Ahad, 27 Oktober 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

German paper says Obama aware of spying on Merkel since 2010


BERLIN (Reuters) - A German newspaper said on Sunday that U.S. President Barack Obama knew his intelligence service was eavesdropping on Angela Merkel as long ago as 2010, contradicting reports that he had told the German leader he did not know.

Germany received information this week that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged Merkel's mobile phone, prompting Berlin to summon the U.S. ambassador, a move unprecedented in post-war relations between the close allies.

Reuters was unable to confirm Sunday's news report. The NSA denied that Obama had been informed about the operation by the NSA chief in 2010, as reported by the German newspaper. But the agency did not comment directly on whether Obama knew about the bugging of Merkel's phone.

Both the White House and the German government declined comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the NSA ended the program that involved Merkel after the operation was uncovered in an Obama administration review that began this summer. The program also involved as many as 35 other world leaders, some of whom were still being monitored, according to the report, which was attributed to U.S. officials.

In response to the WSJ report, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden noted in a statement that Obama had ordered a review of U.S. surveillance capabilities.

"Through this review, led by the White House, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we properly account for the security concerns of our citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people share," Hayden said, adding that she was not in a position to discuss the details.

Citing a source in Merkel's office, some German media have reported that Obama apologised to Merkel when she called him on Wednesday, and told her that he would have stopped the bugging happening had he known about it.

But Bild am Sonntag, citing a "U.S. intelligence worker involved in the NSA operation against Merkel", said NSA chief General Keith Alexander informed Obama in person about it in 2010.

"Obama didn't stop the operation back then but let it continue," the mass-market paper quoted the source as saying.

The NSA said, however, that Alexander had never discussed any intelligence operations involving Merkel with Obama.

"(General) Alexander did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel", NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in an emailed statement.

"News reports claiming otherwise are not true."

Bild am Sonntag said Obama in fact wanted more material on Merkel, and ordered the NSA to compile a "comprehensive dossier" on her. "Obama, according to the NSA man, did not trust Merkel and wanted to know everything about the German," the paper said.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment and reiterated the standard policy line that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.

Bild said the NSA had increased its surveillance, including the contents of Merkel's text messages and phone calls, on Obama's initiative and had started tapping a new, supposedly bug-proof mobile she acquired this summer, a sign the spying continued into the "recent past".

The NSA first eavesdropped on Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder after he refused to support President George W. Bush's war in Iraq and was extended when Merkel took over in 2005, the paper said.

Eighteen NSA staff working in the U.S. embassy, some 800 metres (yards) from Merkel's office, sent their findings straight to the White House, rather than to NSA headquarters, the paper said. Only Merkel's encrypted landline in her office in the Chancellery had not been tapped, it added.

Bild said some NSA officials were becoming annoyed with the White House for creating the impression that U.S. spies had gone beyond what they had been ordered to do.


Merkel has said she uses one mobile phone and that all state-related calls are made from encrypted lines.

The rift over U.S. surveillance activities first emerged this year with reports that Washington had bugged European Union offices and tapped half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month.

Merkel's government said in August - just weeks before a German election - that the United States had given sufficient assurances it was complying with German law.

This week's news has reignited criticism of the U.S. surveillance. Volker Kauder, head of Merkel's party in parliament, called it a "grave breach of trust" and said the United States should drop its "global power demeanour".

Kauder said, however, that he was against halting negotiations on a European free trade agreement with the United States, a call made by Social Democrats and some of Merkel's Bavarian allies.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Bild am Sonntag: "Bugging is a crime and those responsible for it must be held to account."

The Social Democrats, with whom Merkel is holding talks to form a new government, have joined calls from two smaller opposition parties for a parliamentary investigation into the U.S. surveillance, but Kauder has rejected the idea.

SPD parliamentary whip Thomas Oppermann said former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked many of the sensitive documents, could be called as a witness. Snowden is living in Russia, out of reach of U.S. attempts to arrest him.

(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Additional reporting by Anna Yukhananov in Washington; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Alistair Lyon, Christopher Wilson and Paul Simao)

Hawaii lawmakers to hold special session to consider gay marriage


HONOLULU (Reuters) - Hawaii, which had a pioneering role in the acceptance of same-sex matrimony in the United States two decades ago, could become the 15th state to extend marriage rights to gay couples when state lawmakers meet this week for a special session.

Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, has called the session to start on Monday to debate a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.

"I think Hawaii has always celebrated its sense of Aloha for one another," Abercrombie said in a telephone interview. "This is a question of equity."

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled it was discriminatory to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

But rather than pave the way for a gay marriage law, the ruling prompted a conservative backlash. In 1998, Hawaiian voters approved a state constitutional amendment that limited the right to marry to heterosexual couples.

The tide has begun to turn under Abercrombie, who was elected in 2010. He signed a same-sex civil unions bill into law in 2011 and has been a vocal proponent of gay marriage since then.

"To win now through the political process in Hawaii would show just how far public opinion in our nation has evolved, and how quickly," said Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, which promotes gay civil rights. "It would demonstrate that ... allowing same-sex couples the same right to marry that different-sex couples cherish only provides greater joy and security to more families, and harms no one."

Just one year ago, only six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark victory for gay rights by forcing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal and paving the way for gay marriage in California.

But the court did not endorse a fundamental right for gay people to marry, leaving the issue to be decided on a state-by-state basis, at least for now. Same-sex couples and gay rights organizations now have 36 lawsuits pending in 20 states, according to Davidson.

Last week, same-sex weddings started in New Jersey, and the high court in New Mexico heard arguments on whether gay marriage should be recognized there statewide.

Lawmakers in Illinois are also considering the issue.

"This is an issue where we've hit a tipping point," said James Esseks, who oversees gay rights advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union. "The momentum we have is striking."


The debate over same-sex matrimony has long divided the Aloha State, and the special legislative session is being greeted by rival demonstrations.

On Sunday, a crowd of about 300 gay marriage proponents staged an "All You Need is Love" rally at the state Capitol in Honolulu in support of state Senate Bill 1, which is due for its first hearing on Monday morning.

Men, women and children wearing colourful silk flower garlands, or leis, waved giant rainbow flags and carried signs urging passage of the measure. Some sat down at computers provided by organizers to type out statements to be presented as written testimony to legislators for the hearing.

"I am just as deserving of participating in the tradition of marriage as anyone," said Valerie Smith, 42, a school teacher who said she was just days away from giving birth to her first child but hoped to hold off delivery until she and her partner can get married in Hawaii.

They also wed in Canada in 2009 but would like to have their union legalized in their home state and their own country.

"When people tell me I don't have a right to get married, they're telling me I don't have a right to be a part of society," she said. "No one owns marriage."

Opponents of the bill who favour leaving the outcome of the debate to voters, plan to make their voices heard on Monday with a separate "Let the People Decide" gathering.

"They're starting House hearings on Halloween, when many of those opposed will be busy with their families, so we're telling people to bring their kids trick-or-treating at the state capitol," said Jim Hochberg, president of Hawaii Family Advocates, the leading group opposing the governor's bill.

Donald Bentz, head of the gay rights group Equality Hawaii, said he was hopeful the bill would pass, adding it was bad policy to allow voters - rather than lawmakers or the courts - to decide civil rights questions.

"Whenever you leave the rights of a minority up to the majority, that's a bad day," he said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)

Fernandez's allies thumped in Argentina mid-term vote


BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's allies took a beating in mid-term elections on Sunday, shrinking her majority in Congress, ending chances of a constitutional change to allow her a third term and kicking off the contest to succeed her in 2015.

Voters chose half of the lower house of Congress and a third of the Senate. With 62 percent of ballot boxes counted, the government said the opposition was ahead throughout the country.

Re-elected in 2011 on promises of increasing state control in Latin America's No. 3 economy, Fernandez's political coattails were trimmed by inflation, clocked by private analysts at 25 percent. Heavy-handed currency controls and falling central bank reserves have dented confidence in her government.

"Seven of every 10 votes cast today went against the government. This election was a triumph for the opposition," said local political analyst Rosendo Fraga.

Candidates sponsored by opposition leader Sergio Massa led the House of Deputies' contest by 43 percent to 32 percent in the key province of Buenos Aires, Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said, citing partial results.

Buenos Aires is home to 40 percent of Argentina's voters and most of the country's agricultural output. The loss in this strategic province was expected to shrink the majority that Fernandez's alliance has in Congress to just a few votes.

Massa, the mayor of the affluent Buenos Aires town of Tigre, headed his own list of candidates for Congress and is seen as a possible, business-friendly presidential contender in 2015.

"Tomorrow, we start with a new political map," said Mauricio Macri, mayor of capital city Buenos Aires and another possible presidential candidate who promises a shift toward market-friendly policies.

Sunday's vote also tested the support of other presidential hopefuls. Julio Cobos, a Radical Party member from Mendoza, won his race, as did Hermes Binner, a socialist from Santa Fe.

Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, an ally of the president despite his market-friendly views, campaigned with her candidates and shared in their defeats, his position weakened.

Over the months ahead, the jockeying among these potential presidential candidates is expected to increase with financial, grains and energy markets watching for signs of policy changes ahead.

At play in 2015 is policy in one of the world's top grains exporters as it struggles to keep up with rising world food demand and attract investment needed to exploit the vast Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas formation in Patagonia.


Some legislators had said they wanted a constitutional amendment to allow Fernandez to run for a third term. But the poor showing by her branch of the Peronist party in Sunday's elections dashed those hopes once and for all.

To push through the legislation, they would need two-thirds support in both houses. If the exit polls prove accurate, Fernandez would not come close to achieving that level of support for another run for the presidency.

She was unable to campaign for her congressional candidates since an October 8 operation to remove blood that pooled on her brain after she fell and hurt her head in August. She is expected to continue convalescing for another few weeks.

Speaking to local television, Fernandez's son, Maximo Kirchner, declined to speculate on when his mother would return to work. "She's OK. She's in a good mood," he said.


As expected, Massa beat his rival, Martin Insaurralde, Fernandez's handpicked Buenos Aires candidate.

Vowing to fight crime, combat inflation and improve farm profits, Massa appears well positioned to run for president. But Argentine history shows mid-term victors are rarely able to sustain momentum and clinch the nomination.

A dark horse could appear within the next two years, as was the case with former President Carlos Menem, who burst onto the scene in 1989, and Nestor Kirchner in 2003.

Argentina's peso weakened past 10 to the U.S. dollar in informal trade last week, widening its breach with the formal rate of 5.88 pesos per greenback. Central bank international reserves are at $34 billion, down from $43 billion in January.

But stocks and bonds have rallied on hopes of market-friendly policy changes ahead.

The blue-chip Merval stock index is up nearly 50 percent since a mid-term primary vote on August 12.

(Additional reporting by Alejandro Lifschitz; Editing by Kieran Murray and Sandra Maler)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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