Monday, June 24, 2013

Obama, in Berlin, calls for U.S., Russia to cut nuclear warheads

Obama, in Berlin, calls for U.S., Russia to cut nuclear warheads

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Speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, a historic backdrop for U.S. presidents, Obama said the dissolution of the Soviet Union has brought “a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed.”
Arguing against that notion, he cited climate change, which he called “the global threat of our time,” international terrorism, poverty and intolerance as challenges that only collective action by the United States and its European allies can solve.
“People often come together in places like this to remember history, not to make it,” Obama told an audience of 4,500 invited Germans, who filled Pariser Platz on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate. “But I come here today, Berlin, to say complacency is not the character of great nations. Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago. But the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity, that struggle goes on.”
Unlike his call for a “new beginning ” with the Muslim world in a speech in Cairo soon after he became president, Obama’s remarks in Berlin were confined to safe political ground. They also exposed the gulf between his ambitious rhetoric and the more modest reality of his foreign policy, which has been less bold in some cases than what he demanded here.
Obama’s half-hour address received a polite, if far from electric, response from the sweltering crowd, who during a festival-like pre-speech program were treated to live violin renditions of music by Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Beethoven.
The last U.S. president to speak at the Brandenburg Gate was Bill Clinton, who in 1994 addressed Berliners from the gate’s east side. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan chose the setting of the gate, then on the far side of the Berlin Wall, to call on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Obama’s address, though, was written to mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s message of solidarity to Berliners, delivered at another site along the wall just two years after it was built.
For Obama, the speech was also a return to a venue that helped define his 2008 candidacy and the hope it represented for a new style of American leadership after the George W. Bush administration, which saw Europe as more of an obstacle than an ally on national security challenges after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In 2008, Obama spoke to an estimated crowd of 200,000 people in Tiergarten Park, not far from the Brandenburg Gate. Still highly popular here, Obama nonetheless has seen his star power fadeacross a once-worshipful Europe.
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US condemns China, Russia and Uzbekistan for human trafficking | Global development

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MDG : Trafficking in Persons (Tip) report : Cotton field in Uzbekistan
Uzbeks work in fields outside Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which has been criticised for 'subjecting its citizens to forced labour'. Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images
The US has condemned ChinaRussia and Uzbekistan for their failure to stem widespread systematichuman trafficking and slavery within their borders.
The annual Trafficking in Persons (Tip) report, released by the US state department on Wednesday, grades the scale and severity of people-trafficking in 188 countries and territories.
It has downgraded China, Russia and Uzbekistan to tier three, the report's lowest ranking, reserved for countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and are not making significant efforts to do so.
The relegation was attributed to continued failure to stop the routine complicity of officials in trafficking crimes, state-sponsored slavery and widespread forced labour, sexual exploitation, and enslavement of nationals and foreign nationals in the three countries.
The report, which has been published since 2001 and is the US' principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking, paints a damning picture of conditions of modern slavery in the three countries. China is criticised for perpetuating human trafficking in 320 state-run institutions and the widespread domestic trafficking of girls and women into forced prostitution. In Russia, an estimated 1 million people are exposed to exploitative labour, including forced labour used in the construction of the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, according to the report.
The government of Uzbekistan continues to force older children and adults into slave labour in itscotton industry, the US state department says, and the country "remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labour through the implementation of state policy".
"What we have seen in all three of these countries has been stagnation in efforts and the continuation of issues such as conflated human trafficking and child abduction in China and the continued use of forced labour in Uzbekistan," said Luis CdeBaca, the US state department's ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons. "With this report, the rankings follow the results and at some point the waivers run out."
The report reveals pitifully low global figures for the prosecution and conviction of trafficking criminals and identification of people who have been trafficked.
Although the International Labour Organisation estimates there are around about 21 million peopletrapped in forms of forced labour around the world, only about 47,000 people were identified by governments as having been trafficked last year.
Global prosecutions of traffickers rose by about 10% from 2012-13, but totalled only 7,705 cases, with 4,746 resulting in a conviction.
Relegation into tier three ranks China, Russia and Uzbekistan among the countries with the worst records on human trafficking, including Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Under US law, it could trigger non-trade related sanctions, leading to restrictions on US foreign assistance and access to global financial institutions such as the World Bank.
This year's report is the first to be released under the new US secretary of state, John Kerry. The decision to downgrade China, Russia and Uzbekistan was hailed as "brave" by anti-trafficking campaigners in the US, who had feared that diplomatic pressure, especially from China and Russia, and a reluctance to be seen as a self-appointed watchdog would influence the rankings.
"The vibe we were picking up earlier this year is that there was a good chance all three countries would be upgraded, which would be a disaster in terms of its impact on internal efforts to take action on the huge trafficking and human rights problems, which affect millions of people," said Holly Burkhalter, vice-president of government relations and advocacy at International Justice Mission.
"Any decision to downgrade represents a significant degree of political courage on behalf of secretary Kerry as neither Russia or China take kindly to criticism from the west," she said.
However, although the report is widely acknowledged as the most influential catalogue of anti-trafficking initiatives by governments, the impartiality of the ranking system has faced criticism.
"Although in general the Tip report paints a reliable – probably the best available – picture of modern-day slavery in all its forms, the rankings can be the problematic issue," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.
"This is because the ranking is inevitably coloured by US foreign and strategic interests, and this can give a get-out-of-jail-free card to some countries which are failing to protect their citizens from slavery, meaning that they do not get the bad ranking that they truly deserve."
Other countries including Iraq, Azerbaijan and Congo-Brazzaville escaped relegation, due to what CdeBaca called "concerted efforts on the behalf of their governments to address the problem of human trafficking".
Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Maldives and Thailand are facing an automatic downgrade to tier three in the next report if significant progress is not made before the end of the year.
Afghanistan was granted a waiver from an automatic downgrade to tier three despite widespread internal trafficking, government complicity in trafficking rings, and reports of police officers raping and imprisoning trafficking victims.
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Oil Wealth Ebbing, Russia Needs to Lure Foreign Capital

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — For more than a dozen years, it has been impossible to miss Russia’s soaring, often ostentatious, energy wealth — the flashiness of Moscow, the 250-foot yachts and the hundred-million-dollar penthouse apartments for the children. And the riches have hardly been confined to the private sector. Last year, when Vladimir V. Putin wanted to shore up support ahead of Election Day, the salaries of government workers jumped; military pay actually doubled.
James Hill for The New York Times
Without vast oil profits to hide economic problems, Vladimir V. Putin’s iron fist could be the biggest obstacle to badly needed restructuring, analysts say.
Those heady days seem to be running out, however. The great gush of oil and gas wealth that has fueled Mr. Putin’s power and popularity and has raised living standards across Russia is leveling off. Foreign investors, wary of endemic corruption and an expanding government role in the economy, are hanging back, depriving the economy of essential capital.
In many respects, analysts say, the same iron fist that Mr. Putin wielded to public approval in the early years of his presidency could be the biggest obstacle to a badly needed economic restructuring, and potentially even turn public opinion against him.
Russia’s economy, the world’s eighth largest, slowed to a near standstill in the first months of this year, and the Kremlin is now preparing to dip into its $171 billion rainy day fund in a bid to spur growth. But the problems for Russia’s economy run deeper than its overwhelming dependence on oil and gas revenues, which now account for more than half the federal budget.
Despite the conspicuous consumption of oligarchs and the growing middle class in Moscow, most of Russia’s goods-producing economy has been languishing for decades. Many provincial cities and towns have grown shabby, the factories that sustained them decrepit. Young people have moved away.
With flattening revenues, the government badly needs to attract foreign capital, but the Kremlin’s recent move to tighten its grip on the oil industry through Rosneft, the national oil company, is just the latest warning flag to potential investors.
“The fundamental problem in this economy is still the politics of the country,” said Bernard Sucher, the former head of Merrill Lynch in Russia, who serves on the board of Aton, an investment company.
“The way power is organized in this country dooms the economy to underperformance,” he said. “The state is too big, it’s involved in too many areas of activity, and involving itself in too many more areas of activity, and by its nature discourages private investment.”
As Russia’s senior political officials, business leaders and foreign investors convened here in St. Petersburg on Thursday at an economic forum that serves as an annual gathering of the country’s top financial minds, the task facing Mr. Putin was how to create sustainable growth in a country where commodities, taken together, now account for 80 percent of exports.
Some experts at the forum said they were confounded by Russia’s contradictory problems: low growth and high inflation. “Financial policy is weird,” said Yu Yongding, a senior fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Beijing. He was on a panel with Elvira Nabiullina, an aide to Mr. Putin who has been tapped to lead Russia’s central bank, and Russia’s economic development minister, Andrei Belousov.
“Where is your industry?” Mr. Yu asked. “You can produce super excellent jet fighters, but what else?”
Energy prices, while still relatively high, are expected to flatten or decline in the years ahead. Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth, has been cutting prices and renegotiating contracts, under pressure from cash-poor clients in Europe and rising competition globally, caused in part by market shifts like development of American shale gas.
Discounts to customers cost Gazprom $4.2 billion, or about 7 percent of pretax earnings, according to Renaissance Capital, an investment bank. Oil revenues are also projected to decline long-term as production grows more costly and new technology curbs demand.
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The Eberswalde Hoard: what exactly is it? - Telegraph

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The Eberswalde Hoard: what exactly is it?

It apparently caused a diplomatic stir between Russia and Germany on Friday, but what exactly is the Eberswalde Hoard?

Replica items from the Eberswalde Hoard 
Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, was expected to travel to St Petersburg on Friday evening to open the new Bronze Age, Europe without borders exhibition alongside Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Instead, however, an unsavoury row erupted during the day, resulting in the Russian government reportedly inititially cancelling the event and then announcing it would actually go ahead. So what's causing all the fuss?
There were suggestions that Mrs Merkel had planned to make some uncomfortable remarks about the Eberswalde Hoard, a highly valued collection of artefacts that were discovered during an excavation north-east of Berlin in 1913.
During the Second World War, Soviet troops took the artefacts from a museum in Berlin and transported them to Moscow as war booty.
The artefacts were discovered in 2004 in a secret depot within Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. In short, Germany now wants them back, along with an unknown amount of other art work.
The Eberswalde Hoard is believed to be dated to either the 11th or 10th century BC and consists of 81 gold objects from the Bronze Age. Weighing a total of of 2.5945 kg, the collection includes eight gold bowls, 60 wire arm spirals, one gold ingot and 55 double spirals.
It is the largest prehistoric collection of gold objects to have been discovered in Germany.
The exhibition takes place at The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg but, despite the furore, their official website makes no reference to the links with Germany, nor the history of how the Eberswalde Hoard landed in Russian hands: "The idea of the exhibition is to show elements of bronze era culture from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals within a large period of time (4th-1st millenniums BC) at the example of archeological items.
"The exhibition acquaints the visitors with unique archeological exhibits: ancient golden items from Europe, Priam's Treasure and golden items from Maikop kurgan, materials of multiple cultures of bronze era at the territory of Eastern Europe; treasures of late bronze era - sacrifices to the gods, containing bronze weapons and tools, golden vases and other prestigious things."
The museum was unavailable for comment.
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Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin come to blows over disputed artworks - Europe - World - The Independent

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Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin come to blows over disputed artworks

Premiers cancel joint opening of exhibition displaying 600 pieces of looted German Bronze Age art

Angela Merkel calls for return of looted German art from Russia

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Mr Putin replied that it was time to stop making repatration claims, arguing that it did not matter to the average citizen where art was displayed.
Earlier on Friday, a German government spokesman created confusion when he said Mrs Merkel’s speech had been cancelled, insinuating the dispute made have been responsible. He said Russia had cancelled the opening speeches, blaming time constraints, which prompted outrage in the German media.
Mr Putin had sought to play down claims of a diplomatic falling out and denied that the event had been cancelled, although he was was forced to address the controversy earlier.
"I think this is a very sensitive question," he said. "So if we want any progress, we should not blow the problem out of proportion but seek ways to solve it. Probably we should not start a discussion now because people will appear on the Russian side who would evaluate the damage done to our art during World War Two."
The exhibition has been jointly organised by Russian and German museums, who donated more than 1,700 objects to create a portrait of the Bronze Age. The artefacts in "Bronze Age, Europe without borders" will be on display until September.
Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, one of the institutions that took part in creating the show, said the "good and trusting" cooperation between German and Russian experts in bringing together the exhibits provided a sound basis for future collaboration. "The German public must unfortunately remain deprived of the excellent exhibition on the Bronze Age, while the question of war-related cultural assets remains unresolved on a political level. "But this exhibition will be conducive to finding a solution," he said.
While Russia and Germany have enjoyed closer ties in recent decades, their relationship has soured this year over Germany's hard-line attitude to the financial crisis in Cyprus, where many Russians had invested their money.
Accoridng to Berlin's Humboldt University, Soviet troops plundered more than a million books and thousands of works of art at the end of the war. Many have still not been traced.

US politicians issue warning to Russia as Edward Snowden arrives in Moscow

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Obama reaches out to a repressive Putin