Massive march to support Spain anti-austerity party

MADRID: Demonstrators gather at Puerta del Sol during the “March for Change” organized by leftwing party Podemos yesterday. — AFP
Jihadists wary of Internet
PARIS: After having used the Internet profusely for propaganda and recruitment, jihadist organizations have realized that investigators are gleaning crucial information
online and are increasingly concealing their web presence,
experts say. Apart from recent orders given to fighters to
limit their exposure, erase the footprint of their online
activity and avoid revealing too many place names or
faces, the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front groups are
increasingly using the “Dark Web” - the hidden part of the
Internet protected by powerful encryption softwares.
“Sometimes we get the geographical location of some
fighters thanks to Facebook,” Philippe Chadrys, in charge of
the fight against terrorism at France’s judicial police, said
earlier this week. “Some even publish it on the public part
of their account. That gives us elements to build a case.
Because of course we don’t go to Syria, we have no one on
the ground, and we lack proof.”
In November, Flavien Moreau, a 28-year-old jihadist
who travelled to Syria and then returned to France, was
jailed for seven years exclusively on the basis of what he
posted online. And those who just months ago had happily
posted videos, photos of themselves holding Kalashnikovs
or of beheadings on Facebook have now realised that they
were single-handedly building a case against themselves, if
they ever decided to come home.
“We are starting to notice the beginnings of disaffection
with Facebook - they have understood that’s how we get
incriminating evidence,” said Chadrys. “They are resorting
more and more to Skype or WhatsApp, software that is
much harder to intercept. “We realise that the people we
are interested in are increasingly specialised in computing.
They master encryption software and methods to better
erase data.” Chadrys also said that jihadists were increasingly using the “Dark Web”. “That makes our probes much
more complicated. The terrorists are adapting, they understand that the telephone and Internet are handy, but dangerous. He pointed to Mehdi Nemmouche, saying last
year’s alleged Brussels Jewish museum killer had no mobile
phone and no Facebook account. Faced with this problem,
police are resorting to calling in cryptography and computing experts, but there are never enough, which slows down
Last autumn, the Islamic State group (IS) published
guidelines for its members, asking fighters not to tweet
precise location names, to blur faces or stop giving too
many details about on-going operations. “Security breaches have appeared, which the enemy has taken advantage
of,” read the text, written in Arabic. “The identity of some
brothers has been compromised, as have some sites used
by mujahedeen. We know that this problem does not only
involve photos, but also PDF, Word and video files.”
In a recent report, Helle Dale of the US-based Heritage
Foundation think-tank wrote that cyber-surveillance was
key to the fight against IS “as human intelligence is hardly
available on the ground, especially in Syria, and the number of unmanned drones is limited”. But, she added, the
group “is changing is communications strategy. It is
encrypting its electronic communications, limiting its presence online and using services that delete messages as
soon as they are sent”. — AFP
Massive march to support
Spain anti-austerity party
MADRID: Tens of thousands of people took to the
streets in Madrid yesterday in support of new anti-austerity party Podemos, a week after Greece elected its
hard-left ally Syriza. With the party topping opinion
polls in the run up to elections later this year, protesters
chanted “Yes we can!” as they made their way from
Madrid city hall to the central Puerta del Sol square.
Many waved blue and white Greek flags and red and
white Syriza flags or held signs reading “The change is
now” and “Together we can”.
Podemos, which means “We Can”, was formed just a
year ago, but produced a major shock by winning five
seats in elections for the European Parliament in May.
“The wind of change is starting to blow in Europe,”
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said in both Greek and
Spanish at the start of his address to the crowd at the
end of the march. “We dream but we take our dream
seriously. More has been done in Greece in six days than
many governments did in years.”
Syriza beat mainstream Greek parties by pledging to
end austerity and corruption, as Podemos aims to do in
Spain’s general election due in November. Iglesias, a 36year-old pony-tailed former university professor,
appeared alongside Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras, now Greece’s
prime minister, to publicly support him during his campaign. Podemos wants to prevent profitable companies
from firing people, promote a fully state-controlled
health care system and enact a “significant” minimumwage hike.
The party has struck a chord with Spaniards enraged
by a string of corruption scandals, as well as public
spending cuts imposed by the conservative ruling party
and previously by the Socialists after the economic crisis
erupted in 2008. “There are many people that agree with
the need for change. Enough already with stealing - that
the corrupt take everything and we can’t do anything,”
said Dori Sanchez, 23, an unemployed teacher who
came from Monover in southeastern Spain for the rally.
Podemos said 260 buses brought supporters to the
capital from across Spain for the “March for Change”,
while hundreds of locals signed on to host travellers. “I
want real change, that they stop fooling us,” said Blanca
Salazar, 53, a geriatric aide who came by car from the
northern city of Bilbao with her husband and nephews.
Spain has now officially exited recession - the country’s
economy grew by 1.4 percent last year, according to
provisional data released Friday - but nearly one in four
workers is still unemployed. Salaries for many people
have dropped and the number of workers on low-paid
short-term contracts has soared.
Podemos has overtaken the mainstream opposition
Socialist Party in several opinion polls, and in some has
topped the list ahead of the conservative ruling People’s
Party (PP). The Socialists and the PP have ruled Spain
alternately since the country returned to democracy
after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has warned Spaniards
not to “play Russian roulette” by supporting Podemos,
which he said “promises the moon and the sun” but will
not deliver. Speaking in Barcelona as the rally was taking place, Rajoy said radicalism was “unfortunately very
much in fashion in our country” without mentioning
Podemos directly. “I don’t accept the gloomy Spain
which some want to portray because they think that by
doing so they will replace those who are governing
and have had to face the most difficult crisis in
decades. They will not succeed,” he added. Critics of
Podemos have accused it of having links to Venezuela’s
leftwing leaders and alleged fiscal irregularities by
some of its top members. The party’s leaders have
promised to publish their tax returns to dispel the allegations. — AFP
Lavish Saudi freebies will buoy economy
Continued from Page 1
As the sun breaks through the fog, a woman holds a child as she walks on a path in front of the Silverdale
Beach Hotel near Old Mill Park, in Silverdale, Washington early Thursday. — AP
Egypt bans Hamas armed wing
Continued from Page 1
A source close to Hamas’ armed wing signalled the group
would no longer accept Egypt as a broker between it and
Israel. “After the court’s decision Egypt is no longer a mediator
in Palestinian-Israeli matters,” the source told Reuters. Cairo
has for many years played a central role in engineering ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, which dominates the Gaza
Strip, including a truce reached between the sides in August
that ended a 50-day Gaza war. Egyptian officials say that
weapons are smuggled from Gaza into Egypt where they end
up with militant groups fighting to topple the Westernbacked Cairo government.
Islamist militants based in Egypt’s Sinai region, which bor-
ders on Gaza, have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since
Morsi’s political demise. The insurgency has spread to other
parts of Egypt, the most populous Arab country. On Thursday
night there were four separate attacks on security forces in
North Sinai and Islamic State’s Egyptian wing, Sinai Province,
claimed the killing of at least 30 soldiers and police officers.
Egyptian officials say the Brotherhood, Islamic State, AlQaeda and Sinai Province, previously called Ansar Bayt AlMaqdis, share the same ideology. The Brotherhood says it is
committed to peaceful activism and denies any tie to violence. Yesterday, a sniper wounded a soldier in a village in central Sinai, security sources said. In northern Sinai, Islamist militant gunmen killed a Christian man suspected of cooperating
with Egyptian authorities. — Agencies
Other benefits announced by Salman will increase
spending further. He ordered payments to students, grants
to professional associations and sports and literary clubs
around the country, and 20 billion riyals in spending to
improve electricity and water services, though it was not
clear if the utility spending was part of a previously
announced plan.
A Reuters poll of economists earlier in January found
them predicting GDP growth of 3.2 percent this year,
down from 3.6 percent in 2014, on the grounds that the
plunge in oil prices would cause the kingdom to slow
some energy and petrochemical investments and make
the government more cautious about spending in general.
Salman’s announcement on Thursday suggested the
government remained willing to spend heavily despite the
hit to its oil revenues from low prices, and that GDP growth
this year might therefore be higher than originally expected. “I believe it will be growth-supportive - especially on
the consumption side,” said Monica Malik, chief economist
at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. Saudi retail industry
shares such as Jarir Marketing, United Electronics and
Fawaz Alhokair, plays on the kingdom’s fast-growing private consumption, may benefit.
Salman’s announcement appeared to take a step back
from a pledge in the 2015 budget, which was announced
in December when he was already overseeing economic
policy, to “rationalize” spending on public salaries. But it is
in a long Saudi tradition of welfare handouts at times of
political transition or tension. The 2015 budget plan projected a deficit of 145 billion riyals; the actual deficit now
looks likely to be much larger, but with government
reserves at the central bank totalling some 900 billion
riyals, Riyadh can easily cover such shortfalls for now.
Salman may intend to recoup some of the costs of his
handout through economic and bureaucratic reforms.
Thursday’s decrees kept the identity of key economic ministers unchanged, suggesting to many observers that major,
politically sensitive reforms - such as cutting energy subsidies, or large tax shifts -are not on the cards for now. “With
the oil, economic and finance portfolios remaining steady, I
do not expect to see wider change in policy,” said Malik.
But Salman replaced many other ministers including
telecommunications, agriculture and the civil service, suggesting he may seek changes in the way those ministries
operate. Economy minister Muhammad Al-Jasser said last
week that the next reform drive should focus on efficient
administration. Salman appeared to be seeking bureaucratic efficiency on Thursday when he abolished 12 committees and councils, creating a new Council of Economic
and Development Affairs to substitute for some of them.
The new council, chaired by Salman’s son Prince
Mohammed bin Salman, who is only 34, may give the king
a platform to push controversial economic reforms in the
future if he wishes. — Reuters