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China Warns U.S. to Stay Out of Regional Disputes

© The Associated Press
In Hanoi, a sign read 'Paracel and Spratly islands belong to Vietnam.'
On the eve of talks with the U.S., China warned against American involvement in the increasingly tense territorial disputes in the South China Sea and accused some of China's neighbors of "playing with fire."

Cui Tiankai, vice minister of foreign affairs, blamed other countries in the region - and later singled out Vietnam - for provocation in recent incidents that have rekindled longstanding acrimony over control of areas in the vast stretch of water between them. And he dismissed calls from Vietnam and the Philippines for the U.S. to play a role in resolving those tensions, admonishing that Washington should "approach such issues in a very prudent way."

"I believe some countries now are playing with fire," Mr. Cui told a small group of reporters. "And I hope the U.S. won't be burned by this fire."

The fresh warning highlights the difficult issues that dog ties between Beijing and Washington despite efforts to smooth relations after serious strains last year. The resurgent tension in the South China Sea is likely to feature in Mr. Cui's talks Saturday in Hawaii with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who oversees Asia-Pacific affairs, intended to be the first in a regular series of bilateral consultations on Asia-Pacific issues.

Bizarro Earth

Half a Million Displaced as Khartoum Moves to Crush Sudan's Nuba People

© Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
New fighting has increased the chances that a north-south war will reignite, ending hopes of peaceful partition
Fierce fighting raises fears the country's 22-year civil war will be reignited as the government turns on the north's Africans, sidelined in the south's peace deal

Fierce new fighting along Sudan's volatile north-south divide is raising deep concern for the safety of the Nuba people, the forgotten victims of the country's long-running civil war who are once again under attack by government forces and militias.

The fighting has significantly increased the chances that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war six years ago will collapse, reigniting a north-south war and ending all hopes of peaceful partition when oil-rich South Sudan formally declares itself independent on 9 July.

Many Nuba fought alongside the southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the 22-year war. As black Africans within the Arabised north of Sudan, their hope was that the "New Sudan" promised by the SPLA would end their marginalisation and win respect for Nuba languages, religious observances and culture. The war that began in the 1980s in the Nuba region of South Kordofan was not just a footnote to the war in the south, it was a civil war in its own right, a deep-rooted indigenous rebellion that prompted a declaration of jihad by the Khartoum government in January 1992. Villages were burnt, livestock raided, food stores destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Nuba forced into "peace camps". But the Nuba were short-changed in the CPA. It denied them self-rule and, crucially, did not specify what would happen to the 30,000-strong Nuba rebel army enrolled in the SPLA.

On 5 June, as the Sudanese government army prepared to "control" - disarm - Nuba fighters, fighting erupted in South Kordofan's capital, Kadugli, and spread quickly across most of the region. The battle for Kadugli became a street-by-street war of attrition: Khartoum piled in brigades of regulars and irregulars, and the SPLA relentlessly mortared the army's divisional headquarters.


US Warns Americans Against Joining Gaza Aid Flotilla

© The Associated Press
Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, May 30, 2011. Pro-Palestinian activists marked the first anniversary of a deadly raid by Israel on a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip by gathering on the deck of the same boat, refitted and preparing to sail for Gaza once again next month. An international coalition of activists said Egypt's removal of a 4-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip last weekend will not affect their plans for a new flotilla, which will depart from various European ports in an attempt to breach Israel's sea blockade.
The United States has warned Americans against participating in an international aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A new State Department travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, issued Wednesday, said U.S. citizens could face arrest, prosecution and deportation by Israel if they join the flotilla.

It said the Gaza coast is "dangerous and volatile" and notes the Israeli navy has stopped previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea, resulting in deaths, injuries and arrests.

Arrow Down

Foreign Professionals the Economy Needs 'Not Attracted' to Germany

While German industry continues to try to fill jobs remaining empty as the economy grows, politicians are split on how and even whether to attract foreign professionals, while others say Germany is simply not attractive enough to them.

The pro-business Free Democratic Party wants to lower one barrier by reducing the minimum annual wage a foreigner must earn in Germany to get permission to stay from the current level of €66,000 to €40,000, a suggestion supported by many in the centre-right Christian Democratic Union.

Yet the CDU's Bavarian counterpart the Christian Social Union, CSU, opposes any changes to the immigration laws.

"Those who want that [income limit change], are not after professionals, rather cheap labour," said CSU economic expert Georg Nüßlein told the daily Berliner Zeitung.

There is also conflict within the coalition over whether the rule that employers must show that there is no candidate within Germany or the European Union who can do a job before they offer it to a foreigner, should be lifted altogether.

It has already been suspended for doctors and engineers. FDP parliamentary leader, and recent Economics Minister, Rainer Brüderle said this should be expanded.

"Today perhaps we are missing doctors and engineers, but tomorrow we will be needing professionals in further or other areas," he told the Hamburger Abendblatt.


Germany Prepares to Open Doors to Foreign Professionals

© unknown
German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan said on Tuesday the government would soon ease restrictions on foreign doctors, engineers and other professionals in a bid to plug a yawning gap in the labour market of Europe's top economy.

Schavan told the daily Passauer Neue Presse that the centre-right coalition would this week approve a draft law aimed at attracting thousands of professionals from abroad.

"We agree that the complicated rules of preference (stipulating that jobs must go to Germans first) for engineers as well as doctors must be eliminated," said Schavan, from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats.

"In future, it will no longer have to be proved that no applicant from Germany or the European Union could be found."

Currently employers seeking to hire foreign professionals must undergo a review by the local labour office to determine whether a German was available to fill the job.

Schavan said Berlin would hack away at red tape for sectors in particular need of qualified employees and improve opportunities for foreigners already living in Germany.


Obama Orders Rapid Drawdown of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan

© Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Bloomberg
President Obama announces his plan for winding down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan during a nationally televised speech at the White House.
Citing success in the war against insurgents over the last two years, he calls for 33,000 'surge' troops to begin coming home and says it's time for America to take a more 'pragmatic' approach to military intervention.

Declaring that the "tide of war is receding," President Obama ordered a rapid withdrawal of the 33,000 "surge" troops he sent to Afghanistan and charted a path toward ending large-scale U.S. combat operations in Central Asia.

In a nationally televised address Wednesday evening, Obama took care to emphasize what he sees as the successes of the last two years in Afghanistan, saying he was beginning to draw down the number of U.S. troops "from a position of strength" after an intensive counterinsurgency effort.

"We have put Al Qaeda on a path to defeat," he said, prominently citing the killing of the terrorist network's leader, Osama bin Laden.

And while he briefly acknowledged the reality that U.S. troops would be fighting in Afghanistan for at least another three years and that "huge challenges remain," Obama's emphasis was on a door closing on a decade of war.

"It is time to focus on nation-building here at home," the president said. "These long wars will come to a responsible end."

Obama also sought to draw a larger lesson from the last 10 years of U.S. warfare in the Middle East and Central Asia, saying the country needs to "chart a more centered course" between "an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face" and the urge to "overextend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad."


Julian Assange's New Legal Strategy

© AP
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen at the house where he is required to stay in, near Bungay, England, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Assange says his house arrest over sex allegations is hampering the work of the secret-spilling site, and his supporters accuse Britain of spying on him. The 39-year-old Australian has spent six months at a supporter's rural estate as he fights extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of the rape and sexual assault of two women.
Julian Assange has chosen a new legal team to represent him in his quest to prevent extradition from London to Sweden, where authorities are seeking to interview him in a sexual assault case involving two Swedish women.

Until now, the Assange defense team has disparaged the Swedish assault charges and suggested that once in Swedish hands, the WikiLeaks founder might face extradition to the United States on conspiracy charges carrying a life sentence.

Extensive interviews I conducted last week revealed that the previous Assange legal team had created puzzlement, loss of confidence and even antagonism in Sweden by their attacks on Swedish justice. Though a reasonable paranoia is understandable from the Assange team and from Assange himself, given the calls for the death penalty (by Mike Huckabee) or that he be "hunted down like al Qaeda" (Sarah Palin), not to mention previous renditions of two terrorism suspects from Sweden by the CIA in 2004, the legal strategy has backfired by alienating not only mainstream Swedish opinion but also some among the left and in the peace movement.

The new solicitor on the case is Gareth Peirce, a renowned British human rights advocate who has defended Guantánamo detainees and Irish republicans in previous decades. The barrister who will present Assange's case in the appellate hearing set for July 12 is Ben Emmerson, also a respected human rights attorney who has served as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism.


US: Woman Arrested for Filming Police from Home

A Rochester, NY woman is facing misdemeanor charges after police arrested her for filming a routine traffic stop from her front lawn.

Emily Good began recording officers on her iPhone outside her home after they pulled a man over shortly before 10 p.m. on May 12. Ryan Acuff, a friend of Good, writes that cops stopped a young black male, handcuffed him and detained him in their cruiser while they searched his car for drugs. While the suspect was released, Good wasn't quite as fortunate.

A police report says Officer Mario Masic of the Rochester Police Department is the individual that told Good she had to retreat into her house after he noticed her filming.

Masic asks, "You guys need something?" to which Good responds, "I'm just - this is my front yard - I'm just recording what you're doing. It's my right."

"Actually, not from the sidewalk," replies Masic.

While Good tells the officer that she has the right to record from her front yard, Masic tells her that he doesn't "feel safe" with her there. The woman responds by pointing out that she is nowhere near him and clearly doesn't have a weapon.

Masic alleges on tape that Good and her friend made an "anti-cop" statement before the recording began, but Good, her friend and their neighbors have since disputed that.

"I think, uh, you need to go stay in your house, guys," says Masic.

Good and Masic argue over if she is actually doing anything wrong - or threatening her safety - until the officer comes onto her property and says, "You know what, you're gonna go to jail. That's just not right."


Germany: Women Playing Bigger Role Among Far-Right Extremists

© unknown
What does a Neo-Nazi look like? One's typical stereotype might be of a jackbooted skinhead. But increasing numbers of active right-wing extremists in Germany are actually women, experts say.

Although there are no definitive numbers, up to one-fifth of participants in the far-right scene are female, said Andrea Röpke, who recently released the book Mädelsache! (Girl Thing!) on the topic.

"You can assume that the proportion of women in the right-wing extremist scene is rising," said. "In Berlin and Brandenburg the proportion of women is very, very high."

Röpke said women were valued because they provide stability and a sense of calm to an often violent and virulently xenophobic scene. Often they play the role of organizing less threatening events such as football tournaments of children's parties.

In politics they often try to project a sense of reasonableness by concentrating on social or green issues.

"The women stabilize the scene in the background," she said. "They call themselves the 'community anchor.'"

But though women play a valuable role, it doesn't mean they seen as equal with men. In fact, the opposite is often true and women must hold their tongues in order to be accepted.


Mysteries of a Nazi Photo Album

© private collection via The New York Times
Page 12: Adolf Hitler, persumably waiting for the arrival of Adm. Miklos Horthy, the regent of Hungary.
Readers of Lens and EinesTages quickly figured out that the photographer was Franz Krieger. ("World War II Mystery Solved in a Few Hours.") And that his wife and children did not survive the war.

There are certainly many photo albums of Nazi leaders and many photo albums of the Nazis' victims. But it's hard to imagine many albums depicting both, just a few pages apart.

At least one does, however, and it has surfaced in New York City. Its creator was able - apparently within weeks - to photograph Hitler as he warred on Russia and also to photograph some of the earliest victims of that brutal campaign, known as Operation Barbarossa, which began 70 years ago Wednesday.

Two pages in this album, on the Eastern Front in 1941, are devoted to prisoners. Some are dressed in rags, some dressed in uniforms of the Red Army, some wearing jackets with Star of David patches. They stand before what might be freshly dug graves. (Their own? Their landsmen?) In six almost intimate pictures, verging on portraiture, men gaze hollowly or defiantly at the camera.

Four pages later, there is Hitler himself, waiting at a train station for the arrival of Adm. Miklos Horthy, the regent of Hungary, with whom he will shortly be bargaining at the East Prussian war headquarters known as the Wolf's Lair. The photographer stands just a few feet from Hitler, almost as close to the Führer as he stood to the Führer's prisoners.

Clearly, this photographer had a lot of access - and not a little talent.