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 21 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:28 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Syrian civil war death toll rises to more than 191,300, according to UN

Human rights office says figure includes additional killings from earlier periods as well as deaths since last report in July 2013

Associated Press in Geneva
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 11.22 BST   

The death toll from Syria's civil war has risen to more than 191,300 people, the United Nations has said.

The figures for March 2011 to April 2014 are the first to issued by the UN's human rights office since July 2013, when it documented more than 100,000 killed.

The UN's top human rights official, Navi Pillay, who oversees the Geneva-based office, said the figures are so much higher because they include additional killings from earlier periods, as well as deaths since the last report. The exact figure of confirmed deaths is 191,369, Pillay said.

"As the report explains, tragically it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict," she said.

Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, criticised what she described as the world's "paralysis" over the fighting in Syria, which "has dropped off the international radar" in the face of so many other armed conflicts.

In January, her office said it had stopped updating the death toll, blaming a lack of access in Syria and its inability to verify source material. It was unclear why it has released new figures now.

The UN also would not endorse anyone else's count, including the widely quoted figures from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has closely counted the deaths since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. On Thursday, the observatory said the number of deaths has reached 180,000.

 22 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Singapore, Australia to Boost Intelligence Sharing on Jihadis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 August 2014, 11:49

Australia and Singapore vowed Friday to enhance intelligence sharing in the face of growing fears about the threat posed by jihadist citizens returning home after fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Ministers from both countries warned of the rising risk posed by the returning fighters who are radicalised and have developed sophisticated skills to carry out terror attacks.

"In this context of counter-terrorism and counter radicalisation... we felt that we could exchange more information because these threats if they materialise will affect all citizens of all races and all religions," Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said at a joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Senior Australian government officials led by Bishop are in Singapore for bilateral meetings.

Bishop said Canberra is "also in discussions with our counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines as this is not an issue that is isolated".

"If these foreign fighters as they are called, come back to Australia, come back to our region, then they pose a threat," she said.

"They are hardened, experienced extremists who have undertaken in a number of instances, terrorist activities overseas," she added.

Australia's assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert said the enhanced information sharing with Singapore will cover "the areas of terrorism, extremism, foreign fighters and the growth of homegrown extremism".

The United States and Australia this month agreed to take concerns about jihadist foreign fighters in the Islamic State terror group to the United Nations.

The group has overrun parts of Syria and Iraq and have declared a Muslim caliphate in those areas.

As many as 150 Australians are said to be fighting alongside the group overseas, including at least one Sydney man and his young son who have posed for photos with a severed head.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government is hardening laws to make it more difficult for citizens to travel from Australia to fight in the Middle East, and easier to arrest them on their return.

Singapore in July said it is aware of two Singaporeans currently fighting in Syria along with their families.

Authorities in October 2012 detained a man who attempted to travel to Syria to join the jihadists, while two others have had their movements restricted after their attempts to contact the militant groups.

Neighbouring Malaysia has detained 19 Islamic State-inspired militants who had allegedly plotted to bomb pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of beer producer Carlsberg.

In Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation, authorities estimate that 60 of its citizens have joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The deputy chief of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, Ayob Khan Mydin, told Agence France Presse on Tuesday that the detained Malaysian suspects and their supporters had visions of establishing a hardline Islamic caliphate spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.

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Australian Government Defends Detaining Asylum-seeker Children

by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 August 2014, 09:02

Australia's immigration minister Friday strongly defended his government's policy of detaining asylum-seeker children in camps, saying it was "effective" in deterring others from boarding boats destined for its shores.

Scott Morrison, who was fronting an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, said Canberra's tough immigration policies were helping prevent asylum-seekers from dying during the perilous boat journey from Asia.

"I saw too many children die in the sea not to pursue the policies I am pursuing," he said during a hearing that saw some heated exchanges over the camps' conditions.

"The voiceless in this debate are the ones that are at the bottom of the ocean and who are in camps all around the world which I am now very pleased are getting places under our (immigration) program."

The minister said Tuesday he expected to release some 150 children aged under 10 from mainland detention centers, as well as a "large number" of the 1,547 in community detention in Australia.

But children held on offshore facilities on Christmas Island and Nauru who arrived after July 19, 2013 are excluded under Canberra's tough immigration policy.

Under the policy, the asylum-seekers are prevented from being resettled in Australia regardless of whether they are judged to be genuine refugees. They are instead kept at the offshore centers for processing or resettlement.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp, said monthly data showed the average length of time children were detained in camps had tripled to 349 days since the current conservative government came to power in September.

Morrison blamed the opposition Labor Party and Greens for delays in processing refugee claims for the length of detention.

He also disputed remarks by the Commission's president, Gillian Triggs, likening the camps to prisons.

When asked if he accepted that detention was "currently doing harm and damage to the children detained", he said: "This is why I am keen to see as few children in detention as possible."

The inquiry previously heard that children held on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, were plagued by despair and suffering symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a statement at the start of the hearing, Morrison said there was no decision he could take under his immigration portfolio that was "not free of moral burden".

According to immigration figures ending July 2014, 588 children are in detention centers, including 148 on Christmas Island. Some 124 others are housed in residential or transit accommodation on the Australian mainland, while 183 are kept on Nauru.

Under the government's hardline policy, only one boatload of asylum-seekers has reached the Australian mainland since December. Before this, boats were arriving almost daily, with hundreds of people dying en route.

 23 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Think-tank: New N. Korean Launch Site Near Completion

by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 August 2014, 07:03

North Korea will be able to test longer-range rockets at its new launch site before the end of this year, a U.S. think-tank has said.

A major construction program has been under way at the North's Sohae Satellite Launching Station since mid-2013, focused on upgrading facilities to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads.

Satellite images taken this month indicate that several significant construction projects there are nearing completion despite heavy rain this summer, the U.S.-Korea institute at Johns Hopkins University said in a post dated Thursday.

"The effort under way since late last year -- to upgrade the gantry tower and launch pad -- that will enable the North Koreans to test space launch vehicles with greater ranges and carry larger payloads than the Unha rocket fired in 2012 should be finished by fall," it said.

"As a result, the North will be able to conduct new launches from this site before the end of the year should it decide to do so."

There is little doubt that North Korea has an active ballistic missile development programme, but it remains unclear how much progress it has made.

Development of a working ICBM that could reach the continental United States would bring the North's regular nuclear strike warnings to a whole new level.

Last month, the same U.S. think-tank said North Korea might be wrapping up engine trials on an intercontinental ballistic missile, citing satellite images.

"If the engine tests are concluded, the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile", it said.

It stressed, however, that it was unclear just how successful the tests had been.

The KN-08 was first unveiled at a military parade in April 2012, but many analysts dismissed the models on show as mock-ups.

In December the same year, Pyongyang demonstrated its rocket capabilities by sending a satellite into orbit on a multi-stage launch vehicle.

But it has yet to conduct a test that would show it has mastered the re-entry technology required for an effective ICBM.

 24 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Border dispute in Assam forces 10,000 Indians to flee homes

At least 15 killed in attacks by villagers from neighbouring state of Nagaland as violence flares up in conflict over land

Agence France-Presse
The Guardian, Thursday 21 August 2014 20.27 BST   

An estimated 10,000 people have fled their homes in north-east India as violence surged over a border dispute that has left at least 15 people dead.

Residents of remote Assam have sought shelter in makeshift camps set up by the state government after gunmen from neighbouring Nagaland launched attacks from across the border, a leading official said on Tuesday.

"About 10,000 people were rendered homeless after unidentified gunmen from the Nagaland side attacked Assam villagers and set ablaze hundreds of houses forcing them to flee," chief minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters in Assam's main city of Guwahati.

Gogoi held crisis talks with his Nagaland counterpart and national junior home minister Kiren Rijiju on Thursday over the violence which erupted between the villagers this month.

Clashes have erupted periodically between residents of villages straddling the two states over grabbing land along the border, since the creation of Nagaland in the 1960s.

Three people died when police fired on hundreds demonstrating on Wednesday in Assam's Golaghat district against perceived government inaction over the violence.

"A violent mob numbering about 4,000 armed with crude implements were on a rampage," Assam police chief Khagen Sharma said.

"To control we first resorted to baton charge, tear gas shelling, and finally opened fire in which three people were killed," he told reporters, adding that about a dozen others were injured.

The initial violence started on August 12 when the Nagaland villagers allegedly attacked the Assamese who retaliated, with clashes leaving at least 12 people dead, an Assamese students' group said.

"We have confirmed reports of 12 deaths so far in the August 12 incident and have their names and other details although the government is putting the death toll at nine," Monowar Hussain, leader of the All Assam Students' Union, told AFP.

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India minister condemned for calling Delhi gang-rape a 'small incident'

Victim's family express disbelief and women's rights activists criticise Arun Jaitley for saying the attack led to tourism losses

Anu Anand in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 11.48 BST   

India's finance minister has sparked outrage by referring to the gang-rape and death of a young physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012 as a "small" incident that has cost the country billions of dollars in tourism.

Arun Jaitley, who holds two cabinet posts and is one of India's most senior leaders, was speaking to a gathering of state tourism ministers on Thursday.

"One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised [the] world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of lower tourism," he said.

The parents of the 23-year-old victim, who was repeatedly raped by six men on a moving bus, sexually assaulted with an iron rod, thrown from the vehicle naked and later died from her injuries, expressed their disbelief at the comments.

"An honest citizen lost her life, isn't that a loss to the nation?" asked her father.

"I feel sad and in pain after hearing these words," her mother told the ANI news agency. "When they wanted votes, they used my daughter's name to criticise the last government. Now they're in power, instead of doing something, they've called her ordeal 'small' and have revealed their own small-mindedness to the world."

The victim cannot be named under Indian law but she has been nicknamed Nirbhaya or "the fearless one" by the public.

Her death triggered nationwide protests and led to changes in India's outdated rape laws. But Jaitley's comments were the latest in a series by politicians which appeared to underscore that leaders see sexual violence as an image problem rather than a fundamental human rights issue as well as a law and order responsibility.

In recent months, politicians have said rapes happen "accidentally", that sometimes rape was "right" and that "boys make mistakes". Other Indian politicians have blamed miniskirts, spicy food and creeping westernisation for sexual violence.

Many women's rights activists criticised Jaitley's remarks.

"No rape is 'small'," tweeted Kavita Krishnan, a leftwing leader and one of India's most prominent voices on women's rights. "Each rape is shameful coz it violates women's rights not coz it affects tourism!"

"I think the problem here is to actually introspect and ask why it is that Indian society has failed to relate to women with dignity and respect," Vrinda Grover, a lawyer and human rights activist, told the Headlines Today TV channel.

India's Press Information Bureau later excised the word "small" in its official account of Jaitley's comments, leading to further controversy. The finance minister denied on Friday that he was referring to any specific incident.

"I regret that some word that I used was construed as insensitive, that was never my intention," Jaitley told the NDTV news channel. "I have always been very outspoken about issues relating to crimes against women. I am very sensitive to these issues myself."

His comments came a few days after India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, appealed to the nation during his first Independence Day speech to keep a closer eye on their sons, rather than blaming their daughters for sexual crimes.

Jaitley did not address the controversy further via his Twitter account, whose banner states, "High growth rate, high revenue generation, greater investments is the way forward [SIC]."

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India blocks release of Indira Gandhi assassination film over unrest fears

Kaum De Heere glorifies two Sikh bodyguards who killed prime minister and could spark violent protests, says certification board

Associated Press in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 10.02 BST   

India has blocked the release of a film about the assassination of Indira Gandhi, saying it glorifies her killers and could trigger violent protests.

India's film classification board said on Friday the film glorified the two Sikh bodyguards who killed the then prime minister to avenge her suppression of an insurgency that culminated in an army assault on the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine.

The film Kaum De Heere, or Diamonds of the Community, was scheduled to be released across northern India on Friday.

The classification board chief, Leela Samson, said panel members saw the film and decided it could not be released as it posed a threat to public order.

India's home ministry had expressed concern about a clearance earlier given to the film and had asked the panel to review it, Samson said. "We saw the film and decided it could not be released as it was due to fears that it would lead to disruption of public order.

"The film is double trouble. It glorifies Indira Gandhi's assassins who took the law into their own hands and it glorifies the hanging of the two men."

The film deals with the insurgency that gripped the northern Indian state of Punjab through the late 1970s and early 1980s when Sikh militants demanded a separate Sikh nation.

In June 1984, Gandhi ordered the Indian army to flush out hundreds of heavily armed Sikh separatists barricaded inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The attack outraged Sikhs and led to a deadly breakdown in communal relations.

Later that year, Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards, and the country was swept by a wave of rioting which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Sikhs.

Officials said the recent arrest of India's chief film censor on accusations that he solicited bribes to speed the clearance of films drew attention to the clearance given to Kaum De Heere.

The chief executive of the classification board, Rakesh Kumar, was arrested on Tuesday after a sting operation in which two of his associates sought 70,000 rupees (£700) on his behalf to speed up the censor's clearance for a film.

During questioning, Kumar revealed that he had accepted a bribe of 100,000 rupees from the makers of Kaum De Heere to approve its censor certification.

The film's producer Pardeep Bansal and its director Ravinder Ravi have denied the charges.

Leaders of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata party and the main opposition Congress party have called for the film to be banned, saying it would offend people's religious and community feelings.

 25 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:17 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Global warming slowdown answer lies in depths of Atlantic, study finds

Excess heat being stored hundreds of metres down in Atlantic and Southern oceans – not Pacific as previously thought

Adam Vaughan   
The Guardian, Thursday 21 August 2014 21.35 BST      

The key to the slowdown in global warming in recent years could lie in the depths of the Atlantic and Southern Oceans where excess heat is being stored – not the Pacific Ocean as has previously been suggested, according to new research.

But the finding suggests that a naturally occurring ocean cycle burying the heat will flip in around 15 years’ time, causing global temperature rises to accelerate again.

The slowdown of average surface temperature rises in the last 15 years after decades of rapid warming has been seized on by climate change sceptics and has puzzled scientists, who have hypothesised that everything from volcanic eruptions and sulphur from Chinese power stations to heat being trapped deep in the oceans could be the cause. Several studies have focused on the Pacific as potentially playing a major role.

The new study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, concludes that the Pacific alone cannot explain the warming “hiatus” and that much of the heat being trapped by greenhouse gases at record levels in the atmosphere is being sunk hundreds of metres down in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans.

Ka-Kit Tung, author of the paper and University of Washington professor, said: “The finding is a surprise, since the current theories had pointed to the Pacific Ocean as the culprit for hiding heat. But the data are quite convincing and they show otherwise.”

“We are not downplaying the role of the Pacific. They are both going on [the oceans having an effect on temperatures]; one is short term [the Pacific], one is long term [the Atlantic],” he told the Guardian.

A shift in the salinity of the north Atlantic triggered the effect around the turn of the century, the study says, as surface water there became saltier and more dense, sinking and taking surface heat down to depths of more than 300 metres.

Using temperature data from floats across the world, Tung found the Atlantic and Southern Oceans “each account for just under half the global energy storage change since 1999 at below 300m”. The study’s result, he says, does not support the “Pacific-centric” view of earlier work on whether heat is being stored.

“We were surprised to see the evidence presented so clearly. When you go with the energy, you cannot argue with that,” said Tung.

Jon Robson, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and who is unconnected to the study, said the new work did not disprove evidence of the Pacific’s role in the warming slowdown.

“The hiatus really is a patchwork problem of lots of different things, volcanoes, the Pacific, the Atlantic. This paper does elevate the Atlantic’s role, which has been largely ignored before. This does suggest a role for the Atlantic but there’s a lot more to it than that,” he told the Guardian.

“It doesn’t dispel the key role for the Pacific in the hiatus. There is evidence that the hiatus is a northern hemisphere winter phenomenon, which does point the finger quite strongly to the Pacific.”

Piers Forster, professor of climate change at the University of Leeds, said: “This paper suggests that heat disappearing into the depths of the Atlantic and Southern Oceans are the dominant cause. Their ideas seem fine but I’m also convinced there is more going on: the El Niño and relative cooler European and Asian winters remain important aspects to understand.”

The study, Varying Planetary Heat Sink Led to Global-Warming Slowdown and Acceleration, gives little room for complacency that the oceans can safely store heat caused by human activities because the cycle that buries the heat deep in the Atlantic will “inevitably” switch back. Heat would then no longer be removed deep underwater, leading to “another episode of accelerated warming” at the surface.

Forster added: “Most importantly, this paper is another a nail in the coffin of the idea that the hiatus is evidence that our projections of long-term climate change need revising down. Variability in the ocean will not affect long-term climate trends but may mean we have a period of accelerated warming to look forward to.”

This February, the national science academies of the US and UK said the global warming slowdown did not “invalidate” the long-term trend of rising temperatures caused by man-made climate change.

 26 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Former Isis captives pay tribute to James Foley's courage as he faced death

French journalists say the American, who was singled out for his nationality, 'never totally submitted' to jihadists

Kevin Rawlinson   
The Guardian, Thursday 21 August 2014 21.04 BST   

Two French journalists held as hostages with James Foley have spoken of their shared ordeal following the American's murder at the hands of Islamic extremists. Nicolas Hénin said Foley retained his generosity in the face of extreme hardship, while Didier François said he "never totally submitted to his captors".

They spoke following the release of a video of the American journalist being beheaded by Islamic State (Isis) militants who had been holding him hostage.

"He was a man of great bravery who got unlucky," Hénin – who shared a cell with Foley for seven months and was shackled to him for a week – told L'Express. He said that Foley was treated worse than the other captives because he was American.

"Searching his computer, they found that his brother was serving in the US Air Force. Because of that, and as an American, he was singled out. He became the jailers' punch bag, he was really taking a beating but he always remained impassive," he said.

Hénin, who had been reporting for Le Point magazine in Syria when he was kidnapped, told ABC News that Foley was also punished because his captors thought he was planning an escape attempt.

He said he found the video that has emerged of Foley's murder by Isis particularly shocking because he realised how easily he could have met the same fate. "For instance, the shoes that he was wearing when he was taken to this place in the desert, I wore them. We had few shoes that we were using to go to the bathroom and we were sharing them," he said.

But he spoke of Foley's courage even as his murderer stood alongside him in the desert. "That is someone, I mean, a real man. Many people would've freaked out and [been] terrified because he knew very well what was going to happen to him … But [he] was still standing up, looking forward and speaking with a clear voice," he said.

It is believed that Foley's murderer was a British man known as John. Hénin said he could never be sure of his captors' nationalities but told Canal Plus that Isis was made up of many nationalities and he had heard accents from all over the world.

He said that the captives, Foley in particular, had tried to remain optimistic. But, he said, despite his "naive" optimism, Foley knew he had little chance of being released.

He said that by the time he was taken hostage, Foley had already been held captive for nine months and developed a great resilience and maturity as a result. Foley had also taken on an air of fatalism, he said. "Whenever he went through hard times, he would say to me 'well, it's character building'."

François, a reporter for Europe 1, who was held alongside James Foley from October 2013 until his release in April this year, said that the murdered journalist was an "extraordinary guy, a pleasant cellmate to have, very strong".

He told Europe 1: "I have never spoken publicly about him, since our kidnappers made threats before we left of reprisals against the remaining hostages."

François called Foley's murder a "terrible shock, particularly for his family". And he underlined the courage of a man he referred to as a "very experienced journalist". "He was someone who never totally submitted to his captors. He was extremely community spirited throughout the time he was a captive, notably asking for food for everyone," he said.

Hénin said his thoughts were now with those who were still in captivity, for whose release he pleaded. "Journalists are not a government's ambassadors, they are neither representative of, nor responsible for a government's policies."

 27 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 06:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
‘Apocalyptic’ Isis beyond anything we've seen, say US defence chiefs

Senior Pentagon officials describe militants as ‘apocalyptic’ group that will need to be defeated but maintain limited strikes are sufficient

Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 09.59 BST   

Senior Pentagon officials described the Islamic State (Isis) militant group as an “apocalyptic” organisation that posed an “imminent threat” on Thursday, yet the highest ranking officer in the US military said that in the short term, it was sufficient for the United States to “contain” the group that has reshaped the map of Iraq and Syria.

Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that while Isis would eventually have to be defeated, the US should concentrate on building allies in the region to oppose the group that murdered an American journalist, James Foley.

“It is possible to contain them,” Dempsey said, in a Pentagon press conference alongside the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. “They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

Dempsey’s comments came a day after secretary of state John Kerry said Isis “must be destroyed” following the killing of Foley, the first American known to have died at the hands of Isis. President Obama had referred to the organisation as a “cancer”. Their remarks raised expectations that the administration was preparing for a wider war aimed at wiping out Isis, rather than stopping its advances in Iraq.

Internal administration deliberations over a response to Isis continue, and US officials predicted that there would be little departure from the strategy of limited airstrikes launched since 8 August. One said the military plan “may ultimately evolve”.

John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, called on Barack Obama to order the destruction of Isis. In an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, he urged the president to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces”.

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of $132m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Disagreements within the administration are emerging about how to deal with Isis, both on what the goals are, and how to achieve them.

Hours after a senior White House foreign-policy official, Ben Rhodes, said the US would not be limited in its response by “geographic boundaries”, Dempsey assessed that cross-border action was necessary to defeat the group. At the same time, he tamped down speculation that US warplanes would strike Isis in Syria as well as Iraq.

Isis “will have to be addressed on both sides of what is at this point essentially a non-existent border”, Dempsey said, which would require “a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is air strikes. I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America.”

Dempsey, an Iraq veteran, has long been sceptical of US military involvement in the Syrian conflict, citing among other reasons the threat to US pilots from dictator Bashar al-Assad’s air defences. He has frustrated those who advocated American involvement in the two neighbouring wars, such as hawkish Republican senator John McCain, who in June called on Obama to fire Dempsey, saying he “has done nothing but invent ways for us not to be engaged”.

Echoing the White House’s stated position, Dempsey said the US needed “a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating Isis over time”. something the administration this week has put effort into broadening and strengthening. But the group’s ultimate defeat, the general said, would only come “when it is rejected by the over 20 million disenfranchised Sunnis that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.”

The senior Pentagon leadership’s rhetoric on Thursday about the threat Isis poses was as intense as its proposed options for confronting Isis were sanguine.

“When we look at what they did to Mr Foley, what they threaten to do to all Americans and Europeans, what they are doing now, I don’t know any other way to describe it other than barbaric,” Hagel said. “They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.”

Hagel said Isis, also kown as Isil, which began as al-Qaida’s Iraq affiliate before being disavowed last year over its brutality, was a calibre above previous terrorist organisations the US has faced.

“Isil is as sophisticated and well funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen, so we must prepare for everything,” Hagel said.

The apparent discrepancy between the Obama administration’s assessment of Isis’s virulence and its limited air strikes against the group have prompted confusion about what Obama is trying to achieve. The 90 airstrikes launched since 8 August have “stalled” Isis’ momentum, Hagel said.

“Right now, it appears to be the goal is to use minimal American force, primarily air power, to contain Isis and hand the problem off to Iraqi and Kurdish forces,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired army colonel who served as executive officer to General David Petraeus during the 2007-2008 troop surge, a rare period of tactical US achievements in Iraq.

“To me there is a significant mismatch between the goal of defeating Isis in the long run and the tools to achieve that goal.”

Mansoor, now a military history professor at the Ohio State University, said he agreed with Dempsey that defeating Isis required Sunnis in Iraq and Syria to turn on it, but “Isis has proven themselves too strong, too virulent and too violent to enable local inhabitants to rise up and cast it off without significant help from the outside.

“European nations are asking the United States for leadership in developing a plan for defeating Isis, and this administration is failing in its duties to protect the American people if it doesn’t create an alliance that can not just contain Isis, but destroy it.”

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Former top general calls on Obama to wipe out Isis in wake of Foley killing

John Allen, who commanded Afghanistan war, writes op-ed amid varying US views on how to respond to journalist’s beheading

Spencer Ackerman in New York and Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 21 August 2014   
  
An influential retired US general has called on Barack Obama to order the destruction the militant group responsible for murdering American journalist James Foley amid conflicting views in the administration on how to respond to the atrocity.

As Obama’s foreign policy team debates expanding its renewed air war in Iraq after the killing of Foley by the Islamic State (Isis), John Allen, a retired marine general who commanded the Afghanistan war from 2011 to 2013, urged Obama to “move quickly to pressure its entire ‘nervous system’, break it up, and destroy its pieces.”

Allen’s argument, presented in an op-ed for the DefenseOne website, echoes remarks by secretary of state John Kerry and comes amid internal dispute in the Obama administration over the future course of its two-week air war in Iraq. Much diplomatic effort is said to be spent broadening and hardening a region-wide effort against Isis, something Allen endorsed, with Turkey and Qatar being a particular near-term focus for Kerry.

The debate is said to be fluid. At present, a US official anticipated more continuity than change in future military operations against Isis, but said: “It may ultimately evolve.”

On Wednesday, six new airstrikes continued to hit Isis positions near the Mosul Dam, three days after Obama declared that it was no longer under Isis control. Nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes since 8 August have taken place near the critical dam.

In a grisly video produced by Foley’s captors, his killer says Foley’s death came as revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq. Soon after the video was released, the US confirmed that it had recently mounted a failed rescue bid for Foley. Elite US military forces secretly invaded Syria earlier this summer in a mission that involved dozens of special operations forces from all US military services, including the 160th special operations aviation regiment.

US forces flew into Syria in defiance of air defence batteries that senior military officials have described as highly threatening to pilots. Modified Black Hawk helicopters were involved, and “armed fixed-wing aircraft and drones” provided cover to forces on the ground, said an administration official. No hostages were found at the targeted location.

It emerged on Thursday that Foley’s family received a message from Foley’s captors on 13 August, warning them that he would be killed. They passed the message on to the US government, which helped with a response. Phil Balboni, chief executive of GlobalPost, the Boston-based online news publication that had published work by Foley, told Reuters: “It was an appeal for mercy. It was a statement that Jim was an innocent journalist,” and that he respected the people of Syria, where he was held.

Foley’s family and friends hoped the militants were bluffing and wanted a ransom, he said. The group had last year demanded a ransom of $132m for his rescue, Balboni said.

Wary of overcommitment to a new Iraq war, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals about how far it is willing to go against Isis. Kerry, who has been hawkish against Isis, said the jihadist organization “must be destroyed/will be crushed”, a goal beyond the one Obama has thus far set.

Allen proposed attacking Isis in Syria as well as Iraq “across its entire depth”, an option the Pentagon has studied after the group overran Iraq’s second largest city in June but is yet to implement.

In an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, one of Obama’s closest advisers opened the door for attacking Isis in Syria, which would represent a significant expansion of a bombing effort whose missions have slowly evolved.

“We would not restrict ourselves by geographic boundaries,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “We haven’t made decisions to take additional actions at this time.”

Rhodes indicated that the administration believes that the incoming government of Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad will aid US efforts in assembling and deepening an anti-Isis coalition. Rejecting a recent suggestion, Rhodes ruled out a rapprochement with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to confront a mutual foe.

Writing for the DefenseOne website, Allen conspicuously praised Obama, who is wary of expansive promises made by the military. He did not propose a return to ground combat, but urged a “focused advise and assist” mission to bolster Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers and non-jihadist Syrian rebels, a commitment that would require a reintroduction of significantly more US military advisers.

Obama has ruled out US ground combat, preferring to rely on proxies, something his critics have not challenged, with memories of a bloody US occupation still fresh. The US official said working through vetted Syrian opposition groups and Iraqi and Kurdish forces “will continue to be the foundation of the US approach going forward”.

Though entire divisions of the Iraqi army fled from Isis in June, “they’ve shown a lot more capability in the last two weeks than in the previous two months,” the official said.

At the State Department, officials said the US is pressuring Qatar and Turkey to help cut off flows of financing and foreign fighters to Isis, even as they cautioned that they did not see evidence of either government supporting the extremist group officially.

“We are working with governments in the region where we believe there are private citizens funding [Isis] to get them to clamp down even further to cut off those sources of funding,” said spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We need to attack [Isis] on a variety of fronts, one of which is the bombs that the Pentagon folks are dropping on them right now. One of them is not letting them have access to resources.”

Kerry also spoke directly to the Qatari foreign minister on Wednesday, during which Foley’s death was “likely” to have come up, according to US officials, although the call was primarily about Gaza.

Asked whether Qatar, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – another alleged source of funding – were “fully on board”, Harf responded: ”Well, look, we’re talking to them every day about what more we can all do. We know there’s more that needs to be done. We know this is a long-term fight, and we know it’s a tough one. So we’re having those conversations.”

Allen said Foley’s killing “embodies” the threat from Isis, which he called “an entity beyond the pale of humanity”. The US official said Allen’s article “serves a purpose in helping explain to the American people how dire it is”.

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

Iraqi and Kurdish forces launch attacks to recapture towns from Isis

Kurdish peshmerga fighters take district near Jalawla as Iraqi troops advance towards nearby Saadiya

Mark Tran   
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 11.00 BST   

Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have launched attacks to recapture two towns in the north from Islamic State (Isis) militants.

The Kurdish forces, backed by US air power, took one district near the eastern entrance to Jalawla, 70 miles (115km) north-east of Baghdad. Jalawla was taken by Isis more than a week ago. Iraqi troops supported by Iraqi fighter planes were advancing towards the nearby town of Saadiya. Both towns are near the Iranian border and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Shirko Mirwais, an official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, said the battle to reclaim Jalawla had already left several dead on both sides.

"The peshmerga advanced on Jalawla from several directions" before dawn, he said, adding that they had already taken back several positions, cutting off the militants.

He said nine peshmerga had been wounded in the fighting but could not say how many had been killed. Another PUK official, Mullah Bakhtiar, confirmed the operation was under way and said it had already achieved some of its goals.

Kurdish forces lost at least 10 fighters when Isis took Jalawla, one of the deadliest flashpoints along the peshmerga's 600-mile (1,000km) front.

In Syria, government forces have sent reinforcements to an airbase under attack by Isis militants, the last government foothold in north-east Syria, an area largely controlled by jihadi fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group monitoring violence in Syria, said the reinforcements had been flown in overnight to Tabqa, 25 miles (40km) east of the Isis stronghold of Raqqa.

The group said about 30 Isis fighters had been killed and dozens more wounded on Thursday by heavy bombardment and landmines in areas surrounding the base. Boosted by US weapons seized in Iraq, Isis has taken three Syrian military bases in the area in recent weeks.

Amid the latest fighting, Britain's former head of the army, Lord Dannatt, said the west must build bridges with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to tackle Isis. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Dannatt said the group had to be "opposed, confronted and defeated" in both Iraq and Syria.

"The Syrian dimension has got to be addressed. You cannot deal with half a problem," he said. "The old saying 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' has begun to have some resonance with our relationship with Iran. I think it's going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad."

Dannatt continued: "I think whether it is above the counter or below the counter, a conversation has got to be held with him. Because if there are going to be any question of air strikes over Syrian airspace it has got to be with the Assad regime's approval."

The former army chief said he believed more UK special forces might need to be deployed on the ground in Iraq to train Kurdish troops in how to use weapons. He also suggested the "time will come" when the government decides that British planes should carry out air strikes, rather than leaving it to the US.

Although US officials have described Isis as an "apocalyptic" organisation that poses an "imminent threat", the highest ranking officer in the American military said that in the short term, it was sufficient for the US to "contain" the group, which has taken over large chunks of territory in Syria and Iraq.

The army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said on Thursday that cross-border action was necessary to defeat the group. He played down, however, speculation that US warplanes would strike Isis in Syria as well as Iraq.

Isis "will have to be addressed on both sides of what is at this point essentially a non-existent border", he said, which would require "a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is air strikes. I'm not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America."

Since 8 August, nearly two-thirds of the 90 US strikes have taken place near the critical Mosul dam, which Barack Obama this week declared was no longer under Isis control.

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

UK should join US in bombing Isis militants, says ex-head of army

Lord Dannatt also says Britain should open talks with Assad in Syria, after Washington signals it might extend fight against Isis

Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 22 August 2014 10.20 BST       

Britain should join America and start bombing militants from Islamic State (Isis), Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, has suggested.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday, Lord Dannatt said he thought it was inevitable that Britain would eventually start launching air strikes against Isis.

He also said the government should open talks with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as part of the campaign against Isis.

His comments about Assad were echoed by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative former foreign secretary and chairman of the intelligence and security committee, who said it was sometimes necessary to work with "extremely nasty" people in order to defeat enemies who were even worse.

Dannatt and Rifkind spoke out as Washington signalled that it might extend the fight against Isis. At a news briefing, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Isis was an organisation "that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated".

Until now David Cameron, who is still bruised by the Commons vote against his plans for military intervention in Syria last year, has been wary of getting Britain involved in the military campaign against Isis in Iraq.

Although the Americans have launched air strikes against Isis, the RAF Tornado jets dispatched to the region have only been involved in surveillance.

In the interview, Dannatt, who advised Cameron on military matters before the general election and now sits in the Lords as a crossbencher, said Britain would eventually join the bombing campaign.

Stressing the importance of maintaining the UK's close relationship with the US, he said: "I think the time will come when we will decide that our Tornado jets operating in the region won't just take photographs and produce intelligence; they will start dropping ordinance in conjunction with the Americans."

Dannatt also said the need to intensify the military campaign against Isis would require the west to open negotiations with Assad, even though the US and the UK came close to launching air strikes against his regime last summer following the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war.

Asked if Britain should talk to Assad, Dannatt said: "The short answer is yes, I do."

This was important because defeating Isis would involve intervening in Syria, where Isis established a power base before expanding into Iraq, he said.

"The old saying 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' has begun to have some resonance with our relationship in Iran and I think it is going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad," he said.

"I think whether it is above the counter or below the counter, a conversation has got to be held with [Assad] because, if there is any question of air strikes over Syria, it has got to be with the Assad regime's approval."

Rifkind made a similar argument in an interview with the Financial Times.

"[Isis] need to be eliminated and we should not be squeamish about how we do it," Rifkind said.

"Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier."

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

'Just a Few Strikes': Iraq Militia Wants Help from Old U.S. Foe

by Naharnet Newsdesk
22 August 2014, 07:14

Iraq's Mahdi Army fought U.S. troops to the death in past years, but now some members of the rebranded Shiite militia say they could do with a little help from their old foe.

Jurf al-Sakhr is a sprawling patchwork of orchards and palm groves south of Baghdad irrigated by the Euphrates River, but the beauty of the scenery belies the deadliness of one of Iraq's most relentless battlefields.

Positions are hard to hold and weeks of military yo-yo between Islamic State (IS) jihadists and pro-government forces, including the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades), which counts many Mahdi Army members among its fighters, have killed hundreds and produced no victor.

A campaign of U.S. air strikes in the north, however, has helped flagging Kurdish troops regroup and allowed them to go on the offensive, whetting the appetite of other anti-IS forces for similar assistance.

"I fought the American occupation in 2004 and up to 2006," Saad Thijil, 30, said near a bombed-out building in Jurf al-Sakhr, his rifle strapped behind his back. "Now of course, we need U.S. support, especially their military advisers."

"But we don't want any troop presence in Iraq," he added.

In 2004, fiery young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr unleashed the Mahdi Army militia against U.S. troops, mainly in the poor Baghdad district of Sadr City and in the holy city of Najaf, farther south.

Sadr and his militia played central roles in the wave of sectarian bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007, but he eventually froze the militia's activities in a move the U.S. credited with sharply reducing violence.

When jihadists who had held parts of Syria for months swept across swathes of Iraq in June this year, Sadr announced the formation of the Saraya al-Salam, a group he said would be tasked with defending the holy sites of Shiite Islam.

Jurf al-Sakhr is strategically vital because it buffers the holy Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala south of Baghdad from militant-held areas west of the capital.

Hassan is a 27-year-old from Baghdad and works as an air marshal on a commercial airline. When he is not flying, he spends a few days as a volunteer with Saraya al-Salam.

"Just a few air strikes, you know," he said, puffing on a slim cigarette. "Not too many, we must win this battle by ourselves, but some support would be welcome, especially in this place."

- 'Air force for militias' -

Bullets at least did not look to be in short supply as Saraya al-Salam leader Hakim al-Zamili visited the Jurf al-Sakhr front line this week, with some fighters burning off entire ammo belts to greet his convoy.

Discipline and sheer determination are some of the factors that have consistently made the IS look like the best fighting force in Iraq over the past two and half months.

IS "is strong because they are tough and they believe in a cause," Zamili told some of his field commanders gathered in a local command center.

"The fighters they run up against should also believe in something and be even tougher," said Zamili, who was accused of running a death squad that abducted and executed hundreds of Sunnis between 2005 and 2007.

Zamili, now a lawmaker, was cleared in court but as pressure mounts on the U.S. to expand its strikes beyond north Iraq, helping the ex-Mahdi Army does not appear to be high on the list.

U.S. President Barack Obama justified launching air strikes earlier this month by pointing to a threat to U.S. personnel in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and the risk of genocide against minorities.

"We don't want the Americans to come back to Iraq, we don't want a new occupation, we just want their support in the form of air strikes," Zamili told Agence France Presse as he toured the Jurf al-Sakhr front line.

When Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government first requested U.S. air strikes in June to reverse the debacle of disintegrating Iraqi federal forces, David Petraeus, a former commander-in-chief of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, warned against America becoming an "air force for Shiite militias".

Some of the most battle-hardened fighters among Saraya al-Salam's disparate ranks were adamant, however, that any battle won with U.S. support would be half lost.

"We don't need America. We are brave people, we have enough weapons and experience," said Ali Abu Hassan, who heads an elite unit in the militia.

"I consider anyone asking for U.S. air strikes a traitor to Iraq."

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

Obama weighs limited options to counter Isis in Iraq

Administration confirms increase of air strikes and considers additional marines but has limited ability to strike in wake of American’s beheading

Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 August 2014 22.54 BST   
      
The Obama administration is not thought to be considering qualitatively new military options against the Islamic State (Isis) in the wake of its beheading of American journalist James Foley.

While Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Isis “must be destroyed”, another US official said the horrific, recorded slaying had not changed US policy options for striking the jihadist entity that has overrun much of northern, western and central Iraq.

Isis continues to entrench itself within Sunni areas of Iraq, making it difficult to dislodge them through the bombing options that the administration has embraced. Kurdish and Iraqi security forces, as well as cleavages between Iraqi Sunnis and Isis, remain the administration’s hope to roll back the group that has redrawn the map of the Middle East.

With some frustration, Obama administration officials consider their options against Isis to remain limited, despite widespread US public outrage at the killing of an American citizen who had been held as a hostage. Meanwhile, Isis has reportedly seized a dozen new villages north of Aleppo in Syria, providing it with greater strategic depth.

Foley’s killing has incensed the administration – President Barack Obama spoke about Isis on Wednesday with rare anger, calling it a “cancer” – but despite the intensified rhetoric, two officials indicated that future military action in Iraq was likely to be marked by more continuity than change.

“We’re continuing the operations within the missions of protecting US personnel and facilities, Iraqi critical infrastructure and the civilian population,” said a US defense official.

Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said Foley’s murder “leaves absolutely no doubt that [Isis] is committed to attacking Americans and our allies”.

Feinstein urged “coordinated and sustained action by Iraq, the United States and the international committee”, terms she did not define in a Wednesday statement, to “reverse [Isis’s] rise and eliminate this very dangerous terrorist threat”.

Obama pledged to be “vigilant and we will be relentless” against Isis, but stopped short of committing to the group’s destruction, which Kerry subsequently did. US allies in Britain, France and Germany reacted with disgust at the Isis killings, raising expectations for a more concerted allied strategy against Isis after French President Francois Hollande suggested an international conference on the subject in an interview with Le Monde.

A former senior Obama defense official, Michele Flournoy, tweeted Wednesday that the US “needs to lead an international effort to counter” Isis, which she defined as “rolling back territorial gains and degrading their ability to launch attacks on western interests”.

One option under consideration, not directly related to the Foley killing, is a request for hundreds of more US marines to deploy to Baghdad to bolster security at the US embassy and related installations.

The request, made by the State Department recently, is said not to be a response to an new anticipated push by Isis into Baghdad, which it has stopped short of attempting to seize. An official who was not cleared to speak to the press characterized it as coming out of an abundance of caution.

Chuck Hagel, the US defense secretary, has yet to receive an internal recommendation on the merits of strengthening the Baghdad embassy. The requested marines are said not to have any combat function, commensurate with Obama’s pledge not to reintroduce ground combat in Iraq. Since June, he has ordered hundreds of special operations “advisers” back into the country.

The US Central Command continued on Wednesday to send fighter jets and armed drones to harass Isis near the Mosul Dam, a critical piece of infrastructure that the US considers to no longer be under Isis control. The warplanes launched 14 strikes against Isis vehicles and weaponry, tacitly a rejection of Isis’ demand with the Foley killing that the US relent in its newest air campaign in Iraq.
Obama called Isis a ‘cancer’ in remarks on the death of James Foley.

The new strikes bring the total to 84 since 8 August, when Obama authorized a return of US combat aircraft to Iraqi skies. The vast majority, 51, have been aimed at breaking Isis’ hold on the dam and nearby positions.

Obama’s critics in Congress consider the air strikes insufficient. Unlike Obama, many seek to expand the goal of US intervention to be Isis’ destruction, but like Obama, none thus far have argued for the introduction of ground forces.

“The president’s current path of action has been far too limited to make a difference. We must do what is necessary to eliminate Isis, protect the innocent, and keep Americans safe,” said Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican on the intelligence committee rumored to seek the chairmanship, an influential foreign-policy position.

A question facing the administration is whether US military forces are able to save Steven Sotloff, another journalist held captive by Isis. The propaganda video showing Foley’s execution threatened Sotloff would be next unless the US ceased its bombing campaign.

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 on: Aug 22, 2014, 05:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Turkey's PM Erdogan nominates successor as he plots presidency overhaul

Ahmet Davutoglu is considered a strong Erdogan loyalist and was long reported to be Erdogan's top choice as successor

Associated Press in Ankara
The Guardian, Thursday 21 August 2014 18.40 BST   

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has nominated foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu to succeed him as Turkey's prime minister, with expectations high that the man who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade will remain in charge of the country when he becomes president.

Erdogan has indicated that he wants to transform the largely ceremonial presidency and maintain tight control of the government. He has said he will employ the president's seldom-used powers, such as summoning and presiding over cabinet meetings. As Turkey's first popularly elected president, Erdogan takes office on 28 August.

Erdogan announced after a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development party that party leaders had designated Davutoglu, 55, to replace him as its new chairman and prime minister. Davutoglu, who has steered Turkish foreign policy both as foreign minister and as Erdogan's adviser since 2003, is expected to be confirmed as party chairman at an extraordinary congress next week.

Davutoglu, a former professor of international relations, is considered a strong Erdogan loyalist and was long reported to be Erdogan's top choice as his successor. Analysts say Erdogan wants to install a friendly prime minister so he can control the government from behind the scenes.

Davutoglu is also known as an astute politician capable of leading the party to victory in parliamentary elections in June 2015, when Erdogan hopes to secure a strong majority that would allow the party to rewrite the constitution and change Turkey's political system to a presidential one.

Davutoglu's record as foreign minister, however, has been a mixed one. Praised in his early years in office for efforts to befriend Turkey's old foes, critics say his "zero problems with neighbours" policy has since unravelled, leaving Turkey with very few allies in the Middle East.

Thursday's developments sideline President Abdullah Gul, who was once considered a possible candidate for prime minister in a job swap with Erdogan. He has publicly split with Erdogan, including recently over the government's attempts to shut down Twitter and YouTube in Turkey.

 29 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 05:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Final Scottish Parliament Debate before Referendum

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 August 2014, 22:17

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond urged voters to seize the chance for independence as the Scottish Parliament met for the final time Thursday before next month's referendum.

Salmond said the September 18 vote was the "greatest opportunity we will ever have" to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent state again.

"Today the 120 members-plus of this parliament are debating Scotland's future," Salmond said, beginning the last sessions before the recess.

"In four weeks' time the people of Scotland get the opportunity to decide Scotland's future."

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader told the Edinburgh parliament that the referendum would be "the first time ever the people of Scotland have had democratic control over their own destiny".

He urged them: "When the polls close, let's not hand that control back.

"Let's keep Scotland's future in Scotland's hands, then come together to build the better Scotland we know is possible."

Johann Lamont, leader of the pro-union main opposition Labour Party, said it was vital for all sides to accept the result and for Scotland to agree on a settled constitution.

"We stand at an important moment in the history of our country," she said, a chance "finally to answer the constitutional question and agree among us the settled will of the people of Scotland."

England and Scotland merged in 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Britain was "one of the greatest nations of this Earth."

"Britain didn't colonise us, and it didn't oppress us. Britain only exists because of us. Leaving it would be to lose something and to see what's left behind diminished too," she said.

Polls show the 'No' camp is ahead of the 'Yes' vote, with less than a month to go.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "A 'No' vote is a vote of confidence.

"A vote of confidence in the ability of Scots to be all they can be, to aspire in the finest traditions of our nation, confident to be part of something bigger, with global reach, of 60 million people, with an economic base with broad shoulders, proud to stand with the rest of our family in our United Kingdom."

Salmond's 'Yes' camp received a boost Thursday when the Adam Smith Institute free market think-tank said an independent Scotland could "thrive" if it kept the pound as its currency, without the formal, euro-style currency union the SNP wants.

"The unilateral use of another country's currency can instil a discipline in a country's financial sector that neither a national currency nor a currency union can provide," it said.

 30 
 on: Aug 22, 2014, 05:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Romania ex-Prime Minister Freed after Corruption Sentence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 August 2014, 22:54

Romania's former prime minister Adrian Nastase, sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in two corruption cases, was released from prison on Thursday.

Nastase was met by his two sons and several journalists as he left Jilava prison, close to Bucharest, after a tribunal in the town of Ilfov dismissed a prosecution appeal to keep him behind bars.

Head of the social democrat government from 2000 to 2004, the 64-year-old former premier had served one third of his sentence in total, allowing him conditional release under Romanian law.

"I am a target for all sides. I hope that those who consider me as a political foe... realise that they also had nothing to gain," Nastase said after his release.

The former leader was sentenced in January after being implicated in a case concerning bribes and kickbacks totalling 630,000 euros ($835,000), which he received in the form of imports from China and free work on two of his properties.

Nastase has always denied involvement in the case, claiming the charges against him are politically motivated.

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