing their lives or freedom”. The figures are alarming: 80 percent of the jails are occupied by young people between 20 and 35 years of age, victims of vioent crimes 9 times out of 10 are young people.

It is not enough to help the young who study in order not to drop out of school, but we must provide opportunities for those who are not even part of the school system, and of course much less have the opportunity to join the economically active population. The magazine also recognizes that the work of the Catholic Church in this area has decreased enormously, because young people are increasingly alienated from the environment of faith and by a lack of evangelization for them. (CE)


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Families Cry Out for Palestinian Prisoners by Eva Bartlett

Ipsnews - Gaza City - July 25, 2011   


"We could enter the Guinness book of records for the longest running weekly sit- ins in the world," Nasser Farrah, from the Palestinian Prisoners' Association, jokes dryly. Since 1995, Palestinian women from Beit Hanoun to Rafah have met every Monday outside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Gaza City, holding photos and posters of their imprisoned loved ones, calling on the ICRC to ensure the human rights of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel's 24 prisons and detention centres.

Since 2007, the sit-ins have taken on greater significance: Gaza families want Israel to re-grant them the right – under international humanitarian law – to visit their imprisoned family members. This right was taken from Gaza's families in 2007, after the Israeli tank gunner Gilad Shalit was taken by Palestinian resistance from alongside the Gaza border where he was on active duty.

The sit-ins have grown, with over 200 women and men showing up weekly. On Jul. 11, ICRC and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) helped facilitate a demonstration from the ICRC office to the unknown soldier park, Jundi, to protest the ban on Palestinians from Gaza visiting their imprisoned loved ones.

"We can't send letters, we can't see him, we can't talk to him," says Umm Ahmed of her 32-year-old son. Ahmed Abu Ghazi was imprisoned four years ago and sentenced to 16 years in Israeli prison.

"Because we have no connection with him, every Monday we go to the Red Cross. But nothing changes. Last week we slept outside the Red Cross, waiting for them to help us talk to our sons and daughters," Umm Ahmed says.

"While our sons are in prison, their parents might die without seeing them again."

For Palestinian prisoner Bilal Adyani, from Deir al-Balah, such was the case. On Jul. 11, Adayni's father died, after waiting for years to see his son again. The ICRC reports that over 30 relatives of Palestinian prisoners have died since the prison visits were cut.

Umm Bilal, an elderly woman in a simple white headscarf, walks among the demonstrators, holding a plastic-framed photo of her son when he was 16. The teen wears a black dress shirt, has combed and gelled hair, and smiles easily to the camera.

"Twenty years, ten months, he's been in prison. I haven't been allowed to visit him in eight years," says Umm Bilal.

"The prison canteen should sell phone cards, clothes, or food, but Israel is making it difficult now. He wanted to study but in prison but he hasn't been allowed."

In December 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled with the Israeli government to deny families from Gaza visitation rights to prisoners in Israeli prisons. Among the stated reasons for the Court's decision were that "family visits are not a basic humanitarian need for Gaza residents" and that there was no need for family visits since prisoners could obtain basic supplies through the prison canteen.

In June, 2011, Israeli Prison Service is reported to have taken away various rights of prisoners, including that allowing prisoners to enroll in universities, and blocked cell phone use.

"The world is calling for Shalit to be released. But he is just one man, a soldier," says Umm Bilal. "Many Palestinian prisoners were taken from their homes. Shalit was in his tank when he was taken. Those tanks shoot on Gaza, kill our people, destroy our land. Take Shalit, but release our prisoners."

According to Nasser Farrah, "there are over 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including nearly 40 women and over 300 children. Seven hundred prisoners are from the Gaza Strip."

Other estimates range from 7,500 to 11,000 Palestinian prisoners. "The ‘over 7000’ does not include the thousands of Palestinians who are regularly taken by the Israelis in the occupied West Bank, and even from Gaza, as well as those held in administrative detention for varying periods," Farrah notes.

Under administrative detention, Palestinians, including minors, are denied trial and imprisoned for renewable periods, with many imprisoned between six months to six years.

According to B'Tselem, as of February 2011, Israel is holding 214 Palestinians under administrative detention.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prevents forcible transfers of people from occupied territory. But Israel has been doing just that since 1967, and has imprisoned over 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children according to the UN.

Aside from denial of family visits, higher education, and canteen supplies, roughly 1,500 Palestinian prisoners are believed to be seriously ill, and are denied adequate healthcare.

Majed Komeh's mother has many years of Monday demonstrations ahead of her. Her son, 34 years old, was given a 19-year sentence, of which he has served six years.

"For the last four years I haven't heard from him," Umm Majed says. "He has developed stomach and back problems in prison, but he's not getting the medicine he needs."

Nasser Farrah says this is a serious problem. "Many have cancer and critical illnesses. Many need around-the-clock hospital care, not simply headache pills."

A 2010-2011 report from the Palestinian Prisoners Society said that 20 prisoners have been diagnosed with cancer, 88 with diabetes and 25 have had kidney failures. "Over 200 prisoners have died from lack of proper medical care in prisons," the report says.

One of the ways ill Palestinians end up in prison is by abduction when passing through the Erez crossing for medical treatment outside of Gaza.

"The Israelis give them permits to exit Gaza for treatment in Israel or the West bank, but after they cross through the border Israel imprisons many of them," says Farrah.

"We are a people under occupation. We have no other options to secure our prisoners' rights but to demonstrate in front of the ICRC. It's their job to ensure prisoners are receiving their rights under international humanitarian law."  


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Israel and the others, who recognizes South Sudan?

Misna - July 26, 2011   


“It’s a sign,” replied Petrus de Kock, an analyst at the South African Institute for International Affairs, when MISNA asked why Israel has done it so soon. So far, the states that have officially recognized South Sudan are 88, though some have done so sooner than others.

On July 7, two days before the proclamation of independence from Khartoum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised “cooperation and friendship” and referred to the 8000 South Sudanese who fled to Israel during the civil war fought between 1983 and 2005. Israel, in fact, has ties to what is now the 54th state and newest UN member state. “Israel has provided military assistance and intelligence for decades, so far as to send its own officers to official Sudanese territory” says Hani Raslan, an expert of the Center for Strategic and Political Studies University of Cairo Al-Ahram.

Decisive, in the past and future, has been the contest for the Nile. According to De Kock, for decades Israel has exercised a “powerful influence” in Uganda and South Sudan and now wants “to condition even more options in the management of the river.” The main objective would be Egypt, a key country in any solution to the Palestinian issue and, which, on the basis of a treaty from the colonial era is entitled to 55% of the Nile. Last year seven governments in the region have signed an agreement that calls into question this arrangement and now in Cairo they await the decision of the new state.

A second goal would be to reduce the ability to maneuver the “enemies” of Khartoum. The government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir is suspected of favoring the passage of weapons to the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian Territories bypassing the embargo in Tel Aviv. In early April, the Israeli air force has been accused of having led a raid against a car carrying two missiles abaord which were alleged members of the Palestinian movement Hamas, apparently in charge of delivering a load of weapons.

According to Tom Wheeler, a former South African ambassador with 40 years of diplomatic career, the timing of the recognition of the independence of South Sudan might have been influenced by the “bureaucracy” or other factors unrelated to politics. “To better understand – says Wheeler to MISNA – we must look at how many countries at the General Assembly will vote in favor of the new State’s membership in the United Nations system”.

Certainly, however, Tel Aviv has clear ideas. “Israeli companies to explore South Sudan,” read a headline of the weekend edition of “Yedioth Ahronoth”. The newspaper traces the beginning of the special reports about an alleged Israeli hospitalization experienced by guerrilla hero John Garang, who was wounded in one eye during a gun battle, adding that there are new opportunities.

In the front row to take advantage of these opportunities are Solel Boneh Overseas, Sarel and Fujicom Israel, a pioneer in construction of infrastructure, provision of medical supplies, computer science and electronics. Then there is the past returning. “Experts have already contacted the South Sudanese Defense system to offer training programs for police and the army – writes ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ – and a company based in Ramat Hasharon was responsible for drafting a plan for the safety of President Salva Kiir and his bodyguards “.  


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UN appreciates “constructive” meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar minister

AsiaNews - Yangon - July 26, 2011

The opposition leader and the Labour minister meet for more than an hour. Few details are release about what they discussed, but the focus remains the rule of law. More meetings are expected in the future. The UN’s Ban Ki-moon is encouraging the dialogue and has renewed his appeal for the release of the country’s 2,000 political prisoners.  


Both sides said the meeting was satisfactory and constructive. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his appreciation for the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and a representative of the new military-backed Myanmar government that took office in April. It is the first tentative dialogue between the pro-democracy opposition and the country’s rulers, and it is expected that more will follow.

The meeting was held yesterday in a state guesthouse in Yangon. The Nobel Prize laureate met Aung Kyi, minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, for about 70 minutes.

Mr Aung Kyi was an official in the former military government and is a minister in the current civilian government, set up following last November’s phony election.

He was charged by the regime’s strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, to handle relations with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It is their ninth meeting (pictured).

At the end of meeting, the head of the National league for Democracy (NLD) said, “[w]hatever we do or whoever we talk with, our main hope is for the benefit of the country and the people”.

Next to her, Aung Kyi added, “[w]e can say this is the first step towards cooperation and with regards to future work”.

Details of what was discussed have however been kept vague, although both sides are believed to have talked about rule of law in Myanmar, where corruption and political oppression are rife.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar minister.

A statement from his office said, “The Secretary-General encourages such contacts and dialogue."

At the same time, the Un chief appealed to the Myanmar government to release the over 2,000 political prisoners held in the nation’s prisons.  


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Money and energy fuelling war between Burmese military and ethnic minorities by Yaung Ni Oo

AsiaNews  -July 27, 2011

Activists and environmentalists blame infrastructural and natural resource development. The latter enriches the country’s leadership at the expense of the people. In Karen State, thousands of families are homeless because of a road. Mytisone (Kachin) dam will cause serious damages; the Chinese company that is building it wants seven more.  


Economic interests worth billions of dollars in infrastructural (for example, dams) and natural resource development are behind the virtual civil war between government forces and ethnic minorities in Kachin State (northern Myanmar), this according to Burmese environmentalists and activists. In their opinion, dozens of projects promoted or funded by foreign interests, especially Chinese groups and companies, are fuelling tensions between armed groups and the military. Caught in the middle, the civilian population is the victim of forced confiscations, murders and rapes, whilst the natural environment is at risk for serious and permanent damages.

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed winged of a local ethnic minority in the eastern part of the country on the Thai border, has successfully blocked the construction of a road link to the US$ 8 billion Dawei port and industrial estate mega-project.

The building of the 160-kilometre road has already affected the local population, displacing at least 2,000 families who have had to abandon their homes without adequate compensation.

Installed in April, the Burmese government that emerged from the November 2010 phony election apparently sold the land along the road to investors and businessmen with connections to the country’s political-military leadership.

The economic reforms and privatisations promised by the government have been a pretext to favour acolytes and businessmen loyal to the military junta. In general, property laws in Myanmar are vague and interpreted in favour of the powerful.

Meanwhile, the construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River in the northern state of Kachin on the Chinese border (pictured) continues to be controversial. After years of truce, the civil war between the Burmese military and the armed rebels of the Karen Independence Army (Kia) started again in June. Already dozens of people have been killed or wounded.

Human rights activists and environmentalists note that foreign investments contribute to the violent escalation, in particular Chinese companies that are pouring billions of dollars in the coffers of the military, thus disrupting the life of people and the environment.

The Myitsone hydroelectric dam is also very dangerous, at least according to an internal report by the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), the Chinese multinational in charge of the project, which says that the dam would cause serious problems for the area as well as the country as a whole.  

Despite its own studies, the CPI plans to go ahead with seven more mega-dams on the Irrawaddy River.

Overall, some 48 hydropower projects are planned or under construction, 25 of which are mega-dams similar to Myitsone. They will cost an estimated US $35 billion, generate 40,000Mw of electricity, and earn the Burmese government an estimated US$ 4 billion in annual revenue.  


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Activists condemn India's arm deal with Burma by Nava Thakuria

Weeklyblitz - July 28, 2011  


The Burmese exiles living in India and their sympathizers had recently came to the street of India's national capital to lodge a stronger protest against the government for supplying arms and ammunitions to the semi-military Burmese government at Naypyidaw.

Expressing resentment at New Delhi's continued military relationship with Naypyidaw, hundreds of pro-democracy activists and various Indian civil society groups demonstrated in New Delhi on July 22, 2011 arguing that 'supplying arms to the most brutal military dictatorship may have grave consequences to millions of innocent lives'. It may be mentioned that the Indian government had recently supplied 52 military trucks load of arms and ammunition to the Burmese government. India maintained its strategic and military relationship with the Burmese regime even after receiving brickbats from the international


"It is hurting and awful that the Government of India has breached its democratic principles by supplying arms and ammunitions to the Burmese military rulers, which are identified as the world's most notorious military regime. The consequence will be the victimization of innocent Burmese citizens who have been yearning for justice, peace and democracy for many decades," said M Kim, a young Burmese exile living in India.

"Systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against the ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civilians have been committed without a halt by Burma's Army even after the installation of a so-called civilian type government. It is a fact that over 2,200 political prisoners in Burma are still detained in

jails," he added.

The demonstrators also sent a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh urging him to renew New Delhi's support the Burmese people's movement for restoration of peace and democracy in Burma. Till the early nineties, Indian government supported the democratic movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But later it changed the course and started engaging the then military regime named State Peace and Development Council for various bi-lateral relationships.

"We believe that India is a nation founded on sound democratic principles and time and again India has proven to uphold the principles of constitutionally elected governments. Further as a nation committed to playing an important, if not pivotal role in maintaining peace in the region, it is unbecoming of a responsible nation to supply arms to countries known for abusing military power," states the memorandum, which was signed by nearly hundred Indian civil society groups and individuals with many Burmese organizations.

"While other big neighbours (of Burma) are silently urging for negotiation between the authorities and ethnic groups, New Delhi has continued its arm supply to the infamous regime," said Dr Tint Swe, the chairman of Burma Centre Delhi, a pro-democracy forum. Speaking to the author from New Delhi, Dr Swe asserted that "democracy and human rights activists in Burma have been imprisoned, intimidated, tortured and many of them are put to death and it is observed by none other

than the United Nations and the international community that the advocators for democracy, justice, peace and human rights in Burma have been regularly castigated". So we are apprehensive that those arms will only be used against the pro-democracy activities and ethnic minorities like Kachin, Shan and Karen in eastern Burma, added Dr Swe. In a separate memorandum to the Indian Premier, the Burmese pro-democracy groups urged New Delhi 'to immediately halt the supply

of military aids to Burma's dictatorship' and 'to review India's foreign policy on Burma by focusing on long-term interests, development and stability, prosperity and peace in the region'.

'Systematic human rights abuses and criminal hostilities against ethnic groups, political activists, journalists and civilians have been committed by Burmese Army even after the installation of a so-called civilian government at Naypyidaw,' the memorandum pointed out.

'India's national interest will be served only if a real democratic regime is established in its eastern neighbour,' argued the memorandum which was endorsed by the Women League of Burma, All Burma Students Democratic Front, Arakan Liberation Party, All Burma Democratic Lusei Women Organization, Chin Human Rights Organization, Chin Student Union, Kuki Women Human Rights Organization, Kachin National Organization, Matu Youth Organization, Zomi Women Union and others,

adding that 'supporting the democratic movement in Burma will thus be beneficial for the largest democracy in the globe as well.'  


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US open to Pyongyang over nuclear disarmament

AsiaNews - Seoul - July 25, 2011

After a two-year deadlock, US Secretary of State Clinton invites North Korea’s deputy foreign minister to New York for talks on restarting stalled denuclearisation talks. However, “we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table” or “give them anything new for actions they have agreed to take,” she said. A ruined Communist regime must accept.  


After two years of a diplomatic freeze, Seoul and Washington appear ready to renew nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea. Following banned nuclear tests, Pyongyang was kept away from six-party talks (North and South Korea, United States, Russia, China and Japan) and placed under heavy economic sanctions. Today, even though it is unwilling to make any concessions, the United States wants to overcome the current impasse.

On behalf of the US government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Kae-gwan to New York later this week for discussions on the next steps needed to restart the stalled denuclearisation talks.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, Clinton said however that whilst the US was open to talks with Pyongyang, "we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table." In addition, "We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take," she added.

In a joint statement released Saturday, the United States, South Korea and Japan also said Pyongyang must "address" its secretive uranium enrichment program before the talks could restart.

For its part, Seoul has decided to separate the nuclear issue from the North’s deadly attacks on a South Korean ship and a South Korean-controlled island, which killed a number of civilians.

This is a step forward, albeit due to opposite pushes. The North Korean regime is close to ruin, with the latest economic sanctions further undermining its already fragile economy. Almost the entire population leaves below the poverty line and there are no prospects for change in the near future.

At the same time, the United States, South Korea and Japan have realised that North Korea’s main ally, China, is not going to be tough on its protégé. Thus, diplomacy is the only step other than force.  


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Taliban backs off from attacking civilians by Ashfaq Yusufzai

Ipsnews - Peshawar - July 24, 2011


A series of Taliban attacks selectively targeting Pakistani security forces is being seen as an attempt to shore up the flagging popularity of the fundamentalist Islamic scholars.

"As long as the Taliban targeted security forces alone, the local people supported them as they believed it to be part of the jihad against the United States," said Maulana Abdul Wahid, a prayer leader in this city, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

"However, towards the end of 2005, as the Taliban launched a terror campaign against the general public, targeting mosques, marketplaces, schools and government buildings, public sympathy turned to anger," Wahid said.

Wahid had once helped raise funds for the Taliban to shelter them as they fled neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of that country in late 2001.

Among the Taliban leaders who crossed over the border to find sanctuary in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan is Afghanistan’s former head of state Mullah Mohammed Omar, wanted by the U.S. government for harbouring Osama bin Laden.

"We stopped supporting the Taliban after they began killing and injuring innocent and non-combatant people," Wahid said. "The people here repent the goodwill they had shown towards Taliban."

That goodwill stemmed from the fact that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of Balochistan province are dominated by Pashtuns who form the backbone of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns account for about 16 percent of Pakistan's 174 million population and make up 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people.

Khalid Khan, a retired army major, who took part in Pakistani military operations against the Taliban in FATA, told IPS that the Taliban has now gone back to targeting security forces exclusively in the hope of winning back the hearts and minds of the local people rather than intimidate them.

The new strategy, said Khan, was apparent in the pattern of attacks mounted in revenge for the killing of bin Laden by U.S. forces in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2.

"The Taliban struck at the Frontier Constabulary in Shabqadar Charsadda district on May 13 in a twin suicide attack that killed 80 soldiers," said Khan, pointing to one example of the Taliban’s new tack.

"On May 18, Taliban militants attacked a security post on the outskirts of Peshawar, triggering a four-hour gun battle in which 17 people, 15 of them civilians, were killed, but the Taliban denied involvement because of the deaths of so many ordinary people," said Maulana Zaheerul Haq, who runs a religious school.

In contrast, the Taliban took care to claim responsibility for the May 22 storming of the naval base in Karachi, leaving 10 military personnel dead and destroying two U.S.-supplied surveillance aircraft.

On May 28, Taliban militants drove a car packed with explosives into a police station in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least 11 people and wounding 39. With most of the victims being policemen, the Taliban were quick to take credit.

True to pattern, the Taliban denied having a hand in the twin midnight bomb blasts at the crowded Khyber Super Market in Peshawar on Jun. 12, which killed 45 people and injured as many.

"They are desperate to wash their tainted image among the public," said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, reacting to the Taliban denial.

"All the victims happened to be civilians and the people know that the Taliban are behind these attacks," Hussain said. "The people are well aware that the so-called Taliban militias are doing terrorism all over the country."

Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan was quoted in the media as saying that 'foreign agencies' were trying to malign the scholars by carrying out attacks on civilians. He even vowed that the Taliban would avenge the killing of innocent civilians.

Even the religious-political parties that once wholeheartedly supported the Taliban are now distancing themselves from the movement.

"We have seen that during the past three years, the Taliban have killed hundreds of innocent people, including women, children and the elderly, bringing a bad name to Islam," the leader of a religious party told IPS, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals.

This religious leader said attacks on the chief of the Jamiat Ulema Islam political party, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a former supporter of the Taliban, were carried out by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan, which is sworn to fighting NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

According to Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik, some 30,000 Pakistani civilians have lost their lives in Taliban attacks in the last few years. Also, he said, more than 5,000 Pakistani security personnel have died in operations against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"The new strategy of targeting security forces and sparing civilians will not work as the public has become sick of the Taliban, who continue destroying schools and music shops," Maulana Kifayatullah, leader of a local mosque in Peshawar told IPS.

"The U.S. has not been harmed by the Taliban, only the poor Pakistanis are at the receiving end," Kifayatullah said. "Supporting the Taliban means supporting aggressors, and those supporting aggressors will face the wrath of almighty God on the Day of Judgment."  


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Aquino speaks to the nation but disappoints Filipinos

AsiaNews - Manila - July 25, 2011

In his State of the Nation address, the president highlighted the good results of his administration’s fight against corruption. He also stressed his willingness to defend islands in the South China Sea against Chinese claims. He did not however touch hot issues like employment and agriculture. Sources that spoke to AsiaNews say he is a vassal to big agro- and industrial business interests and international organisations. Thousands take to the streets in Quezon City to protest against his policies.  


President Benigno Aquino III's second State of the Nation address has failed to convince ordinary Filipinos. For many, it was “utopian” and “without concrete contents and proposals”, especially for the poor. This morning, 10,000 people, especially farmers, fishermen and blue-collar workers took to the streets of Quezon City to protest, calling on the president to “quit the world of utopias” and treat citizens “as real and not imaginary people”.

In his speech, Aquino highlighted the start of change in the country. He spoke about fighting corruption, increasing military and police wages and reducing unemployment. Speaking about the dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea, the president asserted his administration’s willingness to defend Filipino sovereignty over the area.

However, speaking to AsiaNews, a source noted that his speech lacked details and examples, that it failed to deal with hot issues like employment and land reform.

 “A year after his election, the president has not set a single goal. So far, he has only made proclamations about changing the country,” the source said. “The only good thing in his speech is his desire to fight corruption by removing government officials accused of embezzlement.”

A few days ago, the president appointed Conchita Carpio-Morales, a former Supreme Court justice, as the new ombudsman, replacing Merceditas Gutierrez, who was tied to the previous Arroyo administration and is suspected of involvement in corruption and embezzlement.

Elected in May 2010, Benigno Aquino was seen by both voters and media as the man for the Philippines’ rebirth.

In his campaign, he offered a radical change for the country, pledging to free it from the six years of corruption under Arroyo.

However, since then, his popularity has declined. Many of those who thought he was the man for the job have become disappointed. Others accuse him of using his success in fighting corruption to hide his difficulty in modernising the country and breaking the stranglehold of large landowners and industrialists.

 “The president is still in the hands of powerful groups that have dominated the political and economic scene in the Philippines for decades,” the source said.

 “New money for the military and the police and the lack of agricultural policies are symptomatic of his administration’s security fears and that it is beholden to powerful families.”

The president is also a vassal of the United Nations and multinationals, which for years have pushed for the controversial birth control bill opposed by the Church and Filipino Catholics.

 “Aquino is not moving against or in favour of the law because he is afraid of losing Catholic support, which is the basis of Filipino society, and the funds provided by international organisations,” the source said. “Still, today he reiterated his closeness to the country’s bishops, praising them for their work in favour of the population.”

Based on the words and some of the results by the Aquino administration, some small changes are observable compared to previous administration, the source said. “The Philippines’ rebirth will occur one day, but it will be long and hard to do,” the source added.  


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Even a truck can become a classroom

Agenzia Fides - Manila - July 26, 2011


A truck has been turned into a classroom so that it can accommodate up to 25 students at once and will offer lessons from Monday to Friday for four hours a day for children and street children left to themselves who live in the area of Laguna, in the South of Manila. The first courses that will begin are Electronics and Motorcycle repair. The first will teach techniques regarding the repair of electrical appliances such as fans, TV, electrical outlets, circuits and wiring, and mobile phones. At the end of the course participants will receive a National Certificate (NC2) issued by the Authority for Technical Education and Skills Development. The second course is aimed at the utility in a social community that uses the motorcycle as a common means of transport. The idea of a mobile classroom was thought by a volunteer lay person involved in the village for street children in Tuloy, as a response to the growing number of pupils leaving schools in the country. The most common causes, according to the children themselves, is the lack of money for public transport and the need to work. The area where the truck will move is included in the diocese of San Pablo, a suffragan of the archdiocese of Manila. (PA)  


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Famine in Somalia: When does the world decide to use the ‘F' word? by Krista Mahr

Time - July 22, 2011  


The word ‘famine' may be a familiar one, but it is not thrown around lightly by the people who decide when there is one. The fact that most of us today probably associate the term with the 1984 crisis in Ethiopia is testament to its exceedingly careful dispensation; to use it too often would dilute its power to command the attention of the press and governments around the world. Famines don't happen overnight, but when the United Nations declares one, those governments are expected to pay attention – and help pay to get the situation under control.

On Wednesday, the U.N. declared two regions in southern Somalia as being in the midst of a famine. It's the first time the word has been used in that country in nearly 20 years and the first time it's been employed anywhere in the 21st century. The famine comes after months of the worst drought in East Africa in more than half a century, and is affecting about 3.5 million people around the country, most of whom are in the south. Over 165,000 Somalis have already fled to Kenya to get access to food and water; every day, over 1000 refugees are arriving in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, pushing conditions there to the limit.

But when did an emergency morph into a full-blown famine? For the U.N., there is a precise and technical set of criteria used to determine when a famine is occurring. At least 20% of the population must be consuming less than 2100 kilocalories a day, 30% of children must be suffering from acute malnutrition, and two adults or four children out of every 10,000 people must be dying of hunger each day.

Those numbers are gathered from field assessments that several UN groups and NGOs jointly evaluate before establishing the world has a famine on their hands. “It has such a huge connotation,” says Arif Husain, deputy chief of the World Food Program's Food Security Analysis Service. “It's basically saying a government failed to provide food for its people to the extent that people are dying. If you're going to say that you have to be very careful you're correct.”

That's true even in Somalia, widely regarded as a failed state in which the current government controls little of the country, including the capital. This vacuum had no small part the widespread hunger that we have seen splashed across our computer and television screens this week. The drought, of course, played its role, too, destroying back-to-back crop seasons, and food prices are, once again, soaring. But in the absence of a functional government, the militant Islamist group al-Shabab has routinely hampered aid operations in recent years, prompting groups like WFP to stop its food aid in Somalia last year after delivery became too fraught with questionable conditions and too dangerous.

 “Somalia is a different animal. There is no government. There is nobody responsible,” Husain says. The famine has been caused by an environmental catastrophe, but an intact state could at least try deal with it. No government means there are no officials or institutions to try to do anything. “In cases where those things don't exist, it just becomes the responsibility of the international community if you don't want to see people dying.”

Good governance — or rather lack of it — has been the tipping point before in turning a food shortage into a famine. As Jeffrey Sachs wrote in this magazine in 1998, Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen concluded that the Bengal famine of 1943, in which millions of rural workers starved in the midst of an economic boom, came to pass because India's British rulers were not concerned with monitoring the condition of the colony's working poor. Sachs writes: "This political observation gave rise to what might be called Sen's Law: shortfalls in food supply do not cause widespread deaths in a democracy because vote-seeking politicians will undertake relief efforts; but even modest food shortfalls can create deadly famines in authoritarian societies" — or, in the case of Somalia, in societies where there is scarcely a government at all. Hence another nation where residents suffer chronic bouts of hunger and malnutrition: North Korea.

So far, the attention the international community has paid to the simmering problem in Somalia has been pretty unimpressive; sending millions of dollars to a lawless state more or less run by insurgents is an unsavory prospect to the committees that determine where aid flows. But aid groups argue cutting off help is shortsighted. When hundreds of thousands of people are going hungry in one place, their suffering will not remain isolated. “Without an urgent infusion of emergency funds, the famine is likely to spread to other regions in Somalia leading to more starvation, disease and displacement,” Nora Love of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement released on July 20.

The U.N. estimates that at least $300 million will be needed to address the famine in the next two months. The U.S. has responded with an extra $28 million in emergency funds, in addition to the $431 million in aid already sent to the Horn of Africa this year. Others have yet to follow. “It's not enough as we speak right now… [but] we do expect a good response,” says Husain. “If not, this is a very bad situation." If the sudden crop of images of kids with IVs in their arm are any indication, we're already there.

Krista Mahr is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kristamahr. You can also continue the discussion on TIME's Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.  


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Mass graves discovered in South Kordofan

Newsfromafrica - July 23, 2011  


Based on an analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and eyewitness reports obtained by the Satellite Sentinel Project, SSP has identified a site consistent with mass graves in Kadugli.

Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) has found evidence consistent with allegations that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Government of Sudan-aligned (GoS) militias have apparently engaged in a campaign of systematic mass killing of civilians in Kadugli, South Kordofan. Under the Rome Statute and other international humanitarian law, the systematic killing of civilians in peace or war by their own government can constitute crimes against humanity.

Based on an analysis of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and eyewitness reports obtained by the Satellite Sentinel Project, SSP has identified a site consistent with mass graves in Kadugli. SSP has found evidence corroborating at least four, independent eyewitness accounts that SAF, GoS-aligned militias and other GoS-aligned forces are present in Kadugli and are alleged to be methodically searching houses for civilians. The four eyewitnesses claim that the SAF and GoS-aligned militias are systematically killing those suspected of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and others.

SSP has also found evidence consistent with a possible pile of people in body bags or white plastic tarps in Kadugli. This imagery corroborates an eyewitness account of bodies being placed in body bags or some form of white plastic tarp by SAF and GoS-aligned militia forces.

Detailed situation reports from UN agencies and other aid providers are severely limited due to the lack of free and unfettered access to Kadugli town. In the absence of on-the-ground reports from humanitarian actors and journalists, eyewitness reports from those who were in Kadugli town within the past month, combined with satellite imagery analysis, are the only available means of assessing the situation there at present.  


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South Sudan should not reinvent the wheel

Newsfromafrica - July 21, 2011  


After nearly fifty decades of armed struggle, the Southern Sudanese have finally gained their independence from the oppressive Khartoum regime. However, the independence celebrations witnessed on July 9 and the pomp and colour that marked them could be short lived if the discontent currently brewing in the new nation is anything to go by.

Having gone to the bush to fight marginalization, it is unfortunate that the Republic of South Sudan is now facing the same accusation from the minority groups and those who fought alongside the SPLA but have since decamped after being locked out of key government and military positions. If peace is to prevail in the new nation-state, President Salva Kiir Myardit must bring back these discontented groups to the mainstream political arena. The Dinka and the Nuer ethnic communities should not be left to dominate public positions as if they are the only ones who fought for independence. 

The issue of disarmament must also be taken seriously. It is dangerous for a country to usher in independence with so many dangerous weapons in the hands of the militia. It is equally dangerous for a country to gain independence with a controversial constitution that only favours the ruling party.

If South Sudan is to succeed in its reconstruction efforts, it must stem the rising xenophobia that has seen a number of foreign investors, especially Kenyans being killed in mysterious circumstances. Kenya offered refuge to thousands of Southern Sudanese at the height of the civil war, with the top SPLM command still having plush homes in Nairobi. It is therefore unfortunate that Kenyans should receive donkey thanks.

But above all, President Kiir’s government must address the runaway corruption that is threatening to tear the very fabric of the nation. Despite having neighbours that are known to be corrupt, the Republic of South Sudan should not copy and perfect the art of corruption. Africa’s 54th nation must prove to the world that its independence was well deserved and that it can govern itself.  


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In Sri Lanka Democracy Rides on Wheels by Amantha Perera

Ipsnews - Thunukkai - July 25, 2011 


If voters in this remote village, deep inside Sri Lanka’s former war zone, turned out in strength for the historical Jul. 23 local body elections, it had to do with the availability of buses to ferry them to the nearest polling station 20 km away.

Election monitors feared that the villagers of Thunukkai would not take the trouble to travel 40 km to cast their votes, even if local body elections were being held after a gap of 25 years.

"It was a big concern, that people were going to be disenfranchised because there were no buses," Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director of the national election monitoring body Campaign For Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), told IPS.

CaFFE, other election monitoring bodies and political parties had raised the issue of transport with election commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya two days before the polls, but failed to get a commitment.

Funds were not the only issue. An offer from CaFFE to bear the costs of providing free transport in the former conflict zone, popularly known as the Vanni, and elsewhere was shot down by election officials.

Finally, some areas in the Tamil-dominated north were provided with buses, but not others.

According to Tennakoon, the effects of the availability of transport were clear in Thunukkai where over 65 percent of the 5,227 registered voters made it to the polling booth.

"The one big factor why so many voted - buses," said Tennakoon one of the activists who had lobbied hard to ensure that transport was provided in the Vanni on election day. "They may have been without a vote for 25 years, but It was the provision of buses that did the job."

Thunukkai villagers were allowed three buses to travel to and from the booth, situated on the A9 highway. The villagers had to pay a fare for the bus rides, but that was far better than riding 40 km on bicycles to exercise their franchise.

"Most people don’t have private means of transport other than bicycles, so almost all of us used the buses to get to the polling station," Rathna Raja, a Thunukkai resident, told IPS.

The road that connects Thunukkai with the all important A9 highway is best described as a stretch of gravel and gaping potholes. It has not seen a lick of tar in almost 15 years and the chief means of transportation is the bicycle.

"It [the bicycle] is the most reliable means of transport here," Chandradasa Chandaran, a villager, told IPS.

Chitra Kurukularaja, who lives in the Kilinochchi town area, said that on election day voters were seen using public transport, where available, to get to the booths.

"Transport is very unreliable here, especially on interior roads. More people came to vote where there were buses," she said.

Villages where transport was an issue reported a low turnout. In the nearby Pachchilaipalli division only 46 percent of the 7,116 registered voters turned up to vote.

"Transport was a big problem there," Tennakoon said, adding that wherever transport was available voting was up to expectations or better.

Saturday’s election was not the first held in the Vanni after the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by government forces in May 2009. The region had voted at the 2010 presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, Saturday’s poll covering 23 administrative divisions in the Vanni and Jaffna - out of the island-wide 65 - had added significance. It was considered as a test of approval for the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in the former war zone.

"The people of the north had the chance to signal their opinion on what is taking place in the north," Soosaipillai Keethaponcalan, the head of the department of political science at the University of Colombo, told IPS.

The Vanni was devastated by the civil war and over 300,000 people were left homeless or displaced by it. They began returning to their villages or to live with host families by end 2009. By the end of June some 12,000 still remained in camps.

The government has launched rapid development work in some parts of the Vanni, especially along the A9 highway. It has repaved over 100 km of the highway that bisects the region and power lines have also been drawn in most areas.

Over 490 sq km have been de-mined and over 80 percent of the paddy land is back under cultivation in the Vanni, according to UN situation reports.

However, the overbearing presence of the military in the region and the lack of civil administration are, according to critics, signs that normalcy is yet to be achieved.

"The population in the north tends to give more importance to political issues than development," Keethaponcalan told IPS.

That may well have been the case. Of the 23 administrative bodies up for election in the former conflict zone, the opposition Tamil National Alliance won 18 while another Tamil party won two.

That left Rajapaksa’s ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) with just three in the Tamil areas. Contrastingly, in the Sinhalese-dominated south all the 45 bodies contested were overwhelmingly won by the UPFA.

"It is a clear signal from the north that it is not in favour of what has been taking place," Tennakoon said.

CaFFE said in a statement that "the dominant presence of the military and the lack of civil administration did not aid the transparency and accountability of the first post-war local authority election".

But CaFFE’s head Tennakoon was quick to add that the conduct of the election, however flawed, was a signal that democracy was taking root in the region where, not so long ago, bullets rather than ballots ruled the day.


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Sri Lankan prisons inhumane for women by Ranmali Bandarage

Oneworld South Asia - July 21, 2011  


Welikada prison in Colombo is a tell-tale of the inhumane living conditions of its female inmates. In a complete departure from the UN rules for treatment of prisoners, the overstuffed female wards are devoid of sanitation and other basic amenities.

Monthly ‘visiting hours’ at the female ward of Sri Lanka’s notorious Welikada Prison are as traumatic for the inmates as they are for their family and friends. A tiny room, measuring 10 feet by seven feet, is divided in half by a mesh counter. On one side, mothers, fathers, children and relatives jostle for standing room. On the other the inmates, in white prison clothes, shout to be heard over the din.

This monthly ordeal is emblematic of the prison system itself – chaotic, overcrowded and inhumane.

"We are treated as far less than human," one of the female prisoners, speaking under strict condition of anonymity, told IPS.

"About 150 of us sleep in a cell designed for 75 people," she added. "An open drain infested with rats runs the perimeter of the room. Recently, one of the inmates was bitten and had to be rushed to the hospital for an anti-rabies shot."  


Overstuffed, unhygienic

Over the past several weeks the plight of prisoners in Welikada, Sri Lanka’s largest incarceration facility, has resurfaced in state and independent media, with reports of overcrowding nudging their way back onto newspapers.

Secretary to the ministry of rehabilitation and prison reforms, A. Dissanayake, told the leading English language ‘Daily Mirror’, last week, Welikada currently houses 4,500 inmates in a facility intended for 2,000, admitting to 220% overcrowding.

"There are 650 of us in the female ward though it was built for 150 people"A female prisoner

According to Cristina Albertin, a representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the New Delhi-based regional office for South Asia, Sri Lanka has the second most overcrowded prison system in the region after Bangladesh, which has an occupancy level of 302.4%.

"Most Sri Lankan prisons were built over a 100 years ago by the British, at a time when the country’s population was about three million," Albertin told IPS.

"Now, the ministry says that though the "institutional capacity is 11,000 prisoners, the current total prison population is over 30,933," Albertin said.

"More than 50% of these are remand prisoners and 50% are incarcerated due to non- payment of fines," Albertin said, adding that petty criminals and sexual offenders are incarcerated with perpetrators of heinous crimes.

"Everyone receives the same abuse," the female prisoner told IPS, "whether we have murdered someone or simply failed to pay back a loan."

She described the female ward of the Welikada prison as "hell" – including maggots in the food, a complete absence of beds, mats or pillows and no fans despite the 33 degrees Celsius heat.

"There are 650 of us in the female ward though it was built for 150 people," she added, suggesting that, in the women’s ward in particular, actual numbers outstrip the conservatively estimated occupancy rates of 200%.

"We eat, bathe, sleep, wake up and begin all over again," she told IPS. "There are no attempts at rehabilitation. Women here just waste away."


'Correctional homes'

What few of the inmates know is that the Sri Lankan prison system is actually defined as "correctional," indicating that, officially, reintegration into society is a priority.

"Individuals are sent to prison for a specific purpose – to correct themselves," Albertin told IPS. "It is, therefore, important to assess whether the prevailing prison conditions are conducive to such a task, or whether they are designed to project the idea that prisoners are a condemned lot, not deserving of respect or attention."

In fact, there is a disregard for prisoners’ human rights that extends beyond the walls of the jails themselves.

"Many large corporations do not consider this a community service project at all"Tahini De Andrado, a senior member of Interact District 3220

Tahini De Andrado, a senior member of Interact District 3220, the largest local coalition of Sri Lankan schools under Rotary International, is confronting these biases at Welikada.

"Though we weren’t allowed access to the entire prison, we saw enough to know the situation was bad," De Andrado told IPS.

Currently 75 female inmates are forced to share two bathrooms. Of the ten bathrooms available for the prisoners, most are in shocking states of disrepair.

"What’s worse is that women are locked into their cells at 5.30 every evening, and not let out to use the bathroom until five o’clock the following morning," De Andrado told IPS.

"Women sleep with buckets beside them, which they use as toilets during the night. This is not a complicated issue – I think it’s a simple matter of looking at sanitation as a basic human right," she added.

Rotary’s District 3220 is currently embarked on a project to build 10 new bathrooms for the women, at a cost of 2,000,000 Sri Lankan rupees (18,263 US dollars).


Securing funding for the project has not been easy.

"Many large corporations do not consider this a community service project at all," De Andrado told IPS. "Even managing directors of leading local companies told us this was a waste of time and money on ‘people who can help themselves.’"

She added that a partner organisation that had attempted a similar prison sanitation project in 2010 had failed to secure any funding from the corporations.

"From my experience, if you approach complete strangers on the subject of prisoners’ rights and appeal to their human instincts you will find they don’t have any," De Andrado said.

"Perhaps some of these women have done wrong – but they don’t deserve to be treated like cattle once they’re inside," she concluded.

According to Albertin, the government is slated to review the existing Prison Ordinance of 1867, and bring fresh legislation to parliament this year.

"There is both scope and need for expanding prison-based intervention to address issues of overcrowding, services for female prisoners and awareness of the problem of vulnerable groups like women in prisons," Albertin told IPS.

"The national policies and rules in prisons need to be in closer conformity with the U.N. rules for the treatment of prisoners in terms of hygiene, food, access to services like health and information and complaint mechanisms," she added.

Going by history, the women of Welikada have little to hope for.  


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Crisis in the relationship between Erdogan and Europe by NAT da Polis

AsiaNews - Istanbul - July 26, 2011

Domestic and international factors are behind the Turkish leader’s decision to suspend cooperation with the European Union during the Cypriot presidency. Ankara wants to use its role as a powerful played in an energy-rich region.  


The long relationship between Erdogan and the European Union is in crisis. The cause is the land of Aphrodite, the island of Cyprus. On a visit last week to mark the 37th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the republic of Cyprus, which led to the division of the country, Erdogan said it would be impossible for Turkey to cooperate with the future presidency of the European Union when it is led by Cyprus.

Even though the Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, it is not recognised by Turkey. The prime minister said he would to suspend relations with the European Union irrespective of what Brussels might think. For him, the European Union was wrong to admit Cyprus. In fact, two states exist on the island that should be joined in a loose confederation that would preserve the identity and independence of each.

The European Union reacted promptly to Erdogan’s statement, calling his remarks offensive and arrogant because they attack the dignity of an EU member state. Sources in Brussels noted that, when Erdogan opened talks with the Union in order for Turkey to become a member, he accepted to respect and recognise the integrity of all EU member states.

Commenting Erdogan’s unfortunate statement, diplomatic sources said the prime minister’s own party, the AKP, was able to rout the old Turkish establishment because of its openness to negotiations with the European Union.

Erdogan’s words touch a number of issues. Whilst what he said is nothing new, they did cause strong reactions.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded Foreign Minister Davutoglu that United Nations decisions on Cyprus must be respected.

At the same, many prominent Turkish Cypriot figures have said Erdogan, or whoever is in power in Ankara, does speak on their behalf.

In fact, many Turkish Cypriots, who have become a minority in northern Cyprus because of large-scale immigration from Anatolia, are increasingly expressing their opposition to Ankara.

Restricted to the northern third of the island, they accuse Ankara of being insensitive towards them and their cultural and social heritage, as the island is being turned into a big casino for Islamic banking.

As any observer of Turkish affairs cannot fail to see, Turkish foreign policy has been shaped by a common theme, namely ‘pazarlik’, or deal making.

After the initial impetus, negotiations with the European Union have become bogged down because of reform fatigue (in diplomatic parlance). A lack of civil consciousness in Turkish society has also contributed to the problem. In view of this, Ankara has turned to ‘pazarlik’.

Knowing that the European Union needs energy from a region in which Turkey constitutes a natural point of transit, Ankara is trying to present itself as the main bearer of European values to the nations of that region. At the same time, it is boosting relations with other regional powers like Russia and Iran.

Even though Ankara is trying to meet the Copenhagen criteria, which are crucial for EU membership, it has accused the European Union of applying a double standard at its expense. and Cyprus is the right excuse.

For many analysts, Turkey is looking for new partners outside of Europe. This, at least, is what Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu is saying. As the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy, he has dismissed arguments such as cultural differences or the clash of civilisation, stressing instead different interests.

Domestic factors also play a role. Despite winning half of the popular vote in the last election, Erdogan does not have the necessary majority in parliament to change the constitution outright. For that purpose, he organised a referendum last September (which he had easily won) and called the 12 June elections.

By stroking national price, he hopes to get enough votes in parliament to push through his reforms. He also hopes to set the stage to become the next president once the mandate of President Gul ends. This way he can become the new Father of a nation with an enhanced status as a regional power.

Yet, the first signs of trouble are lurking on the horizon. The International Monetary Fund has in fact reported that Turkey’s trade deficit in the first five months of 2011 topped US$ 38 billion. Concurrently, its growth rate, forecast to be 11 per cent this year, has been revised downward at 8.7. Next year, it should drop even further.

In the end, as the saying goes, if you want to grasp all, you run the risk of losing all.  


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Two Compromises by Joe Klein

Time - July 23, 2011  


Another awful week for the Republic–and some interesting decisions by the President. He chose to compromise in his deficit reduction negotiations with the Republicans…and got nowhere. He chose to compromise by not appointing Elizabeth Warren the director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau…and got nowhere.

You’re expecting me to rail against compromising with Republicans, right? Wrong.

On Friday, there were two interesting, but conflicting, columns in the New York Times about the deficit ceiling negotiations, by Paul Krugman and David Brooks. I agreed with both of them. Krugman argued that any deficit reduction compromise would be a bad deal because, given the sluggish jobs and growth numbers, the government should be trying to pump more money into the economy via stimulus. Brooks argued that the psychological effects of a big budget deal might give everyone, especially the business sector, the confidence necessary to start hiring again and expanding again.

As I said, I agree with both…but a little more so with Brooks. The country really needs the lift that would come with a budget deal. Everyone could exhale. And the sort of deal that Obama and Boehner were working on–especially if it contained prudent, long-term entitlement reforms (like changing the way cost of living increases are computed for Social Security recipients and asking wealthier Medicare recipients to pay a little more)–would give the country some long-term benefits. Some Democrats howled over the President’s compromises, and they had a political point. The vast majority of Americans don’t want entitlement reforms. But Obama was thinking about policy as well as politics (a deal would certainly help him politically). I also think that a budget deal would make it possible to do some short-term spending, of the sort Krugman wants, in the near future.

But the argument is moot. Because the House Republicans won’t compromise at all. Let me repeat that: the House Republicans won’t compromise at all. And they are leading their party off a political cliff, as no less an expert than the wall-to-wall cynical Mitch McConnell has pointed out. Obama’s willingness to make prudent compromises has been the right thing to do. He seems strong, willing to defy his liberal base, and Boehner seems weak.

On the other hand, Obama’s unwillingness to appoint Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Finance Protection Board was a silly compromise. The Republicans, as Joe Nocera points out in the column I linked to above, are going to block  Obama’s fallback appointee, Richard Cordray, and anyone else the President cares to name. This is as clear-cut a fight as you can get. The Republicans are in favor of usurious payday lenders, credit card issuers and crooked mortgage-mongers. Their position is embarrassing, but it’s based in the most base of currencies–cash. One would think the President would want to draw attention to the crass Republican/banker alliance by making this as high profile a fight as possible. That would have meant appointing Elizabeth Warren, shooting off rockets and other assorted neon displays…and making clear which party wants you to pay higher interest rates and which doesn’t. But he didn’t, and I simply don’t understand it.

If his argument is that he wants to avoid lesser fights to achieve victory on the bigger issues, that doesn’t seem to be working. He is rightfully seen as the primary licensed grownup in the debt negotiations. This should give him the leverage to step it up on other fights, especially those involving the folks who trashed the economy in 2008. In other words, compromising on the debt negotiations should give him the power to not compromise on financial reform.


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