Pan Africa Newswire
A demonstration of tens of thousands in London on March 28, 2009 opposing the G20 summit. The economic forum is meeting to discuss the global financial crisis. Demonstrators protested the imperialist wars and the trillion dollar handouts to the bankers., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits
Exclusive: phones were monitored and fake internet cafes set up to gather information from allies in London in 2009
Ewen MacAskill, Nick Davies, Nick Hopkins, Julian Borger and James Ball
The Guardian, Sunday 16 June 2013 15.46 EDT
Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.
The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.
The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by GCHQ and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.
There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were uncovered by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls "ground-breaking intelligence capabilities" to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.
• Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates' use of computers;
• Penetrating the security on delegates' BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;
• Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;
• Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;
• Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.
The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.
A briefing paper dated 20 January 2009 records advice given by GCHQ officials to their director, Sir Iain Lobban, who was planning to meet the then foreign secretary, David Miliband. The officials summarised Brown's aims for the meeting of G20 heads of state due to begin on 2 April, which was attempting to deal with the economic aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis. The briefing paper added: "The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG's desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it." Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence product being passed to "ministers".
According to the material seen by the Guardian, GCHQ generated this product by attacking both the computers and the telephones of delegates.
One document refers to a tactic which was "used a lot in recent UK conference, eg G20". The tactic, which is identified by an internal codeword which the Guardian is not revealing, is defined in an internal glossary as "active collection against an email account that acquires mail messages without removing them from the remote server". A PowerPoint slide explains that this means "reading people's email before/as they do".
The same document also refers to GCHQ, MI6 and others setting up internet cafes which "were able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished". This appears to be a reference to acquiring delegates' online login details.
Another document summarises a sustained campaign to penetrate South African computers, recording that they gained access to the network of their foreign ministry, "investigated phone lines used by High Commission in London" and "retrieved documents including briefings for South African delegates to G20 and G8 meetings". (South Africa is a member of the G20 group and has observer status at G8 meetings.)
A detailed report records the efforts of the NSA's intercept specialists at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire to target and decode encrypted phone calls from London to Moscow which were made by the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, and other Russian delegates.
Other documents record apparently successful efforts to penetrate the security of BlackBerry smartphones: "New converged events capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers … Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO of using smartphones. Exploited this use at the G20 meetings last year."
The operation appears to have run for at least six months. One document records that in March 2009 – the month before the heads of state meeting – GCHQ was working on an official requirement to "deliver a live dynamically updating graph of telephony call records for target G20 delegates … and continuing until G20 (2 April)."
Another document records that when G20 finance ministers met in London in September, GCHQ again took advantage of the occasion to spy on delegates, identifying the Turkish finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, as a target and listing 15 other junior ministers and officials in his delegation as "possible targets". As with the other G20 spying, there is no suggestion that Simsek and his party were involved in any kind of criminal offence. The document explicitly records a political objective – "to establish Turkey's position on agreements from the April London summit" and their "willingness (or not) to co-operate with the rest of the G20 nations".
The September meeting of finance ministers was also the subject of a new technique to provide a live report on any telephone call made by delegates and to display all of the activity on a graphic which was projected on to the 15-sq-metre video wall of GCHQ's operations centre as well as on to the screens of 45 specialist analysts who were monitoring the delegates.
"For the first time, analysts had a live picture of who was talking to who that updated constantly and automatically," according to an internal review.
A second review implies that the analysts' findings were being relayed rapidly to British representatives in the G20 meetings, a negotiating advantage of which their allies and opposite numbers may not have been aware: "In a live situation such as this, intelligence received may be used to influence events on the ground taking place just minutes or hours later. This means that it is not sufficient to mine call records afterwards – real-time tip-off is essential."
In the week after the September meeting, a group of analysts sent an internal message to the GCHQ section which had organised this live monitoring: "Thank you very much for getting the application ready for the G20 finance meeting last weekend … The call records activity pilot was very successful and was well received as a current indicator of delegate activity …
"It proved useful to note which nation delegation was active during the moments before, during and after the summit. All in all, a very successful weekend with the delegation telephony plot."
Ahead of G8 summit, report reveals UK spied on officials in 2009 summit in London
Posted on Jun 17, 2013 at 09:22am IST
Britain intercepted phone calls and monitored computers used by officials taking part in two high-level international finance meetings in London in 2009, a British newspaper said on Sunday.
The Guardian said some delegates from countries in the Group of 20 - which comprises top economies around the world - used Internet cafes that had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their emails.
The report was published hours before leaders of the Group of Eight countries - all of which are in the G20 - start a two-day summit in Northern Ireland.
Ahead of G8 summit, report reveals UK spied on officials in 2009 summit in London
The Guardian said it had seen classified documents that detailed secret monitoring by British intelligence of officials at a G20 leaders summit and a finance ministers' meeting in 2009 and suggested it had been sanctioned at a senior level by the government of former prime minister Gordon Brown.
The aim of the monitoring which included tracing who was calling who appeared to have been to get an edge in the meetings and targets included South Africa and Turkey, the report said.
A spokesman for Britain's foreign ministry declined to comment. The Labour party, which held power in 2009, was not immediately available for comment.
The Guardian this month reported details of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) of phone records and Internet data in the United States. The newspaper said the evidence was contained in documents that were leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and seen by the Guardian.
Edward Snowden support demonstration at the United States embassy in Hong Kong. The FBI says it will pursue Snowden for revealing that the National Security Agency is spying on billions around the world., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Hong Kong rally backs Snowden, denounces allegations of U.S. spying
Sun, Jun 16 2013
By Grace Li and Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A few hundred rights advocates and political activists marched through Hong Kong on Saturday to demand protection for Edward Snowden, who leaked revelations of U.S. electronic surveillance and is now believed to be holed up in the former British colony.
Marchers gathered outside the U.S. consulate shouting slogans denouncing alleged spying operations aimed at China and Hong Kong, but the numbers were modest compared to rallies over other rights and political issues.
"Arrest Obama, free Snowden," protesters shouted outside the slate grey building as police looked on. Many waved banners that said: "Betray Snowden, betray freedom", "Big brother is watching you" and "Obama is checking your email".
In his first comments on Snowden's case, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said late on Saturday that the government would handle it in accordance with established laws.
"When the relevant mechanism is activated, the Hong Kong SAR Government will handle the case of Mr Snowden in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong," he said.
"Meanwhile, the government will follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated."
Some protesters blew whistles in support of Snowden, 29, the American former CIA contractor who has acknowledged being behind leaks of the surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.
The procession moved on to government headquarters in the city, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but enjoys far more liberal laws on dissent and freedom of expression.
About a dozen groups organized two rallies, including the city's two largest political camps. Leaders of major political parties sought explanations for Snowden's allegations of spying.
Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party, the DAB, demanded an apology from Washington, clarification of "illegal" espionage activities and an immediate halt to them.
"I think the Hong Kong government should protect him," the DAB's vice-chairwoman, Starry Lee, said outside the consulate.
Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong on May 20. He checked out of a luxury hotel on Monday and his whereabouts remain unknown. Snowden has said he intends to stay in Hong Kong to fight any potential U.S. moves to extradite him.
CHINA AVOIDS COMMENT ON CASE
China has avoided any explicit comment on its position towards Snowden. A senior source with ties to the Communist Party leadership said Beijing was reluctant to jeopardize recently improved ties with Washington.
Snowden told the South China Morning Post this week that Americans had spied extensively on targets including the Chinese University of Hong Kong that hosts an exchange which handles nearly all the city's domestic web traffic. Other alleged targets included government officials, businesses and students.
Snowden pledged not to "hide from justice" and said he would place his trust in Hong Kong's legal system. Some legal experts, however, say an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States has functioned smoothly since 1998.
It is unclear whether Chinese authorities would intervene over any U.S. attempts to extradite Snowden, though lawyers say Beijing has rarely interfered with extradition cases.
His arrival comes at a sensitive time for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, whose popularity has sunk since taking office last year amid a series of scandals and corruption probes into prominent figures.
Leung has offered no comment on Snowden.
Interest among residents into the case is growing and numbers could rise if extradition proceedings are launched.
Demonstrations on issues ranging from denunciations of pro-communist education policy imposed by Beijing, high property prices and a growing wealth gap have attracted large crowds.
A vigil marking the anniversary of China's June 1989 crackdown on democracy advocates drew tens of thousands this month and a record 180,000 last year.
Diplomats and opposition figures in the city have warned of growing behind-the-scenes meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs, as well as deep-rooted spying activities.
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Anne-Marie Roantree; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski and Michael Perry)
Participants in the National March for Jobs in Pittsburgh on September 20, 2009. The demonstration organized by the Bail Out the People Movement kicked off the protests surrounding the G20 summit. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.AP/ June 16, 2013, 9:40 PM
Report: U.K. eavesdropped on diplomats during G-20 summit
LONDONThe Guardian newspaper says the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet cafe in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations.
The report - the latest in a series of revelations which have ignited a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering - came just hours before Britain was due to open the G-8 summit Monday, a meeting of the seven biggest economies plus Russia, in Northern Ireland. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward conversation as the delegates arrive for talks.
"The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable," said British academic Richard J. Aldrich, whose book "GCHQ" charts the agency's history.
The Guardian cites more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ's intelligence operations, which it says involved, among other things, hacking into the South African foreign ministry's computer network and targeting the Turkish delegation at the 2009 G-20 summit in London.
The source material - whose authenticity could not immediately be determined - appears to be a mixed bag. The Guardian describes one as "a PowerPoint slide," another as "a briefing paper" and others simply as "documents."
Some of the leaked material was posted to the Guardian's website with heavy redactions. A spokesman for the newspaper said that the redactions were made at the newspaper's initiative, but declined to elaborate.
It wasn't completely clear how Snowden would have had access to the British intelligence documents, although in one article the Guardian mentions that source material was drawn from a top-secret internal network shared by GCHQ and the NSA. Aldrich said he wouldn't be surprised if the GCHQ material came from a shared network accessed by Snowden, explaining that the NSA and GCHQ collaborated so closely that in some areas the two agencies effectively operated as one.
One document cited by the Guardian - but not posted to its website - appeared to boast of GCHQ's tapping into smartphones. The Guardian quoted the document as saying that "capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers." It went on to say that "Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO (a habit) of using smartphones," adding that spies "exploited this use at the G-20 meetings last year."
Another document cited - but also not posted - concerned GCHQ's use of a customized Internet cafe which was "able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished." No further details were given, but the reference to key logging suggested that computers at the caf? would have been pre-installed with malicious software designed to spy on key strokes, steal passwords, and eavesdrop on emails.
Aldrich said that revelation stuck out as particularly ingenious.
"It's a bit 'Mission Impossible,'" he said.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi meeting with the Nubian community from the southern regions of this North African state. The Nubians demanded an end to marginalization., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Egypt’s Mursi Seeks Home Reprieve in Syria, Ethiopia Crises
By Tarek El-Tablawy - Jun 16, 2013
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi cut ties with Syria and sent his foreign minister to Ethiopia over a dam dispute as the Islamist leader flexed political muscle two weeks before he faces mass rallies against his rule.
In suspending diplomatic relations with Syria and calling for a no-fly zone over the war-ravaged country, Mursi builds on earlier efforts to paint himself as a leader trying to reclaim Egypt’s position as an Arab political powerhouse. The move drew a sharp rebuke from Syria, which said he was pandering to U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
Egypt and its army will stand by the Syrian people “until their rights are granted and a new elected leadership is chosen,” Mursi told a stadium packed with Islamist supporters on June 15 as he took direct aim at Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based and Iran-backed Shiite militia that has joined the fight against Syrian rebels. “Today we stand against Hezbollah for Syria.”
More than two years after the uprising that ousted his predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Mursi faces rising criticism over his stewardship of the economy and the polarization in the Arab world’s most populous nation. Secular and youth activists have called for mass anti-government demonstrations at the end of the month designed to strip him of legitimacy and build pressure for early presidential elections.
Mursi used his speech to assail his detractors, spearheaded by the Tamarod or “Rebel” campaign. He repeated that the push for protests was backed by former regime supporters, and said there are those who are “delusionary” and who want to undercut the “stability” that is growing day by day.
Egypt has decided to close the Syrian embassy in Cairo and is also recalling its envoy from Damascus, Mursi said. Syria condemned the decisions as “irresponsible” and reflective of Mursi’s “attempt to implement the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda,” the state-run Syrian News Agency reported, citing an unidentified senior government official. The official said Mursi’s call for a no-fly zone violated Syria’s sovereignty and aimed to “serve the goals of Israel and the U.S.”
The opposition has criticized Mursi’s government for its inability to work to block Ethiopia’s construction of a dam that Egyptians say may curtail their country’s access to vital Nile River water.
The U.S.-trained engineer’s approval rating continued its decline. By the end of his 11th month in office, 42 percent of respondents to a poll taken by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, or Baseera, voiced approval for him compared with 46 percent in the prior month. Of the 2,051 people surveyed, 54 percent said they supported early presidential elections, Baseera reported in a poll released on its website. The survey, conducted May 29 and May 30, had a margin of error of less than 3 percent.
Mursi’s critics argue the dam dispute is an example of the government’s inability to steer the country forward or safeguard its interests.
The Syria decision, while juxtaposed with a growing international outcry against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, was seen as another attempt by the president to obscure his domestic challenges.
Cutting relations with Assad’s regime is a necessity though it shouldn’t be used as a “political maneuver” ahead of June 30 to secure satisfaction and mobilize Salafi support against those who want change, Amr Hamzawy, a secular former lawmaker, said on his Twitter account. “This is a presidency that presents evidence every day of its failure.”
Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr was scheduled to meet Ethiopian officials today to discuss the dam project and voice Egypt’s reservations, including concerns with its design, the state-run Ahram Online reported.
Mursi’s secretary for foreign affairs, Khaled Al-Qazzaz, told foreign reporters on June 13 that Egypt supported African nations’ rights to develop, though he emphasized that their development couldn’t and shouldn’t come at Egypt’s expense.
To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org
US-backed Libyan counter-revolutionary militias spreading terror in the North African state. Since the overthrow of Gaddafi the country has fallen into complete chaos., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Senior Libyan judge assassinated in eastern Libya as security woes deepen
Published June 16, 2013
TRIPOLI, Libya – Libya's official news agency says unidentified militants assassinated a senior Libyan judge in an eastern city known to be a stronghold of Islamic militants.
LANA quoted the head of the Court of Cassation in Green Mountain province, Abdel-Aziz al-Trabilsi, as saying Judge Mohammed Naguib was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in front of the courthouse.
The killing took place in the eastern city of Derna, known to be dominated by hardline Islamic militias such as Ansar al-Shariah, which is suspected to have been behind the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
The violence underscores the instability that has rocked Libya after the overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Protests have continued for the second day in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey. Demonstrators have chanted anti-government slogans which arose from opposition to the NATO regime's effort to closed down a public park., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Defying gov't, Turkish protesters to stay in park
15 June 2013 16:17
ISTANBUL (AP) — Protesters will press on with their sit-in at an Istanbul park, an activist said Saturday, defying government appeals and a warning from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the two-week standoff that has fanned nationwide demonstrations to end.
The announcement from Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group of protest movements in Gezi Park, is likely to return the spotlight on Erdogan's government — and how it will respond. He already has offered to defer to a court ruling on the legality of the government's contested park redevelopment plan, and floated the possibility of a referendum on it.
Tayfun Kahraman — a Taksim Solidarity member who met with Erdogan in last-ditch talks that lasted until the pre-dawn hours Friday — said the protesters had agreed to continue their sit-in after holding a series of discussions about their response to the pledges made by Erdogan.
“We shall remain in the park until all of our democratic rights are recognized,” he told The Associated Press, insisting that four key demands laid out by protesters in the talks had not been met.
The group has insisted that apart from the park being left intact, it also wants anyone responsible for excessive police force to resign or be fired, all activists detained in the protests to be released, and for the police use of tear gas and other non-lethal weapons to be banned.
The “struggle will continue,” Taksim Solidarity said in a statement posted on its website and later read out in the park adding that “we shall continue to keep watch over our park.”
As the statement was read out, many among the gathered crowd clapped and began shouting, “This is just the beginning — the struggle continues!”
The protesters are angry about government plans to pull down trees and redevelop the park area by building a replica Ottoman-era barracks.
An initial sit-in drew a forceful police response on May 31, setting off a series of protests — Turkey's biggest in decades — across the country. They quickly morphed into an expression of discontent about Erdogan's government and what many said was his increasingly authoritarian manner of governing.
Erdogan, who was elected with 50 percent of the vote for his third term in 2011, vehemently rejects the accusations. But the protests put some of the greatest political pressure on him in his 10-year tenure.
After the demonstrations spread to dozens of cities, they have recently centered on Istanbul and Ankara. The protesters, ensconced in what has become a tent city in Gezi park, have shown no signs of leaving, and the park has become a symbol of a segment of society's discontent with Erdogan.
The anger has been fanned because riot police have at times used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse mostly peaceful protesters. Five people, including a police officer, have died and thousands of people have been injured — denting Erdogan's international reputation.
The announcement from Taksim Solidarity came as Erdogan's supporters were gearing up for their own pro-government demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday in Ankara and Istanbul.
Earlier Saturday, President Abdullah Gul wrote on Twitter that “everyone should now return home,” insisting that “the channels for discussion and dialogue” have opened — an apparent reference to the talks between Erdogan and a small group of delegates from the protest.
On Thursday, Erdogan issued a “final” warning that the protesters must leave the park.
Overnight, police firing water cannons and tear gas dispersed protesters who erected street barricades near Turkey's parliament in the capital, Ankara. It was the latest face-off between authorities and demonstrators over the park redevelopment plan and the police handling of the earliest days of the protests.
Chad President Idriss Deby meets with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Njdamena on February 7, 2013. The two states have had strained relations on the border with the Darfur region of Sudan., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Radio Dabanga (Hilversum)
Sudan: 'Joint Forces to Be Deployed to Solve Security Problems in West Darfur' - Commissioner
14 JUNE 2013
Sirba Locality — The Commissioner of Sirba locality in West Darfur, Abdullah Tayeb Torshin says that he has identified "real security problems" in the areas of Tendelti and Armankul on the Sudan-Chad border.
Commissioner Torshin told Radio Dabanga that "the state will deploy the joint forces in the coming days to secure and maintain the lives of citizens". He pointed out that the police contingent is insufficient to provide security.
The "joint forces" the Commissioner refers to are the result of a cooperation agreement between Sudan and Chad by which the Sudanese and Chadian armed forces cooperate in maintaining their mutual border.
"The authorities have withdrawn the armed forces since 2011, which has led to instability," he said.
The commissioner confirmed that Armankul market has been closed at the request of the Sheikhs and other native administrators due to its own security conditions and the frequent security problem it has been to the citizens.
He said that the market would reopen as soon as the joint forces arrive. Commissioner Torshin denies the existence of any security problems in the area's camps for the displaced: "Contrary to what the displaced have been repeating about violations by the militias, robbery, rape and new settlers seizing farmers' agricultural land.
"I have been following matters up myself with all the sheiks and omdas and have not heard any complaints or security problems reported by citizens or the displaced. The locality is a good place to live these days, in full cooperation with the native administration," he concluded.
East African proposed oil pipeline. The project would involve the states of South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. Oil is a major source of speculation in the region., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
SATURDAY 15 JUNE 2013
South Sudan backs Ethiopia’s Nile dam
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
June 14, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Governments of South Sudan has voiced support to a Ethiopia’s controversial Nile Dam project which the country is building along the Nile river, while Addis Ababa minimised Egyptian statements about war against Ethiopia.
South Sudanese chief negotiator expressed Thursday his country’s position on the construction of the Giant power plant being built some 30-40 Kilometers from Sudan border.
Speaking to Reporters in Addis Ababa, Pagan Amum, said Ethiopia dam project will benefit not only to Ethiopia but also to the current and future generations of Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia is currently exporting hydropower processes cheap Electricity to Djibouti and Sudan.
"Ethiopia has the right to use the Nile water in terms of generation of electricity, in terms of irrigation, and the way we see this development is that it is not affecting the interest of Sudan or Egypt", Amum said.
Newly independent South Sudan which recently became a new member to Nile basin countries has called on Egypt and Ethiopia to cooperate and engage in a dialogue to resolve Nile water Dispute.
After Ethiopia recently diverted the course of the Nile River, Egyptian politicians are suggesting sabotage including military action and supporting local rebels to destroy the Dam project.
Ethiopia’s communication Minister, Bereket Simon, said Friday that the threats from Egypt are only psychological feud that aimed to divert the Egyptians away from their internal political instability.
Simon Down played a potential of war with Egypt over Nile.
“Egypt doesn’t have firm and justified reason to go to war with Ethiopia” he said adding “even if they have the willing the question is do they have the capacity?’’
Bereket further stressed that military action will never solve disputes over Nile.
Last Wednesday Ugandan President Museveni in a national address at the parliament backed the construction of the Dam saying that African nations need such a hydro power plant to spur their economies and to generate clean energy as well as to curb deforestation practices aimed for fuel.
Museveni further warned Egypt to restrain from what he said was “the chauvinistic statements” coming out of Cairo in connection with Ethiopia’s $ 4.8 billion mega hydropower project which the north African nation fears could diminish its annual water share from Nile River.
"I have seen statements in the media coming out of the government of Egypt about the commendable work of Ethiopia. What Ethiopia is doing is what governments in Africa should do," he said.
Khartoum dissociated itself from Egypt and supported the Dam construction saying the three countries should work together to resolve minors problems mentioned in a report prepared by international experts including Egypt and Sudan.
ETHIOPIA RATIFIES NILE PACT
Ethiopia’s 547-member parliament on Thursday unanimously endorsed the new Nile River Cooperative Framework Agreement, making the horn of Africa’s nation the first country to ratify the agreement reached in Uganda in 2010.
The move comes after days of fierce verbal exchanges between Cairo and Addis Ababa that escalated tensions rising fears to a possible military confrontation.
The Entebbe agreement which was signed by four Nile basins aims to reverse a colonial-era agreement that has granted Sudan and Egypt lions share to the Rivers water resources of which over 85 % of it originate in Ethiopia.
Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi are also signatories to the Framework Agreement legislatures of the countries are similarly expected to endorse the cooperative agreement.
At least six riparian countries have to ratify the agreement to overthrow the colonial era treaty Ethiopia-led other riparian countries argue that it has abandoned their right to equitable utilization of the water resources.
South Sudan has in the past announced plans to sign the cooperative framework agreement.
US-backed military forces terrorize Somalians in the southern port city of Kismayo. Resistance to the occupation has continued since Kenyan Defense Forces entered the town., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Sunday, June 16th, 2013 at 03:36 am
SOMALIA: Can the Somali government facilitate reconciliation?
Raxanreeb Research Desk
The Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee appointed by the Somali Federal Government has published its report. The Committee members visited Kismayo, met the stakeholders and launched the report in a press conference in Nairobi, still the nerve centre of the international community as far as Somalia is concerned.
Hussein Arrab Isse, a committee member, said the press conference was about the Somali government’s position and the conference to be held in Mogadishu and to share findings with the international community.” His colleague Abdirahman Hosh, said the ultimate aim is to form a regional administration in which clans have a role.”
The committee appointed by the government faces many hurdles ranging from its lack of Independence, the conflicting messages committee members have put across and above all, inaccuracies in the report the committee launched in Nairobi this week. Can the report be road map for the government?
The report relies on two contradictory articles — article 49(1) and article 111E:
•The number and boundaries of the federal member states will be determined by the parliament on the recommendation of the Boundaries and Federations Commission, which is an independent Constitutional body.
•Moreover, member state boundaries will be based on the boundaries of the administrative regions as they existed before 1991, and the act of federation shall be a voluntary decision between two or more regions that may merge to form a federal member state.
The report emphasises the government’s argument that the draft constitution “does not recognise clans and it has set down an elaborate process of federating the country through a proper and constitutional means, with the Federal Parliament having the final say.” This interpretation leaves one with the impression that the Somali government ignores or has forgotten that the draft constitution was ratified by clan elders and that it is not clans who drove wedge among people but politicians.
A reconciliation committee is expected to make use of impartial communication but the Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee’s unstated remit is to conduct a public relations campaign for the government as the the following statement shows:
“The government shall embark on a trust and confidence building measures aimed at assuring all stakeholder communities of the government’s bona fide intentions.” The committee has been less careful about using adjectives when it is making a case for the government or when it takes a dig at the Jubaland leaders to recommend the government to ” urgently re-open channels of communication with all relevant stakeholders of the Jubba.” Who is relevant and who is irrelevant in the Jubaland deadlock?
The Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee’s partiality is examplified by its decision to rely on unsubstantiated “reports to the effect that Somalia’s charcoal exports, which never came to a complete halt, continue to benefit Al-Shabab an estimated US$ 100,000 per day even after they were forced out of Kismayo in September 2012.”
Why are Al Shabab’s signature attacks– suicide bombing and targeted assassinations– rare in Kismayo. The committee expects the government to professionalise ‘militias’ but it is Mogadishu-based Somali National Army, notorious for clashes between soldiers, who are in need of professionalising, whatever the word means for the committee.
No where is the committee members’ misinformation evident than in the following statement:
” Additionally, the Federal government has made it clear repeatedly to Galmudug for over two years that it is not a Federal unit as it has not satisfied the criteria and procedure for membership. ” The criteria for federal states was formulated last year, not two years, and the government in charge was not the Somali Federal Government but Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
There is a big question mark over the Somali government’s ability to take a lead in reconciliation efforts for Somalis.
Reconciliation does not mean micromanagement or using federal institutions to score political points.
A building in the southern Somalia port city of Kismayo bombed by Kenyan warships at the aegis of US imperialism. A multi-national Washington-directed military force, AMISOM, is occupying the country along with the CIA., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Kenya, Somalia in dispute over violent port city
Kenya, Somalia in dispute over port city; 10 dead in violence; UN Security Council concerned
By Abdi Guled, Associated Press | Associated Press – Fri, Jun 14, 2013
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- The al-Qaida-linked militants who once controlled the southern port city of Kismayo are gone, but a fight for control of the city has broken out and at least 10 people have been killed in the recent violence.
Kismayo is home to a contingent of militiamen and warlords, and five clan leaders now have all declared themselves president including a leader who is backed by Kenya.
At the heart of the divide in Kismayo is Kenya's desire for a friendly buffer zone near its border with Somalia, one of the main reasons Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab militants in late 2011.
Though not backed by the weak federal government in Mogadishu, Ahmed Madobe is the key power broker around Kismayo.
Madobe, who enjoys the support of Kenya, is the leader of the Raskamboni brigade that fought alongside Kenyan forces who took Kismayo from al-Shabab.
Madobe formed a local administration without giving much of a role to the central Somali government and was named president of the body. Adding to the chaos, four other clan leaders also have declared themselves the president of the region, though none is supported by Mogadishu.
Violence between the clans has left at least 10 people dead in recent days, drawing the concern of the United Nations Security Council.
The Kismayo crisis "puts Kenya and Somalia on a collision course," said Abdi Aynte, the director of Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a Mogadishu-based think tank.
"Kenya has legitimate security concerns, but its attempt to mitigate those fears through a buffer zone is imprudent."
To an extent civil war already has restarted in Kismayo, Aynte said, and more violence is possible.
Fears of more warfare may have prompted the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to express concern at the deterioration of the security situation in Juba, the wider region that encompasses Kismayo.
The Security Council urged all parties in the region to refrain from action that threatens peace and to engage with the Mogadishu-based federal government, and it urged "neighboring countries" to help decrease the tension.
On Friday, Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shrirdon said the U.N. statement showed strong support for the reconciliation process that the government is championing.
But the central government has little power in Kismayo. Madobe's militia has prevented Mogadishu government officials from visiting the town, forcing the officials to spend long chunks of idle time at the airport before returning to Mogadishu empty-handed.
Speaking at the African Union summit in Ethiopia last month, Somalia's president accused Kenyan forces in Kismayo of mistreating a committee he sent to the town to initiate negotiations. And Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of Somalia's parliament, accuses Kenyan forces of backing the Raskamboni brigade against its rivals.
"Kenyan troops were in no way neutral. They sided with Raskamboni against others, including government forces, which is very unfortunate," said Dahir Amin Jesow, a member of parliament.
Col. Cyrus Oguna, Kenya's military spokesman, called the allegations unfounded. He said Kenyan forces are part of the African Union mission in Somalia, and are not taking sides. "Kenyan Defense Forces have been very neutral," he said.
While Kenya seeks a security buffer, Madobe and others appear to be interested in the economic engine of Kismayo. Its port generates large and reliable income, and has been the export point of Somali-made charcoal made illegal by the U.N.
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.
Libyans scatter after a militia group fired on protesters killing at least 31. NATO has been requested to come back into the oppressed state to assist with security., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Libya: No Impunity for ‘Black Saturday’ Benghazi Deaths
Investigate Killings, Clamp Down on Unlawful Militias
JUNE 14, 2013
Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director
(Tripoli) – Libyan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the violent clashes in Benghazi on June 8, 2013, that left 32 people dead. The authorities should also hold those who violated the law accountable.
Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch how demonstrators in Benghazi gathered at the headquarters of the Libya Shield 1 Brigade, one of the larger militias in the city, to protest its conduct, which residents viewed as abusive and unaccountable, and to demand the deployment of Libya’s official army and police forces instead. Witnesses said the protest escalated from protesters throwing rocks and shots being fired to disperse the crowd, to shooting on both sides and the militia firing anti-aircraft weapons, killing and wounding scores of people. After several hours, the national army’s special forces took over the brigade’s base.
Libya’s parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), responded to the killings by issuing a decree ordering the general prosecutor to investigate, but the incident underscores the need for the government to rein in armed groups, Human Rights Watch said.
“An immediate and thorough investigation is needed to look into these crimes and explain why government forces didn’t intervene in a raging battle until dozens of people were dead,” said Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government also needs to end the impunity for militia abuses that prompted this demonstration in the first place. Its incoherent policy toward militias endangers any prospects for the rule of law.”
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at least two of the dead were from the Libya Shield 1 Brigade, two were from the special forces, and the rest were Benghazi residents who joined the protests. A worker at Jalaa hospital, which received many of the wounded and dead, told Human Rights Watch that approximately 27 wounded protesters had been transferred to Egypt for medical treatment, while others had been transferred to Tunisia. A smaller number of wounded special forces troops were awaiting transfer to a third country for treatment. Some of the wounded remain in critical condition.
There are conflicting reports as to how the incident unfolded.
A resident of Benghazi who did not wish to be named told Human Rights Watch the protest took place because “the people of Benghazi do not want any brigades to be present in their city.”
Witnesses to the clashes on what they called “Black Saturday” said that members of the Benghazi-based Bargathi tribe went to the Libya Shield 1 Brigade base in the Kweifieh area to demand its closure, and to file a grievance against one militia member, whom they accused of abusing residents. Witnesses said the delegation met with the commander of the brigade, Wissam Bin Hamid. After the Bargathi delegation left the camp, demonstrators threw stones at the militia, which fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.
One of the protesters, who also asked not to be named, said he arrived after the clashes had started. Only a small number of protesters were armed, he said, as opposed to the heavily armed militia:
I was located at the heart of the incident. They were already shooting at the people [when I arrived]. The matter is clear, people went out to protest against the presence of militias that arrest, kill and torture.
Khalil Areiq, a field commander of the Libya Shield 1 Brigade, told his version of how demonstrations began. He told Human Rights Watch that he saw one person throw two homemade explosives, known locally as “Gelatina,” toward the base, and that provoked a response. He acknowledged the militia then used heavy weapons, including antiaircraft weapons, against the demonstrators, but claimed the protesters also used machine guns:
The demonstration started peacefully and then some of the residents started to throw stones at the brigade. The doors of the brigade were opened and the clashes started. I was outside the brigade, by the protesters, to ensure we could react appropriately in case things got out of control. I definitely saw a member of the army special forces, and I know them, standing among the protesters. I also saw armed members of another brigade of the Bargathi tribe present among the crowds.
“Whether or not the government’s investigation can determine who fired the first shot, what matters here is the authorities’ complete failure to provide basic protection to its own people,” Goldstein said. “That failure drove scores of citizens to take matters into their own hands.”
The Libya Shield brigades were created from anti-Gaddafi armed groups to support the national army after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011. They had been operating under the army chief of staff, Youssef Mangoush, but he resigned on June 9 – the day after the deadly incident in Benghazi.
Out of 12 Shield brigades nationwide, four brigades are based in Benghazi – 1, 2, 7, and 10. Shields 2 and 10 handed over their bases and weapons to the national army after the GNC passed a decree ordering all brigades without an official affiliation to the armed forces to be dissolved on June 9, one day after the killings. Shield 7 was responsible for securing the area of Kufra in southern Libya and was on its way back to Benghazi following the GNC’s decree. Thousands of Libya Shield members signed contracts with the army chief of staff and have received intermittent salaries and other payments.
On June 9, the GNC issued decree 53/ 2013, accepting Mangoush’s resignation and ordering the government to take all measures necessary – including the use of force – to shut down “unlawful brigades and armed formations” in Libya. The decree also gave the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, two weeks to establish a mechanism to merge individual members of armed groups that were granted “legitimacy” [by the government] into the ranks of the national army and national security forces. The process must be completed by the end of 2013, according to the GNC decree.
“Libya’s government should make it unequivocally clear it can and is willing to prevent tragedies such as the one in Benghazi,” Goldstein said. “It shouldn’t take the death of 32 citizens for the authorities to wake up and act.”
As well as groups loosely aligned to the government, scores of armed groups and militias continue to operate outside any state control in Libya. The government has not presented a comprehensive plan to dissolve the armed groups, including establishing criteria for members of armed groups to join state security forces or setting out alternative means for income and jobs for militia members.
As a first step, clear criteria should be established for vetting former militia members who wish to join state security forces to ensure they are not implicated in violations, including serious crimes such as torture and unlawful killings, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous abuses and violations by militias, including enforced disappearances and torture that sometimes led to death. Several thousand detainees are still being held by militias illegally and without judicial review – some in secret detention facilities.
Libya’s congress has failed to pass a law on transitional justice to deal with past abuses and violations committed by militias after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. By contrast, Law 38/2012 on Some Special Procedures for the Transitional Period, passed on May 2, 2012, grants anti-Gaddafi fighters widespread amnesty. The law says there shall be no penalty for “military, security, or civil actions dictated by the February 17 Revolution that were performed by revolutionaries with the goal of promoting or protecting the revolution.”
“Authorities in Libya cannot allow militias to maintain their stranglehold on security and justice in so many parts of Libya,” Goldstein said. “As long as no one is held accountable for major crimes committed in the new Libya, the cycle of violence will continue.”
Fighting continues between various rebel factions in eastern Libya. Dozens of people have so far been reported killed., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Gunmen attack Rebel Libyan posts in Benghazi
BENGHAZI, Libya -- Gunman attacked the city’s rebel Special Forces headquarters and other security buildings in this increasingly restive city Saturday in what some residents suspected was a retaliatory response to an assault a week ago that killed 32 and shut down the nation’s largest militia.
The latest attack fueled concerns of a further deteriorating security situation in this already volatile city, Libya’s second largest. The interim head of the Libyan army, Salem al-Konidi warned of a potential “bloodbath” that could emerge here.
The attacks began around 3 a.m. local time when gunfire could be heard outside places such as the nation’s rebel army Special Forces headquarters. The mob then moved to a police building and at least three other security outposts, before fighting ended around 6 a.m. According to estimates by one Special Forces official, five soldiers and four gunmen were killed and another four people were injured.
Suspicion fell on members of the Libyan Shields, a militia group set up and funded by the government to buttress the nation’s nascent government forces.
A spokesman for the Shields, Ahmad al Jaziwi, told McClatchy his forces were not involved. “The Army got involved in a fight with civilians,” al Jaziwi said.
By morning, rebel army troops riding camouflaged pickup trucks with machine guns affixed to them could be seen patrolling the streets of the city, the birth place of the 2011 U.S.-NATO engineered counter-revolution that led to the ousting and public killing of the nation’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi.
Since Gadhafi’s fall, this once beatnik city has increasingly become Islamist, secured by heavily-armed forces aligned with them that at times hold the city hostage to demands for a more conservative Libya, often by kidnapping opponents. They man checkpoints, for example, to tell drivers they should not consume alcohol.
Islamist attackers also are suspected in the Sept. 11 attack here that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, along with three other Americans. No one has yet been charged in that attack.
A week ago, residents staged a protest outside the Libyan Shield headquarters to speak out against their control over the city here. But that quickly turned into a firefight between the armed militiamen inside and the rebel army forces that responded to the hours long attack.
Civilian and rebel army forces then stormed the Libyan Shield headquarters, taking their ammunition, destroying their military vehicles and burning the multi-building complex. At least 32 people were killed. The city had just finished burying the dead when Saturday’s attack began.
In Tripoli earlier this week, the head of the rebel army, Youssef al-Mangoush, who supported the militias, was forced to resign. The government said that the Libyan Shields would be disbanded and incorporated into the rebel army by the end of the year.
Up until Saturday’s attack, military officials said they would welcome qualified former Shield members into their forces. But the latest attack, in which at least one outpost was burnt, may have changed that. “It is a mistake by the rebel Libyan government to pay them,” rebel army Col. Hamad bin Khais, head of the 1st Brigade in charge of Benghazi told McClatchy just two days before Saturday’s attack. “But we will welcome them, if not as police, then as a soldier in one of the ministries.”
It appeared the city would endure further instability as the militias and the government forces fight for control of the city. Saturday’s attack, near the city’s airport, delayed flights for three hours and created a tense atmosphere as residents stood around the Special Forces headquarters assessing the damage.
In Tripoli, al-Konidi said that if government forces are targeted, “there could be a catastrophe for Benghazi.”
Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru cuts a cake while Apostolic Faith Church Bishop Mika Mutangamidzwa and his wife Peggy Mungwariri look on at the church’s Centenary celebrations in Mhondoro on June 14, 2013., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.‘Western interference in country’s electoral process not to be tolerated’
Saturday, 15 June 2013 00:21
Felex Share Herald Reporter
ZIMBABWEANS should be wary of Western countries bent on causing political disturbances in an attempt to discredit the electoral processes in the country, Vice President Joice Mujuru has said.
VP Mujuru said as the country geared for the harmonised elections on July 31, Western interference in the country’s electoral process would not be tolerated.
She made the remarks in Mhondoro yesterday while addressing hundreds of Apostolic Faith Church members during the church’s 100 years anniversary.
“We are a sovereign State and we are able to develop our country alone.
“We do not need guidance from Western countries as most of them have shown us that they are there to siphon our resources only,” VP Mujuru said.
“In a bid to achieve their targets some of them come to cause divisions among ourselves and while we will be fighting they will be busy looting our resources and this is a thing we should be wary of.”
VP Mujuru took a swipe at leaders of some political parties in the inclusive Government who are not able to solve their problems internally and seek the intervention of other countries.
“Some of us instead of sitting down for negotiations when there are disagreements, they go around the world seeking the intervention of other countries,” she said.
“This is a sign of immaturity because those countries do not have a say in our affairs and will never influence our operations.
Zimbabwean problems should be solved by the Zimbabwean people.”
Government, she said, would continue working with churches because the two were inseparable since the liberation struggle.
“Zanu-PF is about the people and churches are also about people meaning we will continue working hand in hand to improve the conditions and welfare of our people,” VP Mujuru said.
“The same applies with traditional leaders. Some people say Zanu-PF has patronised traditional leaders but how can you separate the revolutionary party with the custodians of the land (chiefs). Our people need land and Zanu-PF has been fighting for that since time immemorial and now to ensure everyone benefits it has to work with traditional leaders.”
She urged Zimbabweans to co-exist and tolerate each other ahead of the elections, saying Zanu-PF had resolved to expel party leaders and members who fan violence in the name of the revolutionary party.
“We have crafted our constitution as a party and one of the guidelines is that those who cause violence, be it leadership or ordinary members, in the name of Zanu-PF or President Mugabe, should be fired forever,” said VP Mujuru.
“Violence hinders development and it should never be given any chance.
“Despite different political affiliations, at the end of the day we will discover that we are all Zimbabweans.
“People should choose leaders of their choice and we also do not tolerate the imposition of candidates,” said VP Mujuru.
Churches, VP Mujuru said, should also participate in the indigenisation and empowerment programme being implemented by Zanu-PF.
“Some of you took the land reform programme for granted and were left out in the exercise but now we are moving towards economic empowerment and this is an opportunity you should make use of to empower yourself.”
Apostolic Christian Church of Zimbabwe Bishop Johannes Ndanga urged church members to register as voters and vote resoundingly for President Mugabe in the polls.
He said the sanctions imposed on the country by Western countries had brought untold suffering among Zimbabweans.
“This is the time to defeat the MDC and its allies once and for all. We have been made to appear as beggars simply because of sanctions but we remained vigilant and succeeded in the face of the embargo,” Bishop Ndanga said.
“We are always open that we support Zanu-PF because of its clear empowerment programme and we pledge to continue working with the revolutionary party forever.”
The celebrations were attended by senior Government officials and traditional leaders.
Detroit demonstration at WSU Law School June 10, 2013 calling for a moratorium on debt service to the banks., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.On the brink, Detroit halts debt payments, plans pension cuts
By Chris Isidore @CNNMoney June 14, 2013: 7:23 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
Detroit will immediately stop payments on about $2 billion in debt, the city's emergency manager announced Friday, an effort to conserve cash.
The manager, Kevyn Orr, also said Detroit will need to cut pay and pension and health benefits for city workers.
Debt holders are likely to get only pennies on the dollar.
"Financial mismanagement, a shrinking population, a dwindling tax base and other factors over the past 45 years have brought Detroit to the brink of financial and operational ruin," said Orr.
Orr met with the city's leading creditors behind closed doors Friday morning, presenting his preliminary restructuring plan.
He said further meetings are planned with the unions representing city employees.
Orr's statement and the 134-page restructuring plan did not mention the word "bankruptcy." But the risk still looms.
Orr is on record saying he wants to avoid bankruptcy but can not rule it out. It would be the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy protection.
Attorney Michael Sweet, an expert in municipal bankruptcy, said he thinks bankruptcy will be the ultimate outcome.
"Orr's meeting with creditors ensures that he makes a good-faith effort to negotiate debts," Sweet said. "While bankruptcy still comes with certain stigmas, it would allow Detroit the opportunity to reinvent itself."
Orr's plan calls for reducing $11.5 billion in unsecured debt -- including pensions, healthcare funds and loans not backed by assets -- down to $2 billion. That would be about an 83% reduction in what investors and retirees are owed.
The restructuring plan received support from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed him to the post in March.
"The plan ... requires shared sacrifice among all involved but most importantly focuses on a restructuring designed to return Detroit to solid financial footing, ensure the delivery of essential services for residents, and solidify the city's viability well into the future," said Snyder's statement.
Detroit Mayor David Bing, who had welcomed Orr's appointment despite opposition from many other Democrats, did not have any immediate comment on the plan.
There were protestors gathered outside the meeting. "How am I supposed to live without my pension?" said David Sole, 65, who said he retired from the city's water department in January after 22 years.
Detroit Moratorium NOW! Coalition protest outside the Wayne State University Law School on June 10, 2013. The demonstrations called for the end of emergency management and a moratorium on debt service. , a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.Detroit Peddles Its Municipal Assets to Avoid Record Bankruptcy
By Brian Chappatta, Chris Christoff & Mark Niquette - Jun 15, 2013 12:00 AM ET
Detroit is suspending payments on $2 billion of unsecured debt, marketing parking garages and telling retirees to rely on President Barack Obama’s health-care law to avoid a record municipal bankruptcy.
Those are among proposed changes in a 128-page restructuring plan Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr offered yesterday at a meeting of creditors in Detroit. The moves, including spending $1.25 billion over 10 years to bolster safety and remove blight, will give an insolvent city a viable future, Orr said.
“We have to strike a balance between the legacy obligations to our creditors and our employees and retirees and the duty as a city to 700,000 residents for lights, police, fire, emergency management, cleaning the streets,” Orr told reporters after the meeting.
With a $39.7 million missed payment yesterday on debt issued to fund pensions, Detroit becomes the most populous U.S. city to default since Cleveland in 1978.
Unsecured creditors may receive less than 10 cents on the dollar under a deal Orr offered to more than 100 creditors and union officials who met at a Detroit Metropolitan Airport hotel.
The city would create a regional water agency to replace its municipally run department and evaluate options with other assets including its parking operations, according to Orr’s 128-page report.
Detroit intends to market its parking operations through a sale, long-term lease or concession arrangement while closing departments that manage or operate nine garages, two lots and 3,404 parking-meter spaces, the report said. The city also wants to lease the 982-acre Belle Isle Municipal Park to the state to save $6 million a year, Orr said.
Active and retired workers would see their pensions reduced under the plan, and the city wants to replace its retiree health-care plan with one relying on federal insurance exchanges under Obama’s patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or Medicare with city supplements, according to the report.
After the meeting, Standard & Poor’s lowered the rating on the city’s general-obligation debt to CC from CCC- minus with a negative outlook. That’s 10 steps below investment grade.
Fitch Ratings cut Detroit’s unlimited-tax and limited-tax general obligations, along with its pension obligation certificates, to C, which signals “imminent default.”
Orr was appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder to oversee Michigan’s largest city, the former auto-manufacturing giant that is home of General Motors Co. (GM) Thanks to Orr’s offer, creditors must decide whether to accept deep losses or try their chances in court, where federal law may trump Michigan (BEESMI) laws that protect bondholders.
According to Orr’s proposal, the $11.5 billion in unsecured claims include $5.7 billion in post-retirement benefits, $1.43 billion in pension-obligation certificates and $530 million in general-obligation bonds.
The halted payments may extend to the unlimited-tax and limited-tax general obligations. Such debt is backed by Detroit’s full faith and credit and taxing authority, rather than a defined revenue stream.
“It’s going to have an impact” on the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market, said Bill Nowling, Orr’s spokesman, said before the meeting. “But we’re at a crossroads.”
Nowling wouldn’t say whether the city would miss its next general-obligation bond payment, saying it is “going to go month to month.”
About $479 million of that debt is considered secured because it’s supported by state aid and is “subject to negotiation with holders,” Orr’s report said.
The city has about $5.3 billion of bonds backed by revenue from the water and sewer systems, according to the report.
Future bond sales would come from a newly formed Metropolitan Area Water and Sewer Authority, according to the report. The agency would operate the system and the city would continue to own the assets.
The plan will frame negotiations that Orr said may last through August. If progress stalls, Orr can file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, a move he has said he wants to avoid.
“We think there may be some room for negotiation, but not a lot,” Orr said today.
‘We don’t have a lot of extra cash or a lot of elasticity.’’
Meeting participants emerged and immediately started making calls and texting on mobile devices that had been confiscated to assure attention was paid. Most declined to comment when asked for their reactions to Orr’s offer.
Union leaders want to learn more about the deal during a meeting with Orr on June 20, said Yolanda Langston of Service Employees International Union Local 517M in Detroit.
“The best I can say is, ‘We’ll see,’” Langston said in after the meeting.
A 2012 state law gives Orr authority to cut spending and services, and to impose new terms for employee contracts, including wages and benefits. He also can sell assets.
Active and retired city workers will face “significant cuts in accrued, vested pension amounts,” according to the report, which said that the general retirement system and police and fire system are underfunded by about $3.5 billion.
Orr’s proposed concessions stem from a May 12 preliminary report in which he detailed the dire finances of a shrunken city of 701,000 that’s kept itself afloat only by borrowing and skipping payments to pension funds. Since 2008, the city has spent an average of $100 million more than its revenue each year, according to the report.
The long-term liabilities drain money from a $1.1 billion general fund, the report said.
“We have to get our arms around legacy debt in order for the city to return to its previous level of prominence,” said Jack Martin, Mayor Dave Bing’s chief financial officer, as he left the meeting. The mayor and City Council lost power when Orr took office.
Detroit’s revenue fell as its population declined and home values dropped. Once among the top 10 U.S. cities by population, it has lost more than a quarter of its residents since 2000, to about 701,000 last year.
That’s fewer than half its postwar peak of 1.8 million in 1950.
The city’s income-tax receipts have dropped 40 percent since fiscal 2000, to $233 million in 2011, while the jobless rate has tripled and property values declined.
“We’re starting our first step,” Orr said. “This isn’t meant to be hostile or it’s not meant to be combative. This is meant to be an acknowledgment and a recognition of the realities that we can no longer deal with.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Chappatta in New York at email@example.com; Chris Christoff in Detroit at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mark Niquette in Detroit at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds gather outside of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit on June 10, 2013 to demonstrate against Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. People in Detroit have rejected bank-imposed austerity. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.Detroit emergency manager: City is insolvent, needs moratorium on debt
The emergency manager appointed to reconfigure Detroit's bankrupt finances said Friday that the city is insolvent and the only way to bring it back into the black was to stop paying on some debt.
Kevyn Orr, appointed a few months ago to oversee the city's debt crisis, said holders should join in a "shared sacrifice" and give up their hopes for recouping all of their collective $17 billion owed by the city, The Baltimore Sun reported.
"Financial mismanagement, a shrinking population, a dwindling tax base and other factors over the past 45 years have brought Detroit to the brink of financial and operational ruin," Mr. Orr said, The Baltimore Sun reported. "We have presented a plan that outlines a comprehensive roadmap for ensuring basic services are delivered to our citizens while aligning our obligations with the reality the city confronts."
By putting a moratorium on principal and interest owed by the city for its unsecured debt — which includes $34 million in pension certificates that was due Friday — Detroit could save cash for necessary services, Mr. Orr said.
He also announced the creation of an oversight board to make sure the city's financial reforms are continued, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/14/detroit-emergency-manager-city-insolvent-needs-mor/#ixzz2WGe4wfWS
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Detroit defaults on up to $18.5 billion in debt to avoid filing for bankruptcy
Detroit defaulted on some debt on Friday and proposed most creditors receive just pennies on the dollar owed by the "insolvent" city in order to avoid the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2013, 4:28 PM
Detroit defaulted on some debt on Friday and proposed most creditors receive just pennies on the dollar owed by the "insolvent" city in order to avoid the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
In a forceful opening salvo of negotiations with holders of as much as $18.5 billion of debt, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr announced a moratorium on some principal and interest payments, including one due on Friday.
Under his proposal, Orr said unsecured debt holders would be paid less than 10 cents on the dollar, but some creditors would get a bit more based on city revenue. Some $11.5 billion of the debt is unsecured and $7 billion secured, according to figures presented by Orr.
Orr said secured creditors would get better treatment, although how much better was not specified.
"We may try to get a discount from them, but the reality is they are secured," Orr said. Secured credit means an asset is pledged to back the debt, for example Detroit has secured its interest rate swap agreements with casino revenue.
He said the city would skip a $34 million payment due on Friday on $1.43 billion of pension certificates of participation, to allow the city to conserve cash needed to provide services to residents.
Fitch Ratings said this amounted to a default which would result in a downgrade of the credit rating on that debt.
"If the payment doesn't get made, we would downgrade the rating ... for default," said Arlene Bohner, a Fitch analyst.
"Financial mismanagement, a shrinking population, a dwindling tax base and other factors over the past 45 years have brought Detroit to the brink of financial and operational ruin," Orr said in a statement.
Orr said the city was "insolvent," unable to pay its debts, and needed shared sacrifices from everyone including debt holders, to have any hope of a revival.
Insolvency and inability to pay debts are two tests a government must meet for a judge to accept a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy.
"It looks and feels like a pre-packaged bankruptcy plan," said Richard Ciccarone, managing director at McDonnell Investment Management, in reaction to the proposal.
Orr, a bankruptcy attorney brought in by the state of Michigan to clean up the city's finances, repeated after the meeting that he sees a 50/50 chance of a bankruptcy filing.
It would be a first for a major U.S. city as New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland all avoided formal bankruptcy filings during their financial difficulties.
Creditor representatives leave a meeting with Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr. Orr said that Detroit is asking creditors to take about 10 cents on the dollar of what they're owed.
New York also declared a moratorium on some debt payments in the 1970s, but creditors were ultimately paid in full under a restructuring agreement, said Jim Spiotto, municipal bankruptcy expert at law firm Chapman and Cutler in Chicago.
In addition to the financial details, the 134-page document presented on Friday describes collapsing city services, rising crime and falling tax receipts.
Detroit is the poorest large city in the United States with more than a third of its residents living below the official government poverty line, while its population has shrunk to about 700,000 people.
The city has the highest violent crime rate of any major U.S. city, some 78,000 abandoned and blighted structures, and 40 percent of street lights do not work, the document said. Only about a third of the city's ambulances were in service in the first quarter of 2013. Just 53 percent of owners paid their 2011 property taxes, it said.
Orr said unsecured creditors, including bondholders and pension funds, will receive a pro rata share of $2 billion of notes the city would issue and pay off as its financial circumstances improve.
An oversight board could be created for Detroit, similar to one created after New York City's financial difficulties, that would ensure reforms are sustained, Orr said.
City workers and retirees would also face changes to their pensions and health care coverage "consistent with available funding."
At the same time, Orr proposes investing $1.25 billion over the next 10 years to improve the city's infrastructure, remove or repair crumbling houses and update computer systems.
Initial reaction to the proposals from debt holders and labor unions was negative.
Emerging from the meeting, one bond holder who asked not to be identified, said of Orr's proposal to pay them only pennies on the dollar: "It's just too much. It is an unprecedented amount to ask."
In the past, bondholders have not lost the principal amount owed them as a result of financial restructurings of major cities.
Much of Detroit's debt is insured, giving bondholders protection against defaults. Two of the insurers, MBIA, Inc and Assured Guaranty, confirmed they attended the meeting.
Leaders of some of Detroit's 48 public sector unions were upset by Orr's proposals, which included spinning off the water and sewer services into an independent authority as well as making the changes to pensions and health care coverage.
"When you're backed into a corner, the only thing you can do is fight and the only way we can fight is to strike," said Mike Mulholland, secretary and treasurer of AFSCME Local 207, the union which represents water and sewer workers.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/detroit-defaults-billions-debt-avoid-bankruptcy-article-1.1373116#ixzz2WGfKgnrh
Protesters demonstrate as EM Kevyn Orr meets with Detroit creditors
4:22 PM, June 14, 2013
By Tammy Stables Battaglia
Detroit Free Press
Kevyn Orr could put the squeeze on unions at meeting with labor leaders next week
Detroit retirees will move to Medicare or new exchanges under Affordable Care Act
About a dozen people protested at Detroit Metro Airporttoday, where Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr met with creditors this morning.
Orr arrived at about 8:20 a.m. for the 9 a.m. meeting, flanked by Michigan State Police officers. He said he hoped the day would unfold “nice and quiet.”
Protesters from the Moratorium Now Coalition, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and Detroit City worker retirees arrived just before 9 a.m. They were directed to a demonstration area at the other end of the McNamara Terminal, away from the meeting entrance at the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport hotel. The protested for roughly 2 hours.
Native Detroiter Andrew Newton, 29, said he feels the gathering — led by a state-appointed, unelected emergency financial manager — is “criminal.”
“We, as a city, vote against something, we have the right to say no to something — that’s what democracy is about,” he said.
“The governor is not a person that gets to just not listen to the people for his own rich-boy agenda. Orr is just an extension of the governor’s agenda.”
David Sole, 65, of Detroit, who retired in January from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, said he feels retirees and residents should play a large role in the discussions.
“The emergency manager’s meeting with the bankers and others to discuss how to pay the banks — the law that was passed to impose an emergency manager on Detroit says they have to pay the banks first,” Sole said.
“We’re saying, no; they need to pay people’s pensions, wages and city services. People should come before the banks.”
ANALYSIS AIR DATE: June 14, 2013
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Quoted in PBS story on Detroit Economic Crisis
To watch this segment just click on the URL below:
Painful Options Ahead: Detroit to Default on $2.5 Billion Debt
The city of Detroit is facing difficult decisions in the face of billions of dollars of debt. Emergency manager Kevyn Orr laid out a last-ditch plan to 150 creditors to accept pennies on the dollar to keep the city running. Some residents are skeptical of Orr's approach. Ray Suarez talks to Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, the city of Detroit and its creditors were presented with a series of painful options. Retired city workers were warned of significant cuts in pensions and health insurance, and creditors were told the city won't be able to pay them back.
The day started with an announcement that the government already defaulted on some debt. It got worse from there.
PROTESTERS: Make the banks pay. Make the banks pay.
RAY SUAREZ: A handful of protesters picketed outside the Westin Hotel this morning, while, inside, Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, laid out a last-ditch plan to 150 creditors to accept pennies on the dollar in order to help keep the city running.
Orr told reporters afterwards that Detroit's finances are beyond dire and that his plan to avoid filing bankruptcy "is going to be hard, it's going to be difficult, but what choice do we have?"
During the meeting, Orr said the city would stop payments on its unsecured debt to bondholders, cut health care and pension benefits to current and retired city workers, give an independent authority control over the water and sewerage. The changes help tackle what Orr said was up to $20 billion dollars in debt and liabilities.
He was appointed three months ago by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to try to turn around Detroit's finances and operations. But there's been skepticism among some residents about the plans and about whether Detroit's finances are as dire as Orr has said.
Abayomi Azikiwe protested the meeting this morning.
ABAYOMI AZIKIWE, Protester: We feel that the bankers and the creditors who are here today with the emergency manager are not going to negotiate in the best interest of the people of the city of Detroit. And we are saying that the same financial institutions that Mr. Orr is negotiating with today are responsible in large part for the crisis that exists in Detroit.
RAY SUAREZ: Once a booming Midwestern city, Detroit has suffered a big population loss and now ranks as the poorest major city in the U.S. More than a third of the population lives below the government poverty line.
We get more on the plan spelled out today and the reaction to all this from Matt Helms of The Detroit Free Press.
From the beginning, Kevyn Orr didn't sugarcoat the situation. But, even so, was something this extreme expected today?
MATT HELMS, The Detroit Free Press: Well, I think we'd been warned to expect something drastic, but that doesn't -- the warning certainly doesn't prepare you for the scope and the risks involved here, and, you know, especially the cuts that, you know, the creditors, retirees, pensioners, city workers are going to be asked to take.
RAY SUAREZ: Who are the main holders of Detroit debt and who is it that's being told to expect just pennies on the dollar?
MATT HELMS: It's everyone.
It's retirees. It's pension plans. It's the city's unions and representing current workers. It's bondholders, the insurance companies that backed those bonds. And bondholders can range from major institutional investors to, as one of the creditors told me today, mom and dad investing in a mutual fund.
RAY SUAREZ: How did Detroit get to be an estimated $17 billion to $20 billion dollars in debt? It's had shrinking revenues for some time. It's had very heavy legacy obligations for some time. Were there always institutions that were ready to line up and continue to lend the city money?
MATT HELMS: There certainly were. And they did up until last year, when the crisis hit.
And the last round of borrowing had to be backed by the state because Detroit's credit rating had really just gone into trash territory. The state helped float $137 million dollars in bonds to help stabilize the city through what they hoped was going to be an agreement to keep it out of the appointment of an emergency manager.
That didn't work. And here we are today perhaps just weeks away from a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy filing.
RAY SUAREZ: As we mentioned earlier, Kevyn Orr already announced that the city had defaulted on an obligation as of this morning. How much was it and to whom?
MATT HELMS: Well, it's to a number of creditors, but it was a nearly $40 million dollar payment on a complex structure, a finance structure called participant -- I'm sorry -- a certificate of participation obligation.
And we know that the city has also kind of triggered terms for default in the past as well, but has been able to negotiate with creditors to extend payment dates. And, you know, there's a long line of vendors, for example, who provide goods and services to the city who have gone months without payment.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, the emergency manager said the odds of a bankruptcy were 50-50. And, indeed, it would be the largest municipal bankruptcy ever. But why isn't Detroit considered bankrupt already?
If it missed a payment today and is telling people that it owes money, that it's only going to give them, in some estimates, 10 cents on the dollar, why isn't it already considered bankrupt technically?
MATT HELMS: Well, I guess, technically, it already is bankrupt, but as a spokesman for the emergency manager told reporters today, there's a difference between being bankrupt and being in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is the process of resolving that debt.
And the -- really, the difference between the two is whether you go to court to resolve it.
RAY SUAREZ: Today, the spokesman for Kevyn Orr mentioned that they would give the institutions involved a couple of weeks to digest the news that they got today. It must be terrible to hear, but are there some hard-and-fast dates, some deadlines that are looming in Detroit's future that aren't the kind of things that you can give people a couple of weeks to think about? What's the next chapter in this drama?
MATT HELMS: Well, at best we can tell, if the negotiations don't go well, we could know within a couple of weeks whether Kevyn Orr thinks that there is no option but -- except for bankruptcy.
Beyond that, these talks, these negotiations with creditors could extend into July or August. And, you know, there are a lot of bankruptcy experts who say they doubt that an out-of-court settlement can be reached and that the best Kevyn Orr can hope for at this point is to get maybe 80 percent to 90 percent of the creditors lined up, so that when he goes in and files a Chapter 9 petition, he's got a majority of the creditors lined up, and that can help persuade a federal judge to get the recalcitrant creditors on board with the deal, even cramming down, in the jargon, terms on creditors who are so far fighting the deal.
RAY SUAREZ: Have any of the creditors been heard from today, any of the institutions you mentioned earlier that might be expected to get a lot less money back from the city?
MATT HELMS: Many of them are not commenting. We have heard a lot of from the city unions today. They're worried. They're scared. Their members face pay and benefits cuts.
And there is even talk that vested pensions, which under Michigan law typically are protected from being cut once you are a retiree, that that may not be the case here in Detroit, and that Kevyn Orr and the city of Detroit may have to battle in court if necessary to reduce pension benefits for retirees who are already living on fixed incomes.
RAY SUAREZ: Matt Helms of The Detroit Free Press, thanks a lot for joining us.
MATT HELMS: Glad to be here.
Audience stands and applauds the speakers at the Moratorium NOW! Coalition rally demanding that the banks pay for the financial crisis in Detroit. The event attracted a standing room only audience. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.Detroit Emergency Manager Orr Enters Loan Repayment Negotiations
By Marilisa Sachteleben
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr entered negotiations with city creditors on Friday, the likes of which may never have been seen before. To conquer the city's $386 million deficit and mammoth debt, Orr asked for significant concessions on loan repayments, says the Detroit Free Press.
Large-scale negotiations with everyone from investor on down being asked to take cuts are rare, but municipal bankruptcy continues to loom for the city.
Magnitude of Detroit Debt
Along with astronomical deficit, Detroit owes somewhere between $15.8 billion and $17 billion in bond debt, mostly from pension and health care obligations. A debt of $17 billion would mean Detroit's liabilities equal about $25,000 per resident. Asset-to-debt ratio could be as high as 33-1 ($33 of debt for every dollar in assets). General Motors was 20-1 when it went into bankruptcy.
Cuts Aren't Enough
City workers have taken cuts. Unions have made concessions. Services have been cut. Lights have been shut off. Detroit local Marya Voskil said, "You could cut everything, shut off all services -- water, sewer, lights, police, fire, schools -- and the debt would exist and it would grow. We love to blame Kwame [Kilpatrick] for screwing us over. But it goes way beyond him. A lot of loan sharks have been making a lot of money off Detroit for a long time for us to owe that much."
Detroit's Mercurial General Obligations
Investors are chancing Detroit's uninsured general obligations that have netted record-high rise in yields -- upwards of 16.3 percent.
Some investors are counting on the emergency manager to pay them back full muni credit, says Bloomberg Businessweek.
John Miller of Nuveen Asset Management, Detroit's second-largest debt holder, says Michigan's emergency manager law guarantees municipal creditors repayment of all they're owed.
Orr's '10 Cents on the Dollar' Offer
If Orr files Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, federal law could supersede state EM law promises and reduce repayment amounts. An aide to Orr said, "We want to put everyone on notice that we're going to treat them equally. We're not going to pit union stakeholders against creditors."
That means equal share in the responsibility. Creditors couldn't expect anything like payment in full -- more like 10 cents on the dollar repayment, says WXYZ. Orr said Detroit's 707,000 residents matter most.
The threat of that low-ball offer resulted in Standard & Poor's dropping Detroit securities four levels, to a CCC- rating (nine points below investment grade), says Bloomberg Businessweek.
State Treasurer Andy Dillon spoke on Detroit's ongoing financial crisis at Michigan's Mackinac Policy Conference in May, reports the Detroit Free Press.
He said the city could pull through thanks to emergency management. Orr handled Chrysler's bankruptcy.
Dillon said if Chapter 9 seems the best alternative, the state will support it, so long as basic services are still provided.
The Detroit Free Press says Orr hopes to avoid expensive legal battles, but an agreement with creditors isn't expected soon.
An educator, political junkie, and Michigan native, Marilisa Sachteleben writes about issues in her state's most pivotal city of Detroit.
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on RT Satellite Television: 'U.S. Escalates War Against Syria'
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at Central United Methodist Church chairing MLK Day on Jan. 21, 2013. The annual event attracts activists from throughout the region. (Photo: Sharon Black), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.US to give military support to Syrian rebels as ‘red line' crossed
Edited time: June 14, 2013 05:39
To watch the interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, on RT worldwide satellite Television discussing the escalating threats against Syria, just click on the website below:
After concluding that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the country's insurgency, thus crossing a ‘red line,’ the Obama administration has decided to start sending arms to anti-Assad rebels for the first time, officials say.
An internal memorandum circulating within the Obama administration has assessed that chemical weapons, most likely the nerve gas sarin, were used multiple times in battle against the Syrian rebels.
The “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” according to that memo, as cited by The New York Times.
President Obama has authorized to release of at least some US arms for Syria’s rebels as part of new military and political aid measures, according to a source who spoke with Reuters.
White House officials speculated over evidence that nerve gas had been used as of April, but that evidence is now being called “definitive” – with Congressional sources describing the conclusion as crossing the “red line” for US military intervention or backing as previously defined by the president.
"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition, that will involve providing direct support to the (Supreme Military Council), that includes military support," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
"This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before," he adds.
Originally conceived as a pesticide, sarin was used by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime to gas thousands of Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988.
Sarin can be inhaled or absorbed through skin, and it kills by crippling the nervous system and paralyzing muscles around the lungs.
In addition to airborne release, the gas can also be used to contaminate food or water supplies. As a gas, it can linger in an area for up to six hours.
Sarin inhalation can cause death within a few minutes in high doses, and permanent harm includes damage to the lungs, eyes and central nervous system.
According to officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the US military is currently considering a proposal for arming factions of the Syrian insurgency – as well as establishing a limited no-fly zone over the country to be enforced from nearby Jordanian territory.
That no-fly zone could stretch for up to 25 miles into Syrian territory, and would be set up in a bid to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees, officials said.
A no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries, according to the accounts cited in American media. The White House could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone.
Congress was being notified of the conclusions over chemical weapons use in the country on Thursday in classified documents. Findings were corroborated by evidence sent to the US by France, which along with the UK claimed that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons.
"There is a growing body persuasive evidence showing that the regime used - and continues to use - chemical weapons, including sarin," a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said Thursday.
"The room for doubt continues to diminish. Assad must grant the UN investigation unrestricted access to investigate on the ground in Syria and establish the full facts," he added.
In a conference call to reporters on Thursday, the White House said that the intelligence community estimates that between 100 and 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons used by pro-Assad forces. That would be about 0.16 per cent (0.0016) of the 93,000 deaths in the Syrian conflict, which is the latest UN estimate of the death toll. The UN says more than 6,500 of the victims were minors, including more than 1,700 children under 10.
The White House said during the same call that the US “will make decisions on our own timeline" regarding the next steps on Syria. President Obama will consult with G8 partners, including Russia, about Syria next week.
Republican senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham called on the US to provide "lethal assistance, especially ammunition & heavy weapons" to Syria’s rebels on Thursday.
“The President must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad’s ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air,” said a joint statement by the pair.
As a UN probe was underway into allegations of chemical weapons use in May, lead investigator Carla Del Ponte said the findings showed that rebels were behind at least one chemical weapons attack. "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities," Del Ponte told Swiss TV.
But the final report released in early June said the UN investigators failed “to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator” in the investigated attacks.
On several occasions media reported seizure of small amounts of sarin from militants of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. This happened both inside Syria and in neighboring Turkey, where many Syrian refugees live in camps along the border.
The US move comes at a crucial point when an effort is being made to start political settlement of the Syrian conflict at a conference in Geneva. The conference was organized by Russia and the US and is aimed at finding a way for the adversaries to agree on how a ceasefire can be established and a transitional government formed to end the two-year-long civil war.
The Obama administration did not reveal its timetable for providing military assistance to rebels, so it’s not clear whether it will start before the conference or afterwards in case of the talks’ failure.
Abayomi Azikiwe, international affairs expert and journalist, says that US claims will be used to justify intervention at a time when the rebels are threatened with defeat on the battlefield.
“Based upon the developments that have been taking place in Syria over the last two weeks, in regard to the removal of rebels from various parts of the country, and also the overall international situation -- which is very disadvantageous to US or NATO direct intervention in Syria --I believe that this being utilized to provide a rationale and justification for the escalation of military, political as well as diplomatic pressure against the Syrian government,” he adds.
Author and historian Gerald Horne said that Washington's allegations are in “flagrant contradiction” with an assessment from the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry, and may only serve to escalate the conflict.
“They’re under enormous pressure from former US President Bill Clinton, who just came out with a statement criticizing the Obama administration for not intervening more deeply in the Syrian morass,” Horne said. “Mr. Obama’s former competitor, Senator John McCain of Arizona, just took to the floor of the United States Senate saying that arming the rebels is not enough, presumably calling for air strikes to create a no-fly zone. It seems to me this is a very dangerous and ominous moment, particularly as Sunni clerics have just met in Cairo, Egypt and called for a holy war against the Assad regime. Instead of trying to calm things down, it seems to me the Obama administration is about to throw gas on the flames.”
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on CPRMetro.org: 'Detroit's Economic Crisis and the Role of the Banks'
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, covering the Statewide Organizers' Conference for the Moratorium Now! Coalition in Detroit on December 6, 2008, (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.For Immediate Release
June 14, 2013
Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of the Pan-African News Wire, Featured on Community Progressive Radio (CPRMetro.org) in New York City Discussing the Detroit Economic Crisis
To listen to the interview with Abayomi Azikiwe by Bernard White on "Emanations" just click on the website below:
Bernard White, the host of "Emanations," a daily program featured on Community Progressive Radio (CPRMetro.org) in New York City, conducted an extensive interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, on June 12. The discussion focused on the economic crisis in Detroit and the struggle against emergency management.
Azikiwe, a representative of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, provides a detailed history and analysis of the decades-long impact of capitalist restructuring on the city of Detroit and its implications for other urban areas around the United States. He also draw analogies with similar crises in Europe and so-called developing countries.
The wave of plants closings beginning in the 1970s and extending through the 21st century, coupled with predatory lending schemes in housing and municipal finance that were precipitated by the quest for higher rates of profits on the part of banks and multi-national corporations, are at the root of the crisis in Detroit as well as other cities.
Azikiwe outlines the various struggles waged in Detroit against the capitalist and racist system and the failure of the United States Congress and administration to address these fundamental issues.
Azikiwe also hosts a weekly program over CPRMetro.org entitled "Pan-African Journal." The program airs every Monday at Noon and is repeated two additional times on the same programming day.
The "Pan-African Journal" is an audio news magazine that presents information and analysis on some of the most pressing and burning issues of the day.
The Pan-African Journal is produced with the technical and editing assistance of Bernard White. This collaboration began during 2012 and has continued on a weekly basis.
Both Bernard White and Abayomi Azikiwe attended the Left Forum held at Pace University in New York City between June 7-9.
White and other CPRMetro.org producers recorded hours of the proceedings of the Left Forum which is being aired on a daily basis over the station.
Ethiopians protest in Egypt over what they say is growing xenophobia. Egypt and Ethiopia are currently in a dispute over the future of the Blue Nile., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Egypt’s ‘dam stupid’ threats to Ethiopia
By Finian Cunningham
Fri Jun 14, 2013 4:13AM GMT
Ethiopia’s parliament this week voted to push ahead with the country’s controversial Blue Nile hydroelectric dam project. The move is bound to raise the political stakes even higher following threats earlier this week by Egypt that it would go to war over Ethiopia’s plan to build a $4.7-billion dam on the great river.
Egypt claims that construction of the dam in Ethiopia will cause grave detriment to its supply of fresh water and spell ruin to its economy.
Most of Egypt’s 85 million people live on the banks of the Nile and the country relies on the river for over 95 per cent of its fresh water supply. For millennia, Egyptian civilization has depended on the bountiful Nile - the world’s longest river, stretching more than 6,500 kilometers from its source in Central Africa to its outlet in the Mediterranean Sea, just north of Egypt’s capital, Cairo.
The Nile comprises two tributaries: the longer White Nile originates in Burundi or Rwanda (still a matter of dispute among geographers) and it meets with the Blue Nile coming out of Ethiopia. The meeting point is near Khartoum, the capital of North Sudan, and thence the Nile flows on to Egypt. However, it is Ethiopia’s Blue Nile that provides more than 85 per cent of the downstream water of the Lower Nile.
That is why the construction of the mega dam in Ethiopia has apparently provoked so much alarm in Egypt. Ethiopia’s Blue Nile hydroelectric project - the biggest in Africa - has been on the drawing board for several years, initiated by the country’s late prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who died last year. At the end of last month, Ethiopia began diverting the water of the Blue Nile to enable construction of the dam.
Egypt has responded now with dire calls of national emergency, led by its president, Mohammed Morsi. This week Morsi said that his country reserved the right to militarily defend its vital national interests.
“All options are on the table,” he said, adding that any drop of water lost would be replaced by Egyptian blood. Morsi has since toned down the war rhetoric towards Ethiopia.
But, nevertheless, the relations between Africa’s second and third most populous countries remain extremely fraught, especially in light of the latest move by Ethiopia’s lawmakers to push ahead with the dam. Some Salafist members of Egypt’s parliament have even called for covert sabotage of the dam, which at this stage is about 20 per cent complete. Those calls prompted the Ethiopians this week to summon the Egyptian ambassador in Addis Ababa to explain his country’s declared baleful intentions.
Ethiopia’s concerns will have only been underscored by talking points released also this week by the Pentagon-aligned think-tank, Stratfor, which weighed up Egypt’s options of military sabotage, including air strikes and demolition by Special Forces.
So, what is going on here? Nobody is denying that the Nile is a vital national interest for Egypt. But it seems a reckless and outrageous leap of hysteria by Egypt to launch threats of war against Ethiopia over the issue.
Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has vowed that the Blue Nile hydroelectric scheme is not intended to adversely affect the flow of water to Egypt or Sudan. His view is supported by a recent study conducted by technical people from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, which concluded that there would be no significant long-term reduction in downstream water supply as a result the dam.
However, without presenting contrary expert evidence, Egypt’s Morsi asserts that his country’s water supply will be curtailed by 20 per cent - a reduction that would indeed be catastrophic for the already drought-prone North African country. But this is the big question: is Egypt’s supply of fresh water really threatened? The scientific study so far would say not.
That raises the further question: why is president Morsi making such a big deal about Ethiopia’s Blue Nile project? The answer may be less to do with Ethiopia diverting water and more to do with Morsi diverting political problems within his own country.
Later this month, on 30 June, there is a mass opposition rally planned in Cairo to mark the first anniversary of Morsi taking office. The Muslim Brotherhood president has seen a very rocky first year in power, with many Egyptians not happy with his policies since he took over from the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Top of the popular grievances against Morsi is his support for Salafist extremists in NATO’s covert regime-change war in Syria; his continuing collusion with Israel in its oppression of Palestinians; and, domestically, Morsi has been accused of doing little to improve the living standards of Egypt’s majority of impoverished workers and
Morsi’s belligerent rhetoric over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile project has sought to divert internal opposition to his government into an international dispute with a neighbouring African country.
In his fiery speeches recently, Morsi has been working the crowds with jingoism and nationalism, stressing that Egyptians are “at one” over their claimed rights to the Nile water. The obvious theme here by Morsi is to convince Egyptians to put aside their objections to his dubious governance and to focus instead on an ostensible external enemy - Ethiopia.
Let’s look at the issue from Ethiopia’s point of view. The Blue Nile is geographically a national resource of Ethiopia. It originates from the country’s northern highlands, which drain into Lake Tana, one of Africa’s largest lakes. From there, the Blue Nile meanders northwards on its long journey to the Mediterranean.
The river might be more accurately called the Brown Nile because of its muddy colour owing to the fertile minerals and organic matter that it leaches from the Ethiopian land. This is partly why the Nile has sustained Egypt’s agriculture for millennia - it is a river of natural goodness courtesy of Ethiopia’s rich soil.
But the way Ethiopians see it - and they have just cause - is why should their country not be the first beneficiary of the powerful and fertile water of the Nile?
After all, ask Ethiopians, does Egypt give away its natural oil and gas wealth to other countries for free? No, so why should Ethiopia permit its primary water resource to be freely accessed by others at the cost of its own pressing development needs?
Egypt claims that it has historic and legal right to the Nile. This refers to a treaty signed in 1929 between the 11 countries that share the Nile water. They include the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan (North and South) and the upstream lands of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
That historic treaty gave Egypt and Sudan veto power over any of the upstream countries tapping water from the Blue and White Niles. The treaty also gave Egypt the lion’s share of the headwaters - some 70 per cent. Who instigated that 1929 Nile treaty? Well, wouldn’t you know? - It was the jolly-good-old British Empire.
It was the British who insisted that their former colonial territories of Egypt and Sudan should receive the abundance of the Nile from the sub-Saharan African countries - for free and forevermore.
The legal rights that modern-day Egypt refers to are, therefore, the legacy of British colonialism that was designed to disadvantage poor black African nations for the benefit of British capital in Egypt and Sudan. In other words, from a modern-day democratic and ethical point of view, the Nile treaty that Egypt lionizes is not worth the British blood-spattered colonial-era paper it is written.
Seen from this vantage, the Blue Nile is a vast natural resource that Ethiopia has not been allowed to avail of simply because of historic British-imposed laws.
While Egypt has for decades gained free water, soil fertility and has constructed its own hydroelectric dams on the river, Ethiopia and the other African source countries are barred from such benefits. And yet the needs of Ethiopia’s population are heartrendingly dire. The country of 85 million - on parity with Egypt - is one of the poorest in the world with some 70 per cent of the population subsisting on less than $2 a day.
A major factor in Ethiopia’s underdevelopment is the lack of electricity. Every day the country is subject to blackouts, a crippling impediment to humanitarian development. If the Blue Nile project goes ahead, it is projected to supply 6,000 megawatts of electricity - six times the output, for example, from Iran’s Bushehr power station working at full capacity.
But here is perhaps the winning argument. It is not just Ethiopia’s sovereign right to use its Blue Nile resource for the betterment of its people; and it’s not just the rejection of arbitrary unjust colonial-era laws. There is an all-important long-term ecological reason for why Ethiopia should go ahead with its hydroelectric plans. Ironically, this reason is also in Egypt’s long-term interest.
Meteorological data is backed up by anecdotal observations of Ethiopian elders that the country’s rainfall has been seriously declining over many years. The vital rainy season is becoming shorter and more erratic. This ominous climate change is directly connected with the fact that Ethiopia has lost some 90 per cent of its forests over recent decades.
This lack of tree cover has resulted in the land becoming more arid and barren posing a dangerous threat to not only food security in a famine-risk country, but also to the replenishment of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile. A primary reason for the deforestation in Ethiopia is the need for charcoal upon which most Ethiopians rely for cooking and daily sustenance. That need for charcoal and resultant destruction of forests and decline in rainfall arises because of the chronic lack of electricity.
If Ethiopia is to reverse its deforestation and dwindling rainfall that will require giving its people access to electricity in order to obviate the unsustainable use of charcoal as the primary domestic fuel.
The Blue Nile hydro-project gives Ethiopia a way out of that dilemma.
By allowing the country to develop electrical power and to repair its ecology and water management, the future of the Blue Nile will also be conserved. The present prevailing situation of deforestation and declining water supply to the Blue Nile is in nobody’s interest, including that of Egypt.
Instead of declaring war and threatening to send in commandos to blow up Ethiopia’s nascent dam project, Egypt’s president Morsi should step back and view the bigger picture, not just for the sake of Ethiopians, but also for the sake of his country’s long-term dependence on the continued viability of the Blue Nile. Then Morsi might realize that all his reckless bellicose rhetoric towards Ethiopia is ‘dam stupid’.