Daily Archives: July 12, 2008

Ghosts of Nazi collaboration haunt Vichy’s attempt to rehabilitate its image

Sarkozy to stage first major conference in town since days of Pétain regime

Guardian | Jul 12, 2008

By Angelique Chrisafis

In his house overlooking Vichy’s famous thermal spas, Bertrand de Solliers poured a glass of Vichy mineral water, extolling its digestive benefits. But beyond the water, thermal baths and mineral sweets promoted by the picturesque spa town, the local film-maker’s chief concern was the weight of history.

Vichy is best known for being chosen after the German occupation in 1940 to house Marshal Pétain’s puppet regime that collaborated with the Nazis and ensured the deportation of one quarter of France’s Jewish population. Sixty years after the war, De Solliers fought to record the accounts of locals who lived in Vichy during the war. “There’s an absence, a silence here that has made this place a town full of ghosts,” he said.

But Vichy is hoping to free itself from its past. Nicolas Sarkozy has chosen the town to host an international conference during France’s presidency of the EU – its first time gathering of world politicians since the second world war. No post-war government had dared host a major international event there, fearing the town’s name was forever associated with the collaborationists.

Locals are overjoyed to see the end of “ostracisation” and scapegoating. After all, historians agree that Vichy’s inhabitants were not responsible for the regime. Many in Vichy were its victims, hundreds of local Jews were deported.

But as the autumn conference draws nearer, controversy is brewing. The event’s theme is the “integration” of immigrants in Europe. Vichy was chosen by the local politician Brice Hortefeux, minister for immigration, integration and national identity. Since Sarkozy’s election and Hortefeux’s appointment, France’s immigration policy and its round-ups of illegal immigrants have been compared to the round-ups and authoritarianism of the Vichy regime.

One protester was fined €800 (£640) this year for insulting Sarkozy by comparing his policies to those of the Vichy regime. Some commentators fear that dealing with issues of immigration and integration in Vichy could be seen as provocative. One minister, Laurent Wauquiez, was quoted as saying the decision was in bad taste. He immediately denied making the comment.

Henry Rousso, a leading historian and author of The Vichy Syndrome, said today’s immigration problems had nothing to do with events under the occupation, but some might wrongly see the conference as a provocation.

A spokesman for RESF, which campaigns against deportations of illegal immigrant families, said: “You can’t blame the town of Vichy for its long-held rancour and desire to rehabilitate its spa town. But should that really start with a conference about the politics of hostility towards foreigners proposed to Europe by Mr Hortefeux?”

He said the minister hadn’t properly weighed up the symbolism and that “far from rehabilitating Vichy” it would send it back to debates about the past.

The mayor, Claude Malhuret, from Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party, said the topic of the conference was irrelevant. He hailed the end of a long struggle to free the name of Vichy from its association with the regime. Vichy’s architecture, casinos and belle époque landmarks remained unchanged since the days of the regime, but now at last they could be enjoyed without taboo.

“The association of our town’s name with a whole era of Nazi occupation is an injustice we have been fighting for years,” he said. “The people of Vichy never sought the regime. The regime chose Vichy because it was a summer holiday capital for the rich and famous with lots of hotel rooms and the only international telephone exchange outside Paris. Many Vichy residents suffered terribly under the regime. No one blames the current inhabitants of Berlin for the policies of Hitler.”

France is still coming to terms with its past. In 1995 Jacques Chirac for the first time acknowledged French responsibility in the deportation of Jews to death camps. Marking himself apart, Sarkozy pledged last year to end the rush of “repentance” which he called “a form of self-hatred”. But he has since championed the memory of the 17-year-old Resistance hero Guy Môquet.

Vichy is at the centre of France’s troubled relationship with memory. Films continue to be set there, most recently the docu-drama of François Mitterrand’s time in Vichy as a young politician. “Vichy is like a traumatised woman. It needs to express its past and talk about it freely,” said Paule Muxel, who made Last Year in Vichy with De Solliers. The documentary, recently shown on French TV, was the first time Vichy residents had ever been interviewed about memories of life during Pétain’s regime. Muxel and De Solliers had to battle to secure funding from local authorities.

“It’s important we preserve older people’s memories,” said Jean Marielle, a resident who fought in the Resistance. “I’m glad a major conference here will allow us to reclaim the word Vichy and the name of our town, to rid ourselves once and for all of the taboo.”

Backstory

In 1940, after the military defeat of France by Nazi Germany and the occupation of Paris, Marshal Pétain proclaimed power setting up an authoritarian French regime in the south, which was nominally “free”. He based his administration in Vichy, a picturesque town whose hot springs and stunning architecture had made it the star-studded, spa capital of Europe. The reactionary puppet regime, whose motto was “work, family, fatherland”, issued its own decrees and collaborated with the Nazis in mass deportations and repression. After the liberation in 1944, many of the key figures in the regime were tried, and some were executed. Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

US air strike wiped out Afghan wedding party

An injured Afghan boy is put on a stretcher at a hospital in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan. Photograph: Nesar Ahmad

Guardian | Jul 11, 2008

by James Sturcke

A US air strike killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to a wedding in Afghanistan, an official inquiry found today. The bride was among the dead.

Another nine people were wounded in Sunday’s attack, the head of the Afghan government investigation, Burhanullah Shinwari, said.

Fighter aircraft attacked a group of militants near the village of Kacu in the eastern Nuristan province, but one missile went off course and hit the wedding party, said the provincial police chief spokesman, Ghafor Khan.

The US military initially denied any civilians had been killed.

Lieutenant Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the US-led coalition, told AFP today the military regretted the loss of any civilian life and was investigating the incident.

The US is facing similar charges over strikes two days earlier in another border area of Afghanistan.

The nine-member inquiry team appointed by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to look into the wedding party incident found only civilians had been killed in the attack.

“We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the air strikes and another nine were wounded,” said Shinwari, who is also the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s senate.

“They were all civilians and had no links with the Taliban or al-Qaida.”

Around 10 people were missing and believed to be still under rubble, he said. The inquiry team were shown the bloodied clothes of women and children in a visit to the scene.

The Red Cross said 250 people had been killed or wounded in five days of military action and militant attacks in the past week.

The toll included the US-led air strikes and a suicide blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on Monday that killed more than 40 people, including two Indian envoys.

The UN said last month that nearly 700 Afghan civilians had lost their lives this year – about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.

Karzai has pleaded repeatedly for western troops to take care not to harm civilians, and in December wept during a speech lamenting civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces.

US-led strikes kill 64 Afghan civilians

AFP | Jul 11, 2008

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) — Official investigations have found that US-led air strikes a week ago killed 64 people, most of them women and children, the heads of separate investigation teams said Friday.

The US-led coalition has denied killing civilians in the strikes on July 4 and July 6 in remote, mountainous areas near the border with Pakistan but said it was looking into the allegations. It says only militants were killed.
President Hamid Karzai appointed high-level teams to investigate the claims, which have attracted criticism from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghan parliament.

The team that looked into Sunday’s strike in the remote Deh Bala district of Nangarhar told AFP they were shown the bloodied clothes of women and children killed in the strike that hit a wedding party and turned buildings into rubble.

“We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the air strikes and another nine were wounded,” said the head of the mission, Burhanullah Shinwari.

“They were all civilians and had no links with Taliban or Al-Qaeda,” said Shinwari, who is also the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s senate.
Around 10 people were missing and believed to be still under rubble, he said.

Another member of the delegation, Mohammad Asif Shinwari, said there were only three men among the dead and the rest were women and children.

Local officials said earlier the strikes had hit a party of mainly women and children escorting a bride to her groom. The bride was among the dead, they said.

The investigation team was to present its findings to Karzai in days.

A separate investigation into Friday’s strike in the northeastern province of Nuristan had found that 17 civilians were killed there, said General Mohammad Amin, a defence ministry official who headed the team.
The coalition has said this hit “several” militants who were fleeing after attacking a base.

“We found that in the bombing 17 people were killed and nine were wounded, Amin said. “They are all civilians.”

Afghan authorities said before that the dead included two doctors and two midwives who were leaving the area after the coalition said it was preparing an operation there.

The relatives of some of the victims were paid compensation, Amin said, warning the killings could see a backlash against the government and the international troops helping it to fight an extremist insurgency.

“If the government keeps quiet about these civilian casualties in Nuristan like in the past, it will be bad for the security of the province,” he said.
Amin said the findings were due to be presented to Karzai on Saturday.
The coalition said it was investigating the incidents.

“Any loss of civilian life is tragic,” said Nielson-Green, a coalition spokeswoman, told AFP. “We never target non-combatants. We do go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.”

Civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire of the insurgency, launched after the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that 250 people were killed or wounded in five days of military action and militant attacks starting July 4, a figure it said it “deplores”.

This included in the US-led air strikes and a suicide blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on Monday that killed more than 40 people, including two Indian envoys.

The United Nations said last month that nearly 700 civilians had lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.

Dancing human generators power green nightclub to save the Earth

Just dance to save the world, says Dr Earth

Guardian | Jul 12, 2008

By Jo Adetunji

A multimillionaire entrepreneur who styles himself Dr Earth claims to have found the answer to the planet’s environmental problems – to dance.

Andrew Charalambous, a 35-year-old property developer, said Club Surya, which opened its doors in King’s Cross, London, this week, was the “world’s first ecological nightclub.” The technology that will save the world is a hi-tech dancefloor which generates electricity from the movement of dancers. Other features include waterless urinals, a wind turbine and solar panels. Club4Climate, which runs the club, runs “all you have to do is dance to save the world” as its tagline.

Charalambous, who has spent £1m converting the club, said: “The dancefloor can generate around 60% of our electricity. We also have tables made of magazines, walls made of old mobiles and CDs – it’s pretty wacky. The waterless urinals will save around 90 gallons of water and we harvest rainwater. We’re the first business to donate excess electricity.

“So far the green movement has been working on the basis of don’t fly, don’t drive. It doesn’t work. We had two people who came to the opening who flew in from Brazil. I’m not going to tell them not to fly. It’s the new realism. At the end of the day they’re going to take that message back to millions. It’s about a billion people making small differences. I’m all for flying and driving.”

But not everyone in the green movement is on board. Ruth Ruderham, head of fundraising for Friends of the Earth, said: “Club4Climate’s activities are not compatible with Friends of the Earth’s work to promote low carbon living, so we are concerned to see the company has used our logo without our permission and we will not be accepting any donations from them.”

Political elite enjoy lavish fine dining as they push for food frugality

The most powerful bellies in the world were last night compelled to stave off the great Hokkaido Hunger by fortifying themselves with an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs.

Related: Britain urging return to wartime food frugality

Guardian | Jul 8, 2008

Just two of the 19 dishes on the dinner menu at the G8 food shortages summit

By Patrick Wintour and Patrick Barkham

As the food crisis began to bite, the rumblings of discontent grew louder. Finally, after a day of discussing food shortages and soaring prices, the famished stomachs of the G8 leaders could bear it no longer.

The most powerful bellies in the world were last night compelled to stave off the great Hokkaido Hunger by fortifying themselves with an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs. This multi-pronged attack was launched after earlier emergency lunch measures – four courses washed down with Château-Grillet 2005 – had failed to quell appetites enlarged by agonising over feeding the world’s poor.

The G8 gathering had been seen as a “world food shortages summit” as leaders sought to combat spiralling prices of basic foodstuffs in the developed world, and starvation in the developing world.

But not since Marie Antoinette was supposed to have leaned from a Versailles palace window and suggested that the breadless peasants eat cake can leaders have demonstrated such insensitivity to daily hardship than at the luxury Windsor hotel on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

After discussing famine in Africa, the peckish politicians and five spouses took on four bite-sized amuse-bouche to tickle their palates. The price of staple foods may be soaring, but thankfully caviar and sea urchin are within the purchasing power of leaders and their taxpayers – the amuse-bouche featured corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin, hot onion tart and winter lily bulb.

Guests at the summit, which is costing £238m, were then able to pick items from a tray modelled on a fan and decorated with bamboo grasses, including diced fatty tuna fish, avocado and jellied soy sauce, and pickled conger eel with soy sauce.

Hairy crab Kegani bisque-style soup was another treat in a meal prepared by the Michelin-starred chef Katsuhiro Nakamura, the grand chef at Hotel Metropolitan Edmont in Tokyo, alongside salt-grilled bighand thornyhead (a small, red Pacific fish) with a vinegary water pepper sauce.

They have told their people to tighten their belts for lean times ahead, but you feared for presidential and prime ministerial girdles after the chance to tuck into further dishes including milk-fed lamb, roasted lamb with cepes, and black truffle with emulsion sauce. Finally there was a “fantasy” dessert, a special cheese selection accompanied by lavender honey and caramelised nuts, while coffee came with candied fruits and vegetables.

Leaders cleverly skated around global water shortages by choosing from five different wines and liqueurs.

Earlier, the heads of state had restricted themselves to a light lunch of asparagus and truffle soup, crab and supreme of chicken served with nuts and beetroot foam, followed by a cheese selection, peach compote, milk ice-cream and coffee with petits fours.

Fresh from instructing his population to waste less food, it can only be hoped that Gordon Brown polished off every single morsel on his plate.

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow secretary of state for international development, said: “The G8 have made a bad start to their summit, with excessive cost and lavish consumption. Surely it is not unreasonable for each leader to give a guarantee that they will stand by their solemn pledges of three years ago at Gleneagles to help the world’s poor. All of us are watching, waiting and listening.”

Raul Castro: Communism is not egalitarianism

The new president nevertheless ended by proclaiming he had “learned everything” from Fidel, drawing a standing ovation.

Associated Press | Jul 11, 2008

By WILL WEISSERT

HAVANA – President Raul Castro warned Cubans on Friday to prepare for a “realistic” brand of communism that is economically viable and does away with excessive state subsidies designed to promote equality on the island.

Addressing Cuba’s parliament in its first session since lawmakers selected him to succeed his older brother Fidel in February, Raul Castro announced no major reforms, but suggested that global economic turbulence could lead to further belt-tightening on the island.

“Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” the 77-year-old president said in a speech that was taped and later aired on national television.

“Equality is not egalitarianism.”

That sentiment marks a break with his brother, who spent decades saying Cuba was building an egalitarian society. But the new president nevertheless ended by proclaiming he had “learned everything” from Fidel, drawing a standing ovation.

Since succeeding his brother, Raul Castro has authorized Cubans to legally purchase computers, stay in luxury hotels and obtain cell phones in their own names. His government has raised some salaries and done away with wage limits, allowing state workers to earn more for better performance.

Cuba’s rubber-stamp parliament convenes for only for a few hours twice a year and rumors were rampant that Friday’s session would see an easing of restrictions on travel abroad or a strengthening of wages by increasing the value of the peso, worth about 21-1 against the U.S. dollar.

The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and the average salary is just 408 pesos per month, US$19.50, though most Cubans get free housing, health care, education and ration cards that cover basic food needs.

Castro said that in “the matter of salaries, we’d all like to go faster, but it’s necessary for us to act with realism.”

“The situation could even get worse,” he said of the global economy. “We will continue to do what’s within our reach so that a series of adversities have less effect on our people, but some impact is inevitable in certain products and sectors.”

Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said this week that skyrocketing global food and oil prices would cause “inevitable adjustments and restrictions” for Cuba’s economy.

Castro said he supported a proposal to gradually push back the retirement age five years, to 65 for men and 60 for women. The move, which parliament plans to vote on in December, is part of an effort to soften the blow of a disproportionately elderly work force.

Castro acknowledged shortages that plague Cubans, but said “we have to be conscious that each increase in salary that is approved or price that is subsidized adhere to economic reality.”

He also shot back at U.S. officials who have dismissed the small changes he has overseen in Cuba as meaningless.

“Faced with the measures adopted lately in our country, some official in the United States comes out immediately, from a spokesman to the president, to brand them ‘insufficient’ or ‘cosmetic,'” Castro said. “Although no one here asked their opinion, I reiterate that we will never make any decision, not even the smallest one, as a result of pressure or blackmail.”

For the fourth straight parliamentary session, Raul Castro sat next to an empty chair set aside for his ailing brother.

The elder Castro, who turns 82 next month, has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.

Mexican military to investigate itself over use of torture

Mexico’s military is accused of more abuse

MSNBC | Jul 11, 2008

Group says it has documented eight new cases of abuse and torture

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Human Rights Commission said Friday that it has documented eight new cases of military abuse and torture.

The cases include allegations that soldiers tortured a migrant after mistakenly identifying him as a drug runner at the border by shoving splinters of wood under his finger- and toenails.

Soldiers also are accused of putting a tube down the man’s throat to force him to drink alcoholic beverages and then leaving him passed out in the desert in Sonora state, bordering Arizona.

He survived the June 7, 2007 ordeal and told investigators about it, the commission said.

Soldiers also are accused of using electric shocks on the testicles of two men and on the stomach of a third man while troops searched homes in the Pacific coast state of Michoacan between June and October 2007.

. . .

Military says it will investigate itself

The commission said the abuses were committed not only by low-ranking soldiers but also lieutenants, captains and one major.

Mexico’s Defense Department released a statement Friday saying that it has opened investigations into the eight new cases reported by the commission. It said two army officials and 10 soldiers are already on trial in connection with three of those cases.

It added that it has put in place a program to educate soldiers about human rights.

Since taking office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 20,000 soldiers across Mexico to fight drug cartels amid the country’s spiraling violence.

The commission said the military should not be performing police work and urged Calderon to set a date for the withdrawal of soldiers from drug spots.

The commission’s president, Jose Luis Soberanes, also recommended “intense education and training” to ensure soldiers follow the letter of the law, saying troops “cannot act like criminals.”

The commission said it has documented a total of 983 complaints against the army since Calderon took office Dec. 1, 2006, and 75 percent of those complaints are tied to the military’s fight against organized crime.

Britain urging return to wartime food frugality

It’s not back to ration books, “victory gardens” or squirrel-tail soup … yet

Related: Political elite enjoy lavish fine dining as they push for food frugality

AP | Jul 11, 2008

By DAVID STRINGER

Evoking an era of World War II austerity, British families are being urged to cut food waste and use leftovers in a nationwide effort to fight sharply rising global food prices.

It’s not back to ration books, “victory gardens” or squirrel-tail soup yet, but warning bells are being rung by experts at all levels of Britain’s government as well as from the World Food Program.

With food and energy prices soaring around the world, a constant supply of high-quality, affordable food is no longer guaranteed, the officials are warning Britons. That could mean an era of scarcity like Britain’s 1940-54 food rationing, during the war and its aftermath.

“Well, of course, in the war years it was not only immoral to waste food — this was one of our slogans then — it also was illegal,” said Marguerite Patten, 92, who worked at the Ministry of Food during World War II and urges a return to those more thrifty days.

“I know it’s old fashioned, but some old fashioned things are worth doing,” she said.

During the war, Nazi Germany’s U-boats crippled the flow of ships carrying food to Britain. Diets were tightly controlled by rationing. Bananas and pineapples became exotic treats, and enterprising housewives traded recipes for baked hedgehog and carrot fudge.

The experts say the postwar era of cheap food has ended — squeezed by the demands of a growing world population, a greater appetite for meat among emerging middle classes in China and India and the pressure on agricultural land from biofuel production.

“Recent food price rises are a powerful reminder that access to ever more affordable food cannot be taken for granted,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a foreword to a bleak new report by Britain’s Cabinet Office.
The report says the task of feeding a larger, richer world population — while simultaneously tackling climate change — is far greater than imagined. The World Bank estimates the cost of food staples has risen 83 percent in three years.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, said junk food will remain readily available, but good quality, nutritious produce could become scarce worldwide.

“There has been 60 years of silence on this issue,” he said. “We haven’t had any sort of overview of food policy since the end of the Second World War. I think we need to accept that food is once again in a wartime state.”
Some Britons might find it a tad galling to take advice on food frugality from the prime minister, who along with fellow Group of Eight leaders dined on sumptuous feasts during their summit this week.

But the government says the public might find one solution by looking into their garbage pail. Britons throw out 4.5 million tons of edible food a year, or about $830 worth per home — wastefulness the government says contributes substantially to rising prices.

Brown wants Britons to store their fruit and vegetables better to avoid waste and plan their meals more carefully. Some municipal authorities want to go further and increase taxes on those who throw away the most rubbish.

“If I throw away food I feel guilty — even if it’s just a little bit,” said Tania Carbonare, a 45-year-old jewelry seller at the Camden Lock market in London.

Those who remember Britain’s 1940s “Dig for Victory” campaign to turn home gardens and soccer fields into vegetable patches say the past holds lessons for any food crisis.

Eggs, butter, meat and cheese were all strictly rationed, prompting an adventurous few to turn to squirrels or horses for protein.

“We didn’t live very grandly, but we learned to make do with what we’d got,” said Helen Trevena, 82, who recalled sweetening her tea with jam when sugar was scarce.

Britain’s Women’s Institute, launched in 1915 to help cut waste and encourage thrift during World War I, is once again offering classes on cutting food waste and livening up leftovers.

“People want those skills,” said Ruth Bond, an institute stalwart from Cambridge in southern England. “Apart from anything else, it helps them save money.”