Wednesday 17 January 2018

Portrait of the Week

Norwegian mass murderer is to study political science, the EU spends €1.7bn on security research, and an amateur archaeologist finds stolen Nazi gold

Kenyan artist Yegonizer poses next to his paintings depicting US President Barack Obama on July 15, at the Go Down Art Centre in Nairobi. Excitement is growing in Kenya ahead of US President Barack Obama's first in late July visit to his father's homeland since becoming president
Kenyan artist Yegonizer poses next to his paintings depicting US President Barack Obama on July 15, at the Go Down Art Centre in Nairobi. Excitement is growing in Kenya ahead of US President Barack Obama's first in late July visit to his father's homeland since becoming president

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik won a place on Friday to study at Oslo University from solitary confinement in prison, despite outrage at his massacre of 77 people four years ago.

"He meets the admission requirements. We stick to our rules and he will be admitted," Oslo University rector Ole Petter Ottersen told Reuters on Friday, saying prisoners are eligible to study as long as their academic grades are good enough.

Many were appalled when Breivik, who holds far-right, anti-Muslim views and has shown no remorse, applied for the three-year bachelor's course in political science. Some students now at the university survived his attacks, while others had friends or relatives killed.

"I realise there are many feelings involved here. He tried to demolish the system. We have to stay faithful to it," Ottersen said. The course includes study of democracy, human rights and respect for minorities.

Breivik, now 36, planted a bomb in central Oslo on July 22, 2011, that killed eight people and destroyed the government headquarters. He then travelled to an island where the then-ruling Labour Party was holding a summer camp and shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers.

Under the terms of his sentence, Breivik is held in solitary confinement and will be unable to attend lectures or seminars. All his work will go via prison staff, with no direct contact with professors. "His study will be carried out exclusively in his own cell," Ottersen said. Breivik has access to books but not the internet.

Revelations of US spying in Europe have soured transatlantic relations, prompting a White House apology and, as leak followed leak over the past two years, have fostered feelings of moral superiority among Europeans.

Yet EU governments are stepping up surveillance of their own citizens: last month France, smarting from Islamist attacks in January, passed intrusive laws on the very day it learned US agents had tapped French presidents' phones; last week, the European Parliament gave ground in a fight to block powers to track and share air passenger records among member states.

Less well known still is that the 28-nation European Union itself, as a collective institution, is spending hundreds of millions of euro developing security technologies that civil liberties watchdogs say jeopardise rights to privacy.

With concerns growing over Islamist violence even before the attacks in Paris in January, EU spending on security research, at €1.7bn in the bloc's seven-year budget from 2014, is 20pc up on the previous period.

EU officials estimate that represents a hefty 40pc of all such spending by the bloc's 28 member states, many of which lack capacity to develop such technology themselves.

Among top priorities are finding ways to focus mass surveillance of the internet, email, mobile phones and social networks on suspects.

Most of the research the EU funds is listed in public tender documents, though these are time-consuming to consult. But about a tenth of the spending is set aside for work classified as top secret.

Asked whether such research might lead to infringing civil liberties, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, Natasha Bertaud, said: "Fighting terrorism and keeping citizens safe is all about staying ahead of the game...The EU brings together the industry and practitioners, and provides funding for developing cutting-edge technologies, in order to help member states better protect people and infrastructure."

Calling EU privacy standards among the highest in the world, she noted efforts to ensure companies based elsewhere also abided by EU data-protection rules: "There can be no security without freedom and no freedom without security," she said.

An amateur archaeologist in Germany has found a historic collection of gold coins worth around €45,000, probably buried during the Nazi era or shortly after World War II, experts said on Wednesday.

Armed with a metal detector, Florian Bautsch found 10 coins in a hollow under a tree near the northern town of Lueneburg and professionals then excavated another 207.

They are of French, Belgian, Italian and Austro-Hungarian origin and date from 1831 to 1910.

Two aluminium seals featuring swastika crosses, eagles and the words "Reichsbank Berlin 244" were also discovered under the tree with the coins. "This was all found under a pine tree that is around 50 years old...and that must have grown we know it must have been buried in the last days of the war or shortly afterwards," Mario Pahlow, a local archaeologist, told Reuters.

He and other archaeologists analysing the trove say it was probably part of the Deutsche Reichbank's gold reserves and the fact the coins were buried suggested they were stolen.

A nuclear deal, which was clinched on Tuesday between Iran and six major world powers, capping more than a decade of negotiations, has stoked talk of a joint Nobel Peace Prize for Tehran and Washington this year, despite the likelihood of strong objections from some quarters.

US President Barack Obama, who won the prize in 2009 for promoting nuclear non-proliferation, hailed the Iran deal as a step towards a "more hopeful world". But Israel pledged to try to halt a "historic surrender".

Giving the prestigious award to Washington and Tehran would fit a pattern of nuclear-themed peace prizes in years that end in five.

"I think the work of the Nobel Committee...this year just got much easier," former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted after the Iranian deal was announced.

But many doubts remain over the appropriateness of honouring Iran, which does not recognise Israel and backs its foes, faces regular international criticism over human rights and was long denounced by Washington as a member of an "axis of evil".

It may also prove hard to reward Washington just six years after Obama won the prize in the early days of his presidency, a decision widely decried at the time as unjustified.

Sunday Independent

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