Home' Greymouth Star : May 6th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Tuesday, May 6, 2014
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uLetters to the editor
1840 - First adhesive postage stamps, the
Penny Black and the Twopenny Blue, go on
sale in Britain.
1882 - United States bans Chinese
immigration for 10 years; British
statesman Lord Cavendish is
murdered by Irish nationalists soon
after arriving in D ublin as chief
secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of
1889 - The World’s Fair, with the
newly built Eiffel Tower, opens in
1910 - Death of King Edward VII after nine-
1919 - Death of US children’s author Lyman
Frank Baum, famous for his Wonderful
Wizard of Oz.
1960 - The sister of Queen Elizabeth II,
Princess Margaret marries commoner Anthony
Armstrong-Jones in London’s Westminster
1992 - Death at the age of 90 of German-
born screen siren Marlene Dietrich in Paris.
1994 - Q ueen Elizabeth II and President
Francois Mitterrand open the Channel Tunnel.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Robert E Peary, US explorer (1856-1920);
Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychologist (1856-
1939); Rudolph Valentino, Italian-born movie
star (1895-1926); Orson Welles,
actor-director (1915-1985); Rubin
`Hurricane’ Carter, boxer (1937-);
Bob Seger, US singer (1945-); Alan
Dale, New Zealand-born actor
(1947-); Tony Blair, former British
prime minister (1953-); George
Clooney, US actor (1961-); Roma
Downey, US actress (1963-); Melania Trump,
Slovenian model (1970-) .
“The worst moment for the atheist is when he
is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” —
Dante Rossetti, English poet (1828-1882).
“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and My
God!” — ( John 20.28).
New Zealand has
no motor camps and
caravans are never
seen on our roads.
Furthermore, it is impossible to buy a second-
hand or new car here within three years! This
is the fantastic information handed out to two
American tourists before coming out here,
according to a letter received at last night’s
meeting of the Westland District Progress
League. The letter was from a local resident to
a league member and dealt with some of the
many wrong points the two found when they
visited New Zealand.
On arrival in Auckland at the Government
Tourist Bureau, the man said he intended
going to the West Coast. He was told it is
an underdeveloped area, there is nothing to
see and the roads are not properly formed —
most are tracks in the bush with blackberries
meeting in the middle.
“Now having seen New Zealand he can not
understand why we do not advertise what we
have got. He just could not understand why we
did not have factual, emphatic information,”
said Mr C R Rollinson.
The death of Mr Michael Stephen O’Malley,
of Cronadun, occurred at his residence this
morning, aged 92. Mr O’Malley was born at
Addison’s F lat in the heyday of the alluvial gold
boom. As a young man he moved to Reefton
and Crushington where he was employed as a
blacksmith at the quartz mines. About 1912 he
went to Cronadun as the local hotel publican
and also storekeeper and farmer.
Mr O’Malley is sur vived by his wife
Catherine, three sons, Moran (Auckland), Jack
(Ohai), Jim (Cronadun); and four daughters,
Barbara, Catherine, Mary and Eileen.
uFood for thought
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ladimir Putin looks likely
to go down in history as
the Russian leader who
won back Crimea, but he is
fighting to avoid also being
remembered as the man
who let Ukraine escape from Moscow ’s
sphere of influence.
The next six weeks will be decisive in
that battle as Ukraine prepares to elect
a president on May 25, agree a new
constitution and prevent pro-Russian
separatists in the east breaking away.
Reclaiming Crimea 60 years after it was
gifted to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita
Khrushchev, apparently on a whim, has
been a domestic triumph for Putin. But
losing the ability to exert influence over
Ukraine would be a high price to pay
for that and might, with time, seriously
detract from the achievement.
Even though Ukraine and Russia ceased
to be in the same country when the
Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, economic,
political and cultural links remained strong
and Moscow retained a lot of political and
economic influence in Kiev.
“Putin is now looking for a model where
Moscow retains some degree of influence,”
said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin
“I think the next six weeks will be
key because Putin can’t afford to let
the Ukrainian election produce an
unacceptable formula for Russia and he
can’t afford to look indecisive.
“He needs a quick solution.”
Yet at first glance, Putin does not look
to have an urgent problem. His ratings
have risen to their highest in years since
Russian forces took over Crimea and
Moscow annexed the peninsula after a
hastily arranged referendum among its
2 million people.
Moscow ’s political and business elites
rallied behind Putin as the west imposed
sanctions over what its leaders called an
illegal redrawing of borders that revived
Cold War-era conflict.
He signed Crimea’s annexation last
month after setting out dreams of a
greater Russia in a speech greeted by
cheers in the Kremlin. His vision of
repairing the break-up of the Soviet
Union would bring the “near abroad ”
back under Moscow ’s wing.
The show of unity behind the Russian
president is likely to continue for a some
time, and the political opposition in
Moscow has for now been neutralised by
Putin’s success in Crimea.
But business and political sources say
there is growing unease beneath the
surface as the euphoria fades and the harsh
reality sets in of western sanctions — and
the prospect of more if Russia does not
cooperate with the west.
With Russia’s economic growth
stuttering almost to a halt, and capital
flight rising to nearly $64 billion in the
first three months of this year, there is
plenty of cause for concern about taking
on the financial burden of propping up
Crimea — a region long on pensioners
and faded Black Sea resorts.
Some business leaders and government
officials are also worried by the war of
words with the west, a threat of a return
to Soviet-era isolation after two decades
of building relations with richer states
and even hostility abroad towards wealthy
Russians and their children studying at
“There are people who are disorientated.
They won’t say this in public but there is
a split over whether what is happening
is good for the country,” said a Russian
businessman in Moscow with liberal
political views who did not want to be
Political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky
went further in an inter view with liberal
radio station Ekho Moskvy, suggesting the
mood had started to change since United
States sanctions hit members of Putin’s
inner circle as well as other individuals and
“ Two weeks ago the Russian elite were
in a state of euphoria,” he said. “ It seemed
Russia had won a huge geopolitical victory
and we should be proud.
“Now, today, the elite are slipping into in
a state of mild depression. They understand
that a problem is coming.
“So when real sanctions hit, when
people realised the real estate, healthcare,
education in the west, which they have got
used to in the last 20 years were in danger,
they got worried.”
Although such concerns are likely to
remain below the surface in a political
climate where criticising Putin over
Crimea has become all but impossible,
his ability to retain Moscow ’s influence
in Ukraine will be crucial to his capacity
to maintain popular support for his
Moscow ’s influence in Kiev has been
under threat since President Viktor
Yanukovich fled to Russia on February 22
after three months of protests sparked by
his decision to spurn political and trade
agreements with the European Union and
strengthen economic ties with Moscow
The installation of a government that
looks west instead of east has increased
the danger for Russia of losing its ability
to steer events in a country it regards as a
buffer between it and the west and as the
historic cradle of Russian civilisation.
For many of Russia’s 144 million people,
bonds to Ukraine’s 46 million are familial
and emotional, though for the Kremlin and
its allies in business, Ukraine’s industries,
concentrated in the Russian-speaking east,
and its markets, are also a draw.
For supporters of the new Ukrainian
government ’s pro-western course, Putin
is also concerned not to let Ukraine
flourish in a way that might inspire his
Russian opponents to try to emulate the
“Euromaidan” protesters of Kiev and
overthrow the president.
Central to Putin’s tactics now is a build-
up of troops on the border with Ukraine,
a show of force that has fuelled fears in
Ukraine and the west that he could send
in troops to annex eastern regions such as
Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv where Kiev
accuses Moscow of fomenting unrest and
The Ukrainian government said it was
sending security forces into the eastern
city of Slaviansk where the pro-Russian
militants have seized control of the local
Putin has his loyal parliament ’s consent
to use the army if Russian speakers
are deemed to be in danger — a tactic
familiar from Crimea. Russian state media
have paved the way for this by depicting
Ukraine as beset by marauding groups of
But sending in the troops would risk
a new, much tougher round of western
sanctions or even a military conflict which
could be costly, inflict heavy Russian
losses and dent the 61-year-old president ’s
The border build-up may be mainly a
negotiating tactic with western leaders:
“The military are there in principle so
that people agree to talk to Putin about
Ukraine’s future,” said Pavlovsky, who
advised the president until three years ago.
“Putin realises that if there is no risk of
the crisis worsening, no one will bring him
into discussions on Ukraine.”
The troops also ser ve as a reminder to
Ukraine’s new leaders that “Big Brother” is
watching and is still a force to be heeded.
They provide the backdrop as Russia
pushes its demands, in daily Foreign
Ministry statements lambasting the west
and Ukraine’s government, and in public
remarks led by Putin and by his wily
and experienced foreign minister, Sergei
Threats to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine
over its $2.2 billion unpaid bill, raising
the prospect of disruptions to deliveries to
western Europe that pass through Ukraine,
also keep pressure on Kiev and help Russia
to press its demands.
The Russian demands, sure to be outlined
at talks in Genevawith the United States,
European Union and Ukraine, include an
insistence that Ukraine remain outside
Nato and the EU, that its regions are given
more autonomy and Russian speakers
guaranteed more rights to use their
language rather than Ukrainian.
The idea of a federal system of governance
for Ukraine has been floated for several
months by the Kremlin. In February, Putin’s
lead adviser on Ukraine suggested regions
might even pursue different foreign policies,
the industrial east aligning with Russia and
the Ukrainian-speaking west embracing
Viewing that as a mandate for more
Crimean-style referendums on secession,
Kiev has promised to devolve powers
to the regions but rejects “federalism”.
It has also shown sensitivity to Russian
speakers’ rights by dropping plans for a law
enforcing the use of Ukrainian for official
Moscow made no secret of supporting
Yanukovich and cannot expect to find
his successor at all as sympathetic as
the former governor of Donetsk — but
Ukrainian leaders are all well aware that
feuding with Russia can only hurt them in
the long run.
Even if Moscow cannot hope for a
president who openly favours Russia, it
can see to it that any future leader will
be obliged to seek a working balance
in relations between east and west. If
Putin has his way, he will be able to show
Russians he has done all he can to keep
Moscow ’s influence in the country.
Kremlin aides insist Putin is not
concerned about his place in history and is
driven by the best interests of Russia. The
verdict on his action may, in any case, be a
long time coming.
Arguing that losing influence in Kiev
was not inevitable after snatching Crimea
away from it, Boris Makarenko of the
Centre for Political Technologies in
Moscow said: “ The two are not mutually
“ I only know that history is wiser than
any of us — and its verdict is never
delivered in haste.” — Reuters
Putin’s Ukraine influence
After three years of grinding conflict,
the destruction of whole city districts and
an exodus of refugees all triggered by an
uprising against his rule, Bashar al-Assad is
quietly preparing to be re-elected.
The Syrian president has not yet
announced whether he will stand for
a third term, in defiance of protesters,
rebel fighters and western foes who have
demanded he go; but in state-controlled
parts of Damascus preparations for his
candidacy are unmistakable.
Public gatherings have become platforms
to urge the president to nominate himself,
despite a continuing civil war that has
killed more than 140,000 people, fractured
the country and destroyed any chance of a
credible vote being held.
Authorities are once again organising
demonstrations in support of Assad,
accused by opponents of massacres of
civilians. Shopkeepers are encouraged to
show their support by painting national
colours on their store fronts.
Some express their loyalty in general
displays of patriotism, while others
explicitly call on the 48-year-old president
to announce he will stand in the vote,
which is due to be held by July.
Just 18 months ago, Assad’s grip over
his capital seemed to to be slipping as
rebels gained ground around Damascus.
Since then his forces have consolidated
control in central Syria. Rebels still insist
his departure is precondition for any peace
deal, but having lost military momentum
they are unable to dictate terms.
At a gathering in southern Damascus last
month to honour victims of Syria’s conflict,
local officials and clerics turned the solemn
memorial into a political rally.
After handing out awards to widows
and grieving mothers in Sayida Zeinab,
a suburb of the capital which has been at
the heart of Assad’s counter-attack against
rebels, they made their case for a third term
of Assad rule.
“The president said: ‘If there is a popular
demand for me to be nominated, I will
run. I will not abandon my national duty’,”
said Shi’ite Muslim cleric Al Sayyed Fadi
“So I ask you to take advantage of
this large gathering ... and make it an
opportunity to ask President Bashar al-
Assad to nominate himself for another
The crowd, mainly loyalists, cheered.
The scene is repeated across government-
controlled districts of the capital, such
as the garrison suburbs where military
families live, many of them from Assad’s
minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of
Demonstrators waving portraits of
Assad and flags adorned with his face are
once again on the streets, albeit in smaller
numbers than the many thousands who
rallied in 2011 when authorities were
trying to counter the mass anti-Assad
protests sweeping the country.
Schoolchildren are bused in to take part
in marches, much to the alarm of parents
who say they are given no prior notice
that their children are being taken to
demonstrate while Syria’s civil war rages
“Even though it can be very dangerous,
they just put them on a bus and take them
to a march during their last period of the
day without informing us or anything,” the
mother of an 11-year-old boy said.
“If they inform us, they know that most
parents would not send their kids to school
The mobilisation appears aimed at
reinforcing the government ’s long-standing
assertion that Syrian citizens want Assad
“It is his personal decision ... but I assure
you that the Syrian street will pressure
President Bashar al-Assad to nominate
himself for the presidency of the republic,”
Information Minister Omran Zoabi said
Amendments to Syria’s constitution
agreed in a referendum two years ago mean
that, for the first time, rival candidates
would be able to stand against Assad —
but only if they win the support of 35
members of Syria’s pro-Assad parliament.
That would at least in theory mark a
change from four decades of presidential
votes when the only options Syrians had
were to support or oppose parliament ’s
nomination of Assad and, before him, his
father Hafez al-Assad.
Monzer Akbik, chief of staff to
opposition National Coalition leader
Ahmad Jarba, said Syria had not held a real
election since Assad’s Baath Party seized
power in 1963 and any vote held in current
circumstances “would be a joke”.
“If he does want an election, he will
make it a theatre — with an orchestrated
opposition,” Akbik told Reuters in Turkey.
“Any serious opposition candidate would
be immediately killed if they were to
go inside Syria. Who dares run against
Jarba’s coalition has held two rounds
of unsuccessful talks in Geneva with
government negotiators, aimed at
resolving the civil war. The opposition
and international mediator say the talks
must address a transitional government - a
phrase Assad’s opponents understand to
mean that he must go.
But Syrian officials have categorically
ruled out that he might surrender any
In response to the pro-Assad
mobilisation, an on-line campaign to
nominate popular opposition figure Moaz
Alkhatib to run against him was launched
last week and quickly snowballed into tens
of thousands of supporters.
Syrians inside besieged rebel areas as well
as exiled supporters from as far away as
Australia and Ukraine have posted photos
of themselves with cards backing the
former preacher at the Umayyad Mosque
Alkhatib, currently based in Qatar,
welcomed the Internet campaign but
echoed Akbik’s objection to holding
the vote amid the turmoil of civil war
and under the super vision of Assad’s
“ We will not give legitimacy or cover to
any elections carried out by the regime,
which aims only to preser ve its fast-
waning existence,” he said in a post on his
Holding an election appears impossible
while 2.4 million Syrians are refugees in
neighbouring countries, many millions
more are displaced within Syria and Assad
has lost control of northern and eastern
Even in Damascus, few believe the vote
will go ahead.
“I heard that elections were going to be
postponed another year or two because of
the situation,” said Samir, a middle-aged
man during a casual lunch with his in-laws
as the conversation turned into political
“The new constitution limits the number
of terms to two, which he’s already had, so
how can he run again?” said a hairdresser,
as she worked on a client during a home
In one of the rebel-held areas,
Mouadamiya, an Assad opponent voiced a
frequently heard sentiment.
“Assad plans to announce his nomination
on the eve of elections, and then of course
he’ ll win because only people in loyalist
areas will be able to vote, and then he’ ll say:
‘Oh look, the people want me’,” he said.
In government-held areas of Damascus,
many people are starting to feel pressure to
Members of Popular Committees
— civilians recruited and armed by
the government — have been making
their rounds on motorbikes, demanding
shopkeepers paint the Syrian flag on their
Since the start of Syria’s uprising, the flag
has become synonymous with government
loyalty. Rebels use a different flag that
predates the current one.
“They told me and other shops on my
street to paint the colours of the flag right
away,” said one shop owner in the middle
class neighbourhood of Rukn al-Din. He
was warned that the first offence would
cost him a fine of $30.
A second offence would mean
“I painted it the same day. I don’t want
trouble,” he said.
In more upscale neighbourhoods like
Shaalan, where authorities are less inclined
to issue direct orders to privately owned
businesses, peer pressure is just as effective.
“ Two weeks ago I came to work and
found my neighbours had painted the flag
overnight,” said one shop owner. “So I went
ahead and painted mine. No one dares be
the odd one out.”
Some of the more bizarre manifestations
of support for Assad include two
Hummers, painted with the colours of the
flag, that drive around town sometimes
at odd hours blaring loyalist music and
followed by several honking cars.
Young men and women have also
embraced a new fashion for military
fatigues and boots, part of the militaristic
fervour whipped up by Assad’s supporters.
One woman even dressed up her pet dog,
a small Chihuahua, in military camouflage,
much to the distress of people around her
who thought the authorities might take
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve already taken
him through several checkpoints, and they
loved him,” she said.
Assad quietly preparing to be re-elected
A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen at a street in Damascus.
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