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Monday 15th July 2013
FSA to al-Qaeda: Killing of Syria rebel official ‘declaration of war’
Zimmerman not guilty: Victory for new kind of civil rights era?
Egypt freezes assets of top Islamists after ousting of president Mohamed Morsi
Merkel wants global rules on personal data
Typhoon forces evacuation of 500,000 in China
Israel's In-Your-Face Appointment
Nigeria militants hit schools to destroy Western ideas
Continuous Satellite Monitoring of Ice Sheets Needed to Better Predict Sea-Level Rise
Khartoum behind Darfur attack on UN troops: Rebels
Britain to offer military training to Burma to help end ethnic conflicts
The rise of China's ghost cities
Gov't Supports Official Date to Commemorate Jewish Refugees
Bastille Day tribute to African troops
Guardian journalist says Snowden has NSA ‘blueprints’
The task before Rouhani


FSA to al-Qaeda: Killing of Syria rebel official ‘declaration of war’
Al Arabiya - 15th July 2013

The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said the killing of Kamal al-Hamami, an FSA official, by members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was a “declaration of war.”

Hamami, also known as Abu Baseer al-Ladkani – was a member of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council. He was meeting with members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the Syrian port city of Latakia on Friday when they killed him, Reuters quoted FSA spokesman Qassem Saadeddine as saying.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, FSA spokesman Louay Almokdad said the Syrian armed opposition’s demand that Hamami’s killers be handed over to the FSA was “a rightful request.”

“A criminal named Abu Ayman al-Baghdadi killed an FSA official in cold blood using his personal gun and in front of eye witnesses that include FSA leaders,” Almokdad said. “We do not threaten, we do not warn and we do not instigate battles with anyone. This murderer must be handed over to a just and fair judiciary, so justice can run its course.”

Almokdad also said that the FSA was still not informed as to why Hamami was killed.

“We are waiting to know the reason why he was killed. It’s been 48 hours now and no clarification has been issued yet,” he told Al Arabiya. “Hamami was killed whilst discovering a Syrian regime position in order to carry out a military operation,” Almokdad said.

“Hamami’s murderers [served] the interest of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Those who murdered Hamami must explain why they did it, otherwise, let them announce that they work with Bashar al-Assad.”

Almokdad also commented on the relation between the FSA and al-Qaeda-linked groups.

“What is currently happening is not tension between the FSA and al-Qaeda groups, because there wasn’t a relation in the first place. They consider us infidels and they [instructed] Abu Baseer’s companion to tell us: “we will kill you all.’”

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Zimmerman not guilty: Victory for new kind of civil rights era?
Patrik Jonsson - Christian Science Monitor - 14th July 2013

Persecution of lawful gun owners is the new civil rights battle, many Americans claim. George Zimmerman just became their icon.

Part of America sees the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case as a travesty of justice, a modern iteration of Jim Crow, where a white man walks free after shooting an innocent black person, in this case an unarmed Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin.

Another part sees in the verdict the emergence of another kind of civil rights movement, a gun freedom movement ultimately tested in the Zimmerman trial by a state willing to forego hard evidence in order to try to prosecute what police originally deemed an open and shut self-defense case.

Prosecutors in the case said Zimmerman had evil in his heart and that he crossed legal boundaries when deciding to follow an innocent Trayvon before shooting him on a rainy February night last year. Zimmerman supporters, though, say he was providing a civic duty in a post-9/11 America, where safety and crime concerns have become paramount even as overall crime rates have dropped to historic lows.

The overarching theme of the Zimmerman trial and its verdict is the way it points to an emerging “siege mentality” that’s driving Americans apart, to the point where Trayvon and Zimmerman traded blows and gun fire instead of respectful inquiry, writes Charles Ray, a Sanford resident, in a verdict response in Yahoo! News.

Yet in much of the post-verdict debate, the issue comes back to the anxious interaction  between race and guns, fueled for many by black-on-black killings in places like Chicago as much as the alleged profiling by Zimmerman when he decided to follow Trayvon Martin for no other reason than he looked, at least to Zimmerman, like a criminal.

Some commentators say the shooting, the publicity and the eventual trial highlighted a sort of cultural settling, and perhaps sunsetting, of the civil rights movement (the Supreme Court declawing the Voting Rights Act came in the run-up to the trial}, at a time when society is tackling more vigorously the new frontier of liberalized gun and self-defense rights.

“The public conversation about race tilts toward a more enlightened attitude about civil rights, but the conversation about guns is extremely conflicted, regional, socioeconomic, and divided in every conceivable way,” Austin jury consultant Doug Keene told the Monitor last month. “This year, for all the tragic reasons we’re aware of, gun policy has become a constant presence … in our neighborhood conversations, and the lack of agreement on correct policy about guns is going to be one of the legacies of this trial.”

To be sure, civil rights icons like Dr. Bernice King, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Tweeted that the verdict would be a gauge on the state of equal rights in America. In a mass reaction to an early decision by Sanford police to not charge Zimmerman, civil rights activists had mentioned Trayvon in the same breath as Medgar Evers and Emmet Till, young black men whose violent deaths fueled the civil rights movement and eventual passage of equal rights legislation in the mid-1960s.

“If u really believe racism isnt a massive problem, that the oppression of minorities is not a horrific and systemic issue … U R in denial,” Tweeted the actress Ellen Page.

At times, prosecutors seemed to be trying to answer an existential question instead of providing necessary facts to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury.

“What is that when a grown man, frustrated, angry, with hate in his heart, gets out of his car with a loaded gun and follows a child?”  prosecutor John Guy asked the six jurors – all women, five of them white – before they began a 16-hour deliberation that ended late Saturday night.  “A stranger? In the dark? And shoots him through his heart? What is that?"

But while the big picture visuals of the case echoed past civil rights battles, others believe the George Zimmerman trial instead may bolster the bold assertion by the National Rifle Association that ending persecution of lawful gun owners by the state is the new “civil rights movement.”

“A Zimmerman acquittal will be bad news politically to the gun prohibition lobby, which is also anti-self-defense,” writes Dave Workman for Examiner.com. “Gun grabbers do not like it when armed citizens defend themselves, demonstrating one case at a time that guns in the right hands are good, and dead criminals pose no further threat to the community. Recent years have seen an increasing number of people successfully using guns in self-defense with no criminal charges, a scenario that seems to elicit revulsion or stony silence from the gun control crowd.”

Zimmerman supporters say the state overreached, putting hate in Zimmerman’s heart, where there was none. Instead, they say, he was a would-be public servant who cared about his neighborhood, and the people in it – whether black or white. On the night of Trayvon’s death, however, Zimmerman bucked neighborhood watch protocols to follow Trayvon, whom he had pegged as suspicious and, under his breath to a dispatcher, likened to “punks” that “always get away.”

But whatever his motives and potentially questionable actions, Zimmerman was a legal gun owner who had the right to get out of his car in his own neighborhood and poke around. The jury also said he had a full right, under Florida law, to defend himself with deadly force if he felt in fear of his life.

“Death is unfortunate, a byproduct of returning force with appropriate force,” said Robert Zimmerman, Jr., George Zimmerman’s brother, to CNN’s Piers Morgan. “The jury saw the blood, they saw what Trayvon Martin did to my brother.”

Of course, many of those involved in the trial see the verdict as the opposite of justice for Trayvon, punctuated by what they perceive as the bitter taste of racism, particularly when it comes to how critically society views young black men.

“We’re intellectually dishonest if we don’t acknowledge the racial undertones of this case [and questions it raises] about how far we have come in America in matters of equal justice,” said Ben Crump, the Martin family’s attorney, after the verdict.

Yet while the specter of racial profiling and institutional indifference to the plight of a black boy drove myriad “Justice for Trayvon” rallies and protests, the trial itself rarely mentioned race.

Indeed, the presiding county judge, Debra Nelson, excluded the term “racial profiling” from the trial. One of the few mentions of race included Trayvon’s view of Zimmerman as a “crazy-ass cracker,” a racial term for poor whites, uttered by Trayvon as he spotted Zimmerman, according to his friend, Rachel Jeantel. The two were on the phone until the moments before Trayvon was shot.

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor who arrested Zimmerman 44 days after Trayvon’s death, said after the verdict that the debate outside the courtroom didn’t always match the procedural and legal wrestling match in Courtroom 5D.

"This case has never been about race or the right to bear arms," Ms. Corey said. "We believe this case all along was about boundaries, and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries."

For now, George Zimmerman “no longer has any business” in front of the criminal courts, as the judge put it, though the US Justice Department said Saturday that it’s considering a plea from the NAACP to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman. In that way, the tension between expanded gun-carry rights and profiling may not have been fully resolved for George Zimmerman, at least.

“The department continues to evaluate the evidence generated during the federal investigation, as well as the evidence and testimony from the state trial,” a spokesman for the Justice Department said in a statement.

Given that juries aren’t privy to any evidence or conjecture beyond what the judge allows, the Zimmerman trial proved to some that courtrooms aren’t ideal venues to resolve deeper societal prejudices, whether against minorities or gun owners.

These kinds of trials “can … never fully answer the larger societal questions they pose,” writes Andrew Cohen, in the Atlantic. “The can never act as moral surrogates to resolve the national debates they trigger.”

Police in Sanford, meanwhile, said they will return the Kel-Tec 9mm pistol used to kill Trayvon Martin to George Zimmerman

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Egypt freezes assets of top Islamists after ousting of president Mohamed Morsi
The Australian - 15th July 2013

Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered the freezing of assets belonging to 14 top Islamists, as the US dispatched its first senior official to Cairo since president Mohamed Morsi's ouster.

Under Secretary of State Bill Burns will visit Egypt from Sunday to Tuesday, the US State Department said, adding he would "underscore US support for the Egyptian people".

His trip comes amid growing pressure on Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which is in disarray with key figures either detained, on the run or keeping a low profile.

It also comes amid international calls for the release of Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president who was toppled in a popularly backed military coup on July 3.

The Brotherhood has refused to join the new government headed by caretaker prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi who is pushing ahead with talks on forming his cabinet.

The ultra-conservative Islamist party Al-Nur confirmed it would not take part in the interim government either, with spokesman Nader Bakkar telling AFP: "We would participate only in an elected government."

On Sunday, Mr Beblawi appointed a former ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy, as foreign minister, and veteran World Bank economist Ahmed Galal as finance minister.

Prominent liberal leader Mohamed ElBaradei, 71, was sworn in as interim vice president for foreign relations.

Mr Beblawi has said his cabinet's priorities would be to restore security, ensure the flow of goods and services and prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The asset freeze is part of an investigation ordered by public prosecutor Hisham Barakat which affects nine Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the group's general guide Mohamed Badie, and five Islamists from other groups including ex-militant faction Gamaa Islamiya, judicial sources said.

It relates to four deadly incidents since Mr Morsi's overthrow, including clashes in Cairo last Monday in which dozens died.

The order comes a day after prosecutors received criminal complaints against Mr Morsi, Mr Badie and other senior Islamists, with a view to launching a formal investigation.

The complaints include spying, incitement to violence and damaging the economy.

Mr Morsi has not been seen in public since his ouster.

In his first public comments since deposing the Islamist leader, military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi defended the move, saying the army took the decision after Mr Morsi rejecting holding a referendum on his presidency.

"The armed forces, with all its personnel and its leaders, decided without reserve to be at the service of its people and to empower their free will," he said in a statement.

The interim leaders say Mr Morsi is being held in a "safe place, for his own safety," despite calls for his release by Germany and the United States, which has condemned a wave of arbitrary arrests of Brotherhood members.

The prosecutor said on Sunday that 206 out of a total of 652 people arrested over fatal clashes this week had been released on bail.

Mr Morsi's ouster has plunged Egypt into violence.

Fighting erupted Sunday between gunmen and the army near Israel, in the Sinai peninsula, which has witnessed a number of deadly attacks in the past week, security sources said.

The worst violence since the military coup took place outside the elite Republican Guard's Cairo headquarters last Monday, where 53 people, mostly Morsi supporters, were killed in what the Brotherhood described as a "massacre" by the security forces.

On his visit to Cairo, Mr Burns would push for "an end to all violence and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government" at meetings with various parties, the State Department said.

Washington has struggled to define whether Mr Morsi was the victim of a coup, which would legally force a freeze on some $1.5 billion in vital military and economic US assistance to Cairo.

Interim president Adly Mansour has set a timetable for elections by early next year, according to a roadmap drafted by the military, while Mr Beblawi's new cabinet could be unveiled by Tuesday or Wednesday.

During his single year of turbulent rule, Mr Morsi was accused of concentrating power in Brotherhood hands, sending the economy into free fall and failing to protect minorities.

But his supporters say his ouster was an affront to democracy, and the Brotherhood are planning more mass protests on Monday, including at the Republican Guard headquarters.

Rival protests are also planned on Monday in Tahrir Square and at the Ittihadiya presidential palace by the main coalition that had called for Mr Morsi's resignation.

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Merkel wants global rules on personal data
Sydney Morning Herald - 15th July 2013

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for strict global rules on the protection of personal data amid anger in Europe over the revelations of wide-ranging US surveillance programs.

"We must work together in the fight against terror, but on the other hand, also guarantee the privacy of citizens. Not everything that is technically feasible in the future must be put to use. In our view, the ends do not justify the means," she told the broadcaster ARD.

Ms Merkel urged European countries to "speak with one voice" on the issue of data protection and promised that Germany would discuss with European regulators the creation of "a single European scheme" that would lay out how internet companies manage user data.

The comments come in the wake of an uproar in Germany over US whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on allied governments and their citizens through the so-called Prism program.

"In the future I expect a clear commitment by the American government to adhere to German law while on German soil," Ms Merkel said, adding: "We are defence partners and we must be able to rely on each other."

Ms Merkel said a data protection agreement could be modelled after the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN in 1966.

The anxiety in Germany reflects in part the aggressive surveillance of citizens by the 1933-45 Nazi regime and later by Communist authorities in the former East Germany.

US President Barack Obama has promised the European Union a full explanation of allegations that the NSA had bugged EU offices and the embassies of European allies and conducted a massive communications surveillance operation in Europe.

US officials said Friday the government would also share more intelligence information with Germany

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Typhoon forces evacuation of 500,000 in China
Oman Tribune - 15th July 2013

Eastern China was on Sunday bracing for torrential downpours from Typhoon Soulik which forced the evacuation of half a million people after killing two in Taiwan.

Soulik lashed coastal Fujian province with winds of 118 kmpb when it made landfall but had weakened to a tropical depression as it moved inland, the China Meteorological Administration said.

More than half a million people were evacuated from Fujian and neighbouring Zhejiang as the typhoon approached, with 5,500 soldiers deployed to carry out relief work if needed.

Xinhua news agency said almost 31,000 ships were called back to port and 20 flights cancelled.

Soulik brought torrential rain to Xiamen, with 24 centimetres of rain falling on the port city from Saturday to Sunday.

Rivers swelled beyond warning levels in some areas, and waves up to 10 metres high pounded sea defences in Ningde city.

In Taiwan, two people were killed, one was missing and 104 were injured by the storm, with one town reporting widespread landslides and floodwaters a storey high.

The northern village of Bailan saw the heaviest rain, with 90cm falling in 48 hours, with winds gusting up to 220kmph.

While Soulik wrought havoc in Taiwan, tearing roofs from homes and causing landslides that blocked roads, eastern China escaped its full force.

“Billboards have been shattered and trees have been uprooted” but no deaths or injuries were reported, Xinhua said.

The storm was set to dump up to 18cm of rain on parts of eastern China over 24 hours as it moved further inland, forecasters said. Downpours have already hit wide swathes of China over the past week, leaving dozens dead in rain-triggered landslides.

Officials were calculating the cost of the storm, with the Zhejiang city of Wenzhou alone facing a direct economic loss of $34 million, the agency said.

In Taiwan thousands of soldiers and workers spent Sunday cleaning up, with hundreds of fallen trees being removed in the capital Taipei.

In Puli, a small township in the central Nantou county, dozens of soldiers equipped with trucks and buckets helped residents whose homes were flooded when river banks burst.

Wu Yuan-ming, a township government official, said: “The most difficult part of the work is the removal of the thick mud in the houses and roads. It may take three days to finish the work.” Damage to the agricultural sector was estimated to be $8.5 million, according to the government.

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Israel's In-Your-Face Appointment
Paul R. Pillar - Consortium News - 14th July 2013

Israel announced this week that its ambassador to the United States beginning in September will be Ron Dermer, a 42-year-old neoconservative political operative. Dermer grew up in the United States, once worked for Newt Gingrich, renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2005, and now works for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a speechwriter and adviser.

The Obama administration evidently has granted agrement, which in the absence of any indication of malfeasance is probably the right thing to have done. The administration may see Dermer's close ties to Netanyahu as a practical advantage in communicating with the Israeli government.

The picture that emerges is of an aide who exhibits the bad sides of his current boss, and then some. Dermer's writings feature characterizations of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are dismissive and contemptuous. He also adheres to what Beinart terms a "cartoonish view" of Arab-Israeli relations that is filled with historical inaccuracies.

There are other things to reflect on, however, about this appointment. Peter Beinart provides a description of Dermer's views based on extensive reading of a series of columns that Dermer wrote several years ago for the Jerusalem Post   and that, in Beinart's words, "would have fit snugly in the pages of The Weekly Standard."

Beinart isn't bothered by the idea that this is someone with Republican associations who clearly preferred a Mitt Romney victory last year and may even have done some things toward that end. That's part of a longstanding reality, says Beinart, of mutual attempts in the U.S.-Israeli relationship to affect the other guy's elections. But we should ask what this appointment further indicates in terms of the nature of the relationship.

To put this question in perspective, imagine comparable selections being made for other ambassadorial jobs, including ones involving close allies. Suppose that the United States appointed today as its ambassador to Britain a 42-year-old who had started out working for Labour Party causes before renouncing British citizenship and becoming an American speechwriter. It would be interesting to see the reaction of the Conservative-led coalition government to that. Or suppose Britain appointed a British Dermer as its envoy in Washington, which would be just as much of a shock.

Of course, the United States in effect insults many of its allied governments by making campaign contributions or bundling of campaign funds a prime qualification for major ambassadorships. But at least that can be seen as a general defect in how American diplomacy operates rather than a statement about any one diplomatic relationship.

The Dermer appointment is something different. It is a departure even for Israel; the outgoing Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, is an accomplished historian who has taught at premier universities in both the United States and Israel.

The naming of Dermer is a statement that manipulation, with a hard-right twist, of American politics is not just something that arises from time to time in U.S.-Israeli relations but instead is the main aspect of the relationship. It also is a statement by Netanyahu that he isn't bothered if the relationship is seen that way.

Perhaps he wants it to be seen that way, which would be consistent with the principle that to sustain something like the fear-based power that Israel has in American politics requires that the power be repeatedly and blatantly exercised and that people be continually reminded of it.

We all knew that this relationship was highly abnormal, even for one between supposed friends and allies. This ambassadorial appointment is a reminder that it is abnormal in ways that ought to make Americans uncomfortable.

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Nigeria militants hit schools to destroy Western ideas
Daily Times PK - 15th July 2013

They crept up to the school under cover of darkness, armed with petrol and automatic weapons.
Most of the teachers and pupils had fled, but some students, one teacher and headmaster Adanu Haruna were still in the compound, one of many rural boarding schools in Nigeria surrounded by forest and farmland.

“They made the students line up and strip naked, then they made the ones with pubic hair lie face down on the ground,” Haruna said, eyes wide with horror at describing the attack on the iron-roofed school built by British colonisers in the 1950s. “They shot them point blank then set the bodies on fire.” The Mamudo government school, charred and smelling of scorched blood after 22 students and a teacher were killed there in the July 6 attack near Potiskum in Nigeria’s northeast, was the fourth to be targeted by suspected Boko Haram militants in less than a month.

The attacks reveal much about the rebels who are fighting to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, the type of state they are seeking to establish and the impact of their efforts to do so on the African economic powerhouse.

In a video uploaded to the Internet on Saturday, Boko Haram’s purported leader Abubakar Shekau denied ordering the latest killings, saying Boko Haram does not itself kill small children, but he praised attacks on Western schools.

“We fully support the attack on school in Mamudo, as well as on other schools,” he said. “Western education schools are against Islam ... We will kill their teachers.”

Boko Haram, a nickname which translates roughly as “Western education is sinful”, formed around a decade ago as a clerical movement opposed to Western influence, which the sect’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, said was poisoning young minds against Islam.

Yet security forces and politicians were the main targets of the armed revolt it started after Yusuf’s killing in a 2009 military crackdown that left 800 people dead.

Since those days Boko Haram has splintered into several factions, including some with ties to al Qaeda’s Saharan wing, which analysts say operate more or less independently, despite Shekau’s loose claim to authority over them.

Before June, there had been only a handful of attacks on the Western-style schools it so despises. An offensive against the insurgents since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three remote northern states in May, wresting control of the far northeast from Boko Haram and pushing its fighters into hiding, has changed that.

Across northeastern Nigeria, schools are emptying out, threatening further radicalisation and economic decline in a region left behind by the country’s oil-rich Christian south.

Nassir Salaudeen, a teacher whose son was killed in a strike on Damaturu government school on June 16, the first of the wave of recent attacks, said he had put all his efforts into his boy’s education in the hope he would get a good job.

“They killed him in cold blood, just because he was a student and his father a teacher,” a tearful Salaudeen said. “I regret ever being educated.”

For some, the school attacks are a sign the offensive has weakened the Islamist group, which is still seen as the main security threat to Africa’s leading oil and gas producer.

“Given the security clampdown, many of the places like police stations or the military are getting harder for Boko Haram to hit,” said Kole Shettima, chairman of the Centre for Democracy and Development. “Schools are soft targets.”

But the attacks also reflect a radical ideology that resents modernity and yearns to wind back the clock to an era before West African lands were conquered by Europeans.

Centuries ago northern Nigeria, like much of West Africa, was ruled by Islamic empires feeding off trans-Saharan trade routes connecting Africa’s forested interior with its Mediterranean coast.

Boko Haram rarely gives statements to the media. But the little it has said suggests it wants to restore those glory days.

Last year, the sect said it wanted to revive the 19th century caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio, an Islamic scholar who threw off corrupt Hausa kings and established strict Sharia law.

When Britain established Nigeria as a territory, it agreed to spare the largely Muslim north’s leaders the activities of missionaries, who brought Christianity but also education and literacy that gave the south a head start over the north.

The north was able to retain its Islamic culture but at the cost of suffering economically; political and economic power has shifted to the south and the education gap has played a role in that growing discrepancy.

A lack of education and high youth unemployment has also helped Boko Haram’s Islamist ideology to thrive.

“Boko Haram think the secular school system has brainwashed Nigerians to accept the post-colonial Western order and forget the Islamic ways that existed before,” said Jacob Zenn, an expert on the sect at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

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Continuous Satellite Monitoring of Ice Sheets Needed to Better Predict Sea-Level Rise
Nature Geoscience - 14th July 2013

The need for continuous satellite monitoring of the ice sheets to better identify and predict melting and the corresponding sea-level rise.
1The ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland contain about 99.5 per cent of Earth's glacier ice which would raise global sea level by some 63m if it were to melt completely. The ice sheets are the largest potential source of future sea level rise -- and they also possess the largest uncertainty over their future behaviour. They present some unique challenges for predicting their future response using numerical modelling and, as a consequence, alternative approaches have been explored. One common approach is to extrapolate observed changes to estimate their contribution to sea level in the future.

Since 2002, the satellites of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) detect tiny variations in Earth's gravity field resulting from changes in mass distribution, including movement of ice into the oceans. Using these changes in gravity, the state of the ice sheets can be monitored at monthly intervals.

Dr Bert Wouters, currently a visiting researcher at the University of Colorado, said: "In the course of the mission, it has become apparent that ice sheets are losing substantial amounts of ice -- about 300 billion tonnes each year -- and that the rate at which these losses occurs is increasing. Compared to the first few years of the GRACE mission, the ice sheets' contribution to sea level rise has almost doubled in recent years."

Yet, there is no consensus among scientists about the cause of this recent increase in ice sheet mass loss observed by satellites. Beside anthropogenic warming, ice sheets are affected by many natural processes, such as multi-year fluctuations in the atmosphere (for example, shifting pressure systems in the North Atlantic, or El Niño and La Niña events) and slow changes in ocean currents.

"So, if observations span only a few years, such 'ice sheet weather' may show up as an apparent speed-up of ice loss which would cancel out once more observations become available," Dr Wouters said.

The team of researchers compared nine years of satellite data from the GRACE mission with reconstructions of about 50 years of mass changes to the ice sheets. They found that the ability to accurately detect an accelerating trend in mass loss depends on the length of the record.

At the moment, the ice loss detected by the GRACE satellites is larger than what we would expect to see just from natural fluctuations, but the speed-up of ice loss over the last years is not.

The study suggests that although there may be almost enough satellite data to detect a speed-up in mass loss of the Antarctic ice sheet with a reasonable level of confidence, another ten years of satellite observations is needed to do so for Greenland. As a result, extrapolation of the current contribution to sea-level rise of the ice sheets to 2100 may be too high or low by as much as 35 cm. The study, therefore, urges caution in extrapolating current measurements to predict future sea-level rise.

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Khartoum behind Darfur attack on UN troops: Rebels
Oman Tribune - 15th July 2013

A rebel group in Sudan's Darfur region accused government-linked militia on Sunday of carrying out an ambush which killed seven peacekeepers and wounded 17.

"We don't have any doubt that the act was done by government militia, because militia are deployed in Khor Abeche area," said Abdullah Moursal, spokesman for the Sudan Liberation Army's Minni Minnawi faction.

"This area is completely under government control."

Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon is "outraged" at the killing of peacekeepers, his spokesman said on Saturday.

Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage at the “heinous attack” and called on Khartoum to take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The seven were killed by unidentified attackers near Nyala in South Darfur. It was the latest of a series of attacks on UN troops in the western region this year. No perpetrators have yet been caught.

"The secretary-general was outraged to learn of a deadly attack on peacekeepers in Darfur which occurred this morning," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"Seven Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed and 17 others are injured. Among the injured are four Unamid police officers, including two female officers, and 13 troops," the spokesman added.

Ban sent "deepest sympathies" to the families of the dead and the Tanzanian government, a major contributor to the UN-African Union force in Darfur.

"The secretary-general condemns this heinous attack on Unamid, the third in three weeks, and expects that the government of Sudan will take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur said the ambush by "a large unidentified group" struck on Saturday about 25 kilometres west of a Unamid base at Khor Abeche, north of the South Darfur state capital Nyala.

In addition to the seven dead Tanzanian peacekeeping troops, 17 other military and police personnel were wounded in the attack, the worst in the five-year history of Unamid.

Rebels have been fighting the government for a decade in Darfur but Unamid says that clashes between rival tribal and ethnic groups have been responsible for most of the worsening unrest in Darfur this year. UN experts, human rights activists and tribal leaders have accused government security forces of involvement in this year's tribal fighting.

The UN has made repeated similar calls after attacks on its peacekeepers in Sudan, but UN sources say they are unaware of anyone having been held accountable.

About 50 Unamid members have now died in hostile action since the mission began in late 2007. Before Saturday's attack, six peacekeepers had been killed in Darfur since October.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the latest attack "reprehensible" and said Ottawa "is deeply concerned by the deteriorating security conditions in Darfur and across Sudan".

An estimated 300,000 people have been displaced by violence in Darfur this year -- more than in the last two years combined.

In April, a Nigerian peacekeeper was killed and two others wounded in an assault on their base east of Nyala.

The authorities denied suggestions from local sources that the attack appeared to have been planned and carried out by government-linked forces.

A UN panel of experts earlier this year reported that former pro-government militiamen had sometimes expressed their discontent with the current government through "direct attacks on Unamid staff and premises".

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Britain to offer military training to Burma to help end ethnic conflicts
Damien McElroy - The Telegraph - 14th July 2013

Britain will offer Burma military training and official assistance to tackle its internal conflicts during a groundbreaking official visit by President Thein Sein to meet David Cameron that was due to begin on Sunday night.

Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister of state, told The Daily Telegraph that Britain was determined to take a leading role in helping Burma to develop a more democratic system and resolve ethnic tensions.

In particular the Foreign Office has sought to use its historic experience in the former colony to defuse tensions between the military-backed government and Rohingya Muslims.

Clashes between the Rohingya and Buddhist radicals with close links to the government have left hundreds dead over the past year, while more than 140,000 people remain displaced across Rakhine state.

"We don't underestimate how much needs to be done in Burma but it is critical we are engaged in helping the Burmese undertake changes," Mr Swire said. "The right way to proceed is to have the Burmese here and to send our officials over there to help them through their difficulties."

Mr Swire was the first European minister to visit Rakhine in December. Thein Sein has called for religious tolerance and the former general has dismissed as "pure fabrication" allegations that the Burmese army has colluded in the violence.

However, official reports into the clashes alleged that the Muslim population in the east of the country was not native to Burma but imported from Bengali regions under the Raj, and many Rohingya are denied citizenship to this day.

Mr Swire said he confronted that view, which is widely shared in Burma, with Foreign Office records "stretching back centuries" to show the Muslim community should be viewed as an established part of Burma.

Following a request made to Mr Cameron by the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and a visit to Burma by the outgoing chief of the defence staff, Gen Sir David Richards, a defence attache will be appointed in Rangoon.

The new post is designed to oversee the establishment of military to military contacts between the Burmese armed forces and their UK counterparts.

Burma remains subject to an EU arms embargo on the sale of weapons but other sanctions have been dropped.

Burmese military staff will be given training in human rights and the law of armed conflict from their British counterparts, reviving a relationship that goes back centuries.

However, campaigning groups claim they are not reconciled with the new policy of engagement adopted by European and US leaders on Burma. Pro-democracy organisations in Burma have said the regime has maintained a repressive military and security apparatus.

Baroness Kinnock of Hollyhead, representing the Burma UK campaign non-governmental organisation, said Mr Cameron, who meets Thein Sein on Monday, was rewarding a leader who had not delivered on promised changes, claiming increased pressure on the regime would be better than conciliatory gestures. She reflected anger that the Government was also looking to develop trade ties with Burma, including a move to expand financial services.

"Promoting trade, before securing major advances on human rights encourages Thein Sein to believe that his government can continue to act with impunity. William Hague and David Cameron should send Thein Sein away with a flea in his ear, not a pat on his back," she said.

A petition organised by the campaign group Avaaz calling on Britain and France to issue an ultimatum on the violence to Thein Sein during the meetings has drawn more than one million signatures. Campaigners will line Whitehall with black tombstones during the meeting.

"The Rohingya in Burma face intimidation and terror and the parallels with the Rwandan genocide are clear to see. David Cameron used to hug a hoody, now he is more interested in hugging generals – we hope he speaks out when he meets President (Thein) Sein and demands an end of the violence," said Sam Barratt, the spokesman.

But Mr Swire said the campaigners were misreading the intentions of the Government, which maintains a close working relationship Miss Suu Kyi, the freed democracy leader who hopes to be president.

"It is wrong to think we are not keeping up the pressure on Burma. There has indeed been a lot of talk from the Burmese government but we want to see is a lot more walk the walk."

Officials said Mr Cameron had no plans to follow President Barack Obama and succumb to Burmese pressure to refer to the country as Myanmar, the name the military regime chose for the country in the 1990s.

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The rise of China's ghost cities
Malaysia Chronicle - 15th July 2013

China is building new cities at an estimated rate of up to 12 to 24 a year - but while they are full of brand new homes and facilities, nobody wants to live there.

A recent CBS 60 Minutes report in the US exposed dozens of new cities in China sitting empty - with the apartments snapped up as investments by the nation's wealthy middle class, then sitting empty as the owners fail to find tenants who can meet the rent.

Financial experts fear the ghost town explosion will lead to a housing bubble burst, following China's real estate boom which came after the government changed its policy 15 years ago and allowed people to buy their homes.

The middle class saw real estate as a solid investment, more stable than the sharemarket and offering better returns than the banks.

Government laws do not allow the Chinese to invest overseas.

Hong Kong-based financial analyst Gillem Tulloch said while the initial boom provided good returns, he fears the bubble is about to burst.

"What they (the wealthy middle class) do is they invest in property because property prices have always gone up by more than inflation," he told CBS's 60 Minutes.

"It's the main driver of growth and has been for the last few years. Some estimates have it as high as 20 or 30 per cent of the whole economy.

"I think they're building somewhere between 12 and 24 new cities every year."

But the huge growth has let to a glut of not just apartments, but entire towns and has forced the government to bring in a one-apartment law, where people can own just one property.

In Inner Mongolia, developers built the city of Ordos for one million people. But most of it remains empty.

Early last year the BBC reported Ordos was the largest ghost town in China, and that the housing bubble there had already burst.

Mr Tulloch told 60 Minutes China's government had spent an estimated US$2 trillion to build the cities and to keep the country's economy going.

"They've simply built too much infrastructure too quickly," he said.

"People are being moved into the cities but that doesn't necessarily mean they can afford these apartments which cost US$100,000. These are poor people moving into the cities, so they're building the wrong kind of apartments.

"There are multiple classes of people that are going to get wiped out by this, people who have invested three generations' worth of savings into properties will see their savings evaporated."

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Gov't Supports Official Date to Commemorate Jewish Refugees
Elad Benari - Israel National News - 15th July 2013

MK Shimon Ohayon's law states that February 17 will be a day of commemoration for Jews forced out of Arab countries last century.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation endorsed on Sunday a law to hold an official date in the Israeli national calendar to commemorate the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

The law, authored by MK Dr. Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beytenu), will state that February 17 is to become a day of national commemoration for the over 850,000 Jews who were forced out or who fled their homes in Arab countries during the middle of the last century.

February 17 was chosen because it was the date in 1948 when the Arab League approved a law for its member states placing severe sanctions against their Jewish populations.

Accordingly, MK Ohayon sent an official letter to the Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr. Nabil El Araby, calling on his organization to “accept historic accountability for the humiliation, the suffering, and the losses incurred by innocent Jewish victims of the Arab world’s declared war against the State of Israel.”

“As a matter of law and equity, the Arab League must assume full responsibility for ensuring rights and redress for Jewish refugees, the direct result of their collusionary actions,” MK Ohayon wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the Arab League’s Human Rights Department.

“There are historic processes taking place in the Arab world currently with more and more people pushing for their rights, this is an opportune time for the Arab League and its member states to admit to the historic injustice meted out to their Jewish populations,” said Ohayon.

“This is an important element of any future peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arab in the Middle East.”

The law and the letter are part of a concerted campaign to have the rights of the Jews who were forced out of Arab countries in the 20th century recognized in Israel, the Arab world and the international community.

The day of commemoration for the Jewish refugees was accepted and endorsed by the representative organizations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel and international organizations like Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) and the World Jewish Congress, who will push the day of commemoration in Jewish communities around the world.

Last month during World Refugee Day, MK Ohayon called on the United Nations not to forget the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, which are far more numerous than the much-worried over Arab refugees who fled the Land of Israel before Israel's establishment in 1948.

MK Ohayon, who along with his family fled Morocco in 1956, is the Chairman of the Knesset Caucus for the Rights of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands.

In November, renowned Canadian lawmaker Irwin Cotler proposed a motion in his country's Parliament calling for formal government recognition of the Jews forcibly displaced from Arab lands since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Cotler, who has served as Canadian Justice Minister and Attorney General, noted in his motion that by rejecting the United Nation's partition plan of 1947-1948, Arab states had "launched their double aggression of a war against the nascent Jewish state and assaults on their own Jewish nationals, resulting in two refugee populations, Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from Arab countries."

He said the time had come "to restore the pain and plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries to the international peace and justice narrative from which it has been eclipsed these past 60 years."

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Bastille Day tribute to African troops
Scotsman - 15th July 2013

Troops from 13 African countries that took part in the French-led war against al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Mali marched with the French military during the Bastille Day parade in Paris yesterday to honour their role in the conflict.

Around 50 Malian troops marched in formation followed by soldiers from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Chad and Togo. UN troops in blue berets who are helping to stabilise the west African nation earlier this year also paraded with thousands of other soldiers down the Champs Elysées Avenue in France’s annual tribute to military might. It marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, by angry Paris crowds, that helped spark the French Revolution.

President François Hollande said: “Look at what happened. It was a victory for Africa, a victory against terrorism.”

He said earlier the presence of African troops was a “tribute to those who actively helped to banish terrorism from the Malian territory”.

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Guardian journalist says Snowden has NSA ‘blueprints’
Jenny Barchfield - The Globe and Mail - 15th July 2013

Edward Snowden has very sensitive “blueprints” detailing how the National Security Agency operates that would allow someone who read them to evade or even duplicate NSA surveillance, a journalist close to the intelligence leaker said Sunday.

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist with The Guardian newspaper who closely communicates with Snowden and first reported on his intelligence leaks, told The Associated Press that the former NSA systems analyst has “literally thousands of documents” that constitute “basically the instruction manual for how the NSA is built.”

“In order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how the NSA does what they do,” Greenwald said in Brazil, adding that the interview was taking place about four hours after his last interaction with Snowden.

Snowden emerged from weeks of hiding in a Moscow airport Friday, and said he was willing to meet President Vladimir Putin’s condition that he stop leaking U.S. secrets if it means Russia would give him asylum until he can move on to Latin America.

Greenwald told The AP that Snowden has insisted the information from those documents not be made public. The journalist said it “would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.”

Despite their sensitivity, Greenwald said he didn’t think that disclosure of the documents would prove harmful to Americans or their national security.

“I think it would be harmful to the U.S. government, as they perceive their own interests, if the details of those programs were revealed,” said the 46-year-old former constitutional and civil rights lawyer who has written three books contending the government has violated personal rights in the name of protecting national security.

He has previously said the documents have been encrypted to help ensure their safekeeping.

Greenwald, who has also co-authored a series of articles in Rio de Janeiro’s O Globo newspaper focusing on NSA actions in Latin America, said he expected to continue publishing further stories based on other Snowden documents over the next four months.

Upcoming stories would likely include details on “other domestic spying programs that have yet to be revealed,” but which are similar in scope to those he has been reporting on. He did not provide further details on the nature of those programs.

Greenwald said he deliberately avoids talking to Snowden about issues related to where the former analyst might seek asylum in order to avoid possible legal problems for himself.

Snowden is believed to be stuck in the transit area of Moscow’s main international airport, where he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23. He’s had offers of asylum from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, but because his U.S. passport has been revoked, the logistics of reaching whichever country he chooses are complicated.

Still, Greenwald said that Snowden remains “calm and tranquil,” despite his predicament.

“I haven’t sensed an iota of remorse or regret or anxiety over the situation that he’s in,” said Greenwald, speaking at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, where he’s lived for the past eight years. “He’s of course tense and focused on his security and his short-term well-being to the best extent that he can, but he’s very resigned to the fact that things might go terribly wrong and he’s at peace with that.”

Greenwald said he worried that interest in Snowden’s personal saga had detracted from the impact of his revelations, adding that Snowden deliberately turned down nearly all requests for interviews to avoid the media spotlight.

Asked whether Snowden seemed worried about his personal safety, Greenwald responded, “he’s concerned.”

He said the U.S. has shown it’s “willing to take even the most extreme steps if they think doing so is necessary to neutralize a national security threat,” Greenwald said. “He’s aware of all those things, he’s concerned about them but he’s not going to be in any way paralyzed or constrained in what he thinks he can do as a result of that.”

Asked about a so-called dead man’s pact, which Greenwald has said would allow several people to access Snowden’s trove of documents were anything to happen to him, Greenwald replied that “media descriptions of it have been overly simplistic.

“It’s not just a matter of, if he dies, things get released, it’s more nuanced than that,” he said. “It’s really just a way to protect himself against extremely rogue behaviour on the part of the United States, by which I mean violent actions toward him, designed to end his life, and it’s just a way to ensure that nobody feels incentivized to do that.”

He declined to provide any more details about the pact or how it would work.

Greenwald said he himself has beefed up his own security, particularly since a laptop went missing from his Rio home.

“I don’t really feel comfortable discussing the specific measures, but one would be really irrational and foolish to have thousands of top-secret documents from the most secretive agency of the world’s most powerful government and not be thoughtful about added security,” he said.

It was not immediately clear whether Russia would take Snowden up on his latest request for asylum, which could further test U.S.-Russia relations.

Following Friday’s meeting between Snowden and human rights activists, U.S. officials criticized Russia for allowing a “propaganda platform” for the NSA leader.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia should instead send Snowden back to the U.S. to face the felony charges that are pending against him.

Carney said Snowden is not a human rights activist or a dissident. “He is accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three felony counts and should be returned to the United States,” the spokesman said.

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The task before Rouhani
Hussain H Zaidi - The International Nation - 15th July 2013

The landslide victory of a moderate Hassan Rouhani in the recent presidential election in Iran has sprung up a pleasant surprise both nationally and internationally. While the Iranian nation is pinning high hopes on the president-elect for much needed economic recovery and opening up of the socio-political order, the international community is expecting that he will be easier to do business with than his predecessor.

To appreciate the significance of Rouhani's victory, it is important to look at the political system of Iran and relevant developments over last few years. The three fundamental principles of the Iranian political system are Islam, republicanism and separation of powers. Islam is the state religion and the shariah the fundamental law of the land. As for republicanism, the greatest contribution of the Islamic revolution was the abolition of monarchy. Under the Iranian constitution, both the president and parliament (called the majlis) are popularly elected.

The third principle is the separation of powers, which makes the Iranian system more like the American system than the British model. The president is the chief executive, while the majlis is the lawmaking body. The majlis cannot vote out the president, though it can impeach him. Nor can the president dissolve the majlis. The ministers appointed by the president have to be approved, and all international agreements and treaties ratified by the majlis.

The separation of powers principle, however, breaks down in the office of the rahbar (the supreme leader), who holds a unique position in the political system. The rahbar is the guardian of the revolution, the custodian of the constitution and the overall supervisor of the system. He has the power to appoint and dismiss the head of the judiciary, the armed forces, and the religious members of a powerful guardian council. He delineates the general policies of the republic and is the ultimate arbiter in cases that cannot be sorted out by other means.

Another important component of the system is the guardian council, which interprets the constitution and determines the constitutionality of laws passed by the majlis (power of judicial review). The council comprises 12 members half of which are appointed by the rahbar and half elected by the majlis. It also supervises the elections for the office of the president, the majlis and the council of experts, which includes determining suitability of the candidates.

The power of judicial review exists in a number of countries. It is thus not the guardian council's power that is criticised. Rather it is the way the power is exercised that has generated much criticism. The council, by virtue of its conservative composition, is not well-disposed towards progressive legislation or those with a reformist agenda. The council has struck down several laws passed by the majlis. It has also been accused of disqualifying reformist candidates. A case is point is the disqualification of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani from the 2013 presidential race.

There are two power poles in Iran: One comprises the president and the majlis representing the popular will. The other is the clergy-dominated establishment that believes in 'controlled' democracy.

Post-revolution Iran has witnessed the relentless struggle of reformists against hardliners for more openness and democracy. However, hardliners – because of greater power and influence – have remained tough to negotiate with. The reformists secured their first major win in the landslide victory of Khatami as president in 1997. Then in 2000, the conservatives were defeated in parliamentary elections by reformists.

Khatami's re-election in 2001 by an overwhelming majority again underlined the need for reforms. However, that did not curtail the influence of the conservatives who continued to assert themselves through powerful institutions like the guardian council and the judiciary.

The tension between the conservatives and the reformists, the hardliners and the liberals assumed heightened significance after the 2009 disputed presidential polls. Though the state put down the widespread protests against the 'rigged' election, it only highlighted the enormity of the tension.

Iran has also earned the ire of the west, particularly of the US, for its nuclear programme that the former claims to be peaceful and which the latter sees as potentially dangerous to international peace and security and, therefore, insists that the same either be brought to an immediate halt or be placed under stringent international safeguards.

As a penalty for going ahead with its nuclear programme, Iran has been placed under multilateral (UN) and bilateral (US and European Union) economic sanctions, which are impacting the economy. Mineral, particularly oil, exports are the mainstay of Tehran's economy and they have been severely hit by the sanctions. According to the London-based weekly The Economist, Iran is facing shrinking output and hyperinflation (stagflation), with 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

The president-elect, himself a former nuclear chief negotiator, knows well that the economy can't be put back on track unless international sanctions are softened; he, therefore, advocates dialogue with the west. The question is: what sort of concessions will his government be able to make? While Rouhani has ruled out putting an end to his country's nuclear programme, a middle way – such as accepting international inspection of the nuclear facilities – may be struck. But would the west be content with that?

The call for change in Iran is at present moderate, and there are few voices demanding changes to the basic character of the constitution or for counter-revolution. All notable forces agree that Iran should continue to be an Islamic republic. There is also no demand of note for abolishing any of the existing institutions including the controversial guardian council. Only reform of the existing institutions is being sought to make them less authoritarian, more democratic and open, more accountable to the people and their elected representatives, and more progressive. That's why the electorate voted so heavily for a reformist.

The real force behind the call for reforms are the youth who make up nearly two-thirds of the Iranian population. Since they do not belong to the generation that brought about the revolution, their commitment to revolutionary ideals is not as extensive as that of the earlier generation. Though at present moderate, their discontent may assume dangerous proportions if their demands continue to be brushed aside.

Iran has immense geostrategic significance, especially at a time when the region is in turmoil. It has the among the world's largest gas and oil reserves. Apart from improving relations with the west, the country needs to overcome internal contradictions and conflicts to realise its enormous economic potential.

Can Rouhani lead a successful compromise both within the country – between the forces of change and the establishment – and between Iran and the west?

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