Archive for the ‘World News’ Category


One year after Oleg Kashin was brutally attacked in Moscow, the noted journalist looks back on the clownishly futile investigations — and the climate of fear that threatens his profession.

BY JULIA IOFFE | NOVEMBER 9, 2011

MOSCOW – Not many people survive the kind of beating Oleg Kashin got a year ago. Around midnight, on Nov. 6, 2010, two men holding a bouquet of flowers met him outside his home in the center of Moscow. Fifty-six whacks with a crowbar savaged his left hand, broke his leg, cracked his skull at the temple, and shattered both his upper and lower jaw bones.
Almost exactly three years earlier, Yuri Chervochkin, an activist in the radical National Bolshevik Party, had been attacked in a small town not far from Moscow. His assailants got him with a baseball bat, and their first blow was enough: He choked on his own vomit and slipped into a coma. His mother spent the critical days after his beating trying to enlist reluctant doctors to help her son. They wouldn’t, and he died three weeks later, just shy of his 23rd birthday.

Kashin, who wrote about Chervochkin’s death at the time, was luckier. “I understand that the fact that I didn’t die is all luck and good genes, because I had about a dozen chances to die,” he told me, sitting in a cafe a few blocks from the courtyard where he nearly lost his life a year ago. “I could have easily lost consciousness and laid there for an hour, and that would’ve been it. Or if I got to the hospital just a little bit later.”

But it wasn’t just timing that saved him or even the extraordinary fact that Kashin stayed conscious long enough to call the janitor of his building, who sat Kashin on some plywood, shielded him from the rain with a tarp, and kept him awake until the ambulance arrived. It was also the fact that Kashin was not a marginal or radical figure. He was already a famous blogger and a well-known reporter for Russia’s biggest daily, Kommersant, which is owned by Alisher Usmanov, a metals magnate with close ties to President Dmitry Medvedev. Usmanov flew a Russian neurosurgeon back from vacation to operate on Kashin. When Kashin was stabilized and in a medically induced coma, he was operated on by four big-name surgeons, simultaneously and for free.

Kashin’s vast social network — he was always the most gregarious of the Moscow journalists — also worked in his favor. Within an hour of the beating, a friend living near Kashin blogged about what happened. Another friend (a journalist) read it and contacted her friend Natalia Timakova, a former Kommersant reporter and Medvedev’s press secretary. Timakova roused Medvedev in the middle of the night, and the shocked president tweeted his promise that the perpetrators would be caught. In daylight, he instructed the prosecutor general to personally oversee the case. Medvedev saw Kashin a few months later on a visit to Israel, where Kashin was getting physical therapy, and according to Kashin, Medvedev promised to “tear off the heads” of those who had attacked him.

Yet despite all that, a year after the attack, not only have no heads been torn off, but the bodies to which they’re attached have not been apprehended either. This was both predictable and utterly shocking. Given the volume of the outcry and the apparent sincerity and generosity of the official response, there was, one year ago, some faint reason to hope that this case might be solved. Kashin, after all, was a mainstream, well-connected figure. He was no Anna Politkovskaya, killed on Putin’s birthday in 2006, whose work was so obviously dangerous (Kashin compared her to a suicide bomber). Nor was he like the other journalists and human rights activists whose work in the Caucasus has brought Caucasus-style revenge on their heads.

He was no Paul Klebnikov, gunned down in 2004, or Mikhail Beketov, assaulted and maimed in November 2008, who went against powerful financial interests. Kashin wrote about youth movements. Yet despite the seeming harmlessness of his beat, despite his luck that night, despite the big names and big money that immediately kicked into action, despite the wide shock and wide media coverage — even state news lead with his beating the next day — despite all these advantages that Politkovskaya and Beketov and Klebnikov and Chervochkin and dozens like them didn’t have, in the year since the first photographers arrived to take pictures of the blood-spattered ground in Kashin’s courtyard, Kashin’s case has gone cold, exactly like theirs.

Almost since the moment he emerged from his coma, Kashin has been doing everything he can to help the investigation, giving countless hours of testimony and helping compile composite portraits of the suspects. The first visit from a detective came when Kashin couldn’t talk yet — his shattered jaws were still sewn shut. When he was mobile, in February, he was sent to a scientific institute that was part of the Interior Ministry for a procedure called “memory activation.”

“It’s a mansion with no sign,” Kashin recalls. “And the people working there — green nails, crazy makeup — were real fortuneteller-types. The lady who was working with me is a lieutenant colonel and a Ph.D. in biology.” The procedure was simple: Close your eyes, imagine you’re in school, imagine you’re writing on the blackboard, and then imagine you’re erasing it with a rag, and while you’re erasing, you fall into a trance. “I was kind of ironic about it all. But when they told me the procedure lasted an hour and a half, I was surprised because I didn’t think it was more than 15 minutes,” Kashin says. While he was under, he described the face of one of the attackers (he didn’t have a chance to see the other one), which he had already done for the detective on the case. The two composite portraits weren’t very different, Kashin says. While his memory was activated, he also recalled that he had been smoking on the way home. “OK, so I was smoking,” he shrugs.

Thoroughness did not seem to be a problem, either. Kashin’s friends were all extensively questioned: the friends he’d seen that night, his estranged wife, his broader circle of friends and fellow bloggers. Some described being grilled on what, exactly, a “blog” was. One was dragged into the police department so many times that she eventually suffered a nervous breakdown.

The whole year, whenever anyone asked, Kashin said he was satisfied with the progress of the investigation. He was in close contact with the lead detective on the case, Sergey Golkin, a general who worked only on VIP cases. “Usually people complain that their testimony isn’t being recorded or that the investigators don’t care,” Kashin says. “Not at all the case here. Everything was recorded; everything was checked. I really had no complaints.”

Yet the choice of Golkin should have been an ominous sign for Kashin. Golkin may have been a crack detective, but he was also the lead on two other high-profile cases: the murders of Novaya Gazeta reporter Politkovskaya and Klebnikov, who was the editor of Forbes’s Russian edition. After sluggish progress, jury tampering, and the disappearances of key witnesses, Klebnikov’s case was suspended in 2007. Politkovskaya’s case, after a trial that looked a lot like a circus and resulted in an acquittal, has since been resuscitated and is dragging its way through the courts, five years after the murder. (During the Politkovskaya murder trial, one of her colleagues at the paper and a lawyer who had once represented Politkovskaya were gunned down in broad daylight, in the center of Moscow. A young neo-Nazi couple has been convicted of those murders, despite allegations of a confession made under duress.)

Golkin explained all this to Kashin. “He told me, ‘The judges are dilettantes, so my evidence isn’t enough for them,'” Kashin recalls. In court, Golkin claimed, he said, “‘This is the murderer,’ but it wasn’t enough for the judge.” That is, Golkin’s sleuthing, even at full tilt, was insufficient if the courts weren’t working. But of course, Golkin is still describing a system in which solving such crimes and pushing them toward a convincing conviction in court is not a pressing matter. And one doesn’t become a general within such a system without understanding exactly what the system’s priorities are and how much energy it’s worth expending on carrying them out.

Kashin’s case, to those following along with him, had some very plain and obvious clues. Kashin was beaten, it is absolutely clear, because of his journalistic work, which included his exceptionally acerbic blogging. The two young men who beat him were likely soccer hooligans, who, as Kashin himself was among the first to report, are often hired as hit men or used as enforcers by Kremlin youth groups. In the course of his investigation, Golkin apparently questioned high-ranking representatives from Molodaya Gvardiya, United Russia’s youth wing, and from Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group. Both admitted to either having had Kashin under surveillance in the week before the attack or trying to find out his home address. They claimed this was because they wanted “to invite Oleg Vladimirovich Kashin to the home of Pskov Gov. Andrei Anatolyevich Turchak,” the same governor whom Kashin had, in August, called “shitty Turchak” and who, in turn, publicly gave Kashin 24 hours to apologize. (Why “shitty”? “Meaning that he’s the youngest governor, that he became governor only because he’s the son of Putin’s friend, and because he is the most insignificant governor,” Kashin explains. “And because this is LiveJournal, you have a little more room when it comes to word choice.”)

Kashin never apologized, despite attempts of people like the governor of Kirov, Nikita Belykh, to reconcile them. “I told each of them, ‘Look, he’s not a bad guy. Why fight? You should meet and talk it out,'” Belykh recalls. “And they said, yeah, they were supposed to meet.” They never did. By September, Kashin claims, people were telling him Turchak was out for blood. “Anytime [Turchak] walked into an official meeting, people would snigger,” Kashin says of the rumors he was hearing, explaining that because he and other popular bloggers had teased Turchak, their followers did, too, eventually hacking the governor’s blog and changing his title to “The Shitty Governor of Pskov.”

“He felt I was at fault for this, and he was, in many ways, justified in thinking that,” Kashin says now. But last September, he became convinced that the threats were real and that they would get him inside his apartment building. Going up in his slow elevator, Kashin would press himself into the back wall when the doors opened, expecting an attack. Turchak was also involved with Molodaya Gvardiya, which openly threatened Kashin on its website, calling him a “journalist-traitor” and stamping “WILL BE PUNISHED” over his picture.

There is also the Nashi part of the story. Kashin, seen in Moscow journalist circles as something of an expert on youth groups, reported extensively and harshly on Nashi, which is a notoriously closed and guarded group: “Worse than a cult,” Kashin says. The head of Nashi and of Russian youth politics more broadly, Vasily Yakemenko, is said to have dormant connections to Moscow street gangs and organized crime, specifically a group that once regularly beheaded its victims. “My sources were telling me that Yakemenko considers me an enemy — I mean, an enemy, enemy, enemy, enemy,” Kashin says. While Kashin lay in a coma, Yakemenko’s possible role in the attack was openly debated in the Russian press. But 10 days after the beating, Putin summoned Yakemenko to his office to talk about physical education. In Russia, a signal like this is obvious, and the system responds accordingly, dragging its feet and letting an investigation gather dust. Going after someone in Putin’s circle is just not worth it.

***

About a month ago, Golkin was suddenly taken off Kashin’s case and replaced by another detective. The stated reason was that there were simply too many other high-profile cases to deal with in the department. Then Golkin sent Kashin a text message, suggesting that Kashin resubmit his testimony on Molodaya Gvardiya and Nashi — “in case it gets misplaced.” He added a winking emoticon.

“Yes, I’m a paranoiac, but the fact that they changed the detective two weeks after the United Russia congress, maybe it’s connected,” Kashin says. The promise to see the perpetrators brought to justice came from Medvedev, who saw his tenuous chance at remaining in power after 2012 snuffed at that congress. With Medvedev now a lame duck, Kashin thinks, that promise holds no water.

His seeming protector in the Kremlin hobbled, Kashin has become anxious. His hope, his belief that the investigation was going well — that it was going at all — has been steadily collapsing. Like the muckraker he is, he tracked down the new detective on the case, Nikolai Uschapovsky, through the reporters at Kommersant who cover crime. He called Uschapovsky and introduced himself, suggesting they meet and discuss the case. “He said, ‘It doesn’t make any sense to do that now; I haven’t read your case yet, and it makes no sense to meet ’til I read it,'” Kashin paraphrases. “It’s been two weeks. Seems he’s going to be reading it for a long time — there are a lot of volumes — and so the case isn’t going anywhere, as I understand it.”

While Kashin lay in a coma, observers — myself included — expressed a sureness that, even if the hit men were found, the people who ordered the attack would never be punished, simply because they were too important and protected by Putin’s, or another powerful person’s, bulletproof loyalty. The number of journalists attacked or killed dwarfs the number of closed cases, and the figures, worn and oft cited to the point of cliché, are only swelling. Last week, Pavel Gusev, the editor of Moskovsky Komsomolets and the head of the communications division of the state’s Public Chamber, announced that, in the first 10 months of this year, over 150 journalists had been threatened or attacked.

Kashin has largely given up on finding his assailants, not to mention their employers. “I’m a realist; I understand the country we live in,” he says. “If they catch a Spartak [soccer team] fan who guarded Seliger [the Nashi summer camp] five years in a row, then you don’t have to arrest Yakemenko. That’s enough for me. I get it. And that’s what I hope for.” He adds, with some hope, “And after all, not every criminal case attracts the attention of Medvedev. No one made him say anything.”

Yet Kashin has something most other journalists or activists who have become victims of such attacks don’t: He is alive; he is mobile; he is working; he is not in pain. But beyond those basics, the beating was a life-changing event. His temple, his upper jaw, and part of his leg are now made of titanium. He’s missing half his left pinkie. He’s missing teeth that can’t be permanently implanted until his shattered jaw fully heals. (When he does get them, in a year, they will be paid for by Usmanov.) His bottom lip is partly paralyzed. “I can kiss,” he says, shyly, “but the sensations aren’t the same.”

He still feels uncomfortable walking into his yard, and he has never gone back into the cigarette shop where he stopped before heading home that night last year. But Kashin says he has tried hard to normalize his life because any change, any fear is a concession to his attackers. This is why, when he was in Israel for rehab, he took a cab to Tel Aviv and bought the same Paul & Shark coat he was wearing when he met the two men with the bouquet. “When I read the notes from the investigation, they said I was wearing a leather coat,” Kashin says. “But they were mistaken. It’s a cloth coat, just like this one.” He holds up a navy-blue canvas jacket. “It was just totally soaked with blood.”

Because no one has been arrested, Kashin says he does not feel totally safe, and the two bodyguards he traveled with all spring and summer are now gone. What worries him most, though, is the psychological ramifications of being the martyr who managed to live. “Of course this story bothers me, and of course for a long time it will be the most important event of my life,” he says, draining his coffee and lighting up a cigarette. “From the point of view of the media, it was a year ago; there have been lots of interesting events since. What I’m really afraid of is that another year will pass and the only person to remember and care about this event will be me, and to everyone else I will be the crazy guy who’s obsessed with one old story.”

So far, that hasn’t happened. This Sunday, Nov. 6, the anniversary of the beating, Kashin and his colleagues stood in the cold in front of the Central Directorate of Internal Affairs, holding a sign demanding the crime be solved, much as they did one year ago. Last year, no one dared touch them. This year, two 17-year-old girls were arrested. Afterward, everyone — except Kashin, who wanted to be alone — went to a bar. It was as much a social gathering as it was a show of professional solidarity, which, to a journalist in Russia, are equally important and insulating against the sense of utter exposure.

But not everyone has even this most basic shelter. To mark the two-year anniversary of her son’s death, Chervochkin’s mother staged a similar protest. She was the only one who showed up and was quickly arrested.
……….
Sources: Foreign Policy

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Aljazeera

The UN nuclear watchdog has expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear activities in a new report detailing what it calls “credible” information that Tehran may have worked on developing nuclear weapons.

In the report, published on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said: “The agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

“After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. This information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”


Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari on Iran’s reaction 

The agency also said that its information revealed that “prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing”.

The Vienna-based agency said it possessed information on Iran’s work “on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components”.

The IAEA, whose board could decide to report Tehran to the UN Security Council next week, called on Iran “to engage substantively with the agency without delay for the purpose of providing clarifications.”

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is peaceful and which has been hit by four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions, dismissed the new IAEA report prior to its publication, saying it was based on falsified information.

The report comes amid rising speculation that Israel might launch a pre-emptive military strike in an attempt to knock out Iranian nuclear facilities.

Russian ‘serious doubts’

Russia criticised the report, saying it would reduce hopes for dialogue with Tehran and suggesting it was aimed to scuttle the chances for a diplomatic solution.

“We have serious doubts about the justification for steps to reveal contents of the report to a broad public, primarily because it is precisely now that certain chances for the renewal of dialogue between the ‘sextet’ of international mediators and Tehran have begun to appear,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.


Joseph Cirincione says diplomacy is still an option

Russia and China had jointly pressured the IAEA not to even publish the report, diplomats in Vienna said.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington DC, said: “This is a report the US wanted the IAEA to come out with. We expect the Obama administration to use this report on the international stage to impose stricter sanctions… but to get that, they need China and Russia to get on board.”

A senior US administration official told Al Jazeera: “The IAEA report does not assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons programme, nor does it have a conclusion about how advanced those activities are, but clearly indicates there are activities of concern.”
“I think going forward… this report will further underscore that Iran is the only [Non-Proliferation Treaty] signatory that is unable to convince the IAEA of the peaceful intent of its programme.

“That, in and of itself, further isolates Iran within the international community. I think it’s incumbent on Iran to answer the very serious questions raised by this report.”

Liberians vote in runoff election

Posted: November 9, 2011 in News, World News

(CNN) — Liberia went to the polls Tuesday for a runoff election after incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf failed to win the votes needed for an outright victory last month.

Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, needed 50% to avoid a runoff in the October 11 election, but did not reach it. Polls were scheduled to close at 1 p.m. EST.

She faces challenger Winston Tubman, who came second.

While the U.S.-based Carter Center said the October balloting was “peaceful, orderly, and remarkably transparent,” opposition parties have protested the results, and claimed voting irregularities.

Tubman has reportedly refused to participate in the runoff, alleging it won’t be fair, and there have been calls to boycott the election, the United Nations has said.

On Monday, members of the Tubman’s Congress for Democratic Change clashed with police in what authorities called an unauthorized protest, state-owned radio network Liberia Broadcasting System reported.

At least one person was killed and several others wounded in the clashes in the capital city of Monrovia, the network reported.

Both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have called on Liberians to refrain from violence.

“Regardless of your political views, I appeal to all Liberians to say no to violence on Election Day,” said Ellen Margrethe Loj, the U.N.Secretary-General’s special representative and head of the U.N. Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

It is the second presidential election since a 14-year civil war ended in 2005.

The war devastated Liberia and left an estimated 250,000 people dead, and voters are hoping for more peaceful and prosperous days ahead.

Johnson Sirleaf has said she wants to preserve the peace.

“We’ve put in the fundamentals, the foundation — the possibility to reach our accelerated growth and development, fix our infrastructure, the potential, and chances are so high,” she said before the election.

Liberia faces many challenges: up to 80% of Liberians are unemployed and a majority live without basic necessities such as water and electricity.


(CNN) — Thousands of supporters have donated money to outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in order to pay a 15 million yuan ($2.3 million) tax bill from the Chinese government.
http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed_edition&videoId=international/2011/11/08/yoon-ai-weiwei-support.cnn
The controversial artist has already received more than 6,000 yuan ($958,000) from more than 22,200 people.

While many have sent money via post and the internet, other have resorted to rather unconventional methods — folding bank notes into paper planes and throwing them into Ai’s garden at night.

Speaking to CNN, Ai Weiwei said people were using their donations to make a political statement.

“They would say we support you, we’ve never had a chance to express. This is such unfairness. It’s not a fine to you but to us all,” he said.
How Ai Weiwei became an Internet master

Ai received the $2.3 million tax bill on November 1 and was given 15 days to pay. It comes after the artist was detained by authorities in April on the grounds of tax evasion.

Ai has called the actions by Chinese authorities a “retaliation against a dissident” and says he has no choice but to pay the bill.

“They [the Chinese authorities] said if I pay it means I accept the accusation,” he said. “But if you don’t pay they can accuse you of another crime.

“Either way you’re not going to be out. We can’t stop to argue, we can’t appeal, we can’t go to the court,” he continued.

The outpouring of support and donations has come as a surprise to the artist who said he never asked for money. He has also stressed he will pay back “every penny.”

“We didn’t expect so many people to be involved in it,” he said. “Over 20,000 people in the past few days send money, this has never happened. It’s unthinkable in this nation’s history.

Interviewing Ai Weiwei, by Kristie Lu Stout

On his Google+ page, Ai has detailed various payment channels for the donations which include cash, PayPal, China Construction Bank, and the Chinese third-party payment network Alipay.

As well as support Ai says he has received further unwelcome attention from authorities, with an increased police presence around his compound in Beijing.

“There is much tighter control and armed police follow me. Also, I have to see them every other day,” he said.


(CNN) — An estimated 2.5 million pilgrims have descended on the city of Mecca for the Islamic Hajj, said to be the largest annual gathering of people in the world.

Every fit and able Muslim is obliged by their faith to make the journey at least once in their lifetime. But with the rising threat of climate change, there are now calls for both pilgrims and authorities in Mecca to reduce the environmental damage wrought by this yearly influx of travelers.

“Everyone arrives at the same time, at exactly the same place, and every year there are more and more people,” said Dr Husna Ahmed, principal author of “The Green Guide for Hajj,” a booklet promoting ecologically-sustainable practices among Hajj pilgrims, released earlier this week.

Ahmed, who is CEO of the UK-based Faith Regen Foundation, says that as many as 100 million plastic water bottles were dumped by pilgrims during Hajj last year, according to a study conducted by colleagues at the foundation. Ahmed adds that Mecca’s authorities have yet to make adequate provisions for recycling.

“All the waste from food, all the fumes from coaches traveling around the city, all the energy used for powering local hotels, it has a significant environmental impact,” said Ahmed. “And that’s before you think about the carbon footprint of all those flying in from halfway around the globe.”

According to Ahmed, the problem is both practical and cultural. While she is eager for local authorities in Mecca to introduce energy-saving measures, like solar-powered mosques and low-carbon transport initiatives, she says that pilgrims must also become more conscious of their surroundings.

“Unfortunately, the issues of climate change and conservation are not a high priority for many Muslims, particularly those struggling with poverty in the developing world — for whom simply getting through the day is the main consideration,” said Ahmed, who hopes that her guide will help emphasize the fundamental link between the theology of Islam and the preservation of nature.

It’s a message that the newly-formed Green Pilgrimage Network (GPN) is keen to highlight.

“Most religions are implicitly conservationist … after all, if you think of God as the creator then it surely befalls you to take care of his creation,” said Martin Palmer, secretary-general of the network. It is a multi-faith organization that aims to create a worldwide alliance of holy cities committed to sustainable practices, such as banning cars on pilgrimage routes, improving waste management and investing in renewable energy.

According to the network, over 100 million people a year embark on a religious pilgrimage, making it one of the single greatest reasons for travel worldwide.

For Palmer, the environmental challenges presented by pilgrimages at holy sites like Mecca stem primarily from the trappings of modern living.

“Pilgrimages have become corrupted by consumerism,” he said. “For instance, instead of buying millions of plastic bottles, 100 years ago every pilgrim would have traveled with a flask.”

Launched last week in the sacred Catholic city of Assisi in Italy, the network comprises 12 founding member cities, including Amritsar in India, where they have pledged to provide clean drinking water for Sikh pilgrims traveling to the Golden Temple there; and in St. Albans in the UK, the Church of England says it will install solar panels on the local cathedral.

“This of course is just the beginning,” said Palmer, who aims to have at least 300 cities signed up to the network within the next couple of years.

To join the network, he says, a city’s municipal authority must undertake to work in partnership with the faith community to work towards “shared environmental goals.”

Palmer hopes that being a member of the network will be seen as a badge of honor — “like becoming a UNESCO world heritage site” — with the threat that those who fail to live up to their commitments will lose membership.

While Mecca is not yet a member, Palmer says “The Green Guide for Hajj,” is the first step in bringing the city on board.

If you think of God as the creator then it surely befalls you to take care of his creation
Martin Palmer, Green Pilgrimage Network secretery general
 

“I understand that the religious authorities are going through the guide with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it all complies with Islamic law before giving their official endorsement,” he said.

He notes that the local government in Mecca has already displayed a commitment to environmental reform, with the construction of a new metro system capable of transporting 2.5 million pilgrims between shrines currently under way, as well as ongoing discussions to provide water flasks. CNN was unable to make contact with leaders of Mecca during the Hajj holidary period to get comment.

According to Omar Faruk, founding director of UK-based pressure group EcoMuslim, conservation is not just compatible with the teachings of Islam, it is integral.

“The Quran says: ‘The earth is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you stewards over it,'” said Faruk. “Put simply, being green is a central part of being a good Muslim.”

This is music to the ears of Olav Kjorven, director of policy at the U.N. Development Program, which last year helped produce the “Muslim Seven Year Action Plan on Climate Change” and is an official supporter of the Green Pilgrimage Network.

“Religions own up to 8% of the world’s habitable land and 5% of commercial forests; run or contribute to more than half of the world’s schools; account for up to seven% of all global investments and offer moral and spiritual guidance to approximately 855 of all people,” said Kjorven.

“Their active engagement on climate change is crucial if we are to realize a greener future for our planet.”


 Guardian UK

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi

Italy’s soaring borrowing costs have piled pressure on prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Photograph: Reuters
10.54am: Last night, while finance ministers from across the eurozone were meeting, their counterparts from European countries who haven’t joined the euro had their own dinner.

David Gow has discovered that this group, which included George Osborne, are becoming a more unified group. The ten euro “outs” including the Brits, Danes and Swedes, are now demanding observer status at meetings of the 17 “ins”. This could turn very nasty.
More from David:

The Poles, who hold the EU presidency, will probably send a formal letter demanding this to Herman Van Rompuy, European council president, with a copy to Jean-Claude Juncker, eurogroup chairman. Van Rompuy may even be asked to chair talks among the “outs” if it ever gets formalised. The Czechs organised last night’s meal, the Danes will host the next one.

Behind the scenes there’s an awful lot of flak. José Manuel Barroso, commission president, has ratcheted up the debate by telling his fellow right-of-centre EPP colleagues: “not belonging to the euro is the deviation from the rule.”
One colleague has therefore dubbed the “outs” the “deviants”.

Barroso is, of course, a member of the unelected Frankfurt Group we blogged about yesterday and a lot of people, including the self-righteous Dutch, are incensed that this bunch is running the show. Coming on top of popular anger that Barroso, Olli Rehn, his witchfinder-general, and other EU/IMF officials are telling the Greek and Italian governments they’ve got to go, we’re squaring up for a huge fight over European democracy.

10.24am: More coming in on the quest to find a prime minister in Greece.

Greek state-run TV is reporting that:

The riddle hasn’t been solved and we might be waiting for some time yet as no agreement has been made over the prime minister.

Helena Smith in Athens says until a prime minister is named a cabinet can’t be formed. Hope had been that the political deadline would be broken by the time Papandreou held his last cabinet meeting at midday local time and Euro group finance ministers’ assembled in Brussels. Now looks as though this will not be the case.

Sources at the main opposition New Democracy party (which has vowed to ‘renegotiate’ the latest €130bn debt deal drawn up for Greece) say they’ve “come up with a real problem.”
“We in no way want this government to last longer than three months,” one source said.
Lucas Papademos, the favoured candidate for the post, says unless his tenure is longer he won’t accept the job on the grounds that he will be nothing more than a puppet pm.

10.11am: Back to Italy (via Brussels).

Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister and hardly a Berlusconi ally, has already left Brussels.
Giulio Tremonti, Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti – not one of Berlusconi’s bosom buddies. Photograph: Ism Agency/Getty Rather than attend this morning’s meeting of EU finance ministers, he has returned to Rome for the vote.
David Gow has been canvassing opinion:

My Italian colleagues here – and they are legion, and Silvio-haters all – say Signor Bunga Bunga will quit today.
“When they thought he was quitting yesterday, the yields went down and the markets went up; as soon as he said he wasn’t, the yields went up and the markets went down. It’s as simple as that: he’s got to go and Tremonti could be the Cassius…” one said with a huge grin.

Italian bond yields have dropped back this morning, from their record high of 6.74%. Now trading at “just” 6.61%.

10.08am: There are also reports coming in that members of the youth wing of the leftist SYRIZA group have just hung anti-austerity banners from the walls of the Acropolis. We’re looking for a photo..
10.00am: Meanwhile, as Greeks eagerly await news of who their new prime minister will be, their media is awash with the latest twist in the ongoing saga over the €8bn rescue loan the country was originally meant to get from the EU and IMF in September.

Helena Smith writes:

In the clearest display yet of the lack of trust international lenders have in Greece, Brussels has ratcheted up the pressure once again. Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, says now that the country’s two main political forces, Pasok and New Democracy, are in government together, they will have to provide “clear commitments” to carry out the reforms that creditors have demanded in return for aid – or count the days to economic disaster and exit from the hallowed eurozone.

‘Brussels wants guarantees from Papandreou and Samara,’ daily Ta Nea screamed from its front page. ‘Both of you will have to sign to get the €8bn.’

After months of foot-dragging over reforms to modernise and open up Greece’s uncompetitive economy international creditors are not taking any chances. The Austrian foreign minister Maria Fekter has also announced that if Athens is to honour its word it will have to show commitment in writing.

‘Political assurance that Greece will adhere to its fiscal reform agreement is a prerequisite for the country receiving its next tranche of aid,’ she said on Monday.

9.25am: With a national debt approaching €2tn, giving it a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120%, Italy has the potential to cause much more chaos than Greece.

Jane Foley, senior currency strategist at Rabobank, warned this morning that the fact that Italian bond yields reached 15 yr highs yesterday, and higher again this morning, reflects the precarious position of the eurozone crisis:

As bond yields rise, financing costs on Italy’s huge debt threaten to put a further squeeze on Italy’s public finances. Italy is far better positioned than Greek to cover its refinancing costs but clearly as costs rise the pressure on Italy to help itself intensifies.

Foley warned that today’s vote over the Italian public accounts may not bring much relief:

That fact that yesterday’s rumours that Berlusconi has resigned led to a better tone in Italian stock markets is evidence of the PM’s lack of credibility on the international stage. Reports that the opposition will abstain from voting in today’s ballot on the ratification of state accounts means that Berlusconi could survive in his job another day. It is possible therefore that today’s vote will not bring much additional clarity on the direction of Italian politics. That said, a confidence vote could be called depending on how many members of Berlusconi’s own party members defect today. If Berlusconi were to lose such a vote, he could be removed; though there is yet a lack of clarity as to whether this would lead to a technocrat government or early elections.

The euro is trading around $1.378 this morning. Rabobank forecasts that it will fall to $1.33 within three months, as “the eurozone crisis could yet intensify in this time frame”.

8.57am: Greeks are waiting with bated breath to hear who their next prime minister will be – and an announcement could come soon.

Helena Smith, our correspondent in Athens, reports:

With the political thriller intensifying after a night of marathon negotiations between the outgoing socialist government and conservative main opposition party it was still not clear whether the renowned economist and former vice president of the European Central Bank, Lucas Papademos, had agreed to replace George Papandreou as prime minister at the helm of a coalition government.

Athens daily newspaper Ta Nea declared there were:

Feverish negotiations for the new government.

The plot thickened at midnight Monday when it was announced that Greece’s permanent representative at the IMF, Panayiotis Roumeliotis, had been recalled to Athens from Washington urgently.

The former finance minister is being considered for the job along with European ombudsman Nikiforos Diamantouros.

One well-placed source told Helena that:

“It’s been a long night and a long morning…All bets are on.”

Papandreou is expected to name the man and the make up of the new interim adminstration at a hastily convened cabinet meeting at midday local time. After that, he will visit the country’s head of state, President Karolos Papoulias, to formally tender his resignation.

Helena warns that:

Whoever gets the post is likely to be in for a rough ride. Leftists, unionists and Greece’s ever burgeoning class of anti-austerity protesters are girding for battle. Calling the new government a “dark front”, Aleka Papariga, the fiery Communist party (KKE) chief on Monday urged Greeks to overthrow the administration and impose new elections “as soon as possible.”

8.33am: Events in Rome moved on significantly in the early hours of the morning, in the lead-up to this afternoon’s crucial vote.

John Hooper byline. John Hooper has the latest from the Italian capital, and a full explanation of the significance of today’s ballot.

Shortly after 1.30am local time, Berlusconi finished a meeting with leading figures in his party and sources close to the prime minister told reporters he would decide his future after learning the outcome of this afternoon’s ballot in parliament on the 2010 public accounts.

That will not be a confidence vote. But the outcome of last night’s meeting has turned it into the next best thing. Clearly, Berlusconi is going to take a view once he has seen the numbers and, if they show that he does not have enough support to win the confidence vote he was talking about yesterday, then he will resign.
But it will not happen immediately. The same sources indicated that the prime minister would first hold a meeting with his allies in the Northern League and then another with prominent figures in his own party, the Freedom People. It would be at that second meeting that he would announce his decision.

The vote on the public accounts is critical in itself. If the accounts were rejected, it would block any further economic reform.

For that reason, it is understood that the opposition will abstain instead of voting against. But this is a high stakes, tactical game. A parliamentary ambush cannot be ruled out.

Live blog - market up

8.26am: Markets have opened higher across Europe, despite Italy’s rising debt costs.

The eurozone crisis seems to have taken a back seat to the day’s corporate news – with FTSE 100 heavyweight Vodafone posting numbers that are ahead of expectations.
The FTSE 100 is up 39 points, or by 0.7%. The French CAC is up 0.65% and the DAX is up 0.77%.

8.07am: What’s happening about the search for Greece’s next prime minister?

The word in Brussels is that Lukas Papademos, front-runner to be Greece’s next premier and a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, is holding out for better terms than the four months on offer.
Lucas Papademos 

Lucas Papademos. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA David Gow, in the Belgian capital to cover an EU finance ministers’ meeting this morning has more:

One finance minister tells me: “It appears he wants to be prime minister for a year but they (Pasok and New Democracy) have agreed there should be general elections in February. Well, that’s what we’ve been told in the meeting.”

Eurogroup ministers agreed last night to send a message to Athens demanding that both main political parties planning the government of national salvation write a letter saying they accept the terms of the second (€130bn) bailout and will implement them in full.

The curse of Greece is still kicking in. French bank Société Générale just reported a 30% decline in net third quarter income to €622m after writing down a pre-tax loss of €333m on a Greek government bond. That’s a haircut of 60%, in line with that endured by BNP Paribas, its bigger rival, and higher than the 50% loss targeted by eurozone leaders at their October 26-27 summit.

As Jill Treanor reports here, SocGen has been forced to scrap its dividend and is cutting bonuses by a “significant amount” to preserve its capital reserves.
Live blog - market up

7.47am: Italy’s government bonds are taking another pummelling this morning.

The yield (interest rate) on its 10-year bonds just hit a new euro-era high of 6.733%. That indicates that the financial markets remain deeply wary of Italian debt.

As Gary Jenkins of Evolution Securities pointed out, the European Central Bank’s policy of mopping up billions of euros of Italian bonds is conditional on economic reforms:

If Berlusconi loses the vote, the ECB could withdraw its support which would quickly drive yields higher and force a solution to the political stalemate, though it would be a risky strategy and one that could require heavy intervention later to bring yields back down to more sustainable levels.

Several analysts believe that Italian yields would fall if Berlusconi resigned, but Jenkins warns that this would not fix all Italy’s woes:

Italian debt will still be 120% of GDP after he has gone, economic reforms will still take time and be unpopular, so a new government will face a tough task and need to prove itself before investor confidence is ensured on a more permanent basis.
“If I go there will be trouble / An’ if I stay there will be double” – there might be a clue there Mr Berlusconi…

7.36am: Tuesday’s vote in the Italian parliament is being held to approve the public accounts for 2010. It has taken on unusual significance because of the rejection last month of a routine ballot — which triggered a crisis in which Berlusconi’s majority has withered away towards zero.

Yesterday, Berlusconi denied that he plans to resign. Instead, he aims to win today’s vote and also stake his government’s future on yet another confidence vote.

“I want to look into the faces of those who are trying to betray me,” he told the Libero newspaper. Where and when the vote would be held remained unclear, however.

For more details, John Hooper’s piece in today’s paper is a must-read.

7.30am: Good morning, and welcome to our live coverage of the eurozone debt crisis.

It’s a Tale of Two Cities today, as events in Rome and Athens dominate attention. Silvio Berlusconi, the great survivor, faces a crucial vote of the Italian public accounts. How much longer can he survive?

And in Greece, the identity of the next prime minister is expected to finally be confirmed.
With banks also adding to the gloom this morning (SocGen has already slashed dividends, and Lloyds is warning that economic conditions have worsened), it feels more like the ‘worst of times’ than the best. “The age of foolishness’? Perhaps….


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will start the registration of asylum-seekers and refugees holding UNHCR documents in January, the UN Refugee Agency said.

This follows an agreement between Malaysia and UNHCR on the registration of the asylum seekers. The exercise will be carried out progressively in major cities where refugees are located.

It will be a joint effort involving the Home and Foreign Ministries, Immigration Department, National Security Council and UNHCR.

“UNHCR will communicate closely with refugee communities on the timing and location of the registration exercise,” said Alan Vernon, UNHCR Representative.

“This exercise will continue until all UNHCR refugees and asylum-seekers are registered.”

Vernon clarified that this exercise involves the registration of asylum-seekers and refugees, and is separate from the Home Ministry’s 6P legalisation of illegal foreigners programme.

There are currently some 95,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, fleeing persecution and conflict from many countries including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

As part of this registration exercise, and consistent with similar exercises UNHCR has conducted with other Governments around the world, both parties have agreed to ensure the confidentiality of the biographical information that will be gathered from the UNHCR document holders.
……
Sources: The Star