“Just one thing will really change for us on 1 January,” says Horia Vernescu, nursing a cappuccino in an overheated cafe on an otherwise bone-chilling December day in Bucharest’s central university district.

“That little line at the bottom of the job ads, you know? The one that says: ‘Apply only if you are eligible to work in the UK.’ We won’t need to worry about it any more. Because, well, we will be. Eligible.”

An engaging 23-year-old with a first-class computer sciences degree from Essex University, Vernescu came back to Romania last year to look after an ailing aunt who had put some of her savings towards his studies.

He found a job on a good salary – £600 a month, as much as his parents earn together – with a small but thriving local app developer, moved into a flat with two friends, and was doing fine until the company, through no real fault of its own, lost a couple of key clients.

So now, along with what some in the UK fear will be multitudes of fellow Romanians and Bulgarians, he’s coming to Britain. With his skills, in his field – “Software development; any kind really. I’m pretty handy” – he expects no difficulty finding a job paying three times what he made in Bucharest.

How many like Horia Vernescu will jump on a €50 flight to Britain next year, and stay? Haunted by the memory of the half-million Polish workers who arrived in 2004 when it had predicted a mere 13,000, the government declines to hazard even a guess.

Meanwhile, Eurosceptic Tory MPs predict more than 400,000 from the two nations will be living in Britain in a few years. The campaign group MigrationWatch, which lobbies for immigration limits, expects 50,000-70,000 Romanians and Bulgarians to come every year for the first five years. The Migration Matters Trust, a cross-party campaign that challenges the “anti-immigration consensus”, believes the figure will peak at 20,000 a year.

Marius Todea, 18, prepares to fly to England, to study at Oxford university. Photograph: Bogdan Croitoru

So a nervous coalition government has rushed out measures making new arrivals wait longer before they can claim benefits – and, more controversially, is calling for a wider debate on the principle of free movement within the European Union and perhaps even an EU migration cap.

Talking to students, professionals, labourers and government officials in Bucharest and Sofia, things look less dramatic. Concrete predictions are a fool’s game, but very few here foresee a flood of emigrants – or believe benefit scroungers exist in statistically meaningful numbers.

Pretty much everyone, on the other hand, who reads a newspaper or watches TV says they feel shocked by their portrayal. Elena Ghita, seeking to move to Britain – or the US, Canada or Australia – as an operations manager ideally for a start-up, says: “It makes you angry. And ashamed, for the first time, to be Romanian. We know our flaws. But when you’re attacked so – dishonestly … Is this really how you see us? Beggars and thieves?”

People point out here that Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to travel visa-free to Britain since their countries joined the EU in 2007 – and that the temporary restrictions stopped very few from working. According to UK labour market statistics, 121,500 Romanians and Bulgarians were working in Britain last month: as part of fixed quotas in food-processing and agriculture, by simply registering as self-employed or – for the more highly skilled – on permits applied for by an employer.

“The people who really wanted to leave have mostly left by now,” says Raluca Apostol, 25, who did a one-year masters in marketing at Portsmouth in 2011 and will go back next year if she finds a better job than the one she has in Bucharest. “It’s not a question any more of ‘Hey, I can go now, so I think I will.’ Most already went. And it was easy to stay.”

It’s a view you hear repeated often. In Sofia, a young web developer called Slavo Ingilizov has already found his London job, starting in mid-January. He’s moving because, while he has a very good post with a Bulgarian IT company consistently voted the country’s best employer, he wanted to be somewhere smaller, sharper, where what he says counts for more.

Ingilizov will double his pay but knows his outgoings will be three or even four times higher: “This is about the job, not the disposable cash. I won’t be much better off.” He, too, sees no imminent exodus – despite an average monthly wage in Bulgaria of only €400 (£330). “It won’t be massive,” Ingilizov says. “This isn’t the border opening, it’s a simplified procedure for working. Some people live so poorly here it was a no-brainer to go; no restrictions would stop them, and they went. But I haven’t heard a single person say: ‘God, I’m just waiting for 1 January.’”

Mila Korsakova, who aims to study product or graphic design in London and work there afterwards, agrees: “Moving is still a big deal. You have to be desperate or highly motivated, and if you were one of those, why would you have waited?”

The two countries do expect a rise in the number of their citizens registered in Britain but they believe much of that increase will come from people “regularising” their situations: those nominally illegally or self-employed builders, drivers, receptionists, and waiters who had the working practices of employees but none of the protections.

But an invasion? They don’t see it happening here. In Romania, journalists such as Mihai Radu recall news items about busloads of workers leaving for Birmingham building sites, Norfolk food-processing factories or vegetable farms in Lincolnshire. “But that was 2007,” he says, “and there are no more buses leaving now than did back then.”

Ion Ciornihac aims to be on one of them, though, if his mate Cornel Mihai, flush with a bit of cash after working in building supplies in New York, succeeds in getting a small agency off the ground to bring painters, plasterers and tilers to work on UK building sites.

But Ciornihac would not leave on his own, without the security of an agency and a sure job. “I don’t even know how to ask for a loaf of bread in English,” he says. Earning €22 a day on building sites around Bucharest, Ciornihac has, unsurprisingly, already done similar such stints abroad: a year in Spain a while back, two three-month contracts in Germany.”I’ll go as long as the money is guaranteed,” he says; he’s currently insulating a block of flats but hasn’t been paid for a month – the council hasn’t paid the contractor, the contractor isn’t paying the workers. “I’m not living, I’m surviving,” he says. Between them, Ciornihac and his wife, a cook, are lucky to clear 700 euros a month.

Would he settle abroad? “No,” he says. “I’m Romanian, and I want to live in Romania. My wife won’t leave, anyway, so it will be just me, just for the money. There’ll be others like me, but no more than before, and we’ll come back. We go there to work, if there are jobs for us to do.”

For workers like Nicu, a builder, British salaries seem very appealing. Photograph: Bogdan Croitoru

In some more highly qualified sectors, the numbers moving have already peaked. Laurentiu Marc, who runs the Bucharest office of a medical recruitment agency, says he was once finding British jobs for 1,000 Romanian doctors, dentists and pharmacists a year. In 2011, the General Medical Council registered 450 Romanian doctors to work in Britain, the third highest total after India and Pakistan.

A junior doctor in Romania can expect to earn €300 a month, against €2,500 in Britain. “But in 2012 the number of Romanian doctors coming to us hit a plateau,” says Marc, “and there’s been no upswing ahead of January 1. Those who wanted to leave have already left.”

Officials here also note that unlike in 2004, eight other EU countries besides Britain – including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – will be lifting controls on Romanian and Bulgarian workers next month, so Britain’s pull factor should be weaker. Brândua Predescu at the foreign ministry points out that Romanians actually started emigrating with the fall of the Ceausescu regime, and the trend continued through the country’s steady progression towards full EU membership.

“Even in 2007, there was not what you would call an exodus,” Predescu says. “Many Romanian families have found jobs abroad since 1990.” Large Romanian communities – 1 million and 1.5 million strong and into their second generation – have existed for 20 years in Spain and Italy, where Latin languages and cultures made integration easier. Perhaps half a million are in Germany.

So how many more are likely to leave now? Especially, Predescu notes that “the Romanian economy continued to grow throughout the crisis; levels of general wealth are rising; Romania is attracting more and more foreign investors … The temptation to leave en masse is falling. We do not really understand these British fears.”

Nor do people here understand the notion that any more than a tiny number of people might move to a foreign country simply to claim benefits. “It’s a crazy idea,” says Nasko Stoikov, a trainee auditor in Sofia. “Why would anyone want to do that? I’ve never even thought about benefits. If people go, of course it’s to work, to contribute.”

According to the Romanian foreign ministry, more than 70% of Romanians in Britain are aged between 18 and 35, while child benefit claims by Romanian families in Britain amount to 0.8% of the total for families from the European Economic Area.

There is broad acceptance – even support – for Britain’s last-minute moves to tighten benefit rules. “I don’t think any reasonable person would object to a three-month qualification period, or longer,” says Valentina Ivan, who spent a year in Edinburgh. “If people really are going to the UK to live on benefits, it’s because they know they can get away with it. So reform your system: insist everyone must contribute, for several months, before they can claim.”

Some members of Romania’s Roma community may, people claim, be a cause for concern. Like many here, Marius Todea and Cristina Matache from Bucharest’s Saint Sava high school, who hope to study at British universities next year, are eager to draw a distinction. “It’s partly our fault; we’ve failed to integrate the Roma community,” says Todea. “I’m not prejudiced; they have their way of life. Some do go abroad and do unpleasant things. But people abroad should not confuse Roma and Romanians.”

As long as national laws are obeyed, the fundamental European right to freedom of movement must be upheld. That is what counts here – and as Britain grapples with its Eurosceptic demons, Romanians and Bulgarians fear freedom is threatened. “Verify, check, clamp down, tighten up, plug the holes in your systems all you like,” says Andrei, 31, in Bucharest, who asked not to be further identified. “But please, don’t touch freedom of movement within the EU.

“This was our parents’ dream; even 25 years ago you couldn’t imagine it. My dad has a friend who jumped in the Danube, to get to France. So don’t stop working people moving. Don’t stop them filling vacancies that need to be filled.”

Cutting down on free movement, says Radu Tatucu, who spent 11 years in the US, would “go against the whole spirit of the EU. Bringing down the barriers was the whole point … I’d like to believe they’ve been lowered for good. I’d hate some politician to try to raise them again for the sake of 2% more votes.”

The Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in Britain next year will include students like Todea, labourers like Ciornihac, high-skilled, hi-tech specialists like Vernescu and Ingilzov. But they will also, most likely, include quite a few like Iuliana Stefan, a 32-year-old civil engineer.

After a fruitful few years in Bucharest during the mid-2000s boom, Stefan has a job but has not been paid since August. She is not sure of finding work in Britain in her chosen profession; her qualifications may not transfer.

So she’ll settle for office management, and failing that, for almost anything: her sister, back in Romania to have her baby after a bad experience with the NHS, paid a recruiter back in 2007, went on a course, and got one of those “self-employed” jobs in a restaurant in Yorkshire.

But whatever Stefan ends up doing, “I won’t have to pay, and I won’t need a permit. So it will just be that little bit easier. And I think most of us going now, next year, will be like this: young, highly qualified, wanting to work hard, do well … But perhaps that’s harder for Britain to deal with than a flood of benefit scroungers.”

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/353aff33/sc/7/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A130Cdec0C260Cromania0Ebulgaria0Ebritain0Eeu0Ebenefit0Erestrictions/story01.htm

Russia‘s supreme court has said it would review a ruling that imposed a £335m fine on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, opening the way for the recently freed former oligarch to return to Russia.

Khodorkovsky, who is in Germany, is believed to be planning a move to Switzerland with his family, having been granted amnesty by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, after 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion. He has insisted he will not return to Moscow as long as the fine looms over him.

The court’s move on Thursday to review the ruling may also reduce the jail term imposed on Khodorkovsky’s business partner Platon Lebedev, who was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Both men – former heads of Russia’s largest oil firm, Yukos – were jailed in 2003 in what many believe was a political move by the Kremlin to punish and subdue criticism that Khodorkovsky had funded.

After Putin unexpectedly pardoned Khodorkovsky last week, the Russian authorities hastily smuggled the former oligarch to Germany in a covert operation that involved two chartered aircraft and the behind-the-scenes assistance of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister.

The secrecy that shrouded the operation encouraged international media to assume that Khodorkovsky had been expelled from Russia into political exile, drawing comparisons with the expulsion of the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the USSR to Germany in 1974.

When he emerged in Berlin, Khodorkovsky seemed to confirm these suspicions, saying that the outstanding £335m fine imposed on him and Lebedev would prevent his returning to Russia. He said the authorities could use it to stop him from going abroad again if he did return.

In July, the European court of human rights in Strasbourg requested the fine be lifted on the grounds that it contradicted Russian laws. Russia chose not to appeal the decision, but Vyacheslav Lebedev, chair of its supreme court, has now said the sentences should be reviewed, particularly the controversial fine.

The supreme court also said the sentences meted out to the former Yukos owners might have been inappropriately severe and needed to be reconsidered. Platon Lebedev is currently scheduled to be freed in July 2014.

Khodorkovsky issued a short statement on Thursday that “hailed” the decision but made no reference to any return to Russia. However, the former oligarch’s mother, Marina Khodorkovskaya, told Interfax news agency that her son was likely to return should the fine be lifted.

Khodorkovsky included in his statement hopes that “bureaucratic procedures will not be too long and Platon Lebedev will be released soon”. His spokesperson told the Guardian that it was still too early for an analysis of what the supreme court’s review might lead to.

Vadim Klyuvgant, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, told reporters that he considered the court’s decision to be “intermediate”, given the vulnerability of Russian courts to political pressure.

Upon his release, Khodorkovsky said he was not going “to be involved in politics as in struggle for power”, but intended to help other political prisoners. On Wednesday, he received a three-month visa, allowing him to enter Switzerland, where his wife, Inna, is living with their three children.

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Arctic 30 protester: ‘Russia owes me a medal’

Posted by MereNews On December - 27 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

The first environmental activist to leave Russia after more than two months of detention said that Russia owed him a medal rather than a pardon for his work to protect the environment.

Dima Litvinov, a Greenpeace campaigner, was the first member of the Arctic 30 to be allowed to leave. His fellow activists are expected to leave Russia in the coming days.

He told told the Guardian of his relief at leaving Russia and arriving in Finland. “In Finland, it’s completely relaxed and welcoming. My last memory of Russia is the border police woman who told me I should not be proud of myself. ‘Why don’t you do these things in the United States?’ she asked. I said that I do and she said, ‘Why don’t you stay there?”

Litvinov was one of 30 people who were arrested in September after a protest at a Russian offshore oil rig and spent two months in jail before being granted bail in November.

Hooliganism charges were dropped after Russia’s parliament passed an amnesty law that was seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to assuage criticism of the country’s human rights record before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Speaking from a train to Helsinski, Litvinov said the Arctic 30 had been warmly received by ordinary Russians, but treated as criminals intent on destroying Russia by government officials. “They saw us as criminals involved in a conspiracy against Russia. They say that we are trying to push Russia from its rightful place on the Arctic shelf,” he said.

Litvinov is the fourth generation of his family to be imprisoned in Russia for political activity. His great-grandfather Maxim Litvinov opposed Tsar Nicholas II before being made Soviet foreign minister. His grandfather Lev Kopelev was imprisoned by Stalin for 10 years for opposing the regime and speaking out against Soviet atrocities against German civilians in the second world war. Lev was imprisoned with his friend Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and was the inspiration for the main character in Solzhenitsyn’s novel First Circle. In 1968, Dima’s father, Pavel Litvinov, was one of seven people who protested against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in Red Square, for which he was sentenced to internal exile in Siberia when Dima was six years old. The family left Russia when he was 11 and Litvnov now holds US and Swedish nationality.

He said that he was surprised to be released, especially as he was interrogated on Christmas Eve, but remained angry at his treatment. “They do not owe me an amnesty, they owe me an apology. They owe me a medal for trying to save the Russian environment,” he said, “The amnesty is just a way for the authorities to save face but we are still described as violent criminals that the Duma, in its magnanimity, is willing to pardon, which is really irksome.”

Litvinov was given his passport with an exit visa stamped in it on Thursday, along with a letter explaining that the authorities had decided not to prosecute him for illegally entering the country. “That was incredible. We were taken in international waters and forcibly taken to Russia. I collected my bag and said goodbye to my friends and got on the train to Helsinki,” he said.

Litvinov was released on 22 November after six weeks in prison in Murmansk and two weeks in St Petersburg. Freedom was pleasant but limited, he said.

“It was freedom of sorts, but it was really just a much more comfortable prison cell. We had to attend regular interrogations. We could only stay in the hotel and we could not leave the city. There was the same psychological pressure as prison, the lack of knowledge, the sense of injustice,” he said.

Litvinov expected to meet his wife in Helsinki and spend a night there before taking a ferry to Sweden for a holiday before returning to campaigning.

“I’m going to decompress and enjoy the rest of Christmas, but after that it’s back to work. The Arctic has still not been saved and there’s a lot to be done,” he said.

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A suspected American drone fired two missiles at a home in a northwestern tribal region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, killing at least three foreign militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said Thursday.

The US authorities often target Taliban, al-Qaida and their Pakistani supporters in the country’s tribal regions.

The latest strike took place just before midnight Wednesday in the village of Qutab Khel in North Waziristan and initial reports gathered from their agents in the field suggested the slain men were Arabs, the two intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The American drone program is extremely unpopular in Pakistan because it is perceived as killing innocent civilians, which the US denies. Many in Pakistan also consider it an affront to their sovereignty but the US has shown no indication it is willing to halt the program.

Angered over the strikes, supporters from cricket star-turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party in the northwest have been protesting along a main road used to truck NATO troop supplies in and out of Afghanistan for the past month, forcing the US to stop shipments out of Afghanistan.

Khan has urged the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to force the US to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

On Thursday, about 150 supporters from Khan’s party on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Quetta briefly blocked trucks carrying supplies for NATO forces heading toward Afghanistan, said a senior police official Abdul Rauf. But he said police ordered them to allow the trucks to proceed.

Trucks carrying NATO supplies pass through Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, before going through the Chaman border crossing – one of two routes used for supplies. The other route is further north.

“We briefly stopped some of the NATO trucks this morning, but now we are just holding a peaceful rally against the drone attacks,” said Abdul Wali Shakir, a spokesman for the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which also attended the rally, demanding an end to the drone strikes.

Drone strikes have been a source of tension between Islamabad and Washington.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the latest strike in a statement Thursday, saying such attacks were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “There is an across-the-board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end,” it said.

“Such strikes also set dangerous precedents in the inter-state relations,” it said, adding the strikes had a negative impact on the government’s efforts to bring peace and stability in Pakistan and the region.

Islamabad and the country’s political parties regularly denounce the attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, although the country’s government is known to have supported some of the strikes in the past. The tension has further complicated a relationship that Washington views as vital to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban, as well as negotiate peace in Afghanistan.

The land routes through Pakistan from the southern port city of Karachi have been key to getting supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. They now increasingly are being used to ship equipment out of Afghanistan as the US seeks to withdraw most of its troops from the country by the end of 2014.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/3539d075/sc/8/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A130Cdec0C260Cus0Edrone0Estrike0Ekills0Ethree0Emilitants/story01.htm

Friends of a London student who was kidnapped in Pakistan almost two years ago have spoken for the first time about their growing fears for his safety.

Giovanni Lo Porto, 38, who studied at London Metropolitan University, travelled to the Punjab region in January 2012 to take up a position as a humanitarian aid worker. But soon after his arrival Lo Porto and a German colleague, Bernd Mühlenbeck, were abducted.

Apart from one short video appeal by Mühlenbeck released last Christmas, neither man has been heard from.

Sarah Neal, a fellow student and close friend of Lo Porto, said: “I am incredibly worried about him. It’s been 22 months now and we have no way of knowing how his captors treat him. I just want him back.”

Staff and students from London Met have not spoken out until now in the hope that the authorities in Italy, where Lo Porto was born, would be able to negotiate his release. But after almost two years without news, they have decided to break their silence.

“When Giovanni was abducted we hoped that he would be returned through quiet diplomacy,” said Professor Mike Newman, who taught Lo Porto at London Met. “But he has now been held in Pakistan for nearly two years and we agree with his friends and supporters in Italy who are calling for an end to the policy of silence.”

After graduating from the peace and conflict studies course at London Met in 2010, Lo Porto, an experienced aid worker, joined short-term projects in the Central African Republic and Haiti before travelling to Pakistan to help rebuild an area hit by severe flooding.

According to friends, he fell in love with the region and worked to improve water supplies and sanitation in the Punjab, returning again at the beginning of 2012.

Newman last heard from Lo Porto when he got in touch shortly after arriving in Pakistan. “He told me: ‘I’m happy to be back in Asia and Pakistan, I do love the people, the culture and the food of this part of the world’,” said Newman. “Pakistan was his real love and he felt he had done a good job there establishing positive relations with the local population and staff. He was so delighted to be back.”

Newman said Giovanni is a “warm, friendly, open-minded person” who was very popular with staff and students.

“He enriched the discussions for all of us by drawing on his varied experience of working in complex situations in many parts of the world. His approach was always questioning and he certainly had no time for simplistic western policy agendas,” said Newman.

Neal said Lo Porto was an incredibly supportive friend and went out of his way to help others. “He came to London Met on the day we had to hand in our dissertation purely to help others – he’d already submitted his thesis the day before. So that’s what he did: he edited, proof-read, and helped bind them until submission closed.

“He is incredibly loyal to his friends and shows that in many small and big ways, you can always rely on him.”

She said his friends were growing increasingly concerned about his well-being. “I am worried that they’ll break him – physically and mentally,” Neal said. “Although sometimes I think that if anyone could be friends with his captors, it would be Giovanni.”

Lo Porto’s friends have now launched a petition for his return and are calling on anyone with influence to help secure his release.

Newman said: “It is tragic that such people, with both expertise and a genuine passion for humanitarian work, should be held in this way. On this anniversary of their seizure in Multan, I call on all those who have influence in the area to bring about the return of Giovanni Lo Porto and Bernd Mühlenbeck to their friends and families.”

The Farnesina, Italy’s foreign ministry, declined to comment. Its crisis unit is in contact with Lo Porto’s family but the authorities are understood to want to maintain as much discretion as possible surrounding the case due to its “very delicate” nature.

In Italy, a petition calling on the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, and the prime minister, Enrico Letta, to ensure “all possible efforts” are made to bring about Lo Porto’s release has been signed by nearly 48,000 people.

But Pietro Barbieri, chairman of the National Third Sector Forum (FNTS) and one of the people who drafted the petition, said that in general the case has received very little attention in Italy, and that this was the reason why the petition was so necessary.

“He is not a journalist for a big newspaper. He is not a member of a big Italian NGO. He is not a member of the military. He is an Italian citizen – capable, on the ball – who, at the same time, however, works for a foreign NGO,” he said. “There is no one [in public] pushing it [his case].”

Urging Letta to enter into the efforts personally, Barbieri said that he had received a letter from the foreign ministry assuring him that “every effort” was being made and that the case was being treated as a priority.

But, he said, the time had come for Letta to act. “He has every possibility to do so,” Barbieri said.

He added: “We believe our country has to take charge, but not only the institutions but the media, the opinion-formers, the population in general. It is absurd that the Lo Porto case is never discussed.

“This is someone who has been in captivity for nearly two years now. He is, among other things, an expert; not some kind of tourist, but someone with internationally recognised abilities.”

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/353a4a28/sc/8/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A130Cdec0C260Cgiovanni0Elo0Eporto0Efriends0Elaunch0Epetition0Eabduction0Epakistan/story01.htm

Cameron warns UK press: sign up to royal charter or else

Posted by MereNews On December - 26 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

David Cameron has warned the press that it runs the risk of facing “hideous statutory regulation” in the future if the Independent Press Standards Organisation declines to seek recognition under the terms of the new royal charter.

In an interview with the Spectator’s editor, Fraser Nelson,, a strong campaigner against the royal charter, Cameron said a “less liberal, less enlightened government” of the future could impose statutory controls unless the press acted now.

The prime minister spoke out a few weeks after 90% of national newspapers and most regional publishers announced that they would join the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso). The body, whose members include the Telegraph Media Group, Associated Newspapers, News UK, Trinity Mirror and Northern Shell, is declining to seek recognition from a panel that is to be established under the terms of the royal charter.

Ipso believes the recognition panel, to be set up by the former permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington, who is now commissioner for public appointments, amounts to an unacceptable level of state control. Cameron, who agreed the terms of the royal charter with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, says the new system places the government at arm’s length from the body.

The royal charter can only be amended by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of parliament. The recognition panel will not regulate the press but will assess every few years whether a regulatory body, which signs up, is carrying out its functions in line with the principles laid down in Lord Justice Leveson’s report into the press. Once a regulatory body is recognised by the panel, section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would be triggered meaning that publishers outside an officially recognised regulatory body could suffer financial penalties in legal actions.

Cameron told the Spectator: “I believe there’s a great opportunity here to put this difficult and painful issue to bed. If the press set up their regulator I hope, in time, they will make that regulator compliant with – will be able to then seek recognition under – the charter recognition body.

“If that then happens, we’ll have in place a system that I think will settle this issue because we would have achieved what Leveson wanted which is independent self-regulation by the press, but not marking its own homework, having itself checked, and only having the body checked as it were by the charter.”

The prime minister denied he was adopting a tougher stance than Maria Miller, the culture secretary, who suggested on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 recently that nothing else needed to happen if Ipso was seen to work. Cameron told the Spectator: “What she’s saying is that it’s now down to the press. We’ve done our bit, we have put in place a royal charter. We’ve given you, the press, an opportunity to put this issue to bed I would think for 50 to 100 years if you want to.

“Now, if you choose to set up your self-regulator but say ‘we’re not going to seek recognition’, that is your choice. Personally I think that is a mistake because you’re missing the opportunity to settle this and you’re risking that some future, less liberal, less enlightened government at the time of the next press crisis will hitch you with some hideous statutory regulation which I prevented.”

The prime minister told Nelson the press could walk away from the recognition panel if it felt a government was restricting freedom of expression. He told the Spectator editor: “If ever that happens, the press can say: ‘We’re no longer seeking recognition.’ It is a voluntary system.”

But Cameron was criticised for warning of tighter regulation if the new body declines to seek recognition from the panel. Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “David Cameron should be looking at why his royal charter is damaging to press freedom. This is a point of fundamental principle and the press should stick to their guns. You don’t walk away from a fundamental principle just because someone threatens that it could get even worse.”

Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Harwich, said: “I think this proposed royal charter is indefensible and it’s bang out of order to try to defend it on the basis that a future government might do something even more indefensible. The press in this country hasn’t been forced to publish under licence for centuries and it would be a massive black mark against this government if they push ahead with this folly.”

The Spectator declined to print Cameron’s remarks in the Christmas edition of the magazine, which ran a lengthy interview with the prime minister. Nelson instead blogged his comments on the press early on Boxing Day.

The Guardian and the Observer have reserved judgment on whether to join Ipso.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/353a4f4d/sc/25/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cmedia0C20A130Cdec0C260Ccameron0Ewarns0Euk0Epress0Eregulation/story01.htm

A bomb exploded near a bus travelling north of Cairo on Thursday injuring five people a day after Egypt‘s interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. A second device was found nearby and defused.

The attacks came after a car bomb tore through a suburb north of Cairo on Tuesday, killing 16, which the country’s leadership blamed on the Islamist group.

The classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group is a marked escalation in the military-led government’s campaign to suppress opposition – an effort it has branded a “war on terror”.

On Wednesday, the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility Tuesday’s suicide bombing on a police headquarters in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo. In a statement, it warned people to stay away from what it said were legitimate targets, including police, military and government buildings.

Egypt’s armed forces have been carrying out military operations in the northern Sinai for several months. Security forces claim to have killed 164 people and arrested more than 500 others on suspicion of involvement in terrorist acts.

Analysts were divided on what the immediate impact of the statement on the Muslim Brotherhood would be. It has already been listed as a banned organisation and its financial assets seized after a 23 September court ruling.

Most of its senior leadership sit behind bars and former prime minister Hisham Qandil was captured on Tuesday on a desert road en route to neighbouring Sudan, according to security forces.

Hisham Hellyer, a Cairo-based associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the immediate legal ramifications of Wednesday’s announcement were unclear, but he had not been surprised by the announcement.

“The courts, for months, have been calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation,” he told the Guardian. “And you have the media narrative, which has described the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists for months.

“The difference is that the cabinet and the actual leadership of the state is now saying this. This is the first time the state has directly linked the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism.”

He discounted claims the Muslim Brotherhood was behind Tuesday’s bombing in Mansoura: “You have a large number of people who supported [ousted president] Mohamed Morsi, and they are responsible for the attacks. Those are criminals. Those are terrorists. Those should be targeted by the security forces.”

Hellyer predicted the climate for supporters of the Brotherhood would get worse. He added: “It also increases the likelihood that we will see more acts of violence.”

An immediate concern is the potential for vigilante attacks on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, Hellyer said, as well as those opposed to the military-led interim government.

After the Mansoura bombing, hundreds of local residents vandalised property belonging to Muslim Brotherhood supporters, burning cars and ransacking businesses.

Several Egyptian observers have, however, applauded the government’s move, with some suggesting it was late in coming.

Hisham Kassem, a publisher and analyst, said the government had made the announcement in response to growing criticism over its failure to end protest action and violence connected to those opposed to the government.

“People did not think the state was firm enough,” he said, adding: “The statement will not have any impact because it’s already a full-scale war.”

Kassem referred to threats made by senior Brotherhood figures in the wake of Morsi’s removal in July. “They have made statements that they would burn the country as punishment for removing Morsi,” he said.

“The Brotherhood have made it clear – they refuse to use reason. They have repeatedly threatened to derail the country’s progress,” Kassem added.

Over the past week, reports have circulated of clandestine talks between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unnamed sources quoted in local media claimed the Brotherhood was stepping back from earlier demands that Morsi be reinstated. There was also talk of finding a legal “exit” for the imprisoned Brotherhood leadership.

With Wednesday’s announcement, however, it appears unlikely the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, will be allowed to re-enter Egyptian politics.

Article source: http://feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663828/s/353a9ae2/sc/20/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Cworld0C20A130Cdec0C260Cegypt0Ebomb0Eattack/story01.htm

Britain’s biggest specialist door-to-door marketing company, whose clients include Vodafone and EDF, is being sued by two former workers who say it abused rules on self-employment to pay them the equivalent of 80p an hour for 70-plus-hour weeks.

Camille Meunier and Jamie Wright, whose case is being brought by the GMB union, say they received an average of £60 for a six-day-a-week job selling loft insulation and subscriptions to LoveFilm, a DVD and video-on-demand company owned by Amazon.

Meunier and Wright, both 21, worked on behalf of two subsidiaries of a Chester-based company called PerDM during 2012 and 2013. They are seeking more than £22,000 between them for breach of contract, unpaid wages and holiday pay.

The jobs, presented as a swift route to management, were described as self-employed and payable by commission only. A legal claim sent to PerDM and two subsidiaries by the GMB says the pair never saw their contracts and were obliged to sell or attend team meetings from 10am until about 10pm Monday to Saturday. There was no opportunity to vary the hours and a strict dress code was imposed, meaning they were in effect employed. GMB lawyers argue that the hours and duties were set, with the company providing equipment such as iPads to show films.

Under minimum wage laws even if a company describes someone as self-employed this must be reflected in the way they are treated, for example flexibility over hours and conditions. Employers are not obliged to disclose minimum wage terms, meaning many people are not aware that they should potentially be earning more.

Promised management opportunities never materialised, but within weeks of starting the pair were told to hire new people for sales positions.

Maria Ludkin from the GMB said PerDM’s business model amounted to a “pyramid recruitment scam”.

She said: “We decided to bring this case on behalf of our members because it reflects our concerns about the ruthless exploitation of workers by stripping away their employment rights, hiding behind a series of agency arrangements.”

Wright said the pay was reduced even more by the cost of travelling around London for the job, and the couple soon got into debt. Meunier had to give up her flat and they moved in with Wright’s parents in Welling, Kent.

Working such long hours each day, He said he felt “trapped” in the sales position: “You’re unable to look for other work. You’ve been working until 10pm, so you don’t have the energy to look for other employment.”

Shadow employment relations minister Ian Murray said “bogus self-employment” was increasingly common, and urged the government to act on the issue.

Murray said experiences like those of Meunier and Wright were “sadly becoming more common”. “The majority of businesses across the UK recognise that employees should be paid properly with rights in place. Where this doesn’t happen, there needs to be proper enforcement.”

A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said it was “committed to tackling the risks associated with false self-employment”.

The lawyer representing Meunier and Wright, Michael Newman from Leigh Day, said he planned take action against PerDM and the two PerDM subsidiaries involved, SilverScreen Communications and Dominion Acquisitions Ltd, until one of them admitted employing his clients.

He said: “Initially my view is that all of the companies involved should be part of the claim, at least until one of them accepts responsibility for employing Jamie and Camille. If they won’t accept that, then we will have to join them all as defendants and let the court decide.”

LoveFilm said it no longer works with PerDM, which was previously among a number of a third-party firms used for direct marketing.

PerDM, which describes itself as “the UK’s foremost field sales organisation”, declined to comment, despite repeated requests. SilverScreen Communications and Dominion Acquisitions could not be reached.

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The last casualty of the devastating Florence flood of 1966 has been reassembled, raising hopes of a full restoration before the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest cultural disasters of modern times.

Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper, painted on five wooden panels and measuring about 2.5 metres by 6.5 metres (8ft by 21ft), was one of the most seriously damaged works to survive the flood. Dozens of people and millions of pieces of antiquity and works of art were lost for ever when the Arno burst its banks, raging through Florence in the worst flood since the middle ages. In the decades since, new methods of restoration have been created to help salvage damaged masterpieces.

Vasari’s The Last Supper was completely immersed in water for about 12 hours and the lower portion of the painting was under water for even longer. To help them dry, the waterlogged panels were separated. A paper treatment was applied to the paint itself to stop it from flaking off and being lost permanently.

The work remained in pieces for decades, with restoration experts at a loss to know how it could be put back together. But this week the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation, which sponsored the reassembly of the painting, announced: “For the first time in 47 years, the five wooden panels that make up the storied painting are joined together again to make the artwork whole”.

The operation, which began more than three years ago, was carried out at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence and co-ordinated by its deputy director of painting conservation, Cecilia Frosinini. “We can now say that the painting has been saved,” she said on Thursday.

Though best known as the author of the first great work of art history – Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects – Vasari was a noted artist in his own right. The nuns of the Murate Convent in Florence commissioned him to paint a Last Supper in 1546.

In the 19th century, the painting was moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce, which is where it was on display when the river Arno burst its banks and the city was engulfed by floodwater.

Frosinini said the water shrank the panels and dissolved the glue that had been used, together with plaster, to provide a surface for the painting.

When the painted area and the panels were measured separately, it was found the wood had contracted by 3cm. “That is a vast difference in terms of restoration and for a long time the idea of restoring the painting seemed impossible,” she said.

The conundrum was eventually resolved by taking advantage of the splits in the panels that had opened up as a result of the soaking that they received. “Tiny slivers of wood were inserted in the gaps in the panels to give them back their original dimensions,” said Frosinini.

To restore adhesion to the surface, the OPD’s experts used a glue made from sturgeons brought to Florence by Russian experts after the flood. The panels were reassembled using one of Vasari’s original crossbars and others that were specially crafted. The Last Supper is now “absolutely restorable”, said Frosinini. “We are now looking for a sponsor ready to fund the last part of the operation.”

The Getty Foundation said the final conservation of the painted surface was expected to take at least two years. Frosinini said: “Our dream is to have the painting fully restored in time for the 50th anniversary of the flood in 2016.”

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The streets of Kiev were plastered with images of a young woman’s bruised and swollen face on Thursday morning. The almost unrecognisable photograph was of Tetyana Chernovil, a journalist known for her investigations into government corruption, who has been in intensive care preparing for a series of operations to repair her face, shattered in a beating by unknown assailants.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the interior ministry headquarters, accusing authorities of ordering police officers to carry out the attack.

“It is a shame to beat women on the head,” the crowd chanted. “Zakharchenko is an executor. He should resign,” others cried, referring to the interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko – reviled by the opposition activists who for the past month have led hundreds thousands of Ukrainians in protest against the Russian-allied government.

Chernovil, 34, has been badly disfigured by the assault . Her colleagues at the Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper recount Chernovil’s description of how her attackers chased her before beating her up in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Chernovil told police she was driving home when she noticed she was being followed by a dark SUV, which then forced her off the road. Several men jumped out and smashed her rear window, dragged her from the car, beat her and abandoned her in a ditch, a police statement said.

“It is scary and very sad to see what they have done to Tetyana,” Chernovil’s friend and colleague Maria Lebedeva told the Guardian.

Chernovil was known for her investigations and protests against alleged corruption among senior state officials, including Zakharchenko.

From the hospital bed where doctors are treating her for concussion, fractured facial bones, a severely broken nose and bruising, Chernovil told friends that on the day of the attack, she had written about Zakharchenko’s luxurious estate, which she said was unaffordable on a government salary.

Chernovil – who is as much an activist as a journalist – has also led investigations into police brutality.

Lebedeva described how, earlier this month, she had photographed Chernovil leading a group of activists to Zakharchenko’s apartment building carrying a stuffed figure of a policeman bearing the word “executor”.

“The activists put that policeman into a garbage bag – the idea was to say, if the minister does not resign, people will think of all policemen as garbage,” Lebedeva said.

General Vitaly Yarema – a former Kiev police chief who has joined the opposition protests – told local media that Chernovil had “suffered for her social activism”.

Yarema is leading an independent investigation into her attack from the opposition headquarters on Independence Square, Kiev (known as the maidan) focal point for the anti-government protest movement. He is studying video footage captured by a camera in Chernovil’s car, which her supporters say shows the three attackers and the licence plate of the car they were driving.

“I believe we will quickly find out the truth with the help of General Vitaly Yarema, a professional criminal investigator on this case,” an opposition parliament deputy, Anatoly Gritsenko, said in an interview.

Hundreds of reporters took to Kiev’s streets to protest on Thursday and vowed to continue the investigations Chernovil had started. By the afternoon, a cavalcade of 15 cars and a bus full of journalists had set off for Zakharchenko’s summer cottage.

“They call it the Mobile Maidan. In spite of violence used against protesters, reporters and activists are determined to go right to the minister’s windows to support their colleague,” said Mari Bastashevski, a researcher and artist.

After more than a month of pro-EU protests in the central square of Kiev, Chernovil’s case has rapidly become a symbol for the Ukrainian opposition and a totem around which Ukraine‘s journalists – hampered by routine violence and rights abuses – are rallying.

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