Tuesday, September 02, 2014

South Sudan Seeks Support for IGAD Protocol on Agreed Principles
South Sudan negotiators in Addis Ababa, Jan. 2014.
September 1, 2014 (JUBA) - South Sudanese government is currently seeking support for the protocol of agreed principle proposed by the East African regional bloc (IGAD), which is mediating its talks with the opposition led by ex-vice president Riek Machar.

The draft document was presented as a guideline for discussions aimed at resolving the ongoing political differences in the country.

The protocol, which the government had signed and rejected by the rebels, threatened the warring parties with sanctions should they fail to implement an earlier cessation-of-hostilities agreement.

It proposes creation of a prime minister position to be filled by the person whose duties, functional roles and responsibilities will be negotiated by the warring parties and the other stakeholders.

However, the IGAD proposal stipulates that the prime minister will not be eligible for future elections after the interim administration.

“The prime minister will not be eligible to stand for any public office in the national elections at the end of the transitional period”, partly reads IGAD’s proposal also obtained by Sudan Tribune.

“Establishing a transitional government of national unity offers the best chance for the people of South Sudan to take the country forward", it adds.

It bears names of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Haile Mariam Dessalegn, presidents Salva Kiir (South Sudan), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Sudan’s first vice-president, Bakri Hassan Saleh Mohammed and Somalia’s prime minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.

Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, head of the mediators, Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo and Sudanese General, Mohamed Ahmed El-Dabi are included in the IGAD proposal as witnesses.

Rebel leader Machar did not, however, sign the document, claiming the he was given a blank paper, which demanded for his signature.

In support of this proposal, several government officials on Monday called on the citizens as well as regional leaders and the international community to support the proposal to end conflict.

“There is no time to wait. Time is so tight and we don’t have any to waste particularly given the extremely difficult security and humanitarian situation in which our people have been subjected to,” cabinet affairs minister, Martin Elia Lomuro said on Monday.

“The IGAD protocol of agreed principles provides a clear guideline basis for negotiation and I hope our people with the international community would come out to support this document”, he added.

Lomuro explained that regional and the international community support of IGAD document as the basis of negotiation between the rival parties would accelerate the way out for the country and its leadership to achieve a lasting peace.

Mark Nyipuoc, the deputy speaker of national parliament, on the other hand, said the role of the international community in support of the IGAD proposal was critical, pointing out that there was need to urgently engage rebels on the document in order to end suffering.

“There is no question about commitment of the government. There is also no question about the desire for peace and stability by our people. Indeed our people are wishing that the earlier this peace is signed before the end of the year the better for them to return to their homes, especially those from the affected areas and those in the UN camps,” Nyipuoc exclusively told Sudan Tribune Monday.

“What is required now is the role of the international community, which is critical. The international community needs to come out and show serious commitment and engage the rebels to accept the IGAD protocol of agreed principles as the basis of negotiation”, he added.

Nyipouc said the country’s lawmakers fully support the national committees established to facilitate peace talks in the country.

“Differences are never resolved through violence, people talk and as the government we accept dialogue as the means to resolving political or social dispute arising from misunderstanding, which is what our vice president is doing now,” said the deputy speaker.

He also disclosed the country’s vice-president, James Wani Igga was due to travel to South Sudan’s Western Bahr el Ghazal state to garner community support for peace and reconciliation processes.

“This shows commitment of the government to resolve all differences and disputes through peaceful dialogue”, stressed Nyipuoc.

OPPOSITION PROTEST IGAD PROPOSAL

However, opposition figures have claimed that IGAD proposal favoured the government under president Kiir at the expense of addressing fundamental matters, including failing to mention whether the latter would be eligible to contest in the future elections.

“This proposal is a big travesty and embarrassment if not direct insult to the people of South Sudan. It exposed the level of ability of the IGAD member countries to fairly resolve issues which caused this war. It fails to address fundamental matters. The status quo it seems to promote cannot stand,” Ayii Ayii Akol, the opposition’s deputy head of humanitarian affairs committee told Sudan Tribune Monday.

“Progress in the democratic reforms and political process cannot be compromised for positions in the government,” he added.

Akol said it was high time the mediators took into account the suffering of the population, by taking “decisive and strong steps to put to an end the despotic and dictatorial tendencies of Salva Kiir.”

“This document, which our leadership has not signed, is obviously an elusive proposal. It does not address fundamental matters and this is a reason why it took time for us to get to the point where we are in now, but we are hopeful that there is an opportunity to resolve these issues. The only thing our people ask is for mediators to take their role more seriously,” said Akol.

“Our people want them to be mediators not negotiators. Actually mediators are seen to have taken sides and positions,” he added.

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Sudan's NCP to Select Candidates in October
Republic of Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
August 31, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan announced that it will embark on the process to choose the party’s candidate for the presidency in elections in 2015, by 26 October.

Party spokesperson Yasser Youssef told reporters that picking the party’s candidate is determined by a committee consisting of the Leadership Council, the party’s secretaries in the states and heads of sectors who are non-members of the council.

He noted that the council will select five candidates for the NCP Shura (consultative) Council, which meets on 27 October to pick three names to be voted on at the General Convention.

Youssef went on to say that if the General Convention does not approve any of the three, then the Shura council will submit three other names for direct nomination and that if one nominee declines then the process is repeated.

The person picked by the General Convention becomes the chair of the General Convention and a candidate for the presidency in the 2015 elections.

NCP officials gave conflicting statements about whether incumbent president Omer Hassan al-Bashir will be one of the nominees.

In recent years, Bashir has asserted that he will not run for a new term and went on to say that he spent enough time in power and that the country needs new faces.

However, he later backtracked, saying it is up to the party’s institutions to decide on the 2015 presidential candidate and that he will respect their decision.

Bashir who ruled the country since staging a military coup in 1989, faces an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has restricted his international travels and his meetings with western officials.

His health has also came into question recently after undergoing two throat surgeries in 2012 to remove a tumour and two knee replacement surgeries this year.

The 70-year-old leader has also recently started delegating more of his domestic and international appearances to his first vice-president, Bakri Hassan Saleh.

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Sudanese Parliament to Summon Justice Minister Over Preparations for the UNHRC Upcoming Session
A Sudanese newspaper from July 2014.
September 1, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese parliament has said it would summon the justice minister and head of the Advisory Council for Human Rights (ACHR) Mohamed Bishara Dousa next week to discuss preparation for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) upcoming session in Geneva.

The United Nations Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Mashood Baderin will present his findings and recommendations on human rights situation in Sudan in a comprehensive report to the UNHRC this month.

The head of the parliamentary subcommittee on Legislation, Justice and Human Rights, Tahani Tor al-Dabba, said that certain groups within the UNHRC seek to relegate Sudan to agenda item 4 of monitoring.

She pointed in press statements on Sunday that her committee would meet with the concerned bodies to discuss preparations for refuting these attempts, stressing that Sudan has not committed human rights violations which causes moving it back to monitoring.

Al-Dabba underscored that Sudan will demand termination of the independent expert mandate.

Baderin recently concluded a visit to Khartoum where he discussed with government officials and civil society organizations developments of human rights situation in the country.

The head of the opposition alliance of the National Consensus Forces (NCF), Farouk Abu-Essa, said they are not satisfied with Baderin’s performance given the deterioration of human rights situation in Sudan.

On 15 August, Baderin denounced the arrest and sentencing of political activists in Sudan, reiterating his call on the government to free all political detainees including the leader of the Sudanese Congress Party (SCoP), Ibrahim al-Shiekh, and deputy chairman of the National Umma Party (NUP), Meriam al-Mahdi.

“The arrest and detention of al-Mahdi and al-Sheikh are not conducive to realizing an inclusive national dialogue proposed by the Government of the Sudan,”, he said

He called in statement received by Sudan Tribune at the time for the need to guarantee the fundamental civil liberties of all political leaders to encourage confidence in the proposed national dialogue, noting it is the only reasonable way to address constitutional and political challenges in the Sudan.

Bedrin further urged the government and security services “to desist from any further arrest and detention of political leaders” and to “fully ensure the right to liberty and freedom of individuals in the Sudan, in order to facilitate the necessary political confidence”.

Al-Dabba announced that a parliamentary delegation will travel to Geneva in mid-September to attend the upcoming UNHRC session.

She called upon the government to make the necessary to prevent moving Sudan back to agenda item 4, saying we expect all possible scenarios but we hope all monitoring items will be lifted.

Al-Dabba stressed the government readiness to answer all questions which will be brought up in the session, saying the justice ministry completed investigation into last September’s events which are expected to be included in Bederin’s report.

“We are confident that all judicial authorities played their role towards the events”, she said

Protests erupted last September following the government’s decision to lift fuel subsidies. Rights groups said that at least 200 people were killed in the events but the government put the death toll at 77.

Baderin, last June said he received a report from the Sudanese ministry of justice about the protests without elaborating on its contents.

Observers also say that the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian mother-of-two who was sentenced to death in May for refusing to renounce her faith and return to Islam will be included in Bederin’s report under the religious freedoms violations item.

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Sudan Shuts Down Iranian Cultural Center, Expels Diplomat
Leaders of the Republic of Sudan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
September 1, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese authorities on Monday ordered the closure of the Iranian Cultural Center in the capital Khartoum and other states, Sudan Tribune has learned.

JPEG - 46 kb
FILE - Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir (L) and the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran June 26, 2011 (FARS)
The Iranian cultural attaché and the staff at the center were also asked to leave the country within 72 hours.

The government has not issued any official explanation for the abrupt move but the Foreign Ministry today summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires and informed him of the decision.

Some press reports have suggested that the Sudanese government’s decision was motivated by warnings made by religious circles as well as the media about the spread of Shiite ideology among Sudanese youngsters after the intensification of activities by the office of the Iranian cultural attaché in Khartoum.

A radical jihadist group under the name of “Hamza Group for Preaching and Jihad” issued a statement last month threatening the former managing director of Kenana Sugar Company Mohamed el-Mardi Tijani and religious cleric al-Nayel Abu-Guroon after accusing them of promoting the Shiite sect.

The Egyptian media figure Ahmad al-Maslamani stirred a controversy last month after talking on his show about the spread of Shiite ideology in Sudan through the Iranian Embassy in Khartoum, adding that the number of Shiite followers in the Sunni dominated country reached 12,000 people mostly from university students who attend weekly workshops held by the cultural attaché of Iran.

Al-Maslamani argued that Sudan is moving in the way of danger as a result, because the spread of Shiite ideology in Sudan creates an internal discord.

He played a YouTube video of a Kuwaiti Shiite cleric by the name of Yasser Al-Habib speaking about how Shiite in Sudan are persecuted and called for revolting against president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.

GESTURE TO ARAB GULF STATES?

The move contrasts sharply with warm political ties between Khartoum and Tehran which has angered Arab Gulf states particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and led to strained relations with them.

Over the past few years there have been mounting signs of deterioration in relations between Khartoum and Riyadh.

Last year, Saudi Arabia closed its airspace to the plane carrying the Sudanese president on his way to Tehran where he was scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of president-elect Hassan Rouhani, thus forcing him and his delegation to return home.

Observers speculated that Sudan’s growing ties with Iran could have irked the Saudis, prompting them to block Bashir’s flight.

Saudi authorities emphasized that Khartoum did not obtain prior clearance for the flight but Sudanese officials insist that they have followed all required procedures.

Sudan has regularly allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan across Saudi Arabia drawing concern by the United States and its allies in the Gulf.

The Saudi pro-government Al-Riyadh newspaper blasted Khartoum over the Iranian warships, questioning the logic behind the relationship between the two countries in a heavily critical editorial published last year titled “The fall of masks between Iran and Sudan”.

“Bashir’s government resorting to a state that is in political and security odds with most Arab countries has no logical justification,” the newspaper said.

The editorial accused the Sudanese government of “conducting naive policy”, saying it had turned the country, despite its enormous potential, into a marginalised nation that is unable to attract Arab or foreign investors.

Last May, the Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti reiterated that Sudan’s ties with Iran are normal and not special with public cooperation in known military aspects.

"This is not true, our relationship with Iran is very normal and below the level [you would expect] between two Muslim nations and particularly that Iran stood much with Sudan in all international forums and defended it a lot," he told London-based al-Hayat newspaper.

"But there is a minor need for Sudan in light of the security challenges facing the country , and we have said this over and over that Sudan benefits from its relationship with Iran in a limited way in the field of maintenance of some of the weapons produced by some Sudanese factories," Karti added.

He criticised local media and even the Sudanese army for overstating the issue of docking of Iranian warships in Port Sudan which appeared to concern these countries.

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People's Lawyers Argue For Restraining Order to Stop Detroit Water Shut-offs
March in solidarity with Detroit on July 18, 2014 downtown.
By Steven Church - Sep 2, 2014
Bloomberg

Creditors can’t force Detroit to sell its art collection to cover their claims, the city (actually Jones Day on behalf of the emergency manager and Gov. Snyder) said on the first day of a trial over its proposal to eliminate more than $7 billion in debt in the biggest U.S. municipal bankruptcy.

“Unsecured creditors have no rights” to be paid with art proceeds or any other city asset, said Bruce Bennett, a lawyer for Detroit, attacking the main complaint by bond insurers who may be forced to make up investor losses imposed by the plan.

Municipal debt investors should have known when they lent the city money that the only way to force Detroit to pay them was to sue and win a court order raising property taxes, said Bennett, a partner at the Jones Day law firm. That couldn’t be done without driving landowners away, he said.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has set aside seven weeks to hear arguments and evidence for and against the plan before he decides whether it’s feasible and fair. The case will test an unusual partnership among the city, wealthy donors and Michigan lawmakers, who devised a “grand bargain” to shore up Detroit’s public pension system. In exchange, the city agreed not to use its collection of masterpieces to pay creditors.

Related: Detroit Brings Bankruptcy Plan to Court With Billionaires

Detroit filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago, saying decades of decline left it unable to provide basic services to its almost 700,000 residents.

Imposing Cuts

Imposing cuts on bondholders, retired city workers and other creditors is the only way to stabilize finances and raise money to revive decaying neighborhoods, Bennett told Rhodes.

“I’ve already said that the city is done making bad deals,” Rhodes said before opening arguments. The judge immediately said he regretted sounding like an advocate and joked that his comments should be ignored. “I can see the headlines.”

The start of the trial was subdued compared with the opening days of the case last year, when protesters, including many city workers and retirees, chanted and waved signs condemning Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, and Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager he appointed to run the city.

Since then, almost all of the city’s unions have signed onto a deal that gives them most of their monthly pension checks and funds a new program to replace their retiree health-care benefits.

Bond Investors

Some bond investors who hold tax-backed debt have also settled with the city, along with investors that hold water and sewer debt.

As many members of the media came to watch the opening of the trial as did members of the public. Reporters crowded into two media rooms in the federal courthouse to watch the proceedings through a video link. The main courtroom was filled with lawyers for the city, creditors, the unions and the state.

Current and former city employees, as well as investors, will be forced to take less than the $10.4 billion they are owed if Rhodes approves the plan, while some bondholders will recover as little as 11 percent of their claims. Bond insurers Syncora Guarantee Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. oppose the proposal, saying it doesn’t put similar claims on an equal footing.

Before the hearing started late this afternoon, Rhodes heard disputes over the city’s water service and whether investment banker Kenneth Buckfire can testify.

Epidemic Risk

Alice Jennings asked Rhodes to force Detroit to restore water service to about 5,000 customers who failed to pay their bills. Cutting off water risks an epidemic “that could sweep through the city,” Jennings told the judge.

Rhodes said he would decide later whether to order the city to halt the shutoffs temporarily while the lawsuit filed by Jennings goes forward.

The judge agreed that Buckfire can’t testify about how much creditors would recover if the plan is rejected and the bankruptcy dismissed. Rhodes said the testimony wasn’t needed.

Bennett is scheduled to finish his opening arguments tomorrow. Syncora, Financial Guaranty Insurance and other plan opponents will follow before the city calls the first of its more than 25 witnesses.

The city may finish presenting its case by early October, one of its attorneys, Greg Shumaker, told Rhodes.

The case is In re City of Detroit, 13-bk-53846, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Church in Detroit federal court at schurch3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Dunn at adunn8@bloomberg.net Michael Hytha
Judge Rhodes to Decide on Detroit Water Shutoff Issue
Representatives of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund outside
federal court at the opening of the confirmation phase of the
largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history in Detroit. The
lawyers for the people have filed a motion to impose a restraining
order on the emergency manager to halt all water shut-offs.
(Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe)
By Matt Helms
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said he would decide later today on a request by critics of Detroit’s water department who asked him to issue a restraining order against additional shutoffs of customers with unpaid bills.

People need water “to live, to survive, to thrive,” lawyer Alice Jennings told Rhodes in a hearing this morning. “The inability to flush a toilet quite frankly, your honor, creates a health problem.”

Jennings represents a number of groups opposed to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s aggressive program of going after unpaid water bills. The department has cut off water to 19,000 homes in recent months, with about 5,000 remaining without water, Jennings said. The groups include the National Action Network, Moratorium Now, the People’s Water Board and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

Jennings said the shutoffs endanger low-income families and particularly children and vulnerable seniors. The groups are seeking the restraining order until the city has a more comprehensive plan for helping the poorest Detroiters with financial help to pay for a critical service, much the way there are resources to help against electricity and heat shutoffs.

But a lawyer for the DWSD, Tomothy Fusco, said the department opposes the move because it would be an unprecedented effort to prevent it from following through on its duty to properly run the department, including going after customers illegally hooked into water service.

Fusco also said that under the federal bankruptcy code, judges aren’t authorized to instruct local governments on how to operate.

“This is not the forum or the way to deal with this issue,” Fusco said.

Rhodes had questions for both sides and said he would respond to the request sometime today.

The issue first arose in bankruptcy court in July when Rhodes heard from individuals objecting to the city’s bankruptcy plan, with many saying the water shutoffs were exacerbating problems. Rhodes chastised the shutoff program as a black eye to Detroit’s reputation and demanded that the city better address the problem, even as he acknowledged that he was unsure whether the issue was within his authority.

Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or mhelms@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/matthelms.
Bankruptcy Confirmation Trial Begins:
Lawyers Argue For a Temporary Restraining Order to Halt All Water Shut-offs in Detroit
Atty. Alice Jennings talks with journalists after arguing for a temporary
restraining order (TRO) to halt water shut-offs in Detroit. The federal
bankruptcy confirmation trial began on Sept. 2, 2014. (Photo:
Abayomi Azikiwe)
Chad Livengood and Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes is contemplating whether to issue a temporary restraining order against Detroit and halt the city’s controversial shut-offs of delinquent residential water accounts.

Alice Jennings, attorneys for the plaintiffs who filed suit in July to stop the water shut-offs, argued in bankruptcy court Tuesday morning for a restraining order until the city improves its communication with residential customers with medical emergencies.

Jennings said residents with small children, elderly parents or life-threatening medical conditions face an “imminent” danger if their water is shut off.

“The fear is the water could be shut off at any moment,” Jennings said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Detroit attorney Timothy Fusco told the judge he would be overstepping his boundaries by telling the city how to operate its water department. Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy prohibits judges from running the city like they can when a bankrupt corporation is under their jurisdiction.

“You simply cannot do it,” Fusco argued.

Rhodes said he would issue an order later Tuesday.

After hearing the water shut-off issue, the judge heard a range of motions from holdout creditors Syncora Guarantee Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. as they asked Rhodes to set boundaries to the type of evidence and testimony that can be addressed during the trial.

Specifically, FGIC’s attorney sought to have any testimony about the validity of a $1.4 billion pension debt deal his client insured suppressed and bar any testimony about whether pensioners would face a hardship from the city’s debt-cutting plan.

Syncora and FGIC’s attorneys also complained that the city unfairly used the secrecy of mediation to block creditors from gaining access to information surrounding “grand bargain” negotiations.

“It’s a fundamental due process issue,” Syncora attorney Stephen Hackney told the judge.

Detroit attorney (not Detroit but Jones Day) Greg Shumaker defended the city’s efforts to suppress the dialogue of behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to the deal between pensioners, the state, private foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“The back and forth doesn't matter,” Shumaker said. “The result matters.”

Rhodes said he rule on the various objections later Tuesday afternoon.

Water bills disputed

Costs for some water and sewer customers spiked starting in June of last year as the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department worked to start collecting for sewage runoff — money that Detroit hadn’t collected for years, Jennings said.

“The bills went from where people could handle to being unaffordable,” Jennings said Tuesday outside of federal court. “It’s not that people aren’t paying; it’s just that they can’t pay a $300 bill.”

Nicole Hill, a 42-year-old Detroiter who had her water cut off in July, said she had been paying her bills. She’s one of 10 people represented by Jennings and she continues to fight with the department over billing issues. Hill, a divorced mother of three children, 8, 13 and 14, said she was improperly billed for months on a previous residence. She continues to try to get answers over billing discrepancies and estimates she’s paid almost $3,000 to the department over the last two years.

“I made a great effort to pay my bill,” said Hill, who had water service restored after eight weeks.

“The water department is saying people aren’t letting them know what’s going on. But when you do, they don’t do anything about it.”

Creditors seek to block plan

The trial over Detroit’s plan to exit bankruptcy later this year hinges of the legality of its “grand bargain” with thousands of retired and current city workers owed billions for their retirements. .

Syncora and FGIC, which face a near wipe-out under Detroit’s plan, have assembled a battery of legal arguments in an attempt to blow holes in the city’s plan to shield 32,000 pensioners from deep cuts in their monthly checks.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will begin hearing opening arguments from attorneys for Detroit and a team of supporting creditors about why they feel the plan is fair and equitable, and will bring lasting change to a city bureaucracy hampered by decades of population decline and an eroding tax base.

The trial marks a pivotal moment in Detroit’s nearly 14-month-long odyssey through bankruptcy court, which has been bookmarked by unprecedented efforts of private foundations, corporations and the state of Michigan to bailout the city’s pension funds and shield a municipal art collection from a fire sale to satisfy creditors. (This is a blatant distortion of the actual situation in Detroit. The art belongs to the people and should not be sold to pay the banks or turned over to a "trust" which is tantamount to bankers' control.)

Syncora and FGIC, the backers of $1.4 billion in troubled pension debt the city wants to expunge from its books, were in late settlement negotiations with Detroit’s attorneys last week. The two creditors are prepared to argue at trial that the grand bargain’s infusion of $816 million over 20 years solely for pensioners in exchange for the art unfairly discriminates against them.

Both bond insurers face the prospect of losses of up to 94 percent on the investments they insured, while most city retirees would have to endure modest single-digit reductions in the monthly pension checks. (There is no mention in this report of the attacks on retiree's annuities which will be robbed if this plan is rubber-stamped by Rhodes. There is also the cancellation of retiree health benefits in March and the abolition of their COLA increases.)

“If we were being treated fairly, we could probably swallow hard and get over the procedural unfairness,” said James Sprayregen, an attorney for Syncora. “They’re treating pensioners unbelievably and massively better than my clients.” (The banks and bond insurers have robbed Detroit. They should not be paid a dime and instead be mandated to repay the people of Detroit for damage done throughout predatory mortgage and municipal financing.)

Despite all of the high-stakes posturing, bankruptcy court observers say a last-minute deal to avoid a protracted trial that could stretch into late October still remains possible. The Detroit News reported Saturday that city lawyers were holding weekend talks with Syncora about parting with city real estate to entice a pretrial settlement. (How can Jones Day turn over City of Detroit land without a vote of the people? This proceeding represents pure criminality.)

“If Syncora, who is one of the largest unsecured creditors, can be brought under control by being treated in a way that gets this plan of restructuring out of the courts, that is in everyone’s best interests,” said Jim McTevia, a Bingham Farms corporate turnaround specialist following Detroit’s bankruptcy case.

Though the trial is scheduled to begin today, the proceedings could get bogged down in objections from the holdout creditors and city over who will be allowed testify. Detroit has submitted a list of 26 witnesses that ends with Mayor Mike Duggan and includes Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and auto executive Roger Penske. (These people and corporations are the mortal enemies of the people of Detroit).

Protesters assemble

Ahead of the trial Tuesday, a large crowd of protesters, including Detroit Water and Sewerage Department retiree Bill Davis, began setting up across the street from the federal courthouse. With signs wrapped in garbage bags to protect them from the rain showers, and banners reading “Hands Off Our Pensions Make the Banks Pay,” the protesters said they’ll be outside every day, as long as the trial continues.

“It’s bad enough they’re trying to illegally take our pensions,” said Davis, a 34-year DWSD worker who retired in 2012. “But now, every time it rains, the streets flood. That’s because they’re not properly maintaining the wastewater treatment plant. Now every time we get an inch or two of rain, the streets flood.”

Davis also believes that any movement to turn over operations to a regional authority — a plan Orr supports — should only occur after a general election vote.

“Personally, I think Kevyn Orr is a crook,” Davis said.

Baxter Jones, a former Detroit Public Schools teacher before being injured in a car crash in 2005, was one of several who spoke through an amplified sound system set up across the street.

By 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the number of protesters grew.

Targeting grand bargain

For months, Syncora and FGIC have pushed for the city to sell portions or all of its multibillion-dollar art collection. But the terms of the grand bargain — as set out by private foundations and the state Legislature — call for the entire 60,000-piece collection to remain intact at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Both insurers contend the grand bargain represents a $450 million present value for a world class art collection that could reap billions. Syncora has called the deal a “fraudulent transfer” designed to comfort “pensioners and mostly suburban patrons of the art.”

“If somebody robbed a bank to pay the pensioners, you wouldn’t say that’s appropriate either,” Sprayregen said.

Under the city’s plan, general retirees will receive a base reduction of 4.5 percent to their monthly pension, while some could see reductions total as much as 20 percent through Detroit’s attempt to recoup years of excess interest payments to retiree savings accounts.

The base pensions of retired police officers and firefighters will remain the same, but their annual cost-of-living inflationary raises will be reduced from 2.25 percent to about 1 percent.

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said the city (Jones Day) remains committed to the grand bargain deal it forged with foundation and DIA leaders, legislators and pensioners.

“We believe that it is the fairest way to actualize value for the art without leveraging or selling the art and it allows us to also protect our pensioners so that they do not receive double digit cuts to their pension benefits,” Nowling said Friday. “And we’re going to defend that strongly in court.”

Supporting the plan

One bankruptcy expert said a settlement would relieve Rhodes of making a precedent-setting ruling about whether Detroit and other future municipal debtors can discriminate against one creditor in favor of the other.

“I think if Syncora were to settle, that would significantly reduce the flaws (in Detroit’s plan),” said David Skeel Jr., a bankruptcy law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mark Diaz, chairman of the Detroit Police & Fire Retirement System, intends to testify at the trial in support of the city’s plan. He’s also president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, which negotiated a new five-year contract that immediately boosts officer pay by 8 percent to make up for a 10 percent cut in 2012.

Over the life of the contract, officers will see their pay increase a total of 15.5 percent, Diaz said.

Diaz said that despite current and retired city employees getting spared deep cuts in their pensions, they’re still facing major reductions in retiree health insurance. The city’s plan effectively ends guaranteed lifetime health insurance benefits for 19,000 retirees by reducing a $4.3 billion unfunded liability to $450 million in payments to two new health care trusts.

“For any entity to say that these cuts were not severe enough for police officers who don’t pay into Social Security, it’s absurd,” Diaz said.

What’s next

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has scheduled 28 additional trial dates through Oct. 17, if necessary.

clivengood@detroitnews.com
(517) 371-3660

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140902/METRO01/309020024/#ixzz3CBoYaeap
From a Failed Elite to a Farce in Somalia
Attack on the Somalian Presidential Palace.
What has the current regime in Somalia achieved in the two years of its existence?

Last updated: 02 Sep 2014 13:33
Abdi Ismail Samatar

Abdi Ismail Samatar is Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, a research fellow at the University of Pretoria, and member of African Academy of Sciences.

Two years ago Somalia's current members of parliament and the president were nominated through a corrupt process. Somalis willingly ignored the scandal ridden affair and accepted the emerging dispensation hoping that a decent leader would emerge who would have the wisdom and courage to lead the nation out of the failures of the previous twenty-five years.

Somalis were exuberant when it became apparent that the president was new to politics and was not tainted by the civil war. The president and his team faced daunting challenges such as re-establishing state institutions from scratch as a result of the endless years of civil war, hostile external interventions, and little revenue sources of its own. But the new regime had one vital asset at its disposal: the goodwill of the Somali people who were impatient for progress, and intolerant towards another failed leadership.

This essay has two objectives. It evaluates the regime's political performance and its ability to sustain public support over the last two years; and postulates what can be expected during the regime's remaining two years.

Wasting goodwill

The new president proclaimed six pillars as the political anchors of his team's national agenda, although he or his inner circle never elucidated the details of the pillars or the regime's plan for translating them into functioning systems. In the absence of a clear political strategy and given the constitutionally enunciated division of responsibilities between the president and the prime minister (PM), the public assumed that the first real signal of the new regime's seriousness would be revealed by the quality of the appointed premier.

At the end of the required 30 days nomination period the president's pronouncement of his candidate deflated the hopes of most Somalis, as they saw the new PM as a decent person but one who lacked the perspicacity and the courage to clean up the political rubbish that had accumulated over the decades.

For some people it was difficult to comprehend the rationale behind the president's choice, but the majority of the public recognised that he wanted a pliable man that would allow him to usurp the duties of the PM. For nearly 18 months the public watched as the PM and his cabinet twiddled while the president dominated the political agenda. Meanwhile, the president and his team surrealistically were mesmerised by their rhetoric and imagined that the country was marching towards peace and reconstruction - but the regime accomplished little of consequence. As a result, public sentiment began to wane with every passing day, but the president and his team kept up the political charade until their ineptitude exposed the rudderless morass they were in.

Rather than honourably admitting his political failures, the president scapegoated the PM for underperformance and concocted a scheme with his allies in parliament to remove the PM. To his credit, the PM fought back for the first time during his premiership. He claimed that he had fulfilled everything that was asked of him by the president and had upheld all their private agreements. After a bit of a political drama, the president managed to get the parliament on his side, and the parliament voted the PM out of office.

The newly appointed premier chose a cabinet several times larger than the previous one. Such a bloated cabinet signalled that the president's team prioritised their self-serving political agenda of rewarding their clients rather than any endeavour to rescue a nation gasping for survival. Eight months have lapsed since the formation of the new government, and the available evidence shows that overall conditions have not improved.

Three things exemplify the regime's frightening incompetence and the politics of "fortuna".

First, repeated al-Shabab attacks on the parliament house and the presidency patently show a regime that is incapable of protecting the vital organs of the state. Such security breaches, and the regularity with which MPs and prominent personalities have been murdered in Mogadishu, are indicative of the rot at the heart of the state.

Second, among the chief responsibilities of the regime is to guide the country towards a constitutional plebiscite which would usher a new governance order. Little progress has been made advancing this constitutional process, partly because much of the country is not in the hands of the government. However, even in areas where it has some degree of control, as in the capital, no initiative has been made to involve the population through civic education. Consequently, regional warlords and potentates have opportunistically driven the reorganisation of the country. The most recent conflict between Puntland and the national government over the attempt to create a new region in central Somalia presages the political catastrophe that is looming in the absence of enlightened and able leadership.

Third, central to the corrupt process which produced the current regime was the acceptance of tribal identity as the principle factor of political representation in parliament. The hope was that merit and competency would become the criteria used to select professional employees of government. Unfortunately, tribal identity remains the main yardstick for making public service appointments. Such an approach has become an insidious barrier to institution-building. The top leaders of the regime are deeply implicated as they assemble relatives and friends in their offices. The most heartbreaking sign of such political venality was the appointment of a pleasant but incapable person as Somalia's most strategic diplomat in Washington DC.

Treacherous road ahead

Somalia was supposed to have a permanent rather than a transitional government as a result of the parliamentary and presidential selection process which took place in 2012. Not surprisingly, the new order had two major liabilities: a) it was financially bankrupt and virtually depended on the disingenuous international community; and b) it inherited little institutional capacity.

The only asset it had was the goodwill of Somalis. Nurturing public support and using it as a shield to make difficult but necessary decisions would have made confronting the capacity and finance problems more feasible. Unfortunately, the regime squandered this precious resource because it chose to indulge in corrupt politics.

Consequently, it has become exceptionally vulnerable to the manipulations of devious international actors and local opportunists who are invested in a fragmented Somalia. Such a trajectory can only deepen the humiliation of Somalis who were once the proudest Africans and only a divine miracle can transform the regime.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire.
U.S. Military Strike in Somalia Targeted al Shabaab Leader
Somalia al-Shabaab forces are still fighting the US-backed regime
in Mogadishu.
11:34am EDT
By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - An air strike in Somalia by U.S. armed forces targeted the leader of the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, Somali and U.S. officials said on Tuesday, but they said it was unclear whether he was killed in the attack.

"We don't know that he's dead. But he was the target," one U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other U.S. officials said they believed Godane was killed in the strike late on Monday against a location where senior members of the al Qaeda-linked group were meeting, but the U.S. government has not confirmed this yet or given further details.

If Godane were killed, it would be a major victory against the al Shabaab militants fighting the
Western-backed government of Somalia, which is also supported by African Union troops.

Since taking charge in 2008, Godane has restyled the group as a global player in the al Qaeda franchise - a transformation that was highlighted when it killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Kenyan shopping mall in September last year.

The militants have also carried out guerrilla attacks in parts of the Somali capital Mogadishu, as well as in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda.

Godane's close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a U.S. air strike in January.

After the Westgate mall attack, Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaab stronghold of Barawe, where a regional official said the latest air strike was also launched, but they failed to capture or kill their target then.

The U.S. Department of Defense said late on Monday that its forces had carried out the operation against al Shabaab and would provide more information "when appropriate". The Somali government and al Shabaab officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

"There was an air strike at a base where senior members of al Shabaab had a meeting last night," a senior intelligence official who gave his name as Ahmed told Reuters on Tuesday.

"So far Godane's death is a strong rumour that may or may not turn to be true. What we know is that the militants were bombarded. However, it is difficult to know how many of them or who particularly died," he added.

Abdiqadir Mohamed Sidii, governor of Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia, where the strike occurred, some 245 km (150 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu, said he believed Godane and other senior al Shabaab members had been killed.

"We understand a U.S. drone killed Ahmed Abdi Godane and other seven senior members last night near Hawaay area around Barawe town," Sidii told Reuters by phone.

Sidii did not say how he got the information on the attack, given the location is in an area still under al Shabaab control.

Residents in Haaway said they heard loud explosions late on Monday in an area they described as a densely forested.

Al Shabaab, which aims to impose its own strict version of Islam, controlled Mogadishu and the southern region of Somalia from 2006 to 2011. It was forced out of the capital by peacekeeping forces deployed by the African Union.

African Union forces launched a new offensive this year to drive the Islamists out of towns and other areas they still control, in response to a surge in gun and bomb attacks in Mogadishu by the militants whose fighters have targeted legislators and the presidential palace.

(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar and George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Phil Stewart and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by James Macharia, Alison Williams and Pascal Fletcher)
Pentagon Bombs Al Shabaab Members During Meeting As Imperialist Militarism Spreads Throughout Africa
Members of the U.S.-backed regime in Mogadishu.
September 3, 2014 - 1:12AM
Abdi Sheikh and Craig Whitlock

An air strike by US military forces struck an area where leaders of Somalia's al-Shabaab resistance organization were meeting, intelligence sources said on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether any insurgent commanders were killed.

The strike prompted rumours among Somalia government officials that it had targeted al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and other leaders who were suspected to have been at the location, but there was no confirmation they were hit.

If he were killed, it would be a major victory against the group.

Since taking charge in 2008, Godane has built the group as a global player in the Al-Shabaab organization which is fighting the United States imposed regime in Mogadishu.

The Al-Shabaab group has also staged guerrilla attacks in parts of the capital, as well as in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda.

Godane's close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a US air strike in January.

After the Westgate assault, during early Oct. 2013 Navy SEALS stormed ashore into the al Shabaab stronghold of Barawe, where a regional official said the air strike was launched against, but failed to capture or kill their target.

The US Department of Defence said late on Monday that its forces had carried out the operation against al Shabaab and would provide more information "when appropriate". The Somalia government and Al Shabaab officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

"There was an air strike at a base where senior members of al Shabaab had a meeting last night," a senior intelligence official who gave his name as Ahmed said on Tuesday.

"So far Godane's death is a strong rumor that may or may not turn to be true. What we know is that the militants were bombarded. However, it is difficult to know how many of them or who particularly died," he added.

Abdiqadir Mohamed Sidii, governor of Lower Shabelle region in southern Somalia, where the strike occurred, some 245 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu, said he believed Godane and other senior al Shabaab members had been killed.

"We understand a US drone killed Ahmed Abdi Godane and other seven senior members last night near Hawaay area around Barawe town," Sidii said by phone.

Sidii did not say how he got the information on the attack, given the location is in an area still under al Shabaab control.

Residents in Haaway said they heard loud explosions late on Monday in an area they described as a densely forested.

Al Shabaab, which aims to force the U.S.-funded military forces in AMISOM out of the Horn of Africa state, controlled sections of Mogadishu and the southern region of Somalia from 2006 to 2011. It was forced out of the capital by peacekeeping forces deployed by the African Union.

African Union (AMISOM) forces launched a new offensive this year to drive the Al-Shabaab forces out of towns and other areas they still control, in response to a surge in gun and bomb attacks in Mogadishu by the guerrillas whose fighters have targeted legislators and the presidential palace.

Pentagon set to open second drone base in Niger

The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara.

After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorised the US military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilised parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicised US strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent.

Although the two allies have a sporadic history of quarreling when it comes to military action, US and French troops have been working hand in glove as they steadily expand their presence in impoverished West Africa. Both countries are alarmed by the presence of jihadist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, that have taken root in states whose governments are unable to exert control over their own territory.

In Niamey, Niger's capital, US and French forces set up neighbouring drone hangars last year to conduct reconnaissance flights over Mali, where about 1200 French soldiers are trying to suppress a revolt that erupted in 2012.

In Chad, the US Air Force has been flying drones and other aircraft from a French military base to search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants in northern Nigeria.

The White House approved $US10 million ($10.77) in emergency aid on August 11 to help airlift French troops and provide midair refueling for French aircraft deployed to West Africa. Analysts said the monetary sum was less important than what it symbolised: US endorsement of a new French plan to deploy 3000 troops across the region.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-strike-al-shabaab-jihadists-during-meeting-says-somali-officials-20140903-10bnz8.html#ixzz3CAvDWPXv
Mike Brown 'No Angel' Profile In New York Times Outrages Readers, Drives Subscription Cancellations
The corporate media criminalization of Michael Brown continues.
By Ellen Killoran@EllenKilloran
on August 25 2014 4:47 PM
August 17, 2014. Reuters

A New York Times profile of Michael Brown published the day before the teenager’s funeral has offended and enraged Times readers, driving some to cancel their subscriptions in protest.

Brown, 18, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 by local police officer Darren Wilson. His funeral services took place on Monday.

“Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise” was published on the same day as a profile of the police officer who killed the unarmed teenager. The police officer’s story, “Darren Wilson Was Low-Profile Officer With Unsettled Early Days,” opens with an anecdote about a career success, and is largely uncritical of the officer.  Though the profile notes that Wilson had a somewhat troubled childhood, a reader would be likely to come away with the impression that he was a victim of a chaotic environment rather than someone who contributed to it.

Conversely, Brown is characterized as “no angel” early on in his profile, which points out that he had “dabbled in drugs and alcohol” and “had taken to rapping.” In his early childhood years, “Brown was a handful,” according to the Times, as he would sometimes write on the walls of his home and tried to climb a security gate.

Late Monday, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the "no angel" characterization, calling it a "regrettable mistake":

"In saying that the 18-year-old Michael Brown was 'no angel' in the fifth paragraph of Monday’s front-page profile, The Times seems to suggest that this was, altogether, a bad kid," Sullivan said.

Sullivan's post was written after the story drew widespread criticism from media outlets and individual Times readers.  From Gawker: “Is the Times cryptically gesturing at some unpublishable knowledge of Brown's behavior or juvenile record? Or has no one at the paper ever met a teenager before?”

In the view of Brooklyn Magazine, the Times article “serves no narrative other than that which seeks to find Brown complicit in his own murder,” one Brooklyn Magazine reporter wrote.  “If Justin Bieber was judged as harshly as Michael Brown has been, he would be on death row and not raking in millions of dollars and posing shirtless on Instagram,” wrote another.

Brooklyn Magazine looked into previous instances in which the Times described a subject as “no angel” and found evidence of a racial divide: White subjects described as “no angel” were guilty of or associated with violent crimes. Among the white “no angels”: Al Capone; the perpetrators of Columbine High School massacre; a murderer;  Erwin Rommel – once an ally of Adolf Hitler, but who later turned on him; and a gang leader whose death-row murder conviction was overturned.  But Paul Robeson, a black singer and Civil Rights leader who committed no crime beyond (alleged) adultery, was likewise “no angel,” according to the paper of record.

Dueling screenshots of the Times’ profile of the dead black teenager and that of a living white teenager, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of two brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, have been circulating on social media. Tsarnaev’s profile described him as a “beautiful, tousel-haired boy with a gentle demeanor, soulful brown eyes and [a] shy, laid-back manner.” Tsarnaev was described as “just a normal American kid” by his friends, one who smoked “a copious amount of weed.” But drug use on Brown’s part is listed as one of many offenses that some readers and critics have interpreted as subtly, insidiously placing some of the blame of his apparently senseless death onto the victim.

“The general tone of the article was extremely offensive, essentially drawing the conclusion that because [Brown] ‘dabbled in drugs and alcohol’ he was worth less than his teenage counterparts,” said Tristan Massalay-Ellis, a 26-year old political strategist from Queens, who cancelled his subscription in response to the profile. Matthew Yglesias of Vox also took the Times to task in a post titled “Michael Brown didn’t do anything as a teen that I didn’t – but only one of us got killed”:

When I was Brown's age I also dabbled in drugs and alcohol. Even used Swisher Sweets to roll blunts from time to time. For that matter, I also did some shoplifting. Got caught one time by a security guard at the K-Mart on Astor Place who confiscated the stuff I'd stolen and yelled at me a bunch. So I suppose that, when an undercover officer came upon me and two friends smoking cigarettes and drinking beer on a park bench that night, he could have shot us dead and then the Times could have reported that we were no angels. We weren't.

The author of the profile, John Eligon, told Sullivan that the choice of phrase was intended to echo the story’s opening anecdote of Brown telling his father that he saw a vision of an angel in the clouds not long before his death. But it’s not the only questionable choice of words and organization:

“In the ninth grade at McCluer High School in Florissant, Mr. Brown was accused of stealing an iPod. His mother said she went to the school, eventually showing a receipt to prove the iPod was his.”

If the iPod belonged to him, which means that he did not in fact steal it, why not say that Brown was “falsely accused?”

Another curiously worded passage referred to his absence of a criminal record.

“He did not have a criminal record as an adult, and his family said he never got in trouble with the law as a juvenile, either.”

Yes, juvenile criminal records are sealed, so it’s possible that one existed without the New York Times being aware of it. The same way a juvenile record could exist for anyone else. Why did the Times need to point out the hypothetical possibility in this case?

On Twitter, New York Times subscribers announced plans to cancel their subscriptions and encouraged others to do the same.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

U.S. Senate Seeks Further Hostile Military Actions Against Russia
Troops from Ukraine fascist government based in Kiev have suffered
numerous defeats in the east of the country. The US is threatening
further hostile actions against the anti-fascist forces.
Leading American senators have called for the US to send weapons to help Ukraine fight what they say is "a Russian invasion".

Robert Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Russia's President Vladimir Putin must face a cost for his "aggression".

Senator John McCain said: "This is not an incursion. This is an invasion."

Earlier, Mr Putin called for talks to discuss the matter of "statehood" for eastern Ukraine.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted in April following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula a month before. Some 2,600 people have died since April.

Pro-Russian separatists have been gaining ground on Ukrainian forces in recent days, in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and further south around the port of Mariupol.

'On the table'

Speaking on CNN, Mr Menendez, a Democrat, said: "We should provide the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression.

"This is no longer the question of some rebel separatists, this is a direct invasion by Russia. We must recognise it as that."

He said the issue "may very well be on the table right now" for President Barack Obama.

Senator McCain told CBS's Face the Nation that Mr Putin was "an old KGB colonel that wants to restore the Russian empire".

Mr McCain called for "strong sanctions", before adding that Ukraine must be supplied with weapons: "Give them the weapons they need. Give them the wherewithal they need. Give them the ability to fight."

Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News: "If we don't provide 'small and effective' now, you're going to get very big and very ugly later."

In Ukraine, there were reports of a first naval encounter in the conflict.

At the scene: BBC's Richard Galpin, Mariupol

As we drove south from Dnipropetrovsk to the strategic port city of Mariupol, we soon saw how the Ukrainian army is now building up its forces to protect the south-eastern city from the assault threatened by pro-Russian rebels.

A train carrying about 20 Grad multiple rocket-launchers as well as armoured vehicles, ammunition and troops, was heading in the same direction as us.

Further down the road we came across smaller groups of armoured vehicles with heavily-armed troops sitting on top. Like those on board the train, they were reluctant to talk about their mission.

But Mariupol is preparing for the worst with soldiers digging trenches and using huge concrete tank-traps to block roads.

It's not clear if or when the separatist rebels - and quite possibly Russian troops - will launch an attack on this port city of almost half-a-million people which lies on the coast of the Azov Sea.

But already the authorities in Mariupol say two coastguard ships came under attack on Sunday leaving six sailors injured.

Pro-Russian separatists fired artillery shells at a Ukrainian patrol vessel in the Azov Sea, with the Ukrainian military saying a rescue operation was under way.

The rebels have gained ground in the far south-east, pushing towards Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops and local residents are strengthening defences.

But many have fled the city of 500,000 people.

Ukraine and the West blame Russian military support for the recent rebel gains, saying armoured columns have crossed the border. Russia denies military involvement.

Earlier, Mr Putin said the issue of "statehood" for eastern Ukraine needed to be discussed to ensure the interests of local people were "definitely upheld".

"Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot at almost at point blank," he said, describing the rebels' actions as "the natural reaction of people who are defending their rights".

The West, Mr Putin said, should have foreseen Russia's reaction to the situation, adding it was impossible to predict how the crisis would end.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later said the president's remarks on "statehood" should not be taken to mean an actual separate entity, and that the Ukrainian crisis was a "domestic" one.

Mr Putin's comments came after the EU gave Russia a one-week ultimatum to reverse course in Ukraine or face more sanctions.

Mr Putin dismissed the EU threat, accusing it of "backing a coup d'etat" in Ukraine.
The EU and US have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on many senior Russian officials and separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said: "I think that we are very close to the point of no return. Point of no return is full-scale war."
Israel Seizes More Palestinian Land in West Bank Block
Clashes in the West Bank of Palestine during July 2014.
ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — The New York Times News Service
Published Sunday, Aug. 31 2014, 8:36 PM EDT

Israel on Sunday laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement block near Bethlehem – a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area – defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion and challenging world opinion.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.

Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.

Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.

The land, which is near the Jewish settlement outpost of Gvaot in the Etzion block south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.

But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families from the area. He told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Israeli army forces and personnel arrived in the town early Sunday and posted orders announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jabaa and Wadi Fukin.

The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation” and that all settlement was illegal.

Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement block under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.

The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israel suspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favour of a new diplomatic process, told reporters Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said. He added that the Israeli government was now talking to the Palestinian Authority about the situation in Gaza, “and this is a good thing.”

But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation. “Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.

Israeli officials said that the land declaration Sunday was open to judicial review and that interested parties had 45 days in which to register objections.

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail
Lesotho's Deputy Premier in Charge After PM Flees 'Coup'
Headlines in the Sunday newspaper on the coup in Lesotho.
BY MARAFAELA MOHLOBOLI AND JOHN MKHIZE

MASERU (Reuters) - Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane accused Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing of helping to plan a coup by the army that forced the prime minister to flee the country.

Metsing took charge of the government once Thabane had fled the country for neighbouring South Africa. Thabane left on Saturday, after the army surrounded his residence and police stations in Lesotho's capital, Maseru.

Gunshots were heard in Maseru, where one policeman was shot dead and four others wounded, said senior police superintendent Mofokeng Kolo. But the army denied trying to force out Thabane, saying it had moved against police suspected of planning to arm a political faction in the small southern African kingdom.

Diplomats in Maseru told Reuters the army was largely seen as loyal to the deputy prime minister and the police force mostly supported the prime minister.

Regional power South Africa condemned the army's actions and invited the deputy prime minister to talks there on Sunday, Lesotho's Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Selibe Mochoboroane, told Reuters. He did not specify who the talks would be with.

"Constitutionally, in the absence of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister takes the reins," said Mochoboroane, who is also spokesman for Metsing's party.

"For now there hasn't been any arrangement, but it goes without saying the deputy prime minister will still oversee other issues that need to be taken care of until the prime minister returns," he added. On Saturday, Mochoboroane echoed the army's assurance that no coup had taken place.

FRACTIOUS COALITION

The prime minister, who expected to be back in Maseru in two days time, said he believed his deputy was behind the plans for a coup. The two would not be holding talks in South Africa, he said.

"I have no much reason to absolve him from blame," Thabane told Reuters. "Looking from a distance, he is very active in this show."

Relations have been stormy between Thabane's All Basotho Convention party and Metsing's Lesotho Congress for Democsracy (LCD) group, which formed a coalition with another party after elections in 2012.

Thabane dissolved parliament in June to avoid a no-confidence vote against him amid feuding among the ruling parties. Metsing later said he would form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.

The African Union said on Sunday it would not tolerate any illegal seizure of power.

Thabane told Reuters on Saturday he had fired an army commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, and appointed Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao to replace him. But on Sunday Kamoli said he was still in charge of the military.

"I haven't gotten any formal letter from anybody and that is to say that I am still the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force," Kamoli told Reuters.

Lesotho, a mountainous state of two million people encircled by South Africa, has undergone a number of military coups since independence from Britain in 1966. At least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting in 1998.

Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho's other big earner is hydropower. The power is exported to South Africa from the massive mountain ranges that have made it a favourite of trivia fans as "the world's highest country" - its lowest point is 1,380 metres (4,528 feet) above sea level.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Writing by Helen Nyambura; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Larry King)
Lesotho Leaders to Meet South African President
South African President Jacob Zuma to meet with Lesotho rival
leaders.
By Associated Press August 31 at 9:14 AM

JOHANNESBURG — Lesotho’s prime minister is in South Africa to meet with leaders of his country’s coalition government and South Africa’s president to discuss recent unrest in the mountainous kingdom, a Lesotho official said.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has said that he fled to South Africa after an alleged attempt by the military to take over the country of about 2 million people. Lesotho’s Defense Forces deny any attempt at a coup although they say the military exchanged gunfire and disarmed two police stations in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, on Saturday.

Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing is running the government while Thabane is out of the country, according to the constitution, said Foreign Affairs Minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa. Political tensions have been high between the two and within the coalition government in the tiny kingdom since June when Thabane suspended parliament to dodge a vote of no confidence. Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party and Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy formed a coalition with a third party after 2012 elections and since then conflict has been simmering.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and Namibia’s president are meeting with Lesotho’s coalition leaders, including Metsing, on Sunday to discuss the unrest and to work toward resolution, said Tsekoa. The countries are a part of the 15-nation regional group, the Southern African Development Community, which has taken action to resolve conflicts in Lesotho before.

There was little evidence of the conflict Sunday in Maseru, where people went about their daily lives.

Lesotho’s defense forces spokesman Ntlele Ntoi said the military had gathered intelligence that the police were going to arm factions participating in a demonstration planned for Monday by one of the coalition parties, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy. The military disarmed police in the capital, Maseru, to avoid bloodshed, Ntoi said.

An exchange of gunfire between the military, youths and police injured one soldier and four policemen, Ntoi said. Radio stations were also off for hours on Saturday.

“The arms have been removed and they are in military custody. The military has returned to the barracks,” Ntoi said, denying reports of any coup attempt. “We are not in a position now or in the future to stage a coup. All we do is to carry out our mandate to secure our country and property.”

But Lesotho’s prime minister told South Africa’s eNCA television that the military actions amounted to a coup. He said he did not give permission for the action and that something like this should not be happening in a democratic state.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operations said the actions bore the hallmarks of a coup d’etat, and called for the military to allow the democratically elected government to return to business.

The U.S. said it is “deeply concerned” by the clashes and “calls upon government officials and all parties to remain committed to peaceful political dialogue and to follow democratic processes in line with the Lesotho Constitution and principles of the rule of law, according to a State Department statement from spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called upon the African Union and the Southern African Development Community “to monitor the unfolding developments in Lesotho and continue to work with the people of that country to maintain law, order and democracy.”

The demonstration planned for Monday has been called off, according to Lesotho’s news agency.

The landlocked country’s first coalition government was formed in 2012 after competitive elections that ousted the 14-year incumbent Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully stepped down from power. The coalition has since been fragile.

Lesotho has seen unrest in its past and has seen a number of military coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966.

The constitutional government was restored in 1993, after seven years of military rule. Violent protests and a military mutiny in 1998 came after a contentious election prompted intervention by South African military forces. Political stability returned after constitutional reforms, and parliamentary elections were peacefully held in 2002.
Lesotho's Deputy Premier Takes Reins After PM Flees 'Coup'
Ousted Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane has fled to South 
Africa.
by VOA News

Lesotho's Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing is now running the government after the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled the country accusing the army of staging a coup, a minister said on Sunday.

Gunfire rang out in the capital, Maseru, on Saturday, according to witnesses, who said soldiers patrolled the streets, occupied government buildings and surrounded Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's official residence.

Thabane left with his family for neighboring South Africa after receiving intelligence that he was the target of a military assassination attempt. He said the military action amounts to a coup.

In a phone interview with VOA, the prime minister said the situation involved "total indiscipline" in the army. He said soldiers were "running around the streets, threatening people" and "quite openly stating that they want my neck."

Thabane accused a former top military commander of leading the unrest. He said he would return to his country as soon as he knew he "was not going to get killed."

Military officials in Lesotho have denied plotting a coup. Officials said they moved against police elements suspected of trying to arm a political faction. They said soldiers have returned to their barracks, the streets have quieted and the country has returned to normal.

Thabane told VOA the attempt to overthrow his administration stemmed from his fight to root out corruption in Lesotho. He urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help restore order.

Leadership unclear

A military spokesman Major Ntlele Ntoi said the army only responded to an imminent threat from what he called "political fanatics" whom members of the police force were trying to arm.

"What happened this morning was that the command of the Lesotho Defense Force was acting after receiving several intelligence reports that amongst the police service, there are some elements who are actually planning to arm some of the political, party political youth fanatics who were on the verge of wreaking havoc," he said.

A South African government spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said no one is claiming leadership in Lesotho. However, he said the military's actions have the markings of a putsch.

"Although no one has claimed to have taken over government through the use of force, by all accounts the activities of the Lesotho defense force thus far bear the hallmarks of a coup d'etat," he said.

Military officials in Lesotho say soldiers have returned to their barracks and the situation in the country is calm.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing said tensions have been high since Thabane made a "unilateral" decision to dissolve parliament. News reports say some members of the country's military are loyal to Metsing, instead of the prime minister.

A rocky recent history

The mountainous kingdom, surrounded by South Africa, has repeatedly been beset by political instability since gaining independence in 1966. Until then it had been a British protectorate known as Basutoland.

A peaceful election in 2012 produced a three-party coalition government that many observers hoped would bring lasting stability — but the fragile government reportedly collapsed several months ago.

In June, South Africa had issued a stern warning to Lesotho after the prime minister suspended parliament in what appeared to be an attempt to dodge a no-confidence vote.

Instability is inherent in Lesotho’s political system, says Tom Wheeler, a former South African diplomat who is now an independent analyst.

"Well, I suppose the problem is it’s a democracy," Wheeler said, noting that coalition partners and the opposition disagreed "with what the prime minister is doing, and therefore have pulled the plug on the coalition. And I think that’s the cause of the instability.

"This man who’s the prime minister is a democratically elected person from a not-majority party, and that sort of instability is built into the system."

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a king whose powers are largely ceremonial. The kingdom had been a British protectorate known as Basutoland.

South Africa’s role

Wheeler said South Africans should not be overly concerned about upheaval in the enclave, despite their history of armed intervention in Lesotho's previous political crises.

"It’s not going be a big issue," he said, recalling that in 1998, Mangosuthu Buthelezi — a tribal leader who’d held senior positions in the African National Congress — was South Africa’s acting president while Nelson Mandela was abroad. He sent an SADC force to Lesotho to try to prevent a coup. The troops “were repulsed by the Lesotho army. It was a great embarrassment to South Africa,” Wheeler said.

"So I think we would stand back and say, ‘Get on with it, boys, it’s not our problem,’ and not be worried about it."

VOA's English to Africa service contributed to this report. Anita Powell contributed reporting from Johannesburg.
Ferguson Rally Marks Three Weeks Since Brown’s Death
Memorial to Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
By Associated Press
August 30 at 4:56 PM

FERGUSON, Mo. — Hundreds converged on Ferguson on Saturday to march for Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a white police officer three weeks ago to the day. His death stoked national discourse about police tactics and race, which the rally’s organizers pledged to continue.

Led by Brown’s parents and other relatives, Saturday’s throng peacefully made their way down Canfield Drive in the St. Louis suburb to a makeshift memorial that marked the spot where Brown was shot Aug. 9 by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

“We know that his life is not going to be in vain,” the Rev. Spencer Booker of St. Louis’ St. Paul A.M.E. Church said into a megaphone, standing in the middle of the street amid candles, placards, stuffed animals and now-wilted flowers. “We know you’re going to even the score, God. We know you’re going to make the wrong right.”

Brown’s parents — mother Lesley McSpadden and father Michael Brown Sr. — encircled the memorial with other family members during prayers, including one by a Muslim clergy member.

Hours later, hundreds of protesters again gathered in front of the suburban police department and fire station, blocking the road. Fiery speeches by way of speakers mounted to a car gave way to another march, with chants of, “If we can’t have it, we’re shutting it down.”

Some lobbed angry insults at a line of Ferguson officers and state police who stood guard at a taped-off section of the city parking lot, but the numbers of protesters dwindled to double digits by late afternoon.

Wilson, a six-year police veteran, has not been charged. A St. Louis County grand jury is considering evidence in the case, and federal investigators are sorting out whether Brown’s civil rights were violated.

There was a muted police presence Saturday during the march, which began on a West Florissant Avenue stretch that became the nexus of nightly protests — some contentious and violent — and looting in the days after Brown’s death. Many of the businesses’ windows remain boarded up, though most have reopened. Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, whom Missouri’s governor put in charge of security in Ferguson, was there, at times posing with rally attendees for selfies.

Saturday morning’s gathering included tailgaters and people hawking T-shirts memorializing Brown or featuring slogan, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” — a phrase that reflects what witnesses have said Brown did in surrender before being shot. Police have said the shooting happened after a struggle between Brown and Wilson in Wilson’s patrol vehicle, though authorities have said little else, citing the investigations.

“We’re just three weeks into this, and this is only the beginning of this movement,” said Jerryl Christmas, a St. Louis attorney who helped lead Saturday’s march and others in the past. He’s intent on keeping Brown and the resulting turmoil and questions “in the forefront of America.”