Category Archives: Dictators

Iraqis fear government reverting back to Saddam-style police state


AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES – Iraqi police women march during a parade to mark 90 years since its foundation in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on Jan. 9, 2012.

“Now everyone is Saddam. We have 300 Saddams, each with his bloc and his party.”

washingtonpost.com | Apr 4, 2012

By Alice Fordham

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government is debating proposed laws that would impose strict controls on freedom of speech and association, prompting fears that the authorities are playing a growing and increasingly oppressive role in citizens’ lives.

As the country settles into its new identity as a sovereign state, about four months after the departure of the last American troops, some Iraqis are nervous that the government is moving back toward the heavy-handed monitoring of citizens that was a hallmark of life under dictator Saddam Hussein.

In parliament, there has been fierce debate of several draft laws. One would carry harsh penalties for online criticism of the government. Another would require demonstrators to get permission for any gathering.

Local and international human rights groups say the proposed legislation is vague and would give the government power to move against people or parties critical of the government.

“In Iraq, we need to respect all the ideas,” said an activist and blogger known as Hayder Hamzoz who is campaigning against a proposed information technology law that would mandate a year’s imprisonment for anyone who violates “religious, moral, family, or social values” online.

Iraqis fear Saddam-style clamps

Iraq unstable, sectarian, with signs of authoritarian rule

The proposed law also contains a sentence of life imprisonment for using computers or social networks to compromise “the independence of the state or its unity, integrity, safety.”

Hamzoz, who does not use his real name out of concern for his safety, said the legislation is intended to allow the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to control social media. The government essentially did just that more than a year ago, when it swiftly smothered an uprising inspired by the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region.

“It’s to attack the activists,” Hamzoz said.

Activists and nongovernmental organizations have criticized the proposed laws that would impose rules on gatherings and forbid meetings in religious establishments, universities and government buildings for anything other than the facilities’ primary purpose.

The Center for Law and Democracy, a U.S.-based advocacy organization, produced a report in December criticizing Iraq’s government for proposing a “number of legal rules which do not meet basic constitutional and international human rights standards.”

In addition to the legislation on Internet use and demonstrations, parliament is debating a law governing the formation of political parties and media organizations.

The Center for Law and Democracy’s report argues that vague rules “may be used to prohibit a wide range of expression which is either merely offensive or perhaps even simply politically unpalatable.”

Many argue that the country, which is emerging from more than 30 years of autocracy under Hussein and then years of conflict and instability after the U.S. invasion, needs tough laws to establish clear ground rules.

“Something should be organized, and the people should know their rights,” said Tariq Harb, a legal expert close to Maliki.

Harb was scornful of those campaigning against the new legislation, saying that the measures reflect international norms. “In London, when there were riots, there were people jailed because of the Internet,” he said.

Harb also argued that Iraq is far more liberal than some of its neighbors, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia, with alcohol available in Baghdad and no official dress code for women.

But others, particularly women’s rights groups, balked at a letter issued late last year by a government committee suggesting that female government employees dress modestly. Another committee has instructed university students of both sexes — who generally adorn a rainbow of head coverings and fashionable jeans — to adopt a muted palette and “decent” clothing.

Alaa Makki, a member of parliament who is part of the committee that issued the rule, said he had reservations about imposing a dress code on young people. But, he added, members of the powerful religious parties had more influence than did liberals.

“The religious parties are politicians, and they are religious leaders in society,” Makki said. “And politicians have to fulfill the demands of imams or they will be marginalized.”

Basma al-Khateb, a women’s rights activist, said some of the government’s moves reminded her of the harsh controls under Hussein, before he was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. She said she feared that the new democratic system had brought to power groups with autocratic tendencies and conflicting religious and political loyalties.

“At least with Saddam, we had one red line,” she said. “Now everyone is Saddam. We have 300 Saddams, each with his bloc and his party.”

Beijing Tightens Grip After Purge


Bo Xilai attended the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress on March 5. Analysts say the Maoist revival Mr. Bo led in Chongqing is unlikely to disappear following his ouster. Getty Images

wsj.com | Mar 21, 2012

By BRIAN SPEGELE

BEIJING—The central Chinese government hardened its grip in Chongqing, the domain of recently ousted Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai, targeting the “red singing” he had encouraged in the southwestern city, part of an approach that has widened an ideological rift among the party elite.

However, political analysts say the Maoist revival Mr. Bo led in Chongqing is unlikely to disappear following his ouster. That is partly because leaders have to be careful not to be seen as going against historical Communist Party values and also because Mr. Bo’s promotion of a strong state role in the economy found widespread support among those who feared rapid privatization of state wealth.

His firing last week has shaken China’s political establishment, and exposed such high-level divisions just ahead of its once-a-decade leadership transition beginning this fall. The highly unusual purge has raised questions about whether the party can restore the internal political unity needed to preserve its grip on power.

Beijing has released little information on its handling of Chongqing, beyond announcing last week that Zhang Dejiang, a vice premier with strong ties to state industry leaders, had taken over Mr. Bo’s position. The whereabouts of Mr. Bo and his family remained unclear, including whether he is under house arrest or has been taken into police custody.

Political analysts have said that Mr. Bo may be allowed to retain his seat on the country’s Politburo and avoid formal corruption or other charges if he agrees to cooperate with authorities and doesn’t challenge his removal.

Wang Lijun, Mr. Bo’s former police chief, is widely believed to have presented damaging material about Mr. Bo during a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February. Mr. Wang is also being investigated by Chinese authorities.

Separately on Tuesday, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Li Yuanchao, the head of the party’s organization department, as warning party members against pursuing individuals gains, “and to resist money-worshiping and hedonism.” He reiterated a recent call by Vice President Xi Jinping for party purity, which has been viewed as a clear rejection of Mr. Bo’s individualist and populist leadership style.

Unsubstantiated rumors across the capital and on China’s Internet underscored the widespread speculation fueled by Mr. Bo’s ouster. Some users on Twitter-like services such as Sina Corp.’s SINA -1.20% Weibo claimed a heightened security presence in Beijing and even a possible political coup against the government of President Hu Jintao. The word “coup” was a blocked search term on Weibo as of Tuesday evening.

The growing interest in Mr. Bo’s fate parallels the efforts by central authorities to solidify control over Chongqing. Authorities in recent days posted a notice in People’s Square—where locals, especially senior citizens, often gathered to sing red songs under Mr. Bo—warning against singing or dancing there.

A picture of the notice posted online, and later confirmed by Chongqing residents, cites excessive noise as a reason to limit the singing and dancing. Nonetheless, according to residents, groups of senior citizens continued to gather, despite the warnings from local authorities.

Mr. Zhang, Chongqing’s new party chief, is the son of an army general, and like Mr. Bo is often referred to as a “princeling.” Nonetheless, he is widely viewed as in the role only temporarily to reinforce the central-government’s positions until a longer-term successor is selected, likely in the fall.

Local government-run media have also reflected the central government’s influence. Saturday’s Chongqing Times in a front-page headline pledged to “earnestly implement the central government’s decision.”

The removal of Mr. Bo, who had been running an unusually overt campaign to thrust himself into the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, is being widely viewed as a rejection of individualist politics in favor of consensus-driven decision making.

Mr. Bo was closely backed by a group of academics and lower-level officials, known as China’s “new left,” who supported a Maoist revival and a greater role for the state in economic development. Mr. Bo’s sacking is a blow to the movement, but its relatively close ties to traditional Maoist thought could shield it from wider attack by today’s party’s leaders, according to analysts, although Premier Wen Jiabao last week warned another Cultural Revolution might again occur in China without reform of the country’s political and leadership systems.Unlike liberal political dissidents in China, who are routinely persecuted for their views, those tied to the Maoist revival led by Mr. Bo aren’t likely to face similar government harassment in the near term, said Mao Shoulong, a well-known expert on Chinese politics at Renmin University in Beijing. “The new left is regarded as a matter of political differences” as opposed to a critical threat facing the state, he said. “Bo Xilai and the new left certainly have a relationship, but [the Bo case] is mainly still an individual thing.”

While China’s top officials have embraced economic and more limited political reform, they are cautious against too greatly distancing themselves from former Chairman Mao Zedong, who remains a revered figure in Chinese politics despite the acknowledgment of shortcomings during his time in power.

Mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station


19. Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 53 changed to 22; 20. Gennady Zyuganov: 176 changed to 83; 21. Sergei Mironov: unchanged at 56 22. Mikhail Prokhorov: 226 changed to 32; 23. Putin: 466 changed to 780

How a mysterious change to voting tallies boosted Putin at St Petersburg polling station: a citizen observer reports

Election monitors across Russia reported alleged vote fixing in the presidential poll. Irina Levinskaya, a St Petersburg historian, gives her eye-witness account of how she saw it happen.

Telegraph | Mar 10, 2012

By Irina Levinskaya

After Russia’s parliamentary elections in December, it was impossible for anyone in my country not to know that there had been electoral fraud on a massive scale. But I am a historian and obsessed with verifying information for myself.

For that reason I joined the more than 3,000 citizens in St Petersburg who committed themselves to monitoring last week’s presidential election.

In training sessions, lawyers explained the kinds of irregularities that might occur and how to avert – or at least to record – them. They lectured us on the relevant laws and regulations. They told us how to prevent ballot stuffing and how to detect “carousel voting”, when people vote more than once.

“But remember,” they warned on several occasions. “The members of the electoral commission are not your enemies: think positively about them and don’t forget the presumption of innocence.”

I was allocated to Polling Station No. 1015 on Moskovsky Avenue in the south of St Petersburg. It was in a special school for excluded children and the head of the election commission was a social-worker-cum-teacher at the school.

Natalya Dmitriyeva was a kindly-looking, smiling woman in her mid-fifties: the sort of person you’d imagine to be perfect for rehabilitating our city’s excluded youth.

Such teachers, according to the school’s website, “prevent youth crime and teach individual responsibility and freedom”.

I arrived at 7.30am on March 4. In all, we were 11 observers from all walks of life and of all ages, including three young women students. We stayed at the polling station all day and well into the evening, when the votes for the five presidential candidates were counted.

At 10.30pm, the final count was made. The results astonished me: Putin had come first but with only 466 votes – 47.7 per cent of the vote. Second was the billionare Mikhail Prokhorov with an unexpected 226 votes (23.1 per cent ). Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party, received 176 votes (18 per cent) and came third in this particular district.

Since most of the voters had been of the Soviet generation, I had assumed that the old habit of dutifully voting for the leaders (combined with aggressive pro-Putin television propaganda during the last few months and coercion in many state institutions) would have given a clear majority to Putin, with Zyuganov in second place.

Ms Dmitriyeva, the senior official, wrote up the results on the wall in large figures, as required by law. I took a photograph of the document. Now, all that remained was for her to make copies for each of us. This was so that the figures could not be falsified at a higher level, as had happened during the parliamentary elections.

Our job seemed to be over. We had spent more than 15 hours at Polling Station 1015. During that time, we had not seen a single irregularity. We were very pleased with how things had gone. Everything had been carried out in strict accordance with the law.

By now it was nearing midnight. Ms Dmitriyeva went off to copy the official documents. And this was when things began to go wrong. Exhausted after a long and tense day, it didn’t occur to us to go with her. Our vigilance slipped.

The sweet, smiling, kindly-looking teacher went off and didn’t come back. We waited and waited. I went to look for her but she had vanished. Now, I remembered with horror what we’d been warned of by our lawyers: “Don’t let the head of the commission out of your sight at the final stage.”

It was some time before another member of the commission appeared (we never saw Ms Dmitriyeva again) with a sheaf of papers in his hand. “You wanted copies of the official results? Here they are.”

“Thank goodness!” I thought. I grabbed a copy of the document, checked that all formalities had been complied with – the official stamp, signature in the right place and so on – then unfolded it.

I couldn’t believe what I saw: Putin – 780 votes (80.2 per cent); Zyuganov 83 votes (8.5 per cent); and Prokhorov 32 votes (3.3 per cent). I was horrified.

I’ll never forget the shock on the faces of the three young students: someone, though we could not know who, had falsified the ballot.

The member of the commission who had handed us the falsified papers was still in the building and so we waited at the exit to confront him. But he appeared to have taken precautions and phoned for support.

Suddenly, a Nissan Pathfinder drew up and three thick-set, young men with shaven heads leapt out. Pushing us forcefully aside, they escorted the commission member to the car and drove off.

I wrote down the number-plate and later established it was from a series used for official cars carrying government employees with the right to state security.

Next day we learned that the same car, and the same men, had been seen at other polling stations, either throwing out observers or escorting election officials.

Of course, this will not be the end of it. Immediately, we went to the constituency level election commission but its chairman had also vanished.

The following day, we filed a complaint and next week we will hand a witness statement, with all our documentary evidence, to the prosecutor’s office – along with hundreds of others from the St Petersburg district.

I am not confident of success, however: I have years of experience, not only of Putin’s Russia but also of our former Soviet paradise. The difference between them is growing harder and harder to determine.

Dr Irina Levinskaya is a senior fellow of St Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University’s Centre for Advanced Theological Research

Communist Kremlin hopeful looks to a new generation


Zyuganov has fed off of the largest protests Putin has faced in his 12-year rule, seeking support from young voters who do not remember the Soviet Union or his past failures and simply refuse to vote for Putin’s third term in office.

Reuters | Mar 2, 2012

By Thomas Grove

NOVOMOSKOVSK, Russia – A flashy campaign advertisement sets the scene after Russia’s presidential election: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov steps out of a black Mercedes in front of the Kremlin, the seat of power since Soviet times.

After three failed attempts to win the presidency, the perennial loser of Russian politics is trying to convince the country once again to vote him into the top office in Sunday’s election.

Addressing the frustration of many Russians who feel powerless to end Vladimir Putin’s dominance, a voiceover in the advertisement asks: “No choice?”

“There is always a choice,” it says, flashing to footage of the stern-faced Communist leader.

Zyuganov has fed off of the largest protests Putin has faced in his 12-year rule, seeking support from young voters who do not remember the Soviet Union or his past failures and simply refuse to vote for Putin’s third term in office.

He says he is injecting new life into the ranks of a party which until recently has evoked images of poor pensioners nostalgic for the days of Soviet glory, waving red flags and clutching portraits of Stalin.

“We have the youngest, strongest and most dynamic team in the whole country,” Zyuganov told a packed hall at a university in the small western city of Novomoskovsk, on St. Tatiana’s Day, celebrated as student’s day in Russia.

“And the youth stand behind us,” said the 67-year-old former physics and mathematics teacher.

Zyuganov, who climbed the rungs of power as an apparatchik in the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, is forecast by pollsters to come a distant second to Putin, who hopes to avoid a runoff by winning more than 50 percent of the vote.

He has to fight off his image as a pushover, a willing cog in Putin’s political system who is satisfied with second place as long as he and his party retain a swathe of seats in parliament, where the Communists are the second-largest faction.

Zyuganov denies it. He says he was first cheated out of an election win in 1996, when an ailing President Boris Yeltsin staged a stunning comeback and beat him in a runoff after a campaign marred by corruption allegations.

The other three candidates challenging Putin face similar suspicions.

“Zyuganov himself wouldn’t know what to do if he woke up on March 5 and found out that the country had made him Russia’s new president,” said one of his young advocates, also a lawmaker.

In a country that preserves Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin’s body on show in a tomb outside the Kremlin but still struggles with the legacy of 70 years of Communist rule, the inroads Zyuganov has made with young people represent a sea change for a party that had seemed destined to die out with a generation.

WHITE RIBBONS, RED RIBBONS

Shivering in a light snow on a Sunday afternoon, Dmitry Usoltsev, 20, stood on Moscow’s Garden Ring road with thousands of others protesting against Putin and his decision to return to the Kremlin.

Born the year after the Soviet Union collapsed, he said neither of his parents ever voted for the Communists, but for him, Zyuganov and his platform is the only way to reform.

“I want a system that isn’t afraid of reforms and can carry them out. Putin can’t do this because he’s afraid,” said Usoltsev, wearing a white ribbon – a symbol of the protests.

“In the current political climate, I’m voting for Zyuganov, because he actually has realistic and concrete measures that can reform the court system, the military, the education system,”

the law student said.

The biggest opposition protests in Putin’s Russia were sparked after a December election gave Putin’s United Russia party a parliamentary majority despite widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

Putin became prime minister in 2008 after eight years as president. Sunday’s election is expected to see him return to the country’s most powerful position.

Zyuganov says his party was cheated out of an election victory in the December 4 poll and he has aligned himself cautiously with the protesters. He has avoided participating in the protests themselves, but has joined their calls for a rerun of the December vote.

Sergei Udaltsov, a scrappy street protester who leads the Left Front opposition group, has publicly supported him.

The barrel-chested, bass-voiced Communist leader also inked a deal with one of the chief protest leaders, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, to take responsibility for thousands of citizens who have signed up to monitor the presidential election for fraud.

Not everyone, however, accepts the politician who has a bust of Lenin in his office and has published books on the achievements of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s brutal reign.

A SOVIET MIX

In Novomoskovsk, a city of 130,000 some 200 km (120 miles) south of Moscow, Zyuganov mixed a message of rejuvenation with rhetoric heavy on references to Soviet glory.

During the Soviet era, the city throve on chemical manufacturing and industrial farming.

With employment dropping and young people leaving for bigger cities to seek jobs, Novomoskovsk is a prime target for Zyuganov’s efforts to win over part of Putin’s provincial electorate.

Addressing students, he promised to nationalize Russia’s oil and gas companies, reform the education system and spread more equally the vast wealth that many Russians believe to be concentrated among Putin’s circle of friends.

The message holds an attraction for some who have never experienced the Soviet Union but have heard of the security it once provided.

“If Zyuganov wins he would increase production at factories, he will provide jobs. People wouldn’t move to Moscow to find work if there were worthwhile jobs here,” said Sergei Vasilkov, 21, a student at the institute.

“Our city is standing empty. There’s no work. The young people are going to Moscow, and the only people who are left are pensioners and alcoholics, everyone else is gone.”

China defends putting up portraits of Mao in Tibetan temples


Women tend a garden under the gaze of Chinese Communist leaders. FROM LEFT: Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Reuters/Stringer Shanghai

“Peaceful liberation of Tibet”

deccanherald.com | Mar 2 ,2012

Beijing – Accused of adopting “rough and oppressive” religious policies in Tibet, China today refuted the criticism and underlined that there was nothing wrong in its attempts put up the portraits of Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders in Tibetan temples.

Addressing questions on the Tibet issue, a top Chinese official refuted criticism that recurring suicides by Buddhist monks in Tibet was due to China’s “rough and oppressive” religious policies in the Himalayan region.

Commenting on the attempts by the ruling Communist party cadres to install portraits of Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders in temples in Tibet, Zhao Qizheng, spokesman for the annual session of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said there nothing to be “accused” about it.

“The portrait you mentioned is a picture which commemorates the 60th anniversary of peaceful liberation of Tibet. In this picture the four leaders, (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao) that you mentioned are portrayed”, he said.

“Therefore I do not think it is anything to be accused of. Rather the steps taken by TAR officials was welcomed by the local communities”, Zhao said at a nationally televised press conference on the eve of the annual session of the CPPCC, which is a advisory body comprising of over 2,000 nominated members.

The CPPCC formally begins its meetings tomorrow.

Seen as an attempt by the Chinese officials to gradually open up to the national and international media, Zhao entertained the question on Tibet, which in the recent months dominated the headlines all over the world with the periodic suicides of Buddhist monks demanding the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

So far 22 monks and nuns have attempted self immolations.

Zhao denied that the situation had turned serious in Tibet due to the oppressive religious policy followed by the local officials to maintain social order in the Himalayan region.

Declining to answer directly to a question whether China would ask to the Dalai Lama to make an appeal to stop the suicides, as he was on record that he would not encourage the self immolations, Zhao said the Tibetan spiritual leader actually applauded the suicide attempts.

“According to what I have heard, he publicly applauded the courage of these people who set fire to themselves,” he said.

Tibet is expected to figure in the deliberation of China’s top legislatures, the National Peoples Congress, (NPC) and CPPCC.

Reports from Tibet said besides strengthening government controls on monasteries, Chinese officials also tightened monitoring of internet and mobile services in Tibet and a number of Tibetan prefectures.

The Government has also said it would put down any separatist activities.

Ties to Putin Generate Fabulous Wealth for a Select Few


Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector of one of St. Petersburg’s prestigious universities, helped Vladimir V. Putin prepare his graduate dissertation on natural resources. Mr. Litvinenko later profited from a phosphate mine in the Arctic. Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

nytimes.com | Mar 1, 2012

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Arkady R. Rotenberg, a former judo coach, is now a billionaire industrialist, having made a fortune selling pipe to the state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom.

Yuri V. Kovalchuk owned a minority stake in a small bank in St. Petersburg that in recent years won control of a number of Gazprom subsidiaries. He is now worth $1.5 billion.

Gennady N. Timchenko, once the little-known sales manager of a local oil refinery, is now one of the world’s richest men, co-owner of a commodity trading company that moves about $70 billion of crude oil a year, much of it through major contracts with Rosneft, the Russian national oil company.

What these men share, besides staggering wealth and roots in St. Petersburg, is a connection to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who is poised to win a new six-year term as president in elections on Sunday. The three billionaires are members of a close circle of friends, relatives, associates, colleagues from the security services and longtime advisers who have grown fabulously wealthy during Mr. Putin’s 12 years as Russia’s paramount leader.

Critics say these relationships are evidence of deeply entrenched corruption, which they view as essentially government-sanctioned theft invariably connected to Russia’s abundant natural resources: gas, oil, minerals. This has become a persistent grievance of demonstrators who have staged four large street protests since December and are promising more after the election.

“The basic point is that these guys have benefited and made their fortunes through deals which involved state-controlled companies, which were operating under the direct control of government and the president,” said Vladimir S. Milov, a former deputy energy minister and now political opposition leader who has written several reports alleging corruption. “Certain personal close friends of Putin who were people of relatively moderate means before Putin came to power all of a sudden turned out to be billionaires.”

Mr. Putin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the enrichment of these and other acquaintances, and he has forcefully dismissed assertions made by his political opponents that he himself is a secret beneficiary of these enterprises and has amassed tens of billions of dollars in bank accounts outside Russia.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman has also denied any connection to a sprawling resort complex that some of Mr. Putin’s St. Petersburg acquaintances were said to be building for him as a “palace” on the Black Sea at a cost of as much as $1 billion.

One of Mr. Putin’s former associates from St. Petersburg, Sergei Kolesnikov, recently fled Russia with a trove of documents that appear to support the connection to the resort. In meetings with Russian and Western journalists, Mr. Kolesnikov has described other business dealings in which money was funneled, often as loans, to businesses controlled by Mr. Putin’s friends or relatives.

The denials from Mr. Putin’s acquaintances are just as steadfast. Mr. Timchenko partly won a lawsuit against Mr. Milov in which he insisted that he was not a “friend” of Mr. Putin’s. In a statement this week, a spokesman for Mr. Timchenko, Anton Kurevin, acknowledged that Mr. Putin and Mr. Timchenko met in the early 1990s in St. Petersburg, but said that Mr. Putin had no connection to Mr. Timchenko’s business. Instead, they still have ties to a judo club where Mr. Putin sparred as a young man with Mr. Rotenberg.

“As has been stated on numerous previous occasions, it is true that Mr. Timchenko does know Mr. Putin,” Mr. Kurevin said. “However, the relationship is one of casual acquaintanceship and not close friendship.”

Mr. Rotenberg declined to respond to written questions. Mr. Kovalchuk, reached through a publicity agent representing his bank, by Thursday evening also had not replied to a written request for comment.

Legalities aside, these relationships are fixed in the public mind and widely reported by the Russian news media, so how Mr. Putin handles them could prove critical both to his near-term political survival and his legacy.

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China’s top Tibet official orders tighter control of Internet

Reuters | Mar 1, 2012

By Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top official in Tibet has urged authorities to tighten their grip on the Internet and mobile phones, state media reported on Thursday, reflecting the government’s fears about unrest ahead of its annual parliamentary session.

The move is the latest in a series of measures the government says are intended to maintain stability, and comes after a spate of self-immolations and protests against Chinese control in the country’s Tibetan-populated areas.

It is likely to mean phone and online communications will be even more closely monitored and censored than is normal.

Chen Quanguo, who was appointed the Chinese Communist Party chief of Tibet last August, urged authorities at all levels to “further increase their alertness to stability maintenance” ahead of the National People’s Congress, the official Tibet Daily newspaper quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament session meets next Monday.

“Mobile phones, Internet and other measures for the management of new media need to be fully implemented to maintain the public’s interests and national security,” Chen said.

China has tightened security in what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan parts of the country following several incidents in which people have set fire to themselves, and protests against Chinese rule, mostly in Sichuan and Gansu provinces.

March is a particularly sensitive time for Tibet, as it marks five years since deadly riots erupted across the region.

Twenty-two Tibetans have set themselves alight in protest since March 2011, and at least 15 are believed to have died from their injuries, according to rights groups. Most of them were Buddhist monks.

Chen also vowed to “completely crush hostile forces” that he said were led by the Dalai Lama, suggesting that he will not ease the government’s hard-line stance towards the region, enforced by his predecessor Zhang Qingli.

The Chinese government has repeatedly blamed exiled Tibetans for stoking the protests, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising. China has ruled Tibet since 1950.

“The Dalai clique is unceasingly trying to create disturbances in Tibet and Tibetan parts of Sichuan,” Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party’s fourth-ranked leader, told a meeting in Beijing, state television reported.

Officials must “resolutely smash the Dalai Lama’s plots to sow chaos in Tibet and maintain social harmony and stability,” added Jia, who heads a largely ceremonial body that advises parliament.

PARLIAMENT JITTERS

Nationally, defending one-party control is a leadership priority. Official anxieties about unrest have multiplied ahead of a change of leadership later this year, when President Hu Jintao will hand power to his successor, widely expected to be Xi Jinping.

Beijing often uses the meeting of parliament as an excuse to clamp down on dissent in an effort to project the appearance of political unity.

A prominent Beijing-based Tibetan writer who goes by the single name of Woeser said on Thursday that state security agents have barred her from collecting an award given by the Netherlands.

Woeser was awarded the Prince Claus award last September for her work on Tibet, according to the website for the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. She was due to accept the award on Thursday at the Dutch ambassador’s house in Beijing, she said.

“They told my husband that I couldn’t go to the ceremony but didn’t give specific reasons,” Woeser told Reuters by telephone. “They said even if I wanted to go, I wouldn’t be able to go. They have people below our apartment watching us.”

Dutch officials were not immediately available for comment.

Out of the public eye, China cracks down on another protesting village


McClatchy Newspapers | Feb 27, 2012

By TOM LASSETER

PANHE, China — The old woman walked over to the door and peeked out from behind a blue curtain, looking slowly from one side of the street to other. “The police will come,” she muttered to those huddled in the room behind her.

The men, who were talking about officials stealing their land in Panhe, fell quiet. They knew what a visit would mean – threats, beatings and then getting dragged off by the police.

In December, a high-profile standoff between residents and Communist Party bosses in a fishing village called Wukan, about 450 miles southwest of Panhe, ended peacefully. That case had some observers wondering if Chinese officials had changed the way they dealt with the intertwined problems of land rights and corruption.

What happened here suggests otherwise.

Earlier this month, people in Panhe marched to protest what they said was the theft by local leaders of communal lands. The complaints were met by a crackdown. Police and plainclothes security men hauled away at least 30 people. Villagers said the roundup targeted the protest organizers they’d selected to negotiate with the government.

“The officials took away all of the young people who were getting on the Internet,” said one farmer, a 50-year-old man who like many interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest.

Panhe has become another in a long list of Chinese villages where locals say corrupt officials and well-connected businessmen conspired to steal land or otherwise rob the poor.

When residents stage demonstrations in hopes of gaining justice, the main leaders are often whisked away in police cars. After the government makes perfunctory promises, all goes back to the way it was before.

Wukan was different. There, with a crowd of foreign journalists on hand, Chinese officials took another course. The village chief accused of corruption was deposed. A main figure in the uprising was named the local Communist Party secretary. New elections, heralded as unusually free and open, will be held Thursday to select Wukan’s leadership.

Wukan, however, has not turned out to be a model for the rest of the nation, at least so far.

A police checkpoint now sits at the entrance of Panhe, watching closely for who comes and goes. People interviewed inside the village say officials forced residents to post online notes saying the situation was resolved. State-controlled media in the region have tried to put the matter to rest, reporting that “the villagers are emotionally stable, the whole issue is being dealt with actively.”

“What happened after the demonstrations, with the government clamping down, has been painful,” said a 45-year-old farmer named Lu, a common surname in this area. “There’s nothing we can do. Everything is being controlled. All of the information is being controlled.”

Panhe and Wukan are similar in many ways. Both are low-slung hamlets on China’s coastline where locals rose up after so much land allegedly had been stolen that they began to worry there wasn’t enough left for them to make a living.

But when the villagers of Wukan fought off a police raid and erected barricades, provincial authorities reacted unexpectedly. Instead of sending in troops to deliver a crushing blow, they negotiated an outcome that some pointed to as a possible sign of budding political evolution.

Why that didn’t happen in Panhe is a matter of conjecture, hidden by the obscurities of an authoritarian regime.

China’s central leadership is thought to be divided on how to deal with land rights. It’s possible that one faction saw Wukan as a trial run for change but that others favor a tougher approach, and the disagreement is not yet settled.

Or the difference may be because of nothing more than the personality of the provincial leadership in Guangdong province, where Wukan sits. The Communist Party secretary of Guangdong, Wang Yang, has a reputation for being reform-minded. He is considered a contender this year for a seat on the nation’s Politburo standing committee, the very center of the regime’s power. Wang’s political ambitions could have been hurt by a messy operation, in full view of the world, to wrest control of Wukan by force.

Whatever the reason, few in Panhe seem optimistic.

The woman peering through the window at the door, a 73-year-old with short gray hair, said the police took her son on Feb. 15. “It was because he was going to the protests,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.

Police had released one of the men in the room just three days earlier. He’d been held four months after he and a group of villagers tore down a wall at a construction site in October.

The man said that until the wall went up, apparently for a factory, he and most others in Panhe didn’t realize the land had been sold.

“The police wanted me to agree to give our land to the officials,” said a farmer, 46, who also asked that his name not be used. “They wanted me to sign something saying that I agreed, but I wouldn’t do it.”

Officials maintain Panhe’s residents fundamentally misunderstood what happened. The land that was sold to a series of companies for development in the past several years – more than 100 acres by the most conservative estimate – included a series of tidal flats that residents had used to cultivate clams and other seafood.

The flats were state-owned, not the collective property of the village, officials told state media.

The compensation due to the village after the sales was used to improve roads and other infrastructure, the officials said.

Villagers disagree. They say the real estate in question included collectively owned farmland. Beyond how the land was classified, they say, the entire process was cloaked in secrecy between local officials and their cronies. That coterie, villagers allege, then grabbed the cash that should have gone to those who’d lost their property.

A McClatchy reporter who made it past the police early one recent morning was not the first outsider to reach here. A Dutch journalist who traveled to Panhe on Feb. 15 had his interviews interrupted by a large group of men who broke into the room and beat him and those he’d met with. On the way out of town, the Dutch journalist was reportedly pulled from a car and assaulted once more.

The next day, a French reporter was stopped after passing through a tollbooth some 12 miles outside of Panhe. After his car was hit by another vehicle, a mob beat his Chinese assistant in the face until his nose and forehead were bloody.

Government representatives later explained that the men were supporters of the Panhe administration who were upset about foreign journalists coming to the area, according to an account e-mailed by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China to its members.

One woman who met with McClatchy took down the reporter’s cellphone number on the back of a toothpaste box, which she then folded up to look like a piece of trash. She said that a protest leader would be in touch later in the day.

The person who called, a businessman surnamed Lu, knew that police had been monitoring cellphone conversations in the area but said he wanted to talk anyway.

“We petitioned at three levels of government but no one would listen to us,” said Lu. “The power of the county government is bigger than the law. The reason why we began demonstrating is that we had nowhere to turn.”

Lu said that he’d been a minor player in getting the protests together. Now, he’s one of the few still free.

“Our main organizers have been taken away,” he said. “The officials told us not to send text messages or get on the Internet to talk about this situation.”

The wife of one outspoken activist was assaulted by police and her legs had been badly injured, said Lu.

He wanted to arrange an interview between the wife and a reporter. When McClatchy tried contacting him later, though, Lu’s phone was turned off.

New Albanian exhibit on communist regime’s abuses

Associated Press | Feb 21, 2012

By LLAZAR SEMINI

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s National Museum opened a new wing Monday on the abuses of the former communist regime, timing the dedication to the 21st anniversary of the toppling of former communist dictator Enver Hoxha’s monument.

Some 100,000 Albanians were imprisoned, sent to internment camps or executed during the 46 years of Hoxha’s repressive regime.

Albanians toppled a 20-foot (6-meter) statue of Hoxha in the capital’s central Skanderbeg Square on Feb. 20, 1991, about two months after the collapse of the communist regime. Hoxha himself died in 1985.

The museum has photographs of mass graves where many of the executed were buried, as well as handcuffs, chains and victim’s clothes and personal belongings.

“Europe has known many dictators and dictatorships in its history. But it has registered in its memory two of the cruelest dictators of all the times — Adolph Hitler and Enver Hoxha,” Prime Minister Sali Berisha said at the opening ceremony.

This is the second museum exhibit dedicated to the abuses of the former regime, but museum head Luan Malltezi said the new exhibition contains richer material and shows “why Albania’s communist regime was the most brutal in Eastern Europe.”

Until Albanian communism collapsed after student protests in December 1990, activities considered subversive were dealt with by Hoxha’s powerful secret police, the Sigurimi. About 40,000 people were held in 48 labor camps set up across the country, while another 26,000 were imprisoned in jails, according to authorities and rights groups.

Some 6,500 people were executed or died while in detention, but only about 500 bodies have been found to date.

However, many of those who suffered under the former regime are still dissatisfied with what they say are unfulfilled pledges on compensation and reintegration into Albanian society.

Bedri Blloshmi, who spent 15 years in the notorious Spac prison, 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of the capital of Tirana, said none of Albania’s post-communist governments had helped.

“No one is interested in us. Where should we ask for our rights?” he said during the exhibition opening. “There is only one hope for us: To die as soon as possible so that we are rid of the sons of the former communists, who persecuted us then and who now run the country.”

Those who suffered political persecution have been awarded compensation of 2,000 leks (euro14; $18.5) per day of imprisonment. Out of 25,000 applicants, only 7,000 have received funds and they have gotten only the first of eight installments of what they are entitled to.

. . .

Albania Communist Era 25th Anniversary Peoples Army Photo Book

Nepal: Communist dictatorship is the ultimate goal‚ says party leader

HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE | Feb 13, 2012

ITAHARI: UCPN-Maoist General Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ announced today that his party will capture the state through a people’s revolt and impose one-party communist dictatorship in the country.

Badal, speaking at the party’s gathering on the 17th anniversary of the ‘People’s War’ in Itahari, threatened to dismantle all feudal structures of the country through an armed struggle. We fought the state security forces for the country and the people, he maintained.

In a different context, Badal argued that latest unity at the party’s central committee is the victory of the revolutionaries over the opportunists in the party. Maintaining that the Maoists had launched the people’s war in 1996 after the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government refused to address their logical demands, the Maoist leader threatened to launch a new war if regressive elements try to derail peace and constitution-making processes. Noting that the Constituent Assembly has just three-and-a-half-months to promulgate the constitution, Badal called on the political parties to draft the statute within the extended deadline of the CA. At the same time, he called on the people to press the political parties to complete peace and constitution-making processes on time.

UCPN-M for peace, constitution: Prabhakar

Butwal: UCPN-Maoist politburo member Janardan Sharma ‘Prabhakar’ said at a programme in Dang headquarters Ghorahi on Monday his party is committed to ending the revolution envisioned by the party. “As peace and constitution are means to reach the goal of revolution, the party is wholeheartedly devoted to completing the twin tasks of peace and statute.” On the occasion, the Maoist leader argued that intra-party rift will not split his party at any rate. “Ideological debate will make the party even stronger,” he added. Sharma pledged to incorporate the rights of marginalised and backward community in the new constitution.

Maoist leader and Minister for Local Development Top Bahadur Rayamajhi said in Butwal on Monday that the government is dedicated to peace and statute.

At a function in Butwal to mark the 17th anniversary of the People’s War, Minister Rayamajhi said constitution will be promulgated by May 28. Chief adviser to PM Baburam Bhattarai Devendra Poudel threatened to revert to the war if parties bar the Maoists from setting agendas of his party.