Ratko Mladi convicted of war crimes and genocide at UN tribunal

Former Bosnian Serb army commander known as the butcher of Bosnia sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after Srebrenica massacre

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladi, nicknamed the butcher of Bosnia, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

As he entered the courtroom, Mladi gave a broad smile and thumbs up to the cameras a gesture that infuriated relatives of the victims. His defiance shifted into detachment as the judgment began: Mladi played with his fingers and nodded occasionally, looking initially relaxed.

The verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when he asked the judges for a bathroom break. After he returned, defence lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladi then stood up shouting this is all lies and Ill fuck your mother. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence.

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Mladi removed from court after angry outburst video

Mladi, 74, was chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, during the ferocious civil wars and ethnic cleansing that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.

The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to ethnic cleansing operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.

The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days across more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defence, including survivors of the conflict.

Delivering the verdicts, judge Alphons Orie said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

Orie dismissed mitigation pleas by the defence that Mladi was of good character, had diminished mental capacity and was in poor physical health.

Relatives of victims flew into the Netherlands to attend the hearing, determined to see Mladi receive justice decades after the end of the war in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

Among those present was Fikret Ali, the Bosnian who was photographed as an emaciated prisoner behind the wire of a prison camp in 1992. Justice has won and the war criminal has been convicted, he said after the verdict. Others were reduced to tears by the judges description of past atrocities.

Fikret
Fikret Ali holds a copy of Time magazine that featured his emaciated image on its cover in 1992. Photograph: Phil Nijhuis/AP

Mladi was one of the worlds most wanted fugitives before his arrest in 2011 in northern Serbia. He was transferred to the ICTY in the Netherlands, where he refused to enter a plea. A not guilty plea was eventually entered on his behalf. Through much of the trial in The Hague, he was a disruptive presence in court, heckling judges and on one occasion making a cut-throat gesture towards the mother of one of the 8,000 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Mladi was acquitted of only one charge, that of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. The chamber ruled that although he was part of a joint criminal enterprise to carry out mass killings there, which represented crimes against humanity, they did not rise to the level of genocide because the victims did not represent a substantial proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population of those municipalities.

Timeline

Ratko Mladi: the long road to justice

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia formally begins when Slovenia and Croatia declare independence. The Serb-led Yugoslav army withdraws from Slovenia after a 10-day conflict, but the war in Croatia that followed would last until 1995.

War breaks out in Bosnia

Bosnian Serbs swiftly take control of more than two-thirds of Bosnia and launch the siege of Sarajevo, headed by Ratko Mladi, who becomes the Bosnian Serb army commander a month later. The siege lasts 1,460 days, during which more than 11,500 people die.

Srebrenica massacre

Mladi’s troops capture Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, most by summary execution. Nato bombs Bosnian Serb positions following reports of the slaughter.

The international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia indicts Mladi and Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadi on charges including genocide.

Dayton agreement signed

The Dayton agreement is signed, ending the war and creating two mini-states in Bosnia: a Bosnian-Serb one and a Muslim-Croat one.

Mladi goes into hiding

Nato peacekeepers and western intelligence agencies operating in Bosnia step up attempts to track down war crimes suspects, but Mladi is sheltered by loyalists inSerbia. He is seen attending football games and eating at Belgrade restaurants.

Mladi arrested

Following intense pressure from the international community on Serbia, Mladi is arrested in Serbia.

He appears in court at the UN tribunal for the first time in June but refuses to enter pleas to the charges against him. At a second hearing in July, judges enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Trial hears closing statements

The trial in The Hague is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Over 530 days, the UN tribunal hears from 591 witnesses and examines nearly 10,000 exhibits concerning 106 separate crimes.

During closing statements, prosecutors urge judges to convict Mladi on all counts and sentence him to life in prison. Defence attorneys call for acquittal.

Mladi convicted

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, the now 74-year-old Mladi is sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Delivering the verdicts, the judge said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

The Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadi, was also found not guilty of genocide in the municipalities. That tribunal verdict in 2016 triggered protests from Bosniaks, who wanted the court to acknowledge that genocide was committed across Bosnia, not just in Srebrenica.

In evaluating Mladis culpability for genocide, the court pointed to his command and control of the Bosnian Serb army and interior ministry forces, which carried out almost all of the executions, his presence in the area, and his frequent remarks about how the countrys Muslims could disappear.

Orie said: The chamber found that the only reasonable inference was that the accused intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim of Srebrenica as a substantial part of the protected group of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Accordingly, the chamber found the accused intended to carry out the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprises through the commission of the crime of genocide and was a member of the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprise.

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Ratko Mladi, the ‘butcher of Bosnia’ video profile

Once Mladic has exhausted any appeals, he could, theoretically, be sent to the UK to serve out the rest of his life behind bars. Britain is one of the countries that has signed up to the tribunals agreement on the enforcement of sentences.
The UK has hosted other Serbian convicts sent on from the ICTY. In 2010, Radislav Krsti who was convicted at the Hague in 2001 for his part in the Srebrenica massacre, had his throat slashed in his cell at Wakefield prison by three Muslim inmates intent on revenge.

The former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor is also serving out his 50 year prison term in a UK jail.
Mladic will remain in the UN detention centre at Scheveningen, near the Hague, in the meantime. Any appeal will be dealt with by the successor court, the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

The hearing, broadcast live, was followed closely in Bosnia. The Bosnian prime minister, Denis Zvizdi, said the verdict confirmed that war criminals cannot escape justice regardless of how long they hide.

In Lazarevo, the Serbian village where Mladi was arrested in 2011, residents dismissed the guilty verdicts as biased. One, Igor Topolic, said: All this is a farce for me. He [Mladi] is a Serbian national hero.

Mladis home village of Bozinovici retains a street named after the former general, where he is praised as a symbol of defiance and national pride.

The trial is one of the last to be heard by the ICTY, which is to be dissolved at the end of the year.

People,
People, including victims, protest in front of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prior to the verdict Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

After the ruling, Serge Brammertz, the ICTYs chief prosecutor, said it was not a verdict against all Serb people. Mladis guilt is his and his alone, he said.

Mladis defence lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, announced that he would appeal against the convictions.

In Geneva, the UNs high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, described Mladi as the epitome of evil and said his conviction was a momentous victory for justice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/22/ratko-mladic-convicted-of-genocide-and-war-crimes-at-un-tribunal

United Airlines Halts Flights to New Delhi on Poor Air Quality

United Airlines temporarily suspended Newark-New Delhi flights due to poor air quality in India’s capital, and said some extra charges will be waived for passengers forced to reschedule.

“We are monitoring advisories as the region remains under a public health emergency, and are coordinating with respective government agencies,” a United Airlines spokesperson said in response to a Bloomberg query. 

Other airlines were still flying to the national capital and it was not clear if they will follow United Airlines’ move to suspend flights.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of Delhi, called the capital a “gas chamber” as thick toxic smog continued to envelop the mega-city of around 20 million people on Sunday. The levels of the deadliest, tiny particulate matter — known as PM 2.5, which lodges deep in a person’s lungs — soared to 676 at 2 p.m. local time, according to a U.S. embassy monitor. World Health Organization guidelines suggest levels above 300 are “hazardous.”

Customers traveling over the next several days should visit the United Airlines website or download the company’s mobile application for updates, the spokesperson said.

The Coming Storm of Climate Change

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-12/united-airlines-halts-flights-to-new-delhi-on-poor-air-quality

    Catalonias Split With Spain Is About Identity, Not Just Money

    As recently as July, secessionists in Catalonia seemed to be in retreat. Spain was the fastest-growing of continental Europe’s big four economies, creating jobs at a rapid clip. A poll that month by the Catalan government showed that support for independence had fallen to 35 percent, its lowest level since 2012. It appeared that Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, might have been right when he predicted in 2012 that once removed from the flame of financial crisis, “separatism would sink like a soufflé.”

    What’s sinking instead is the reputation of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Acting on his orders, Spanish police used batons and rubber bullets against those who took part in an Oct. 1 referendum on independence that Spain’s constitutional court had declared illegal. Hundreds were injured in the melees.

    The Catalan government claimed that despite Madrid’s attempts at suppression, 2.3 million people voted—about 42 percent of the total electorate—and about 90 percent of them chose to separate from Spain. The Spanish government cast doubt on the result, pointing out that the referendum, in addition to being illegal, lacked certified voter lists and wasn’t overseen by an official election board. And many of those who opposed secession heeded Madrid’s reminder that the vote was illegal. Spain’s King Felipe VI said in a televised address that separatist leaders showed “unacceptable” disloyalty.

    Featured in , Oct. 9, 2017. Subscribe now.
    Photographer: Juan Teixeira/Redux

    The groundswell of separatist sentiment in Catalonia has shown Spain and the world that money isn’t everything. A strengthening economy may have quelled Catalan nationalism a bit, but the desire many have for independence had deeper sources and never went away. Then Rajoy, playing to his conservative base, badly miscalculated. He thought a show of force would keep voters at home. But his attempt to stop the vote just pushed more Catalans into the separatist camp. “In the longer term, the divisions in Spain become more entrenched,” says Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

    Economics probably did matter in Catalonia, just not in the way that Spanish optimists were thinking. The reality is that the region hasn’t fully recovered from the global financial crisis, which pushed the economy into a double-dip recession and sent unemployment in the so-called autonomous community as high as 24 percent. (It’s still more than 13 percent.) “The financial crisis brought to the fore the fact that so much of our money is transferred” to the central government, says Jordi Galí of Barcelona’s Center for Research in International Economics, known by its initials in the Catalan language, CREI. “In a context of high growth and prosperity, this may be more easily forgotten. But during the crisis the Catalan government had to undertake huge cuts in services: health, education.”

    The transfers issue might not have been enough to stir secessionism all by itself. After all, there’s little call in Connecticut to break away from the U.S. even though the state gives more than it gets. The difference is that the northeastern corner of Spain has its own language, traditions, and aspirations to national greatness. Its history is a seesaw of autonomy and what some see as subjugation. Catalans still commemorate the fall of Barcelona to King Philip V of Spain on Sept. 11, 1714. In 1939 the city fell to the Nationalist forces of Francisco Franco, who suppressed Catalan culture during his 36-year rule.

    In recent years, independence-minded Catalans have focused their anger on a 2010 ruling by Spain’s constitutional court that erased parts of a legislative deal that accorded the region broad autonomy. In 2012 the Catalan economist Xavier Sala-I-Martin likened Spain to a possessive husband who reacts wildly when his wife asks for a divorce. “We Catalans have tried to explain during 30 years that we were uncomfortable and the replies have been no’s, scorn, indifference, and contempt. And now they’re surprised!” the Columbia University professor wrote on his blog.

    The marriage is far worse now. “People are extremely disappointed, and I would say shocked, by the activities of the Spanish police,” says Giacomo Ponzetto, an Italian who teaches at CREI in Barcelona. “It was absurd, unacceptable behavior, and I would add extremely stupid.” Stupid as in self-defeating, he says. “The Catalan government was looking for this. It’s very obvious. They wanted to provoke a response.”

    Like it or not, Catalonia has been very much part of Spain—not least because it’s a fifth of the national economy. It exports more to the neighboring region of Aragon than to France, and more to Madrid than to Germany or Italy, says Pankaj Ghemawat, who teaches at the New York City branch of IESE Business School, which also has campuses in Madrid and Barcelona.

    Many economists think Catalonia would be worse off economically on its own. The outcome hinges on whether it would assume a share of Spain’s national debt, whether it would be permitted to join the European Union and adopt the euro, and how much it would cost to replicate services—such as defense—it gets from Madrid. Further complicating matters, Spain could throw up legal obstacles to secession. One reason many Catalans have shied from independence in the past is that they weren’t ready to take a leap into the unknown.

    But the violence that marred the Oct. 1 vote has focused Catalans’ minds on issues other than euros. “At some point the economic considerations start to be irrelevant and identity becomes paramount,” says Ghemawat. On Oct. 1, he says, “we took a giant step in that direction.”

      BOTTOM LINE – A long and painful downturn fanned separatist sentiment in Catalonia, which, contrary to predictions, didn’t die down with the recovery.

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-05/anatomy-of-a-bad-marriage

      Catalan referendum: preliminary results show 90% in favour of independence

      Spanish prime minister defends violent response to poll, as raids on ballot stations by riot police leave hundreds of Catalans injured

      Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain.

      Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters.

      Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.

      Catalonias regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonias citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.

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      Catalan referendum: hundreds injured as police attack protesters video

      My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.

      Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the regions own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever.

      The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

      Although many Catalans managed to cast their ballots, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court.

      The large Ramon Llull school in central Barcelona was the scene of a sustained operation, with witnesses describing police using axes to smash the doors, charging the crowds and firing rubber bullets.

      Barcelona referendum map

      Spains interior ministry said 12 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested for disobedience and assaulting officers.

      Salut (@salutcat)

      The Department of Health informs that 844 people required medical assistance today on #CatalanReferendum pic.twitter.com/XQnSBwmM8O

      October 1, 2017

      The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, speaking on Sunday night, said the government had done what it had had to do and thanked the police for acting with firmness and serenity.

      Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.

      We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.

      Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, demanded an end to the police actions and called for the Rajoys resignation.

      Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose government staged a symbolic independence referendum three years ago, called for the authoritarian Rajoy to stand down, adding that Catalonia could not remain alongside a state that uses batons and police brutality.

      Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said the police had behaved professionally in carrying out a judges orders.

      Soraya Senz de Santamara, the Spanish deputy prime minister, echoed that position, saying the police had shown firmness, professionalism and proportionality in the face of the absolute irresponsibility of the Catalan government.

      She called on Puigdemont to drop the farce of the independence campaign, saying Spain had long since emerged from the authoritarian shadow of the Franco dictatorship.

      I dont know what world Puigdemont lives in, but Spanish democracy does not work like this, said Senz de Santamara. We have been free from a dictatorship for a long time and of a man who told us his word in the law.

      The Catalan governments spokesperson Jordi Turull said 319 of the 2,315 polling stations set up for the referendum were closed by police.

      Jess Lpez Rodrguez, a 51-year-old administrator, had taken his family to vote at the Ramon Llull school in the morning. Like thousands of Catalans, they began queuing from 5am. Three and a half hours later, national police officers arrived in riot gear.

      They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse, he told the Guardian. We chanted, No! No! No!, and then about 20 police officers charged us. It was short only about two minutes but we stayed together.

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      Riot police attack protesters in Girona video

      After about 15 minutes, eight or nine more police vans appeared and officers began cordoning off the surrounding streets and arresting people, Lpez Rodrgue said.

      They dragged them out violently. We stood our ground but they kept dragging people away, kicking them and throwing them to the ground.

      More police arrived and jumped over the school fence to enter the building to look for ballot boxes. After using axes to break down the doors of the school, they emerged with the boxes.

      Lpez Rodrguez said that at about 10.25am, police began shooting rubber bullets at least 30 or 40.

      He fled the shots with his wife and children, returning to their flat opposite the school. I feel really angry about it, he said, but I also hope people in Europe and around the world will see whats happening in Catalonia.

      Similar scenes were reported elsewhere. Riot police smashed the glass doors of the sports centre near Girona where Puigdemont had been due to vote. Despite forcing their way in, they failed to stop the Catalan president voting. Pictures showed him casting his ballot in nearby Cornella del Terri.

      The day started peacefully and hopefully in polling stations across the region. Hundreds of people started queuing outside the Cervantes primary school in central Barcelona from well before dawn.

      Im here to fight for our rights and our language and for our right to live better and to have a future, said Mireia Estape, who lives close to the school. One man in the queue, who did not wish to be named, said he had come because Catalans need to vote; theyre robbing us in Spain.

      Another would-be voter said simply: I dont want to live in a fascist country.

      Many Catalans saw their wishes fulfilled in polling stations as officers from the regional force, the Mossos dEsquadra, hung back.

      Joaqun Pons, 89, was delighted to have cast his ballot, as he had done in the symbolic referendum three years ago.

      Last time it was cardboard ballot boxes, he said. This time they were real. It was very emotional. Pons said he felt Catalans had had little choice but to proceed unilaterally.

      It would have been nice if we could all have stayed together in Spain but the Madrid government has made it impossible. Its sad but thats the way it is.

      News and images of the police operation travelled quickly through the crowds in Barcelona and elsewhere, adding to the uneasy atmosphere that has intensified since police arrested 14 Catalan officials and seized millions of ballot papers last week.

      On Sunday afternoon, FC Barcelona announced that its Spanish league game against Las Palmas would be played without fans at the citys Nou Camp stadium. In a statement, the club condemned the attempts to prevent Catalans exercising their democratic rights to free expression and said the professional football league had refused to postpone the game.

      Sundays violence came less than 24 hours after the Spanish government had appeared confident that enough had been done to thwart the vote.

      On Saturday, Millo said police had sealed off 1,300 of the regions 2,315 polling stations, while Guardia Civil officers acting on a judges orders had searched the headquarters of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.

      These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees, he said.

      Additional reporting by Patrick Greenfield

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/01/dozens-injured-as-riot-police-storm-catalan-ref-polling-stations

      Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

      Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

      Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

      Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

      The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

      European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

      The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

      We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

      A
      A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

      A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

      Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

      Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

      Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

      Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

      The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

      This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

      The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

      How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

      We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

      Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

      In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

      This
      This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

      Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

      Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

      Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

      We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

      Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

      She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

      Canary Island tourists warned to avoid toxic ‘sea sawdust’ algae

      Global warming helping spread of micro-algae, forcing the closure of several beaches including popular Teresitas at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

      Tourists have been warned to avoid blooms of toxic micro-algae that have been proliferating in hot weather in the sea off Spains Canary Islands.

      Tenerife in particular is awash with visitors at this time of year but some of those having a dip in the Atlantic ocean have come out scratching themselves after brushing up against the tiny algae.

      The spreading algae have produced a greenish-brown hue in the waters off some beaches in the tourist haven.

      Since the end of June we have seen episodes of massive efflorescence, or bloom, of microalgae, sometimes reaching as far as bathing beaches, said Jose Juan Aleman, director of public health for the Canaries.

      The algae are a type of bacteria, trichodesmium erythraeum, also known as sea sawdust, said Aleman.

      Its proliferation is a natural, temporary phenomenon which is going to disappear in due course, he added, suggesting global warming was helping the algae spread.

      The bacterium contains a toxin which can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, hence one must avoid coming into contact with it in the water and on the sand.

      With the islands last year welcoming more than 13 million foreign tourists, local authorities were keen to reassure sun-seekers.

      Generally it has not been necessary to close the beaches, said Aleman.

      Bill Entwistle (@bemahague)

      No swimming, algae alert @playasanjuan @tenerife pic.twitter.com/0sqIeAblqu

      July 22, 2017

      However, AFP found that several have been closed to swimmers over recent weeks, including the popular Teresitas beach at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

      Marta Sanson, professor of plant biology at Tenerifes La Laguna university, said that ideal conditions are allowing proliferation of these micro-algae.

      Those include an increase in water temperature as well as a dust cloud sweeping in off the Sahara which is rich in iron, a nutrient which micro-organisms like.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/08/canary-island-tourists-warned-to-avoid-toxic-sea-sawdust-algae

      Challenges to Silicon Valley wont just come from Brussels

      Fine of 2.4bn levied on Google is a sign of the continued erosion of US tech firms domination of the internet

      The whopping 2.4bn fine levied by the European commission on Google for abusing its dominance as a search engine has taken Silicon Valley aback. It has also reignited American paranoia about the motives of European regulators, whom many Valley types seem to regard as stooges of Mathias Dpfner, the chief executive of German media group Axel Springer, president of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers and a fierce critic of Google.

      US paranoia is expressed in various registers. They range from President Obamas observation in 2015 that all the Silicon Valley companies that are doing business there [Europe] find themselves challenged, in some cases not completely sincerely. Because some of those countries have their own companies who want to displace ours, to the furious off-the-record outbursts from senior tech executives after some EU agency or other has dared to challenge the supremacy of a US-based tech giant.

      The overall tenor of these rants (based on personal experience of being on the receiving end) runs as follows. First, you Europeans dont get tech; second, you dont like or understand innovation; and third, youre maddened by envy because none of you schmucks has been able to come up with a world-beating tech company.

      The charge sheet underpinning American paranoia says that the EU has always had it in for US companies. Microsoft, for example, has been done over no fewer than three times for various infringements of competition rules: 500m in 2004, 600m in 2008 and 561m in 2013. Intel was fined 1.6bn in 2009. Now Google has been socked for 2.4bn; and Facebook has already been fined 110m for providing the European commission with misleading information about its acquisition of WhatsApp. And then of course there is the commissions insistence that Apple should repay the 13bn in back taxes that it owes the Irish government because of overgenerous tax breaks provided to the company. (Ireland is vigorously contesting that ruling, making it the first government in history to turn down a windfall that would fund its health service for an entire year.)

      This allegedly biased record needs to be seen in a wider context, however. Its hardly surprising that the tech companies in the frame are American given that all the global tech giants are US-based. But in fact the European commission has also come down hard on local infringers of competition rules. In July 2016, for example, European truck manufacturers were fined 2.93bn for colluding on prices for 14 years. In 2008 several European car glass manufacturers were fined 1.35bn for illegal market sharing and exchanging commercially sensitive information. In 2007 the Spanish telco Telefnica was fined 151m for setting unfair prices in its domestic broadband market. And so on, so that if you include all years since 1990, the total amount of fines imposed by the European commissions competition regulator comes to 26.75bn.

      Given that record, you could say that the commission is actually a rather good regulator. But its also clear that there are significant differences between the European and American approach to competition law and antitrust. Some years ago, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US investigated Google for the same behaviour that has landed it with the current huge fine. But in the end the FTC decided not to press charges. The European commission, provided with much the same evidence, reached the opposite conclusion.

      An
      An Amazon warehouse in Germany. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/EPA

      How come? Basically there is a different regulatory culture in the US. There, the prevailing concern is with consumer welfare which, in the end, is about prices. As long as industrial power doesnt lead to increased prices, then its deemed OK which is why Amazon has thrived despite becoming a colossus. The European commission, in contrast, is focused on competition: monopolistic behaviour is considered illegal if it restricts competitors.

      As the commissions statement explains: Market dominance is, as such, not illegal under EU antitrust rules. However, dominant companies have a special responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition, either in the market where they are dominant or in separate markets. Otherwise, there would be a risk that a company once dominant in one market (even if this resulted from competition on the merits) would be able to use this market power to cement/further expand its dominance, or leverage it into separate markets.

      Google was found to have abused its dominance as a search engine by giving illegal advantage to its own comparison shopping service. Way back in 2002, the company had launched a price-comparison service called Froogle, later renamed Google Shopping. In 2008 it changed how it worked by systematically giving prominence to its own shopping-comparison results (for which it received payment from advertisers) and thereby in effect downgrading other shopping-comparison sites that might otherwise have figured highly in search results. This the commission deemed illegal.

      And so it is. But to lay observers theres something quaint about the actual nub of the dispute shopping-comparison sites. I mean to say, theyre soooo yesterday. Nowadays, half of all shopping-related queries begin not on Google, but on Amazon. So the complaints about anti-competitive behaviour that resulted in last weeks ruling started in 2008 nine years (about 63 internet years) ago. What this episode highlights is the growing time lag between the detection of illegal behaviour on the part of tech companies and its eventual punishment a lag determined by the inevitably slow pace of detailed legal investigation (often slowed further by intensive political lobbying) and the pace of tech-industry change. If societies are to be able to bring companies such as Google under effective democratic control, then we have to speed up this regulatory process. Otherwise we will continually be locking the door long after the horse has bolted.

      Which of course is exactly the way Silicon Valley likes it. This is a culture, remember, whose motto is move fast and break things (the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerbergs original exhortation to his developers, withdrawn only when he discovered that one of the things that might get broken is democracy). In the tech industry, corporate leaders are hooked on the virtues of disruption, creative destruction and the belief that it is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission. Most of them subscribe to the famous dictum of Scott McNealy, made when he was chief executive of Sun Microsystems: You have zero privacy get over it.

      Given that mindset, its not surprising that the industry is not just irritated but baffled by European scepticism and regulatory pushback. Although most Silicon Valley moguls see themselves as progressives they dont seem to understand cultural differences. (They dont understand politics, either.) Witness the Facebook bosss touching belief that the worlds problems could be solved if everyone were part of the Facebook community. Or the view of Googles former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, that the presence of communication technologies will chip away at most autocratic governments, since the odds against a restrictive, information-shy regime dealing with an empowered citizenry armed with personal fact-checking devices get progressively worse with each embarrassing incident. When he tried that on Cambridge students a few years ago, some of them wondered what he had been smoking.

      Eric
      Eric Schmidt, Googles former executive chairman. Photograph: Getty

      Silicon Valley is a reality distortion field whose inhabitants think of it as the Florence of Renaissance 2.0. (Rapidly acquired wealth has powerful hallucinatory effects on people.) In a strange way, they share the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfelds view of our continent as old Europe, a civilisation whose time has come and gone. So when German citizens object vigorously to having their homes photographed by Google Street View, or the Bundestag considers a law that would impose swingeing fines on social media companies that do not promptly remove hate speech from their services, or the European commission imposes a fine equivalent to 3% of Googles global revenue, they fume into their almond-coconut Frappuccinos and vow revenge.

      If thats how they see things, then its time they recalibrated. They are all children of a hegemony thats begun to erode. The era when Europeans and their governments quailed before American corporate power may be ending. The French were always a bit resistant to it (but then, being French, they would be, wouldnt they?) but now even the Germans have concluded that Europe can no longer rely on the US (or the UK) and must fight for its own destiny. In a way, the US-based digital giants should thank their lucky stars that Europe, for the most part, still consists of societies where the rule of law counts for something. Even when the companies dont like the outcome of our legal processes, they should be grateful that at least we follow them.

      The same cannot be said for other parts of the world that Google & co hope to dominate. China and Russia do things their own way, for example, and are entirely untroubled by legal niceties. As far as China is concerned, in 2010 Google was given the choice of obeying government demands or shutting down its Chinese search engine; it chose the latter option and is having to agree to government controls if it is to be allowed back. In Russia, Google reached a settlement with the local regulator to loosen restrictions on search engines built into its Android mobile operating system, to allow Russian competitors a share of the pie. Similar concessions will be required to operate in Iran and other Middle Eastern states. These regimes are the real enemies that US paranoids should fear. So while the 2.4bn fine may be unpalatable (though easily affordable) for Google, it should thank its lucky stars. At least it got a hearing.

      John Naughton is professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University. He writes a weekly column in The New Review.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/01/google-fine-challenges-to-silicon-valley

      Prime Minister May offer: EU citizens will be able to stay in UK

      (CNN)In a Brexit divorce deal offering, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday said European Union citizens will be given the opportunity to stay in the United Kingdom after it leaves the EU.

      May and other European officials are meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to begin negotiations for a UK exit from the EU after the country voted last year to leave. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty outlines the voluntary departure.
      According to May’s office, any EU citizen living in the UK for five years or more by a yet-to-be specified cutoff date will be granted UK “settled status,” which gives them the same rights as British citizens to health care, education, welfare and pensions

          Was the Queen’s hat an anti-Brexit message?

        EU citizens living in the country for less than five years can stay and obtain residency status after reaching the five-year mark.
        “The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer,” May told EU leaders in Brussels. “One aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society.”
        May’s offer will be put forth before Parliament next week.
        Speaking to journalists on Thursday night, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says May’s EU citizens’ rights proposal is a “good start,” but there will be many other questions to be discussed.
        The June 2016 Brexit vote in the hotly contested referendum exposed deep division across the country.
        Earlier this year, the UK government formally served divorce papers on the EU, marking the beginning of the end of a relationship that has endured for 44 years. May confirmed then that UK had triggered Article 50, beginning the legal process that must end in two years’ time with Britain leaving the EU.
        The UK must work out a number of issues after triggering Article 50 — including trade, migration, education and health care. Even if some terms of divorce are not settled, the UK will fall out of the union on March 29, 2019. They can split earlier if both parties agree.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/22/europe/theresa-may-brexit-rights/index.html