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 11 
 on: Today at 06:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Delhi Police Arrest Two over Hotel Rape Allegation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 August 2014, 16:01

Indian police have arrested two men accused of raping a nurse at one of New Delhi's top luxury hotels, a senior officer said Tuesday, days after the prime minister used a high-profile speech to condemn sex crimes.

The alleged attack took place at the Oberoi hotel on Friday -- the same day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his first Independence Day speech that a series of high-profile rape cases had brought shame on the nation.

"We have arrested both the accused. The medical examination of the victim is over. She is right now undergoing counselling," deputy police commissioner P. Karunakaran told Agence France Presse.

The nurse had reportedly been hired to care for the sick wife of the Oberoi's owner, who was staying in a hotel suite.

"The men seem to have forcibly taken her to their room and gang-raped her. We are investigating the case thoroughly," another officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Reports say the victim was threatened with "dire consequences" if she reported the crime.

When the perpetrators tried to attack her for a second time on Sunday, she broke down and confided in her husband, who registered a police complaint.

"The incident is very unfortunate. The individuals in question are not hotel employees," said a statement from the hotel's spokeswoman Deepica Sharma.

"We are fully cooperating with the police and local authorities with the investigation."

Anger over sexual violence has been rising in the country over the last two years, fueled by a series of high-profile assaults including the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012.

Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist, won plaudits on Friday for his speech, in which he urged parents to take responsibility for the actions of their sons rather than put the onus on their daughters.

 12 
 on: Today at 06:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Next Leader May Echo Maliki, but Iraqis Hope for New Results

By TIM ARANGO and MICHAEL R. GORDON
AUG. 19, 2014
IHT

BAGHDAD — The last time the United States pushed Iraqis to choose a new prime minister who could unite the country to confront a sectarian civil war was in 2006, and the Iraqis chose Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The result was another civil war. This time, with the country again on the edge of collapse, they have chosen Haider al-Abadi.

Both men come from the same Shiite Islamist movement whose members, after decades of clandestine opposition to Saddam Hussein and the Sunni elite that dominated his rule, were asked to govern Iraq in an inclusive way that accommodated the Sunnis they considered their former tormentors.

So far, that has proved elusive, but this time hope rests on a belief that Mr. Abadi is a different type of Islamist: one whose education, big-city upbringing and decades of living in Britain can surmount what have seemed the reflexive positions of Iraqi Shiite Islamists to be suspicious of Sunni ambitions and to see conspiracies around every corner.

In some ways, though, he is solidly in line with the traditional sectarian views held by Shiite Islamists in Iraq. Mr. Abadi, who was nominated last week to be Iraq’s new prime minister and still must form a government before he takes power, insisted a few years after Shiites took power during the American occupation that they could not soon be expected to support a reconciliation program with the country’s Sunni minority.

The goals of of the three main groups in Iraq — Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish — as the country threatens to split apart along sectarian lines.
Video Credit By Quynhanh Do and Christian Roman on Publish Date June 13, 2014. Image CreditReuters

Before Iraq’s national elections in 2010, Mr. Abadi fretted anew that Baathists, Mr. Hussein’s old ruling party, were “building new coalitions” to restore their power. And speaking to an American diplomat in Baghdad, Mr. Abadi worried that if the Iraqi public did not benefit fully from Iraq’s new democracy, then army officers might “launch a coup d’état.”

These sentiments, illustrated in several American diplomatic cables that were made public by WikiLeaks, reflect the scarred psyche of the Shiite Islamist movement that shaped much of Mr. Abadi’s life. For his political activities, Mr. Abadi was driven to exile in Britain, and two of his brothers were executed by Mr. Hussein’s administration.

Whether Mr. Abadi can now overcome this history will help determine whether he can establish partnerships with Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds and forge a more inclusive government. President Obama has demanded a less divisive leader as the price of more robust support to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which threatens to break the country apart.

There is little in Mr. Abadi’s political history to suggest that he harbors views at odds with the Dawa Party establishment. Even so, interviews with Iraqi political leaders and foreign diplomats paint a more nuanced portrait, with some holding out hope that he could break the mold of Iraq’s recent leaders.

Mr. Abadi’s rise to the cusp of becoming Iraq’s new leader is almost as improbable as that of the man he is replacing, Mr. Maliki, who said last week that he would give up power.

Mr. Maliki, like Mr. Abadi, was a lawmaker when he was chosen in 2006 to replace another man from his own Shiite Islamist Dawa Party, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Jaafari was seen as too sectarian and indecisive and not capable of uniting the country in the face of civil war.

Now Mr. Maliki, who initially seemed eager to take the fight to Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City and who cooperated with the United States during the American troop surge, has been replaced, mostly for the same reasons. And again, the political class has plucked its choice for a new prime minister from the Dawa Party, which won the most seats in April’s national elections.

American diplomats and Iraqis say that Mr. Abadi and Mr. Maliki, despite a common political heritage, have important differences, including that Mr. Abadi has been much more exposed to the West than Mr. Maliki was. But some also acknowledge the risk that history will repeat itself, with a new Shiite leader unwilling or unable to knit the country back together.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who was the American ambassador to Iraq in 2006 and played a decisive role in urging Mr. Maliki to seek the position of prime minister, said he thought Mr. Abadi would be “more pragmatic because of his Western technical background.”

But he also noted that Mr. Abadi had been a core member of the Dawa party, which has governed Iraq for more than eight years and shown itself incapable of establishing durable alliances with Sunnis.

“He is more open, more worldly, but he is going to have a very difficult task being able to bridge the gaps that exist and then confront the I.S.,” he said, using the abbreviation for the Islamic State, which ISIS now calls itself.

“He also comes from that hard-core Dawa, which is Shia Islamist.” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Not only does he have to evolve further himself, but bringing the rest of the Shia Islamists to the kind of power-sharing needed will be a tall order for him.”

After insurgents took Mosul in June, Iraqi leaders came under intense pressure, much of it from the United States, to quickly form a new government and replace Mr. Maliki with someone seen as more inclusive. For weeks, leaders considered many candidates, but Mr. Abadi did not emerge as a viable alternative until almost the end of the process.

When Mr. Abadi was chosen by Dawa leaders as a compromise candidate, Iran at first refused to accept him. Iran was said to be worried about his Western background, and Iranian leaders have not had the close working relationship with Mr. Abadi that they have had with other Iraqi Shiite leaders over the years.

In addition, Mr. Maliki refused to step aside. But Iran, Western officials believe, eventually backed Mr. Abadi after it became clear that Mr. Maliki’s attempt to retain power through legal channels would probably fail.

“He was someone not afraid to step up to Maliki and take a chance, so there’s a fair amount of leadership right there,” said a Western official, referring to Mr. Abadi. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about political negotiations.

Although Mr. Maliki and Mr. Abadi come from the same Islamist movement, they have quite different backgrounds. Mr. Maliki, 64, grew up in a village, spent his time in exile in Syria and Iran, speaks no foreign languages and is deeply hostile to the West.

Mr. Abadi, 62, is considered more urbane and sophisticated. He comes from a wealthy family in Baghdad, was educated abroad, lived for decades in London and speaks English.

His father was a well-known doctor who is remembered even today in Karada, the upper-middle-class neighborhood in Baghdad where Mr. Abadi grew up.

In Britain, Mr. Abadi earned a doctorate in engineering, and he later ran the company that serviced elevators at the building where the BBC World Service was located, earning a decent living while he also worked in the turbulent world of Iraqi opposition politics. He is married and has three children, and his family still lives in London.

He joined the Dawa Party at age 15, just before the Baathists consolidated power in the country in 1968. In the late 1970s he moved to Britain to pursue his graduate studies, and while he was there Mr. Hussein’s government began targeting Dawa operatives for assassination, and so he stayed abroad.

Ali al-Alaq, a longtime Dawa leader, noted Mr. Abadi’s background as a scion of a wealthy family and said he would “have a new touch in Iraqi politics.”

In the opposition days, Mr. Abadi was involved in Dawa’s political affairs, working in Britain, while Mr. Maliki, operating largely from Damascus, Syria, was in charge of clandestine military operations against Mr. Hussein’s government.

“He is a man who considers things,” said Salman al-Jumaili, a Sunni and former member of Parliament, where he worked with Mr. Abadi. “And my opinion is that he is not as aggressive because he doesn’t have a background in the security services of the Dawa Party.”

After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mr. Abadi returned there. He was briefly communications minister, and for eight years has been a member of Parliament, where he has focused on economic issues and earned a reputation as an able technocrat, not an ideologue. While some of the diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks showed him resistant to efforts at national reconciliation, others showed a willingness to work with Sunnis.

Robert S. Ford, a former American diplomat who served extensively in Iraq and was most recently the ambassador to Syria, said he felt that Mr. Abadi’s temperament was well suited for leadership.

“Abadi was very relaxed in dealing with Iraqis from other political blocs,” Mr. Ford said. “He is outgoing, and sometimes in meetings when they were discussing something contentious like an election law, he would tell little jokes and get everybody to chuckle a little bit and lighten the atmosphere.”

Even so, Mr. Abadi has not broken from the party’s orthodoxy, which is geared toward securing the political dominance of Iraq’s long-suppressed Shiite majority. Many of the things people are now saying about Mr. Abadi — that he is not overly sectarian — are similar to what was said about Mr. Maliki eight years ago.

Mr. Abadi could run into difficulties dealing with the Kurds, too. As the head of Parliament’s finance committee, he took a leading role in cutting off budget payments this year to the Kurdish region in response to the Kurds’ demands to sell their own oil without the Iraqi government’s approval.

“We know that there is no difference between Maliki and Abadi with respect to the suspended issues between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government,” said Adel Nuri, a Kurdish lawmaker.

Mr. Abadi has not spoken to the country in a national address, but he has communicated over Twitter.

In one message, he wrote: “I will stand with the persecuted against oppressors & be the voice of the weak & destitute. Lord take us not to task should we forget or err.”

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In Retaking of Iraqi Dam, Evidence of American Impact

By AZAM AHMED
AUG. 19, 2014
IHT

MOSUL DAM, Iraq — The two bodies lay festering in the midday sun on Tuesday, some of the only remnants of the Sunni militant force that until Monday night controlled the strategically important Mosul Dam.

Around them was the evidence of not just a fierce battle but also a different sort of fight: buildings reduced to rubble; cars churned into twisted metal; mammoth craters gouged from the road.

All bore testament to the deadly effect American airstrikes were having on the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, who until this month were marauding over northern Iraq with little resistance and who two weeks ago seized control of the dam.

It was not until President Obama authorized airstrikes by the United States military on Aug. 7 that the Sunni fighters’ advance was halted. Two days of concerted air assaults starting Sunday around the dam then paved the way for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim the site.

On Tuesday, Kurdish military officials gave reporters a tour of the dam, to showcase Monday night’s victory and offer journalists a look at the facility. The dam itself, backed by a turquoise lake and surrounded by dun-colored mountains, was in fine condition, with little evidence of damage either from the fighting or from two weeks in militant hands.

But about an hour into the visit, gunshots erupted from the western edge of the dam complex, as militants who were dug into the side of a neighboring mountain harassed a convoy of vehicles making its way up a hill to a secondary dam. A minor gunfight ensued, with the government laying down the majority of the fire from mounted machine guns and artillery. The hum of American aircraft — it was not clear what sort — was audible, though there were no airstrikes.

After an hour of sporadic fire, the confrontation ended, and the convoy resumed its trip. The hundreds of Kurdish pesh merga fighters arrayed along the dam, proudly posing for photos and videos, scarcely moved. It was almost exclusively troops with the Iraqi Special Forces, at the head of the convoy, who engaged with the militants.

The pesh merga have received the majority of the credit for retaking the dam. But the Iraqi Special Forces troops who worked alongside them, who were created in the image of their American counterparts, have gotten far less attention. Known as the Golden Force, fighters interviewed Tuesday said they came from Baghdad and were called into the fight several days ago.

One Special Forces group, stationed by a cluster of homes close to the site’s power plant, said they were the first to enter the area after a series of airstrikes Monday afternoon. A cheery banner over the road passing by the enclave read “Tourist City in Mosul Dam.”

Muhammad Karim, one of the soldiers, said that when they arrived at the first abandoned militant checkpoint, they discovered a woman, naked and bound, who had been repeatedly raped. Farther into the neighborhood, the Iraqi forces discovered another woman in the same state.

“ISIS are bad people,” he said, standing beside a demolished compound that hugged the road. “They are raping girls.”

Stories of women kidnapped by the militants have filtered through various minority communities, but Mr. Karim’s firsthand account, corroborated by colleagues interviewed separately, seemed to confirm the troubling rumors.

After the women were turned over to the pesh merga fighters, the Special Forces began to clear the area, they said. The movement of the forces was coordinated with American air support, with bombs unleashed whenever the fighters met stiff resistance.

Several compounds bore the marks of airstrikes, their walls collapsed and blackened. A large armored personnel carrier sat belly up, its body little more than strands of metal connected to a frame. The force of the blasts tore trees in two, spreading a blanket of branches and needles over a sloping road leading into the community.

The airstrikes were directed with what seemed a high degree of accuracy. Single homes were leveled, while neighboring ones stood in good order, exhibiting only the scars of shrapnel. A few hundred yards from the entrance to the neighborhood, a pair of Special Forces soldiers came across the bodies of the two militants, some of the only ones the Sunni fighters had been unable to reclaim.

Until recently, the militants enjoyed relatively free rein in northern Iraq and northern Syria, moving freely with vehicles and weapons seized from the Iraqi military units that had crumbled in the first days of the attack on Mosul and surrounding areas. But with the Americans now engaged, their freedom of movement has been sharply curtailed.

“When I came here three weeks ago, they were moving fast and easy with armored vehicles,” said Gen. Mansour Barzani, the commander of the ground forces who reclaimed the dam. “Now, they don’t dare to move anymore.”

The next step for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces remains unclear, though skirmishes between Iraqi forces and militants were reported Tuesday in Tikrit, a militant-controlled city about midway between Mosul and Baghdad. While the dam is under government control again, the brief skirmish on Tuesday along the edge of the complex demonstrated the tenacity of the militants, even in areas ostensibly under the control of the Kurds.

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U.N. Plans Ambitious Operation to Help Displaced Iraqis

By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE
AUG. 19, 2014   
IHT

GENEVA — As Kurdish and Iraqi forces backed by American jets battled to dislodge Islamic militants from areas around Mosul Dam in northern Iraq, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday that it was planning one of its biggest aid operations in recent years.

Citing “immense” humanitarian challenges in Iraq, the agency is coordinating an effort to deliver aid by air, land and sea to more than a half-million people driven from their homes by fighting in recent weeks.

A four-day airlift of supplies using Boeing 747s from the southern Jordanian town of Aqaba to Erbil in the Kurdish-held north of Iraq on Wednesday will be followed by truck convoys crossing the border from Turkey, Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.

The operation is “one of the largest we have done and certainly the largest in quite a while,” he said.

The half-million people displaced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in northern Iraq in June is in addition to the 600,000 people that the refugee agency estimates to have fled fighting earlier in the year in Anbar Province, Mr. Edwards said.

The United Nations estimates that around 200,000 Yazidis, a small religious minority, were driven from the Sinjar area amid reports of summary executions, abductions of women and children, and harsh punishment as ISIS forces took over the area. Most of the Yazidis made their way, often in harrowing circumstances, to northern Iraq, but around 11,000 took refuge in Syria, Mr. Edwards said.

With thousands of people living in unfinished buildings or cramming into schools and mosques, a priority of the aid effort is to provide tents and other basics for survival.

“Many are still coming to grips with the tragedy they’ve been through in recent weeks,” Mr. Edwards said.

 13 
 on: Today at 05:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Islamic State militants claim to have killed US journalist James Foley

Propaganda video circulated Tuesday claims to show beheading of photojournalist, who went missing in Syria in 2012

Spencer Ackerman in New York and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 10.17 BST   

Militants from Islamic State (Isis) claimed to have killed an American journalist long held captive in Syria in retaliation for ongoing US air strikes against its forces in Iraq.

A propaganda video circulated on Tuesday showed a masked Isis fighter beheading a kneeling man dressed in an orange jumpsuit who is purported to be James Wright Foley, a photojournalist who went missing in Syria in 2012.

The masked executioner spoke in English, with what sounded like a British accent, and said the slaying came in response to the air strikes ordered by President Barack Obama against Isis 12 days ago.

Isis, whose chief spokesman came under US state department sanctions on Monday, warned of further revenge – including on another man purported to be a captured US journalist, Steven Sotloff – and in the video the victim was made to read a statement blaming the US for his own murder.

Foley has been missing in Syria since November 2012, where he went to report on the bloody struggle to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad. He was initially thought to have been captured by forces loyal to the Assad regime.

Foley’s mother later released a statement saying her son gave his life to expose the suffering of the Syrian people. Diane Foley asked his kidnappers to release their other captives.

“He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person,” she said.

“We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”

YouTube took down the gruesome video, but not before it sparked a debate on social media about the ethics of sharing it.

Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, said the video appeared to be genuine, and that the killer could well be a Briton.

He said that although further analysis would need to be carried out, the man “on the face of it appears to have been a British person” and that this would not be surprising given the “significant number” of Britons fighting with Isis in Syria and Iraq.

Foley, 40, a former Stars and Stripes reporter, was captured in November 2012 near the Syrian town of Taftanaz. It was not his first detention while reporting: in 2011, he was taken while reporting on the uprising against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s forces ultimately released him after six weeks in captivity.

A friend of Foley’s and his fellow captive in Libya, journalist Clare Morgana Gillis, wrote in a 2013 essay that captivity was “the state most violently opposite his nature.” Gillis described Foley as gentle, friendly, courageous and impatient with “anything that slows his forward momentum.”

In a January 2013 interview with local television news near her Rochester, New Hampshire home, Foley’s mother Diane said her son was “passionate about covering the story in Syria, passionate about the people there.”

Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said US intelligence was working to determine the authenticity of the video.

“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” Hayden said in a statement.

A day after Obama declared that Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by US warplanes had broken Isis’ hold on the critical Mosul Dam, US Central Command announced two strikes near it on Monday, to “further expand control of the area.” One strike was said to have destroyed an Isis checkpoint while the other was “not successful.”

Obama has offered no timeframe for the length of his campaign against Isis. The US military has bombed over 90 targets attributed to Isis, including vehicle convoys, mobile artillery and fixed positions, since 8 August. Most of the strikes have come in the past few days, near the dam. The other strikes have occurred either to blunt an Isis advance on the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil or to lift an Isis siege on Mount Sinjar, where it chased thousands of Iraqi Yazidis whom it threatened to kill unless they converted to Islam. The US considers the siege broken.

Click to watch the report on Sky News: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE1JmpfJEVQ

***************

PM returns from holiday after video shows US reporter beheaded by Briton

David Cameron to hold meetings at Downing Street after Isis video appears to show British extremist killing James Foley

Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 11.02 BST   

David Cameron is breaking off from his holiday in Cornwall to return to London after the "shocking and depraved" apparent beheading of an American journalist by a British Islamist extremist, Downing Street said.

The announcement came after Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, acknowledged on Wednesday that a Briton appeared to be responsible for the killing, which was shown in a video released by Islamic State (Isis) militants.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "If true, the brutal murder of James Foley is shocking and depraved.

"The prime minister is returning to Downing Street this morning. He will meet with the foreign secretary and senior officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office and the agencies to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by Isil [Islamic State] terrorists."

Intelligence officials in the US and the UK have been studying the Isis video. According to one government source, "there is no serious suggestion that it's a fake".

On Monday, as his holiday in Cornwall began, Cameron insisted there was no need for him to be in London to manage the Isis crisis because he was always "within a few feet of a BlackBerry". But his decision to go ahead with his West Country break – his third holiday of the year, by some counts – has been criticised in the media.

Downing Street would not say when Cameron was planning to return to Cornwall to rejoin his family.

Earlier on Wednesday, during an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Hammond said that although further analysis of the Isis video would need to be carried out, the man shown committing the killing "on the face of it appears to have been a British person" and that this would not be surprising given the "significant number" of Britons fighting with Isis in Syria and Iraq.

Hammond said the involvement of the man, who spoke with a British accent, illustrated the extent to which Isis posed a direct threat to UK security.

He also said that the government would consider sending soldiers to Iraq to help train and build up the capacity of the Iraqi army to fight the Isis insurgency.

"This is a poison, a cancer, what's going on in Iraq and Syria, and it risks spreading to other parts of the international community and affecting us all directly," Hammond said.

The man shown being murdered in the Isis video is understood to be James Foley, a photojournalist who went missing in Syria in 2012. Hammond said the video appeared to be genuine, and that the killer could well be a Briton.

James Foley's executioner speaks in an English accent – video Link to video: James Foley's executioner speaks in an English accent

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/aug/20/james-foley-isis-executioner-speaks-english-accent-video

"We've been saying for a very long time that there are significant numbers of British nationals in Syria, increasingly in Iraq, and one of the reasons why what is going on in Syria and Iraq is a direct threat to our own national security is the presence of significant numbers of our nationals who may at some stage seek to come back to the UK with the skills, the tradecraft that they've learned working with these terrorist organisations, potentially posing a threat to our domestic security here in the UK," Hammond said.

Hammond said Britain was committed to helping the Iraqi government fight Isis and that, although the Iraqi government "has made it clear that it does not need and actually wouldn't welcome western boots on the ground", it did want help with surveillance and technological equipment.

Asked if Britain would send soldiers to Iraq to train Iraqi forces, Hammond said this was "certainly something that we would consider".

"The training doesn't have to be done in country," he said. "We're doing it with Libyans, we're bringing hundreds of Libyan soldiers over here and training them in training camps in the UK, but equally we could decide to put limited numbers of trainers into Baghdad for example.

"We could train Iraqi trainers to go out and train Iraqi security forces. We absolutely are prepared to consider requests for technical assistance, training support, advice, and so on."

Hammond said the British military had already provided surveillance support in connection with the recent humanitarian mission in Iraq and that "in principle" it could offer surveillance support in connection with the Iraqi army's fight against Isis.

He also refused to deny a suggestion that British special forces were already in Iraq, saying it was policy not to comment on special forces.

Hammond said that British security was threatened by Isis whether it failed in Iraq or succeeded. "If the Islamic State, so called, becomes established in an area of Syria and Iraq, it will undoubtedly use it for a base, for launching attacks on the west. It will undoubtedly send its fighters out to attack western targets," he said.

"Equally if it gets pushed back, some of these people will return to their countries of origin, not just the UK, all European countries, Australia, the US, other Arab countries. We will see these people going back and potentially carrying on their fight in our own homelands."

In his Today interview, recorded just two hours before Downing Street announced that Cameron was returning to London, Hammond defended the prime minister's decision to take a holiday. "We are all entitled to a break," he said. "We all operate a bit more effectively from having had one."

He also pointed out that Cameron was only "a couple of hundred miles down the road" from London.

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said the killing of Foley had "shocked and outraged" the world.

"Suggestions that the attack may have been carried out by a UK national are particularly concerning and the government must now work with international partners to establish the facts and uncover any possible information about the perpetrator," he said.

 14 
 on: Today at 05:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/19/2014 05:57 PM

Caliphate of Fear: The Curse of the Islamic State

By SPIEGEL Staff

Images of Yazidis fleeing parts of Iraq and Syria have shocked the world and the battle against the jihadists with the Islamic State has united Americans, Europeans, Kurds and Iranians. Can the Islamists be stopped?

In Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State's "caliphate" has already become a reality. All women in the city are required to wear the niqab veil and pants are banned. Thieves have their hands hacked off and opponents are publicly crucified or beheaded, with the images of these horrific acts then posted on social networks.

The few hair salons that are still open are required to black out the pictures of women on the packaging for hair dye solutions. Weddings are only permitted to take place without music. And at livestock markets, the hindquarters of goats and sheep must be covered in order to prevent men from viewing their genitalia and having uncomely thoughts.

Any person caught out on the street during the five daily prayer times is risking his or her life.

The jihadists with the Islamic State, or IS, are acting out their fantasies of omnipotence in the name of God. They're murdering, torturing and forcing families to give their daughters away for marriage to Islamist fighters coming in from abroad. One girl whose family agreed to marry her off took her own life.

In Syria, IS militants and their predecessors have killed countless people in recent years, and over 160,000 in total have died during the Syrian civil war. Yet it is only now that the world is waking up, now that the conflict has spilled into Iraq, where the Islamic State also appears to be spreading its tentacles without much resistance.

Pictures were needed in order for the international community to understand the scale of the horror unfolding in Iraq and just how inhumanely the Islamic State terrorist militia is acting. Images allowed the global community to become witnesses to the plight of the Yazidis, followers of one of the world's most obscure religions, as they were forced to flee into the mountains, begging for help as they died of thirst. In the eyes of the IS fanatics, the Yazidis are "devil worshippers," people who deserve to die.

It was only this threat of genocide that moved the global community to act. Countries around the world quickly united in the battle against IS, by far the world's most brutal, most successful -- and most sinister -- jihadist troop.

In recent weeks, IS fighters managed to drive out the peshmerga fighters of the Kurdish Autonomous Government of Iraq with disturbing ease. In some cases the Kurdish soldiers, previously considered the best Iraq has to offer, didn't even resist. The IS threat has even brought rapprochement between the peshmerga and the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), who had long been enemies.

A Common Enemy for the US and Iran

Further afield, the United States and Iran have likewise found a common enemy in the Islamic State. And within just a few weeks time, countries in the West have proven capable decisions that would have been inconceivable not long ago. European countries, for example, now want to deliver weapons to the Kurds, seeing them as the only reliable allies in the region. Meanwhile, the US, which withdrew its troops from Iraq just two years ago, saw no alternative to intervening in the new conflict with special forces and fighter jets.

Little could do more to underscore the failure of America's Iraq adventure than the bombing of US weapons systems by US fighter planes in northern Iraq in recent weeks. They also had to eliminate armored vehicles and mobile artillery units that they had once delivered to the Iraqi army -- and which fell into the hands of the Islamic State in June.

But the IS isn't just brutal, it is also sophisticated. Until the peshmerga regained the territory late last week, IS even temporarily had control of the Mosul dam, the largest rivers and, with them, large parts of Iraq's supplies of drinking water. And it still controls large stocks of wheat and important agricultural areas.

The Greatest Terrorist Threat Since al-Qaida

And so it is that the caliphate of the Islamic State suddenly appeared on the maps, a nightmarish realm that stretches from northeastern Syria deep into Iraq, led by a self-appointed caliph named Abu Baqr al-Baghdadi.

How could it have come to this?

In the past few years, the greatest terrorist threat since al-Qaida has slowly emerged. But the development was not unavoidable. There are two significant contributing factors that have allowed large parts of Iraq and Syria to descend into jihadist territory. One is the civil war in Syria, which enabled fighters from Iraq and the rest of the world to gain experience in war, it helped them find donors and it gave them a cause to fight for. The international community's delayed reaction in responding to the Syrian conflict also played a role.

But the origins of IS go back to the Iraqi civil war in the period that followed the US invasion in 2003. There's no way the organization could have grown as fast as it did without support from Iraqi Sunnis. For years, they were shunted aside by the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and many are still caught up in the nostalgic resentment of having lost the earlier supremacy in society they enjoyed during the era of Saddam Hussein, himself a Sunni.

After resisting the move bitterly, Maliki finally resigned from office last week. His designated successor, Haidar al-Abadi, is also a Shiite. Leaders of the country's Sunni tribes declared last week they would be willing to negotiate with him. Indeed, an understanding between the Shiites and Sunnis would be decisive in any effort to drive back the Islamic State. Still, that alone will not be enough.

"Unfortunately, the IS has been allowed to grow and develop to such an extent that any strategy to really counter it will have to take years and very significant resources," says Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution, who researches the group intensively in the Doha, Qatar office of the Washington-based think tank. He argues that military measures won't suffice for the task.

IS has an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 fighters in Syria and, with allied militias, more than 15,000 in Iraq, though such figures are imprecise. Those fighters include some 2,000 to 3,000 fighters believed to be of European origin.

When it conquered Mosul, IS gained access to almost a half-billion dollars in cash, making them independent of donations from Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the organization sells oil and gas from fields it has conquered, it controls water and electricity and it collects taxes.

IS even offers social security benefits to residents of areas under its control -- just like a real country, says Brookings' Lister. Whatever regions the IS captures, it simply continues paying local workers -- people like the employees at the Mosul dam or even those working in restaurants.

A Fanaticized World

But how are things looking inside the Islamic State? For three weeks, the journalist Medyan Dairieh was allowed to stay in Raqqa, the capital city of the caliphate. IS fighters themselves determined what he was allowed to see and what he was allowed to film. The result is a 45-minute film that sometimes seems like propaganda but which nevertheless provides the first real view of life inside the caliphate. It shows a world of fanatical people in which adolescents shout into the camera, declaring war on infidels.

The Islamic State even has a spokesman in Raqqa -- Abu Musa, a young man with a beard who has a penchant for wearing Ray Ban sunglasses. He uses his position to send a message to America, saying things like: "Don't be cowards who attack us with drones. Send your soldiers instead, the ones we already humiliated in Iraq."

Also visible in the video is a patrol of the Hisbah, the Islamic State's morals police. "Just try to find a person who is selling alcohol," boasts the head of the patrol. While driving by, he warns the husband of a fully veiled woman that she shouldn't lift her gown at all while walking.

The history of the organization that would later become IS began before the US invasion in Iraq. In the subsequent years, a Jordanian calling himself Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, began conducting a series of spectacular bombing attacks against Shiites in his effort to provoke a religious war.

Zarqawi officially closed ranks with al-Qaida. Before he was killed, al-Qaida leader Obama bin Laden even criticized the brutality of the terrorist group's Iraqi offshoot in a document that would emerge later. Even back then, Zarqawi's men unsettled their Sunni allies with absurd rules. These included, for example, bans on ice cream, which didn't even exist during the Prophet Muhammad's life, or the sale of cucumbers at markets because they could encourage prurient thoughts.

Before he was killed in a US air strike in 2006, Zarqawi fomented a civil war that still threatens to tear Iraq apart today. After his death, the organization renamed itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and lost much of its punch after the Americans began to form coalitions with Sunni tribes.

The Region's Strongest Militia

It was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the organization since 2010, who transformed IS into what it is today. IS expert Lister says he has introduced a more professional and methodical military approach, adding that Baghdadi adopted much of Zarqawi's approach but doubled its effectiveness. He also says that Baghdadi possesses a higher level of authority because, in contrast to men like bin Laden, he also has a religious education, with a PhD in Islamic Theology.

Still, he apparently doesn't control his military himself, instead relying on a leadership circle comprised largely of former officers and ex-officials from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. They are kept sealed off from day to day IS operations with fighters in the field only know their local "emir," who in turn only has ties to his provincial emir.

Observers today consider IS to be the region's strongest militia. But it took years for it to secure that position, a process that led from the beginnings of the Iraq war through the civil war in Syria almost a decade later.

Growing Support Abroad?

After the insurgency against Bashar Assad began in Syria in March 2011, the regime released many jihadists from high-security prisons who had previously fought in Iraq, a move meant to support Assad's claim that he was fighting against radical Islamists.

At the time, though, the opposition fight was largely being waged by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a conglomeration of army deserters and civilians. The FSA may not have been Islamic, but there was also little to it beyond a name. There were few overarching command structures and FSA never had the money or weapons needed to defeat Assad. The West was concerned that weapons might fall into the wrong hands if it supported FSA.

Today, it's not just in the United States that a debate is flaring over whether the West could have stopped IS if it had provided more concerted support to strengthen the moderate opposition at the right time.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who could become the Democratic Party's next presidential candidate, has been openly critical of Obama. His refusal to provide support to the opposition in Syria early on "left a big vacuum" that fostered the rise of IS, she argues.

So who's right? It's hard to say. Brookings expert Lister believes IS still would have been able to gain a foothold in Iraq, but that it would nevertheless have made sense to support the moderate rebels in Syria in the beginning in order to keep the IS at bay.

At some point in the summer of 2011, eight men crossed the border from Iraq into Syria. One was Abu Mohammad al-Golani. IS chief Baghdadi had dispatched him on a mission to establish another branch of al-Qaida in Syria, the Nusra Front, marking the start of the jihadist segment of the Syrian civil war.

Al-Golani wanted a departure from the extreme methods deployed by al-Qaida in Iraq and eschewed meting out brutal punishments. Nusra established itself quickly as the most effective forces in Syria and even became popular among the people. Its fighters delivered yeast to bakeries and distributed food provisions.

A Split Among Jihadists

But in April 2013, Baghdadi sought to win back control of his Syrian creation. He declared himself the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and Syria, which from that point on would carry the name Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But Nusra leader al-Golani rejected the demand and secured the support of the global head of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri. That marked that moment at which Baghdadi parted ways with al-Zawahiri and al-Qaida. Al-Nusra also split. Some of the fighters remained loyal to al-Golani and al-Qaida, while others, including most foreign fighters, defected to Baghdadi. Even back then, Baghdadi viewed himself as the head of a state and not just one militia leader among many. He even appointed himself the leader of all faithful.

In May 2013, ISIS conquered the city of Raqqa in Syria from Nusra and later turned it into its capital. Since then, the jihadists have been fanning out across northern Syria, nourished by a constant stream of new radicals from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Europe and even Indonesia.

The Islamists did little to combat the regime, instead picking fights with other rebel groups. So it came as little surprise when, in January, an alliance of opposition from almost every group drove the jihadists out of northwestern Syria within a matter of just weeks. It didn't last long. After regrouping, the IS returned and began a new offensive with weapons secured in Iraq.

In recent weeks, the jihadists focused mainly on seizing areas in northern Syria. IS fighters took control of several places west of the Euphrates River near the Turkish border. In doing so, they cut off rival fighters with the Free Syrian Army from important supply lines. The fighters were already under pressure in Aleppo, where they are facing off against troops loyal to Assad's regime. It's unlikely they'll be able to hold out for much longer.

IS Struggles to Gain Traction in Syria

Contrary to IS propaganda, it is in no way true that all Sunnis in Syria are welcoming the jihadists as liberators. There has, for example, been resistance to the new rulers in the Deir el-Zour province. The powerful Shaitat clan has also revolted against IS in several places.

There are even small signs of resistance in the IS stronghold of Raqqa. In mid-July, fundamentalists there condemned two women to death by stoning for alleged infidelity. Witnesses said that most of the residents ordered to assemble in Bajaa Park refused to take part in the stoning. The jihadists had to step in to do the job themselves.

Although IS has succeeded in attracting large numbers of Islamists in Iraq to its cause, it has failed to do so in Syria. Propaganda videos aimed at Syria mostly include men with North African or Saudi Arabian accents. They are at the top of the IS hierarchy and they are also the ones introducing Sharia courts in Syria.

That's one of the reasons social networks are so important for the Islamic State's propaganda efforts. IS supporters relish their reputation for brutality, tweeting photos of crucifixions and massacres. The group even publishes its own magazine in PDF format, with the aim of attracting additional fighters from around the world to the caliphate.

Support among European Radicals

And, with support apparently growing in Europe, it seems to be working. In recent weeks, Islamic State flags could be seen at protests in Paris and Brussels and last week, a flag was spotted flying outside a home in New Jersey. Meanwhile, on busy Oxford Street in London, Islamists were handing out leaflets about the Islamic State, rejoicing that the caliphate is here and calling for people to migrate to the "Khilafah," the spelling used by IS for the caliphate. Some fanatics seem to regard the IS fighters with pop star-like status.

It's not just men who are rushing off to join the caliphate. Fanatic women seeking jihadist husbands are also making their way. The person behind the "Umm Layth" blog presents herself as a British immigrant to the caliphate. On it, she posts photos of herself and her "sisters" -- covered in black, of course -- and calls on readers to follow in her footsteps to the Islamic State, asking: "How can you not want to produce offspring who may be, God willing, part of the great Islamic revival?"

She also offers fashion tips for women who have already been convinced to make the trip. "There are many materialistic things that can be found here," she writes. "However, it is better for you to bring clothes, shoes etc. from the West. There are clothes here, but ... the quality is really bad."

Arrests in Germany

It is believed that several hundred fighters have made their way from Germany to Syria. SPIEGEL has obtained information indicating that the Federal Prosecutor's Office is investigating more than two dozen cases of suspected members or supporters of the Islamic State, including a number of people who hold German citizenship. Prosecutors have likewise charged several for supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

It appears that IS is also dispatching experienced campaigners from the Middle East back to Germany in order to raise money, gather materials needed for the armed conflict and even to help launch jihad in Europe.

On Nov. 13, 2013, investigators detained three suspected Islamists at a rest stop along the autobahn near Stuttgart. They were carrying medication, camouflage clothing, night-vision devices and €6,250 ($8,329) in cash and they appeared to be making their way to Syria. At least one, a Lebanese man, had previously received training in a camp. One of his helpers was a German citizen.

At the end of May, the Federal Prosecutor's Office placed charges against the three men, and on June 6 it pressed charges against an additional man, a 20-year-old German. Investigators believe he also went through six months of weapons training in Syria. After he returned to Germany, police arrested him in Frankfurt. He is suspected of preparing a "serious act of violent subversion."

So far, the Islamic State has had no real interest in conducting any kind of spectacular attack in the West. But, as experts like Charles Lister note, that could be one of the next steps. After all, IS has essentially succeeded in doing everything al-Qaida has done with the noted exception of carrying out a foreign attack.

By Markus Feldenkirchen, Christoph Reuter, Mathieu von Rohr, Jörg Schindler, Samiha Shafy and Christoph Sydow

 15 
 on: Today at 05:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
25 Turkish police officers arrested amid Erdoğan wiretapping scandal

Swoop in cities including Istanbul and Izmir during investigation linked to government corruption claims

Agence France-Presse in Ankara
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 August 2014 13.18 BST   

Twenty-five police officers have been arrested by Turkish authorities in the latest nationwide swoop to detain suspects alleged to have illegally wiretapped key government figures, including the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reports said.

Police carried out raids in 12 cities, including Istanbul and Izmir, as part of an investigation into allegations of espionage and illegal wiretapping, the private Doğan news agency reported.

The swoop on Tuesday was the third such roundup since July in a probe that has resulted in dozens of arrests and raised tensions as Erdoğan prepares for his inauguration as president on 28 August.

The probe is linked to last year's corruption allegations against Erdoğan and his inner circle – vehemently denied by the premier – that were based on wiretapped telephone conversations.

In a statement, the Izmir governor's office said the arrests centred on wiretapping allegations involving the Izmir police department between 2010 and 2013. The suspects were facing a series of charges, from forming a crime ring to forging official documents and violation of privacy, Doğan said.

Among the detainees was the former Izmir police intelligence deputy head, Hasan Ali Okan. He was removed from his position after what appeared to be a broader government purge of Turkey's police in the aftermath of the corruption claims in December.

Erdoğan's government has embarked on a widespread inquiry targeting the police and judiciary, believed to be filled with loyalists of the US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gülen, whom it blames for the allegations.

Gülen, a former ally of Erdoğan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP), has become his arch-foe since the scandal.

As with the two previous raids, the details of the swoop were leaked by a shadowy Twitter user named Fuat Avni before it was carried out. The government has repeatedly tried to block his account.

 16 
 on: Today at 05:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Lessons from Denmark: how district heating could improve energy security

Advocates of district heating schemes say they reduce fuel imports, lower carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty

Frederika Whitehead   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 11.25 BST   
       
When the oil crisis hit in the winter of 1973 the price per barrel quadrupled, and countries that were heavily dependent on oil were in dire straits. Denmark was one such nation: more than 90% of its energy came from imported oil. Danish citizens shivered in their homes while factories were forced into temporary shutdowns, alternate street lights were switched off and driving was banned on a Sunday.

After that long and painful winter Denmark vowed to ween itself off oil imports, determined to improve its energy security. Ever since it has invested heavily in renewables, energy efficiency and “district heating”.

District heating is exactly as it sounds: colossal boilers provide heat for entire districts through a network of heating pipes. While in the UK households buy gas, which is piped into individual boilers to provide heating, Danish neighbourhoods do away with individual boilers and instead have their hot water piped directly into their houses from one larger, and much more efficient, shared boiler.

What is particularly clever about district heat networks is that they also capture and redistribute heat that would otherwise be wasted. The surplus heat produced by electricity generating stations, factories, server farms and public transport networks is funnelled into the network, eliminating waste, lowering carbon emissions, lowering fuel consumption and saving everybody money.

Fast forward 40 years from the original oil crisis and district heating networks provide heat to a whopping 63% of Danish households. Denmark has become a net exporter of oil and expects to remain so until at least 2018.

Here in the UK, a 2013 report by the engineers Buro Happold found that there is enough heat wasted in London alone to meet 70% of the city’s heating needs. If all the heat that is wasted were captured and put into district heating it would make a dramatic difference to our fuel bills, fuel poverty, carbon emissions and fuel security.

Having harnessed all the waste heat, the remaining requirement can be met by combined heat and power stations (CHPs). These are 20-60% more efficient than standard power plants because, as well as supplying electricity, they also provide heat. Standard power stations are only 30-50% efficient because the heat produced when creating electricity is wasted. In a CHP station the heat released during electricity generation is captured and used to heat homes and offices, making CHP power stations between 70-90% efficient.

Denmark has built an enormous network of pipes under its towns and cities, collecting waste heat from factories, incinerators, transport systems, and combining it with heat generated from solar thermal energy plants, wind turbines, and conventional gas and coal power stations, to produce a low cost and highly efficient heat supply.

Britain was far less affected by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979; we had recently discovered North Sea oil and gas. So while Denmark has spent the past 40 years developing a system that captures and harnesses waste heat and puts it into a grid with heat from CHP, Britain has spent the past four decades developing its gas grid. Now the North Sea reserves are dwindling and we are increasingly reliant of imported gas: in 2012 UK gas imports reached their highest since 1976 at 43%.

So the British government is trying to increase the number of households connected to district heating networks. The Department for Environment and Climate Change (Decc) would like to see the number of connected properties increased from a paltry 2% (just under 200,000 nationwide) to 20% by 2030 and 40% by 2050. To facilitate this, Decc has made £7m available to councils to carry out feasibility studies for district heating systems.

More than 50 UK local authorities have taken the government up on its offer. Between them they have been awarded £4m and there is £3m remaining in the pot.

The Greater London Authority has set a target that 25% of its energy supply will come from decentralised sources by 2025. The first step towards this was creating a map of London’s heat resources. The map shows where London’s power plants are, where its energy from waste plants is, its CHP sites and the proposed sites for heating networks.

The regeneration of the area around Kings Cross station in London will see 2,000 new homes built – all of which will be connected to district heating. Another 10,000 homes to be built on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will also benefit. Another scheme in Pimlico is already up and running, supplying heat to 3,000 homes.

Outside the capital, Sheffield, Leicester, Nottingham and Bristol are also investing in district heating. Bristol is developing the infrastructure in the local enterprise zone around Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Bristol’s assistant mayor, Gus Hoyt, sees it as “another way to entice people to Bristol, straight away we can say that their heating bills will be lower if they are connected to our district heating scheme”.

He says that, in return for the initial outlay on infrastructure spending, the city will see heating bills fall for local civic buildings, the hospital, the university and large swathes of social housing in the city centre. “One of our main drivers, other than the green agenda, is saving tenants money and reducing fuel poverty. Our council tenants will pay less and get renewably sourced energy at a competitive price,” he added.

Tim Rotheray, director of the combined heat and power association, says his organisation has never been busier: “Of late central government and local authorities have become really enthusiastic about this. They have begun to realise that this is something that has been working well across Europe for decades.”

 17 
 on: Today at 05:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Lessons from Denmark: how district heating could improve energy security

Advocates of district heating schemes say they reduce fuel imports, lower carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty

Frederika Whitehead   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 11.25 BST   
       
When the oil crisis hit in the winter of 1973 the price per barrel quadrupled, and countries that were heavily dependent on oil were in dire straits. Denmark was one such nation: more than 90% of its energy came from imported oil. Danish citizens shivered in their homes while factories were forced into temporary shutdowns, alternate street lights were switched off and driving was banned on a Sunday.

After that long and painful winter Denmark vowed to ween itself off oil imports, determined to improve its energy security. Ever since it has invested heavily in renewables, energy efficiency and “district heating”.

District heating is exactly as it sounds: colossal boilers provide heat for entire districts through a network of heating pipes. While in the UK households buy gas, which is piped into individual boilers to provide heating, Danish neighbourhoods do away with individual boilers and instead have their hot water piped directly into their houses from one larger, and much more efficient, shared boiler.

What is particularly clever about district heat networks is that they also capture and redistribute heat that would otherwise be wasted. The surplus heat produced by electricity generating stations, factories, server farms and public transport networks is funnelled into the network, eliminating waste, lowering carbon emissions, lowering fuel consumption and saving everybody money.

Fast forward 40 years from the original oil crisis and district heating networks provide heat to a whopping 63% of Danish households. Denmark has become a net exporter of oil and expects to remain so until at least 2018.

Here in the UK, a 2013 report by the engineers Buro Happold found that there is enough heat wasted in London alone to meet 70% of the city’s heating needs. If all the heat that is wasted were captured and put into district heating it would make a dramatic difference to our fuel bills, fuel poverty, carbon emissions and fuel security.

Having harnessed all the waste heat, the remaining requirement can be met by combined heat and power stations (CHPs). These are 20-60% more efficient than standard power plants because, as well as supplying electricity, they also provide heat. Standard power stations are only 30-50% efficient because the heat produced when creating electricity is wasted. In a CHP station the heat released during electricity generation is captured and used to heat homes and offices, making CHP power stations between 70-90% efficient.

Denmark has built an enormous network of pipes under its towns and cities, collecting waste heat from factories, incinerators, transport systems, and combining it with heat generated from solar thermal energy plants, wind turbines, and conventional gas and coal power stations, to produce a low cost and highly efficient heat supply.

Britain was far less affected by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979; we had recently discovered North Sea oil and gas. So while Denmark has spent the past 40 years developing a system that captures and harnesses waste heat and puts it into a grid with heat from CHP, Britain has spent the past four decades developing its gas grid. Now the North Sea reserves are dwindling and we are increasingly reliant of imported gas: in 2012 UK gas imports reached their highest since 1976 at 43%.

So the British government is trying to increase the number of households connected to district heating networks. The Department for Environment and Climate Change (Decc) would like to see the number of connected properties increased from a paltry 2% (just under 200,000 nationwide) to 20% by 2030 and 40% by 2050. To facilitate this, Decc has made £7m available to councils to carry out feasibility studies for district heating systems.

More than 50 UK local authorities have taken the government up on its offer. Between them they have been awarded £4m and there is £3m remaining in the pot.

The Greater London Authority has set a target that 25% of its energy supply will come from decentralised sources by 2025. The first step towards this was creating a map of London’s heat resources. The map shows where London’s power plants are, where its energy from waste plants is, its CHP sites and the proposed sites for heating networks.

The regeneration of the area around Kings Cross station in London will see 2,000 new homes built – all of which will be connected to district heating. Another 10,000 homes to be built on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will also benefit. Another scheme in Pimlico is already up and running, supplying heat to 3,000 homes.

Outside the capital, Sheffield, Leicester, Nottingham and Bristol are also investing in district heating. Bristol is developing the infrastructure in the local enterprise zone around Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Bristol’s assistant mayor, Gus Hoyt, sees it as “another way to entice people to Bristol, straight away we can say that their heating bills will be lower if they are connected to our district heating scheme”.

He says that, in return for the initial outlay on infrastructure spending, the city will see heating bills fall for local civic buildings, the hospital, the university and large swathes of social housing in the city centre. “One of our main drivers, other than the green agenda, is saving tenants money and reducing fuel poverty. Our council tenants will pay less and get renewably sourced energy at a competitive price,” he added.

Tim Rotheray, director of the combined heat and power association, says his organisation has never been busier: “Of late central government and local authorities have become really enthusiastic about this. They have begun to realise that this is something that has been working well across Europe for decades.”

 18 
 on: Today at 05:37 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

For Pope Francis to talk about mortality and retirement is entirely in character

As the pope contemplates his future, the big question is how much of the excellent work he has done will survive him

• Pope Francis says he expects to live two or three more years

Andrew Brown   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 09.30 BST          

When Pope Francis tells journalists that he may be dead in three years’ time or – better yet – retired, the first thing to consider is that he’s telling the truth. He is 77 and has only one lung. He’s doing a job that would strain someone of any age and killed one of his recent predecessors within six weeks. And he has taken on a huge agenda of internal reform as well as what might be called his figureheading duties, such as the trip round South Korea from which he has just returned.

The shock, then, lies not in what he said but that he said it at all. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came like a thunderclap, not least because such a profound traditionalist did something that no pope had done for 600 years. There had of course been a swirl of rumours saying he was past it and sick of the job, but poisonous mutterings swirl around the Vatican like malarial mosquitoes, although they’re harder to eradicate.

Before Benedict, Pope John Paul had been through a prolonged and agonising battle with Parkinson’s disease, which the official machinery denied and hushed up at every turn even though it was obvious to anyone who saw him. So for Francis to talk openly, and with colloquial realism, about his health is both a breach of recent practice and entirely in character. It will immediately invite speculation about his successor – almost all of it uninformed. After three non-Italian popes, two of whom were unexpected, we can safely say that no one understands the College of Cardinals.

What is worth asking is how much he has accomplished already and how much of that will survive him. Underneath the excellent job he has done to restore the image of the church there has been another agenda – to clean up the Vatican and reform its bureaucracy. Some of this has already borne fruit. The Vatican bank has been thoroughly purged, as has its customer list. Five thousand accounts have been closed one way or another and €44m (around £35m) has been withdrawn from its deposits in the process. This started under his predecessor, but Francis drove it through.

Much less is known about the progress of his “counter curia”, a commission of eight cardinals from around the world, ideologically disparate but united by administrative competence and hostility to the central bureaucracy of the Vatican. On their efforts depend his chances of making the curia more responsive and less Italian. In the long term, this will matter as much as anything else he has undertaken.

Over the next two years the big domestic problem facing him will be the church’s fractious and sluggish attempts to come to terms with the prevalence of divorce among ordinary and otherwise faithful Catholics in the developed world. Contraception doesn’t matter, since no one takes any notice of the official teaching. Homosexuality is much too divisive globally for any pope to touch for a while. Married clergy, while an obvious and necessary reform, are on hold for the moment. But accepting some remarried Catholics to communion is necessary if they are to transmit the faith to their children. At the same time, it is meeting some fairly hysterical resistance from reactionaries, who claim, truthfully, that Jesus was sternly opposed to divorce.

Two church councils, or synods, will consider the question this autumn and next. If they can solve it without splitting the church, Francis can retire in the consciousness that he has done an excellent job – and, by retiring, set another precedent the church will need.

 19 
 on: Today at 05:34 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Mausoleum of Augustus stands derelict on anniversary of emperor's death

Events to commemorate death 2,000 years ago of arguably ancient Rome's greatest leader dismissed by critics as dismal

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 19 August 2014 18.09 BST      

Standing on a wall in central Rome and peering through the railings, Mario Adobati was not happy. The businessman and his family had come all the way from Bergamo, in northern Italy, to the capital on Tuesday to take part in celebrations marking the 2,000th anniversary of Emperor Augustus's death. Understandably, he had come to the monument that arguably the greatest of ancient Rome's leaders had built as a tomb for the imperial family, where Augustus's ashes were housed before being pillaged by rampaging Visigoths in 410.

But Adobati's hopes of being able to enter the Mausoleum of Augustus were to be dashed. Except for a lucky few – 90 people, to be precise – who managed to get tickets for three guided tours in the morning, the tomb was in its usual state of eerie quiet and abandon. Despite efforts to revamp it, the site has remained almost completely off-limits for years.

"I'm disappointed," said Adobati. "It really pains me to see such a historic monument in a state of neglect like this, and I do not understand how our public administration is not capable of doing something about it. You [journalists] should write about it."

If he had picked up a copy of La Stampa before setting off, Adobati would have seen that the media were indeed becoming exercised about the understated way in which contemporary Rome has chosen to mark such an important anniversary. "Rome and Augustus: the dismal celebration," the Turin-based newspaper declared on its front page.

"It is certainly not for us … to discuss the artistic and academic range of the celebrations," wrote the journalist Mattia Feltri. "But as a tourist attraction, or as a simple city occasion, it's objectively pretty shameful. Can you imagine what would have happened in Tokyo or New York or London … if they'd had an anniversary of this kind at their disposition?"

It would be unfair to discount what Rome has organised to mark Augustus's passing. There are several events and exhibitions taking place around the capital, from a summer-long narrated light show at the forum named after him to a musical reworking of ancient Roman poetry at Trajan's Markets.

More than 160,000 people visited an exhibition devoted to Augustus at the Scuderie del Quirinale gallery, which ran from October to February. And on Tuesday night the Ara Pacis museum, which houses a magnificent altar built to honour Augustus's triumphant return from Hispania and Gaul, will be illuminated in its original colours.

But the sum of all these parts is, some say, underwhelming. There is a decided absence of buzz. A lack of funds in the cash-strapped city has undoubtedly played a role. But, according to Francesco Rutelli, a former culture minister and mayor of Rome, there is more to the "missed opportunity" than that.

"The first [reason] is that there is a kind of unuttered self-censorship which stems from Augustus's preceding bimillennium, that of his birth, which fell in 1937," he told La Stampa. "Benito Mussolini took it as an opportunity to promote and celebrate himself and fascism and the reborn empire."

The second reason, Rutelli added, was Italy's political discontinuity: the country has had five culture ministers in three and a half years.

Whatever the reasons, the result is plain to see in the state of the Mausoleum. Built in 28BC as a suitably glorious tomb for Augustus and his relatives, with pink granite obelisks, golden urns and a bronze statue of the emperor on top, it has suffered innumerable indignities ever since the sack of Rome.

Now, fenced off and often used as a dumping site for litter, and even as an unofficial public lavatory, it goes almost unnoticed by the diners who crowd into the restaurants of the square around it.

The city council had long been aware of the bimillennium, and tried to jump-start a restoration plan by appealing for a private sponsor, as happened with the Colosseum and the Trevi fountain, which are both being restored by elite fashion brands. But no one came forward to bring the mausoleum back to life.

A €2m wedge of central government funding unblocked last year will enable the restoration to begin, with another €2.3m expected to come from the city's coffers. But another €7.7m will be needed to complete it. A separate €17m plan to pedestrianise the surrounding piazza should begin next year, a spokesman for Rome city council said.

It may therefore be some time before Adobati, or anyone else, can experience the wonders of Augustus's mausoleum. But the Lombard, for one, was employing a healthy dose of stoicism a la romana. "We'll go and eat a gelato," he said, stepping away from the railings and smiling. "Instead of crying or mocking, I'd always prefer to go and eat a gelato."

 20 
 on: Today at 05:29 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Russia Stages New Military Exercises

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 August 2014, 09:46

The Russian defense ministry said Wednesday it was conducting fresh military exercises in the south of the country as fighting intensified between rebels and government forces in Ukraine.

The major test of long-range anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems will take place at the Ashuluk base in Russia's southern Astrakhan region, several hundred kilometers (miles) from the fighting in eastern Ukraine, a spokesman told Interfax news agency.

"Today there will be around 20 launches of S-300 and S-400 rockets. The surface-to-air missile systems should provide a massive strike on the hypothetical enemy, destroying high-altitude, low-altitude and ballistic targets," the agency quoted Colonel Igor Klimov as saying.

He said the exercise would simulate a possible air and missile attack, and involve more than 800 soldiers and 200 pieces of military equipment.

The surface-to-air missile systems used in the training are different from the medium-range Buk system believed to have been used by pro-Russian separatists to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 on board.

The West believes the Buk system was supplied by Moscow, although Russia denies this and has blamed Ukraine for the tragedy.

Russia has conducted numerous military exercises this summer which the West has criticized as intending to intimidate Ukraine.

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