rest of the world

France holds joint military exercises with Greece, threatening Turkey
Ulaş Ateşçi, Alex Lantier, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Macron ordered joint military exercises by French and Greek forces yesterday in the eastern Mediterranean, in response to renewed Turkish oil exploration in waters disputed by Greece and Turkey. As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies pre-existing political and strategic conflicts, the danger of war between the NATO powers is mounting. On Wednesday, Macron had demanded Turkey stop “unilateral decisions on oil exploration.” He added:

France temporarily reinforce the French military presence in the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, in cooperation with European partners, including Greece.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed this move, claiming:

Emmanuel Macron is a true friend of Greece and a fervent defender of European values and international law.

Yesterday, France’s Army Ministry stated that it would send two Rafale fighter jets and the frigate Lafayette to the eastern Mediterranean. It added:

This deployment aims to stress France’s attachment to freedom of movement, the security of maritime navigation in the Mediterranean and the respect of international law.

These forces have arrived in the southern Greek island of Crete, while two French Rafales also landed in Cyprus, according to Reuters and Anadolu agency reports. France’s belligerent intervention came after Ankara announced that its seismic research vessel Oruç Reis would resume operations in disputed waters for two weeks. These announcements have escalated tensions between Ankara and Athens. Turkish boxtops announced that their fighters and warships will escort the Oruç Reis and auxiliary vessels in the region, which Greek warships are also shadowing. Greece issued a statement demanding that Turkey “immediately end its illegal actions that undermine peace and security in the region.” Its armed forces have been placed on high alert. Mitsotakis warned Wednesday of “the risk of an accident” when “so many naval forces gather in a limited area” and blamed Ankara for this situation. A danger of “accident” that could rapidly escalate an all-out war emerged when Greek coast guards opened fire on a private boat off the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea on Tuesday. They wounded two Turkish and one Syrian civilian aboard. The Mitsotakis government has also requested an emergency meeting of European Union (EU) foreign ministers over the dispute. The EU foreign ministers are to meet today. At another meeting in Vienna, the Greek foreign minister and Pompeo are to discuss the growing tensions in the region. Erdoğan has combined calls for dialogue with threatening language. On Thursday, he said negotiation with Athens as “the only way to a resolution in the Eastern Mediterranean,” but accused Greece and Cyprus of “malicious intent” and added:
No country or company can conduct surveys in our areas without our permission.

Erdoğan also criticised Macron’s blatantly neocolonialist interference in Lebanon after the deadly blast in Beirut, stating:

Macron and others like him only want to bring the colonial period back through their actions in the region.

Çağatay Erciyes from Turkish Foreign Ministry tweeted Monday:

Greece claims 40k sq km of maritime jurisdiction area due to this tiny island Kastellorizo, which lies 2 kim from the Turkish mainland and 580 km from the Greek mainland.

In July, tensions over oil exploration in the region nearly escalated into a military clash between the two NATO powers. After Merkel intervened to calm tensions, Ankara stated that it has stopped research activities during the Berlin-backed negotiations with Athens. However, the attempted dialogue collapsed within only a few weeks amid growing rivalries between the imperialist and regional powers for energy resources and strategic advantage. These conflicts flow from the imperialist-led scramble to re-divide the profits and resources of the regions launched by the 2011 imperialist war in Libya and the proxy war in Syria. The discovery of undersea oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean has only intensified these conflicts. While imperialist powers wage war to advance the interests of transnational corporations like France’s Total and Italy’s ENI oil firms, regional powers like Turkey, Greece and Egypt fight for crumbs from imperialist looting operations. NATO’s destruction of the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011, in which France played a leading role, has had far-reaching and explosive consequences. On Aug 6, Egypt and Greece signed an agreement on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions” between the two countries. This cut across rival maritime claims agreed by Turkey and Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Libyan capital Tripoli, which vastly expanded Turkey’s territorial waters to justify its claims on oil in the eastern Mediterranean. Last month, the Egyptian parliament approved the deployment of its army to Libya to support French and Russian-backed Khalifa Haftar’s LNA forces against Italian- and Turkish-backed GNA, whose forces are advancing on the coastal city of Sirte and the airbase at Jufra. After Macron declared the NATO alliance “brain-dead” last year, Paris declared its support for Cairo in a potential confrontation with Turkey in Libya. The French navy then conducted joint maritime training exercises with Egyptian warships last month in the Mediterranean, “in preparation for combat missions against hostile forces.” Israel’s announcement of “full support” for Greece only further highlights the growing war danger in the region. In a statement, the Israel Foreign Ministry declared:

Israel expresses its full support and solidarity with Greece in its maritime zones and its right to delimit its EEZ.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus are all part of the EastMed pipeline project to transport Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe via Greece and Italy. What is ever clearer is that the resources of the eastern Mediterranean and Balkan region cannot be rationally and peacefully developed in the framework of the capitalist nation-state system. As in the 1910s, when the Balkan Wars escalated into WW1 between the imperialist powers, growing economic and strategic rivalries in the region threaten to escalate into overt conflict between major military powers, tearing the NATO alliance apart. The only way to oppose such a development is to mobilise the working class internationally in a socialist and anti-war movement against imperialism. Under these conditions, bourgeois opposition parties on the both sides of the Aegean support the aggressive, militaristic policies of the Greek and Turkish governments. Alexis Tsipras, the former Greek prime minister and current leader of the pro-austerity Syriza (“Coalition of the Radical Left”) party, issued a warmongering call to mobilise the Greek military against Turkey. On Tuesday, he said:

The way in which these illegal seismic activities must and can be prevented is known to our Armed Forces since Oct 2018, when they attempted it effectively. We have full confidence in their abilities.

Faik Öztrak, the spox of the Kemalist Republican People’s Party, indicated his party’s full support for the eastern Mediterranean policy of the Erdoğan government, saying:

It is right that the Oruç Reis research vessel is deployed in the area.

The only way out from these growing conflicts is an independent political intervention by the Greek, Turkish, French and international working class on an internationalist and socialist perspective aiming to overthrow the outmoded capitalist nation-state system, the root cause of war.

Strikes spread in Belarus as EU & Faschingstein step up pressure
Andrea Peters, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Autoworkers at BelAZa factory on strike

Anti-government protests against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko continue to grow, as a police crackdown fails to suppress popular anger over the results of last Sunday’s presidential election. On Monday, the country’s Central Election Commission declared Lukashenko had secured 80 percent of the ballots cast, decisively defeating his main contender, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. There is a widespread belief that the government, which has been under Lukashenko’s control for 26 years, falsified the tally. Yesterday, thousands of demonstrators poured into the capital Minsk. Protesters are also taking to the streets in smaller cities around the country. Workers at Belarus’ major auto plant, BelAZa, have gone out on strike, and they have been joined by fellow autoworkers at other enterprises, including metallurgy, electronics and technology, pharmaceutical, fertilizer, ceramics and other factories. Health-care workers and members of the Minsk Philharmonia have also walked off the job. The strikes and demonstrations are occurring in defiance of mass arrests and in opposition to the use of police violence to suppress social opposition. As of Thursday, the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs had arrested more than 6k people and killed two demonstrators. The OMON, Belarus’ militarized police force, has attempted to drive back crowds with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. One autoworker at BelAZa told the press that the OMON snatched a fellow worker off the street as he returned home from the factory, and he has not been heard from since. BelAZa strikers have raised an outcry over the fact that the OMON are bussed into neighborhoods in the same vehicles that the workers produce.

The central demand raised so far by protesters and strikers has been for Lukashenko’s resignation. “Get out!” is a common slogan at protests and on picket lines. Demonstrators are also calling for an end to state violence, the freeing of political prisoners, and the holding of new elections. There are also indications of nationalist sentiment, with “Long Live Belarus” shouted by protesters. Thus far, social and economic demands do not appear to have come to the forefront of the strikes, but the political oppression faced by the Belarusian working class is entirely bound up with its intense exploitation at the hands of the capitalist class—domestic and foreign alike. Decades of poverty wages, cuts in social spending, and most recently, the government’s homicidal indifference to the COVID-19 pandemic, are all fueling social discontent. The factory walkouts occurred in response to an appeal issued by NEXTA on the social media platform Telegram for a general strike. NEXTA is an online channel run by the former sportswriter and musician turned blogger and oppositionist Stepan Putilo, who currently resides in Poland. He left Belarus because of persecution by the Lukashenko government for his oppositional activities. Putilo is one of a number of “anti-corruption” social media personalities who have emerged in recent years, a type that hides support for free-market capitalism under the cover of appeals for “democracy.” A central demand advanced by NEXTA is for Tikhanovskaya to simply be awarded the Belarusian presidency. Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race after her husband, another pro-democracy opposition blogger, was arrested, ran a largely empty campaign that appealed to little more than “free and fair elections.” Portrayed as simply a brave mother and housewife standing against the regime, she was backed by different wings of Belarus’ right-wing opposition and lauded by the Western media. None of these forces have the slightest concern for the democratic rights of the Belarusian masses, who they look upon as objects of exploitation and political pawns to be used in the broader struggle over the geostrategically important territory occupied by Belarus.

The explosion of popular opposition to Lukashenko, a deeply corrupt former Stalinist turned wealthy autocrat, is being utilized by Pindostan and the EU to advance their aims against Russia. Minsk has long been a key ally of Moscow and is the last remaining territorial bulwark against NATO on Russia’s western frontier. Faschingstein has been working to draw Belarus into its orbit, and since 2019 has been in the process of restoring full diplomatic relations with the country after a two-and-a-half-decade hiatus. If it is unable to achieve this with Lukashenko, it will work to achieve it without him. Earlier this week, in a staggering display of hypocrisy, Pompeo released a statement denouncing “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters” in Belarus. These are the very same actions currently being carried out by the Trump administration in major cities across Pindostan. Faschingstein’s right-wing, anti-Russian allies in the Baltics, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, are being pushed forward to pressure Lukashenko. Lithuania has given political refuge to Tikhanovskaya, and the three states have outlined a three-point plan that Belarus must adopt if it wishes to avoid punitive measures. In addition to ending the violence and freeing prisoners, the Baltic states are demanding that Belarus create a “national council of representatives of the state and civil society, whose goal would be to find ways out of the crisis.” This is a set-up, as everyone knows, that Lukashenko cannot accede to without effectively losing political power. The EU announced Tuesday that it will meet today to discuss sanctions against Belarus, and EU ambassadors made a show Thursday of laying wreaths at the sight where an anti-government demonstrator was killed. A statement from Brussels declared:

The EU is preparing to take measures against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results.

The EU’s efforts to portray it and its member countries as champions of Belarusian democracy and defenders of Belarus’ peaceful protesters are grotesque. In France, the government beats up, arrests and disperses with brute force “yellow vest” protesters. In Poland, on the very days that demonstrators were being arrested in Belarus, police were kicking, crushing the necks of, and detaining protesters supporting LGBTQ rights. In Germany, the far-right AfD wields broad sway over the entire political system. Among the chorus of those condemning Lukashenko is the government of Ukraine, where neo-Nazis hold top military appointments and bands of paramilitary gangs maraud through the country killing opponents.

It remains unclear as to how the protests and strikes will develop in the coming days and weeks. The embattled Lukashenko regime issued an appeal Thursday for citizens to send in video-recordings of the “provocateurs” it insists are behind the demonstrations. There are some signs that support for Lukashenko within the state apparatus itself is beginning to give way. An audio recording of the head of the Central Election Commission in Vitebsk, Sergei Pitalenko, was released in which the bureaucrat states that the election results were falsified and that officials were instructed by higher-ups to change the vote tallies. The central question facing the Belarusian working class is one of mobilizing independently of and in opposition to not just Lukashenko, but all the so-called advocates of “democracy” in Belarus. The battle going on between the regime in Minsk and its domestic and foreign opponents is not one between autocrats and alleged supporters of “human rights” and “freedom.” The imperialist powers, led by Pindostan, see Belarus as a pawn within their larger struggle to assert control over the Eurasian landmass. This involves, most centrally, military conflict with Russia and China. They are prepared to unleash slaughter in the region, and the Belarusian population, of which 70% speaks Russian as its first language at home, will suffer the consequences. Lukashenko, as well as Vladimir Putin in Russia, having failed to come to a deal with imperialism that will allow them to continue exploiting the working class in the vast region under their control, resort to violence and oppression in an effort to hold onto power. A unified struggle of the working class of Belarus and Russia, linked with fellow workers in Europe, Asia and the Americas, is the only basis upon which both imperialism and the post-Soviet ruling class can be defeated. The program that is required is not one of “free and fair elections” but of socialist internationalism.

Mounting opposition against school openings in Germany
Carola Kleinert, Gregor Link, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Students of the Robert-Koch vocational college sit with face masks
in the classroom during computer science lessons in Dortmund,
Thursday Aug 13 2020. (Photo: Martin Meissner/AP)

According to official figures, the coronavirus pandemic is now claiming around 6k lives world-wide every day. In Pindostan alone, the virus is killing nearly 1,500 people every day. Although the number of new daily infections in Germany is at its highest level in three months, with 1,226 cases on Tuesday, Berlin’s Senator for Education Andrea Scheeres (SPD) allowed schools to reopen on Monday based on compulsory attendance and full operation. At the same time, the Berlin state government, consisting of a coalition of the SPD, Left Party and the Greens, has waved aside the scientifically required minimum distance of 1.50 m to protect against infection. More than 370k students at Berlin’s schools, together with 87k apprentices, plus all of their teachers, returned to full classes without mask protection at the beginning of this week. The states of Brandenburg, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein also resumed regular schooling on Monday. Schools reopened in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania last week and in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populated state, on Wednesday this week. The red-red-green Berlin state government led by Mayor Michael Müller and Education Senator Sandra Scheeres (both SPD) has unashamedly capitulated to the demands of big business, contrary to the reservations expressed by serious virologists. In order for companies to benefit from the labour of parents, their children must return to school at all costs. This is clearly outlined in a joint statement of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), the Hotel and Restaurant Federation (Dehoga), the Trade Association and Employer’s Federations (UVB) last Saturday:

It is in the interest of entrepreneurs and their coworkers that their children are again reliably educated and cared for.

According to the business bosses, it is “high time that the regular operation of Berlin schools starts up again.” There has been an angry response in social media to such statements and the state government’s policy of opening up schools. Kathy, a Berlin teacher, explained on Twitter:

The welfare of children is constantly being cited as the main reason for opening schools. The demands of the business federations are incredibly inhuman.

One of Kathy’s colleagues notes:

The UVB is apparently the association to which Scheeres and the Senate report directly.

Jasmin, a primary school teacher in Berlin, spoke to the WSWS about the conditions at her school and what should be done. She described the plan of the Berlin state government as “completely ridiculous.” She said:

In its “model hygiene plan, the Berlin Senate decreed that rooms should be properly aired for several minutes at least once per lesson and during breaks. However, prior to the summer holiday, many windows could not be opened properly for security reasons. But narrow and poorly-ventilated rooms offer ideal conditions for COVID-19 to spread.

Twitter user Dieter R has a similar view. He writes about the hypocritical reminder by Family Minister Franziska Giffey to regularly air schools:

In many schools the windows cannot be opened at all because otherwise they would fall out! In whole corridors one cannot even put windows on tilt! And what good is it anyway to tilt windows in a class of 30 kids? There is hardly any fresh air in the classroom and no ventilation. This is all just a bad excuse, like the alleged measures agreed by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs.

Jasmin points out:

Even regular hand-washing and disinfecting remain as chaotic as it was prior to the summer holidays. Our school has only one cleaner for the entire school building, just like before the pandemic! For less than €11/hr he cleans from 10 am to 7 pm. After he has finished with the last toilet, he can start all over again. The very dirty toilets and rooms are horrific and exceed one’s best efforts. The school washrooms are cleaned around midday, although that should really be done in the morning. Sometimes there is only one functioning sink and soap dispenser. In the rooms themselves, the floor is only swept once a day by the cleaner. The teachers and education assistants have to take on cleaning duties in addition to their existing duties. For example, before and after each break in the yard” they have to ensure that primary school children wash their hands thoroughly in the washrooms individually. They are also responsible for disinfecting the premises and surfaces. During our breaks, we have to disinfect all surfaces after each change of class. In the computer rooms, all keyboards, mice and monitors must be disinfected after every use. Teachers have to use their breaks between classes for cleaning and watching over toilets.

In a statement to the WSWS, Ingo R, the head of the classroom care team in his child’s class, criticised the lack of cooperation between parents and school staff, writing:

I think it’s a pity that many head teachers don’t engage in proper dialogue with parents. I have met many parents who would have liked to have transferred the technical tools of the working world to the world of school.

But while many teachers, parents and students are opposed to opening schools under unsafe conditions, the Berlin school authorities are arrogantly ignoring these concerns. Instead, Scheeres announced the establishment of a “Hygiene Advisory Board,” consisting of doctors, child psychologists, parents, students and politicians, with the exclusion of teachers, which is to meet in a “working group.” Sven D, a Berlin teacher, noted on Facebook:

So instead of measures backed by medical experts, there will first be a working group. Then they have won time again to do nothing. And then to make sure they don’t get any work afterwards, they gather together groups of people who represent the ‘right’ positions. This virus was first detected in Germany over six months ago, more than 9.2k people have since died, including pupils and teachers, and now a working group is being set up. This administration is unwilling to work and is prepared to go over dead bodies with its laziness and incompetence.

His colleague Andreas S writes:

Why hasn’t money been pumped into the school system for months? Not even now, when oversized classes, small classrooms, a lack of ventilation systems and lack of equipment become life-threatening?

Based on the findings of international leading virologists and epidemiologists the WSWS has repeatedly warned that the specific conditions prevail in businesses and schools provide optimal conditions for so-called “superspreading” events. The virologist at Berlin’s Charité hospital, Christian Drosten, along with many other scientists, has repeatedly stated that appropriate distance rules and the use of personal protective masks in closed rooms are indispensable to prevent mass outbreaks and chains of infections affecting hundreds of people. The Berlin Senate’s hygiene concept is not only inadequate, it also fails in practice due to the conditions prevailing in schools. Jasmin noted:

The formation of smaller groups and the prevention of the mixing of different class groups, which the school authorities stress, will be jettisoned at the latest in the afternoon based on the after-school care system. There are neither fixed groups nor compulsory masks provided in after-school care. Even if teachers use empty classrooms for after-school care, it is not possible to maintain the group structures existing from previous lessons, because there is not enough care personnel. If an infection becomes known in a class group, it is the public health department which decides on appropriate quarantine measures. Until this decision is made, only the affected student is quarantined. All others must continue to be educated normally, including any siblings scattered over several classes.

The crowded public transportation system in the city of Berlin, which most students use to get to school, is another major problem. There is widespread anger and despair at the decisions and actions of the school authorities. According to a survey conducted by the ARD Press Club, 56% of all respondents consider school “normal operation without distance rules” to be irresponsible. Another contribution by a Berlin teacher on Twitter is significant. She writes:

This school in normal operation is a time bomb, now lessons are due to recommence for a while. When you walk through the narrow corridors, you can almost hear the ticking.

Her colleague Verena apparently speaks for many when she writes:

What is being demanded by politicians now is completely inhumane. Even with a mild progression of the disease, no one really knows what the long-term damage will be. In the end, everyone is at risk of being infected and no one can predict how the virus will actually affect each individual. When the only priorities are ‘education’ and capitalism, I believe we have lost all of our important values. Moreover, there is no guarantee that you will receive a proper education by putting oneself and the lives of loved ones at risk.

Jasmin also emphasises the social impact on poor families and their children, writing:

Many students, especially those from poorer families, do not have laptops and pads. Solutions and learning concepts have been available for years: More social staff and translators to work as family helpers, smaller learning groups, more rooms, more teaching staff, better cleaning and equipment of schools. Schools and teachers have suffered huge cuts and are now being pushed into the experimental field of herd immunity, with serious consequences.

Against this background, Jasmin makes an urgent appeal to her colleagues:

Teachers should refuse to work under these circumstances and go on strike until their demands for smaller classes and more support at all levels of school life are met. This includes cleaning staff, family helpers, translators and other support staff. Free recreational activities should also be organized for children and psychological support services should be established. The money is there. Tax the rich!

German court and state prosecutor ignore evidence of far-right terrorist network in Lübcke trial
Dietmar Gaisenkersting, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

imageStephan Ernst with lawyers at the Frankfurt Main Regional High Court
(Photo: Thomas Lohnes/AP)

The trial triggered by the neo-Nazi murder of Kassel district president Walter Lübcke continued at the Frankfurt Regional High Court on Monday. It was the tenth day of proceedings. Lübcke was executed in cold blood on the terrace of his home in the early hours of Jun 2 2019. While all of the focus is currently on Stephan Ernst, the confessed killer, who offers up one version of events after another, the background to the killing and other suspects are being left in the dark. Yet there is much to suggest that a far-right terrorist network with extensive ties to the state apparatus was involved in the murder.

In his first confession, Ernst presented himself as a lone wolf. Dirk Waldschmidt, a lawyer associated with the far-right milieu who immediately contacted Ernst after his arrest, reportedly advised Ernst to admit his guilt, due to traces of his DNA at the scene, but not to implicate his friend and co-accused Markus Hartmann, and another friend from the fascist NPD. In exchange, the friend would “support” his family. His subsequent lawyer, Frank Hannig, who is associated with the far-right Pegida movement, advised him to retract his admission so as to “start the matter afresh.” In his second version of the attack, Ernst claimed that Lübcke’s death was not the intended outcome. Together with Hartmann, he went looking for Lübcke on his terrace. The fatal shot was then unintentionally fired from Hartmann’s gun, Ernst claimed. Hannig has since been dismissed. Ernst is now represented by the Cologne-based lawyer Mustafa Kaplan and provided his third version of events last Wednesday. According to the latest account, Ernst and Hartmann had decided to threaten Lübcke, give him a “shakedown,” but not to kill him. He said that he had fired the fatal shot after the row with the politician escalated.

By Friday it was already clear that this could not be true. Ernst then admitted on Monday that he carried out surveillance on Lübcke’s home with Hartmann in 2016. Following the AfD demonstration in Chemnitz in 2018, where witch-hunts against foreigners were launched, the pair decided to physically attack Lübcke. The decision to kill him was taken in Apr 2019. On the tenth day of the trial, Ernst was also questioned about Hartmann, who has refused to make any statement. Hartmann is currently only accused of assisting a murder. He is suspected of putting Ernst in contact with the arms dealer who supplied the murder weapon and providing “psychological assistance” for the carrying out of the killing. Ernst reported that Hartmann’s apartment was full of Nazi memorabilia. Under questioning, he confirmed that Hartmann had an original Zyklon-B canister on his desk. Zyklon-B was used to gas millions of people to death in the Nazis’ concentration camps. Hartmann called the Holocaust into question, according to Ernst. He brought a shooting target with the face of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to their local shooting club, and to shooting practice in the forest. Both men went regularly either alone or together to AfD social gatherings.

Ernst’s questioning also revealed that he had written approvingly of the right-wing extremist Karl Heinz Hofmann. Hofmann was the leader in the 1970s of the Military Sport Group Hofmann, where Gundolf Köhler, the terrorist who carried out the Octoberfest bombing, was trained. In 1980, Köhler’s bomb was responsible for the deadliest right-wing extremist terrorist attack in the Federal Republic up to that time, killing 13 and injuring over 200 people. The extended preparation of Lübcke’s murder and the close ties of Ernst and Hartmann to the violent neo-Nazi milieu strongly suggest that others participated in or had knowledge of the crime. Both were active members for decades of the relatively small neo-Nazi milieu in Kassel, which consisted of never more than about 50 people. One of the organisations they were involved in was the Free Comrades of Kassel. Both also met with the now prohibited group Combat 18. In 2004, Hartmann posted in a neo-Nazi forum:

One needs to be a werewolf!

The “Werewolf” organisation was established by Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler near the end of WW2. Small special commandos were supposed to operate underground in the areas occupied by the Nazis and carry out acts of sabotage and murder behind enemy lines. Many far-right terrorist groups have drawn on the “werewolf” ideology of the Nazis since WW2. The neo-Nazi milieu in Kassel has been proven to have maintained close ties to the NSU group. Hartmann originally comes from Rudolstadt, the same area in Thuringia as the NSU. Between 2000 and 2007, the terrorist group carried out nine racially motivated murders, including the killing of Halit Yozgat in Kassel in 2006, and murdered a police officer. In 2006, the Hesse state intelligence service had at least seven informants active in Kassel’s neo-Nazi milieu. The informants were managed by Andreas Temme, an official with the Hesse state intelligence agency. Temme was present at the crime scene during Yozgat’s murder and was later transferred into Lübcke’s government department.

Hartmann is himself suspected of being an informant who was possibly managed by Temme at an earlier point in time. Asked at a meeting of the parliamentary committee for internal affairs in January whether Hartmann was an informant, Cornelia Zacharias of the federal state prosecutor remarked that while she knew the answer, she did not have the authorization to testify on the matter, according to the anti-fascist website Exif. A representative of the state prosecutor commented in response to the question of whether Stephan Ernst was a spy by saying that for his office’s part, this possibility could be categorically excluded. Exif noted:

This statement was not made with regard to Markus Hartmann.

On Friday, there was brief mention of another person who may have known about the attack. Ernst’s lawyer requested an interruption in proceedings, because if Ernst had admitted that there was a third person with knowledge of the attack, the 5th senate of the criminal court would have been compelled to determine whether the men were guilty of forming a terrorist organisation under paragraph 129 of the Criminal Code. The 30-year-old neo-Nazi Alexander S was a member of the violent Free Comrades milieu for four years, and also an NPD activist. Hesse’s public broadcaster (HR) reported that he recently turned towards the AfD. On the afternoon of Jun 1 2019, just hours before Lübcke’s murder, Hartmann telephoned S for four-and-a-half minutes. According to HR, S practiced sharpshooting skills with Hartmann. The trio once travelled together to an AfD demonstration in Erfurt, the report added. Shortly after Lübcke’s murder, Ernst and Hartmann deleted chats from their phones with S in the Threema app, an encrypted messenger service. After consulting with his lawyer, Ernst told the court that they were only talking about studying. But this contradicts his previous statement that his first lawyer had advised him not to implicate S.

Precisely because all indications point to a carefully planned assassination backed by a far-right terrorist network with close ties through Temme to the state apparatus, the evidence is being left out and ignored by the investigative authorities, the state prosecutor, and the court under the chairmanship of judge Thomas Sagebiel. Ernst has stated many times that in his initial confession, he played the “psycho-Nazi” so as not to create the impression that a far-right network in Kassel with ties to the NSU was involved. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hartmann asked with astonishment when he was arrested why he was not being arrested for membership in a terrorist group, but “only” for assisting a murder. The newspaper added that this had raised suspicions for the investigating judge. When it comes to foreign and left-wing groups, state authorities and courts rapidly reach for the law criminalising “membership in a terrorist organisation” (paragraph 129 of the Criminal Code). But with regard to right-wing groups, even when clear evidence of a terrorist organisation is presented, this is denied. This is primarily because sections of the security apparatus were involved and were potentially pulling the strings, which has been the case from the Octoberfest attack through the NSU murders to the assassination of Lübcke. This is also why according to an order from Hesse’s state government, files from the state intelligence service that could reveal the background to the Lübcke murder must remain under lock and key for decades. The right-wing extremist expert professor Hajo Funke, who taught at the Free University of Berlin until his retirement in 2010, wrote last year:

This is evidence that information is being consciously concealed that could have prevented the murder of Walter Lübcke.

Hundreds of thousands of A-Level results downgraded by UK government
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Almost 40% of A-Level assessments in England have been bureaucratically downgraded by the government, leaving thousands of students’ futures in jeopardy. Of results, 35.6% were docked by a grade, 3.3% by two grades, and 0.2% by three grades; 2.2% were increased by one grade and a tiny fraction by two or three. In Northern Ireland, 37% of grades have been lowered and 5.3% raised. A-Level examinations were cancelled this year due to the pandemic. Students were awarded grades based on the estimates of their teachers, which were then adjusted by the exam boards, overseen by the government’s exam regulator Ofqual. There is no transparency in the methodology used to carry out this adjustment, but it is understood to be based largely on the results of schools’ previous cohorts. The consequences of this system were previewed in Scotland last week when the Scottish Qualifications Authority docked almost a quarter of grades. The news was greeted with an outpouring of protest by students and teachers, including protests of young people in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Confronted with this opposition, the SNP government in Holyrood was forced into an apology and a U-turn. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated lamely:

Despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge we did not get this right and I’m sorry for that.

Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney told the Scottish National Assembly on Tuesday:

We did not get it right for young people. I want to apologise for that.

He announced that the adjusted grades would be scrapped and results reverted back to the original estimates given by teachers. These events sent the Conservative government in Westminster into a crisis over fear of an even larger backlash in the rest of the UK. An 11th-hour fudge was devised to offer students a so-called “triple lock,” allowing them to exchange their awarded grades for the results previously obtained in mock exams or to take exams organised for some time this autumn. The new options add nothing other than confusion. The idea of holding hundreds of exams later this year sidesteps the fact that Britain is by then likely to be suffering a renewed surge of the COVID-19 disease. For mock grades to be considered, students will have to appeal their assigned grades through their schools. The exam boards have all indicated that they will continue to charge fees for these appeals, rising to punitive levels when they are judged unsuccessful. There is also no set standard for how mock exams are conducted. Ofqual says it will release guidance on “valid mock grades” in the coming days. Schools often mark mock exams more harshly in any case, to challenge students to improve for the real thing. And many students make most of their academic progress in the period leading up to the final exam, after mocks have taken place. Many schools have not even run mock exams for all subjects. Faced with a far more extensive downgrade than in Scotland, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson declared:

We’re not going to be changing this system again.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday morning, he stated with astounding cynicism that granting students their teacher-assigned grades “would harm Generation Covid for life.” Thousands of students have had their futures thrown into chaos by the administrative fiat of a crisis-ridden government. They have been deprived of any individual agency in their own achievement and had months of hard work spat on. But the government’s callous disregard is not simply a question of bureaucracy and incompetence. The A-Levels scandal has exposed the dirty secret of the British education system: that it is social class, not merit, that is really being graded. Detailed figures have not yet emerged for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the Scottish example is indicative. In the most deprived areas, the proportion of students getting A-C grades was reduced by 15.2%. In the richest areas, the figure was 6.9%. That a similar process has taken place with the latest results is suggested by the fact that the proportion of private school children achieving A*-A grades this year climbed 4.7%, more than double the 2% increase in non-grammar state schools. Schools catering to high numbers of working-class students have experienced devastating downgrades. At Wales High School south east of Rotherham, in one of Yorkshire’s poorer boroughs, 84% of the sixth form’s more than 130 A-Level students have had results lowered. Further education colleges, attended by more disadvantaged pupils on average, are reporting their lowest grade profiles ever, especially in the A-C grades, with some institutions seeing more than 50% of their results adjusted downward.

The education system launders class privilege into academic achievement, granting the sons and daughters of the rich with access to the best schools and educational resources, private tutors, and more secure home environments, high grades used to access the rarefied elite of Britain’s top universities. In 2018, the Sutton Trust found that 60% of private school pupils in higher education attend Russell Group universities, compared to less than a quarter of pupils in state comprehensives and sixth forms. Even this figure obscures the true scale of inequality, as the most successful state schools are found in areas monopolised by affluent households. When this system was disrupted by the coronavirus crisis, the Scottish and UK governments swung into action to ensure the working class was kept in its proper place, at the bottom of the pile. The class logic behind their actions was nakedly espoused by Sturgeon before the SNP was forced to retreat. Speaking to Channel 4 News, she said:

It’s necessary to make sure we have a credible system of results, and that’s important for young people. Without that system of moderation, I would be saying that 85% of young people in our most deprived areas had passed Highers this year, compared to around 65% last year and in previous years.

Comments like these underline the ruling class’s execrable hypocrisy in pushing for the unsafe reopening of schools with the claim that they are concerned for disadvantaged pupils’ and students’ wellbeing. The same people touting the importance of reopening schools for improving children’s life chances are happy to write off those chances with the stroke of a pen. Students and teachers are determined to resist this injustice. At protests in Scotland, young people carried homemade signs with the slogans, “Classism at its finest,” “Judge my work, not my postcode,” “My postcode should not define me,” and “Stop the postcode lottery.” The hashtag “#WilliamsonResign” was trending on social media for much of yesterday. A petition started by schoolteacher Neil Brownhill, calling on the government to “Allow teachers to give honest predicted grades for their students,” and “Allow any students who feel they could have done better than their prediction to re-sit the exam in November” on a purely voluntary basis, has gained around 150k signatures.

Residents left to die as COVID-19 sweeps through Victorian aged care facilities
Clare Bruderlin, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

imageCOVID-19 testing site in the Melbourne suburb of Fawkner (Photo: @JoanWil85024201)

As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through aged care facilities in Victoria, reports have emerged of infected residents being denied hospitalisation and left to die in homes that are understaffed and unequipped to treat coronavirus patients. At least 198 COVID-19 deaths in Australia have been in aged care homes, accounting for well over half the total. With 1,929 active cases amongst residents and staff, further tragic losses are anticipated. Inadequate PPE, infection control measures and staffing levels have created the conditions for the highly contagious virus to sweep through the facilities. Now, an article by the Australian has alleged that the Victorian Dept of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is turning away “frail, elderly COVID-positive patients” from hospitals. Citing an anonymous senior federal official, the paper said DHHS said it did not have enough hospital beds for “those type of people at this point in time.” Dr Robert Hoffman told the Australian that at Glenlyn Aged Care Facility, the Royal Melbourne Hospital had originally arranged to transfer patients at risk of “wandering” and infecting others to hospital, but then cancelled these plans. Instead, Dr Hoffman said:

Any COVID residents who were unwell were ordered as needed palliative care medications, morphine etc, one as young as 46.

Some 15 patients and five staff have tested positive at the facility. Raquel Silvera, whose husband is in Glenlyn Aged Care Facility, said she found out that her husband had COVID-19 on Friday last week and that he was being sedated using Risperidone, an antipsychotic, without her permission. The use of chemical sedation in aged care was already widespread prior to the pandemic. A submission to the ongoing Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety last year revealed that 61% of aged care residents were taking psychotropic agents regularly, the most common of these being antidepressants. Another submission stated that up to 80% of dementia patients are taking some form of psychotropic drug. One witness told the royal commission that chemical restraints were used “because there are not enough staff” to manage residents, particularly those with high care needs. Some 123 nursing homes have seen outbreaks of Covid-19 since May, when governments began lifting lockdown restrictions in line with the demands of big business to “reopen the economy.”

The federal health department, which is responsible for overseeing most of the facilities, has refused to release a list of aged care centres where outbreaks have occurred. Health department secretary Brendan Murphy stated that this is because the lucrative corporations that own the homes are “worried about reputational issues,” meaning their profit margins. Families of aged care residents have reported not being told when their loved ones tested positive for COVID-19 and receiving little to no communication about their condition. Ivan Ruskavina, whose mother died after contracting coronavirus at St Basil’s Home for the Aged, told the Herald Sun that after his mother Marija tested positive for COVID-19, he spent days calling hospitals to find out where she was after the aged care facility was not able to tell him. He stated:

All authorities are to blame. You’ve got Aged Care Victoria, the federal and state governments and the whole medical industry. We’ve been let down. It’s as simple as that.

All employees at St Basil’s were placed in quarantine on Jul 22, two weeks after the first cases were recorded. It was not until July 31 that remaining residents were evacuated to hospital after staff from the small “surge” team, arranged to replace quarantined workers, also began testing positive. One source told the Herald Sun that when residents were evacuated, many were “dehydrated and malnourished.” There have been at least 174 infections and 20 deaths at the facility. So far only two aged care homes are reported to have entirely evacuated residents due to coronavirus clusters. Other major outbreaks at aged care facilities in Victoria include 193 cases at Epping Gardens Aged Care, 147 cases at Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer and 127 cases at Kirkbrae Aged Care Home in Kilsynth. Although the exact number of deaths in particular facilities has not been made public, media photos have shown the bodies of deceased residents being removed from St Basil’s and Epping Gardens facilities.

Most of the facilities where outbreaks have occurred are privately owned. The extensive corporatisation of aged care and cuts to funding for public health has been carried out over decades under consecutive Labor and Liberal governments, facilitated by the trade unions. Just nine percent of aged care services in Australia are currently managed by government organisations. Moreover, in the months since the initial outbreak of the pandemic, no significant measures have been taken to bolster the healthcare system in preparation for an influx of coronavirus patients. Frontline health workers continue to report inadequate PPE and hospitals are understaffed, as hundreds of workers in the sector test positive for coronavirus. Surgical masks were only made compulsory for aged care staff in lockdown zones on Jul 13, two days after the first recorded deaths of aged care residents in Victoria and the number of infections in the state had already climbed to 250. It was not until Jul 28 that the most limited PPE, face masks, were made compulsory for all aged care staff.

In a recent survey of aged care workers conducted by the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation (ANMF), nearly half of the respondents said that they did not have appropriate access to PPE. An additional 19% were unsure. A quarter of participants reported that they had not received recent information or training regarding the correct use of PPE and 28 said that their employer had not provided them with a reviewed or updated plan regarding COVID-19. 76% of participants reported that nursing and care staff had not increased during the COVID-19 period. In fact, over half of those surveyed reported staff cuts since the beginning of March, and said that kitchen and cleaning staff had not increased during the pandemic. 92% of participants also indicated that any additional aged care funding for the pandemic was not discussed with them. One worker commented:

We are unaware where the funding is going and what the funding is for. But we see no evident changes in our day to day, in most cases it seems they are cutting more costs.

The deep crisis in aged care and the denial of medical treatment to those most vulnerable to the pandemic is an indication of the ruling elite’s callous disregard for human life. The cost-cutting, budget-driven framework of the aged care industry, which generates revenues of $22b/yr, comes at the expense of the health, safety and lives of aged care workers and residents.

Beached Japanese cargo ship causes ecological disaster for Mauritius
Tom Casey, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

imageMV Wakashio hull damage. Source: Mauritian worker

On Jul 25, the Wakashio, a freight vessel owned by the Japanese firm Okiyo Maritime, a subsidiary of Nagashiki Shipping, collided with a coral reef barrier near the southern coast of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Nearly two weeks later, on Aug 6, the vessel began to leak approximately a thousand metric tons of its fuel into the surrounding waters. This week, as the spill grew from covering 3.3 sq km to 27 sq km, the Mauritian government claims to have successfully pumped 3k of the remaining 4k tons of fuel from the ship’s hold. The spill will have a devastating impact on the surrounding area’s incredibly biodiverse ecology. The vessel ran aground approximately a mile off the coast of the Île aux Aigrettes (Egrets Island) and the Pointé D’Esny Wetland. The former is home to a large number of rare and endangered wildlife and includes the world’s only remaining patch of Mauritian dry coastal forest. This particular terrain is hypothesized by scientists to have been the preferred habitat of the now extinct species that was native only to this exact region of the world, the dodo bird. Pointé D’Esny Wetland was established in 2001 as an area covered under the Ramsar Convention, which is also known as the convention on “Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat.” In 2017, when the Ramsar Convention’s leadership partnered with UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the area became an officially protected site by the two conventions. The fuel leak also threatens the Mahébourg fishing reserve, which lies barely a few miles the north of the grounded freighter. Happy Khambule, the senior climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa, stated:

Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and health

On Aug 7, the Mauritian government under Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of emergency and requested international assistance. The administration then mobilized the country’s National Coast Guard as well as the assistance of Polyeco, a privately held waste management firm based in Greece. Macron issued a tweet of support for the Jugnauth government and announced that that France would be deploying “teams and equipment,” which would consist of both from military and civilian personnel from the nearby French overseas department and region of Réunion. The Greenpeace International senior portfolio manager and former environmental advisor to the Mauritian Prime Minister announced that the cleanup involved removing the remaining fuel from the vessel while avoiding breaking vessel in half, which could result in the further release of the toxic liquid. Like many shipping vessels, the MV Wakashio was registered in a country unrelated to its owners, in this case Panama. Shipping lines shop around for countries with looser regulations in a system referred to as “flags of convenience.” This enables them to pay lower wages, provide worse accommodations for their crew, and cut corners on maintenance. In 2019, ships registered to Panama accounted for 30% of all ships detained for failing port inspections across the Indian Ocean. The disaster has sparked widespread concern by the Mauritian population. As a measure of this outpouring, a public Facebook group of more than 40k members was created specifically for the purpose of civilian volunteers to coordinate cleanup activities. There have been many reports of Mauritians of all ages donating locks of their hair to be used for the absorption of the leaked fuel.

In the wake of the recent Jul 11 protests against the Jugnauth administration, the popular concern for the environmental impact of the fuel spill has also taken on a broad anti-government character. As the WSWS reported, last month’s demonstrations were held in response to the savage austerity policies that were carried out in the name of protecting the Mauritian population against COVID-19. Jugnauth has also received bitter criticism over his handling of the situation facing its thousands of stranded maritime workers who have spent months waiting to be returned from marooned vessels around the world. The government was widely denounced by workers for implementing exorbitant repatriation fees as a boon for its major tourism companies. A Mauritian worker, in a statement given anonymously to the WSWS for fear of retaliation by the state, denounced the role of the Jugnauth administration in the handling of the MV Wakashio disaster, saying:

I think our government is at fault, completely. The NCG was aware that there was a potential problem, and while they were in a position to do something about it, they didn’t take any action.

Referring to the exclusion of local Mauritian news outlets to Jugnauth’s press conferences which were recently held in Blue Bay, a coastal area close to the spill, the worker continued:

Our Prime Minister is acting like a dictator now. All of the civil servants are his own men—the police commissioner, the law, and the speaker in parliament. Many Mauritians really want Jugnauth to resign.

The worker also denounced the administration’s recent crackdown on free speech, which has included the Apr 15 arrest of Rachna Seenauth, a former assistant to the Mauritian president, for creating a social media post that satirized the Jugnauth government.

They have agents all over the internet just to patrol social media. If you post something that the Prime Minister doesn’t like, he’ll send the police to arrest you without any warrant. Just imagine.

Sunday’s Forbes article, in which its author practically salivates over what he doubtlessly views as potentially profitable solutions to global environmental shipping crises, makes clear that Pindo business views such events not as crimes against the quality and safety of human life, but rather as opportunities to wrench profits from untapped markets.

Whilst the technological revolution in favor of sustainability is being led by many innovative technology companies, policy making lags far behind. The disaster in Mauritius shows there is a need for the creation of a global ‘Ocean Mission Control’ to support local authorities around the world, particularly in poorer countries who would otherwise lack critical scale to access such resources. The governance of such a resource will need to be more akin to an agile, purpose-driven Silicon Valley startup than traditional international structures.

While Mauritian workers correctly oppose the blatant corruption of the Jugnauth government and the business interests it represents, they should be wary of attempts to channel their opposition behind both national and imperialist capitalist drives to profit from the Wakashio ecological disaster. There exists no genuine contingency for democratic rights or environmental protection among the political representatives of the Mauritian bourgeoisie, nor among the international capitalist class.

Sri Lankan PM admits Pindostan is behind Colombo Port deal with India
Vijith Samarasinghe, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Workers protest against privatisation of Colombo port terminal

Sri Lanka’s government was pushed into crisis by a series of protests by Colombo Port workers last month against plans to privatise the port’s Eastern Container Terminal and hand it over to an Indian company. During the workers’ actions, PM Mahinda Rajapakse admitted that Pindostan and India want to transfer the terminal to India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited. Speaking at a port workers’ protest on Jul 24, Udeni Kaluthantri, the secretary of Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya, which is affiliated to the right-wing United National Party, revealed that when the union leaders met with PM Rajapakse at his ancestral home, he told them:

We can allow you to unload the gantry cranes, but can’t let the operations start. I had to go home once, because I got hammered by Pindostan and India. I won’t make the same mistake again. During the last regime, the then-PM Ranil Wickremesinghe told me that you have a right to protest, but don’t protest against privatisation. That will offend India. We cannot protect our government if India is offended.

Rajapakse was referring to a demand by the unions to fit two gantry cranes at the terminal and start operating it under the government’s Ports Authority, without privatisation. Rajapakse’s reference to being “hammered” pointed to the Faschingstein-orchestrated regime-change operation in 2015, which ousted him as president and brought Maithripala Sirisena to power. New Delhi supported the political operation. Faschingstein backed Rajapakse’s brutal war against the separatist LTTE and his anti-democratic rule, but was hostile to his growing relations with Beijing. Pindostan wanted to integrate Sri Lanka into its military encirclement of China and make India a front-line state in its confrontation with Beijing. After taking power, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe as PM. They initially halted all Chinese projects and began integrating the military, particularly the navy, with INDOPACOM. They conducted joint exercises and sought to develop the island into a logistics hub. India also enhanced its military and political relations with Sri Lanka. The cash-strapped Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government later turned to Beijing for loans and allowed the resumption of Chinese projects, but continued the military integration with Pindostan and India. That explains Wickremesinghe’s statement to the UNP union leader about not being able to offend India.

The comments of both Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe demonstrate the subservience of Sri Lanka’s capitalist establishment to the interests of Pindo imperialism, with which Indian PM Narendra Modi is aligned. On Jul 24, the union leaders met with a representative of President Gotabhaya Rajapakse, requesting his assurance that the terminal would not be privatised. He refused to issue any such guarantee. Terrified that workers’ anger over the privatisation would spiral out of their control, the union bureaucrats initiated an impotent “Sathyagraha” (sit-down protest) from July 29, again demanding a “written promise” from the president that the termina “will not be privatised.” Some of the unions also tried to divert workers’ opposition into a nationalist anti-Indian campaign. However, 10k workers began a strike on Jul 31, blocking all roads into and inside the port, completely paralysing it. President Rajapakse not only refused to talk to the unions but attacked the workers’ struggle as an “extremist act of sabotage,” declaring:

I cannot be intimidated!

Facing this threat, the union leaders met with the prime minister at his residence again to obtain another empty pledge not to proceed with the agreement with India. Mahinda Rajapakse gave a “promise,” but only to prevent the strike continuing, just five days before the Aug 5 national election. The union leaders immediately called off the stoppage. The government, as well as the unions, feared the strike would attract the support of other sections of workers also angered by decades of attacks on social and democratic rights. Behind President Rajapakse’s threat and the manoeuvres by his brother the prime minister lies the pressure of India and Pindostan, which want to gain control over the strategic Colombo port. The president and prime minister, well aware they are treading on a geostrategic minefield, do not want to annoy Faschingstein and New Delhi. Mahinda Rajapakse’s previous regime allowed China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPH) to build and operate the Colombo South harbour in 2012. The Chinese company also constructed the Hambantota harbour and, a few km away, the Mattala airport. In 2016, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government leased the entire Hambantota port to CMPH. Pindostan and India expressed their concerns and accused China of creating a “debt trap” to secure the port. The Indian company’s bid for the terminal is not merely to extract profit from it. It is a move to strengthen India’s grip over the key port, another step in Faschingstein’s economic and military offensive against China, which began under the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia.” Amid the world capitalist crisis escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump has intensified the provocations against China. Pindostan has formed the Asia-Pacific quadrilateral alliance with Japan, India and Australia, against China. It also backed India in the deadly border clashes that flared in the Himalayan region between China and India in July. The Colombo Port workers’ struggle has demonstrated that Pindostan and India want Sri Lanka tied to their strategic and military moves against nuclear-armed China, raising the danger of a catastrophic war in which the island would become embroiled.

Former Malaysian prime minister’s conviction deepens political crisis
John Roberts, WSWS, Aug 14 2020

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak’s conviction last month on corruption charges follows a decades-long period of conflict within the ruling elites, and is inflaming the current political crises and instability. He was the leader of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) that ruled Malaysia for more than sixty years to 2018. Najib was sentenced on Jul 28 in Kuala Lumpur by High Court Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazli, to 12 years imprisonment and fined $49m. Najib was convicted on all seven counts relating to the moving of $9.87m into his personal accounts from SRC International, a unit of First Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund. Najib, out on bail pending an appeal to the Federal Court, faces two more trials over the billions of dollars that he and other UMNO figures and their business cronies in Malaysia and internationally allegedly looted from the 1MDB. The second case involves charges over laundering $550m taken from 1MDB. The third case concerns the abuse of power and cover up of a 1MDB audit report. The scale of looting and laundering of state funds was staggering. Prosecutors in the Pindo Justice Dept claim $4.5b in 1MDB funds vanished during Najib’s term as PM from 2009 to 2018. In 2016, the WSJ estimated $6b was “siphoned” out of 1MDB. The money-laundering operation sparked official investigations, not only in Pindostan, but Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and the UAE. The Pindo investigation alone uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars spent on art works, casinos, and buying hotels and luxury real estate in Pindostan and UK. It financed the production of The Wolf of Wall Street motion picture.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of the fraud, the conviction of a former PM and UMNO chief is unprecedented. Najib, like his UMNO predecessors, ruled the country through coalition governments since formal independence from Britain in 1957. They relied on an electoral gerrymander, anti-democratic laws and a politically controlled police and judiciary. The UMNO regime was based on Malay chauvinism at the expense of the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities that constitute about 30% of the population. The UMNO monolith claimed to represent the welfare of all ethnic Malays, but the chief beneficiaries of its race-based politics were the well-heeled UMNO cronies and connected business empires. Najib had no fear of ever been held to account until the shock election defeat of his government at the May 2018 national elections. Najib’s government was ousted by the Pakatan Harapan alliance (PH), composed of the ethnic Chinese based Democratic Action Party (DAP), the People’s Justice Party (PKR) of Anwar Ibrahim and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) of Mahathir Mohamad, who was UMNO prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

While the PH presented itself as a reforming multi-racial coalition that would end the race-based policies and corruption of UMNO and the BN, it was inherently unstable. It brought together heterogeneous sections of the ruling elite whose only real agreement was to get rid of Najib. Anwar had been Mahathir’s deputy PM and finance minister in 1998. He responded to the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis by supporting the IMF’s demands to open up the economy, and that threatened UMNO’s business cronies. Mahathir sacked Anwar and had him arrested and beaten up then framed and jailed on charges of corruption and sodomy. Najib repeated the frameup sending Anwar to jail a second time. Mahathir only broke with Najib and UMNO because his government signed up to the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2016 threatening protected Malay businesses. On the same basis, he also opposed Najib’s signing $22b worth of infrastructure deals with Chinese corporations as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which gave large-scale access to the Malaysian economy. Despite the glaring differences on economic and social policy, Anwar, from his jail cell, insisted on bringing Mahathir and the Bersatu party into the electoral coalition, overcoming strong opposition in his own PKR. As part of the coalition deal that made Mahathir prime minister for the first half of the parliamentary term, Mahathir agreed to obtain a pardon for Anwar, allowing him to enter parliament and take over for a second term. Mahathir, however, continually delayed setting a time for Anwar to become prime minister. Instead he stacked the cabinet with Bersatu, ex-UMNO, ministers out of proportion to the number of its parliamentary seats and openly defended the Malay chauvinism he had always espoused, creating the conditions for a break-up of the PH coalition.

Mahathir as prime minister began the prosecution of Najib, but by February of this year the new government was tearing itself apart. This allowed a section of the ruling class, determined to maintain the dominance of the Malay elites, to plot and carry out a coup. The majority of Bersatu, minus Mahathir, his son Mukhriz, and four other Bersatu MPs, left the ruling coalition, along with a faction inside the PKR. Aided by intervention of the head of state, a sultan serving as king, the breakaways joined with UMNO and the Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia to form a government. Bersatu leader Muhyiddin Yassin became prime minister. The new government appeared to be signalling to the judiciary to acquit Najib. Four days before the verdict, it agreed to a $3.9b settlement with Pindo investment firm Goldman Sachs, one of the many financial institutions involved in Najib’s 1MDB operation. This amount was only a small proportion of the amount sought by the Mahathir government when it filed charges in 2018. The firm received $600m for raising $6.5b on bonds, but then turned a blind eye to the corrupt use of the funds. The out-of-court settlement meant that the firm would abandon its defence that senior members of the BN government lied to the firm, thus potentially letting Najib and other UMNO figures off the hook. Malaysian prosecutors also dropped, without giving reasons, 1MDB charges, against Najib ally, Musa Aman, in June and Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, in May.

The High Court verdict shows that divisions in ruling circles run deep. While no section of the ruling elite has any genuine commitment to popular democratic rights, the authoritarian UMNO structure has been weakened by developments in the world economy that have cut the ground from under cronyism and related policies of national economic regulation. As in other South East Asian countries, the coronavirus pandemic in Malaysia has accentuated unresolved economic and political conflicts with the ruling elites. Amid the fierce internal conflicts, the ruling class has been unable to agree on an economic course to deal with the impact of the global slowdown and financial turmoil. Faschingstein’s anti-China campaign, begun under the Obama administration and intensified under Trump, has destabilised the whole region. Like other countries, Malaysia is trying to precariously balance between its economic dependence on China, its largest trading partner, and strategic relations with Pindostan and its vassals. At the same time, stirring up anti-Chinese chauvinism has been stock-in-trade for UMNO politicians.

The economy is slowing sharply. In June the IMF revised its GDP growth figure for Malaysia from -1.7% to -3.8%, compared with +4.3% a year before. When strict pandemic restrictions were relaxed in June, the official unemployment rate fell slightly from a record 5.0% in May to 4.9%. However, the real figure is likely to be much higher as seen by the savage reaction of the government to discontent among the millions of undocumented and other immigrant workers. Hundreds have been rounded up and arrested under the pretext of violating pandemic restrictions. When Al Jazeera exposed this mistreatment of immigrant workers, its Malaysian office was raided and its journalists threatened with sedition charges. Muhyiddin and his UMNO dominated government have gone on the offensive, apparently in preparation for an election. This month corruption charges were laid against prominent DAP figure Lim Guan Eng over construction contracts in Penang state where he was finance minister and chief minister. Under these pressures political alliances are falling apart.

Two days after the Najib verdict, UMNO president Zahid Hamidi, who himself faces possible 1MDB charges, announced that UMNO would not formally join the ruling coalition, undermining Muhyiddin’s efforts to stabilise the government. Instead UMNO will join PAS and other UMNO allies in a coalition alliance based on Malay-Muslim chauvinism in the expectation of an early election. Mahathir and his five ex-Bersatu MPs refused to re-join Anwar’s PH coalition on the basis that rural Malays will work with Anwar but will not accept him as prime minister. Anwar and the PKR are refusing to have Mahathir as a prime ministerial candidate. DAP leaders are urging compromise fearing the turmoil will lead to losses in a snap election. The Najib conviction is a clear sign that the entire edifice centred on UMNO on which the ruling class has relied for decades is falling apart, opening up the prospect of further political upheavals.

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