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Republicans to Obama: We really don’t like you

If there was any doubt how Republicans felt about President Obama and a nuclear deal with Iran after last week's congressional spectacle featuring the Israeli premier, there shouldn't be after their letter to Tehran. Last week's unprecedented event of having a foreign leader in the final stages of a close election campaign speak before a joint session of Congress without consulting the White House seemed like a tough act to follow - especially when the sole purpose of that speech was to bash the Obama administration's nuclear talks with Iran. That event was orchestrated by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. By publishing an open letter to Iran's leadership and lecturing Tehran about the US Constitution and legislators' opposition to a nuclear agreement, however, the Republican-controlled Senate may have succeeded in besting the performance of the lower house. "I think there is no precedent in the history of the Republic for Senators to write to a foreign leader in this way," Nigel Bowles, director of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, told DW. "And to that extent it represents a new low in the relations between this president and this Congress, or more concretely this Senate." "Even during Vietnam nothing like that happened," said James Sperling, professor of international relations at the University of Akron. "I can recall concerted Congressional opposition blocking completion of agreements and treaties," noted Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham, "but I cannot recall the Republicans going over the head of the president to post an open letter to a foreign regime." While the 47 Republican senators who signed the open letter had ostensibly addressed their missive to the Iranian leadership, its primary destination was once again the White House. "The target is the president of the United States," Bowles said. Kill any deal Republicans wanted to serve Barack Obama notice that any agreement he signed with Iran would fail in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is necessary for approval of a treaty. And that an executive agreement, Obama's alternative to striking a deal without going through the Senate, could be nixed by his possible Republican successor in two years. Not that Obama, a constitutional law scholar with ample experience in Republican obstructionism, needed that refresher. That's why the broader Republican goal, beyond flexing political muscle, is to kill the negotiations. "The 47 Republican Senators are trying to undermine the nuclear talks with Iran at a critical stage," Lucas said. "In a specific if unstated sense, they are trying to block any arrangement over the lifting of US-led sanctions - the key remaining issue in the discussions - that might be acceptable to Tehran." Iran's immediate reaction to the letter was measured. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called it "mostly a propaganda ploy" that lacked any legal value. Helping the hard-liners Though it is unlikely that Republicans will succeed in thwarting the process for now, their letter is a great gift for Iran's hard-liners. "If the Iranians are looking for a reason not to sign off an agreement, the Republicans just handed them one," Sperling said. "They could simply walk away and say there is no point in having an agreement because it is going to be nullified in two years. It will put the blame for failure on the United States." Sperling believes that the letter, signed by all the Republican presidential hopefuls in the Senate, had a third addressee in mind beyond Obama and Iran. "The third constituency is quite frankly those who pay for American elections." With the presidential race soon picking up speed, wooing conservative backers is important to remain competitive. Those backers include people like the Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who has "pumped hundreds millions of dollars into campaigns and is quite staunchly pro-Israel," Sperling said. "As far as I understand, he is a big supporter of Netanyahu and I can't help but think there is an element of electioneering going on." With the address by Israel's prime minister and the letter to Tehran, the new Republican Congress - barely two months in office - has already left a deep imprint on the US political process, whatever the final outcome of the nuclear talks and the next presidential election. "We have the Republican Party in each chamber organizing and dealing direct with foreign leaders and encouraging those foreign leaders to take a particular course, in the case of Netanyahu, and warning that foreign leader against reaching a deal with the United States government," Bowles said. "Taken together I have to say that they constitute a remarkable development in American politics."

If there was any doubt how Republicans felt about President Obama and a nuclear deal with Iran after last week’s congressional spectacle featuring the Israeli premier, there shouldn’t be after their letter to Tehran. Last week’s unprecedented event of having a foreign leader in the final stages of a close election campaign speak before a joint session of Congress without ... Read More »

How we should be protecting the Middle East’s antiquities

As militants destroy ancient treasures in Iraq and Syria, Berlin museum director Markus Hilgert calls on the international community to share their know-how and change their view of socially acceptable art collections. DW: Cultural heritage sites like Nineveh, Nimrud and now Hatra, the capital of what used to Mesopotamia, have been destroyed forever. As an expert on ancient history, how does that make you feel? Markus Hilgert: It's difficult to find words to describe what in our view is happening there at the moment - not only because the subject of our research, the subject of our efforts toward cultural protection, are being destroyed or direly threatened. But also because the whole thing is part of a cultural and humanitarian catastrophe to which there is no end in sight. On the one hand, there are reports that IS militants are attacking and destroying cultural treasures that are thousands of years old. But even more frequent are reports of brutal murders in the region. Can we even think of old buildings - no matter how significant they may be - when countless people are dying? I think it's wrong to separate the one from the other. Culture has fundamentally shaped human identity and also the identity of states and societies. Cultural sites are places of remembrance and help form identity. So we need to be concerned about both - about protecting the people, of course, but also about protecting that which gives these people a history and an identity. Iraq has called for air raids to protect the cultural sites. Considering how brutal the IS has been, this seems understandable… I'm not a soldier and not a strategist. I can't estimate what methods are best to improve the situation. From the point of view of cultural protection, it's crucial to keep in mind that military action can lead to the damage or destruction of cultural assets or heritage sites. And should it come to military action in these areas, then it's very important that the civilian population finds protection. That is the first and most important priority. But it should also be taken into consideration how culturally significant locations can be protected against "collateral damage." Is there a way to help that doesn't involve military action? It's clear that only a comprehensive improvement of the overall security situation can lead to better protection of cultural assets in the affected countries. And I think that political solutions come into play here. Apart from that, we also have the opportunity to share our knowledge about protecting and researching cultural assets in these countries. What can Germany do to help protect the cultural treasures? When I ask my colleagues in Syria and Iraq what we can do, they say first: Do something against the illegal trade of cultural artifacts. Germany's minister of culture, Monika Grütters, has said that there should be a mandatory certification for archeological artifacts. That means only certified archeological artifacts may be sold when they have been granted an export permit from their respective country. There will always be collectors who don't care how a particular piece was obtained - or may even view an illegal artifact as a trophy. What can be done about that? I think that raising awareness is very important. In fact, I think that we have to reach a point where owning illegal antiquities is no longer considered chic or socially acceptable. We need to reach a consensus that this is not a trivial offense. It needs to become clear that this is a crime that often goes hand in hand with exploitation. Is it possible to create 3-D models of damaged cultural sites so that they are at the very least preserved digitally? There are projects that provide digital documentation. I think in general that this is one of - or perhaps the most important technology of the future. But what we can't forget is that digitalization requires that the necessary infrastructure is available in these countries. Nevertheless, I think that increased efforts in the area of 3-D digitalization can ensure that these cultural assets are at least documented, even though 3-D digitalization obviously cannot protect them. What can politicians in Iraq and Syria do in the current situation to protect their cultural assets and how can the rest of the world help them? We can take a look at what Syria's Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums is doing everyday to document damage and prevent looting. It's really impressive. The same thing is true in Iraq. Remember that Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad just opened on February 28 amidst the most difficult of circumstances. It's important that the international community, with the knowledge and means they have available, invest in "capacity building" in these countries. There needs to be programs that educate young scientists, but also restorators and museum experts. Then in five or 10 years, when the security situation will hopefully have improved, they will be able to effectively research and open up their cultural assets. I think, at the moment, it's most crucial for us to transfer our know-how. Jihadists are not the first to destroy cultural treasures. It's a common occurrence in war. In World War II, for example, not only millions of people died, but also significant architecture and artworks were damaged or destroyed. Many were later restored. Is restoration also an issue in the Middle East? At the moment, people are thinking about what can be done in the long-term, but we can't forget that the main focus is on finding political solutions to curbing the humanitarian catastrophe. So the international community is called upon to find resources and ways to rescue and protect significant cultural assets in the whole region. That will be a task that will keep us busy for several decades to come. Markus Hilgert is president of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, which promotes research in the field of Oriental archeology. He was also professor of Assyriology for many years in Heidelberg. In 2014, the expert on Sumerian culture became director of Berlin's Near East Museum.

As militants destroy ancient treasures in Iraq and Syria, Berlin museum director Markus Hilgert calls on the international community to share their know-how and change their view of socially acceptable art collections. DW: Cultural heritage sites like Nineveh, Nimrud and now Hatra, the capital of what used to Mesopotamia, have been destroyed forever. As an expert on ancient history, how ... Read More »

EU army a ‘wonderful idea’ but a long-term project, German security expert says

The EU has revived the old idea of a European army. A great idea, says German security expert Claudia Major, but one that could take a very long time to realize: as always, the devil lurks in the detail. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the European Union should have its own army to "help shape a common foreign and security policy and to seize together Europe's responsibility in the world." Deutsche Welle: Why float the idea of a European army now? Claudia Major: Juncker is using a particular political setting - the Ukraine-Russia crisis - to relaunch an idea that hasn't worked out before: the very old idea of integrating the military forces that goes back to the 1950s and eventually failed in 1954. When the idea, which has an economic and a political dimension, was first launched, there was a different threat perception, but by 1954 the situation had changed, the states felt less threatened and were less willing to engage in a very strong interdependence, and to abandon sovereignty in an area that is very much at the heart of the nations. The EU's Lisbon Treaty also formally laid down the idea of a joint EU defense force. The Lisbon Treaty set out to call for a close integration in the military area, yet so far the states have not been active in implementing it. The German Defense Minister has said she has a view to one day having a European army, so Juncker has backing from the German side - but what about the other EU states? It's an idea that's typical for German foreign policy DNA - always embedded in the EU, always embedded in alliances, never alone. You can literally look at every coalition treaty over the years and you will always find it. Not surprisingly, countries like the UK or France are not that keen; they fear that such a common construct might inhibit their foreign security capacity. National armies, with each country purchasing and owning the same kind of hardware, - saving money sounds like a real advantage, but is it a main selling point? I think that's one selling point; there are several others and in this particular situation, the political dimension is very important, too. Talking about a common army is also talking about a common policy, standing together as a strong political union. That's as important as the money issue. What do you perceive as the biggest problem? It's a wonderful idea, but people can have it without worrying it will really be implemented. If you look at what a European army would mean, the most important question is, who decides on sending soldiers where? Who decides on whom they might kill, or who might kill them? Who gives the orders? What parliament decides? What defense industrial base do we have? It's very nice to talk about a European army but eventually you need to discuss the technical details. German laws for soldiers are very different from the French, British, Slovak, Italian and Spanish laws, for instance. So which law applies? If you don't agree on what our European security principles are, and if you don't see a threat in the same things, you cannot really deploy an army somewhere. Is giving up sovereignty the biggest stumbling bloc? If we implemented it, we would save a lot of money, we would gain enormous political weight - just imagine, 28 states putting their armies together, what an immense political power that is -, we would increase military efficiency. But so far the states have not really been keen on giving up sovereignty, or even on taking the necessary steps that might mean changing the law. What could the next steps be? In the long term, Europe needs its own army – not an intervention army that proactively wages wars, but a defensive army with crisis management capabilities where Europe can actually live up to its high normative standards. There's an EU defense summit coming up in June, and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini just launched the process of rewriting a European security strategy. These are elements that could support setting up a European army. We could find a common denominator in what European security policy is. At a defense summit, couldn't we agree on joint European equipment, and a joint European industrial base? Those might be little steps toward the very, very long-term goal of a European army. Claudia Major is a security expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)

The EU has revived the old idea of a European army. A great idea, says German security expert Claudia Major, but one that could take a very long time to realize: as always, the devil lurks in the detail. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says the European Union should have its own army to “help shape a common foreign and ... Read More »

Possible IS-Boko Haram alliance unsettles Nigerians

Troops from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Some 200 vehicles with soldiers from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) which controls swathes of Syria and Iraq. As Nigeria's neighbors - including Chad, Niger and Cameroon - form a multinational force to confront Boko Haram, the militant Islamists have said they are seeking a formal tie-up with IS. One Nigerian resident DW spoke to on Sunday (08.03.2015) was evidently alarmed by the news. "The IS is in fact very strong so we have to make a reasonable contribution to tackle the issue of Boko Haram before it gets beyond our control," he said. Nigerian security expert Ibrahim Aliyu concurred. He told DW he feared the struggle against Boko Haram would now go global and it would be even more difficult for the Nigerian government to contain them. He said he believed the government should "try and see if they can bring those people to the table." Another Nigerian analyst, Mustapha Ibrahim said Boko Haram were seeking to align themselves with IS "because they are facing a lot of pressure" from regional forces in and around Nigeria. 'A natural ally' IS overran large parts of Iraq and Syria in June 2014 declaring an Islamic "caliphate" in the two nations. The number of people living in the subjugated territories was "between six and seven million" according to Luay al-Khatteeb, a researcher at the Brookings Institute. Estimates of the number of IS fighters vary from 25,000 to 80,000. The size of its revenue is equally nebulous, but the United States Treasury said last year it believed IS was making $1 million (919,000 euros) a day from oil sales. Atrocities blamed on IS have been widely condemned. "Rarely has an armed force engendered such widespread revulsion and opposition," Human Rights Watch said in a reference to the group in its 2015 World Report. Since September 2014, a US-led coalition has conducted repeated air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq. Max Abrahams, an analyst from Northeastern University in Boston University said neither IS nor Boko Haram were inhibited in terms of violence. "They are a natural ally," he told the AFP news agency. Nigerians frightened In August 2014, Boko Haram declared it was reviving an ancient Islamic caliphate that spilled across colonial era borders in a move copying IS. But J. Peter Peter Pham, director of the US-based Atlantic Council's Africa Center, said Boko Haram's brutality, including beheadings and enslavement predated that of IS. More than 13,000 people have lost their lives in the Boko Haram insurgency since it began in 2009. Ryan Cummings from risk consultants Red24 said Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance was a significant development in that it elevated the group among the international jihadist community and could possibly translate into having access to additional combatants. "You could see Boko Haram coordinating operations with some North African groups who are operating under the Islamic State banner. But it doesn't necessarily mean there is going to be a discernible change in what is happening on the ground in northeastern Nigerian," he said. Analysts say Boko Haram has a core of between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters. Whereas the Nigerian security forces have had little success in dislodging the group, the tide appears to have turned against Boko Haram since troops from neighboring countries have joined the fight. Professor Abubakar Mustapha from Kano University in northern Nigeria told the AP news agency that just the idea of Boko Haram symbolically joining forces with IS was enough to frighten some Nigerians. "It will outrage and scare people," he said.

Troops from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS). Some 200 vehicles with soldiers from Chad and Niger crossed into Nigeria on Monday as regional efforts to fight Boko Haram intensified. Meanwhile the Nigerian Islamist militants have pledged allegiance ... Read More »

WHO: China needs to act against smoking

At the ongoing annual national legislative session, Chinese lawmakers should adopt a raft of measures such as smoke-free public places to curb smoking, the WHO's country representative Bernhard Schwartlaender tells DW. China is one of the major consumers of tobacco in the world. The country is home to hundreds of millions of smokers, leading to widespread concerns about the impact of smoking on public health. Cigarette smoking affects not only those who smoke, but also other non-smokers by exposing them to second-hand smoke, which is estimated to affect around 740 million Chinese. Furthermore, more than one million people are losing their lives every year due to the ill-effects of tobacco consumption such as lung cancer, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. Against this backdrop, pressure is mounting on the Chinese government to step up its efforts to tackle the smoking problem of the population. As part of the measures, a draft national regulation banning smoking in all indoor and some outdoor public places, and requiring stronger warning labels on tobacco products, is before the country's State Council. The government, however, wants to go even further and is mulling a host of policies to curb smoking. The issue of public health is also likely to be one of the main topics of discussion at the ongoing annual meeting of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the country's legislature. The Standing Committee of the NPC is currently considering changes to the national Advertising Law to strengthen restrictions on tobacco advertising. In this context, Bernhard Schwartlaender, WHO Representative in China, says in a DW interview that action against tobacco is urgent in China and that it is the single most important measure that can be taken towards better health for Chinese people. DW: Why is the dealing with the tobacco issue so important for China at the moment? Bernhard Schwartlaender: More than one million people die every year in China as a result of tobacco use. This figure will increase to three million by 2050 if current smoking rates remain unchanged. Acting on tobacco is therefore urgent - and may be the single most important measure that can be taken towards better health for Chinese people. We know what the problem is, and we know what needs to be done. How is smoking affecting the health of the Chinese people? China is the largest tobacco producer and consumer in the world. Nearly one-third of the world's one billion smokers are Chinese men. Every minute, two people in China die as a result of an illness caused by tobacco smoking. The very high rates of tobacco smoking in China, especially among men, are not consistent with the aspiration for all Chinese people to live long and happy lives. The scientific and health evidence is unequivocal. If you smoke, you will most likely die an early, and probably very painful, death. What progress has China made in this field? China has made some progress recently - for instance, the capital Beijing will become smoke-free from 1 June, and a draft national law to ban smoking in public places is before the State Council right now. What important health measures are set to be discussed at this year's NPC? The NPC Standing Committee is currently considering changes to the national Advertising Law to strengthen restrictions on tobacco advertising. A draft national regulation to ban smoking in all indoor and some outdoor public places, and requiring stronger warning labels on tobacco products, is before the State Council. Now, strong political commitment is needed, along with steely determination to stare down interference from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. This will translate the promise of progress into strong, well-enforced tobacco control policies which save lives. What do you urge the National People's Congress to do? We urge China's lawmakers to adopt the full suite of policy measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) - such as smoke-free public places, complete ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, graphic warnings on tobacco packs, raising tobacco taxes, and providing more support to smokers to quit. Experience from around the world has shown that these policies lead to lower smoking rates, and fewer people dying preventable tobacco-related deaths. Dr Bernhard Schwartlaender is the Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in China.

At the ongoing annual national legislative session, Chinese lawmakers should adopt a raft of measures such as smoke-free public places to curb smoking, the WHO’s country representative Bernhard Schwartlaender tells DW. China is one of the major consumers of tobacco in the world. The country is home to hundreds of millions of smokers, leading to widespread concerns about the impact ... Read More »

India budget ‘a step in the right direction,’ but ‘no quantum leap’

Amid high expectations, Indian PM Narendra Modi's government has unveiled its first full budget designed to boost growth in Asia's third-largest economy. DW speaks to analyst Milan Vaishnav on the new budget's potential. The 2015 budget "will further reignite our growth engine, signaling the dawn of a prosperous future," wrote PM Modi on Twitter, referring to his government's recently unveiled budget, widely viewed as business-friendly. On February 28, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced a host of new measures in the government's first full budget, including increased spending in infrastructure, a universal social security scheme and an unprecedented corporate tax cut to 25 percent over the next four years. Jaitley said India was "about to take off" and it was time for a "quantum leap" on reforms. The finance minister also said he expects the country's GDP to grow between 8 and 8.5 percent year-on-year, adding that a double digit growth rate may be achievable soon. The announcement comes a month after India's Statistics Office unveiled changes in the way it calculates the country's GDP. There were high expectations on the newly released budget as Modi's ruling BJP party swept to power nine months ago on promises of reviving the country's sluggish economy. Last year's "mini budget" - unveiled by the ruling BJP in July - had been viewed by analysts as lacking on key issues. Milan Vaishnav, an expert on India's political economy and an associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, talks in a DW interview about the keystones of the new budget and the areas where the government needs to make additional efforts. DW: Reviving economic growth and alleviating poverty were the core elements of the BJP's electoral agenda. Has the government's first full budget met these expectations? On balance, I would give this budget a grade of a B, or perhaps a B+ if I were feeling generous. It is clearly pro-growth in its orientation and is a marked improvement from the government's first provisional budget issued last July. The budget tries to balance its pro-growth and investment policies with an expanded social safety net for India's most vulnerable citizens. On the latter, there is broad continuity with the policies of the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On the former, we continue to see a strategy of reform "incrementalism." We should put all talk of "big bang" away because this government has clearly calculated that this is not the strategy it is going to pursue during its tenure. How would you describe this budget? Early in the budget speech, Finance Minister Jaitley said that, "it is quite obvious that incremental change is not going to take us anywhere." That is ironic because the budget is highly incremental in nature. I would characterize many of the steps as positive –rationalizing subsidies, expanding public investment, easing the way for private sector investment –but I would not characterize these as "quantum leaps." I think the one area where the government does get high marks for dramatic change is in decentralizing expenditures to the state level, although this was achieved mainly by adopting recommendations made by the 14th Finance Commission. What are the keystones of this first full budget? There are four highlights in my view. First, the government remains committed to fiscal consolidation but it has eased up on its deficit reduction targets in the short run. This is necessary to ramp up capital expenditure in order to stimulate the investment cycle. In the medium term, it has not deviated from the previously outlined fiscal targets. Second, is its commitment to decentralizing expenditures. In 2015-16, roughly 62 percent of India's total tax revenues will go to the states. In 2014-2015, this share stood at around 55 percent. Going forward, states will have greater leeway to decide their own priorities. Third, there is the issue of subsidy reform. To my surprise, the budget was rather silent on this score. The Government's Economic Survey, which was released the day before the budget, was quite ambitious - almost revolutionary - in its approach to shifting subsidies to direct cash transfers, relying on the ambitious biometric identification scheme known as Aadhaar to authenticate beneficiaries (thereby reducing leakage). The budget restated the government's commitment to shift to direct benefit transfers (DBT) but was very vague on the details. There were rumblings in the days before the budget that the government would announce new details about shifting food subsidies and even payments through MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) through the DBT platform. This did not happen. Finally, there was a push to incentivize manufacturing, primarily through off-budget incentives. These make sense, but absent real changes that will liberalize factor markets (land, labor, capital), their impact will be rather limited I am afraid. What were the Indian industry's main expectations from the budget? First and foremost, industry was looking for a full-throated commitment to a sound macroeconomic policy framework. I think it was largely reassured in this regard, with the one exception being a slight deviation from fiscal deficit targets in the short term. On inflation, the government committed itself to a new monetary policy framework, with the objective of keeping inflation below 6 percent. The major quibble here would be vague action on the subsidy front. Second, industry was looking for improvements to the ease of doing business. One highlight here was the establishment of an "expert committee" to explore the idea of replacing the myriad permissions needed to start a business with a single, unified permission - the exact contours of which will have to be worked out. Finally, industry had high hopes on simplifying the tax structure and reducing rates. Businesses have been calling for a Good and Services Tax (GST) that would simplify taxation. What did the budget say on taxes, including corporate taxes? Jaitley announced the government's intention to institute GST beginning on April 1, 2016, which is an ambitious timeline given continued disagreements on the specifics between the centre and the states. The main highlight for industry on the tax side was an announced reduction of the corporate tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent. Then there is the issue of new rules on tax avoidance, which have been highly controversial to say the least. Jaitley announced that General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) would not come into effect for another two years, and even at that point, would apply on prospectively. What about changes to laws regulating the purchase and sale of land? The budget said very little about land. The government's main priority on this front is pushing through legislation that would amend the existing Land Acquisition Act to make it less onerous for industry to procure land. The government was unable to pass its new bill in the previous session of Parliament so it was forced to rely on an executive ordinance to implement the act. But ordinances are short-term measures; if Parliament does not pass a bill in this session, the ordinance will expire (unless the Presdent re-issues the ordinance). Right now, the opposition has refused to compromise on the bill and even the BJP's alliance partners have come out against it. The Prime Minister has signaled the government would consider "constructive" suggestions to tweak the bill. This fight is only beginning. What measures were announced to boost foreign investment and are they likely to work? There were no new announcements on the lifting of existing foreign investment caps, which will be disappointing to the foreign investment community. What the government did do is to announce its intention to eliminate the artificial (and confusing) distinction between foreign portfolio investment (FII) and foreign direct investment (FDI). This will be cheered by foreign investors. The government also announced the railway budget a few days back. How significant were the changes proposed? The general reaction to the railway budget has been positive. For the first time in a long time, the Railway Minister did not announce any new rail lines, instead focusing on ramping up investments to modernize and expand rail infrastructure. The government is proposing a quantum jump in rail investment, some of which will come from private sector sources and via public-private partnerships (PPPs). Although the budget did not announce any new passenger fare hikes - which are, to put it mildly, highly unpopular - it did raise freight rates on certain goods. What limits does Modi face in implementing further-reaching reforms, especially after the BJP's electoral defeat in Delhi? Looking ahead, the Modi government has its hands full trying to implement its economic vision. Although it has a commanding majority in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, the same cannot be said about the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. This divided legislature has been a major thorn in the government's side, as it has been largely unable to move big economic bills through both houses. To date, its parliamentary management has been rather unimpressive, although an obstructionist opposition certainly has not helped. Unfortunately for the government, many from within its own quarters (and from its extra-government allies like the RSS) have helped to sabotage the government's economic agenda with a series of inflammatory pro-Hindu, majoritarian statements. These are, frankly, own goals. If they continue, we are in for a very frustrating few years. Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia Program at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of a forthcoming book on corruption in India. You can follow him on Twitter @MilanV.

Amid high expectations, Indian PM Narendra Modi’s government has unveiled its first full budget designed to boost growth in Asia’s third-largest economy. DW speaks to analyst Milan Vaishnav on the new budget’s potential. The 2015 budget “will further reignite our growth engine, signaling the dawn of a prosperous future,” wrote PM Modi on Twitter, referring to his government’s recently unveiled ... Read More »

Putin vows to bring Nemtsov killers to justice

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to find the perpetrators behind the fatal shooting of outspoken opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. World leaders have called for a thorough and transparent investigation. As world leaders condemned the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would do everything possible to bring to justice the gunmen responsible for the attack. "Everything will be done so that the organizers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve," Putin said in a telegram to Dina Eydman, the 86-year-old mother of the slain politician. Police said Nemtsov, 55, was walking with a Ukrainian woman across the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge in central Moscow late on Friday when he was fatally shot four times in the back by unknown assailants driving a white car. A pile of flowers rested Saturday in the spot where he died. Putin said Nemtsov, who served as deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin's presidency in the 1990s, had left his mark on Russia's history, politics and public life. "He worked in significant posts during a difficult transitional period for our country," Putin said. "He always directly and honestly announced his position, stood up for his point of view." Nemtsov was a scathing critic of Putin's leadership, and frequently spoke out against corruption in the government, Russia's annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Just hours before his death, Nemtsov had called on Russians to attend an opposition rally on Sunday against the Kremlin's policy on Ukraine. Instead of that rally, organizers have decided to hold a memorial march through the center of Moscow. Russian authorities gave permission for 50,000 people to take part. International outcry The murder of the former Russian deputy prime minister is one of the highest-profile killings during Putin's 15-year rule, and prompted widespread calls for a thorough investigation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "shocked by the devious murder" and called on the Russian president to ensure it was "investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice." French President Francois Hollande described Nemtsov as "a courageous and tireless defender of democracy who was committed to the fight against corruption." British Prime Minister David Cameron said the "callous murder" must be investigated "fully, rapidly and transparently." Earlier on Saturday, Putin said he would personally oversee a probe into the murder, which he said smacked of a "contract killing and is entirely provocative in nature." Probe targets Ukraine, Islamists The investigative committee reporting to Putin on the case said they were pursuing several lines of inquiry, but were treating the killing as an attempt to destabilize Russia's political landscape. In a statement, the body also said it was looking at whether the murder was carried out by Islamist radicals or parties involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine who wanted to damage Russia. The committee did not mention a possibility raised by some of Nemtsov's supporters - that he was killed for being one of Putin's more vocal political foes. Nemtsov began his political career as the governor of Nizhny Novgorod in central Russia and rose to the position of deputy prime minister in the 1990s under Yeltsin, the country's first democratically elected president. Nemtsov became a part of the opposition after Putin came to power in 2000.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to find the perpetrators behind the fatal shooting of outspoken opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. World leaders have called for a thorough and transparent investigation. As world leaders condemned the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would do everything possible to bring to justice the gunmen responsible for the ... Read More »

Egypt court gives life sentences to top Muslim Brotherhood leaders

مصر کی ایک عدالت نے ممنوعہ اخوان المسلمون کے پانچ رہنماؤں کو عمر قید کی سزا سنا دی جبکہ دیگر چار رہنماؤں کی سزائے موت برقرار رکھی ہے۔ عمر قید کی سزا پانے والوں میں اخوان المسلمون کے سربراہ محمد بدیع بھی شامل ہیں۔ ان افراد کو دو سال قبل قاہرہ میں رونما ہونے والے تشدد میں ملوث قرار دیا گیا ہے۔ تیس جون 2013ء میں دارالحکومت میں اسی تشدد کی وجہ سے گیارہ افراد ہلاک جبکہ اکانوے زخمی ہو گئے تھے۔ عدالتی ذرائع کے مطابق ان سزاؤں کے خلاف اپیل کی جا سکتی ہے۔ ہفتے کے دن ہی ایک اور عدالت نے 168 ایسے افراد کو بھی دو دو سال کی سزائے قید سنائی گئی ہے، جو 2012ء میں قاہرہ میں امریکی سفارتخانے پر حملے میں ملوث پائے گئے تھے۔

An Egyptian court has sentenced senior leaders of the banned Muslim Brotherhood to life imprisonment for inciting murder. Death sentences were upheld against four other group members. A court in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Saturday sentenced 14 Muslim Brotherhood members to life imprisonment, including several of the group’s top leaders, and upheld death sentences against four others. Those condemned ... Read More »

‘Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine’

Boris Nemtsov, 55-year-old former deputy prime minister and Putin critic, was shot dead in Moscow, days before an opposition rally. DW spoke to Russia analyst Yury Barmin about Nemtsov's significance. DW: Why is Nemtsov's murder causing such a stir? Yury Barmin: Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Putin and Russia's alleged involvement in the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The murder is causing a stir because Nemtsov was one of the organizers of a protest rally that is to take place in Moscow on March 1. The opposition was quick to suggest that there is a connection between the two. Who was Nemtsov? What made him so important after all these years? Nemtsov had a bright political career. In the 1990s, he served as President Yeltsin's envoy in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. He later served as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region and then as the deputy prime minister of the government. So during Russia's most liberal years, he was a prominent political figure and an advocate of the withdrawal of Russia's troops from Chechnya during the First Chechen War. Under Putin, Nemtsov was a deputy in the Russian Parliament and a member of the liberal opposition. Nemtsov had recently begun publishing reports and articles about corruption in Russia. Was Nemtsov a threat to Putin? I don't think he was a threat to Putin, at least he was not perceived as such. He is certainly a prominent opposition figure in Russia, but politically he was not a threat to Putin. Ilya Yashin, a liberal politician and a friend of Nemtsov's, claimed that he was going to publish a report on Russia's involvement in Ukraine and quite logically, there was a version that he was murdered to prevent him from publishing this report. Why did Putin's spokesman call Nemtsov's murder a "provocation" and what does it have to do with the opposition rally at the weekend? The rally, scheduled to take place on March 1, is being labeled as an anti-crisis (economic crisis) protest. There are rumors that some of the organizers want to label it as a political rally, to demand political change in the country. So there is a rivalry between these two groups within the opposition who want to see people protest for slightly different causes. Some pro-Kremlin bloggers have suggested that Nemtsov's murder is a way to change the tone of the March 1 rally. So Putin's spokesperson likely meant that the murder was a provocation against the rally. And of course, the Kremlin wants to refute any rumors about the government's connection to the murder. Were any other opposition leaders killed in a similar manner? Off the top of my head, Vlad Listiev, a prominent Russian journalist and head of Channel 1, was murdered 15 years ago. In fact, it happened on March 1, 1995, almost exactly 15 years ago. He was not exactly an opposition leader, but an influential person - that's for sure. Were there any hints that Nemtsov was involved with the mafia? I don't know of any such hints. Of course Nemtsov, like any other politician, had political rivals who could have tried to blacken his reputation by connecting him to mafia, but I believe these would have been just rumors. Yury Barmin is a political analyst on Russian affairs based in Abu Dhabi. Follow him on Twitter under @yurybarmin.

Boris Nemtsov, 55-year-old former deputy prime minister and Putin critic, was shot dead in Moscow, days before an opposition rally. DW spoke to Russia analyst Yury Barmin about Nemtsov’s significance. DW: Why is Nemtsov’s murder causing such a stir? Yury Barmin: Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Putin and Russia’s alleged involvement in the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The murder ... Read More »

Spring awakening in Washington and Havana

The genie's out of the bottle - the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States is starting to take shape. In April the two countries will take the first step by reopening their embassies. "Both sides are serious about this," says Bert Hoffmann, of the Hamburg-based think tank GIGA. Even if, officially, both Cuba and the US are still insisting that their maximum requirements be met in the ongoing talks over new diplomatic relations, Hoffmann is convinced that the rapprochement between the two countries is proceeding apace. Hoffmann is a Cuba expert who has been following political and economic developments on the island since the 1990s. He's overwhelmed by the current climate of enthusiasm there. "The atmosphere is tremendous," he says, recalling his most recent visit, in late January. "Expectations are almost excessive." Ever since the spectacular declaration on December 17, 2014, when US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro simultaneously announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between their countries, visitors from the United States have been hotfooting it to Havana. And not just politicians, either - business people are also exploring opportunities on the island. Capitalist charm offensive Google, Apple, Netflix, and other Internet companies have already announced their entry into the Cuban market; and one US governor will soon pay a visit to the Castro regime for the first time: Andrew Cuomo, governor of the state of New York, is planning to travel to Havana on April 20. So it's not unlikely that the two countries will soon end their diplomatic ice age, which has lasted more than 50 years. The beginning of April is under discussion as a possible date for the reopening of the embassies, just before the next Summit of the Americas run by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS summit will take place on April 10 and 11 in Panama City, and this year, for the first time, Cuba is to be a participant. But what about the historical arch enemies' maximum requirements? Can there even be successful negotiation as long as the US trade embargo is still in force? Cold Warriors on the defensive Hoffmann is optimistic that the end of a Cold War relic is in sight. "Even if the Republican majority [in the US Congress] is disinclined to grant Obama political successes, the genie is out of the bottle," he said, adding that advocates of the embargo are now on the defensive. Havana is also demanding the return of the US base Guantanamo, and for Cuba to be removed from the US' black list of states that sponsor terrorism. For its part, the US is insisting on, among other things, freedom of speech, human rights, and for Cubans to be given free access to the American embassy. Experts see the removal of Cuba from the terrorism black list as the easiest concession. Obama asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to review the situation in January, right at the start of the negotiation process. It's certainly true that there's no other "terrorist state" with which the US has such close relations as Cuba. Every year around 400,000 Cubans who live in exile in the United States return to the island to visit relatives. Furthermore, in 2014 some 100,000 US citizens traveled to Cuba legally under one of the twelve permitted categories of travel - these include "educational travel." Brussels also wants to negotiate Following the initial round of negotiations between Washington and Havana in January, the EU also declared an interest in normalizing relations. A fresh round of diplomatic talks is now set to take place in Brussels on March 4 and 5. Despite all the progress and reforms, the political awakening is not yet making itself felt in daily life on the island. "They're short of everything," says Rubens Barbosa from the Brazilian industrial association Fiesp in Sao Paulo, who also visited Cuba in late January. "The people just want to achieve a minimum level of prosperity, regardless of ideological precepts." Brazil is the second-biggest supplier of goods to Cuba after China, setting aside oil deliveries from Venezuela. The Brazilian development bank BNDES also financed the development of the container port Mariel, west of Havana, which cost just under one billion US dollars. The Brazilian industrialist Barbosa predicts that the Cuban government will continue to exercise "strict control" over both politics and the economy. And the Cuba expert Bert Hoffmann also believes that the resumption of diplomatic relations will not automatically initiate a democratic turnaround. "Havana is trying to temper expectations of more extensive change," Hoffmann says. The government, he adds, is very clear that the reform process must not be allowed to call the political system into question. "Castro won't want there to be any room for doubt about that," says Hoffmann.

The genie’s out of the bottle – the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States is starting to take shape. In April the two countries will take the first step by reopening their embassies. “Both sides are serious about this,” says Bert Hoffmann, of the Hamburg-based think tank GIGA. Even if, officially, both Cuba and the US are still insisting ... Read More »

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