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The escalating war on Syria and need for international law

What was really behind the ‘chemical attack’?

Rick Sterling

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On Tuesday 4 April there were reports of children and other civilians killed by chemical poisoning in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. There were contradictory reports, some saying they smelled the gas; others claiming it caused immediate death like odorless sarin.

On Wednesday 5 April, President Trump blamed the Syrian government despite conflicting reports and contradictory information and accusations. He said, “Yesterday’s chemical attack in Syria [was] against innocent people including women, small children and even beautiful little babies. Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated … my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” 

 On Thursday, 6 April, Trump ordered a ‘targeted military strike’ on Syria with 50 tomahawk missiles attacking the a primary Syrian air base near Homs. This base is used to support the combat with ISIS in eastern Syria and Nusra / Al Qaeda in Idlib province.

As I will show below, it is likely the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by an armed opposition faction, not the Syrian government. The goal was precisely what has happened: a media firestorm leading to direct U.S. aggression against Syria.

What Happened and How?

On April 4 news broke of a ‘chemical weapon’ attack in Syria. Western media and governments quickly blamed the Syrian government. Just as quickly, neoconservatives such as Sen. John McCain recalled the 2013 crisis when Pres Obama ultimately decided not to attack Syria. Israeli PM Netanyahu chimed in with a not-too-subtle renewed call for war on Syria. He tweeted that it’s time for the international community to “fulfill its obligations from 2013.”

Basic facts include:

– On 22 March, the government controlled town of Khattab was over-run by militants with some civilians kidnapped and taken to the nearby opposition controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun.

– On 4 April, up to 80 persons, including many children, died at Khan Sheikhoun. Some showed signs of chemical poisoning.  Photographs, videos, analyses and other sources are documented at “A Closer Look At Syria”.

– one of the videos features a UK born and raised Dr. Shajul Islam.  He received his UK medical license in 2012 but had the license suspended due to reports he was involved in the kidnapping in Syria of journalist John Cantlie.

– Many of the video scenes depict an area set into a limestone quarry with apparent caves and storage depots. There are flat bed trucks with bodies scattered on the ground in this semi-industrial area.  Other video show scenes in medical clinic.

– Photographs show “White Helmet” individuals handling bodies without gloves which is very strange if they died or were dying from chemical poison.

Who is responsible?

There are three theories about what happened:

– The western government narrative is that the Syrian “regime” is responsible. They fired illegal chemical weapons into the town, primarily killing innocent civilians and many children.

– The Syrian army acknowledges firing air strikes but deny using chemical weapons at this or any time. This area was the base for militant attacks against government areas in Hama province in the preceding weeks. The Russian Ministry of Defense says that militants had a weapons production factory including chemical weapon ingredients, and that may have been hit and caused the chemical weapon deaths.

– A third theory is the kidnapped civilians from Khattab were killed or poisoned by the militants as part of a staged event.

Evidence Pointing to the Militants

Looking at the facts, history and overall circumstances, it is far more likely the armed opposition is responsible for this event. Here is why:

(1) The incident and publicity help the opposition and hurt the government.

Crime investigations usually begin with the question: Who has a motive? In this case, it’s strikingly clear that the armed opposition and their supporters benefit from this event. They have used the story to further demonize the Assad government and make renewed calls for US and “the world” to intervene.

The Syrian government is making steady advances in many parts of the country. They have no reason to use chemical weapons; they have every reason to NOT use chemical weapons. They know very well that the armed opposition has immediate access to major media.

Accusations that the Syrian government intentionally attacks civilians is contradicted by their policies and actions. As demonstrated last Decembers in Aleppo, civilians are welcomed from opposition areas into government controlled areas. Even Syrian militants are welcomed after they sign an agreement to lay down arms.

It is also relevant to consider timing. There is a pattern of sensational events helpful to the armed opposition occurring simultaneous with critical international meetings or actions.  In this case, the events in Khan Sheikhoun occurred the day before an important conference on Syria in Brussels. The conference titled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” has been effectively sidetracked by news about the chemical weapons attack and the Syrian government being blamed.

(2) Extremists were responsible for the August 2013 Chemical Weapon attack in Damascus. 

Western supporters of the armed opposition were quick to blame the Syrian government for the chemical attack in Ghouta on 21 August 2013. However, subsequent investigations by the most credible investigative journalists and researchers concluded the Syrian government was probably NOT responsible. Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry concluded the attack was most likely carried out by militants with support from Turkey. The in depth examination titled WhoGhouta concluded “The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces.” An MIT study made a detailed trajectory analysis, concluded that the missile could not have been fired from government territory and warned “Faulty intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action.”

Armed Opposition Groups have a history of Staging Incidents

From the start, the Syrian conflict has included an information war. Hillary Clinton boasted of “training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists.”  In December 2012, NBC journalist Richard Engel was reportedly kidnapped and abused by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian government. Engel and his film crew were “liberated” by Free Syrian Army rebels after a gunfight with the Assad supporting kidnappers. In reality, the entire episode from kidnapping to rescue was a hoax designed to demonize Assad supporters and glorify the “rebels”. The true story emerged years later after the actual events were leaked. When it was going to be made public, Engel finally admitted the truth.

(4) Supporters of the armed opposition have a history of fabricating stories which demonize the Syrian Government.

In February 2014, it was announced that a defecting Syrian military photographer, who was anonymous but code named “Caesar”, had 55 thousand photos showing the torture and murder of 11 thousand innocent Syrian civilians.  This news received sensational media attention with live interviews on CNN and front page coverage throughout the western world. The news relied on the judgment of legal prosecutors who “verified” the story and produced a “Caesar Report”. This was released the day before the start of Geneva negotiations. It effectively disrupted the talks and facilitated the “rebels” refusal to negotiate and walk away. In reality, the “verification” and report was commissioned by the government of Qatar which has been a major funder of the armed opposition. Since then it has been discovered that nearly half the 55 thousand photos show the opposite of what was claimed: they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of explosions NOT tortured civilians. That is just one of the findings confirming the fraud involved in this sensational story. A concise expose of “Caesar” is here.

How the Public has been Misinformed on Syria

Historian and journalist Stephen Kinzer has said, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.”  Here are a few examples showing the bias, half-truths and outright false statements regarding the events at Khan Sheikhoun:

– The PBS Newshour typically features two guests who are questioned by the host. The problem is that their guests consistently share the same basic viewpoint. On 4 April, one guest was from the Soros funded Physicians for Human Rights. She claimed, “We know that sarin has been used before by the Assad regime.” In fact that has NOT been confirmed by any credible organization. On the contrary, the most thorough investigations point to sarin being used by the armed opposition NOT the Syrian government. The other guest was Andrew Tabler from the neoconservative Israeli associated “Washington Institute”.  His editorial from last Fall makes clear what he wants: “The case for (finally) bombing Assad.”  The discussion on Syria at PBS Newshour is consistently biased.

– The New York Times feature story on 4 April was “Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; U.S. Blames Assad”.  One of the authors, Michael Gordon, was an influential proponent for “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” that justified the 2003 invasion. But that has apparently not hurt his career. In this story on Syria, he and co-author Anne Barnard claim that “American intelligence agencies concluded” the 2013 attack was carried out by the Syrian government. That is false. The intelligence agencies did NOT agree and the “assessment” came from the White House not the intelligence agencies. It is astounding that they either do not know this or they are intentionally misleading the public.  Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity explained the significance in their memorandum “A Call for Syria – Sarin Proof”.

DemocracyNow is a popular television/radio show. It is widely considered to be “progressive” but is also highly biased in its presentation on Syria. It almost solely promotes the perspective of those who support the armed opposition and/or western intervention in Syria. On April 5, they interviewed Dr. Rola Hallam. She is infamous for being the key player in the documentary “Saving Syria’s Children” which purports to show a chemical weapon attack in Aleppo but was actually staged. The “documentary” was then broadcast at a critical time trying to influence the 2013 vote in British parliament for an attack on Syria.  On April 6, DemocracyNow interviewed another “Syrian” who lives in the West and promotes western intervention: Lina Sergie Attar. Viewers of Democracy Now have no idea that the majority of Syrians support the government and especially the national Army in their struggle against invasion and terrorism.

Public understanding about what’s happening in Syria has been seriously confused by the bad analysis of prominent analysts.  Some have suggested that Israel was content to live with Assad. Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren clarified the truth as he said “we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to those who were backed by Iran.”  In short, Israel prefers Al Qaeda or ISIS or, better yet, the conflict to continue so that both sides are destroyed.

Before the conflict began, in 2010, Secy of State Hillary Clinton made demands to Damascus that all revolved around Israeli interests. She wanted Syria to end its alliance with Hezbollah, to reduce its interactions with Iran and to come to an agreement with Israel. In contrast with what some analysts have said, Israeli interests have been a major factor driving and maintaining the conflict. With the liberation of Aleppo and prospect of a victory by Syria and allies, Israeli demands to escalate the war have probably increased.

Some of the world’s most famed political analysts have contributed to the confusion and lack of resistance as the war on Syria has continued. For example, Noam Chomsky on Democracy two days ago said “The Assad regime is a moral disgrace, the Russians with them.” Evidently he believes all or most of the accusations which have said about the ‘regime’.  In sharp contrast with Chomsky’s assessment, it’s remarkable that Syria has held together as well as it has in the face of attack by some of the most powerful and rich countries on earth.  Over 100 thousand Syrians have given their lives defending their country against the onslaught. Russia has supported their ally in compliance with international law, continually trying to work with the U.S. coalition as a “partner” against terrorism. Evidently Chomsky is unaware or does not believe the extent of lies that have been created around Syria. Evidently he does not recognize the distorted and shameful media coverage mentioned by Kinzer. Everyone makes mistakes but Chomsky’s poor analysis here is a whopper. If he was to visit Syria and talk with real Syrians I think his perception would be dramatically changed just as described by the PBS Frontline crew here. With consummate hypocrisy, both Syrian and Russian governments are now demonized by western neoconservatives and liberals who have done little or nothing to stop their own government’s collusion with terrorists raining havoc and destruction in Syria.

The need to restore International Law

 International law has been undermined and replaced by “humanitarian law”. This has contributed to the current disastrous situation whereby the U.S. and NATO are waging aggression under a humanitarian pretext.

International law regarding attacks on sovereign states is clear: it is illegal unless authorized by the UN Security Council or in legitimate self defense. It is clear that Syria poses no threat to any of its neighbors or any other nation. It is also clear that Syria has been the victim for six long years of aggression by foreign states which have funded and promoted a proxy army of fanatics and mercenaries from around the world.

As the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has said: “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.” 

 There has been a sustained attempt to derail Trump’s campaign pledge to stop the US “regime change” policy. This has been accompanied by a semi-hysterical demonization of Syria’s ally Russia. Liberals have been willing accomplices in this campaign which serves the interests of the U.S. military security complex, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It looks like the foreign policy hawks and neocons have succeeded. Yesterday’s attacks on Syria mark an escalation in the war of aggression and violation of international law against Syria. This could lead to WW3 unless there is sufficient outcry and opposition.

 

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at [email protected]

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Germany Wants Nuclear Bombers

Germany does not manufacture atomic weapons but has come to consider itself as a nuclear power because it has vectors to use them.

The Duran

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Via VoltaireNet.org:


Germany’s armed forces are currently studying the possibility of acquiring nuclear bombers capable of using the new American B61-12 atomic bombs.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon itself plans to deploy these new atomic bombs in the German region of Eifel, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The German air force already has multi-tasking Tornado warplanes, which are already capable of deploying American atomic bombs. But those aircraft are going to be replaced, possibly, by European-developed Eurofighters, or by United States manufactured F/A-18 Super Hornets.

Either way, the warplane that Germany selects will have to be equipped with the AMAC (Aircraft Monitoring and Control) system, which allows the use of the new American atomic bombs and enables the regulation of the power of the explosion as well as at what height the bombs explode after they are launched.

Germany does not manufacture atomic weapons but has come to consider itself as a nuclear power because it has vectors to use them, and believes that this gives it the right to sit on the UN Security Council sharing the permanent member position occupied by France.

Both countries would thus represent the European Union, under the auspices of NATO.

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1st since Notre Dame: Yellow Vests back despite ‘unifying’ disaster & they are angry

‘Yellow Vests’ march in Paris for 23rd straight week.

RT

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Via RT…


Yellow Vests protests brought clashes and tear gas back to the streets of Paris, despite politicians’ calls for “unity” in the wake of the Notre Dame fire. For protesters, the response to the fire only showed more inequality.

Saturday’s protests mark the 23rd straight weekend of anti-government demonstrations, but the first since Notre Dame de Paris went up in flames on Monday. Officials were quick to criticize the protesters for returning to the streets so soon after the disaster.

“The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told reporters on Friday. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”

For many of the protesters, grief over the destruction of the 800-year-old landmark has made way for anger. With smoke still rising from Notre Dame, a group of French tycoons and businessmen pledged €1 billion to the cathedral’s reconstruction, money that the Yellow Vests say could be better spent elsewhere.

“If they can give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, they should stop telling us there is no money to respond to the social emergency,” trade union leader Philippe Martinez told France 24.

Saturday’s protests saw a return to scenes familiar since the Yellow Vests first mobilized in November to protest a fuel tax hike. Demonstrators in Paris’ Bastille district set barricades on fire and smashed vehicles, and police deployed tear gas to keep the crowds at bay.

Sporadic incidents of vandalism and looting were reported across the city, and some journalists even reported rioters throwing feces at police.

60,000 police officers were deployed across the country, and in Paris, a security perimeter was set up around Notre Dame. A planned march that would have passed the site was banned by police, and elsewhere, 137 protesters had been arrested by mid afternoon, police sources told Euronews.

Beginning as a show of anger against rising fuel costs in November, the Yellow Vests movement quickly evolved into a national demonstration of rage against falling living standards, income inequality, and the perceived elitism and pro-corporation policies of President Emmanuel Macron. Over 23 weeks of unrest, Macron has made several concessions to the protesters’ demands, but has thus far been unable to quell the rising dissent.

After Notre Dame caught fire on Monday, the president postponed a television address to the nation, during which he was expected to unveil a package of tax cuts and other economic reforms, another measure to calm the popular anger in France.

Macron’s address will be held on Thursday.

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O Canada! The True North Strong and Free – Not

Maybe it’s past time for Canadians to get serious again about their independence.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Canadian visitors to Washington sometimes wonder why their embassy stands at the foot of Capitol Hill.

The answer? To be close to where Canada’s laws are made.

A main showcase of Ottawa’s craven servility to Washington is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s complicity in the US-led regime change operation being conducted against Venezuela. Not content with ruining his own country with multiculturalism, polysexualism, and the like, Li’l Justin has acted in lockstep with Big Brother to the south inslapping sanctions on Venezuelan officials and serving as a US agent of influence, especially with other countries in the western hemisphere:

‘A Canadian Press report published at the end of January revealed that Canadian diplomats worked systematically over several months with their Latin American counterparts in Caracas to prepare the current regime-change operation, pressing [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro’s right-wing opponents to set aside their differences and mount a joint challenge to the government. “The turning point,” said the Canadian Press [Global News], “came Jan. 4, when the Lima Group … rejected the legitimacy of Maduro’s May 2018 election victory and his looming January 10 inauguration, while recognizing the ‘legitimately elected’ National Assembly.” The report cited an unnamed Canadian official as saying the opposition “were really looking for international support of some kind, to be able to hold onto a reason as to why they should unite, and push somebody like Juan Guaidó.”

‘One day prior to Maduro’s inauguration, [Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia] Freeland spoke to Guaidó, the newly-elected National Assembly speaker, by telephone to urge him to challenge the elected Venezuelan president.’

But that’s not all. Canada is out front and center in the “Five Eyes” intelligence agencies’ war on China’s Huawei – with direct prompting from US legislators and intelligence.  As explained by Col. Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell, it’s not that Huawei violated any law when circumventing US sanctions but it is the US that is acting illegally by unilaterally imposing sanctions that were never agreed to internationally. But that’s OK – when it comes to Washington’s claims of jurisdiction over every human being on the planet, Justin and Chrystia are happy to oblige!

Also, let’s not forget Chrystia’s role in keeping the pot boiling in Ukraine. It would of course be cynical (and probably racist) to attribute anything relating to Ukraine to her own interesting family background …

To be fair, the lickspittle attitude of Canadian officials towards their masters south of the 49th parallel is hardly unique in the world. Also to be fair, it’s natural and would be generally beneficial for Canada to have a positive relationship with a powerful, kindred neighbor rather than a negative one. Think of Austria’s ties to Germany, or the Trans-Tasman relationship of Australia and New Zealand, or the links that still exist between Russia and Ukraine despite efforts by the west to set them against each other (as, for example, Spain and Portugal were at loggerheads for several centuries, when the latter was a loyal ally of Spain’s foe, Great Britain, to such an extent that Portugal was sometimes shown on maps and globes in the same pink as British possessions; a similar situation existed between Argentina and British ally Chile).

A close and mutually advantageous relationship is one thing, but Canada’s de facto loss of independence is another. Not only does the US control Canada’s diplomacy, military, and intelligence but also her financial system (with, among other levers, the notorious FATCA law, which places Canadian institutions under the supervision of the IRS, with Canada’s revenue service acting, care of the Canadian taxpayer, as a cat’s paw for not only the IRS but the NSA and other snooping agencies). As explained by one Canadian nationalist (yes, they do exist!), the redoubtable David Orchard, trade is also a critical issue:

‘Canada …, after almost three decades of “free trade” with the U.S., has more than $1.2 trillion in federal and provincial debt, large deficits at every level, no national child or dental care, high university tuition, miserly old age pensions, years of massive budget cuts, and giveaway prices for its exports of oil, gas, timber and minerals.

‘For 150 years, great Canadian leaders have warned that without an economic border with the United States, we would soon no longer have a political border.

‘We once owned the world’s largest farm machinery maker, Massey Harris, headquartered in Toronto; built the world’s largest and most respected marketer of wheat and barley, the Canadian Wheat Board, based in Winnipeg; created a great transcontinental railway system, beginning in Montreal, which tied our country together; and saw Vancouver’s shipyards produce the beautiful Fast Cat ferry.

‘Instead of spending hundreds of billions on foreign-made machinery, electronics, automobiles, ships, fighter jets and passenger aircraft (even payroll systems for federal employees!), we can build our own, both for the domestic and export market.

‘We once designed and built the world’s most advanced jet interceptor, the Avro Arrow, so we know it can be done. [Emphasis added] With Canada’s resources and ingenuity, it could create a prosperous, domestically controlled economy that would give Canadians multiple benefits, security and pride of ownership. All that is required is some of the will that drove our ancestors to create an alternate power in North America. As George-Étienne Cartier, the great Québécois Father of Confederation, put it, “Now everything depends on our patriotism.”’ [Note: Orchard is the author of the must-read book The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism. To begin at the beginning, in the late 1680s, as part of English-French rivalry in North America, Massachusetts Puritans sought to root out the nest of popish deviltry known as Quebec. Following their disastrous 1690 defeat, they decided to fight Satan closer to home by hanging witches. The rest, as they say, is history…]

Scratch a Canadian patriot and you’ll hear about the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow. As a watershed moment in Canada’s downward slide into subservience, the cancellation of what by all accounts was a magnificent aircraft – and a snapshot of what Canada’s international competitiveness (including in advanced aerospace) could have looked like had it been able to develop independently – might have been the point of being sucked into the American vortex. As noted by one response to my suggestion that Ottawa’s stance on Venezuela amounted to Canada’s annexation by the US: “Canadian here…unfortunately, the above is true (not literally of course, but in practice). It goes back even before the time of Diefenbaker, who canceled our Avro Arrow program on demand from the US – thus destroying our aerospace industry and causing brain drain to the US/Europe.”

To this day, the decision of then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to kill the Arrow project (and “put 14,528 Avro employees, as well as nearly 15,000 other employees in the Avro supply chain of outside suppliers, out of work”) on what came to be known as “Black Friday,” February 20, 1959, remains controversial and shrouded in mystery. A mix of budgetary, political, technological, and personality factors has been cited, none of them conclusive. Pressure from the US side, including unwillingness of Washington to purchase a Canadian aircraft when the US could pressure them to buy American planes and missiles, no doubt played a key role: “Instead of the CF-105, the RCAF invested in a variety of Century Series fighters from the United States. These included the F-104 Starfighter (46 percent of which were lost in Canadian service), and (more controversial, given the cancellation of the Arrow) the CF-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo served as an interceptor, but at a level of performance generally below that expected of the Arrow.”

While we may never know reliably why Diefenbaker cancelled the Arrow or how Canada or Canadian industry might have followed a different path, there’s no question of the superior capabilities of the Arrow. As it happens, one of the few pilots who had a chance to test the Arrow in an impromptu friendly dogfight is now-retired USAF fighter pilot Col. George Jatras, later US Air Attaché in Moscow (also, this analyst’s father). As he related in 2017:

‘I’ve received a number of messages in the last couple days about this bird, including some that say it may be revived. I don’t know how The Arrow would compare to today’s aircraft, but I had a first-hand lesson on how it faired against the F-102.

‘In 1959, I was stationed at Suffolk County AFB on Long Island with the 2nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron. We had an informal exchange program with a Canadian fighter squadron stationed near Montreal. From time to time, two or four aircraft from one of the squadrons would fly to the other’s base on a weekend cross country.

‘On one such exchange, I was #3 in a four ship formation led by [former Tuskegee airmanErnie Craigwell (I don’t recall who the other pilots were). As we entered Canadian airspace, cruising at about 40,000 ft., we spotted a contrail well above our altitude (probably at 50,000ft.) and closing very fast.  As the other aircraft appeared to be passing by, we could clearly see the delta shaped wing and knew it was the Avro Arrow that the Canadian pilots had told us about. Then, instead of just passing by, he rolled in on us! Ernie called for a break and we split into elements. When we talked about the encounter afterwards we all agreed that our first thought was, “This guy is in for a surprise; he doesn’t know that he’s taking on the F-102.”  Well, we were the ones in for a surprise. Even with two elements covering each other, not one of us could get on his tail. His power and maneuverability were awesome.  After he had played with us for a few minutes, like a cat with four mice, he zoomed back up to about 50K and went on his way. What an aircraft! What a shame that it never went into production.’

What is perhaps most curious about the Arrow’s demise is that “everything was ordered brutally destroyed; plans, tools, parts, and the completed planes themselves were to be cut up, destroyed, scrapped and everything made to disappear.”  Why? Well, security of course! Don’t engage in conspiracy theories …

The Canadian national anthem finishes with a pledge: “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.” It should be noted that understandably resentful Loyalists fleeing the US following the American Revolution were a major contribution to the growth of Canada’s English-speaking population. American troops – back when we were the plucky underdog fighting the mighty British Empire – invaded Canada in 1775 and during the War of 1812 but were defeated. Relations got testy during the American Civil War as well, and even afterwards the US was wary of a proposed united “Kingdom of Canada,” hence the choice of the name “Dominion” in 1967. If today’s Canadians think we-all down here don’t know whom they’ve mostly had in mind to “stand on guard” against all this time, they’d better think again.

Maybe it’s past time for Canadians to get serious again about their independence – eh?

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