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 21 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Future of French Dam in Balance after Eco-Protester's Death

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:06

The future of a controversial French dam project where a young protester was killed by what appears to be a police grenade hung in the balance Wednesday as authorities mulled suspending work on site.

Remi Fraisse, 21, was killed in the early hours of Sunday as people protesting against the project in the southwestern Tarn region clashed violently with security forces. It was the first such death in mainland France in nearly three decades.

The tragedy caused a furore in France after the government was slammed for its slow response and forensic tests on the victim's clothes found traces of TNT, which is in concussion grenades used by riot police.

A concussion grenade relies for its effect on the blast of its detonation rather than the fragmentation of its casing, and is designed to stun rather than kill.

Ecology Minister Segolene Royal said Wednesday a meeting would take place next week gathering together all warring parties to discuss the future of the Sivens dam.

Those opposed to the project say the dam will destroy a reservoir of biodiversity and will only benefit a small number of farmers.

Those promoting the project, meanwhile, retort that the dam is in the public interest as it will ensure irrigation and the development of high-value crops.

Thierry Carcenac, head of the Tarn's executive council, told local daily La Depeche du Midi that authorities were considering "suspending work but not indefinitely."

The weekend tragedy was the culmination of weeks of protests by opponents of the project that included litigation, hunger strikes, demonstrations and occupation of the site by activists.

On Wednesday, people opposing the project were still on site in a tense atmosphere.

Fraisse's body was discovered at 2:00am Sunday, when a hardcore group of protesters was still clashing with police after an initial peaceful gathering, throwing Molotov cocktails and stones as security forces responded with tear gas and grenades.

On Wednesday, the national gendarmerie, a security force that comes under the jurisdiction of both the defense and interior ministries, carried out policing duties and was on site at the protest, defended its actions as the probe continues.

"It's two in the morning, it's night-time, it's pitch black, there are clashes, the gendarmes are harassed, attacked by people who are almost armed," Pierre Bouquin, spokesman for the security force, told French radio.

"It's an unfortunate combination of circumstances, an accident."

Source: Agence France Presse

 22 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Pressure Grows on Spanish PM to Tackle Corruption

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 21:15

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy scrambled Wednesday to contain the fallout of a new graft scandal involving members of his conservative Popular Party which has outraged voters ahead of next year's general election.

Rajoy apologized in the name of his party "for having put people in positions of responsibility who were not fit for them and who apparently abused their positions" during a debate in parliament on Tuesday evening.

The rare gesture came just a day after police arrested 51 people for questioning as part of a probe into an alleged kickback scheme involving public work contracts worth roughly 250 million euros ($315 million).

Those arrested include Francisco Granados, a former Popular Party (PP) deputy president of the Madrid regional government and four mayors who belong to the ruling party.

The probe comes on the heels of another scandal that has tainted former International Monetary Fund head Rodrigo Rato, a stalwart of the Popular Party and a former finance minister.

He was questioned by a judge on October 16 over alleged spending sprees on secret company credit cards by him and other ex-managers in the bailed-out finance group Bankia.

Rato and over 80 others face possible charges of corporate crimes over allegations that they spent a total of 15 million euros on nightclubs, safaris and other luxuries.

The grey-bearded premier's last apology was in August 2013 when he admitted that he had made a "mistake" in trusting Luis Barcenas, a former Popular Party treasurer who is being held in custody in relation to allegations that he ran a party slush fund.

"I understand that Spaniards are fed up and outraged. This behavior is especially hurtful when Spaniards have had to endure so many sacrifices to get our country out of the economic crisis," the prime minister, who is usually seen as cold and distant, said Tuesday.

"Rajoy could not wait any longer," conservative daily ABC wrote Wednesday while rival center-right daily El Mundo said "PP barons had informed the leadership of their unhappiness at the lack of reaction" at the highest level of government.

"When the sewers smell, you must clean thoroughly and not just cover them," said the president of the regional PP government of the western region of Extremadura, Jose Antonio Monago.

All opposition parties demanded explanations and more measures by the PP government, which has an absolute majority in parliament, to fight corruption.

"Mister Rajoy, you are surrounded by corruption," the leader of the main opposition Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, said during a debate in parliament on Wednesday.

Rosa Diez, the leader of the centrist Union for Democracy and Progress party which has made the need to fight corruption one of its central themes, also attacked Rajoy.

"Corruption could become Spain's Ebola," she told parliament.

"The situation is reaching the breaking point," political scientist and philosopher Josep Ramoneda told AFP.

"Twenty months ago Rajoy promised a series of measures against corruption and since then he has not signed a single decree."

Ramoneda believes the corruption probes could be linked to turf wars within the PP before the next general election slated to be held before the end of next year because "in these cases the enemy always comes from within."

The graft scandals come as Spain's political class has been shaken by the rise of a new far-left party, Podemos, which grew out of grass-roots protests against rising economic inequality and corruption.

Podemos, which means "We Can" in Spanish, stormed past older opposition groups to take fourth place in Spain's EU elections in May.

Graft is Spaniards' second-biggest concern after unemployment, according to the latest monthly poll by the Center for Sociological Research.

Source: Agence France Presse

 23 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
E.U. Budget Clearance for France and Italy Comes With an Asterisk

By JAMES KANTER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

BRUSSELS — A day after giving France and Italy a provisional pass on their budget plans for next year, a top European Union official warned on Wednesday that those countries could still face disciplinary action for violating the bloc’s fiscal rules if the revised budgets did not pass muster.

The official, Jyrki Katainen, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said at a news conference in Brussels that despite his decision not to request that France and Italy redraft their 2015 budgets, their filings would face tough scrutiny. The two countries, which had initially submitted budgets that missed the union’s mandated targets by wide margins, announced further spending cuts this week.

“I want to underline that this does not mean that all draft budgetary plans will necessarily be found to be in full compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact,” Mr. Katainen said, referring to the European Union’s budget rule book. “We are not prejudging the outcome,” he said.

Mr. Katainen has been walking a tightrope in recent weeks. Cracking down too heavily on France and Italy could have forced more belt-tightening at a time of rising concern about the inability of the European economy to resume growth. Rejecting the budgets outright could have prompted battles with Paris and Rome that Brussels might not have been able to win.

But Mr. Katainen was also under pressure to ensure that governments abide by the European Union’s fiscal rules — routinely flouted over the last decade by large member states, including Germany, which has preached budget discipline to other countries in the eurozone. A failure to police those rules risks making international investors more jittery about Europe’s ability to stave off another sovereign debt crisis.

In recent weeks, Germany had indicated that it still expected France and other eurozone countries to do their best to meet the European Union’s deficit targets, even though the German economy has stalled (the weakness of its European Union neighbors is a reason German exports have been falling).

The German Finance Ministry declined to comment on Wednesday on the latest turn in the Brussels budget negotiations. “We have always said this is a matter for the commission,” Nadine Kalwey, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said. She was referring to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

Once the commission has examined and delivered judgment, she noted, the budgets would go to the Eurogroup, which is made up of finance ministers from countries in the eurozone. “That’s what we have to wait for.”

The European Commission had to decide by Wednesday if it would request that countries found to be widely out of step with the rules redraft their budgets. But promises by France and Italy to make serious budget-cutting efforts defused the standoff.

The European rules call for a nominal deficit of no more than 3 percent of gross domestic product. As part of that effort, countries are also required to reduce their structural deficits — the difference between revenue and spending when the effects of the economic cycle are stripped out — by an amount tailored to each country’s nominal deficit and national debt.

France’s revision represents “a significant improvement,” Mr. Katainen said on Wednesday. But he added that the commission needed more time to analyze the numbers and make a final judgment, he said.

Mr. Katainen also warned that countries like France that are already under formal scrutiny — a process known in Brussels jargon as an excessive deficit procedure — needed to be sure to make corrections. “At the end of this path is the possibility of fines,” he said.

In the case of Italy, Mr. Katainen said that the government had “engaged constructively” with the commission on its budget submission. But he also said that further assessment was necessary and that Italy needed to make good on its promises of overhauls. “Good plans, which would change Italy’s growth — potentially substantially — should be adopted by both houses of Parliament and implemented,” he said.

The next hurdle for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy is avoiding the watch list of the excessive deficit procedure, which would bring much closer monitoring of his country’s finances. It could also lead to fines if the country was to fail to show it was making enough of an effort to control its debt.

The budget assessments come as the guard is changing in Brussels. On Saturday, a new team will take office at the European Commission under the presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg and the former chief of the Eurogroup.

Responsibility for future decisions on France and Italy will be shared between Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia who will take a senior role overseeing the euro; and Pierre Moscovici, a former French finance minister, who will succeed Mr. Katainen on economic and monetary affairs.

Mr. Katainen will stay at the commission, but in a senior role overseeing jobs, growth and competitiveness.

 24 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The ‘Russification’ of Oil Exploration

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

MOSCOW — The American and European sanctions against the Russian oil industry have dashed, at least for now, the Western oil majors’ ambitions to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

But drilling will continue all the same, Russian government and state oil company officials have been taking pains to point out, ever since the sanctions took effect over the summer.

“We will do it on our own,” Igor I. Sechin, the president of Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, told journalists in October. “We’ll continue drilling here next year and the years after that.”

Rather than throw in the towel in the face of Western sanctions intended to halt Russia’s Arctic oil ambitions by stopping technology transfers, the Russians have responded with plans to “Russify” the technology to be deployed in the world’s largest effort to date to extract oil from the thawing Arctic Ocean.

The solution to tapping the Arctic, Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister, told a group of high officials in October, “is found first of all in our own industrial base.”

A major hurdle is already cleared: An Exxon-led joint venture discovered oil in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean in September, proving the region holds commercially viable volumes of oil.

Rosneft is already laying plans to drill without Western oil major cooperation. Along with Exxon, Eni of Italy and Statoil of Norway had joint ventures to work with Rosneft in the Kara, Laptev, and Chukchi seas above Russia.

After the September sanctions suspended those deals, Rosneft negotiated to rent from Gazprom four Russian ice-class drilling rigs for next season’s exploration work, should Exxon still be sanction-barred from doing the work next summer.

Rosneft has also booked six rigs from North Atlantic Drilling, a unit of Seadrill of Norway, under contracts signed in July and grandfathered in under the sanctions.

The Russians are in early talks with the Chinese over sailing rigs from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean, industry executives say.

This spring as the threat of sanctions loomed, Rosneft bought the Russian and Venezuelan well-drilling business of Weatherford, adding to its in-house capabilities.

A further “Russification” of the industry seems inevitable. In October, President Vladimir V. Putin approved the creation of a state-owned oil services company, RBC, a Russian business newspaper reported. The intention is to duplicate, as well as possible, the services purveyed now by Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger.

Certainly, some in the oil industry see the Russian official response as bluff, asserting Rosneft has neither the skills nor the capital to drill for oil in its 42 offshore licenses blocks. Under the joint ventures, the Western companies financed and managed the exploration work.

The three companies, Exxon, Eni and Statoil, were to invest $20 billion in exploration, and the company has been mute on how it will replace that. Just this summer, Exxon paid $700 million to drill the Universitetskaya-1 well in the Kara Sea.

Russia, meanwhile, does not even manufacture subsea hardware like well heads. Rosneft’s finances are restricted to 30-day loans under sanctions.

Yet the company and the Russian industry are already tooling up for just such an effort.

The sheer uncertainty of sanctions is pushing the Russian industry to turn inward. Russian companies, even those who prefer to work with U.S. oilfield equipment or services providers because the cost or quality is better, can never know when new sanctions might scuttle a deal.

“The client looks at you and says ‘I like you, I like your product, but you are not dependable,’ ” Alexis Rodzianko, the director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia said in an interview.

Russia now has a “hierarchy of procurement” placing domestic and Asian companies first, U.S. companies last.

“The consensus in Russia is this is not a one-off, short-term problem,” Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow, said in an interview, of the Russian effort to pivot to domestic and Asian suppliers.

“Nobody will just sit and wait” for sanctions to be lifted, he said.

Whether Russian technology can fill the gap left by Western oil majors as the country prepares for the extraordinary engineering challenge of oil drilling under the Arctic ice remains an unsettled question within the industry.

Russia brings Soviet legacy technologies, including the world’s only fleet of nuclear icebreakers, awesome machines of immense power, with names like 50 Years of Victory and Yamal, which sail year-round in the Arctic Ocean.

“Let’s not underestimate them,” said one oil company executive who visited Exxon’s West Alpha rig this summer, but could not speak publicly because of company policy. Russians are no strangers to the north, and the cold. “They are determined to do it. They might do it on their own.”

The Russian intention to do just that became clear out on the Arctic Ocean at the end of the short drilling window this summer.

Ice floes were already creeping down from the polar ice cap in tongues when the U.S. government announced Sept. 12 that Exxon was to halt all assistance to Rosneft by Sept. 26, in response to Russian military assistance to a rebel counteroffensive against the Ukrainian Army in late August.

The Exxon crew stopped drilling, though the well was only about 75 percent complete.

In an early indication of the Russians’ intentions to go it alone after sanctions, Rosneft executives told Exxon they would not allow the West Alpha rig to leave Russian waters without finishing the well, according to the oil company executive familiar with events on the platform in September.

If Exxon withdrew American engineers, Rosneft would fly out a Russian replacement crew, putting the localization plan into immediate action, the executive said. Rosneft’s press service contested this characterization of the company’s position, calling it a “fiction.”

In the end, Exxon obtained an extension on its waiver to the sanction from the U.S. Treasury Department, stretching the window for work with Rosneft in the Arctic until Oct. 10.

The Arctic Ocean, Mr. Sechin said later that month in the interview with Bloomberg News at the drilling site in the Kara Sea, is Russia’s “Saudi Arabia” of oil, vast and pivotal to Russia’s national interests.

Rosneft’s website estimates the Kara Sea’s reservoirs hold about 87 billion barrels of oil and the equivalent in natural gas, calling this more than the deposits of the Gulf of Mexico, the Brazilian shelf or the offshore potential north of Alaska and Canada.

After a daylong pause on Sept. 12 to Sept. 13, the Russian brinkmanship worked: The American crew continued drilling and about a week later, in mid-September, discovered a vast oil deposit, holding about 750 million barrels of oil. Mr. Sechin thanked Western partners for the find, and named the field Pobeda, or Victory.

 25 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:42 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The ‘Russification’ of Oil Exploration

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

MOSCOW — The American and European sanctions against the Russian oil industry have dashed, at least for now, the Western oil majors’ ambitions to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

But drilling will continue all the same, Russian government and state oil company officials have been taking pains to point out, ever since the sanctions took effect over the summer.

“We will do it on our own,” Igor I. Sechin, the president of Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, told journalists in October. “We’ll continue drilling here next year and the years after that.”

Rather than throw in the towel in the face of Western sanctions intended to halt Russia’s Arctic oil ambitions by stopping technology transfers, the Russians have responded with plans to “Russify” the technology to be deployed in the world’s largest effort to date to extract oil from the thawing Arctic Ocean.

The solution to tapping the Arctic, Yevgeny Primakov, a former prime minister, told a group of high officials in October, “is found first of all in our own industrial base.”

A major hurdle is already cleared: An Exxon-led joint venture discovered oil in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean in September, proving the region holds commercially viable volumes of oil.

Rosneft is already laying plans to drill without Western oil major cooperation. Along with Exxon, Eni of Italy and Statoil of Norway had joint ventures to work with Rosneft in the Kara, Laptev, and Chukchi seas above Russia.

After the September sanctions suspended those deals, Rosneft negotiated to rent from Gazprom four Russian ice-class drilling rigs for next season’s exploration work, should Exxon still be sanction-barred from doing the work next summer.

Rosneft has also booked six rigs from North Atlantic Drilling, a unit of Seadrill of Norway, under contracts signed in July and grandfathered in under the sanctions.

The Russians are in early talks with the Chinese over sailing rigs from the South China Sea to the Arctic Ocean, industry executives say.

This spring as the threat of sanctions loomed, Rosneft bought the Russian and Venezuelan well-drilling business of Weatherford, adding to its in-house capabilities.

A further “Russification” of the industry seems inevitable. In October, President Vladimir V. Putin approved the creation of a state-owned oil services company, RBC, a Russian business newspaper reported. The intention is to duplicate, as well as possible, the services purveyed now by Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger.

Certainly, some in the oil industry see the Russian official response as bluff, asserting Rosneft has neither the skills nor the capital to drill for oil in its 42 offshore licenses blocks. Under the joint ventures, the Western companies financed and managed the exploration work.

The three companies, Exxon, Eni and Statoil, were to invest $20 billion in exploration, and the company has been mute on how it will replace that. Just this summer, Exxon paid $700 million to drill the Universitetskaya-1 well in the Kara Sea.

Russia, meanwhile, does not even manufacture subsea hardware like well heads. Rosneft’s finances are restricted to 30-day loans under sanctions.

Yet the company and the Russian industry are already tooling up for just such an effort.

The sheer uncertainty of sanctions is pushing the Russian industry to turn inward. Russian companies, even those who prefer to work with U.S. oilfield equipment or services providers because the cost or quality is better, can never know when new sanctions might scuttle a deal.

“The client looks at you and says ‘I like you, I like your product, but you are not dependable,’ ” Alexis Rodzianko, the director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia said in an interview.

Russia now has a “hierarchy of procurement” placing domestic and Asian companies first, U.S. companies last.

“The consensus in Russia is this is not a one-off, short-term problem,” Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow, said in an interview, of the Russian effort to pivot to domestic and Asian suppliers.

“Nobody will just sit and wait” for sanctions to be lifted, he said.

Whether Russian technology can fill the gap left by Western oil majors as the country prepares for the extraordinary engineering challenge of oil drilling under the Arctic ice remains an unsettled question within the industry.

Russia brings Soviet legacy technologies, including the world’s only fleet of nuclear icebreakers, awesome machines of immense power, with names like 50 Years of Victory and Yamal, which sail year-round in the Arctic Ocean.

“Let’s not underestimate them,” said one oil company executive who visited Exxon’s West Alpha rig this summer, but could not speak publicly because of company policy. Russians are no strangers to the north, and the cold. “They are determined to do it. They might do it on their own.”

The Russian intention to do just that became clear out on the Arctic Ocean at the end of the short drilling window this summer.

Ice floes were already creeping down from the polar ice cap in tongues when the U.S. government announced Sept. 12 that Exxon was to halt all assistance to Rosneft by Sept. 26, in response to Russian military assistance to a rebel counteroffensive against the Ukrainian Army in late August.

The Exxon crew stopped drilling, though the well was only about 75 percent complete.

In an early indication of the Russians’ intentions to go it alone after sanctions, Rosneft executives told Exxon they would not allow the West Alpha rig to leave Russian waters without finishing the well, according to the oil company executive familiar with events on the platform in September.

If Exxon withdrew American engineers, Rosneft would fly out a Russian replacement crew, putting the localization plan into immediate action, the executive said. Rosneft’s press service contested this characterization of the company’s position, calling it a “fiction.”

In the end, Exxon obtained an extension on its waiver to the sanction from the U.S. Treasury Department, stretching the window for work with Rosneft in the Arctic until Oct. 10.

The Arctic Ocean, Mr. Sechin said later that month in the interview with Bloomberg News at the drilling site in the Kara Sea, is Russia’s “Saudi Arabia” of oil, vast and pivotal to Russia’s national interests.

Rosneft’s website estimates the Kara Sea’s reservoirs hold about 87 billion barrels of oil and the equivalent in natural gas, calling this more than the deposits of the Gulf of Mexico, the Brazilian shelf or the offshore potential north of Alaska and Canada.

After a daylong pause on Sept. 12 to Sept. 13, the Russian brinkmanship worked: The American crew continued drilling and about a week later, in mid-September, discovered a vast oil deposit, holding about 750 million barrels of oil. Mr. Sechin thanked Western partners for the find, and named the field Pobeda, or Victory.

 26 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Proposed Internet Tax Draws Hungarians to Streets in Protest

By RICK LYMAN
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

WARSAW — Hungary’s leadership is under pressure to drop plans to tax Internet use, a move seen as a way to cut off public debate by limiting information not controlled by the rightist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians gathered in the streets of Budapest this week to protest the plan.

“This is limiting free access to the Internet and information,” said Balazs Gulyas, 27, a former member of the Hungarian Socialist Party who set up a Facebook page last week that inspired the protests. “It is an attempt to create a digital iron curtain around Hungary.”

Mr. Gulyas’s page had attracted more than 230,000 followers by Wednesday afternoon, a day after a large demonstration in the capital, giving it more followers than Hungary’s governing party, Fidesz.

The government denies the tax was devised to inhibit access to information, saying it is an extension of an existing tax on telephones that is being put in effect because a growing share of communication has moved online.

Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, described the protests as an attempt by the country’s splintered opposition to organize around a movement that it pretended was nonpartisan. Mr. Gulyas, he said, is “but one of the many political activists who try to camouflage a political movement as civilian.”

Mr. Gulyas responded, “I have created the Facebook page and the event entirely of my own initiative.”

Mr. Orban won a second consecutive term in April when his Fidesz party and a small conservative ally won a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which effectively allows it to pass whatever laws it wants. It has come under increasing criticism at home and from many Western governments, including in Washington, for its authoritarian impulses.

Earlier this month, the United States Embassy in Budapest said it would deny visas to six Hungarian officials in response to “credible evidence” that they were involved in attempts to elicit bribes from American companies.

The appearance on Sunday of M. André Goodfriend, the chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Budapest, at a protest against the bill inspired a heated exchange on Twitter between him and Mr. Kovacs.

“Checkin’ the mood, André?!” Mr. Kovacs asked in a post on the social network, asking why the diplomat had attended a demonstration organized by “liberals” and the Socialist Party. “As Chargés d’Affaires? Interesting. Eh?”

From his Twitter account, Mr. Goodfriend said: “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes, there’s not enough listening.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Kovacs tried to play down any acrimony with the United States. “We believe that it’s a mutual interest to sort out the problems we are encountering,” he said.

Under the bill proposed by the government last week, which followed tax increases in banking, energy and other economic sectors, data traffic would be taxed at the rate of 150 Hungarian forint, or about 62 cents, per gigabyte.

After an initial protest on Sunday that drew about 10,000 people, the government said it would alter the proposal to cap the tax at 700 forint a month. The ceiling would apply to each Internet subscription, whether on computers, mobile devices or cable services.

Government officials say the tax would be levied on Internet providers, not customers. Their critics, however, say it is inevitable that any taxes would be passed on to consumers.

None of the back-and-forth appeased the demonstrators, who turned out in much larger numbers on Tuesday and in a growing number of cities.

“A lot of people feel that the Internet has been a sort of refuge,” Mr. Gulyas said, “and now the government is interfering with that.”

 27 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/29/2014 06:52 PM

Bound for Syria: German Kurds Join Fight against Islamic State

By Jörg Diehl and Fidelius Schmid

Young Kurds from Germany are joining PKK's fight against Islamic State in Syria. Security officials are concerned that tensions between Salafists and Kurds in Germany could rise once they return home.

Just before reaching the border, Berdi Akpolat* and his cousin ducked into a dried-out creek bed to hide. Peering over the edge, they could clearly see the spotlights mounted on Turkish vehicles as they patrolled the border. Akpolat and his cousin waited patiently for an interval between two Jeeps, and then they made a dash for the fence. After leaning a board against the razor wire, they leapt the barrier into Syria.

Once there, the pair was welcomed by a group of around 20 armed men and women. Their leader embraced Akpolat, exclaiming "welcome to Rojava" just as tanks on the Turkish side began firing. The fighters fired back, according to Akpolat, and then took him and his cousin into a house where Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the force PKK, is said to have once spent the night.

It was well past midnight and the two men from Germany could hear the salvos and shell impacts of fighting between PKK guerilla fighters and Islamic State militants. Akpolat, 21, a Kurd from Stuttgart with a German passport, spoke with a group of armed women who told him that he was ideologically prepared to join the fight in the Kobani region. When a pick-up drove up, the women got in, Akpolat says, and they made room for him too. "Come on!" they called.

Akpolat began his journey in August. German security officials believe that he is part of a growing number of young Kurds from Germany who are making a journey for which Salafists have become notorious: They are heading to Syria to fight in the country's civil war. Once there, they join forces with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group banned in Germany and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

Security officials believe that some 50 men and women have made the trip, but the real number is likely much higher. In contrast to Islamic State, PKK is a disciplined organization. For decades, it has been able to operate largely out of view of German investigators, with their fighters able to leave the country unnoticed, only returning for rest and relaxation.

Getting Home In One Piece

Akpolat denies having fought in Syria, insisting that he was only there for a few days. During his stay, he saw people die, witnessed horrific wounds, and heard of atrocities and heroism. But then, he says, he left -- because his cousin had promised Akpolat's mother he would bring him home safely.

He admits to having carried a Kalashnikov while in Syria. "You can't wander around Kobani without a weapon," he says. But he claims to only have been accompanying his cousin, who smuggles PKK fighters from Turkey into the Kurdish areas of Syria -- "more than 500 of them thus far," Akpolat proudly claims. He also says that he knows plenty of people who are now fighting in Turkey, including a friend from Lake Constance and others, women among them. "There are a lot," he says.

The young man is sitting in his parents' living room, dressed entirely in black. His eyes glow when he talks about the Kurdish struggle and exhibits a precise knowledge of important dates in PKK history. His grandfather is said to have been a co-founder of the group's military wing. Next to the television is a photograph of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan; a gold-framed rhinestone twinkles above Öcalan's graying hair. "Without the PKK, we Kurds wouldn't exist anymore," Akpolat says. "Our language, our cultural identity would be lost."

The walls of the Kurdish cultural center in the Ostend quarter of Stuttgart frequented by Akpolat are covered with oversized posters of three PKK activists murdered in Paris in 2013. A yellowing poster allegedly depicts 12 PKK fighters from the Stuttgart region who have fallen in the fight against Turkey. Two additional images -- one of a man, the other of a woman -- are displayed on a table as though it were an altar. "Those are the most recent to have fallen," Akpolat says. He points to the woman: "She took 71 Islamic State fighters with her."

Two older men, allegedly functionaries in "the movement," walk into the cultural center. When asked if young people from Germany are heading to Syria to fight for PKK, they are initially circumspect. "We don't approve when people who are too young come," one of them says. "They have to be at least 18." But, he adds: "It happens every day that men and women head off."

German security officials are aware of such activity. For years, officials say, the PKK has been trying to attract volunteers for their fight against Turkey. Specially trained recruiters mostly target young men and try to tempt them with adventure, idealism and love for the homeland.

The number of potential volunteers appears to be large. Security officials believe that PKK has some 13,000 followers in Germany. Though the organization has been banned in Germany for more than 10 years, the country continues to serve as a safe haven and as a hotbed of recruitment. Equipped with aliases and fabricated biographies, a constantly rotating group of leaders head up the four PKK regions in Germany, known as "Sahas": North, Central, South 1 and South 2. Once new recruits have been enlisted, they are sent to camps in the Netherlands or Belgium for initial ideological training. Then, they travel to Kurdish regions.

'Further Escalation'

Since last fall, investigators and intelligence agencies have noted that PKK has increasingly been searching for recruits for the civil war in Syria. "It began slowly," one agent says, "but it is now gaining steam." Images from the fight for Kobani have a particularly strong effect on young people. An internal security agency report notes that new recruits receive military training in the border regions of Turkey and Iraq preparatory to joining YPG -- the Syrian branch of PKK -- in the fight in Syria.

So many Kurds have been making the trip that officials are now trying to prevent them from heading to the region if they are thought to harbor intentions of joining the armed conflict there. But a similar effort aimed at hindering Islamists from traveling to Syria has proven difficult. When it comes to Kurds, it could be almost impossible. "These people aren't as stupid as the jihadists," says one secret service agent. "You can't differentiate them from totally normal travelers. If they are active for the PKK, then only in secret." And once they have arrived in the war zone, they don't -- in contrast to Islamic State fighters -- send back photos of themselves holding up disembodied heads, nor do they appear in web videos. "We are basically groping around in the dark," a different security official admits.

The inability to track PKK fighters may have something to do with the Kurds' deftness. But it could also be a product of where police, prosecutors and intelligence agencies prefer to focus their resources. For the purposes of German security, those who are returning from the battlefield are more relevant. But whereas Kurds come back to Germany to rest, returning Salafists are considered to be potential terrorists.

When it comes to returning Kurds, the worry is more that their presence in Germany could intensify tensions with the Salafist scene. Just two weeks ago, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) warned of the "strong emotionalization" of the two sides, following riots in Hamburg and Celle.

Akpolat, who has taken to making daily visits to the Kurdish vigil on Schlossplatz square in the heart of Stuttgart, agrees with that assessment. He too says that he has noticed that the atmosphere between Kurds and Salafists has steadily become more uneasy. "If it continues like this," he says, "it is only a question of time before we will see a further escalation here."

 28 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ukraine, Russia Begin Fresh Talks Aimed at Ending Gas Row

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:13

Ukraine and Russia on Wednesday resumed EU-brokered talks in Brussels aimed at ending a months-long supply cut that also threatens to hit parts of Europe this winter.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told reporters the "common ambition" was to clinch "an interim solution" to assure supplies through the cold season.

Speaking after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oettinger said he would meet with his Russian counterpart before all three sat down together.

Oettinger said he hoped it would be the last of several trilateral meetings, including one in Brussels last week, but told German television ZDF earlier that chances of an agreement here were "50 percent."

After last week's meeting broke up, Oettinger had said he hoped for an agreement this week.

Russia in mid-June cut supplies to Ukraine, demanding the new pro-Western government in Kiev pay sharply higher prices in advance for new deliveries after it ran up what Moscow claimed was an unpaid bill of $5.3 billion (4.1 billion euros).

That supply cut heightened concerns that Europe, which gets about a third of its gas from Russia of which about a half transits via Ukraine, could be badly affected by the dispute this winter.

Oettinger said he held bilateral talks with Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan and the head of Ukraine's Naftogaz before he was to meet his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak and the head of Russia's Gazprom.

"Our common ambition is to come to an interim solution, to come to a winter package ... to solve our security of supply," Oettinger said.

Oettinger said hurdles still had to be cleared, including Ukraine's settling unpaid bills and paying in advance for its purchases.

In order for Russia to resume supplies to Ukraine for the winter, he told ZDF, old bills must be paid, like those from November and December last year as well as for April, May and June this year.

In total, 4.6 billion dollars are needed, he said.

But "Ukraine has huge payment problems. It is practically insolvent," Oettinger told the German public television channel.

"It has already obtained billions in aid" from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union and "must use some of it to buy gas, he said.

At the same time, Kiev has to cover other expenses, such as "rebuilding its roads" or "buying weapons," the commissioner said.

The European Commission is studying a request from Kiev for an additional loan of two billion euros.
Source: Agence France Presse

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U.N. Chief Deplores Ukraine Rebel Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:58

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday deplored plans by Ukrainian separatist rebels to hold elections at the weekend, saying the polls undermined peace accords.

The vote on Sunday in east Ukraine "will seriously undermine the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, which need to be urgently implemented in full," Ban said in a statement released by his spokesman.

Ban's criticism came after Russia raised tensions by saying that it would recognize the result of the vote in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

The U.N. chief said he "deplores the planned holding by armed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine of their own 'elections' on 2 November, in breach of the constitution and national law."

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics announced last month plans to hold polls on Sunday to elect regional leaders and legislative bodies.

Ukraine's national parliament in Kiev, the Verkhovna Rada, has passed legislation giving the rebel-held, mainly Russian-speaking regions limited self-rule.

The legislation called for local elections to be held on December 7. But the rebel leaders said they should have powers to set the date.

The United States has said that recognizing the rebel vote would be a "clear violation" of the Minsk accords signed in the Belarussian capital on September 5.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of backing the separatist rebels fighting Kiev, but Russia denies any involvement. More than 3,700 people have died in the conflict since April.
Source: Agence France Presse

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East Ukraine's Rebels Prepare for a Long Cold War

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 October 2014, 07:09

As winter approaches in Ukraine's eastern countryside, pro-Russian rebels and Kiev forces eye each other uneasily across a ragged frontline. Despite signing a truce, both seem to be digging in for the long haul.

"We are repairing this tank after it was hit by mortar shells yesterday. The war will be long. If Kiev wanted peace it would have finished a long time ago," a rebel commander of a checkpoint near the village of Lukove said.

The commander, who calls himself Starshina (Sergeant) points across the harvested sunflower fields to Ukrainian positions three kilometres away, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of the rebel hub Donetsk.

"You can see their tanks and mortar launchers to the right, and to the left are the Grad multiple rocket launchers. And everywhere, they are digging shelters and reinforcing their positions," he said.

In the no-man's land between the rebel and Ukrainian lines lie fields and a small river. A boy of five shows off a chunk of mortar, as big as his hand, which he found in the fields.

"There are plenty others there," he said.

"There is firing every day. Today it began in the morning. I don't see why we signed a ceasefire," bemoaned Starshina, eyeing the Ukrainians based near the village of Chermalyk.

Behind him, two soldiers are busy repairing the tank's broken turret. A little further out, two armoured vehicles stand hidden in the bushes.

"We took it all from the Ukrainian army," Starshina claims.

He and several members of his unit are originally from Slavyansk, a former rebel hub of the Donetsk region which the army took over in July, forcing the rebel command to relocate to Donetsk.

- 'Winter will be tough' -

About thirty kilometres from Starshina's barricades towards the town of Novoazovsk on the Azov sea, Agence France Presse journalists were stopped by the rebels and prevented from going any further.

The reason given is that Ukrainians are shooting at Novoazovsk and nobody is allowed through.

Kiev's version of events in the area however is radically different. Spokesman Volodymyr Seleznyov said the rebels shelled Ukrainian positions near Novoazovsk from Grad launchers and artillery guns.

Since Kiev and the Russia-backed rebels signed the ceasefire agreement on September 5, eastern Ukraine has been far from calm, with continued crossfire and signs that both sides are digging in for winter.

Though the intensity of attacks has decreased considerably, along with the daily toll, Donetsk is still gripped by near daily artillery blasts and destruction in civilian neighbourhoods.

Sub-zero temperatures already descend nightly in the conflict zone, making life difficult for fighters on both sides, with everyone seeming to expect the conflict will continue.

Wood is being used to power heating stoves and, for those with the skills, to construct more permanent shelters to withstand the cold and rain.

"Winter will be tough. We are preparing," a young soldier, former taxi driver from Donetsk, told AFP while chopping wood at a checkpoint.

Source: Agence France Presse

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Seven Soldiers, 1 Civilian Killed in Eastern Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 October 2014, 14:09

Seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past day of fighting with pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country, the military said Thursday, the biggest daily toll in more than two weeks.

"Over the last 24 hours, we have lost seven servicemen, 11 were injured," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters.

After a lull in fighting at the weekend, when Ukraine held snap parliamentary elections, Kiev has accused rebels of attacking their positions over the past three days.

Lysenko said the rebels were most active in the south of Donetsk region, where Kiev still controls the large industrial hub of Mariupol, a port city on the Azov sea.

The latest figure puts Kiev's military losses at 160 since the September 5 signing of a shaky ceasefire deal with rebels.

Overall, well over 3,700 people -- mainly civilians -- have died since the start of fighting in April, according to U.N. estimates.

The pro-Kiev governor of the Lugansk region, one of two areas where separatists declared independent "people's republics", said Thursday that rebel attacks on the village of Novotoshkivske west of Lugansk killed one civilian.

"There are injured civilians, one person died, and several buildings destroyed," governor Gennadiy Moskal said in a statement.

Shelling also hit a reservoir in Gorlivka, a rebel-controlled town in Donetsk region, injuring two people, according to the regional water utility company.

Source: Agence France Presse

 29 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Putin Spokesman Tells Press to 'Shut Trap' on Cancer Rumours

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 15:45

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman on Wednesday ridiculed U.S. media reports that the Russian strongman may be suffering from cancer, saying he was fine and that journalists should "shut their trap".

Dmitry Peskov blasted those behind speculation that the 62-year-old Putin -- who has long cultivated an action-man image -- was in ill health.

"They shouldn't bank on it. They should shut their trap. Everything's okay," he told journalists at Putin's country residence outside Moscow.

The New York Post on Friday cited "sources" as saying Putin was suffering from pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease.

It suggested the information came from an unnamed elderly German doctor who had been treating Putin until recently.

It also reported that "news outlets from Belarus to Poland" had been saying for months that Putin -- who has dominated Russia's political scene for almost 15 years -- had cancer of the spine.

Rumors of Putin's ill health have persisted over the past few years, with some observers saying he appeared to be in pain at times during public appearances.

His face also sometimes looks swollen, prompting rumours he could be on steroid medication, or trying anti-aging treatments.

In 2012, Putin cut down on foreign travel for a while and postponed a high-profile visit to Japan, with sources in Tokyo blaming health problems.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said at the time that a "minor sports injury" was to blame.

For Putin, his image as a healthy, active man ready to ride bare-chested or track tigers is crucial in a country where he is already old enough to claim a state pension.

As he faces political isolation from the West and economic woes as the ruble plunges, Putin's sky-high approval rating has dipped for the first time since April.

The Levada independent polling agency found that 83 percent of those questioned in September would vote for Putin as president, down from 87 percent in August.

Source: Agence France Presse

 30 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Private zoos boasting exotic animals – the new status symbol of Armenia's elite

Government accused of turning blind eye to importation of endangered species with cheetahs, lions, tigers and bears kept as pets. EurasiaNet.org reports

Marianna Grigoryan for EurasiaNet.org, part of the New East network
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 October 2014 10.33 GMT   
   
The neighbours of Mher Sedrakian, an MP in Armenia’s ruling Republican party, have a persistent problem with noise. But this is not about wild parties or car horns. Rather, it is about lions.

The lions that Sedrakian allegedly keeps as pets at his home in the Armenian capital Yerevan roar continuously, his neighbours complain.

Increasingly, many Armenians can understand that concern. Private zoos with lions, tigers and bears are emerging as a popular hobby for the wealthy and powerful, and the government does not seem inclined to intervene.

Instead, recent amendments to wildlife legislation seem to facilitate this pastime. Private citizens are allowed to own wild animals, including endangered species, as long as they provide areas for the animals that ensure their “life, health and safety”, and prevent escape from captivity, the law says. Supervision is supposed to be “constant”.

But it is not. Last November, tiger cubs were found in the streets of Etchmiadzin, a town about 12 miles from the capital, Yerevan, local media reported.

Although tigers, as an endangered species, cannot be exported from the wild, their import from zoos is allowed.

A search of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) database for 2008 to 2013 shows the import of six tigers to Armenia, including three Siberian tigers from Ukraine. The others came from Belgium, Chile and Kazakhstan.

An Armenian border guard official, who declined to be named, said that a tiger can be brought into the country if documents show its country of origin and demonstrate that it is the third generation of a zoo-based line.

A Cites certificate that authorises the animal’s shipment is also required, said Hovhannes Mkrtchian, head of the ministry of agriculture’s food security department, which checks import documents and verifies the animals’ health.

Yet investigative reports by the news site Hetq.am indicate that not all of the exotic animals imported into Armenia – for example an endangered bonobo – end up in the Cites database.

Similarly, though crocodiles were offered for sale in Yerevan supermarkets last December for New Year’s celebrations, the database contains no mention of their import as food products.

It does, however, show an array of exotic imports. Cheetahs topped the feline list, with 18 imports from the United Arab Emirates and South Africa between 2008 and 2013. Nine lions were brought in during the same period; most from the United Arab Emirates.

Forty-one dumbo-eared fennec foxes, natives of the Sahara, entered Armenia between 2009 and 2010, while 21 rheas, ostrich-like birds from South America, made the trip in 2012.

Whether or not these animals were meant for the Yerevan zoo was not immediately clear.
The American Rhea, one of a number of exotic birds brought into Armenia.

Yerevan zoo director Ruben Khachatrian said his facility was “making every effort to meet international standards”, and expressed regret that Armenia had developed a reputation for an illegal trade in wild animals.

“Because of certain persons, Armenia has a bad international image in terms of the unlawful trade in animals,” Khachatrian said.

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