Russophobic rants by some European Union leaders and their willful distortion of events in Syria is a reflection of why the 28-member bloc is careering toward disaster. We are witnessing a crisis of appallingly inept leadership.
German, British and French leaders were among the most hawkish voices at the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels this week, denouncing what they claimed were Russian “war crimes” in Syria and calling for additional economic sanctions on both Moscow and Damascus.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russian-backed Syrian air strikes were “inhumane and cruel,” while Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May took the “most shrill prize” with her condemnation of Moscow’s “sickening atrocities.”
French President Francois Hollande echoed their calls for the EU to slap more sanctions on Russia – in addition to those the bloc has implemented over the Ukraine conflict.
This came only days after Belgian F-16 fighter jets reportedly killed six civilians in the Aleppo countryside, adding to a catalog of illegal aggression committed in Syria by French, British and American warplanes bombing the country without any legal mandate.
In the end, good sense among certain member states prevailed, and the EU summit concluded without imposing additional punitive measures. As the Financial Times reported: “Italy’s Renzi forces a retreat from new sanctions on Russia… Germany, France and UK rein in demand for fresh EU sanctions over Aleppo bombardment.”
Italy, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Malta and Cyprus were some of the EU members wary of escalating economic and political problems already incurred from loss of trade with Russia over the Ukraine debacle.
Britain’s premier May gave a particularly asinine speech in Brussels. She called for a “robust and united European stance in the face of Russian aggression.” This from the leader of a government currently embroiled in bitter rows over its divorce from the EU.
So, the British leader wants to bequeath even more tension and economic hardship between the people of Europe and Russia, just before she packs up Britain’s membership.
In the Russophobic rousing, European Council President Donald Tusk also excelled. Despite the EU summit rejecting the adoption of more sanctions against Russia over Syria, Tusk was later threatening that such measures remained an option. Tusk had regaled the summit with a list of alleged Russian “misdemeanors” including “air-space violations, disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, interference in the EU’s political processes and beyond. Hybrid tools in the Balkans, to developments in the MH17 investigation.”
Then he declared: “Given these examples, it is clear that Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU.”
Please note that Tusk is supposed to be a leading light for the EU as it negotiates a raft of existential problems, from intractable international trade deals, migration and border disputes, anti-EU political parties, and ongoing economic stagnation for 500 million citizens.
But if Tusk and other EU leaders like Merkel and Hollande can come out with such inane views on Russia, what chance has the bloc got in dealing effectively with other challenging issues? No wonder, EU citizens are losing respect and faith in political leaders when they are seen to be so utterly incompetent and detached from reality.
Yet to make matters even worse, Tusk and his Russophobic ilk turn around and blame the imploding EU crisis on alleged Russian plots to “weaken and divide.”
Just ahead of the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Merkel and Hollande met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Berlin for a conference on the Ukraine crisis. The Kiev regime’s President Petro Poroshenko was also in attendance.
The Berlin meeting did not result in any progress toward resolving the Ukraine dispute. While the German and French leaders wanted to penalize Russia over alleged violations in Syria, they seemed oblivious to hundreds of attacks by Kiev’s armed forces on civilian centers in breakaway eastern Ukraine. The assassination of a military commander in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic last week by suspected Kiev agents has heightened fears of a return to all-out war.
Where are Merkel and Hollande’s condemnations and calls for sanctions on the Kiev authorities whom they patronize with billions of dollars in financial aid and NATO military support?
Also, Merkel, Hollande and Britain’s May have little to say about recorded “cruel, inhumane, sickening” massacres in Yemen committed by the Saudi coalition bombing that country. Their silence no doubt is owing to the fact that their governments sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to the Saudi regime even as it slaughters women and children in Yemen.
And, indeed, let’s talk about Syria and the besieged northern city of Aleppo.
The crimes that European leaders allege against Russia and its Syrian ally are based on unverified claims issued by dubious networks evidently under the control of the anti-government militants. The militants besieging east Aleppo are dominated by head-chopping terrorist groups like the internationally proscribed Jabhat Al-Nusra.
When Russia unilaterally implemented a temporary ceasefire this week in Aleppo, an innovative live-streaming broadcast from the appointed humanitarian corridors proved once again the real nature of the violence.
Civilians trapped in the militant-held areas were shown to be held as “human shields” by the insurgents. While buses and other vehicles were waiting to ferry civilians out of the conflict zone, video footage recorded militants shelling and sniping at the humanitarian aid effort.
Those violations corroborated what citizens in east Aleppo have been saying for a long time – that they are being held against their will by the gunmen. Besieged people are even calling on the Syrian and Russian forces to continue in their operations to break the hostage situation and liberate that part of the city.
All across Syria, hundreds of villages and towns have been liberated by the Syrian army and its Russian allies since Putin ordered his air force to intervene in the stricken country at the end of last year.
One of the recent successes was the town of Qudsaya near the capital Damascus. Last week, thousands of residents rallied in the main square cheering President Bashar Assad, the Syrian army and Russia for their “liberation” after the foreign-backed mercenaries were routed from the town.
The foreign backers of the mercenary army that has plunged Syria into horror since March 2011 – with perhaps half a million dead – include the supposedly leading EU members Britain and France. Hollande is on record for admitting that France supplied weapons to insurgents in Syria as far back as 2012, when the siege of Aleppo began, and in breach of a European arms embargo.
What is going on in Syria is a military victory over a foreign-sponsored terrorist war on that country. Russia’s role in the liberation of Syria is principled and commendable.
Those who should be facing prosecution for war crimes include pious, pompous government leaders, past and present, in London and Paris.
If such prominent EU governments can be so wrong and distorting about something so glaringly obvious as Syria and Russia’s support, then no wonder the EU is in free-fall over so many other pressing matters. With criminally incompetent politicians in power, the EU is a bus with its driver slumped at the wheel.
An Israeli archaeological expert has asserted that there is no relation between the Western Wall of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and an ancient Jewish temple, Al Jazeera reported today. This will likely serve to undermine Israeli excavations of the site.
Meir Ben-Dov, an Israeli archaeological expert who is author of many books about Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, further asserted that the Wailing Wall, the Jewish name for the Western Wall, has no sacred significance in the Jewish faith.
In related news, UNESCO members are expected to vote on a resolution that denies Jewish links to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, known as the Buraq Wall to Muslims, agencies reported on Thursday.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that the resolution is expected to pass by a large majority, referring this to the inability of Israeli lobbying to persuade UNESCO members not to support the resolution.
“Israel has made efforts to block the resolution or at least soften it, but succeeded only in swaying the positions of a few member states,” Haaretz stated.
The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan pushed the draft resolution forward that declares that Jerusalem is holy for all the three Abrahamic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The draft also includes a section that stresses that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred only for the Muslims, referring to it as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or the Sacred Sanctuary.
In April, UNESCO’s executive board ratified a similar resolution, which was supported by a number of European countries, including France.
However, after a “harsh” telephone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Francois Hollande, France promised not to support any such resolution in the future.
French President Francois Hollande has confessed that the country delivered various kinds of weapons, including lethal ones, to foreign-backed militants fighting in Syria, a new book reveals.
“We began when we were certain they (weapons) would end up in the right hands. For the lethal weapons it was our services who delivered them,” Hollande told author Xavier Panon in an interview in May last year.
The book, titled “In the corridors of French diplomacy,” is coming out in France this month.
According to Hollande, France sent canons, machine guns, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles to the militants fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2012 despite an arms embargo.
The European Union’s arms embargo on Syria’s foreign-sponsored militants was in place from March 2011 to May 2013.
The book also discloses a series of diplomatic and military measures against the Syrian administration by the French government both under Hollande and previous president Nicolas Sarkozy.
One of the moves was a series of planned August 2013 air raids against the Syrian government allegedly for its use of chemical weapons, which Washington and its Western allies rescinded after a diplomatic deal, under which Syria agreed to eliminate its stockpile of chemical weapons by mid-2014.
The planned attacks had two objectives, to change the “political order” in Syria and to destabilize Russia, which supports Damascus, in order to pressure Moscow into changing its approach to the crisis, a political advisor told the author.
Syria has been grappling with a deadly crisis since March 2011. The US and its regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – have been supporting the militants operating inside Syria since the beginning of the crisis.
The violence fueled by Takfiri groups has so far claimed the lives of over 222,000 people, according to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says over 7.2 million people have been internally displaced, and more than 3 million have been forced to flee the country.
President François Hollande of France has explained to the world why nuclear weapons must be banned and eliminated. Not intentionally, of course. Not because he made the fallacious argument that nuclear weapons make France more secure in a dangerous world (although he did); not because he lumped every conceivable and inconceivable threat to France into a confusing hash and came up with nuclear weapons as the final answer to every one (although he did that, too); and not because be shamelessly contradicted himself on the fundamental point that France is a champion of nuclear disarmament but finds its own “nuclear deterrent” indispensible (all the nuclear-armed States suffer from that particular mental health problem, as Sue Wareham has diagnosed it elsewhere on this blog).
In fact, his speech on February 19 to the French military and political elite at Istres Air Force Base was more frightening than that. I don’t want to twist his words, so here’s exactly what President Hollande said, taken from the English translation of the speech released by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
“Our nuclear forces must be capable of inflicting absolutely unacceptable damages for the adversary, upon its centres of power, its political, economic and military nerve centres.” And since “the Head of State is the first citizen in France to speak and decide,” it’s up to President Hollande (or one of his successors) to decide if and when nuclear weapons will be used to “preserve the life of our nation.”
Never mind that this is delusional Cold-War thinking at its worst, since any use of nuclear weapons by France would almost certainly result in the use of nuclear weapons against France, rendering the “integrity of [it’s] territory” somewhat tentative. Never mind that the entire concept of nuclear deterrence—“to prevent any threat of blackmail by another state”—is itself the most extreme threat of blackmail. Never mind that every word of this speech ignores the evidence about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons presented at three international conferences over the past two years and is an arrogant attempt to rescue nuclear weapons from stigmatization.
No, what makes the French president’s tribute to “the credibility of our deterrence force” truly terrifying is that he has claimed the right to use nuclear weapons, more or less on his own say so, in order to make sure no one messes with France’s (or, I kid you not, Sony’s) “vital interests.” Apparently no price, not even the end the world (which would be a bit inconvenient for French citizens in a permanent season of nuclear winter), is too high to pay for “independence, freedom, and the ability to ensure our values prevail.” Which begs the question, what values are those, exactly, that prepare one to inflict “absolutely unacceptable damages” on millions upon millions of people?
Perhaps the rest of us lack President Hollande’s poetic vision. “France has, with its partners,” he said, “built a community of destiny,” with nuclear weapons as the ultimate expression of “heartfelt solidarity.” In a way, he’s right. But how many of you care to join him in that destiny?
LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande agreed Friday to beef up the two countries’ cooperation in defense, nuclear energy and climate policy.
Britain and France inked the cooperation deals at the UK-France Summit 2014 held in British royal air force station RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire of southeast England.
The two countries issued a communique setting out plans for joint investment in the procurement of defense equipment, joint training of armed forces and continued development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, an Anglo-French joint military training and operation program.
“Britain and France are natural partners for defense cooperation,” British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said, adding that the agreements reached at the summit would enhance the “interoperability” of British and French forces.
According to the agreements, the two countries are set to launch a two-year-long joint feasibility study program with an investment of 120 million pounds (about 197.4 million U.S. dollars) for a future Anglo-French combat air system.
Britain and France also agreed to invest in Britain’s major nuclear weapons base, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, to carry out safe testing of British and French stockpiles and achieve greater sharing of technical and scientific data for joint research.
The two nations pledged to join hands in tackling security issues, such as terrorism and drug and arms trafficking, in north and west Africa, as well as building on international peacekeeping missions in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic.
In addition, the two sides declared their commitment to developing safe nuclear energy, collaborating on new nuclear power stations, combating climate change and pushing for European Commission’s domestic emissions reduction agenda.
“We reiterated our resolve to work together towards achieving an ambitious and legally-binding agreement at the next COP (UN Conference of the Parties on Climate Change) in Paris in 2015,” said Edward Davey, British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Now that Prime Minister David Cameron has sought parliamentary approval for “military action” against Syria and President Barack Obama has announced his intention to seek congressional approval, can President François Hollande, as a political if not a strictly constitutional matter, afford not to do likewise?
A parliamentary session devoted to Syria is already scheduled for September 4, although no formal vote had been planned.
Hollande’s Socialist Party has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly and a razor-thin majority in the Senate. Party discipline in France tends to be more rigid and dependable than in the U.S. and the U.K., but the most recent poll showed 64% of the French people opposed to French involvement in any “military action” against Syria.
It would therefore be both highly interesting and encouraging for the future of democracy in France if Hollande were to permit a free and open debate and vote on this important issue.
However, there is another important issue which Hollande should keep in mind or factor into his thinking if no one has yet alerted to it.
When the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court was being negotiated, certain Western states insisted on a seven-year moratorium before the “crime of aggression” was added to the crimes over which the ICC would have jurisdiction if they were committed either by a State Party of the ICC or on the territory a State Party. This effectively gave habitual and potential aggressors a window of opportunity to continue committing acts of aggression, which was very fortunate for former British prime minister Tony Blair, whose country is a State Party but who therefore enjoys immunity and impunity (at least insofar as ICC jurisdiction is concerned) with respect to his role in the crime of aggression against Iraq in 2003.
However, that window of opportunity was closed on June 11, 2010, when the crime of aggression was inserted into the Rome Statute as one of the crimes over which the ICC now has jurisdiction.
While neither Syria nor the United States is among the 122 States Parties of the ICC (so that only a referral by the UN Security Council can give the ICC jurisdiction over their citizens or over crimes committed on their territory), France is a State Party of the ICC.
Article 8bis (1) of the Rome Statute, as added in 2010, reads: “For the purposes of this Statute, ‘crime of aggression’ means the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.” Included in the subsequent listing of acts constituting “aggression” is, at Article 8bis (2)(b): “Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State.”
In the absence of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing “military action” against Syria, these provisions fit the aggression being planned by Presidents Obama and Hollande “like a glove”. Even the most imaginative defense lawyer would struggle to imagine a defense.
The ICC is understandably uncomfortable with the awkward fact that, in over a decade of existence, it has indicted only Africans. If for no other reason than the institutional imperative of the court’s own credibility, there is a compelling need to indict some non-African as soon as the court’s restricted jurisdiction and the gravity and exemplarity of a crime permit.
Nothing could enhance the credibility of the court more than the indictment of the head of state or government of one of the major Western powers.
At the same time, nothing else could so constructively enhance the concept and stature of international law, the belief that international law is not simply (as it has tended to be) a stick with which the rich and powerful beat the poor and weak and the idea that even the rich and powerful do not enjoy immunity and impunity before the rules of international law.
Indeed, nothing else could so effectively enhance the chances for a more peaceful world.
For any number of good reasons, it is to be fervently hoped that, in the end, François Hollande will not choose to participate in the “planning, preparation, initiation or execution” of the crime of aggression against Syria. However, should he do so, his transfer to The Hague could be the only good result of this folly.
John V. Whitbeck is a Paris-based international lawyer.
The speed and extent with which French warplanes have been deployed over the weekend in the West African country, Mali, point to a well-honed plan for intervention by the former colonial power.
Indeed, such is the careful choreography of this salient military development that one could say that the French have finally given themselves a green light to execute a plan they had been pushing over several months. That plan is nothing less than the neocolonial re-conquest of its former colony in the strategically important West African region.
Within hours of the Malian government requesting military support to counter an advance by rebels from the northern territory, French warplanes began carrying out air strikes on Friday. The attack sorties have reportedly been conducted for at least three consecutive days. Media reports said that French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets had struck across a wide belt of the remote Sahelian country, from Gao and Kidal in the northeast, near the border with Algeria, to the western town of Lere, close to Mauritania.
The warplanes were dispatched from France and also reportedly from Chad. The French government claimed that it had been granted over-flight permission by Algeria. Both North African neighboring countries are also former French colonies.
The air strikes by the French jets on at least six widely dispersed target areas within Mali cover an operational distance of nearly 2,000 kilometers, from east to west. This level of co-ordination indicates several weeks of planning and belies the appearance that the French government was responding in an impromptu fashion to a sudden call for assistance from the Paris-aligned Malian authorities.
In addition, over the weekend some 500 French troops arrived in the southern Malian capital of Bamako and the strategic town of Mopti, which is situated near the rebel-held northern territory.
The dramatic French intervention has all the hallmarks of a meticulous plan that was on a hair-trigger for action. The taking over by rebels last Thursday of the town of Konna, 45 kilometers from Mopti, near the de facto north-south frontier, and the subsequent alarm call from the Malian government in Bamako can therefore be seen as merely a green light for the detailed French plan to swing into action.
Furthermore, the French government has received swift support from other European countries and the United States. Britain has sent RAF CI7 cargo planes from a base in East England to Paris in order to help with French supply of troops, helicopters, trucks other heavy equipment. Washington has said it will provide logistics and communications. Both American and French surveillance drones have been operational in Mali and adjacent countries for months now.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was quick to hail the weekend air strikes a success in halting Malian “terrorists.” Fabius said the French military involvement would be for a “matter of weeks.” However, the extensive mobilization of troops and warplanes and the geopolitical backdrop to the development suggest otherwise. Perhaps mindful of this, Fabius was keen to emphasize that the Mali intervention would not turn out to be “another Afghanistan.”
Officially, Paris, London and Washington have up to now been pushing for an African-led intervention force to take the military lead in assisting the Malian government to quash a separatist rebellion in the northern half of the country. The northern region was taken over last April by Tuareg rebels in league with Islamist militia belonging to Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The rebels have managed to consolidate their control over the vast and largely desert region around the main city of Timbuktu. Northern Mali covers an area the size of France and is sparsely populated with less than two million people.
West African states, including Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, are charged with assembling an intervention force at the behest of the Western powers. Last month, the United Nations Security Council gave final approval for the West African military mission to shore up the shaky government that is based in Bamako in the far south of the country, thousands of kilometers from the upper northern region.
Following the Security Council vote, diplomats at the UN and in West African capitals were talking about the combined African mission of some 3,500 troops being deployed much later this year, in September at the earliest. This was a view held by Romano Prodi, the UN’s top envoy to Mali, which was reported only days before the French military intervention.
The abrupt side-stepping of the African forces points up the real agenda of the Western powers and France in particular. What we are seeing now, with the rapid, large-scale French deployment, is the true neocolonial nature of this agenda. All the previous talk by Paris, London and Washington on the importance of intervention having “an African face” can be seen as cynical cover for direct Western action.
Only three months ago, President Francois Hollande vowed to French media that there would be “no French boots on the ground” in Mali. Evidently, official calculations have changed.
France and its Western allies have been assiduously taking up the international security threat allegedly posed by the rebels in Mali. Much is being made of alleged links between the Islamist militants and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. President Hollande has repeatedly warned that French and European security is at risk if the rebels in Mali strengthen their control.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend: “Both leaders [Cameron and Hollande] agreed that the situation in Mali poses a real threat to international security given the terrorist activity there.”
American politicians, military chiefs and media have also been waxing lyrical for months on how Mali represents the globe’s new “terror central” and that Western governments must act decisively to defeat the danger.
However, the precise nature of this “Islamist threat” from Mali is never spelled out or evidenced. We are expected to accept the word of Paris, London and Washington – the rogue states that have and are conducting illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
What we do know, however, is that the half century post-colonial borders of Mali are an alien imposition on nomadic peoples in the northern region – cultures that date backed thousands of years. Their rebellion against a remote and up to now indifferent colonialist-appointed administration in Bamako is probably a just cause. The French and its Western allies are therefore maligning an internal dispute within Mali with another specious “war on terror” narrative and in that way these powers are giving themselves a mandate to meddle in that country.
France being the former colonial master and with decades of covert military assets in the region is the “natural” choice among the Western powers to lead a neo-imperialist adventure in this strategically important region.
Mali has abundant riches in natural resources of metals and minerals. It is a major source of gold and uranium, as well as iron, copper, tin and manganese, and also versatile minerals such as phosphates, salt and limestone.
Moreover, the West Africa region has awesome potential for agriculture and oil. The Gulf of Guinea off Ghana and Nigeria is earmarked to become a leading oil and gas supply region to world markets in the coming years.
Military intervention by France and the other Western powers in Mali – under the guise of “defeating terrorism” – is a bridgehead for Western capital and corporations, not only into a resource-rich country, but into a large chunk of the entire African continent. In 2011, NATO’s bombardment of Libya and French subversion of elections in Cote D’Ivoire marked a new beginning of Western neo-imperialism in Africa.
The US is looking into supporting French military intervention in its former African colony of Mali, by offering to provide “surveillance drones” as it has already declared its backing of moves against Malian militants.
US commanders were further considering other options such as “providing intelligence and aerial refueling tankers” as well as “logistical backup and boosting intelligence sharing,” involving its surveillance drones, AFP reported Friday, quoting an unnamed US official that spoke on condition of anonymity.
The report also quotes its anonymous source as saying that senior American officials held talks with their French counterparts as well as authorities from other European allies in Paris on “an action plan” against militants controlling a northern portion of the Muslim country.
The US military holds a network of major air bases in Italy, Spain and other western European countries and could back the French military intervention by providing it with refueling tankers and other logistical assistance.
Paris-backed Malian government forces, the report says, began a military offensive against militants that have seized control of the north of the West African states with aerial support from French war planes.
French President Francois Hollande has confirmed his country’s military intervention against what he has described as ‘al-Qaeda-linked radicals’ in Mali.
Previously, the US had raised alarms about the militants in Mali, blaming them for involvement in an attack against the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that led to the killing of its ambassador and three CIA operatives in the neighboring country.
The US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor is also cited in the report as vowing support for French objectives in the West African country.
“We have noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region,” he is quoted as saying in the report.
Hollande, meanwhile, has insisted that France’s military intervention in Mali would continue “for as long as is necessary.”
- French troops begin military intervention in Mali: Hollande (alethonews.wordpress.com)
France’s President Francois Hollande says French troops have started military intervention in Mali to help the Malian government repel the rebels that control the northern part of the West African country.
“I have agreed to Mali’s demand, which means French forces have provided support to Mali this afternoon…. This operation will last as long as is necessary,” Hollande said on Friday.
He added that French forces had arrived in the capital, Bamako, hours earlier.
Malian officials say troops from Nigeria and Senegal have already arrived on the ground to support government forces in their battle against the militants.
“Today, we have partners from Nigeria, Senegal…and more on the ground, to give us some assistance,” Oumar Dao, chief of operations at the Mali Defense Ministry, said earlier in the day.
“Our operational team will define what kind of aid they will provide,” Dao added.
The reports of the deployment of foreign troops in Mali come just a day after militants seized the central town of Konna.
In December 2012, the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of foreign military forces in Mali to help the African government battle the militants.
The 15-member Security Council authorized an initial one-year deployment of African Union forces in the country. The resolution, drafted by France, also authorized all European Union member states to help rebuild Mali’s security forces.
Chaos broke out in the West African country after Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup on March 22, 2012. The coup leaders said they had mounted the coup in response to the government’s inability to contain the two-month Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.
Iran’s main automobile company, Iran Khodro, says it is coping with a decision early this year by troubled French car maker Peugeot to halt exports of vehicle kits for assembly, according to reports on Wednesday.
“Iran Khodro has managed to become self-sufficient in producing 90 percent of the parts for the (popular Peugeot model) 206, and an effort is being made to use local suppliers for parts that were previously imported,” Hossein Najari, Deputy CEO for production was quoted as saying.
Peugeot’s parent company PSA Peugeot Citroen in February suspended its sales of car assembly kits to Iran, which had been its top export market in terms of trade volume up to then.
The decision appeared to be tied to Peugeot’s alliance with U.S. group General Motors, and U.S. sanctions pressure on Iran.
PSA Peugeot Citroen on Wednesday announced it will seek to cut 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion dollars) in costs over the next three years after declaring a 819-million-euro ($989-million) loss for the first half of 2012.
Its exports to Iran, where locally assembled versions of its 405 and 206 models are prevalent on the roads, represented up to 800 million euros in revenue per year before they were suspended, according to figures given in Tehran.
The maker of two-thirds of France’s cars is in a tailspin as a deepening recession in many markets in Europe takes its toll on its business — Europe is Peugeot’s main market. The company’s share price has more than halved since March.
The first-half loss contrasts starkly with a profit of €805 million in the same period last year and came on the back of a 5.1 percent fall in revenue to €29.6 billion.
The company doesn’t expect Europe to pick up anytime soon, saying Wednesday that it expects its European market to contract by 8 percent this year.
In response, Peugeot announced earlier this month that it would close a major factory in France and cut 8,000 jobs — part of a plan to save €2.5 billion by 2015. Those savings will also come from efficiencies gained by an alliance with General Motors. About half — €1 billion — of those savings will come this year alone.
“The group is facing a difficult time,” Chairman Philippe Varin said. “The depth and persistence of the crisis impacting our business in Europe requires the launch of the reorganization of our French production and a reduction in our structural costs.”
But the company’s cost-cutting plans have run afoul of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist administration, which has said the restructuring is unacceptable and that it will force Peugeot to save some of the jobs it wants to eliminate.
On Wednesday, the government will unveil a plan to support the auto industry — part of its carrot-and-stick strategy with Peugeot. It’s expected to give incentives to French consumers to buy French cars and to support the clean-energy vehicles that the company excels at.
But much of Peugeot’s problems stem from an over-supplied European car market, and it’s unclear how much the government can do for the company. France’s car industry was already given a bailout under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
- Sanctions on Iran force French auto job losses (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Peugeot First-Half Profit Plunges on Europe Sales Decline – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
The situation in Mali, the country most closely located to the “zone of stability and security” purportedly created by NATO in Libya, is far from being stable or secure. The international news agencies and world press are reporting horror stories about the rule of terror, established by the jihadist movements in the north-east of this country, previously dominated by the local Tuaregs.
There are two interesting conclusions that the world’s politicians and experts draw from the developments in Mali. First, it is recognized that destabilization of Mali was one of the results of the military intervention of NATO in Libya (the Tuaregs, who in fact unleashed the military action, were armed by weapons from colonel Qaddafi’s ransacked arsenals). Second, the proposed solution to the crisis, heavily lobbied by France, is… another military intervention, this time in Mali. Obviously, the “zone of stability and security” has for some reason got a unique ability to spawn new conflicts.
The only “political heavyweight” on the world stage who predicted undesirable developments in Mali in the immediate aftermath of the Libyan coup was the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. In April this year, during a visit to Azerbaijan, he sketched the negative scenario which unfortunately proved to be true: “The Libyan story is far from over. We see how the statehood of Mali is being destroyed under our very eyes. What is the reason for that? Besides the unending skirmishes in Libya itself, instability is flowing into neighboring states via arms smuggling, infiltration of fighters. What we see in Mali is just the result of these processes.”
What is indeed astounding is the fact that the NATO countries continue to trumpet their operation in Libya as a great success. State secretary Hillary Clinton, for example, praised the victory of “secular liberals” at recently held elections in Libya (which would indeed be great, if “secularists” had not had a discussion on an innocent point – whether sharia should be the main law of the country or, even better, the only law). In her comments, Mrs. Clinton carefully avoids making a link between the destruction of Qaddafi’s regime and the sudden replenishment of the arsenals of AQMI (the French abbreviation for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Ansar Dine, the two most violent groups of the jihadist movement in Northern Africa, which ultimately took control of north-eastern Mali.
“During Qaddafi’s rule, we did not know about these groups,” says from Mali’s capital Bamako Caroline Tuina-Ouanre, a journalist from neighboring Burkina Fasso, specializing on covering the developments in Sahel, a region in Africa where both Mali and Burkina Fasso belong. “Obviously, they did not get their arms from nowhere. They got them profiting from the collapse of the Libyan regime, which in itself was a result of the Western intervention. It made AQMI much stronger, this is a proven fact, long reported by the French-language press of Africa, from Morocco to Burkina.”
France, the country that actually engineered the Western intervention in Libya, is now the primary supporter of an intervention in Mali. However, the French president Francois Hollande said that “for obvious reasons” (meaning, obviously, the history of French colonialism in the region) France was unwilling to intervene on its own. “The intervention should take place in the framework of the African Union and under the auspices of the United Nations.” Hollande said.
The irony of the situation is that the African Union was resolutely opposed to the Western intervention in Libya in 2011, saying that such an intervention would undermine regional security. The South African leader Jacob Zuma, a key figure in the AU, and the Algerian president Abdelaziz Buteflica were among the most vocal opponents of the physical destruction of colonel Qaddafi. And now France wants Buteflica’s Algeria to spearhead the eventual intervention in Mali. In 2011, both U.S. and the EU ignored the African Union’s protests, trumpeting the removal of Qaddafi as a 100 percent positive development, a “victory for democracy.” So, now France is asking the African Union to make up for its misdeeds in the area – misdeeds that the AU never approved.
- US vows to back French military intervention in former colony Mali (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- French troops begin military intervention in Mali: Hollande (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Propaganda War: The Houla Massacre Committed by The West’s “Free Syrian Army” But They Accuse Syrian Gov’t
[The] 108 bodies were laid out by the Free ’Syrian’ Army  in a mosque in Houla. According to the rebels, these were the remains of civilians massacred on 25 May 2012 by pro-government militia known as ‘Shabbihas’.
The Syrian government appeared completely shocked by the news. It immediately condemned the killings, which it attributed to the armed opposition.
While the national news agency, SANA, was unable to provide details with certainty, the Syrian Catholic news agency, Vox Clamantis, immediately issued a testimony of some of the events formally accusing the opposition .
Five days later, the Russian news channel Rossiya 24 (exVesti) aired a very detailed 45-minute report, which remains to date the most comprehensive public inquiry .
The West and Gulf States who are working towards a “regime change” in Syria and have already recognized the opposition as a privileged interlocutor, have adopted the FSA’s version of events without waiting for the report from the United Nations Supervision Mission (UNSMIS).
As a sanction, most of them have resorted to a prearranged measure, namely the expulsion of Syrian ambassadors to their respective countries. This does not represent a rupture of diplomatic relations, as the rest of the accredited Syrian diplomatic personnel will remain stationed where they are.
The United Nations Security Council adopted a presidential statement condemning the massacre without indicating who was responsible. It furthermore reminded the Syrian government of its responsibilities, namely the protection of its people using proportionate measures, that’s to say without the use of heavy weapons .
Contrary to this, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay endorsed the allegations blaming the Syrian authorities, and demanded that the case be transferred to the International Criminal Court.
French President François Hollande and his Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius have announced their intention to convince Russia and China not to obstruct a future Security Council’s resolution authorizing the use of force, while the French press is accusing Russia and China of protecting a criminal regime.
Responding to these charges, Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Denissov expressed regret over France’s “basically emotional reaction” – devoid of analysis. He reiterated that the steadfast position of his country, in this case as for others, is not to support governments, but peoples (it being understood that the Syrian people elected President al-Assad at the last constitutional referendum).
The United Nations Supervision Mission went to Damascus at the request of the Syrian government. It was received by the opposition who control this zone, and was able to establish various observations to be used in writing its status report.
At an internal press briefing, the President of the Syrian investigation Commission into the massacre read a brief statement revealing the initial elements of the current investigation. According to him, the massacre was carried out by the opposition as part of an FSA military operation in the area.
Aware that the findings of the UN Supervision Mission report may backfire on them, the Western countries requested that the Human Rights Council in Geneva (which is under their control) set up another investigation Commission. A report from this body could be produced quickly in order to impose a version of events before the Supervision Mission is able to draw its own conclusions.
How can we know what happened in Houla?
Two main factors are impeding the work of investigators. The Syrian government lost control of Houla many weeks ago. Syrian magistrates are therefore unable to go to Houla, and even if some journalists are able to do so, this is only with the permission of and under close surveillance by the FSA.
There is however one exception: a team from Rossiya 24, the 24-hour Russian news channel was able to move around the area without an escort, and produce an exceptionally detailed report.
The official Syrian Commission claims to have collected several witness statements, but has declared that these shall only be presented to the press once the final report has been established. At present, the identity of these witnesses remains protected by investigation secrecy. However, several of the accounts were broadcast on public television on 1st June.
The investigators are also in possession of videos provided exclusively by the FSA.
Lastly, since the FSA amassed the bodies in a mosque and began burying them the very next day, it was not possible for UN observers to carry out forensic assessments on many of the dead.
Voltaire Network ’s conclusions
Houla is not a town, but an administrative area made up of three villages, each with about 25,000 residents but which today lie largely abandoned. The Sunni market town of Tal Daw has been under rebel control for many weeks. The Free “Syrian” Army had imposed its rule there. The national Army was securing transport routes by maintaining several posts on roads within the area, but did not venture beyond these roads.
Certain individuals kidnapped children and attempted unsuccessfully to extort ransoms.  In the end, these children were killed a few days before the Houla massacre, but their bodies were brought by the Free “Syrian” Army to be laid out amongst the others.
In the evening of 24 May, the Free “Syrian” Army launched a very large-scale operation to reinforce its control over the region, and to make Tal Daw its new base.
In order to do this, 600-800 combatants from various districts gathered in Rastan and Saan and proceeded to launch simultaneous attacks on the military bases. At the same time, a team was fortifying Tal Daw by installing five anti-tank missile batteries, and purging the town of some of its inhabitants.
The first victims in Tel Daw were a dozen people related to Abd al-Muty Mashlab – a legislator of the recently elected Baas party who was appointed Secretary of the National Assembly; following this, the family of a senior official – Mouawyya al-Sayyed – was killed. Subsequent targets were families of Sunni origin who had converted to Shiite Islam.
Other victims included the family of two journalists for Top News and New Orient News, press agencies associated with Voltaire Network. Many people, including children, were raped before being killed.
With only one of the Army’s bases having fallen, the assailants changed strategy. They transformed a military defeat into a communication operation, attacking the al-Watani hospital and setting fire to it. They took corpses from the hospital morgue and transported them along with those of other victims to the mosque, where the bodies were filmed.
The theory of a single massacre perpetrated by pro-government militia does not stand up to the facts. There were battles which took place between loyalists and rebels, as well as several massacres of pro-government civilians at the hands of the rebels.
Then, a scenario was staged by the Free “Syrian” Army where corpses originating from these various earlier situations were mixed together.
Indeed, the existence of the “Shabbihas” is a myth. Whilst there are certainly individuals in favour of the government who are armed and capable of committing acts of revenge, there is no structure or organized group that could be termed as a pro-government militia.
Political and diplomatic implications
The expulsion of Syrian ambassadors by Western countries is a measure that was planned well in advance and therefore well-coordinated. Westerners were waiting for a massacre of this type before carrying out this action. They ignored numerous previous massacres that they knew had been perpetrated by the Free “Syrian” Army, and seized on this one believing that it had been committed by pro-government militia.
The idea of a coordinated expulsion did not emanate from Paris, rather from Washington. Paris in principle gave its agreement, without having examined the legal implications. For in practice, Lamia Chakkour is also the Syrian Ambassador to UNESCO, and cannot therefore (according to the terms of the accord de siège) be expelled from French territory. Further to this, even if she were not accredited to UNESCO, her French-Syrian dual nationality means that she cannot be expelled from French territory.
These expulsions were coordinated by Washington to create the illusion of a general movement in order to put pressure on Russia. Indeed, the US is looking to test the new international balance of power, to size up Russia’s reactions and to find out how far they will go.
The choice of the Houla affair, however, has been a tactical error. Washington seized upon the affair without checking the details, thinking that nobody would be able to verify it. This was forgetting that Russia has moved into the country – with over 100,000 Russians currently residing in Syria.
Of course, they did not deploy a high-tech anti-aircraft defense system just to discourage NATO from bombarding Syria; they also set up information bases including troops that are able to move around rebel controlled areas.
In this way, Moscow was able to shed light on the facts within a few days. Their specialists succeeded in identifying the 13 members of the FSA guilty of these killings and gave their names to the Syrian authorities. With this, not only did Moscow not waver, it has hardened its stance.
For Vladimir Putin, the fact that the West wanted to make the Houla massacre into their symbol shows that they are out of touch with the reality on the ground. Having withdrawn the officers in charge of the Free “Syrian” Army, the only information available to the West comes from their drones and satellites observing what is happening. They have become vulnerable to the lies and vaunting of the mercenaries they have deployed on the terrain.
For Moscow, this massacre is just another tragedy like many others that Syrians have been enduring for the last year. But hasty instrumentation on the part of the West shows that they have failed to develop a new collective strategy since the fall of the Islamic district of Baba Amr. In essence, they are but acting on guesswork, which is allowing others to gain the upper-hand.
Translated from French by Katy Stone.
 Voltaire Network has chosen to write FSA with ’Syrian’ in inverted commas to indicate that this militia is largely composed of foreigners, and that it’s commander is not Syrian.
 “Irreversible divisons in Syria,” VoxClamantis, 26 May 2012.
 Global Research translated to English the transcript of extracts from this programme, see “Opposition Terrorists “Killed Families Loyal to the Government”“, Voltaire Network 1 June 2012.
 “Syria: What the Security Council Said”, by Thierry Meyssan,Voltaire Network, 6 June 2012.
 This is currently a security problem in the country. Many of the thugs that had been recruited to swell the ranks of the Free “Syrian” Army were demobilized due to lack of funding. Remaining in the possession of arms provided by the West, they are turning to crime – mainly kidnappings for ransom.