Saturday, September 14, 2013

India embraces the welfare state

by Shashi Tharoor
In recent weeks, India's parliament, often justifiably derided for the frequent disruptions that mar its work, has surprised its detractors by passing two crucial pieces of legislation that could transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The first, the Food Security Act, grants 67 percent of India's population a right to 35 kilograms of rice or wheat for three rupees (less than five US cents) per kilo. Together with related provisions that would provide meals to infants and expectant mothers, and subsidized pulses to supplement cheaply available food grains, the law will add $6 billion to India's annual fiscal deficit. But it would also abolish the risk of starvation and malnutrition in a land where too many have gone hungry for too long. The second law assures fair -- indeed generous -- compensation to people, often small-scale farmers, whose land is acquired by the state for development purposes. In a country where two-thirds of the population is still dependent on agriculture and small holdings are all that a majority of Indians live on, the new law helps those who have often felt exploited and deprived of their livelihoods by the state's power of eminent domain. The new law requires the consent of 80 percent of a major tract's landowners before the state can acquire it, and includes exacting provisions for the rehabilitation and resettlement of those affected. It will even compensate tenant farmers for their loss of livelihoods and require that those displaced by land acquisition be offered employment in the institutions that displace them. Taken together, the new food-security and land-acquisition laws underscore the Indian government's gradual but firm move toward making the world's largest democracy a society in which citizens' welfare is based on rights and entitlements rather than ephemeral charity. Detractors on the right insist that the new laws will break the budget and undermine economic growth, while opponents on the left argue that they do not go far enough in covering all of India's poor and vulnerable. The government believes that criticism from both sides suggests that the laws strike an appropriate balance. At a time when democracies are struggling with various models of welfarism, seeking to balance the imperative of fiscal retrenchment with alleviating the insecurity of vulnerable populations, India has moved in a direction that few thought possible for a developing country. From the Right to Information Act, which has empowered citizens and boosted government accountability and transparency, to the Right to Education Act, which has led to record-high school enrollment and pumped resources into moribund classrooms, the current government's reforms have changed the face of Indian society. One in five rural households benefit from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which provides employment mostly to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, and women in villages (in my own state, Kerala, 92 percent of the beneficiaries are women, whose lives have been transformed by their new income). By raising the bargaining power of agricultural labor, the act's passage has led to higher farm wages, greater purchasing power for the rural poor, and lower distress migration. And sustained government investment in public health is reflected in steady improvement in India's infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, and life expectancy. These measures cost money, but they also enable the poor to break free of poverty. When government policies keep India's telecom rates among the lowest in the world, it ensures that the poor can have access to a technology that increases their autonomy. When the government promotes food security, it is part of a bold effort to strengthen agriculture, which has led to record-high production of food grains. At the same time, economic reform has not been abandoned. Controversial budget provisions that had earlier deterred investors are being reviewed. The decision to permit foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and civil aviation has been pursued, even at the cost of losing a recalcitrant coalition ally. Subsidies on diesel and cooking gas have been reduced in the face of vociferous opposition. Pension reforms have been passed, and insurance reforms are on the anvil. India has suffered, like most developing countries, from declining foreign investment, poor export performance, and a depreciating currency. But even pessimistic estimates project 5 percent growth in the coming fiscal year, and a good monsoon should ensure a bumper harvest. The measures that India should take to get its economic narrative back on track are the stuff of heated debate among economists and pundits. But for the aam aadmi -- the common man in whose name every party claims to speak -- these debates pale in significance beside the major steps taken to build a social safety net in a country where everyone had been expected to fend for himself. Cynics say the new measures are motivated by political considerations alone: the next general election is due by May next year. Before it was passed, one wit joked that the Food Security Bill meant “food for the poor, security for the ruling party and the bill for the taxpayer.” But it should be no surprise in a democracy that the government should pursue policies that are popular with a majority of voters. The fiscal costs of such measures are high, but the average Indian is better off now than he or she was nine years ago. Any government would feel vindicated by that record.

Intense use of tear gas blamed in death of man during protests in Istanbul

An autopsy has been performed Sept. 14 on the body of a man, following claims that his death the previous day might have been caused by the police use of tear gas. Serdar Kadakal died from a heart-attack on Sept. 13 in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district where protests have been met with a fierce police intervention for three days. Relatives have claimed that the death of the 35-year-old sound technician, who had a history of a heart condition, was caused by the intense use of tear gas by the police. His sister Sibel Kadakal said that the whole family had warned him not to go to his workplace, a well-known bar in the Bahariye neighborhood, which was the epicenter of the protests during the week. “He told us that he had trouble breathing. He did not need to go outside [the bar] because the gas which entered inside affected everyone. It was a small area. We have warned him not to go to work. His throat and chest were aching,” Kadakal said. “His wife was with him when he fainted. A doctor who knew about first aid has brought him back to life for a short time with cardiac massage. It’s a young death… So we have whys and hows,” she said. However the police rejected that Kadakal's death could have any connection with the use of tear gas. “This person was not in an area where gas was used by our forces," the police said in a statement on its website. “Kadakal’s relatives have said that although his heart valve was replaced in 1996 and he used a cardiac pacemaker, he smoked and took alcohol despite [doctors] forbade him,” the statement said. But Sibel Kadakal said that they were not convinced that tear gas did not have any effect on his brothers’ death. “Exposure to [tear gas] harms even a normal person. It may cause different sort of effects in an ailing person’s body,” she said. Kadakal’s funeral will be held tomorrow in Istanbul. Six people have already died during anti-government protests across Turkey since the end of May, the last one being Ahmet Atakan, a 22-year-old demonstrator who passed away on Sept. 10 in Antakya. Meanwhile, Taksim Solidarity Platform which initiated the protests in May denouncing the demolition of trees in Gezi Park, have called for a demonstration in Kadıköy on Sept. 15 at 3 p.m.


Obama says U.S. remains prepared to act on Syria if diplomacy fails

President Barack Obama vowed on Saturday that Syria will be held to account if it fails to live up to its promises to surrender chemical weapons as he faced questions about how a deal brokered by U.S. and Russian diplomats would be enforced. In a statement, Obama said a framework deal was an important, concrete step toward getting Syria's chemical weapons under international control so they can ultimately be destroyed. The deal emerged from Geneva talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "While we have made important progress, much more work remains to be done," said Obama. Obama has been bombarded with criticism for his handling of Syria and a muddled message. First, he took U.S. forces to the brink of a military strike over an August 21 poison gas attack in Syria that Washington blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He then asked Congress to authorize the strike, but less than a week later requested lawmakers hold off on a vote to allow diplomacy more time. He now faces questions about how the Syrian diplomatic deal will be enforced. Senior administration officials said on Friday the United States will not insist that the use of military force be included among the consequences Syria would face in a U.N. Security Council resolution being negotiated, in order to avoid a Russian veto. Obama, in his statement, insisted that the United States "remains prepared to act" should diplomatic efforts fail. But Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have sharply criticized Obama's handling of Syria, said the deal is meaningless unless backed up with the threat of military force. "It requires a willful suspension of disbelief to see this agreement as anything other than the start of a diplomatic blind alley," they said. But Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, disagreed. She said the agreement will allow for enforcement under the U.N. charter's Chapter 7, which covers the use of military force. "The firm and united response agreed upon today to end Syria's deadly use of chemical weapons was only made possible by a clear and credible threat of the use of force by the United States," said Pelosi. Obama said the United States will continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to "ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today." "In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military force, we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy," he added. U.S. forces were still positioned for possible military strikes on Syria. "We haven't made any changes to our force posture to this point," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement Saturday. Obama, briefed on the results of the Geneva talks by his national security adviser, Susan Rice, said he had spoken to both Kerry and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who will lead U.S. efforts on the U.N. negotiations.

Poverty may strike 25 million more Europeans

Austerity policies may leave additional 25 million Europeans below the poverty line by 2025, international charity organization Oxfam said. The head of the European division of Oxfam, Natalia Alonso, said the austerity measures were nothing but "moral and economic nonsense." In her opinion, the cuts for social assistance, education, medicine, and unfair tax policies, can reverse the results of decades of struggle for social rights. At the same time, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso calls on EU countries to continue reforms even after economic growth resumes.

Putin, Obama agree to exchange data on Syria’s chemical arsenal - Lavrov's interview

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama have agreed to exchange data on Syria’s chemical warfare stockpiles, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said appearing on Russian TV Saturday night. Sergei Lavrov also said that they started their Syria dialogue in June 2012 when they met at the G20 summit in Los Cabos in Mexico.
They agreed at the time that they must do everything in their power to prevent Syria’s chemical stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands. Russia and the US have already asked the Syrian government to supply them with information about Syria’s chemical stockpiles. Lavrov also said on TV that his Geneva meeting with John Kerry had produced an agreement to press for a political solution in Syria, refrain from military interference there and have Syria’s chemical arsenal removed and destroyed by next summer. He said that Russia and the US had been trying to find out whether Syria’s chemical stockpiles are still safe. Syria has promised to start complying with the international chemical weapons ban even before signing it, from the moment it applies for signing. Lavrov said on TV on Saturday that this Syrian move had enabled Russia and the US to strike a deal on placing Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control. He also said it is of no importance whether Syria took this step in order to avert military action against it. Russia believes any report about supplies of chemical weapons to Syria must be immediately investigated by the UN Security Council. Lavrov said on TV on Saturday that this is part of agreements reached at last year’s summit of the G8 in Northern Ireland. He said Russia and the US are determined to stick to these agreements. The US has promised Russia to try to persuade the Western-recognized faction of the Syrian opposition to send delegates to the second Geneva conference on Syria. Lavrov also said on TV on Saturday that John Kerry had assured him of American efforts to bring American allies to the Geneva conference. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted on UN-authorized investigations into allegations that chemical arms have been smuggled from Europe into Syria. "As regards reports on supposed supplies of chemical weapons from Europe, they need double-checking. All that must be put before the UN Security Council and investigated. If it is confirmed, the [smuggling] channels will have to be found out and cut short immediately," Lavrov said in a Russian television program on Saturday. Lavrov was speaking after he and US Secretary of State John Kerry reached an agreement on Saturday to bring Syrian chemical arms under international control and have all of them destroyed by mid-2014. The deal was the outcome of three days of talks between the two men in Geneva.
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Russia: 2 million citizens back Communist no confidence in government bill– MP

A senior Communist party MP said two million citizens had signed a petition calling for the dismissal of the government chaired by Dmitry Medvedev and the forming of a “national unity” cabinet.
Communist Party Secretary Sergey Obukhov announced the news at the Friday plenary session of the State Duma and confirmed his comrades’ intention to submit the initiative to parliament “before the next anniversary of the Great October Revolution” (which is marked on November 7). The MP also added that apart from millions of handwritten signatures, the petition had collected 130,000 signatures on a dedicated web-site which automatically obliges the State Duma to consider it as a legal initiative. The internet document surpassed the required threshold of 100,000 signatures by the end of the Spring session of the Duma, but the Communists decided not to submit it till the autumn, because this would make it easier for opponents to silently reject the move.
Another top Communist MP – deputy Duma speaker Ivan Melnikov posted the full text of the address in his blog, listing 10 reasons for government dissolution. These included accusations of poor economic and financial policies, protest against the plans to continue privatization of state property, and the membership of the WTO, which, according to the Communists, is harmful to the Russian economy. The leftists predictably are against the reduction of state social security payments, the decrease of state participation in science and technology, and the allegedly poor performance of the nation’s defense and security sectors. Melnikov also wrote that the current cabinet should be replaced by a “cabinet of national interests and national trust” described as “a team of professionals who would overcome the policy of decadence and return the country to the path of dynamic and stable development”. The politician called upon citizens to throw more support behind the planned move. United Russia currently holds 238 of the 450 Lower House seats which gives the Communists’ initiative a chance only if some MPs within the majority party caucus decide to support it. Presently there are no signs that this could happen.

Afghanistan:Zalmai Rassoul a Probable Candidate for Presidency: Karzai
President Hamid Karzai on Saturday said that
Zalmai Rassoul, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, could be a likely candidate for the Presidential election in the spring. On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, held in Beshkik, Kyrgyzstan, President Karzai met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said that Afghanistan would have two or three prominent candidates running for Presidency in 2014. During the course of discussion, President Karzai named Rasoul a "probable candidate" in the upcoming election. Mr. Rasoul was part of Afghan delegation at the SCO Summit. Mr. Rasoul is not openly committed to any of the major political coalitions that have formed in recent weeks. Dr. Zalmai Khalilzad, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Ali Ahmad Jalali, former Afghan Interior Minister; Ahmad Zia Masoud, the leader of the National Front Party (NFP) are all names that have circulated as likely candidates in the Presidential elections set for April 5. Although 15 Presidential candidates and over 400 candidates for the Provincial Councils have received information packets from the Independent Election Commission (IEC) this past week, the Commission urged the candidates not to register themselves merely for getting fame. The IEC asked only those people to register who are eligible to contest. "15 people came and received the information packets of the Presidential election. The number of candidates will increase if it goes on like this. We ask those who are not qualified for candidacy, to avoid coming to the Commission. Because they are wasting their time and ours as well," Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman of the IEC told TOLOnews. Speculations have circulated that the field of Presidential candidates will be smaller in this election than it has in the past. This is said to be likely because of the new conditions for candidates to be eligible for the ballot, including the gathering of 100,000 signatures of supporters from multiple provinces around the country. The distribution of information packets for the Presidential and Provincial Councils' candidates was kicked-off by the IEC on September 9th. The officials of the IEC said that 33 people out of over 400 Provincial Council candidates, who received information packets, are women. "Among the 450 Provincial Council candidates, 33 of them are women. They also received the information packets," Mr. Noor said. On Friday, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, the head of the IEC Secretariat, announced that certain voter registration services would be extended past the September 26 date marking the official ending of the registration process in order to better include remote communities that have been unable to fully participate in the process thus far. Voter registration opportunities for particular rural areas will provided for another 45 additional days. In addition to the opening of more registration centres and keeping existing centres open longer, part of the IEC's efforts to make the process more inclusive will be the deploying of a mobile registration team. The team is expected to be sent out on September 28 and visit some of the most remote communities in Afghanistan. As low female turn-out still remains a serious concern for the Commission, the mobile registration team will give a special focus to encouraging and facilitating the registration of women. Part of the team's responsibilities will therefore be a voting rights and electoral process awareness campaign. So far, the IEC reports that around 11,66,944 individuals have been registered for the elections, out of which 3,26,634 are women.

Nazia Hassan - Disco Deewane

Nazia Hassan - Disco Deewane (HQ) (very rare) (early 80's) from waqas411 on Vimeo.

India: Relief and hope after ruling in gang rape case

Deutsche Welle
Thousands celebrated in New Delhi after a court sentenced four men to death over a fatal gang rape last December. Many view the judgment as historic, hoping it will deter future attacks against women.
A Mexican wave went up connecting a section of the crowd gathered outside the court in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Sweets were distributed while others gave each other hugs to rejoice a moment they had waited restlessly. It was the denouement of a case that had the entire nation riveted. It almost seemed as if there was a sense of closure following the verdict. The four men - Mukesh Singh (26), Akshay Thakur (28), Vinay Sharma (20) and Pawan Gupta (19) - who had been convicted of gang raping and murdering a 23-year-old medical student and attacking her male companion on the night of 16 December, 2012, were given death sentences."In these times when crimes against women are on the rise, the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act. We need to send a message that it will not be tolerated," Judge Yogesh Khanna said, while delivering his much-awaited judgment.
'A historic ruling '
Reactions were on predicted lines not just amongst the people waiting for hours outside the court, but also across the nation."I will sleep in peace. I was hoping to get justice. The incident was historic and therefore the ruling is also historic. No one should dare to commit such a crime again," said Badrinath Singh, the victim's father. Alongside him was the victim's mother, Asha Devi, who looked composed and even poised. "I was expecting this from the court. This verdict will deter other potential rapists and will also send a message to some parents to bring their wayward sons into line," she said.The sentencing can be appealed to a higher court and the convicts may also ask the president for clemency. But considering the brutality of the crime, many legal experts think death is almost certain for the convicts. Just a few days ago, a juvenile court verdict bitterly disappointed the parents. One of the attackers, who was 17 at the time of the assault, was sentenced to three years in a correctional facility, the maximum punishment for a juvenile found guilty of rape and murder. For others who had been following the high-profile case, the guilty verdict was what they wanted to hear. "It is a bold judgment and it will go a long way in securing justice for women who have been sexually assaulted. From now on, we have to send the word that justice should never be delayed," Poornima Advani, chairwoman of the National Commission for Women told DW. "I am very happy. It is a matter of great satisfaction and pride for everyone. The credit for the case reaching this verdict should be given to both the prosecution and the police," Neeraj Kumar, former police commissioner told DW. It was under his tenure that the police force captured the accused within 72 hours.
'Her fight has not gone unheard'
A teenager who had been visiting the court where the men were being tried could not hold back her tears. "I can go back home today with some pride and honor. 'Brave heart Nirbhaya' as we all have referred to her in the last nine months can rest happily in heaven. Her fight has not gone unheard," said a sobbing Pratibha.The case was closely followed across India, turning the spotlight on the issue of violence against women. Pinky Anand, a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India, said she was amazed at the pace of the trial. "For Indian standards, the conclusion of the so-called Nirbhaya rape case is remarkable. The crime was committed in December 2012 and the trial of the juvenile accused was concluded in July 2013," Anand told DW.

Pakistan-IMF relations

EDITORIAL : Daily Times
The International Monetary Fund(IMF) has issued Pakistan’s economic scorecard, predicting a near term crisis if the policymakers of the country do not pay heed to the issues inflicting the country. Of the many crises pulling the country down financially, security, the energy crisis, law and order and institutional imbalance stand out. The report says that the impending drawdown of US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 could trigger a new spate of Taliban assaults that could jeopardize the economy as investment could shrink further and GDP growth decline. With the dearth of foreign and domestic investors taking its toll, the budget deficit would climb up to eight percent, pushing more people below the poverty line as double digit inflation sets in. Barely a month in office and with stark economic realities staring it hard in the face, the government had little option but to reach out to the international lending agencies for funds to replenish its diminishing financial coffers. Under the new agreement, the IMF will give Pakistan $ 6.7 billion over the next three years. The first tranche of the loan has been released early this month to the tune of $ 540 million. In the absence of this programme, Pakistan ran the risk of suffering a balance of payments crisis. Based on past experience, the real challenge before the government will be to implement the IMF's conditionalities, without which this Extended Fund Facility too could suffer the same fate as earlier IMF programmes. These conditionalities call for widening the tax base, bringing tax evaders into the tax net and pushing the underpayers to pay fully. Even now these issues stands unresolved and unless the government is determined to do things differently, the country will not come out of its economic disasters as predicted by theIMF that sees Pakistan's economy at high risk in the near future. Quarterly IMF reviews will determine the release of future tranches. There is no gainsaying the fact that Pakistan with a three percent economic growth rate is standing on the edge. In order to provide a decent living to its people and to fully absorb the growing labour force, Pakistan requires at least seven percent growth. Even that looks improbable in the near future as Pakistan enforces austerity measures conditioned by the IMF. What we are looking at is economic contraction for the short term as investment bogs down and growth slows. But this short-term pain could eventually get the economy's essentials right, provided the government implements the hard but critical decisions. One of the important decisions is to bridge the fiscal deficit which the Finance Minister has committed to reduce to 4.5 percent of GDP over a period of three years. However, this commitment would require sounds actions in improving tax collection, reversing the energy deficit and plugging the drain on the exchequer from Public Sector Enterprises (PSE). The track record of the Federal Board of Revenue has been unsatisfactory over the past few years. Failing to put into effect the necessary measures, it incurred a shortfall of almost Rs 300 billion in its own target for 2012-13. To the IMF this had been a major policy flaw, in fact reneging on a commitment by the previous government given when securing the last loan of $ 11 billion. The shortfall reflects the inability or worse the weakness of the government to govern the ungoverned. As far as the PSEs are concerned, they had remained storehouses of political employment and depending on the government’s bailout plans to survive. For the energy sector, the IMF has again asked the government to drop costly subsidies. Electricity tariffs have already been increased, to make up the cost incurred on paying the circular debt. However, these measures should translate into long term economic prosperity for which the government should stem the wave of terrorism and the long running energy crisis. The IMF report expressed concern over the sectarian violence in Balochistan and street crimes in Karachi. We are hard put to build any case in our favour. Let’s hope we put down our old binoculars and see things anew with a fresh perspective. We should pursue implementing agricultural tax and documenting the informal economy. Tough as the situation is, our future depends on making the hard choices.

Bilawal Bhutto: PPP Patron-in-Chief’s statement – International Day of Democracy Sept 15
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party has said democracy and more democracy remains the only path for the people of Pakistan to accomplish the cherished goals of the founding fathers and heroes of both independent and democratic movements. On the occasion of “International Day of Democracy,” being observed across the world on September 15 under the aegis of United Nations, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said ‘Strengthening the voices for Democracy” may be among top priorities for establishing a true democratic order for the future generations of the country. International Parliamentary Union (IPU) is promoting International Day of Democracy 2013 through its Member Parliaments of 162 countries around the world. IPU has set “”Strengthening Voices for Democracy” as 2013 theme for the event. He said Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and thousands of democratic leaders and workers sacrificed their lives to bring equal rights to all and sundry. “Democracy is the basic rights of all the societies who believe in human equality and justice,” he said adding Pakistan Peoples Party will continue to its struggle for democracy for generations without any intervals. PPP Patron-In-Chief pointed that his party has offered sacrifices for democracy much more than many independence movements in the contemporary history because it believes that collective wisdom of the masses can pluck the societies ridden with political, social and economic problems towards peace, prosperity and justice. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari exhorted the Party workers to keep torch of the democratic struggle high and continue to play their lead rule in strengthening the democracy and democratic rule in the country.

Pakistan: Former President Zardari condemns Lahore child rape

Former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has condemned child rape in Lahore and termed it a test case for police.
He said that the inhuman act committed to the innocent child was a slap on the face of society. Zardrai demanded of the government to bring the culprits to book carrying out speedy investigation. He also stressed the need to reform criminal justice system in the country to avert such incidents.

Bahrain intensifying human rights abuses: Activist

The Al Khalifa regime has significantly intensified its crackdown on the ongoing anti-government movements in Bahrain over the past month, a Bahraini human rights activist tells Press TV. “For the past one month, we have seen a deteriorating situation especially with the human rights record,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei in a Friday interview. “We have recorded so many incidents of house raids, ongoing arrests on streets, checkpoints everywhere, so the situation more or less on daily basis has been deteriorating by all means,” he pointed out. Alwadaei also pointed to the continuation of “systematic torture” at state-run buildings, including the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) from which there have been numerous evidences of different torturing tactics such as hose beating, electric shocks and even sexual abuses. The Manama regime’s human rights record has come under scrutiny over its handling of anti-regime protests that erupted across the country in early 2011. Bahrainis demanded political reform and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests. Manama also called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others arrested in the clampdown. On September 9, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) that she was frustrated with reports of human rights violations in Bahrain.

Turkish prosecutors indict Syrian rebels for seeking chemical weapons

A court indictment by the Turkish prosecutors into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian rebels has once again highlighted fears this week that sarin toxic gas was used by the opposition and not the Assad government. The prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana has issued a 132-page indictment, alleging that six men of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham tried to seek out chemicals with the intent to produce the nerve agent, sarin gas, a number of Turkish publications reported. The main suspect in the case, 35-year-old Syrian-national Hytham Qassap has been charged with “being a member of a terrorist organization” and “attempting to acquire weapons for a terrorist organization.” The other 5, all Turkish nationals are being charged with “attempting to acquire weapons for a terrorist organization.” The indictment alleges that Qassap tried to setup a network in Turkey in order to obtain chemical materials for the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham Brigades. Citing telephone calls made by the cell, the prosecution believes that the group ordered at least ten tons of chemicals, Al-Alam News Network reports. The prosecution also dismissed claims that the suspects were unaware of their wrong doing. “The claim that the suspects didn’t know about the possibility of producing sarin nerve gas from the chemicals they tried to buy is not true which was established when they were testifying,” the document reads. Meanwhile all six suspects have pleaded not guilty. “The suspects have pleaded not guilty saying that they had not been aware the materials they had tried to obtain could have been used to make sarin gas. Suspects have been consistently providing conflicting and incoherent facts on this matter,” the indictment said. If convicted, Qassab faces a 25 year prison sentence, while his accomplices face 15 years prison terms. The six men were a part of a group of 11 people arrested in their safe house in Adana on May 23, 2013. Their apprehension came about after surveillance by Turkish police who’d received a tip that Syrian jihadists were trying to acquire two government-regulated military-grade chemical substances. Five of the detained were released from custody after questioning, background checks and after lab tests proved that chemicals seized during the arrest were not sarin gas.he international community has long been ignoring worrying reports that the rebel fighters in Syria might be capable of carrying out a chemical attack. Russian President, Vladimir Putin also reiterated this week that while no one doubts that poison gas was indeed used in Syria, there is “every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.” Evidence that chemical weapons were used by the opposition was also highlighted by the two European hostages that were freed from Syrian rebel captivity last Sunday. In a phone conversation overheard by hostage Pierre Piccinin da Prata, he said it was clear the rebels used gas on civilians in an August 21 attack near Damascus. “I don’t think that Bashar Al-Assad and the Syrian government are to blame for the chemical attack in Al-Ghouta,” Piccinin told RT. “It would have been absurd for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons.” The Syrian government has always rejected any accusations of using chemical weapons. After one of the first alleged incidents in Aleppo in March, it was the government that called on UN to send in chemical experts. Another alleged chemical weapons use was reported in Homs in December 2012. Russian experts flew out to the site of the attack in March to collect samples from the incident. On 9 July 2013, Moscow submitted the results of its inquiry into the use of chemical weapons at Aleppo to the United Nations. Russian scientists analyzing the 19 March 2013 attack found that it was most likely launched by opposition forces, and not the Syrian government. “It was determined that on March 19 the rebels fired an unguided missile Bashair-3 at the town of Khan al-Assal, which has been under government control. The results of the analysis clearly show that the shell used in Khan al-Assal was not factory made and that it contained sarin,” UN envoy Vitaly Churkin has said. The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria into the attack in March concluded that no evidence of the use of sarin by Syria’s government troops has so far been uncovered. The lead investigator, Carla Del Ponte, did hint that it was the rebels that most likely used the chemical weapons.“The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict. As a result, the Commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time,” the statement read. Meanwhile, the UN chemical weapons inspection team has completed the report on the latest chemical attack in Syria on August 21 and will deliver it to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon over the weekend. "I believe that the report will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons (were) used, even though I cannot publicly say at this time before I receive this report," Moon said. Although the team was not authorized to draw any conclusions on who was the perpetrator of the attack, a number of US officials speaking to the media on condition of anonymity over the last couple of days indicated that the report would hint the Assad government was responsible.

US-Russia reach landmark deal on destruction of Syria chemical weapons arsenal

Russia and the United States reached a deal on a framework that will see the destruction or removal of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid- 2014. Under the plan, the Assad government has one week to hand over an inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart John Kerry announced the plan on putting an end to Syria’s chemical weapons program following their third day of negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland. Kerry outlined several points of the plan, which would see the “rapid assumption of control by the international community” of Syria’s chemical weapons. He further stressed US-Russia commitment to the complete destruction of not only of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, but also its production and refinement capabilities. Syria will also become a party to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which outlaws their production and use. Damascus must submit within a week’s time – “and not 30 days” – a complete inventory of related arms, “including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production and research and development facilities." The Syrian government should provide the OPCW, the UN and other supporting personnel “with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria.” Lavrov later said that security for all international inspectors on the ground should be provided for not only by the government, but opposition forces as well. It remains undecided who will actually be tasked with destroying the stock, although their destruction “outside of Syria" and under “OPWC supervision” would prove to be optimal. On the timetable, Kerry said UN inspectors must be on the ground no later than November, while the destruction of chemical weapons must be completed by the middle of 2014. "Providing this framework is fully implemented it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also their neighbors," Kerry said adding that Russian and US teams of experts had reached "a shared assessment" of the existing stockpile and that Syria must destroy all of its weapons. It was possible that the Syrian rebels have some chemical weapons, he acknowledged. If Damascus fails to comply with the plan, a response in accordance with UN Charter Chapter 7 will follow, Kerry said, in a reference to the use of military force. The chapter provides for "action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security" in the event other measures fail.But Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the agreement did not include any potential use of force against Syria. He however said that deviations from the plan, including attacks on UN inspectors, would be brought to the UN Security Council, which would decide on further action. There is no prior agreement about what form the Security Council’s measures might take if Syria does not comply, Kerry said. The joint press conference was rather jovial in nature, contrasting sharply with the public barbs which have been traded between Russian and US officials in recent days. Kerry in fact concluded the press conference by teasing Lavrov that he “could be a senator” after the Russian FM gave a rather voluble reply to a question posed by a Russian journalist.
Kick starting Geneva II
Meanwhile, both sides reiterated previously stated intentions to meet with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, on the margins of the UN General Assembly on September 28. Speaking alongside Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, Brahimi said ongoing work to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control was a necessary step for convening the Geneva II conference. The conference, which is intended to hammer out a political solution to the brutal civil war which has embroiled Syria for over two years, could be held in October, Lavrov told reporters. On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to present a report to the Security Council which sources say contains overwhelming evidence that “chemical weapons were used” in an August 21 attack in a Damascus Suburb which killed between 355 and 1,729 people. The government of Bashar Assad strongly denied government forces were responsible for the attack, while the West overwhelmingly blamed Damascus, prompting US Barack Obama’s threat of military action. Obama has threatened to strike Syria unilaterally, prompting Russia’s Saturday’s joint proposal which will see Syria’s chemical weapons brought under international control. Although President Assad immediately acquiesced to the Russian-backed plan, rebel forces have resisted efforts which have staved off Western intervention in the country. On Saturday, the Free Syrian Army rejected a US-Russian deal as a stalling tactic and vowed to continue fighting to topple the Assad government. "The Russian-American initiative does not concern us. It only seeks to gain time," said Salim Idriss, the chief of the FSA command, said. "We completely ignore this initiative and will continue to fight to bring down the regime," he told a press conference Saturday in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Pursuing a Diplomatic Solution in Syria