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Phuket Gazette World News: Sloan ranger named for Gitmo closure; Iran parties for cleric president-elect; Czech out in graft scandal; Kremlin says kiss my Superbowl ring

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

State Department to name lawyer Cliff Sloan to close Guantanamo
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The State Department on Monday is expected to announce the appointment of Washington lawyer Cliff Sloan to oversee the closure of the controversial Guantanamo detention camp, sources familiar with the decision said on Sunday.

Sloan is a partner with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, who has served in all three branches of government and litigated cases in state and federal courts.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sloan possessed the “intellect and skill as a negotiator respected across party lines.”

“I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge,” Kerry said. “Cliff and I share the president’s conviction that Guantanamo’s continued operation isn’t in our security interests.”

The Guantanamo tribunals were established by the Bush administration and revised by the Obama administration to try suspected al Qaeda operatives and their associates on terrorism charges.

More than 100 of the 166 prisoners in the camp have joined a hunger strike to protest the failure to resolve their fate after more than a decade of detention.

In January, the State Department reassigned the special envoy who had been in charge of trying to persuade countries to take Guantanamo inmates approved for release, Daniel Fried, and did not replace him.

“Our fidelity to the rule of law likewise compels us also to end the long, uncertain detention of the detainees at Guantanamo,” Kerry said in the statement. “We can do it in a way that makes us more secure, not less. It will not be easy, but if anyone can effectively navigate the space between agencies and branches of government, it’s Cliff.”

Czech prime minister steps down amid graft scandal
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas was forced to quit on Sunday by a graft and spying scandal involving his closest aide, pitching the European Union member state into a period of uncertainty over who will form the next government.

Under the Czech constitution, the whole government will now have to step down, and there is likely to be horse-trading between the governing coalition, the opposition and the president before a replacement is in place.

Necas quit days after prosecutors charged the head of his office, Jana Nagyova, with bribing members of parliament and ordering intelligence agents to spy on people.

The scandal has a personal element for the prime minister: one of the surveillance targets, according to lawyers involved in the case, was the prime minister’s own wife, Radka. The two are filing for divorce.

Necas has said he knew nothing about the surveillance, but the charges were so toxic that his coalition partners signalled they could no longer support him.

“I will resign as prime minister tomorrow,” Necas told a news conference after meetings with his Civic Democratic party and with the leaders of other parties in the governing coalition.

“I am aware fully aware how the twists and turns of my personal life are burdening the Czech political scene and the Civic Democratic Party,” he said.

He said his party would try to form a new government, led by a different person, to rule until a scheduled election next year. However, it was unclear if that plan could muster enough support in parliament.

Two decades ago, Czech dissident Vaclav Havel led a “Velvet Revolution” that overthrew Communist rule and turned his country into a beacon of liberty. But in the years since then, the Czech Republic has been mired in corruption.

Necas and his administration will stay on as caretakers until a new government is installed. President Milos Zeman will have an important say in who takes over. If after three attempts there is no viable government, or the parliament agrees to dissolve itself, an early election will be held.

Presidential power

Forming a new government will be tough for the current coalition because it does not have an outright parliamentary majority. At the moment, it falls at least two votes short.

The only way to cobble together a majority is to win over independent members of parliament. Some independents have in the past voted with the cabinet, opening the possibility they may pledge their support.

The constitution gives the president the authority to appoint a prime minister. He is a political opponent of Necas, and could refuse to endorse the coalition’s nominee for prime minister.

“If the government has majority support, I believe that he (the president) would accept that majority. If that attempt is not successful, there should be a quick agreement on an early election,” said Miroslav Kalousek, deputy chairman of TOP09 and finance minister in the outgoing cabinet.

An early election would favour the opposition Social Democrats, who, according to opinion polls, are more popular than the government.

The anti-corruption operation that brought down Necas was the biggest in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.5 million people in eastern Europe, for 20 years.

About 400 police officers raided government offices, bank safe deposits and other locations, conducted 31 house searches and seized at least $6 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold. They did not say who it belonged to.

A lawyer for the prime minister’s aide Nagyova, who is now in custody, says she denies some of the allegations against her, while on others she argues that she acted in good faith.

Czechs have been increasingly irritated by media reports of kickbacks and tainted deals in the public sector and the inability of the police and justice to punish the perpetrators.

Last week’s operation was, in part, the result of Necas’s own reforms: under his watch, newly appointed prosecutors were given a free hand to go after corruption cases.

Ring row: Kremlin says U.S. Super Bowl ring was a gift to Putin
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Vladimir Putin’s opponents often brand him a “thief” at street protests. Now the Kremlin is dismissing an American football team owner’s account of how the Russian president ended up with his diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring when they met eight years ago.

According to the New York Post, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the audience at a recent awards ceremony that he had intended only to show Putin the ring, worth more than $25,000, but that Putin had pocketed it.

Putin’s spokesman said that Kraft clearly meant the ring – around 70 of which are given to the winning team in the annual American football championship – to be a gift, and suggested Kraft should see a psychoanalyst.

“I was standing right behind the president, and I saw how he was given the ring,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday in London, where Putin met British Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Kraft met Putin in St Petersburg in 2005, after the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl that February. In a statement at the time, he reportedly said he had decided to give Putin the ring as a gesture of goodwill.

But according to the Post, K

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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