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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.
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
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.
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.
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
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