Inter Press Service » Europe Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 05:00:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Somali Refugees Find an Unlikely Home … In Istanbul Tue, 29 Jul 2014 09:16:27 +0000 Hannah Tayson By Hannah Tayson
ISTANBUL, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

Among the labyrinth of winding narrow streets just outside a major shopping centre in the Kumkapi neighbourhood of Istanbul is a rundown road, congested with shops and apartments stacked atop one another.

Istanbul's "Somalia Street" - so called because immigrants from Somalia (and elsewhere in Africa) have adopted it as a staging post during long, rigorous journeys to find permanent homes. Credit: Hannah Tayson

Istanbul’s “Somalia Street” – so called because immigrants from Somalia (and elsewhere in Africa) have adopted it as a staging post during long, rigorous journeys to find permanent homes. Credit: Hannah Tayson

Cars somehow manage to come barrelling down the street as people slowly move to the narrow pavement already full of food carts and clothes strewn out on blankets for sale. Trash lazily rolls past groups of men engaged in conversation while sitting on buckets or leaning against shop windows. The area feels oddly serene.

This street is host to a community of African refugees, with the majority comprising Somali natives, and aptly named “Somalia Street”. Through word of mouth and family ties, Somali refugees seek a temporary home in this nook of Istanbul, in order to find some respite from the political and natural disasters that have devastated Somalia for decades.

Istanbul has become a staging post for Somalis hoping to eventually travel on to Australia, Canada or the United States, migration trend watchers say.  Because of the constant population flux, it is difficult to estimate the number of refugees actually living on the street at any given moment, but street residents say that there are a few hundred Somalis living there.

Dalmar, 30, a Somali refugee, has only been in Istanbul for a month with his brother Amet, 20, and lives in a small apartment with 12 other refugees. This arrangement is very common here. Often, refugees will live in small apartments with 20 or 30 other people.

“Istanbul is very temporary,” said Dalmar. “The living conditions are poor. Istanbul is expensive, and it is very hard to find work here.”

Turkish labour laws require a passport and residence card for employment, neither of which refugees can easily obtain. This has led to much illegal work, usually consisting of manual labour and odd jobs.Through word of mouth and family ties, Somali refugees seek a temporary home in this nook of Istanbul [Somalia Street], in order to find some respite from the political and natural disasters that have devastated Somalia for decades

A refugee who has lived in Turkey for many years, Liban, 31, said he worked in various manual labour jobs when he first arrived in Istanbul. He pointed out that that the language barrier between Arabic and Turkish makes it “difficult to get jobs in the first place.”

Yet inhabitants appear to have established a unique community along the littered, cobblestone street. Most Somalis interviewed said they enjoy life in Istanbul. The community takes care of them as they arrive in droves. Often, refugees will find work with Kurdish shop owners, who seem rather protective of them.

During one interview with a group of refugees, a Kurdish man popped his head of his shop out to make sure they were not being harassed.

The Katip Kasim mosque stands on Somali Street, its low brick wall recently painted white and orange. The mosque is rather unassuming compared to the grandiose and elegant mosques around Istanbul.

Muammer Aksoy has worked as Katip Kasim’s imam for 19 years, and has seen the community change significantly. This area of Istanbul has always been a refuge for minority groups in Istanbul, beginning with Kurdish migrants from Turkey’s east. Romanian refugees arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. There has since been an increase in African refugees to the area, the majority arriving within the last five years.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Somalia Street unites. Somalis are very devout Muslims. Once the sun begins to set, the Katip Kasim mosque courtyard fills with people waiting in line to receive their dinner to break the fast, or iftar.

Imam Aksoy began the community iftar dinners eight years ago, after seeing a Somali refugee attempt to break his fast with a small piece of bread, and by drinking soiled water from the fountains used to wash feet before entering the mosque.

“It is my responsibility as the imam to take care of my community,” said Aksoy. “I don’t discriminate between people here. Everyone is welcome.”

The imam has enlisted a different shop owner on the street each evening to provide the iftar dinner for 300 people.

A long-time resident and family friend of the imam, Arzu, has also seen the change in the community. “Refugees come because they heard people take care of them here,” she said proudly.

Turkey and Somalia have an unlikely partnership. According to a 2013 report by the Norwegian Peace Building Centre, Turkey has established networks in Africa, Somalia in particular, to enable peace-building efforts and humanitarian initiatives. In turn, says the report, this “strengthens Turkey’s international image as a global peace actor.”

“The relationship between Somalia and Turkey is very recent. It was just in 2011 that this relationship began,” said Dalmar. “Now there are scholarships and programmes for students.”

Somalia receives more aid from Turkey than any other African nation, with 93 million dollars in 2011, and 1,500 Somali students received scholarships to study at the public Istanbul University in 2013.

Abdifitah, 25, who has been living in the community for one year, was a scholarship recipient. To take advantage of the opportunity, Abdifitah and his family moved together from Somalia. His family cannot find work, but has moved with him in order to support him.

“Istanbul gave me a chance to learn,” said Abdifitah.

Recently, Somali refugees have been moving to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, because work is easier to find, and housing is cheaper than in overcrowded Istanbul.

Liban lives with his family in Ankara, but makes a living as a translator for the local African football league in Istanbul. When asked if he would like to go somewhere else, he shook his head.

“When I was younger, I really wanted to go to America. Now, if someone handed me an American passport, I wouldn’t take it,” said Liban. “I have everything I want here.”


Freelance writer Hannah Tayson was a foreign correspondent intern with the Institute for Education in International Media (ieiMedia) in Istanbul during the summer of 2014. She can be contacted at

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People Before Borders Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:37:05 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

With Italy having taken over presidency of the European Union (EU) until December 2014, questions remain regarding Europe’s migration policies as reports of migrants dying at sea while trying to reach Italy regularly make the headlines.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that since the beginning of 2014, 500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea and almost 43,000 have been rescued by the Italian Navy.

However, Italy’s “Mare Nostrum operation has gone a long way towards addressing the issue of saving people’s lives,” says Anneliese Baldaccini, Amnesty International’s Senior Executive Officer for Asylum and Migration.

Mare Nostrum – the Italian search-and-rescue operation – was launched following the tragedy of October 2013, when 366 migrants died as the boat in which they were travelling sank off the coast of Lampedusa, an Italian island which is closer to Tunisia than Italy.“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants” … at the moment, "the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders” – Gregory Maniatis, advisor to the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration

Italy is the lone sponsor of the search-and-rescue initiative, investing an estimated nine million euros every month.

In an interview with IPS, Baldaccini highlighted the unsustainability of this operation, arguing that this is why “Amnesty is calling on the European Union to act in a concerted way to support Italy in these operations”. So far, she continued, “the EU has proved reluctant in doing so.”

“With its Mare Nostrum operation, Italy has been pushing for a collective humanitarian response,” said Gregory Maniatis, Senior Policy Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and advisor to Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. “But what is missing at the EU level is a common vision of the problem,” he told IPS.

“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants,” Maniatis explained. At the moment, “the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders.”

Maniatis also argued that the EU does not have a sustained focus “to improve asylum processing to create a truly common European system, to increase its capacity to receive refugees, and to establish ways for people to apply for asylum without undertaking the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.”

According to Amnesty International, there is a dichotomy between the “EU’s aspiration to promote human rights and the reality of human rights violations in member states.” In its recommendations to the Italian EU presidency, Amnesty International stated that currently, “border control measures expose migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to serious harm.

Their detention is systemic, rather than exceptional. And their lack of agency makes them vulnerable to abject exploitation and abuse.”

Amnesty International has calledon Italy, in view of its presidency of the European Union, “to show leadership and steer the Union in the direction of human rights, putting people before politics”.

The European Council Summit held on June 26-27 agreed broad guidelines for Europe’s migration and asylum strategy but these “do not change the current status quo” according to Amnesty’s migration expert Baldaccini. They “even represent a setback,” she told IPS. Overall, said Baldaccini, they “show a lack of political commitment.”

She went on to explain that the Secretariat of the European Council has partly blamed the recent rise of far-right parties at the last European Parliament elections as being the reason why no progress was made in terms of migration policies.

In general, states – and not only far-right parties – are reluctant to “mention human rights as it could be perceived as encouraging more arrivals to Europe,” Baldaccini said.

Many organisations have called on the European Union to change its approach to migration policies. The Lampedusa tragedy is only one example of a long series of similar events, said Elena Crespi, Western Europe Programme Officer at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), an NGO representing 178 organisations throughout the world.

“Despite repeated commitments to change,” Crespi told IPS, “EU migration policies remain security driven, and aim at reinforcing border control while migrants’ rights are given little attention.”

One such example, she argued, is the increasing presence of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.

Crespi explained that the intensification of FRONTEX operations has not resulted in fewer incidents, nor better respect for migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ rights. On the contrary, an increased number of allegations have been made regarding human rights violations at the Union’s external borders, which remain unaddressed.

FRONTEX has turned down the recommendation by the E.U. Ombudsman to put in place a mechanism to allow alleged violations to be investigated.

This, said Crespi, raises questions regarding the compatibility of FRONTEX’s operations in terms of human rights.

The presence of the European Border Agency is not sufficient to prevent people from dying at sea, she noted. Instead, enhanced border control pushes more and more people into taking increasingly dangerous routes into Europe, thus putting their lives at risk.

Italy is now pushing for FRONTEX to assume the costs of the Mare Nostrum operations, explained Simona Moscarelli, a legal expert for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Rome. But to do this, the “FRONTEX mission will have to be revised because its mandate does not include search-and-rescue operations.”

“FRONTEX’s role is not to save lives but rather to prevent and deter migrants from coming into Europe,” Crespi told IPS.

Moreover, “the vast majority of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean Sea are Syrian and Eritrean nationals and should be entitled to asylum,” Moscarelli told IPS.

According to the UNHCR, the number of Syrians reaching Europe by sea increased in 2013. Last year, Italy rescued an estimated 11,307 Syrians in the Mediterranean.

“The European Union must overhaul its approach to migration, and put respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights at its centre. Opening new channels for regular migration, enhancing reception capacity including by increasing responsibility sharing for migrants coming into Europe and investigating human rights violations are some steps that could be taken in the right direction,” said Crespi.

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Food – Thou Shall Not Waste Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:34:49 +0000 Silvia Giannelli Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

“Only two years ago, the soup kitchen was serving 50 meals a day. Today the number has almost doubled and, what is even more worrying, we have started receiving families with children,” says Donatella Turri, director of the Caritas Diocese of Lucca.

The paradox is that the lengthening queues at the Lucca soup kitchen come against a backdrop of increasing food loss and waste.

Turri has no doubts concerning the impact of the current economic crisis on Italian families in terms of food security – “we call it ‘poverty of the third week’.”If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be 'thou shall not waste' – Andrea Segré, President of Last Minute Market

“It means that the poor are no longer the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug addicts. More and more often we get requests for primary goods from families that simply cannot reach the end of the month with their salaries,” she told IPS.

Turri’s claims are confirmed at the national level by the yearly Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) report on poverty. According to the survey, absolute poverty [the threshold below which a family cannot afford the goods and services that are essential to guarantee a barely acceptable standard of living] has maintained its steady increase in recent years, rising from 4.6 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent in 2013.

“The traditional distinction between the quantitative aspect of food security being typical of developing countries, and the qualitative one being a concern of the industrialised world, is fading away,” Andrea Segré, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Bologna University and President of Last Minute Market, a company that recovers unsold or non-marketable goods in favour of charity organisations, told IPS.

However, while access to food is also becoming increasingly difficult for the low-income class of developed countries, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Europe, North America and Oceania are top of the world’s food wasting classification, with a per capita food loss of almost 300 kg per year in North America.

“Food loss and waste are dependent on specific conditions and local circumstances,” Eliana Haberkon from FAO’s Office for Communications, Partnerships and Advocacy, explained to IPS.

“In low-income countries, food loss is mainly connected to managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging, etc. … and food waste is expected to constitute a growing problem due to undergoing food system changes and due to factors such as expansion of supermarket chains and changes in diets and lifestyle.”

Currently, the biggest gap between rich and poor nations remains the quantity of food wasted at the consumer level. According to FAO figures, Europeans and North-Americans waste between 95 to 115 kg of food per capita every year, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia the number drops down to only 6 to 11 kg a year.

At the beginning of July, Last Minute Market, in cooperation with the SWG survey company, published a report called ‘Waste Watcher’. Using a complex questionnaire survey among Italian consumers, the outcomes paint a comprehensive picture of the social dynamics and behaviour of families that lead to food waste.

“The overall waste of food in Italy is worth 8.1 billion euro every year, and most of it comes from our houses. The rest of the losses, in agriculture, industries, distribution and service, can be recovered, but it is much less significant than what we throw in our bins,” said Segrè, commenting on the survey results.

Last Minute Market is now working to prepare the ground for a discussion on food waste during EXPO 2015, which will take place in under the heading ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life’.

“In order to be credible, EXPO needs to take into account the issue of food waste,” said Segré. “If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be thou shall not waste.”

Indeed, as Haberon explained, the consequences of food loss and waste stretch far beyond their monetary value, “affecting current use and future availability and causing unnecessary pressure on natural resources.”

Studies by FAO estimated a yearly global quantitative food loss and waste of 30 percent of cereals, 40-50 percent of food crops (fruits and vegetables), 25 percent of oil seeds, meat and dairy products and 30 percent of fish.

Both Last Minute Market and Caritas agree on the paramount role of education in tackling food waste. In cooperation with more than ten local primary schools, the Caritas Diocese of Lucca has managed to recover excess food intact from school canteens for a value of 40,000 euro, taking it to the soup kitchens it manages.

This initiative has allowed it to develop a parallel food education project with the children of the schools involved.

“We obviously need normative support to help us reduce food waste, but first of all we must re-introduce food education, starting from primary schools,” said Segrè. “The current generation has completely lost the value of food and we must get it back.”

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Community Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”


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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.


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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICS Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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U.S. Accused of Forcing EU to Accept Tar Sands Oil Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:59:06 +0000 Carey L. Biron Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

Newly publicised internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Environmentalists, working off of documents released through open government requests, say U.S. trade representatives are responding to frustrations voiced by the oil and gas industry here. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials are in Brussels for the sixth round of talks towards what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process.” -- Bill Waren

“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process,” Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group, told IPS. “Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.”

The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the European Union’s potential tightening of regulations around transport fuel emissions, first proposed in 2009 for what’s known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Yet according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, the sector now appears to have convinced the U.S. government to work to permanently block the implementation of this standard.

Current negotiating texts for the TTIP talks are unavailable. But critics say the negotiations are forcing open the massive E.U market for a particularly heavy form of petroleum known as tar sands oil, significant deposits of which are in the Canadian province of Alberta.

“Since the adoption of the revised Fuel Quality Directive in 2009, the international oil companies … petroleum refiners, the Cana­dian government and the Albertan provincial government have spent enormous resources and used aggressive lobbying tactics to delay and weaken the implementation proposal,” the new report, which is being supported by a half-dozen environmental groups, states.

“The oil industry and the Canadian government … are afraid that the FQD could set a precedent by recognising and labelling tar sands as highly polluting and inspire similar legislation elsewhere.”

Safeguarding investments

At issue is the mechanism by which the European Union would determine the greenhouse gas emissions of various types of oil and gas. As part of Europe’s broader climate pledges, the FQD was revised to reduce the emissions of transport fuels by six percent by the end of the decade.

In 2011, the E.U. proposed that tar sands and other unconventional oils be formally characterised as having higher greenhouse gas “intensity” than conventional oil, given that they require more energy to produce – 23 percent higher, according to a study for the European Commission.

Yet tar sands have received massive interest from oil majors in recent years. Some 150 billion dollars were invested in Canadian tar sands between 2001 and 2012, according to Friends of the Earth, a figure expected to grow to nearly 200 billion dollars through 2022.

“Major oil investors want to immediately move as much tar sands oil as possible to Europe,” Waren says. “Over the longer term, they want to get the investments that will allow them to develop the infrastructure necessary to ship that exceptionally dirty fossil fuel to Europe.”

Many investors likely assumed the Canadian tar sands oil would have a ready market in the United States. But not only is the U.S. economy reducing its dependence on oil – particularly imports – but the trans-national transport of Canadian tar sands oils has become a major political flashpoint here, and remains uncertain.

So, last year, oil lobbyists here began to push U.S. trade representatives to use the nascent TTIP talks to safeguard the E.U. market for unconventional oils.

“[I]f the EU approves the proposed amendment to the FQD … it would adversely affect the U.S.-EU relationship, potentially eliminating a $32 billion-a-year flow of trade,” David Friedman, a vice-president with American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major trade association, wrote in a May 2013 letter to the top U.S. trade official.

Now, according to an internal European Commission e-mail uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe and outlined in the new report, U.S. trade representatives appear to be echoing this analysis.

“[T]he US Mission informed us formally that the US authorities have concerns about the transparency and process, as well as substantive concerns about the existing proposal (the singling out of two crudes – Canada and Venezuela,” the letter, said to be from October 2013, reportedly states.

Canada and Venezuela have the world’s largest deposits of tar sands oil.

The letter also notes that the U.S. negotiators would prefer a “system of averaging out the crudes”, meaning that all forms of oil would simply receive one median score regarding their emissions intensity. This would effectively lift any E.U. bar on unconventional oils – and, according to the Friends of the Earth analysis, add an additional 19 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

‘Threatening’ climate policies

The new revelations come just a week after the leaking of a TTIP paper on E.U. energy policy, which would push the United States to abolish restrictions and automatically approve crude oil exports to the European Union. The document offered a rare glimpse into notoriously secret talks.

“We strongly oppose attempts by the E.U. to use this trade agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, to secure automatic access to U.S. oil and gas,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and watchdog group, told IPS. “I think there’s strong support for continued restrictions on this issue among both the public and policymakers, due to the implications for both energy security and the climate.”

The new disclosures have indeed caught the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last week, 11 lawmakers renewed a line of questioning from last year about Washington’s influence on E.U. tar sands policy.

“We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” the lawmakers wrote to the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, “and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.”

Yet such concerns may already be too late.

Last month, media reports suggested that the European Commission is now considering a proposal to go with the U.S.-pushed “averaging” approach to its fuel-emissions calculation. The same week, Europe’s first shipment of tar sands oil – 570,000 barrels from Canada – reportedly arrived on Spanish shores.

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Russia Hoping Cuba Can Help Spur Trade with Latin America Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:20:51 +0000 Peter J. Marzalik By Peter J. Marzalik
MOSCOW, Jul 16 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Amid deteriorating relations with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to diversify a Russian economy that is tightly linked to European markets. Fittingly, an old Soviet-era satellite state seems eager to lend a helping hand.

Emilio Lozada, Cuba’s ambassador to Russia, led a trade delegation in June to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, a resource-rich republic located 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River. Garcia met with Tatarstan’s chief executive, Rustam Minnikhanov, to discuss Cuba’s efforts to emulate the “Tatarstan model,” which has seen the autonomous republic emerge as one of Russia’s most prosperous regions during the post-Soviet era.The diversification push stands to make Russia less vulnerable to economic pressure, especially sanctions exerted by the United States and European Union in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Lozada explained that Cuban officials, in studying Tatarstan’s economic experiences over the past few decades, seek to “find many useful things for ourselves,” the Tatar-Inform news agency reported.

Cuba by no means represents an alternative to Europe, but the Kremlin is still very interested in encouraging Cuban trade. In late May, prior to the Cuban delegation’s trip to Tatarstan, two major Russian energy companies, Rosneft and Zarubezhnetf, signed joint exploration agreements with the Cuban energy concern, Cupet.

Underscored by its recent gas deal with China, Russia is intent on reorienting trade away from Europe. Toward this end, the Kremlin hopes an expansion of commerce with Cuba could act like a wedge, opening broader ties with Latin American states.

The diversification push stands to make Russia less vulnerable to economic pressure, especially sanctions exerted by the United States and European Union in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Annual trade turnover between Russia and Latin America stood at 16.2 billion dollars in 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data.

The Kremlin’s revived interest in Latin America was also evident in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent tour of the region. Lavrov sought to bolster relations with old allies, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as woo traditionally anti-Communist states, especially Chile and Peru.

During their Kazan meeting, Lozada and Minnikhanov discussed ways Tatar businesses in the oil, pharmaceutical, and tourism sectors could help bolster economic development in Cuba.

“I think that this is a very useful undertaking. These contacts were started [back in the Soviet era], and now they need to be restored, to work actively with Cuba; through it they can access all of Latin America,” Shamil Ageev, the chairman of Tatarstan’s Chamber of Commerce, asserted.

While many Russian regions are struggling, Tatarstan has comparatively thrived over the past two decades. The republic produces 32 million tons of oil per year and possesses reserves estimated at more than one billion tonnes. In addition, Tatarstan hosts the Kamaz truck factory, the Kazan helicopter plant, and Tupolev aviation production facilities.

Cuba’s ties to Tatarstan date back to the early 1990s, a time known among Cubans as the special period, when the island’s economy imploded due to the Soviet Union’s collapse and cut-off of aid from Moscow.

“We will never forget that late in the 90s, when our country experienced serious difficulties, Tatarstan opened an economic representation in Cuba,” Ambassador Lozada said in Kazan.

“Cooperation between Russia and Cuba are getting stronger and diverse ties between Tatarstan and Cuba develop within its framework. We are your friends and Tatarstan is open for you,” Mintimer Shaimiev, the former long-time Tatar president who now serves as a senior advisor to the autonomous republic’s government, was quoted as telling the visiting Cuban delegation.

Editor’s note:  Peter J. Marzalik is an independent analyst of Islamic affairs in the Russian Federation. This story originally appeared on

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North’s Policies Affecting South’s Economies Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:40:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre in Geneva, argues that in recent years developing countries have lost steam as recovery in advanced economies has remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space, and he recommends measures to reduce the external financial vulnerability of the South.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

Since the onset of the crisis, the South Centre has argued that policy responses to the crisis by the European Union and the United States has suffered from serious shortcomings that would delay recovery and entail unnecessary losses of income and jobs, and also endanger future growth and stability. 

Despite cautious optimism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world economy is not in good shape. Six years into the crisis, the United States has not fully recovered, the Euro zone has barely started recovering, and developing countries are losing steam. There is fear that the crisis is moving to developing countries.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

There is concern in regard to the longer-term prospects for three main reasons.

First, the crisis and policy response aggravated systemic problems, whereby inequality has widened. Inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also presents a macroeconomic problem. Inequality is holding back growth and creating temptation to rely on financial bubbles once again in order to generate spending.

Second, global trade imbalances have been redistributed at the expense of developing countries, whereby the Euro zone especially Germany has become a deadweight on global expansion.

Third, systemic financial instability remains unaddressed, despite the initial enthusiasm in terms of reform of governance of international finance, and in addition new fragilities have been added due to the ultra-easy monetary policy.“The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries” – Yilmaz Akyuz

The policy response to the crisis has been an inconsistent policy mix, including fiscal austerity and an ultra-easy monetary policy. While the crisis was created by finance, the solution was still sought through finance. Countries focused on a search for a finance-driven boom in private spending via asset price bubbles and credit expansion. Fiscal policy has been invariably tight.

The ultra-easy monetary policy created over one trillion dollars in fiscal benefits in the United States – which was more than the initial fiscal stimulus; the entire initial fiscal stimulus was limited to 800 billion dollars.

There was reluctance to remove debt overhang through comprehensive restructuring (i.e. for mortgages in the United States and sovereign and bank debt in the European Union). Thus, the focus was on bailing out creditors.

There was also reluctance to remove mortgage overhang and no attempt to tax the rich and support the poor, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States – where marginal tax rates are low compared with continental Europe. There has been resistance against permanent monetisation of public deficits and debt, which does not pose more dangers for prices and financial stability than the ultra-easy monetary policy.

The situation in the United States has been better than in other advanced economies. The United States dealt with the financial but not with the economic crisis, whereby recovery has been slow due to fiscal drag and debt overhang. And employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels before 2018.

As for the Euro zone, Japan and the United Kingdom, all have had second or third dips since 2008. None of them have restored pre-crisis incomes and jobs.

Meanwhile, trade imbalances have not been removed, but redistributed. East Asian surplus has dropped sharply and Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have moved to large deficits. Developing countries’ surplus has fallen from 720 billion dollars to 260 billion dollars. On the contrary, advanced economies have moved from deficit to surplus, whereby U.S. deficits have fallen and the Euro zone has moved from a 100 billion dollars deficit to a 300 billion dollars surplus.

As tapering comes to an end and the U.S. Federal Reserve stops buying further assets, the attention will be turned to the question of exit, normalisation and the expectations of increased instability of financial markets for both the United States and the emerging economies.

This exit will also create fiscal problems for the United States because, as bonds held by the Federal Reserve mature and quantitative easing ends, long-term interest rates will rise and the fiscal benefits of the ultra-easy monetary policy would be reversed.

Developing countries lost steam as recovery in advanced economies remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space. China could not keep on investing and doing the same thing. Another factor contributing to the change of context in developing countries has been the weakened capital inflows that became highly unstable with the deepening of the Euro zone crisis and then Federal Reserve tapering. Several emerging economies have been under stress as markets are pricing-in normalisation of monetary policy even before it has started.

The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries. These include opening up securities markets, private borrowing abroad, resident outflows, and opening up to foreign banks. While developing countries did not manage capital flows adequately, the IMF did not provide support in this area, tolerating capital controls only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Several deficit developing countries with asset, credit and spending bubbles are particularly vulnerable.  Countries with strong foreign reserves and current account positions would not be insulated from shocks, as seen after the Lehman crisis. When a country is integrated in the international financial system, it will feel the shock one way or another, although those countries with deficits remain more vulnerable.

In regard to policy responses in the case of a renewed turmoil, it is convenient to avoid business-as-usual, including using reserves and borrowing from the IMF or advanced economies to finance large outflows. The IMF lends, not to revive the economy but to keep stable the debt levels and avoid default. It is also inconvenient to adjust through retrenching and austerity.

Ways should be found to bail-in foreign investors and lenders, and use exchange controls and temporary debt standstills. In this sense, the IMF should support such approaches through lending into arrears.

More importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is responsible for the emergence of this situation and should take on its responsibility and act as a lender of last resort to emerging economies, through swaps or buying bonds as and when needed. These are not necessarily more toxic than the bonds issued at the time of subprime crisis. The United States has much at stake in the stability of emerging economies. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)


*   A longer version of this column has been published in the South Centre Bulletin (No. 80, 30 June 2014).

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Uzbek Minorities Taking Advantage of New Russian Citizenship Rules Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:26:08 +0000 Murat Sadykov A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

By Murat Sadykov
TASHKENT, Jul 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration.

Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

Following Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered citizenship basically to anyone hailing from the former Soviet Union, so long as they speak fluent Russian and renounce their current citizenship.

For migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Russian citizenship offers a solution to the status quo. Uzbekistan sends millions of migrants to Russia annually, who often work with semi-legal status.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, there were 2.3 million Uzbek migrants in Russia as of March. (The real number is thought to be higher). A Russian passport can ease problems with police and employers.

Tashkent does not offer legal or other support to its citizens working in Russia. And though migrants’ remittances make up a sizable portion of the Uzbek economy – at least 16 percent according to Russian Central Bank data – Uzbek officials actively denigrate them.

Last year President Islam Karimov branded migrant workers “lazy” people who “disgrace” all Uzbeks. In May, Uzbekistan-based websites cited Uzbek consulates abroad as stating citizens permanently residing in foreign countries without consular registration could have their citizenship revoked.

The fact that Russia retains a generally positive image among Uzbek citizens is helping to spur interest in the citizenship programme. Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

A visit to the Russian consulate off Nukus Street in Tashkent one scorching afternoon recently vividly demonstrated just who is interested in Russian citizenship. Apart from a few Russian citizens trying to resolve consular issues, most people queuing in an alley outside the consular section were Uzbek citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, or stateless persons, many of them of Uzbek ethnicity.

“I want to get Russian citizenship to make it easier to work in Russia and live in Uzbekistan,” an ethnic Uzbek who moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region in the early 2000s told

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan, he’s been living as a stateless person, making it difficult even to leave Uzbekistan, let alone obtain a Russian visa. (Russian visas are required for stateless persons, but not Uzbek citizens).

Indeed, many people in line were stateless people from other former Soviet republics who have been trying for years, and failing, to obtain Uzbek citizenship. Uzbekistan does not publish data on how many people it grants citizenship each year, but the number is thought to be in the single digits.

An ethnic Korean woman said she and her Tajik partner, who holds an Uzbek stateless person’s document, were queuing to obtain Russian citizenship to make it “easy” for him to live with her in Kazakhstan. She moved to Kazakhstan last year and intends to obtain a residence permit there. Living in Kazakhstan as a Russian citizen, in her opinion, is the best option for her partner.

Uzbekistan does not publish reliable figures on the country’s ethnic breakdown and has not conducted a census since 1989. According to figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002, Uzbekistan was home to about two million members of ethnic minority groups in 2000, including 1.2 million ethnic Russians and sizeable numbers of Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Tatars and others.

Many minorities are primarily Russian-speakers, and, thus, are prime candidates to apply for Russian citizenship.

One requirement that should be simple for many Uzbeks to prove – fluency in the Russian language – is difficult to demonstrate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not have an authorized center for language testing, thereby requiring Uzbek residents to travel to neighbouring countries in order to take the 3.5-hour-long language exam.

In the line outside the Russian Embassy, an ethnic Armenian who is an Uzbek citizen and received an engineering degree in Russia four years ago said he hopes to use his diploma to obtain Russian citizenship and eventually find a job in Russia.

The Kremlin may have devised the new scheme to help boost its population after a state program on voluntary settlement of ethnic Russians abroad failed to attract immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That programme has managed to attract fewer than 150,000 people since its inception in 2007, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, despite state support offered to qualified migrants. The Russian government had hoped for 700,000 by 2012, according to the Kommersant daily.

The new legislation may prove more successful in attracting skilled immigrants, as the queues outside the Russian Embassy seem to testify: In June the Embassy was accepting appointments for no earlier than October.

Editor’s note:  Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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Europe and the United States, Allies in Crisis Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:25:23 +0000 Joaquin Roy

In this column, Professor Joaquín Roy, Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that although the United States and Europe are in crisis, they are still a magnet for the rest of the world, as shown by the ceaseless waves of migrants they attract.

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

A few decades ago, even before the end of the Cold War and before and after Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House, analyses regularly referred to U.S. decadence. At other times, it was Europe’s turn for pessimistic descriptions, especially when it could not overcome its ambivalence over deepening integration, and above all because of the failure of its constitutional project. 

The West was in crisis. And now the pair are apparently going through a similar phase, with each one trying to outdo the other in inferiority.

The United States seems to be in the doldrums because of the apparently erratic foreign policy of President Barack Obama, who does not seem to be profiting from surmounting the legacy of George W. Bush’s actions in the Middle East.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

Obama’s agenda based on “leading from behind” is creating serious problems that would damage his re-election chances if he were eligible (which he is not).

Hillary Clinton may inherit this liability if she finally decides to run for the presidency. What is certain is that indecision in Syria, the disaster of Iraq’s disintegration and the still unsolved challenge of Russia in Ukraine, create a picture of the United States in international decline.“Both partners [Europe and the United States] are still the natural allies that could lead the world out of the crisis. And the future of both is welded to their role as immigration destinations” – Joaquín Roy

The European Union, for its part, does not offer a more hopeful scenario, and only if it is able to strengthen its institutions following the European Parliament elections in May will it be able to overcome the generalised forecast of a problematic future.

Gripped by the rise of populism and neo-nationalism and with its economy weighed down by inequality and lack of sustained growth, the European Union is a long way from offering alternative leadership and hope for the rest of the planet, and appropriately partnering the United States to beat the global crisis.

Yet curiously, this odd couple, which can be subsumed in what is generously called the West, can pride itself on an immense capital that is a basis not only for survival, but of sustained leadership for the rest of the world.

In both cases, a systematic humanitarian tragedy reveals their mutual strength and guarantees their future survival. Dramatic, repeated migration processes produce huge human capital flows to both Europe and the United States compared with other regions.

On the one hand, thousands of Latin American teenagers are invading the United States in search of a much better future than they are leaving behind in Central America, racked by crime, poverty and inequality.

On the other hand, the shores of Italy are being bombarded by desperate migrants cast up by traffickers, resulting in shipwrecks and deaths by suffocation. Elsewhere, attempts to take the Spanish border by storm in the enclaves in Morocco have ceased to call attention as newsworthy.

What do these apparently dissimilar scenarios reveal?

Quite simply, that the strength of these partners in crisis is based on their relatively powerful magnetism for migrants.

For all the present difficulties suffered by many European countries, the prospect of life in Europe is comparatively far better than in Africa or Asia, and even Latin America, in spite of the fact that many immigrants are returning to their countries of origin.

The future and the present of the United States – as it always was in the past – remains linked to the immigration pool. Hence, U.S. sectors that oppose migration reform are not only destined to fail, they are also currently rendering poor service to their country.

Both regions, now engaged in exploring a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, are destined to surpass other world regions in terms of standard of living and future expectations.

Both partners are still the natural allies that could lead the world out of the crisis. And the future of both is welded to their role as immigration destinations.

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Outdated Approaches Fuelling TB in Russia, Say NGOs Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:24:16 +0000 Pavol Stracansky By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

When Veronika Sintsova was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2009, she spent six months in hospital before being discharged and allowed to continue treatment as an outpatient.

Today clear of the disease, the 35-year-old former drug user from Kaliningrad says the fact that she beat tuberculosis (TB) is not because of, but rather in spite of, the way many people with tuberculosis are treated in Russia.

“I think it would be fair to say that Russian authorities don’t take the problem of tuberculosis seriously,” she told IPS.

Tuberculosis is a major health threat in Russia, where it is the leading infectious disease killer.The country has the highest rates of multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extremely drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis in Europe and the third highest in the world. And those rates are climbing.Tuberculosis exploded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union as health care infrastructure crumbled, the country was thrown into economic crisis and crime and poverty soared, leading to overcrowded penal institutions.

It also has the 11th highest burden of all TB in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which just last week said that parts of the country were “disaster areas” for the disease.

Tuberculosis exploded in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union as health care infrastructure crumbled, the country was thrown into economic crisis and crime and poverty soared, leading to overcrowded penal institutions.

But, say NGOs in Russia and international groups working to combat the disease, the continued use of outdated and inefficient approaches to the disease are still fuelling its spread.

Long stays in health facilities filled with people with TB were a cornerstone of the Soviet health care system’s approach to the disease, and have remained, even though they were abandoned years ago in the West because they were seen as contributing to the spread of the disease.

But it is not just in health care facilities where people with TB are being failed. The disease is rife in Russian jails. Overcrowding, poor conditions and bad nutrition all contribute to high infection rates with one in seven prisoners having active TB, according to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service.

The way prisoners with TB are treated typifies the general approach to the disease by authorities. Sintsova said that although she was treated well by doctors, it was during a sixth month spell in prison for a drug offence that she had what she says was “the worst experience” of all the time she had the disease because fellow inmates and wardens took no pity on her when she left her cell.

“They would shout out ‘tuberculosis sufferer on a walk’ as I went along. That really hurt me. It was probably the worst thing I experienced in all the time I had tuberculosis,” she told IPS.

And this abuse is typical, she said, of the way many people with the disease are viewed in Russia. TB is common among those at the margins of society – drug users, alcoholics, people with HIV and those in dire poverty. “In our society, a drug user is not a person and their death from tuberculosis is seen as something they deserve,” Sintsova, who herself has HIV, told IPS.

Third sector groups working with TB sufferers say approaches towards such people need to be changed. Anya Sarang, president of the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, has previously told local media that the “unjustified imprisonment of Russian people, especially drug users, leads to prison overcrowding” which in turn fuels continued TB infection.

Others point to the need to provide integrated care for people with co-infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. Oksana Ponomarenko, Russia country director for the U.S. organisation Partners in Health (PIH) which works with TB patients in Russia, said on the group’s website: “The biggest problem lies in the fact that each health system in Russia is vertical and operates separately –TB, drug addiction services, HIV care, psychiatric services, among other health programs.

“At federal level and in individual regions these programs are not connected. Often, clinicians in one programme will not have complete information on other nearby services and programmes.”

PIH and other local organisations have started programmes to try and provide integrated treatment to people with TB in some cities, including a mobile clinic.

Some success has been reported in a scheme in the city of Tomsk where prisoners with TB are all housed in one facility. If released before their treatment has finished, they are placed straight into hospital to prevent infecting others when they return to wider society.

PIH says that its methods have been adopted as official state policy on TB and legislation was recently brought in to emphasise the importance of ambulatory, rather than institutional, care in TB treatment. The government has also increased spending on TB in recent years, modernised diagnostic equipment and overhauled research institutes specialising in TB.

But what worries many working with TB patients is the Kremlin’s approach to some of the biggest international funders of TB projects. It recently decided to reject money from the Global Fund for Aids/TB and Malaria, justifying the move by saying that Russia is now a donor to the Global Fund and that it would be wrong for it to continue to take money from it.

Some see the move as entirely political and part of attempts by the Kremlin to crack down on foreign NGOs operating in Russia. Another major funder of groups working on TB programmes, USAID, was expelled from the country in 2012 and forced to stop operating, on the grounds that it was interfering in Russian politics.

Some projects, including a few run by PIH, have already been affected.

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Greek Privatisation of Key Sectors Meets Strong Opposition Wed, 09 Jul 2014 06:29:13 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis PPC power station in Ptolemaida. northern Greece. Credit: Nikos Pilos

PPC power station in Ptolemaida. northern Greece. Credit: Nikos Pilos

By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Plans by the Greek government to sell companies that handle the key resources of energy and water face serious obstacles and its policy to offer investors exceptional privileges in an effort to boost interest in privatisation is coming under strong pressure.

Privatisation is one of the ‘prerequisites’ of the Troika – the tripartite committee led by the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in exchange for additional bailout money that Greece is seeking to continue to avoid insolvency.

The Greek government recently announced plans to sell a 30 percent share of its Public Power Corporation (PPC), and create a new ‘Small PPC’, which will be sold to private investors.

The new company will take with it some key production sites, lignite mines, and hydroelectric and natural gas units. In addition, about two million customers will be transferred from the original company and will be obliged to receive services from the new company for six months.Tax exemption seem to be a vehicle the Greek government favours using in its effort to attract investors to the country.

The lucrative terms and assets accompanying the new company, described in the legislation that creates it, are already attracting many local investors as well as major foreign energy companies like Germany’s RWE as well as the French EDL and the Italian ENEL.

The plan has caused strong reactions in north-western Greek cities where communities depend heavily on employment created by PPC mines and electricity production plants. PPC unions decided to take strike action to protest the privatisation plans, but these were declared illegal. The Greek opposition has called for a referendum on the issue but it appears unable to gather the 120 signatures of members of parliament necessary for it to go through parliament.

Kriton Arsenis, an independent Member of the European Parliament, has asked the European Commission whether obliging customers to receive services from the company constitutes an illegal state subsidy. In response, European Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger said that the Commission “does not have adequate information to deliberate on whether this constitutes illegal state subsidy”.

At the end of March, Arsenis submitted a similar question concerning the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), which has been set up to manage Greek privatisations, and met with a similarly evasive answer.

The HRADF has announced the sale of 100 percent of Hellinikon SA – which administers 6,200 acres of land occupied by the former Athens Airport of Hellinikon – to Lamda Development.

Arsenis pointed that Article 42 of Law 3943/2011 establishing Hellinikon SA states that the company “shall be exempt from any tax, duty or fee, including income tax, in respect of any form of income derived from its business, of transfer tax for any reason, and capital accumulation tax” and again asked the Commission whether this unjustifiable tax exemption constituted state subsidy.

European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia replied that “Greece has not notified the Commission about the alleged tax exemption measure”, thus the Commission does not have sufficient information to assess whether it constitutes state aid and will ask Greece to provide clarifications on the issue.

Tax exemption seem to be a vehicle the Greek government favours using in its effort to attract investors to the country. Last week, Greek Energy Minister Ioannis Maniatis said that oil and gas explorers would pay 25 percent tax, down from the current 40 percent, to attract them to help exploit Greece’s untapped offshore hydrocarbon resources. “We have done this in order to incentivise our investors to invest in the future of Greece” he told a conference in London.

Plans to privatise water utilities stalled last month after the Supreme Court considered privatisation of the Athens Water Supply and Sewerage Company (EYDAP) unconstitutional. Following this decision, the transfer of a 34.03 percent share of the company’s stock holding to HRADF has been cancelled and the privatisation authority has publicly admitted that it is reconsidering the tender despite still holding 27.3 percent of the company.

This has effectively cast doubts on the privatisation process for EYATH, the water and sewage company of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. HRADF President Konstantinos Maniatopoulos was quoted saying in Greek media that “it will be difficult to continue the process for EYATH without taking into account the decision for EYDAP.”

The Suez/Ellaktor and Merokot/G. Apostolopoulos/Miya/Terna Energy consortia had been in the process of submitting binding offers by June 30. It appears now that HRADF will return about 50 percent of the 74 percent of its share in EYATH back to the state.

Two weeks ago, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights produced a focus report about the protection of access to water. Kwstis Papaioanou, President of the Commission told IPS: “International experience has proven that privatisation curtails the access of people to safe water. It is very encouraging though that the water has united citizens against its privatisation.”

Privatisation of water has indeed provoked strong public reactions. In an informal referendum in Thessaloniki in which over 200,000 people took part, 98 percent voted against privatisation.

“The court’s deliberation against privatisation of water companies is very clear but I would not be surprised if the government finds a way to circumvent it. There are plenty of other examples in which they have not implemented court decisions,” Arsenis, told IPS.

“Those interested in Greek public assets do not think like real investors. They take an interest only in privileged deals when profits are guaranteed and when most of investment risk is undertaken by the state in advance so that they have secured income that will cover their expenses in two or three years’ time.”

A first privatisation target of 50 billion euros in revenue by 2020 has been cut by more than half, with the country’s lenders now forecasting 22.3 billion. So far, only 3 billion has been collected.  The 2014 and 2015 targets for revenue from privatisations were set at 1.5 billion euros and 2.24 billion euros respectively but these are now very unlikely to be achieved.

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Conservatives and Nationalists At Centre Stage in Poland Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:45:29 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu Polish conservatives protesting against a reading of Golgota Picnic in Warsaw. Credit: Maciej Konieczny/Courtesy of Krytyka Polityczna

Polish conservatives protesting against a reading of Golgota Picnic in Warsaw. Credit: Maciej Konieczny/Courtesy of Krytyka Polityczna

By Claudia Ciobanu
WAESAW, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

A mix of conservative Catholicism and nationalism has become the predominant view in Polish public debate, with some worrying effects.

These were the values around which the opposition to communism led by trade union Solidarity built itself up in the 1980s but, after the fall of communism, opinion makers in the media and politicians continued to depict them as part and parcel of being Polish.

Observers note that the Polish Catholic Church has also grown increasingly conservative since 1989, in apparent contrast to an opening up of the Church worldwide.Conservative Catholicism and nationalism were the values around which the opposition to communism led by trade union Solidarity built itself up in the 1980s but, after the fall of communism, opinion makers in the media and politicians continued to depict them as part and parcel of being Polish.

Last month, the director of a theatre festival in the city of Poznan decided to cancel showings of a play fearing he could not ensure the safety of viewers in the face of threats by conservative and far-right groups. The play – “Golgota Picnic” by Argentinian director Rodrigo Garcia – describes the life of Jesus using striking depictions of contemporary society, including some with a sexual meaning.

Among those asking for play to be cancelled were representatives of Poland’s main opposition party, Law and Justice, the main trade union Solidarity, and the far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), all of which stand for traditional Catholic values. The Church also voiced its opposition to the play.

In itself, protesting against the play was unremarkable (it has also been met with opposition from Catholics in other countries, for example in France), but the Polish response was interesting: even if the festival was largely financed from public sources, the show was cancelled and there was hardly any resistance from public authorities to the decision. The public, however, made itself heard and readings of the play were organised in major Polish cities, with hundreds attending.

Meanwhile, the dynamics surrounding “Golgota Picnic” are being replicated over other issues in Polish society, among which the most striking is women’s reproductive rights. Poland is one of only three countries in the European Union where abortion is prohibited, unless the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, there is a serious threat to the mother’s health or foetal malformation has been detected.

Abortion had been legal in communist Poland but was outlawed in 1993 after pressure from the Catholic Church. Ever since, attempts to make abortion legal have failed. In 2011, the Polish parliament came close to further tightening the law on abortion by prohibiting it no matter the circumstances.

At the time, it was not only the political forces explicitly standing for Catholic values that endorsed a total ban, but also many members of the governing centre-right Civic Platform, which depicts itself as Poland’s main liberal political force.

De facto, even the current restrictive law is not being implemented. In a series of high profile cases over the years, Catholic doctors in public hospitals have refused to perform abortions even if girls were pregnant as a result of rape, had serious health conditions or malformation had been detected in foetuses.

In May, in an escalation of the situation, over 3,000 Polish doctors, nurses and medical students signed a “Declaration of Faith” in which they rejected abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilisation and euthanasia as contrary to the Catholic faith. Signatories included employees of public clinics and hospitals. One of them was the director of a Warsaw maternity hospital who said he would not allow such procedures to take place in his institution.

The “Declaration of Faith”, which has been endorsed by the Polish Catholic Church, is contrary to Polish law and Prime Minister Donald Tusk has spoken out against it.

State authorities have been carrying out check-ups at those institutions in which signatories of the Declaration work to establish whether the law is being respected, and one fine has been imposed on the Warsaw maternity hospital whose director prohibits legal abortions. Yet more determined measures are still pending.

“Lack of massive resistance [to the Declaration] is not a sign of approval on the part of the general public,” comments Agnieszka Graff, writer and feminist activist. “It is rather a question of resignation: for 20 years we have seen politicians court the Church while ignoring public opinion on matters that have to do with reproductive rights. The pattern of submission has emboldened the radical anti-choice groups.”

Political power in Poland is firmly in the hands of conservatives. Law and Justice, the party with the best chance of winning next year’s parliamentary elections, is staunchly pro-Catholic and nationalist, and has in the past allied in government with far-right politicians. The governing Civic Platform, the choice of many liberals in this country, is bitterly divided between social conservatives and liberals, meaning it cannot enforce the constitutional secularity of the Polish state.

As Graff explains, in this political context, those who oppose the Catholicism-nationalism nexus find it difficult to coalesce into a strong movement. And ultra-conservatives continue to advance.

Far-right elements breeds in this environment and, in an ethnically and racially homogeneous country, their main targets are feminists, the LGBTQ community and leftists (the same groups that the Church condemns). Their strength is most visible in Poland during the annual Independence March on November 11, when tens of thousands of far-right youth take to the streets of Warsaw and other cities wreaking havoc.

According to June polls, the third strongest political force in Poland is the New Right Congress, which has a neo-liberal far-right agenda. The party, whose leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke has declared that women have lower IQs than men and that they enjoy being raped, gathered 7.5 percent of the vote in the May elections for the European Parliament.

“There is no clear demarcation between the Polish extreme right, the populist right and the mainstream right,” notes political scientist Rafal Pankovski of anti-racist group Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again). “The notion of a cordon sanitaire against the far-right does not seem to have been accepted in Polish politics and the media.”

Over recent years, civic mobilisation by progressive forces has nevertheless grown, and political parties with a strong liberal, secular and anti-nationalist message have been forming, but they still lack consolidation. Faced with the constant accusation of being “communists”, leftist forces that might counterbalance the conservative, nationalist and far-right trend are slow to grow in Poland.

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Balkans Still Overshadowed by World War I Thu, 03 Jul 2014 21:35:48 +0000 Vesna Peric Zimonjic By Vesna Peric Zimonjic
BELGRADE, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

The 100-year anniversary of World War I (1914-18) may have come and gone, but the role of Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip – the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – remains controversial in the turbulent history of the Balkans. For some he was a terrorist, for others a hero.

The Bosnian capital of Sarajevo marked the 100 years since assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie over the weekend in series of ceremonies dedicated to the event that triggered the 1914-18 war, and numerous messages of peace were delivered with calls that history should not be repeated and that violence should be excluded from the modern world.

But if many are looking to the future, historians agree that the tragic event of June 28, 1914, still haunts the region, after Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats were plunged into an atrocious inter-ethnic war more than seven decades later.Historians agree that the tragic event of June 28, 1914, still haunts the region, after Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats were plunged into an atrocious inter-ethnic war more than seven decades later

“Unfortunately, it is possible to link World War I and its influence to recent events in the Balkans,” historian Danilo Sarenac of the Belgrade Institute for Modern History told IPS in an interview.

“World War I led to the creation of Yugoslavia, which disintegrated in the 1990s; there is a predominant idea among its former republics that this state was a sort of illusion, a mistake, a kind of ‘dungeon of nations’, and that it had to disappear,” he said.

When Yugoslavia fell apart, six new states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia – were created. Ethnic Albanian-populated Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, but has not yet been widely recognised as a state.

Socialist Yugoslavia itself was an heir to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, created at the end of WW I. Its biggest portion, Serbia, an ally of Great Britain and France, was rewarded for participation in victory over the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany by obtaining South Slav-populated areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia.

The assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was Gavrilo Princip, a 20-year-old Bosnian Serb and member of Young Bosnia, a revolutionary movement seeking the unification of all South Slav nations. He claimed to be “a Yugoslav (South Slav) nationalist” at his trial in 1914. At the time, Bosnia was part of the Austro-Hungary Empire that disintegrated in WW I.

According to Sarenac, “Princip’s action is being interpreted differently, depending on periods we observe in consecutive Yugoslavias.”

“When needed, Princip is a hero who helped create Yugoslavia; but, as newly carved out states (former Yugoslav republics) renounce Yugoslavia, they describe him as a ‘cruel Serb nationalist’. Divisions along such lines were visible in World War II, and came full circle in the 1990s. They were used or abused by everyone at will,” he added.

Princip is blamed by many outside Serbia as the man who triggered World War I, but historians say the world was practically ready for a major war due to many complicated circumstances.

“Princip’s act was just an ingredient that was needed to ignite it,” says Sarenac.

History books say that the Austro-Hungarian Empire blamed Bosnia’s neighbour Serbia for masterminding the assassination of the Archduke; Germany backed the Empire in declaring war against Serbia on June 28, and in a matter of days Russia, Great Britain, France and many other nations were drawn into an unprecedented conflict that took 16 million lives and left 20 million wounded.

For university history professor Predrag Markovic, there is a paradox among the states created by the disintegration of former Yugoslavia.

“They deny that Yugoslavia was created as a deliberate project after World War I, that it was a secular state, designed to bridge religious and regional differences between its new member nations,” Markovic told IPS.

“At the time, Yugoslavia was created much like the European Union today, as a union of entities that share same values. It is absurd that newly created states (since 1991) deny its progressive essence, because many of them – like Macedonia or Slovenia – would not exist had there not been the Yugoslavia after the WW I and Serbia’s victory in it,” he added.

“Their people would cease to exist or would be blended into the ethnicity of the country they’d gone to; Croatia would have been split by Italy, Hungary and Austria,” according to Markovic.

However, he points out, Yugoslavia was a “noble idea”, but with inadequate solutions and deficiencies.

“It inherited all the problems of the empires it helped bring down – Austro-Hungary and the Ottoman (Turkish) state: large numbers of minorities, and an inability to efficiently steer and govern”, he says.

The inter-ethnic problems continued until the Communists took over after World War II, but the two pillars of their regime – late leader Josip Broz Tito and socialist ideology with a human face – helped Yugoslavia to survive.

Markovic says that when these two pillars collapsed, with death of Tito in 1980 and the end of cold war in the 1980s, nationalisms revived and took over in Yugoslavia, setting the scene for the disintegration that began with secession of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991. Bosnia followed in 1992. The secession was opposed by the largest republic of Serbia which was engaged in bloody wars that took more than 100,000 non-Serb lives.

“The experience of Yugoslavia is very ominous for the European Union, bearing in mind the differences that are arising now between the member states,” Markovic argues.

“The circumstances of 1991 were poorly understood by many, the European Union in particular,” The independence of the newly-created states “was hastily acknowledged without any exit strategy or awareness on the consequences, on the next steps; it is much like the rush into the war in 1914, or recently in Iraq,” he added.

In a recent essay on ‘Shots fired by Gavrilo Princip’, Bosnian historian Slobodan Soja summed up the political abuse of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by saying that there is a paradox in recent efforts to establish “whether Princip was a terrorist or not.”

According to Soja, a university professor and former Bosnian ambassador to several countries, “the noble idea of liberation of oppressed and unity among Slav nations is giving way to manipulation” in the deeply divided Bosnian society, where its Muslims, Serbs and Croats are still not mentally at peace.

“Had they known what kind of people would live 100 years on, I doubt that the members of the Young Bosnia movement would give their lives for the generations to come,” Soja wrote.

“The majority of people living today in Bosnia are simply not up to the task of criticising or praising the Young Bosnians. Those were the idealists whose ideas we badly need today,” he added.

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Africa Under “Unprecedented” Pressure from Rich Countries Over Trade Wed, 02 Jul 2014 18:14:13 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

African countries are coming under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union to reverse the decision adopted by their trade ministers to implement the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement on a “provisional” basis.

At last week’s summit of African Union leaders in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, “there was unprecedented [U.S. and European Union] pressure and bulldozing to change the decision reached by the African trade ministers on April 27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to implement the trade facilitation (TF) agreement on a provisional basis under paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration,” Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu, director for economics and external trade in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, told IPS.

“This pressure comes only when the issues and interests of rich countries are involved but not when the concerns of the poorest countries are to be addressed,” Ambassador Ndirangu said.“This pressure [on African countries] comes only when the issues and interests of rich countries are involved but not when the concerns of the poorest countries are to be addressed … Clearly, there are double-standards” – Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu, director for economics and external trade in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry

“Clearly, there are double-standards,” the senior Kenyan trade official added, lamenting the pressure and arm-twisting that was applied on African countries for definitive implementation of the agreement.

The TF agreement was concluded at the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, last year.  It was taken out of the Doha Development Agenda as a low-hanging fruit ready for consummation.  More importantly, the agreement was a payment to the United States and the European Union to return to the Doha negotiating table.

The ambitious TF agreement is aimed at harmonising customs rules and regulations as followed in the industrialised countries. It ensures unimpeded market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Nokia, Hyundai, Toyota and Lenovo in developing and poor countries.

Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has suggested that the TF agreement would reduce tariffs by 10 percent in the poorest countries.

In return for the agreement, developing and least-developed countries were promised several best endeavour outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development. They include general services (such as land rehabilitation, soil conservation and resource management, drought management and flood control), public stockholding for food security, an understanding on tariff rate quota administration, export subsidies, and phasing out of trade-distorting cotton subsidies (provided largely by the United States) in agriculture.

The non-binding developmental outcomes include preferential rules of origin for the export of industrial goods by the poorest countries, a special waiver to help services suppliers in the poorest countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least developed countries (LDCs), and a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

African countries were unhappy with the Bali package because they said it lacked balance and was tilted heavily in favour of the TF agreement forced by the industrialised countries on the poor nations.

The Bali outcomes, said African Union Trade Commissioner Fatima Acyl, “were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests … We have to reflect and learn from the lessons of Bali on how we can ensure that our interests and priorities are adequately addressed in the post-Bali negotiations.”

The African ministers in Malabo directed their negotiators to propose language on the Protocol of Amendment – the legal instrument that will bring the TF agreement into force at the WTO – that the TF agreement will be provisionally implemented and in completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiation.

African countries justify their proposal on the basis of paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration which enables WTO members to implement agreement either on a provisional or definitive basis.

The African position on the TF agreement was not acceptable to the rich countries. In a furious response, the industrialised countries adopted a belligerent approach involving threats to terminate preferential access. The United States, for example, threatened African countries that it would terminate the preferential access provided under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) programme if they did not reverse their decision on the TF, said a senior African trade official from Southern Africa.

The WTO has also joined the wave of protests launched by the industrialised countries against the African decision for deciding to implement the TF on a provisional basis. “I am aware that there are concerns about actions on the part of some delegations [African countries] which could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said, at a meeting of the informal trade negotiations committee on June 25.

The African decision, according to Azevedo, “would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement – including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions – every single one of them – would be compromised,” he said.

The United States agreed with Azevedo’s assessment of the potential danger of unravelling the TF agreement, and the European Union’s trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, said that “the credibility of the negotiating function of this organisation is once again at stake” because of the African decision.

The United States and the European Union stepped up their pressure by sending security officials to Malabo to oversee the debate, said another African official.  He called it an “unprecedented power game rarely witnessed at an African heads of nations meeting.”

In the face of the strong-arm tactics, several African countries such as Nigeria and Mauritius refused to join the ministerial consensus to implement the TF agreement on a provisional basis.  Several other African countries subsequently retracted their support for the declaration agreed to in April.

In a nutshell, African Union leaders were forced to change their course by adopting a new decision which “reaffirms commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and to its rapid completion in accordance with its development objectives.”

The African Union “also reaffirms its commitment to all the decisions the Ministers took in Bali which are an important stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round …  To this end, leaders acknowledge that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is an integral part of the process.”

Regarding capacity-building assistance to developing countries to help them implement the binding TF commitments, African Union countries still want to see up-front delivery of assistance.  The new decision states that African Union leaders “reiterate in this regard that assistance and support for capacity-building should be provided as envisaged in the Trade Facilitation Agreement in a predictable manner so as to enable African economies to acquire the necessary capacity for the implementation of the agreement.”

The decision taken by the African leaders is clearly aimed at implementing the TF decision, but there is no clarity yet on how to implement the decision, said Ndirangu. “We never said we will not implement the TF agreement but we don’t know how to implement this agreement,” he added.

In an attempt to ensure that the rich countries do not walk away with their prized jewel in the Doha crown by not addressing the remaining developmental issues,  several countries – South Africa, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Solomon Islands and Zimbabwe – demanded Wednesday that there has to be a clear linkage between the implementation of the TF agreement and the rest of the Doha Development Agenda on the basis of the Single Undertaking, which stipulates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed!

More than 180 days after the Bali meeting, there is no measurable progress on the issues raised by the poor countries. But the TF agreement is on course for final implementation by the end of 2015.

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Whither Costa Concordia, Amid Environmental Concerns Sat, 28 Jun 2014 17:18:18 +0000 Silvia Giannelli The Costa Concordia cruise ship. Credit: Courtesy of the Parbuckling Project

The Costa Concordia cruise ship. Credit: Courtesy of the Parbuckling Project

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Jun 28 2014 (IPS)

Two refloating sponsons is what separates the Costa Concordia cruise ship from leaving the shores of Giglio Island, Italy, where it has lain since its sinking that left 32 people dead on January 13, 2012.

The global parbuckling project is currently over 90 percent complete, and the ship is set to be removed before the end of the Italian summer – but where it will then be towed is still an open question.

“The operations are going well,” Franco Porcellacchia, the engineer coordinating the removal project on behalf of the Costa Crociere company which owns the cruise ship, told IPS, “and, according to our forecasts, we will be able to refloat and remove the ship by July 20.”“Hundreds of people working daily and continuously have inevitably had an impact on the local marine environment, such as on posidonia [a species of seagrass]” – Marcello Mossa Verre of the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Tuscany

That still does not answer the question of where the wreck will end up. While, on one hand, the dismantling constitutes a major project and economic opportunity for the port that will be chosen, on the other, Costa Crociere’s so-called ‘club of insurers’, comprising the companies that will fund the operation, are obviously concerned about its costs.

And in the middle lie environmental concerns. “Despite all the rumours, at the moment there is no official decision, but only two ports [Piombino in Tuscany and Genoa in Liguria] fighting over the contract,” Alessandro Giannì, Greenpeace Italy Campaign Director told IPS. “There are also many unanswered questions they still need to address, both concerning the economic and the environmental aspects of the project.”

Earlier this week, the ‘Conferenza dei Servizi’ – the committee comprising representatives of all competent authorities evaluating the projects drawn up by Costa Crociere – failed to reach an agreement, because two of the 19 authorities involved in the decision (the Tuscany Region and the Province of Grosseto) voted against the Genoa option. The Italian Council of Ministers (Cabinet) is now expected take the final decision next week.

“We ran an international tender, as our insurers asked us to do,” said Porcellacchia, “and then we restricted the options, having the safety of the operations as our priority. We wanted to make sure that the ones who offered to do the job had the ability and the infrastructures to complete it, which is all but obvious. We eventually chose Genoa because it offered the best guarantees in this sense.”

In a press statement, the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Tuscany (ARPAT) said that it had voted in favour of the Genoa option given the fact that it was a “yes or no” question and no other option had been presented by Costa Crociere.

ARPAT did not agree on the methodology of the decisional process, because no other alternative had been taken into account in order to reduce environmental risks but, considering the urgency of the matter – the Costa Concordia must be removed before the end of the summer for meteorological reasons – it approved the choice of Genoa, provided that it was shown that the port of Piombino would not be ready to receive the wreck in time.

In other words, Genoa would be acceptable to ARPAT only if the Piombino option had to be rejected.

The route to Genoa from Giglio Island crosses the ‘Whale Sanctuary’, an international marine protected zone aimed at the safeguard of marine mammals. “We are witnessing a systematic underestimation of the environmental risks,” Greenpeace and WWF wrote in a joint press release.

“We are very concerned about the length of the towing and how they are planning to get accurate weather forecasts for that period,” Giannì stressed. “Guarantees on the structural resistance of the ship should also be given. We addressed all these questions to the Ministry for the Environment, but we never received an answer”.

For his part, Porcellacchia is confident about Costa Crociere’s choice:  “The ship will be able to travel at a speed of two knots, which allows it to reach Genoa port in four days. The trip could even be faster, but in order to avoid any risk, we are also considering the unlikely chance of finding bad weather, in which case we might need some more time. We truly the believe that our proposal will be approved, because it is solid and has no reason to be rejected,” he concluded.

The Observatory on the rescue of Costa Concordia, also taking part in the ‘Conferenza dei Servizi’, is a pool of specialists that work together to evaluate the different options and support the decision of Franco Gabrielli, who was appointed by the Italian Government as Commissioner for the Costa Concordia emergency.

Together with the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport, the Ministry of the Environment and the Coast Guards, ARPAT is on the board of the Observatory.

“It is not us, the public administration, that will decide eventually,” Marcello Mossa Verre from ARPAT explained to IPS. “Costa and its club of insurers, based on technical and economic factors, will take the final decision, but we are the ones verifying that the conditions to move forward are in place.”

ARPAT has been monitoring the situation of the marine ecosystem since the shipwreck, reporting overall no major damages due to the leaking of polluting substances from the Costa Concordia. “The real damage so far, and there is no need to monitor the area to see it, has been caused by the presence of the ship and the work site itself,” Mossa Verre explained.

“Hundreds of people working daily and continuously have inevitably had an impact on the local marine environment, such as on posidonia [a species of seagrass].”

While most of the liquid fuels were extracted right after the shipwreck through a hot-tapping system, there are still several tons of fuel oil, lube oil, cleaning products and chemical products used for the wellbeing of the guests. “Luckily, the containers have resisted so far,” Mossa Verre told IPS. “There are traces of contamination of the internal waters but the levels are lower than expected. Obviously, the longer they remain there, the higher is the risk of leaking.”

Porcellacchia confirmed the presence of possibly dangerous substances inside the ship, but also claimed that most of them have been removed already: “We individuated four critical areas, three of which have been ‘reclaimed’. And we are operating on the fourth one now, which is approximately where the pantries are located”.

Environmental organisations, including Greenpeace, are also concerned with the possibility that the towing of the ship will cause a ‘rinsing’ effect, in which clean water entering the wreck would be contaminated by these polluting substances and flushed back into the sea. “This ‘rinsing’ effect has been constant for the last two years,” Porcellacchia responded, “and yet the monitoring tells us that there is no critical contamination of the water.”

Mossa Verre’s conclusions are more cautious, but he is also optimistic about the outcome of the operations: “There are environmental risks, this is out of question. But so far Costa has cooperated with us with great openness. After all, it is also their interest to find an elegant solution. They have the eyes of the whole world on them.”

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After Losing Vote, U.S.-EU Threaten to Undermine Treaty Sat, 28 Jun 2014 00:29:13 +0000 Thalif Deen The United States and the EU have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating a proposed treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

The United States and the EU have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating a proposed treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United States and the 28-member European Union (EU) have assiduously promoted – and vigourously preached – one of the basic tenets of Western multi-party democracy: majority rules.

But at the United Nations, the 29 member states have frequently abandoned that principle when it insists on “consensus” on crucial decisions relating to the U.N. budget – or when it is clearly outvoted in the 193-member General Assembly or its committee rooms."The division of the votes clearly shows that the countries who are host to a lot of TNCs, such as the EU, as well as Norway and the U.S., are against this proposal." -- Anne van Schaik

That’s exactly what happened Thursday at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva which adopted, by majority vote, a proposal to negotiate a legally-binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations (TNCs) and the world’s business conglomerates.

But following the vote, the United States and the EU, have warned they would not cooperate with an intergovernmental working group (IGWG) which is to be established to lay down ground rules for negotiating the proposed treaty.

Stephen Townley, the U.S. representative in the HRC, told delegates: “The United States will not participate in this IGWG, and we encourage others to do the same.”

There are also a host of practical questions about how an internationally binding instrument would apply to corporations, which are not subjects of international law, and how states would implement such an instrument, said Townley, special assistant to the legal adviser at the U.S. State Department.

The vote was 20 for, 14 against and 13 abstentions in the 47-member HRC. The United States and EU members, including France, Germany, UK, Italy, Ireland, Austria, Estonia and the Czech Republic, along with South Korea and Japan, voted against the resolution.

Spearheaded by Ecuador and South Africa, the resolution received positive votes from China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Philippines and Algeria, amongst others.

The Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, along with Mexico, Peru and the Maldives, abstained.

Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner with Friends of the Earth Europe, told IPS the voting list “makes clear we are up against powerful forces”.

“Who will not back away from using old bullying techniques?” she asked.

She said the EU has clearly stated it will not cooperate in implementing the proposal.

And after the vote, the United States said this legally binding instrument will not be binding for those who vote against it.

“So we can expect some fierce opposition,” Schaik said, even as the IGWG plans to hold its first meeting sometime next year.

“But we are cheerful because it is not every day public interest wins over corporate interests which are backed by the EU and the U.S.,” she added.

Both United States and the EU have argued that the three-year-old U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is adequate as a yardstick to monitor the business practices – and malpractices – of corporations and big business.

“We have not given states adequate time and space to implement the Guiding Principles,” Townley told delegates.

He said “while we share and appreciate the concerns expressed by some delegations and civil society colleagues that we need to do more to improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, our concern is that this initiative [for a legally binding treaty] will have exactly the opposite effect.”

Philip Lynch, director of International Service for Human Rights, told IPS that in order to be effective, it is crucial that any treaty on business and human rights be negotiated with input from all relevant stakeholders and that it cover all business enterprises, not just transnational corporations.

“We consider it very important that the European Union participates in this negotiation process,” he said, since the EU is both the headquarters for many corporations, and global leaders in the implementation of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“We also hope that the negotiation of the treaty can complement and build on the consensus underpinning the Guiding Principles, which enjoy strong EU support,” he added.

Speaking of the proposed treaty, Schaik told IPS this is something that Friends of the Earth has campaigned for years, if not decades.

“We have always wanted the U.N. to take responsibility to develop such a mechanism, since they are the only international democratic decision-making body that is able to work on such a proposal.”

So, it is better than, for example, having legislation adopted by some countries, or regional bodies (if this would have been feasible at all), she added.

Secondly, Schaik said, what is very positive as well is that in the resolution, a roadmap is already laid out for the first steps of this working group.

“The division of the votes clearly shows that the countries who are host to a lot of TNCs, such as the EU, as well as Norway and the U.S., are against this proposal,” she noted.

Asked how the Western opposition could be countered, she pointed out the U.S. warned, even before the vote, that countries who voted against it would not be obliged to respect the resolution.

“This is of course total nonsense, but it does mean that both civil society, as well as the countries who voted in favour, will have to do what they can in order for this working group to be successful.”

She said: “We have built at very short time a coalition of more than 610 organisations and 400 individuals.”

She said the treaty alliance is already making plans on how to follow up on this victory, “and I think particularly for groups in Europe, the U.S. and Norway there is an important task to keep pressuring their countries to respect the resolution.

“We will campaign, set up email actions, present research, organise speaker tours and take to the streets, if necessary, to ensure the working group will be successful,” she said.

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Moscow Protest Highlights Litany of Abuses Suffered by Russia’s Drug Users Thu, 26 Jun 2014 17:49:38 +0000 Pavol Stracansky Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina (fourth and fifth from the right) with activists from the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow marking the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with calls for reform of Russia's hard-line drug policies. Credit: Andrei Rylkov Foundation

Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina (fourth and fifth from the right) with activists from the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow marking the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with calls for reform of Russia's hard-line drug policies. Credit: Andrei Rylkov Foundation

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

A protest in Moscow Thursday marking the U.N. International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking has highlighted the ‘torture’ drug users are put through in the Russian criminal justice system.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Pussy Riot Group who were controversially jailed for performing in a Moscow cathedral in 2012, spoke in the Russian capital to highlight the plight of drug users in Russia.

Joining protestors in more than 80 cities around the world demanding drug policy reforms, they attacked what they said was their country’s “cruel and inhuman” treatment of drug users.

Describing a litany of rights abuses against drug users, including torture and beatings by police and prison warders, they said Russian authorities viewed imprisonment as a “cure for drug dependency”.“Similar to xenophobia and homophobia, narcophobia has become a protective cloak for the authorities .... Creating an image of the enemy, the subhuman, the zombie, and reinforcing that image in the public consciousness justifies the inhuman treatment of drug dependent people in our country” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Pussy Riot punk rock group

“People who use drugs are outcasts – they are despised, hated, accused of all problems, and criminalised. Similar to xenophobia and homophobia, narcophobia has become a protective cloak for the authorities…. Creating an image of the enemy, the subhuman, the zombie, and reinforcing that image in the public consciousness justifies the inhuman treatment of drug dependent people in our country,” they said.

“Russia’s drug policy is built on torture. Humiliation and violation of human dignity – thisis what drug dependent people face everywhere, from hospitals to prisons and other state facilities,” they added.

Russia takes a hard-line approach to drug use, implementing repressive drugs legislation, including lengthy jail terms for possession of even tiny amounts of hard drugs.

Drug users say they are also targeted by police: official figures show that one in six of the Russian prison population is a drug user and, according to other surveys, just under 30 percent of drug users have been arrested at some point since they started using drugs.

They say they also regularly have confessions extracted from them or are coerced into helping officers as they go into withdrawal in detention – a charge police deny.

There is a complete lack of relevant medical services for drug users in temporary holding facilities and pre-trial detention centres and even painkillers are rarely given to addicts going into withdrawal.

Drug users in prison face particular hardship. Conditions for all prisoners are poor with hygiene often bad, cells massively overcrowded and brutality and disease rife. But drug users are especially vulnerable.

Anya Sarang, head of the Moscow-based Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, which works to raise awareness of drug problems, told IPS: “Russian prison is torture in itself with prisoners not given basic medical infection control, nutrition etc., and general human rights violations. But drug users are more vulnerable than other prisoners.

“For instance many are HIV positive, but not only are there problems getting their medicine or starting them on treatment because they are not given necessary immune system checks in some cases, but their diet is poor and there is always the risk of infections, such as tuberculosis.”

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem in Russian prisons, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other bodies. Studies have shown that a person with HIV is 25 times more likely to contract TB in a Russian prison than outside one.

But the risk of potentially deadly infections is only one problem facing drug users in prisons. As in many jails across the world, drugs are smuggled in and traded between inmates, giving users, some of whom may never have tried hard drugs, access to substances like heroin and experience of dangerous drug-taking methods.

Campaigners say that this is further evidence of how the criminalisation of drug use only perpetuates and worsens drug problems.

Michel Kazatchkine, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS: “We know from studies that contact with the criminal justice system is associated with increased injection drug use and other similar behaviour, among other problems. Putting drug users in prisons …. is making things worse not just in prisons but also for communities when they are released from prison.”

Activists point to how opioid substituition therapy (OST) for people in custody or prison has been successfully implemented in some Western states.

But the practice is completely banned in Russia, despite being widely implemented in many countries around the world, recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and having been proved to be successful in helping halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics – there were 78,000 new HIV cases registered last year, up from 69,000 in 2012 and 62,000 in 2011 – which the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Drug use in the country is growing equally rapidly. According to figures from the country’s Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) there were an estimated 8.5 million drug addicts in 2013 – up from 2.5 million since 2010. The service says up to 100,000 people die each year in Russia from drug abuse. It is also the world’s largest heroin consumer.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said only a reform of drug policy including decriminalisation would improve the situation in prisons.

But Russian authorities show no sign of lifting the OST ban nor improving the very limited harm reduction services which exist in the country and FSKN officials have made a number of public statements in recent months reaffirming their commitment to hard-line drugs policies.

Kazatchine told IPS: “I don’t see any sign of Russia’s approach to drugs softening. What I am seeing is a toughening of the way Russian society looks at marginalised groups, such as drug users, men who have sex with men, LGBT people, etc. The climate has toughened and Russia is de facto criminalising drug use and recession.”

This, critics say, has left Russian drug users in a terrible position in society. Sergey Votyagov Executive Director of the Eurasian HRM Reduction Network (EHRN), told IPS that they were “one of the most stigmatised and under-served populations” in the country.

Meanwhile, the devastation wrought by Russia’s drugs policies has been seen clearly in its newest territory. Just days before Thursday’s protest in Moscow, campaigners in Ukraine had raised the alarm over the fate of drug users in Crimea following its recent annexation.

OST is available in Ukraine and had been provided to 800 people in Crimea. But as part of Russia, Moscow ordered OST programmes there shut down at the start of May.

A mission by the Council of Europe to Crimea which ended last month reported that at least 20 people had died following the cessation of the programmes and at least 50 more had migrated to the Ukrainian mainland, while a few had gone to Russia for detoxification and rehabilitation treatment.

Those who remained spoke of having to deal with intimidation by new authorities and, in some cases, losing their jobs because of either worsening health or their status as former OST patients being made public.

Some who have fled the peninsula described the fear and desperation among drug users still there.

Speaking at an event organised by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine in Kiev earlier this month, one woman, Oksana, who left the day after her OST treatment had stopped, said:  “I might have died if I had stayed in Crimea.

“I am disabled, I have had a stroke and I know very well how it feels to be left without therapy and help. Those who could not leave Crimea are in terrible conditions. Some of them are already dead, others have chosen suicide.”

There is little hope that things in Crimea will change any time in the foreseeable future. Earlier this month, Sergei Donich, deputy prime minister in the Crimean government, told local media that OST was ineffective and was being pushed by pharmaceutical firms who stood to gain from it.

Kazatchine described the situation on the peninsula as a “tragedy”, adding that it was unlikely there would not be more deaths among drug users.

He told IPS: “Evidence shows that OST reduces mortality, it prevents overdoses among drug users. I think it is inevitable that [with no more OST] more drug users will die.”

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