Syria’s Christian Religious Leaders Condemn Terrorism, Reject Foreign Interference

Christmas Mass at St. George's Cathedral in Damascus was marked by a somber tone after two terrorist attacks in Damascus earlier this month. Syrians of all faiths are united against foreign intervention and meddling in their internal affairs.

SANA English Bulletin
M. Ismael

DAMASCUS — Christmas celebrations in Syria were limited to prayers due to the current events and in honor of the Syrian martyrs.

Christian denominations performed prayers at churches and places of worship marking birth of Jesus Christ, the messenger of peace and amity.

Mass was held at St. Georges Cathedral in Damascus, headed by Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All Orient and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, assisted by bishops, priests, the Patriarchate choir, and the Mar Ephrem Theological School.

In the Christmas sermon, Patriarch Iwas elaborated on the sublime meanings of the occasion, indicating that Jesus Christ carried a message of peace and amity to the world.

His Beatitude prayed for martyrs to bask in God’s mercy and for Syria to remain safe and stable, expressing trust that the awareness of the Syrian people will help Syria overcome the crisis.

Mass was also held at the National Evangelical Church in Damascus headed by Pastor Boutros Zaour, assisted by the church choir.

Pastor Zaour said that the Christmas this year comes at a time when Syria is targeted by the worst conspiracy ever, adding that the leadership has worked genuinely to enact reforms to push Syria on the road of dignity, reform and modernization.

Pastor Boutros Zaour leads Christmas Mass at the National Evangelical Church in Damascus.

Zaour condemned the twin terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of scores of civilians and military members in Damascus, adding that such hideous acts will sharpen the will of the Syrian people and their adherence to national unity against conspiracies.

Pastor Zaour criticized calls of some Western powers to occupy Syria, expressing utter rejection of foreign meddling in the Syrian internal affairs.

Pastor Samuel Hanna, President of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, denounced the twin terrorist attacks which hit Damascus on Friday, offering heartfelt condolences to the families of the martyrs.

Midnight Mass was held at the Cathedral of the Melkite Greek Catholics, headed by Patriarchal Deputy in Damascus Bishop Jospeh al-Absi, assisted by priests and the cathedral choir.

Al-Absi called in his Christmas sermon for synchronizing efforts to protect Syria, hailing the sacrifices offered by the Syrian Arab army in defense of the country.

Al-Absi denounced the terrorist attacks which hit Damascus, offering deep condolences to the families of the martyrs.

Also see:

  • “One Million Signatures” Campaign Launches in Aleppo
  • British Propaganda Aims at Triggering Syrian Genocide
  • KIM JONG-IL’S DEATH IS A DANGER FOR N. KOREA, NOT ITS NEIGHBORS

    EPHEMERIS 360°
    Stephen Gowans

    There are a few facts to keep in mind to understand what’s going on in the wake of the death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

    #1. US foreign policy vis-a-vis North Korea has always sought to force the latter’s collapse to pave the way for its absorption into the US-dominated South [1] — and did so well before Pyongyang began to work on nuclear weapons. US hostility toward North Korea has never been about nuclear weapons. On the contrary, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a consequence of US hostility. US hostility, now in its seventh decade, is about what it has always been about: putting an end to what Washington mistakenly calls North Korea’s Marxist-Leninist system (Marxism-Leninism has been replaced by Juche ideology—a home-grown doctrine of self-reliance), its non-market system, and its self-directed economic development [2]. None of these offer much latitude for US profit-making at North Korea’s expense, and hence are singled out for demolition.

    #2. North Korea only began to seek nuclear weapons after the United States announced in 1993 that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles from the former Soviet Union to North Korea. Since then the country has only been able to develop its nuclear capability to a kindergarten level. [3] The plutonium devices it tested in 2006 and 2009 produced only one-tenth the power of the Hiroshima blast. There is no evidence it has miniaturized a warhead to fit atop a missile. And its missile program is plagued by problems. [4]

    #3. North Korea is a military pipsqueak, whose personnel are deployed in large numbers to agriculture. The military budgets and weapons’ sophistication of its adversaries, the United States, South Korea and Japan, tower over its own. If the Pentagon’s budget is represented by the 6’ 9” basketball player Magic Johnson, North Korea’s military budget is 1”, about the height of a small mouse. South Korea’s is 4.5” and Japan’s 3.9”, multiple times larger than the North’s. [5]

    #4. North Korea has no more military heft to mount a provocation against the United States than a mouse has to beat Magic Johnson on the basketball court. Nor has it the capability to wage a civil war against its southern compatriots and expect to win. North Korea is not an aggressive threat. “In the Obama analysis,” writes New York Times reporter David Sanger, “the North is receding into what the president’s top strategists have repeatedly called a ‘defensive crouch,’ trying to stave off the world with a barrage of missile and nuclear tests…Constantly on the brink of starvation, its military so broke that it cannot train its pilots, it has no illusions about becoming a great power in Asia. Its main goal is survival.” [6]

    #5. Because the United States is a military Gargantua compared to North Korea, and South Korea and Japan have better equipped militaries, they can safely stage provocations against the North, forcing Pyongyang into a defense-spending drain of its treasury, bringing closer the realization of the US goal of tipping the country into crisis and possibly collapse. On the other hand, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party wants to avoid confrontations at all costs, short of surrendering to the demands that it close up shop, and re-open under South Korean management.

    #6. Provocations, then, are all on the other side. There are few acts more provocative than the United States’ targeting of North Korea with strategic nuclear missiles, nor former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s warning that the Pentagon could turn North Korea into a charcoal briquette [7]. Six decades of Washington-led economic warfare against the country is equally provocative, and a principal cause of North Korea’s impoverishment. Tens of thousands of US troops are deployed along the North’s southern borders, US warships and nuclear missile-equipped submarines prowl the periphery of its territorial waters, and US warplanes menace its airspace. Pyongyang is only the immediate architect of North Korea’s Songun (military-first) policy. Washington is the ultimate architect. Finally, US and South Korean militaries conduct regular war games exercises, one of which, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is an exercise in invading North Korea. Who’s provoking who?

    #7. Kim Jong Il, the recently deceased North Korean leader–literally depicted in South Korean children’s books as a red devil with horns and fangs [8]–has been equally demonized in the Western mass media for starving his people. It is true that food shortages have plagued the country. But the vilifying Kim obituaries don’t mention why North Koreans are hungry. The answer is sanctions. [9] US foreign policy, like that of the Allied powers in WWI toward Germany, has been to starve its adversary into submission. This isn’t acknowledged, for obvious reasons. First, it would reveal the inhumane lengths to which US foreign policy is prepared to reach to secure its goals. And second, North Korean hunger must be used to discredit public ownership and a central planning as a workable economic model. North Koreans are hungry, the anti-Communist myth goes, because socialism doesn’t work. The truth of the matter is that North Koreans are hungry because Washington has made them so. Not surprisingly, calls by humanitarian groups for the United States to deliver food aid are being brushed aside with a litany of bizarre excuses, the latest being that food aid can’t be delivered because Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-eun, has succeeded him. [10] Huh? The real reason food aid won’t be delivered is because it would contradict US foreign policy. The United States once considered the death of half a million Iraqi children “worth it”. [11] Its leaders would consider the sanctions-produced demise through starvation of as many North Koreans worth it, as well.

    #8. The death of Kim Jong-il is a potential boon for US foreign policy. There is a possibility of disorganization within the leadership, and internal conflicts leading to a fraying unity of purpose. Rather than focusing on external threats, the leadership may be divided, and pre-occupied with succession. If so, this is, from the perspective of the United States and South Korea, a pivotal moment—a time when the country may be tipped into collapse. And so, at this moment, who would you expect to unleash a provocation: Pyongyang? Or Washington and Seoul? At the best of times, Pyongyang wants to avoid a fight. At this critical juncture, it absolutely needs to. But the calculus works the other way round for the predators. Now is when North Korea is most vulnerable to predation.

    #9. Predators never let on that they’re the hunters. Always they portray themselves as seeking to safeguard their security against the multiple threats of a dangerous world. Through guile and cunning, the mouse might just outmanoeuvre Magic Johnson and sink a basket or two. So it is that the United States, South Korea and Japan are said to be on high alert, in case the North Koreans stage another “provocation,” like the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan (for which the evidence of North Korean involvement is laughably thin at best [12]) or another Yeonpyeong Island artillery barrage (which the South set off by firing its own artillery into disputed waters, that, under international customary law, belong to the North. [13])

    But as we’ve seen, it makes no sense to expect the scenario of a North Korean-furnished provocation to unfold. The more likely explanation for why US, South Korean and Japanese militaries are on high alert is because now is an ideal time for pressure on Pyongyang to be intensified, and because the triumvirate might be preparing to intervene militarily if conditions become propitious.

    1. New York Times reporter David Sanger (“What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009) notes that “American presidents have been certain they could … speed (North Korea’s) collapse, since the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.” At the same time, Korea expert Selig S. Harrison has written that “South Korea is once again seeking the collapse of the North and its absorption by the South.” (“What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.)

    2. According to Dianne E. Rennack, (“North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006) many US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”

    3. In an article on Newt Gingrich’s fantasies about North Korea or Iran setting off a nuclear device far above US territory in order to unleash an electromagnetic pulse attack, New York Times’ reporter William J. Broad cites a US military expert who characterizes “the nations in question (as being) at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” (“Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.)

    4. Keith Johnson, “Pyongyang neighbors worry over nuclear arms”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011

    5. The annual military budgets in billions are: United States, $700; North Korea, $10; South Korea, $39; Japan, $34. With the exception of the Pentagon’s budget, annual military expenditures were estimated by multiplying a country’s GDP by its military spending as a percentage of GDP, as estimated by the CIA and reported in its World Factbook. The source for the Pentagon’s military budget is Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.

    6. David Sanger, “What ‘engagement’ with Iran and North Korea means,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009.

    7. “Colin Powell said we would…turn North Korea into a ‘charcoal briquette,’ I mean that’s the way we talk to North Korea, even though the mainstream media doesn’t pay attention to that kind of talk. A charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarizaton,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

    8. David E. Sanger, “A ruler who turned North Korea into a nuclear state”, The New York Times, December 18, 2011.

    9. See Stephen Gowans, “Amnesty International botches blame for North Korea’s crumbling healthcare”, What’s Left, July 20, 2010.
    http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/amnesty-international-botches-blame-for-north-korea%E2%80%99s-crumbling-healthcare/

    10. Evan Ramstad and Jay Solomon, “Dictator’s death stokes fears”, The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011.

    11. Asked about a UN estimate that sanctions had killed 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said infamously, “It’s a hard choice, but I think, we, think, it’s worth it.” 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbIX1CP9qr4. Retrieved June 19, 2011

    12. See Tim Beal’s Crisis in Korea: American, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press. 2011.

    13. See Tim Beal, “Theatre of war: Smoke and mirrors on the Korean peninsula on the anniversary of the Yeonpyeong incident,” Pyongyang Report V13 N2, December 6, 2011 http://www.timbeal.net.nz/geopolitics/Theatre_of_War9.pdf and Stephen Gowans, “US Ultimately to Blame for Korean Skirmishes in Yellow Sea”, What’s Left, December 5, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/us-ultimately-to-blame-for-korean-skirmishes-in-yellow-sea/

    “One Million Signatures” Campaign Launches in Aleppo

    Campaign organizers in Aleppo. (SANA)

    Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA)

    ALEPPO, (SANA) — A campaign was launched in Aleppo on Wednesday to collect one million signatures at Saadallah al-Jabri Square, organized by the Syrian Mothers’ Convoy, in rejection of foreign interference in the Syrian internal affairs and in support of the comprehensive reform program led by President Bashar al-Assad.

    Sharif Martini, supervisor of the convoy, said that the campaign seeks to submit the signatures to Maronite Patriarch Boutros al-Rai before submitting it to Pope Benedict XVI to underline the unity of the Syrian people against the conspiracy.

    Khaled al-Jassem, an Islamic preacher, emphasized the necessity of fraternity among peoples and discarding sedition, adding that the conspiracy is aimed at paving the way for the return of colonialism under the pretext of preserving human rights.

    The event coincided with a youth gathering at Saadallah al-Jabri Square organized to stress rejection of foreign interference in Syria. The participants raised national flags and the Russian and Chinese flags to express gratitude for their support to Syria.

    Participants said that the gathering expresses the support of the Syrian people to the comprehensive reform program, voicing trust that Syria will come out stronger from the crisis.

    M. Ismael

    Also see:
    President Bashar al-Assad Unedited Interview with ABC News

    On The Passing of Kim Jong Il

    Kim Jong Il. (KCNA)

    On Monday, the Korean Central News Agency confirmed the passing of general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and de facto leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Il.

    In a statement released on December 19, KCNA wrote:

    “Leader Kim Jong Il had received medical treatment for his cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long period.

    He suffered an advanced acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a serious heart shock, on train on December 17, Juche 100 (2011) for a great mental and physical strain caused by his uninterrupted field guidance tour for the building of a thriving nation.

    Every possible first-aid measure was taken immediately but he passed away at 08:30 on December 17.

    An autopsy on December 18 fully confirmed the diagnosis of his diseases.”

    Crimson Satellite wishes the best to the people of the DPRK in this time. My understanding of the DPRK is best stated in the Spartacist League’s Workers Vanguard:

    Despite the rule of a nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy, the overthrow of capitalism in the North was a historic defeat for imperialism and a victory for the working people of Asia and the world. The existence of a planned, collectivized economy brought real advances to the working people of North Korea. Until the mid 1970s, North Korea’s planned economy significantly outperformed the South, creating a modern industrial infrastructure. At the same time, the situation of a nation bifurcated by a “demilitarized zone” packed with more weaponry per square meter than any place on earth severely distorted the economy in the North. Particularly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which provided the vast bulk of military and technological aid to North Korea, the situation became dire. In 1992, China cut off shipments of cheap oil to the North as a concession to obtain diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea. Starting in 1995, the country was hit by natural disasters producing a famine of historic proportions.

    The disastrous situation in the North has been compounded by the extreme form of economic autarky pushed by the North Korean bureaucracy under the rubric of Juche (self-reliance). The political outlook of the bureaucracy was and is rooted in the Stalinist lie that socialism —a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—can be built in one or even half a country. This anti-working-class, nationalist dogma undermines defense of what remains of the collectivized economy and is counterposed to any perspective for international socialist revolution, and particularly to a struggle for workers revolution in the South.

    (U.S. Imperialism Hands Off North Korea! Workers Vanguard No. 795, 17 January 2003.)

    British Propaganda Aims at Triggering Syrian Genocide

    Channel 4 makes Goebbels proud with conveniently timed propaganda piece.
    by Tony Cartalucci

    Supporters of President al-Assad (SANA)

    Land Destroyer

    December 18, 2011 – With the UN’s recent “human rights” report falling flat, for lack of evidence and being compiled by Karen Koning AbuZayd, a director of the US Washington-based corporate think-tank, Middle East Policy Council, that includes Exxon men, CIA agents, US military and government representatives, and even the president of the US-Qatar Business Council, the corporate-media has stepped in to give faces and screams to the alleged victims of Wall Street and London’s premeditated implosion of Syrian society.

    The UN’s human rights chief, Navi Pillay had been having difficulties peddling the recycled lies used just months ago to commence NATO and UN-sanctioned genocide in Libya, in what is now verified, even confessed fabrications produced by the Libyan opposition and filtered through corporate foundation-funded Human Rights Watch, the International Criminal Court, and the UN. Additionally, Syria itself had brushed off attempts by the Wall Street and London compromised Arab League and their numerous, feckless attempts to impose ultimatums clearly crafted in Washington and given an “Arab” face.

    It is now, just as both efforts have ground to a halt and the Arab League prepares to bring their ultimatums and demands to the UN that Channel 4 in England has released “shocking images of violence and child abuse that proves Syrian torture policy,” reports the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail claims they are the most graphic images ever shown on British television, and surely such an exception has been made because Wall Street and London’s efforts to justify NATO intervention in Syria have stalled. Words such as “believed to be,” “allegedly,” and “strong evidence that” litter the Daily Mail’s article and cast serious doubt on claims that Channel 4’s objectivity-devoid presentation featuring the overtly biased title “Syria’s Torture Machine” provides “‘irrefutable prima facie’ evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is torturing its citizens.”

    Then again, “irrefutable prima facie” is what Wall Street and London have depended on to sell one genocidal military conquest after another, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Libya to the gates of Damascus. In each case, the evidence upon closer examination, revealed the magnitude to which the truth had been stretched, abused, or all together fabricated. Already snipers have been uncovered killing both protesters and Syrian security forces in single confrontations – illustrating a malice element clearly seeking to prolong and expand the violence, conveniently giving the West an opportunity for a repeat performance of their military conquest of Libya.

    To the trained eye, “Syria’s Torture Machine” salutes the crass, hamfisted propaganda films of yesteryear that instilled the baseless anger, outrage, and emotions throughout the masses that made the horrors of the World Wars possible. Channel 4 hopes to recapture the success of these vintage films, preying on the ignorance of what it hopes is an impressionable audience, as well as join the ranks of modern day war propaganda like the corporate-fascist Neo-Conservative produced “Iranium.” No mention will most likely be made that Syria’s opposition is entirely funded, supported, even armed, and harbored by NATO members, with the Syrian opposition literally based in London where Channel 4 is also conveniently headquartered.

    The timing of Channel 4’s “presentation” and the unprecedented exceptions made to air its violent content publicly, illustrates an eagerness, almost desperation behind the West’s designs toward Syria. Indeed, just as it was with Libya, NATO intervention, the subsequent genocide, and the rise to power of a suitable stooge bent to the West’s agenda will be achieved at any cost. Stretching the credibility of an already discredited corporate-media is a risk the global elite can’t risk not taking.

    One must ask themselves, however, how NATO, led by the US who has legalized, normalized, even standardized torture and indefinite detention, stands on any moral ground to use the rhetoric provided by propagandists in London as justification for further meddling in Syria. If Channel 4’s one-sided, clearly biased “presentation” is casus belli for NATO bombers to level Damascus, perhaps they should visit Washington D.C. or Langley, Virginia on the way.

    Also see:
    Full ABC News Interview with Syrian President Bashar al Assad

    Discussing Elections, Putin Appeases Bourgeois Liberals

    Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin (RIA Novosti / Alexey Drujinin)

    by Clara Weiss
    World Socialist Website
    17 December 2011

    Putin Dismisses Election Protests

    On a nationally televised show Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spent more than four-and-a-half hours responding to dozens of question from callers. While rejecting accusations of electoral fraud in recently held parliamentary elections and dismissing demands for a new vote, Putin signaled a willingness to appease the liberal opposition and accommodate its right-wing agenda.

    The former president turned prime minister is running for a new term as president in elections to be held March 4, 2012.

    In the parliamentary contest on December 5, the ruling party, United Russia, suffered a major setback, losing its majority in the Duma, with support falling from 64.3 percent to just 49.3 percent. A major factor in the debacle for the party of Putin and President Dimitry Medvedev was growing working class opposition to its pro-business policies and attacks on social welfare programs, and disillusionment with the social disaster produced by 20 years of capitalist restoration.

    On Saturday, December 10, tens of thousands of people gathered across the country to protest against ballot-rigging and other measures implemented by the regime to skew the vote. The demonstrations, the largest in years, were organized by the liberal opposition and dominated by middle- and upper-middle class layers in the major cities. A central demand at the events was for the calling of new elections. While the protests remain relatively contained at the moment, the Russian ruling elite is anxious that they could spread beyond their narrow social confines and inspire a movement of the working class.

    The US, which maintains close ties to many of the liberal bourgeois opposition groups, has sought to exploit the election crisis to pressure the regime, with which it has mounting conflicts in relation to the Persian Gulf, North Africa and Central and East Asia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly called for a probe of the voting after Western poll monitors alleged there had been widespread irregularities.

    In Thursday’s interview, Putin dismissed the charges of ballot-rigging, insisting that “the opposition will always claim that the elections are unfair.” He rejected demands for a vote recount and new elections.

    At the same time, he acknowledged that “the elections doubtlessly reflect the balance of power in this country.” Claiming that the loss of votes for United Russia was “normal” after a period of crisis, he maintained that the outcome was still “a good sign” for the ruling party. He said the fact that “young and active people” went out onto the street reflected positively on political life in the country.
    However, he went on to make crudely disparaging remarks about the show of opposition last Saturday, saying the white ribbons worn at the rallies resembled “dangling contraceptives.” As questions continued to flow in about the parliamentary vote, the exasperated prime minister proclaimed, “I am sick of your elections already.”

    Putin reiterated the claim that Washington stood behind the protest movement, warning that some Russians were trying to bring about a “color revolution” in the interests of the Western powers. Aggressively attacking Washington, he focused in on Republican Senator John McCain, who had posted a comment on Twitter warning that an “Arab spring” would soon come to Russia.

    While insisting that the government would keep further protests contained, Putin signaled a willingness to accommodate the free market liberal opposition. The prime minister announced some limited reforms to “modernize” political life in Russia, including the reintroduction of elections for governors (vetted by the Kremlin)—a long-standing demand of liberals. He also held out the prospect of “liberalizing the electoral law” so that the right-wing party Parnas of pro-Western businessman Boris Nemtsov could be officially registered.

    Toward the end of the television program, Putin suggested that the ex-oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovksy might be released from prison. Khodorkovsky, who is serving a multi-year sentence for tax evasion, was jailed after working towards setting up a political party in opposition to the Kremlin. [Editor’s Note: Khodorkovsky is a criminal who belongs behind bars.]

    These concessions are an attempt to appease the better-off sections of the urban upper-middle class, whose primary concerns are lack of political influence and access to the spoils of power. Fearing above all the entrance of the working class into struggle, the Kremlin is considering ways to channel this social layer behind Putin by granting it some minor concessions.

    A commentary in the newspaper Vzglyad, written by the well-known TV presenter Tina Kandelaki, reflects the outlook of the milieu to whom the Kremlin is speaking. Kandelaki wrote that under Putin “a new class has emerged—the class of successful people.” Pointing out that many journalists, writers and actors had participated in last Saturday’s rally, she stated that this “new class,” of whom she herself is a prominent representative, has become “a new dialogue partner” for the Kremlin.

    She continued: “On the one hand, one has to understand that the government will not accept any revolution and that it will be right in this. But at the same time, the people won’t allow their opinion to fall on deaf ears. And they will be right, too. Precisely in this consists the present balance of interests.”

    The right-wing character of the path the Kremlin is taking was underscored when Putin praised the work of Alexei Kudrin, the recently dismissed finance minister, indicating that he might be invited to return to the government. Kudrin, a champion of fiscal austerity and a favorite of international finance, announced last week that he was considering forming another opposition party. During the TV show, Putin stressed that Kudrin had “never left my team” and maintained that their disagreements on economic questions were “not of a principled character.”

    Kudrin has continually pressed the prime minister to abandon his efforts to cultivate a populist image by minimally increasing social spending, particularly with regards to pensions. In the television interview, Putin signaled that he would listen to Kudrin’s demands. Departing from his previous public statements, Putin indicated that the pension age in Russia might be raised, albeit not in the immediate term.

    “All countries now raise the pension age, even Ukraine, where life expectancy is the same as here,” he observed. “We still have a lot to do here,” he continued, adding that although “it is too early to speak about this… all aspects of our life have to be modernized, including both the economic and the social spheres.”

    A cut in social spending by increasing the retirement age would have disastrous consequences for millions of people. According to the Independent Institute for Social Politics, 48 percent of the population depends on the payment of these funds to live, with either themselves or family members receiving a pension. Given that life expectancy for men stands at just 60, an increase of the pension age to just 62 would deprive millions of men of any benefits.

    Russia’s free market liberals have continually demanded pension “reform.” In the face of the immense unpopularity of this measure and the upcoming presidential election, however, both Putin and Medvedev have distanced themselves from such proposals. Now Putin is broadly hinting that he is prepared to make concessions to the liberals on this question. This underscores the fact that any negotiated settlement between the Kremlin and the liberals will be directed against the working class.

    The reactionary and anti-working class character of the Putin regime was highlighted in Thursday’s interview when the prime minister commented on the collapse of the USSR, which occurred 20 years ago this month. While lamenting the breakup of the Soviet Union from a nationalist standpoint, he insisted that the economic reforms that led to the restoration of capitalism in the region had been “necessary.” The result of the transition to a market economy was a fall in working class living standards never before witnessed in world history except during times of war, alongside the formation of Russia’s super-rich oligarchy.

    Updated: President Bashar al-Assad Unedited Interview with ABC News

    [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_510631&feature=iv&src_vid=tulUsTL1FCA&v=-6Lv9bJdQWg%5D

    Editor’s Note: This interview has been removed several times from YouTube. I have saved the forty-six minute interview in its entirety in the case that it is once again removed from the web.

    — Nina Westbury, Creator and Editor of Crimson Satellite

    Article by Nina Westbury for Crimson Satellite

    DAMASCUS — In a rare interview with an American media outlet, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sat down with ABC News’ Barbara Walters to discuss the crisis in Syria.

    “Do you think your forces cracked down too hard?” Walters asked. President al-Assad noted that Syria’s army doesn’t belong to him, stating, “I’m President. I don’t own the country.” Assad also mentioned that Syria’s Constitution requires the army to defend the country’s sovereignty.

    Further, the President contrasted what American media are calling a “crackdown,” which he said was the result of the mistakes of some officials, with having a policy of torture. “If you want to talk about policy, look at what’s happening in Guantanamo, where you have a policy of torture,” the President remarked, referring to the infamous American military prison based in Cuba — which has not shied away from using torture against so-called ‘enemy combatants.’

    President Assad also touched on the plight of the Palestinian people, the United Nations’ lack of credibility, and other important topics.

    The full interview lasts forty-six minutes, some of which aired on an ABC special disingenuously titled “The Dictator Speaks.”