miércoles, 16 de diciembre de 2009

Iran at a Glance

The People
By Christine Foy for the Iran Project

The people of Iran, their history, diversity, and strong traditions dazzle anyone who takes the time to peer into this country's legacy. There are many different ethnicities of people living in Iran. The largest ethnic group is Persian. Although this term is used loosely, it describes Iranians who mostly live in the central plateau and speak Indo-Iranian dialects.

Millions of Azeris live in northern Iran near the border with Azerbaijan. Kurds comprise 8 percent of Iran's population, and they live mostly in northwestern Iran in the Zagros Mountains. Their ethnicity is tied to the Medes, an Aryan people whose migration to the area from central Asia dates back to the Iron Age.

The Lur, however, are considered the closest of any of the Iranian ethnic groups to the original Asian settlers. About half the Lur population are villagers and half are traveling herders.

The Bakhtiaris live near the Iraqi border, and the Baluchi live in the southeast and are a religious minority—being Sunni, rather than Shi’ite Muslims.

The family unit is perhaps the most important social institution of Iran—with the father of the family taking the head position, affecting all major decisions, including inheritance and marriage partners.

Women's role in society has turned to a more traditional one since the revolution brought the establishment of a government obedient to Islamic code. They are encouraged to wear chadors, a body covering from head to foot, and are prevented from using facilities that would bring them into contact with men. Women face widespread discrimination in employment and other areas. However, they retain the right to vote, established in 1963, and women make up over 50 percent of university students.

The Muslim religion runs deep in Iran, and has ever since its founding by Muhammad in the seventh and eighth centuries. There are two main sects of Islam: the Shi’ites and Sunnis. Ninety-eight percent of Iranians are Shi’ite. The two sects disagree over the role of the imam, or spiritual leader.

Farsi, an Indo-European language, is the official language of Iran. However, other languages that are spoken include Kurdish, Turkish dialects, and Arabic.

Iranians are artisans who excel at hand weaving. Their carpets are a major export, second only to oil. Another art form is the miniature—a small extremely detailed painting. Chess is popular in Iran as well as sports, such as wrestling, weight lifting, horsemanship, boxing, tennis, and track. Interestingly, ancient Persians claim to have invented polo and backgammon. There is also a sport unique to Iran. It is called zurkhaneh, a mix of gymnastics and wrestling.

martes, 8 de diciembre de 2009

lunes, 26 de octubre de 2009

Obama vs. Fox News

The Obama administration properly identified Fox News as the Media branch of the G.O.P. and that's right. Btw, they excluded the Fox in media briefings and meetings in which journalists can be summoned. If they're not journalists but political foes, they ought be treated as such. It is not enough to have a media to be considered a journalist. It's ludicrous.

In a brilliant article in The Nation titled "Just Don't Call it 'Journalism'", Eric Alterman says:

"It's a sad symbol of the state of contemporary American journalism that the White House communications office is doing more to maintain the honor of the profession than are many journalists. But that's just what's happening in the contretemps over Fox News. Interim White House communications director Anita Dunn has explained to the press that the White House plans to treat Fox "the way we would treat an opponent.... As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave."

Now, former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, says as a derogatory: "Obama's Criticism Of Fox Akin To Chavez Tactics". But... wait: Who, if not the Bush croonies, are less entitled to use the word 'Chávez' as a derogatory word? It is? Why? Please, do yourself a little survey: Look how Chavez is treated in The Nation, Salon, Alternet, etc., and then look the same in the Washington Post, Politico, Mo-Jo, Media Matters, Fox News and so.

To my humble understanding, Chávez is far away from the "Big Satan" nick the rightist press tagged he worldwide. Nor they're morally entitled to do so, at least. Not the "Saddam WMD's"'ers, right?

If someone in the USA had said about his president the half about what the Venezuelan RCTV said on Chávez, it would be jailed for sure. Chávez limited itself to not renewing the State permission to air the propaganda RCTV usually made instead. I published a shocking report on that in my spanish blog. To say nothing on the "Puente Llaguno" affaire, in which the media presented the victims as attackers to try to oust Chávez from the Government in 2002.

Then, again: SOME press do not behave as the press is intend to. And when they behave that way, they can't pretend to be treated so. They must be keep away from the real press treatment. Press criticism is OK and should be encouraged. Rol's usurpation, attacks and ouster attempts is another very different issue.

Such three items in the press behaviour, i.e., rol's usurpation, attacks and ouster attempts, often is known worldwide as 'Colour Revolutions' (CR) or 'Velvet revolutions' or Soft Coups.

To the classical (and successful) CR acknowledged worldwide, i.e., Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, etc., many others were tried (without success yet) in Bolivia and Argentina (2008) and Iran 2009, but they're far from concluded.

In the Argentinian case (where I live), at least, the mainstream media is owned by the rich class, and the message they air say is what the rich class and landowners expects to be assimilated by the masses: Israel is OK, but Palestinians are not, Iran and Venezuela are nearby the evil's axis, Chávez and Ahmadinejad ought to be viewed as cockroaches, and so on.

Is this message familiar to you, live you where you live? Yes, the world press message reach the Argentinian tarmac pristine and without any noticeable distortion. Our 'free press' are no more than local amplifiers of The Global Voice the owners try to sell us.

The Argentinian main media operator, owner of the 73% argentinian licenses share is Clarín. And they ought be charged mainly on ouster attempts they did against our elected President, in a no-yet-so-successful Colour Revolution they tried last year and that they still now try to carry out. Clarín is the Argentinian Fox News Obama's equivalent. But it's another story that deserves itself a further article I will tell you in details anytime soon.

viernes, 2 de octubre de 2009

Iran and the Pipelineistan Opera

Central Asian/Caucasus Gas Pipelines Map: Nabucco (Light Blue, NATO backed)
and South Stream (Purple, Russian Backed)

Jumpin' Jack Verdi, It's a Gas, Gas, Gas

By Pepe Escobar in The Nation

October 1, 2009


Oil and natural gas prices may be relatively low right now, but don't be fooled. The New Great Game of the twenty-first century is always over energy and it's taking place on an immense chessboard called Eurasia. Its squares are defined by the networks of pipelines being laid across the oil heartlands of the planet. Call it Pipelineistan. If, in Asia, the stakes in this game are already impossibly high, the same applies to the "Euro" part of the great Eurasian landmass--the richest industrial area on the planet. Think of this as the real political thriller of our time.

The movie of the week in Brussels is: When NATO Meets Pipelineistan. Though you won't find it in any headlines, at virtually every recent NATO summit Washington has been maneuvering to involve reluctant Europeans ever more deeply in the business of protecting Pipelineistan. This is already happening, of course, in Afghanistan, where a promised pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India, the TAPI pipeline, has not even been built. And it's about to happen at the borders of Europe, again around pipelines that have not yet been built.

If you had to put that Euro part of Pipelineistan into a formula, you might do so this way: Nabucco (pushed by the US) versus South Stream (pushed by Russia). Be patient. You'll understand in a moment.

At the most basic level, it's a matter of the West yet again trying, in the energy sphere, to bypass Russia. For this to happen, however--and it wouldn't hurt if you opened the nearest atlas for a moment--Europe desperately needs to get a handle on Central Asian energy resources, which is easy to say, but has proven surprisingly hard to do. No wonder the NATO Secretary General's special representative, Robert Simmons, has been logging massive frequent-flyer miles to Central Asia over these last few years.

Just under the surface of an edgy entente cordiale between the European Union (EU) and Russia lurks the possibility of a no-holds-barred energy war--Liquid War, as I call it. The EU and the US are pinning their hopes on a prospective 3,300-kilometer-long, $10.7 billion pipeline dubbed Nabucco. Planning for it began way back in 2004 and construction is finally expected to start, if all goes well (and it may not), in 2010. So if you're a NATO optimist, you hope that natural gas from the Caspian Sea, maybe even from Iran (barring the usual American blockade), will begin flowing through it by 2015. The gas will be delivered to Erzurum in Turkey and then transported to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

Why, you might ask, is the pipeline meant to save Europe named for a Verdi opera? Well, Austrian and Turkish energy executives happened to see the opera together in Vienna in 2002 while discussing their energy dilemmas, and the biblical plight of the Jews exiled by King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), a love story set amid a ferocious struggle for freedom and power, swept them away. Still, it's a stretch to turn aluminum tubes into dramatic characters.

Of course, the operatic theater here isn't really in the tubing, it's in the politics and strategic implications that surround the pipeline. In Eastern Europe, for instance, Nabucco is seen not as a European economic or energy project, but as a creature of Washington, just like the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey that President Bill Clinton and his crew backed so vigorously in the 1990s and which was finally finished in 2005. For those who have never believed the Cold War is over--the Eastern Europeans among them--once again it's the good guys (the West) against the commies...sorry, the Russians...at an energy-rich OK Corral.

The Great Borderless Gas Bazaar

Russia's answer to Nabucco is the 1,200-kilometer-long, $15 billion South Stream pipeline, also scheduled to be finished in 2015; it is slated to carry Siberian natural gas under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria. From Bulgaria, one branch of the pipeline would then run south through Greece to southern Italy while the other would run north through Serbia and Hungary towards northern Italy.

Now, add another pipeline to the picture, the $9.1 billion Nord Stream that will soon enough snake from Western Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, which already imports 41.5 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The giant Russian energy firm Gazprom holds a controlling 51 percent of Nord Stream stock; the rest belongs to German and Dutch companies. The chairman of the board is none other than former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Put this all together and Russia, with its pipelines running in all directions and firmly embedded in Europe, spells trouble for Nabucco's future and frustration for Washington's New Great Game plans to contain the Russian energy juggernaut. And that's without even mentioning Ukhta which, chances are, you've never heard of. If you aren't in the energy business, why should you have? After all, it's a backwater village in Russia's autonomous republic of Komi, 350 kilometers from the Arctic Circle. Built by forced labor, it was once part of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag archipelago. By 2030, however, you'll know its name. By then, a pipeline from remote Ukhta will be flooding Europe with natural gas and the village will be one of Nord Stream's key transit nodes.

While Nabucco as well as South Stream remain virtual, Nord Stream is a Terminator on the run. By 2010, it will be tunneling under the Baltic Sea heading for Germany. By 2011, it should be delivering the goods and a second pipe--12 meters wide, 100,000 tubes long--will be under construction to double its capacity by 2014. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller pulls no punches: this, he says, will be "the safest and most modern pipeline in the world."

How can Verdi lovers possibly compete? In the middle of a global recession, Gazprom is spending at least $20 billion to conquer Europe via Nord and South Stream. The strategy is a killer: pump gas under the sea directly to Europe, avoiding messy transit routes across troublesome countries like Ukraine. No wonder Gazprom, which today controls 26 percent of the European gas market, is expected to have a 33 percent share by 2020.

In other words, in many ways, the Nabucco versus South Stream energy war already looks settled. Nabucco is, at best, likely to be a secondary pipeline, incapable, as Washington once hoped, of breaking the EU away from energy dependence on Russia.

Brussels, predictably, is in its usual multilingual policy mess. Most bureaucrats at its monster, directive-churning body, the European Commission, publicly bemoan the "pipeline war." On the other hand, Ona Jukneviciene, chairwoman of the committees at the European Parliament dealing with Central Asia, admits that Nabucco cannot be the only option.

As for Reinhard Mitschek, managing director of the Nabucco consortium, he tries to put a brave face on things when he stresses, "we will transport Russian gas, Azeri gas, Iraqi gas." As for the top European official on energy matters, Andris Piebalgs, he can't help being a pragmatist: "We'll continue to work with Russia because Russia has energy resources."

From a business point of view, it's tough to argue with South Stream's selling points. Unlike Nabucco, it will offer cheaper, all-Russian natural gas that won't have to transit through potential war zones, and while Nabucco will always deliver limited amounts of Caspian natural gas to market, South Stream, given Russian resources, will have plenty of room to increase its output.

The fact is that, as of now, Nabucco still has no guaranteed sources of gas. In order for the gas to come from energy-rich Turkmenistan, to take but one example, the Turkmen leadership would have to break a deal they've already made with Russia, which now buys all of that country's export gas. There's no way that Moscow is likely to let one of the former Soviet Republics do that easily. In addition, both Russia and Iran could well be capable of blocking any pipeline straddling the floor of the Caspian Sea.
Gazprom will pay to build South Stream, and then distribute and sell gas it already controls to Europe; Nabucco, on the other hand, has to rely on a messy consortium of six countries (Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Germany) simply to finance one-third of its prospective costs, and then convince wary international bankers to shell out the rest.

The Pentagon does the Black Sea

So what does Washington want out of this mess? That's easy. Rewind to then-prospective Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her Senate confirmation hearings on January 13, 2009. There, she decried Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas and issued an urgent call for "investments in the Trans-Caspian energy sector." Think of it as a signal: the new Obama administration would be as committed to Nabucco as the Bush administration had been.

What is never spelled out is why. Enter the Black Sea, that crucial geo-strategic stage where Europe meets the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Enter, thus, Bulgaria, home to a new Pentagon air base in Bezmer, one of six new strategic bases being built outside the US and as potentially important to Washington's future games as the stalwart air bases in Incirlik, Turkey, and Aviano, Italy, have been in the past. (Aviano was the key US/NATO base for the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the seventy-eight-day bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.)

With the Pentagon's bases already creeping within a stone's throw of Southwest and Central Asia, it doesn't take a genius to imagine the role Bezmer might play in any future attack on Iran (something the Russian defense establishment has already taken careful note of). With both Romania and Bulgaria now part of NATO, Article 5 of the alliance's charter now applies. NATO can take action "in the event of crises which jeopardize Euro-Atlantic stability and could affect the security of Alliance members."

In this way, Pipelineistan meets the American Empire of Bases.

Young Turks and Wily Russians

Why is everyone so damn hooked on Central Asian oil and gas? Elshad Nasirov, deputy chairman of the state-owned Azerbaijani oil company SOCAR, sums the addiction up succinctly enough: "This is the place where there is oil and gas in abundance. It is not Arab, not Persian, not Russian, and not OPEC."

It's the Caspian and, unfortunately for Europe, the region could, in energy terms, turn out to be not the caviar for which it's renowned but so many rotten fish eggs. No one knows, after all, whether the EU will ever be able to buy Iranian gas via Nabucco. No one knows whether the Central Asian "stans" have enough gas to supply Russia, China, and Turkey, not to mention India and Pakistan. No one knows whether any of their leaders will have the nerve to renege on their deals with Gazprom.

Ever since a 2008 British study determined that Turkmenistan may have natural gas reserves second only to Russia on the planet, the European Commission has been on a no-holds-barred tear to lure that country into delivering some of its future gas directly to Europe--and not through the Russian pipeline system either. Turkmenistan's inscrutable leader, the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, just has to say the word, but despite the claims of EU officials that he has agreed to send some gas Europe-wards, he's never offered a public word of confirmation. No wonder: with Nabucco unbuilt and a pipeline from his country to China still under construction, Turkmenistan can play Pipelineistan games only with Russia and Iran. In fact, Russia essentially controls the flow of Turkmen gas for the next fifteen years.

Should Gurbanguly someday say the magic word--and assuming the Russians don't throw a monkey wrench into the works--he can marry Turkey, as the key transit country, with the EU and let them all sing Verdi till the sheep come home. In the meantime, angst is the name of the game in Europe (and so in Washington).

A declassified dossier from the FSB, the Russian heir to the KGB, is adamant: considering Nabucco's shortcomings, "Russia will remain the primary supplier of energy to Europe for the foreseeable future." Call it a matter of having your gas and processing it, too. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been making the point for years. If Europe tries to snub it, Russia will simply build its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, to facilitate storage and transport, and sell its LNG all over the world.

Anyway it's worth paying attention to what the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute (where Putin earned his doctorate) has to say. According to the institute, Russia has only twenty years' worth of its own natural gas reserves left. Since Russia plans to sell up to 40 percent of its gas abroad, "Russian" gas may in the future actually mean Central Asian gas. All the more reason for the Russians to make sure that those massive Turkmen and other reserves flow north, not west.

Whatever Washington thinks, the Europeans know that energy independence from Russia is, in reality, inconceivable. Bottom line when it comes to natural gas: Europe needs everything--Nord Stream, South Stream and Nabucco. The bulk of the natural gas in this Pipelineistan maze may well turn out to be Central Asian anyway, and a substantial part could be Iranian, if the Obama administration ever normalizes relations with Iran.

That, then, is the current state of play in the European wing of Pipelineistan. Russia seems to have virtually guaranteed its status as the top gas supplier to Europe for the foreseeable future. But that brings us to Turkey, a key regional power for both the US and the EU. As President Obama has recognized, Turkey is both a real and a metaphorical bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. It is also an ideal transit country for carrying non-Russian gas to Europe and is now playing its own suitably complex Pipelineistan game.

Chances are that, like Ukhta in far off Siberia, you've never heard of Yumurtalik either. It's a fishing port squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Taurus mountains, very close to Ceyhan, the terminal for two key nodes of Pipelineistan: the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline from Iraq and the monster BTC pipeline. Turkey wants to turn Yumurtalik-Ceyhan into nothing less than the Rotterdam of the Mediterranean.

Even as it dreams of future EU membership, however, Turkey worries about antagonizing Moscow. And yet, being aboard the Nabucco Express and already fully committed to the functioning BTC pipeline puts the country on a potential collision course with Russia, its largest trading partner. Of course, this does not displease Washington.

On the other hand, the Turkish leadership draws ever closer to Iran, which provides 38 percent of Turkey's oil and 25 percent of its natural gas. Ankara and Tehran also have geopolitical affinities (especially in fighting Kurdish separatism). Together, they offer the best alternative to the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia) in terms of supplying Europe with Iranian natural gas. All this, of course, drives Washington nuts.

Needless to say, the Nabucco consortium itself would kill to have Iran as a gas supplier for the pipeline. They are also familiar with realpolitik: this could happen only with a Washington-blessed solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier. Iran, for its part, knows well how to seduce Europe. Mohammad-Reza Nematzadeh, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), has insisted Iran is Europe's "sole option" for the success of Nabucco.

Is Russia just watching all this gas go by? Of course not. In October 2007, Putin signed a key agreement with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: if Iran cannot sell its gas to Nabucco--a likelihood, given the turbulence of American domestic politics and its foreign policy--Russia will buy it. Translation: Iranian gas could end up, like Central Asian gas, heading for Europe as more "Russian" gas. With its European and Iranian policies at cross-purposes, Washington will not be amused.

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "rethink Nabucco" if the tricky negotiations for Turkey to enter the EU drag on forever, EU leaders got the message (as much as France and Germany may be against a "Europe without borders"). Pragmatically, most EU leaders know very well that they need excellent relations with Turkey to one day have access to the big prize, Iranian gas; and that puts Europe's energy and EU membership inclinations at loggerheads.

Last July in Ankara, Nabucco was formally launched by an inter-governmental agreement. The representatives of Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary were there. Obama's special Eurasian envoy, Richard Morningstar (a veteran of the BTC adventure), was there as well. The Central Asian stans were not there.

But crucially, Gurbanguly, ever the showman, finally made an entrance without ever leaving Turkmenistan, (almost) uttering the magic words in a meeting with his ministers in the capital, Ashgabat, on July 10: "Turkmenistan, staying committed to the principles of diversification of supply of its energy resources to the world markets, is going to use all available opportunities to participate in major international projects--such as, for example, [the] Nabucco project."

At the Vienna headquarters of Nabucco, the mantra remains: this is "no anti-Russian project." Still, everyone knows that Russia's leaders are eager to kill it, and not a soul, from Brussels to Vienna, Washington to Ashgabat, knows how to link Central Asia to Europe via a non-Russian pipeline, at the cost of more than $10 billion, without some assurance that Turkmeni, Kazakh, Azerbaijani and/or Iranian natural gas will be fully (or even partially) on board. Who would be foolish enough to invest that kind of money without some guarantee that hundreds of miles of aluminum tubes won't remain empty? You don't need Verdi to tell you this is one hell of a quirky plot for a global opera.

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2009

EU Investigators Debunk Saakashvili's Lies

New Report on Russia-Georgia War

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow
Zoom - AP - Der Spiegel

In this Sept. 4, 2008 photo, a girl plays near a ruined building in Tskhinvali.

The EU fact-finding mission on the Russia-Georgia war has published its findings in a much-anticipated report. The authors blame Georgia for the war but also assign partial responsibility to Russia. Both countries have reacted angrily to the findings, with the Russia ambassador to NATO saying the report is only "pseudo-balanced."

The truth about the war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008 sounds somewhat convoluted, at least as expressed in the final report of the independent EU fact-finding mission charged with establishing the causes of the conflict. "Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive on 7/8 August could not be substantiated by the mission," reads the document, which was published Wednesday. To put it more simply: It was Georgia who started the war.

This is the conclusion that the team of European investigators, headed by the Swiss diplomat and Caucasus expert Heidi Tagliavini, have reached after spending almost a year visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Moscow and the locations of the fighting in a bid to reconstruct the course of the conflict. Their findings fill some 1,000 pages.

Just a few days ago, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had insisted in an interview with US broadcaster CNN that no one took seriously reports that his country was responsible for the war. Responding to an interviewer question about a recent SPIEGEL story which reported that the EU committee had put the blame for the conflict on Georgia, Saakashvili said: "Everybody who was there, and there were serious people there, everybody knows what happened." According to Saakashvili's version of events, which he had distributed officially in a government report on the war, the night-time attack by Georgia on the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7, 2008 was a preemptive strike directed against Russian armored columns which had supposedly already advanced into South Ossetia.

Already on the first day of the war, the brawny Georgian General Mamuka Kurashvili appeared on television in his dress uniform and boasted that Georgia had decided to "reestablish constitutional order in the entire region."

Indignant Reactions

The EU report, which is extensive, detailed and well-informed, makes clear that the Georgian claims are completely fabricated. "It was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked (South Ossetian capital) Tskhinvali" said Heidi Tagliavini, the mission head, in a statement. Although the EU commission tactfully avoided using the word "lie," the report implies that Saakashvili did not tell the truth about how the war started.

Tbilisi is now predictably outraged at the results of the fact-finding mission. Georgia did not by any means use "disproportionate force," stresses Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili. "We see Russia's actions as aggression, because the country invaded the Tskhinvali region with its troops."

Russian politicians, for their part, feel that the report's conclusions strengthen their position. "If the commission has acknowledged that it was Georgia who started the war, as Russia has repeatedly said, we can only welcome such a conclusion," said Natalia Timakova, a spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

'Ambiguous Formulations'

Yet the triumphant mood in Moscow was tinged by a hint of bitterness. "The report has a major flaw," complained Sergei Makarov, a member of the Duma for the Kremlin party United Russia and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. "It does not address the US's role in the conflict."

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry also expressed its resentment about "ambiguous formulations" in the report -- a reference to passages in which the authors make it clear that they consider Russia to have been partly responsible for escalating the conflict. The report concludes that the mass issuing of Russian passports to South Ossetians, as well as to residents of another breakaway republic of Abkhazia, was in violation of international law. It also criticizes the fact that Moscow trained and armed South Ossetian troops.

In addition, the report's authors conclude that the reason given by Russia to justify the campaign to its own population was completely unsubstantiated. The Russian authorities had claimed that the Georgians had committed a previously planned genocide against the South Ossetian people. According to Kremlin propaganda, the Georgian offensive caused 2,000 deaths in a single night. Russia later reduced its figure for total South Ossetian civilian casualties to 162. "Although it should be admitted that it is not easy to decide where the line must be drawn, it seems, however, that much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense," the European investigators conclude.

Sentences like this one have irritated the Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin. "This report has a pseudo-balanced approach," Rogozin told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "All the parties are criticized a little, including the Ossetians, the Russians and Georgia's Western patrons. But one no longer sees the wood for the trees."

According to Rogozin, the key thing is that the EU mission has clearly stated that Georgia started the hostilities. "But if the Russian military response has been criticized as being too harsh, then this is surely a matter of taste," Rogozin complained. "I certainly think it was still too lax."

jueves, 17 de septiembre de 2009

Semantics of Turban

Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim-Khan (1880-1944), Emir of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, photographed by Prokudin-Gorskii in 1911 wearing a blue chapan and a turban

Head-dress as part of traditional costume performs several functions: protective, guarding, cosmogonical and decorative; and it serves as indication of age, gender and status. It expresses personality of its owner. Typical medieval men's head-dress in oriental Muslim countries was turban worn by people of all ages and groups of society. Turban was also an important detail in the attire of clergy. It became the most important exterior feature indicating confessional belonging of Muslims.

Legends have it that the first person to wear turban was Prophet Adam. Historians link its origin to ancient Arabia: in the hot climate of desert it protected the heads of nomadic Semitic tribes from wind and scorching sun. Being included into a mandatory set of Muslim attire, turban has changed its semantics and turned into a sign showing devotion to Islam. Religious significance of this head-dress (amoma, imama in Arabic) was stipulated in a khadith: "Imama embodies dignity of the faithful".

Muslim lawyers, fakikh, dedicated special treatises discussing the rules of making and wearing of imama. In Arab Caliphate not only Muslims, but also people of other confessions were obliged to wear turban. Its colour was officially determined and had to be different from Muslim turbans that were predominantly white. Christians could be distinguished by deep-blue turbans, Jews wore yellow and fire-worshipers red. With time the meaning of turban expanded: imama also became the sign of state power and was worn during enthronement or coming in office, and was included into the set of honorary attire.

With the adoption of Islam, imama became compulsory head-dress also for the nations conquered by Arabs, but at the beginning was considered to be an item that only senior clergy were privileged to wear.

Only in the 13th century, following a special decree of Mukhammed II Ala-Ad-Deen who ruled in Iran, Azerbaijan, Khorasan and other territories in 1200-1220, all his subjects were obliged to wear turban. Since then, turban "entrenched" itself among all segments of medieval feudal Muslim society in Middle Eastern region. It was not permitted to visit a mosque or a cemetery or to pray without wearing a turban. As boys turned to men, their children's hats were replaced with a turban. Taking a turban off one's head when meeting a sheikh demonstrated reverence and respect for the cleric (1, pp. 17-21). One was disgraced if his turban was taken away.

The 15th-l6th century texts from Khorasan and Maverannakhr offer different terms to name the headdress: amoma, imama, salla, dastor, futa... And these names determine its social association as well. Amo-ma/imama is the name used predominantly to refer to turban worn by senior clergy - sheikhs and imams (prayer leaders). Dastor is a parade turban worn on festive or formal occasions mainly by feudal nobility and rulers. Futa is a small turban worn by ordinary people - craftsmen, retail traders and ordinary townsfolk. It has to be noted specifically that turban in the 15th-16th century Khorasan and Maverannakhr was considered to be purely urban head-dress, whereas nomadic people preferred felt hats of different shape and ornamentation (except women who wore turban-like headdress from ancient times) (2, pp. 13-17).

Structurally, Khorasan or Central Asian turban consists of two parts: a small cone-shaped hat called tokiya or kulokha, the height of which varied depending on the current fashion and the length of turban itself -a long piece of fabric wrapped around the hat or kulokha. The manner of wearing a turban, its colour and size gave and indication of a person's social status.

Representatives of secular nobility - khans, sultans, emirs and courtiers - wore a medium size turban that could be wrapped in several different ways. Their turbans were of two kinds: formal (dastor) and one for everyday (futa). "When they reported to Khoja Akhrar that his elder son Khoji Kalon arrived... he removed a futa from his head and replaced it with dastor, and when his son departed he put on his futa again" (3, p. 74).

In the 15 th century dastor was made of fine Indian muslin, silk or other fabric (brocade) of white colour arfd wrapped around a tokiya or kulokha in small puffed folds, with one end at the top hanging loose and resembling a fan. The fabric was wrapped around kulokha so as to cover two thirds of it. The number of turns and puffiness depended on fashion and personality. Sultan Khusain, a Temurid, the ruler of Herat, known for his sloppiness, "sometimes on holidays went to the prayer wearing a small flat turban, poorly wrapped in three turns with a heron's feather stuck into it" (4, pp. 172-173), whereas Nizamaddin, Kazi of Khorasan, "persevered in the splendour of his turban and attire..., so that even the most intent eye could not make head or tail of the folds in his turban that reached extraordinary dimensions" (5, pp. 205-206). A contemporary and the teacher of Alisher Navoi and a prominent philosopher and poet Jami who was also a spiritual mentor of Herat society and a recognized Sufi sheikh, was modest in his daily and personal life. According to Vasifi, he wore a "khoja-ubaydi" hat, around which a turban of "the most negligible size" was wrapped. Modesty of his clothing even resulted in confusing and funny situations: once he was mistaken for his own servant (5, p. 463).

During the second half of the 15th century dastor was wrapped four times without folds, ends down (4, p. 33). In the 16th century Maverannakhr the shape of a turban became taller and neater, and the number of folds increased as people started using finer fabrics, predominantly striped, and a turban was wrapped in such a way that the fabric pattern created a chess design (6, Table 16, Fig. 37, 38). The art of wrapping a turban was complicated one and required certain skills; therefore there existed special servants called dastorbands who were on staff of noble people.

Turban of nobility was adorned with gems and plumage that served both to decorate and protect. Heron feathers were of particular high value, as they were also a symbol of power. Such turban with an egret-plume of heron feathers is pictured on the portrait of Sultan Khusain Bpkara wrought by the famous miniature painter from Herat Kamoliddin Bekhzad. Whereas dastor had to be white, in everyday life nobility could wear coloured futa. Descendants of the Prophet wore turbans of green silk. In the days of mourning people put on black or deep-blue turbans.

Turban made of valuable textiles (muslin, silk, taffeta) was presented as gift and the token of particular favour. Texts often mention that a khan or sultan, as a sign of his favour, presented somebody with a turban, along with other honorary pieces of attire such as gown and sash (Yadzi, Shami, Babur). For example, as evidenced by Nizami Aruzi Samarqandi, Abu Reikhan Beru-ni received from Sultan Makhmud, among other gifts, a brocade turban that had a status of an honorary gift. It was known as dastor-i-kasad.

Turban of senior clergy stood out by its large dimensions - it was significantly larger than turbans worn by people from other groups of society - and had to be glaringly snow-white. A Sufi saw Sheikh Sidi Omar ibn al-Farid in his dream wearing "a huge turban" (8, p. 208). Sufis associated white colour with Islam, as it, like imama itself, was semiotic "bi" - the sign of confessional affiliation, and at the same time was a symbol of purification and spiritual purity (9). In early Temurid period, judging by Herat miniature painting of Bay-sonkur period, clerical turban was wrapped in very voluminous folds around a short quilted cone-shaped kulokha, leaving it one third open at the top. The upper long end of the turban, aloka, was left loose on the right, wrapped around the neck, tucked through the lower turn and hang down on the shoulder. Turban was worn to leave part of the forehead and ears open.

Turban was part of dervish's clothing. Some Central Asian Sufi orders exercised the rite of girdling called shadd, which signified initiation into the dervish brotherhood; the rite involved wrapping one's head with a turban or body with a sash (7, p. 153). A turban on dervish's head meant that he has mastered professional skills sufficiently well and is prepared for the life of a Sufi. Sufic turbans were colored to match the colour of a particular Sufi order. The miniatures of Herat and Maverannakhr show dervish's turban wrapped in two turns around a short hat. According to Navoi, the hat was made of felt and turban of wool (1, p. 19).

The length of a turban should be at least 8 meters, as its other meaning was to serve as a shroud. Should death meet a traveler on the road, the turban fabric would become his cerement. Thus, turban is not only a sign of faith, but also a constant reminder of death and transience of existence.

According to the vakf document of Khusein Khorezmi, in the 15th century Samarqand the length of dervish's turban was 5 zar and was made of taffeta (3, p. 72).

Ordinary people wore a small turban made of cotton, wool or coarse calico of different colours. In the 18th-19th centuries it could be made of checked fabrics or fabrics with other designs.

Due to its high value, a turban could serve as a collateral, for instance, in a drinking shop (Vasifi), and, according to the keen observation of A. Vamberi, function as a "toilet-bad" in which one could keep money, letters, medicines or keys: "He immediately produced the key to the upper room from his dastor" (5).

According to the ancient beliefs, human body was a symbolic representation of the idea of the universe, according to which the world is divided into three parts - the top, the bottom and the middle - accentuated in a costume by a head-dress, collar and belt. Based on these ideas, turban also symbolized the sky (cosmos), and it was no accident that its shape was dome-like.

Thus, in the costume of the 15 th-16th century Kho-rasan and Maverannakhr men's turban was a multifunctional and polysemantic dead-dress, reflecting the entire spectrum of information about its wearer, his ideological, moral, aesthetic, social and age characteristics, Artistic and aesthetic image of turban was based on a balanced proportion between tokiya or kulokha and a fabric wrapped around it, its blinding whiteness and the shape of its folds, the form and outline of which had much in common with grooved dome surface of the beautiful architectural structures of Middle East, giving the Muslim attire a particular beauty and gracefullness.

Zukhra Rakhimova, Sa'nat 2008, Vol. 2

jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2009

Similarities along the Silk Road

The renowned Registan Sq., in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Jamee Mosque in Herat, western Afghanistan

miércoles, 5 de agosto de 2009

Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder

By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting "illegal" or "unlawful" weapons into the country on Prince's private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety.

These allegations, and a series of other charges, are contained in sworn affidavits, given under penalty of perjury, filed late at night on August 3 in the Eastern District of Virginia as part of a seventy-page motion by lawyers for Iraqi civilians suing Blackwater for alleged war crimes and other misconduct. Susan Burke, a private attorney working in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is suing Blackwater in five separate civil cases filed in the Washington, DC, area. They were recently consolidated before Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia for pretrial motions. Burke filed the August 3 motion in response to Blackwater's motion to dismiss the case. Blackwater asserts that Prince and the company are innocent of any wrongdoing and that they were professionally performing their duties on behalf of their employer, the US State Department.

The former employee, identified in the court documents as "John Doe #2," is a former member of Blackwater's management team, according to a source close to the case. Doe #2 alleges in a sworn declaration that, based on information provided to him by former colleagues, "it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct." John Doe #2 says he worked at Blackwater for four years; his identity is concealed in the sworn declaration because he "fear[s] violence against me in retaliation for submitting this Declaration." He also alleges, "On several occasions after my departure from Mr. Prince's employ, Mr. Prince's management has personally threatened me with death and violence."

In a separate sworn statement, the former US marine who worked for Blackwater in Iraq alleges that he has "learned from my Blackwater colleagues and former colleagues that one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information about Erik Prince and Blackwater have been killed in suspicious circumstances." Identified as "John Doe #1," he says he "joined Blackwater and deployed to Iraq to guard State Department and other American government personnel." It is not clear if Doe #1 is still working with the company as he states he is "scheduled to deploy in the immediate future to Iraq." Like Doe #2, he states that he fears "violence" against him for "submitting this Declaration." No further details on the alleged murder(s) are provided.

"Mr. Prince feared, and continues to fear, that the federal authorities will detect and prosecute his various criminal deeds," states Doe #2. "On more than one occasion, Mr. Prince and his top managers gave orders to destroy emails and other documents. Many incriminating videotapes, documents and emails have been shredded and destroyed."

The Nation cannot independently verify the identities of the two individuals, their roles at Blackwater or what motivated them to provide sworn testimony in these civil cases. Both individuals state that they have previously cooperated with federal prosecutors conducting a criminal inquiry into Blackwater.

"It's a pending investigation, so we cannot comment on any matters in front of a Grand Jury or if a Grand Jury even exists on these matters," John Roth, the spokesperson for the US Attorney's office in the District of Columbia, told The Nation. "It would be a crime if we did that." Asked specifically about whether there is a criminal investigation into Prince regarding the murder allegations and other charges, Roth said: "We would not be able to comment on what we are or are not doing in regards to any possible investigation involving an uncharged individual."

The Nation repeatedly attempted to contact spokespeople for Prince or his companies at numerous email addresses and telephone numbers. When a company representative was reached by phone and asked to comment, she said, "Unfortunately no one can help you in that area." The representative then said that she would pass along The Nation's request. As this article goes to press, no company representative has responded further to The Nation.

Doe #2 states in the declaration that he has also provided the information contained in his statement "in grand jury proceedings convened by the United States Department of Justice." Federal prosecutors convened a grand jury in the aftermath of the September 16, 2007, Nisour Square shootings in Baghdad, which left seventeen Iraqis dead. Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial on several manslaughter charges and a sixth, Jeremy Ridgeway, has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter and is cooperating with prosecutors. It is not clear whether Doe #2 testified in front of the Nisour Square grand jury or in front of a separate grand jury.

The two declarations are each five pages long and contain a series of devastating allegations concerning Erik Prince and his network of companies, which now operate under the banner of Xe Services LLC. Among those leveled by Doe #2 is that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe":

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince's executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to "lay Hajiis out on cardboard." Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince's employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as "ragheads" or "hajiis."

Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that "Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq." He states that he personally witnessed weapons being "pulled out" from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that "Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince's private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines," adding that Prince "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade."

Doe #2 states: "Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution." Blackwater "was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department," according to Doe #1.

This is not the first time an allegation has surfaced that Blackwater used dog food bags to smuggle weapons into Iraq. ABC News's Brian Ross reported in November 2008 that a "federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food." Another former Blackwater employee has also confirmed this information to The Nation.

Both individuals allege that Prince and Blackwater deployed individuals to Iraq who, in the words of Doe #1, "were not properly vetted and cleared by the State Department." Doe #2 adds that "Prince ignored the advice and pleas from certain employees, who sought to stop the unnecessary killing of innocent Iraqis." Doe #2 further states that some Blackwater officials overseas refused to deploy "unfit men" and sent them back to the US. Among the reasons cited by Doe #2 were "the men making statements about wanting to deploy to Iraq to 'kill ragheads' or achieve 'kills' or 'body counts,'" as well as "excessive drinking" and "steroid use." However, when the men returned to the US, according to Doe #2, "Prince and his executives would send them back to be deployed in Iraq with an express instruction to the concerned employees located overseas that they needed to 'stop costing the company money.'"

Escorts of Bremer in Iraq, 36 men and 3 helicopters. Photo courtesy: Intelpage

Doe #2 also says Prince "repeatedly ignored the assessments done by mental health professionals, and instead terminated those mental health professionals who were not willing to endorse deployments of unfit men." He says Prince and then-company president Gary Jackson "hid from Department of State the fact that they were deploying men to Iraq over the objections of mental health professionals and security professionals in the field," saying they "knew the men being deployed were not suitable candidates for carrying lethal weaponry, but did not care because deployments meant more money."

Doe #1 states that "Blackwater knew that certain of its personnel intentionally used excessive and unjustified deadly force, and in some instances used unauthorized weapons, to kill or seriously injure innocent Iraqi civilians." He concludes, "Blackwater did nothing to stop this misconduct." Doe #1 states that he "personally observed multiple incidents of Blackwater personnel intentionally using unnecessary, excessive and unjustified deadly force." He then cites several specific examples of Blackwater personnel firing at civilians, killing or "seriously" wounding them, and then failing to report the incidents to the State Department.

Doe #1 also alleges that "all of these incidents of excessive force were initially videotaped and voice recorded," but that "Immediately after the day concluded, we would watch the video in a session called a 'hot wash.' Immediately after the hotwashing, the video was erased to prevent anyone other than Blackwater personnel seeing what had actually occurred." Blackwater, he says, "did not provide the video to the State Department."

Doe #2 expands on the issue of unconventional weapons, alleging Prince "made available to his employees in Iraq various weapons not authorized by the United States contracting authorities, such as hand grenades and hand grenade launchers. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal weaponry in Iraq, unnecessarily killing scores of innocent Iraqis." Specifically, he alleges that Prince "obtained illegal ammunition from an American company called LeMas. This company sold ammunition designed to explode after penetrating within the human body. Mr. Prince's employees repeatedly used this illegal ammunition in Iraq to inflict maximum damage on Iraqis."

Blackwater has gone through an intricate rebranding process in the twelve years it has been in business, changing its name and logo several times. Prince also has created more than a dozen affiliate companies, some of which are registered offshore and whose operations are shrouded in secrecy. According to Doe #2, "Prince created and operated this web of companies in order to obscure wrongdoing, fraud and other crimes."

"For example, Mr. Prince transferred funds from one company (Blackwater) to another (Greystone) whenever necessary to avoid detection of his money laundering and tax evasion schemes." He added: "Mr. Prince contributed his personal wealth to fund the operations of the Prince companies whenever he deemed such funding necessary. Likewise, Mr. Prince took funds out of the Prince companies and placed the funds in his personal accounts at will."

Briefed on the substance of these allegations by The Nation, Congressman Dennis Kucinich replied, "If these allegations are true, Blackwater has been a criminal enterprise defrauding taxpayers and murdering innocent civilians." Kucinich is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and has been investigating Prince and Blackwater since 2004.

"Blackwater is a law unto itself, both internationally and domestically. The question is why they operated with impunity. In addition to Blackwater, we should be questioning their patrons in the previous administration who funded and employed this organization. Blackwater wouldn't exist without federal patronage; these allegations should be thoroughly investigated," Kucinich said.

A hearing before Judge Ellis in the civil cases against Blackwater is scheduled for August 7.

jueves, 23 de julio de 2009

Opposition Leader Drops Out of Kyrgyz Election

MOSCOW — The leading opposition candidate in Kyrgyzstan essentially withdrew from the presidential race on Thursday even before voting had concluded, asserting that widespread fraud had assured the incumbent’s victory.

The candidate, Almazbek Atambaev, a former prime minister, called on the public and international organizations to reject the election as unlawful. Mr. Atambaev instructed supporters who were working as observers at polling and vote-counting stations to leave, and he demanded that a new election be organized.

“The authorities understood that they would lose an honest and free election, which is why they relied on force — relied on force against their own people!” Mr. Atambaev said in a statement.

Election officials dismissed his accusations, saying that the balloting was legitimate. Official results were not expected to be released until Friday morning.

The Russian state news agency said an exit poll showed the incumbent, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, with 67 percent of the vote, and Mr. Atambaev with 13 percent. The opposition called the exit poll false and said it planned to hold street protests against the election. The government said such actions were illegal and would be blocked.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia that is host to an important American military base that supports operations in Afghanistan, has regularly faced political turmoil in recent years. It has also been the site of a tug of war between the United States and Russia over influence in Central Asia.

Kyrgyz opposition leader Almazbek Atambaev, center, spoke at a rally in Bishkek on Thursday after the closing of the presidential vote.

Mr. Bakiyev took power after the so-called Tulip Revolution of 2005, which ousted a government that was considered corrupt.

He had been expected to win a second term easily, though there was disagreement in Kyrgyzstan over why. His supporters said he had steered his poor country, which has five million people, through difficult times caused by the financial crisis and had garnered strong popularity.

The opposition has derided him as an autocrat who has persecuted opposition leaders and independent journalists. Many have been arrested, attacked and even killed over the past year.

Mr. Bakiyev has accused the opposition of airing phony charges of vote-rigging in an effort to explain away its lack of popularity. Casting his ballot on Thursday, he declared that the voting would be fair, saying that the Kyrgyz people cared about democracy.

“Each person understands that the fate of the nation, and his own future, depends on his choice,” the president said.

Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were in Kyrgyzstan to monitor the election, and they said they would deliver a preliminary report on Friday.

American officials have generally refrained from criticizing the Kyrgyz government in recent months. They have focused on ensuring that the United States military can remain at the air base on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek.

In February, Mr. Bakiyev announced that he was closing the base, apparently at the behest of Moscow. But he later reversed his decision after lobbying by the Washington, which agreed to pay more rent.

By CLIFFORD J. LEVY, Published NYT July 23, 2009

jueves, 16 de julio de 2009

Interview with Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsch

“We Won't Beg for Diplomatic Recognition”

Once a popular holiday getaway for the communist elite, tiny Abkhazia is now a de-facto republic at odds with most of the world. President Sergei Bagapsh spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about his nation's plans, friends and foes -- and prime real estate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other than Russia, your neighboring Black Sea states do not recognize Abkhazia as a nation. Are you isolated?

Sergei Bagapsch: We are a small country with around 242,000 inhabitants. At the moment, our connections with Russia suffice to allow us to develop our economy. Of course, we would be happy if Europe was more open toward us. But I think that's just a question of time. At the moment, we are trying to develop economic relationships with Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Belarus. We won't beg for diplomatic recognition.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Up until now, only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized your republic. Did that change anything for the Abkhazian people?

Bagapsch: The most important thing is that our people now know they can have normal lives. We know that it takes time to build an independent state. And we want a state based on a constitution and founded on the norms of international law. That requires new laws and a new way of thinking.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the Obama administration approach you differently to that of former US President George W. Bush, who called on Abkhazia to stick with Georgia?

Bagapsch: Up until now, there's been no trace of anything like that. The Americans first need to be clear about how they want to deal with the ongoing crisis in Georgia. Experts and political scientists are starting to doubt whether it's a good idea to continue to pay such respect to Georgia's concept of "territorial integrity." That's a good start.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Before the Caucasus war with Georgia in August 2008, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier came to visit Abkhazia. He wanted to try to prevent the impending war. Why do you think his mission failed?

Bagapsch: Steinmeier really impressed me. He's an experienced and talented politician. However, we couldn't accept his suggestion that we approach the negotiations with Georgia without preconditions. Negotiations like that could not have changed the fact that Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, was preparing for military aggression against South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Even now, talks with Georgia's leadership are completely useless.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Saakashvili has said that the war is not yet over. Is there any danger of more fighting in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Bagapsch: As long as Saakashvili is in charge in Georgia, there will be that danger. Where the opposition is suppressed, there will be a build-up of explosive political tension. And then there are going to be attempts to release that tension onto an external enemy. If Saakashvili takes us on again, he will be destroyed. The man is a natural-born aggressor.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But is Saakashvili the only problem? Doesn't his political opposition also dread having to admit that they have lost Abkhazia for good?

Bagapsch: It will certainly take decades before Georgia will really see what has been going on. The current generation wants to prolong the illusion that Abkhazia is Georgia and that the Abkhazians are Georgians. If European politicians -- German politicians included -- were more long-sighted and more courageous, they might be able to help Georgia free itself of an illusion that only does it harm. The sooner that happens, the sooner we will have the neighborly relations with Georgia that we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the Georgia-Abkhazia war in 1992-1993, around 200,000 Georgians fled from Abkhazia. Why can't these people return?

Bagapsch: We have let around 60,000 Georgians return to the Gali district. But the return of all the Georgians who left -- including the ones who fought against us -- could lead to war here. Those who started the Georgian invasion of Abkhazia in 1992 should be held responsible for the fate of those refugees. Rather than contributing toward Georgia's rearmament, the West would be better off giving money to Georgia for the reintegration of the refugees -- and for the reintegration of the refugees in their own Georgian territory, because they all emigrated from Georgia to Abkhazia in the first place.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't it true that you are opposed to the return of those refugees because it would drastically alter your country's ethnic mix?

Bagapsch: That obviously plays a role. When the Georgians were here, we Abkhazians only made up 17 percent of the population. But the most important thing remains the irreconcilable political differences between our two nations. Unfortunately, Georgia is doing everything it can to prolong this conflict.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are Russian military bases in Abkhazia, Russian troops guard your external borders, and your currency is the ruble. And, then, you want the Russians to manage your railways for 10 years. Is it possible that you're getting just a little too dependent on Russia?

Bagapsch: We are dealing with the Russian railways because we have to modernize our own. We would be equally pleased to deal with the German railways if they were interested. In any case, there are no completely independent nations in this world. Liechtenstein is dependent on Switzerland, Luxembourg on France. We are all dependent on one another. Georgia is dependent on America; we are on Russia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The opposition in Abkhazia is concerned that your small nation could turn into "a quasi-nation that lives off foreign financial deposits, like a parasite." Two-thirds of the Abkhazian budget comes from Russian grants. Doesn't that justify a certain degree of concern?

Bagapsch: No country in the world has developed without credit and outside help. Russia builds streets, schools, hospitals and churches -- and we are grateful for that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have suggested that foreigners be allowed to purchase real estate in Abkhazia, something that Abkhazian law has blocked until now. Isn't the fear that many Abkhazians have -- that they will be pushed out by rich Russians -- a legitimate one?

Bagapsch: We are discussing this issue. I have suggested that we look at the experiences other nations have had with this issue. Foreigners buy apartments in Spain: They relax there, pay taxes and bring money into the country. On the other hand, houses and land here are being sold to foreigners -- but not in accordance with the laws. As a result, we end up with protracted disputes that overburden our justice system. We need proper regulations. And, in the course of a sensible debate, we should be able to find a workable solution for Abkhazia.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do you think things will be like for Abkhazia in, say, 10 or 20 years?

Bagapsch: We will be a wealthy, affluent nation because we will have succeeded in swiftly stimulating our economy. There are already British, Czech and Austrian investors who want to get involved here. We are modernizing our airport, and we will soon be able to accept flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg. That will definitely be interesting for German tourists, particularly the ones who may have already been here in the days of the former East Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In December, there will be presidential elections in Abkhazia. Unlike in Russia, it is hard to predict the outcome. Four years ago, there were serious problems with vote counting, the results were considered suspect and there were massive protests. Have things gotten any better?

Bagapsch: Unlike in any other former member state of the Soviet Union, we have an opposition here and an adversarial press. That's good -- and it shows that we have chosen democracy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But that adversarial press also complains of problems. In February, Inal Khashig, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda, was allegedly driven to a remote location by some of your friends and relatives. There, he was reportedly reminded of the fate of murdered Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Does this sort of thing endanger the freedom of the press in Abkhazia?

Bagapsch: Absolutely not. In my years as president, I have never reacted to any written provocations. No one harassed Inal Khashig when he was criticizing the state. It was only when he wrote about my family -- and in a vulgar way -- that my relatives and a few of my close friends got angry. They sat him in the car, and they said to him: "Now it's not just about the president; now it's personal." But that's the Caucasus. Around here, you have to answer for insults like that.

Interview conducted by Uwe Klussmann in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia
Der Spiegel, 07/16/2009

martes, 7 de julio de 2009

95 Percent of Bride Kidnappings in Ingushetia are Pre-Agreed

The majority of bride kidnappings in Ingushetia take place upon prior agreement between the families of the would-be couple. According to Magomed Mutsolgov, a member of the advisory board on human rights in Russia and leader of the human rights NGO "Mashr", only five percent of such kidnappings end with opening of criminal cases.

"In recent years, kidnapping of brides became popular for two reasons: financial - it's easier to agree and kidnap a bride. In this case, many financial expenses are excluded," Mr Mutsolgov explained to the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent. His second reason is that in this manner all the sisters have chance to get married.

The human rights activist notes that elders of Ingushetia are actively voicing to stop this practice. Magomed Mutsolgov has added that one should not equate a kidnapping with a "bride stealing" and explained: "A kidnapping is a distress, while a bride stealing in most cases ends in a good big wedding party."

According to the Investigatory Department Ingushetia of the Investigatory Committee at the Prosecutor's Office (ICPO) of the Russian Federation, this year, the republic sees fewer kidnappings of women with the aim of marriage. In the first five months of 2009, Ingushetia registered 18 such cases. Under the Russian legislation "bride-stealing" is same punishable as a kidnapping and entails criminal liability. The Department believes that this tradition should be completely eradicated.

Dmitry Florin; Source: CK correspondent, jul 03 2009, 11:00

Armed mobs spread ethnic strife in China's west

Death toll rises to 156 in Urumqi riot in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

By WILLIAM FOREMAN, Associated Press Writer William Foreman, Associated Press Writer – 1 min ago

URUMQI, China – Mobs of Han Chinese wielding meat cleavers and clubs and groups of Muslim Uighur men beat people in the streets of the capital of China's Xinjiang region Tuesday. The government imposed a curfew as it tried to stem communal violence after a riot that killed at least 156 people.

Members of the Uighur ethnic group attacked people near the Urumqi's railway station, and women in headscarves protested the arrests of husbands and sons in another part of the city. Meanwhile, for much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding cleavers and clubs and chanting "Defend the Country" tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas.

Panic and anger bubbled up amid the suspicion in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee). In some neighborhoods, Han Chinese — China's majority ethnic group — armed themselves with pieces of lumber and shovels to defend themselves. People bought up bottled water out of fear, as one resident said, that "the Uighurs might poison the water."

The outbursts happened despite swarms of paramilitary and riot police enforcing a dragnet that state media said led to the arrest more than 1,400 participants in Sunday's riot, the worst ethnic violence in the often tense region in decades.

Trying to control the message, the government has slowed mobile phone and Internet services, blocked Twitter — whose servers are overseas — and censored Chinese social networking and news sites and accused Uighurs living in exile of inciting Sunday's riot. State media coverage, however, carried graphic footage and pictures of the unrest _showing mainly Han Chinese victims and stoking the anger.

The violence is a further embarrassment for a Chinese leadership preparing for the 60th anniversary of communist rule in October and calling for the creation of a "harmonious society" to celebrate. Years of rapid development have failed to smooth over the ethnic fault lines in Xinjiang, where the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) have watched growing numbers of Han Chinese move in.

Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's Communist Party secretary, declared a curfew in all but name, imposing traffic restrictions and ordering people off the streets from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. Wednesday "to avoid further chaos."

"It is needed for the overall situation. I hope people pay great attention and act immediately," he said in an announcement broadcast on Xinjiang television.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang blamed the violence on Rebiya Kadeer, the U.S.-exiled Uighur leader.

"Using violence, making rumors, and distorting facts are what cowards do because they are afraid to see social stability and ethnic solidarity in Xinjiang," he told a regular news conference.

Qin said Kadeer was behind the violence, adding "she has committed crimes that jeopardize national security." Evidence had been found against her, Qin said, but refused to give details.

Sunday's riot started as a peaceful demonstration by Uighurs over a deadly fight at a factory in eastern China between Han Chinese and Uighur workers. It then spiraled out of control, as mainly Uighur groups beat people and set fire to vehicles and shops belonging to Han Chinese.

On Tuesday, some among the Han Chinese mob, who were retreating from the tear gas, were met by Urumqi's Communist Party leader Li Zhi, who climbed atop a police vehicle and started chanting with the crowd. Li pumped his fists, beat his chest, and urged the crowd to strike down Kadeer, the 62-year-old Uighur leader.

"Those Muslims killed so many of our people. We just can't let that happen," said one man in the crowd, surnamed Liu. He carried a long wooden stick and said the Han Chinese were forced to take up arms. People walked by with bloodshot eyes from the tear gas.

To the east, on Xingfu road, Han Chinese residents stoned a car with two Uighurs inside until it crashed, pulling one passenger out and beating him until police arrived, residents said.

Elsewhere in the city, about 200 people, mostly women in traditional headscarves, took to the streets in another neighborhood, wailing for the release of their sons and husbands in the crackdown and confronting lines of paramilitary police. The women said police came through their neighborhood Monday night and strip-searched men to check for cuts and other signs of fighting before hauling them away.

"My husband was detained at gunpoint. They were hitting people, they were stripping people naked. My husband was scared so he locked the door, but the police broke down the door and took him away," said a woman, who gave her name as Aynir. She said about 300 people were arrested in the market in the southern section of town.

The protesters briefly scuffled with paramilitary police, who pushed them back with long sticks before both sides retreated.

Foreign reporters on a government-run tour of the riot's aftermath witnessed the protest and without their presence, the incident might have gone unreported given the media controls.

Groups of 10 or so Uighur men with bricks and knives attacked Han Chinese passers-by and shop-owners midday outside the city's southern railway station, until police ran them off, witnesses said.

"They were using everything for weapons, like bricks, sticks and cleavers," said a Mr. Ma, an employee at the Dicos fast-food restaurant nearby. "Whenever the rioters saw someone on the street, they would ask 'are you a Uighur?' If they kept silent or couldn't answer in the Uighur language, they would get beaten or killed."

It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed in those reported attacks.

Li, the Communist Party official, told a news conference that more than 1,000 people had been detained as of early Tuesday and suggested more arrests were under way. "The number is changing all the time. We will let those who did not commit serious crimes go back to their work units."

The official Xinhua News Agency said earlier Tuesday that 1,434 suspects had been arrested, and that checkpoints had been set up to stop rioters from escaping.

Officials at the news conference said they could not give a breakdown of how many of the dead were Uighurs and how many were Han Chinese.

Sunday's riot started as a peaceful demonstration by 1,000 to 3,000 people protesting the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed in a brawl in the southern Chinese city of Shaoguan. Xinhua said two died. Messages circulating on Internet sites popular with Uighurs put the figure higher, raising tensions in Xinjiang.

In a sign the government was trying to address communal grievances, Xinhua announced Tuesday that 13 people had been arrested over the factory fight, including three from Xinjiang. Two others were arrested for spreading rumors on the Internet that Xinjiang employees had raped two female workers, the report said, citing a local police deputy director.

The disturbances in Xinjiang carry reminders of the widespread anti-Chinese protests that shook Tibet last year and have left large parts of western China living with police checkpoints and tightened security. Like the Tibetans, Uighur unrest has not been muted by rapid economic development, though the government publicly is unwilling to address ethnic tensions.

viernes, 12 de junio de 2009

The EU Swings to the Right

European Parliament Election Results by Country
The June 4-7 European Parliament elections delivered a setback for the European left and gains for center-right and right-wing parties across the continent. SPIEGEL ONLINE gives an overview of the results by country.

The 2009 elections to the European Parliament were marked by historically low voter turnout and victories for center-right and right-wing parties. SPIEGEL ONLINE provides a country-by-country breakdown of the election results.

In Austria, the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ) suffered a serious setback. The SPÖ fell to 23.8 percent, a drop of more than 9 percent, giving it its worst-ever result in a nationwide election. The Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), which is in a grand coalition government with the SPÖ, came first with 29.7 percent, a drop of about three percentage points compared to 2004. A party founded by the euroskeptic journalist and politician Hans-Peter Martin gained 4 percent to win 17.9 percent of the vote, making it the third strongest party. The right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) won just over 13 percent, a gain of nearly seven percentage points, while the Greens slipped from over 12 percent in 2004 to just 9.5 percent. The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), a right-wing populist party founded by the late Jörg Haider, got just 4.7 percent and failed to make the 5 percent hurdle.

In Belgium, the ruling Christian Democrats came out on top, winning 15 percent, ahead of the Liberal Democrats at 13 percent. The far-right Vlaams Belang or Flemish Interest Party was the obvious loser, falling from 14 to 10 percent, about the same level as the francophone Socialist Party (PS). The Green Party Ecolo, meanwhile, more than doubled its support to 8 percent.

In Bulgaria, the ruling left-leaning Coalition for Bulgaria alliance suffered a setback, winning only around 19 percent of the vote according to preliminary results. The conservative opposition party GERB came first with around 26 percent, while the euroskeptic nationalists of the Ataka Party won more than 11 percent. The election was overshadowed by allegations of vote-rigging, with reports that votes had been bought. The going price for a vote was up to 40 leva (€20), the state radio reported. Experts from the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia had calculated in the run-up to the election that the parties would spend at least €6 million buying votes.

The conservative opposition Democratic Rally (DISY), on the Greek half of Cyprus, had the strongest showing with 36 percent. (The Greek half of Cyprus is the only side that belongs to the EU.) The incumbent, left-leaning Progress Party of Working People (AKEL) received a shade less support at 35 percent.

In the Czech Republic, the conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS) succeeded in defending its position as the leading party. According to preliminary results, ODS garnered slightly more than 31 percent of the vote, followed by the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) with around 22 percent and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which got 14 percent. In addition, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) cleared the 5 percent hurdle to enter the parliament with around 8 percent of the votes. Until new elections are held in October, the Czech Republic is to be led by a crossbench cabinet of experts led by Prime Minister Jan Fischer. The center-right government of ODS politician Mirek Topolanek fell in March following a vote of no confidence in parliament.

In Denmark, the right-wing populist, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DVP) led the election. The party increased its share of the vote from 6.8 percent in the last EU election to 15 percent. Since 2001, the party has been the largest in the populist minority government in Copenhagen and is also considered the driving force behind Denmark's tightening of its policies towards foreigners living in the country. The country's opposition Social Democrats suffered a sharp drop at the polling booth, falling from 32.6 percent to 21 percent. Nevertheless, the party still remains, by a slight margin, the country's biggest vote-getting party, just ahead of Prime Minster Lars Lokke Rasmussen's Liberal Party, which scored 20 percent. The Socialist People's Party (SF), the country's socialist and Green party, came in at 16 percent.

In Estonia, the opposition Center Party is out in front with 26 percent, followed by the Reform Party of the incumbent Prime Minister Andrus Ansip at 15 percent. The opposition conservative Res Publica party have 12 percent, while the Social Democrats, who are also members of the coalition government, are at around 9 percent.

In Finland, right-wing populists known for their anti-foreigner rhetoric gained massive ground. The True Finns party increased its share of the vote from 0.5 percent in the last European election in 2004 to 10 percent after joining forces in the election with the conservative Christian Democrats. The second biggest winner was the Green Party, which shares power in the Finnish government, scoring 12 percent in the election. The liberal Center Party of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen scored around 20 percent and his conservative coalition partner, the National Coalition Party, got more than 22 percent, while the Social Democrats came in at 18 percent.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservative UMP party won an easy victory in France, getting 28 percent of the vote. The Socialist Party (PS), a sister party to Germany's Social Democrats, earned only 17 percent -- slightly more than Daniel Cohn-Bendit's Greens, who won 16 percent.

In Greece, according to preliminary results, the socialist PASOK party came in first, winning 36.7 percent of the vote. The conservative ruling party, New Democracy, only managed about 32 percent. The Greek communist KKE party, which won around 8 percent of the vote, will also be represented in the new European Parliament, as will the ultra-conservative LAOS party (around 7 percent), the left-wing Syriza (around 5 percent) and -- for the first time -- the Greek Greens (around 3.5 percent).

In Hungary, the conservative opposition won a landslide victory. According to preliminary results, the Fidesz Party of former Prime Minister Viktor Orban won around 56 percent. The ruling Socialists received only about 17 percent, putting it only slightly ahead of the right-wing Jobbik party, which won about 15 percent.

In Ireland, the incumbent conservative Fianna Fail party of Prime Minister Brian Cowen won only 24 percent, a loss of about 6 percentage points, which means it is no longer the strongest Irish political force in Brussels. Opposition party Fine Gael managed 29 percent. Observers see the results as a condemnation of the Cowen government's domestic policies; the financial crisis has hit Ireland hard. The head of the Libertas party, Declan Ganley, who wants to build momentum for a euroskeptic movement across the entire EU, won just over 5 percent, leaving Libertas in sixth place. The businessman has said he would end his campaign against the Lisbon Treaty if it were to fail at the polls. A referendum planned in Ireland for the fall to ratify the Lisbon Treaty now has a better chance of success.

In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party easily won the most support. Early results showed his People of Freedom (PdL) party at 35 percent; its coalition partner the Northern League managed around 10 percent. The center-left opposition Democratic Party (PD), however, earned only 27 percent. They were hoping for signs of weakness in Berlusconi's party as a result of recent scandals involving the prime minister.

In Latvia, the parties of the country's Russian minority celebrated surprising successes. The left-wing party coalition Harmony Center garnered around 20 percent of the votes -- twice as many as predicted. The movement For Human Rights in United Latvia, which also represents the Russian minority, came in at around 10 percent. The election's winner, however, was the Civic Union, a party established only last year, with around 24 percent.

The governing conservative Homeland Union - Lithuania Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) party in Lithuania proved to be the strongest force in the European election. According to the first results, the party garnered around 25 percent of the vote, ahead of the left-leaning Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), which came in at 19 percent.

In Luxembourg, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's party not only won the national election, but also the European election. The Christian Social People's Party (CSV) garnered around 31 percent of the votes, the liberal Democratic Party (DP) and the social democratic Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party (LSAP) both got 19 percent, while the Greens came in at 17 percent.

In Malta, too, the conservative ruling PN party came second with just 41 percent of the vote, while the opposition center-left Labour Party (PL) won first place with 55 percent. The PL obviously benefited from its criticism of the government over its allegedly lax attitude to the increasing number of immigrants arriving by boat from Africa.

In the Netherlands, one party was already celebrating victory before the EU-wide elections had finished, a party that until now hasn't counted as one of the country's established parties. Politician Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) has now become the country's second-largest political force in Brussels, garnering around 17 percent of the votes. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's center-right Christian Democrats (CDA) secured around 20 percent of the vote, and his coalition partner, the center-left Dutch Labor Party (PvDA), got 12 percent. Celebrating together with his supporters, Wilders said the Freedom Party's success was a vote against EU membership for Turkey, against an increasingly large and expensive European Union and against the Dutch government.

In Poland, the center-right incumbent parties have maintained their edge. Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) earned around 45 percent, while the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), led by President Lech Kaczynski, ran a distant second place with 29 percent. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) won 12 percent, while the Polish People's Party (PSL) -- a partner in the ruling coalition which along with Civic Platform belongs to the conservative EPP grouping in the European Parliament -- earned 8 percent.

In Portugal, the ruling Socialist Party (PS) of Prime Minister Jose Socrates suffered an unexpected defeat, winning around 27 percent, a significant drop compared to its 2004 result of 44.5 percent. The opposition conservative Social Democratic Party (PSD) won around 32 percent, a similar result to 2004. The big winner in Portugal was the Left Bloc (BE), an association of radical left-wing parties and independents, which almost doubled its share of the vote to over 10 percent.

In Romania, preliminary results show the governing parties Democratic Liberal Party (PDL, center-right) and Social Democratic Party (PSD) each pulling in more than 30 percent of votes. Ranking third is the opposition, business-friendly National Liberal Party (PNL) with around 17 percent, followed by the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) with around 9 percent. The far-right Greater Romania Party (PRM) garnered around 7 percent and will again have seats in the European Parliament.

In Slovakia, the ruling party also came out ahead. The Direction - Social Democracy party of Prime Minister Robert Fico won 32 percent of the vote -- twice as much as the strongest opposition party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) headed by ex-Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, which won 17 percent. The extreme-right Slovak National Party had a surprisingly weak showing with 5.5 percent. Voter turnout in Slovakia was particularly low, at 19.6 percent.

The conservative opposition did well in Slovenia, where the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) founded by former Prime Minister Janez Jansa came first with about 27 percent of the vote, according to initial results. The Social Democrats of acting Prime Minister Boris Pahor won more than 18 percent while the conservative New Slovenia party (NSI) won about 16 percent. The liberal parties LDS and Zares won around 11.5 percent and 10 percent respectively.

In Spain, the conservative People's Party won over 42 percent of the vote, gaining 23 seats, compared to the 38.5 percent (21 seats) won by the ruling center-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The remaining seats were divided up between smaller and regional parties. The PSOE had already announced in the run-up to the election that it would be satisfied with a draw or a narrow defeat.

In Sweden the opposition Social Democrats came first, with 25 percent of the vote, while Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's conservative Moderate Party (MS) earned about 19 percent. The Greens doubled their support to about 11 percent. But the Pirate Party won the most spectacular victory -- by earning its first seat in Brussels with an 8 percent share of the vote. The Pirate Party wants more rights for Internet users and free flow of data on the Web. Support for the party rose in polls after a court verdict against the Internet data-swap site The Pirate Bay, which is based in Sweden. The four men in charge were sentenced to a €2.7 million fine and one year in jail for abetting data piracy.

Among the election's biggest losers was the Labour party in the United Kingdom, which saw its support drop from 19 seats in 2004 to 11 and won just 15.3 percent of the vote -- its worst post-war election result. It finished in third place behind the Conservatives (24 seats) and the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (13 seats). The vote is seen as a damning verdict on Labour, whose leader Gordon Brown is under increasing pressure to resign as prime minister amid an ongoing expense account scandal in the House of Commons. Fourth and fifth place went to the Liberals and the Greens with 13.9 percent and 8.7 percent respectively. The far-right British National Party won four seats -- the first time Britain has elected right-wing extremists to the European Parliament.

Source: Der Spiegel, 06/08/2009