“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kenya's cellphone bank gives loans from just a dollar

Google – AFP, Daniel Wesangula (AFP), 28 April 2013

A woman sells beverages near an advertisement for a new cellphone-based
banking initiative in Nairobi on April 27, 2013 (AFP, Tony Karumba)

NAIROBI — Six months ago, Jane Adhiambo Achieng walked into a local Kenyan bank with the hope of getting a loan for her small grocery business.

After providing all the paperwork and after weeks of back and forth between her and bank officials, she was turned down.

"They just told me I don't qualify. My income was too little," said 42-year-old Achieng, who was asking for some $250 -- about half her monthly turnover -- to expand her fruit and vegetable stall in the Kenyan capital.

But in early March, she applied for the same amount through a different source -- and got the money in a matter of minutes.

She credits the Kenyan mobile telephone money application called M-Shwari that lent her the cash for facilitating the growth of her business.

M-Shwari is a new banking platform that allows subscribers of Kenya's biggest mobile network, Safaricom, to operate savings accounts, earn interest on deposits, and borrow money using their mobile phones.

It expands on Kenya's revolutionary use of sending money by mobile phone -- known as M-Pesa, "mobile money" in Swahili -- launched in 2007 and now widely used across the east African nation, where some 70 percent of people have mobile phones.

With a minimum transfer of cash set at five shillings -- around five US cents -- the application revolutionised day-to-day banking for millions left out of the formal system, and is used for transactions ranging from sending money to far-away relatives to paying utility bills or even school fees.

Now it is hoped the new M-Shwari application -- meaning "no hassle" -- can do the same for savers and borrowers.

"We have always been thinking of how to move M-Pesa forward. We knew there was a boundary to be broken and the next frontier was to be reached," said Nzioka Muita, communications manager at Safaricom, which owns both the M-Pesa and M-Shwari systems.

Through this platform, Safaricom says clients can open a bank account, move money in and out of their savings accounts, and access instant micro-credit of a minimum of 100 Kenyan shillings -- slightly more than a dollar -- at any time, all through the mobile phone application.

While loans must be repaid within a month, a single fee of 7.5 percent is charged, a far lower interest rate than high-street banks. Maximum loans depend on how much clients have in their M-Shwari accounts.

The mobile banking application has been so successful that on its first day of operations late last year, more than 70,000 new accounts were opened.

"Up to this point in time, no one in the formal banking sector had thought of implementing such an idea," said Tiberius Barasa, an economic expert with Kenya's Institute of Policy Research and Analysis.

"I am sure that a few bank managers are looking at M-Shwari steadily to see if it is a potential threat to their business."

People wait for a bus near an advertisement for a new cellphone-based
banking initiative in Nairobi on April 27, 2013 (AFP, Tony Karumba)

At least 12 million Kenyans remain outside the formal banking system, according to central bank estimates.

Safaricom controls about 70 percent of the Kenya mobile-phone market, translating to some 19 million subscribers. Of those, some 15 million are already M-Pesa users, a customer base rivalling any banking institution.

On its own, M-Pesa transactions account for more than $50 million (38 million euros) every day in Kenya.

"This is a huge head start for the company," Barasa said.

M-Shwari was launched in partnership with one of Kenya's privately owned banks, the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA), a deal that could see it boost its slice of the banking sector of east Africa's largest economy.

The family of newly elected President Uhuru Kenyatta hold the major stake in CBA, which provides the banking infrastructure for M-Shwari.

Currently, even with its slightly over $1 billion asset base, it is still some distance away from east Africa's largest banks, such as Equity Bank, Cooperative Bank and the Kenya Commercial Bank.

"In a matter of years, through the sheer volume of transactions that they will be handling on a daily basis, CBA may become a banking powerhouse in the region," Barasa said.

Policy analysts believe that the biggest winners from the M-Shwari service will be those in the market previously thought unbankable, due to its meagre savings and individuals located in remote, inaccessible parts of the country.

"This will greatly change our lives. You can access credit from any part of the country," Abbas Godana, a school teacher in Kenya's remote eastern Tana River district, told AFP.

"You do not have to travel for miles to your bank just to complete some paperwork and wait for the manager to approve the loan."

Godana's village, Cha Mwana Muma, is some 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the nearest shopping centre in which his bank operates a branch -- which, in the impoverished coastal area, where roads are virtually nonexistent, can take a whole day to travel.

In February this year, three months after its launch, transactions on M-Shwari crossed the $35-million mark, with 1.6 million customers having used the service for deposits or loans.

M-Shwari was not the first: telecommunications company Bharti Airtel, an Indian-owned firm, launched a similar product last year known as Kopa Chapaa -- Swahili for "borrow money" -- but the product has not had as much impact.

Smaller micro-credit loan companies have also set up similar schemes.

But "Safaricom has the numbers," Barasa said. "All they need to do is ensure that whatever they come up with resonates with the majority of their subscribers."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blow for Cameron as China welcomes Hollande

Beijing punishes PM for his meeting with Dalai Lama while French president gets full state visit treatment

The Guardian, Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, Friday 26 April 2013

The French president, François Hollande, meets his Chinese counterpart,
 Xi Jinping, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. Photograph:
Pool/Getty Images

David Cameron's mission to change the focus of British foreign policy by boosting trade links suffered a setback after Downing Street was forced to abandon a trip to China as Beijing punished the prime minister for meeting the Dalai Lama.

In a blow to Cameron, who had hoped to hold an annual summit with the Chinese leadership, the French president François Hollande was on Friday feted in Shanghai on a full state visit a few weeks after the prime minister was due to visit China.

Cameron is understood to have abandoned the planned trip after Beijing indicated that he was unlikely to be granted meetings with senior figures. He is now expected to visit in the autumn, two years after his first and only visit as prime minister.

Britain accepts that Beijing is exacting punishment after Cameron met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, at St Paul's Cathedral last May. The meeting, which was similar to Gordon Brown's discussions with the Dalai Lama at Lambeth Palace in 2008, was designed to minimise offence in China by showing that Britain regards him as a spiritual leader. Downing Street has made clear to Beijing that it accepts Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China.

Government sources said that tentative plans for the prime minister to visit China this month were put on hold before his visit to India in February for the simple reason that the new Chinese leadership only took over in March. Cameron spoke to Li Keqiang, his new Chinese counterpart, after his appointment.

But the Guardian understands from diplomatic sources that a visit was firmly placed in the prime minister's diary for earlier this month. This was abandoned when it became clear that the prime minister would be denied the access usually granted to a G8 leader.

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who has just returned from China, told the Guardian: "David Cameron came to office claiming he would prioritise the UK's diplomatic and trade relationship with China, and yet the real difficulties in relations have now been laid bare. I was in China this week and it is clear that the new Chinese leadership are focused on the French president's visit, along with a large number of French companies looking for business.

"In the past, UK prime ministers have met with the Dalai Lama without the deterioration in relations with China that we are now seeing. For all of their initial boasts and bluster, the UK government has lacked a strategic or a joined-up approach to China since it came to office, and that's now showing."

A No 10 source said: "Of course, as any good diary planner would, we pencil in early on dates when the prime minister could potentially travel overseas without going firm on destinations. We decided several weeks ago that we wanted to visit some European capitals in the time we had earlier this month. When the prime minister and Premier Li Keqiang spoke in March they looked forward to meeting in due course."

Officials said trade with China is still rising and the two countries are on course to achieve £1bn in bilateral trade by 2015. Exports to China grew 13.4% last year.

But the decision to abandon the visit is a personal setback for Cameron, who said after coming to office that he would place trade at the heart of foreign policy, with a particular emphasis on the so-called Bric countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. A visit to India in February fell flat after private complaints that the prime minister appeared to regard the country as a trading opportunity rather than an emerging world power.

Hollande was greeted by Xi Jinping, the new Chinese president, when he arrived in Beijing with his partner Valerie Trierweiler on Thursday. They agreed to hold an annual summit – Cameron's original aspiration when he first visited China in November 2010 – after Hollande said he hoped to build a "multipolar" world. This is the classic French ambition to ensure the US cannot dominate the world in a "unipolar" world.

Cui Hongjian, director of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, a foreign ministry thinktank, told the South China Morning Post that this message was well received in Beijing. "France sometimes has different ideas from the US. China may co-operate with France."

Investors see great potential buried in African soil

Deutsche Welle, 27 April 2013

One of the topics discussed at this year's Africa Business Week in Frankfurt (22-26 April, 2013) was the challenge of modernizing African agriculture so that Africans also benefit.

The number of inhabitants on the African continent is growing rapidly. To date, there are an estimated one billion people living in Africa and that number is expected to double by 2050.

Most of them will be living in urban areas. All of them will need to eat and drink . The demand for food is rising steadily and the African middle class is striving for higher living standards.

Experts attending Africa Business Week agree that Africa's agriculture is facing a daunting challenge. Investors from across the world are actively searching for fertile soil from one end of the continent to the other. But few Africans benefit from these investments as most cereal products and vegetables are exported directly from African farms to the Arab world or Asia.

Technology reverses rural flight

Mpoko Bokanga, from the UN Industrial Development Organization UNIDO, demands that investors should support local farmers so that they generate better harvests and thus achieve higher returns.
Mpoko Bokanga says there should
be more support for local farmers to
generate higher returns
Bokanga warns against trying to set up modern farming production centers using only foreign expertise. The key is to take modern technology out to the fields as a way of curbing rural flight.

"That will make it more attractive for the young people to work on the farm and of course it will increase productivity. So it is a win win situation," Bokanga said.

But modern technology alone cannot be the solution, Bokanga adds. UNIDO watches the entire production process, from the cultivation of the fields and harvesting the crops to the processing and marketing of agricultural products.

Soy and wheat for Zambia

Among those who pursue such a holistic approach is German entrepreneur Carl Heinrich Bruhn, head of Amatheon. The company wants to build up profitable farms in Africa, in order to generate high returns for investors.

It started its first project in Zambia by leasing 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) for 99 years. The land is located in a long-planned commercial farming area but the owners had no money for such  a huge investment.

Carl Heinrich Bruhn's company
has leased land in Zambia
From the beginning Amatheon took care not to do anything that would lead to accusations of  land grabbing, says Bruhn. Instead, he says, his company has jointly developed a concept with local farmers from which all sides can benefit.

Previously local farmers had no access to fertilizers, seeds or crop protection products. "By building a central farm , we can provide them with all these things so that the smaller farmers can start their own production cycle," Bruhn told DW.

Providing access to markets

Bruhn's company also wants to help the independent farmers market their products. Up till now Amatheon's neighbors had no access to the wholesale markets in the capital Lusaka.
"We can provide this because we buy up the farmers' produce and take it to the capital where it can be resold."

The German company is currently harvesting its first soy. After that, wheat will be sown. Neither is expected to be exported because there is a great demand for both products in Zambia.

The process is not entirely without problems. "Actually, we should have been connected to the public electricity network since January.  But construction of the pipeline is taking time," the German investor complains. But he is optimistic that in a few weeks his team will be able to turn off the generators.

African soil needs care

The environmental organization WWF is watching the growing interest in African soil with skepticism.
Birgit Wilhelm says African soils are
geologically very old and need care
Basically, there is a need to increase food production, says Birgit Wilhelm, who is responsible for sustainable agriculture at WWF's German branch.

She also knows that 60 percent of the world's unused agricultural land lies in Africa.  But  she points out that arable land in Africa is much more depleted than in other parts of the world and is low in nutrients.

"These are geologically very old soils" she explains. Investors also know this but their response is often unimaginative, Wilhelm criticizes. "They say that the soil is poor and need nutrients, that's why it should be fertilized, but they don't csare about the effect this has on the ecosystem."

When it comes to the cultivation of crops for bio-fuels, one has to watch out that investors are not only focusing on quick returns and then leave behind depleted soil, says Wilhelm.

Such investors would always need new arable land. But This vicious circle destroys biodiversity as a whole and also degrade soil fertility permanently.

Related Articles:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

UN approves peacekeeping force for Mali

Deutsche Welle, 25 April 2013

The UN Security Council has unanimously agreed to send a 12,600-member peacekeeping force to Mali starting in July. The force will be taking over for French and African troops battling Islamist guerrillas.

The UN peacekeeping force, which will be known as MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), will assume authority from a UN backed African force, AFISMA, deployed there to take over from the French.

The UN force will comprise of, at the most, 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police, most of whom will come from the 6,300 troops from 10 African nations already in Mali. About 150 French soldiers will also join the force.

France intervened in Mali in January, after the al Qaeda-linked militants that controlled the country's north made a push for the capital, Bamako. French and African troops have since pushed the Al-Qaeda-linked militants into desert and mountain hideouts, where they are now staging guerrilla attacks.

The Security Council must now, within the next 60 days, determine whether there has been a "cessation of major combat operations by international military forces" and "a significant reduction in the capacity of terrorist forces to pose a major threat" - conditions for the mission to start on time.

Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly told the council that the resolution was "an important step in the process to stem the activities of terrorist and rebel groups."

"This mission ... will be concentrated, amongst other things, on stabilizing the main urban centers in the North, restoring the authority of the state ... the protection of civilians, the promotion and protection of human rights as well as humanitarian assistance," said Coulibaly.

Mali's government hopes to hold elections at the end of July, but some diplomats and UN officials said that goal may be too ambitious.

France has already started withdrawing its roughly 4,000-strong force but will keep up to 1,000 troops in Mali to maintain responsibility for military strikes.

According to the resolution, French forces will be able to intervene to support MINUSMA when the UN troops are "under imminent and serious threat and upon the request of the secretary-general," UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

"Our soldiers still in Mali will be able to come to the support of the peacekeeping operation if circumstances demand," France's President Francois Hollande said in a statement welcoming the UN resolution.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after the vote, "We know its going to be a fairly volatile environment."

The new peacekeeping force will be the UN's third largest, behind deployments in Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur in Sudan. The task force is expected to cost up to $800 million annually, UN officials say.

A special representative for Mali will be named to direct the mission.

hc/msh (Reuters, AFP)

Lebanon's first civil marriage registered: agency

Google – AFP, Serene Assir (AFP), 25 april 2013

Kholoud Sukkariyeh (R) and Nidal Darwish pose for a picture next to Beiurt's
landmark Pigeon Rock on January 25, 2013 (AFP, Joseph Eid)

BEIRUT — Lebanon's interior minister took the unprecedented step Thursday of registering a civil marriage contract after a years-long campaign to allow such unions in the multi-confessional country, the official news agency reported.

"Marwan Charbel has signed the civil marriage contract of Nidal Darwish and Kholoud Sukkarieh, the first Lebanese couple to celebrate a civil union" on home soil, the National News Agency said.

Lebanon has a population of some four million people with Muslims -- Sunnis and Shiites -- making up the majority but with a Christian minority of around 35 percent and a sprinkling of other religions.

Sukkarieh and Darwish's campaign to register their marriage began more than a year ago. It started in secret to sidestep political obstacles, but in recent months their story triggered a massive debate over whether civil unions should be allowed in Lebanon.

Most faiths have their own regulations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, and mixed Christian-Muslim weddings in Lebanon are discouraged unless one of the two converts.

Kholoud Sukkariyeh (L) and Nidal Darwish 
pose for a photograph during a photoshoot
 at an undisclosed location (Darwish Family/
Despite some clerics and politicians rejecting Darwish and Sukkarieh's union, public figures including President Michel Sleiman have been overwhelmingly supportive of the step.

"Congratulations on the registration of Kholoud and Nidal's marriage contract," Sleiman posted on Twitter on Thursday.

Speaking to private news network LBC, Darwish described the registration as "the first victory for the civil state in Lebanon, the state we all dream of".

He echoed calls for a state for all its citizens in Lebanon, rather than a nation fractured along sectarian lines.

"I am very happy today, and I never had any fear that my marriage to Nidal would not be legal," Sukkarieh told LBC.

"This is Lebanon's first historic step" towards institutionalising civil marriage, she added.
Sukkarieh is four months pregnant, the broadcaster reported.

The couple's efforts to legalise their civil union "is a good thing for us all" in Lebanon, their lawyer Talal al-Husseini said.

"We have here a situation where something could have been legal all along, but where the right to practise civil marriage was blocked," he told AFP.

Lebanese authorities have all along recognised civil marriages registered abroad, and it has become common for mixed-faith couples to marry in nearby Cyprus.

Rather than follow that route, however, Sukkarieh and Darwish decided to work with legal advisers to try to create new jurisprudence, despite no history of civil marriage in Lebanon.

Both had their sect, Shiite and Sunni Muslim, legally struck from their "sejel an-nufoos" or family register, to be wed as a secular couple under an article dating from the 1936 French mandate that makes reference to civil unions.

"They decided to stand before the Lebanese state as citizens, not as members of this or that sect," said Husseini.

"Now that they have established this precedent, there is no going back. It is a big success, and it gives the right to others to follow suit," he added.

Related Articles:

"Perceptions of God" – June 6, 2010 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Quantum TeachingThe Fear of God, Near-death ExperienceGod Becomes Mythology, Worship, Mastery, Intelligent Design, Benevolent Creator,Global Unity.... etc.(Text version)

“.. For centuries you haven't been able to think past that box of what God must be like. So you create a Human-like God with wars in heaven, angel strife, things that would explain the devil, fallen angels, pearly gates, lists of dos and don'ts, and many rules still based on cultures that are centuries old. You create golden streets and even sexual pleasures as rewards for men (of course) - all Human perspective, pasted upon God. I want to tell you that it's a lot different than that. I want to remind you that there are those who have seen it! Why don't you ask somebody who has had what you would call a near-death experience

Jerusalem Women of the Wall win ruling against arrests

BBC News, 25 April 2013

The Women of the Wall say they have the right to pray out loud at the holy site

Related Stories

Jerusalem's district court has upheld a ruling that Israeli security forces were wrong to arrest women who were praying at the Western Wall.

The ruling comes after five women were arrested at the wall, one Judaism's holiest sites, earlier this month.

They were part of a movement seeking to overturn a 2003 High Court ban on women performing religious rituals which Orthodox Jews say are reserved for men.

Police had appealed against an earlier ruling that the arrests were illegal.

The Western Wall - a relic of the Biblical Temple compound - currently has separate sections where men and women are allowed to pray.

For several months, a group of women, dubbed the Women of the Wall, have held prayers in the female side, wearing traditional shawls and reading aloud from the Torah.

'Liberated the wall'

This has sparked outrage and protests from Orthodox groups, who say women should not perform the rituals.

On 11 April, five of the women were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. A lower court had dismissed the charges and the women were freed, but the police appealed against this.

But on Thursday, Judge Moshe Sobel rejected the appeal, saying that the 2003 "did not ban the Women of the Wall from praying in any particular place" and that there was no "reasonable suspicion" that the women had broken laws relating to holy sites, Haaretz news agency reports.

He said police concerns that the women's actions could create a public disturbance was not grounds for arrest, as they had shown no signs of violence or being a security threat themselves.

Anat Hoffman, who chairs the women's group, said the ruling had "liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people".

"We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall," Haaretz quoted her as saying.

There was no immediate comment from police.

Correspondents say the dispute over the wall has become a symbol of the greater tensions in Israeli society between ultra-Orthodox Jews who abide by a very strict interpretation of Jewish law, and more modern Jewry.

"Perceptions of God" – June 6, 2010 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Quantum TeachingThe Fear of God, Near-death ExperienceGod Becomes Mythology, Worship, Mastery, Intelligent Design, Benevolent Creator,Global Unity.... etc.(Text version)

“.. For centuries you haven't been able to think past that box of what God must be like. So you create a Human-like God with wars in heaven, angel strife, things that would explain the devil, fallen angels, pearly gates, lists of dos and don'ts, and many rules still based on cultures that are centuries old. You create golden streets and even sexual pleasures as rewards for men (of course) - all Human perspective, pasted upon God. I want to tell you that it's a lot different than that. I want to remind you that there are those who have seen it! Why don't you ask somebody who has had what you would call a near-death experience

The ultra-Orthodox make up 10 percent of Israel’s population
 of 7.5 million, but are increasing rapidly amid a growing backlash 
to the privileges and subsidies long granted to the ultra-religious.
(Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Jordanians rally for political reform, against corruption

The Daily Star, April 19, 2013

People, rallied by the Islamist opposition, hold placards and national flags
 during a march to demand political reform and an end to corruption on April 19,
2013 in the Jordanian capital Amman. AFP PHOTO KHALIL MAZRAAWI
AMMAN: More than 3,000 people marched in Amman on Friday, rallied by the Islamist opposition, to demand political reform and an end to corruption, an AFP correspondent reported.

The peaceful demonstration, under the slogan: "Stop joking around," began at the Husseini Mosque in centre of the capital.

People shouted: "Corruption: the revolution is turning, and your turn has come!" Another cry was: "Listen, regime, Jordanians reject injustice!"

Other peaceful gatherings in the cities of Irbid, Al-Karak and Al-Talifa.

Last week, security forces used tear gas to break up demonstrations of pro- and anti-government rivals in Irbid, causing some minor injuries.

Jordanians have held Arab Spring-inspired protests since 2011, demanding sweeping political and economic change as well as a tough anti-corruption fight.

On March 30, King Abdullah II swore in a new cabinet led by reformist Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur, but it failed to satisfy opposition Islamists.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FBI arrest agent over bribery cover up claim in battle over $10bn mountain

Frenchman is accused destroying evidence of how an Israeli billionaire gained control of a mountain rich in iron ore in Guinea

The Guardian, Ian Cobain, Tuesday 16 April 2013

Simandou in Guinea. The mountain is said to contain iron ore worth $10bn.

A battle over one of the world's richest mineral deposits has taken a dramatic turn after the FBI announced the arrest of a representative of the billionaire businessman who had acquired it in deal that raised eyebrows, even within the buccaneering world of African mining.

The arrest follows years of bitter claim and counter-claim over Simandou, a mountain in the remote interior of the impoverished west African country of Guinea that is so laden with iron ore that its exploitation rights are valued at around $10bn.

Beny Steinmetz, one of the world's wealthiest men, acquired the rights to extract half the ore at Simandou by pledging to invest just $165m to develop a mine at the mountain. Shortly afterwards, he sold half of his stake for £2.5bn. It was hailed as the most stunning private mining deal for decades: the world's finest untapped iron ore deposit, one worth billions of dollars, had been snapped up for a song.

After the wind of democratic change swept through Guinea, however – and after the US justice department decided to mount an investigation into circumstances in which the glittering prize at Simandou changed hands – that deal was appearing to look distinctly less attractive.

On Sunday evening, Frederic Cilins, an agent for Steinmetz's company, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, after federal agents had covertly recorded a series of meetings. The recording shows, it is alleged, that Cilins plotted the destruction of documents which it is claimed could have shown the Simandou exploitation rights were acquired after millions of dollars were paid in bribes to Guinea government officials.

Unknown to either Steinmetz or Cilins, the FBI launched an investigation in January into whether payments allegedly made on behalf of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, the Guernsey-registered mining arm of the tycoon's business empire that acquired the rights, were in breach of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

According to a statement by an FBI special agent that was filed at the southern district court of New York yesterday, Cilins had been under surveillance during four meetings at Jacksonville airport with an individual who, it is claimed, had agreed to help the agency mount a sting operation. Sources familiar with the investigation say that this person was Mamadie Toure, the widow of Lansana Conté, the dictator who ruled Guinea for 24 years until his death in 2008.

Cilins, a 50-year-old Frenchman, was arrested by FBI agents shortly after the final meeting. He appeared in court on Monday facing three charges: interfering with a witness, obstructing a federal criminal investigation and conspiring to destroy evidence in a federal criminal investigation. The charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years' imprisonment.

According to the FBI agent's filed statement – which did not name BSG Resources – Cilins had in the past offered to pay $12m in bribes in order to influence the award of mining concessions. He had also paid out several million dollars, and had called the meetings in order to arrange for the destruction of documents concerning bribe payments and mining concessions.

"Cilins repeated the word 'urgently' several times," the statement claims. "Cilins told the CW [co-operating witness] that Cilins was asked to be present in person to witness the documents being burned in order to guarantee that nothing is left behind."

The filed complaint states that a federal grand jury is investigating whether an unnamed mining company and its affiliates – on whose behalf it claims Cilins has been working – allegedly transferred into the United States bribery money for the valuable mining concessions in Simandou.

After Cilins was remanded in custody, Mythili Raman, the US acting assistant attorney general, said: "The justice department is committed to rooting out foreign bribery, and we will not tolerate criminal attempts to thwart our efforts." BSG Resources confirmed that Cilins had worked for the company. Asked about the arrest and the bribery allegations, a spokesman declined to comment.

While Cilins was flying to Jacksonville last week, Steinmetz was embarking on litigation at the high court in London, accusing Mark Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and deputy secretary general of the United Nations, of being involved in a smear campaign against BSG Resources. Malloch-Brown and FTI Consulting, the city PR firm he works for, deny the allegation.

Guinea, a former French colony, has almost half of the world's bauxite reserves and significant reserves of iron ore, gold and diamond reserves, but the majority of its 11 million people live in poverty as a result of years of corruption that has deterred many would-be investors.

The rights to extract iron ore from Simandou had been held by Rio Tinto until late 2008 when Conté stripped the Anglo-Australian mining giant of half its stake. Apparently, the president signed the necessary paperwork while on his deathbed, one of the final acts of his dictatorial government. BSG Resources then acquired those rights, agreeing in return to invest $165m to develop what it described as "a world-class integrated mining project".

In April 2010, Steinmetz negotiated to sell half his company's stake – a quarter of the mountain's ore – to Vale of Brazil, the world's biggest iron ore miner. BSG Resources and Vale formed a joint venture company called VBG which would produce around 2m tons of iron ore a year.

When Vale agreed to pay $2.5bn, one veteran of African mining was quoted in the financial press as saying that Steinmetz had hit "the jackpot". The 57-year-old Israeli tycoon was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $4bn. But while Steinmetz's corporation defended the deal in which it acquired the rights, others were highly critical: the African telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, for example, asked publicly: "Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?"

When Guinea's first democratic government was elected later in 2010, Alpha Condé, the new president, began scrutinising the terms of several mining concessions granted under Conté's rule. He focused firmly on the Simandou deal.

With the assistance of one of his advisers, the wealthy investor and philanthropist George Soros, the new president assembled a team of investigators who, it is understood, have unearthed a number of documents that shed light on the way in which the Simandou deal had been sealed.

There were reports that a number of luxury gifts and payments had been made to relatives and associates of Lansana Conté, and to senior officials in the short-lived military dictatorship that followed his death. They included claims that a gold-and-diamond encrusted miniature Formula One car was given to a former government minister. BSG Resources responded to this allegation by saying that the car was worth no more than $2,000, and had been given to the mining ministry, not an individual, in a ceremony that was held in public.

Claims that Conté had been given a diamond-studded gold watch, and that a substantial commission – as much as $2.5m – had been made to his wife, Mamadie Toure, were flatly denied.

The development of the mine stalled after Conde's election. During talks between BSG Resources, Vale and the government of Guinea – which were held in London last month – it became clear that the Steinmetz group's control of the Simandou rights were under threat, a situation that the company described as "bizarre".

During the talks, the president of BSG Resources was barred from Guinea, and Vale told its business partner that it would not be paying the $2bn that was outstanding on the $2.5bn deal.

Related Articles: