Monday, March 31, 2014

U.N. Chief Warns Against Aiding Central African Republic Militias
A French military convoy occupying the Central African Republic during 2014.
3:17pm EDT
By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Monday against any support or facilitation of violence by armed groups in Central African Republic after Chadian troops were accused of opening fire on civilians and killing at least 10 people at the weekend.

The shooting on Saturday was the latest in a string of violent incidents involving Chadian troops, who Central African Republic's anti-balaka Christian militia accuse of siding with Muslims and Seleka rebels and preying upon the local Christians.

The mainly Muslim Seleka seized power a year ago, perpetrating abuses on the majority Christian population that triggered waves of revenge attacks, leading to thousands of deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands.

"The secretary-general reminds all those who are involved in spreading the violence, including those directly or indirectly supporting or otherwise facilitating the actions of armed groups, that they will be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice," Ban's press office said in a statement.

Ban also urged the quick establishment of a list of individuals to be sanctioned by the United Nations for undermining peace, stability and security in Central African Republic.

"The secretary-general is concerned by the latest upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic ... This further deterioration of the security situation in the country has resulted in additional fatalities, a high number of injured, and increased hardship for the population," Ban's statement said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Central Africa Republic since the conflict began, Human Rights Watch has said, while top U.N. officials have warned that the violence in the large, sparsely-populated country of 4.5 million people is in danger of spiraling into a genocide.


Under international pressure, the Seleka rebels gave way in January to an interim civilian government. But the government - backed by 2,000 French and 6,000 African Union peacekeepers - has been unable to halt attacks by the anti-balaka militias on Muslims, thousands of whom have fled to neighboring countries or sought shelter in camps.

The European Union has agreed to send up to 1,000 troops to help the African and French forces.

The goal of the EU force will be to provide security in the capital Bangui and at the airport, where around 70,000 people who have fled the violence are living in dire conditions.

The United Nations estimates some 650,000 people have been displaced within Central African Republic, while nearly 300,000 have fled to neighboring states. U.N. agencies have reported a sharp rise in rape and sexual violence in the camps.

The U.N. Security Council began negotiations on Monday on a resolution to approve the creation of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Central African Republic, which could assume authority from the African Union on September 15, said Luxembourg's Ambassador to the U.N., Sylvie Lucas, who is president of the council for March.

Ban proposed to the 15-member council earlier this month that a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force would be needed for Central African Republic with a robust mandate and an initial focus on protecting civilians.

"There is now, I think, a large understanding in the council and large consensus for having such a peacekeeping operation deployed as quickly as possible," Lucas told reporters. "Everybody agrees the situation is dire."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols)
SOMALIA: Puntland Parliament Sits In Extraordinary Session
Puntland governmental officials in the breakaway state in the north of Somalia.
Posted on March 31, 2014

Garowe (RBC) The lawmakers in the Somalia’s Semi-autonomous state of Puntland have met on Monday for an extraordinary session to discuss the region’s budget fir the yrar 2014, RBC Radio reports.

Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas has officially opened today’s session calling the lawmakers to approve the budget.

President Gaas said his administration inherited only empty accounts from the former administration as he also expressed his concern over the growing decrease in the export sector of the Bosasso Port.

The region’s Finance Minister Shire Haji Farah also noted that his ministry will need extra funds to fill in the gaps on the budget.

This year’s budget of Puntland is estimated $ 3,408,688 which shows more than $132 million increase compared to the last year’s budget of the region.

RBC Radio
SOMALIA: Puntland Security Forces Arrest 20 Al Shabab Members
Somalia resistance movement Al-Shabaab is under attack from U.S.-backed forces.
Posted on March 31, 2014

Puntland security forces on Monday said they have apprehended 20 Al Shabab members fled from the country’s southern regions and entered into Puntland towns, RBC Radio reports.

In a press conference in the port town of Bosasso, the security minister of Puntland Hassan Osman Alore said the 20 young men were caught during an operation in Bosasso, Garowe and Galkayo in the past days.

“There are more number of Al Shabab fighters fleeing into Puntland.” he said.

The minister added that following investigation questions, some of those arrested admitted to be Al Shabab fighters and were found with explosive devices, false amount of U.S Dollars and fabricated ID cards to infiltrate into the society.

“We are investigating other suspected members of the group” the minister added.

Last week, Puntland’s neighboring state of Galmudug called more help from the Federal Government of Somalia and the international partners because of the high number of Al Shabab fighters fleeing from the southern regions and pouring into the northern regions of the country.

Somalia National Army backed by the African Union Forces have been pursuing the Al Qaeda linked group of Al Shabab since early March sweeping its fighters from several strategic towns in the south and central regions of the country.

Al Shabab has another big military base in Galgala mountains, only 40km southwest of Bosasso town.

RBC Radio
Congress Passes Bill to Stop Cut to Medicare Doctors
The Obama administration and Congress are collaborating in the cutting of entitlement programs for seniors.
WASHINGTON March 31, 2014
By ANDREW TAYLOR Associated Press

With just hours to spare, Congress stepped Monday to finalize legislation to prevent doctors who treat Medicare patients from being hit with a 24 percent cut in their payments from the government.

The Senate's 64-35 vote sends a measure to delay the cuts for a year to President Barack Obama, who's expected to quickly sign it. The House passed the measure last week.

The $21 billion measure would stave off a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors for a year and extend dozens of other expiring health care provisions such as higher payment rates for rural hospitals. The legislation is paid for by cuts to health care providers, but fully half of the cuts won't kick in for 10 years.

It's the seventeenth temporary "patch" to a broken payment formula that dates to 1997 and comes after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on financing a permanent fix.

The measure passed the House on Thursday, but only after top leaders in both parties engineered a voice vote when it became clear they were having difficulty mustering the two-thirds vote required to advance it under expedited procedures. Several top Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would take momentum away from the drive to permanently solve the payment formula problem.

There's widespread agreement on bipartisan legislation to redesign the payment formula that would give doctors 0.5 percent annual fee increases and implement reforms aimed at giving doctors incentives to provide less costly care. But there's no agreement on how to pay the approximately $140 billion cost of scrapping the old formula.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., promised to keep pressing ahead with a long-term solution, proposing to use savings from the troop drawdown in Afghanistan to pay the cost. Republicans and most budget experts say such savings are phony and are demanding at least some of the money to come from cuts to Obama's Affordable Care Act.

"Paying for this through (war savings) is the mother of all gimmicks," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Groups representing doctors, including the powerful American Medical Association, opposed the legislation because it sets back the effort for a permanent solution.

Six Democrats opposed the measure, including Wyden, while 16 Republicans voted in favor of it.

"We just don't have the votes right now to fix this problem for good," said Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who negotiated the measure with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "For the millions of elderly Americans and their doctors this fix is good news. It means the promise of accessible, quality health care to our nation's seniors is being honored for another year."

The heavily lobbied measure blends $16 billion to address Medicare physicians' payments with about $5 billion more for a variety of other expiring health care provisions, like higher Medicare payments to rural hospitals and for ambulance rides in rural areas. Manufacturers of certain drugs to treat kidney disease catch a break, as do dialysis providers and the state of California, which receives increases in Medicare physician fees in 14 counties such as San Diego and Sacramento that are designated as rural and whose doctors therefore receive lower payments than their urban counterparts.

The bill increases spending by $17 billion over the next three years, offsetting the cost with cuts to health care providers. The authors of the bill employed considerable gimmickry to amass the cuts, however, and fully half of them don't appear for 10 years. For instance, the bill claims $5 billion in savings through a timing shift in Medicare cuts in 2024.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., cited the gimmicks as he criticized the legislation in a lacerating floor speech. He said the so-called offsets were phony and that the measure delays a long-sought overhaul of Medicare's fee-for-service system, which pays doctors according to the number of tests and treatments they perform.

"We are going to put off until tomorrow what we should be doing today," Coburn said. "It's a sham. ... It's nothing but gimmicks."

Other savings come from curbs on payments to hospitals that care for a large share of indigent patients. But those hospitals first get a one-year reprieve from cuts scheduled in 2016.

The measure would give Medicare doctors a 0.5 percent fee increase through the end of the year. It also creates two new mental health grant programs, including $1.1 billion over four years for improvements to community health centers and $60 million over four years for outpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness.

The measure solves the fee schedule problem through next March.

Because of a flawed formula dating to 1997, Medicare doctors are threatened with big fee cuts almost every year. After allowing a 4.8 percent Medicare fee cut to take effect in 2002, Congress has since stepped in 16 times to prevent the cuts.
Libya Fund Accuses Société Générale of Fraud
A Libyan oil refinery where the wealth of the country is being exploited by rebels and allied imperialists.
Suit Accuses SocGen of Paying $58 Million in Bribes

Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2014 6:38 p.m. ET

LONDON—French bank Société Générale GLE.FR -0.08%  paid a middleman $58 million in alleged bribes to secure almost $2 billion in business from Libya's main sovereign-wealth fund during the final years of Pan-African Revolutionary leader Moammar Gadhafi's rule, according to a lawsuit filed by the fund, the Libyan Investment Authority.

The fund is suing Société Générale in London for restitution of money lost in deals completed between 2007 and 2009. It accuses the French bank of defrauding the institution through a series of complex financial derivative deals that were unprofitable for the LIA, according to new court documents filed last week. The new documents detail allegations in a suit filed earlier this month at London's High Court.

The French bank denied the allegations. "Société Générale contests these unfounded allegations," said a spokeswoman for the bank.

Allegations by Libyan officials that Société Générale paid bribes to secure business in Libya were first reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2011 as part of a series of articles that described how Western banks and companies such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +0.96%  raced to enter the lucrative and largely untapped Libyan financial markets in the late 2000s.

Reporting by The Wall Street Journal at that time prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to open investigations of Goldman and Société Générale and their Libyan investment deals. Those investigations continue.

Goldman has denied wrongdoing.

In the London suit, the LIA is seeking to nullify the Société Générale deals, which were originally worth $1.8 billion but which had lost roughly half of their value by the time the Libyan revolution broke out in February 2013.

The Paris-based lender is France's third-largest listed bank by assets. It posted net profit of €322 million ($439.17 million) in the three months ended in December, compared with a €471 million loss a year ago.

The court documents filed last week and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal allege that Société Générale paid $58.5 million to a Panamanian-registered company called Leinada Inc., which was controlled by Libyan businessman Walid Giahmi. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Giahmi was close to the Gadhafi family and personally benefited from the investments made with the LIA.

Mr. Giahmi couldn't be reached for comment. His lawyer in Dubai, where Mr. Giahmi resides, called the bribery accusations "completely false."

Previously, Mr. Giahmi said he was innocent of any wrongdoing related to his work in Libya. Lawyers for Mr. Giahmi told The Wall Street Journal previously that Leinada was never used to transfer money to a Libyan politician, public official or person connected to the previous regime.

Previously, the French bank declined to comment on its relationship with Leinada or on its ties to the LIA, but it did say that Société Générale "works occasionally with financial intermediaries in countries where [it] does not have local teams in place." Those middlemen are "fully reviewed through our compliance procedures in respect of the regulations and in complete transparency with the client," Société Générale added. The bank said it "complies with all applicable rules and regulations" related to sovereign-wealth funds.

During Col. Gadhafi's reign, it was common for international companies to pay intermediaries, advisers or consultants when doing business with Libya, companies and diplomats have said. U.S. and U.K. securities laws require investment firms to disclose payments to brokers or middlemen who work as matchmakers on deals.

The court documents filed in London describe the payments made to Leinada as bribes, citing as evidence the fact that neither Mr. Giahmi nor Leinada had any known expertise in financial consulting or financial restructuring and the payments offered no discernible value for either Société Générale or the LIA.

The documents also allege that the scale of the remuneration to Leinada was never detailed in the contract documentation between Société Générale and the LIA.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Société Générale is among a group of large investment firms that remains under scrutiny by the SEC and the Justice Department in connection with their dealings with the LIA. The joint civil and criminal investigation is examining whether the firms may have violated U.S. antibribery laws by engaging with intermediaries, formally known as placement agents or finders, to help them obtain investments from the Libyan sovereign-wealth fund. The investigation is focused on whether payments may have been funneled to Libyan officials through these intermediaries, people familiar with the matter have said.

Mr. Giahmi is one of the middlemen whose activities U.S. investigators are scrutinizing, said people familiar with the matter. Mr. Giahmi's lawyer said his client is aware of the SEC investigation and has offered to cooperate with U.S. officials.

—Michael Rothfeld contributed to this article.

Write to Margaret Coker at and Liz Rappaport at

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Obama Delivers His, Perhaps, Worse Speech in Brussels
United States imperialism is extending its reach around the world.
27.03.2014 | Source: Pravda.Ru

In Brussels, Barack Obama summed up the results of the US-EU summit. Obama spoke more about Ukraine, rather than about the USA's relations with Europe.

The key event of Obama's European tour was his speech in the Brussels Palace of Fine Arts in front of 2,000 people. His lengthy discourse on the history and common values ​​with Europeans was very quickly replaced with anti-Russian rhetoric.

The speech turned out to be a dispute with Russian authorities, entirely devoted to the situation in Ukraine. Obama stated that the United States fully supported the new government in Kiev and promised to help them financially. He then said that it was absurd to assume that the U.S. colluded with nationalists in Kiev, reports.

Noteworthy, the U.S. has been increasing its military presence on the border with Russia. By agreement with the NATO Secretary General, the States will send six F-15 fighters to Lithuania and 12 F-16 jets to Poland in the coming week (plus about 250 people of staff).

Barack Obama also urged the alliance to expand military budgets. The use of military force has become common practice for Washington. In 1983, the U.S. invaded Grenada, in 1989 - Panama, in 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia, in 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan, in 2011- Libya, in 2003 - Iraq.

The American "democracy" split Iraq into three feuding parts. The Kurds declared autonomy in the oil north - Kurdistan. Iraqi Sunnis fight Shiites; terrorists acts kill hundreds of people every month. The year 2013 was the bloodiest one since the US-led invasion of Iraq.

As for the Crimean referendum and people's wish to join Russia, Obama considers all that illegal. At the same time, he justifies the separation of Kosovo and the NATO bombing of Serbian towns. It was then called the establishment of the political status of the province under international law and the fight against Milosevic's repression. Fourteen thousand bombs were dropped, more than two thousand people were killed, including 88 children. For Mr. Obama - this is justifiable and legal.

The U.S. and Europe, the American president assured, are interested in the strong and stable Russia. He acknowledged that the situation with the Crimea could not be changed. Traditionally, ignoring obvious unwillingness of European leaders to complicate economic relations with Moscow, Mr. Change threatened Russia with new sanctions and political isolation.

It was probably Obama's stupidest speech of all.
Lavrov: If West Accepts Coup-appointed Kiev Govt, It Must Accept a Russian Crimea
Russian Federation Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov.
March 30, 2014 09:33

The West is inconsistent in not recognizing the Crimea referendum as legitimate, while recognizing the military coup in Kiev, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said. He accused the EU and US of duplicity and described sanctions as a “dead-end track.”

If the West accepts Kiev’s coup-appointed government then it must, in turn, accept the legitimacy of Crimea’s referendum to join with Russia, Lavrov told Irada Zeinalova, the host of the “Sunday Time” analytical program on Russia’s Channel One TV.

Q: Last week was eventful and quite challenging. You met the representative of the Ukrainian delegation on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. It was the first meeting at the foreign ministers' level under the current circumstances.However, the only thing the wider audience saw of this meeting was one photograph and only one comment from you. Could you expand a little more on this meeting? What was its general tonality? Obviously, only you could know such things as whether the parties were or were not ready for negotiations.

Sergey Lavrov: The meeting took place in a calm atmosphere; there was nothing edgy, just a normal talk. I gave my agreement for this contact since I believe it never hurts to use an opportunity to share our vision of possible solutions to the serious crisis in Ukraine with the representatives of the current Ukrainian authorities directly, and also in view of the fact that at the current stage, Kiev is failing to set up a nationwide dialogue based on mutual respect that would equally account for the interests of East and South, as well as other areas of Ukraine, a neighbourly country to us.

'Ukraine needs end of violence, constitutional reform and federalization'

I confirmed the validity of the proposal we made a while ago, pertaining to the necessity to implement all of the issues registered in the Agreement of the 21 February and signed by Yanukovich, Yatsenyuk, Tyagnibok, Klitchko and Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland. First and foremost, order has to be restored in all cities, all illegal weapons must be surrendered, all buildings that have been taken over illegally must be released, all barriers from streets and squares must be removed, and there must be no more “Maidans” or “mini-Maidans.”

Once these obvious steps aimed at restoring normal law and order are undertaken, the constitutional reform process should be started immediately, which is something that has also been captured in the Agreement of the February 21. We are convinced that the success of this reform can only be ensured by participation of all political forces and movements representing all areas and regions without exception, and each of them must have an equal decision-making opportunity within the framework of these negotiations.

We are convinced that it would be impossible to work out solutions to all of Ukraine’s problems without a unanimous agreement on the introduction of the federal form of government in Ukraine. Each region needs to have the opportunity to elect directly its local authorities, the executive branch and the governors, and to have all the rights and needs of its citizens satisfied across all spheres, including economy, finances, culture, language, social activities or the right for friendly relations and travel to neighboring states, be it Poland, Lithuania or Russia.

We know from experience that the unitary state does not work in Ukraine. After every presidential election they change the Constitution: first they give more power to the president, then to the parliament, after that to the government. This merry-go-round cannot last for long. Federalization is a way to make all the regions feel comfortable, so that every region will know that its rights are being respected. And at the national level, they will have certain things in common, like defense, foreign policy, judiciary. We would be willing to do that – I mean guarantees that external players would offer to Ukraine after it implements these reforms.

Mr. Deschytsia said our proposal was unacceptable because federalization goes against the fundamental principles of the Ukrainian state. I don’t see why. I’m not aware of any of such principles. Secondly, the idea of making Russian the second official language is unacceptable [for them] as well. This was said against the background of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and other members of the current Ukrainian government saying that in terms of the ethnogenesis, ethnic Russians and the Russian language are not essential to Ukrainian nation. This statement disappointed me because it clearly contradicted history. I explained to my counterpart that such statements are inappropriate. This makes us think that, if the current leadership in Kiev persists in its unwillingness to delegate authority to the regions (and we strongly believe that this can only be done efficiently through federalization), if they continue to ignore ethnic Russians and the Russian language, the constitutional reform which seems to have started in certain areas, would not do any good.

I asked Mr. Deschytsia to tell me more about the reforms that the Rada had initiated. He told me they had set up a special commission to go over the 2004 Constitution and change a few things. I think cosmetic change won’t be enough there. So, that was the end of our conversation.

In The Hague, I had pretty long conversations with US Secretary of State John Kerry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of other EU member states, and it seemed to me that they know much more about the reforms planned by the parliament and the government it appointed than our Ukrainian counterparts.

'Rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine are not guaranteed'

Q: Did the Ukrainian counterparts explain to you how are they going to take into account the interests of the eastern and southeastern parts of Ukraine if their constitutional reform does not involve the Russian language and the rights of Russian-speakers?

A: I didn’t ask them about that. Like I said, they answered that the parliament had set up a special commission, even though we haven’t heard much about it, and that this commission can incorporate into their work a lot of the proposals coming from southern and eastern regions. But I would say it is impossible to do that without inviting all the regions to participate in the body working on the constitutional reform. But so far there has been no such invitation.

'Russia’s troops in their right to relocate on own territory'

Q: On one hand, US Secretary of State John Kerry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western politicians claim they are ready for dialogue. But they always qualify that by saying, “unless Russia continues to escalate the confrontation.” By “escalation” they mean our potential actions to protect the rights of Russian-speakers in eastern and southeastern Ukraine. Why do they keep insisting on this? Just this week, NATO reported that our troops were concentrated along the border.

A: Russian troops are deployed on our territory. From time to time, they have scheduled and unscheduled, surprise exercises. Every respectable nation does that if it wants its armed forces to be combat-ready. Our recent exercise was transparent and fully met all the OSCE standards. We have duly notified our partners about it. After we received requests from other nations, we allowed foreign inspectors, including some from the US and Ukraine, to monitor the exercise.

There is an Open Skies Treaty, which allows aerial surveillance flights over the territory of treaty member states, and such flights took place just a couple of weeks ago following a request by Ukraine. Foreign monitors filed their reports after the inspection, and there was nothing in those reports suggesting that those movements of Russian troops presented any threat. We are not plotting against anybody, and we are still open for a frank conversation. But please note that every nation has the right to move troops around its territory.

'If West accepts coup-appointed Kiev govt, it must accept a Russian Crimea'

Q: Talking about the Constitution and constitutional reforms in Ukraine, there is an impression that they only bring up this topic now in connection with Crimea. Why our western partners ignore all the constitution and human rights violations done by those who organized the Maidan protests? Does the West deliberately turn a blind eye on all those violations? Or maybe they are just not aware of them?

A: This is a big question. Unfortunately, I think they do this deliberately. From the very beginning of the certain events in Ukraine, in early November, when the Ukrainian president made a perfectly legitimate decision to postpone the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU (just to postpone it, mind you, not to cancel it altogether!), the protests started on Independence Square, with protesters putting up tents, setting up mobile kitchens, portable toilets, etc., and very soon militants from the Right Sector and other radical groups appeared on Maidan — we warned Western countries against patronizing them. They responded, rather indistinctly, that those were legitimate expressions of civilian position. Although, even at that point it was clear that those protests were turning unconstitutional and anti-governmental.

And then there was a coup, which happened just the next day after President Yanukovich signed an agreement with the opposition in the presence of the foreign ministers of three EU nations. Immediately, they said that a revolution had taken place and that we had to face the facts. They still say that today, when we say that what happened was illegitimate. The PACE committee on legal affairs decided to request an opinion from the Venice Commission as to whether what happened in Ukraine was legitimate, but the motion was blocked. The Venice Commission did not receive the request, largely due to the secretariat of the Council of Europe manipulating various technical regulations regarding Council of Europe activities.

'West refuses to accept awkward reality'

They keep on telling us that “When it's gone, it's gone,” “it can’t be undone,” “let bygones be bygones,” and “let’s be constructive about it and think how you can call off your decision regarding Crimea.” I’m not exaggerating; that’s literally what they keep saying to us. My response is very simple. Even if we don’t compare the legitimacy of what happened on Maidan and what happened in Crimea (and I am absolutely sure that the first was an unlawful act while the latter was the expression of the will of the people, with so many people voting in favor of reunification with Russia, it is simply impossible to challenge) — so, even if we forget about that, it makes absolutely no sense for a diplomat to say that you have to accept what happened on Maidan as reality but what happened in Crimea is not reality. This is a dirty trick. If they are willing to accept the first reality, then they definitely have to accept another one.

'We had no other choice for Crimea'

Q: You are Russia’s top diplomat. As the decision regarding Crimea was being made, you certainly considered the possible reaction of the western counterparts. Does reality match your expectations? Did you expect a more moderate or a tougher response?

A: We cannot do otherwise but consider the consequences of every diplomatic step we take. In this case, it was not an act of diplomacy; it was a fundamental step of national importance. Besides that, this issue could not be held dependent on a negative, positive or any other sort of reaction from other countries that had nothing to do with it. After the Crimean referendum made it absolutely clear that the people of Crimea want to be with the Russian Federation, we had no choice. Frankly, the Russian leadership in general and the president in particular did not have any other choice. We could not betray ethnic Russians and Crimeans after they made their choice through an extremely democratic and transparent procedure.

'Western sanctions vs Russia a decent way of expressing offense'

Q: The reaction we’re receiving from the West is sanctions. The officials in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe are very weird; they say they want to expel Russia from PACE. How serious would it be if Russia has to leave this political forum? Did you expect such a strong reaction? Although some people say it’s softly.

A: We didn’t bother to ponder what kind of reaction we’ll see. We had no choice. The choice we made was based on all of our modern history, on the international law, on Russia’s statehood, on our responsibility for the ethnic Russians who suddenly found themselves living in another country. And the way it happened had nothing to do with international law.

You know how the agreements in Belovezhskaya Pushcha (to break up the Soviet Union) were accorded, when those who talk so much about international law today gave a standing ovation to that act. They had no reservations about the legitimacy of what happened back then.

As for introducing sanctions - this is a dead-end track. There is a feeling that our Western partners have been working to ‘tear’ Ukraine away from Russia for years. When they realized that they were wrong and that they had made a mistake by undermining all the agreements we made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they couldn’t admit it. Misunderstood feeling of pride got involved. So the reflective sanctioning we’re observing right now looks like an attempt to express their frustration through the most possibly decent means.

I’m not mincing words now, because I tell the same to my [foreign] colleagues. In our one-on-one conversations, they all ask me to understand the situation and walk in their shoes, because “the West cannot put up with such developments,” they say that “We do understand you, but we are a team, and we all have to speak with one voice.” But this is something from the previous era, when there were two blocs, two geopolitical strategic opponents facing each other. Back then, it was “either-or”; “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” We have left this concept behind long time ago. But, unfortunately, many decision-makers in the West still have this mentality.

I’m not saying that these sanctions are ridiculous or that we don’t care about them. They are nasty. It is very obvious that the West wants to make sanctions look personal, to present them as if they target individuals. Well, we don’t enjoy those sanctions but we don’t feel any pain either. We’ve seen much harder times.

'Russia won’t obey the western rules'

Russia’s relationship with the West has been quite eventful in the post-Soviet period. We were welcomed to the democratic world, because they expected us to follow their orders and observe all the rules created by the west in this segment of the Christian civilization. This is not partnership, but rather an attempt to take under control a non-aligned geopolitical ‘turf’. We saw that attitude exposed in developments in Ukraine. We saw how desperate the West was to drag Ukraine into its orbit, without paying attention to the interests of the Ukrainian economy, culture and the nation. Ukraine is a very complex, multi-ethnic and multicultural country. The ultimate motive behind all that was to separate Ukraine from Russia. Remember how Zbigniew Brzezinski said that with Ukraine Russia is a great power, yet without Ukraine Russia is not something less significant?

Incidentally, I was taken aback by what the US President Barack Obama said about Russia being a regional power and about the costs we will have to pay. We did not lose any lives when we responded to the legitimate choice of the Crimean people. The ‘games’ the American played in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia have cost thousands of lives. There is always a price, but in every case it is different.

'Countries pressured into voting for UN Assembly resolution on Ukraine'

Q: Do you think that the UN General Assembly vote on the resolution regarding Ukraine and Crimea has demonstrated that the world is no longer unipolar? A hundred nations voted for the resolution drafted by the West, and then there were 93 nations that supported Russia’s position on Crimea, voted against the resolution, were not present or abstained. A hundred and 93 – this is practically parity. Do you think the UN in its current state is capable of responding properly to challenges of the international politics?

A: The pressure mounted in connection with this resolution was extreme. We know there were not just demands to endorse this openly provocative resolution. There were if not threats, then reminders about “consequences”. A country that refuses to toe the line would not get a loan, or some kind of a visit would be canceled.

In addition to officially declared sanctions, other measures are also being taken that amaze us. Our diplomats in EU countries are denied appointed meetings with foreign ministries. We know that the US and EU diplomats in Moscow have been instructed not to attend events where blacklisted officials may appear. This absolutely contradicts the very purpose of diplomacy. Diplomacy is the art of talking and working out agreements. Using diplomats as instruments of your sanction policies is something totally different.

Now a few words about the vote on the resolution and the balance of power in the world. I meet with John Kerry on a regular basis. I am amazed at how the Europeans have delegated the decision-making on the Ukrainian issue to Washington when it comes to relations with Russia. As we have already said on multiple occasions, they talk about setting up a contact group. The idea of this group is that Europe and America will ‘oversee’ how Russia and Ukraine are trying to reach some kind of an agreement. This is unacceptable, because the problem is not in our bilateral relations with Ukraine; the problem is that there is a severe crisis of statehood in Ukraine.

'West's duplicity and inconsistency obstructs dialogue over Ukraine'

That’s why we suggested a different approach. If our Western partners agree, Russia, US and the EU might form a support group for Ukraine and address the current Kiev authorities together, encouraging them to open a nationwide dialogue. They should invite all political forces without exception (excluding the armed militants, of course) and all regions to join the discussion as equal partners. As a result, they will produce a new constitution, which will define Ukraine as a federation, reaffirm and guarantee that Ukraine’s status of a non-aligned state, and protect the rights of all the ethnic groups in Ukraine. Of course the rights of ethnic Russians is a priority for us, but the same attitude also applies to Czechs, Hungarians, Germans and other minorities living there.

If our partners are ready, we’re open to the broadest dialogue possible.

But the first step the current Ukrainian authorities must take is offering a hand of friendship to all of the Ukrainian people, to all of the regions, and invite them to an equal and open dialogue regarding the future of their country. If they take this approach, we would be wide open to cooperation.

We don’t have any hidden agenda. We want Ukraine to be a peaceful, stable and friendly nation. We absolutely respect its right to engage in cooperation with Russia, Europe, America and whoever they want. We may achieve a lot if we use this approach.

When we talk to our American partners, they tell us, “First, let’s de-escalate the situation. We should both influence those people who listen to us in Ukraine, encourage them to calm down, stop attacking each other, and engage in some sort of a dialogue.” We are ready to do that, and that’s the message we have been sending. I hope that Americans and Europeans are also sending a similar message (and the events of the last few days seem to indicate that they are).

For example, we have long since asked them to do one simple thing: we asked our Western partners and the current Ukrainian authorities to make a statement regarding their position on the Right Sector – and we’re not even talking about taking measures to prevent the ultranationalists from going out of control. Only recently we started to see the first reactions to our request. That is probably due to the fact that the glorious picture that our Western colleagues had been painting has proven to be wrong and that everyone can see now that involvement with the radical forces can have extremely grave consequences, especially in matters of maintaining power and control.

I hope that the steps the authorities in Kiev are undertaking now to ban the radical formations and to have the agreement for all illegally possessed weapons surrendered fully and unconditionally will be implemented, and I hope that the West will facilitate it.

While inviting us to participate in such a dialogue and assuring us via bilateral contacts of their readiness to facilitate the normalization of the situation, our partners are nonetheless being inconsistent because what they are doing at the same time on public platforms including the UN General Assembly is different: they are encouraging there quite confrontational and contentious statements that are bordering on insults, which is not helping with creating a positive framework for a normal dialogue. This double-standard approach is very disruptive to the process.

'EU giving visas only to Crimean Ukrainians would be gravest violation of human rights'
Q: There are some leaks from the EU implicating that the citizens of Crimea will only be granted Schengen visas if they apply in Kiev. If this is true and the decision has been made, this part of the sanctions is a pure provocation! To your knowledge, has the decision been made or not yet?

A: As far as I know the decision has not been made yet. But such talks are indeed taking place, and in a quite strange manner at that. The talk is about introducing the rules that would oblige citizens of Crimea wishing to obtain a Schengen visa to enter Ukraine and apply for it at the Ukrainian i.e. non-domestic consular post, and they would need a Ukrainian passport for that. At the same time, they are talking about a visa-free regime to Ukraine for all EU states. Ukraine has unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for all EU citizens and applied this regime to travel to Crimea. They are discussing such approaches seriously and publicly. They do not talk to us. They are discussing it internally thinking that once they make the decision it will be complied with. This is unacceptable. This is a crude violation of human rights.

People who live in Crimea and have chosen to be Russian citizens have nothing to do with any geopolitical matters. They simply want to live in a state that is home to their language, culture, and their “gene pool.” If the EU goes through with such steps, I am sure will we respond in a way that would make the EU understand the unacceptability of such a grave abuse of human rights.

Q: Will there be a response to Kiev’s announcement about introducing a visa regime for Russian citizens? They seem to be undecided whether to go through with it or not. If they do, is Russia ready to introduce a visa regime for Ukrainian citizens in response?

A: I believe it would be an unwise thing to do. And I think Kiev has already given this idea up. Someone quick-tempered must have articulated the thought. It has already been denounced, so I believe it is not a valid for discussion anymore.

Q: The members of the Right Sector were recently called Kremlin spies, presumably because only enemy spies can damage the country’s reputation to such an extent. Earlier, Yulia Timoshenko implicitly confirmed her statements where she called for bombing of Russia and exterminating the Russian population. Do you bring these extremist statements to the attention of your Western counterparts? Obviously, you can’t turn a blind eye when a presidential candidate is speaking out like this.

A: These statements, of course, are pure rhetoric. The list of presidential candidates features not only Timoshenko, but also figures like Yarosh and Tyagnibok, who is a member of the coalition and the leader of the Svoboda party. The party’s platform still relies on the principles set forth in the declaration signed by Ukrainians in June 1941 which is basically an oath of allegiance to Hitler and his new order in Europe. Again, this is still part of the official platform of the Svoboda party.

'Moscow has info that Right Sector was behind snipers shootings'

Q: Are we the only people who know about it?

A: No, I mentioned this to my Western partners a few times. When I brought this up, one of my key partners hesitated a bit at first and then said: “We’re watching Svoboda, but they’re members of the coalition and they’re moving towards the political mainstream.” It’s very hard to react to that, because that’s a level of a dialogue with facts in hands. Still, that is how it is.

As for the radials in Ukraine, we keep drawing attention to that. And those who said that Moscow’s hand was behind the Right Sector – I will let it weigh on their conscience.

We have factual information – which I have presented to my counterparts – about whose embassy maintained contacts with the Right Sector, and whose embassy its leaders visited all the time; whose representatives were always staying on Maidan, in the buildings controlled by the Right Sector from there [the movement] was orchestrating many of its acts of violence including sniper shootings. Let it weigh on the conscience of those who were involved in such exercises.

Q: Are you saying it was the Right Sector who coordinated sniper shootings?

A: We have such information.

Q: Did you share this evidence with your Western partners?

A: We have shared our concerns and suspicions with them. I can’t claim that it is 100 percent true, but there are a lot of facts that point to that. Of course, it must be double-checked. I hope that the investigation announced by the current Ukrainian authorities will be completed and won’t be swept under the rug.

Q: We’ve have repeatedly heard that Russian pilots of Russian airlines are not allowed to rest in Ukraine in violation of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) rules. This is a threat to flight safety of both Russian and Ukrainian passengers. The Russian Foreign Ministry says that the situation has not changed. This week it happened again. What can be done in this situation – when it’s a question of the life of our citizens?

A: As far as demands are concerned, we have probably done everything possible. We filed a protest with Ukraine and ICAO demanding that our crews be allowed to leave the aircraft so that they would be able to rest normally in a hotel for several hours instead of sitting crooked and waiting for takeoff. So far, we haven’t received any sensible response. I hope we will get it shortly. You’re absolutely right, it’s a safety problem. Alternatively, we could stop flights [to Ukraine].But I don’t think it is in anyone’s interest.

Q: Don’t you feel that things like not allowing pilots to leave the plane, denying visas for ordinary Crimeans and calling Russia ‘a regional power’ – all these are just some…

A: Petty things.

Q: Yes, petty things. It’s so strange that people may react in this way when the future of a big country, Europe’s and Russia’s partner, is at stake. It’s like cutting off the nose to spite the face.

A: I’m not so much surprised by the pettiness of those who have seized power in Ukraine. But the pettiness of their Western sponsors is amazing.

Q: Unexpectedly amazing?

A: Yes, unexpectedly. Because these are large countries, serious people, supporters of democracy, and defenders of justice. But leaders are becoming petty, and you and I are not the first ones to notice that.
Editorial Comment: Why Africa Must Disengage, Re-strategise
The Republic of Zimbabwe will not attend the EU-Africa Summit in Belgium during April 2014.
March 31, 2014 Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Herald

Zimbabwe’s decision to skip the EU-Africa summit needs to be analysed in its proper context. What exactly is the bigger picture behind Zimbabwe’s actions and what is the broader context of EU-Africa relations? It has always been an emotive issue and like all emotive issues one that requires 20-20 vision, for Zimbabwe did not just wake up and decide to boycott a seemingly important gathering.

To believe that this is a mere boycott because the First Lady was denied a visa is a failure to grasp issues bedevilling all post-colonial states.

It’s no secret that the Anglo-Saxon world treats Africa not as a group of sovereign states, but a homogeneous state or cluster of villages.

If Europe can be represented by its continental bloc, why should it dictate different terms for Africa? After all, the gains emanating from the summit will also be enjoyed by non-EU members and non-AU member states.

The EU wants to be the piper who calls the tune and tells Africa how to dance to it and Africa seems comfortable with that; dancing along without reflection.

Now more than ever we must rethink the bilateral and multilateral relations between AU member states and other countries and various international bodies.

This is something that should occupy the minds and attentions of the entire AU.

It means revisiting the agreements the AU and its member states have with international organisations such as the Bretton Woods institutions, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and more.

Do their terms of reference dovetail with Africa’s aspirations? Why is it that in most —if not all — of them, Africa is treated without respect and is dictated to?

Where is Africa’s voice in the matrix?

It’s time Africa stopped pretending that it is business as usual when there is unequal treatment and when divide and rule tactics are imposed on the continent.

Denying First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe a visa was used as a cheap catalyst to see how Zimbabwe and Africa would react.

And Europe knew that Africa was easy to divide, as the continent and its docile media rushed to focus on the First Lady as a person while totally ignoring the card that was being played, as well as the very important issues of Eritrea and more so the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Maybe we should ask former United States president Bill Clinton who in 1993 defended Hillary Clinton’s involvement in governance issues saying the American people were “getting two for the price of one”.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Mr George Charamba succinctly related to those values when he said, “It is very strange that the EU has not extended an invitation to the First Lady.

“What God has put together, the EU is trying to separate. Do they expect the President to respect the EU and disrespect his own marriage?”

Maybe Europe also needs to be reminded that 100 years ago, the Sarajevo incident of June 1914 directly resulted in the outbreak of World War I after an Austrian archduke and his wife were assassinated.

The ill-fated summit does not provide for a “win-win” situation because it is on the EU’s terms in every sense of it.

The way forward is to treat each other as equal partners, with respect and honour. This is the 21st century, where Africa’s growth cannot be ignored nor blocked by these divide and rule tactics.

And if Africa starts to appreciate that it is not treated as an equal partner, then it should disengage and only re-engage when the rules of engagement are premised on mutual respect.
Let’s Take the Lead in Investment: Zimbabwe VP Mujuru Says
Republic of Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru officially opens a cinema house at the Ster-Kinekor Sam Levy Entertainment Centre while Gloria Levy and her granddaughter Danieel look on in Harare on March 27, 2014.
March 29, 2014

Brenda Phiri Herald Reporter

Vice President Joice Mujuru has urged Zimbabweans to take the lead through investing in various projects to create jobs and spur economic growth.Speaking at the launch of a multimillion dollar Ster Kinekor cinema hall at Sam Levy Village on Thursday, VP Mujuru said foreigners would only chip in when citizens showed keen interest in investing.

“We all have a role to play in uplifting our country and what we are witnessing today is a big step ahead,” she said.

“We have been calling on international banks for aid but what have we been doing for ourselves? Why should a neighbour suffer for you when you do not show readiness to help yourself.

“The moment we start developing ourselves that is when foreign investors are attracted to come.”

VP Mujuru said those who seized the opportunity stood to make huge gains and contribute to economic growth.
She also applauded the Levy family for doing their bit in infrastructural development and promoting tourism.

The Ster Kinekor project, she said, was in line with Zim-Asset that aims to create a framework for industrial revival and job creation.

“The Zim-Asset document encourages people to think outside the box.  This is the Zim-Asset we have been talking about. The Levys have implemented it at a time when the economy is not favourable.

“But it will go a long way in creating employment for many people and contributing to the Government through tax,” Vice President Mujuru said.

She took a dig at Zimbabweans who live extravagant lifestyles but claimed to be too broke to assist in efforts to turn around the economy.

“Investment goes with how you think of it. It is the commitment and devotion to your country. We cannot all build cinemas but ploughing that extra two hectare that will create employment for two people or more is  important,” Vice President Mujuru said.

The launch was attended by Government ministers and members of the public.
Banks in Zimbabwe Urged to Support women
Minister of Women's Affairs for the Republic of Zimbabwe Oppah Muchinguri.
March 31, 2014
Herald Reporter

Government has urged banks to extend more loans to women entrepreneurs saying the Women’s Development Fund was not sufficiently resourced. Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Cde Oppah Muchinguri said the WDF had received US$750 000 rather than the anticipated US$2,5 million.

Women have difficulties in accessing bank loans as many do not have bankable collateral.

“We appeal to the banking sector to provide special loan windows for women entrepreneurs because the money allocated by Treasury to the fund is not sufficient,” Minister Muchinguri said.

The WDF is a revolving facility to promote economic empowerment of women at grassroots level.

While Government has planned a Women’s Bank, the project has not received any budget allocation this year. The Women’s Affairs Ministry wanted more than US$30 million for 2014 — excluding salaries — but was allocated about US$5 million. Female entrepreneurs exhibiting their products at belated International Women’s Day celebrations last Wednesday said they were facing challenges in accessing capital.

Community-based organisation Cluster Agricultural Development Services representative Ms Angela Muranganwa bemoaned the restricted market for local value added products.

“We work in rural districts like Mutoko, Chigodora and Mutasa, where we are working with more than 7 000 rural women who are into farming and also train them value addition,” she said.

“Sadly, there is no market for products made from drought resistant crops such as sorghum scones, cow pea fritters as well as bread made from finger millet.

“We want to encourage women to make use of locally available products and encourage consumption.”
Tobacco: Curse of Poverty Amid Plenty
Zimbabweans marketing their tobacco crops during harvest time.
Sunday, 23 March 2014 00:00
Noah Pito and Harmony Agere
Zimbabwe Sunday Maik

Scores of new tobacco farmers who began this season with huge hectarages but without enough curing capacity are likely to incur heavy losses as the available curing facilities are failing to cope with large volumes of the ripening crop.

It emerged last week that some of the farmers also do not have adequate funds to pay for harvesting. According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), 85 006 farmers registered to grow the crop during the 2013-14 season. Of this number, there are 20 249 new farmers.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said most of the new farmers lacked vital knowledge, thereby putting their crop at risk.

He said plans were underway to help the concerned farmers.

“At first, we thought people had acquired knowledge, but now we realise many of them are not educated enough on tobacco farming.

“Some of them do not have access to barns where they can cure their tobacco while some do not have resources to harvest it. This could be fatal for them.”

Mr Chabikwa said a new and cheaper curing technology of “rocket barns” has been developed by the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) to help farmers without curing facilities.

“We have teamed up with TRB to help farmers with this new technology which uses plastics to set up the barns and tsotso to burn.

“We are also making efforts to make sure farmers who do not have the money to pay for labour to harvest can be given some sort of advance payment for their tobacco so that they can harvest.

“On top of that, we continue to educate farmers on tobacco farming and our message is that one should not grow what goes beyond their capacity to harvest and cure.”

Hurungwe agricultural extension officer Mr Kelvin Charewa said the situation in the district has been worsened by a shortage of manpower to harvest the crop.

Mr Charewa said most farmers were expected to realise half of their targeted yields.

“Most of our farmers increased their hectarage before putting in place enough curing facilities. With the heavy rains that pounded the district over the past weeks, the crop has been maturing faster than the farmers’ barns can cope.

“On the other hand, some of the farmers are failing to reap their crop on time due to lack of adequate labour. Most of the people who used to provide labour have, themselves, since turned to tobacco production.

“It therefore means they are now unable to provide the much-needed labour as they are also busy with their tobacco.”

Mr Onismous Mugari of Plot No. 10 (Ansdale Farm) said he had written off almost half of his four hectares.

“I tried to build a barn mid last month so that I could increase (curing) capacity, but the truck carrying the bricks got stuck in the mud.

“I have been helplessly watching my tobacco rotting every week with no solution in sight.
“I think I have lost more tobacco than what is now left.”

According to Mr Charewa, most of the farmers increased production in line with the growing number of contractors now operating in the area.

A total of 13 contracting companies are now doing business in the area, up from last season’s seven.
Armed Militias Are Holding Libya Hostage
A Libyan oil refinery where rebels are holding out in lieu of greater power within the east of the North African state.
MAR. 30, 2014, 8:44 AM

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - When a militia holding Libya's eastern ports loaded a North Korean-flagged tanker with oil earlier this month, the Libyan parliament sacked its own prime minister and turned to U.S. commandos to bring its cargo back.
For days the government had threatened to blow up the tanker, called Morning Glory, if it left port. When it sailed off, pro-government militiamen even gave chase on boats carrying jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft and cannons.

But that failed, and when the tanker reached international waters Libya's parliament fired Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who fled to Europe. A few days later, U.S. Navy SEALS boarded the tanker to end the debacle.

The Morning Glory affair is one of the starkest symbols yet of how weak Libya's central authority is. Three years after a NATO-supported revolt toppled Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is at the mercy of rival brigades of heavily armed former rebel fighters who openly and regularly defy the new state.

Libya's parliament agrees on little, its interim government has no army to enforce security let alone impose its will, and a new constitution meant to forge a sense of nation remains undrafted.

In the vacuum, ex-fighters have briefly abducted Zeidan from his Tripoli hotel room, stormed the foreign ministry, and taken over the interior ministry, even before the renegades made their failed attempt to export oil.

Lawmakers joke that they may need to use the secret tunnels Gaddafi built under the capital so they can escape the marauding gunmen.

"Really there is no army, I thought there was one, but then I realized there really isn't any," ousted premier Zeidan said from Germany where he fled.

For many Libyans, the joy of freedom after decades under Gaddafi has given way to confusion. Libya has descended into a scramble over the future shape of the nation, with ex-rebel commanders, former exiles, Islamists, tribal leaders, and federalists all jostling for position.

At stake is the stability and integrity of this vast North African territory, rich in both oil and gas.

Neighboring Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, has made its uprising work. A new constitution was adopted in January, Islamist and secular parties have compromised, and elections are due this year.

Libya, by contrast, is floundering.

"There was a euphoria that accompanied the overthrow of the dictator that did not take into account some of the stark realities ... What is the unifying idea here?" one Libya-based Western diplomat asked.

"It's not as though removing Gaddafi was going to mean the ... box would open and out pops Dubai. All the problems that were covered over, papered over or bribed over or suppressed, they are emerging again."


Working his phone to resolve another Tripoli blackout, Libyan Electricity Minister Ali Mihirig knows better than most how hard it will be to get the country working together. Back in Libya after three decades living in Canada, Mihirig is not only in charge of electricity but has spent the past year as a mediator and negotiator among the country's myriad factions.

"It is like pulling teeth," he said of convincing former fighters to put down their guns and abandon their bases.

"It is painful, it is hard, sometimes you need anesthesia ... We have strong armed groups ... Fortunately or unfortunately, they don't agree with each other, which keeps this process going."

The government has negotiated with militia chieftains to give up command posts they seized when they liberated Tripoli. The army is recruiting more and the government co-opted former fighters by putting thousands of them on the state payroll.

But that has often empowered rival militias and created a mishmash of security forces and quasi-official military units. Even on a casual drive outside Tripoli, visitors pass checkpoints manned by guards whose ragtag uniforms are no clue to affiliation.

The former rebel groups, political factions and tribes are proving more loyal to their vision of Libya than to the compromises required in a unified state.

In Benghazi, in the country's east, three key ports have been seized by a group of former oil security forces who defected with their leader Ibrahim Jathran, a former Gaddafi fighter, last summer. They want more autonomy for the region.

Ethnic Amazigh, the berber people who have long felt oppressed by Libya's Arab majority, have also targeted the country's oil infrastructure. Armed Amazigh shut down the vital El Sharara oilfield for two months last year to demand more rights in the new constitution.

An Islamist militia, the Operations Room for Libya's Revolutionaries, has been accused of kidnapping Zeidan and briefly snatching five Egyptian diplomats in Tripoli to secure the freedom of their commander who was arrested in Egypt. Its commander, Shaban Hadia, denied all kidnapping allegations.

Rival militias are also lined up on competing sides of Libya's divided parliament where Islamists, represented by the Justice and Construction Party, a branch of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, are deadlocked with the National Forces Alliance, a group of nationalist and liberal parties led by a former Gaddafi official.

But the two most powerful groups in the country are the militias west of the capital, one in the mountain town of Zintan and the other in the port city of Misrata. Bristling with weaponry and a sense of entitlement, the rivals both claim the mantle of champions of the revolution. Each brigade is loosely allied to competing political factions, and neither shows any sign of disarming or falling in behind the government in Tripoli.

"We are keeping our weapons, not because we want to end the state, but we are waiting for a real organization to appear," said Khalid Imohammed, a former military commander in Zintan.


Imohammed was a supermarket manager during the Gaddafi years. He took up arms early in the uprising, at first to defend his town, and then to oust the Libyan leader.

These days he feels a new sense of outrage. Like many in Zintan, an impoverished town of around 35,000 people some 140 km (90 miles) west of Tripoli, he complains that he has seen little of the oil riches or development he believes the capital and other cities enjoy, and laments the lack of basic services, new schools, hospitals, even a basic water supply.

"Winning this war was a gift from God and made with the courage of the Zintan people," Imohammed, dressed in traditional brown robes, said. "And what did we get? We didn't see any change. Now we are in a different war, a political war. But they are just fighting for private gain, not like our sacrifices."

Zintan city council leader Mohammed al Waqwaq puts it more succinctly: "Zintanis felt it was a duty to fight. And that duty was not rewarded."

That's one reason the group has not given up their greatest prize: Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son, who was captured by the Zintanis, and is still held by them despite requests by both Tripoli and the International Criminal Court in the Hague to hand him over.

City council leaders say Saif will be held and tried in Zintan because it is the only place that can guarantee his security. Tripoli cannot even protect its own prime minister, they say.


Some 160 km from Zintan, the coastal city state of Misrata has been booming since the 2011 uprising. Its port, Libya's biggest, saw a record number of containers uploaded last year, while the city has big plans for hotels, shopping malls and foreign language schools.

Misrata suffered some of the worst fighting during the rebellion against Gaddafi. But dozens of new outlets from fashion retailers to restaurants now flourish.

"The experience of the war has brought people to work together and help each other," said Mohammed El-Swayah, manager in the free port authority, who goes on to list business opportunities for foreign firms.

Diplomats have another explanation for the better security in Misrata: regular military units check all vehicles that enter the city, a procedure rare elsewhere in Libya. Misratan entrepreneurs are also paying former rebels to provide security.

Locals are convinced Misrata can be a model for the country. "We in Misrata started already in July 2011 (during the uprising) a plan for future industrial development," said Bashim al-Tarablus, head of a local business council. "In Benghazi, the revolution was over in three days but they didn't plan anything for long."

The Misratan forces make up most of the Libya Shield, the semi-official armed body created by the transitional parliament to protect Tripoli against a resurgence of pro-Gaddafi forces. Though seen by many as Islamist-leaning, the Shield is a potential backbone of a new army. It is also a powerful counterweight to the Zintan brigades.


One of the main reasons Libya is failing to pull together is the almost complete absence of strong state institutions.

Libya's first modern ruler was King Idris, an inward-looking tribesman who mostly stayed at home in the east. Idris was followed by Gaddafi, who shaped the country in his own image.

Both men shunned state institutions and accountability, relying instead on tribes and the largesse and jobs of international oil companies. That helped to buy loyalty and eased social tensions. But while public service ballooned - today some 1.2 million Libyans, almost a fifth of the population, work in the public sector - institutions were neglected.

"Each person is looking only after his (own) interest and not working as nation," said Ali Mohammed Salem, deputy central bank governor who estimates it will take at least five years to build up an efficient state.

The United Nations and Western governments have cajoled Libya's factions to keep the transition on track. A committee has been elected to start writing the constitution, and the parliament has agreed it will run elections as soon as possible.

"They need to come to some kind of national consensus on what kind of country they want. It is easy to say and very difficult to do. To do that you need some political leadership," said another Western diplomat.

The army, built around a core of 8,000, is training with the help of U.S., British, Italian and Turkish aid. But most programmes have just started.

Shaban Hadia, the commander of the group blamed for kidnapping Zeidan and the Egyptian diplomats, said his group is actually helping maintain security.

"We are now an alternative until the army and the police are created," the former rebel said. "The country now lives in a quagmire, and that is because our government is weak."

For Mihirig, the electricity minister turned negotiator, progress is slow but steady.

"It will be a long way before Libyans realise the importance of building democracy, of building a state, and that using arms is not an option anymore," he said. "The next three to five months are very critical for Libya and will define where the state will go."

(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

Read more:
Russia Plays Down Impact of Western Sanctions Before Talks With U.S.
Russan tanks mobilize against threats leveled by U.S. imperialism and NATO.
9:59am EDT
By Alexei Anishchuk and Lesley Wroughton

MOSCOW/PARIS (Reuters) - Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its intervention in Ukraine have caused some disruption but not been too painful, Moscow's foreign minister said hours before talks on Sunday with his U.S. counterpart on a way out of the East-West standoff.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will seek to agree the outlines of a deal to reduce tensions over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region at their meeting in Paris.

They will address a proposal crafted by Kerry and Lavrov in earlier meetings as the West considers broader sanctions against Russia that would target vital sectors of its economy including its mainstay oil and gas industry.

Ideas on the table included a deployment of international monitors in Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Crimea and the border zone around Ukraine, and the launch of direct talks between Moscow and the government in Kiev.

"Today, we expect Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov to continue the discussion they've been having in the interest of finding concrete ways to de-escalate the conflict," a senior U.S. State Department official said.

Kerry and Lavrov hoped to build on a phone call on Friday between presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, according to senior U.S. officials, to defuse the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War ended two decades ago.

A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU strongly favored "meaningful dialogue" between Ukraine and its old Soviet-era master Russia.

"Russian officials have been stating that Moscow has no intentions beyond Crimea. We expect to see words translated into deeds, including with regard to the military build-up at the regions bordering Ukraine," Ashton's spokeswoman said.

The United States and EU have meted out two rounds of sanctions on Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes for some of Putin's inner circle, to punish Moscow over its seizure of Crimea, a Russian-majority Black Sea peninsula, after mass protests ousted Kiev's pro-Russian president in February.

"I don't want to say that sanctions are ridiculous and that we couldn't care less, these are not pleasant things," Lavrov told Russia's Channel One.

"We find little joy in that, but there are no painful sensations. We have lived through tougher times."


Lavrov said Western powers had put unofficial restrictions in place, urging their diplomats in
Moscow to boycott meetings attended by Russian officials and lawmakers on the sanctions list.

He said Russian diplomats stationed in European Union capitals had also been refused meetings with officials from EU foreign ministries.

"Diplomacy is the art of talking and making agreements," Lavrov said. "If diplomats are motivated to become instruments of the sanctions policy, then it's a totally different story."

Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a March 16 referendum dismissed as a sham by Western governments that say it violated Ukraine's constitution and was held only after Russian forces seized control of the Black Sea peninsula.

The West has threatened the tougher sanctions against Russia's stuttering economy if Moscow invades eastern Ukraine.

The West has refused to recognize Crimea's absorption into Russia although U.S. officials acknowledge that the takeover of the predominantly Russian-speaking region is not likely to be resolved soon. Instead, talks have honed in on warnings to Moscow not to go further into Ukraine.

U.S. officials are deeply worried about the massing of what they estimate are up to 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border, which is stoking concerns in Washington and elsewhere that Russia is preparing a wider incursion into Ukraine.

While Moscow has said the buildup is part of normal Russian exercises only, Obama has described it as out of the ordinary that could be a precursor to other actions.

The meeting in Paris comes days before a gathering of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday that is likely to focus on Ukraine and Russia's actions.

Lavrov, speaking on Russian television on Saturday, said Moscow had "no intention" of invading eastern Ukraine and reinforced a message from Putin that Moscow would settle - at least for now - for control over Crimea.

Lavrov, added, however that Russia was ready to protect the rights of Russian speakers, referring to what Moscow sees as threats to the lives of compatriots in eastern Ukraine.

Kerry will meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before his talks with Lavrov at 6.30 p.m. Paris time.

The phone conversation between Putin and Obama on Friday was the first known direct contact between the estranged leaders since Washington and its European allies approved sanctions.

Russia has drafted counter-sanctions, barring senior U.S. officials from entering Russia. On Friday Moscow said it had retaliated against expanded Western sanctions but did not name any U.S. or EU officials affected.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Few Safe Places for Central African Republic’s Muslims
Villages burning in the Central African Republic during the early months of 2014.
MARCH 29, 2014

BODA, Central African Republic — There is only one neighborhood in Boda where Muslims are safe from the bullets and machetes of Christian militia fighters. Many who ventured out were killed, their throats slit or their cars showered with gunfire.

Even the dead must obey: Muslim bodies are buried behind an old warehouse because the traditional Muslim cemetery is now off limits.

Boda is home to one of the largest Muslim communities left in the Central African Republic. About 4,000 Muslims are trapped here, and they say they are suffering and just want to leave after months of being harassed by the militia. Throughout the country, others share their plight.

One resident, Aliou Alidu, 18, stays inside the boundaries of Boda’s Muslim neighborhood even as his arms and legs throb from deep burns, he said. Days earlier, a Christian mob set his home on fire, and he survived only by crawling out a window. There is no pain medicine here. The only doctors live on the Christian side of town, and he is too afraid to go there.

There used to be a man who could link the two neighborhoods — a Christian who had long ago converted to Islam. But he is now dead, and hopes that the communities may reconcile have faded.

“For generations, our families lived together and even intermarried,” said Mahamat Awal, Boda’s mayor, who is among those stuck in this town 100 miles southwest of the capital, Bangui. “Now you want to kill us all?”

Mr. Awal meets regularly with the French peacekeeping forces in town and members of the Christian militia. At each meeting the militiamen make their point clear: Every Muslim must leave the town, without exception.

Nearly 300,000 people already have fled the sectarian violence that began in the Central African Republic in early December when anger erupted against the Muslim rebels who had overthrown the government. When international pressure forced the rebel government to step down in January, Christians turned on their Muslim neighbors, accusing them of having collaborated with the brutal rebel authorities.

Despite the mass evacuations, the United Nations warned that about 15,000 Muslims remain blockaded “in an extremely dangerous and untenable situation” like the one in Boda.

As a result, peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies face “terrible dilemmas such as choosing between unwillingly aiding the ‘cleansing’ of confined Muslim populations, or leaving them — against their will — in places where they are in real danger of being slaughtered en masse,” said Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, after a recent visit to the capital.

In Bangui, where several thousand remain, Muslims say they do not step outside their neighborhoods, and even then some have been killed hundreds of yards away from the local mosque. And in the southwest, about 1,000 Muslims are still sheltering at a Catholic church, too scared even to let their children play soccer for fear that a stray ball could lead them outside where Christian militiamen could attack them.

“People are desperately wanting to leave because they’re in fear for their lives, and they haven’t been able to leave initially because they couldn’t afford it, and now there’s no transport whatsoever,” said Joanne Mariner, a senior crisis adviser with Amnesty International.

Ousmane Nana, his wife and his six children are among those in Boda who say they just want out no matter what. Born and reared in the town, Mr. Nana, 49, said he never felt fear until Jan. 29, when the Muslim rebels fled the town after months of brutal rule.

That was the night a group of 30 people armed with rifles and machetes attacked him, shooting him and leaving deep gashes across his back. More than a month later, the bullet wound to his left arm is still healing. Now he waits for the day peacekeepers will evacuate Muslims from Boda and take him to Cameroon.
Report: African-Americans Compose 28 Percent of Oakland's Population, 62 Percent of Police Stops
Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, California, 1967.
By Matthew Artz
Oakland Tribune
03/25/2014 05:56:16 AM

OAKLAND -- Police stop and search African-Americans at a far higher rate than other racial groups in Oakland, according to a police report released Monday that has renewed concerns about racial profiling in the city.

African-Americans, who compose 28 percent of Oakland's population, accounted for 62 percent of police stops from last April to November, the report found. The figures also showed that stops of African-Americans were more likely to result in felony arrests.

However, while African-Americans were far more likely to be searched by police upon being stopped, officers were no more likely to recover contraband from searching African-Americans than members of other racial groups.

Latinos accounted for 17 percent of police stops, whites accounted for 12 percent, Asians 6 percent and "others" 3 percent.

Monday's report had been sought for years by the police department's federal overseer, Robert Warshaw. Preventing racial profiling was one of dozens of reform tasks the police department agreed to undertake more than a decade ago in the aftermath of the Riders police scandal, which included allegations of brutality and framing drug suspects.

City leaders, cautioned that the report needed further analysis and did not necessarily demonstrate that police were unfairly targeting African-Americans. Several outside police experts informed of the findings pointed to the 14 percent felony arrest rate for African-Americans who were stopped as an indication that police were not profiling.

Interim Chief Sean Whent said he wasn't surprised by the figures given the department's focus on fighting crime in the most violent sections of the city. He said the department would not make it a goal to stop fewer African-Americans.

"We want to focus on the people committing most of the crime whoever that may be regardless of race," he said.

Prior attempts to generate the report had been compromised by technology failures that resulted in faulty data, officials said. The city has hired an expert to go over the data and is scheduling additional training for officers. Moving forward, police will be issuing similar reports twice a year, Mayor Jean Quan said.

"We wish we had more conclusions," the mayor said. "This is really the first step."

John Burris, an attorney who had pressed for Monday's report, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the disproportionate number of African-Americans getting stopped.

"In the African-American community there was always a belief that they were being stopped without reasonable suspicion and that their cars were being searched," he said.

Burris said he was especially troubled that African-Americans were more likely to be searched than other races even though the searches didn't turn up more evidence.

"That goes to the question of whether the initial stops themselves were legitimate," he said.

Burris said police should dig deeper to see if any particular officers or units were more likely to stop African-Americans or whether the stops were occurring in a specific section of the city.

The report did not include data on the percentage of crime suspects described to police as African-Americans. Separate Oakland police records show that from 2007 through 2011, about 70 percent of those arrested were African-American. Last year, police said 90 percent of robbery suspects were described as African-American.

Sam Walker, an emeritus professor in the criminal justice department at the University of Nebraska Omaha, who has reviewed stop-and-frisk police tactics in New York City, said Oakland police stops were far more likely to result in arrests or the confiscation of a weapon.

In New York City, there was little evidence of criminal activity to justify the police stops, he said. "In Oakland, it's a very different picture."

Franklin Zimring, a criminologist and professor at Berkeley Law School, pointed to the data showing that 14 percent of police stops involving African-Americans resulted in felony arrests, compared to 7 percent for Latinos, 6 percent of Asians and 5 percent of whites.

"In terms of conventional mathematics, that is the opposite of racial profiling," he said.

While traffic issues were the most common reason people were stopped by police, African-Americans were far more likely to be stopped on the basis of "probable cause" or "reasonable suspicion" than members of other racial groups.

African-Americans stopped by police were searched 42 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent for Latinos and 17 percent for whites and Asians. Yet, those searches resulted in the recovery of contraband 27 percent of the time for African-Americans and Latinos, 28 percent of the time for whites and 25 percent of the time for Asians.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435
E.U. to Launch Troops to Central African Republic
A French soldier with right wing insignia patrolling the Central African Republic.
Andrew Katz @katz  March 29, 2014  

The EU has announced that its proposed contingent of troops will soon join African Union and French troops currently deployed in the country.

The proposed deployment was authorized months ago but delayed as the bloc struggled to secure the troops and equipment it had pledged for the mission to the conflict-ravaged country. Up to 1,000 troops are expected to take part

The European Union announced on Saturday that its proposed contingent of troops for the conflict-torn Central African Republic is preparing to deploy after a delay in securing troops and equipment.

Up to 1,000 troops are expected to join the 6,000 African Union peacekeepers and 2,000 French troops who are struggling to stabilize the country. Those forces were dispatched after tit-for-tat attacks around the capital, Bangui, in December left an estimated 1,000 people dead.

Untold thousands have been killed and more than one-fifth of the country’s 4.6 million people has been uprooted since then. Largely Christian militias have brazenly retaliated against the disbanded Séléka coalition of mainly Muslim rebels, who toppled the state a year ago, for a vicious campaign of looting and murder against the Christian population. The militia groups, called anti-balaka, have forced an estimated 300,000 Muslims into neighboring countries and pushed aid groups and experts to warn of “ethnic cleansing.”

An E.U. release provided to TIME confirmed the decision came after a meeting in Brussels on Friday, when yet-to-be-named countries offered new support in the form of strategic airlifts and help in deploying the troops. A spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, told Reuters that Major-General Philippe Ponties of France recommended the long-awaited launch “on the basis of significant progress.”

The use of force was authorized by the U.N. Security Council in January on the assumption that E.U. troops would “take all necessary measures” to aid troops already on the ground for an initial period of up to six months. The goal will be to make Bangui more secure before handing over control to the African Union.

Aid groups and regional experts have warned for months that there aren’t enough troops to restore order and that additional support is necessary, especially in the northwest region. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Security Council to authorize thousands more peacekeepers in a bid to bring stability, but that force would not deploy before the end of the summer. The E.U.’s move comes days after Amnesty International said it must “immediately” act on its plans amid a recent surge in deadly attacks in the capital.