Chic. Life. Style.

To view the multimedia assets associated with this release, please visit: http://www.multivu.com/mnr/58232-ann-taylor-kate-hudson-strong-stylish-women-moms-balanced-lifestyles [http://www.multivu.com/mnr/58232-ann-taylor-kate-hudson-strong-stylish-women-moms-balanced-lifestyles]

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130731/MM55223 [http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130731/MM55223])

We believe life is one part style, one part substance. Kate Hudson is an actress, businesswoman, and fashion muse as well as a mother-of-two and mentor to young women, making her perfectly suited to this role. “This campaign is my favorite so far. It’s a glimpse into my life and the full, busy lives women live every day,” Hudson said. “We are constantly striving for balance. We want to excel at our jobs, be there for our families and look and feel fabulous doing it.”

“Kate approaches her life in the same way the women at Ann Taylor do,” said Head of Design Lisa Axelson. “She has responsibilities that transcend the workplace and she gives her all every day and looks amazing every step of the way, making meaningful decisions to maintain her wonderful, whirlwind lifestyle. Being a working mother myself, I truly admire her.”

Hudson will continue to serve on the Advisory Council for ANN INC.’s ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative [http://www.annpower.org/], a program that supports the empowerment of young women, as well as appear in Ann Taylor’s campaigns through 2014.

We know it’s not just about style, it’s about a lifestyle. The campaign features Hudson wearing chic, iconic pieces from the brand’s fall collection as she reads film scripts, bakes cookies with her nephews, and picks up the morning paper. The images are paired with powerful lines that capture the wild and wonderful 24/7 moments we all experience as busy multitasking women. The “We” in every campaign tagline is the unifying element between Ann Taylor, a brand dedicated to women, and the women out there living the same lives we lead every day. The campaign debuts this September and is slated to run in print and online.

Share your story. Through social media, Ann Taylor is inviting women to share a moment of their busy, brilliant lives #chiclifestyle.

About Ann Taylor Founded in 1954, Ann Taylor’s rich heritage has always been synonymous with iconic style and fashion for modern working women. Having evolved throughout the decades to meet women’s changing needs, aspirations and roles, today Ann Taylor is defined by a unique balance of fashion and work for women of substance and style across every generation. The Ann Taylor brand has become a favorite style destination for modern women, attracting some of the world’s most celebrated style icons as its biggest fans, including United States First Lady Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Diane Kruger, Halle Berry, Jessica Alba and many more. Today Ann Taylor operates 275 stores across the United States, as well as an e-commerce website at www.anntaylor.com [http://www.anntaylor.com/], and two international stores in Toronto, Canada that opened last fall. Ann Taylor is a division of ANN INC. .

Web site: http://www.anntaylor.com/

ABC’s ‘World News’ Snaps ‘NBC Nightly News’ Ratings Streak

ABC News broke another big NBC News streak on Tuesday.

Over a year after “Good Morning America” snapped the “Today” ratings streak, the network’s flagship show, “World News with Diane Sawyer,” beat “NBC Nightly News” in the all-important A25-54 category for a full week for the first time since November of 2008, the New York Times’ Brian Stelter reported.

The margin was wafer-thin–“World News” won by just 38,000–but ABC will be crowing nonetheless, as it could portend a sign of things to come. “Nightly” has proven to be the most resilient of NBC’s news properties, maintaining its perch at the top of the evening news heap for many years (though ABC won the demo for the 2006-2007 season). “World News” has yet to beat its rival in the total ratings for any sustainable period of time; as an NBC release pointed out on Tuesday, “‘Nightly’ has won in total viewers for 202 consecutive weeks, and in 249 of the past 250 weeks.”

But “World” has been closing the gap with “Nightly” for some time. Not a week goes by when ABC doesn’t send a press release out noting that the margin between the two shows is shrinking and shrinking.

If ABC were to manage to overtake “Nightly” on a regular basis, it would mean that all of NBC’s marquee shows–“Today,” “Nightly” and “Meet the Press”–would have slipped out of first place in the last couple of years.

Also on HuffPost:

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Wackiest Pet Names of the Year Revealed

BREA, Calif., July 31, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Each year, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, celebrates the most clever, creative and quirky pet names nationwide. After a thorough selection process, 50 unusual dog names and 50 unusual cat names were chosen from VPI’s database of more than 500,000 insured pets and narrowed down with a vote for the 10 most unusual names in each category. Following are the 10 Wackiest Dog and Cat Names of 2013:

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130731/LA55849)

“With a database of more than half a million insured pets, we came across some extremely peculiar dog and cat names,” said Curtis Steinhoff, director of corporate communications for VPI. “After speaking with the pet owners from our Top Ten lists, we found that there is a special meaning and story behind unusual monikers like Captain Underpants and Mama Pajama. Many pet owners treat their dogs and cats like a part of the family and these unique names help reflect that.”

For the full list of 50 unusual dog and cat names, pictures of pets that made the Top 10, and the stories behind their unusual names, visit www.wackypetnames.com

About Veterinary Pet Insurance
With more than 500,000 pets insured nationwide, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co./DVM Insurance Agency (VPI) is a member of the Nationwide Insurance family of companies and is the oldest and largest pet health insurance company in the United States. Since 1982, VPI has helped provide pet owners with peace of mind and is committed to being the trusted choice of America’s pet lovers.

VPI Pet Insurance plans cover dogs, cats, birds and exotic pets for multiple medical problems and conditions relating to accidents, illnesses and injuries. CareGuard® coverage for routine care is available for an additional premium. Medical plans are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, one in three Fortune 500 companies offers VPI Pet Insurance as an employee benefit. Policies are offered and administered by Veterinary Pet Insurance Company in California and DVM Insurance Agency in all other states. Underwritten by Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (CA), Brea, CA, an A.M. Best A rated company (2012); National Casualty Company (all other states), Madison, WI, an A.M. Best A+ rated company (2012). Pet owners can find VPI Pet Insurance on Facebook or follow @VPI on Twitter. For more information about VPI Pet Insurance, call 800-USA-PETS (800-872-7387) or visit petinsurance.com.

Hough's new boyfriend rumoured to be a ladies' man

US actress-dancer Julianne Hough might have found a new love, but rumour has it he is a bad catch.

Hough, 25, is reportedly seeing US Oscar-winning film-maker Ari Sandel, who is a stark contrast to her clean-cut ex-boyfriend of three years, US presenter-DJ Ryan Seacrest, whom she broke up with in March.

A source close to Sandel told Life Style Weekly : “(He) is a ladies’ man… He dates and goes out with so many women, he’s such a player. I doubt she will be the girl who makes him settle down. Girls have always been attracted to him.

“So, unless Julianne is different from the tons of other girls he’s dated… this probably won’t last.”


Get The New Paper for more stories.

Vladimir Putin angling photos raise suspicions

It is not the first time Vladimir Putin has used pictures of himself engaged in manly pursuits to burnish his public image, but Russian bloggers say they have caught the president telling fishy tales after an angling expedition.

Putin’s latest man-versus-nature photos, said to be from a Siberian fishing trip this weekend, backfired when bloggers questioned the reported 21kg weight of his catch and claimed some of the pictures may be several years old.

The photographs show Putin fishing, petting reindeer and driving a boat in the Krasnoyarsk region and the Tuva republic along the Mongolian border. An accompanying video shows the president hauling in a giant pike and kissing his prize.

“Careful, she might bite you,” the fishing guide warns as Putin attempts to untangle the pike from the net. “I might bite her,” Putin shoots back.

News of the trophy fish made a big splash, but its weight – said by the presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov to be 21kg (46lb), equal to the UK record for the largest pike – provoked disbelief. The former deputy prime minister Alfred Kokh, a keen fisherman, argued in a Facebook post that it would have weighed “12 to 13 kilograms at the most”.

Meanwhile, fishermen across Russia began posting pictures of themselves with pikes that resembled Putin’s in size but weighed far less. Others joked that the Kremlin weighed its fish the same way it counted votes.

Some commentators doubted that the weekend trip had taken place. The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta noted that the Kremlin did not bring the presidential press pool on the trip and only published the photos six days after it was said to have happened.

News accounts differed as to when the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, joined the party, and the trip was not listed in Putin’s schedule on the Kremlin website.

The journalist Andrei Malgin compared photos of Putin shirtless published on Friday with shots taken in Tuva in 2007 and 2009. Putin is seen wearing the same military-style trousers, belt, cross necklace, watch and, in some cases, sunglasses.

Peskov responded on Monday, saying the clothes and watch were new and that he personally saw the fish weighed at over 20kg.

The Kremlin has put on countless Putin photo sessions over the years, depicting him as an active, masculine leader and avid outdoorsman. His exploits have made him a sex symbol and, following his recent divorce, Russia’s most eligible bachelor.

Even before his split from his wife, a poll last year showed that a fifth of Russian women wanted to marry him. His political popularity has remained high even as support for the ruling United Russia party has crumbled.

Running themes of Putin’s photoshoots have been wild animals – tigers, cranes and, on the latest trip, reindeer and snow leopards – and weapons. He has gone target pistol shooting, tranquilised an Amur tiger and fired a crossbow at a gray whale to collect skin samples. This month he descended to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland in a small submarine to look at a 19th-century shipwreck.

The last Putin photo scandal occurred in 2011 when the president was shown with ancient amphora he supposedly discovered while scuba-diving in the Black Sea. Peskov later admitted the rare pottery remains had been planted for Putin to retrieve.

Buddy and Porky Pet Health – You Can Help Protect Animals

Dear Readers,
We need to ask for your help again.

You may have already received an email from the ASPCA Advocacy Center about the pending Farm Bill in Congress if you have signed up for their alerts.

But it is such an important issue, we wanted to make sure all of our local animal advocates know about it and forward this request on to their friends.

Here’s the problem. The U.S. Senate and House have each passed their own versions of the Farm Bill, and soon a joint committee of senators and representatives will meet to iron out the differences and present one final bill.

One major difference between the Senate and House Farm Bills is that the House’s version contains a radical anti-animal provision known as the King Amendment. We need your help to make sure this provision is not part of the final bill.

Authored by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the King Amendment is an unprecedented assault on states’ sovereign rights to pass laws that protect animals on farms, in puppy mills and elsewhere.

Even more alarming, the King Amendment could strike down many existing state animal cruelty laws, leaving some animals with no legal protections.

Please don’t delay – visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center online to contact your members of Congress in Washington, D.C., and ask them to urge their colleagues working on the final Farm Bill to strike the King Amendment.

In Oswego County, the House members to contact are:

Dan Maffei- 202-225-3701

Richard Hanna- 202-225-3665

If you are not sure which person represents you, the ASPCA page has links to help you with that.

Our Senators are:

Chuck Schumer – 202-224-6542

Kirsten Gillibrand – 202-224-4451

Remember that phone calls are much more effective than mass emails!

Thanks for your help on behalf of animals everywhere!

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County.

Our office is located at 265 W. First St., Oswego, NY.

Phone (315) 207-1070.

Email: ochscontact@hotmail.com

Website: www.oswegohumane.org  Because people and pets are good for each other!

Entertainment wRap: Film flops, musical protests

MANILA, Philippines – Here are some entertainment news from the week of July 22 to 28.

French actress Bernadette Lafont dies at 74

FACE OF FRENCH NEW WAVE. Bernadette Lafont passed away on July 25FACE OF FRENCH NEW WAVE. Bernadette Lafont passed away on July 25

Veteran actress Bernadette Lafont, the face of France’s New Wave cinema in the 1950s, died Thursday, July 25, in Nimes at the age of 74.

Lafont, who starred in some 120 films, was hospitalized on July 22, after falling ill.

The actress, whose career spanned more than 50 years, recently appeared in Julie Delpy’s 2011 film “Le Skylab.” She started her career with French New Wave filmmakers Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol and went on to work with Louis Malle, Nelly Kaplan, and Jean Eustache, among others.

Watch the trailer for “Le Skylab” here:

R.I.P.D. newest US box office flop

Supernatural film “R.I.P.D.,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, took $12.7 million, under 10% of its $130 million budget. The film earned far below what it needed to break even, much like previous big budget box office flops “Jack the Giant Slayer,” “After Earth,” and “The Lone Ranger.”

Here’s the trailer of R.I.P.D.:

“Lone Ranger and RIPD are probably the biggest disappointments as they don’t have much upside internationally,” said Jeff Bock of industry tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Meanwhile, the horror film “The Conjuring” scared off competition, earning $41.9 million, more than 3 times its $13 million budget.

Veteran filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had earlier warned of a “meltdown” in releasing films in movie theaters.

“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm,” said Spielberg in June.

Bock believes, however, that this lackluster in original films will only serve to fuel sequels.

Jackson’s mother weeps in court

HEATED EXCHANGE. 'They watched him waste away,' said Katherine JacksonHEATED EXCHANGE. ‘They watched him waste away,’ said Katherine Jackson

Michael Jackson’s 83-year-old mother wept in court on Monday, July 22, after she lashed out at AEG Live promoters, accusing them of letting her son “waste away” before his death in 2009.

“They watched him waste away,” said Katherine Jackson. “They could have called me. He was asking for his father. My grandson told me that his daddy was nervous and scared.”

Jackson also accused AEG Live of pushing her son too hard durng rehearsals in Los Angeles for his comeback concert series, “This Is It,” and of negligently hiring doctor Conrad Murray to look after the pop singer.

Her weeping was cut short when AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam began grilling her about her son’s reported debt and their “family intervention” with regards to Michael’s drug abuse.

The Jackson family matriarch also rebuffed the question about how much money she wanted in damages, saying: “You can talk to my lawyers about that.”

The heated exchange had Katherine Jackson in a state of confusion. Putnam repeated several questions that Jackson, speaking in a barely audible voice, said she didn’t understand or couldn’t remember.

Sharon Stone in environmental musical

THE FUTURE WE WANT. Sharon Stone plays storyteller in a Gorbachev inspired musicalTHE FUTURE WE WANT. Sharon Stone plays storyteller in a Gorbachev inspired musical

Hollywood actress Sharon Stone and musician Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) will take part in a musical honoring Green Cross International, an environmental group founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The musical, “2050: The Future We Want,” will be performed at the United Nations in Geneva on September 3, marking the group’s 20th anniversary. Here, Stone will function as the storyteller, showing how to act on challenges such as climate change and poverty.

Stone and Islam will be joined by a cast of 40 youths from all over the globe, as well as a 100-member choir.

Green Cross International was founded by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to address issues regarding the environment, poverty, and armed conflict.

Organizers aim to make the show available to schools and organizations after the September 3 performance.

Creative protest in Russia and Spain

TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Acclaimed violinist Gidon Kremer gathers artists to fight for human rightsTO RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Acclaimed violinist Gidon Kremer gathers artists to fight for human rights

Star violinist Gidon Kremer has invited the biggest names in classical music to perform a concert with him in Berlin to draw attention to human rights in Russia.

The concert, entitled “To Russia with Love,” will be held on October 7 at Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall.

The 66-year-old Latvian violinist told the German daily “Die Welt” he was “very concerned that more and more freedoms that we take for granted – such as freedom of speech and artistic freedom – are being curtailed in Russia.”

Kremer said the two-year jail sentence imposed on feminist punk-protest band Pussy Riot was “unjust and disproportionate.”

Kremer declined to name names, but said he could not understand the position of artists who support the regime.

“As an artist, it’s not only my right, but also my duty to show my true colors and draw attention to such problems.”

Meanwhile, in Spain, punk, hiphop, and flamenco reign as the forms of protest.

DANCING IN THE STREETS. Flamenco as protest formDANCING IN THE STREETS. Flamenco as protest form

After five years of on-and-off recession, punk rock has found an enthusiastic audience in the working class Madrid suburb of Vallecas.

Dressed in black, young fans let loose on the dance floor, before a band rampaging through “Familia y real,” its anthem against Spain’s monarchy.

“It is a very direct form of music, which deals with social issues,” says Diego, a member of the local band Oferta Especial.

“A lot of our songs are about how bad the job situation is, and the political system that we don’t believe in. We try to focus the songs on our own experiences: being unemployed, earning no money, having to pay the mortgage.”

At the hip hop end of the spectrum, June saw the release of a new album by Mala Rodriguez, the Grammy-winning princess of Spanish rap.

The album single, “La Rata,” refers to what she calls a “crisis of values” in the country.

“I have heard a lot of musicians in Spain who are politically engaged and not afraid to express their anger,” Rodriguez told AFP.

“Right know, in hard times, when things are tight, you see who is armed for the fight.”

But Beatriz G. Aranda, editor of the Spanish edition of “Rolling Stone” magazine, described these protests as “naive and individualistic.”

“The protest song has taken on pejorative connotations in Spain and that has not helped,” she said.

Chico Ocaña, an Andalusian musician, says he plans to release a new album of protest songs later this year, inspired by the flamenco.

This time, Aranda affirmed this strand of protest. “Flamenco, like rock, is a music form created by those excluded and marginalized in a capitalist society. Flamenco has been politically engaged since the beginning.” – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com



Bernadette Lafont, Sharon Stone photos by Featureflash, Flamenco dancing photo by Maljalen, Katherine Jackson photo by Jaguar PS, Gidon Kremer photo by Sergey Petrov all from Shutterstock

Life and Style wRap: Textbook porn to Berlin Wall

MANILA, Philippines – Here are some Life Style stories you might have missed from the week of July 8 to 12.

Want to fry eggs on the hottest spot on earth? Please don’t.

NOT A KITCHEN. Maintenance personnel of Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada ask tourists not to fry their eggs on the groundNOT A KITCHEN. Maintenance personnel of Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada ask tourists not to fry their eggs on the ground

The expression “It’s so hot you can fry an egg” has been taken literally by visitors of Death Valley National Park – in most cases, to the detriment of the popular US landmark.

Tourists have been testing out the reputation of Death Valley as the world’s hottest spot by frying eggs on the ground.

“An employee’s posting of frying an egg in a pan in Death Valley was intended to demonstrate how hot it can get here, with the recommendation that if you do this, use a pan or tin foil and properly dispose of the contents,” the park said on its Facebook page.

But many tourists do not follow the recommendation. The park’s maintenance is kept busy cleaning up eggs cracked directly on the sidewalk. Egg cartons and shells have been found all over the landmark’s parking lot.

“This is your national park, please put trash in the garbage or recycle bins provided and don’t crack eggs on the sidewalks,” a notice said.

Death Valley, located in California and Nevada, will soon celebrate the 100th anniversary of its posting the world heat record – 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) – on July 10, 1913.

Italian mayor paints government offices to save town budget

PROACTIVE PAINT JOB. Local officials of a town in Italy repaint their offices themselves to save moneyPROACTIVE PAINT JOB. Local officials of a town in Italy repaint their offices themselves to save money

An Italian mayor and his council members are willing to do the dirty work to save their town’s budget. They’ve taken up paintbrushes to repaint their offices themselves.

Giovanni di Panegrazio – mayor of Avezzano, a small town in Italy – worked overtime and led his colleagues in chipping in for paint material.

“The idea spread quickly and all the employees contributed,” Gino di Cicco, who is in charge of the budget in Avezzano, told AFP.

Di Cicco added that they managed to save 10,000 euros (US$13,000). Almost all the offices have been repainted. As a reward for the officials’ hard work and sense of civic duty, local residents contributed food and drink.

Italy has been caught in a recession for the past two years. Many local governments are struggling with debt.

Photo exhibit of world’s tensest barriers up on Berlin Wall

Walls don’t solve problems.

This is the message of an exhibition of giant portraits of the world’s tensest borders posted along the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall.

“Wall on Wall,” a project by German photographer Kai Wiedenhoefer, was installed on July 9. It features 36 panoramas taken in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Morocco, the DMZ, Iraq, the West Bank and the United States and Mexico border zone.

The Berlin Wall was also among the tensest barriers when it divided the German city for 28 years until it was toppled by a bloodless revolution in 1989.

“Walls are no solution for today’s major political problems and I think the Berlin Wall is the best proof of that,” Wiedenhoefer told reporters.

It took 5 years for the 47-year-old photographer to win permission from Berlin officials to install the open-air exhibit.

But the comparison he makes between some of the walls in his photos and the Berlin Wall has drawn criticism. The concrete barrier in Israel is seen as crucial to stop military attacks.

“It’s always a problem — in November I hung a portrait of the US wall in Mexico here and an American came by and shouted at me, ‘You can’t compare this.’ But for me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a religious, national or economic conflict — the idea that you have a problem and you can solve it by building a wall has simply been obsolete since 1989.”

More than 200,000 people are expected to see the exhibition before it is dismantled on September 13.

‘Porn’ discovered in Indonesian elementary textbooks

X-RATED. Textbooks featuring a 'porn story' are pulled out from elementary schools in IndonesiaX-RATED. Textbooks featuring a ‘porn story’ are pulled out from elementary schools in Indonesia

Textbooks with “porn” used in Indonesian elementary schools were pulled out by the country’s education department, said an official on July 11.

The pullout came after outraged parents in the Muslim-majority country complained about a “porn story” they discovered in the Indonesian language reading book’s pages.

The story, entitled “The Shepherd Boy and Wolf Mother,” is about a man overcome with lust when he meets a woman prostituting herself to support her child who lives in a distant village.

“In the dimly lit place where women sell their bodies, his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down upon seeing the beauty of the woman,” read the story.

“She trembled in the arms of the man, and just like the flourescent lights in the room, she felt that she herself was on fire.”

The textbook is meant to be read by 11-year-old students.

But local authorities insist that the books were bought by the schools without approval from education chiefs.

“The book is not on the curriculum – the schools just asked parents to buy the books,” spokesman Arie Harsono told AFP.

“In such cases, they are supposed to seek permission from the education office first.”

An investigation showed that the text was lifted from a blog and reprinted in the textbooks, which were bought by schools in Bogor, a city on the outskirts of Jakarta, from street stalls for around US$3.

United States lags behind other wealthy nations in health

HEALTH WOES. A key factor in lower life expectancy in the US is bad eating habitsHEALTH WOES. A key factor in lower life expectancy in the US is bad eating habits

Despite a bigger health budget, the United States lags behind other wealthy nations in health and life expectancy, revealed research published on July 10.

The research studies 34 countries and includes estimates for death and disability from 291 diseases, conditions and injuries.

The US spends twice as much as France on its average health care per person – nearly US$8,000 per capita in 2009 – based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But France outstrips the US in life expectancy rankings, placing 9th in the world with an average age of 80.9 for both sexes. In contrast, the life expectancy for Americans is 78.2 years.

Japan still takes the number one spot with an average life expectancy of 82.6 years in 2010.

Poor diet was the top risk factor for mortality, followed by smoking, high blood sugar, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse.

Research showed that many Americans suffer from bad eating habits. Major food-related risks are diets low in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds; high in sodium, processed meats and trans fats.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the US, followed by lung cancer.

Diabetes rose to the 7th most common cause of death, up from its rank of 15 in 1990. Alzheimer’s disease also climbed up the list. It is now in 9th place from 32nd in 1990. – Rappler.com

Death Valley image from Shutterstock

Wall painting image from Shutterstock

Library setting with books image from Shutterstock

Medical concept image from Shutterstock





Raped, plundered, ignored: central Africa state where only killers thrive


The Observer’s Mark Townsend journeys into the remote and dangerous north of the country, into the heart of the rebel stronghold, to uncover fresh allegations of summary executions, disappearances and mass rapes Link to video: The Central African Republic: a country abandoned to its fate

It was dusk when armed Seleka rebels dragged the teenager from the road leading north towards Kobe. They pulled her into the jungle and raped her for several hours. She was abandoned near Route Nationale 10 and, after stumbling into the town of Kaga-Bandoro, was taken to hospital. “There were five of them raping her until they tore her vagina. Her family paid the [hospital] expenses until she got well,” said her friend, Lisa Moussa, 17.

Moussa was more fortunate. As soon as she saw the rebels, she began running. They tried to kill her, shooting until she stumbled and fell. The gang caught her and frogmarched her to a police station and threatened to rape her until her father paid 6,000 Central African francs (£7.90) for her release.


Lisa Moussa from Kaga-Bandora
Lisa Moussa from Kaga-Bandora. Photograph: Mark Townsend

Moussa lives in the Camp Fleur district of Kaga-Bandoro, a town deep in the jungle of the CAR, which was tipped into anarchy when the Seleka rebels overthrew the government and seized power four months ago. The UN has declared the entire 4.6 million population to be victims and the country among its most dangerous destinations. Its refugee agency has called it the “most neglected crisis in the world”. Médecins Sans Frontières warns that the country had been effectively “abandoned to its fate”.

Although lootings and killings have been widely documented in the capital, Bangui, reports detailing the extent of the atrocities being committed in the country’s vast hinterland remain scant, particularly in the north, where the Seleka uprising began.

Roads are impassable due to banditry and the rainy season. Kaga-Bandoro, 300km north of the capital, can only be reached via a mud airstrip, landing straight into a rebel stronghold where the rule of law has collapsed completely. Evidence of human rights abuses in the far north are clear. Seleka rebels have repeatedly mass-raped the region’s women, say locals. Women are said to have been killed for refusing to have sex or surrender their food. Men have been summarily executed, tortured or have simply disappeared, witnesses say. Children have been recruited and, according to witnesses, provide a substantial proportion of the armed gangs. The Seleka rebels, it seems, are becoming more numerous and more violent. In the remote north, war crimes against civilians continue to be committed.

Events in Kaga-Bandoro were not only foretold but could have been prevented. Yet the international community refused to heed the escalating security warnings or answer requests for increased humanitarian funding. Europe’s arms companies, with Britain a principal player, continued to flood the country, which has the world’s second-lowest life expectancy, with military hardware.


Philippe Benezo
Philippe Benezo whose daughter lost her baby because they could not reach the hospital quickly. Photograph: Mark Townsend

Even inside Kaga-Bandoro’s hospital they were not safe. The Seleka stormed the grounds in mid-April and, according to hospital worker Henrietta Kiringuinza, 44, began raping patients. Staff fled as the rebels destroyed the hospital’s three ambulances and looted everything, including lamps, refrigerators, medicine – even hospital beds. Farmer Philippe Benezon, 63, recently carried one of his six daughters, who was heavily pregnant, 10km from the village of Botto to the hospital. “There was no ambulance. We were bringing her by foot, but her baby died on the way. When we got to the hospital they took the baby from her belly.”

Women appear to be the main target of the rebels. “Most of the time women are the victims of the atrocities. They attack them, sexually abuse them, rape them,” said Thibault Ephrem, 25, who lives in Kaga-Bandoro. He had heard that women who refused their advances had been hacked to death with machetes. “If they want them or to get food and the woman says no, then she can be killed.”


A Central African Republic road at dusk
Dusk. Most attacks occur at night with Seleka revels preying on women and girls. Photograph: Mark Townsend

The Seleka seem to attack most frequently at night, prowling the streets of Kaga-Bandoro to abduct women and girls. “In our Abdala neighbourhood, if you go anywhere late at night when you are on your way back home they capture you or shoot you,” said Moussa.

Kiringuinza said the rebels would melt away, only to suddenly return, beating people randomly and shooting throughout the night so “we are unable to sleep”. Albert Vanbuel, the town’s Catholic bishop, said Kaga-Bandoro’s 26,000 population were trapped in a state of terror. Vanbuel says they have been utterly abandoned by the international community, allowing the Seleka to commit war crimes against civilians with impunity.

“There is nobody to help the population. There are no authorities, no militaries. When you resist, they kill you,” he said.

It is impossible to verify how many people have been killed in Kaga-Bandoro, though Vanbuel believes the figure to be between 50 and 100. Ephrem says he knows of about 100, pointing to a looted petrol station whose owner was dragged on to the forecourt and shot. Benezon described how men were shot in the chest at close range and tortured. He had found bodies killed by the rebels, but how many lie undiscovered in the jungle is unknown. Similarly, how many have disappeared, taken into the jungle to never return, is impossible to ascertain. “We don’t see them again, they just take them,” said Vanbuel, who believes 60,000 of the region’s 130,000 may now be hiding in the jungle.


Marguerite Mallot
Marguerite Mallot, 57, says attacks by Seleka rebels are ongoing and violent. Photograph: Mark Townsend

It is also unclear how many have perished from illness, succumbing to a diet of roots and the leaves of manioc plants. At night the tens of thousands decamped within the jungle are impossible to locate – the CAR is regarded as the least light-polluted country in the world, its darkness due to its lack of development. By day, the exodus has rendered Kaga-Bandoro strangely silent. Outlying villages lie deserted, torched to the ground. Even the sprawling UN compound 3km from the town has been looted, its food stores pillaged. Mother of seven Marguerite Mallot, 57, said: “They burned my son’s house that he uses for selling some things, everything is burned.”

Attacks continue. “They are still taking people’s sheep, food and any other stuff by force. If you try to say anything, they point a gun at you,” added Mallot. “They break into your house and take your stuff and if you say anything they beat you and tie you up,” said Kiringuinza.

Anyone whose task was to monitor events in the CAR knew the atrocities were close to inevitable. The UN security council was first briefed last December over a rebel offensive involving a coalition called Seleka operating from the settlements north of Kaga-Bandoro. During the next six months it would be briefed seven times over Seleka’s evolving threat. No effective action was agreed.

In the UN field office in Bangui, however, officials were becoming acutely concerned over the effectiveness of a plan to pay off fighters who agreed to disarm. Exactly one year – on 14 December 2011 – before the UN security council received its initial assessment on Seleka, officials in Bangui told the security council that a lack of funding to complete the disarmament process could push the country “to the brink of disaster”.

On 4 April 2012, and evidently starting to panic, the UN office in the republic hastily organised a donors’ conference. According to a security council report pledges were made by just two countries: Luxembourg offered £67,000 and Australia £134,000, despite £14.2m being required to complete the disarmament and reintegration process.

When questioned last week, the UN said that around 5,000 former fighters were disbanded under the programme. Yet the Observer has learned that practically none were Seleka. The lack of money meant that the entire north-east – where Seleka drew their fighters – was left untouched. “The disarmament process for the north-east could not start because no fund was available,” the UN confirmed. Further pleas from the UN office in Bangui followed: the country was at a “critical juncture” and needed outside help. Tensions among the thousands of fighters amassed in the north were growing, voicing frustrations that promises made under a peace deal had not materialised. Late last year five rebel groups elected to amalgamate forces: Seleka was born.


A child soldier: Seleka coalition rebel stands near the presidential palace in Bangui. The UN Security Council will hold urgent talks after a bloody coup in Central Africa sent ousted leader Francois Bozize fleeing across the border, and left 13 South African soldiers dead.
A child soldier: Seleka coalition rebel stands near the presidential palace in Bangui. Photograph: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Still, the international community did nothing. Interest in the CAR remained negligible, a malaise perhaps symbolised by the fact that the Twitter following for the UN office in Bangui stands at 14. Britain, along with the CAR’s colonial owner France, is among those accused of neglecting the country. A Foreign Office source said he could not recall if a UK minister had ever visited the country. The British ambassador is based in Cameroon, 500 miles away. In January the Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, told parliament the UK was “active” on the ultimately ineffectual security council discussion on the CAR. What he didn’t say was that the UK cuts its annual aid to the republic from £2.7m to £1.29m two years ago, though an emergency £5m package is expected to be announced by the Department for International Development this week.

Fundraising attempts have been characterised by failure. A UN request for £129m of aid received £40m. A recent Unicef emergency appeal outlined a need for £21m, but received under £6m.

Swimming against the tide is Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, who admitted being motivated by “guilt” and a sense that the world had turned its back on the CAR. Georgieva, who recently visited the country, has secured an emergency £4m aid package and says a “much more forceful contribution from the international community” is needed. “I pray that other donors will follow suit,” she added. There is a darker narrative rarely mentioned by ministers or commissioners, however. Bangui-based Pascal Hounier, of the European Commission’s humanitarian department, said: “Arms are flooding into the country. There were many AK47s, now there are rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weaponry. If someone wants to buy a weapon in CAR, it’s very easy, $10 to $20.” A study of the UK arms export licences revealed that eight months ago an unknown quantity of cryptographic equipment was sent from Britain to CAR. Earlier orders include an official consignment of military vehicles. One UK export to CAR for explosives and “bombing devices”, used an open licence, meaning the actual amount of hardware sent is unknown.


Bangui, capital city
Bangui, capital city but in reality resembles an over-sized village. Despite assurances that armed militia have been removed from the streets, convoys of gangs can be seen speeding through its suburbs. Photograph: Mark Townsend

Since 2005 the UK has been the fourth largest European exporter of arms to the CAR. Equally alarming is the role of Britain as the key supplier of arms to the increasingly unstable region of central Africa. Britain is Europe’s largest arms exporter to Uganda and the third largest to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both CAR neighbours. The Seleka rebellion has been boosted by large numbers of foreign fighters and warlords from Chad and Sudan. Britain is the fourth largest supplier of arms to Chad and the second largest to Sudan, both officially classified as “countries of concern” by the Foreign Office. Almost £670,000 of mainly tanks and vehicles have been sent to Chad, while the UK government last year approved £7.6m of military export licences to Sudan including weapon sight mounts. The UK has emerged as the second largest exporter of arms to the volatile, embryonic state of South Sudan – and its sole supplier of explosive devices.

To the east another threat is starting to emerge. Below the canopy of forests that smother eastern CAR, the cult-like militia of Joseph Kony is on the move. Attempts to catch the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), once the focus of the world’s largest manhunt, have become clouded with doubt. Seleka have refused to cooperate, compromising the efforts of 100 US special forces and 3,000 mainly Ugandan troops to capture the warlord, who is accused of abducting tens of thousands of children and hacking off civilians’ limbs, lips and noses.

“The threat is moving north. For weeks we have seen an increase in attacks. If we have a state in crisis who cannot push back the LRA, we can expect more attacks. If CAR becomes a safe haven, then it’s a real problem for the country and the region,” said Hounier.

Kony’s reliance on child soldiers has been mimicked by Seleka. Witnesses in Kaga-Bandoro describe youngsters involved in the killings. The concern is that a state with no functioning schools and minimal employment prospects will lead to a generation of youngsters joining the rebels. Hounier added: “More children are joining and it gets more difficult to get them back. There has been a lot of recruitment.” Signs indicate that the Seleka are mushrooming into a significant force, their fighting strength of 5,000 now thought to have quadrupled.

Scores of child soldiers have been rescued and are being rehabilitated in a centre near Bangui. Papy Kabwe of the centre confirmed that every Seleka chief had an allocation of children that they used in the recent killings.

In Bangui, the atmosphere remains tense. Despite assurances that armed militia have been removed from the streets, convoys of gangs can be seen speeding through its suburbs and are blamed for looting and indiscriminate shootings. The country’s infrastructure has been effectively demolished. Human rights groups say the justice system has been dismantled, the prisons destroyed. The army has been disbanded. Just 200 policemen are left in the entire country.

But it is away from the capital where the crisis is most pronounced. Malnutrition rates have skyrocketed and malaria cases have risen by 30% since the Seleka assumed control. Latest assessments reveal 484,000 people at risk of food insecurity, with more than 206,000 people displaced . Georgieva warns of a “multi-headed monster” of armed groups running amok in a state the size of France, free to plunder as they wish.

The likes of Moussa can do little but wait for the rebels to return.