- China's Xi urges Netanyahu to quickly restart peace talks
- A "caged parrot" - Indian judge describes top police agency
- Republicans look for cover-up as Benghazi debate revived
Posted: 09 May 2013 09:20 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Xi Jinping urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restart peace talks with the Palestinians as soon as possible, days after he tried to convince Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to revive discussions.
Xi's comments to Netanyahu and Abbas this week reflect China's intent to strengthen its diplomatic role in a region where its influence has historically been weak. On Monday, Xi floated China's "four-point proposal" for peace with Abbas, who was visiting China in the same week as Netanyahu.
The moves by China come as the United States is engaged in a fresh diplomatic campaign to revive peace talks, which collapsed in 2010 over Israel's continued expansion of settlements.
Netanyahu - the first top Israeli leader to visit China since former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2007 - met Xi on Thursday, part of a five-day visit to China aimed at boosting bilateral trade with China.
"I hope the two sides can make joint efforts to take practical measures to gradually build up mutual trust, to restart peace talks as soon as possible and achieve substantive progress," Xi told Netanyahu, according to a statement carried on the website of China's foreign ministry late on Thursday.
"Only by protecting the legitimate rights and interests of all countries, having respect for each other's concerns can there be true realisation of regional peace and stability," Xi told Netanyahu.
Xi, who took office in March, did not outline any specific proposals for the resumption of peace talks to Netanyahu, who did not meet Abbas in China.
Netanyahu told Xi that "Israel is well aware of the pain caused by war, welcomes and desires peace, and is willing to achieve peace through negotiations," according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Netanyahu's remarks come amid reports that he has quietly curbed new building projects in Jewish settlements, in an apparent bid to help U.S. efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
China has traditionally had a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but is keen to assert its role as a force in international politics.
Beijing has maintained close relations with the Palestinians for decades. In recent years it has also cultivated ties with Israel, though Israel is wary of China's links with Iran.
China, Iran's top oil customer and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has opposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran such as those imposed by Washington and the European Union, and has called repeatedly for talks to resolve the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 09 May 2013 08:29 PM PDT
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A packed New Delhi courtroom sat in rapt silence this week as an irate Supreme Court judge denounced the elite Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's version of the American FBI, as a "caged parrot" and "its master's voice".
Justice R.M. Lodha loudly berated the attorney-general, the government's top lawyer, for what he said was clear evidence of interference in a CBI inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allocation of coalfield licences to private companies, a case dubbed "Coalgate" by the Indian media.
The Supreme Court judge's statement gave, for the first time, an authoritative voice to opposition complaints that for years India's Congress party-led government had been using the investigating agency to cover up wrongdoing, keep fickle coalition allies in line and political opponents at bay.
Government ministers and the CBI have repeatedly denied such accusations.
"The CBI conducts all investigations in a free, fair and impartial manner as per the law," said CBI spokeswoman Dharini Mishra.
The judge's unusually harsh criticism has shone a spotlight on the role of the CBI - which has a mandate to investigate corruption and all major crimes - and its relationship with governments of the day in the world's largest democracy, in particular the nine-year-old Congress government, which has been battered by a series of corruption scandals.
It has given ammunition to anti-corruption campaigners who say political interference in the CBI reinforces the need for an independent anti-graft body that can investigate corruption involving government officials. Legislation to set up such an agency is stalled in parliament.
Two former CBI directors told Reuters that the agency was subject to political influence, irrespective of which party happened to be in power at the time.
"The political class will never give independence to the CBI," said former director Joginder Singh, who says he was forced out after refusing to back off from an investigation into a chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar in the 1990s.
Vijay Shanker, who was CBI director between 2005 and 2008, said there was "no question" that political pressure was brought to bear on the agency, although he declined to say whether he had personally experienced such interference.
The CBI, which proudly proclaims its motto to be "Industry, Impartiality and Integrity", has denied the latest allegations and said the government made only minor changes to a confidential progress report on its Coalgate investigation. Not so, said Judge Lodha. The "heart of the report" had been altered, he thundered at a hearing on Wednesday.
KEY ALLY RUNNING SCARED
Opposition parties accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress - which rules as part of a minority coalition - of dirty tricks to bully powerful but capricious regional parties to help keep it in power and support it on key parliamentary votes.
Nominally the CBI is independent. But administrative control is with the Department of Personnel and Training, which falls under the prime minister's office.
On operational matters, the agency has a number of masters, including the courts and the anti-graft Central Vigilance Commission.
"We have never, never misused our authority or position for the purpose of arm-twisting any of our alliances. The CBI has been functioning independently," Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy told Indian media recently.
A key ally of the government, Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party provides crucial support to the coalition in parliament, said in April he was at the mercy of the CBI, which is investigating him for allegedly amassing wealth disproportionate to his income.
"It's not easy to fight with the government. It has a thousand hands and can use the CBI and put one in jail," complained Yadav, whose party rules the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which has a population of 200 million.
The CBI investigation into the source of Yadav's wealth, launched in 2007, is still ongoing.
Yadav is not alone. The CBI is investigating similar allegations involving Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, another Uttar Pradesh party on whom the government relies heavily for support in parliament.
India's main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has alleged that the government used the threat of the CBI investigation to force Mayawati to back a controversial proposal to open up the country's retail sector to foreign investors even though she is on record as being opposed to it.
Two days after another key regional ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, pulled out of the government in March, CBI agents raided the home of a party leader, ostensibly in connection with a tax evasion case.
The prime minister swiftly distanced himself from the action, but the damage was already done. Political opponents and local media interpreted the raid as an act of revenge for the DMK pullout, which whittled down the government's dwindling number of seats in parliament.
"Considering the enormous amount of misuse of political clout, the CBI has lost its credibility," Arun Jaitley, the BJP leader of the opposition in the upper house of parliament, said after the latest Coalgate revelations.
When the BJP was in power from 1998-2004, however, it was also accused of using the CBI for its own ends.
"Every political party wants to accuse the political rival in power of misusing the CBI," former CBI director Shanker said. "And, the cycle continues."
(Additional reporting by Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow and Annie Banerji in New Delhi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 09 May 2013 06:28 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican in Congress demanded on Thursday that the Obama administration release emails about its handling of last year's deadly attack in Libya, after a dramatic congressional hearing breathed life into the party's accusations of negligence and cover-up.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner called on the White House to order the State Department to make public more internal emails sent after the killings in Benghazi of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Boehner's remarks kept up pressure a day after the hearing - dismissed by Democrats as mostly partisan posturing - won front-page headlines following months of Republican accusations that Washington failed to respond quickly enough to the assault by suspected Islamist militants on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
"Last November, the president said he was 'happy to cooperate in any way Congress wants,'" Boehner told a news conference. "This is his chance."
Republican critics believe the emails could reveal evidence that the administration initially tried to play down the assault in Benghazi as stemming from spontaneous demonstrations by Libyans, as opposed to being a planned militant operation.
The emails are believed to detail senior diplomats' views of who was behind the September 11, 2012, attacks and how administration officials discussed ways to present the incident to the public.
The State Department said it had already been working with Congress to provide the emails it wants - a process complicated by secrecy rules.
Republicans have been complaining loudly about the Benghazi attack for eight months, often without much attention in the mainstream media.
The killings and their aftermath have - until this week at least - failed to inflict much political damage on President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who headed the State Department at the time of the attack and is considered the top Democratic prospect for the 2016 presidential race.
Clinton is clearly a major focus of Republicans' attempts to get to the heart of what they believe is a national security scandal.
Foreign Policy magazine counted 32 separate discussions mentioning Clinton during Wednesday's hearing of the House Oversight Committee. The featured witness was Gregory Hicks, a former top U.S. diplomat in Libya who gave a dramatic account of the night that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.
Congressional committees have held about a dozen hearings on Benghazi and more are in the works. There are five different committees of the Republican-led House investigating Benghazi: Oversight, Intelligence, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary.
Chris Lehane, a veteran of congressional investigations of former President Bill Clinton's White House, said Republicans were using the hearings just to pressure the Obama administration.
"Congress using and sometimes abusing the investigative process is about as predictable as the cicadas coming to D.C., although it happens much more frequently," said Lehane, referring to an insect that emerges in huge numbers on the East Coast periodically.
The White House dismissed suggestions of a cover-up, noting that administration officials had testified at 11 congressional hearings and provided more than 25,000 pages of documents.
Republicans deny political motivation, and say any information that explains what happened in Benghazi is worthwhile.
Email traffic is central to what they say is the administration's attempt to diminish the seriousness of the assault in Benghazi at the height of the U.S. presidential election campaign.
"The story of Benghazi is that after the attack, seven weeks before an election, there was an effort by some senior people to put a political spin on this," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "Rather than tell the story that it was a terrorist attack from the get-go because it was so close to the election."
At Wednesday's hearing, Republican Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina read what he said was an email sent by Acting Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones on September 12 blaming the violence in Benghazi on a group affiliated with Islamist militants.
Boehner said the State Department did not let House committees keep copies of the email and urged Obama to order State to release it.
He also called for the release of emails that a House report said showed that Obama's White House and State Department were involved in rewriting "talking points" on Benghazi used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to give the administration's version of events on television talk shows shortly after the attack.
Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who helped lead an investigation into the attack, scoffed at Republican allegations. "From my own personal perspective, it was tantamount to Pulitzer Prize-level fiction if one could find a cover-up here," Pickering said.
Lehane, a crisis communications specialist, said Clinton appeared to be shielded from accusations that she handled Benghazi badly because she was careful right after the attack not to misspeak.
"This is a basic principle of crisis management," he said. "It's a complicated world and it's a dangerous world, but the way they evaluate you is how you handle it in the aftermath. If you do it in an honest way, then you protect yourself."
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Mark Felsenthal and Paul Eckert; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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