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  1. Company carries out public track run of prototype that might one day rocket commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles in a supersonic pod Nicky Woolf in San Francisco Thursday 12 May 2016 07.58 BST Hyperloop, the supersonic transport system proposed by tech billionaire Elon Musk, has taken a tentative step towards reality with the first public test of a prototype propulsion system. One of the companies vying to make the idea a reality, Hyperloop One, which changed its name from Hyperloop Technologies on Wednesday to coincide with the open-air propulsion test in the Nevada desert, has also closed an $80m series B funding round which includes investment from the French national rail company SNCF. When – and very much if – completed, the Hyperloop would work by propelling pods at high speeds through a tube, which in theory would be able to make the journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes. The Nevada test, in which a sled accelerated to 116 mph (187km/h) in 1.1 seconds, represents a very early proof of concept; there are a vast number of hurdles that the developers of Hyperloop still have to clear if the technology is to become a reality. Hyperloop One also announced a series of other partnerships, including Deutsche Bahn Engineering & Consulting and the British engineering consultancy group Arup, who are currently working on London’s Crossrail. Rob Lloyd, CEO of Hyperloop One, said in a statement: “We will work alongside these world-class partners to redefine the future of transportation, providing a more immediate, safe, efficient and sustainable high-speed backbone for the movement of people and things.” “Hyperloop has the potential to solve many of today’s most complex long-distance transport issues,” said Gregory Hodkinson, Arup Group chairman, also in a statement. “If railways helped enable the first industrial revolution, Hyperloop has the potential to do the same for the information economy, overcoming distances and creating connections between people, places, ideas and opportunities.” • This article was amended on Thursday 12 May to correct an erroneous headline.
  2. Brazil’s first female president stripped of duties in country’s first impeachment in 24 years Jonathan Watts in Brasilia Thursday 12 May 2016 10.38 BST Less than halfway through her elected mandate, Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her presidential duties for up to six months on Thursday after the Senate voted to begin an impeachment trial. After a marathon 20-hour debate that one politician described as the “saddest day for Brazil’s young democracy”, senators voted 55 to 22 to suspend the Workers’ party leader, putting economic problems, political paralysis and alleged fiscal irregularities ahead of the 54 million votes that put her in office. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, will have to step aside while she is tried in the upper house for allegedly manipulating government accounts ahead of the previous election. Her judges will be senators, many of whom are accused of more serious crimes. A final decision, which is likely in September or October, will require a two-thirds majority. Ominously for the president, this margin was exceeded in Thursday’s vote. The impeachment is more political than legal. Similar fiscal irregularities went unpunished in previous administrations, but they are a pretext to remove a leader who has struggled to assert her authority. After Rousseff came to power in 2010, she initially enjoyed some of the highest ratings of any leader in the world. But her popularity has slumped along with the economy, now in its deepest recession for decades. Adding to her woes have been a fractious parliament and a massive corruption scandal at the state-run oil firm, Petrobras, that has implicated politicians across the spectrum, including many close aides and the former president Luiz Ináçio Lula da Silva. With the Olympic spotlight now about to shine on Brazil – and the Zika virus health crisis far from over - the country is fraught with problems. Many blame the Workers’ party, which has been in power for 13 years. Rousseff’s approval ratings are now around 10%; close to 60% of voters support impeachment. But many are uncomfortable about how she is being pushed aside. Even many opponents acknowledge the president is one of the least corrupt politicians in Brazil. On their way to the impeachment debate, senators walked through the long concrete corridors of the parliament building, which are decorated with timelines of epic moments in the history of the chamber: the abolition of slavery in 1888 (the last major country in the world to do so), the creation of the First and Second Republics of 1889-1930 and 1946-1964 (both of which ended in military coups), the return of democracy in 1988 and subsequent steps to improve the rights of workers, women and minorities. Few taking part would claim the impeachment of the country’s first woman president will be remembered with pride. Unlike the triumphantly ugly scenes during the lower house vote which invited scorn around the world, most of the senators struck a sombre tone. There was no repeat – at least in the early sessions – of the cheering and singing. Instead, many claimed to be sad and said they were only reluctantly approving the suspension of the elected head of state because the economy was in crisis and politics were in turmoil. “All the people here are broken hearted. We don’t want this, but it is unavoidable. Brazil has come to a stop since last year,” claimed Marcelo Crivella, who, as well as being a senator for the Brazilian Republican party, is a gospel singer and a bishop of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. “We all recognise that [Dilma] has done a good job during her life for the democracy of Brazil.” Despite these respectful words, Crivella – who was once allied with the Workers Party government – said that he would vote for the impeachment of the president because the country is mired in crisis and needs a change of economic policy. Others cited problems of corruption, which have led to the arrests of dozens of politicians across the political spectrum. Romário, the former striker for the national football team, looked somewhat ill at ease as he declared his vote for impeachment. “I know some will disagree,” he said. “But I have concluded there is sufficient evidence to admit the process.” He warned however that removing the president would not work like a magic wand to lift Brazil out of the mire. For the Workers’ party and its supporters, however, this was a day of shame for Brazil’s political class. While many acknowledge the shortcomings of a president who never appeared comfortable dealing with Congress or communicating with the nation, they claim Rousseff is the victim of a “coup” by the old elite who were unable to accept the result of the last election and deliberately caused instability to grab power . “This is the saddest day in the history of our young democracy,” said Vanessa Grazziotin, a senator from the Communist Party of Brazil. “This isn’t a valid Constitutional process, it is a coup that goes against the opinion of the majority in the 2014 election.” However, the senator said the battle was not over because there was still time over the coming months for the population to realise they were robbed of their rights by the removal of the president. “If they suspend her today, I’ll go to the streets to demand new elections,” Grazziotin said. 70% of Brazilians support holding new elections – an even bigger majority than those who favoured impeachment – but that has been ruled out by vice-president Michel Temer, who has now maneuvered to replace his running mate. He has spent the past few weeks canvassing candidates for the centre-right administration he will is now expected to form. Advance lists of ministerial posts in the domestic media suggest his first Cabinet will be entirely male and overwhelmingly white. It is unlikely to be more popular – nor any less tainted by corruption. Temer’s ratings are almost as low as those of the outgoing president. According to the most recent opinion survey by Ipsos, he has a rejection rate of 62%. Fewer than one in seven support him. He too faces an impeachment process, though his support in parliament makes it unlikely he will succumb. And he too has been implicated in two plea bargains in the ongoing Lava Jato investigation into the kick-back and bribery scandal at the state-run oil firm Petrobras. Several members of his proposed Cabinet also face charges by prosecutors. Senator after senator repeated the phrase that “nobody is above the law”, yet many are living proof that this has long been untrue in Brazilian politics. As in the lower house many of the politicians who voted for Rousseff to be stripped of her post for fiscal irregularities are themselves accused of far greater crimes. 33 of the 81 senators have either been charged or are under investigation by prosecutors. Some have been found guilty by the supreme court, such as Ivo Cassol, a senator from Rondonia, who is fighting a five-year prison sentence for fraud and has been fined for illegal deforestation of the Amazon. Among those who spoke was Fernando Collor, who was the last president to be impeached in 1992, and is now implicated in the Lava Jato case. He did not say how he would vote, but spent much of his time at the microphone claiming he was wrongly accused. The implications for Brazil’s democracy are, at best, mixed. Of the four directly elected presidents since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, two have now been impeached. The upper echelons of the political class are also deeply tainted by scandal and scheming. Four of the five top figures in the nation are now either suspended or under investigation by prosecutors. The third in line to the presidency – house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who orchestrated Rousseff’s downfall – was suspended from his post by the supreme court for obstructing justice. Prosecutors in the Lava Jato investigation have also accused Cunha of receiving at least $5m in bribes and hiding the money in secret Swiss bank accounts. Fourth in line, Renan Calheiros, the leader of the senate who oversaw today’s impeachment vote, is the subject of 11 criminal probes, nine of which are related to Lava Jato. Rousseff spent her last day in power largely out of the public eye. Instead of her usual morning bicycle ride, she went for a walk. Later, she fired all but two members of her cabinet - the head of the Central Bank and the Sports Minister, who has played a central role in organising the Olympics. Now suspended, the president is unlikely to attend the opening ceremony of the Games as she had previously been expected to do. She could yet come back, but the chances are slim now that Temer controls the budget and more than 10,000 government appointments. There is little ceremony for the handover of power. The senate will send an emissary with an intimação or official notification of the result and its consequences to president Rousseff, who will keep her title and residence, but lose her authority and be obliged to leave the Planalto presidential office. The same emissary will then deliver a notificação to Michel Temer that he must assume the duties of the head of state. Vicentinho Alves, the senator who will serve the role of emissary, said he will carry out his duties respectfully. “I see Dilma as a upright and honest person who lacked the ability to govern in this situation,” he said. “In democracy, as I see it, a leader needs to have the support of the streets, which the president currently lacks. If that it gone, then you need the support of the national Congress. But that is also gone. When you lose both those elements, you lose the capacity to govern.” Whether Temer will find it any easier remains to be seen. Given the circumstances under which he took power his administration starts under a cloud. Workers Party supporters have vowed to mobilise against him. During the Senate vote, thousands took to the streets of major cities to protest. Outside the Congress building in Brasilia there were minor confrontations as police fired tear gas and pepper spray at demonstrators who threw rocks and fireworks. “The police are very violent. The majority of them are against Dilma and democracy,” said Clair Helena Santos, a housing activist from Sao Paulo, spluttering as she struggled to catcher her breath. “With her out of power, things are going to get worse for social movements. But we will reorganise, continue our struggle and build a strong new left. It might not be called the Workers Party. But we will have Lula as our candidate in 2018.” On the other side of the esplanada, several hundred pro-impeachment supporters were celebrating with music, dancing and drinking. Many were draped in the yellow and green natinoal flag. “I’m totally delighted. The Workers Party is finally gone,” said Rafael Curvo, a lawyer from Sao Paulo. “For us this is like the start of a new year.” The distance between the party and the street scuffles was little mor ethan a hundred metres, but the two sides were separated by police and a metal barrier that has been dubbed “impeachment wall”. It will come down soon. Temer may find it harder to reunify the nation. Many pics in link
  3. Sanders’ victory does little to narrow Clinton’s large delegate lead, while presumptive Republican nominee claims wins in West Virginia and Nebraska Dan Roberts and Ben Jacobs in Washington Wednesday 11 May 2016 09.24 BST A defiant Bernie Sanders refused to go gently into the night on Tuesday with another last-minute primary win over Hillar.y Clinton that comes despite her commanding lead in the national race for delegates. In a fundraising email sent out soon after polls closed, the leftwing senator hailed his victory in West Virginia and said: “Every vote we earn and every delegate we secure sends an unmistakable message about the values we share, the country’s support for the ideas of our campaign, and a rejection of Donald Trump and his values.” He added: “There is nothing I would like more than to take on and defeat Donald Trump, someone who must never become president of this country. But I believe that it is not enough to just reject Trump – this is an opportunity to define a progressive vision for America. “Voters agree: just today, three new polls showed that we are the best campaign to defeat Trump.” In the Republican race, Trump beat former rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich in Nebraska and West Virginia. The two remained on the ballot despite having dropped out of the race last week. With 96.8% of the vote reporting, Sanders had 51.4% of the vote and Clinton had 36%. The remaining votes were spread between four other candidates, with lawyer Paul Farrell at 7%. But with West Virginia’s 29 delegates awarded on a proportionate basis, the small net gain for Sanders is unlikely to make much of a dent in the lead of 290 pledged delegates that the former secretary of state had going into the contest. She is much further ahead when superdelegates – party elites not bound by primary results – are factored into the equation. The demographics of the West Virginia primary overall appeared to be highly favourable to Sanders, with a higher than usual proportion of independents taking part and few minority voters, who have tended to lean toward Clinton. A similar mix of voters helped Sanders claim a surprise win in Indiana last week and is expected to favour him again in Kentucky and Oregon next Tuesday. Clinton meanwhile is hoping for wins in the delegate-rich states of New Jersey and California on 7 June to put her lead safely out of reach going into the party convention in Philadelphia this July. Sanders is already campaigning hard in California, where he hopes he still has a slim chance to catch Clinton in pledged delegates and then apply moral pressure to persuade superdelegates – mostly party officials favouring her – to change their minds before the convention. But with just 11 contests between them remaining, there is little time left to close either gap. The Vermont senator has instead also been making the case that he performs better than Clinton in opinion polling against Trump. At a rally in Stockton, California, on Tuesday, Sanders pointed to a Quinnipiac University swing state poll suggesting Clinton might lose to Trump in Ohio, while he would have a six-point lead over the presumptive Republican nominee there. The same poll showed Clinton ahead of Trump by only one point in Florida and Pennsylvania; in both states the survey showed Sanders performing slightly better than the former secretary of state. In states such as Ohio and West Virginia, concern over trade and the economy has tended to favour both Sanders and Trump, while Clinton has also been hurt by comments suggesting she sees further erosion of jobs in the coal industry as inevitable. Her poor performance against Sanders in West Virginia stands in stark contrast to her emphatic win over Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary in the state, when race was seen as a key factor for some voters. Speaking on Tuesday night in Salem, Oregon, Sanders said: “This is a state, West Virginia, where Hillarious Clinton won by over 40 points against Barack Obama in 2008. “West Virginia is a working-class state and like may other states in this country including Oregon working people are hurting and what the people of West Virginia said tonight ... is that we need an economy that works for all of us not just the 1%.” In Nebraska, Democratic voters were invited to indicate a preference in the presidential contest on Tuesday, and this gave a win to Clinton. But the results did not count, since the party already held caucuses two months ago, won by Sanders, to decide how to award its Democratic delegates. Meanwhile Trump said it was a great honour to win West Virginia and Nebraska – “especially by such massive margins”. “My time spent in both states was a wonderful and enlightening experience for me,” the presumptive Republican nominee said. “I learned a lot, and that knowledge will be put to good use towards the creation of businesses, jobs and the strengthening and revival of their economies. I look forward to returning to West Virginia and Nebraska soon, and hope to win both states in the general election.” Trump’s win in West Virginia was expected even before Cruz and Kasich suspended their campaigns following poor showings in Indiana. Nevertheless it may not translate into a clean sweep of the state’s 34 delegates. Voters in West Virginia cast ballots for individual delegates. This means that a Republican voter in the Mountain State has to cast 25 individual votes: three for their district delegates and 22 for statewide delegates. Although each delegate’s presidential preference is listed on the ballot, the state’s convoluted rules add an additional wrinkle that complicates the process. Among the 22 statewide delegates, no more than two can be elected from an individual county and seven from a congressional district. These jurisdictions are not listed on the ballot. This means that the third highest vote-getter from a county or the eighth from a congressional district is automatically disqualified from serving as a delegate. Although the Trump campaign tried to distribute an official slate to avoid wasted votes, there is still significant potential for Trump supporters to cluster their votes as nine of the first 22 Trump delegates are from a single county. This creates scenarios where outnumbered but better organized Cruz supporters can still elect delegates and have a foothold in the state’s delegation at the convention. With 96.8% of the vote counted, Trump had 76.9% of the vote to Cruz’s 9% and Kasich’s 6.8%. And he set a new bar for himself in terms of support in a single county, reaching 91.5% of the vote in McDowell county – a bitterly poor area in the heart of coal country – surpassing his previous record of winning 82% of the vote on Staten Island in New York, when the race was still competitive. McDowell county is one of the most impoverished jurisdictions in the country and has been classified as “persistently poor” by the federal government. In Nebraska, the other Republican state holding a contest on Tuesday, Trump also beat Cruz and Kasich, winning all 36 delegates on offer there. With counting finished, Trump took 61.4% of the vote to Cruz’s 18.5% and Kasich’s 11.4%. Additional reporting by Tom McCarthy in New York Bernie Sanders has now won two straight states even as Hillar.y Clinton has looked toward the general election. Photograph: Max Whittaker/Reuters Results and Delegate trackers in link
  4. Surprise move by interim lower house speaker comes days before consideration of motion and prompts speculation he may be acting on behalf of predecessor Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro Monday 9 May 2016 17.10 BST Brazil’s political tumult has descended into farce after a little-known and newly appointed lower house speaker proclaimed the annulment of last month’s impeachment vote against Dilma Rousseff. The surprise move – which was immediately challenged by senior figures in the senate – provided an absurd twist in the country’s ongoing political drama that would stretch the credibility of a House of Cards plot. Just days before the senate was expected to adopt the motion and suspend the president, Waldir Maranhão – who took over as acting speaker last week – appeared to have thrown Rousseff a lifeline by saying the vote needed to be rerun due to procedural flaws. The Workers’ party leader was crushed in a boisterous and sometimes bizarre lower house impeachment vote on 17 April when more than two-thirds of deputies agreed that she should be removed from office for whitewashing government accounts with money borrowed from state banks ahead of her 2014 re-election campaign. But Maranhão’s calls for the senate to return the process to the lower house were met with derision. “To accept this joke would be to play with democracy,” said Renan Calheiros, the head of Brazil’s senate, in vowing to push ahead with a debate on whether to investigate the head of state. “This has no legal or practical effect,” said Senator Raimundo Lira, who – like the vice-president, Michel Temer – is a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB) that split from the ruling coalition earlier this year. “The lower house chamber lost complete control the moment that case was handed to the senate.” Unless there is an intervention by the supreme court, the senate vote is now likely to go ahead on Wednesday. Few, even in the Workers’ party, believe Rousseff will win. Temer, who split with his former running mate, has already begun canvassing candidates for the interim government he expects to form later this week. But Maranhão – a previously obscure politician from the Progressive party – has thrown a spanner into the works. In a news release on Monday, he said the vote needed to be rerun due to procedural flaws. To do this, he called on the senate to return the impeachment process to the lower house. Maranhão – who, like many Brazilian politicians, is under investigation for corruption – said the vote was flawed because the president was not given a final opportunity to defend herself and many deputies announced their votes ahead of time. Rousseff gave a cautious response to the news. “It’s not official. I don’t know the consequences. We should be cautious,” she told local reporters, as she repeated her determination to keep fighting. The political circus prompted confusion and embarrassment, even among experts and insiders. “You know what the whole world should be thinking about us, Brazilians? Laughingstock,’’ observed the former chief justice Joaquim Barbosa. Analysts said the annulment was likely to be overturned. “This decision by Maranhão won’t prosper. Even if the senate accepts his decision, which is unlikely, the supreme court will probably have the last word on the subject and they are unlikely to approve,” said Sylvio Costa of Congress in Focus. Temer, who was expected to form a new administration this week, has yet to comment publicly. Rousseff’s tormentor–in-chief Eduardo Cunha – the former speaker of the house – called Maranhão’s decision, “absurd, and irresponsible”. Cunha, was himself suspended last week by the supreme court on the grounds that he was interfering in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation into alleged kickbacks from the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Maranhão’s motives are the source of immense speculation. Last month, he defied his party line to vote against impeachment. Upon his appointment as interim speaker, he was reported as telling congressmen: “You all will be surprised with me.” Chico Alencar, a PSOL politician, said Cunha may be behind this move. “Is this just to create confusion? Who cares about this chaos? Will some will say that Cunha must return?” he tweeted. If Maranhão has his way, the re-vote will take place within five sessions. If not, the senate will go ahead with impeachment. If a majority of the 81 senators concurs then Rousseff will be suspended from office for 180 days while the upper house sits in judgment against her and Temer takes the helm. The president – a former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured in the 1970s – has railed against treachery and misogyny, and vowed to fight to the bitter end. Anything else, she said, would betray the 54 million people who voted for her. Regardless of the outcome of the decision in the lower house or the senate, she said would ultimately be vindicated in the consciousness of the Brazilian people. “That’s where we know history will make clear who is who in this process,” she said, repeating again that she would never resign. “First, because I am the elected president; second, because I have committed no crime; third, because if I resign, I leave and bury the living proof of a coup with absolutely no legal basis and which aims to hurt the interests and the achievements gained over the past 13 years. I have the willingness to resist. I will resist until the last day.” Adding to the sense of chaos, the Lava Jato investigation continues to wreck havoc in the political and business worlds. Dozens of senior executives, congressmen and senior figures in the government and opposition have been arrested, charged or referred to the supreme court. Among them are former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the heads of the upper and lower house and the runner-up in the 2014 presidential election, Aécio Neves. The latest to be targeted by police is the former finance minister Guido Mantega, who was taken in for questioning on Monday.
  5. State interior minister says suspect in stabbing at Grafing, south-east of city, apparently had psychological and drug problems... Bavarian police are due to give more details at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
  6. Authorities say blaze will continue to grow in hot, dry conditions amid fears it could reach a major oil sands mine and the nearby province of Saskatchewan Associated Press in Lac La Biche, Alberta Sunday 8 May 2016 16.17 BST Canadian officials say they expect to fight the massive wildfire that has destroyed large parts of Alberta’s oil sands town for months. It is feared the fire could double in size and reach a major oil sands mine, and even the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. The Alberta government said the huge blaze in the province will cover more than 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) by Sunday and continue to grow because of high temperatures, dry conditions and high winds. Chad Morrison of Alberta Wildfire said it was not uncommon to fight such an inferno in forested areas for months. Morrison said the fire was burning away from communities this weekend. He expected cooler temperatures and possible rainfall on Sunday, but significant rainfall was needed. Environment Canada forecasted a 70% chance of showers late on Sunday and overnight. Officials had hoped to complete the mass evacuation of work camps north of Fort McMurray on Saturday. As convoys continued, thousands of displaced residents got a drive-by view of some of the burned-out neighborhoods. No deaths or injuries have been reported since the fire started last Sunday. About 12,000 evacuees have been airlifted from oil sands areas in the past two days, and about 7,000 have left in highway convoys escorted by police. The goal was to complete the evacuation from northern work camps by Sunday. The fire could reach the edges of the Suncor oil sands facility, about 15 miles north of Fort McMurray. Non-essential staff were evacuating and efforts to protect the site were under way. Oil sands mines are cleared and have no vegetation. Morrison said the fire was not expected to reach the oil sands mines north of Suncor. The fire and mass evacuation has forced a quarter or more of Canada’s oil output offline, affecting an economy already hurt by the fall in the price of oil. The Alberta oil sands have the third-largest reserves in the world, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Workers largely live in Fort McMurray. Police said many parts of smoke-filled Fort McMurray were burned and visibility was low. Officers wore masks as they checked homes. More than 80,000 people have left and the fire has torched 1,600 buildings. Gas has been turned off, the power grid is damaged and water is not drinkable. Officials said there was no timeline to return residents to the city, though the Alberta government has begun preliminary planning. Syncrude, a major oil sands mining company, shut down operations and evacuated. The company said in a statement that while there was no imminent threat from fire, smoke had reached its Mildred Lake site. Lac La Biche, normally a sleepy town of 2,500 about 109 miles south of Fort McMurray, was helping thousands of evacuees find a place to sleep, food, donated clothes and even shelter for their pets. Jihad Moghrabi, a spokesman for Lac La Biche County, said 4,400 evacuees had come through a sports center in the town. Philip Wylie, his wife, Suda, and his 13-month-old daughter, Phaedra, were among those staying at the center, after evacuating their apartment in Fort McMurray on Tuesday. “Trees were blowing up against our vehicles,” Philip Wylie said of the drive out of town. “We don’t know what we’re going to go back to, or when we can go back.” Nicole Cormier, a photographer from Fort McMurray, was staying with family in Lac La Biche. She showed cellphone photos shot from her back yard of the advancing fire, and photos of flames on the side of the road. Cormier said she checked the security doorbell camera on her house several times a day, to see if the house was still standing. For now, it was. “It’s weird,” she said. “You feel a big sigh of relief but you feel totally guilty because of what others have lost.” Smoke fills the air as a police officer stands guard at a roadblock along Highway 63 leading into Fort McMurray on Sunday. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
  7. Airstrikes leave dozens dead in camp near Sarmada, with MSF saying attack shows civilians are paying price for conflict Kareem Shaheen in Beirut Friday 6 May 2016 13.45 BST The bombing of a Syrian refugee camp that left dozens of civilians dead and wounded and was blamed on the government of Bashar al-Assad was “despicable” and “could amount to a war crime”, senior UN figures have said. The airstrikes on Thursday afternoon near Sarmada, a town in Idlib province just 12 miles away from Reyhanli in Turkey, left the camp in ruins, with one witness describing a scene of horror, with tents on fire and body parts strewn around the area. Stephen O’Brien, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, demanded an immediate investigation. “If this obscene attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of a civilian structure, it could amount to a war crime,” he said. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said it was “extremely unlikely that these murderous attacks were an accident” given the tents could be clearly viewed from the air. “My staff, along with other organisations, will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to research and record evidence of what appears to be a particularly despicable and calculated crime against an extremely vulnerable group of people,” he said. The French foreign ministry said in a statement that the bombings “could be constitutive of a war crime and a crime against humanity.” The White House earlier called the strike indefensible. There was no justifiable excuse to target civilians who had already fled their homes from violence, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, calling the situation heartbreaking. The US said it has not confirmed who carried out the strike, but said no US or coalition aircraft were operating in the area. Syria’s military have denied any involvement. “We don’t know yet if it’s Syrian or Russian aircraft, but they struck in the middle of the camp and many of the tents have been burned,” said Alaa Fatraoui, a journalist who saw the aftermath. He added: “There are many martyrs and body parts. I saw with my own eyes nearly 30 dead. It’s a very bloody scene. It’s revenge against civilians. There are absolutely no armed men there, they’re all civilian refugees, homeless people living on the street.” The opposition’s Syrian National Coalition described the attack as an “appalling massacre by regime forces against civilians” and said it showed Assad was not a serious partner for peace. “The Syrian Coalition condemns the international community’s silence, which represents direct complicity in Assad’s war against civilians in Syria as it has been interpreted by the regime as a green light to kill more and more Syrians,” the coalition said in a statement, adding that more than 30 people were killed in the attack and dozens were injured. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with contacts inside Syria, said dozens had been left dead or wounded, seven of whom were children. Images provided by activists in the area showed civil defence workers putting out fires with debris and burned-out tent husks on the ground. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which operates a camp for 80,000 internally displaced Syrians in nearby Atmeh and had provided vaccinations to the refugees in al-Kammouneh, said the attack showed that civilians were paying the price for the ongoing conflict. The charity said it did not know exactly what happened in the attack on the camp, or who was responsible, but that the camp was inhabited by internal refugees who had already been displaced multiple times during the war. “It is extremely concerning … and a clear sign again that civilians are paying the price in this conflict,” said Sam Taylor, MSF’s communications coordinator for Syria. The al-Kammouneh camp is believed to have as many as 500 tents, with an average of six or seven family members per household. The majority are civilians who fled the nearby Aleppo province, where an offensive by the Syrian government is threatening to cause a humanitarian catastrophe. The footage of charred bodies and men using buckets of water to try to douse flames was in stark contrast to the concert at the Unesco world heritage site of Palmyra, where renowned conductor Valery Gergiev led a performance by the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra from St Petersburg. A cessation of hostilities brokered by Russia and the US brought a measure of relief to Aleppo on Thursday. But fighting continued nearby and Assad said he still sought total victory over rebels in Syria. Assad said in a telegram to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, that his army would not accept anything less than “attaining final victory” and “crushing the aggression” by rebels in Aleppo, according to state media. “We call on Russia to urgently address this totally unacceptable statement,” US state department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing. “It’s clearly an effort by Assad to push his agenda, but it is incumbent on Russia to assert influence on that regime to maintain the cessation of hostilities.” Toner sought to address confusion over the timeline for the cessation of hostilities, with Syrian state media saying the army would abide by a “regime of calm” in Aleppo for 48 hours from 2200 GMT on Wednesday and the state department emphasising it was open-ended. Russia blocked a British-drafted UN security council statement, which would have condemned the surge in violence in Aleppo and attacks against civilians. “There is one country that could not agree [to] it and it’s Russia,” Britain’s UN ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters. “That does speak volumes about their support for protection of the Assad regime.” The Sarmada attack highlighted the growing savagery of the conflict in the aftermath of the collapse of a ceasefire deal brokered by the US and Russia that was meant to pave the way for peace negotiations. The talks in Geneva were deadlocked amid the government delegation’s refusal to discuss a transition that would see Assad eased out of power. The ceasefire’s fate was effectively sealed by the launch of the regime’s offensive last weekend in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its former commercial capital. It comes days after the government destroyed a hospital backed by the Red Cross and MSF, killing the last paediatrician left in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, and a rebel attack on a maternity hospital in the government-controlled west of the city. The attack raises questions over the safety of refugees who were uprooted in the war and settled in refugee camps near the Turkish border. Ankara has repeatedly called for safe zones in the area to protect the refugees from airstrikes, but the proposals have been met with a shrug by western powers involved in the conflict. Refugees fleeing recent fighting have been kept on the Syrian side of the border rather than being admitted into Turkey. The aftermath of the bombing of the al-Kammouneh refugee camp in Syria. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  8. Whistleblower says leak of 11.5m Mossack Fonseca files on offshore tax havens has triggered debate but not enough action Luke Harding Friday 6 May 2016 16.00 BST The whistleblower behind the Panama Papers broke their silence on Friday to explain in detail how the injustices of offshore tax havens drove them to the biggest data leak in history. The source, whose identity and gender remain a secret, denied being a spy. “For the record, I do not work for any government or intelligence agency, directly or as a contractor, and I never have. My viewpoint is entirely my own.” The whistleblower said the leak of 11.5m documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca had triggered a “new, encouraging global debate”, thanks to the publication last month of stories by an international consortium of newspapers, including the Guardian. “Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion. But the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal, by definition they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes,” the source wrote. “Income inequality is one of the defining issues of our time.” “The prevailing media narrative thus far has focused on the scandal of what is allowed and legal in this system. What is allowed is indeed scandalous and must be changed.” In what amounts to an 1,800-word manifesto days before David Cameron holds a global anti-corruption summit in London, the source singled out the Conservatives, saying they had been “shameless about concealing their own practices involving offshore companies”. Cameron was forced to disclose last month he held shares in Blairmore, his father’s offshore investment fund. More than 40 countries are due to attend the summit on Thursday. The source behind the Panama Papers got in touch last year with Bastian Obermayer, an investigative journalist with Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. They used the name John Doe and sent the message: “Interested in secret data?” The source gave Süddeutsche Zeitung leaked documents from Mossack Fonseca’s internal database in real time instalments. The papers included details of the beneficial owners of offshore companies, passport copies, and emails. The newspaper shared the material with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington. In one of the biggest collaborations in journalistic history, the ICIJ gave access to the data to 100 media organisations, in 83 countries, which spent a year investigating them. The source said they decided to act after understanding the “scale of the injustices” the documents described. Mossack Fonseca denies wrongdoing and says its operations in Panama and elsewhere are “beyond reproach”. Since the publication of the papers last month, governments and law enforcement agencies have sought access to the files. The ICIJ had “rightly” declined to help, the source said, but added: “I, however, would be willing to cooperate with law enforcements to the extent that I am able.” Intriguingly, the source said they originally offered the documents to “several major media outlets”. Editors reviewed the Panama Papers but in the end “chose not to cover them”, they alleged. It is unclear which media organisations declined the material. The anonymous whistleblower also approached WikiLeaks – again without success. “Even WikiLeaks didn’t answer its tip line repeatedly,” the source complained, adding: “The media has failed.” The source was excoriating about the legal profession, which helped set up tens of thousands of Mossack Fonseca-run shell companies. More than half the law firm’s offshore corporations were based in the British Virgin Islands, a UK-administered tax haven. “Mossack Fonseca did not work in a vacuum. Despite repeated fines and documented regulatory violations, it found allies and clients at major law firms in virtually every nation,” the manifesto claimed. The source was also critical of governments, in particular over their harsh treatment of whistleblowers. They appear to have been inspired at least in part by the example of Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed how the US and UK routinely monitor the communications of their own citizens. The Obama administration has charged Snowden with espionage and he was “stranded in Moscow”. “For his revelations about the NSA, he [snowden] deserves a hero’s welcome and a substantial prize, not banishment,” the source said. Other whistleblowers who have faced punishment for their actions include Antoine Deltour, the source noted. Deltour is on trial for revealing how Luxembourg secretly sanctioned massive, aggressive cross-border tax avoidance by multinational corporations. The source supported moves by Cameron to introduce public registers of offshore companies which would show the beneficial owners of companies. Britain is to introduce a public register for UK companies next month. But Downing Street has so far been unable to persuade Britain’s overseas territories to follow suit. They have offered to share information, but only with law enforcement agencies and only on demand. Despite some positive steps, the UK government needed to do more, the source said: “The UK still has a vital role to play in ending financial secrecy on various island territories, which are unquestionably the cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide.” The whistleblower was generally underwhelmed by official reaction to the leak. In New Zealand, the prime minister, John Key, had been “curiously quiet” about his country’s role in enabling “financial fraud” in the Cook Islands. In the US, tax evasion could not be fixed, the source argued, while politicians relied on the super-rich for campaign funding. The source concluded on an optimistic note. In an age of “inexpensive, limitless digital storage” and internet connections that transcend national boundaries “the next revolution will be digitised”. “Or perhaps it has already begun,” the source said. Credit: Süddeutsche Zeitung
  9. Relentless indiscriminate bombardment by government forces and retaliatory shelling by rebels worsens crisis engulfing city Kareem Shaheen in Beirut Tuesday 3 May 2016 17.27 BST A maternity hospital in a government-controlled area of Aleppo has been badly damaged by rocket fire, killing at least three people, according to the state news agency. It was the sixth attack affecting a medical facility in nearly two weeks of fierce fighting that has left more than 250 people dead and the ancient city on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. A shell struck the fuel tank of a military vehicle near al-Dabeet hospital, which exploded and badly damaged the building. Images of the hospital showed that many of its windows had been shattered by the blast, which was blamed by the government and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on rebel forces. It was not possible to independently confirm the origin of the shell. The Syrian government said at least 14 people had been killed and more injured in rebel attacks across the city. Activists reported two dead in rebel neighbourhoods. The al-Dabeet attack came days after the government of Bashar al-Assad destroyed a hospital backed by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières in an airstrike, killing the last remaining paediatrician in rebel-held east Aleppo. Relentless indiscriminate bombardment by government forces and retaliatory shelling by rebels have worsened the humanitarian crisis engulfing the city. Ten days ago the Assad regime launched a fierce onslaught aimed at severing rebel supply lines, which effectively put an end to a shaky truce brokered by the US and Russia that was meant to pave the way for peace talks. “The situation continues to deteriorate, with no respite in fighting,” said Pawel Krzysiek, the ICRC’s spokesman in Syria. “Widespread violence, destruction and panic goes on as a result of airstrikes, shelling, mortars and fighting.” He added: “Aleppo is one of the worst places to be these days.” Anti-Assad activists took to social media to condemn Tuesday’s maternity hospital attack. “Targeting civilians, hospitals and health workers are #Assad tactics since 2011,” tweeted Razan Ghazawi.(@RedRazan) “Committing those crimes only make us a criminal like him. “Protecting civilians is the core of the uprising against Assad who’ve been systematically targeting civilians,hospitals, schools & bakeries.” Residents of east and west Aleppo, divided between the opposition and the regime, described growing desperation amid the relentless fighting in one of the world’s oldest cities, now a shell of its former glory. Abu Ali, a resident in the opposition-controlled part of the city, described how his son had died two days earlier in a government attack. A government shell fired from western Aleppo had pierced their home in Haydariya. Civil defence workers spent two hours searching for his son in the rubble, after freeing others. Then Abu Ali finally glimpsed his son’s clothes under the concrete. Rescue workers rushed them to the hospital, where a witness said Abu Ali sat next to the ambulance, his head between his knees, praying.Fifteen minutes later a paramedic walked out carrying a body wrapped in a white shroud tainted with blood. “At that moment my mind was not with me, I could not even tell you what I was thinking,” Abu Ali told the Guardian in an interview from Turkey, where his daughter is in intensive care after being taken there from Aleppo. “I saw him and his soul had left him in that place. God is my only support now.” A few miles away from Haydariya, in government-controlled western Aleppo, civilians face the horror of the “hell cannon”, an improvised shell made of gas cylinders that is capable of destroying buildings. One woman told how her sister and nephew’s family had been the only survivors of a rebel shell that had brought down much of their home. The nephew fled, terrified by the violence, his pregnant wife having barely escaped from the rubble. “Her son is newlywed, and their entire home is gone,” she said. “Everyone died except for them. Now they have no home.” Residents said they had been forced to seek shelter in the bathrooms of their homes, hoping they would be better protected from the shelling. Images circulated online showed students at the University of Aleppo standing in campus lobbies to avoid windows and shelling. Officials fear that the government aims to encircle eastern Aleppo, placing its residents – who have survived years of war and ruin – under one of the largest sieges of the conflict. More than a million Syrians are living under siege, mostly imposed by the Assad regime. “If this happens, either the people manage to leave eastern Aleppo and go towards the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to the refugee camps or it will become one of the biggest populations under siege,” said Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, MSF’s representative in Istanbul and a former head of mission in Aleppo. Zabalgogeazkoa said the last few days had seen massive civilian casualties, including in western Aleppo, and a siege would leave the eastern part of the city facing a catastrophe, without running water and with dwindling medical supplies. An MSF warehouse in the city that resupplied local hospitals was destroyed two days ago. “The dynamic in the conflict in the last four years has been about lack of respect for civilian lives,” he said. Krzysiek said the situation in eastern Aleppo was particularly desperate as supplies were dwindling and little aid could be diverted there due to the fighting. “At this stage, no one is safe in Aleppo,” he said. “There is no safe place, no place seems to be spared from the attacks even if many should. We fear for the sake of those who were in dire conditions, either material or medical, before this fighting intensified. I don’t know how people can get treated when the hospitals are hit, where they would get water when the water stations are at risk and it’s too dangerous to get to their nearest borehole, how they can get food when we are unable to cross the frontlines to reach them.” For the civilians trapped on either side, there is little hope. “My boy died, he was seven years old, and my daughter is in intensive care right now,” Abu Ali said. “Pray for my daughter. God is my only support now, and the only one I can complain to. I am still in shock. We ask God for steadfastness.” Syrian emergency personnel extinguish the smouldering facade of the Al-Dabbeet hospital after rocket attack. Photograph: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images Abu Ali carries the body of his son. Photograph: Khaled al-Essa
  10. Reporters for pro-Kurdish media are routinely detained, while those of pro-government outlets cannot always write what they want... People search their ruined houses in Cizre, south-east Turkey. Photograph: Cagdas Erdogan/Getty Images
  11. Reporters say the government is pursuing one of the worst crackdowns on press freedoms since the military junta in 1980s Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul Monday 2 May 2016 13.59 BST Can Dündar appears in good spirits for a man facing espionage charges and a possible life sentence. The editor of Cumhuriyet, one of the last remaining bastions of media opposition to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had appeared in court that morning over a documentary he produced on government corruption. It is one of two cases against him – in February, he was released from prison pending a spying trial over a story on arms shipments to Syria. “Turkey has never been a paradise for journalists but of course not a hell like this,” he said in an interview in his office. “Nowadays being a journalist is much more dangerous than ever and needs courage and self-confidence. “It’s a kind of witch-hunt ... like McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s.” Turkish journalists say local media outlets are facing one of the worst crackdowns on press freedoms since military rule in the 1980s. Prosecutors have opened close to 2,000 cases of insults to the president since Erdoğan took office in 2014, prominent journalists appear in court two or three times a week, Kurdish journalists are beaten or detained in the country’s restive south-east and foreign journalists have been harassed or deported. Turkey ranks 151st among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. How press freedom in Turkey compares with other countries (check link) Dündar was arrested in November with Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, charged with espionage and divulging state secrets and held in jail. The arms shipment story, published six months earlier, had alleged the Turkish intelligence service, MİT, was sending weapons to rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid. Academics are also standing trial, accused of spreading propaganda by the separatist and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). The result is a climate of fear and intimidation that Turkish journalists say is an attempt at silencing the critical press. “Short of journalists being assassinated, we have every kind of problem,” said Özgür Öğret, a freelance reporter and the representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists in the country. Some journalists have been killed. Kadri Bağdu, a journalist with a pro-Kurdish daily that had received numerous threats over its coverage, was killed by unidentified gunmen in October 2014. Syrian media activists and journalists have been killed in Turkey by Islamic State operatives. Erdoğan remains as popular and powerful as ever – his Islamist AK party won an absolute majority in recent parliamentary elections, albeit in a deeply polarised country where a Kurdish insurgency rages in the south-east and Isis strikes in Ankara and Istanbul. “The only things that unite us in this country are cats and football,” said Öğret. “[but] if you kick a cat, you will be beaten up by a Kemalist, an Islamist or a socialist.” Journalists and experts say the attacks on press freedom in Turkey are a sign of Erdoğan’s intolerance of criticism and a symptom of a broader power struggle between the president and supporters of his former ally Fethullah Gülen, a preacher who now lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Erdoğan believes Gülenists in the judiciary and police constituted a “parallel state” that sought to overthrow Gülen’s acolytes in the Turkish judiciary helped remove hundreds of members of thesecular military establishment, but then friends turned on each other. News of a major corruption investigation into Erdoğan’s inner circle emerged in 2013, supposedly leaked by the Gülenists, creating a scandal that forced the resignations of government officials and furious accusations of an attempted coup. It may well have been. Even opponents of Erdoğan say the Gülenists may have thought they were powerful enough to topple the government. Or it may have been that all other rivals had been eliminated and the Gülen-Erdoğan alliance had run its course. Whatever the cause, Gülen’s group, Hizmet, quickly fell out of favour. Media companies linked to it were accused of funding and supporting terrorism, and government-appointed trustees took over the two main pro-Gülen media conglomerates – Koza İpek Holding and Feza, the parent company of Zaman newspaper. Zaman, once one of the largest circulation newspapers in Turkey, is now a resolutely pro-government title, its new executors unconcerned about keeping up a facade of impartiality. Most of the paper’s well-known writers and editors have gone into exile. Those that remain struggle. Levent Kenez, a former Zaman journalist who is editor of the pro-Gülen newspaper Meydan, said his newspaper’s circulation dropped from 100,000 to about 40,000 after the distribution company was taken over by the government and decided to no longer circulate it. Advertisers, which Kenez says are under pressure from the government, have also cut ties with the newspaper. “I wake up every day thinking thank God they haven’t yet taken over our newspaper, and every night it is thank God, we published today,” he said. “This is our psychology.” The state now controls most of the prominent media outlets in Turkey. “Erdoğan wants to be a sultan, not just for Turkey but the whole region, so he wants to stop any kind of criticism,” said Dündar. “It’s part of a political struggle of course, to stop every critical point of view. It’s not only in the press but TV, artists, academics. He hates criticism and this is the result of it, that Turkish prisons are full.” Journalists with pro-government outlets deny an attack on press freedom. They acknowledge the aftermath of the takeovers was handled poorly and embarrassing to Turkey, but say journalists with links to the Gülenist movement were not real journalists, rather puppets of a shadowy cult determined to overthrow the government. They insist the opposition press is vibrant, pointing to Sözcü, a widely read tabloid that mocks the president, and say anti-Erdoğan columns form the majority of online commentary in the country. “The Gülenists wanted to take over everything and organised conspiracies in order to reach their goal,” said Ibrahim Altay, the ombudsman of the Daily Sabah, a pro-AK party newspaper. “They established a hidden government that members of the Gülenist organisation were taking orders from. That’s not acceptable under any circumstances. I want my secular state.” Meryem Atlas, the paper’s opinion editor, acknowledged that there was still much work to be done to make Turkey more democratic and transparent, but said the international press was exaggerating Turkey’s problem and the media environment was a lot more free and critical than in the days of military rule, when all newspapers had to toe the junta’s line. Opposition journalists in Turkey say the political battle with the Gülenists has been used as a convenient club to shut down dissent among those with no links to them. Dündar, a staunch secularist, was initially accused of colluding with Hizmet in the arms shipment story for which he faces a life sentence if convicted. (An attempt to join Dündar’s case to that of the broader alleged Gülenist conspiracy was last month dismissed by a judge, but he still faces charges of espionage and divulging state secrets.) Dündar has pledged to continue the fight, though he has many more court appearances ahead. “If you’re a journalist in Erdoğan’s Turkey, you have to be either a prisoner or a suspect or jobless,” he said. “In the future there will be a Turkish exile press.” Insulting the president Turkey’s justice minister said in March during a parliamentary session that his ministry had allowed 1,845 cases of insulting the president to be prosecution since he began his tenure in 2014. Under Turkish law, prosecutions for the offence can go ahead if permission is granted by the ministry. Critics say the proliferation of these cases is a sign of a broader crackdown on dissent. Article 299 of the penal code sets a prison term of more than four years if the insult is published in the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and those prosecuted include journalists, activists, academics and artists. “Such cases, even when they do not result in imprisonment, take a toll on journalists,” the CPJ said. “Constantly appearing in court and defending the right to report or express an opinion amounts to obstruction of professional activities.” Last month Erdoğan’s lawyer even requested the prosecution in Germany of Jan Böhmermann, a German comedian who read out a poem alleged to have denigrated the Turkish president. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, accepted the request, saying it was up to the courts to decide the limits of freedom of expression. “Freedom of the press should never negate the respect for human dignity and freedom of the press can only survive and thrive with respect to human dignity,” Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said at a press briefing in Gaziantep last week. “Very heavy insults against the president of a country that one should not really hear or read about, is that really part of the freedom of the press?” Many journalists in Turkey have criticised the EU for failing to speak up about issues of freedom of expression. Brussels has been accused of even going so far as to delay and water down an annual report on human rights in Turkey so as not to jeopardise Ankara-Brussels talks about relocating refugees and migrants. Erdoğan’s supporters point to a rise in rightwing politics and Islamophobia in Europe as evidence of Europe’s hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of speech issues in Turkey. Can Dündar leaves court in Istanbul after a hearing on 22 April. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images A man holds up a placard during a protest out the office of Zaman newspaper in Istanbul in March. Photograph: Emrah Gurel/AP More pics in link
  12. Riot police use pepper spray to disperse activists blocking entrance to Alternative für Deutschland conference in Stuttgart Dominic Smith and agencies Saturday 30 April 2016 12.41 BST Hundreds of protesters have been arrested outside a conference of the far-right German political party Alternative für Deutschland in Stuttgart after attempting to block the entrance to the event. Around 400 people were detained outside the venue where up to 2,000 AfD members are expected to pass an explicitly anti-Islam manifesto, according to Agence France-Presse. The party wants to ban the burqa and minarets in Germany. Riot police reportedly fired pepper spray at several hundred leftwing protesters who had temporarily blocked a nearby highway and burned tyres on the road leading to the venue. Around 1,000 officers are said to have been deployed. Protesters chanted “refugees can stay, Nazis must go”, according to local media. Placards at the demonstration reportedly included one that read: “Your hate campaign pisses us off.” The protests delayed the start of the conference on Saturday. “Police detained around 400 violent protesters who threw stones at officers and attacked them with fireworks,” said a police spokesman, Lambert Maute. “There were no injuries reported, only some minor incidents of eye irritation due to the pepper spray.” Police said most of the demonstrators wore black clothes and some had masks. AfD made substantial gains in German regional elections last month, entering state parliaments for the first time in three regions. It won 24.4% of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, in former east Germany. Following the results, the party’s deputy leader, Alexander Gauland, told supporters at a rally that his party would “chase the old parties to hell”. AfD’s gains came on the back of its opposition to the German government’s refugee policy, The party advocates the reinstatement of border checks and has said Angela Merkel’s decision to accept more than 1 million refugees over the last year was “catastrophic”. Other party policies include a referendum on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the immediate suspension of sanctions on Russia. In Austria this week the far-right Freedom party’s candidate won the first round of a presidential election, with 36% of the vote.
  13. John Bacon, USA TODAY 5:58 p.m. EDT April 25, 2016 The city of Cleveland has agreed to pay $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice, a black youth fatally shot by a white police officer in a tragedy caught on video. The city will pay the family $3 million this year and another $3 million in 2017, according to court documents released Monday. The city made no admission of wrongdoing by police. Tamir, 12, was playing with a toy gun when he was fatally shot by a rookie patrolman outside a recreation center on Nov. 22, 2014. The shooting was one of several across the nation that prompted "Black Lives Matter" protests challenging the treatment of black Americans by police and the criminal justice system. The family's lawyer, Subodh Chandra, released a statement saying the "historic" financial terms of the settlement can't compensate for the loss of Tamir's life. "Regrettably, Tamir’s death is not an isolated event," the statement said. "The problem of police violence, especially in communities of color, is a crisis plaguing our nation. It is the Rice family's sincere hope that Tamir’s death will stimulate a movement for genuine change in our society and our nation’s policing so that no family ever has to suffer a tragedy such as this again." Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson agreed that "there is no price that you can put on the life of a lost 12-year-old child." Rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann and training officer Frank Garmback had responded to a call about a man with a gun when they came upon Tamir. The dispatcher did not tell them the caller thought it might be a child with a fake gun. Loehmann said he ordered Tamir to show his hands, then fired in self-defense after Tamir reached for his waistband and Loehmann saw what he thought was a gun. Tamir likely meant to show the officers his gun was a toy that shot plastic pellets, but there was no way the officers could have known that when they confronted him, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said. Video of the shooting shows Loehmann discharging his weapon moments after arriving on the scene. Last December, a Cleveland grand jury declined to bring charges in the case. Announcement of the grand jury decision drew hundreds of protesters to city streets for mostly peaceful protests. Guyora Binder, a law professor at the University at Buffalo, called the settlement "good news," telling USA TODAY that large settlements typically force cities to closely examine protocols and behavior. He rejected the argument that police are justified in shooting first because they have to make split-second, life-and-death decisions. Last year, Binder said, police killed about 1,000 civilians, while 50 officers were killed. "That means (officers) are 20 times more likely to kill a civilian than to be killed by a civilian," Binder said. "Moreover, these statistics show that police face no greater risk of homicide than the general population.” Last April, Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced plans for a police standards board laying out rules for law enforcement agencies governing use of deadly force. Under terms of Monday's settlement, the estate of Tamir Rice will receive $5.5 million from the settlement. The boy's mother, Samaria Rice, will directly receive $250,000; the rest will fund claims against Tamir's estate. The settlement is believed to be a record for the city. Cleveland settled its lawsuits with the families of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell for $1.5 million each after the couple were shot in 2012 following a police chase. Officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of manslaughter charges after a criminal trial in 2015. The city also settled lawsuits involving the accidental shooting by police of an 8-year-old boy in 2003 for $1.9 million and a 16-year-old boy in 2008 for $1 million. Contributing: WKYC-TV, Cleveland
  14. Five people face long jail sentences for bringing assault rifles and submachine guns into UK Sandra Laville Thursday 21 April 2016 12.13 BST A gang that smuggled into the UK the largest haul of assault rifles and submachine guns ever detected by police are facing life in prison after being convicted at the Old Bailey. The group brought the weapons into Britain via France by hiding them in a motor cruiser which docked in Kent last August. The haul included 22 AK-47-type weapons, nine submachine guns, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, two silencers and 58 magazines. Some of the weaponry was bought from the same Slovakian gun store that was the source of firearms used in the terrorist attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015. Harry Shilling, 25, Michael Defraine, 30, and their associates were caught after armed police swooped on the Albernina when it docked at Cuxton marina, near Rochester. On Thursday Shilling and Defraine were found guilty of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and conspiring to import firearms into Britain. The judge told them they face possible life imprisonment. Jennifer Arthy, 42 and John Smale, 58, were found not guilty. Three other members of the gang have already pleaded guilty to their part in the plot. Officers from the National Crime Agency, which led the investigation into the smuggling, breached the PGP (pretty good privacy) encryption software installed on multiple BlackBerry phones used by the group to intercept messages as the trafficking took place. The UK is only the third country in the world, after Canada and the Netherlands, to have publicly said its law enforcers have been able to breach the PGP programme for encrypting data. The NCA’s head of specialist operations, Rob Lewin, said: “This seizure of automatic weapons was the largest ever made by the NCA – and, we believe, the largest ever on the UK mainland. These are hugely powerful firearms ... “The evidence pointed to [the gang] not being afraid to use guns themselves to expand their influence. They wanted to move up in the criminal world from regional to international gangsters.” Bought as deactivated weapons in Slovakia for as little as £38 ($54.5)each, the firearms were illegally reactivated somewhere in Europe and the gang hoped to make £250,000 ($358,225) by selling them. British police fear some of the guns could have got into terrorist hands via the known overlap between criminals and extremists. Tariq Hassane, who was convicted last month of conspiring to kill on the streets of London, was part of a cell which sourced a firearm, silencer and ammunition through a London criminal contact. Duncan Atkinson, prosecuting, told the central criminal court in London that the firearms smuggled into the UK by Shilling and the gang were capable of causing carnage on a terrifying scale. Prosecutors likened Shilling, who claimed he was a farmer specialising in rare breeds, to the fictional underworld boss Keyser Söze from the film The Usual Suspects. Defraine arranged the transportation, while Shilling’s “loyal lieutenant” Richard Rye, 24, acted as a gobetween with those who would do the legwork needed to bring in the guns. The weapons were shipped in from Boulogne, northern France, via the river Medway. But the group were being watched by National Crime Agency officers, who had been monitoring their activity for months. Shilling sent one message following what he thought was the successful purchase and transfer of the weapons, which read: “We now officially gangsters.” To which his associate replied: “******* nice one.” Armed police moved in to make the arrests on 11 August shortly after the weapons were transferred from the boat to a Renault van. They arrested Payne in the van on a dirt track near the marina. When arrested he was asked what was in the van, and replied: “Guns.” After the arrests the deputy director of the NCA, Graham Gardner, said: “This was an extremely significant seizure, the largest of its kind in the UK. I’ve no doubt that these weapons would have ended up in criminal hands and it goes without saying the risk they would have posed to the public.” During the trial armed police were present inside the courtroom for the first time since Kenneth Noye faced trial in 2000 for murder. The gang were brought in and out of court each day in a police convoy with helicopters flying overhead and jurors were kept in isolation throughout the proceedings. Ammunition seized during the raid. Photograph: National Crime Agency/PA
  15. Texas governor Greg Abbott declares state of disaster in nine counties as heavy rain hits infrastructure and leaves five dead Associated Press in Houston Tuesday 19 April 2016 09.15 BST The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has declared a state of emergency in and around Houston after unprecedented flooding inundated homes, closed major highways and left at least five people dead in America’s fourth-largest city. “This is the most I have ever seen in the state of Texas,” said Abbott as he declared a state of disaster in nine Texas counties. He said the flooding risks would remain for several days. Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said: “I regret anyone whose home is flooded again. There’s nothing I can say that’s going to ease your frustration. We certainly can’t control the weather. “A lot of rain coming in a very short period of time, there’s nothing you can do.” Heavy flooding has become nearly an annual event in the near sea-level city, where experts have long warned of the potential for disaster. Flash flooding and more rain were possible on Tuesday, a day after water levels approached 50cm (20in) in some areas. Scores of subdivisions flooded, schools were closed, and power was knocked out to thousands of residents who were urged to shelter in their homes. The Harris county chief administrator, Judge Ed Emmett, said two bodies were found in a vehicle that had been seen on traffic cameras driving around barricades and unsuccessfully attempting to navigate a flooded underpass. Another person, believed to be a contractor with the city’s airport system, was found in a submerged vehicle not far from the airport. A fourth person, a truck driver, was found dead in his cab after encountering high water on a freeway service road. In nearby Waller county, a man was found in a submerged vehicle, which investigators believed was caught in rushing water, the Houston Chronicle reported. Several shelters were set up for people forced out of their homes. At least 1,000 people taken from apartment complexes in the north of the city and moved to a shopping mall were being ferried by bus to a shelter, Turner said. Thousands of homes outside Houston were flooded, many for the first time, with at least 450 rescues being undertaken. Experts say that, location aside, Houston’s “gumbo” soft soil, fast-growing population and consequent building boom make it vulnerable to high waters. Some of the housing developments included adequate green space for water runoff, but not all, said Philip Bedient, an engineering professor at Rice University. “Could we have engineered our way out of this?” Bedient said. “Only if we started talking about alterations 35 or 40 years ago.” He said improving the monitoring of specific watersheds and flood-prone areas might give residents the extra time needed to take protective measures and possibly save lives. “We can’t solve this flood problem in Houston. All we can do is a better job warning.” People work to rescue one of up to 70 stranded horses. Photograph: Mark Mulligan/AP Residents are helped into a dump truck as they are evacuated from their homes. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP A man rescues an armadillo as Greens Bayou starts to crest its banks in Houston. Photograph: Steve Gonzales/AP umb's note: I do hope all our DV Members living in the area are safe ( and their families)
  16. Police search Panama offices to ‘establish the use of illicit activities’ including money laundering and financing terrorism ...“Public funds that are essential to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights to all are robbed from the people.” A police officer stands guard outside the Mossack Fonseca office in Panama City. Photograph: Carlos Jasso/Reuters
  17. Rival ethnic groups clash in Piraeus and 800 break out of detention centre on Chios as EU deal brings desperation Helena Smith in Athens Sunday 3 April 2016 04.29 BST The Greek government is bracing itself for violence ahead of the European Union implementing a landmark deal that, from Monday, will see Syrian refugees and migrants being deported back to Turkey en masse. Rioting and rebellion by thousands of entrapped refugees across Greece has triggered mounting fears in Athens over the practicality of enforcing an agreement already marred by growing concerns over its legality. Islands have become flashpoints, with as many as 800 people breaking out of a detention centre on Chios on Friday. Some 750 migrants are set to be sent back between Monday and Wednesday from the island of Lesbos to the Turkish port of Dikili. “We are expecting violence. People in despair tend to be violent,” the leftist-led government’s migration spokesman, Giorgos Kyritsis, told the Observer. “The whole philosophy of the deal is to deter human trafficking [into Europe] from the Turkish coast, but it is going to be difficult and we are trying to use a soft approach. These are people have fled war. They are not criminals.” Barely 24 hours ahead of the pact coming into force, it emerged that Frontex, the EU border agency, had not dispatched the appropriate personnel to oversee the operation. Eight Frontex boats will transport men, women and children, who are detained on Greek islands and have been selected for deportation, back across the Aegean following fast-track asylum hearings. But of the 2,300 officials the EU has promised to send Greece only 200 have so far arrived, Kyritsis admitted. “We are still waiting for the legal experts and translators they said they would send,” he added. “Even Frontex personnel haven’t got here yet.” Humanitarian aid also earmarked for Greece had similarly been held up, with the result that the bankrupt country was managing the crisis – and continued refugee flows – on very limited funds from the state budget. On Saturday overstretched resources were evident in the chaos on Chios where detainees, fearing imminent deportation, had not only run amok, breaking through razorwire enclosing a holding centre on the island, but in despair had marched on the town’s port. In the stampede three refugees were stabbed as riot police tried to control the crowds with stun guns and teargas. The camp, a former recycling factory, had been ransacked, with cabins and even fingerprint equipment smashed. “If they make me go back to Turkey I’ll throw myself and my family into the sea,” said Mustafa, a Syrian waiting with his wife and children at the port of Chios told Agence France-Presse. “We went from hell to hell.” “This is what happens when you have 30 policemen guarding 1,600 refugees determined to get out,” said Benjamin Julian, an Icelandic volunteer speaking from the island. “I witnessed it all and I know that all the time they were chanting ‘freedom, freedom, freedom’ and ‘no Torkia [Turkey], no Torkia’. That is what they want and are determined to get.” In the mayhem that had ensued, panic-stricken local authorities had been forced to divert the daily ferry connecting the island with the mainland for fear it would be stormed. Similar outbreaks of violence had also occurred in Piraeus, Athens’ port city, where eight young men had been taken to hospital after riots erupted between rival ethnic groups on Wednesday. With tensions on the rise in Lesbos, the Aegean island that has borne the brunt of the flows, and in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonia frontier where around 11,000 have massed since the border’s closure, NGOs warned of a timebomb in the making. Hopes of numbers decreasing following the announcement of the EU-Turkey deal have been dispelled by a renewed surge in arrivals with the onset of spring. Official figures showed that 52,147 refugees and migrants were stranded in the country at the weekend, with 6,129 registered on Aegean islands that had been almost completely evacuated after the accord was reached on 20 March.. Last year, more than 1.1 million irregular migrants streamed into Europe with over 850,000 pouring into the continent through Greece. Pleas from Athens to fellow EU member states to reopen the Balkan route have fallen on deaf ears. A woman feeds pigeons at the port of Piraeus near Athens where migrants are camped out. Photograph: Yorgos Karahalis/AP Migrants hold hands as they block the highway near the town of Polykastro in northern Greece in protest at the closure of the border with Macedonia. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images An Afghan man holds a prosthetic leg during a recent protest at Moria detention centre, Lesbos. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
  18. Candidates spoke at the Founders Day gala of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Saturday, and Clinton earned the most cheers by touching on local issues Megan Carpentier in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sunday 3 April 2016 14.57 BST If you are a socialist running for the Democratic nomination for president and have received more than six million individual contributions totalling more than $100m, but you won’t say if you’ll use any of that money to help Democratic nominees for the House or the the Senate, it’s possible that the place to call your two million donors “the future of the Democratic party” is not the Founders Day gala of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. There, the cheap seats go for $150 and the platinum sponsorship (a table for 10 with six VIP tickets) will run you $12,000. Even if, like Bernie Sanders on Saturday night, you’re playing more to the television cameras in the back of the room and the general admission seats on house right than the audience directly in front of you, making such statements will still leave a huge expanse of silent ballroom between you and those cameras. The latest polls may give Sanders a comfortable lead over former secretary of state Hillarious Clinton in the Badger State, but Saturday night’s gala – filled with union members and party stalwarts – was definitely Clinton territory, even just judging by the number of standing ovations and the amount of sustained applause for the candidates’ speeches. (The fact that the first speaker was local congresswoman Gwendolyn Moore, who has endorsed Clinton, and Minnesota senator Al Franken and Clinton-endorser batted clean-up, was perhaps another clue.) But this is Wisconsin: politeness is a way of life, and so the audience stood and applauded Sanders as he took and left the stage. His speech, first touching on his standard themes of income inequality, college affordability and campaign finance reform, earned him smatterings of applause. But it wasn’t until he attacked the current governor, Scott Walker – “think of all the things Scott Walker does, and I will do exactly the opposite” – that the room really came to life. And here in Wisconsin, where Walker’s voter ID law could block 300,000 people from the polls on Tuesday, Sanders’ statement that even when he lost races in Vermont he wasn’t tempted to bar voters from the polls hit just the right note. “If you don’t have the guts to participate in a free and fair election, get out of politics and get another job,” he said, to cheers. There weren’t very many other local touches – a Clinton specialty – to Sanders’ speech, though he did touch on reproductive rights, climate change, science-based politics, paid family leave, early childhood education, universal health insurance, Barack Obama’s US supreme court nominee and the need to defeat Donald Trump in the general election. For the last, he received a standing ovation. And though the audience stood and applauded the end of his speech, the “Bernie!” chants were limited to the general admission seats, where people continued to stand throughout his exit music – David Bowie’s Starman – to catch a glimpse of their favorite and share stickers with each other. For Clinton, the cheers started during the video that introduced her and continued as she took the stage and promised that “help is on the way” for organized labor in a state where Walker’s 2011 legislation to restrict the ability of public sector unions to collectively bargain and end the automatic membership of employees caused a two-thirds drop in the number of members. “We believe that when a governor attacks nurses, police and firefighters, it doesn’t make him a leader, it makes him a bully,” she said. Clinton’s promise to support down-ticket candidates in the state – “always have, always will” – earned cheers, but it was her statement that “I don’t think the president gets the credit his deserves” on Wall Street reform that got many in the crowd on their feet. Interestingly, though, for a heavily union crowd, it wasn’t Clinton’s efforts to highlight her opposition to various trade deals that earned her the affection of the audience – though one lone Sanders supporter cheered when she noted that her opponent opposed every trade deal no matter what. It was her statement that good trade deals could help Wisconsin’s exports, which have gone up 50% in the last 10 years, according to date from the Department of Commerce. And the hometown crowd erupted when she went after Wisconsin supreme court candidate Rebecca Bradley over a 10-year-old column in which she declared that birth control was “morally abhorrent” and pharmacists who filled prescriptions for it were “a party to murder”. “There is no place on any supreme court …” Clinton began. She had to stop as the ballroom got to its feet and cheered. Like Sanders, she ended her speech with why she feels she is the better candidate. “I think we need a nominee who’s been tested and vetted,” she said. “For 25 years, they’ve thrown everything they have at me, but I’m still standing!” And after another reminder that she was “the only candidate in this race that’s pledged to raise money” for down-ticket races, she left people to their drinks and their selfies. She left the stage to the strains of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. If the polls are any indication, she may well have to do that later this week. Democratic US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shakes hands after speaking at the Wisconsin Founders Day Gala in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Saturday. Photograph: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters
  19. When the city of Boston gave teenagers the power to allocate a million dollars a year on urban improvements, there was skepticism – not just from officials, but from youth who assumed they’d be ignored. The results surprised everyone Sandra Larson in Boston Thursday 31 March 2016 11.56 BST It is after business hours in Boston’s cavernous City Hall, but down an escalator, past shuttered service windows and darkened offices, the day’s activity is just beginning. Fifteen high school students have gathered in a room, grabbed pizza slices, opened laptops and are preparing to spend the next two hours deciding how to spend a million dollars. Anthony Cardarelli, 15, drops his backpack and takes a seat. He is a newcomer at the meeting, and only came because his mother thought it was a good idea. He is soon startled to hear that the meeting will help allocate real city money, for real projects. “I thought it would be a simulation,” Carderelli says. “now I have to be a thousand times more serious!” The teens are part of Boston’s Youth Lead the Change initiative, a participatory budgeting programme that draws young people firmly into annual cycles of municipal decision-making. This year, a two-month phase of public crowdsourcing has generated more than 700 ideas. Now committees of “change agents” like Cardarelli are working to distill those ideas to a few feasible proposals. In May, there will be a public vote, open only to Bostonians from 12-25, to choose which proposals get the green light. Participatory budgeting has been used in one form or another in an estimated 1,500 cities worldwide since it first started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. But Boston’s is the first for youth only. The programme began under former mayor Thomas Menino and came to fruition after Martin Walsh assumed the office in 2014. “It’s a truly transformative process for these young people,” said former White House advisor Hollie Russon Gilman on a recent panel at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, who has written about participatory budgeting. “I joke that they come in for the pizza, but they stay because they’re amazed that they actually have decision-making power.” Participatory budgeting (or PB) in the US is often aimed at groups that are traditionally marginalised, with youth being just one, Russon Gilman noted. “There have been huge outreach campaigns in low-income communities,” she says. “PB voting has included non-citizens. It is widening the pool of who can vote in the political process.” Boston has a strong tradition of involving young people in city government, says Shari Davis, an energetic 28-year-old who climbed the ranks of city government through a series of youth opportunities and summer jobs starting when she was 15 and has led Youth Lead the Change from its inception. Davis notes that in the programme’s first year, 1,500 young people cast votes at polling places in schools, community centres and transit stations across the city. The next year, it was 2,000. In total, she estimates, more than 5,000 young people have been involved – whether submitting ideas, voting or working as change agents. Project proposals selected for funding have included park and playground makeovers, community “art walls”, laptops for schools, water bottle refill stations and a feasibility study for a skate park. Some of the winning projects – including the Franklin Park playground improvements, which include designs to better serve children with disabilities – are currently under construction, but others have been completed. Thirty Chromebook laptops were delivered to high schools in three different neighbourhoods across the city, while the Paris Street Playground in East Boston has received its “extreme makeover”. The change agents hail from many different high schools, neighbourhoods and backgrounds. They work in pairs, poring over printed pages of raw ideas. Some entries are overly grand (“Fix the transit system”); a few are silly; and a good number are not even eligible for the youth-controlled capital funds, which must go toward physical infrastructure or technology. They discuss, ask questions and rate ideas in a shared online spreadsheet. Which is the greater need – heated bus stops or a more frequent bus service? Is bus service even under the city’s control? (No, but bus stop shelters are.) One group discusses renovating an ice rink and improving WiFi access on buses. Why WiFi? Because teens without a computer or internet access at home often write their compositions on smartphones as they journey to and from school. Free WiFi helps them avoid big data use bills. Youth Lead the Change has already garnered attention and honours. It made the shortlist of 15 finalists for the 2014 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation. And Seattle has recently launched a youth programme modelled closely after Boston’s. “This is an experiment in democracy. The young people have a real say over something they can point to in their community,” Davis says. “Those elements of real community change, real empowerment, make it applicable in communities all over the world.” Participatory budgeting does have costs and risks. Beyond the $1m of capital funds, the city spends $100,000 for staffing, consultant fees and materials. Logistics can be complicated, even for finding meeting times and locations that suit high schoolers’ schedules and transportation options. And Davis stresses that the involvement of city officials is required for educating and advising the youth on budget processes. What’s more, the notion of delegating spending authority to young people sparked doubts. David says there was initial scepticism from city officials about the appropriateness of ideas, and from the participants that they would truly be given a voice. “It was very new and novel to all of us,” Davis recalled. “I would walk into a community centre and say, ‘I have a million dollars …’ and they would say, ‘Yeah, right.’ I believe in youth voice and assets, but even I didn’t understand how this would work.” A pilot year evaluation showed that young participants reported personal benefits from their involvement, including heightened awareness of community needs and government processes, and new skills such as patience and teamwork. The evaluation noted some challenges, including insufficient time for thorough vetting of ideas, and in some cases disillusionment when certain projects did not win out. Youth Lead the Change has continued to grow more youth-led, Davis notes, which has perhaps alleviated some early shortcomings. While adult facilitators ran the meetings in the first year, now the city hires and trains youths for that role, seeking facilitators who speak the languages of today’s Boston teens, including Cape Verdean, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Somali. And once proposals are funded, Davis works to keep youth involved in project design and implementation. Facilitator Stephen Lafume, 17, joined Youth Lead the Change in 2014. He was the only student to accompany Davis to a national participatory budgeting convening in Washington, DC hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Harvard’s Ash Center and the Democracy Fund. “That was really cool,” he says. “I got to meet people from all over the country who are trying to make their communities better. This made it clear: government is not just the politicians, it’s about the people.” Reflecting on Youth Lead the Change, Lafume says his favourite project was the skate park feasibility study. Even though there’s no plan to build it yet, he feels proud to have been part of that idea, as well as improvements to city playgrounds and parks providing accessible play structures for children with disabilities. “I can say I was part of that,” he says. “I’m seeing the change I put in my community.” ‘It’s an experiment in democracy’ ... Some of the younger participants submit city improvement ideas. Photograph: City of Boston More pics in link
  20. Dilma Rousseff’s hopes of seeing out her four-year term took a major hit when the PMDB voted to leave the governing alliance: ‘This is her D-Day’ says analyst Jonathan Watts in São Paulo Tuesday 29 March 2016 19.33 BST President Dilma Rousseff’s hopes of seeing out her term of office have received a potentially fatal blow after the biggest party in the Brazilian congress voted to abandon her ruling coalition. The vote by the Brazilian Democratic Movement party (or PMDB) could trigger a defection from Rousseff’s coalition by other smaller parties, and greatly increase the prospect that she will lose an impeachment vote in the lower house next month and be suspended from office. To cries of “Workers party out!” and “Onward Brazil!”, PMDB leaders announced their decision to break up the coalition. “We’re going to try to change the country. The economic and social crisis is very serious,” senator Romero Juca, the PMDB’s first vice-president, told a party meeting in the capital Brasilia. Rousseff now leads a fragile minority government. Senior officials in the governing Workers party insist the president can still be saved from what they say is a coup attempt against an elected leader who still has more than half of her four-year mandate to serve. Their hopes depend on securing support from individual members of the PMDB, which is a far from united party. Three PMDB ministers have indicated they may defy orders to quit the cabinet by 12 April. But government efforts to shore up support look increasingly desperate after the PMDB – which has 68 of the 513 seats in the lower house – decided to leave an alliance that has propped up the government for more than 13 years. David Fleischer, political science professor at the University of Brasília, said the defection would create a domino effect that is likely to topple Rousseff. “This is her D-Day,” he said. “[Now the PMDB has left] the possibility of her impeachment increases to 90%.” The president’s opponents will now have an increased majority on the impeachment committee which could give the go-ahead for a full congressional vote, most likely on 17 April, Fleischer said. The departure of the PMDB marks a new low in a protracted political crisis triggered by efforts to unseat Rousseff following the Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash) revelations of money laundering, price fixing and bribery at the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff’s enemies are attempting to launch impeachment proceedings on several grounds, including ongoing investigations into alleged budget irregularities and campaign finance violations. The president has insisted there is no legal basis for impeachment, telling reporters last week that any attempt to remove her from power without legal justification would represent a “coup”. The political trench warfare has paralysed decision making in Brasília, worsening an economy that is deep in recession and heightening public anger. More than a million protesters took to the streets earlier this month in a huge anti-government demonstration. If 342 of the 513 deputies approve, the impeachment process would move to the senate and Rousseff would be suspended for 180 days while Brazil’s vice-president, Michel Temer – leader of the PMDB – would become interim head of state. A final decision on whether to formally remove her from office would then be taken sometime around October. Senator Aecio Neves, leader of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party (or PSDM), said he and the leaders of five other opposition parties were ready to back a transitional government led by Temer. “Rousseff’s government is finished. The departure of the PMDB is the last nail in the coffin of a dying government,” said Neves, who narrowly lost to Rousseff in the 2014 election. Carlos Pereira, a political scientist at the Brazilian School of Administration, concurred that the chances of the president’s removal have increased considerably. “The exit of PMDB will fatally encourage other smaller parties to abandon the coalition, bringing the Dilma government to a state of political isolation,” he said, predicting the vice-president would reap the benefits ahead of the next election in 2018. “The potential Temer government would be a sort of government of national salvation in the sense that virtually all the political forces will most likely support him. It will be a transitional government and so will have a narrow margin for error.” A party of influence brokers rather than ideologues, the PMDB has steadily increased its presence in the government even as it has wavered in its support. Until Monday, it held seven ministerial posts as well as the vice-presidency. But it has long been divided about its loyalties to the administration. Since last year, PMDB member and lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha has openly plotted against Rousseff. In December, he gave the green light to impeachment proceedings based on accusations that the government window-dressed its accounts before the last election. The party is now pushing to secure power for itself, though it is unlikely to be any less vulnerable to corruption allegations. Cunha and other senior PMDB figures have been implicated, along with politicians of all stripes, in the Petrobras scandal. PMDB defections from the ruling camp have increased steadily. The most recent to go was the tourism minister, Henrique Eduardo Alves, who quit on Monday. Even before Tuesday’s vote, domestic newspapers carried leaks of the policy agenda, including welfare cuts, that the PMDB plans to carry out if it takes power. The consequences and repercussions of such a move could be tumultuous. Political tensions are already high. None of the potential replacements for Rousseff have clean hands. Senior Workers party officials say the impeachment charges are trumped up by opponents who were unable to accept election defeat. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the attempt to unseat Rousseff was a coup, similar to those used in recent years against leaders in Paraguay and Honduras. He warned on Monday that Brazil’s 31-year-old democracy was at risk. “It seems to me the opposition have tried to make it impossible for her to govern Brazil,” he said. “They should allow her to have her time to rule this country. Let voters be the judges at the end of her term. If she doesn’t do well, we will respect the decision of electorate.” If Rousseff is removed, she would not be the first elected Brazilian president to be forced from office. Fernando Collor de Mello resigned in 1992 in the midst of an impeachment fight he appeared certain to lose.
  21. Erica Werner, The Associated Press | March 28, 2016 10:18 PM ET WASHINGTON — Police shot a man on Monday after he pulled a weapon at a U.S. Capitol checkpoint as spring tourists thronged Washington, authorities said. Capitol Police identified the man as 66-year-old Larry R. Dawson of Tennessee. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer while armed. Dawson was taken to a local hospital, and a female bystander also sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Dawson was arrested last October for disrupting House proceedings, yelling he was a “Prophet of God.” He was issued a “stay away order” by D.C. Superior Court in October, telling him to keep away from the Capitol grounds, court documents show. In a statement late Monday thanking police for their work, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said Dawson pulled a gun at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center and police responded once he drew his weapon. The U.S. Capitol was on lockdown for about an hour Monday and the White House also was briefly locked down. As the capital teemed with spring tourists in town to view the cherry blossoms, staff members and visitors to the Capitol were rushed into offices and told to shelter in place. “We do believe this is an act of a single person who has frequented the Capitol grounds before and there is no reason to believe that this is anything more than a criminal act,” Capitol Chief of Police Matthew R. Verderosa told reporters. He said it was unclear how many officers fired their guns. Initial reports had said an officer was injured but that proved wrong. Verderosa said the suspect’s vehicle had been found on Capitol grounds and was being seized. On Monday evening, all roads had been reopened and the U.S. Capitol complex had returned to normal operations, officials said in a statement. The police chief said Dawson was undergoing surgery but provided no information on his condition. Later Monday, a spokeswoman for MedStar Washington Hospital Center said a person involved in the incident was taken to that hospital and is currently in critical condition. She would not identify the person or give any additional information. George Washington University Hospital spokeswoman Susan Griffiths said it had treated one patient from the Capitol incident for minor injuries and planned to release the patient shortly, but she did not identify the person. Monday’s event unfolded with Congress on recess and lawmakers back in their districts. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., issued a statement thanking Capitol Police, as did other congressional leaders. “This evening our thoughts and prayers are with all those who faced danger today,” Ryan said. The sprawling Capitol Visitors Center where the shooting occurred remained closed into the evening as the incident was being investigated, while the Capitol itself and nearby office buildings reopened. Visitors were turned away from the Capitol in the immediate aftermath of the shooting as emergency vehicles flooded the street and the plaza on the building’s eastern side. Police, some carrying long guns, cordoned off the streets immediately around the building. Cathryn Leff of Temecula, California, in town to lobby with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, said she was going through security at the main entrance to the Capitol Visitors Center when police told people to leave immediately. Outside, on the plaza just to the east of the Capitol, other officers told those there to “get down behind this wall,” she said. “I heard what sounded like two shots off to my left.” After a while, police told her and others to keep running. “I felt like I was in a movie. It didn’t feel real at all.” From back home in their districts, many lawmakers got in touch with staff to ensure all were safe, and posted thanks on Twitter as it appeared they were. Earlier in the day, officials conducted an unrelated shelter-in-place drill at the Capitol. Law Enforcement and rescue vehicles are seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 28, 2016, after reports of gunfire at the Capitol Visitor Center complex. The cavernous Capitol Visitor's Center is empty following a shooting at the entrance, Monday, March 28, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
  22. All passengers and crew freed from plane after man hijacked it midway into flight between Alexandria and Cairo Helena Smith in Nicosia and agencies Tuesday 29 March 2016 13.18 BST The man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane flying between Alexandria and Cairo and ordered the pilot to divert to Larnaca in Cyprus has been arrested, according to the Cypriot foreign ministry and the airline. A man emerged from the aircraft and then walked across the tarmac with his hands up to two awaiting counter-terrorism police officers, an AFP correspondent reported, saying they laid him on the ground and searched him for about two minutes before taking him away. An official at Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs ruled out a terrorist motive, telling the Guardian “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,” they said. Earlier, seven more people, thought to be the last of the crew and passengers who had remained with the hijacker on board, were seen leaving the plane. One man climbed out the cockpit window. Flight MS181 had 55 passengers on board when it was seized, Egyptian authorities said. All passengers and crew appeared to have been freed from the aircraft safely. The Cyprus foreign ministry identified the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa. There was confusion over his motivation: Egyptian prime minister Sherif Ismail said the man was an Egyptian national who had asked to meet European Union officials or to fly on to another airport. Ismail told reporters that authorities would question the hijacker to ascertain his true motives, which remained a mystery. “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said. Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Sharif Fathi, said he had not made any concrete demands, though according to reports and the Cyprus president, the hijacking is connected to a woman, believed to be the hijacker’s estranged wife, who reportedly arrived at the airport. The man is believed to have thrown a letter to her from the plane. There were also unconfirmed reports that he had demanded the release of prisoners in Egypt. Egyptian authorities said the hijacker had threatened to detonate an explosive belt, but did not know whether the belt was real or fake. Addressing reporters with the visiting European parliament president, Martin Schulz, the Cypriot leader, Nikos Anastasiades, ruled out terrorism, saying instead that that the hijacking had been instigated by a man bent on reuniting with his former wife. “It’s all to do with a woman,” he said. “We are doing everything to release the hostages.” Cyprus police said the control tower was contacted at 8.30am (5.30am GMT) and the plane was given permission to land at 8.50am. A statement from the Egyptian civil aviation ministry said foreign nationals on board included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch passengers, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified. The nationalities of those who remained on the plane were not given. The plane was hijacked 30 minutes into its flight, according to officials. Less than an hour later, local TV showed about 40 women and children being allowed to leave the aircraft. The freed passengers were then put on buses and taken to terminal buildings. Cyprus, the nearest EU member state to the Middle East, immediately declared a state of emergency, with the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and transport all being dispatched to the airport within minutes of the plane making its forced landing. Airport authorities said all scheduled flights into Cyprus were being diverted to the island’s second international airport at Paphos. The hijacking is likely to bring to the fore again the question of security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula minutes after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft and the extremist Islamic State group said it downed the plane.
  23. The Journey depicts the harsh measures that face Afghans who pay to be transported across the Indian Ocean Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul, and Ben Doherty in Sydney Monday 28 March 2016 01.58 BST A movie commissioned by Australia’s immigration department to deter Afghan asylum seekers has had its premiere on local TV, seeking to reinforce a widely held view that unauthorised travel to Australia is not worth the risk. The Journey is a lavish production depicting hopeful asylum seekers who meet tragic fates crossing the Indian Ocean. Underwritten by $6m in Australian taxpayers’ money and filmed in three countries, it was shown on Friday on two channels in Afghanistan, the world’s second-largest source of refugees and migrants in 2015, after Syria. “It was hard to watch. It made me very upset,” Ali Reza, an 18-year-old tailor said about the film. “I know they were actors, but these things really happen to Afghans.” Put It Out There Pictures, which produced the film for $4.34m, says on its website the movie aims to inform audiences “about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hardline policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters”. Judging from the responses of scores of young men who spoke to the Guardian, that goal was largely achieved. “It was a good movie,” said Mostafa Ebadi, 23. “It showed the lies smugglers tell passengers before leaving.” Mohammad Tawab, 23, said he had been particularly moved by scenes of refugees languishing in an Indonesian prison. For Yama Taheri, who was playing football in a downtown Kabul park, the most disturbing sequence was one in which three brothers drown. “It made me think that if I try to go with friends, this will be our destiny,” he said. Before the current Syrian conflict forced millions to flee that country, Afghanistan was by far the largest producer of refugees in the world for more than three decades. Neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran hosted most of the displaced Afghans, but Afghans were also the largest national group who sought to reach Australia by boat. Almost all Afghans who have reached Australia by boat have been found to be refugees legally requiring protection. Each year since 2009, between 96% and 100% of Afghan asylum seekers have had their claims for refugee status upheld. But in recent years fewer and fewer Afghans have set their sights on Australia. Harsher asylum policies and warning campaigns have deterred many. The vast majority of Afghan asylum seekers in 2015 went to Europe, with more than 150,000 to Germany alone. For three years Daud Hossaini, 42, planned to join his brother in Australia. As asylum policies tightened, he hesitated, but retained hope that the forthcoming federal election might bring change. But on Friday, after seeing the movie, he finally buried his hopes of moving to Australia. “If I die on the way, what’s the point of going?” he said. Lapis Communications, who promoted and adapted the movie to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, denied they were producing government propaganda. “The backers of the film are credited, that is neither hidden or denied,” said Sarah-Jean Cunningham, director of operations and business development. “More importantly, the ideas and values around the film are grounded in addressing a very serious and tragic issue – with the ultimate objective of saving lives.” Cunningham denied the fee earned by Lapis – $1.63m – was excessive. “The cost is reflective of the extent of that significant scope of work,” she said. However, not everyone bought the message. As security worsens and employment becomes scarcer, Afghans will continue to leave. Humayoon, 29, who saw part of the movie before rushing off to a wedding, said he was only staying in Afghanistan as long as he had a job. “If I can’t feed my family, what am I supposed to do?”
  24. About 200 men, some masked, repelled by police in Place de la Bourse at memorial site to victims of last week’s attacks Angelique Chrisafis in Brussels Sunday 27 March 2016 19.21 BST Riot police fired water cannon at far-right demonstrators who invaded a square in the Belgian capital on Sunday, shouting anti-immigrant slogans at the memorial to the victims of the Brussels attacks. Approximately 200 men wearing black, some of whom were masked, shouted nationalist and anti-immigrant slogans and made Nazi salutes as they moved in on the Place de la Bourse, where people had laid flowers and candles in honour of the 28 people killed and 340 injured in last week’s suicide bombings at Brussels airport and metro. Riot police with shields and water cannon cleared the square and 10 people were arrested. The protestors chanted slogans including “this is our home” as people who had gathered earlier to light candles at the memorial in front of the former Brussels stock exchange shouted back: “No to hatred.” The mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, said he was “appalled … that such thugs have come to provoke residents at the site of their memorial”. The country’s prime minister, Charles Michel, condemned the demonstration. In the grieving Belgian capital, a memorial “march against fear” initially planned for Sunday was called off after authorities said they couldn’t divert much-needed police resources away from the investigation into the attacks. Belgian police were questioning four new suspects over terrorist activities after 13 raids in Brussels and the northern towns of Mechelen and Duffel on Sunday morning. The state prosecutor’s office said the raids were linked to a “federal case regarding terrorism” but did not specify whether the suspects were being questioned about the Brussels suicide bombings. Belgian investigators are continuing DNA analysis to determine the exact role of Fayçal Cheffou, the first man to be charged over the Brussels airport and metro suicide-bomb attacks. Cheffou, 31, a Belgian national, has been charged with terrorist killings. Belgian authorities have not yet confirmed whether Cheffou is the suspected third bomber at Brussels airport, known as the “man in the hat” after CCTV footage apparently showed him pushing a luggage trolley next to the bombers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui. A source close to the inquiry told AFP: “That is a hypothesis the investigators are working on.” Cheffou was known to police. He had served a prison sentence in 2003 when he was 18, for criminal association and complicity to murder, Reuters reported. The Belgian website SudInfo said that in the 2003 case, a weapon found at Cheffou’s house by a friend had been involved in an incident in which another friend was killed. Cheffou had reportedly become increasingly radicalised in recent years and had been flagged up by charities working with asylum seekers in Brussels late last year, after attempting to recruit asylum seekers from a park where they were sheltering in tents. Mayer said authorities had stopped Cheffou several times when he was trying to encourage young men camping in the park to turn to radical extremism. The mayor said he was a dangerous man and had eventually been banned from visiting the park. Former volunteers who worked with asylum seekers in the park described Cheffou to the Belgian paper Le Soir as “aggressive” and someone who “liked power”. Investigators are also working to determine Cheffou’s movements at the time of his arrest in Brussels on Thursday. Cheffou was being tailed in a car by police when he was arrested outside the prosecutor’s office in the city centre. This imposing building near the law courts is the headquarters of the state prosecutor who is leading the judicial investigation into the Brussels attacks. In the past, Cheffou had presented himself as a freelance journalist but it was not clear whether he had ever actually worked as one. Meanwhile, a man who was shot and arrested at a tram stop in a vast police operation in Schaerbeek in Brussels on Friday has been charged with terrorist activities. He was charged in connection with an alleged foiled terrorist attack in France last week in which a police raid found arms and explosives material in a flat in Argenteuil on the edge of Paris. An Algerian man, Djamal Eddine Ouali, 40, was arrested in Italy on Saturday at the request of Belgian police. He was wanted over allegedly producing and procuring false documents, which could have been used by members of the network connected to the Brussels attacks and November’s Paris attacks. A 32-year-old French man was arrested by Dutch police in the city of Rotterdam on Sunday night, on suspicion of planning a terror attacks. French authorities requested the man’s arrest, although state prosecutors did not mention whether there was any connection to November’s Paris terrorist attacks. Three others, including two men of Algerian background, were detained in the police operations on two streets in the west of Rotterdam. Amid rows over the state’s failure to keep tabs on radicalised criminals, Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, said the government had invested €600m in police and security services over the past two years. But he said neglect over decades had caused deficiencies that had hampered an effective response to violent extremism. Jambon said errors were made in the run-up to the attacks but argued that new investment needed time before becoming visible. He said hiring counter-terrorism specialists and specialised equipment could not happen in weeks or months. Anti-immigrant demonstrators trample the memorial in Place de la Bourse, Brussels, for victims of last week’s suicide bombings. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty Images
  25. ‘I think every vote is pivotal,’ senator tells CNN Adds: ‘We are now winning state after state with the Latino vote' Sanders crushes Clinton in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii Petition to allow guns at GOP convention attracts thousands Alan Yuhas Sunday 27 March 2016 15.09 BST 52m agoSanders: 'big money' for Clinton is 'obscene' 2h agoSanders celebrates and Trump talks policy Live feed
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