Prime Minister

Newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appointed a UT visiting professor as the country’s finance minister Tuesday.

Yanis Varoufakis, a visiting professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, became an elected member of the Greek parliament this Sunday. He was sworn in as finance minister during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens on Tuesday.

Serving under Tsipras, Varoufakis will be a part of a new cabinet to advise the prime minister.

Varoufakis is one of the primary critics of Greece’s ongoing economic policies, which have sunk the economy to a historic low since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007, according to a statement from UT, “Varoufakis has been a leading voice of opposition to the policies conducted since the start of the financial crisis in Greece and throughout Europe by the European Union and its allied institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank,” the statement said.

Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said Varoufakis is not new to the discussion about the Greek economy.

“He’s a prominent public intellectual known, not only in Greece as a major political figure, but around Europe, and he has been at the forefront of the discussion of the crisis in the eurozone,” Hutchings said.

Varoufakis said he will implement economic solutions that work for the various stakeholders of the Greek economy.

“As the next finance minister, I can assure you that I shall not go into the Eurogroup seeking a solution that is good for the Greek taxpayer and bad for the Irish, Slovak, German, French and Italian taxpayer,” said Varoufakis.

Although Varoufakis only taught at UT for two years, Hutchings said his time at the LBJ School served both students and faculty.

“It’s great for us as a faculty to have had him here for two years and great for students to have had the chance to study under someone who is now doing one of the toughest jobs in the world,” Hutchings said

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic national apology in Parliament on Thursday to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.

The seven-member Senate committee began investigating the federal government’s role in forced adoption in 2010 after the Western Australian state parliament apologized to mothers and children for the flawed practices in that state from the 1940s until the 1980s.

A worker removes election banner of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday. A weakened Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — The unexpectedly strong showing by a new centrist party in Israel’s parliamentary election has raised hopes of a revival of peace talks with Palestinians that have languished for four years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Political newcomer Yair Lapid, the surprise kingmaker, is already being courted by a weakened Netanyahu, who needs his support to form a ruling coalition. Lapid has said he will not sit in the government unless the peace process is restarted.

But following a campaign in which the Palestinian issue was largely ignored, it remains unclear how hard Lapid will push the issue in what could be weeks of coalition talks with Netanyahu.

Tuesday’s election ended in a deadlock, with Netanyahu’s hard-line religious bloc of allies and the rival bloc of centrist, secular and Arab parties each with 60 seats, according to near-complete official results. Opinion polls had universally forecast a majority of seats going to the right-wing bloc.

While Netanyahu, as head of the largest single party in parliament, is poised to remain prime minister, it appears impossible for him to cobble together a majority coalition without reaching across the aisle.

Lapid, whose Yesh Atid — or There is a Future — captured 19 seats, putting it in second place, is the most likely candidate to join him. In a gesture to Netanyahu, Lapid said there would not be a “blocking majority,” in which opposition parties prevent the prime minister from forming a government. The comment virtually guarantees that Netanyahu will be prime minister, with Lapid a major partner.

Netanyahu said Wednesday he would work to create a wide coalition stretching across the political divide.

Speaking to reporters, he said the election proved “the Israeli public wants me to continue leading the country” and put together “as broad a coalition as possible.”

He said the next government would pursue three major domestic policy goals: to bring ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, who are routinely granted draft exemptions, into the military, to provide affordable housing and to change the current fragmented multiparty system, which often gives smaller coalition partners outsize strength. 

But Netanyahu only alluded to peacemaking in vague terms, saying coalition talks would focus on “security and diplomatic responsibility.” He took no questions from reporters and immediately walked out of the room.

BANGKOK — Investigators say they plan to file murder charges against Thailand’s former prime minister and his deputy in the first prosecutions of officials for their roles in a deadly 2010 crackdown on anti-
government protests.

The protests and crackdown left more than 90 people dead and about 1,800 injured in Thailand’s worst political violence in decades. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party, now in the opposition after being ousted in elections last year, and “red shirt” supporters of the ruling Pheu Thai Party have blamed each other for the bloodshed since.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that Baghdad and Kurdish officials reached a preliminary agreement to allow inhabitants of disputed northern areas to oversee their own security.

Nouri al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad that the central government and leaders from the Kurdish autonomous region agreed that local ethnic and sectarian groups will form units to replace Iraqi and Kurdish forces currently in the disputed areas, which are claimed by Arabs, Turkomen and Kurds.

Tensions between Baghdad and the Kurds have increased over the last two months, following a decision by al-Maliki to form a new military command to oversee security forces bordering the self-ruled Kurdish region. The move was deemed unconstitutional by the Kurds.

 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DUBLIN — The debate over legalizing abortion in Ireland flared Wednesday after the government confirmed that a woman in the midst of a miscarriage was refused an abortion and died in an Irish hospital after suffering from blood poisoning.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was awaiting findings from three investigations into the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman who was 17 weeks pregnant. Her case highlighted the legal limbo in which pregnant women facing severe health problems can find themselves in predominantly Catholic Ireland.

Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling found the procedure should be legalized for situations when the woman’s life is at risk from continuing the pregnancy. Five governments since have refused to pass a law resolving the confusion, leaving Irish hospitals reluctant to terminate pregnancies except in the most obviously life-threatening circumstances.

Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, said doctors at University Hospital Galway in western Ireland determined she was miscarrying within hours of her hospitalization for severe pain on Sunday, Oct. 21. He said over the next three days, doctors refused their requests for an abortion to combat her surging pain and fading health.

The hospital declined to say whether doctors believed Halappanavar’s blood poisoning could have been reversed had she received an abortion rather than waiting for the fetus to die on its own. In a statement, it described its own investigation into the death, and a parallel probe by the government’s Health Service Executive, as “standard practice” whenever a pregnant woman dies in a hospital.

Opposition politicians appealed Wednesday for Kenny’s government to introduce legislation immediately to make the 1992 Supreme Court judgment part of statutory law. Barring any such bill, the only legislation defining the illegality of abortion in Ireland dates to 1861, when the entire island was part of the United Kingdom. That British law, still valid here due to Irish inaction on the matter, states it is a crime punishable by life imprisonment to “procure a miscarriage.”

In the 1992 case, a 14-year-old girl identified in court only as “X’’ successfully sued the government for the right to have an abortion in England. She had been raped by a neighbor. When her parents reported the crime to police, the attorney general ordered her not to travel abroad for an abortion, arguing this would violate Ireland’s constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled she should be permitted an abortion in Ireland, never mind England, because she was making credible threats to commit suicide if refused one. During the case, the girl reportedly suffered a miscarriage.

Since then, Irish governments twice have sought public approval to legalize abortion in life-threatening circumstances — but excluding a suicide threat as acceptable grounds. Both times voters rejected the
proposed amendments.

An abortions right group, Choice Ireland, said Halappanavar might not have died had any previous government legislated in line with the X judgment. Earlier this year, the government rejected an opposition bill to do this.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte claimed victory early Thursday for his conservative VVD party in national elections widely seen as a referendum on the Netherlands’ commitment to Europe.

With 92 percent of municipalities reporting, the VVD was set to take 41 seats in the 150-member Dutch Parliament, two more than its largest rival, the center-left Labor party. Rutte said Labor leader Diederik Samsom had called him to concede.

“Tonight let’s enjoy it, and tomorrow we have get to work to make sure a stable Cabinet is formed as soon as possible,” Rutte told cheering supporters at a beachside hotel in The Hague. “Then I’m going to get to work with you to help the Netherlands emerge from this crisis,” he said, referring to Europe’s debt crisis, which has left the Dutch economy in the doldrums.

The result sets the stage for the VVD and Labor — both pro-Europe parties — to forge a two-party ruling coalition with Rutte returning for a second term as prime minister.

Formal coalition talks can’t start until official results are verified on Monday and the new parliament is seated, next week at the earliest. Rutte said he wouldn’t comment on possible coalitions for the time being.

Both top parties booked gains far greater than polls before Wednesday’s election had predicted, as voters strayed from smaller parties to support the two front runners.

Labor leader Samsom, who shot to prominence in the past month due to strong performances in televised debates, was jubilant.

He told supporters in Amsterdam that Labor was willing to help form a government “as long as the result from tonight is translated into the plans of a new Cabinet.”

But Rutte also called the vote an endorsement of his previous government’s right-wing policies and austerity platform, while Samsom ran on a platform of change.

“This is a strong boost for the agenda that we have laid out for the Netherlands, to go on with our policy in this splendid country,” Rutte said.

The election was cast as a virtual referendum on Europe amid the continent’s crippling debt crisis, but the result was a stark rejection of the most radical critic of the EU, anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party was forecast to lose 8 seats, dropping to 16.

Wilders’ calls to ditch the euro may have been too radical for voters, or he may have lost support for walking out of talks with Rutte in April to hammer out an austerity package to rein in the Dutch budget deficit.

“The voter has spoken,” an emotional Wilders told supporters in a Hague cafe. The Socialist Party, which briefly led in polls on its anti-austerity platform, wound up unchanged at 15 seats.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt welcomed the result.

“Looks as if populist anti-Europeans are losing big time in Dutch election. Distinctly good news,” Bildt tweeted.

The VVD’s campaign manager, lawmaker Stef Blok, did not want to speculate about coalition talks, but said the result “shows the VVD has an unbelievable amount of support.”

Ronald Plasterk of Labor said voters responded to his party’s more compassionate social policies.

“It’s an honest platform,” he said. “On the one hand we’re for a strong euro, for solid government finances, but also for a real social policy and welfare net.”

The result was a victory for pro-European forces in the Netherlands, a founding member of the EU whose export-driven economy has benefited from the bloc’s open market.

Whatever form the new government takes, it is not likely to derail the current Franco-German compromise approach to solving Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Both the VVD and Labor endorse cost-cutting for most governments to keep them within European budget deficit rules. But they also support exceptions or even bailouts for fiscally stressed countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy — as long as they adhere to externally mandated cost-cutting targets and labor market reforms.

While critical of a strict austerity-only solution to the debt crisis, the parties can work together. Labor backed Rutte at crucial moments in the past year to approve bailout funds and endorse European-level solutions to prevent the debt crisis from spinning out of control.

Rutte is closer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his outlook, and Samsom closer to French President Francois Hollande, but in a coalition those differences would likely balance out.

By not flocking to Wilders or the euro-skeptical Socialist Party, Dutch voters signaled at least an acceptance of the importance of a healthy Europe: in national polls, voters said that no election issue was nearly as important as the state of the Dutch economy and the effect Europe’s sovereign debt crisis is having on it.

For the Dutch, the elections are something of a return to normalcy after a decade of upheaval.

For the first time since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, the election focused on economic policies such as mortgage deductions and the retirement age, rather than Muslim integration and immigrant crime.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s parliament elected Wednesday a leading member in the country’s oldest opposition movement to be its new prime minister.

Mustafa Abu-Shakour is tasked with stabilizing a country where armed groups proliferate. Washington’s ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed during a late Tuesday attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

Abu-Shakour, deputy to Libya’s outgoing interim prime minister, is considered a compromise figure acceptable to both Islamists and liberals.

He is the first elected head of government since the ouster and slaying of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in last year’s civil war.

He hails from the National Front Party, an offshoot of a longstanding anti-Gadhafi movement that includes both Islamist and secular figures. He narrowly beat liberal Mahmoud Jibril by 96 votes out of 190.

Previous interim governments have faced persistent criticism that they have been ineffective in tackling the multiple troubles facing the deeply divided nation, foremost among them the strength of armed militias that dominate towns and challenge the authority of the central government.

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — Mortar rounds could be heard Thursday in the capital of the small, coup-prone nation of Guinea-Bissau as the military sealed off the city’s downtown area and lobbed grenades at the prime minister’s home, according to a diplomat and a military official.

The diplomat said the shooting started after the state radio station signal inexplicably went dead. He said that the whereabouts of the nation’s interim president, who took over after the death in January of the previous leader, was unknown.

A military official, who like the diplomat could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that the soldiers had encircled the home of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. He said that they were attacking the building with grenades. It was not clear if the premier was at home when the shooting started — or where he is now.

The attack comes just weeks before an April 29 presidential runoff, which Gomes was favored to win. He took nearly 49 percent of the first round vote, just shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Challenger Kumba Yala, a former president who was overthrown in a 2003 coup, came second with about 23 percent. But the future of the runoff vote was uncertain because Yala recently announced he planned to boycott the vote, claiming fraud.

It was unclear if a coup was in progress in this country. Like in previous military takeovers, the heavy firing is coming after the state broadcaster went silent. In neighboring Mali last month, renegade soldiers seized state television just after they stormed the presidential palace. They then gathered in front of the cameras to announce the coup d’etat.

The unexpected violence late Thursday took even seasoned diplomats by surprise. One official spoke by telephone to The Associated Press from his office late Thursday, which he had not been able to leave because of the shooting.

“I am at the office and I am prevented from leaving,” said the diplomat. “The downtown area has been sealed off by the military ... I can also tell you that all Guinea-Bissau radio has been taken off the air since 8 p.m. local time and the whereabouts of the prime minister and interim president are unknown.”

The presidential election currently in progress was organized in haste, after the death of former leader Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after being rushed to France for end-stage diabetes.

Guinea-Bissau has weathered successive coups, attempted coups and a civil war since winning independence from Portugal in 1974. It has been further destabilized by a growing cocaine trade, fueled by traffickers from Latin America who discovered the nation’s archipelago of uninhabited islands several years ago. They used the deserted islands to land small, twin-engine planes loaded with drugs, which are then parceled out and carried north for sale in Europe.

The traffickers, according to analysts, have bought off key members of the government and the military, creating what some are now calling a narcostate.

ISTANBUL — A year of sanctions, diplomacy and harsh rhetoric failed to stop Syria’s bloody crackdown and oust President Bashar Assad. With frustration running high, Turkey and other countries that have staked moral credibility on ending the violence are increasingly looking at intervention on Syrian soil, a strategy they have so far avoided for lack of international consensus and fears it could widen the conflict.

Diplomacy has not yet run its course, but more treacherous options, including aid to Syrian rebels, are likely to come up at a meeting of dozens of countries that oppose Assad, including the United States and its European and Arab partners, in Istanbul on April 1.

One prominent option floated by Turkey is a “buffer zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, which could amount to a foreign military occupation, intent on regime change even if the aim is humanitarian in name. The risks of such an endeavor in a combustible region are evident in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon decades ago and Syria’s own military presence in Lebanon until 2005.

Yet, comparisons with international hesitation over the Balkans bloodshed in the 1990s make it ever harder to engage in seemingly endless, and fruitless, diplomacy.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Syria with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday at a nuclear security conference in South Korea, and said it was not possible to tolerate events there. Earlier, Erdogan was asked by reporters on his plane whether a safe zone inside Syria was on the agenda.

“Studies are under way,” Erdogan said. “It would depend on developments. The ‘right to protection’ may be put into use, according to international rules. We are trying to find a solution by engaging Russia, China and Iran.”

Erdogan predicted that “everything could change” if those countries withdraw their support for Syria, and he accused Assad of reviving ties with and “protecting” rebels of the PKK, a Turkish Kurd group at war with the Turkish state. Turkey already hosts some 17,000 Syrian refugees, and casting the Syrian crisis in terms of Turkey’s national security strengthens the case for intervention.

U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was discussing Syria on Sunday in Russia, which vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring Assad but has shown increasing impatience with him. His next stop is Beijing, which also blocked U.N. action.

Annan’s plan, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, includes a cease-fire by Syrian forces, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide aid, and inclusive talks about a political solution.

But, there are still questions about how such an agreement would be overseen and enforced. An Arab League monitoring effort in Syria failed, labeled a farce by some who participated. The likelihood that a Syrian regime that has shelled cities would talk in good faith to the people it targeted is remote, and outgunned Syrian rebels say the time is long past for any negotiation.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have died. Many were civilian protesters.

Assad bucked the trend of relatively quick transitions to new governments in regional uprisings. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where a NATO bombing campaign helped oust Moammar Gadhafi, did not bear the same geopolitical tensions as the Syrian case. The conflict there comes as Israel considers a plan to bomb the nuclear facilities of Iran, a regional power and close ally of Assad, and further destabilization in Syria could set off lasting unrest.

Turkey and the United States, in an election year, “are reluctant to make more forceful moves because of the long-term costs of policing the sectarian violence that will surely happen following the collapse of the Assad regime,” said Arda Batu, professor of international relations at Yeditepe University in Istanbul and editor-in-chief of the Kalem Journal, a website about regional affairs.

The countries meeting in Istanbul hope to help the Syrian opposition coalesce into a more coherent movement that can show all Syrians, not only the majority Sunni Muslims, that they would have a place in a post-Assad future.

The “Friends of Syria” group of more than 60 countries made little headway at its maiden meeting in Tunisia in February, and countries are already talking about creating a subgroup to discuss military options more urgently. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are some of the strongest advocates of this approach.

One idea sees Arab countries and Turkey — with the U.S., ideally, but possibly without — establishing a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border that would serve as a humanitarian corridor and staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army. On the Syrian side of the border, it would entail army defectors and other guerrillas wresting control of land and holding it, which they have been unable to do.

Earlier this month, CIA chief David Petraeus met Erdogan in Ankara. Turkish media said the prime minister warned that deepening instability in Syria would provide a “living space” for militant organizations active in the region, including the PKK.

On Saturday, Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper, which is considered close to the government, said 500 military personnel have inspected areas close to the border for a safe zone that could stretch 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) inside Syria, and would end their “studies” before the meeting in Istanbul.

The newspaper did not provide sources, but the report contributed to a sense that the safe zone idea is slowly gaining traction despite the pitfalls.

“If the U.S. is not involved, there is no way Turkey would get involved in it,” said Osman Bahadir Dincer, a Syria expert at the International Strategic Research Organisation, a center in Ankara, the Turkish capital. However, he predicted “some kind of an intervention in the form of a buffer zone or a safe zone” within one or two months.

Dincer said a decision to arm the Free Syrian Army was unlikely at the Istanbul meeting amid questions over the composition of the ragtag militias, and divisions between fighters in Syria and the Syrian National Council, the opposition group based outside the country.

“The opposition is too fragmented, there is confusion as to which group represents who, or what they represent,” he said.

The U.S. and other key allies, however, are considering providing Syrian rebels with communications help, medical aid and other “non-lethal” assistance. Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said in South Korea on Sunday that communications assistance could be critical to the opposition’s efforts.

If any military intervention is to gain the international legitimacy that was accorded the Libya mission, it will need the U.N.’s stamp of approval. That requires the acquiescence of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, an unlikely possibility that could only occur if they are included in the process and feel similarly betrayed by the Assad regime.

Without the U.N., the U.S. would be stretched to justify military involvement. It could help NATO ally Turkey in the event of a Syrian attack across the border, or make a U-turn on a doctrine of caution about intervention that Obama has insisted on since he was a presidential candidate.

“Of course, it is not possible to remain a spectator, to wait and not to intervene,” Erdogan said in South Korea, with Obama at his side. “It is our humanitarian and conscientious responsibility. We are engaged in efforts toward doing whatever is necessary within the framework of international law. We are happy to see that our views on this overlap.”