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Updated: 3 min 12 sec ago

Venezuela's Maduro Cracks Down On American Visitors

3 hours 35 min ago

(Refiled for wider distribution)

CARACAS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday his government had captured American citizens involved in "espionage activities," and said U.S. citizens in the future will have to seek visas to come to the OPEC nation.

Speaking during a rally, he said his government will prohibit some U.S. officials from entering Venezuela in retaliation for a similar measure by the government of President Barack Obama against a group of Venezuelan public officials.

"We have captured some U.S. citizens in undercover activities, espionage, trying to win over people in towns along the Venezuelan coast," he said, adding a U.S. citizen of Latin descent was captured in the convulsed border city of Tachira.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Caracas said he was unable to comment, citing a lack of any official diplomatic communication with the Venezuelan government.

The head of a Venezuelan evangelical organization on Friday said a group of four missionaries had been called in for questioning after participating in a medical assistance campaign in the coastal town of Ocumare de la Costa.

That pastor, Abdy Pereira, on Saturday said in a telephone interview that the four had left the country for Aruba after having been questioned for several days about alleged involvement in espionage. Pereira said the group had been coming to Venezuela 14 years and denied they were involved in espionage.

The United States and Venezuela have had tense diplomatic relations for more than a decade. Maduro recently accused Washington of helping stage a coup, a charge dismissed by the White House as ludicrous. (Reporting by Diego Ore, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernard Orr)
Categories: News Monitor

Looking Back at Tsipras's Lost Opportunities and Forward to Greece's Future

4 hours 36 min ago
While I was at university, I was preoccupied by the question of how political parties used foreign policy issues to influence domestic audiences. I even wrote my thesis, which I later published as a book, about how Greek leader Andreas Papandreou dealt with the issue of American military bases in Greece in the 1980s.

The dismantling of American military bases, with the slogan "Out with the bases of death," was the flagship election proclamation of PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which led Greece in the 1970s and '80s, and it found itself at the center of the particular type of national populism that Andreas successfully came to express. With PASOK's rise to power, the party was asked to juggle its unrealistic election promises with the hard geopolitical realities that made removing those bases impossible. The eventual solution yielded to the political realities of the situation at hand. The military bases remained, but the wording of the agreement was phrased in such a way that Andreas could claim that they were leaving! All the negotiating weapons the government had at its disposal went into putting on this show, so that Andreas could sell the agreement to his political supporters. Complete control over the media, coupled with a public opinion desperate for a sense of national independence, made the management of this reversal all the easier.

Does this story sound familiar? SYRIZA used the write-down of the debt, the tearing up of the Memorandum and the ousting of the Troika as its main election slogans. All populist movements need a common enemy in order to be able to unite disparate audiences. For SYRIZA, the Memorandum and German dominance in Europe symbolized exactly what the military bases and American hegemony did for Andreas. The shift back to political reality came quickly for SYRIZA. Realizing that it was not possible for the country to move outside the EU framework without disastrous consequences, the government requested an extension to the existing program for four months, until the pending evaluation program is completed. This will be followed by the Greek government putting forth its own narrative regarding the strengths and viability of the Greek economy.

In these types of situations, words start to acquire their own special meanings. The "Troika" was renamed the "Institutions," the "Memorandum" has been retitled the "Program," and the "prerequisites" are now known as the "national reform plan." The substance of these things, though, has not changed. Greece must implement specific actions that will be checked by its creditors so that it can get the money that it so badly needs. Only when these people are satisfied that the government's actions are not jeopardizing the fiscal health of the country and are not undermining those reforms that have already been completed will they release the remaining tranches of the program.

The reality is that this government lost precious time and undermined the credibility of the country in the eyes of Europe, all in an attempt to justify its hard shift back to reality to its domestic audience. Wearing raised collars and untucked shirts is all fine and good, but trust is not built in the family of Europe by leaks and double-speak, all done just to show the domestic constituency how hard you are negotiating. Even the most experienced member of the Left, Manolis Glezos, immediately saw the government's attempt to "rechristen the fish into meat." Now that Lent is beginning, that phrase is quite appropriate.

The truth is that the government missed a great opportunity. Europe, now more than ever, needs a persuasive alternative to counter the German insistence on austerity. Mr. Tsipras would have been in a position to offer that alternative, had he not made himself so vulnerable in the campaign with rhetorical jabs or had he immediately requested an extension of the existing program. Instead, he decided to partake in some shadowboxing for the viewing pleasure of the Greek public.

Emphasis should have been given instead to a structured program with three pillars: the reduction of debt through guided changes, the reduction of excessively high primary surplus targets, and the implementation of a comprehensive program of reforms to improve the competitiveness of the real economy. The problem is that all of these are in direct conflict with the pre-election promises of SYRIZA and the expectations they stoked in the public. That is exactly what the first Papandreou government did, albeit with complete control over PASOK and a lot of money at its disposal.

Unfortunately, extreme campaign rhetoric will always continue to follow political parties, even when they rise to power. We in the opposition would also do well to remember this, so that we do not find ourselves one day in the unfortunate position of having to practice similar verbal gymnastics.

This post was originally published on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.
Categories: News Monitor

Netanyahu Takes Campaign Against Iran Deal To Jerusalem Holy Site

4 hours 36 min ago

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu took his campaign against a nuclear deal with Iran to Jerusalem's sacred Western Wall on Saturday, on the eve of his departure to Washington to address Congress on the issue.

His rare pilgrimage to one of Judaism's holiest sites was highly symbolic -- and political -- an apparent attempt by Netanyahu, two weeks before a national election, to portray a U.S. visit, that has brought relations with Washington to a new low, as crucial to Israel's survival.

Using the perimeter wall of the destroyed Biblical Jewish temple as a backdrop and wearing a black skullcap, he said: "The agreement being formed between Iran and the powers, can endanger our existence.

"In the face of such an agreement we must unite and explain the dangers it poses to Israel, to the region and to the entire world."

Netanyahu has come under almost unprecedented criticism from the U.S. administration and in Israel for his planned speech to Congress on Tuesday, as international talks with Iran are under way to secure a deal on Teheran's nuclear program.

Washington hopes a deal with Iran will ensure the Islamic Republic is unable to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it has any nuclear arms program and often points out that Israel is apparently the only country in the region with such weapons.

On Wednesday U.S. officials questioned Netanyahu's judgment and said his outspoken condemnation of efforts to reach an Iranian deal had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.

"I respect U.S. President Barack Obama," Netanyahu said at the Western Wall where earlier he placed his palms on the stones in whose crevices faithful place written messages to God.

"I believe in the strength of Israel's relations with the U.S. and through them we shall overcome these differences, as well as those to come," he said.

Republicans who control Congress invited Netanyahu without consulting Obama or other leading Democrats. The president said he would not meet Netanyahu because of the visit's proximity to the Israeli election. (Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Robin Pomeroy)
Categories: News Monitor

U.S. Seeks To Deport Bosnians Over War Crimes

6 hours 37 min ago
Immigration officials are moving to deport at least 150 Bosnians living in the United States who they believe took part in war crimes and “ethnic cleansing” during the bitter conflict that raged in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Categories: News Monitor

Hundreds Of Norwegians Circle Oslo Mosque In 'Peace Ring,' Showing Everyone What It Truly Means To Love Your Neighbor

7 hours 2 min ago
After weeks of news of hatred around the world against Jews and Muslims, Norwegians have shown humanity what it truly means to love your neighbor.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered around the Central Jamaat-E Ahl-E Sunnat mosque in Oslo to participant in and support a human peace ring, an effort to show solidarity and respect for their Muslim brothers and sisters. The event was a symbolic "thank you" to Muslims, many of whom had formed formed a popular "peace circle" around an Oslo synagogue last weekend.

On the Facebook page for the event, organizers had said they wanted the ring to be read as support of peace, tolerance and respect for Muslims, who they called "a vulnerable minority in Norwegian society," HuffPost's Ryan Grenoble reported when the event was announced.

"We want to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim fellow citizens to show disgust towards increasing Muslim hate and xenophobia in society. In this time of fear and polarization we feel it is more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity. We believe in and will highlight [the] human will to live together in peace and in [respect] for each other regardless of religion [and] ethnicity," the call for participants read.

The original chain that Muslims formed around an Oslo synagogue took place on Saturday, February 21. It came days after a brutal attack on a free speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the organizers of the original ring around the synagogue, told to Reuters.
Categories: News Monitor

Obama, Netanyahu On Collision Course 6 Years In The Making

7 hours 34 min ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — For six years, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been on a collision course over how to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, a high-stakes endeavor both men see as a centerpiece of their legacies.

The coming weeks will put the relationship between their countries, which otherwise remain stalwart allies, to one of its toughest tests.

Netanyahu is bound for Washington for an address to Congress on Tuesday aimed squarely at derailing Obama's cherished bid for a diplomatic deal with Tehran. At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and other international negotiators will be in Switzerland for talks with the Iranians, trying for a framework agreement before a late March deadline.

In between are Israel's elections March 17, which have heightened the political overtones of Netanyahu's visit to Washington.

The prime minister is speaking to Congress at the request of Republicans. His visit was coordinated without the Obama administration's knowledge, deepening tensions between two leaders who have never shown much affection for each other.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, said Netanyahu was "crossing some lines that haven't been crossed before and is putting Israel into the partisan crossfire in a way it has not been before."

But the largest pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has tried to play down the partisanship.

"AIPAC welcomes the prime minister's speech to Congress and we believe that this is a very important address," spokesman Marshall Wittmann said. "We have been actively encouraging senators and representatives to attend and we have received an overwhelmingly positive response from both sides of the aisle."

Nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers plan to sit out Netanyahu's speech, calling it an affront to the president.

Stopping Iran from building a nuclear bomb has become a defining challenge for both Obama and Netanyahu, yet one they have approached far differently.

For Obama, getting Iran to verifiably prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons would be a bright spot in a foreign policy arena in which numerous outcomes are uncertain and would validate his early political promise to negotiate with Iran without conditions.

Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal with Iran that doesn't end its nuclear program entirely and opposes the diplomatic pursuit as one that minimizes what he considers an existential threat to Israel.

Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use.

"Through scaremongering, falsification, propaganda and creating a false atmosphere even inside other countries, (Israel) is attempting to prevent peace," Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Saturday in Tehran. "I believe that these attempts are in vain and should not impede reaching a (nuclear) agreement," said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

U.S. and Iranian officials reported progress in the latest talks on a deal that would freeze Tehran's nuclear program for 10 years, but allow it to slowly ramp up in the final years of the accord.

Obama has refused to meet Netanyahu during his visit, with the White House citing its policy of not meeting with foreign leaders soon before their elections. Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry will both be out of the country on trips announced only after Netanyahu accepted the GOP offer to speak on Capitol Hill.

The prime minister is scheduled to speak Monday at AIPAC's annual policy conference. The Obama administration will be represented at the event by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and national security adviser Susan Rice, who criticized Netanyahu's plans to address Congress as "destructive" to the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

The Iran dispute has spotlighted rifts in a relationship that has been frosty from the start. Obama and Netanyahu lack any personal chemistry, leaving them with virtually no reservoir of goodwill to get them through their policy disagreements.

Within months of taking office, Obama irritated Israel when, in an address to the Arab world, he challenged the legitimacy of Jewish settlements on Palestinian-claimed land and cited the Holocaust as the justification for Israel's existence, not any historical Jewish tie to the land.

The White House was furious when Netanyahu's government defied Obama and announced plans to construct new housing units in East Jerusalem while Biden was visiting Israel in 2010. Additional housing plans that year upended U.S. efforts to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The tension between Obama and Netanyahu was laid bare in an unusually public manner during an Oval Office meeting in 2011. In front of a crowd of journalists, the prime minister lectured Obama at length on Israel's history and dismissed the president's conditions for restarting peace talks.

Later that year, a microphone caught Obama telling his then-French counterpart in a private conversation that while he may be fed up with Netanyahu, "You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day."

Despite suspecting that Netanyahu was cheering for his rival in the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama tried to reset relations with the prime minister after his re-election. He made his first trip as president to Israel and the two leaders went to great lengths to put on a happy front, referring to each other by their first names and touring some of the region's holy sites together.

The healing period was to be short-lived.

Another attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed. Israeli officials were withering in their criticism of Kerry, who had shepherded the talks, with the country's defense minister calling him "obsessive" and "messianic." The Obama administration returned the favor last summer with its own unusually unsparing criticism of Israel for causing civilian deaths when war broke out in Gaza.

The U.S. and Israel have hit rocky patches before.

The settlement issue has been a persistent thorn in relations, compounded by profound unhappiness in Washington over Israeli military operations in the Sinai, Iraq and Lebanon during the Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations that led those presidents to take or consider direct punitive measures. Yet through it all, the United States has remained Israel's prime benefactor, providing it with $3 billion a year in assistance and defending it from criticism at the United Nations and elsewhere.

"We have brought relations back in the past and we will do it again now because at the end of the day they are based on mutual interests," said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and informal adviser to Netanyahu. "The interests of Israel and the U.S. are similar and sometime identical and I think that is what will determine in the end and not feelings of one kind or another."
Categories: News Monitor

'Netanyahu Has Caused Israel The Most Strategic Damage On Iran'

8 hours 18 min ago
Meir Dagan feels a debt of gratitude towards Benjamin Netanyahu. "When I got sick," Dagan told us on Wednesday, "I needed a liver for a transplant. Netanyahu stepped in to help me. I have no personal grudge against him; to the contrary."
Categories: News Monitor

Pentagon Struggles To Downplay Disclosure Of ISIS War Plan

8 hours 19 min ago
WASHINGTON -- It could hardly have been a more perfect storm, and it was all because of a single question in a routine briefing.

On Feb. 19, U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East, gave reporters a standard background briefing about the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State. The official who conducted the briefing responded to one question with a discussion of a particularly sensitive part of the campaign: the U.S.-led coalition’s plans to take back Mosul, a key Iraqi city that the Islamic State captured in a shocking victory last summer. The official indicated that 20,000 or more Iraqi troops would ideally start the Mosul offensive in April 2015.

Within hours, headlines were screaming with the apparently sensitive information CENTCOM had released.

Opponents of the Obama administration screamed too. “Never in our memory," hawkish Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote to President Barack Obama the day after the briefing, "can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies.”

And almost immediately, the notoriously leak-phobic Obama administration entered damage control mode.

The White House said it could not confirm the comments, instead punting the question to the Department of Defense. Meanwhile, hours after the briefing, newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Ash Carter refused to address the specifics, even though they had already been provided to reporters. Asked about the timing of the Mosul offensive, Carter said, “Even if I knew exactly when that was going to be, I wouldn’t tell you."

To make matters worse, the two U.S. partners who are essential to the plan's success -- the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds -- seemed equally perturbed. Iraq's government issued a protest over the revelation, and the Kurdish region's representative to the U.S., Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, said on Thursday that her government was "surprised" by the announcement.

Neatly wrapped in newsprint, a little scandal had landed in the laps of skeptics who have long questioned the White House's strategy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. After a week of mixed messaging from all corners of the Obama administration, the Pentagon indicated late on Friday that the attack is likely to come in the fall. The announcement leaves last Thursday's briefing seeming even more puzzling and the White House’s strategy looking even clumsier and more disorganized.

The ongoing confusion about who knew of the Mosul details and who approved their release has given critics two equally powerful lines of attack: first, that officials are careless enough to release details of war strategy that could prove helpful to U.S. enemies; and second, that the administration can’t even coordinate the release of its own sensitive information.

The McCain-Graham letter exemplified the first criticism. And in an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, turned to the second: "I can't believe [Obama and Carter] are claiming they didn't know, were out of the loop," he said, calling the entire episode "baffling."

A large part of the problem is that the administration has struggled to issue a clear response to the briefing.

The White House continues to say it was not involved in the briefing, and has referred reporters asking questions to the Department of Defense. Meanwhile, the Defense Department will say only that Carter was aware of the briefing but not of its content. And CENTCOM will not specify who authorized the briefing.

Immediately after the Mosul disclosure, some officials attempted to make a more robust defense: that the revelations would actually help the U.S. score a victory against ISIS.

A Pentagon official told The Washington Post the day after the briefing that the announcement was intended to put ISIS fighters "into a defensive crouch, which saps their energy."

The same day, The Post published a separate story quoting another unnamed defense official who said the comments were intended to make most ISIS fighters flee Mosul prior to the U.S.-aided Iraqi assault.

In the days since, a different explanation has surfaced. The briefing, several officials said, was not intended to cover the details on Mosul that ended up grabbing the headlines.

"If a question about Mosul didn't come up, it wouldn't have been covered in such detail," one official involved in organizing the briefing, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told HuffPost on Wednesday.

The administration has also faltered in its efforts to clarify just how consequential the revelations were. When Carter told reporters on Feb. 20 that he would be disinclined to share the planned date of the offensive even if he knew it, he implied that publicizing the timing would, in fact, be a risk to U.S. strategy.

But then came the turnaround. That same day, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes downplayed the episode, arguing in a CNN interview that nothing was revealed that was different from what the administration had already been saying about the plan to retake Mosul. "The bottom line is that this operation will be conducted when the time is ready," Rhodes said.

Defense officials have since picked up that refrain.

"Pretty much everything that was briefed has been discussed before in different fora," one defense official who asked not to be named told HuffPost, adding that the information in the briefing should have been considered "heavily caveated."

"We've seen timelines shift," the official said. "Come April, if it's not where we're at, it's not the end-all be-all. There is no timeline: It's a snapshot of what we think could happen."

Maj. Curtis Kellogg, a spokesman for CENTCOM, said in a Wednesday email that the details discussed in the briefing "revealed nothing of operational value" to the Islamic State.

This is the present approach: Just play down the importance of the briefing. But opponents continue to latch onto the discrepancies in the administration's line.

McCain dismissed the idea that the president and defense secretary didn't know about the briefing's content. "It was sort of an immaculate conception?" he scoffed. "One then wonders about the chain of command."

The Arizona Republican added that his inquiry to the White House about who authorized the briefing had not yet been answered. As the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain helped guide Carter to his confirmation to the Pentagon's top position just weeks ago.

Burr expressed similar doubts.

“I think there are a lot more people in the dark on that decision than there were knowledgeable that it was going to happen," he said. “There's nothing that happens in this government that the White House doesn't sign off on."

Some analysts share that suspicion, and have hinted at strategic reasons for the revelations, just like some administration officials did early on after the briefing. To Joel Wing, a widely cited independent researcher on Iraq, the incident looked like a conscious response to mounting pressure on the administration -- including from the Iraqis -- to show something tangible for its monthslong military offensive against the Islamic State.

Speculation aside, it is clear that the criticism has had an impact just as the Obama administration is attempting to win support in Washington for the fight against ISIS, including congressional approval for an authorization to use military force. The fact that the Pentagon is now signaling a complete shift in plans from what was indicated at the briefing is likely to bolster skepticism about the administration's strategy.

The department seems aware that damage control is in order. Kellogg, the CENTCOM spokesman, assured HuffPost in his email that the Pentagon would "respond appropriately to [McCain's and Graham's] concerns and in an expeditious manner."
Categories: News Monitor

Captivating Photos Give A Glimpse Into The Lives Of Military Personnel

8 hours 35 min ago
U.S. military branches share photos from around the globe to Flickr accounts, giving us a unique look into the day-to-day lives of military personnel.

During the month of February, the images came from San Diego, Germany, Kuwait and everywhere in between. Check out a selection of these photos below:

Categories: News Monitor

5 Killings That Show How Dangerous It Is To Be A Kremlin Critic

8 hours 43 min ago
MOSCOW (AP) -- Prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov's killing follows the slaying over the past decade of several other high-profile critics of President Vladimir Putin and his policies. Here is a look at some of the best-known cases.


Renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was fatally shot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. Her work in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper was sharply critical of Kremlin policies in Chechnya and of human rights violations there.

Last year, a court convicted five men, most of them Chechens, of involvement in the murder. However, Russia's Investigative Committee has said it is still trying to determine who ordered the killing.

Anna Politkovskaya during a book fair in Leipzig, Germany, March 17, 2005. (JENS SCHLUETER/AFP/Getty Images)


Former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko, 44, became sick after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 at a London hotel in November 2006 and died three weeks later. Litvinenko had fallen out with the Russian government and became a strong critic of the Kremlin, obtaining political asylum after coming to Britain in 2000.

Two weeks before he was poisoned, Litvinenko blamed Putin for the murder of Politkovskaya. Before he died, he signed a statement blaming Putin for his poisoning.

British police have named two Russian men, former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, as prime suspects. They deny involvement, and Russia refused to extradite them. An inquiry in Britain is now examining the circumstances of Litvinenko's death.

Alexander Litvinenko in intensive care at University College Hospital, London, Nov. 20, 2006. (Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images)


Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, was shot after leaving a news conference less than half a mile from the Kremlin in January 2009. Markelov, 34, was appealing the early release of Yuri Budanov, a Russian military officer convicted of killing a young Chechen woman. A journalist walking with Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, also died in the attack. A Russian nationalist extremist was sentenced to life in prison for the killings.

A woman places flowers at the site where pot where Stanislav Markelov and Anastasiya Baburova were killed, Moscow, Jan. 20, 2009. (Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images)


Human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, 50, was abducted in Chechnya in July 2009 and found shot dead the same day. One of Chechnya's best known rights activists, Estemirova headed the Memorial group's Chechen branch and exposed alleged abuses by the forces of Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Russian investigators said in 2010 that two brothers who were members of an Islamic militant group killed Estemirova, who had implicated them in kidnappings of Chechen civilians. Memorial said DNA evidence showed that the two men -- one of whom was killed in 2009 and the other granted asylum in France -- didn't commit the crime.

People hold portraits of Natalya Estemirova during a rally in Moscow, July 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)


Boris Nemtsov, 55, who served as a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and became a prominent opposition figure under Putin, was gunned down in Moscow on Friday night. The killing came a few hours after he denounced Putin's "mad, aggressive" policies and the day before he was to help lead a rally protesting Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis and the economic crisis at home.

Russia's top investigative body said it is looking into several possible motives including an attempt to destabilize the state, Islamic extremism, the conflict in Ukraine and his personal life.

Boris Nemtsov speaks at a protest against alleged vote rigging in Russian elections, Moscow, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
Categories: News Monitor

Pope Francis Rails Against 'Throwaway Culture' Of Globalization

9 hours 24 min ago
(Reuters) - Pope Francis launched a fresh attack on economic injustice on Saturday, condemning the "throwaway culture" of globalization and calling for new ways of thinking about poverty, welfare, employment and society.

In a speech to the association of Italian cooperative movements, he pointed to the "dizzying rise in unemployment" and the problems that existing welfare systems had in meeting healthcare needs.

For those living "at the existential margins" the current social and political system "seems fatally destined to suffocate hope and increase risks and threats," he said.

The Argentinian-born pope, who has often criticized orthodox market economics for fostering unfairness and inequality, said people were forced to work long hours, sometimes in the black economy, for a few hundred euros a month because they were seen as easily replaceable.

"'You don't like it? Go home then'. What can you do in a world that works like this? Because there's a queue of people looking for work. If you don't like it, someone else will," he said in an unscripted change from the text of his speech.

"It's hunger, hunger that makes us accept what they give us," he said.

His remarks have a special resonance in Italy, where unemployment, particularly among young people, is running at record levels after years of economic recession.

The cooperative movement in Italy, whose roots go back to 19th century workers' associations, have long had close ties to the Catholic Church, with credit services, agricultural and building co-ops forming an important part of the overall economy.

Pope Francis said they could help find new models and methods that could be an alternative model to the "throwaway culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world."

Perhaps mindful of a wide-ranging corruption scandal linked to some cooperatives in Rome last year, he attacked those who "prostitute the cooperative name".

But his overall message was that economic rationale had to be secondary to the wider needs of human society.

"When money becomes an idol, it commands the choices of man. And thus it ruins man and condemns him. It makes him a slave," he said.

"Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by cooperatives, on condition that it is a real cooperative where capital does not have command over men but men over capital," he said.
Categories: News Monitor

Scott Walker Stands By Claim Reagan's Union-Busting Was 'Most Significant' Foreign Policy Decision

9 hours 39 min ago
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is doubling down on claims that the strongest foreign policy move in his lifetime was former President Ronald Reagan's decision to fire 11,000 air traffic controllers.

In 1981, almost 13,000 air traffic control employees walked off the job when contract negotiations between the federal government and the controllers union stalled. Reagan claimed the strike was illegal and demanded the air traffic controllers return to work; when some 11,000 did not, he fired them.

Walker, who has long idolized Reagan and previously lauded the former president's standoff with air traffic control, on Saturday called it "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" during an address at the Club for Growth's winter meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida.

"It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world," Walker said, according to The Washington Post, claiming the action showed foreign allies and enemies that "we weren't to be messed with."

Walker made almost identical comments during a January MSNBC appearance, where he claimed there were documents that proved the Soviet Union treated the U.S. differently following the standoff.

"Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case," he said. "The Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences. And I think [President Barack Obama] has failed mainly because he's made threats and hasn't followed through on them."

PolitiFact investigated the claims, finding no evidence the documents ever existed. "It's utter nonsense," Jack Matlock, Reagan's ambassador to the Soviet Union, told PolitiFact. "There is no evidence of that whatever."

And yet, Walker has committed to highlighting his own dealings with unions to prove his ability to take on foreign threats, like the Islamic State. During a Thursday address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Walker touted his confrontation with right-to-work protesters in Wisconsin as proof he can take on threats from the Middle East.

"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said Thursday, after being asked how he would stand up to the Islamic State.

Walker made the same comparison earlier this month at a dinner for prominent conservative donors, according to CNBC's Larry Kudlow.

"Walker argued that when Reagan fired air traffic controllers (from the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad," Kudlow wrote of Walker's remarks. "Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia's Vladimir Putin."
Categories: News Monitor

How Boko Haram Uses Female Suicide Bombers To Terrorize Nigeria

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 23:26
Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic making headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Elizabeth Pearson about Boko Haram's use of female suicide bombers.

Last Sunday, a small girl strapped with explosives killed herself and five others at a market in Potiskum, a town in northeast Nigeria. Witnesses said the girl looked about 7 years old. The week before that, a young woman blew herself up at a bus station in the nearby town of Damaturu, leaving at least 10 people dead. Witnesses said they thought the bomber looked about 16. Most of the casualties were children who had been begging nearby.

The bombings are widely believed to be the work of Boko Haram, the extremist group that is carrying out a brutal insurgency in northeast Nigeria and that last year kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in the town of Chibok. The group has stepped up its suicide attacks in the past year, particularly those involving girls and women.

The WorldPost discussed the rise in attacks with Elizabeth Pearson, a gender and radicalization researcher in defense studies at King's College London. She's also a member of the Nigeria Security Network and has written about female suicide bombers in Nigeria.

When did Boko Haram start using suicide bombers?

Boko Haram carried out its first suicide bombing fairly recently, in 2011. It was a significant development. Nigeria does not have a history of suicide bombing and suicide is not culturally accepted.

When did the group first use female suicide bombers?

The first female suicide bombing was reported in June last year, when a middle-aged woman blew herself up at army barracks in Gombe, northeast Nigeria. This was the first of a wave of suicide attacks by women and girls in Nigeria. There were six such attacks in six weeks.

Have the attacks continued at the same pace?

After the first wave in the summer, there was a brief lull, but since November there have been several attacks by female suicide bombers each month. In total, 27 women and girls have reportedly been involved in suicide attacks in the country. We're also still seeing suicide bombings by men.

The intensity of the attacks is striking in a global perspective. In 2014, Nigeria saw around 85 percent of all female suicide bombings around the world. Boko Haram has embraced this tactic with vigor.

What do you think motivates the group to use suicide bombers?

A man injured in a suicide blast is taken to hospital in Potiskum, Nigeria, Jan. 12, 2015. (AMINU ABUBAKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Many analysts understood Boko Haram's first suicide attacks to indicate growing connections between Boko Haram and international Islamic militant groups. Recently, we've seen growing evidence of such connections, whether aspirational, ideological or financial. Some of Boko Haram's recent videos resemble the work of the media wing of ISIS [the Islamic State], and there have been reports of foreign-language-speaking militants in Nigeria.

Yet the use of female suicide bombers suggests Boko Haram will go out on a limb when it wants. Female suicide bombers and women on the battlefield in general are not advocated by al Qaeda-affiliated clerics. One exception was al Qaeda in Iraq under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [from 2004 to 2006].

One reason Boko Haram may have adopted this tactic is to capitalize on anxiety about the Chibok schoolgirls. The first wave of female suicide bomb attacks came a few months after Boko Haram kidnapped some 300 schoolgirls in April. The fate of the schoolgirls was a source of great fear and anxiety in Nigeria, and there was much speculation as to whether they were being used in suicide attacks. There's no evidence of this, but it generated a flurry of media attention.

Yet the use of female suicide bombers suggests Boko Haram will go out on a limb when it wants.

The reason why they began may not be the reason why they continue. The first female suicide bombings preceded a period of territorial expansion for the group. The attacks diverted security forces, allowing the group to capture several towns in northeast Nigeria. If something works, why give it up? Their ambition shows no sign of waning.

What do we know about the identity of the female bombers?

We often have little or conflicting information. It's a complex situation, compounded by a lack of access to the people and the area, and by unreliable local reports.

Further, a lot of attacks are not claimed by any group. Boko Haram is a loose movement, made up of different factions.

How are the girls and women recruited or coerced into carrying out attacks?

Recently, there have been some indications that families are involved in coercion. A 10-year-old girl who was arrested wearing a suicide vest last July was accompanied by her older sister and another older man. A 13-year-old girl arrested in December said she was coerced into carrying out a suicide attack by her father, who she described as a Boko Haram supporter. Another female suicide bomber last November was reportedly accompanied by two men, suggesting there may have been an element of doubt that she would go through with it.

It has been questioned whether we can even describe the children as suicide bombers. If you are 8 years old, you simply cannot provide consent to carrying out a suicide attack.

In conflict, women and men are vulnerable in different ways. Female suicide bombers may be mainly coerced, but we can't rule out that some women may be willing to participate in attacks. It's important that we should recognize that there are female supporters of Boko Haram. Although brutal, the group has a strong ideological message.

If you are 8 years old, you simply cannot provide consent to carrying out a suicide attack.

Does Boko Haram have a female wing?

The Nigerian military first reported last July that Boko Haram has a female wing. The military had just arrested three women who it said were recruiting women to the group to be spies or marry fighters. In August, authorities detained a man who they said was training a group of female suicide bombers. But there has been little news about these cases since.

But there are no signs of female fighters on the battlefield, for example, among the casualties. But women may play other roles, as they are often more able to evade authorities. In 2013, there were reports of women being arrested for smuggling weapons for Boko Haram. More recently there were arrests of male smugglers dressed as women.

Do you expect female suicide bombings to continue?

This tactic doesn't seem to be going away in 2015. Boko Haram does face the risk that using children as suicide bombers may end up alienating people. This is the gamble they take.

Many analysts suggested that Boko Haram's use of female suicide bombers was an indication of their weakness. Many groups resort to using women suicide bombers when they're under pressure. But Boko Haram did not seem desperate. Their campaign has only grown in intensity. I don't see the group facing a shortage of recruits. They pay people to fight, they force people to fight through threats and kidnappings, and they also have a support base. They only need more people as their ambition has grown.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

More from The WorldPost's Weekly Interview Series:

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Categories: News Monitor

Vatican's Finance Czar Cardinal George Pell Defends Spending By His Office

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 23:03
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis' finance czar has defended the expenditures of his office following reports it had racked up a half-million euros ($575,000) in bills in the last six months.

Australian Cardinal George Pell's office has been insisting on a spending review elsewhere in the Vatican.

A spokesman for the Secretariat for the Economy, in a statement Saturday, said the expenses were normal for a new operation and below budget.

Italian newsweekly L'Espresso recently detailed opposition within the Vatican to his financial reforms, and cited receipts for expenditures including the salary and housing costs for his Australian aide and clerical tailor's bill for more than 2,500 euros ($2,800).

The leaks were apparently aimed at discrediting Pell, who has ruffled feathers in entrenched Vatican bureaucracy.
Categories: News Monitor

Russian Opposition Leaders See Kremlin Links To Nemtsov Slaying

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 22:46
Russian opposition leaders on Saturday accused the Kremlin of being behind the death of a towering figure of post-Soviet politics, Boris Nemtsov, as they struggled to come to grips with the highest-profile assassination of President Vladimir Putin’s 15 years in power.
Categories: News Monitor

The Eiffel Tower Just Became A Little More Green. Here Are 8 Other Landmarks That Did It First

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 22:41
Two wind turbines have been successfully installed on the Eiffel Tower to offset some of the structure's energy use, renewable energy company UGE and the public service authority in charge of the iconic landmark announced this week.

The two turbines, which were placed 400 feet above ground level, are expected to produce 10,000 kWh annually. This will offset the power used by commercial activities on the tower's first floor, according to UGE. The turbines are of the vertical axis variety, as opposed to the larger and more common horizontal axis turbines that rotate like traditional windmills, and they are painted to match the tower.

The project is part of a larger efficiency upgrade that also includes LED lighting and rooftop solar panels on a visitor pavilion.

The Eiffel Tower might be lighting a greener path in Paris, but there are other landmarks in cities around the world that have undergone updates to become more environmentally friendly. Here are eight of them:

The White House

President Jimmy Carter famously had solar panels added to the White House roof in 1979. The panels, which were intended to heat water, were removed after Ronald Reagan took office. With little fanfare, the George W. Bush administration installed the White House's first active solar electric system in 2002. President Barack Obama installed another set of panels in 2014.

Vatican City

Solar Panels were installed on the roof of the 6,300-seat Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican in 2008. During his papacy, Benedict XVI made calls for greater environmental protection, and his successor, Pope Francis, has acknowledged manmade climate change and lamented a "culture of waste."

London's Tower Bridge

In 2012, London upgraded the lights on its iconic Tower Bridge to more energy-efficient LEDs. "The spectacular view of Tower Bridge from my office in City Hall is one of my favorites in London," London Mayor Boris Johnson said in a 2011 statement announcing the project. "It’s fantastic to now be able to crack on with this work to make it even better, brighter and greener and at no cost to the taxpayer."

The Empire State Building

New York City's Empire State Building underwent a significant renovation in 2009 that included retrofitting the skyscraper to be more energy efficient. It received LEED Gold certification in 2011, making it the tallest LEED-certified building in the United States. The building's retrofit reduced energy consumption by an estimated 38 percent, and put it in the top 25 percent of the most energy-efficient U.S. office buildings.

Berlin's Reichstag Building

Built in the late nineteenth century, the home of Germany's parliament was damaged in a 1933 fire and by allied bombing during World War II. It fell into disuse after the war, but a rebuilding was completed in 1999 and it once again hosts the legislature of a unified Germany.

Along with a glass dome that lets in natural light, the building has a biofuel-powered combined heat and power system that produces about 80 percent of the building's electricity and 90 percent of its heat. The building also has photovoltaic solar panels on the roof and low-flow water fixtures.

George Washington Bridge

In 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey finished upgrading the George Washington Bridge's light "necklace" to energy efficient LEDs. The Port Authority estimated that the upgrade would cut 260,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Rio de Janeiro's Christ The Redeemer Statue

LED lights have illuminated Rio's famous mountaintop statue of Christ since 2011.

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House has implemented several steps to improve the facility's sustainability, including more efficient air conditioners and lighting, along with a cooling system that uses seawater and saves millions of gallons of drinking water annually.
Categories: News Monitor

Egypt Court Declares Hamas A 'Terrorist Organization'

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 22:12
CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court declared Hamas a "terrorist organization" on Saturday, further isolating the blockaded rulers of the Gaza Strip once openly welcomed by the country's toppled Islamist-dominated government.

The ruling is unlikely to have any immediate effect on Hamas, still reeling from last summer's war with Israel and choked by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade set up in 2007. Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas' No. 2 leader, is based in Cairo and is receiving medical treatment there, members of the group say. The move underlines Egypt's increasing hostility to Hamas, which the court blamed for violence in the country's restive Sinai Peninsula. The secretive movement, founded in Gaza in 1987 as an offshoot of the region's Egyptian-originated Muslim Brotherhood, faces a growing cash crunch and has yet to lay out a strategy to extract Gaza from its increasingly dire situation.

"There is no doubt that Hamas is being pushed into the corner further and further," said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al Azhar University. Hamas' relationship with Cairo has "reached a point of no return" and is unlikely to be salvaged, he said.

The ruling Saturday by Judge Mohamed el-Sayed of the Court For Urgent Matters said Hamas had targeted both civilians and security forces inside the Sinai Peninsula, and that the group aimed to harm the country. Sinai has been under increasing attack by extremists since the Egyptian military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

"It has been proven without any doubt that the movement has committed acts of sabotage, assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians and members of the armed forces and police in Egypt," the court wrote, according to state news agency MENA.

The ruling said that Hamas' fighters had used heavy weapons against the army, and that the group was colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has described as the root of extremism. Morsi belonged to the Brotherhood.

"It has been also ascertained with documents that (Hamas) has carried out bombings that have taken lives and destroyed institutions and targeted civilians and the armed forces personnel," the ruling said. "This movement works for the interests of the terrorist Brotherhood organization."

On its official website, Hamas called the decision a "shocking and dangerous" one that targeted the Palestinian people.

"This decision is a great shame and sullies the reputation of Egypt. It is a desperate attempt to export the internal Egyptian crisis and will have no effect on the position of Hamas which enjoys the respect of all the people and leaders of the nation," the statement read.

In Gaza, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri condemned the decision and urged Egypt to reverse course.

"This ruling serves the Israeli occupation. It's a politicized decision that constitutes the beginning of Egypt evading its role toward the Palestinian cause," he said. "This is a coup against history and an Egyptian abuse of the Palestinian cause and resistance, which fights on behalf of the Arab nation. We call on Egypt to reconsider this dangerous decision."

An Egyptian court banned Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and designated it a terrorist organization just last month. In 2014, a similar ruling in the same court banned all Hamas activities in Egypt and ordered the closure of any Hamas offices, though the order apparently was never carried out. Government officials in Egypt did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday's ruling.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip by force in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel, the latest last summer killing some 2,200 Palestinians and 72 on the Israeli side, according to the United Nations.

Since a major attack on security forces last October, the Egyptian army has been clearing a buffer zone on the frontier with Gaza in an attempt to destroy a cross-border network of tunnels.

Hamas considers the tunnels an economic lifeline, at one point earning an estimated $500 million from taxing Egyptian imports. Cheap fuel, cement and other supplies from Egypt also powered Gaza's economy, particularly the local construction industry which employed several tens of thousands.

That dried up after Morsi's 2013 ouster. Egypt's new government now sees the tunnels as a two-way smuggling route for guns and fighters.

Earlier this month, Egyptian security officials said they had found and shut down the largest-ever tunnel leading into Gaza, a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) passageway they said was used to smuggle weapons used in attacks on security forces.

The crackdown has been accompanied by Egypt's closure of the Rafah border crossing — the main gateway for Gazans to the outside world. That's left Gaza's population of 1.8 million people largely unable to travel abroad.

Hamas officials have said they believe Egypt is trying to crush their organization, but have refused to be quoted by name for fear that criticism of the el-Sissi government would invite further sanctions.

Mohammed Hijazi, a Gaza-based analyst, said the court ruling can be appealed. However, he cautioned that both sides needed each other.

"At the end of the day, Egypt needs to deal with Hamas because Hamas is a main player in the Palestinian arena and one day Egypt will find itself in a position to talk to Hamas if it wants to play a role in the Palestinian issue," he said.


Akram reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Jericho, West Bank, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.
Categories: News Monitor

Poroshenko: Boris Nemtsov Killed Over Evidence Linking Russia To Ukraine Conflict

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 21:57

KIEV, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered because he planned to disclose evidence of Russia's involvement in Ukraine's separatist conflict.

Poroshenko paid tribute to Nemtsov, who was shot dead late on Friday, and said the fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin had told him a couple of weeks ago that he had proof of Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis and would reveal it.

"He said he would reveal persuasive evidence of the involvement of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Someone was very afraid of this ... They killed him," Poroshenko said in televised comments during a visit to the city of Vinnytsia.

More than 5,600 people have been killed since pro-Russian separatists rebelled in east Ukraine last April, after the ousting of a Moscow-backed president in Kiev and Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula.

Kiev and its Western allies say the rebels are funded and armed by Moscow, and backed by Russian military units. Moscow denies aiding sympathizers in Ukraine, and says heavily armed Russian-speaking troops operating without insignia there are not its men. (Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Polina Devitt,; Additional reporting by Margarita Chornokondratenko,; Editing by Alexander Winning and Timothy Heritage)
Categories: News Monitor

Netanyahu's Legacy: A Fractured Israel and a Divided America

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 21:17
In a few days, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will mount the podium of the U.S. Congress to speak before a joint session of the House and Senate. He will use the occasion to blast Iran and issue dire warnings about the current US-led negotiations designed to limit Iran's nuclear program.

Having successfully used his two previous appearances before Congress to announce his intent to scuttle the Oslo peace process (1996) and to sabotage President Obama's plan to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks (2011), Netanyahu apparently hopes to use this address to stiffen the resolve of those in Congress who are opposed to the current negotiations with Iran. The ever-cocky Prime Minister, no doubt, believes he will once again be successful.

That this speech occurs a scant two weeks before Israelis go to the polls is, for Netanyahu, the "icing on the cake" since it will display for voters back home his supreme mastery of America. It will also, he hopes, divert attention from his recent financial scandals and his failure to establish a secure peace or to provide for the well-being of his people.

What the Prime Minister did not expect was the fire-storm his appearance would produce. Since he has repeatedly asserted that "I know America," he should have anticipated that his deliberate effort to embarrass the US President would not sit well with the White House or its allies. By having his Ambassador to Washington, a former Republican Party operative, conspire with the Speaker of the House to arrange this speech, the Israeli leader displayed remarkably short-sighted arrogance. But then, this is one of the draw-backs of cockiness.

Since the speech was announced, negative reaction has been growing. At first criticized as a "breach of protocol" and an "unseemly partisan move", the response has developed into an increasingly hostile war of words and action. The While House has charged that the Prime Minister's behavior is "destructive of the fabric of the [U.S.-Israeli] relationship". Secretary of State John Kerry chided Netanyahu's critique of the Iran negotiations as uninformed. And, as of Friday, 36 Members of Congress had announced their intention to boycott the speech. One Representative told me he expected the number of boycotters to grow in the coming days.

Equally significant has been the reaction in Israel, where not only Netanyahu's opponents have accused him of the risky business of "playing politics inside American politics." A former head of Mossad charged that the speech was "pointless and counterproductive." And even Israel's President recently weighed-in criticizing the Netanyahu gambit.

There have been those who suggest that this is but "a tempest in a teapot" that will soon settle down once the Israeli elections are over. I think not.

Netanyahu may still be reelected, although polls are showing that he will have to scramble to cobble together the 60+ Knesset members he will need to form a government. Since the announcement of his speech to Congress, Netanyahu's slight lead over his "center-left" opponents in the Zionist Union has evaporated. The two parties now appear to be running dead even-- with each garnering 23 or 24 seats in the next Knesset. Given the fragmentation of Israel's right wing parties, Netanyahu may be able to forge a coalition of 60+, but it will be a grouping of aggressive ego-driven hardliners who will only serve to exacerbate tensions with the U.S.

As of now, it appears that even if the Zionist Union edges out Netanyahu's party, they will have no chance of forming a cohesive coalition that will be able to effectively govern and advance peace. This is so for two reasons. For one, the left is too weak. While the positions of the Zionist Union are closely aligned to those espoused by Washington, it is unlikely that they will be able to find enough like-minded Knesset members to establish a ruling majority. Because they will need to include rightist groupings to reach the 60+ threshold, the government they form will be hamstrung from the beginning.

An additional issue is the fact that what will likely emerge as the third or fourth largest bloc in the Knesset is the Arab Union--a first ever grouping of smaller Arab parties. Since they are expected to win between 12 to 15 seats in the next Knesset, it will be impossible for the "center-left" to amass 60+ seats without the agreement of the Arab bloc. However, it is unlikely that the Arab group will be included in any government formation. Thus, they will be reduced to the same "silent partner" status they had during Rabin's tenure in the early 1990s. This will serve to create a dysfunctional situation in which the government can only be sustained by the acquiescence of the Arab bloc. But this will, in turn, inhibit such a government from taking any dramatic steps toward peace lest it be attacked by the right for acting without the support of the "Jewish majority." The result will be paralysis.

This will be Netanyahu's legacy: A deeply divided Israel which will have either a hardline government that will continue to take hostile steps provoking Palestinians and further frustrating peacemaking efforts or a weak and dysfunctional centrist government that will be incapable of acting decisively for peace.

A further impact of Netanyahu's behavior will be seen here in the U.S. Israelis console themselves that polls continue to show that a majority of Americans support their state. What they ignore are the follow up questions which show Americans increasingly frustrated by and deeply divided over Israeli policies. Majorities oppose settlements and oppose Israel actions that conflict with American policy. And when asked whether the U.S. should side with Israel, the Palestinians, or "not take either side," two-thirds consistently choose the last option. More striking is the fact that 76% and 70% of Democrats and Independents, respectively, say "not take either side" -- as do 75% of those under 50 years of age, 76% of non-whites, and 72% of women. Only Republicans believe that the U.S. should take Israel's side -- 49% of whom feel this way, against 47% who say "not take either side."

It may very well be that when Netanyahu is finished his big Washington adventure, plenty of officials in Washington will insist that "the US-Israel bonds are unbreakable". And many in Congress will still jump, when asked, to do Israel's bidding. But that's not the whole story, since he will leave in his wake a fractured Israel and a deeply divided America. Such will be the master manipulator's legacy.

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Categories: News Monitor

Russian Investigation Examines Possible Motives For Boris Nemtsov Murder

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 21:14
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's top investigative body said Saturday it is looking into several possible motives for the killing of prominent opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, including an attempt to destabilize the state, Islamic extremism, the Ukraine conflict and his personal life.

A statement from the body, the Investigative Committee, didn't address the possibility seen as likely by many of Nemtsov's supporters — that he was killed for being one of President Vladimir Putin's most adamant and visible critics. The 55-year-old Nemtsov was gunned down Friday near midnight as he walked on a bridge near the Kremlin with a female companion. The killing came just a few hours after a radio interview in which he denounced Putin's "mad, aggressive" policies and the day before he was to help lead a rally protesting Russia's actions in the Ukraine crisis and the economic crisis at home.

After his death, organizers canceled the rally and instead called for a demonstration to mourn him on Sunday in central Moscow. The city gave quick approval for that gathering, in contrast to its usual slow and grudging permission for opposition rallies.

The Investigative Committee said it was looking into whether Nemtsov had been killed as a "sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals," a suggestion echoing the comments by Putin's spokesman and other Russian politicians that the attack was a "provocation" against the state.

It also said it was considering whether there was "personal enmity" toward him in his domestic life. State-controlled TV and Kremlin-friendly media outlets on Saturday gave considerable attention to Nemtsov's companion, identifying her as a Ukrainian model 30 years his junior and showing photos of her in alluring poses. The Investigative Committee said the pair were headed for Nemtsov's apartment.

The statement also said it was investigating whether the killing was connected to the Ukraine conflict, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since last April, or whether there was a connection to Islamic extremism.

Nemtsov had been one of Putin's most visible critics and his death hit other members of the opposition hard. The mourning march on Sunday could serve to galvanize the beleaguered and marginalized opposition, or it could prove to be a brief catharsis after which emotions dissipate.

Through the morning, hundreds of people came to the site of Nemtsov's death to lay flowers.

Nemtsov was working on a report presenting evidence that he believed proved Russia's direct involvement in the separatist rebellion that has raged in eastern Ukraine since April. Moscow denies backing the rebels with troops and sophisticated weapons.

Putin ordered Russia's top law enforcement chiefs to personally oversee the investigation of Nemtsov's killing.

"Putin noted that this cruel murder has all the makings of a contract hit and is extremely provocative," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin-backed leader of Chechnya, raised the suggestion into an accusation.

"There's no doubt that Nemtsov's killing was organized by Western special services, trying by any means to create internal conflict in Russia," he said on Instagram.

President Barack Obama said the Russian people "lost one of the most dedicated and eloquent defenders of their rights."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Nemtsov's courage in criticizing Kremlin policies, and urged Putin to insure that the killers are brought to justice, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev echoed the suggestion that the killing was a provocation. "It's an attempt to push the situation into complications, maybe even to destabilizing the situation in the country," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov agreed. "It's a provocation; for big fires, sacrificial figures are necessary," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Nemtsov frequently assailed the government's inefficiency, rampant corruption and Ukraine policy.

In an interview with the Sobesednik newspaper, Nemtsov said earlier this month that his 86-year old mother was afraid that Putin could have him killed. Asked if he had such fears himself, he responded: "If I were afraid I wouldn't have led an opposition party."

Speaking on radio just a few hours before his death, he accused Putin of plunging Russia into crisis by his "mad, aggressive and deadly policy of war against Ukraine."

Kasyanov, the former prime minister, said he was shocked.

"In the 21st century, a leader of the opposition is being demonstratively shot just outside the walls of the Kremlin!".

"This is a monstrous tragedy and a loss for us all," Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure, said on his Facebook page. He is currently on a 15-day jail sentence for handing out leaflets without authorization.

"The country is rolling into the abyss," Kasyanov, the former prime minister, told reporters as Nemtsov's body, placed in a plastic bag, was removed on a rainy and cold night, as the Kremlin bells chimed nearby.

Nemtsov served as a regional governor and then a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and once was seen as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first elected president.

Nemtsov was widely liked for his good humor, larger-than-life character and quick wit, but he and other top opposition figures long have been purged from state television and steadily marginalized by the Kremlin.


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Laura Mills in Moscow and Jake Pearson in New York contributed to this report.
Categories: News Monitor