Local Time

Sunday, May 29, 2011

South Tyneside Council takes Twitter to court in US


An English council has taken Twitter to court in the US in a bid to discover the identity of a blogger behind allegedly libellous statements.
South Tyneside Council went to court in California after three councillors and an official complained they were libelled in a blog called "Mr Monkey".
Twitter said it could not comment on individual court requests.
But the councillor at the centre of the row said Twitter had already handed over his account details.
Media law experts suggest the case may prompt more UK citizens to take action in the US, where Twitter is based.
Independent South Shields councillor Ahmed Khan is suspected of being the author of the blog, which has made a series of unfounded allegations against council leaders.
Mr Khan, who denies being the author, said he was told by Twitter in May that his account details had been disclosed after a subpoena was lodged with the Californian court.
'This is Orwellian'
He said: "I don't fully understand it but it all relates to my Twitter account and it not only breaches my human rights, but it potentially breaches the human rights of anyone who has ever sent me a message on Twitter.
"This is Orwellian. It is like something out of 1984."
He admitted being a critic of some council policies, adding: "People who had the courage to come forward and expose possible wrongdoing within South Tyneside Council will not now do so.
"I also think that constituents who have used Twitter to engage with me, to air any problems or concerns that they have, will also think twice before doing that."
The Mr Monkey blog has made a number accusations against the council's Labour leader Iain Malcolm, as well as David Potts, the former Conservative leader who now serves as an Independent councillor, Labour councillor Anne Walsh and Rick O'Farrell, the council's head of enterprise and regeneration.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens says he is unaware of anyone from the UK taking action like this before
They are all named on papers delivered by the council's lawyers to the Superior Court of California.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: "This legal action was initiated by the council's previous chief executive and has continued with the full support of the council's current chief executive.
"The council has a duty of care to protect its employees and as this blog contains damaging claims about council officers, legal action is being taken to identify those responsible."
He said he had no knowledge of councillors attending court hearings in the US or whether Twitter had as yet handed over any confidential information.
'Hate campaign'
A spokesman for Twitter said: "We cannot comment on any specific order or request.
"As noted in our law enforcement guidelines, it is our policy to notify our users before disclosure of account information."
Lawyers challenged Twitter in the High Court in London to reveal the identities of its users who violated a super-injunction involving Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs.
MP John Hemming named the star in Parliament as the footballer who had used a super-injunction to hide an alleged affair, after Mr Giggs' name had been widely aired on Twitter.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, said: "I am unaware of any other occasion where somebody from this country has actually gone to America and launched proceedings in a Californian court to force Twitter to release the identities of individuals.
"The implications are that people who have had their name released can actually now go to California and begin proceedings.
"Local authorities cannot sue for libel and, if individual councillors have been defamed, they should take proceedings at their own cost."
Mr Potts said: "We are public figures and we expect to take flack. But this isn't flack, it's a hate campaign.
"I'm a well-known businessman and if someone ran a hate campaign against one of my employees, I would do everything in my power to aggressively track down those responsible.
"This is not a waste of taxpayers' money. When we recover damages - and we will - I will hand over every penny to the borough."




Ratko Mladic denies Srebrenica massacre role - son


Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic has said he did not order the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, according to his son.
Darko Mladic made the statement a day before his father is due to lodge an appeal against being trasferred to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Some 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed at Srebrenica.
The massacre is one of the key charges against Gen Mladic, 69. He was arrested on Thursday after 16 years on the run.
Darko Mladic spoke out after visiting his father in detention at Serbia's war crimes court.
"He said that whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with it.
"He saved so many women, children and fighters... His order was first to evacuate the wounded, women and children and then fighters. Whoever did what behind his back, he had nothing to do with it."
'Regime of traitors'
To some Serbs Gen Mladic remains a national hero, and his son's statement came as supporters of the general were due to hold protests in Belgrade to voice their opposition to his arrest and likely extradition.
Sunday's rally is due to take place outside parliament in Belgrade.
Far-right group 1389 urged its supporters to "show to this regime of traitors that we are not afraid of their threats and repression and that we are ready to defend Serbian heroes".
An association of former Bosnian Serb soldiers held a separate protest against Gen Mladic's arrest in the Bosnian village of Kalinovik, where he was born.
The BBC's Nick Thorpe, in Kalinovik, said several thousand people had gathered and were protesting peacefully.
Gen Mladic's lawyer Milos Saljic has said his client knew he would be transferred to a UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Mr Saljic is to appeal against the transfer on Monday, after a court said Gen Mladic was fit to be extradited.
Speaking on Sunday he maintained that Gen Mladic's health had deteriorated since the court's decision.
"I can tell you that his health condition today is much worse then yesterday. It is worse psychologically," the told the Associated Press.
Reconciliation hopes
Gen Mladic was seized in the village of Lazarevo, about 80km (50 miles) north of Belgrade, in the early hours of Thursday.
Serbian officials have vowed to pursue those who helped him avoid detection.
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Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told AFP: "By hiding Mladic they have caused serious damage to this country. Hiding fugitives from The Hague tribunal is a serious crime."
Following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Gen Mladic became the most prominent Bosnian war crimes suspect still at large.
He was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 for genocide over the killings that July at Srebrenica - the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II - and other alleged crimes.
Having lived freely in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, he disappeared after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001.
Serbian President Boris Tadic has said the arrest brought the country and the region closer to reconciliation, and opened the doors to European Union membership for Serbia.
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Bizarre benefits fraud excuses revealed by government (UK)


Ministers have tried to highlight the impact of benefit fraud by publishing some of the more unusual excuses used by people found guilty of cheating.
Reasons include carrying ladders as therapy rather than for cleaning windows, and claiming an identical twin had been doing work rather than them.
About £1.6bn is lost through benefit and tax credit fraud each year.
Some disability groups have warned the government against exaggerating the scale of the problem to justify cuts.
Farm work
One excuse revealed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was: "I wasn't aware my wife was working because her hours of work coincided with the times I spent in the garden shed."
Another false claimant said: "We don't live together, he just comes each morning to fill up his flask."
In a case highlighted by the DWP, a man from Yorkshire claimed nearly £17,500 to look after his sick father - but had to admit to lying when his father revealed he had not seen his son for years.
In another instance, a man claimed more than £55,000 in disability benefits while he was working on a dairy farm.
Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said benefit fraud was serious, yet investigators were "routinely dealing with bare-faced cheek and ridiculous excuses for stealing money from the taxpayer".
'Negative impact'
"It's bad for the system because it drives it into disrepute. We want to spend the money on people who genuinely need it," he said.
"People stealing it for themselves means there is less money to go to where it is really needed to reduce poverty in this country."
Lord Freud said the introduction of Universal Credit would simplify and automate the benefits system, and make it much easier to catch people who made false claims.
But Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: "The government really has to stop over-simplifying the debate on welfare and using unusual fraud cases to support changes which could have a serious and negative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.
"We'd like to see the government put as much effort in to finding disabled people long-term sustainable employment."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Hollow 'reconciliation' in Palestine Hamas and Fatah's agreement will only maintain the status quo of division, called 'unity' only for public consumption.


Rather than supporting division with a reconciliation intended only for show, and putting false hope into a defunct 'peace process', Palestinians should throw their full weight behind the BDS movement [GALLO/GETTY]
By deciding to join the US-backed Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas risks turning its back on its role as a resistance movement, without gaining any additional leverage that could help Palestinians free themselves from Israeli occupation and colonial rule.
Indeed, knowingly or not, Hamas may be embarking down the same well-trodden path as Abbas' Fatah faction: committing itself to joining a US-controlled "peace process", over which Palestinians have no say - and have no prospect of emerging with their rights intact. In exchange, Hamas may hope to earn a role alongside Abbas in ruling over the fraction of the Palestinians living under permanent Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Whether Hamas realises it or not, it has effectively entered into a coalition with Israel and Abbas to manage the Occupied Territories, in which Hamas will have much responsibility, but little power.
Hamas bows to pressure
Many Palestinians celebrated the hugs and handshakes between Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Abbas as they signed the reconciliation paper in Cairo on May 4. But few took the time to examine what was at stake. The deal reportedly included several key provisions: formation of a "national unity government" with a prime minister chosen by consensus; preparation for Palestinian Authority elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a year; combining the security forces controlled by the separate factions; and reactivating the Palestinian Legislative Council - in which Hamas won an overwhelming majority in 2006. Notably, there was no commitment to real reform and democratisation of the defunct PLO to re-enfranchise the majority of Palestinians, who do not live in the Occupied Territories.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on May 7, Meshaal said Hamas would now make all key decisions in consensus with other factions, particularly Abbas' Fatah: "How to manage the resistance, what's the best way to achieve our goals, when to escalate and when to cease fire, now we have to agree on all those decisions as Palestinians." Other areas that Meshaal said would be decided by consensus include "negotiations with Israel, domestic governance, foreign affairs, domestic security and resistance and other field activities".
The problem is that, on the most fundamental issues behind the intra-Palestinian split, there is no evidence of any "consensus". Rather, Hamas has bowed to pressure. For many years, Hamas correctly objected to the Abbas-controlled PA's open collaboration with Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and, until June 2007, in Gaza. This collaboration has targeted not just Hamas members, but activists and organisations which resist Israeli occupation with nonviolent means.
The Palestine Papers, revealed by Al Jazeera in January, document how deeply this collaboration went, including PA officials urging Israel to tighten the siege of Gaza, efforts by the PA to block Israeli releases of Palestinian prisoners,  and secret committees to undermine the previous Palestinian national unity government established in 2007. Top PA official Saeb Erekat notoriously boasted to a US counterpart that "we even killed our own people" in the course of such "security" work for Israel.
Had Abbas apologised for, renounced and foresworn such activities as part of the reconciliation, then it might be understandable that Hamas would sign the deal. But nothing was mentioned about ending PA-Israeli collaboration - and there is every sign that the PA will continue with it. Indeed it has no option but to do so or risk losing the US and European financial support that props it up.
No change on the ground
Following the unity deal, senior Israeli commanders in the occupied West Bank saw no change in their close relationship with their PA counterparts, Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer reported. "None of the Palestinian local representatives or security officers I have spoken to over the past week have said that it changes anything for them," one Israeli officer said.
"Naturally, we are keeping our eyes open for any change in security co-ordination," an Israeli army regional brigade commander told Pfeffer. "But as far as I can tell, it is business as usual for the Palestinian Authority's security forces. Their priority up to now has been to prevent Hamas from gaining a toe-hold in the West Bank, and they have made it clear to us that nothing for them has changed."
This was confirmed by Abbas himself, who told pro-Israel lobbyists visiting from the US on May 8, according to The New York Times"I hear rumours that Hamas will be in the West Bank, or that it will share authority here. This will not happen." Abbas was urging the Israel lobbyists to help convince the US Congress not to cut off the financial aid on which Abbas depends.
What this means, in effect, is that Hamas has agreed to join a Palestinian Authority which is actively engaged in a war against Hamas in conjunction with Israel - and that both Hamas and Fatah have decided to maintain division as a policy, but to rename it "unity", merely for public consumption.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for Abbas to annul the deal with Hamas should be understood as evidence of how much value Israel puts in its relationship with the PA  - and Israel does not want to see that relationship jeopardised. Yet while Israel may protest, it has no short-term alternative but to continue to rely on the PA to carry out the day-to-day work of enforcing the occupation.
Israel could not easily bear the financial, political and social costs of returning to a military occupation unmediated by a collaborating Palestinian proxy force. So for now, it looks like Abbas, Netanyahu and Hamas will enter into an uneasy de facto coalition which will last as long as Hamas sticks to a ceasefire and Israel chooses not to break it. In all likelihood, Israel will try to break up the coalition by launching military attacks and provocations in Gaza in an attempt to get the military wing of Hamas and other Palestinian factions to retaliate.
No programme
Hamas has long signalled its desire to move away from armed struggle toward purely political means - this is the essence of its proposed hudna, or long-term truce, with Israel. It is of course possible to defend the legitimate and universal right to armed resistance against occupation, while choosing not to exercise it. "Where there is occupation and settlement, there is a right to resistance. Israel is the aggressor," Meshaal told The New York Times on May 5, "But resistance is a means, not an end."
Yet to choose different means, a movement has to have a viable political strategy and a clear definition of its ends. Hamas has failed to articulate, or to rally the Palestinian people around either. Instead its strategy appears to be simply to sign on to the inherently unjust, and infeasible "two-state solution" - and hope for admission to "the peace process".
Meshaal told The New York Times of working toward a "common national agenda" for Palestinians which the Hamas leader defined as "a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel.
Anyone who has not been asleep for the past few years would have to recognise that this is not a "common national agenda". Meshaal's new partner, Abbas, for one, does not agree to it. Again, The Palestine Papers show conclusively that Abbas and his men offered Israel much less than this minimal programme, conceding almost all of Israel's settlements in and around Jerusalem, and the right of return.
It is difficult to work out what Hamas leaders' calculations are: do they really have no better ideas? Are they afraid that Abbas' push to have a Palestinian state recognised at the UN in September will gain steam and they will miss out? Do they recognise that the "peace process" will deliver nothing, but hope to avoid blame and inherit the leadership of the Palestinian national movement from Fatah?
There is also much speculation that the regional context - especially the uprising in Syria and ongoing instability in Iran  -  has Hamas leaders worried enough about their position that they rushed to embrace and re-legitimise Abbas. It is important to recall that while Hamas has taken support from Iran, it always did so reluctantly, and as a last resort after its earlier openings to Europe and the United States were spurned - and after Saudi Arabia cut off its traditional support to the movement under Bush administration pressure.
Saudi Arabia had tried previously to defy this US diktat by brokering the 2007 Mecca Agreement which ushered in the short-lived "national unity government" which, as is now well-known, the Bush administration actively schemed to overthrow along with elements of Fatah. Could we now be seeing Hamas trying to move out of Iran's orbit and back toward the Saudi axis?
Undoubtedly Hamas, like other regional actors, is in a bind, and may think it is smart enough to avoid the pitfalls of accepting the ever-shrinking two-state paradigm and entering into the "peace process". But it could get trapped just like Fatah, especially since it seems to have few other cards.
What the Hamas-Fatah "reconciliation" deal painfully demonstrates, contrary to the hopes of most Palestinians, is that neither Fatah nor Hamas has any idea how to get Palestinians out of their impasse. Both seem concerned merely with sharing the spoils of the Palestinian Authority and managing between them the wreckage of the failed Oslo accords.
Whatever Hamas and Fatah leaders do, the worst mistake the rest of the Palestinians could make is to leave the fate of their national movement in such hands.
A real Palestinian unity platform
If Hamas and Fatah have lost sight of what a real, effective and viable platform for national unity and struggle might look like, that does not mean such a platform does not exist. It does in the form of the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
Endorsed by hundreds of Palestinian organisations, the BDS call does not concern itself with "solutions", but with rights for all Palestinians everywhere.
Its three demands are an end to Israel's occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands controlled by Israel since 1967; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and full respect for the rights of refugees - including the right of return.
Moreover, this inclusive programme provides a means of struggle: building international solidarity campaigns to support Palestinians on the ground, by isolating Israel the way apartheid South Africa was isolated in the 1980s, until Israel respects Palestinian rights. Those who dismiss this campaign should note that Israeli leaders call BDS an "existential threat" because they understand its growing power.
The BDS call truly unites all Palestinians by addressing all of their rights. Instead of waiting for factional leaders to hatch their own programmes behind close doors and force them on the rest of us, we should invite them to endorse the BDS call and work toward implementing it. And if they don't, we should carry on without them.
Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. He is a co-founder of the online publication Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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