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September 30, 2013

Norway\’s Conservative, Progress parties form minority government coalition

Norway’s Conservative, Progress parties form minority government coalition

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Erna Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative party.
Image: Christian Fredrik Wesenberg.

Norway
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Following three weeks of talks, the leader of Høyre, Norway’s Conservative Party, Erna Solberg announced today that the Conservatives will form a minority government in a right-wing coalition with the Progress Party. The coalition will be the first time the Progress Party have been in power in the executive branch.

The coalition government plans to change policy on immigration and asylum, reduce inheritance tax, and reform provision of healthcare and pensions. The parties also agreed to not allow drilling for oil on Jan Mayen Island or in the Lofoten archipelago. The Norwegian Oil and Gas Association said the decision was “disappointing and undemocratic”.

Solberg said that she intends to continue working with other parties. The new government is due to take office on October 18. Solberg will replace the current Labor Party Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.



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September 29, 2013

Finnish female politicians highlighted by World Bank\’s 2012 gender report

Finnish female politicians highlighted by World Bank’s 2012 gender report

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earlier this week the World Bank released the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. The report noted relatively high numbers of women participating in Finnish politics, and credited the Council for Equality between Men and Women in Finland with progress.

Pictured in 2003 during a state visit to Brazil, Tarja Halonen was Finland’s first lady President.
Image: Agência Brasil.

Finland bucks the global trend; the report notes globally “the number of women holding parliamentary seats is very low, and progress in the last 15 years has been slow.” Female representation in national parliaments has risen from 10% in 1995 to 17% in 2009. By contrast, Finnish female parliamentarians accounted for 38.5% of new members in 1991, rising to 42.5% in 2011. Finland was one of just nine nations whose total female cabinet members stood at more than 40% in 2008. Globally, females accounted for 17% of ministers, representing a rise from just 8% in 1998.

Although not specifically mentioned by the report, since the millennium the positions of President and Prime Minister have both been held by women; Tarja Halonen became the nation’s first female President in 2000 and in 2010 Mari Kiviniemi was selected to be the second female Prime Minister. Women gained suffrage in 1906 with little opposition, ahead of the US and UK.

Students at a maths lecture at the Helsinki University of Technology
Image: Tungsten.

The cross-party Council for Equality between Men and Women in Finland dates back to the 1970s; the World Bank dismisses its role at that time as “primarily symbolic” with little in the way of staff, funding, or influence. In the 1980s it was handed statutory power for gender equality issues and has gone on to press for reforms in areas including sex work, job training, and quotas on political representation. The report calls the council a “success”.

Education, however, showed gender segregation by subject at the tertiary level; Finland was one of several countries singled out as examples of high gender segregation in economically developed countries, compared to lower levels of segregation in less well-developed nations. Finland is one of the four members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development with the highest segregation by subject alongside Croatia, Japan, and Lithuania.

Finland has very high levels of education enrollment for both boys and girls, at almost 100% at primary level. Females are ahead of men in tertiary education enrollment, with 46% of men in the relevant age group enrolling in 1991 and 52% of women. By 2009 these numbers stood at 82% and 101% respectively.

Boys and girls were neck and neck with high scores in their 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment maths tests, both averaging around 540. Literacy also produced very high scores but with a gender gap; boys averaged around 510 while girls averaged around 560.

Internet access in Finland is high with men slightly ahead; for men and women alike access stands at around 85%. Finns have a legal right to a 1Mbps broadband connection and authorities plan to have 100Mbps connections for every citizen by 2015. The proportion of women teleworking at least 25% of the time has risen from around 7% in 2000–1 to 9% in 2005; the male figure was at 9% in 2005 and is now 15–20%. Rapid teleworking growth is a global trend but the report notes the female figures generally grew faster.

Marketplace activities also show gender disparity in Finland. Of activities performed by men and women, the female share stands at 41%, versus 63% for domestic activities such as housework. From 2006–9 services accounted for 87% of female and 56% of male employment. 10% of women and 37% of men were employed in industry and agriculture was only a minor employer, with 6% of male employment and 3% of female employment.

Life expectancy for Finnish men has risen from 71 years in 1990 to 77 years in 2009; in the same period, women’s life expectancy increased from 79 years to 83 years. The population stands at 5 million, representing a 0.4% annual growth rate from 2000 to 2010.



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Diego Costa scores Atlético Madrid\’s winning goal against Real Madrid

Diego Costa scores Atlético Madrid’s winning goal against Real Madrid

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yesterday, Atlético Madrid‘s Diego Costa scored his team’s only goal in their 1–0 victory in La Liga play over cross town rivals Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid.

The goal came in the tenth minute after a pass from Koke. The goal was Costa’s eighth in this season of La Liga, and ended Real Madrid’s 30-plus–game home winning streak. The home team crowd responded to Costa’s play with chants of “Costa is not Spanish.”

Diego Costa - Álvaro Arbeloa.JPG Costa challenged Real Madrid’s Álvaro Arbeloa for the ball.
Image: Laura Hale.

Diego Costa - Asier Illarramendi - Diego López.JPG Costa in front of Real Madrid goal
Image: Laura Hale.

Diego Costa - Sergio Ramos.JPG Costa below Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos
Image: Laura Hale.
Diego Costa 3.JPG Costa with possession of the ball
Image: Laura Hale.
Real Madrid vs. Atlético Madrid September 28, 2013 05.JPG The ball in the net following Diego Costa‘s goal for Atlético
Image: Laura Hale.
Real Madrid vs. Atlético Madrid 28 September 2013. Diego Costa..JPGAtlético Madrid celebration following Diego Costa’s goal
Image: Laura Hale.



Related news

  • “Atlético de Madrid defeats Real Madrid 1-0 in 2013 derby” — Wikinews, September 29, 2013

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September 27, 2013

Texas executes Arturo Diaz after US Supreme Court refuses to intervene

Filed under: Archived,Crime and law,North America,Texas,United States — admin @ 5:00 am

Texas executes Arturo Diaz after US Supreme Court refuses to intervene

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Friday, September 27, 2013

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Texas yesterday executed murder convict Arturo Diaz hours after the US Supreme Court turned down a final appeal. It marked the state’s first use of pentobarbital in a lethal injection.

“Let’s go warden. I’m ready” were his last words. He and co-defendant Joe Cordova were found guilty of the 1999 murder of Michael Ryan Nichols, stabbed 94 times over a $50 debt. Witnesses and forensic evidence linked them to the crime.

At trial a psychologist told the court Diaz had low IQ, childlike communications skills, and head injuries from fights and a car crash that were liable to “impair his ability to control and regulate his judgment and perceive reality”. Lawyers for Diaz yesterday told the Supreme Court his defense had failed to ask relatives to tell the trial about Diaz’s childhood, during which he had antisocial tendencies, and was therefore deficient.

Cquote1.svg Let’s go warden. I’m ready. Cquote2.svg

—Arturo Diaz

Lawyers also told the Supreme Court Diaz’s original appeal attorneys were also ineffectual, and that a possible plea bargain had not been properly explained to him. The court rejected an argument that prior rulings meant Diaz and others with allegedly defective legal representation should have their cases reexamined.

Diaz and Nichols were at a party the night before when the victim borrowed $100 from a girl there; he only repaid half. Diaz and Cordova headed to the McAllen apartment where Nichols and a co-worker were staying. Both were tied up with bedsheets and shoelaces and stabbed; the co-worker survived by feigning death. The offenders stole $50 and fled.

Structural formula of pentobarbital, the drug texas switched to for lethal injections this month.
Image: NEUROtiker.

In addition to the surviving co-worker, who escaped the next morning after passing out overnight, another witness told the trial of helping the accused dispose of bloody clothing. A beer bottle found at the scene had Diaz’s DNA on it.

Diaz was put on death row; Cordova received a life sentence. His death marks the thirteenth Texas execution this year with four more planned.

Texas is among several US states with difficulties sourcing drugs for lethal injections. Texas previously used sodium thiopental but supplier Hospira ceased manufacturing it. Used as an assisted suicide drug, pentobarbital is also hard to source with Danish manufacturer Lundbeck opposed to its product being used to execute. State authorities refused to identify the supplier of the pentobarbital used yesterday, which replaces stocks of execution drugs that expired last month.



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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Capital punishment in Texas

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Fiji makes progress on gender roles according to 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development

Fiji makes progress on gender roles according to 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development

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  • 27 September 2013: Fiji makes progress on gender roles according to 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Fiji’s location in the world
Image: TUBS.

On Tuesday the World Bank released the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. For Fiji, the report focused on progress being made in the country as it relates to gender roles and the local impact of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Fijian children
Image: Alex Kehr.

Girls from Fiji believe they can attain a university education. In contrast, boys from rural areas in Fiji generally do not believe they will stay in school past the primary level. The report attributes this to the need for boys to contribute to the family income. This pushes them out of school and into the workforce.

It also says girls have less free time than boys. Girls have specific household chores that limit their free time. Boys, in contrast, have fewer structured household tasks, and the tasks they do have require less time. Boys also have greater ability to leave the house than girls. The report says these differences play a role in defining gender roles. This can lead boys into engaging in bad behavior and increase their exposure to drugs and alcohol. The report says this pattern exists elsewhere in countries like Yemen, Sudan, Bhutan, India, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea. The report quotes a Fijian boy as saying, “Boys, they take their bikes and scoot off and roam around in villages here and there”.

Participation in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Fijian girls are beginning to challenge these traditional cultural gender norms. While they acknowledge and admire the hard work their mothers have done in the domestic sphere, they seek better education and opportunities.

While the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, Fiji did not ratify it until August 1995. They were the 139th country to do so. At first, Fiji objected for cultural reasons to one part of CEDAW, and said Constitutional sections containing different rules for men and women on their ability to marry foreigners was incompatible with another part.

These objections were eventually dropped and constitutional changes were made between 1997 and 1999. CEDAW helped bring about family law reform in 1995. A civil uprising in 2000 stalled some iniatives, but the 2002 CEDAW review assisted in reviving efforts. In 2009, the minimum age allowed for both men and women to marry was raised to 18 years.

Since the introduction of CEDAW, reforms have been made that allowed for more equal partners, make divorces easier to get, make it harder for women to be excluded from the home, and improve the amount, and enforced the payment, of spousal support and following a divorce. The report notes that a 2010 review of CEDAW said there is still room for improvement in terms of inheritance rights for women.

Fiji has a population of 854,000, with an annual average percentage population growth of 0.6%. 31% of the population is aged 0 to 14. The average life expectancy for men is 67 years and for women is 71 years.



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September 26, 2013

For Jamaica, 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development focuses on men

For Jamaica, 2012 Report on Gender Equality and Development focuses on men

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

On Tuesday the World Bank released the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. For Jamaica the report highlights a number of negative gender issues for the nation’s men.

A group of students and their teacher at Ascot High School in Jamaica
Image: Raw9345.

The report claims that getting an education in Jamaica is viewed as primarily a female activity. This cultural attitude encourages males to leave school early. In 2008, girls outnumbered boys in secondary school by a ratio of 1.04:1. At the same time, boys were more likely to have to repeat a year of school. Only 16% of boys passed five or more Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams compared to 30% of girls. Boys outperformed girls only in vocational subjects and physics. The report cites four key challenges in boys’ development identified by a national programme. They are low self-esteem, limited future employment opportunities, lack of discipline, and masculine identities that eschew education.

A program in Jamaica uses cash incentives to encourage at-risk boys to stay in school; other countries like Pakistan use cash incentives to encourage girls to stay in school. Jamaica’s program has resulted an average increase in boys attending school by 0.5 days a month. At the same time, fathers are urged to become more involved with their childrens’ schooling and changes are being made to the curriculum to make it “more boy-friendly”.

Definitions of masculinity result in less employment opportunities and smaller earnings potential. The report claims Jamaican definitions of masculinity also encourage more risky behavior, and sexual behaviors valuing achievement and competence above intimacy. The report says these factors increase physical and sexual violence towards women.

Male mortality is increasing in Jamaica. The report cites crime and violence as causes.



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September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.

Interviewees

  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.

China

File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.


Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.

Iran

Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.

Russia

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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Fremantle defeat Sydney, qualify for 2013 Australian Football League Grand Final

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Fremantle defeat Sydney, qualify for 2013 Australian Football League Grand Final

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Monday, September 23, 2013

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AFL grand final 2006

The Fremantle Dockers defeated the Sydney Swans 99 to 74 this past Saturday in their Australian Football League preliminary final at Patersons Stadium, Perth, Western Australia. Fremantle will play the Hawthorn Hawks in their first Grand Final appearance in their 19 year history.

The 25 point win over the reigning premiers, Sydney, came as a result of an early push by the Dockers, who led by 39 points at half-time. The Swans came to the game missing several key players, including Adam Goodes, who is recovering from a knee injury.

Top goal kickers for Fremantle were Michael Walters, Matthew Pavlich, Nick Suban and Nathan Fyfe, while Sydney’s Gary Rohan and Harry Cunningham were their only dual goal scorers.

Fremantle led by 43 points at three quarter time in front of a crowd of over 43,000, securing a place in the Grand Final despite six late goals from a resurgent Sydney. They are now scheduled to play Hawthorn, who beat Geelong 102 to 97 to qualify for the Grand Final this coming Saturday.



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September 21, 2013

Bolivian president announces legal action over Obama\’s \’crimes against humanity\’

Bolivian president announces legal action over Obama’s ‘crimes against humanity’

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Correction — October 4, 2013
 
The last paragraph of this article should say “President Maduro” rather than “President Morales”. We apologize for the error.
 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

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The Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Thursday he will file legal charges against the United States President Barack Obama for crimes against humanity. President Morales announced he was preparing litigation after Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro‘s plane was allegedly denied entry into U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico.

File photo of Evo Morales.
Image: Agência Brasil.

Official portrait of Barack Obama.
Image: Pete Souza.

President Morales called Obama a “criminal” violating international law. Morales called an emergency meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), made up of 33 member states including Argentina, Mexico and Chile, and encouraged member states to remove their ambassadors from the U.S. to show their solidarity. He asked Bolivarian Alliance member states to boycott the next United Nations meeting, to be held in New York on September 24. He also said the U.S. had pursued a policy of “intimidation” and have a history of blockading presidential flights.

In July this year, the Bolivian presidential aircraft was prevented from landing in Portugal to refuel, allegedly at the request of the U.S. administration. After Italy, Spain and France each banned the aircraft from entering their airspace, it was ultimately forced to land in Austria. Here, the plane was boarded as part of the search for U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden. Several Latin American heads of state promptly condemned the actions.

President Evo Morales is in his second presidential term after first being elected in 2005. He campaigned on the promise of alleviating Bolivia’s crippling poverty — Bolivia was Latin America’s poorest nation at the time he was elected — and is Bolivia’s first indigenous leader. He became internationally recognisable for the striped jumper he wore while meeting with high level dignitaries, including kings and presidents, around the world. His actions as President have included halving his own salary and those of his ministers, seizing Bolivia’s gas and oil reserves, and redistributing the nation’s unused countryside to the poor.

President Morales had been bound for bilateral talks in China. He maintains he will not be prevented from attending them.



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September 20, 2013

Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations Series begins in Sydney

Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations Series begins in Sydney

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Friday, September 20, 2013

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Cathedral Square, Sydney, Australia — Wikinews attended the Wheelchair Rugby Tri-Nations Series in Cathedral Square, Sydney, ongoing from Wednesday. This is the first time an international wheelchair rugby event has been held outdoors, and in this arena. Three nations are competing: the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

America’s Josh Wheeler
Image: Jeff Crow Australian Paralympic Committee.

Left to right: Chuck Aoki (US), Andrew Harrison (Aus), Cameron Carr (Aus), Jeremy Brown (US), Ryan Scott (Aus), Derrick Helton (US)
Image: Jeff Crow Australian Paralympic Committee.

Wheelchair Rugby in Cathedral Square, Sydney. Hyde Park and the Centrepoint Tower can be seen in the background.
Image: Hawkeye7.

United States National Wheelchair Rugby team
Image: Hawkeye7.

Justice Crew performs
Image: Hawkeye7.

Premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell and CEO of the Australian Paralympic Committee Jason Hellwig
Image: Hawkeye7.

The venue is Cathedral Square, Sydney, which is adjacent to Hyde Park. The Sydney Central Business district is on the other side of the park. An outdoor stadium has been constructed specifically for the tournament, which is believed to be the first time an international wheelchair rugby tournament has been held outdoors. This choice was validated by the fine and warm weather. Free sunscreen was given to the crowd.

The Opening Ceremony was officiated by Australian Paralympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Jason Hellwig. In attendance were the Premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, Robyn Kemmis, and Paralympic swimmer Matthew Cowdrey. A large crowd, mostly consisting of school groups, was entertained by boy band Justice Crew singing their hit Best Night.

Each team is to play the others two twice, on Wednesday September 18 and Thursday September 19. Finals are to be held on Friday. All three teams are highly ranked internationally. The United States team is ranked number one in the world. It won bronze at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, gold at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, and bronze at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, and is the current world champion. This is its first visit to Australia since the 2000 Summer Paralympics.

The Australian team, known as the Steelers, is ranked second in the world. It won silver in Beijing and gold in London. The team is almost unchanged from the one that won in London. Greg Smith has become the assistant coach.

The first game, held immediately after the Opening Ceremony, was between the United States and Australia. The United States proved the better team, forcing errors and turnovers. Three turnovers in the first quarter were especially costly for the Steelers, who lost 56–43.

The second game was held at 17:30 under lights. The crowd was small, but there were a number of New Zealand fans in the crowd, including a few Maori. Two of the New Zealand players are also Maori. The well-disciplined United States team proved too good for the Wheel Blacks as well, who lost 58–40 in an entertaining contest.

The third game was at 19:30, between Australia and New Zealand. The Australians led the whole game, which was nonetheless entertaining to the last. In the dying seconds of the game, Australia’s Ryley Batt shunted a stalling New Zealand player across the line to force him to score, then threw the ball to team mate Chris Bond, who raced for the line at high speed but was beaten by the buzzer. Australia won 61–48.

The New Zealand team, known as the Wheel Blacks, is ranked tenth in the world. It won gold in Athens.

Highlights of the tournament are scheduled to be shown on Foxtel Sports in Australia on September 28 and 29.



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