Gulf states sideline Arab League in Syria talks

Leaders of the Gulf Arab States pose for a photo before the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh May 10, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)
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The meeting of Arab foreign ministers scheduled to be held in the Saudi city of Jeddah over the Syrian crisis has been postponed indefinitely without explanation by the Arab League. This “emergency meeting” was to discuss the conflict and the replacement of the UN and international mediator Kofi Annan, who resigned last week after the failure of his peace efforts. The Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi was tipped to succeed him .

However, the foreign ministers of the six Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain) held last night in Jeddah a meeting about the Syrian crisis. Now, this session is expected to take place Tuesday during an Islamic summit in the kingdom following the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who seeks to mobilize the Muslim world in favor of the uprising in Syria.

Syria, a member of the OIC, “will not be represented at this summit,” according to Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization Islamic Cooperation (OIC), adding that a preparatory meeting of Foreign Ministers would be held Monday and should “decide on a suspension of Syria, recommended by representatives of member countries. ” The organization of this summit, which promises very sharp clashes between Iran, unwavering supporter of Syria, and the GCC, including Saudi Arabia, comes as the UN could not take a firm stand on this issue after the differences arising among members of the Security Council.

It would seem that those parties who declined Iran’s invitation to last Thursday’s “Friends of Syria” summit in Tehran have been forced by that event to step up their own efforts.

Leaders of the Gulf Arab States pose for a photo before the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh May 10, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

Four days after launching its ground offensive to cleanse the rebels from Aleppo, tanks and warplanes of the regime of Bashar al-Assad continue to pound several districts of this metropolis in the North of the country. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), the neighborhoods Shaar, Tariq al-Bab, Hanano, Bustan al-Qasr and Salaheddin are the target of violent firing of artillery by the army.

Shots were also heard in Damascus while the nearby towns of Al-Tal and Harsata were bombed, according to the SOHR.

In Homs, soldiers assisted by militiamen “executed” ten young people in the Shams neighborhood, according to the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition. The victims were selected from a crowd of 350 people gathered in one place, said SNC.

Clashes took place elsewhere in the province of Deraa (south), birthplace of the insurgency launched in March 2011 against the Assad regime.

In Beirut, a judicial source said that the Syrian security chief, General Ali Mamluk, is suspected of plotting attacks in Lebanon. Last week, the former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha was arrested . Samaha is a pro-Syrian figure.

Some content via Al Bawaba http://snup.us/Iij

#Mauritania: On The Edge

Harsh Desert Conditions
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Update of an article which originally appeared in Zenith Online in April 2012, when it seemed that all Mauritania’s sources of discontent were erupting at once. But protests are nothing new in this land where a coup has been the answer to every political ill, whether real or imagined, for decades.

Operating in a Constitutional Vacuum

General Aziz

The coup in which the Aziz regime seized power in 2008 created a wave of protest, which continued despite General Aziz switching to civilian garb and claiming a democratic victory in the 2009 presidential election. After a year in which they failed to complete national registration, failed to maintain dialogue with the opposition, and postponed legislative, parliamentary and municipal elections indefinitely, the Aziz government is no longer teetering on the brink of legitimacy: it fell off that precipice back in November 2011 when the mandate of the government expired. The only legally elected official in Mauritania is now the president, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz. Many of those who accused the junta of merely paying lip-service to democracy in order to add a veneer of respectability and secure regional and international acceptance (and funding) are now feeling fully vindicated.

Anti-government protests which resurfaced last year gradually increased since February 2012 to become a daily occurrence in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and other towns further afield. Incidents of strikes have also increased, with actions by fishermen, mining workers, teachers, college professors and students. Even a group of administrators for the national registration programme threatened a strike over pay and conditions. Throughout all this, the junta continues to impose constitutional and legislative changes, and to enter into financial and trade agreements with foreign investors, lenders, and trade partners.

Neighbourhood Watch

Mauritania map

Geographically, Mauritania is a foreign invention. The uncomfortably angular shape of Mauritania’s north eastern borders were decided long ago by colonial powers in London and Paris. There are few links with London now, although last October, William Hague did become the first the British Foreign Secretary to visit. But deep ties with France persist, and many are watching to see how Hollande’s victory in the French presidential election will impact the country. The neighbours who inhabit the other side of those awkward borders are also subject to the vagaries of Mauritania’s fickle nature. Western Sahara lost it’s southern region to Morocco when Mauritania decided to withdraw from occupation after being outclassed by the POLISARIO rebel force in 1979. This land that only time remembers, and which the world tries to ignore, now presses in awkward silence against the north-western border, a permanent reminder of Mauritania’s humiliating defeat, tribal hegemony and political naivety.

During the relatively brief 1989 conflict with Senegal, tens of thousands were forcibly expelled or repatriated between the two countries. The enmity was eventually resolved, but there is no great bond between them, as the April2012 crackdown on Senegalese workers and residents in Nouadhibou demonstrates. While Mauritania worked with the UN HCR to repatriate some of the Senegal refugees, a process which was declared complete only in March 2012, those in Mali were never even counted. In a peculiarly schizophrenic episode, tens of thousands of refugees displaced by the unrest in Mali are now being sheltered in Mauritania. In Mali’s case, there is an almost total lack of respect for its sovereignty: Mauritania maintains close associations with the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) and conducts frequent military sorties supposedly targeting AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) – even if those targets turn out to be civilians. With the introduction in May 2012 of a new residency tax for all foreign nationals of 30,000 MRO per person, including children, Mauritania now appears to be in breach of two clauses of its 1963 accord with Mali, which prohibits both taxation on citizens and uninvited military presence.

As a member of the Arab League, Mauritania has always had close relations with the Gulf States, although we are encouraged by unreliable media sources to consider some, for example Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, as being closer than others. Once deeply indebted to Muammar Gaddafi’s patronage, Mauritania was an unexpected choice as chair of the African Union’s special committee on Libya during the 2011 uprising. It was also one of the last of the Arab states to officially recognize the National Transitional Council, and entertained visitors from both sides during last year’s conflict.  This year finds Mauritania playing host to former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, after an improbable arrest (which France claimed to have a hand with) and showing no signs of releasing him from “detention” any time soon.

Islamic in Moderation

One of only four Islamic Republics in the world, Mauritania might be expected to enjoy close relations with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but this is not the case. Relations with Iran did seem warm last September, when they received Ahmadinejad and his entourage on the way to and from the UN General Assembly in New York, then seemed to have cooled by March, when Mauritania voted in favour of extending the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur’s mandate. But by early April, Iran had “repatriated” former Al Qaeda strategist Mahfouz Ould al Walid aka Abu Hafs al Mauritani, who arrived to join his family, already returned from Iran. For company, they have one of Osama bin Laden’s former wives and her children, while Mali is fast becoming the Al Qaeda time-share capital of Africa.

Mauritania is reportedly keeping al Walid in detention and there are unconfirmed reports that he has refused visits and food in protest at being pressured to meet with delegations from “foreign powers”. Such reports have all the hallmarks of a smokescreen intended to dampen observers’ inclinations to link his presence in Mauritania with reports of increasing AQIM activity in the Sahel, or indeed with the recent spate of allegedly successful US drone attacks on Al Qaeda leadership figures. By all accounts, Mauritania is firmly against terrorism, and its preferred brand of moderate Islam is jihad-free. In fact the government has carved out a cosy niche as a player in the global war on terror, with its lucrative funding opportunities. This might get a boost due to the level of hysteria about Mali. For development funding, the EU remains an important source of funds and is joined by Japan, Spain, China and others. All of these donors surely know that their funds are being sieved through a mesh of corruption but they seem unperturbed.

Not Just Desert

Harsh Desert Conditions

Despite it’s massive land area of over 1 million km2, the majority of Mauritania’s population – which is roughly the same as that of Berlin – is concentrated in the capital Nouakchott, and the port of Nouadhibou. These cities lie on the West coast where the Sahara desert meets Mauritania’s vast fishing grounds in the Atlantic ocean. While the sea provides a wealth of fish, not much reaches land: most of it is destined for export after processing in huge factory ships. The European Union recently ordered its fleet to cease fishing in the waters, as the quota has been reached and their agreement expires in July 2012. Meanwhile, China has moved in as another pelagic fishing partner in a deal that was denounced as unfavourable and suspect.

The vast desert, though inhospitable, is also rich in natural resources such as iron, copper, gold and gypsum. One of the major criticisms levelled at the government concerns mining rights sold to foreign companies, such as Canada’s Kinross, on terms which fail to provide a reasonable return. Mining workers appear to be trapped in a cycle of industrial action and broken or half-kept promises, although an unprecedented and costly 5-day strike by 1500 Kinross workers in early June appears to have improved their situation.

Decades of desertification and increasing frequency of severe drought have pushed people from a life of humble self-sufficiency as smallholders in rural villages to the cities. It’s a race for survival, with the edge of Africa as the finishing line. But there are few opportunities for skilled workers or university graduates in the cities, fewer still for semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers with only a rudimentary education. The towns were not built to cope with such dramatic increase: essential support infrastructure is lacking, and plans to create or improve it are failing to keep pace. This situation is the basis for a raft of social issues – unemployment, poverty, homelessness, healthcare, education, social welfare – a constant source of domestic tension. Another source of social friction is racial discrimination, inescapable in a country with such a mixture of “white” and “black” Moors as well as black Africans and all possible variants. Racial division is a “hot button” and the regime is highly skilled at applying pressure whenever it suits.

Sowing Division, Reaping Chaos

In April 2011, when the new population census and biometric registration programme was launched, there was an outcry over allegations of racial prejudice against citizens of black African heredity.  This year, it was the turn of slavery to grab headlines.  Recent media focus on slavery actually garnered little attention inside the country until a Saudi cleric suggested Muslims could seek atonement by purchasing the freedom of slaves, who he said  were readily-available in Mauritania. This was followed by a comment from the cleric Cheikh Dedew, who is also the patron of the Islamist party, Tewassoul. Dedew made a statement along the lines of “slavery does not exist in Mauritania”. In turn, this provoked Biram Ould Abeid, president of anti-slavery group “IRA” to hold his own Friday prayer meeting on 27 April, and afterwards burn several volumes by Islamic scholars which he said condone slavery through Islam.

Aziz goes Trad

The response was immediate and significant, some might even say orchestrated. Angry protesters marched to the Presidential palace the next day, and president Aziz came out to meet them in full traditional dress instead of the usual couture suit, promising to defend Islam. Biram Ould Abeid and 9 of his associates were arrested that evening. Protests against Biram’s act continued for a time, with demands ranging from an apology to expulsion, and even execution for apostasy. Mauritania does include some precepts of Islamic “Sharia” law, but has not actually executed anyone for many years. Whether knowingly or not, Biram Ould Abeid’s attempt to demonstrate a link between Islam and slavery provided a golden opportunity for Aziz to stifle the slavery debate and restore his flagging reputation by championing the one thing all people in Mauritania have in common: Islam.

As the indignation began to wane, regular Saturday protests by supporters of Biram and his fellow-prisoners began, and were immediately and repeatedly repressed by police with customary violence. Biram’s wife Leyla was attacked several times, and on one occasion shot in the face with a tear gas grenade. On 9 June 2012, a young man – who was not part of the protest, but a shopkeeper on one of the roads where police were clashing with the unarmed protesters – died from tear gas suffocation. As has been the case with previous incidents, officials denied any wrongdoing and claimed the youth died from a pre-existing medical complaint. Biram has in fact published an apology but he and six others, including a journalist, remain in custody.

Now Mauritania appears to be entering a new phase in its ever-evolving struggle. Last week there was a visit from the UN representative for West Africa, fresh from talks with ECOWAS* about the situation in Mali. He met with leaders of the the political opposition coalition for about half an hour before meeting with Aziz. Former transitional leader Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, a cousin of Aziz, provided some distraction by allowing himself to be quoted making outlandish and insulting comments about the 1989 atrocities. This got the abolitionists and anti-racists nicely worked up, while Massoud Ould Belkhair, leader of the more compliant opposition, worked on COD leaders by making overtures about dialogue. For the hat-trick, the failed group which was created last year to call for a national unity government was brought out of cold storage.

Former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani

In the background, the illegal Aziz government pressed on with its agenda. Unqualified diplomats have been dispatched to various international locations. Unqualified candidates have been assigned to a new Electoral Commission, and the former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani was removed from his post and replaced by a very junior and inexperienced jurist. Legislative elections are still not scheduled, but the country’s jurists are forming a union of sorts, just to keep themselves occupied. Next for the arbitrary chop could be the Chief of the Bar Association, Ould Boubehna, who is talking far too much sense these days, echoing constitutional law expert Lo Gormo’s 3 March pronouncement on the government’s  lack of legitimacy.

Eventually, all these issues must be resolved. It is not possible to continue like this indefinitely. The lack of comment or concern over this constitutional imbroglio from international partners, and their willingness to enter into legal agreements, provide aid, and accept and extend invitations to a government which has remained in power through a “coup by default” is at best puzzling and at worst hypocritical.

*Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS.

News from Iran – Week 13 – 2012

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News of the Prisoners

A-Transfers

  • Peyman Aref

    Peyman Aref, student activist, transferred to Modarres hospital on day 4 of his hunger strike, handcuffed and shackled; refuses to stay in this condition and asks to be returned to Evin. He breaks hunger strike.

  • Political prisoner Mohammad Ali Velayati on day 8 of hunger strike was taken to Evin clinic.


B- Arrests/Incarcerations

  • Aydin Khajei arrested in Tabriz to serve his 6 months sentence.
  • Political prisoner Hamzeh Karami is back in Evin after one week out on furlough.
  • Sharif University student Ali Akbar Mohammadzadeh back in Evin after Norooz furlough.
  • Arrest of Ghasem Nazeri activist from Fars province.
  • National/Religious activist Masoud Pedram is back in Evin after 6 days out on furlough for Norooz.
  • Ali Asghar Seijani, Director of documentary called ‘The Reappearance is Nigh’, arrested -again.


C-Liberations

  • Bahai poet and writer Natolli Derakshan free on bail
  • Journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian have been released on furlough.
  • Journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi has been released on furlough.


D-Other News

Masoud Bastani

Masoud Bastani

  • To mark the 999 days of imprisonment of journalist Masoud Basatani, 83 journalists published a letter in his honor.
  • Intel agents attempted arrest of newly released Behrooz Javidtehrani in a raid of his home Saturday failed. He wasn’t home.
  • Mousavi and wife still under house arrest were allowed to have a visit lasting three hours with their daughters in the presence of security forces.
  • Telephone is cut with Evin 350.


News of injustice in Iran

  • Appeals Court has sentenced Kurdish cultural activist Edris Aag to 1 year.
  • Jafar Azarnoush has been sentenced to 8 months by court in Mahabad on charges of collaboration with a banned political group.
  • Appeals Court has sentenced Kurdish cultural activist Edris Borna to 1 year
  • Gholamreza Hosseini sentenced to nine years for having contact with foreign governments.
  • Court of Appeals in West Azarbaijan has reduced sentence of cultural activist Jalal Naseri from 5 to 4 years.
  • Appeals Court has sentenced Kurdish cultural activist Naser Naseri to 1 year
  • Student activist Nima Pouryaghoub already sentenced to six years has been sentenced to 91 additional days for insulting Aytollah Sistani.
  • Court of Appeals in West Azarbaijan has reduced sentence of cultural activist Ghasem Rahimi from 8 to 4 years.


University  – Culture

  • Cyber defence will be added to the curriculum of some of universities.
  • 650 Websites Blocked in the Final Days of the Year.
  • Following hardliners’ protests; Hozeh Honari’s cinemas stop the screening of films “Guidance Patrol” and “private”.
  • Film “Chroniques d’un Iran interdit” of Manon Loizeau wins Grand prix du Festival international du grand reportage d’actualité et du documentaire de société (Figra) 2012 in Le Touquet and the Audience Award.
  • Bulldozers demolished some part of Yazd’s historical context during norouz holidays.
  • Iran suspends accreditation for Reuters in Tehran.


Protests

  • Haft-Tappeh sugar factory workers go on strike for 3 days.


Economy in Iran

  • In Iran 18% of all workers have two jobs, the share of labour from GNP is 25%.
  • Exchange rate for 1 US Dollar : 1920 Toman ; 1 Euro : 2560 Toman.
  • Iran remains one of China’s top three sources of oil.


Iran  abroad

  • 17 persons sanctioned by EU Mousa Khalil Elahi, Ali Farhadi, Reza Jafari, Toraj Kazemi, Sadeq Larijani, Ali Mirhejazi, Saeed Mortazevi, Malek Ajdar Rahimi, Gholamhossein Ramazani, Mohammad Ali Ramin, Ghodomani Razavi, Bahman Reshte Ahmadi, Ali Rezvanmanesh, Mohammad Sadeghi,Ali Saeedi, Reza Taqipour, Ezzatollah Zarghami.
  • All Turkish banks but one have stopped processing payments for Iranian customers.
  • Ahmadinejad met with his Tajik counterpart in Dushanbe.
  • Iran and Iraq close their joint border crossing for security reasons ahead of the Arab League summit in Baghdad.
  • Three mass graves found in MKO Camp Ashraf with more then 50 bodies.
  • Iran supports agreement between Kofi Anan and Damas.
  • Brazil, Russia, India, and China leaders say dialogue is only solution for Syria and Iran.
  • Immigration offices are prohibited activities in Iran.


Politics in Iran

  • Government, anticipating second phase adds 28,000 tomans (~$22) to monthly subsidies overnight but to 10% fewer households. Majlis calls the addition to the subsidies illegal, apparent violation of laws.
  • Iran building a strategic stockpile of grain in anticipation of harsher sanctions or even military conflict.
  • Premier Erdogan was received at the airport by Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi (and not by Ahmadinejad).
  • Ahmadinejad met with Syrian President’s special envoy.
  • Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Akbar Qarehbaghi member of the Assembly of Experts, passed away at 75 years old.
  • Hasan Dana’ifar, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, will attend the Arab League summit meeting in Iraq.


Miscellaneous

  • Past National team goalkeeper is banned from exiting country and is given 54 lashes for old complaint.
  • Ship with Brazilian sugar for Iran Is hijacked.

News and Comments 10 Feb 2012

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Much Ado About Mali

Azawad Rebels

Azawad Rebels


Mali continues to feature in the media, with lots of conflicting statements from all quarters.
Despite the arrival of dozens of US troops in Mauritania, Reuters is reporting that the United States has delayed annual counter-terrorism training for its allies in the Sahara region. The U.S. embassy in Bamako said on Friday Flintlock 2012, its counter-terrorism exercise bringing together African and Western nations and was due to start later this month and run through March, had been delayed while Mali tackled the rebels.
“Mali’s participation in Flintlock 2012 is critical to its success and we understand the need to focus necessary efforts on maintaining its security,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mali Mary Beth Leonard. No details were given for when the training would take place.

Mali is no stranger to rebellions – this is the fourth led by the mainly Tuareg nomads of the north since the country gained its independence from France in 1960. The last ended only in 2008. But this time the turbaned rebels’ arsenal is rumoured to include SA-7, SA-24 and Milan portable missile systems, according to a Malian soldier who faced them. And rather than just melting back into the desert after an attack, the new firepower has emboldened them to take on the army on three fronts and resist helicopter gunships.

A Malian military official has allegedly told Reuters that Malian helicopter gunships bombed rebel positions and troops used heavy weapons fire against them near the key northern town of Kidal today, but they didn’t provide a body count. “Five of our helicopters have been bombing the rebels … to take out the attackers,” the official said, adding that raids had taken place about 15 km from the town. A second military source said: “We are not waiting for them to attack us anymore. Now it is us going on the offensive.” The rebels said 20 people have been killed and thousands have fled Kidal. However, the “Azawad Women of Kidal” movement has said they are not leaving under any circumstances and will stand their ground even if they face being arrested.

MNLA released a statement today, thanking France for it’s support for the rebellion. Speaking to Al Jazeera, the French FM quickly and firmly denied that they were providing any support and called for an immediate ceasefire and talks. Algeria has done the same, even mediating between Mali government and representatives of the May 23 movement. Sadly for all concerned, the MNLA objected to the fact that they had not been invited, though they did welcome the move.

Statements from various officials of Algeria, Mauritania and Mali show a lack of consensus regarding the relationship between MNLA/May23/Azawad/Tuareg (4 confusing names is hardly better than being rebels without a name!) and AQIM. The MNLA have rejected claims of a relationship and have previously indicated they are prepared to neutralize the AQIM threat in the region.

Mauritania’s Aziz told French newspaper Le Monde, “We are talking about a small enemy (in AQIM) of no more than 300 men. That should be within the capabilities of any country.” He also said that Mali’s north had practically become a “free zone” for terrorists and called for countries to take concrete steps to tackle the group. Big words from the head of a military dictatorship that can’t even rescue one kidnapped gendarme. I doubt they are his own words. The man has “puppet” written all over him in gold braid.

Aid agencies are the busiest of all interested parties, releasing new daily accounts of rapidly increasing numbers of refugees from Mali reaching Nigeria, Algeria and Mauritania, along with reports of an escalating food crisis across the Sahel. Perhaps their efforts herding tens of thousands of displaced people around Africa like pawns on a giant sand strewn chessboard will be even more critical to Flintlock 2012 than anything the Malian army is doing right now.

Strong Support for Syrian People from Mauritanian Youth

10 Feb 2012 Mauritanian youth show support for Syria

10 Feb 2012 Mauritanian youth show support for Syria

After last week’s protest, Mauritanians gathered once again after prayers in the large Nouakchott mosque to show their support for Syria. During the prayer the Iman received a call from a Syrian counterpart, but unfortunately the connection was not very reliable and it was not possible for everyone to hear him speak. However, what really matters is that people in Syria know that they have support, and that message did get through.

After prayers, everyone gathered in the inner courtyard and there were rousing chants expressing solidarity with the struggle against the brutal regime in Syria that has lasted almost a year. There is a small group of Syrians currently living in Nouakchott, and they were present as always, leading or joining in the chants, and infecting everyone with their remarkable spirit and energy.

There was also a massive march for Syrian people in Tunisia today. [FaceBook video]

News is currently breaking that Saudi is tabling a motion on Syria before the UN General Assembly condemning the human rights violations (that’s rich, coming from the brutal kingdom of repression) and supporting the Arab League proposal for power transfer (which was mainly Saudi’s idea anyway)..

 

The Pope “Not Going to Iran”

Papa

Papa

Duh.  Right up there with “Queen Elizabeth Not Joining Space Shuttle Programme”. In case you thought it might be on the cards, the Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI receives many invitations and that a trip to Lebanon is under consideration but that there are no plans for a visit to Iran.

The Italian news agency ANSA on Wednesday quoted Iran’s ambassador to the Holy See as saying Iran issued an invitation to the pope in 2010 and that he would be welcomed to that country with “enthusiasm.”

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pope does have a Middle East trip “under study,” a possible September visit to Lebanon to present a document on the future of the church in the region.

Does Putin Use Nested Trolls?

Russian trolls

Russian trolls

No surprise that emails released by hackers shows a youth organisation acting as a front to stage cyber campaigns to boost and defend Putin’s popularity and making payments to journalists and bloggers. They’re all at it, of course Russia will be, too.

The Guardian reports on a pro-Kremlin group which runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous.

The group has uploaded hundreds of emails it says are to, from and between Vasily Yakemenko, the first leader of the youth group Nashi – now head of the Kremlin’s Federal Youth Agency – its spokeswoman, Kristina Potupchik, and other activists.

What Makes Female IDF Soldiers Lose Sleep?

rats

rats

It’s not their remote-control weapons targeting unarmed kids collecting gravel near the wall around Gaza, so they can scrape together enough money to buy a meal, and help support the building projects that are stunted by Israel’s blockade. No, it’s having to occupy a barracks that is infested with rats. The Beersheba base, which is home mostly to female soldiers, has been facing a rat assault for five months now, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.

“It’s terrible. They swarm the offices, the bedrooms, the dinning hall and the sewage system,” one soldier at the base said.  We’re so scared that we can’t sleep at night,” one soldier said, adding: “Nobody treats us seriously.”

Could be worse. Could be moles. Or man-eating cyber-rats.

Racial Poverty Trap

Poverty among Americans at all-time high

Poverty among Americans at all-time high

This headline “Are many whites tumbling into a new underclass?”  from Nik Kristof was one of the first things I read this morning and it put me in a sour mood all day.  Poverty is a fact of life for so many people, I felt so angry that anyone would view it through the prism of racial difference, and especially someone who is positioned as a leading exoert on the subject. Also, indignant that a journalist would conjure up the spectre of “poor white people” like that was something new in America. Poor is poor.

In September of last year, AP reported that the ranks of America’s poor swelled to almost 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in more than two decades. AP didn’t see any need to highlight skin tone, they know it gives the impression that everyone is perfectly comfortable with poverty as long as it only affect those who are black, brown, yellow or basically any colour but white.

On pointlessness

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Image: Keystone/Zuma Rex Features

Image: Keystone/Zuma Rex Features

Saturday we heard about several kilos of drugs in UN diplomatic pouches shipped from Mexico via DHL that “weren’t intended for the UN”. Then why did DHL try to deliver them to the UN regardless of a complete lack of paperwork, or even an address label; surely that is against the law? Certainly it makes for failed and pointless security policies designed to prevent parcel-bombs.

Sunday saw Kofi Annan sounding off about the huge threat that the drugs trade presents to Africa’s fragile post-conflict countries. I suppose the doesn’t have the stomach to talk about the mid-conflict countries. The comments section is lit up like a Christmas Tree with pointed remarks about the failed and massively expensive War on Drugs. It also mentions Kofi’s less than sparkling reputation after the accusations against him in 2005 that damaged the UN’s reputation, leaving stains that are still visible today.

On Monday BBC Newsnight interviewed Wael “Mission Accomplished” Ghonim about Egypt’s restarted revolution or “his Revolution 2.0″ as the BBC titled the segment (they are actually referring to the title of the book he just wrote. At least, I hope they are). Enough said. Almost. But a comment on the BBC blog, suggesting (tongue in cheek) that Mrs Ghonim might be his “CIA handler” did make me smile. Pointless aside: Wael also created the website for former election candidate Mohamed ElBaradei.

As I write this, it’s Tuesday, and we have just heard from the Arab League at the UN after their extended, then aborted, mission to Syria. Arab League as usual saying nothing of value, and certainly nothing that will help stop Syrian bloodshed or save Syria from a bitter civil war. Surely the biggest exercise in pointlessness of all.