CRITICA MUSICAL / MUSICAL CRITIC

Um blog de Álvaro Sílvio Teixeira

2009/07/29

Iran: torture and abuses

Some prisoners say they watched fellow detainees being beaten to death by guards in overcrowded, stinking holding pens. Others say they had their fingernails ripped off or were forced to lick filthy toilet bowls.

The accounts of prison abuse in Iran’s postelection crackdown — relayed by relatives and on opposition Web sites — have set off growing outrage among Iranians, including some prominent conservatives. More bruised corpses have been returned to families in recent days, and some hospital officials have told human rights workers that they have seen evidence that well over 100 protesters have died since the vote.

On Tuesday, the government released 140 prisoners in one of several conciliatory gestures aimed at deflecting further criticism. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a letter urging the head of the judiciary to show “Islamic mercy” to the detainees, and on Monday Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, personally intervened and closed an especially notorious detention center.

Iranian news reports quoted judiciary officials as saying a prominent reformer, Saeed Hajjarian, who was detained on June 16 accused of fomenting unrest, would be released Wednesday. The state-funded English-language broadcaster Press TV quoted Farhad Tajari, deputy head of the parliamentary judicial commission, as saying that the former deputy interior minister, Mostafa Tajzadeh, and former deputy speaker of Parliament, Behzad Nabavi, were in detention facing major security charges and could be released on bail.

But there are signs that widespread public anger persists, and that it is not confined to those who took to the streets crying fraud after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory last month. Several conservatives have said the abuse suggests a troubling lack of accountability, and they have hinted at a link with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s recent willingness to defy even the venerated Ayatollah Khamenei.

“Why did things have to go so far as to require the personal intervention of the supreme leader?” said Ali Mottahari, a conservative Parliament member. “If we are satisfied just to close one detention center, these people will continue to do what they have done elsewhere and nothing will change.”

Although the government has played down the scale of the prison abuses, some detainees’ relatives have come forward recently to confirm them, mostly to opposition-linked Web sites that have provided credible information in the past, including roozonline.com and gooya.com.

Some deaths have been further documented with photographs or videotapes. Hospital officials have described receiving bodies of those killed in protests, with the total far in excess of 20, the government’s initial figure. It is difficult to confirm such reports independently, given the restrictions on reporting in Iran.

The anger has spread from opposition supporters into Iran’s hard-line camp in part because of the case of Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of an adviser to the conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, who died in prison after a severe beating. A bitter political dispute among conservatives over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s cabinet decisions may also have helped fuel the issue.

The prison abuses have also galvanized the opposition movement, whose leaders asked for permission to hold a mass mourning ceremony on Thursday in honor of those killed since the election. The Interior Ministry on Tuesday refused permission for the gathering, but the main opposition leaders, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, said they would hold a public ceremony anyway, several Web sites reported.

Thursday is a day of unusual symbolic importance because it will be 40 days since the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose death during a demonstration was captured on video and ignited outrage across the globe. The 40th day marks an important Shiite mourning ritual; similar commemorations for dead protesters fueled the demonstrations that led to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Questions about the prison abuse have gained more importance in recent days, not only because of the opposition’s public protests but also because the stories have multiplied. One young man posted an account on Tuesday of his ordeal at the Kahrizak camp, which was ordered closed on Monday by Ayatollah Khamenei.

“We were all standing so close to each other that no one could move,” he wrote in a narrative posted online. “The plainclothes guards came into the room and broke all the light bulbs, and in the pitch dark started beating us, whoever they could.” By morning, at least four detainees were dead, he added.

In another account posted online, a former detainee describes being made to lie facedown on the floor of a police station bathroom, where an officer would step on his neck and force him to lick the toilet bowl as the officer cursed reformist politicians.

A woman described having her hair pulled as interrogators demanded that she confess to having sex with political figures. When she was finally released, she was forced — like many others — to sign a paper saying she had never been mistreated.

Mr. Moussavi spoke out Monday in unusually strong and angry terms, accusing the government of brutality and irreligion, and warning that its conduct toward the detainees could set off a much greater reaction.

“They cannot turn this nation into a prison of 70 million people,” Mr. Moussavi said, adding later that “the more people they arrest, the more widespread the movement will become.”

The prisoner release on Tuesday appeared to be the act of a government desperate to defuse the issue, coming just one day after the head of Iran’s judiciary promised that the detainees’ cases would be expedited. Government officials say that of at least 2,500 people arrested in the postelection crackdown, about 150 remain in prison.

In announcing the release, Saeed Jalili, the secretary of the National Security Council of Iran, sounded a defensive note, saying that those still in jail “are people for whom there are documents stating they were in possession of firebombs and weapons, including firearms, and who had caused serious damage to public property.”

But Mr. Mottahari, the lawmaker, said Tuesday that those responsible for the deaths of detainees must also be identified and punished. Others have gone further, saying the prison abuses suggest a government lurching dangerously out of control.

“Those who have turned this society into a police state and have ordered the use of force have to be held accountable,” said Hamid-Reza Katouzian, a hard-line member of Parliament. “The police and the Ministry of Intelligence have told us that they are on the sidelines, and we do not know who is responsible or accountable.”

Mr. Katouzian is a close friend of Mr. Ruholamini’s family, and his comments appeared to reflect personal outrage over that case. But his remarks also echoed a broader, longstanding concern about the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia taking over law enforcement functions and acting beyond the knowledge of legislators.

Senior clerics have also weighed in, warning that tolerating such injustices could endanger Iran’s theocracy.

“The shameful recent events have distressed everyone and been a source of worry for all those who love their country and the Islamic republic,” said Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, adding a plea for the government to release detainees.

The number of those killed since the election is impossible to determine, and it includes at least a few members of the Basij militia as well as protesters. One human rights group, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said it spoke to doctors in three Tehran hospitals who registered the bodies of 34 protesters on June 20 alone. Other doctors have provided similar accounts and have estimated a death toll of at least 150 based on bodies they saw.

Earlier this month, family members of missing demonstrators were taken to a morgue in southwest Tehran where they reported seeing “hundreds of corpses” and were not allowed to retrieve bodies unless they certified that the deaths were of natural causes, according to accounts relayed on Web sites and to human rights workers. ROBERT F. WORTH (Robert F. Worth reported from Dubai, and Sharon Otterman from New York) in nytimes.com, July 29

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2009/07/26

Iran Clerics Urged to Act on Detainees

TEHRAN (Reuters, July 25) - Iran's opposition urged senior clerics on Saturday to help secure the release of people arrested following June's disputed presidential election, after a protester died in prison.

A reformist website said the son of an adviser to defeated conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaie had been killed in a Tehran prison after being detained in post-election unrest.

The authorities were not immediately available to confirm the death or the circumstances surrounding it.

Rights groups say hundreds of people, including senior pro-reform activists, journalists, academics and lawyers, have been arrested since Iran's disputed June 12 presidential vote.

In a flurry of announcements on websites, critics of the election condemned the tactics employed since the vote by the authorities, who have banned street protests by those who say the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was rigged.

Iran's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the president's election victory soon after the vote.

But the opposition continues to contest the result of the election, which has plunged the country into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed deepening divisions in Iran's ruling elite.

"The only way out of this situation is ... to immediately release detainees," Ghalamnews quoted a joint statement issued by moderate defeated candidates and former President Mohammad Khatami as saying.

"We are very worried about their physical and mental health ... this imposed state security should end ... It is wrong to link pro-reform detainees to foreign countries," it said.

REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS

Tehran has accused western powers of fuelling post-election unrest, charges they deny, adding to tensions over Iran's nuclear program which the West suspects is a cover for building atomic weapons. Iran says its program is peaceful.

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, has repeatedly described Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence and the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Iran would strike Israel's nuclear sites if targeted.

"If the Zionist Regime (Israel) attacks Iran, we will surely strike its nuclear facilities with our missile capabilities," Mohammad Ali Jafari, Guards commander-in-chief, told Iran's Arabic language al-Alam television.

The security establishment has thrown its support behind Ahmadinejad over the election and has been criticized by the opposition for its role in quelling the mass protests.

Moderate defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karoubi said in a letter to Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei that those detained since the election had been subjected to "mental torture" and treated harshly, his website reported.

"The head of the executive body is not elected by the people's vote. The new government is illegitimate," he said in his letter.

"The intelligence network has turned into the most unclear and terrifying tool to suppress people ... detainees are being kept in illegal detention centers and are under mental torture. Physically they are threatened harshly," the letter added.

"Think of a way out of the current crisis, otherwise it will be difficult for you to manage Ramadan and other religious and national days," he added, referring to holidays when people gather and hold rallies.

Witnesses said on Saturday that Iranian police and Basij militia clashed with hundreds of pro-reform protesters in the area of Vanak Square, one of the capital's busiest intersections.

"They beat people who were chanting 'Mousavi we support you' and 'We want our vote back'," one witness said, referring to moderate defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi.

Another witness said he saw two young protesters being detained by police after being beaten.

EVIN PRISON

The reformist Mosharekat website said on Saturday that Mohsen Ruholamini, the son of a senior adviser to Rezaie, had been killed in Tehran's Evin prison.

"His family was told that Mohsen would be released soon. But the authorities informed the family on Thursday night about his death," the website said.

Ruholamini had been arrested in post-election protests on July 9 and held in Evin, the website said. It did not say how he had been killed or when.

Leading moderates, including former presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, have called for the immediate release of post-election detainees.

The authorities say most of those held have been freed.

Iranian official media have said at least 20 people died in violence after the poll.

Mousavi and the authorities blame each other for the bloodshed. Riot police and religious Basij forces eventually suppressed June's protests, but leading moderates have remained defiant, calling the new government "illegitimate."

Mousavi has said he will join a planned group of leading figures to preserve "people's votes," saying he would not allow his killed supporters' "blood to be trampled."

(London newsroom, +44 207 542 7917)

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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2009/07/25

Merce Cunningham morre aos 90 anos

Merce Cunningham, o lendário coreógrafo que revolucionou a dança moderna, morreu ontem, em Nova Iorque, aos 90 anos. “É com grande pesar que anunciamos o desaparecimento de Merce Cunningham, que morreu tranquilamente em sua casa, de causas naturais”, dizia o comunicado emitido pela Cunningham Dance Foundation e pela Cunningham Dance Company, que o dançarino e coreógrafo nascido em Centralia, Washington, em 1919, tinha formado no Verão de 1953.

Com a sua companhia, Cunningham marcou a evolução da dança, estabelecendo uma relação muito particular com as artes plásticas e com a música contemporânea, nomeadamente com a obra de John Cage, com quem começou a trabalhar em meados da década de 40, numa parceria que só viria a terminar com a morte do compositor americano, em 1992.

“Merce revolucionou as artes visuais e performativas, não em busca da iconoclastia, mas da beleza e maravilhamento que decorrem da exploração de novas possibilidade”, acrescenta a nota.

Ainda que remetido a uma cadeira de rodas, Cunningham tinha feito, no início do mês de Junho – já depois de ter celebrado o seu 90º aniversário, a 16 de Abril –, o anúncio do programa que decidira preparar para a sua companhia no West Village de Nova Iorque, para quando ele não a pudesse dirigir pessoalmente, ao então para depois da sua morte: realizar uma última digressão mundial de dois anos e, depois, extinguir-se.

“Tenho tido sempre na minha cabeça o movimento físico do ser humano”, disse o coreógrafo no momento do anúncio dessa tournée, a que deu o título Herança Viva.

“A carreira de Merce caracteriza-se pelo seu desejo constante de ultrapassar fronteiras e de explorar novas ideias”, disse também nessa altura Trevor Carlson, director executivo da Fundação que tem o nome do coreógrafo que chegou a ser designado o “Nijinski americano”. in publico.pt, 27.07.2009 - 15h33


"Portugal acabará por integrar-se na Espanha"

Este foi o regresso mais longo de José Saramago a Portugal desde que a polémica que envolveu a candidatura do seu livro OEvangelho segundo Jesus Cristo ao Prémio Literário Europeu o levou para um "exílio" na ilha espanhola de Lanzarote. A atribuição do Prémio Nobel parece tê-lo feito esquecer essas mágoas, mas não amoleceu a sua visão da sociedade e da História, que continua a ser polémica. Como se pode ver nesta entrevista.
...
Este regresso a Portugal é um perdão?

O país não me fez mal algum, não confundamos, nem há nenhuma reconciliação porque não houve nenhum corte. O que aconteceu foi com um governo de um partido que já não é governo, com um senhor chamado Sousa Lara e outro de nome Santana Lopes. Claro que as responsabilidades estendem-se ao governo, a quem eu pedi o favor de fazer qualquer coisa mas não fez nada, e resolvi ir embora. Quando foi do Prémio Nobel, dei uma volta pelo país porque toda a gente me queria ver, até pessoas que não lêem apareceram! E desde então tenho vindo com muita frequência a Lisboa.

Vive num país que pouco a pouco toma conta da economia portuguesa. Não o incomoda?

Acho que é uma situação natural.

Qual é o futuro de Portugal nesta península?

Não vale a pena armar -me em profeta, mas acho que acabaremos por integrar-nos.

Política, económica ou culturalmente?

Culturalmente, não, a Catalunha tem a sua própria cultura, que é ao mesmo tempo comum ao resto da Espanha, tal como a dos bascos e a galega, nós não nos converteríamos em espanhóis. Quando olhamos para a Península Ibérica o que é que vemos? Observamos um conjunto, que não está partida em bocados e que é um todo que está composto de nacionalidades, e em alguns casos de línguas diferentes, mas que tem vivido mais ou menos em paz. Integrados o que é que aconteceria? Não deixaríamos de falar português, não deixaríamos de escrever na nossa língua e certamente com dez milhões de habitantes teríamos tudo a ganhar em desenvolvimento nesse tipo de aproximação e de integração territorial, administrativa e estrutural. Quanto à queixa que tantas vezes ouço sobre a economia espanhola estar a ocupar Portugal, não me lembro de alguma vez termos reclamado de outras economias como as dos Estados Unidos ou da Inglaterra, que também ocuparam o país. Ninguém se queixou, mas como desta vez é o castelhano que vencemos em Aljubarrota que vem por aí com empresas em vez de armas...

Seria, então, mais uma província de Espanha?

Seria isso. Já temos a Andaluzia, a Catalunha, o País Basco, a Galiza, Castilla la Mancha e tínhamos Portugal. Provavelmente [Espanha] teria de mudar de nome e passar a chamar-se Ibéria. Se Espanha ofende os nossos brios, era uma questão a negociar. O Ceilão não se chama agora Sri Lanka, muitos países da Ásia mudaram de nome e a União Soviética não passou a Federação Russa?

Mas algumas das províncias espanholas também querem ser independentes!

A única independência real que se pede é a do País Basco e mesmo assim ninguém acredita.

E os portugueses aceitariam a integração?

Acho que sim, desde que isso fosse explicado, não é uma cedência nem acabar com um país, continuaria de outra maneira. Repito que não se deixaria de falar, de pensar e sentir em português. Seríamos aqui aquilo que os catalães querem ser e estão a ser na Catalunha.

E como é que seria esse governo da Ibéria?

Não iríamos ser governados por espanhóis, haveria representantes dos partidos de ambos os países, que teriam representação num parlamento único com todas as forças políticas da Ibéria, e tal como em Espanha, onde cada autonomia tem o seu parlamento próprio, nós também o teríamos.

Há duas Espanhas

Os espanhóis olham-no como um deles?

Há duas Espanhas neste caso. Evidentemente, tratam-me como se fosse um deles, mas com as finanças espanholas ando numa guerra há, pelo menos, quatro anos porque querem que pague lá os impostos e consideram que lhes devo uma grande quantidade de dinheiro. Eu recusei-me a pagar e o meu argumento é extremamente simples, não pago duas vezes o que já paguei uma. Se há duplicação de impostos, então que o governo espanhol se entenda com o português e decidam. Eu tenho cá a minha casa e a minha residência fiscal sempre foi em Lisboa, ou seja, não há dúvidas de que estou numa situação de plena legalidade. Quanto aos impostos, e é por aí que também se vê o patriotismo, pago-os pontualmente em Portugal. Nunca pus o meu dinheiro num paraíso fiscal e repugna-me pensar que há quem o faça. O meu dinheiro é para aquilo que o Governo entender que serve. in dn.pt, 15 Julho 2007

Nota: eu estou farto das lontras - estúpidas e arrogantes - portuguesas. Venha a Ibéria. Juntos seremos grandes...


BCP garantiu o direito de vir a pedir indemnização

O Millennium BCP garantiu o direito de vir a pedir uma indemnização aos cinco antigos administradores do banco acusados pelo Ministério Público de manipulação do mercado, falsificação de documento e burla qualificada, caso se confirmem as acusações.

Numa comunicação interna aos colaboradores do Grupo Millennium bcp, à qual a agência Lusa teve acesso, a equipa liderada por Carlos Santos Ferreira informou que "após consultados os advogados do banco (...) decidiu o conselho de administração executivo, em reunião realizada no dia 14 de Julho, para evitar qualquer risco de alegação de perda do eventual direito à indemnização que se apurasse no âmbito deste processo, apresentar nesta data um requerimento" em tribunal.

O BCP solicitou no requerimento "a clarificação do seu direito de, em momento ulterior, designadamente em face do apuramento final dos factos, vir a pedir oportunamente qualquer indemnização a que haja lugar em processo separado nos tribunais civis".

"E, cautelarmente, na hipótese de esse direito de apresentação de pedido nos tribunais civis não ser reconhecido, indemnização civil segundo os factos e termos indicados na acusação, para o caso de estes virem a ser provados", anunciou a administração do BCP na nota interna.

A decisão resultou da reunião de 14 de Julho, véspera do final do prazo legal que o BCP tinha para responder à notificação do Departamento de Investigação e Acção Penal (DIAP), que foi feita na mesma altura (final de Junho) em que os cinco antigos administradores do BCP foram notificados.

O BCP foi notificado pelo DIAP para, querendo, se constituir assistente no processo e para solicitar uma indemnização civil em processo penal.

No que toca à constituição como assistente, o conselho de administração executivo do BCP "reservou uma decisão para o momento que se vier a mostrar adequado, dentro do prazo fixado na lei para o fazer".

Os cinco acusados são Jorge Jardim Gonçalves e Filipe Pinhal (ex-presidentes executivos), António Castro Henriques, Christopher de Beck e António Rodrigues (antigos administradores).

Numa nota enviada à comunicação social, a PGR explicou que os factos em causa foram praticados no período compreendido entre 1999 e 2007 e que dizem respeito à utilização de veículos 'offshore', detidos pelo banco de modo a influenciar os valores de mercado e o 'rating' dos títulos BCP no mercado de valores.

Para o Ministério Público, ficou ainda provado que houve "falsificação da contabilidade do banco, com vista a ocultar as perdas resultantes para o banco, no valor aproximado de 600 milhões de euros" e que os administradores obtiveram "avultados prémios, calculados em função de resultados deliberadamente empolados, com um prejuízo para o banco de cerca de 24 milhões de euros".

Nota: a indeminização como obrigação básica e elementar. Se existirem responsabilidades criminais deverão responder por elas.


Um senhor guerrilheiro

"Aquando da morte de Palma Inácio, Almeida Santos fez estas declarações em que para ilustrar a modéstia de Palma Inácio refere como o PS esteve sempre disponível para lhe dar cargos, honrarias e nomeações que o mesmo Palma Inácio recusou."

A diferença Helena, é que o Palma (não o conheci mas tive um tio assim) era um senhor e estes são um feirantes armados em socialistas. Entretanto, no offshore da Madeira ataca-se a tiro a propaganda legal contra a ladroagem! E não há ninguém que meta o Bonzo da Madeira na ordem...


A Tasca e o taberneiro

"Até lhe agradeço que escreva mal pois como todos têm escrito bem as pessoas podem pensar que eu paguei para escreverem bem". Curioso e talvez sintomático, mas foi assim que o português "chef" Vitor Sobral, proprietário de uma "tasca" em Lisboa, que tem aparecido muito referenciada nos portugueses "media", me falou.

Eu tinha-lhe acabado de explicar que quando a casa sugere explicitamente qualquer coisa ao cliente, essa coisa, mesmo que não seja espectacular, tem pelo menos de ser muito boa, pois é uma espécie de assinatura da casa. Uns cogumelos com uns pimentos vermelhos, sem qualquer estilo, sem nada que os distinga daquilo que qualquer comum ser mortal pode fazer em casa, ou é "bluff", ou é uma forma de extorquir ao cliente mais uns euros na conta final.

Sobral reagiu mal, começou a falar grosso e com agressividade. Disse-me para ir ler a tabuleta na porta, onde se pode ler "Tasca", para me fazer compreender que o seu restaurante produz gastronomia sem pretensões.

"Não tenho pretensões a estrelas Michelin". Esta foi para rir? Claro que não tem... O que eu disse ao Vitor Sobral (que aparentemente não percebeu) foi que em muitos dos restaurantes com estrelas Michelin, e nos que almejam um certo nível de genuína qualidade (em lugar do pretenciosismo que há de sobra por estas bandas...), são servidas pequenas "introduções" (pré-entradas), que são uma espécie de boa vinda do "chef", e por vezes são simplesmente espectaculares. Num local onde o "petisco do dia" não é oferecido, mas é sugerido (e pago), espera-se uma certa dose, mesmo pequena, de singularidade. Não aconteceu com os cogumelos, que estavam uma banalidade. Não aconteceu com os "figados de aves", que tive de mandar para trás para serem melhor temperados e cozinhados... Não é por se utilizarem ingredientes baratos que a comida não pode ser excelente. Com fígados de frango pode-se fazer algo delicioso. Não foi o caso na "tasca" do Vitor Sobral. Qualquer taberna sem pretensões faria melhor. Sobral esteve mal. Em vez de me mandar ler a tabuleta e dizer que os cogumelos são um "ingrediente maravilhoso", poder-se-ia ter justificado dizendo que naquele dia as coisas não lhe estavam a correr bem... Por exemplo.

Nota: como é sabido, este não é um blog de crítica gastronómica. Este "post" é útil para ilustrar uma certa maneira de ser português que pode conduzir Portugal à insignificância liminar e total. Independentemente do arroz de cabidela premiado e do Presidente da CE...


English Translation

2009/07/24

On Tehran's Streets, the Basij's Fearsome Reign

You don't know whom to trust nowadays in Tehran. Members of the feared Basij paramilitary roam the streets at night, often blending in with people lounging in parks or window-shopping at the capital's many squares. Locals are reluctant to discuss anything remotely political in public, let alone divulge their opinions. And looming over everything else is the constant paranoia of surveillance: on the Web, over the notoriously unreliable mobile networks, on the hectic, crowded streets, even at work.

In many ways Iran, and in particular Tehran — the epicenter of over a month of protests triggered by the June 12 presidential election — has become an Orwellian police state. Security has particularly tightened in the past few weeks as the regime has attempted to root out the intellectuals, journalists, opposition leaders and political organizers who have been firing up dissent. "We haven't seen this kind of security in 30 years," says one office manager in northern Tehran, alluding to the days before the 1979 revolution when the country was ruled by the Shah and his much-feared secret police, SAVAK. "They [the security apparatus] are lashing out because they're afraid the system is going to fall."

(See pictures of the Basij in action: terror in plain clothes)

The renewed shakedown has led many Iranians to be subversive in more discreet ways. Instead of joining street protests, they try to short the electrical grids by turning on all household appliances en masse; they boycott products advertised on state TV; and they increasingly turn to Twitter, blogs, Facebook, e-mail-distribution lists and underground newspapers to bring attention to the regime's brutal tactics.

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Iranian Opposition Figure’s Brother in Detention

The wife of the Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi spoke out forcefully on Thursday against the recent publication of accusations against her imprisoned brother, saying the accusations were false and amounted to a new effort by Iran’s hard-line leadership to discredit the opposition movement.

Mr. Moussavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, is a well-known figure in Iran who played an important role in his campaign before the disputed June 12 election. She made her statement on Thursday after a hard-line lawmaker accused her brother in print of helping orchestrate the post-election rallies and riots. The brother, Shahpour Kazemi, was arrested a month ago, and the Iranian authorities are reported to be preparing to broadcast videotaped confessions by some people detained in the unrest.

“I am announcing that if they force a confession out of Mr. Kazemi or publish a hundred pages of accusations against him, neither I nor the people of Iran will believe it,” said Ms. Rahnavard, in comments published on Mr. Moussavi’s Web site.

Mr. Moussavi and his followers assert that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide election victory was rigged and that the real winner was Mr. Moussavi. They have resisted strong pressure from the Iranian authorities to renounce those claims, and recently Mr. Moussavi has said he plans to form a new political and social movement, in another challenge to the ruling elite.

The lawmaker who accused Mr. Kazemi, Elias Naderan, also impugned Mr. Kazemi’s wife, adding that she traveled frequently to the United States and had even acquired a green card.

In her statement, Ms. Rahnavard did not deny that her brother and his wife had traveled to the United States, but said the trips were for treatment of the wife’s illness and for “the transfer of knowledge and new technologies in the field of communications,” which is Mr. Kazemi’s expertise.

The dispute came as Iran’s Press TV, citing a top lawmaker, reported that Iranian state television would soon begin broadcasting the confessions of those accused of orchestrating the post-election unrest. Such confessions are almost always coerced, sometimes through torture, according to former detainees, Iranian political figures and human rights groups.

Even as conflict continued over the election and its aftermath, a separate controversy involving Mr. Ahmadinejad’s new cabinet has worsened. His choice to be his top deputy, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, infuriated conservatives last year by suggesting that Iranians were friendly toward the Israeli people, and he has drawn increasing opposition in the past week. On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reportedly urged Mr. Ahmadinejad to drop the unpopular appointment. But so far the president has defended Mr. Mashaei, a former culture minister whose daughter is married to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s son.

On Wednesday, a bitter dispute broke out in a cabinet meeting, Iranian newspapers reported, in which ministers were demanding to know why Mr. Ahmadinejad had not announced Mr. Mashaei’s dismissal. Mr. Ahmadinejad said he would make his position clear and left the room, directing Mr. Mashaei to run the meeting in his place. The other ministers then left, shocked at this “insulting” behavior, according to Jahan News, a newspaper that is associated with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters in Parliament. ROBERT F. WORTH in nytimes.com, July 23

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2009/07/19

شیرین عبادی (Shirin Ebadi)

The Nobel Peace Prize 2003

"for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children." in nobelprize.org


Iran arrests human rights lawyer

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi is a longtime advocate for human rights in Iran. Ebadi, who is in Switzerland, tells NPR that human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani has been arrested in Tehran. in npr.org, June 17


Iran arrests Shirin Ebadi’s close colleague

Erbil, 9 July (AKnews) – Muhammad Ali, an Iranian lawyer and one of the colleagues of the Noble laureate Shirin Ebadi, was arrested in his office, a leading French daily reported on Thursday.

The French Le Figaro quoted Muhammad Saidzadih, one of the colleagues of Muhammad Ali, that Ali was arrested on Wednesday while he was working in his office, “he was arrested by the Iranian police”.

Ali was one of the founder members of Center for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (CDHR) which is led by Ebadi.

The organization is critical of the conditions of human rights in Iran.

The report did not explain why the lawyer was arrested, and there is no further detail as of yet. in aknews.com/en

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Free Iran

Pragmatist accused of corruption

During his decades in Iranian politics, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been praised as a pragmatist, criticized as spineless, accused of corruption and dismissed as a has-been.

Now, in assailing the government’s handling of last month’s disputed presidential election, Mr. Rafsanjani, a 75-year-old cleric and former president, has cast himself in a new light: as a player with the authority to interpret the ideals of Iran’s 30-year-old Islamic republic.

Using his perch as a designated prayer leader on Friday to deliver the speech of a lifetime, Mr. Rafsanjani abandoned his customary caution to demand that the government release those arrested in recent weeks, ease restrictions on the media and eradicate the “doubt” the Iranian people have about the election result. And he implicitly challenged the authority of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to make decisions without seeking consensus.

Behind the words was the assertion that for the Islamic republic to survive, it must restore its legitimacy, reaffirm its republican institutions and find a formula for governing.

To establish his own legitimacy, Mr. Rafsanjani evoked his long political history.

“What you are hearing now is from a person who has been with the revolution second by second from the very beginning of the struggle,” he said, adding, “We are talking about 60 years ago up until today.”

He recalled that his mentor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the 1979 revolution, said that the “people’s will” must be done, and in this case, he said, the trust of the people had been broken.

Mr. Rafsanjani was a supporter of the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, during the campaign, and by speaking out on Friday he seemed to be moving closer to Mr. Moussavi as a public symbol of opposition. But Mr. Rafsanjani also took care not to directly dispute the government’s declaration that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election.

In delivering his sermon, Mr. Rafsanjani was defying a government campaign to silence him, in which senior officials have interspersed personal attacks with veiled threats. That campaign continued Saturday, when conservative figures criticized his speech.

He was also essentially usurping the institutional role of Ayatollah Khamenei.

“This was a speech Khamenei should have given,” said Farideh Farhi, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii. “That’s his designated role as the spiritual and political guide, to be above the fray. But Khamenei is probably too insecure and has too much to lose. He took sides. Rafsanjani rose to the occasion.”

Still, it would be wrong to say that Mr. Rafsanjani has suddenly become a proponent of justice, human rights and freedom.

In the summer of 1999, after all, when the government crushed student demonstrations at Tehran University, he delivered a harsh sermon in the same place as he did on Friday. Back then, he blamed “enemies of the revolution” and “sources outside the country” for the unrest. He praised the use of force by the state.

During much of his earlier eight-year presidency, many Iranians were executed, including political dissidents, drug offenders, Communists, Kurds, Bahais, even clerics.

Politically, Mr. Rafsanjani was humiliated twice: in 2000 when he ran for Parliament and came in 30th and last place in Tehran (amid charges of ballot fraud in his favor), and again in 2005, when he performed dismally in his bid to regain the presidency.

But unlike many political figures, and certainly unlike most clerics, Mr. Rafsanjani is the consummate politician. He refuses to abandon the political battlefield in a country in which silence in the face of defeat is the norm.

He also knows how to shift gears. A campaign photograph in the 2000 campaign showed him without his turban. He must have thought that a clerical uniform had become a liability.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s bold public stance is not without risks. Members of his family have been briefly detained during this period of turmoil, and the government could use his record, and his family’s financial dealings, to discredit him.

For his part, Ayatollah Khamenei delivered his own notable sermon four weeks ago, in which he embraced the victory of Mr. Ahmadinejad, called the election proof of the people’s trust in the system and threatened more violence if demonstrations continued.

Mr. Rafsanjani struggled to woo the center; the ayatollah stuck to his base of support on the right.

Mr. Rafsanjani spoke about the Prophet Muhammad’s style of governing in Medina, with its emphasis on listening to the people, and treating them with respect and “Islamic kindness.”

He used a pragmatic argument in calling for the release of those who have been arrested.

“Let’s not allow our enemies to reprimand and laugh at us and hatch plots against us just because a few certain people are in prison,” Mr. Rafsanjani said.

Ayatollah Khamenei, by contrast, in his sermon railed about the enemies of the prophet and the foreign enemies both inside and outside Iran. “The violators,” as he called them, are “the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”

Ironically, his speech sounded much like the one Mr. Rafsanjani gave after the disturbances a decade ago.

From the early days of the revolution, Mr. Rafsanjani has favored pragmatism over religious absolutism.

After the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iran’s leaders demanded the return of the exiled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as a condition of the release of the 52 American hostages. Mr. Rafsanjani had a better idea: “If the shah dies, that would help,” he said to this reporter in an interview in 1980. (Shortly afterward, the shah died of complications caused by cancer.)

In 1986, after the Reagan administration’s secret American arms sales to Iran were disclosed, Mr. Rafsanjani, then the speaker of Parliament, used his Friday sermon to explain why. He said Iran needed to acquire weapons to fight Iraq, even if it meant dealing with the enemy, the United States. Later, he was credited with helping to persuade Ayatollah Khomeini to end the eight-year war.

A state-builder, Mr. Rafsanjani even set aside religion to rehabilitate the image of Persepolis, the site of the 2,500-year-old Persian empire, saying, “Our people must know that they are not without a history.”

This time, he did not lay out goals. He did not say whether he hoped to get the election results overturned or merely to convince the country to make peace with those results.

“He doesn’t address the basic problem for the opposition: that they have been dealt with brutally on the streets and that this was a manipulated election,” said Shaul Bakhash, professor of Middle Eastern history at George Mason University.

In his 1963 book about miracles, Mr. Rafsanjani bragged that he was saved from an assassin’s bullet because of his “revolutionary speed” and his willingness to “punch those who say nonsense.”

Given the fluid nature of Iranian politics, it would be foolish to predict whether he can make miracles today. ELAINE SCIOLINO in nytimes.com, 2009/07/19

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2009/07/18

Casa Pia II: pais vendem filhos

Durante anos a fio, o bancário estava habituado a sair do trabalho ao fim da tarde e abrir as portas de casa a crianças. Terão sido dezenas de menores violados e filmados pelo pedófilo no seu andar em Queluz, Sintra. Já reformado, o homem de 61 anos mantém os hábitos sexuais, mas, agora que os ex-parceiros são adultos, faz negócio com eles para que o deixem violar os seus filhos – meninos de apenas dez, onze anos.

A Divisão de Investigação Criminal (DIC) da PSP já tem provas de pelo menos uma situação de negócio com os pais das vítimas, entre mais de oito casos de crianças alvo de abusos. Mas o procurador da República João Guerra (que acusou Carlos Cruz, Jorge Ritto e Bibi, entre outros, no processo Casa Pia) optou por nem apresentar o bancário ao juiz, deixando-o à solta, com simples termo de identidade e residência.

Esta situação foi denunciada, ainda em 2007, por Catalina Pestana aos serviços do Departamento de Investigação e Acção Penal de Lisboa, que remeteu o caso à Judiciária. Passou mais de um ano com o inquérito num impasse, mas há oito meses avançou a DIC da PSP, comandada pelo subintendente Dário Prates.

A ex-provedora da Casa Pia diz ao CM ter denunciado este caso 'por algumas das vítimas serem crianças do Colégio Maria Pia [da Casa Pia, em Chelas, Lisboa]' e depois de lhe terem contado 'que um homem ia lá buscar crianças'.

De facto, a investigação da PSP apurou que o homem é um ex-bancário, a viver num prédio de Queluz, que se encontrava com a maior parte das crianças no supermercado Feira Nova de Chelas. Aliciava-as com brinquedos, outros presentes e refeições. Há pelo menos um caso em que a contrapartida era dinheiro para os pais das vítimas, também eles violados na infância pelo pedófilo. Para além de crianças 'da Casa Pia', segundo Catalina Pestana, de um total de mais de oito abusos o Correio da Manhã sabe que há casos da Margem Sul. in correiodamanha.pt, 17 Julho 2009 - 02h00


English Translation

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2009/07/17

O sermão de Rafsandjani

"Uma grande parte das pessoas sensatas afirmam ter dúvidas (sobre os resultados das eleições que reelegeram por grande maioria o Presidente Ahmadinejad). Precisamos de fazer algo para remover esta dúvida", afirmou hoje o ex-Presidente, Akbar Hachémi Rafsandjani, durante a oração colectiva na Universidade de Teerão, que contou com a participação de dezenas de milhar de apoiantes de Musavi que entoaram slogans como forma de incentivar o discurso de protesto. Rafsandjani, apoiante de Musavi e presidente da Assembleia de Peritos e do Conselho de Discernimento, apelou para que sejam libertados os manifestantes que ainda se encontram detidos.

Depois da oração, concentraram-se ainda mais manifestantes junto à Universidade de Teerão gritando palavras de ordem como "morte ao ditador" e "abaixo o Governo, resignação, resignação". Testemunhas, que falaram sob anonimato, referiram que forças pró-governamentais lançaram granadas de gás lacrimogéneo para dispersar a multidão.

O sermão de Rafsandjani, o primeiro que levou a cabo nos últimos dois meses, foi difundido pelos media iranianos.

"Não é necessário que as pessoas sejam presas. Não devíamos deixar os nossos inimigos culparem-nos e ridicularizarem-nos por detenções. Devíamos tolerar-nos mutuamente", afirmou o ex-Presidente, que disse tencionar propor uma "solução" para a crise política no Irão. "Nós acreditamos na República Islâmica... eles têm de permanecer unidos (...) Se a Islâmica já não existir, seremos reduzidos a cinzas. E se a República já lá não estiver, (os nossos objectivos) não serão alcançados. Se as pessoas não estão presentes ou os seus votos não são tidos em consideração, então o Governo não é islâmico". in expresso.pt, 14:46, 17 de Jul de 2009

Nota: mas quais inimigos?


English Translation

Freeport II (a "roubalheira")

O relatório final da auditoria do Tribunal de Contas (TC) ao contrato de exploração do terminal de contentores de Alcântara, em Lisboa – feito entre o Governo, a Administração do Porto de Lisboa (APL) e a empresa Liscont, do grupo Mota-Engil –, foi aprovado esta semana e confirma tudo o que já fora concluído pelos juízes no relatório preliminar.

O plenário dos juízes da 2.ª secção do TC, depois de ouvidos os argumentos quer da APL quer do Ministério das Obras Públicas, manteve a posição inicial de que o contrato feito com a Liscont – sem concurso público e alargando a concessão por mais 27 anos – é ruinoso para o Estado e não acautela o interesse público. E nem sequer faz uma previsão realista do negócio que serve de base ao modelo financeiro e no qual assenta todo o contrato.

«Foi um negócio ruinoso para o Estado», que «só serviu os interesses do promotor», confirmou uma fonte do Tribunal de Contas, sobre as conclusões desta auditoria.

Segundo soube o SOL, as respostas enviadas ao Tribunal pelo Governo e pela APL, para efeitos de contraditório, apenas reforçaram as conclusões negativas dos conselheiros da 2.ª secção. E, em alguns casos, até aumentaram a sua desconfiança relativamente às consequências deste contrato para os interesses do Estado.

Um dos principais problemas colocados pelos juízes do TC prende-se com o facto de não ter sido realizado concurso público para alargar o prazo desta concessão de exploração de um serviço público. O Governo optou pelo ajuste directo à Liscont, alegando que esta empresa privada faria, a suas expensas, as obras de alargamento do terminal de Alcântara, para permitir que, a prazo, o movimento de contentores atingisse o milhão por ano.

O modelo financeiro e as projecções comerciais em que assenta todo o negócio são também duramente questionadas pelo Tribunal de Contas. in sol.pt, 17 Julho

Nota: o presidente do conselho de administração da Mota-Engil é Jorge Coelho, ex-ministro num governo PS e ex-dirigente de topo do partido no governo.


English Translation

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2009/07/16

Activista russa assassinada no Cáucaso *

Uma importante activista russa foi hoje encontrada morta com dois tiros na cabeça. Natalia Estemirova tinha sido raptada quando saía da sua casa na Tchetchénia na quarta-feira de manhã, o seu corpo foi encontrado nove horas depois na Ingushétia.

Natalia Estemirova era uma colaboradora próxima da jornalista Anna Politkovskaia, assassinada em 2006, e recebeu o primeiro prémio com o nome da jornalista no ano seguinte (assim como distinções do Parlamento Europeu e do Parlamento sueco).

A organização Memorial, uma das mais conhecidas organizações de defesa de direitos russos e para quem trabalhava Estemirova, apontou o dedo a “serviços de segurança do Governo de algum tipo”. A activista estava a investigar centenas de casos de alegados raptos, tortura e assassínios extra-judiciais por tropas russas ou forças para-militares na Tchetchénia. O correspondente da BBC diz que seriam as milícias apoiadas pelo Governo de Moscovo que mais teriam a temer pelo trabalho de Estemirova. Ela já tinha sido avisada várias vezes do desagrado das autoridades da Tchetchénia pela sua actividade. 15.07.2009 - 19h26 PÚBLICO

* mais uma...


Boicote à Nokia

A Nokia está a ser alvo de um boicote aos seus telemóveis no Irão, onde muitos habitantes do país acusam a fabricante finlandesa de colaboracionismo com o regime.

O caso remonta ao período pós-eleitoral quando as manifestações contra os resultados do escrutínio levaram milhares de pessoas para as ruas.

Na altura a Internet e os telemóveis tornaram-se uma arma dos manifestantes, que utilizaram as novas tecnologias para mostrar ao mundo o que se passava no país.

Para combater esta prática, o regime de Teerão utilizou um sistema de monitorização e vigilância de telecomunicações desenvolvido pela Nokia Siemens Networks, o que levou a população a acusar a empresa de colaboracionismo.

Como resposta os iranianos lançaram um boicote aos telemóveis da Nokia, que segundo avança o El Mundo, viram cair a procura para metade desde o início dos protestos.

Citado pelo diário espanhol um vendedor de telemóveis de Teerão explicou que «a primeira opção para os iranianos eram os telemóveis Nokia, porque são os que têm uma maior cobertura no país».

Além do boicote por parte dos consumidores, também muitas lojas deixaram de colocar os aparelhos da fabricante nas suas montras.

De acordo com a Nokia a tecnologia disponibilizada ao Governo iraniano também foi vendida a outros países, algo que é refutado pelos críticos do regime, que dizem que as funções de monitorização apenas foram introduzidas no sistema do Irão. in sol.pt, 15 Julho


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2009/07/15

Euphrates River Dwindles
Moises Saman (for The New York Times)

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2009/07/14

Morreu Palma Inácio, resistente antifascista

Morreu hoje, aos 87 anos, Palma Inácio, figura política da resistência ao regime salazarista. Hermínio da Palma Inácio tornou-se conhecido por protagonizar o primeiro desvio político de um avião, 10 de Novembro de 1961, por ter participado no assalto ao Banco de Portugal na Figueira da Foz, de onde levou cerca de 30 mil contos - uma fortuna para a época - e ainda por ter planeado tomar a Covilhã.

Nascido na vila de Ferragudo, em 1922, numa família de ferroviários, passou a juventude em Tunes, concelho de Silves. Politicamente activo desde muito novo, a sua figura de revolucionário inspirou o grupo de operacionais que viria a formar a LUAR, formação de cariz revolucionário que lutou contra o anterior regime até ao 25 de Abril.

Depois da revolução a LUAR (Liga de Unidade e Acção Revolucionária) ainda se transformaria em partido político, mas nunca teve sucesso eleitoral. Depois aproximou-se do Partido Socialista, onde tinha grandes amigos, como o antigo presidente da Câmara de Lisboa João Soares.

Hermínio da Palma Inácio (1922-2009), a quem o Presidente da República Jorge Sampaio atribuiu em 2000 a Grã-Cruz da Ordem da Liberdade, que lhe foi imposta por Manuel Alegre, tornou-se célebre por ter protagonizado em 1956 o primeiro desvio de um voo comercial de que há registo, durante o qual um avião da TAP sobrevoou Lisboa, Barreiro, Setúbal, Beja e Faro a baixa altitude para lançar cerca de 100 mil panfletos com apelos à revolta popular contra a ditadura. A sua vida foi marcada por um combate constante contra o Estado Novo, tendo sido preso diversas vezes pela PIDE, destacando-se uma passagem pelos calabouços do Aljube, onde protagonizou uma fuga histórica.

No dia 25 de Abril de 1974, Palma Inácio estava preso em Caxias, onde recebeu por código morse as primeiras notícas da Revolução. Passou os últimos anos num lar em Lisboa, fundado por antigos alunos da denominada "Velha Guarda Casapiana", lar onde hoje faleceu por volta do meio-dia, após doença prolongada.

Na sua página do Facebook, João Soares escreveu: "Morreu hoje o Hermínio da Palma Inácio. Revolucionário romântico, nasceu pobre e morreu pobre. Assaltou vários bancos (nada que ver com roubalheiras tipo BPN!). Entre eles o Banco de Portugal (nada que ver com Constâncio!). Era um bom amigo. Corajoso, audaz, generoso, amigo dos seus amigos. (...)". 14.07.2009 - 14h51 PÚBLICO, com Lusa


Manuel Alegre recusará reedição do Bloco Central

O histórico socialista Manuel Alegre volta a lançar avisos ao PS de José Sócrates. "Recusaremos a reedição do Bloco Central ou de qualquer outra forma de aliança à direita", escreve no editorial do número 4 da revista "Ops!", que será lançada esta tarde na livraria do Círculo das Letras. "Continuaremos a bater-nos, dentro e fora do PS, por uma alternativa socialista ao neo-liberalismo ainda dominante", acrescenta.

Apenas três dias depois de um duro artigo de opinião publicado no "Expresso" onde pedia um acordar urgente do PS, o ex-candidato presidencial volta a criticar o seu partido por "ouvir ex-ideólogos da direita" mais do que "escutar a opinião socialista dos que, dentro do PS, não desistem de pensar à esquerda".

Manuel Alegre vê as próximas eleições como uma "ofensiva ideológica da direita contra as metas sociais consagradas na Constituição" e não parece ver no seu partido uma autêntica alternativa de esquerda. Sobretudo por ter escolhido para redigir o seu programa eleitoral António Vitorino, decisão que Alegre já criticou publicamente.

A crítica implícita ao papel que Vitorino ocupa no partido surge ainda na referência à Fundação Res Publica, dirigida por aquele advogado. Ao afirmar que a revista "Ops!" lançou quatro números em apenas um ano, cada um com "pistas e propostas que podiam constituir uma importante contribuição para um programa" eleitoral, Alegre compara-a com as outras estruturas: "Nenhuma outra corrente política, nem o próprio PS, através das suas fundações ou iniciativas criadas para o efeito, conseguiu realizar trabalho semelhante".

Por isso afirma que a revista "OpS!" e a "Corrente de Opinião Socialista", que ele próprio criou, "ocupam o seu lugar no combate pela defesa de uma democracia em que direitos sociais sejam inseparáveis dos direitos políticos". "Lutaremos pela Escola Pública, pelo Serviço Nacional de Saúde e pela Segurança Social Pública. Mas também por uma revisão do Código Laboral, pela transparência das decisões dos poderes públicos e pelo direito ao território", acrescenta.

"Pensamos, como Antero de Quental, que não se pode viver sem ideias. E que não é possível renovar a democracia sem ideias novas e sem debate ideológico", escreve Manuel Alegre. in publico.pt, 14.07.2009, 09h25


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Chinese Internet Strike

On July 1, the Chinese government will be rolling out censorship software on every new computer sold in the country. The software, called Green Dam Youth Escort, is intended to block pornography and possibly filter politically disruptive material, all while quietly gathering private user data.

One man in particular is staging a protest against the censorship: He is calling for everyone in China to abandon the Internet on the day the new rule takes effect. According to GlobalPost, Beijing artist and prominent political critic Ai Weiwei wants other Chinese citizens to realize their own power.

“I gave almost no explanation about why I’m doing it,” said Weiwei, well known as a cultural revolutionary and investigative blogger, to GlobalPost’s correspondent. “I just give the structure and people will fill in their own meaning. I don’t want to be political first. I wanted to set up an act that everyone can easily accept, and then realize the power later.”

Weiwei has a reputation for being a hugely prolific blogger, generating around 3,000 posts in his first three years of writing online. He also uses Twitter, Chinese microblogging service Fanfou, and other sites to spread the word about freedom of expression and overt criticism of the government in China.

On July 1, he is calling for all of China’s 300 million Internet users to completely log off for the day. In the original post, even Ai noted, “Chinese people are very practical. They think ‘Oh, what’s that going to do?’” He is aware the action he’s requesting is huge; however, he feels that even a small gesture of protest will have an impact.

In his own words, “A small act is worth a million thoughts.”

Given Westerners’ sudden bout of green-tinted solidarity with Iranian protesters, we do wonder if Weiwei’s call to action (via online inaction) will spread beyond China . Written by Jolie O’Dell / June 23, 2009

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2009/07/11

Iranian riot police used teargas on protesters

Iranian riot police used teargas on protesters, fired guns into the air and bundled several people into police buses today as thousands of Mousavi supporters defied a warning from the authorities that any new protests would be "smashed".

Witnesses told the Guardian and other news organisations that security forces moved quickly to disperse the latest rally, which was called to mark the 10th anniversary of student riots that until the recent street demonstrations had been the worst unrest since the 1979 revolution.

Police fired shots in the air above the crowd and swooped to arrest at least 10 protesters at one location in Tehran, a witness said. One elderly man was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and put in a police bus after he shouted: "Death to the dictator." Another witness reported clashes in another part of the city.

The police stopped the cars of those supporting the protest and confiscated driving licences, a second witness said.

"Riot police have just blockaded access of protesters to approach Tehran University and are threatening people by beating them up with plastic and electronic batons, trying not to let them gather in groups," said Jamshid, 25, a university student at the rally.

"Protesters are shouting Allahu Akbar [God is greatest] in other streets near Enghelab Square. The interesting point is that the government don't have enough people this time in streets because they need to control provinces as well, as today protest is not just limited to Tehran and is also taking place in other big cities."

Footage of today's protests posted on YouTube showed crowds of men and women chanting and making victory signs. Many of them wore face masks.

The demonstrations have been the biggest since street protests fizzled out two weeks ago in the face of a deadly crackdown by the security forces and pro-regime militias. Today, further grim video footage emerged showing how one protester, Davood Sadrieh, died of gunshot wounds during one of the first confrontations between troops and protesters last month.

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated opposition presidential candidate, had been exhorted in emails and Facebook messages to come out in mass protests in Tehran and other major cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz, apparently in an attempt to make it hard for security forces to focus their efforts.

Witnesses said protesters gathered at Enghelab Street near Tehran University, a focal point for last month's rallies that brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets. Other protesters headed for the central rallying point from six of Tehran's biggest squares.

The governor of Tehran warned that security forces would not hesitate to crush any protests. "If some individuals … listen … to a call by counter-revolutionary networks they will be smashed under the feet of our aware people," said Morteza Tamaddon.

Tamaddon said there had been no request for a permit to stage protests. Iranian authorities have repeatedly used the lack of a permit as a pretext for stifling dissent.

Other apparent counter-measures included a block on mobile phone text messaging for a third consecutive day, supposedly to prevent communication between protesters, and the closure of the universities. Tuesday and Wednesday were declared official holidays, ostensibly because Tehran was shrouded in a heavy cloud of dust and pollution.

Unprecedented mass protests erupted after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president, was declared the winner of the 12 June vote. Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, another defeated reformist candidate, both insist the election was rigged. Demonstrations have faded away in the last 10 days after the authorities banned rallies and rounded up protesters, political activists and journalists.

Ahmadinejad has defended the election as "the most free held anywhere in the world".

At least 20 people were killed in clashes with the security forces and the pro-government basij militia. In all, more than 1,000 people were reportedly arrested. The prosecutor general said yesterday that 500 would be tried, possibly contradicting official claims that "most" had already been freed.

Tamaddon blamed the trouble on interference by foreign broadcasters. "The enemies of the Iranian nation are angry with the post-election calm in Iran and try to damage it through their TV channels," he said, according to Press TV, a state-run broadcaster.

The 1999 protests being marked today were during the rule of the reformist president Mohammed Khatami. The closure of a newspaper that supported him triggered protests that turned violent with an attack on a student dormitory at the University of Tehran by riot police and paramilitary forces. Khatami now backs Mousavi.

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Development depends upon good governance

Fresh from a G8 summit where leaders agreed to spend $20 billion to improve food security in poor countries, Obama stressed that Africans must also take a leading role in sorting out their many problems.

"Development depends upon good governance," Obama said in a speech to Ghana's parliament. "That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans."

In an address that offered the most detailed view of Obama's Africa policy, he took aim at corruption and rights abuses on the continent, warning that growth and development would be retarded until such problems were tackled.

"No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top," Obama said. in nytimes.com, Reuters, Filed at 9:53 a.m. ET


Obama’s Ghana Visit Highlights Scarce Stability in Africa

NIAMEY, Niger — Amid the fever of excitement over President Obama’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, the debate over why he chose Ghana has been almost as prevalent as the many bars, stores and barbershops bearing his name across the region.

Was it a not-so-subtle snub of Kenya, his father’s homeland? Even more broadly, was he giving short shrift to other African governments and citizens by visiting a single country on such a diverse continent?

Mr. Obama says he chose Ghana to “highlight” its adherence to democratic principles and institutions, ensuring the kind of stability that brings prosperity. “This isn’t just some abstract notion that we’re trying to impose on Africa,” he told AllAfrica.com. He added: “The African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.”

With that as his objective, a harsh reality emerged: Mr. Obama did not have too many options. From one end of the continent to the other, the sort of peaceful, transparent election that Ghana held last December is still an exception rather than the norm, analysts said. The same is true for the country’s comparatively well-managed economy.

“The choice was, in fact, quite limited,” said Philippe Hugon, an Africa expert at the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques in Paris. “It wasn’t huge.”

Countries like Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have consistently received better-than-average global scores for their governance in recent years, according to rankings based on World Bank research.

But a cartoon in this week’s Jeune Afrique, the French magazine widely followed on the continent, seemed to sum up Mr. Obama’s dilemma: John Atta-Mills, Ghana’s president, is depicted holding back the door of a hut labeled “West Africa” from which blood, a grenade and explosions with the names of various countries in the region are bursting.

The list of exploding countries, unstable countries, corrupt countries, is long. Military coups still break out with regularity, as in Guinea and Mauritania within the last year. Journalists in a number of countries continue to be killed, jailed, tortured, forced into exile or otherwise muzzled. A day after Mr. Obama’s visit to Ghana, the Congo Republic will hold elections that have already been attacked as flawed, after the country’s constitutional court recently rejected the candidacies of opponents to incumbent Denis Sassou-Nguesso, leaving the president as a heavy favorite.

Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge as much in his interview, saying that the democratic progress in recent years had been accompanied by “some backsliding.” He even singled out Kenya as a worrisome example, noting the political paralysis that had plagued the country since its bout of postelection violence last year.

Despite the obvious wincing such criticism may cause, many Kenyans not only seem to understand Mr. Obama’s choice to visit Ghana, but endorse it. Kenyans often follow politics like a sport, so it was not uncommon to hear them in recent weeks describing Mr. Obama’s choice as a savvy one, insulating him from any accusations that he was favoring his father’s country.

That said, the gulf separating the West and many African leaders on fundamental issues like human rights was on display just last week. The African Union announced that it would refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in its attempt to prosecute the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity, over the mass killings in Darfur. Even Mr. Atta-Mills was reported to back the refusal as “best for Africa.”

Human rights groups denounced the decision, as did some African leaders on Friday, when a smaller African Union panel headed by South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki, backed the court’s indictment and called on the accused to appear in court, news agencies reported.

Despite the various rejections of the court, Mr. Obama’s top adviser for Africa, Michelle Gavin, praised for the African Union, telling reporters that it “has really been sort of forging ahead, commenting much more strongly than in the past on unconstitutional transfers of power.”

Yet some of the recent evidence from the continent only partly supports Ms. Gavin’s point. African leaders, for instance, flocked to the funeral of the recently deceased president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, lavishing praise and benedictions on a long-ruling autocrat widely seen in the West as having stolen his country’s oil wealth on the way to becoming immensely rich himself, while his country remained impoverished.

This region’s recent history underscores the extent to which Ghana is now an odd man out on the continent, after its own long history of dictatorship and coups: The election in December was extremely close, there was no violence, and the loser, the candidate of the party that had been in power, Nana Akufo-Addo, accepted his defeat without fuss.

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"Obama tem uma solução para o Médio Oriente"

Amin Maalouf, de 60 anos, está traduzido em dezenas de línguas e é um autor muito popular em Portugal, também. Em caso de dúvida, bastava ver a plateia que quarta-feira acorreu à Gulbenkian, em Lisboa, para o ouvir, num diálogo apresentado por António Monteiro e moderado por António Vitorino. Maalouf esgotou o Auditório 2, o átrio onde foi montado um ecrã, e a escadaria. As perguntas partiram do seu último livro, “Um Mundo Sem Regras”, acabado de traduzir na Difel.

É um diagnóstico arrasador quanto ao esgotamento em que o mundo mergulhou. À tese do conflito de civilizações, Maalouf contrapõe a união numa só civilização como única hipótese de sobrevivência. Fala das mudanças climáticas, da crise económica e da crispação das identidades, que divide os homens em tribos. Depois de falharem comunismo, ateísmo, capitalismo, e religião, o século XXI, diz, será o da cultura ou não será.

Longa entrevista em Lisboa, onde Maalouf fica até domingo. Filho de jornalistas e professores, ele próprio ex-jornalista, é um conversador generoso e afável.

Este livro apela à urgência. Defende que não há várias civilizações, só uma, e chegámos a um ponto em que morremos juntos ou nos salvamos juntos. É pessimista, mas há passagens em que o pessimismo parece mudar. Decidiu fazer o livro antes de Obama e entretanto Obama apareceu?

Exacto. Comecei a trabalhar neste livro em 2004. Li muito, sobre as mudanças climáticas ou o Iraque. E tinha a sensação de que as coisas estavam realmente a ficar más em muitos níveis.

Depois da reeleição de Bush?

Depois da reeleição foi ainda mais evidente. Mas há 10 ou 11 anos, quando escrevi As Identidades Assassinas, já sentia que as coisas estavam erradas. A seguir houve o 11 de Setembro, e a resposta da administração Bush criou uma situação realmente preocupante: Guantánamo, a presença no Iraque, todo o comportamento dos EUA.

Não me opus totalmente à intervenção no Iraque. Tive sentimentos ambíguos. Por um lado, não gostava da construção de pretextos e daquela pressão sobre toda a gente: "Têm que alinhar connosco." Ao mesmo tempo, uma voz dizia-me: "Bem, se eles se livrarem de Saddam Hussein, talvez as coisas comecem a mexer-se neste Médio Oriente que não está a ir a lado nenhum..." E ainda penso que se os EUA se tivessem portado de forma diferente depois da guerra, se tivessem agido cautelosamente, tendo em conta os interesses verdadeiros das pessoas, tentando conduzi-las à democracia e à prosperidade, as coisas poderiam ter sido diferentes em toda a região. Mas começou a correr realmente mal.

Então, demasiadas coisas estavam a correr mal: o Iraque; a questão das identidades e da coexistência; a relação do Ocidente com o mundo árabe e islâmico. E havia o problema das mudanças climáticas. Sentimos que é possível lidar com todos os outros problemas, mas esta bomba-relógio climática, de irmos rumo a algo irreversível se não mudarmos o nosso comportamento...

Era preciso dizer que as coisas estão más, que tudo isso tem a ver com a incapacidade de ter em mente toda a nação humana, que já não é possível que cada um lute pelo seu interesse contra os outros.

Depois, durante a escrita do livro, muitos acontecimentos vieram confirmar que as coisas estavam más. Em muitos países europeus a coexistência com os imigrantes não funcionava. E no fim há um verdadeiro raio de esperança, uma pessoa.

Obama.

Li os livros. Vi e ouvi os discursos. E ele não estava a falar ao instinto, estava a falar à razão. Só uma pequena minoria de políticos fala à razão. E essa é a verdadeira atitude democrática. Tentar convencer em vez de manipular. Desenvolver argumentos. Senti que intelectualmente e eticamente ele estava a um nível muito alto. E não fui indiferente ao seu background, porque é importante, sobretudo depois dos anos Bush, ter uma pessoa nos EUA com a qual o mundo se possa identificar. É essencial. E miraculosamente ele veio.

Isso reflecte-se no processo de ler o seu livro. Há passagens no princípio em que diz: as coisas só podem melhorar se a América perceber o que aconteceu no Iraque, se persuadir o mundo da sua legitimidade moral, etc., etc. Pequenos sinais que chamavam por alguém como Obama.

Absolutamente. Tinha todo um capítulo acerca do Presidente americano ser eleito pelos americanos mas ter jurisdição em todo o mundo.

A questão da legitimidade.

Sim. O mundo não podia identificar-se com aquelas pessoas eleitas, e de repente pôde. Foi fascinante.


NUM PRATO A CABEÇA DO SR. SOCRÁTES!

"Boa é a fazenda, quando não sobe à cabeça" [Provérbio]

O ex-estranho sr. Sócrates, arruinado completamente pelos cadernos eleitorais, apareceu no mercado da SIC (diante da doce Ana) com uma naturalidade humilíssima (estilisticamente falando), uma castidade na oratória política afinada, numa elegante comédia farcista. O libelo do sr. Sócrates esta noite foi desarmonizar com o sr. Santos Silva, Vitalino Canas & Cia, Lda. Não fora o atrevimento de "censurar" a mediocridade da política de instrução e ensino da sra. Lurdes Rodrigues (agora, vilmente desprezada); não obstante descobrir muito tarde a licenciosa kultura do sr. António Pinto Ribeiro (no que foi de uma crueldade obscena) e a sua absurda, quanto ridícula, inspiração de comparar (a ignorância é mesmo muito atrevida) o construído do autor da General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money à edificação económica em Oliveira Salazar, quase que o conseguia!

O sr. Sócrates foi durante quatro anos o inimigo principal do Partido Socialista de Soares, Guterres e Ferro Rodrigues. Tomando como empréstimo (ou mesmo, superando) a linha política da 3ª via de Blair e Schroeder (leia-se o texto no Público de Ana Benavente) - e o que isso significou no alinhamento da politica doméstica com a ilusão neoliberal -, cedendo à fascinação deste tempo de desassossego, incompetência e decomposição das liberdades, o sr. Sócrates conduziu o país (com um grupo inqualificável de idiotas úteis) à quase ruína. Está o país numa decadência económica e social (e espiritual) sem precedentes, e não tem gente nem ânimo, nem alma para a sua própria refundação. Nunca foi tão acertado dizer que o eterno problema de Portugal é as suas próprias elites. Estas, sim, a necessitarem de uma verdadeira reforma democrática, económica, cultural e cívica. Mas tal trânsito tarda!

O sr. Sócrates foi durante quatro anos rancoroso com os adversários, grosseiro no contraditório, ignorante nos argumentos, afrontoso com as classes profissionais. O seu cabriolar, pouco subtil e sem escrúpulos, o seu (por ora) putativo desagravo à canalha, a sua autoridade ou carta de democrata tem uma reduzidíssima dignidade. Ninguém que foi caluniado tanto tempo, ninguém que foi tão rudemente maltratado, esquecerá o que foram estes anos de cárcere governamental do sr. Sócrates & amigos. Para tal mudança exige-se a cabeça do sr. Sócrates e daqueles que com ele (e foram muitos, de políticos a colunistas, de empresários a jornaleiros) semearam tais infaustos ventos. Não será qualquer desculpa feita por um "explicador de província" (prof. Maltez, dixit) que tudo mudará. Talis vita, finis ita.


Manuel Alegre pede “sobressalto à esquerda”

Manuel Alegre pediu hoje uma mudança urgente de estilo, de políticas e de pessoas no PS e apelou a um “sobressalto à esquerda” num artigo de opinião publicado no semanário “Expresso”.

O “histórico” socialista, deputado há 34 anos, confessa que gostaria de ter visto o partido governar de outra maneira e sublinhou a necessidade de este não esquecer a “sua” esquerda, pondo de lado um “discurso emprestado”.

Apesar de pedir um pouco mais de esquerda, Alegre esclarece que continua a querer o PS, ainda que admita a perda de grande parte da sua base social.

No entanto, lembra, ainda há tempo para o partido “acordar”.

Ontem, em declarações à agência Lusa, Alegre disse que a “razão principal” para a sua saída da lista de deputados para as próximas legislativas foi a aprovação do Código do Trabalho pelo PS. “O Código do Trabalho é muito negativo”, contou no último dia de trabalhos normais da Assembleia da República – ainda há uma sessão plenária no dia 23 – antes do final da legislatura.

O deputado contou que teve outros convites por parte da direcção do partido mas a sua resposta está dada: “Não posso estar a dizer isso [que não está disponível] de hora a hora. É ridículo. Já disse que não integro as listas, está feito”.

Sobre as políticas do Governo de José Sócrates e o futuro do PS, Alegre comentou que se achasse que o partido “estava a ir na direcção certa com certeza que era candidato a deputado”. in publico.pt, 11.07.2009 - 10h42 Lusa


English Translation

2009/07/10

Obama Presses Africa on Corruption

President Obama told African countries on Friday that the legacy of colonialism was not an excuse for failing to build prosperous, democratic societies even as he unveiled a $20 billion program financed by the United States and other countries to help developing nations grow more food to feed their people.

Just hours before his scheduled departure for his first trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Obama made a personal appeal to other leaders of the Group of 8 powers to donate more money for the effort, citing his own family’s experiences in Kenya. As a result, the initiative grew from the $15 billion over three years that had been pledged coming into the summit meeting to $20 billion.

At a news conference afterward, Mr. Obama repeated some of the arguments he used in the private session on the initiative, noting that when his father came to the United States, his home country of Kenya had an economy as large as that of South Korea per capita. Today, he noted, Kenya remains impoverished and politically unstable, while South Korea has become an economic powerhouse.

“There had been some talk about the legacies of colonialism and other policies by wealthier nations,” he said, “and without in any way diminishing that history, the point I made was that the South Korean government, working with the private sector and civil society, was able to create a set of institutions that provided transparency and accountability and efficiency that allowed for extraordinary economic progress and that there was no reason why African countries could not do the same.”

He continued, “And yet, in many African countries, if you want to start a business or get a job you still have to pay a bribe.” While wealthier nations have an obligation to help Africa, he said, African nations “have a responsibility” to build transparent, efficient institutions.
...
Mr. Obama’s comments on Africa may carry special resonance as the son of a Kenyan father. Other presidents have called on African countries to take more responsibility or fight corruption before, but Mr. Obama’s background gives him a connection and credibility that none of his predecessors could command. Just one generation removed from Africa himself, Mr. Obama occupies a powerful place in the African consciousness, and he has chosen to use his first trip in office there to push a dual message aimed at rich and poor.
...
The United States under Mr. Bush and now Mr. Obama has poured more money into development aid, but Italy and France have not fulfilled their vows.

The new food security initiative is designed to transform the traditional aid to poorer countries beyond simply donated produce, grains and meats to assistance in building infrastructure and training farmers to grow their own food and get it to market more efficiently.

The $20 billion pledged by the Group of 8 countries and several others represented here amounts to a substantial commitment if carried out, but it remains unclear how much of it is actually new money. The American share of $3.5 billion over three years represents a doubling of previous spending levels.
...
Oliver Buston, the Europe director for One, the advocacy group co-founded by the singer Bono, said the Group of 8 must do more than make promises. “All governments should now come forward and prove the amounts they pledged here are new. They need to make clear what they will do, by when. Some countries have done this; others have not.” in nytimes.com, July 10


G-8 + 5 + 1 + 5

Eventually, the so-called Group of 8 started what might be considered auxiliary clubs. And that was how they ended up with a meeting on Thursday that was actually dubbed the G-8 + 5 + 1 + 5. Seriously.

The group’s 35th gathering is such a sprawling event that the leaders of about 40 countries traveled here for it. No longer can just eight powers drive every decision. President Obama headed one meeting with 17 leaders for what he called a Major Economies Forum because there would be no point grappling with climate change without, say, China and India. idem, July 9


Africans are in love with him

Africans are in love with him (Obama) because he has an African pedigree: a Kenyan father and a humble, poor background. He is very well liked in Nigeria. You see people wearing t-shirts with his name and photograph, and some call their children Obama. When George Bush invaded Iraq people were very angry, but for the first time ever people are now in love with America. Obama is a saviour.

Africa has bad rule by presidents in countries where the governments are corrupt. Obama should talk to them about the issue. The corrupt leaders will feel they can relate to him, but he won't be tricked.

I would like him to address the oil-based economy in the Niger Delta. The government is not caring for the people in that region. They are drafting in soldiers to rape women and kill innocent people. There is hunger and poverty in the land. George Esri, 50, photographer from Lagos, Nigeria in guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 July 2009 16.02 BST


You should have seen the celebrations

You should have seen the celebrations here when Obama was elected. People are really hoping that he's going to come up with something. He has African roots and an instinct for Africa that he's shown by going to Kenya before. He'll come to Africa more than any other US president.

What worries me is that there is still corruption in our governments. It's not easy to put money in and be sure that it will get to the poorest of the poor. It ends up being used by the ministers. I would love Obama to say this is his major concern and it is a reason not to invest in African countries. The African Union is playing hide and seek and we need people like Obama say he is not going to invest in Zimbabwe.

If it can come from his mouth, people will be happy, because Obama is the Messiah of Africa. Sfiso Buthelezi, 26, customer services assistant from Soweto, South Africa idem


We'll listen

The American election was like watching soccer of Pop Idol. You ran home to it and asked, is he going to win? It meant hope for change and the beginning of a new world order. The whole of Africa stood up and said we have an African president. But he's only human, so let give him space to make decisions.

I bought his book and was amazed at his honesty, background and experiences. That somebody like that could rise to be president gives a lot of hope. He has so many cultures within him that wherever you're from, you can find yourself there.

I want him to encourage Africans to do it for themselves. I want him to say, "If I can do these things, anything's possible. I want you to find a way of leadership that works for you in an African context. Where I can support you in this, I will."

If George Bush had said "Africa arise", we'd have said, "What?" But Obama is like the Messiah. We're in awe and we'll listen. Mbali Kgosidintsi, 26, actress from Mogoditshane, Botswana ibidem

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Iran Protesters Take to Streets Despite Threats

Thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on Thursday, clapping, chanting, almost mocking the authorities as they once again turned out in large numbers in defiance of the government’s threat to crush their protests with violence.

As tear gas canisters cracked and hissed in the middle of crowds, and baton-wielding police officers chased protesters up and down sidewalks, young people, some bloodied, ran for cover, but there was an almost festive feeling on the streets of Tehran, witnesses reported in e-mail exchanges.

A young woman, her clothing covered in blood, ran up Kargar Street, paused for a moment and said, “I am not scared, because we are in this together.”

The protesters set trash afire in the street, and shopkeepers locked their gates, then let demonstrators in to escape the wrath of the police. Hotels also served as havens, letting in protesters and locking out the authorities.

It has been almost four weeks since the polls closed and the government announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won re-election in a landslide.

And there have been almost four weeks of defiance, in the face of the government’s repeated, uncompromising and violent efforts to restore the status quo. The government did succeed in keeping people off the streets in the previous 11 days, leaving many to simmer on their own as political insiders and clerical heavyweights slugged it out behind the scenes.

But there was an opening to take to the streets again on Thursday in a collective show of defiance, and many protesters seized it, even though the principal opposition leaders stayed away. Mir Hussein Moussavi, who claims he won the election; another candidate, Mehdi Karroubi; and former President Mohammad Khatami have agreed to pursue their complaints through the legal system and to protest only when a permit is issued.

But the mood of the street never calmed. One witness said that had it not been for the overwhelming show of force, it appeared, tens of thousands would have turned out.

The day was supercharged from the start, with a protest called for 4 p.m. to honor the students who 10 years earlier were bloodied and jailed during a violent confrontation with the police.

Under a hot summer sun, police officers in riot gear patrolled the streets in roving bands of about 50. Then the crowds started to form, men, women and children packing the sidewalks. Traffic stopped and drivers honked or stepped from their cars in solidarity. The people chanted, “Down with the dictator,” “God is great” and “Mouss-a-vi” as they walked along Revolution Street.

“Tell the world what is happening here,” one 26-year-old engineering student said. “This is our revolution. We will not give up.”

Asked what he wanted, he said, “We want democracy.”

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2009/07/09

It is not just democracy that is illegal in Iran

There have been many heroes and heroines in Iran in recent weeks. We have seen thousands take to the streets, risking arrest or even worse, in support of democracy.

Women have been in the forefront of these peaceful protests, which have, shamefully, been met with violence. It is their rights and hopes that are most under threat.

It is a fight for freedom and justice that Shirin Ebadi, the remarkable Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace laureate, has been leading for decades. Dr Ebadi, a heroine of mine and thousands more around the world, has been tireless in her efforts to represent those facing persecution.

It was typical of her bravery, and her belief in the importance of justice, that she announced she would defend the leaders of Iran’s Baha’i community who were arrested last year before the latest protests. The reaction of the authorities was also typical. Her offices were raided and shut down, angry mobs appeared outside her home and she, and her family, received renewed and serious threats to their safety.

This will have come as little surprise to Dr Ebadi. Not only is she regarded as a thorn in the side of the Iranian authorities, but the Baha’i community, the country’s largest religious minority, has also been the target for severe persecution for much of its history.

For more than 100 years, the followers of the Baha’i faith, a world religion that has its roots in Iran, have faced discrimination and persecution for having progressive ideals that place great emphasis on the unity of religion, the equality of the sexes and the right to education. Bahai’is have been prevented from following their faith, on penalty of imprisonment and even execution.

Their fundamental rights continue to be violated. Arrests remain widespread and arbitrary. Baha’i children are bullied by school officials. Followers of the Baha’i faith can be denied access to higher education and banned from civil service posts. Pensions have been revoked and inheritances refused on grounds of Baha’i belief. Holy sites and graves have been destroyed.

The campaign against the Baha’i community reached a new intensity last spring when its seven-strong national leadership was arrested in dawn raids. More than a year after detention without charge or access to a lawyer, the prisoners’ families have finally been told a court date has been set for this Saturday.

We don’t yet know the charges. But Iranian news reports have suggested that the national committee stands accused of everything from “espionage for Israel” to “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. Such charges carry very serious penalties in Iran, including the death penalty.

What is also very worrying are reports that the case will be heard by the same Revolutionary Court that recently tried, in secret, the US journalist Roxana Saberi. After proceedings lasting only one day, she was sentenced to eight years in jail.

It was only after the international outcry at this parody of justice and the severity of the sentence that she received another trial. This reduced her sentence to a two-year term that was suspended on appeal.

We need the same international pressure now, before the court case, to ensure the seven men and women receive a fair trial and a chance of justice. They must be given full access to their lawyers, who must have time to prepare their defence. The court proceedings must be open to independent observation.

Indeed, we must step up the pressure to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations not just on fair trials but on religious freedom. The Iranian constitution supposedly protects the rights of the country’s religious minorities. The reality, as many following other faiths in Iran can attest, is very different. And the 300,000 strong Baha’i community is deliberately excluded from even this nominal protection. Not only do they have no right to practice their faith, they are regarded as heretics who have abandoned Islam.

This gives the Iranian state an open invitation to mistreat and persecute followers of a religion which has a shared belief in the fundamental tenets of all the world’s leading religions and prophets. Far from posing a threat to the Government, its followers are expected to avoid political partisanship as an article of faith.

There is nothing secret about Iran’s systematic ill treatment of the Baha’i — a campaign that has worsened under President Ahmadinejad. The UK, European Union, US Congress, Canadian Senate, Australian Parliament and a range of leading non-governmental organisations have all monitored and condemned their mistreatment. The European Parliament condemned earlier this year the harassment of Dr Ebadi and the closure of her offices, and urged the release of the seven Baha’i leaders, who, it is believed, were imprisoned “solely on the basis of their belief’.

From within Iran, too, students and academics, artists and poets, political and social progressives have also bravely spoken up for the beleaguered Baha’i community. They, in turn, are now feeling the brunt of the state’s anger.

However, we must make sure that our understandable focus on the pro-democracy protests and their bloody suppression does not cause us to overlook the threat to the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. It is at times such as these that the Iranian authorities historically have heaped blame on the Baha’i population.

A fortnight ago, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, accused the British Government of supporting the “wayward Baha’i sect”. Banners have been paraded through Tehran’s streets displaying the words “BBC = Baha’i Broadcasting Company”. Today Iran’s Baha’is face a very uncertain, dangerous future.

We must urge the Iranian Government to give the leaders of the Baha’i community a fair trial and allow independent observers access to ensure this happens. We must also call on Iran to live up to its international obligations to protect all its citizens and allow them to hold and practise their religious beliefs without discrimination or fear.

Shirin Ebadi is a courageous woman and a brilliant advocate. But we cannot let her carry this burden on her own. Cherie Blair in The Times, July 9

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2009/07/08

Italy: Unfit for summitry

"This is the way I'm made," said the host of today's G8 summit, amid allegations that he entertained escorts at his homes in Rome and on Sardinia. For those who do not follow the daily instalments of the Silvio Berlusconi soap opera, those allegations come after his estranged wife, Veronica, accused him of picking showgirls as election candidates and attending the 18th birthday party of an aspiring actress and model from Naples. The thrice-elected prime minister continued: "People take me as they find me. And Italians want me." And they do. His popularity has only slipped six points since his wife said she was filing for divorce. It currently stands at 49%. Which raises the question: if Italy wants Mr Berlusconi as its prime minister, should the G8 want Italy?

True, it is harder these days to define the values of the industrialised rich. The G20 is almost certainly a more fitting forum for global matters such as a reserve currency, climate change and trade. The hard question is whether Italy, after a decade of economic drift, now fits the basic requirements for a seat at any international table. Italy ranks 76th on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, which it defines as the freedom to work, consume and invest unconstrained by the state. That is behind such denizens of liberalism as Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Madagascar. Transparency International's corruption index places Italy 55th on its list of the world's least corrupt countries. Italian politicians are seen as less trustworthy than those in Pakistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

So, when the leaders of the world's largest economies meet today - at Mr Berlusconi's insistence - in an earthquake zone (the stricken city of L'Aquila is still experiencing aftershocks), they are entitled to ask themselves where they have landed - in a first-world country or a third-world one. To judge Italy by the standards of economic freedom, corruption and freedom of the media, the answer is not obvious. Mr Berlusconi is the symptom but not necessarily the entire cause of his country's drift. Italians are not scandalised by him. They are dismayed about being criticised in the foreign press as a result of his antics, but they are not calling for the man himself to go.

Other European countries have coped with charismatic populists. France had a heavy dose of Nicolas Sarkozy in his bling phase, until the French said "ça suffit" and the president changed tack. But that is not happening in an Italy which secretly admires the agility of its leaders in escaping from the tightest of political corners. Until Italians start demanding serious standards from their leaders, the country is perhaps not the best venue for serious world summits. The Guardian, Wednesday 8 July 2009

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