Friday, March 27, 2015

Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on RT Worldwide Satellite News: ‘Yemen Crisis--Clearly a Failure of US Foreign Policy’
To watch this interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, on RT worldwide satellite television news service aired on March 25, 2015, just click on the website below:

The US, which not long ago called Yemen an example of successful counter-terror strategy, underestimated the power of the Houthis in the country as they have already gained control over several cities, said Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire.

A coalition of Gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia, has launched a military operation in Yemen. It’s aimed at stopping the advance of Shia Houthi militants who control the capital Sana’a, and the coastal city of Aden.

RT:Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf countries are getting involved in the situation in Yemen. Where do you see this heading?

Abayomi Azikiwe: It’s a very dangerous situation. What this represents is the total collapse of US foreign policy in Yemen. They have evacuated their special forces. Approximately 100 of them were stationed in Yemen. At the same time US diplomatic personnel have also been evacuated. The US-backed President Hadi had called for such an intervention.

RT: What reaction do you expect from Iran now?

AA: The Iranians are of course backing the Houthi militia groups because they are part of the Shia alliance that exists throughout the region. Therefore, they will have some political support. But I don’t see them directly intervening militarily in Yemen in response to this escalation by Saudi Arabia. But it is clearly something that has the endorsement of the Obama administration. They have lost their capacity in a sense to intervene directly and are utilizing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] as a proxy force that will try to bolster Hadi in Yemen.

RT: Just six months ago President Obama was calling Yemen a success story. He said: “This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Do you think Washington has been taken by surprise by the latest developments?

AA: Washington has its hands full in Syria, in Iraq, and in other geopolitical regions. This is why they want to rely on the Gulf Cooperation Council. But there was clearly a miscalculation on a part of the Obama administration that they underestimated the power of the Houthi groups inside the country which took control in September of the capital of Sana’a. Just recently they took control of the city of Taiz; they have been moving South over the last several days towards Aden. So it’s clearly a failure of US foreign policy in Yemen.

RT: The city of Aden is home to a major oil refinery and is a major shipping hub. Could we see the Houthi rebels taking control over these supplies as well?

AA: It will be very interesting to see what happens if the Saudis and the GCC utilizes air power. It could perhaps halt their advances. But in the long-term, if the Saudis are not willing to put in massive ground forces then there could be whole struggle developing around the control of Aden. Also, we have to keep in mind that in the South there is a huge separatist movement that is resurfacing: Yemen was divided between the North and the South up until about 25 years ago. The South was a socialist-oriented republic, and the North was more allied with the US and the West. This is another fact that has to be taken into consideration. These separatist movements have been growing over the last several months.

RT: Yemen is seeing a total security collapse. Could it be the next front in the expansion of Islamic State?

AA: We’ll have to see if there is any significant IS intervention. Al-Qaeda has been operating there for a while. This is the raison d'être that the US has utilized for carrying out these drone attacks against the people in Yemen, particularly the so-called al-Qaeda bases there. But it remains to be seen what role the IS may have if they decide to enter in greater numbers in Yemen.
Nigerian Polls: We Are Ready for Troublemakers – Army
Thursday, 26 March 2015 05:01
Written by Ronald Mutum
Nigerian Daily Trust

Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah, addressed a news conference in Abuja yesterday.

Minimah has warned that politicians planning violence during the elections would be met by “organized violence.”

The polls begin on Saturday with the Presidential and National Assembly elections to be followed by the governorship and state assembly elections on April 11.

He spoke yesterday when he walked into a press conference being addressed by the Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman at the Army Headquarters in Abuja.

Colonel Usman was answering questions on election security when General Minimah joined the session that usually holds monthly.

He said: “Whoever wants to invoke or provoke violence would meet ‘organized violence’ waiting for him.”

He said a few years ago, political support for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney polarised the American people politically, but that none of them threatened the peace of the United States, or threatened violence.

Minimah also said none of the parties contesting election in the United Kingdom had threatened violence. “Nobody thinks of violence as a process of the elections, why must we in Nigeria consider violence as a process of our own election,” he asked.

“Therefore, every Nigerian should go about the election as a normal day’s job, go and vote and do your normal day’s engagement.

 “Whoever threatens violence will meet violence, the election should come and go peacefully, if you win, rule, if you lose, the remedies are there, go to court,” he said.

General Minimah appealed to politicians, their followers and supporters to keep the peace and ensure a violence free election.

“I will appeal to law abiding Nigerians to come out en mass, vote for candidates of their choice without fear of intimidation, without fear for their safety, it is their right to vote he said”

He added that the armed forces, together with other security organisations, have made adequate arrangements for security during the general elections.

On the court order barring soldiers from election duty, Minimah responded thus: “I can interpret it further, this is not your first elections, you have seen several elections in Nigeria, and you have seen soldiers providing security for the elections.

“Have you seen soldiers at polling booths? Have you seen soldiers counting ballots or carry ballot material, papers, boxes or whatever? So I don’t know what you are asking? I should even ask you,” he said.

Answering earlier questions, the army spokesman said allegations that the Presidency is planning to hand over power to the military is uncharitable.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said in Abeokuta Tuesday that there are rumours in the country that the government might hand over power to the military.

He warned that if such rumour becomes a reality, it would undermine the integrity of Nigeria among the comity of nations.

Reacting, the Army spokesman said: “For anybody to say such a thing that person is being uncharitable to the Nigerian army.

“I stand to be corrected if there is any institution more than the army that has been in the vanguard of sustenance of democracy in the country.”

On the counter terrorism campaign, Col Usman said the army had been acquiring new equipment which is being deployed in the north-east, and that troops were being trained on how to handle them.

In some cases the training was being conducted in the theatre of war, but added that this had given rise to the false report about mercenaries were engaged in the fighting.

Col Usman announced that the army had begun the payment of scholarship to children and dependants of all deceased personnel who died in active service.

He said the payment, based on approved criteria, would end at the end of the month.
Nigerian Presidential Candidates Jonathan and Buhari Renew Peace Accord 
Pledge to respect outcome of presidential poll
Urge supporters to shun violence

Thursday, 26 March 2015 08:26
Written by Isiaka Wakili
Nigerian Daily Trust

Jonathan and Buhari are the main contenders in Saturday's Presidential election.

President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, met this morning to renew their peace accord.

The meeting, which took place at Sheraton Hotel in Abuja,  was supervised by the National Peace Committee for the 2015 General Elections headed by former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar‎.

In the renewed accord they jointly signed, Jonathan and Buhari reassured the world of their commitment to a violence-free presidential election on Saturday.

In what was titled "Renewal of Our Pledges to Peaceful Elections", they also pledged to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections.

They called on all Nigerians and their supporters to refrain from violence and acts capable of jeopardising their collective vision of free, fair and credible polls.

Jonathan and Buhari also called on the INEC and the security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles.

The renewed accord was read by Bishop Hassan Kukah thus: "You may recall that on 14th January 2015, both of us, long with nine other party leaders signed what has now come to be known as the Abuja Accord. The substance of that accord was our commitment to free, fair and credible elections in our dear country. In the accord, we agreed to, among other things, run an issue-based campaign and pledged that our electoral campaigns will not involve any religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and all agents acting in our names.

"Now that the campaigns have come to an end, we met today to renew our pledge for peaceful elections. We therefore call on all fellow citizens of our dear country, and our part supporters, to refrain from violence or any acts that may in any way jeopardise our collective vision of a free, fair and credible election.

"In addition, we call on INEC and all security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles. We also pledge to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections.

"Today, we again renewed our commitment to a united, democratic and prosperous Nigeria. We want all Nigerians to stand together at this critical phase of our nation's history.

"Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless you all. Signed by Jonathan, Buhari and Abdusalam Abubakar."

In his remarks, Abubakar said the peace committee was set up after the Abuja Accord signed by both Jonathan, Buhari and other presidential candidates on January 14.

He said his committee had been working round the clock to help political parties and Nigerians to ensure peace and harmony before, during and after the elections.

He said "Mr. President was kind enough to see us yesterday (Wednesday), one he is the President of the country and secondly he is a contestant. And this morning Gen. Buhari despite his late arrival last night or early arrival this morning, was kind enough to meet with this committee.

"In essence, all the meetings were held to brief them the current situation of the country and what we expect of them as stakeholders and as presidential candidates. I want to thank both the president and Gen. Buhari for finding time to meet with the committee. And I want to thank both party chairmen for the support received in trying to send this message of peace.

"I'm happy both parties, the contestants, are committed to free and fair elections, free of violence. And this morning a document to reiterate their commitment for this peaceful and for the forthcoming elections".
Deadly Force in Philadelphia
New York Times
MARCH 26, 2015

In 1994, three years after the country viewed the infamous video of Los Angeles police officers brutalizing Rodney King, a black motorist, Congress gave the Justice Department the power to restructure police departments engaged in unconstitutional practices.

Federal officials have exercised that power several times since then, but, over the last five years, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has been particularly aggressive. His office has opened 20 investigations into local police department practices — including in Ferguson, Mo., where a federal report earlier this month uncovered proof of unconstitutional, racially biased policing. And Justice Department officials are currently enforcing reform agreements with 15 police departments, some of which were investigated by previous administrations using the same authority.

Mr. Holder has also created a voluntary program under which police departments that want to remedy systemic problems like biased enforcement or excessive use of deadly force can seek assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which then pays for a detailed evaluation that includes recommendations for reform.

A report released earlier this week on the historically troubled Philadelphia Police Department shows both the virtues of the reform program and the steep challenge police departments face even when they actually want to correct dangerous practices.

Philadelphia’s department has a vivid history of serious malfeasance, dating to at least 1979, when the Justice Department sued the city over police brutality. Six years later, during a standoff with a radical political group, a State Police helicopter dropped a bomb on a house. The resulting conflagrations killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes. More recently, police officers have been videotaped beating and punching people, which has further alienated them from an increasingly nervous and even hostile public.

In 2013, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey turned to the Justice Department for guidance — and answers — after the news website revealed that even though Philadelphia’s crime rates had declined, police officers were firing guns at suspects more frequently.

The evaluation team brought in by the Justice Department reported that, between 2007 and 2014, police officers opened fire at suspects more than 390 times. The team did not make a judgment about whether the police were firing too often. But it found basic design problems with a lethal-force policy that Philadelphia’s police had always assumed was properly protective of public safety. The team ended up making an astonishing 91 different recommendations for improving departmental practices.

One was to greatly improve training to show “students not only when and how to use force, but when and how not to use force and to de-escalate, verbally and tactically, if appropriate.” The report also found that the department’s guidance on the use of deadly force was “fragmented” and confusing, particularly for newer officers who were trying to understand a byzantine system.

In addition, the report asked the department to greatly strengthen its own internal investigative apparatus so as to more quickly discipline officers who act irresponsibly or break departmental rules. The report found that officers involved in shootings are, for the most part, not interviewed until three or more months after the incident. The department’s inability to handle these matters efficiently and transparently has created what the report calls “an undercurrent of significant strife” between the community and its police.

The Philadelphia Police Department will obviously need to rebuild its policies from the ground up. Though its participation in the reform effort is voluntary, failure to take reform seriously could leave it open not only to further complaints from citizens but also legal action by the federal government. What the department has going for it is Washington’s willingness to help with the reforms. That, as much as the pressure the Justice Department brings to bear, is what makes Mr. Holder’s strategy so welcome.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guinea Govt Urges Dialogue After Opposition Protest Call
March 26, 2015

CONAKRY, Mar 26 – The government of Ebola-hit Guinea urged a dialogue after the three main opposition leaders called for renewed protests against President Alpha Conde over upcoming elections.

“I would like to repeat the government’s desire to find ways to restore confidence in the electoral process and to respect the constitution. But especially to preserve social peace,” government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara told a press conference.

In a joint statement signed Tuesday in Paris, former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo, Sidya Toure and Lansana Kouyate accused Conde of repeated rights violations and said he had “lost all legitimacy”.

The opposition boycotted parliament earlier this month in protest over the timetable for presidential elections, accusing Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone voting and refusing to enter into a dialogue over the timetable.

The former premiers called on demonstrators to support their demands, especially the call to bring forward local elections due in March next year.

“The election schedule has been decided by an independent body. If part of the political class does not agree with the program we can discuss it, to identify the real problems it poses and find real solutions,” the government spokesman said.

“Questioning the legitimacy of the president of the republic… is we think excessive in relation to the issues at stake,” Camara said in a statement.

“We call on the entire political class to enter into a dialogue. We are open to solutions, and we are listening. This dialogue must take place quickly and without conditions.”

In interviews with AFP in Paris, Diallo, president of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, said discussions with the authorities had been ineffective and appealed for international pressure, while Toure vowed to launch protests on their return to Conakry on Thursday.

More than 10,000 people have died of Ebola, almost all in west Africa, since it emerged in Guinea in December 2013.

The last election in Guinea – September 2013’s parliamentary vote – was delayed by almost three years, stoking deadly ethnic tensions that have dogged the country’s politics since independence.

One of the poorest countries in the region despite vast potential for mineral exploitation, Guinea was run by a succession of autocratic rulers after gaining independence from France in 1958.
U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS in Tikrit Prompt Boycott by Shiite Fighters
New York Times
MARCH 26, 2015

AL RASHID AIR BASE, Iraq — By Day 2 of the American airstrike campaign against militants holed up in Tikrit, the mission appeared beleaguered on several fronts on Thursday: Thousands of Shiite militiamen boycotted the fight, others threatened to attack any Americans they found, and Iraqi officials said nine of their fighters had been accidentally killed in an airstrike.

In Washington, American military leaders insisted that things were going according to plan. They said that they were stepping into the Tikrit fight only after the Iranian- and militia-led advance on the city had stalled after three weeks, and that they welcomed working solely with Iraqi government forces.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of the United States Central Command, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that no Shiite militias remained in Tikrit.

While the withdrawal of Iranian-led Shiite militias was one of the preconditions for the Americans to join the fight against the Islamic State in Tikrit, the sudden departure of three of the major groups risked leaving the Iraqi ground forces short-handed, especially if other Shiite militiamen also abandoned the fight.

The three militia groups, some of which had Iranian advisers with them until recently, pulled out of the Tikrit fight to protest the American airstrikes, which began late Wednesday night, insisting that the Americans were not needed to defeat the extremists in Tikrit.

Too great or abrupt a withdrawal by militia forces, analysts said, could complicate the entire Iraqi counteroffensive. Even with the militias involved, officials said the current pro-government force would not be large enough to eventually help take Mosul back from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Top officials at the Pentagon appeared to think that it would not be easy to retake even Tikrit without Iranian help. “It’s going to require the kind of hammer-and-anvil approach of ground forces forcing ISIL to respond in ways that they’re targetable by air power,” one Defense Department official said. “But we’re less than 24 hours into it.”

Another official, asked if he was worried that the United States now owned the Tikrit operation, said, “Yes. This was a calculated risk, but it’s one that had to be taken.” Both officials spoke on grounds of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Together, the four Shiite groups that objected to the American air role already represent more than a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, analysts said.

“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said it would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past, they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.

One of the leaders of the biggest militias in the fight, the Badr Organization, also criticized the American role and said his group, too, might pull out.

“We don’t need the American-led coalition to participate in Tikrit. Tikrit is an easy battle, we can win it ourselves,” said Mueen al-Kadhumi, who is one of the Shiite militia group’s top commanders.

“We have not yet decided if we will pull out or not,” he said. The Badr Organization’s leader, Hadi al-Ameri, was shown on Iraqi television leading the ground fight in Tikrit on Thursday.

The office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday night that he went personally to Tikrit, presumably to persuade Mr. Ameri to keep his fighters in the field.

The Badr Organization fields the largest cohesive ground force in the conflict, and its withdrawal from Tikrit would be potentially catastrophic, according to Wafiq al-Hashimi, the head of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies.

“Dr. Abadi rushed into this decision to liberate Tikrit with the Americans without taking time to work out a compromise among all these groups and the Americans, most of whom have a lot of disputes with the Americans,” Mr. Hashimi said.

Another Iranian-aligned Shiite militia group reacted with defiance and threats against the Americans.

“We are staying in Tikrit, we are not leaving and we are going to target the American-led coalition in Tikrit and their creation, ISIS,” said Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Nujabaa Brigade, a powerful militia that has previously sent fighters to Syria on behalf of the Bashir al-Assad government there.

His remarks raised the possibility that the group would use antiaircraft fire against coalition warplanes, using Iraqi fighting positions.

On Thursday night, an airstrike on the village of Alvu Ajeel, on the edge of Tikrit, killed six Shiite militiamen, as well as three federal policemen, one of them a colonel, according to a spokesman for the Iraqi military’s Salahuddin Operations Command. The strike was thought to have been carried out by the United States.

The spokesman, who would not give his name because of official policy, described it as a “friendly fire” episode.

A Pentagon spokesman said he could not confirm the event. “We review all allegations and investigate those found credible,” said Col. Steve Warren, director of Defense Press Operations.

It was not known if the militiamen who were killed in the friendly fire episode belonged to Al Nujabaa or another group.

The American airstrikes in Tikrit began late on Wednesday night and continued for eight and a half hours, subsiding at dawn on Thursday, when Iraq’s handful of Russian-made fighter jets took over from this base on the outskirts of Baghdad and further bombed Tikrit in a succession of daytime raids, Iraqi officials said.

The other groups that announced they would boycott the Tikrit operation were Qatab Hizbullah, which like Asaib Ahl al-Haq is closely aligned and supported by Iran, and the Peace Brigade, the latest name for a militia made of up followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, previously known as the Mahdi Army.

Mr. Sadr, whose troops fought bitter battles against the Americans during much of the Iraq war, said his group was pulling out because, “The participation of the so-called international alliance is to protect ISIS on the one hand, and to confiscate the achievements of the Iraqis on the other hand.”

Since March 2, Islamic State forces in Tikrit have been under attack by the Iraqi militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Committees, and regular Iraqi military forces, accompanied at times by Iranian military advisers.

Still, a much smaller force of Islamic State fighters has been able to hold them off in a few areas of the city for almost four weeks.

In recent days, despite the claims of self-sufficiency made by militia commanders, Iraqi military officials said American airstrikes were needed to break the deadlock.

The militias who were withdrawing did not say they were quitting their positions in the Tikrit area altogether, or in adjoining areas of Salahuddin Province, just returning to their nearby bases and boycotting the front-line advance.

Staff Gen. Anwer Hamid, the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, said that the American airstrikes would continue, with Americans concentrating their attacks during the night for operational reasons.

“Their role in this fighting is very important to us,” he said. “They have a high number of aircraft and they have good capabilities, they can really help us.”

Rod Nordland reported from Al Rashid Air Base, and Helene Cooper from Washington. An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Salahuddin Province, Falih Hassan from Baghdad, and Peter Baker from Washington.
China ‘Deeply Worried’ Over Saudi Attacks on Yemen
Thu Mar 26, 2015 9:17PM

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, held a press conference on March 26, 2015.

China’s foreign ministry has expressed profound concerns about the ongoing chaotic conditions in Yemen following Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes on the capital Sana’a.

“The Chinese side has noticed that (Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against Yemen) and is deeply worried about the situation in Yemen that is getting worse,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday.

Expressing hope that the crisis could be resolved “through political dialogues”, Hua said, “We hope that all parties will act in accordance with relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council… and restore national stability and order at an early date.”

Hua also said advised Chinese citizens to cancel their planned visits to Yemen until further notice.

Saudi-led attacks: widely condemned

The Saudi invasion of Yemen drew condemnation from Iran, Russia, the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, Syria, and Iraq.

The Iranian foreign minister called on Saudi Arabia on Thursday to immediately cease its military aggression against Yemen.

Speaking to Press TV on the situation in Yemen, he said, “We believe that the situation in Yemen is a very dangerous situation and we advise against any escalation because we believe that any interference in Yemen will simply lead to further loss of human life as it has since this morning.”

Meanwhile, Russia slammed the Saudi military aggression against Yemen, saying the offensive is not the right way to settle the crisis in the Arab country.

Saudi Arabia announced in the early hours of Thursday that it had begun launching airstrikes against the Houthis in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a, where the Ansarullah fighters have been making advances.

The blatant violation of Yemen’s sovereignty by Saudi government, which have so far claimed the lives of at least 18 civilians, comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. 
US Senators Endorse Iran Sanctions in Budget Vote
Fri Mar 27, 2015 2:43AM

The US Senate has unanimously approved a non-binding amendment that backs imposing new economic sanctions against Iran if President Barack Obama can't verify that the country is following a nuclear accord.

The symbolic measure aimed at building pressure on Iran as nuclear negotiations have entered a sensitive stage was approved on Thursday with 100 votes in favor of the motion and zero against it.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk introduced the amendment, which was part of an ongoing budget debate. The measure is non-binding because budget resolutions do not become law, but it was passed to send a political message.

"If we find out that there's further development in the Iran nuclear program, it will allow me to remind 100 senators that they voted with me today," Kirk told the AFP news agency.

The 100 percent support for the measure came after it was amended. The original document supported restoring removed sanctions as well as imposing new sanctions, if Iran violated an agreement on its nuclear energy program.

The amendment supports imposing sanctions against Iran if Obama "cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying" with a nuclear accord.

The Senate vote comes at a time when officials from Iran and the P5+1 –  the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – have resumed sensitive negotiations in Switzerland aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement in order to end the longstanding dispute over the Islamic Republic’s civilian nuclear work as a July 1 deadline approaches.

Representatives of Iran and the P5+1 took part in the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Thursday.

Following the deputy-level talks, Iranian Deputy Foreign Ministers Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-e Ravanch also held a separate meeting with their Russian counterpart Sergey Rybakov.

Before the meetings, representatives of Iran, the US and the European Union ended a second round of nuclear talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Exceptional Chance for Iran Nuclear Issue: Rouhani
Thu Mar 26, 2015 8:56PM

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says an "exceptional opportunity" has emerged for the resolution of Tehran's nuclear issue.

Rouhani made the remarks on Thursday in a phone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron as Iran, the United States and the European Union ended a second round of nuclear talks on Tehran’s nuclear program in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

"We should move in the direction of national and international interests and do not let this opportunity... be missed easily," the Iranian president said.

"Special conditions are prevailing over the negotiations because our common positions regarding the peacefulness of [Iran's] nuclear activities and the necessity of removal of all unjust sanctions can lead us to the final solution," he added.

Rouhani emphasized that Iran’s nuclear energy program is peaceful as required under a fatwa by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Iran and P5+1 group of countries - the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany - have been in talks to resolve outstanding issues surrounding the Islamic Republic’s peaceful nuclear program.

Rouhani has also written "to the leaders of the P5+1 group of countries" involved in nuclear talks, his office said Thursday.

France active role urged

In a phone conversation with French President Francois Hollande, Rouhani referred to France’s “positive role” during previous nuclear talks between Iran and three major European states from 2003 to 2005, calling for an “active role” of Paris in ongoing talks in Lausanne.

“Enemies of relations between the two states want a non-constructive role of France in the negotiations, but the French government will undo their objectives by (playing) its constructive role,” he said.

Hollande also called for a "lasting, robust and verifiable" nuclear accord with Iran.

"The president, while insisting on Iran's legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear power, insisted on the need to work towards a lasting, robust and verifiable agreement on Iran's nuclear program," Hollande's office said in a statement.

Hope for progress

In a phone conversation, Rouhani and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, voiced hope for progress at the talks in Switzerland.

"Hope was expressed for success at the new round of talks in Lausanne," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The two leaders "noted with satisfaction the progress" made over previous weeks over Iran’s nuclear drive.

Yemen situation

Rouhani and Putin also discussed the latest developments of Yemen.

Putin said that his country is against any military intervention in Yemen and that Moscow considers the Saudi invasion as a non-constructive move.

Saudi invasion condemned

In his phone talks, Rouhani highlighted the Saudi airstrikes against Yemen that left dozens of people dead, condemning any military intervention in the internal affairs of independent nations.

In talks with Hollande, the Iranian president described the Saudi invasion as a dangerous move.

"Interference by foreign militaries is very dangerous and deepens the crisis," Rouhani said, adding that the "solution to Yemen's problems is not military."

On Thursday, Saudi warplanes carried out several airstrikes against Yemen, hitting the cities of Sana’a, Sa’ada and Ta’izz.

Saudi warplanes started bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters and launched attacks against the Sana’a International Airport and the Dulaimi airbase early on Thursday.

Yemeni security forces inspect the damage at the scene of a Saudi airstrike targeting the group which controls Sana’a near the airport in the Yemeni capital on March 26, 2015.

The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh.
US, Iran Resume Talks on Preliminary Nuclear Deal as Deadline Looms
March 27, 2015

LAUSANNE--The United States and Iran resumed negotiations on Thursday aimed at clinching a nuclear deal before a March 31 deadline, and officials close to the talks said some kind of preliminary agreement between Tehran and six powers was possible.

As the talks began, Washington and Tehran took opposing stands on Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen against rebels allied to Iran who are fighting to oust the country’s president, but it was unclear whether this would affect the nuclear talks.

The two sides are seeking a political framework accord by the end of this month that would lay the foundations for a full deal by June 30.

Under a final settlement, Tehran would halt sensitive nuclear work for at least a decade and in exchange, international sanctions on Iran would be lifted. This would aim to end the country’s 12-year nuclear standoff with the West and reduce the risk of another war in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met their Iranian counterparts, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Atomic Energy Organisation chief Ali Akbar Salehi, in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

Earlier, Iranian media quoted Zarif as condemning the Saudi-led military operation against the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi fighters in Yemen, and demanding that it stop.

By contrast, Kerry spoke to the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members on Thursday and welcomed their decision to take action against the Houthis, a senior US official said.

However, neither Kerry nor Zarif responded when asked by a reporter in Lausanne to comment on the air strikes.

Speaking to reporters traveling with Kerry from Washington on Wednesday, a senior State Department official said the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - would not rush to complete a framework agreement with Iran just because there was a March 31 deadline.

But the official said the parties had made progress at last week’s inconclusive round of negotiations in Lausanne.

“We very much believe we can get this done by the 31st,” the official said. “We see a path to do that.” The official added, however, that there was no guarantee of success.

Salehi also said a deal was possible but not certain. “It is difficult to forecast whether we can reach a result at this round of talks but we are moving toward reaching a mutual understanding in all technical issues,” he told Iranian state television.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, France and US Congress have all raised concerns that the administration of President Barack Obama might be willing to conclude a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability in the future.

The State Department official said: “Any political understanding needs to address in some way all of the elements of a final agreement.”

“We do not know what form this will take ... We have always said it needs to have specifics. We will need to communicate as many specifics as possible in some form or fashion (to the public and US Congress).”

Those elements include the different ways to a nuclear weapon, ensuring that it would take Iran at least one year to produce enough high enriched uranium for a single bomb, research and development into advanced centrifuges, transparency measures and monitoring, and sanctions relief for Iran.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposes the idea of a two-step process. Iranian officials say they fear a written framework accord would curtail Tehran’s negotiating space for the final deal.

Iranian officials have also suggested they could accept some kind of statement or political declaration in Lausanne, as opposed to a formal written agreement.

Officials close to the talks said deep disagreements remained between Tehran and the powers, while divisions had also emerged in recent weeks between the United States and France on what to demand of Tehran. US officials say the six are united.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who last week phoned his negotiation team to tell them to keep a tough line in the talks, will join the talks on Saturday. Other ministers may also arrive at then, officials said.

Iran denies Western allegations it is seeking the capability to procure atomic weapons. But Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has previously threatened Iran with military attack.

With the Republican-led US Congress threatening to vote on new sanctions against Iran if there is no agreement this month, the Obama administration is pushing hard to secure a deal. Obama has vowed to veto any new sanctions moves.

Other officials said some kind of memorandum of understanding that would satisfy US needs for Congress and Khamenei’s demands was possible by Sunday.

The main obstacle, Western officials say, remains Iran’s refusal to compromise on sanctions, research and development and other issues. Salehi disagreed, saying it was the Western powers who need to compromise.

“Iran has demonstrated its political will and it is up to the other side to take a step forward and show that it has the political will to allow a resolution of the problem,” he was quoted as saying on Iran’s Press TV website. 
No Emancipation for Women Without Economic Transformation
Next month, the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL) will hold its National Conference. It comes in the 21st year of South Africa's democracy: and at a time when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) embarks upon the next phase of our revolution - paving the way for radical socio-economic transformation. It is self-evident that that true emancipation of a people cannot happen unless the economic circumstances of that people are changed.

Nowhere is the correlation between improved economic circumstances and emancipation more evident, than in the lives of women. In South Africa, this has particular resonance for black, working class women: who were relegated, through centuries of oppression and patriarchy, to second-class citizenship.

It has been under the ANC that dignity was restored to the lives of the majority of South African women: to a society wherein they fully participate, bolstered by the provisions of the Constitution that guarantees non-racialism, non-sexism and non-discrimination on the grounds of gender.

Whilst there has been some progress made in implementing the ANC's policies intended to accelerate transformation and the economic empowerment of women, economic marginalization continues. Women, and black women specifically, have been generally excluded from meaningful employment and business opportunities; they have been largely confined to low-skilled and menial work and denied equal pay for equal work. Women are also uncompensated and discriminated against for work performed in the home (including as child-minders and carers), or subject to numerous other obstacles against succeeding in the workplace.

In addition, cultural stereotypes and entrenched patriarchy continue to impede the advancement of women in the economy. In short, poverty wears a dress.

When the more than 20 000 brave women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 09 August 1956, weathering the elements and the might of the apartheid security forces: they set in motion a movement that would not be deterred, intimidated or cowed into submission.

It is due to the determination and resilience of these women that we have the non-sexist, egalitarian South Africa today. They were heroes; and we as the women of South Africa owe them an immense, incalculable debt.

It is mindful of the precedent set by the pioneers of the 1956 Women's March, that we as the ANCWL convene our National Conference in April: to take forward the work for which they laid firm foundations. The conference will be attended by 3000 delegates, drawn not just from the ranks of the league, but also from ANC structures, the alliance partners, the progressive women's movement, business, and the media.

In the run-up to the conference, the league has convened regional and provincial general councils: to consolidate the policy positions of the branches - as well as their preferences for the leadership of the organization. Under the theme "Radical Transformation of Women's Socio-Economic Rights”, the conference will deliberate on ways to transform the socio-economic circumstances of women of South Africa.

The ANCWL Policy Conference held last year offered key, tangible recommendations on how to advance the socio-economic liberation of women. In this we have drawn on the successes of others whose political leadership faced similar challenges.

For example, the ANCWL is exploring the possibility of accessing women to finance through the establishment of a Women's Bank: modeled on the successful Grameen microfinance and community development bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. By removing the need for collateral required by conventional banks - the poorest of the poor have been able to enter the banking orbit through Grameen: "on terms that were both reasonable and appropriate.” According to Grameen, it had 8.349 million borrowers as of October 2011. Ninety seven per cent are women.

This is one of the many policies, plans and programmes the branches of the ANCWL advanced during the National Policy Conference last year. To streamline these initiatives the ANCWL will call for the establishment of a Women's Empowerment Fund to be located in the Ministry of Women: to assist women in accessing finance that could result in the betterment of their lives.

The establishment of a Ministry of Small Business Development is an indication of government's vision of SMME's as a driver of job creation, economic growth, and supporting an inclusive economy for the benefit of women in particular. To further the inclusion of more women in the economy, both formal and informal, we as the ANCWL support the work of the ministry, and encourage women to utilize its resources.

The land question remains an emotive one, and constitutes the core of the struggle for the political, economic and social emancipation of the people of South Africa, and of women, in particular. Involving women in the agricultural sector is a priority: which starts with farm ownership and management. We will call on government to develop and implement programmes that will ensure that women utilize the accessed land for their economic development. Partnerships with the private sector should be facilitated - to create markets for produce and goods manufactured by women cooperatives and companies.

We will advance initiatives that will encourage women to play a more active role in agriculture. This includes facilitating access to government resources around agro-processing, biofuel cultivation and job opportunities in the sector. This will necessitate paving the way for more women to get agricultural training and education.

On a policy level, the Conference will consider a recommendation that the review process of the 1913 Land Act should ensure that women access productive agricultural land; and that adequate mentoring programmes are provided to women given land by government.

We want to assist women in entering the mainstream economy, by making it easier for them to register companies. The ANCWL Conference will consider a recommendation to lobby for a certain percentage of tenders for poverty relief programmes to be ring-fenced for women-headed companies.

The ANCWL affirms that the socio-economic development of the majority of South Africans has been vastly improved in the past twenty-one years: largely due to increased spending to build vast and inclusive social security net. However, there have been instances of social grants and other government poverty relief initiatives being misused by beneficiaries. The Conference will consider the recommendation of proposing that up to 50 per cent of government child support grants should be in the form of non-transferable food vouchers.

We acknowledge that education plays a key role in facilitating the access of more women into the economy. More emphasis must be placed on skills training, strengthening technical vocational education and training, and targeting more women for training in technical subjects t a tertiary level.

The ANCWL is firmly behind our government as it calls on all citizens to Work Together to Move South Africa Forward. And in this, let us never lose sight of the fact that in order to fully emancipate women, their economic conditions must of necessity be remedied. As we look towards our National Conference, we once again call on all stakeholders, and the women of South Africa themselves, to make submissions to us on how we may take their voices with us.
Freedom of Speech is a Human Right
Comrade Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC

Human rights are a birthright and inherent to every single one of us. The post World War 2 period has preoccupied itself with the issue of human rights, recognising the atrocities that had pertained then. We can appreciate, therefore, why even the Vienna Declaration impressed upon the United Nations to uphold human rights as an essential part of democracy and development; and to ensure that it makes concerted effort to ensure they prevail. It is in this regard that we cannot divorce a nation’s democracy and development from its human rights and the exercise thereof. While democracy, on the one hand, is the expression of a people’s choice for a political system of their own; human rights are a means by which that society interfaces with their political, social, cultural and economic environment. It can, therefore, be argued that human rights are a necessary ingredient of democracy and development.

As a country, we have a proud history of the written word dating as far back as the early part of the 20th century. African intellectuals took to writing, whether it was the chronicling of life in South Africa by Sol Plaatjie or the Izwi Labantu by Jabavu and Rubusana. The liberation movements and various non government organisations, throughout this period produced various publications. These were either in protest against the government of the day or as expressions of everyday life in our country. This necessitated that there is a plethora of voices and a plurality of views on our society.

In recognition of national Human Rights Day, to be celebrated on March 21st - this Saturday - the provincial government of the Western Cape has posted a "Know Your Rights" page. On the page it summarises South Africa’s Bill of Rights; among whose rights it lists the "freedom of expression", which it explains as "all people (including the press) can say whatever they want". The irony of it all is that it is the same provincial government that has expressly decided to can funding for the Cape Times. The reason is because the Cape Times has opted to exercise its human right of freedom of expression and, to "say whatever they want".

This act comes on the eve of our country celebrating Human Rights Day and is carried out by a government that has professed, publicly, to be the defenders of our Constitution. We are of course, to wonder which Constitution they uphold or that they do so selectively. Freedom of expression, as asserted to by the provincial government’s homepage, is an integral part of the Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of our Constitution.

The attitude of the DA provincial government and its leader reflects what is gradually emerging in some circles in our society, where only a certain privileged and elite class has arrogated to itself the right to determine who can say what in society. Consequently, only those who agree with a particular worldview and propagate certain viewpoints should be allowed space to prevail. Therefore, freedom of expression is tantamount to either mimicking or only singing praises to only a particular race, class or government.

The right to express oneself; including the press, is something we fought for under serious repressive conditions of apartheid. In fact, the very act of withdrawing funding for the newspapers because they write whatever they want is reminiscent of the apartheid era. The apartheid government not only withdrew advertising, which is an important source of revenue for the media, but also censored what they wrote. In recent times even the ANC has come under sharp criticism for what those in the media considered to be attempts to curb freedom of expression and the citizens’ right to information.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) s that, "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". Inherent in the content of the declaration is that it is not only those views or ideas that resonate with us, or in favour of our views, that should be protected and defended.  The right to freedom of expression, as stated in the declaration, is to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas. It is, therefore, the responsibility of every nation and their governments to engender a culture of a plurality of voices and views. Our failure to want to curb or censor such views is an indication that we are not true to this human right. In fact, Professor Noam Chomsky cautions that, "if we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise..."

Our ability to exchange views and information of any kind is an essential component of a democracy. In a democracy, it is through such exchange that the citizenry is able to communicate its thoughts and perspective on how it is governed. As such, it comprises the necessary ingredient to a functioning and developing country. The media, as a public trust, is a means by which the citizens should be kept informed so they are able to make the appropriate and necessary judgements, or assessments, about those in power.

The right of freedom of expression with regard to government is important in a democracy. It is a means by which the government not only hears from the people, but also an opportunity to for it to interact and respond to what the populace articulates. In this regard Mohit Singhvi reminds us that this right of the individual and media, to freely express themselves "is also equally important to governments because when criticisms of a government are freely voiced, the government has an opportunity to respond to the grievances of the citizens. On the other hand, when freedom of speech is restricted, rumours, unfair criticisms, comments and downright falsehoods are circulated through private conversations and surreptitiously circulated writings. In that context, the government is in no position to counter such views, because they are not publicly stated. It is in the government's interest to allow criticisms in the public arena where it can answer its critics and correct its mistakes if any."

We have all been stung by those who tell the truth. This is, however, no cause to inhibit the right of people express themselves. In fact, if anything at all, it is for the cause of good and strengthening of our democracy and the development of our society as a whole. As Mohit Singhvi again reiterates, "free speech is the cornerstone of a free society as it is an inherent, inalienable right of the citizens of a democratic country. It is a basic human right enjoyed by all such citizens,... and is the foundation over which other basic human rights are built. Often regarded as an integral concept in a democratic set up, without free speech no justice is possible and no resistance to injustice and oppression is possible. Thus freedom of speech is significant at all levels in society."

Freedom of speech is a basic human right of every South African, including those whose views we may not like. As we celebrate our national human rights day, we should not only profess to believe in this right but must also uphold it; and remember those who laid their lives to enable us to enjoy it.

Jessie Duarte: Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress.
USA Orchestrates Mass Demonstrations in Brazil

On Sunday, March 15, flames of mass protests started burning in several Brazilian cities. Thousands of people took part in demonstrations against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and government corruption. The rallies were held in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Salvador (Bahia), Recife (Pernambuco) and many other cities.

Demonstrators accuse Rousseff of her support to oil state corporation Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras). The company was allegedly bribing the government for obtaining lucrative contracts and plundered the Brazilian budget  in the amount of $28 billion, while Dilma was serving as the head of the board of directors of the corporation.

Who is working on a coup in the heart of world football and Latin America?

It is quite possible that the CIA is involved in the plan to stage riots in Brazil nationwide. Over the recent years, BRICS has become the main geopolitical threat to the United States. One of today's top issues for the Western press is to retrieve balance in the global monetary and financial system. This is a potent threat that BRICS poses to the US and the US dollar, Pravda.Ru wrote in an article from March 13 titled "CIA, FBI, NSA and all the king's men work to topple Brazilian President Rousseff."

The reasons, for which Washington wants to get rid of Dilma Rousseff, are easy to understand. She signed the agreement about the establishment of the New Development Bank with the initial registered capital worth 100 billion reserve fund, as well as additional $100 billion. Rousseff also supports the creation of a new world reserve currency, Pravda.Ru says.

Dilma Rousseff also prevents the return of USA's major oil mining companies to the oil and gas market of Brazil. The country is rich with huge deposits of oil, the unconfirmed reserves of which exceed 100 billion barrels. However, it was during Lula's presidency, when Brazil opted for the Chinese state-run company Sinopec.

China Creates New Banks While Remaining Friends With US

After Washington's key allies - Britain, Germany and France - have decided to co-found the Asian Bank of Infrastructure Investment (ABII), the Obama administration assumed that the new bank would help China form new alliances bypassing existing institutions, the Wall Street Journal said. Pravda.Ru asked senior analyst at Nord-Capital, Roman Tkachuk, whether the new bank was concocted as competition to the World Bank.

"China traditionally sticks to this position - the country does not want to ruin relations with any other country. In addition, this year will see the creation of the new BRICS bank, when BRICS member countries contribute to the capital of the bank. This bank will exist under the chairmanship of China. That is, both of these banks will be created as an alternative to the World Bank, because China and several other countries are not satisfied with the policy of the World Bank, which is almost completely controlled by the United States of America. Yet, China uses such a difficult state of affairs in today's world to create alternatives to key organizations. China has been very active lately indeed. Among other things, China has recently helped Venezuela," said Roman Tkachuk.

Pravda.Ru correspondent asked whether Beijing would agree to cooperate with Washington, thus losing its own instrument of influence on world political and economic events?

"I think China will not break relations with Washington, because this is its key trading partner. Chinese authorities are traditionally cautious, they work slowly, step by step, trying to avoid sudden movements," said Roman Tkachuk.

"The World Bank has been losing its weight in the world, I think the fears are primarily associated with it. China makes not very friendly steps as far as its cooperation with the United States is concerned, although there is nothing radical about them," Roman Tkachuk told Pravda.Ru

Risks Are High US May Use Color Revolution Technique in Russia — Security Council
Russia's president Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Russian Security Council

US hoped to cause mass protests in Russia by sanctions — senior security official

MOSCOW, March 25. /TASS/. There is a great risk the United States may use the "colour revolution" know-how against Russia, the Security Council has said in its analysis of the new US security strategy.

"Advanced colour revolution technologies will be employed ever more widely for the purpose of ousting political regimes disliked by the United States, and the probability of their use against Russia is rather high," the Russian Security Council said in the analysis published on its website.

Russian Security Council specialists say that by and large the US Strategy is based on the principle of US exclusiveness and assertion of the right to take unilateral action to press for US interests around the world and has a strong anti-Russian thrust.

Regarding the relationship Russia, the Security Council believes it is likely that the United States plans to continue its policy aimed at isolating Russia in the long term, including by imposing restrictions on opportunities of exports of oil and gas.

Kremlin: Russia will consider national interests to decide on counter-sanctions
Specialists of the Russian Security Council saw a number of potential threats in the US document.

"In the long term, the United States, in cooperation with its allies, will continue its policy aimed at political and economic isolation of Russia, including restriction of its opportunities to export energy resources and pushing out military products from all markets, simultaneously creating difficulties for manufacturing of high-tech products in Russia," the analysis posted on the council’s website said.
Russian Federation Insists on Kiev’s Dialogue With Donetsk, Lugansk, Ukraine Says There is No Point in It
 PARIS, March 26. /TASS/. Russia keeps on insisting on a direct dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), but the Ukrainian authorities say there is no point in that. These are the results of the Wednesday meeting of political directors of the Normandy Four nations (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) in Paris.

"Highly topical and practical" talks

Russia was represented by State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who described the talks as ‘highly topical and practical." "We have agreed that not enough is being done to implement the Minsk agreements, episodes ceasefire violations were reported," he said.

Karasin said no one was satisfied with the pace of the implementation of those provisions of the Minsk agreement that were linked with political reforms in Ukraine. "So far, progress in the process of the settlement under the Minsk agreements is balked, basically, through Kiev’s fault," he noted.

"We are lagging behind the schedule. The deadlines fixed in the Minsk agreements are not met by the Kiev authorities."

Dialogue lacking

The Russian diplomat stressed that all political disputes are to be settled through dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics, as provided by the Minsk agreements. "We are most concerned over the fact that on the backdrop of relative stabilization of the combat situation political process is making no headway. The dialogue so widely talked about by Normandy Four format participants at all levels, including presidential, is lacking," Karasin said.

He noted that there were questions to the military section of the Minsk agreements. "There were reports about ceasefire violations, Donetsk’s airport periodically comes under shelling, tensions are being heightened around the village of Shirokino," he said.

A major aspect of the Paris talks was the discussion of establishing working groups within the Trilateral Contact Group /Ukraine, DPR and LPR and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE/. The Russian diplomat stressed that these processes should also proceed in dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics.

Also, Karasin underscored the counter-productivity of Ukraine’s initiatives to deploy United Nations peacekeepers or a European Union’s police mission. "Such operation will take more time than the implementation of the Minsk agreements and will cross out efforts geared towards their realization," he noted. "The package of the Minsk agreements is enough to settle the crisi in Ukraine."

Kiev ready to have contacts with DPR and LPR only within the Contact Group

Kiev’s representative, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadim Priskaiko, said the Ukrainian authorities did not take the current leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as legitimate representatives of people living in those areas. "It would be politically useless to talk to the people who in fact are field commanders and who are not Ukrainians in the full sense of this word.

They are illegitimate and are not representing the people who reside in these territories," the Ukrainian diplomat stressed.

At the same time, he said Kiev was not denying all contacts with Donetsk and Lugansk. "I disagree that we are unwilling to talk. Simply, there is a special format - the trilateral Contact Group - for such contacts. This group comprises representatives of both unrecognized entities. The Minsk agreements provide the same schemes for the working groups," Pristaiko said. "The format may not be ideal but work is underway."

Normandy Four may meet once a month

Normandy Four meetings may become regular. "I think we should meet once a month to discuss the problems that crop up and the steps that should be taken for resolving them," Pristaiko said after talks.

The Russian foreign minister said in turn that the Russian side was ready for such contacts and expressed the hope there would be many in the next few months.

The date for a next meeting has not yet been appointed. So far, it is not planned to raise the level of talks to a ministerial.
Leftists Push to Equate Popular Russian Bloggers With Mass Media
March 23, 2015 10:31

A Fair Russia MP has drafted a motion that, once passed, would give bloggers with large audience the rights and responsibilities of conventional mass media.

Aleksey Kazakov claims that his initiative was caused by the desire to protect the bloggers’ rights. He noted that after the adoption of the legislative amendments concerning bloggers in August 2014, the latter received additional responsibilities, but gained scarcely any additional rights. The new law would change that, the MP hopes.

“Without such a law the bloggers who have been equated with journalists have their rights infringed,” he told Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

The MP wants to introduce the term ‘blogger’ into law and define it as the owner of a website or page with 3,000 unique daily visits or more. Such persons would have to observe the general rules applied to mass media, but also get to enjoy the benefits of an official media outlet. But they’d also have the right to access information in state organizations and power bodies and to make official inquests to which civil servants would have to answer within seven days.

The current Russian law orders the authors of all blogs and social media accounts with 3,000 daily readers or more to register with the state watchdog Roskomnadzor, disclose their real identities, verify the information before making it public and abstain from releasing reports containing slander, hate speech, extremist calls or other banned information such as, for example, advice on suicide. Also, the law bans popular bloggers from using obscene language.

Violations of the law carry administrative responsibility and are punishable with fines.

The head of the State Duma Committee for Information Policy, MP Leonid Levin (Fair Russia), told the press that he did not consider the new bill as necessary and useful, but noted that he did not exclude future corrections in the legislation that regulates blogging. Levin noted that if Kazakov’s bill is passed the popular bloggers would receive additional obligations, such as putting age restrictions for users on their pages and posting their real addresses and numbers of their licenses on the internet.

Such a situation would contradict the current law that was introduced in order to protect the readers, but not to complicate the life and work of popular web authors, Levin said.

The secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, Pavel Gutiontov, also criticized the new motion.

“I am against this bill. If we start moving in this direction we could end in giving journalists’ rights to people who make, say, 300 phone calls per day or to those who write 300 letters. Journalism is a special profession that includes not only rights and duties, but also certain self-imposed obligations. I would not demand this from bloggers,” Gutiontov told Noviye Izvestia daily.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Alabama’s Legislative Districts Are ‘Racially Gerrymandered,' Supreme Court Rules
 March 25, 2015 22:32

The Supreme Court has ruled that Alabama’s redistricting plans weaken blacks’ political power by concentrating them together, thus increasing Republican power. Justices sent the case back to the same District Court that had okayed Alabama’s new maps.

In 2012, Alabama’s Republican-led state legislature re-drew the boundaries of the state legislature’s 105 House districts and 35 Senate districts. It focused on obtaining the theoretical ideal of precisely equal population by keeping any deviation from that goal to less than one percent. Alabama also sought to avoid hampering racial minorities’ ability to elect their candidates of choice ‒ as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ‒ by maintaining roughly the same percentage of African-Americans in majority-minority districts that existed within the previous district lines.

The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference each sued the state in August 2012 over the redistricting plans; the two cases were subsequently consolidated. The appellants claimed the new district boundaries created “racial gerrymanders” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause ‒ a question the Supreme Court ignored ‒ and the Voting Rights Act.

In December 2013, a three-judge panel from the US District Court voted 2-1 to uphold the Alabama redistricting map. The District Court ruled that the claims of racial gerrymandering failed because “[r]ace was not the predominant motivating factor.” The judges believed the appellants needed to prove that racial gerrymandering occurred on a statewide basis as well, which they were unable to do.

The District Court also ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because the record did “not clearly identify the districts in which the individual members of the [Conference] reside,” and that the Conference had “not proved that it has members who have standing to pursue any district-specific claims of racial gerrymandering.”

Supreme Court decision

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court disagreed with that decision. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, in which Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined.

Breyer applauded Alabama’s attempt to create an idealistic “one-person, one-vote” situation by limiting the deviation from the goal population to one percent, but noted that a five percent deviation from the ideal is “generally permissible.” However, he disliked how the state went about drawing district boundaries to obtain that goal.

Senate District 26 population summary before (left) and after (right) the 2012 redistricting plan (Alabama Reapportionment Office)Senate District 26 population summary before (left) and after (right) the 2012 redistricting plan (Alabama Reapportionment Office)

“In order for Senate District 26, for example, to meet the State’s no-more-than-1 [percent] population-deviation objective, the State would have to add about 16,000 individuals to the district. And, prior to redistricting, 72.75 [percent] of District 26’s population was black. Accordingly, Alabama’s plan added 15,785 new individuals, and only 36 of those newly added individuals were white,” he wrote, adding that was “a remarkable feat given the local demographics.”

The Supreme Court cited the Department of Justice Guidelines for Section 5’s pre-clearance determinations, which say that districts are not based “on any predetermined or fixed demographic percentages.”

The majority opinion also held that the appellants didn’t claim that the Alabama legislature employed racial gerrymandering as a whole, but that individual majority-minority districts were racially gerrymandered, and that the evidence of such required looking at the state as a whole.

“And those are the districts that we believe the District Court must reconsider,” Breyer noted. “That Alabama expressly adopted and applied a policy of prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria (save one-person, one-vote) provides evidence that race motivated the drawing of particular lines in multiple districts in the State.”

When it came to standing, the Supreme Court disagreed with the District Court, writing that “the common sense inference is strong enough to lead the Conference reasonably to believe that, in the absence of a state challenge or a court request for more detailed information, it need not provide additional information such as a specific membership list.”

Dissenting opinions

In a scathing dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia called the majority’s decision a “sweeping holding that will have profound implications for the constitutional ideal of one person, one vote, for the future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and for the primacy of the State in managing its own elections.”

“If the Court’s destination seems fantastical, just wait until you see the journey,” he added.

Joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Scalia sided with the District Court’s opinion on the appellants’ standing, writing that they did not prove that they sufficiently represented members in the affected Alabama districts, as counties and districts have different boundaries.

“Frankly, I do not know what to make of appellants’ arguments. They are pleaded with such opacity that, squinting hard enough, one can find them to contain just about anything,” Scalia concluded. “This, the Court believes, justifies demanding that the District Court go back and squint harder, so that it may divine some new means of construing the filings.”

Map of Alabama Senate District 26 (Supreme Court: Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama)Map of Alabama Senate District 26 (Supreme Court: Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama)

In a dissent of his own, Thomas ‒ the Supreme Court’s only black justice ‒ focused on the effective racism that resulted as a consequence of Section 5 and the Supreme Court’s role in creating Alabama’s current redistricting problems.

“The practice of creating highly packed ‒ 'safe' ‒ majority-minority districts is the product of our erroneous jurisprudence, which created a system that forces States to segregate voters into districts based on the color of their skin” he wrote. “Nor does this Court have clean hands.”

“I do not pretend that Alabama is blameless when it comes to its sordid history of racial politics. But, today the State is not the one that is culpable. Its redistricting effort was indeed tainted, but it was tainted by our voting rights jurisprudence and the uses to which the Voting Rights Act has been put,” Thomas added. “Long ago, the DOJ and special-interest groups like the [American Civil Liberties Union] hijacked the Act, and they have been using it ever since to achieve their vision of maximized black electoral strength, often at the expense of the voters they purport to help.”
Criminalization of Michael Brown and Ferguson Rebellion Continues
Corporate media seeks to dampen anti-racist movement through distortion and slander

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

During the course of one week the Washington Post published at least three articles suggesting that the white former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in self-defense. This same line of argument stems from the questionable findings of both the St. Louis County grand jury and Department of Justice reports designed to provide a rationale for not pursuing criminal charges against Wilson.

In an article entitled “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Was Based on a Lie”, Jonathan Capehart said that Brown was an “inappropriate symbol” for police violence against African Americans. The Washington Post writer asserted that the actual facts revealed in the DOJ report indicated that Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot to death by Wilson. (March 16)

The DOJ report which was cited in the article attempted to justify the killing of Brown by saying that he had committed a robbery and when stopped reached into the police vehicle punching Wilson, attempting to grab his gun. The grand jury testimony presented by Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown when he was killed by Wilson, was attacked as being inaccurate.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time that an attempt has been made to criminalize Brown, Johnson and the entire movement that ignited in Ferguson and spread around the country. Since the beginning of the demonstrations and rebellions on Aug. 9, the police, prosecutors and the city administration have maintained that Wilson did nothing wrong by shooting to death an unarmed African American youth.

The Washington Post in these articles attacking the Black Lives Matter movement kept emphasizing that they checked the facts and they were at variance with the actual developments as conveyed by eyewitnesses. That the people who were on the scene when Brown was killed and left to lie in his blood for four hours, were not to be believed but the cops and those who were not there, including the DOJ investigators, were the only ones to be taken seriously.

Corporate Media Attacks Seek to Dampen Outrage at Police Actions

Corporate media pundits across the country picked up on the Washington Post articles also claiming that Brown was aggressively pursuing Wilson and that the slogan: "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," should never have been used. This represents a renewed attempt to not only convict Brown in his death but to slander the anti-racist movement that has grown up in the aftermath of the killing on Aug. 9 and subsequently deaths of African American youths at the hands of the police.

On March 17, Alyssa Rosenberg, writing for the Washington Post, even included other movements for social justice as being based on false premises. She says that “The problem is social movements do this all the time. Both the civil rights movement and the fight for gay equality have been supported by stories that were edited, challenged later or outright fabricated.”

This same article goes on to say “while these stories risk being exposed as less than entirely true, they pose another challenge for movements for equality. When we rely on stories about spontaneous, apolitical activists or saintly victims, we buy into larger and deeply conservative arguments about which lives have value and what kind of people deserve the protection of the law.”

In other words African Americans such as Michael Brown, Errol Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Stanley Jones, etc. and their families do not deserve the support of the people. Such reasoning represents the degree to which the ruling class in the United States, imbued with racism and class bias, despises the masses of the people.

This is why the DOJ reports by presenting the contradictory narrative that both the Ferguson and St. Louis County police, courts and municipal administrations engage in systematic campaigns to profile, penalize, criminalize and cover up injustices committed against African Americans but at the same time this racist regime and its agents should not be held accountable for its actions, serves to fortify the status-quo. Since there are no criminal charges warranted for oppressing African Americans through unjustified citations, jail and prison sentencings, beating and even death, then the system will continue unimpeded by the judicial arm of the state.

The only real counterweight to the institutional racism practiced not only in Ferguson but across the U.S. is the popular movements organized and led by the people. What distinguished the police killing of Michael Brown and Errol Garner was the groundswell of opposition that grew up spontaneously in cities and towns nationwide. African Americans and Latinos are killed routinely by police and vigilantes with very little political response.

Consequently, the anti-racist movement can only view these latest attempts to slander the struggle as a continuation of a pattern extending back a century-and-a-half since the end of the civil war, legalized slavery and the beginning of Reconstruction. To even suggest that the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” slogans are based on falsehood, is tantamount to saying that “Freedom Now”, “By Any Means Necessary,” “Black Power”, “Right On”, “All Power to the People” and other slogans that grew out of the African American liberation movement of the 1960s, were advanced from untruths.

Following such logic, the African American people and other oppressed nations in the U.S., have no real reasons to make demands on the state and the ruling class to end racist violence by police, armed white individuals and organizations. Such claims deny the humanity of the oppressed and their striving towards freedom and social transformation.

Racist Violence Considered Legal

The fact is that it has never been illegal in the U.S. for cops or others to kill African Americans.

Many of the lynchings carried out from the 1880s through the Great Depression, nearly 5,000 documented and many more unrecorded, enjoyed the participation of the police and the courts. Photographs and eyewitness accounts of these atrocities were exploited through postcards and public festivals.

Despite the widespread public awareness, press accounts and protests against this form of egregious mob violence, the U.S. federal government never passed one anti-lynching bill over the period of decades. Almost all of the urban rebellions that have occurred since the 1960s have been sparked by police misconduct and brutality stemming from a racist and exploitative political and economic system.

Jeffrey Williams Says He Was Forced to Confess in Police Shooting

As further illustration of law-enforcement abuses, the person being charged with the shooting of two Ferguson cops, Jeffrey Williams, is now saying that he was forced to confess after suffering injuries from the police. Williams suffered injuries that were documented by his attorney.

“He told me that he never fired a weapon,” said Jerryl T. Christmas, who is the attorney for Jeffrey Williams, the 20-year-old accused in the shooting of two Ferguson police officers. (Press TV, March 18)

Christmas said his client was in a “tremendous amount of pain” resulting from being pistol-whipped while in police custody. “I think under those circumstances he would have said anything,” William’s lawyer said.

 “Anytime someone is questioned without counsel and then I see that kind of bruising, then I'm suspicious about any statements that he may have voluntarily given.”
United States and NATO Policy Underlines Instability in Libya and Tunisia
Imperialist states debate over future course of action in dominating region

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Attacks on March 18 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis resulting in the deaths of 24 people have been credited to the Islamic State.

Just two days prior to the 59th anniversary of the national independence of Tunisia from France in 1956, two gunmen took over a major tourist destination resulting in a police response that led to another high profile incident that was utilized as propaganda to escalate the so-called “war on terrorism” in North Africa.

Of the 24 people killed almost all of them were foreign nationals from Poland, Germany, Spain, Italy and other states. The recently-elected veteran politician President Beji Caid Essebsi criticized the security forces for being lax in their efforts to protect the museum which is a vital resource in the tourism sector, one of the most lucrative industries for earning hard currencies.

"There were failures…the police and intelligence [services] were not systematic enough to ensure the safety of the museum", the president told the Paris Match weekly in an interview on March 21. Nonetheless, he went on to praise the police by saying they "responded very effectively to quickly put an end to the attack at the Bardo, certainly preventing dozens more deaths if the terrorists had been able to set off their suicide belts."

However, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Abdelfattah Mourou reportedly told the French Press Agency on March 20 that the guards hired to protect the museum and the parliament building located close by were drinking coffee at the time of the firing of gunshots by the assailants. Prosecution spokesperson Sofiene Sliti said that "There are developments in the case, but to protect the secrecy of the investigation we prefer not to provide any details.” (AFP)

Although Tunisia is often cited by the western media as the most stable state among those which experienced upheavals and regime-changes in 2011, the country has experienced political unrest and assassinations. Two leading left-wing politicians, Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, members of the same Popular Front alliance, were killed by gunmen just months apart during 2013.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Brahmi the country erupted in mass demonstrations led by youth and workers demanding the resignation of the government which took over after the forced exile of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Although the-then Prime Minister Ali Larayedh refused to resign, the post-uprising government dominated by the Ennahda Party did eventually dismiss the cabinet setting the stage for new elections and the appointment of a so-called “technocratic” administration.

During the period after the assassination of the two leftist leaders, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou stated in a press conference that "The same 9mm automatic weapon that killed Belaid also killed Brahmi." The individual targeted in both assassinations was said to have been Boubacar Hakim, a Salafist who was sought in connection with the illegal transport of weapons from Libya.

Post-Gaddafi Libya is a Major Source of Instability

With reference to the March 18 attacks in Tunis, the government and western states have linked the museum assault with Islamic State fighters based in neighboring Libya. Since the beginning of the war of regime-change against the government of Col. Muammar Gaddafi the North African state has fallen into political instability and internecine conflict.

IS forces are said to have training camps in Libya while engaging in several high-profile attacks  in the capital of Tripoli as well as in the eastern and southern regions of the country. The two men involved in the museum incident were killed when security forces stormed the building.

One of the gunmen involved in the attack, Yassine Laabidi, was said to have been known to intelligence services although they claim he had no formal links to a particular organization. These extremist organizations based in Libya are a direct outcome of the foreign policy of Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and their allies which coordinated the advances of these groups across Libya in 2011 through its massive aerial bombardments which lasted for over seven months.

During the course of the war between Feb. 17 and Oct. 31, some 26,000 sorties were flown and approximately 10,000 bombs were dropped on Libya. Tens of thousands were killed and millions more were displaced amid the destruction of the national infrastructure and the plundering of the country’s wealth.

Yet the western states which carried out the destruction of Libya and empowered the extremist groups now wreaking havoc on the country are never cited for their culpability in the current western media reports which ponder how stability can be restored to the oil-rich state on the Mediterranean. These armed rebel groups are spreading out from Libya into neighboring and regional states in North and West Africa.

European Union Denies Plan for Military Intervention

At present the European Union (EU) is deliberating over whether it should establish another military force to supposedly secure the Libya-Tunisia borders and challenge IS and other rebels in operating in both countries. The EU plan as reported in the media would involve a stronger naval presence in the region as well as the deployment of ground troops backed up by air power.

However, it was announced on March 20 that the EU would continue to seek a political solution to the Libyan crisis and plans to send in troops were unsubstantiated. United Nations brokered talks between the two competing rebel regimes in Libya have failed to bring about the creation of a government of national unity.

Adherents to the former Jamahiriya political system under Gaddafi are barred from participation in the current U.S.-imposed political dispensation in Libya. Neither faction based in Tripoli or in the eastern city of Tobruk represents the aspirations of the workers and youth inside the country or throughout Africa, which under Gaddafi was the focus of the nation’s foreign policy.

An article published by the on March 20 revealed that “The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, said on Friday [March 20] that the EU is not planning a military intervention in Libya, but advocated the 28 EU countries to devote all possible means of support to the country, including security and defense measures, if Libya can create a unity government. Upon arriving at the European Council held in Brussels on Friday, the senior representative said that there is no plan for a European military intervention, but that Europe is ‘planning all possible ways of supporting, even on the plan of security,’ all of which is contingent on whether Libya can create a national unity government.”

Yet a progressive national unity government can only come about with the advancement of the revolutionary democratic forces inside the country to establish a political system that places the interests of the majority within Libyan society above those of the bourgeois classes which are allied with multi-national oil interests and financiers. Such a system of national self-reliance and regional integration was the basis of the Jamahiriya which was destroyed by imperialist intervention.

The EU along with NATO and led by the U.S. are responsible for the current chaos in Libya. This pattern of sanctions, massive bombings, ground interventions through direct occupation or proxy forces have failed throughout the entire region of North Africa and the Middle East. Any real reversal of the political crisis in the regions must take on an anti-imperialist character stressing the necessity of genuine political independence and territorial sovereignty designed to break with the legacy of imperialism.