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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Video From U.N. Panel Grilling Vatican Officials on Abuse of Children

The Vatican

The Vatican’s former top sex crimes prosecutor told a United Nations committee on Thursday that “the Holy See gets it” when he was sharply questioned about the Roman Catholic Church’s slow response to handling cases involving clergy members’ sexual abuse of children.

In the toughest public questioning of Vatican officials on the abuse scandal to date, members of the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child, meeting in Geneva, grilled top Vatican officials about why priests with a history of abuse were moved around to different parishes, and in one case to the Vatican, instead of being aggressively investigated.

The United Nations meeting came a day after the Archdiocese of Chicago turned over thousands of pages of documents to lawyers for sexual abuse victims, as part of a legal settlement. The documents, including personnel files, are expected to identify 30 former clergy members accused of abusing children, and the church officials who helped protect the accused priests. Those people are expected to be publicly identified next week.

“I want to offer apologies to all victims affected by these sins and crimes,” Bishop Francis Kane said during a news conference as described in this video report from Chicago’s WGN.

In Geneva, members of the United Nations committee asked Vatican officials why church officials evaded and covered up cases rather than expose the extent of the problem and deal with it.

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, told the committee that members of the Holy See â€" the city-state’s diplomatic entity â€" understood the problem.

At the same time, in response to questions, he relied on the Vatican’s longtime defense that local prosecutors, not the church, are responsible for criminal cases involving abusive priests and that the Vatican was responsible for responding to abuses committed within the confines of the Vatican state.

As my colleagues Jason Horowitz and Jim Yardley reported this week, Pope Francis has been taking steps inside the Vatican to address the problem. They write that Pope Francis is not only changing the tone of the church with his humble approach but also reshaping the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

In a first step, Pope Francis appointed a commission to propose measures to address the abuse scandals that have rocked parishes across the world. The committee is expected to issue a nonbinding report with its recommendations in February.

Al Jazeera Denies That Journalists Detained in Egypt Confessed to Terror Charges

Christiane Amanpour of CNN confronted Naguib Sawiris, one of Egypt’s wealthiest men and a supporter of the military-backed government, over the detention of a team of Al Jazeera English journalists.

Egyptian officials said on Thursday that journalists from the Al Jazeera English network detained on Dec. 29 had confessed to being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the military-backed government that took power after the ouster in July of President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the group.

The statement from the prosecutor general, reported by the English-language Daily News Egypt, did not specify which of the three detained journalists were said to have confessed to being members of the Brotherhood. The detained journalists are Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian citizen and the station’s acting Cairo bureau chief; Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent; and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.

According to The Daily News, the prosecutor’s statement said that “some defendants confessed during the investigations that they had joined the terrorist group,” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. “It has been proven that the defendants gathered and edited video material to re-create reports fabricating the situation in Egypt to tarnish the country’s reputation and delude international public opinion by saying that a civil war is going on in Egypt.”

Al Jazeera published a statement of its own on Thursday denying that its employees had confessed to terrorism and calling for the reporters’ release. None of the three men have been formally charged with any crime.

The accusations against our journalists do not stand up to scrutiny. Our detained team had been working in Cairo for some time and people can still watch their work online. It was all of the highest journalistic standards and integrity, as has been all our output since the start of the momentous events in Egypt three years ago.

The prosecutor’s measure of issuing a statement like this is unusual, as it looks like a prejudgment on an ongoing investigation. Claims that anyone has ‘confessed’ are rejected by our journalists and legal team.

We have been overwhelmed by the global calls for our journalists to be released, and the Egyptian authorities would be well advised to take heed.

Nancy Youssef, a Cairo-based correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, secured a rare jailhouse visit with Mr. Fahmy in a prison on the outskirts of Cairo this month and described the brief meeting in an account published the next day. She said Mr. Fahmy appeared “haggard and confused but healthy.”

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, one of the Al Jazeera English journalists detained in Egypt, previously worked for CNN.

The dispute over the three men’s detention spilled over into a CNN interview of the Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, a staunch supporter of the military-backed regime that has ruled since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. The interview was meant to focus on the country’s constitutional referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The interviewer, CNN’s chief foreign correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, engaged in a tense back-and-forth with Mr. Sawiris over the journalists’ detention, telling him, “Three of my colleagues are in jail.” Mr. Fahmy worked for CNN in Egypt before taking a job with Al Jazeera English and formerly contributed to The New York Times. Mr. Greste is a former correspondent for the BBC and won a Peabody Award in 2011 for his coverage of Somalia.

Peter Greste is a former correspondent for the BBC.

Mr. Sawiris responded to Ms. Amanpour by saying that the men were guilty of “incitement against Egypt” and “making up stories,” but he also appeared to argue that their worst crime was undertaking these activities without a proper permit. “The minimum they should have done is get a permit for that, that’s all,” he said.

Many Egyptians accuse Al Jazeera, especially its Arabic-language network, of infusing its news report with a bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and since the military takeover in July the government has come down hard on the network.

At least two other Al Jazeera employees, Abdullah El-Shamy and Mohamed Badr, are in Egyptian custody, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said Egypt was one of the top 10 jailers of journalists in 2013. The organization also said that Egypt was one of the three most dangerous countries in which to be a journalist in 2013, with six reporters killed there on the job.

On Wednesday another correspondent for the network was arrested while filming a segment on the constitutional referendum in the Fayoum oasis, according to Egypt Independent, an English-language news source. An Associated Press cameraman was also arrested on Wednesday when the police mistook him for an Al Jazeera employee after his images appeared on the network.

Hariri Son Discusses Assassination at Lebanon Tribunal

Reuters footage of the aftermath of the car bombing in the Lebanese village of Hermel on Jan. 16.

As my colleague Ben Hubbard reported, a suicide car bomber killed at least 3 people in a northeastern town in Lebanon, the latest in a string of attacks that many have interpreted as targeting groups backing opposite sides in the civil war in neighboring Syria.

It was also a bloody backdrop to a long-awaited event that opened in Europe on Thursday and that represents another fault line in the deadly sectarian showdown in the region: the opening of the trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the outskirts of The Hague.

The tribunal trial centers on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. The prosecution contends that the four suspects are members of Hezbollah. None of the men have been arrested and they are being tried in absentia.

On Thursday, Mr. Hariri’s son, Saad, also a former prime minister, spoke to reporters outside of the trial building. In this English language footage posted by Al Arabiya, Mr. Hariri said, in part:

Today for the first time this act of terror that happened in Lebanon, hopefully we will see the time of impunity ending and the time of justice coming. We are today beginning to see the unfolding of how Prime Minister Hariri and many others of the Syrian revolution have been killed and assassinated because of their fight for democracy.

We thank the international community for this opportunity that gave Lebanon to find justice against criminals that committed this heinous crime, and unfortunately the names of those who perpetrated these crimes are Lebanese.

They follow a certain political party. They are innocent until proven guilty. This is what we want. Justice not vengeance. We never seek vengeance, and hopefully by the end of this trial we will find out the truth, and we will get the justice that we called for in Lebanon.

As my colleague Alan Cowell reported on the opening day of the trial, the four accused have been shielded from arrest and prosecution by the powerful Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.

A report from AFP showed some of the opening remarks from the tribunal, followed by damage from Thursday’s blast in Hermel. The lead prosecutor in the trial, Norman Farrell, said, “The people of Lebanon have the right to have this trial, to hear the evidence, and to seek the truth.”

AFP report includes remarks from the opening session of the tribunal on Jan. 16.

In another statement, made in Arabic and posted on his YouTube channel, Mr. Hariri described the start of the trial as a historic moment that represented the Lebanese people’s demands for justice, without answering violence with violence. But he said not handing over the suspects was a “crime in addition to the original crime.”

Saad Hariri’s statement in Arabic outside of the building where the trial is taking place in The Hague on Jan. 16. as posted in his YouTube channel.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Free Markets, Infidelity and the President of France

François Hollande, the president of France, after voting in the April 22, 2012, election that brought him to power. Seated next to him is his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.Thierry Zoccolan/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images François Hollande, the president of France, after voting in the April 22, 2012, election that brought him to power. Seated next to him is his partner, Valérie Trierweiler.

PARIS - Is it worse to be an ardent advocate of the free market than a suspected adulterer?

The answer appears to be a resounding yes, if you are the president of France.

In recent days, the French capital has experienced a mix of finger-wagging, indifference and no small helping of mischievous pride over revelations of President François Hollande’s supposed infidelity with a vampish actress. The news, reported in a French gossip magazine, sent his partner, a woman considered France’s first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, to a hospital with a serious bout of the blues. But for some leftist members of Mr. Hollande’s Socialist party, it was the president’s rightward shift this week on economic policy that gave them a jolt akin to Ms. Trierweiler’s.

Among Mr. Hollande’s proposed changes was a pledge to cut public spending by €50 billion, or about $68 billion, and slash the payroll taxes for business by €30 billion, or about $41 billion. In return, businesses would be expected to expand their workforces and offer respectable wages.

At a time of 10.8 percent unemployment, when economic growth is woefully low, and France, fairly or not, is being portrayed as the next Sick Man of Europe, the policy move hardly seemed radical. Yet in a country where citizens expect the state to provide from cradle to grave - and Mr. Hollande has fashioned himself as the standardbearer against growth-destroying, German-style economic austerity - a blog in Le Monde this week called his proposed changes no less than “revolutionary”.

President Hollande's affair with Julie Gayet, an actress, has been less jarring for some in France than his apparent embrace of economic liberalism.Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images President Hollande’s affair with Julie Gayet, an actress, has been less jarring for some in France than his apparent embrace of economic liberalism.

Some compared Mr. Hollande, a onetime Socialist die-hard, to Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who wrenched Britain’s Labour Party toward the center. Others invoked former Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder of Germany, who more than a decade ago started wide-ranging labor market changes that helped revive his country’s moribund economy. Le Monde asked whether Mr. Hollande was copying former President Nicolas Sarkozy, his nemesis on the right, whose “bling bling” approach was greeted with barely concealed disdain.

Being economically “liberal” in the French context connotes an adherence to the free market, and Mr. Hollande immediately went on the offensive, declaring at the Élysée Palace on Tuesday night, “I am a social democrat.” He insisted he would continue to adhere to that vision, no matter how many times the issue was broached.

By cleaving to a social democratic line, Libération, a leftist newspaper, wrote approvingly, the president “clarified his political position at the risk of being accused of turning liberal.”

Mr. Hollande’s declarations as a social democrat was mimicked by France’s prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, on Thursday morning, Le Figaro reported. Apparently seeking not to appear slavishly pro-business, he insisted that the purpose of his boss’s proposed pact between business and labor was not calculated to help bosses or employers, but rather to embolden businesses’ ability to invest, innovate and hire.

Yet some in the French business community appeared to express glee at Mr. Hollande’s change of approach. Alluding to the socialist president’s professed intention to slash spending, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the vice president of a powerful employer’s association, wrote on Twitter this week: “Keynes Killed With One Bullet to the Neck!”

Mr. Hollande’s new drive to shake up the French economy comes amid a recent barrage of stories in the United States and British media heralding a French decline, including an article in Newsweek, under the headline, The Fall of France, which argued that high taxes and overprotective labor laws were forcing the exodus of the country’s best and brightest. The story inspired an angry riposte from Le Monde, which accused the magazine of French-bashing.

Meanwhile, the French Embassy in London last week published an unusually undiplomatic blog post refuting claims about France’s economy from Allister Heath, the editor of City A.M, a British financial newspaper distributed free around London’s financial district. Writing recently, Mr. Heath argued that “France’s economic sickness is primarily due to its overbearing state, horrendously high tax levels, insane regulations, absurd levels of inefficient public spending and generalised hatred of commerce, capitalism, success and hard work.”

He added, “Companies should not bother opening offices in France.”

The French Embassy in London shot back at Britain’s “ailing” National Health Services, and noted that the average French worker put in longer hours each week than its British counterpart.

Mr. Heath, for his part, said he had no regrets, and wrote a tweet this week, playing on a famous Édith Piaf song: “Je ne regrette absolument rien!”