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Found 95 results

  1. by: Scott Marshall June 12 2015 CHICAGO - The Illinois Alliance of Retired Americans, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, and several other community and labor retiree organizations held a rally on June 10 to protest Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's state budget proposals. The rally took place in the plaza outside of Rauner's Chicago state office. Rauner would not meet with the rally organizers. Instead he sent two staff members to receive petitions against the cuts to social services and programs. The staffers refused to come outside and said only a few could come into the building. (The Thompson Center is a large public building with shops and a huge public mezzanine. There are separate security check-points to get on the elevators to the state office floors above.) The staffers also said that only five people could come in to see them and that cameras and media would not be allowed. However, several dozen demonstrators entered. Some media and folks with cameras were threatened; told that they were violating the Homeland Security Act. Really. Photo: Video snapshot. http://www.peoplesworld.org/retired-people-add-their-voices-to-anti-rauner-upsurge/
  2. Lender says its negotiating team are going home to Washington due to a lack of progress in narrowing key differences with Athens Phillip Inman and Graeme Wearden in London, and Helena Smith in Athens Thursday 11 June 2015 17.58 BST Last modified on Thursday 11 June 2015 18.48 BST http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/11/imf-walks-out-of-greece-bailout-talks
  3. Video posted on YouTube ‘raised concerns’ after it shows the police officer breaking up party in an overly aggressive manner Martin Pengelly in New York @MartinPengelly Sunday 7 June 2015 21.50 BST A Texas police officer has been suspended after showed him breaking up a pool party in an extremely aggressive manner, including drawing his gun. On Friday, units from the McKinney police department were called to the party, at Craig Ranch North Community Pool in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, over reports of a fight. Police said the incident involved “multiple juveniles at the location, who do not live in the area or have permission to be there, refusing to leave”. On Sunday, McKinney police chief Greg Conley spoke to reporters about what followed. “Several concerns about the conduct of one of the officers at the scene have been raised,” local ABC affiliate WFAA8 reported him as saying. “The McKinney police department is committed to treating all persons fairly under the law. We are committed to preserving the peace and safety of our community for all our citizens.” Conley did not name the officer in question, who was not named when his suspension was announced. According to WFAA8, Conley added: “A 14-year-old female was temporarily detained by one of the officers. She was ultimately released to her parents.” Video posted to YouTube on Saturday shows one officer sprinting past the camera, falling and losing his flashlight, then running again. Teenagers are seen returning the flashlight to another officer, who responds politely, before the first officer returns and shouts: “On the ground! I told you to stay! Get your asses on the ground. I told you to stay!” The officer, who was not named when his suspension was announced, is then seen forcing a number of teenagers to lie on a grass verge and a sidewalk and telling others to “get your ass out of here”. Some teenagers are handcuffed. One teenager can be heard saying: “Sir, we just came from a birthday party, please.” Another says: “Officer, I can’t find my bag.” The officer replies: “I don’t care, sit down.” The officer is then shown talking to teenagers on the ground. “Don’t make me run round here with 30 kinds of ******* gear on in the sun,” he says, “because you want to screw around out here.” He then forces a group of bystanders to leave. One, a girl, does not comply and the officer wrestles her to the ground. When other teenagers surround him to remonstrate, he draws his gun. Two other officers move to restrain him, and the officer re-holsters the weapon. He then slams the girl back to the ground, shouting: “On your face!” As the officer appears to sit on the girl to keep her subdued, hectoring her all the while, a voice, possibly that of the person filming the incident, says the officer pulled a gun on the girl. “No I didn’t,” he says, pointing at the camera. “Now get your butts outta here.” The officer is later shown in close-up, lecturing two boys who are sitting on the ground. “You just did what everybody else did,” he says, “and what everybody else did was illegal. You did it and you got caught. Now you’re sitting here paying for it. “I asked y’all to sit,” he adds, “you didn’t and you became a part of the mob. You could’ve been the guys that were doing right and you weren’t, so now you’re sitting here in trouble.” The officer in question is white; most of the teenagers on the video are African American. A number of white men in civilian clothes are also shown. The poster of the YouTube video, named on the site as Brandon Brooks, wrote: “A fight between a mom and a girl broke out and when the cops showed up everyone ran, including the people who didn’t do anything. So the cops just started putting everyone on the ground and in handcuffs for no reason. This kind of force is uncalled for especially on children and innocent bystanders.” http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/07/youtube-texas-police-officer-pool-party-arrests
  4. For the first time in his 13-year rule, the president must enter coalition talks or call new elections as Kurdish party scores a stunning success Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies Monday 8 June 2015 07.05 BST Coalition talks will dominate the coming weeks in Turkey after voters snubbed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans to change the constitution and extend his grip on power, delivering the biggest blow to his Justice and Development party (AKP) since it swept to power in 2002. The election result appears to have wrecked Erdogan’s ambition of rewriting the constitution to establish himself as an all-powerful executive president, while the country’s large Kurdish minority has been granted its biggest voice ever in national politics. The election breakthrough for the leftist HDP, a new party largely representing the Kurds but also encompassing liberals nationally, was greeted with wild celebrations in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey. Cars paraded through the city with drivers honking and people hanging out from windows making ‘V’ signs as occasional gunshots were fired into the air. The results will give the Kurds – who, with 20% of Turkey’s population, are the country’s biggest minority – true representation in parliament. The HDP surpassed the steep 10% threshold for entering parliament to take more than 12% of the vote and around 80 seats in the 550-strong chamber. The party’s result also denied Erdoğan’s AKP its majority. The 10% hurdle, dating from the military-authored constitution of 1980, had been intended in part to diminish Kurdish representation in the parliament. Erdoğan is yet to speak following the vote, which was the first time in four general elections to see a fall in his support. While the AKP comfortably managed to secure the biggest portion of the vote, its 41% share of seats represents a sharp drop from its performance the 2011 elections, when it won nearly half the national vote. For the first time since 2002, the AKP will need to form a coalition government or call new elections. It remains unclear who will be a likely partner for the AKP after the most likely candidate, the rightwing Nationalist Movement party (MHP) ruled out the possibility of a coalition. According to the state-run Anadolu agency, the party leader, Devlet Bahceli, said the party was “ready to be a main opposition party” against an AKP-led coalition or minority government during a speech from party headquarters in Ankara early on Monday. “Nobody has a right to drag Turkey into [AKP] minority and some circles’ scenarios,” said Bahceli. “A snap election will happen whenever it will happen.” He welcomed the election results, with his party gaining 31 seats in parliament. Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the leftist HDP, and surprise star of this election, also dismissed any possibility of a coalition with the AKP. “We will not form a coalition with the AKP. We stand behind our words. We will be in parliament as a strong opposition,” Demirtas said in a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday night. He added that the election results had clearly put an end to all plans of an executive presidency. “As of this moment, the debate on the presidency, the debate about dictatorship, has come to an end in Turkey. Turkey has returned from the edge of a cliff,” he said. Pro-government newspapers on Monday morning were already calling for early elections. “The ballot box revealed the ballot box”, read the headline of the conservative daily Yeni Safak. Burhan Kuzu, the AK party deputy and head of the parliamentary constitution commission, said snap elections were inevitable. “No government will emerge from this scenario. Not even a coalition,” he told BBC Türkçe. “Early elections look inevitable.” He added that the election results reflected the weakness of the parliamentary system. “The parliamentary system is a curse for the whole world. In Turkey only majority governments ever worked, coalitions always destroyed it.” He said that the only solution would be an executive presidency. According to the AFP news agency, new elections could be called any time in the next 45 days. Official results based on 99.9% of votes counted put the AKP in the lead, followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) on 25%, the MHP on 16.5% and the HDP in fourth place with 13%. Turnout was 86%. According to official projections, the AKP will have 258 seats in the 550-seat parliament, CHP 132, MHP 81 and HDP 79. The AKP has dominated Turkish politics since it first came to power in 2002, but has suffered from a dip in economic growth and controversy over Erdoğan’s perceived authoritarian tendencies. The results wreck Erdoğan’s dream of agreeing a new constitution to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system that he had made a fundamental issue in the campaign. Such a change would have required a two-thirds majority in the parliament. Speaking from the balcony of AKP headquarters in Ankara – the traditional venue for the party’s victory speeches – the prime minister and party leader, Ahmet Davutoglu, sought to put a brave face on the results. “The winner of the election is again the AKP, there’s no doubt,” he said, pledging to ensure Turkey’s stability. But he added: “Our people’s decision is final. It’s above everything and we will act in line with it.” But the atmosphere outside the AKP’s headquarters was muted. Several hundred supporters chanted for Erdoğan, the party’s founder, but there was little sign of the huge crowds that gathered after past election victories. Erdogan’s divide-and-rule strategy of rallying his religious-conservative base has led to increasing polarisation in Turkey, and in some cases to violence. Erdoğan had repeatedly lashed out at the HDP and its charismatic leader Demirtaş before the elections. The HDP ran on a platform defending the rights of ethnic minorities, women, and lesbian, ***, bisexual and transgender people - forming an electoral coalition between the Kurdish minority in Turkey’s south-east and liberals in Istanbul and elsewhere. “This result shows that this country has had enough. Enough of Erdoğan and his anger,” said Seyran Demir, a 47-year-old who was among the thousands who gathered in the streets around the HDP’s provincial headquarters in Diyarbakir. “I am so full of joy that I can’t speak properly.” “It is a carnival night,” said 47-year-old Huseyin Durmaz, a Kurd. “We no longer trust the AKP,” he said. Another record was set by the number of women MPs set to take a seat in parliament after an unofficial tally estimated a total of 96 female parliamentarians securing a place in the Turkish grand national assembly – a record high and up from 79 in 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/08/turkey-may-face-fresh-poll-as-recep-tayyip-erdogan-is-snubbed-by-voters
  5. Greek prime minister accuses his country’s creditors of making ‘absurd’ demands and insists debt restructuring offer must stay in place Heather Stewart and Helena Smith in Athens Friday 5 June 2015 20.03 BST The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has warned that time is running out to rescue the country from the brink of bankruptcy an and exit from the eurozone, ensuring that Greece’s plight will be a pressing concern for G7 leaders as they gather in Bavaria. With the end of June now regarded as the last possible moment for striking a deal to release the €7.2bn (£5.2bn...$8B) in bailout funds that Greece needs to stay afloat, Tsipras struck a defiant tone in a statement before the country’s parliament, accusing Greece’s creditors of making “absurd” demands on his recession-hit country and insisting, “they won’t humiliate us”. Tsipras also appealed to the Greek opposition parties – and his own Syriza MPs – to give their backing to his negotiating stance and reject the latest proposals from the country’s paymasters. “Time is not only running out for us, it is running out for everyone,” he warned, adding, “Greek people should be proud because the government is not going to give into absurd proposals.” He also insisted that a debt restructuring – writing off some of the €320bn that Greece owes – must remain on the table. US officials, including the Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, have repeatedly warned their European counterparts not to be complacent about the economic risks of a so-called Grexit, and President Obama is likely to reiterate that argument this weekend. The US president is likely to be particularly concerned that Greece could turn to Russia for aid. Tsipras underlined that risk on Friday by letting it be known he was holding a phone conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the Greek parliament, Antonis Samaras, leader of the opposition New Democracy party, accused Tsipras of mishandling the negotiations and tipping Greece back into recession. “You have totally destroyed the country and isolated us,” he said. Analysts said Tsipras’s firm public rejection of the creditors’ latest proposal made it hard to envisage a deal emerging. Nick Spiro, of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, said it was, “difficult to see a basis for further negotiation”, given that Greece and its paymasters were already “at daggers drawn”. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is thought to favour a compromise in the talks between Greece’s radical leftist government and its lenders, but the International Monetary Fund has argued for a tougher stance. Tsipras went to the Greek parliament to explain his stance last night, after Athens took the risky decision to delay a €300m ($333.3M) payment to the IMF. In a highly charged parliamentary session, Tsipras condemned the proposals tabled at a late-night meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. A leaked draft of those proposals called on Athens to make pensions cuts, raise VAT and cancel the planned repeal of controversial labour market reforms imposed as part of its original bailout deal. All of these demands are unacceptable to Tsipras and to many in his party. He had hoped to return to Brussels to continue negotiations on Friday but a furious response from his Syriza colleagues forced him to remain in Greece and make the case for continuing to engage in the negotiations. Greek share prices were sold off sharply as investors absorbed the news that Athens had refused to make the IMF payment, a decision that emerged after markets closed on Thursday night. The Athens general composite index fell by almost 5%, with banks hit particularly hard. Athens exploited a little-known loophole in IMF rules and announced that it would bundle up four debt repayments into one lump sum at the end of the month. The ratings agency Fitch confirmed on Friday that Greece’s decision to postpone the payment would not jeopardise its credit rating, which has already been cut to CCC over the course of the crisis. Fitch warned: “The risk that Greece misses its larger IMF payment at the end of June cannot be discounted,” adding that Athens’ decision “illustrates the pressure that a lack of market or official funding and tight liquidity conditions for Greek banks are putting on Greece’s sovereign liquidity”. A group of high-profile economists, including the Nobel prizewinner Joseph Stiglitz and John Maynard Keynes’ biographer Robert Skidelsky, also wrote a letter to the Financial Times calling for Greece to be granted debt forgiveness, starting with an immediate moratorium on repayments in return for economic reforms. “We think that the whole of Europe will benefit from Greece being given the chance of a fresh start,” they said. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/05/tsipras-warns-g7-leaders-time-running-out-to-rescue-greece-from-bankruptcy
  6. Aid agencies say embargo imposed by US and UK-backed Arab coalition has had dramatic effect, with almost 80% of population in urgent need of food, water and medical supplies Julian Borger Diplomatic editor Friday 5 June 2015 09.56 BST Twenty million Yemenis, nearly 80% of the population, are in urgent need of food, water and medical aid, in a humanitarian disaster that aid agencies say has been dramatically worsened by a naval blockade imposed by an Arab coalition with US and British backing. Washington and London have quietly tried to persuade the Saudis, who are leading the coalition, to moderate its tactics, and in particular to ease the naval embargo, but to little effect. A small number of aid ships is being allowed to unload but the bulk of commercial shipping, on which the desperately poor country depends, are being blocked. Despite western and UN entreaties, Riyadh has also failed to disburse any of the $274m it promised in funding for humanitarian relief. According to UN estimates due to be released next week 78% of the population is in need of emergency aid, an increase of 4 million over the past three months. The crisis in numbers 15.9m The number of people in need throughout Yemen 1.5m Internally displaced people since the conflict began 11,976 Registered deaths resulting from conflict 18,034 Registered injuries resulting from conflict 11.4m People who have become food insecure since the escalation of conflict The desperate shortage of food, water and medical supplies raises urgent questions over US and UK support for the Arab coalition’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war since March. Washington provides logistical and intelligence supportthrough a joint planning cell established with the Saudi military, who are leading the campaign. London has offered to help the Saudi military effort in “every practical way short of engaging in combat”. On western urging, Riyadh had promised to move towards “intelligence-led interdiction”, stopping and searching individual ships on which there was good reason to believe arms were being smuggled, and away from a blanket policy of blocking the majority of vessels approaching Yemeni ports. But aid agencies and shipping sources say there is little sign of any such change. UN sources say that only 15% of the pre-crisis volume of imports is getting through, and that the country depends on imports for nine-tenths of its food. “There are less and less of the basic necessities. People are queueing all day long,” said Nuha Abdul Jabber, Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. “The blockade means it’s impossible to bring anything into the country. There are lots of ships, with basic things like flour, that are not allowed to approach. The situation is deteriorating, hospitals are now shutting down, without diesel. People are dying of simple diseases. It is becoming almost impossible to survive.” In April, Saudi Arabia pledged it would completely fund a $274m UN emergency humanitarian fund for Yemen, but so far none of the money has been transferred to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Riyadh is nonetheless insisting upon the right to decide which aid workers can enter Yemen. At Al Hudaydah on Yemen’s west coast, the only major port still functioning, a trickle of humanitarian food supplies is arriving on a handful of aid ships allowed through the naval blockade each week, but many more ships are being turned away or made to wait many days to be searched for weapons. A State Department official said Washington was pressing for basic goods to be allowed through the blockade. “We continue to urge all sides, including the Saudis, to exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary violence,” the official said in an emailed statement. “We also urge all parties to allow the entry and delivery of urgently needed food, medicine, fuel and other necessary assistance through UN and international humanitarian organisation channels to address the urgent needs of civilians impacted by the crisis.” Britain’s Royal Navy has liaison officers working with their Saudi counterparts, and they have been trying to urge a more targeted, intelligence-driven, approach to stopping a much smaller number of ships, so far with limited effect. In London, where a pro-Saudi line has been driven principally by Downing Street, there is growing unease over the impact of the blockade. A Foreign Office spokesman said the UK “urges the coalition to quickly move to targeted naval interdictions of incoming commercial ships”. “The UK remains in close contact with the government of Yemen and other international partners regarding the situation in Yemen, including the maritime blockade. The foreign secretary discussed Yemen with the Saudi foreign minister while in Paris this week,” the spokesman said. “We are not participating directly in military operations, but are providing support to the Saudi Arabian armed forces through pre-existing arrangements. A small number of UK personnel are coordinating planning support with Saudi and coalition partners. All UK military personnel have extensive training on International Humanitarian Law.” The Saudi government did not respond to requests for comment. The blockade – which is also being enforced in the air and on land – has choked a fragile economy already staggering under the impact of a six-month civil conflict pitting Yemeni forces loyal to the President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now exiled in Riyadh, against Houthi rebels allied to his predecessor and rival, Ali Abdullah Saleh. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and including Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Bahrain intervened in March in support of Hadi, viewing the Houthis as an Iranian proxy force. Iran denies accusations of supplying arms to the insurgents, but British officials believe there are Iranian Revolutionary Guard advisers with the Houthi rebel leadership. Over 2,000 Yemeni civilians are known to have been killed in the fighting so far, and, according to new UN figures, a million have been forced from their homes. The humanitarian crisis meanwhile, affects the overwhelming majority of the population. Tankers carrying petrol, diesel and fuel oil are also being stopped routinely by the naval blockade, crippling the country’s electricity supply and forcing the mass closure of hospitals and schools. Most urgently, it has stopped water pumps working. Oxfam reckons the fighting and embargo have led to 3 million Yemenis being cut off from a clean water supply since March, bringing to 16 million the total without access to drinking water or sanitation – nearly two-thirds of the population – with dire implications for the spread of disease. Cooking gas is almost impossible to find. Queues to refill gas cylinders in Sana’a now last for than a week, with people camping out by their cylinders or chaining them down to keep their place in the queue. There are also long lines of abandoned cars waiting for elusive supplies of petrol. The UN estimate that nearly 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance – 78% of the entire population – represents an increase of 4 million since the escalation of the conflict with the Saudi intervention in March. Twelve million Yemenis are “food insecure”, having to struggle to find their next meal, up 1.4 million since March. Five million are described as “severely food insecure”, meaning they often go for days without a meal. In the cities worst hit by street fighting, such as Aden, civilians are either cowering at home to avoid sniper fire and bombardment or have joined the more than half million Yemenis forced out of their houses and now looking for food and shelter. But the blockade has spread the impact of the humanitarian crisis around the country. According to Save the Children, hospitals in at least 18 of the country’s 22 governorates have been closed or severely affected by the fighting or the lack of fuel. In particular, 153 health centres that supplied nutrition to over 450,000 at-risk children have shut down, as well as 158 outpatient clinics, responsible for providing basic healthcare to nearly half a million children under five. At the same time, due to lack of clean water and sanitation, cholera and other diseases are on the rise. A dengue fever outbreak has been reported in Aden. “Children are dying preventable deaths in Yemen because the rate of infectious diseases is rising ,” said Priya Jacob, Save the Children’s director of programmes in Yemen. “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a protracted and rapidly deteriorating situation that leaves four out of five Yemeni people in need of aid. The ongoing naval and air blockade means very little aid is getting through, exacerbating the needs of the Yemeni people.” “The lack of fuel is a real issue – both for our teams and for local people, making it difficult to transport patients and medical supplies,” said Ahmad Bilal, medical coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières based in Yemen’s third city, Taiz. “For ordinary people it means that it is hard to move around the city and it’s an ongoing struggle to access clean water and food. Many people living in frontline areas are unable to travel to clinics or hospitals for medical care both because of the fighting and the lack of fuel. Even those who are able to make it to health facilities find that they are not functioning. At least 12 hospitals in Taiz had to close their doors and stop receiving patients, for these reasons.” A shipping source in Al Hudaydah said the flow of ships into Yemen was down 75% compared with before the March intervention. “Some ships have been docked in the past week or so, but many others have been stopped and it’s hard to see any pattern. Sometimes the coalition conducts a search and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it depends which navy is involved. In the past few days the Saudis have been more flexible, but the Egyptians have been rigid, not letting anything through,” the shipping source said. The uncertainty has made some ship owners nervous about having their vessels impounded. Over the past few days, two tankers carrying 70,000 tonnes of diesel, steered away from the Yemen coast and have begun offloading the fuel into small ships offshore. But as of this week, less than a tenth of the country’s monthly fuel requirement of 5m tonnes is getting through the blockade. “We have heard a lot about international commitments to help Yemen with big sums but we haven’t seen anything here,” Oxfam’s Nuha Abdul Jabber added. “This is the moment for the world to understand the severity of the situation.” A young Yemeni poses in front of the ruins of her family house. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/05/saudi-led-naval-blockade-worsens-yemen-humanitarian-disaster
  7. US secretary of state in Geneva hospital and will delay return to Boston Trip was scheduled to include international conference on Isis Agencies in Geneva Sunday 31 May 2015 15.23 BST Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg in bike crash near Scionzier in France on Sunday, apparently after hitting a curb. He then scrapped the rest of a four-nation trip that included an international conference on combating the Islamic State group. State Department spokesman John Kirby said X-rays at a Swiss hospital confirmed that Kerry fractured his right femur. “The secretary is stable and never lost consciousness, his injury is not life-threatening and he is expected to make a full recovery,” Kirby said in a statement. It was initially announced that Kerry, 71, would return to Boston for further treatment with a doctor who previously operated on his hip. Later on Sunday, Kirby said the planned return to the US would be delayed, as after further consultation it had been deemed sensible for the secretary to remain in hospital for observation overnight, for precautionary reasons. Kerry’s wish to seek treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital was made because the fracture is near the site of his prior hip surgery, Kirby said. Kerry, who on Saturday was in Geneva for six hours of meetings with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the sides work to seal a comprehensive accord by 30 June, was in stable condition and in good spirits, Kirby said. Kerry was taken by helicopter to Geneva’s main medical centre, HUG, after apparently hitting a curb with his bike near Scionzier, France, about 25 miles (40km) southeast of the Swiss border. Paramedics and a physician were on the scene with Kerry’s motorcade at the time and provided immediate attention. They quickly decided to order the 10-minute-long helicopter transport. Kerry’s cycling rides have become a regular occurrence on his trips. He often takes his bike with him on the plane and was riding that bicycle on Sunday. During discussions in late March and early April between world powers and Iran, he took several bike trips during breaks. Those talks were in Lausanne, Switzerland, and led to a framework agreement. Kerry regrets not being able to make the rest of his scheduled stops, Kirby said. The top US diplomat had planned to travel later on Sunday to Madrid for meetings with Spain’s king and prime minister, before spending two days in Paris for an international gathering to combat Isis. He will participate in the Paris conference remotely, Kirby said. A police car is seen at the entrance of the Geneva University Hospital, where John Kerry has been hospitalized after breaking his leg. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/31/john-kerry-injured-cycling-accident-france
  8. Attacker detonates bomb in car park of Shia mosque in Dammam, killing four people a week after suicide blast kills 21 at another mosque in east of country Ian Black Middle East editor @ian_black Friday 29 May 2015 17.02 BST In the second attack of its kind in a week, four people have died after a suicide bomber targeted a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, fuelling fears of an organised campaign by Islamic State to foment sectarian tensions inside the conservative Sunni kingdom. Reports from Dammam described a car bomb explosion at the entrance to the al-Anoud mosque, despite security measures put in place because of last Friday’s incident near Qatif, in which 21 people were killed and 120 injured in the worst attack in Saudi Arabia in a decade. Video clips showed men at prayers inside the mosque reacting in alarm when a loud bang was heard. The Saudi Press agency reported that guards had approached the attacker’s car as it was parking and that the driver then detonated the bomb. One of the dead appears to have been the bomber. The latest attack was quickly claimed by Isis, which said the “blessed martyrdom operation” had been carried out by a “soldier of the caliphate” it named as Abu Jandal al-Jazrawi. General Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry, said the terrorist was dressed in women’s clothes. Analysts have described “lone wolf” initiatives encouraged by Isis, though the speed of the claim of responsibility suggested planning and coordination. Isis has been paying special attention to Saudi Arabia since a speech by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, excoriating the royal family as the “head of the snake and stronghold of disease”. Saudi Arabia’s special status in the Arab and Muslim worlds rests on its custodianship of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina. The latest bombing, like last week’s, was also followed by an Isis statement referring to “Wilayat Nejd”. Wilaya is the Arabic term for province. Nejd is the desert heartland of the Saudi kingdom that was first created in the 18th century – as distinct from the Hejaz – the country’s more liberal region along the Red Sea. It also used sectarian language to vilify Shia Muslims – who make up 15% of the Saudi population. The Saudi government has responded to the bombings with expressions of concern and pledges of severe punishment for the perpetrators. Earlier this week the recently appointed Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef visited the al-Qudaih mosque in Qatif where hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the funerals of the victims. Unusually, Bin Nayef was who challenged him to put an end to sectarianism. “If you do not do your part … then you are a silent partner in this crime,” the man told the prince. The video showing the encounter was viewed more than 800,000 times in less than 24 hours. Saudi authorities have jailed two prominent Shia clerics who have called for reforms such as adopting a constitutional monarchy. Last year one leading cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was sentenced to death for leading protests in Qatif. In the past few days liberal Saudis have called for an end to sectarian messages in education, the religious establishment and the media – and for a crackdown on extremist Sunni preachers blamed for anti-Shia incitement, often on private TV channels. “The perpetrators of these murderous acts are driven by an insane ideology disseminated by self-appointed clerics and reformers,” commented the Jeddah-based writer Khaled Al-Maeena. “For too long, we have kept quiet as they used the mosques, the media and other forms of communication to spread their evil philosophy. We … watched silently as some imams spewed hatred and spread falsehood about Muslims of other sects. These illiterate bigots should have been advised to shut up. We should not have remained silent and passive allowing their hatred to continue giving them the opportunity to manipulate the minds of many.” Less progressive Saudi voices have objected to sectarianism on the grounds that it is used by “Safavid (Iranian)-Zionist-Crusader alliance” against the kingdom, in the words of Abdulaziz Fawzan, an influential sheikh. The Saudi government and many citizens blame Iran, the kingdom’s strategic rival, for backing the Shia-led government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad in Syria and most recently the Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen, where the Saudis are leading a bombing campaign in an attempt to restore Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. The Saudis are also taking part in a US-led bombing campaign against Isis and rebuff criticism that they were responsible for the creation of the group because of previous backing for hardline Islamist factions fighting Assad. Riyadh now works more closely with its allies in Qatar and Turkey in supporting anti-Assad factions. Still, with an estimated 2,500 Saudi citizens having gone to fight in Syria or Iraq in recent years, an official crackdown in recent months may have meant that more Isis supporters are staying at home – and are prepared to act. Toby Matthiesen, a Saudi Arabia expert at Cambridge University, said: “Saudi Arabia may now have to choose between anti-Shia [sentiment] as a political tool at home and abroad and the very real threat that extremists taking anti-Shia [sentiment] too seriously will bring the fight back home – with unpredictable consequences for the stability of Saudi Arabia and the wider region.” A policeman carries out an inspection after the explosion at the al-Anoud mosque. Photograph: Faisal al-Nasser /Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/saudi-arabia-suicide-bomb-attack-kills-four-in-damman
  9. Re-elected president of world football’s governing body suggests arrests were timed to interfere with Zurich congress, while IRS official warns of more charges Tom Lutz in New York, Owen Gibson in Zurich, Warren Murray and agencies Saturday 30 May 2015 06.02 BST The re-elected Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has said he was “shocked” at the way US authorities targeted football’s world body and slammed what he called a “hate” campaign by Europe’s football leaders. In an interview with Swiss television, Blatter said he suspected the arrest of seven Fifa officials in Zurich on Wednesday under a US anti-corruption warrant was an attempt to “interfere with the congress” on Friday at which he retained his post. He told RTS: “No one is going to tell me that it was a simple coincidence, this American attack two days before the elections of Fifa. It doesn’t smell good. “Why would I step down? That would mean I recognise that I did wrong. I fought for the last three or four years against all the corruption.” Blatter’s attack came as authorities in the US warned of further charges in the Fifa bribery investigation and investigators in Argentina raided the offices of sports media companies. The Fifa president condemned comments made by US officials including the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who said corruption in football was “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted, both abroad and here in the United States”. Blatter said of the remarks: “Of course I am shocked. I would never as Fifa president make comments about another organisation without being certain of what has happened.” Richard Weber – the IRS chief in charge of the criminal investigations and the man who accused Fifa of a “World Cup of fraud” – said late on Friday that he was “fairly confident” of another round of indictments. In Britain, the Serious Fraud Office has said it is “actively assessing material in its possession” regarding the Fifa allegations. Blatter, in the Swiss interview, noted that the US had lost the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and England, another major critic, lost the 2018 World Cup to Russia. He said the US was the “number one sponsor” of Jordan, home of his unsuccessful challenger for the the Fifa presidency, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein. Blatter also hit out at the Uefa president, Michel Platini, who had called for his resignation over the corruption scandals. “It is a hate that comes not just from a person at Uefa,” he said, “it comes from the Uefa organisation that cannot understand that in 1998 I became president.” Asked whether he would forgive Platini for the resignation calls, Blatter said: “I forgive everyone, but I do not forget.” The Fifa executive committee is to meet in Zurich on Saturday. Several senior Fifa figures have been charged over alleged bribery and kickback schemes, although no charges were brought against Blatter. US authorities announced on Wednesday that nine officials and five sports media and promotions executives were charged in cases involving more than $150m in alleged bribes over a period of 24 years. They said their investigation exposed complex money laundering schemes, millions of dollars in untaxed incomes and tens of millions in offshore accounts held by Fifa officials. On Friday, Interpol agents also raided the offices of three Argentinian businessmen accused by the US of paying tens of millions of dollars in bribes, local media reported. Argentinia citizens Alejandro Burzaco, the president of sports media and promotions firm Torneos y Competencias, as well as Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano – who own Full Play – are among the 14 hit with US graft charges. A judge on Thursday ordered their arrests and the country’s tax agency formally accused them of tax evasion and money laundering. But on Friday they and two other defendants had apparently still not been detained. US officials are seeking to extradite defendants who remain abroad. The US indictment states Burzaco and the two Jinkises led their companies to form a new entity known as Datisa, and then conspired to win lucrative TV rights through the payment of up to $110m in bribes. Datisa allegedly signed a $317.5m contract with the South American soccer confederation, Conmebol, to obtain exclusive worldwide rights to the 2015, 2019 and 2023 Copa America tournaments. It later entered a $35m contract with the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, Concacaf, to acquire rights for another tournament. Three top Conmebol officials, including the president of the Argentinian Football Association, were to receive a total of $45m in kickbacks, the indictment said. The rest was to be disbursed among other officials. On Friday, Blatter defied critics and his opponents within Fifa to secure a fifth term at its helm, and vowed to fix things. He said: “Starting tomorrow … I’m being held accountable for the storm. OK, I will shoulder that responsibility.” But Blatter also appeared to discount his own responsibility for the scandal. “We can’t constantly supervise everyone in football,” he insisted. “You can’t just ask people to behave ethically just like that.” Blatter’s understated opponent in the leadership vote, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, had warned Fifa delegates that “everything is at stake” in the wake of the dramatic events of this week, when Swiss police swooped on the Baur au Lac hotel to arrest the seven senior Fifa officials. Seven more were charged in the US and four more, including the former Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer, pleaded guilty. In all they were charged with 47 counts of money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion. Brazil’s Fifa executive committee member Marco Polo del Nero fled Zurich before the meeting following the arrest of his predecessor, José Maria Marin, on Wednesday. Like the Fifa vice-president Jeffrey Webb, of the Cayman Islands, and five others, Marin is being held in custody while appealing against extradition to the US. The seven executives arrested in Zurich, including the Fifa vice-presidents Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, remained in custody and were fighting extradition to the US. Ali polled 73 votes to Blatter’s 133. On that showing the Jordanian was eligible to take the contest to a potential second round but he withdrew. In contrast to his opponent, who sought to rally his “Fifa family”, Prince Ali warned that the world was watching and “Fifa does not exist in a bubble”. It could yet prove a pyrrhic victory for Blatter, who has weathered the storm in the short term but is left presiding over a split Fifa as he faces the biggest self-inflicted crisis in its 111-year history. As investigations continue in the US, Uefa, European football’s governing body, will again loudly demand reform. Its executives meet in Berlin next weekend before the Champions League final and were in militant mood after Blatter triumphed. Its 53 members mostly backed Ali, and Platini said it could withdraw co-operation. The Football Association’s chairman, Greg Dyke, has said that England could boycott the World Cup if other European nations decided to do so. Outside the the bubble of the Fifa Congress the pressure on Blatter increased. Jack Warner, the controversial Trinidadian former Concacaf president who was once one of Blatter’s closest allies and among those charged on Wednesday, delivered a thinly veiled threat after being released on bail. To hoots and applause from supporters in Trinidad, Warner said: “If I have been thieving Fifa money for 30 years, who gave me the money? How come he is not charged?” After Blatter’s re-election, Fifa sponsors Coca-Cola, Budweiser and McDonald’s called for quick moves to transparency. Credit card company Visa has threatened to “reassess” its sponsorship if Fifa does not clean up its act, while Hyundai has said it is “extremely concerned” at the new scandals. Sepp Blatter celebrates his re-election as Fifa president. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Fifa http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/may/30/warning-of-more-fifa-corruption-charges-as-sepp-blatter-retains-presidency
  10. 100 arrested as gunfire erupts near Interstate 35 All dead and injured were bikers Martin Pengelly in New York and agencies @MartinPengelly Monday 18 May 2015 07.52 BST Nine people were killed, 18 injured and at least 100 arrested after a shootout between rival biker gangs at a restaurant in Waco, Texas, according to police. Patrons and bystanders ran for safety, police said, as officers at the scene also opened fire. Local television station KWTX reported that some customers and employees took shelter in the restaurant’s freezer. All those killed and injured were gang members, police said. Waco police sergeant W Patrick Swanton described to local reporters what he said was “the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in” and said there was “blood everywhere”. He added: “None of our innocent civilians were injured today in this mélêe.” The shootout took place at the Twin Peaks Sports Bar and Grill on Interstate 35 at about midday on Sunday. Swanton told local newspaper the Waco Tribune-Herald eight people died at the scene and one died later in hospital. At least five rival gangs had gathered at Twin Peaks for a meeting that Swanton said followed clashes over turf and recruitment. Police were present because authorities were aware of the likelihood of trouble between the gangs, Swanton said, but “apparently the management [of the restaurant] wanted them here and so we didn’t have any say-so on whether they could be here or not”. “What happened here today could have been avoided,” he said. “They [the restaurant management] failed and this is what happened.” A statement on Sunday night on behalf of Jay Patel, operating partner for the Twin Peaks franchise in Waco, said: “Our management team has had ongoing and positive communications with the police,” and added that the restaurant was cooperating with the investigation. Swanton, who said there were “still bodies on the scene of the parking lot at Twin Peaks” and “cattered throughout the parking lot of the next adjoining business”, also said: “In 34 years of law enforcement, this is the most violent crime scene I have ever been involved in. There is blood everywhere. We will probably approach the number of 100 weapons.” Late on Sunday, Swanton addressed Patel’s statement, telling reporters that it was a “fabrication”. He said police officers had “saved lives in keeping this from spilling into a very busy Sunday morning”. “Thank goodness the officers were here,” he said, “and took the action that they needed to take to save numerous lives.” Those injured suffered stab and gunshot wounds, Swanton said, adding that the fight began with fists and then involved knives and guns. KWTX reported that one hospital, White Hillcrest Medical Center, had been placed on lockdown. Waco police closed the busy marketplace area around the restaurant. Swanton said three armed gang members had been arrested when they attempted to enter the closed-off crime scene. At least 100 people in total had been detained for questioning by late on Sunday night, Swanton said. As well as local and state police, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said its agents were at the scene. The McLennan county sheriff, Parnell McNamara, whose office is involved in the investigation, said all nine who were killed were members of the Bandidos or Cossacks gangs. Police officers and bikers in the parking lot of the Twin Peaks restaurant on Sunday after the shootings. Photograph: Jerry Larson/AP Law enforcement officers talk to a man near the parking lot of a Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas. Photograph: Rod Aydelotte/AP http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/17/biker-gang-shooting-waco-texas
  11. Anti-poverty activist Ada Colau elected as mayor of Barcelona, while battle for control of capital pits countess against former communist Ashifa Kassam Madrid Monday 25 May 2015 08.34 BST Spain’s indignados made the move from city squares to the halls of power on Sunday in municipal and regional elections that saw an anti-poverty activist elected as mayor of Barcelona and the ruling People’s party battered at the ballot box. Ada Colau, the 41-year-old anti-eviction activist who leads Barcelona En Comú, was elected mayor of the Catalan city. “It’s a victory for David over Goliath,” said Colau as news broke of the historical win. A grassroots movement of several leftist political parties, including Podemos, and thousands of citizens, Barcelona En Comú vowed to return decision-making in the city to the people, promising to do away with home evictions, increase public housing and redistribute the city’s wealth. Colau’s party won 11 of the 41 seatson the city council, meaning that she will need to form alliances in order to govern. In Madrid, the People’s party is not certain of hanging on to power in a city where it has dominated for two decades. The PP candidate, Esperanza Aguirre, 63, who is a countess by marriage, squeaked ahead in Sunday’s vote, winning 21 council seats in the city. Aguirre is seen as a hard case but she got a run for her money from “indignada” candidate Manuela Carmena, whose Podemos-backed coalition Ahora Madrid came a close second. The 71-year-old former judge and communist was enjoying her retirement last year when friends asked her to run for mayor of Madrid. She could now wrestle power from the PP if her party were to form an alliance with the Socialists. “The vote for change has won a majority,” she said. The strong showing of the leftist coalitions in Madrid and Barcelona suggest that the agendas of Spain’s two largest cities will be driven by the priorities of anti-establishment parties with roots in Spain’s indignado movement. With general elections due by the end of the year, Sunday’s elections in 13 regions and more than 8,100 municipalities were widely seen as a chance to test the mood of Spanish voters. The message that emerged was clear, with Spaniards voting to end the two-party dominance that has characterised Spanish politics since the death of Franco. With 90% of the vote counted in Sunday’s elections, the PP and the Socialists had taken 52% of the nationwide vote, a significant drop from the 65% the two mainstream parties earned in elections four years ago. While the PP was the most voted party in nine regions, it failed to obtain any absolute regional majorities. Many voters, unconvinced of the party’s message of an economic rebound and fed up of austerity, sky high unemployment and a constant barrage of corruption scandals, turned instead to anti-austerity party Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos. The national newcomers came in third or fourth place across most regions, suggesting they will hold the balance of power in many regional governments. “We would have liked the decline of the old parties to have been quicker,” said Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias. “But circumstances compel us to keep working on it.” As Spanish politics widens into a four-way race, the shifting landscape means coalitions and compromises between parties will be necessary to govern. The process will get underway in the coming weeks, and negotiations could be months in the making. In Andalusia, where a minority government was elected into power two months ago, political paralysis has ensued, with Socialist leader Susana Díaz failing three times so far to obtain the majority vote needed to form a government. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/spains-indignados-ada-colau-elections-mayor-barcelona
  12. Tzipi Hotovely gives speech to Israeli diplomats in which she says she will try to achieve global recognition for West Bank settlements Associated Press Friday 22 May 2015 05.19 BST Israel’s new deputy foreign minister on Thursday delivered a defiant message to the international community, saying that Israel owes no apologies for its policies in the Holy Land and citing religious texts to back her belief that it belongs to the Jewish people. The speech by Tzipi Hotovely illustrated the influence of hardliners in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government, and the challenges he will face as he tries to persuade the world that he is serious about pursuing peace with the Palestinians. Hotovely, 36, is among a generation of young hardliners in Netanyahu’s Likud party who support West Bank settlement construction and oppose ceding captured land to the Palestinians. Since Netanyahu has a slim one-seat majority in parliament, these lawmakers could complicate any attempt to revive peace talks. With Netanyahu also serving as the acting foreign minister, Hotovely is currently the country’s top full-time diplomat. In an inaugural address to Israeli diplomats, Hotovely said Israel has tried too hard to appease the world and must stand up for itself. “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she said. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.” Hotovely, an Orthodox Jew, laced her speech with biblical commentaries in which God promised the land of Israel to the Jews. Speaking later in English, she signalled that she would try to rally global recognition for West Bank settlements, which are widely opposed. “We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognise Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere,” she said. Hotovely will manage the ministry’s day-to-day functions, but Netanyahu will remain in charge of foreign policy. During the recent election campaign, Netanyahu angered his western allies by saying he would not permit the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch. On Wednesday he told the visiting EU foreign policy chief that he remains committed to a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, declined comment on Hotovely’s speech, but said Netanyahu’s statements Wednesday reflected his policy. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/israels-new-deputy-foreign-minister-this-land-is-ours-all-of-it-is-ours
  13. Terror group faced little resistance from local forces, prompting re-evaluations across a region that had sensed it might be in retreat Martin Chulov Friday 22 May 2015 07.20 BST Islamic State fighters are celebrating their second major conquest in a week in Syria and Iraq as they pick through the ruins of the historic city of Palmyra. The sudden advance of the militants into the UN heritage site in central Syria resulted in the rout of a national army, the exodus of refugees and a fresh pulse of regional alarm at the resilience of the self-styled caliphate force. The UN said one-third of Palmyra’s 200,000-strong population had fled. And Isis militants used social media to show themselves posing amid ancient columns in Palmyra on Thursday. Other images displayed a more familiar theme: the summary slaughter of local men whose blood drenched the road. Isis’s latest advance has prompted a re-evaluation across the region, which had earlier sensed it might be in retreat. From Beirut to Baghdad and as far away as Riyadh, regional actors are coming to terms with an organisation that can win most of its battles and successfully storm Syria and Iraq’s best-defended bastions. The seizure of Palmyra followed the equally startling conquest of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province last weekend. Both operations, around 600 miles apart, have become emblematic of a terror group that can have its way across two crumbling countries despite embattled state forces being propped up by global powers. In Syria, forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad had committed to defend gas fields to the north of Palmyra that are essential to the nation’s electricity supply. The ruins themselves, as well as being enduring testaments to the country’s diverse past, are central to the pluralistic image conveyed by the modern state. Both sites are strategic, yet they fell in less than four days – with elite army units unwilling and unable to defend them. Ramadi in Iraq, meanwhile, had been a holdout in the heart of the country’s most hostile province – a place where local Sunni leaders allied with the Shia-led government and its militia proxies to keep Isis at bay. That too changed in less than 72 hours of clashes, where top-tier troops and tribes posed little resistance. In both cases, once the battles started going badly, state forces surrendered the cities to their fate, leaving large amounts of ammunition behind. “They wanted to defend this area,” said a government official who fled Palmyra for Damascus on Thursday. “They even tried to. But if that’s the best that they can do when they try, then the country is lost.” Officials who had fled Palmyra said jets from the US-led coalition that had bombed Isis targets elsewhere in the country had not joined the fight. US jets were instrumental in expelling the terror group from the two cities it has lost so far, Kobani, in Syria’s north, and Tikrit, in central Iraq. The fall of Ramadi stirred ghosts of a painful past: jihadis had used the city as a launch pad to spread nationwide chaos from 2004-07. That could never happen again, Iraqi officials claimed. The fact that it has – yielding Isis its most spectacular triumph this year – has shattered already brittle confidence in the ability of Iraq to hold the country together. In both countries, residents said the Isis victories said perhaps more about the weakness of the states than about the potency of the jihadis. And while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fall of Palmyra meant Isis now controls more than 50% of the country, opposition groups countered by saying that battle lines elsewhere in Syria had not shifted in Isis’s favour since 2013. Gains against the Syrian regime, they said, had been made by groups who previously fought Isis and included an amalgam of mainstream fighters and jihadis, among them the ascendant al-Nusra front, which like Isis has been prescribed by the US and much of Europe as a terrorist group. The anti-Assad opposition played no role in the Palmyra clashes. Regime troops had been the area’s primary defenders. In Ramadi, despair was endemic. “There are no police left,” said the police chief, Colonel Jabbar al-Assif, himself a recent exile. “Everyone left was killed or is injured. Whoever didn’t make it out was killed later on by Isis. They have a list of all the policemen and the soldiers, with addresses, and they were going to their homes to kill them. So all of the police families fled too. “Most people in Ramadi want to fight but they don’t have weapons. The government hasn’t helped us. The police ask the government for weapons and the government tells them: ‘Go and buy weapons and we will reimburse you.’ When did that ever happen in any country?” The Isis advances mark a sharp turnaround from events earlier this year when it lost Kobani and Tikrit and was forced to retreat from around 7,700 sq miles (20,000 sqkm) of land in northern Iraq. That had led to claims that it could not hold its gains, and that after a year in which sociopolitics of the Middle East had been overturned, Isis could no longer secure its objectives. “If the state was strong, then that would be the case,” said an army officer who ordered his men to flee Ramadi. “They are not winning because they are powerful. They are winning because we are weak. I’m not sure about Syria, but I think it’s the same there.” Thirty miles closer to Baghdad, in the city of Falluja, which is also under Isis control, some residents say they have become used to the jihadis in their midst and have come to prefer them to the vagaries of central government rule. “We don’t have much electricity and fuel and we have been bombed a lot by the air strikes, but apart from that we are in a better condition than we were under the army,” said a doctor to whom Isis had offered security and a platform that Iraq’s government could not match. “We in Falluja prefer to stay here in our homes than become refugees begging to enter Baghdad or left to rot in refugee camps which aren’t even suitable for animals. We prefer to live with our dignity in our city. We are all viewed by the government as Isis, this is our identity.” Refugees from the Isis-controlled city of Ramadi. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media A car is engulfed by flames during clashes in the city of Ramadi. Photograph: Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/21/isis-palmyra-ramadi-advances-say-more-about-state-weakness-than-jihadi-strength
  14. BP says it will defend unprecedented claim by trade union leader Gilberto Torres in case that spotlights role of big carbon in one of Colombia’s darkest periods Mary Carson, Adrian Gatton, Rodrigo Vázquez and Maggie O'Kane Friday 22 May 2015 07.57 BST A Colombian trade union leader is beginning an unprecedented claim for damages against BP in the high court in London, alleging the oil company’s complicity in his kidnap and torture 13 years ago. Gilberto Torres, 52, was abducted in February 2002 while driving home from an oil-pumping station in Casanare, eastern Colombia, and was released after 42 days, only after workers threatened a national oil strike. The case, which begins on Friday, will throw a spotlight on one of the murkiest periods in Colombia’s history, and the role of big business in it. His lawyers say that it is the first time a union leader has been able to lodge a claim for human rights abuses against a multinational oil company in the high court. They believe his claim could pave the way for scores more similar actions. BP denies any involvement. It says it will “vigorously” defend the claim. Torres tells his story for the first time in a Guardian online documentary. The film includes the extraordinary testimony of his kidnappers when they finally faced trial. The UN estimates that 3,000 union activists were murdered and 6,000 more disappeared in the Casanare region in the last 30 years. The targeting of them by pro-government paramilitaries went largely unnoticed outside Colombia because of the civil war raging between the Colombian government and Farc, the leftwing guerrilla group. Torres was abducted at gunpoint shortly after he organised a strike in protest over the murder of another union leader. He had received increased threats in the days leading up to him being taken. He tells the Guardian how he watched as his captors, who later claimed they were paid to protect the pipeline by the oil companies, questioned a suspected Farc rebel. “They hit him. They insulted him. They spat on him. They battered him, until he confessed that he was part of Farc. With that admission, he signed his death warrant. “They shot him twice in the neck. They cut his head, his legs and his arms off. And at the end the commander with a machete started to puncture his corpse. I understood then that this was going to happen to me.” After six weeks in captivity, 10 days in a flooded outdoor pit infested with red ants, and days of interrogation aimed at getting him to confess to being a member of a leftwing guerrilla movement, Torres was unexpectedly handed over to the Red Cross. He is only the second trade union leader in the history of 40 years of conflict in Colombia to have survived an abduction. Torres worked for the oil workers’ union USO, representing 400 members working on the 515-mile (830km) Ocensa pipeline, which carried crude from Casanare to the Caribbean Sea. Ocensa was set up by major oil companies including BP, Colombia’s state-owned enterprise Ecopetrol, and four other multinational companies, to build and own the pipeline. It was pumping $7m (£4.5m) worth of crude oil every day. BP was the biggest oil producer in the area. Union protests sanctioned by Torres were disrupting production. He wanted to draw attention to the disappearance of union colleagues and had been highly vocal the previous week about members of an army brigade, charged with protecting the pipeline, training on company grounds. BP, like other oil companies operating in Colombia at the time, paid a government tax of $1 a barrel to help finance army and police protection of oil facilities. According to journalists who carried out an investigation into BP’s security provision in 1995, the company signed a three-year collaborative agreement with the Colombia defence ministry worth $11.6m, of which BP would provide $2.2m. Much of that was spent on the 16th Brigade, an army unit assigned specifically to protect the company’s oil installations. The army is accused of contracting out that work to local pro-government paramilitaries – with often lethal results. In the wake of the oil boom, the Colombian army and paramilitaries brought to Casanare a US-designed counter-insurgency strategy of dirty war, known locally as “quitarle agua al pez” or “draining the fish tank”. Instead of fighting the guerrillas, they would target people they considered sympathisers. Sue Willman, partner in Deighton Pierce Glynn, the London firm representing Torres, said there would be no accusation that BP was directly involved in his abduction. But the company had failed to take action to halt paramilitary activity. Willman said: “Amnesty International went to BP a number of times warning them about the murders and disappearances. But BP failed to act effectively on the warnings.” Pro-government paramilitaries who were convicted in Bogotá of kidnapping Torres claimed that Ocensa had paid for the murder. As well as its arrangements over the pipeline, BP had a 15.2% stake in Ocensa. Their testimony is heard in the Guardian documentary for the first time outside Colombia. Ocensa said it “did not commission, order or pay for Gilberto Torres’s kidnapping”. It said it never caused displacement, kidnapping or murder in 20 years of operating in the Casanare region. BP, Ocensa and Ecopetrol all deny they paid paramilitaries to guard the pipeline. BP is one of the fossil fuel companies that the Guardian is calling on two of the world’s two largest health charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to divest from through its Keep it in the Ground campaign. The Gates Foundation’s Asset Trust has a £243m ($380M) holding and Wellcome has £118m ($184.6M) in BP, according to the most recent figures. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/22/colombian-takes-bp-to-court-in-uk-alleged-complicity-kidnap-and-torture
  15. Syria’s antiquities chief calls for international action to save city of Unseco site as activists say Islamic State has regained ground after being repelled Wednesday 20 May 2015 15.15 BST Islamic State fighters have seized control of the northern sector of the Syrian city of Palmyra, a monitor and activists have said, triggering renewed fears about the ancient site’s historic treasures. “The situation is very bad. If only five members of Isis go into the ancient buildings, they’ll destroy everything,” Syria’s antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said, calling for international action to save the city. Palmyra’s Unesco world heritage site, including ancient temples and colonnaded streets, is located in the city’s south-west. Hundreds of statues and ancient artefacts from its museum have already been transferred out of the city, Abdulkarim said, but many others - including massive tombs – could not be moved. It was the second time Isis has overrun northern Palmyra in the past five days. Its fighters seized the same neighbourhoods on Saturday but held them for less than 24 hours. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Isis had seized roughly “a third of Palmyra” on Wednesday. After heavy fighting on the northern edges of the city, Isis fighters entered the northern quarter “without their vehicles”. They seized a state security building and fanned out across northern districts as Assad regime forces fled, the monitoring group’s head said. “People are very afraid of what will happen, because Isis has the capability to get to the heart of Palmyra,” said Khaled al-Homsi, an activist in the city. He said terrified residents were staying at home and that government forces were on the defensive. Asked if Isis would be able to reach the city’s ancient ruins, a Syrian military source said anything was possible in urban warfare. He acknowledged the jihadis had infiltrated northern neighbourhoods and said they were engaged in “street fighting” with regime forces. Mohammad Hassan Homsi, another activist originally from Palmyra, said Syrian soldiers fled after Isis took the state security building. “They headed to the military intelligence headquarters near the ruins,” he said. Homsi said jihadi fighters from the flashpoint border town of Kobani, where US-led air strikes helped Kurdish fighters defeat Isis in January, were among those fighting in Palmyra. Isis began its offensive on Palmyra on 13 May, seizing a nearby town and two gas fields, and leaving more than 350 people dead. The city is strategically located at the crossroads of key highways leading west to Damascus and Homs, and east to Iraq. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/20/isis-captures-a-third-of-ancient-syrian-city-of-palmyra-reports-islamic-state
  16. Iraqi defence ministry says reinforcements on the way after Islamic State claims full control over Ramadi Kareem Shaheen in Beirut Monday 18 May 2015 10.37 BST Last modified on Monday 18 May 2015 12.52 BST Iraqi militias have begun mobilising towards the predominantly Sunni Anbar province in a belated effort to push back against Islamic State, which seized the region’s capital city on Sunday. “We invite our people in Anbar to remain steadfast and hold their ground as reinforcements from your brothers in Hashd al-Shaabi are coming,” the Iraqi defence ministry said. The Hashd is a conglomerate of fighters including mainly Shia militias and pro-government local Sunni fighters who have taken up arms against Isis. On Sunday Isis said it had established full control over Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, Iraq’s largest province. It is the second provincial capital to be taken by Isis since Mosul was conquered in a lightning offensive last June, and its fall represents the biggest defeat since then for the government in Baghdad. About 500 people have been killed in the fighting for Ramadi in recent days and between 6,000 and 8,000 have fled, a spokesman for the provincial governor said. The US-led coalition against Isis launched seven air strikes targeting the group in Ramadi on Sunday, signalling growing alarm at its surge in the area. Anbar is particularly symbolic because the precursor to Isis was ousted from the region by local Sunni tribes with American backing, in what was known as the Anbar awakening. Ramadi had been under pressure after much of Anbar fell to Isis during its offensive last summer. Late last week security forces withdrew from their main command headquarters in the city under an intensified assault by the militants. Anbar provincial officials have been urgently requesting reinforcements to hold off the militants, but the government in Baghdad has been slow to respond or to arm local Sunnis. Now the government has asked the militias to intervene, after they led a successful campaign to remove Isis from Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit. “We are not going to watch as Daesh [isis] expands,” said Karim Nouri, a spokesman for the Hashd and the Badr Organisation, the most powerful militia in Iraq. The Hashd had been preparing for an Anbar operation since Tikrit was retaken, but Nouri blamed the dithering of politicians and a media campaign against the militias for the delay in mobilising. Concerns had been raised over the Tikrit operation because of the leading role played by Shia militias, some of whom are backed by Iran and have been involved in abuses in the past related to sectarian bloodletting during the American occupation and in towns retaken from Isis in recent months. Nouri said the same groups that took part in the liberation of Tikrit would take part in the Anbar operation, alongside Iraqi security forces and local pro-government Sunni fighters. He said the battle would be drawn out and required good reconnaissance, planning and arms provisions, as well as fighters experienced in guerrilla warfare. “It’s an existential battle for us,” he said. It also appears to be an existential battle for Isis, which has flooded Anbar with about 5,000 fighters, including 1,200 Arab and foreign militants, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based expert on the militant group. “It’s a battle to settle the score between the Hashd and Daesh,” he said. Isis condemns the Hashd as servants of Iran and has already executed over 400 “awakening” members and civilians in its rampage through Ramadi. The group now threatens multiple military encampments in the area, including the Habbaniya base, which houses American military advisers. Isis take Ramadi
  17. After a terrifying journey across the Mediterranean, thousands of migrants arrive in Sicily every week. These are their stories. Portraits by Gideon Mendel Gideon Mendel Interviews by Alessandra Bonomolo Saturday 16 May 2015 08.00 BST Emmanuel, 24, Ivory CoastThere was too much violence in Ivory Coast. You can’t live there. All my friends have left. My parents divorced and didn’t look after me. I was nine when I had to drop out of school. I started working to look after myself and put some money aside, little by little. I went to Libya. I worked as an upholsterer so I could pay my rent and buy food. But at the end of the day, they would stop me in the street and take my money. I lived on eggs: they were cheap. But that wasn’t the problem. After almost two years, it became too violent and dangerous. Libyans don’t like anyone who is not Libyan. I was feeling bad; I had no choice but to leave again. I looked for someone who could help me. I asked around, paid lots of money, and in three days I left. It was at night. There were more than 500 of us on that boat. Far too many. I didn’t see anything when I boarded, it was dark; but once I was inside, I immediately thought, I’m going to die. Two hours into the journey, the engine broke. I thought, it’s over now. The sea, you know, it’s not just a bit of water. I was ready for the end. After two days, they rescued us. They gave us food – macaroni. I hadn’t eaten in two days, so it was good. You must go to a country where there is security and where human rights are respected, even if the risk is dying in the water. Ibrahim, 29, and Sidibe, 10, Mali Ibrahim I was born in Congo-Brazzaville. My father died in the Congo war and I moved to Mali with my mother. My brother Sidibe was born to another dad. One day, on television, I saw people who had made it to Italy. I was working in Congo-Brazzaville and decided to go there via Libya. I stopped in Mali, and during my stay my mother died. My brother was left alone, so I took him with me. But the journey was long and once we arrived in Libya, it was terrible. Sidibe It was a very long journey. We travelled by bus from Algeria to Libya. The dust was so much – I really suffered. Then I had to walk for three hours across the border. I was tired. When we arrived in Ghadames, on the Libyan border, they gave me bread and cheese. That was so nice. Then they put us on a truck and I had to sit on sheep’s poo. I threw up. Later, we found a house. One night, at midnight, some policemen knocked at our door and took my brother away. I stayed alone at home for four days. I didn’t know what to do. I had only biscuits and water. I was frightened and thought I was not going to see Ibrahim again. I only have him. Ibrahim I had done nothing, but they were armed and took me to prison. They said nothing, only asked for lots of money – 500,000 West African CFA francs (£555...$872) – if I wanted to be freed. Once I was out, I started putting money aside for the journey by boat. On the night we departed, I saw lots of people dying around me. To get on board, you need to walk from the shore into the sea until the water reaches your shoulders. Then you are pushed on the dinghy. It’s there that people fall and die. The boat was crowded. I jumped on it and put Sidibe between my legs. We spent three days like this. The sea was going up and down, we were taking on water. When the rescue ship arrived, Sidibe was pulled to safety first. The Italians gave us food and water. They are good people. Now I want Sidibe to go to school. Promise, 26, Nigeria There was plenty of war in Nigeria. I lost my mother and father, my sisters and my brothers – we all ran away during the war, and I don’t know where they are now. A man saved me from the war and took me to his house, but his wife thought I was sleeping with him. He gave me some money and told me to flee to Libya. But when I got there, I saw there was war, too. I found myself in Tripoli. There was fighting and killing all around us. Libya is a Muslim country; they don’t like Christians like me. Somebody brought me to his house and told me to stay. They said they would help me go to Italy. But that house wasn’t a good one. It was very big and there were other people. I stayed for a long time, I can’t remember how long. Then somebody paid for me to get on a boat and come here. The journey was very long. I thought I was going to die. The sea was very big and dark. I was crying inside that boat: God help me, God save me. I prayed with another woman – we didn’t know each other. Finally we saw a ship coming. It was in the afternoon. We thought they were fishermen, but it was a rescue boat. We were waving, crying, shouting: help, help! And so [the Italians] came and rescued us. A man from the ship grabbed my hand – don’t rush, don’t rush, he said. I still remember him: he was slim and had a cap on his head. Thank God, I said. I’m happy now, but I feel very alone. Maryan, 20, SomaliaMy dad went to Canada when I was born. A year later, I moved with my mum to Kenya; there was fighting in Somalia. I have a sister and four brothers. We stayed in a UNHCR refugee camp. That’s where I learned English; I studied there. We wanted to get visas for America, but we are Africans, you know? They sent us back to Somalia instead. One day, a few years ago, al-Shabaab brought our house down. There was an explosion. My mother died; I still miss her. I have a husband back home and two children. They live in a town between Somalia and Ethiopia. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to leave, initially – only a friend. She helped me organise my travel to Libya, then to Italy, to go to America. I want to give my family a good life. While moving countries and phone numbers, we lost contact with my dad. But I want to find him now. I have an aunt, his sister, in the US. That’s where I want to go. Faith, 25, Nigeria My mother died when she gave birth to me. I was four when I also lost my dad. I was staying with my grandma – no school, nothing – but six years ago, she died as well. I went to stay with one of my aunties in Kano, northern Nigeria, but there was fighting all over. Boko Haram was there, so I came back home. One of my friends said she was going to Libya, so I followed her in December last year. When we reached Sabha [a hub of the trafficking trade in the south-west], I was kidnapped together with another woman. They kept us in a room with five more women. No food to eat, nothing for four days. Until, one night, a man we didn’t know helped us escape. He told us to run, that the place was not safe for us. It was night-time. We ended up by the sea. The man said we should get on a boat – there were lots of people. The next day, around two in the afternoon, they came to rescue us. I’m OK now, but every time I think of my past, I stop eating. People call their mum and dad. I didn’t know my mum. I have no one to call. Omar, 30, the Gambia I came to find a better future in Europe. Because of the bad governance, corruption and poverty in our country – in all African countries. This makes people run away. I come from a very extended family. My father is not alive, there are 17 of us, and they all rely on me. I’m a mobile technician – I repair phones. Out of the little money I was earning, three-quarters went to the family. It was not enough to satisfy me, let alone them. I heard you could make a lot of money in Libya. All my friends in the Gambia left to go there. They told me that the province was safe, that you can work and earn money. I stayed almost three years, but then the problems spread across the country. They kidnapped blacks everywhere, demanding £1,200-£2,000 ($1,887 - 3,145) as a ransom. After a year, my brother joined me in Libya, but he was injured at work and died. There was no hospital to take him to. It was too dangerous. They kidnap you in the street, but it’s better to be taken by the bandits than the police; at least the kidnappers want to keep you alive to get the money from your family. I was put in prison, and given very little food. My family didn’t have any money to pay. Once I was out, I started working, but didn’t get paid. Then I was offered a chance to come to Italy. The people who do this don’t hide; they approach you in the street. Even the police approach people. My boat was a dinghy. We were more than 100 people, and my family knew nothing about it. Nobody on the boat expected such a bad journey, but it would have been better to die in the water on the way to Italy than to stay in Libya. One day, I will go back home. Kwame, 25, GhanaI didn’t want to come to Europe. I wanted to work in Libya. I stayed there for two years. But then I thought I was going to die, so I decided to leave. But from Libya you can’t get a car or jump on a plane. If you try to cross the border, you will be shot. I took a boat to Italy because it’s near. If I knew more about the journey, I would never have come. They pushed us on the boat; there were 93 of us, fighting for our lives in that tiny boat. We didn’t know if the captain was qualified. I cried. The boat began to sink and the captain called the rescue ship. It was eight o’clock when it arrived. They took me to a reception centre. There were 400 of us at the beginning. Now they have moved 300 people, taking them to Rome and Milan. I don’t have anything with me here. I don’t have my family’s phone numbers. All I had was a memory card that they stole from me before I jumped on the boat. We’ve been sitting here for two weeks now. We spend the day walking up and down. You don’t know what is going on. I want to work. My family in Ghana has nothing. I am hopeful that something will change. Valerie, 27, Ivory Coast This dress is the only thing I have with me. It’s old, but it’s my favourite and reminds me of my three girlfriends back home. I bought it for New Year’s Eve. We had fun that night, watching the fireworks. I washed it after the journey by boat. It was soaked. I left Ivory Coast because my parents were planning a forced marriage. I’m a Muslim, and I refused. My father kicked me out. I decided to join my brother in Tripoli. I travelled across Burkina Faso and via Agadez in Niger [part of a well-known traffickers’ route], then through Libya. Every time you come into contact with the “police”, you have to pay. I spent a week in Sabha, where we paid people to take us to Tripoli. There, we were sold again to different people, who then sold us on. When they take you, they make you work. In Libya I was kidnapped and put in prison for a month. I was raped many times. There were lots of women like me. I was sharing a cell with a girl from Mali and one from Nigeria. We communicated with our hands, and the Nigerian girl became a friend. Our dream was to come to Europe. My brother paid £218($343) to help me – his friends had raised some money to free me. But then I became ill – I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I was worried the people from the prison would come again. So he organised my travel to Europe. I’ve been here two weeks. I just want to work. Joy, 20, Nigeria I left Nigeria because of Boko Haram. We need your help: they killed my parents, my sisters, my brothers. My friend and I didn’t know where to go, we wanted to save our lives. A man took us to Libya, but he put us into prostitution. I had no food, and if I refused to do what he wanted, he would beat me and threaten me with a gun. I was forced to work as a prostitute for a year. We managed to run away and met a man who paid for us to get on a boat. I was praying to my God. Now I’m here with my best friend. But I’m sad when I think about my family. I want to become a journalist, a newscaster. I will try my best. Karim, 30, Mali I’m here because of the war. In Mali, I was repairing motorbikes. One day I came home after work and found that my mother had been killed. My little sister had been killed. They were dead on the floor. I asked myself, why wasn’t I there? Then I thought, if I had been there, they would have killed me, too. I ran out and flew to Algeria. But once I arrived, I discovered that it was difficult to find a job and make a living. There are no motorbikes there, only cars. I became worried. I moved to Tripoli to be able to eat. There’s more work, but it’s also more dangerous. In the street, if they see you’re a foreigner, they will shout, “Come here!” If you don’t run, they’ll beat you. They hit me many times, once with the back of a gun. I found a job cleaning the houses of wealthy people. But on the way back from work, they would strip me of my clothing and take the money I had earned. Once, I went three days without eating. I had to look for food in the rubbish. One day, a man offered to pay for me to go to Italy. There was war in Libya. Even that night – boom boom – you could hear it. I thought, I’ll leave. That’s why I’m here. But I still have so much sorrow. My life is finished without my mother and sister. There was a time when I wanted to get married and have a family, but now I don’t. My children would ask me, “Where is grandma?” I loved my mother. I don’t care about finding a woman. Rose, 21, Nigeria I wanted to become a nurse in Nigeria, but when my family was murdered right in front of me, I decided to escape. I met a man and told him I needed help, since I was an orphan – no one to talk to, just me. He said he was going to take me to Libya to work in a restaurant with him. I went, not knowing that he was bringing me there to work as a prostitute and make money for him. He told me that when we arrived in Libya. I said to him, “I can’t do it.” He locked me up for some months and beat me every night and day. There was nowhere to escape. There were lots of people like me in the same room. No one could hear us. Sometimes, they didn’t even give us food. One day, a man came to the house. I told him, “I can’t continue staying in this place. Please help me.” He said OK, on the condition that I follow him to his house. I went, not knowing he was taking me to the seaside. So, all of a sudden, I found myself on the Mediterranean sea. We were many; I was really scared. The water has no end and no beginning. A lot of people were fighting with sharp objects. There were Muslims and Christians. They said they didn’t want Christians on the boat. I was one of them. Then the heat burned one of the girls. I cried. God, did this man bring me out of that place to kill me in the water? I can’t even explain it. A lot of things happened before we saw the rescue ship. I was very happy then. Now I want the UN to help me. I don’t want to sell myself for money. Names have been changed Pics on link http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/16/id-rather-die-at-sea-than-stay-there-migrants-on-crossing-the-med
  18. King’s lawyer says the blues legend died in his sleep at home on Thursday Associated Press Friday 15 May 2015 07.01 BST Blues legend BB King has died in Las Vegas at the age of 89, his lawyer has said. Brent Bryson told the Associated Press King died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. The one-time farmhand brought new fans to the blues and influenced a generation of musicians with his heartfelt vocals and soaring guitar on songs such as The Thrill Is Gone. King sold millions of records worldwide and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He played a Gibson guitar he affectionately called Lucille and was a mentor to scores of guitarists including Eric Clapton. He was awarded his 15th Grammy in 2009 in the traditional blues album category for One Kind Favor. BB King has died in his home in Las Vegas at the age of 89. Photograph: Gary Miller/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/15/bb-king-dies-in-las-vegas-aged-89 The Thrill Is Gone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B.B._King Why I Sing The Blues Lucille https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y8QxOjuYHg How Blue Can You Get
  19. US first lady speaks out on her experiences as an African American amid racial tensions between black communities and police Damien Gayle and agencies Monday 11 May 2015 08.19 BST Michelle Obama says she had to fight misperceptions due to her ethnicity during the 2008 White House campaign that saw her husband become the first black president of the United States. She told an audience of mainly black graduates she feared racial stereotypes might be harming her husband’s election campaign and worried what her daughters might feel if they knew what people were saying about her. And she warned them of the “daily slights” they would face throughout their lives in the US, where “those age old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away”. The first lady, who grew up in humble circumstances in Chicago and became a successful corporate lawyer, has rarely discussed race during her husband’s two terms in office. But recent cases of alleged abuse of African Americans by police officers, and related unrest in Baltimore, made it hard to avoid. “As potentially the first African-American first lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations, conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others,” Obama said in a frank address at Tuskegee University in Alabama on Saturday. “Was I too loud or too angry or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?” she asked, at the historically black university. For the first magazine cover featuring Obama in 2008, The New Yorker parodied her as a radical and a terrorist. “It was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and a machine gun,” she recalled. “Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit. It made me wonder just how are people seeing me.” In an almost half-hour address, she also recalled other racially insensitive comments, including when Fox News television said she was her “husband’s crony of colour” and “Obama’s baby mama” – the latter US slang for an unwed mother. Elsewhere, she recalled, the media had accused her of “a little bit of uppity-ism”, as well as describing a celebratory fist bump with her husband as a “terrorist fist-jab”. “Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about what people thought of me, wondering if I might be hurting my husband’s chances of winning his election, fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom,” Michelle Obama recalled. “I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself – and the rest would work itself out,” she said, drawing cheers from graduates. Aside from mastering details of administration policy, she said, “I also worked to ensure that my efforts would resonate with kids and families – and that meant doing things in a creative and unconventional way. “So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House lawn with kids. I did some mom dancing on TV ... And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing.” But Obama returned to issues of racism in America with a warning to Tuskegee’s graduates that “the road ahead is not going to be easy”. “It never is,” she said, “especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away. So there will be times ... when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.” People would not see them as the hard-working graduates they appeared on the day of their graduation who had struggled to achieve their education, pay for it, and give back to their communities, she said. “They don’t know that part of you”. “Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world. And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be. We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives - the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the ‘help’ - and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country. “And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day - those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen - for some folks, it will never be enough.” Frustration, “can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter. And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real,” the first lady added. “They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible, and those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.” Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP The cover of the July 21 2008 of the New Yorker magazine. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/11/michelle-obama-i-was-knocked-back-by-race-perceptions
  20. Smartphone made by Fujitsu and sold by Japan’s largest mobile phone operator leads the charge towards iris-recognition technology Samuel Gibbs @SamuelGibbs Thursday 14 May 2015 12.12 BST Iris-scanning technology promises to kill the password with the launch of a new smartphone that looks into users’ eyes to unlock it. The new smartphone made by Fujitsu and sold by Japan’s largest mobile phone operator, NTT Docomo, uses an infrared LED and a special camera to snap a picture of the iris of a person’s eye. The phone recognises the hidden unique pattern of the iris, which is set after about the age of two and is difficult to forge. Unlike fingerprints, the iris is protected and does not suffer from wear and tear, while its shape is easier to predict and model than that of a face as it is flatter and only changes in an area controlled by the pupil reflex. Like fingerprints, however, iris scanners have been fooled by high-quality images of an iris. From border patrol to smartphones Multiple biometric technologies – those that use parts of the body that are unique to the individual – are vying to replace the username and password system that has proved to be too easy to break by hackers and too hard for users to remember consistently, leading to dangerous password reuse and lax security practices. Fingerprint scanners, for instance, have been used on computers since 2000. But it was their introduction into portable devices such as smartphones and improvements in reliability and speed of recognition that made them viable as password replacement systems. Iris-recognition systems promise to be harder to fool and easier to use without needing contact with a device. They have been in use for the past 15 years, frequently as systems of recognition and control of border crossings. The United Arab Emirates has used iris recognition at land, air and seaports since 2001. The UK also implemented an iris-recognition system for immigration in 2004, but it was phased out by 2013. Most implementations of iris-recognition systems work at a distances of 10cm. Fujitsu’s miniaturised system can operate at a standard smartphone operating distance. Fujitsu claims its new scanner will be faster and more accurate than face recognition, which is a common feature in Android devices, and can be used as part of a new online authentication system in the same way fingerprints are used on high-end smartphones from Samsung, Huawei and Apple. Demonstrations of the new phone took a couple of seconds to recognise the user, but Docomo chief executive Kaoru Kato claimed that the scanner’s accuracy would improve and therefore speed up each time a person uses the feature. Fujitsu is not the only company working on iris-recognition technology. Chinese smartphone manufacturer ZTE launched a smartphone with the technology earlier this year, while the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer Samsung has recently filed patents for iris recognition. Looking at this new smartphone is enough to unlock it – no password or fingerprint needed. Photograph: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/14/iris-scanning-smartphone-fujitsu-ntt-docomo-passwords
  21. Open letter signed by 80 experts in technology and data law argues for more public scrutiny over Google’s handling of removal requests Jemima Kiss @jemimakiss Thursday 14 May 2015 09.00 BST Google needs to be more transparent in the way it handles so-called “right to be forgotten” requests, with 80 leading academics writing an open letter that accuses the firm of developing its policies “in the dark”. In the detailed and strongly worded four-page letter shared with the Guardian, experts in technology law, data protection and philosophy claim that releasing more information about the volume, character and classification of removal requests would benefit the public and help inform a wider global discussion on privacy and personal data. “The public should be able to find out how digital platforms exercise their tremendous power over readily accessible information,” says the letter. “Beyond anecdote, we know very little about what kind and quantity of information is being delisted from search results, what sources are being delisted and on what scale, what kinds of requests fail and in what proportion, and what are Google’s guidelines in striking the balance between individual privacy and freedom of expression interests.” The European Court of Justice ruled one year ago that Google is responsible for removing links to outdated, irrelevant or misrepresentative information on search results for individuals. Representing 90% of Europe’s search engine market, Google has been the focus of the so-called “right to be forgotten” implementation. Google responded by developing substantial processes and criteria internally for responding to requests, and established an independent advisory panel of legal and ethical experts that toured seven European cities on an evidence-gathering tour. But it has released limited information on the 250,000 requests it says it has received, and academic specialists – including two members of Google’s own advisory council – say that search engines have been left to decide how to determine complex judgments about the balance between personal privacy and access to information. “The vast majority of these decisions face no public scrutiny, though they shape public discourse. What’s more, the values at work in this process will/should inform information policy around the world. A fact-free debate about the RTBF is in no one’s interest,” the letter says. “We are not the only ones who want more transparency. Google’s own Advisory Council on the RTBF in February 2015 recommended more transparency, as did the Article 29 Working Party in November 2014. “[There are] few safeguards for the public interest in information access. Data protection authorities seem content to rely on search engines’ application of the ruling’s balancing test, citing low appeal rates as evidence that the balance is being appropriately struck. Of course, this statistic reveals no such thing.” The letter cites Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, who reportedly told a meeting of European data experts in May that Google was “building a rich program of jurisprudence on the [RTBF] decision”. The letter describes that process as “jurisprudence built in the dark”. “The ruling effectively enlisted Google into partnership with European states in striking a balance between individual privacy and public discourse interests. The public deserves to know how the governing jurisprudence is developing. We hope that Google, and all search engines subject to the ruling, will open up.” Signatories include Prof Ellen P Goodman from the Rutgers University School of Law, Paul Bernal from the University of East Anglia School of Law, and Ian Brown, professor of information security and privacy at the University of Oxford. It was also signed by Peggy Valcke of the University of Leuven, one of 10 academics, regulators and executives on Google’s advisory council. A second member, former German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, also said the letter has her full support, stating that more transparency and a detailed report was required. Replying to a request for comment, a Google spokesperson said: “We launched a section of our transparency report on these removals within six months of the ruling because it was important to help the public understand the impact of the ruling. “Our transparency report is always evolving and it’s helpful to have feedback like this so we know what information the public would find useful. We will consider these ideas, weighing them against the various constraints within which we have to work –operationally and from a data protection standpoint.” Shadows of members of a panel are seen on a wall before a meeting about the ‘right to be forgotten’ Photograph: Andrea Comas/Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/14/google-right-to-be-forgotten-academics-letter
  22. The Telegraph visits the town of Michika which was recently freed from clutches of violent Islamist sect By Colin Freeman, Michika 10:37AM BST 11 May 2015 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/11596614/Inside-Boko-Harams-caliphate-in-Nigeria.html
  23. Announcement could come as early as Friday and follows a request by mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to investigate whether policing is discriminatory or uses excessive force Associated Press Friday 8 May 2015 03.22 BST The US Justice Department is preparing to announce a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore police department as early as Friday following unrest over the death in custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a person familiar with the matter has said. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to investigate the policing practices of the entire city police force. She said she requested the investigation examine whether police had engaged in “a pattern or practice of stops, searches or arrests that violate the fourth amendment” and whether any forces exist within the department that “can contribute to excessive force and discriminatory policing”. Her request followed the unrest that roiled the city after the death of Grey from severe injuries sustained in police custody. Baltimore had already been participating in a voluntary Justice Department review. The attorney general, Loretta Lynch, told a Senate subcommittee on Thursday that more may need to be done. In her first appearance before Congress since being sworn in last week, Lynch said she was in the process of considering the request for a full-fledged civil rights investigation. Rawlings-Blake initially appeared determined to fix the department’s problems herself, but later said she would accept outside help to repair a breakdown in public trust in a city rocked by riots sparked by the death of Gray. Six police officers have been charged by Baltimore’s top prosecutor. The civil rights investigation, similar to ones undertaken in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, will examine the policing patterns and practices of the entire police department. Gyalwang Drukpa, a Buddhist leader from South Asia, prays on Thursday at the spot where Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/08/freddie-gray-death-baltimore-police-to-face-civil-rights-investigation It is far broader in scope than a separate Justice Department investigation that aims to determine whether Gray’s civil rights were violated.
  24. The musician and HIV/Aids campaigner spoke before Congress in support of a global fund to fight the disease Tshepo Mokoena @tnm___ Thursday 7 May 2015 08.35 BST Sir Elton John has asked the US Congress to take the lead in HIV/Aids prevention. The singer, who founded the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992, attended a Senate committtee hearing on Wednesday 6 May, where he implored the legislative body to maintain its leading, global role in funding HIV/Aids prevention. “Because the American people have the optimism, the ingenuity and the will to make a difference, the lives of millions of people halfway around the world have been saved,” he told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. “But I’m here with a simple message: the Aids epidemic is not over, and America’s continued leadership is critical.” He went on to describe a “window of opportunity” to bring about the end of Aids in his lifetime, and urged the subcommittee to use its power – namely, its financial heft – to make sure that window would not close due to a lack of attention. He went on to describe a “window of opportunity” to bring about the end of Aids in his lifetime, and urged the subcommittee to use its power – namely, its financial heft – to make sure that window would not close due to a lack of attention. “I have stood at too many bedsides, in America, England and across Africa helplessly watching people die in pain,” he said. “To bear the thought that we might go back to those dark days is unthinkable.” Sir Elton said Congress was the most powerful legislative body in the world, adding: “You have the power to maintain America’s historic commitment to leading the global campaign against this disease. I’m here today to ask you to use that power.” Sir Elton John had been invited to speak by Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Democrat Patrick Leahy. Bono had also been invited, but Graham said, was unable to attend. “He’s communicated with me several times regretting not being able to be here,” she said. The hearing was set up to discuss funding plans for Pepfar, the program established to provide relief for those living with HIV and Aids around the world. Pepfar was founded in 2003 and renewed in 2008, by former president George W Bush’s administration. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/07/elton-john-us-congress-senate-hearing-hiv-aids
  25. State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby announces criminal charges including murder and says Gray’s arrest by Baltimore police was illegal: ‘No crime had been committed’ Oliver Laughland and Raya Jalabi in Baltimore and Jon Swaine in New York Friday 1 May 2015 17.49 BST A criminal prosecution for murder will be brought over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the city’s top prosecutor announced on Friday morning. The announcement came after nearly two weeks of growing anger over Gray’s death, and only hours after state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby received the results of a police investigation. “Mr Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby declared. His arrest was illegal, and his treatment in custody amounted to murder and manslaughter, she said. Mosby said Gray sustained fatal neck injuries because he was handcuffed and shackled in the back of a police van without a seatbelt after his arrest on 12 April. “To the people of Baltimore: I heard your call for ‘no justice no peace’,” Mosby said at a Baltimore press conference. Praising young people who had taken to the streets to protest over Gray’s death, she said: “I will seek justice on your behalf. “This is a moment. This is your moment,” said Mosby. “Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.” Whoops of joy and cries of “justice” were heard from bystanders as Mosby, a 35-year-old African American woman who has been in the job for less than six months, spoke. At an intersection in west Baltimore that has become the base for demonstrations, cars honked their horns and drivers pumped their fists in the air. Officer Caesar Goodson – the driver of the police van – was charged with second-degree murder, while charges including manslaughter, assault, and misconduct in public office were brought against five other officers. Goodson, who has refused to cooperate with investigators, faces up to 30 years in prison. Officer William Porter and Sergeant Alicia D White were charged with manslaughter, assault and misconduct. Lieutenant Brian Rice, Officer Garrett Miller and Officer Edward Nero were charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct and false imprisonment. All six officers involved were charged, and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said later that five of the six officers were in custody and that she had ordered police commissioner Anthony Batts to suspend all of them from their jobs. They are expected to be arraigned in court later on Friday. “No one is above the law,” Mosby said. Gray, 25, was arrested after catching the eye of a senior officer and running away. He was placed in the back of a police transportation wagon and was not placed in a seatbelt, as is required under Baltimore police regulations. Past prisoners have suffered serious injuries during so-called “rough rides” in Baltimore vehicles. Mosby said Gray sustained a fatal neck injury while he was handcuffed and shackled inside a police van without a seatbelt. She said Gray’s arrest was illegal, since the knife in his pocket was not a switchblade and so was legal under Maryland law. In any case, the knife was not discovered until after he was arrested, Mosby said. The announcement marked an extraordinary turn in the case, which has led to civil unrest in the city and reinvigorated discussions around poverty, discrimination and injustice suffered by African Americans across the United States. Protests over Gray’s death turned to rioting on Monday, as young people – many of whom accuse Baltimore police of systematic brutality and mistreatment – clashed with officers. Shops were looted and buildings were burned. More than 200 people were arrested. Protesters have been calling for all six officers involved in the arrest to be charged since Gray’s death on 19 April. “This is a turning point in the world. This is a turning point in America,” shouted Jay Morrison of the YMC community coalition, part of the small group of Baltimore residents who assembled to hear Mosby’s announcement. Mosby said she came from five generations of police officers, and that the charges against these six officers should in no way damage the relationship between police and prosecutors in Baltimore. Her announcement came as the city braced for two move waves of protests on Friday and Saturday. Barack Obama said it was “absolutely vital” the truth about what happened to Gray came out. “It is my practice not to comment on the legal processes involved,” the US president said at a press conference. “That would not be appropriate. But I can tell you that justice needs to be served. All the evidence needs to be presented. Those individuals who are charged obviously are also entitled to due process and rule of law. “So I want to make sure that our legal system runs the way it should. The justice department and our new attorney general [Loretta Lynch] is in communications with Baltimore officials to make sure that any assistance we can provide on the investigation is provided.” He added: “What I think the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. That’s what people around the country expect.” In a brief statement, Rawlings-Blake, the mayor, said: “There will be justice for Mr Gray, there will be justice for his family, and there will be justice for the people of Baltimore,” she said in a brief statement. Rawlings-Blake said she was “sickened and heartbroken” by details of the charges against the officers. “No one in our city is above the law,” she said. “Justice must apply to all of us equally.” The mayor said most police officers served with “honour and distinction”, but said: “To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me clear: there is no place in the Baltimore city police department for you.” The decision to charge all six officers caught many by surprise. Baltimore City police had only handed the findings of their own investigation into Gray’s death to Mosby’s office on Thursday. Flanked by members of her own investigative team, Mosby said she decided to press charges after “independently verifying” all facts provided by the police department, and stated: “From day one, I also sent my own investigators to the scene. “What we received from the police department yesterday we already had,” said Mosby. Before her press conference, the Baltimore police officers’ union asked her to appoint a special independent prosecutor for the investigation into Gray’s death. “All death is tragic. And death associated with interaction with police is both shocking and frightening to the public,” Gene Ryan wrote. “As tragic as this situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr Gray. To the contrary, at all times, each of the officers diligently balanced the obligations to protect Mr Gray and discharged their duties to protect the public.” Despite claiming full faith in Mosby’s professional integrity, Ryan cited “very deep concerns about the many conflicts of interest presented by your office conducting an investigation in this case”. Ryan specifically called into question Mosby’s personal and professional relationship with the Gray family attorney William Murphy. Murphy was among Mosby’s biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. He was also on Mosby’s transition team after the election. But after announcing the charges on Friday, Mosby said she would not turn the case over to a special prosecutor. For those outside the steps of the War Memorial Building, where Mosby held her press conference on Friday morning, the decision to prosecute was seen as nothing other than a move for justice and a potential turning point for the city recovering from widespread rioting and looting in the wake of Gray’s death. Additional reporting by Sabrina Siddiqui and Dan Roberts in Washington Freddie Gray. Photograph: Murphy, Falcon & Murphy http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/01/baltimore-freddie-gray-death
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