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 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:29 am 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mixed Economic Signals From China

OCT. 20, 2014

HONG KONG — Markets around the world have been jolted by fears that slowing growth and deflationary pressures in Europe, Japan and other major economies could derail the United States. But the health of China, for decades an engine of growth, has emerged as one of the most significant wild cards in the global economy.

It is hard to be certain just exactly how the Chinese economy is faring, given mixed signals in the data.

Chinese inflation is at its weakest levels in nearly five years. Commodity prices are plunging. New home sales are declining. Foreign investment is contracting.

The overall economy, though, continues to chug along at a steady, albeit more modest, pace. China’s gross domestic product increased by 7.3 percent in the third quarter, compared with 7.5 percent in the previous quarter. While that was the lowest quarterly growth since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, the rate remains the envy of major economies. The economy also continues adding jobs at a good clip, and the currency is one of very few that are still rising against the dollar.

“The question or problem we are all facing at the moment is, ‘What is right picture for the economy as a whole?’ ” said Louis Kuijs, the chief China economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong. “It’s complicated by negative forces that show up very strongly in industry but not in the service sector.”

Making sense of China’s economic health is challenging because the slowdown is partly by design.

The Communist leadership has pledged to reduce China’s dependence on credit-fueled growth and investment, to instead emphasize domestic consumption. It is a risky proposal, and leaders have signaled a willingness to live with slower growth, provided employment holds up and systemic risks are contained.

One figure that Chinese leaders study closely is the number of new jobs. Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister, boasted in a speech at a World Economic Forum meeting last month that nearly 10 million urban jobs had been created in the first eight months of the year, up slightly from a year ago. As a result, he said, he would not mind if the growth of the gross domestic product fell short of this year’s official target of 7.5 percent.

“An important goal of maintaining stable growth is to ensure employment, and the floor of the proper range is to ensure relatively adequate employment,” he said at the meeting in Tianjin.

But even in the jobs figures, broad disparities exist across China. Employment has grown solidly in the services sector nearly every month in the last five years, according to the purchasing managers index compiled by HSBC and Markit. By contrast, manufacturing employment, which generally expanded from 2009 through 2011, has mostly contracted since.

At an employment fair for the medical appliance industry at a government-run career center near the Lama Temple in Beijing last week, more than a hundred job seekers bantered with recruiters and weighed their options. A 42-year-old man who gave only his surname, Mr. Lin, was applying for a job at Beijing Niubao Technology, a chemical equipment maker.

With 20 years of experience in a specialized industry, Mr. Lin expressed confidence about his prospects despite the overall outlook in the sector. “Manufacturing isn’t doing so great in the past few years, but I think chemical equipment is still doing relatively O.K.,” he said.

That somewhat positive outlook is a sharp contrast to most traditional industries. “We didn’t have any new recruits this year,” Huang Xinqun, 48, a manager at a large ocean-shipping company, said last week. “Usually when the manufacturing business is not doing so well, it would be directly reflected on us,” he said.

“We’re like a signal post on how the economy is doing,” Mr. Huang said. “If companies don’t have that many orders and products to transport, then we don’t have as much work.”

Despite the signs of malaise in China’s manufacturing and industrial sectors, the government is wary of repeating the significant stimulus measures it undertook after the financial crisis. Leaders are worried that would add to China’s ballooning debt, which rose to 250 percent of gross domestic product at the end of June, from 150 percent five years ago, according to estimates by Standard Chartered Bank.

Instead, policy makers in recent months have used targeted, behind-the-scenes stimulus measures, including extending limited amounts of short-term credit to large and medium-size banks. The government also has directed more financing to favored projects, like supporting agricultural efforts and redeveloping shantytowns.

“Things can be done to bolster activity for short periods of time, but I think the fundamental theme is a persistent ratcheting down in the measured rate of growth,” said George Magnus, a financial consultant and a former chief economist at UBS. “China is in for an extended period of volatility.”

Other major indicators offer similarly contradictory perspectives on the progress of China’s economic transition.

Retail sales are rising at their slowest pace in nearly a decade, seemingly casting doubt on the ability of Chinese consumers to drive economic growth. But with an increase of about 12 percent in value this year, sales are hardly anemic.

What is more, official sales figures fail to capture the explosive growth of online shopping in China. The statistics bureau only began including the sales of some unnamed, large Internet retailers in its data this year. But Mark Williams, the chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, estimates that official retail sales figures only capture about one-sixth of the online purchases in China.

Trade figures, too, are somewhat unclear. Reported Chinese exports rose 15.3 percent last month, their biggest increase since 2013. But that was partly because of a 34 percent increase in exports to Hong Kong.

The dynamic has prompted some economists to question whether trade figures are again being distorted by so-called over-

The most problematic economic indicator in China may be gross domestic product itself. Though economists say the data broadly are improving, the numbers do not always seem to add up. For example, the combined G.D.P. reported by each of China’s provinces still regularly exceeds the official total for the country.

Even Mr. Li, the prime minister, has at times expressed doubts over this benchmark measure of output. In 2007, when he was governor of Liaoning Province in northeastern China, Mr. Li privately acknowledged to a visiting American diplomat that China’s G.D.P. figures were unreliable and “for reference only” because they were “man-made,” according to a confidential diplomatic cable released in 2010 by WikiLeaks.

Since then, many economists have supplemented China’s official figures with their own versions of a “Li Keqiang Index,” alternative measures based on what Mr. Li said were his bellwethers of economic expansion. They include electricity consumption, rail cargo volumes and the value of loans disbursed.

“Certainly these data have the potential to be more reliable but there are complications there, too,” said Carsten Holz, a professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who has scrutinized China’s economic data.

“It’s a planned economy thing,” Mr. Holz said of the Li Keqiang indexes, likening them to tallying apples on a tree but making no attempt to calculate their value.

“It is a very rudimentary measure, because you don’t know how many of these apples are rotten, or measure how big they are,” he said. “You are just counting apples.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:26 am 
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Hong Kong leader complains: Allowing democracy would let poor people dominate elections

Agence France-Presse
20 Oct 2014 at 22:14 ET     

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters’ demands it would result in the city’s poorer people dominating elections.

In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times, the embattled chief executive reiterated his position that free elections were impossible.

Demonstrators have paralysed parts of Hong Kong with mass rallies and road blockades for more than three weeks, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing’s authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.

Leung’s comments were published just hours before talks between senior government officials and student leaders to end the impasse are scheduled to take place later on Tuesday.

China has offered Hong Kongers the chance to vote for their next leader in 2017. But only those vetted by a committee expected to be loyal to Beijing will be allowed to stand — something protesters have labelled as “fake democracy”.

Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process.

“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month,” Leung said in comments published by the WSJ and INYT.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has one of the biggest income divides in the world, with growing discontent at increased inequality and exorbitant property prices fuelling the protests which turned increasingly violent at the end of last week.

There are fears any further clashes between police and protesters could derail Tuesday’s discussions.

Leung’s latest comments are likely to further fuel the anger of protesters who see him as hapless, out of touch and pandering to the whims of a small number of tycoons who dominate the financial hub.

His quotes also echo that of Wang Zhenmin, a well-connected scholar and regular advisor to Beijing.

Wang said recently that greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be balanced against the city’s powerful business elite who would have to share their “slice of the pie” with voters.

“The business community is in reality a very small group of elites in Hong Kong who control the destiny of the economy in Hong Kong. If we ignore their interests, Hong Kong capitalism will stop (working),” he said in August.

Leung played down expectations ahead of the long-delayed talks with student leaders that will be broadcast live.

“We are not quite sure what they will say… at the session,” he said.

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:24 am 
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N.Korea Warns of 'Unpredictable' Retaliation

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 October 2014, 17:27

North Korea warned Monday of an "unpredictable" retaliatory strike against South Korea following a series of minor border skirmishes that have raised military tensions ahead of planned high-level talks.

Troops from the two sides exchanged small arms fire on Sunday after South Korean troops fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol moving towards the military demarcation line that marks the border on the peninsula.

The North's military warned in a message sent Monday through a border hotline that it would take "unpredictable measures" in retaliation for alleged provocations from South Korea, the South's defense ministry said.

It also vowed to continue its patrol along the demarcation line, a ministry spokesman said, adding the South responded with a message expressing regret and warning North Korea against further provocations.

"Our side clarified our position that we will sternly deal with further provocations by North Korea," he said.

On October 7 North and South Korean naval vessels traded warning fire near the disputed Yellow Sea border.

Three days later border guards exchanged heavy machine-gun fire after the North tried to shoot down balloons launched over the land frontier with bundles of anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

The North has repeatedly urged the South to ban the leaflet launches organised by activist groups, but Seoul insists it has no legal grounds for doing so.

Last week the two Koreas held military talks to address the tensions but these ended without agreement.

The border incidents have jeopardized a decision -- reached during a surprise visit to the South by a top-ranking North delegation earlier this month -- to resume high-level talks suspended since February.

The South has proposed October 30 as a date for restarting the dialogue, and unification ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Cheol told reporters Friday he still believes the talks will go ahead.

Because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.

Despite its name, the Demilitarized Zone straddling the border bristles with watchtowers and landmines.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:22 am 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Myanmar Sets Provisional Date for Key 2015 Polls

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 October 2014, 11:38

Landmark elections in Myanmar that could propel opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party into office have been provisionally scheduled for late next year, electoral officials said Tuesday.

The 2015 general election, seen as a key test of Myanmar's democratic reforms, is due to be held in the final week of October or the first week of November, Union Election Commission chairman Tin Aye said at a meeting with political parties in Yangon.

He said the election “needs to be free and fair” so that “smart and good people” would be installed in parliament, adding that the exact date would be confirmed next August.

Myanmar authorities have promised the vote will be the freest in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

President Thein Sein's government has been lauded by the international community for a range of dramatic reforms that have seen most Western sanctions lifted.

But rights groups have raised concerns that a number of prosecutions of journalists and activists this year are a sign that the country could be backsliding.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote.

The party won almost every seat available in 2012 by-elections that saw the democracy veteran become an MP for the first time.

Parliament will select a president following the vote.

But 69-year-old Suu Kyi, who spent more than a decade under house arrest, is currently barred from taking the top job by the constitution.

Under the charter, anyone whose spouse or children are foreign nationals cannot become president -- the Nobel laureate's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

Many believe the clause was crafted specifically to thwart her political rise.

Tin Aye, a former military general, said authorities were running trials to computerize voter lists to help avoid fraud.

The previous general election in 2010 was marred by accusations of widespread cheating, as well as by the absence of the NLD which boycotted the poll. Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest just days after the vote.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:21 am 
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Thailand's Junta-picked Council Starts Work on Reforms

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 October 2014, 08:32

A council selected by Thailand's ruling junta Tuesday started work on reforms to close the nation's festering political divide, a task critics dismiss as aimed at diluting the influence of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who led a military coup in May, has said reforms to rid the kingdom of corruption are necessary before new elections can take place.

The first meeting of the 250-strong National Reform Council (NRC), tasked with recommending initiatives including a new constitution, began with members taking an oath in parliament.

NRC member Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator and frontman of a group that staged months-long protests preceding the coup, said the new body would help restore power to voters.

"We have to decrease the power of parties and increase the power of people... People should have the power to monitor MPs," he told Agence France Presse ahead of the meeting.

But critics say the new council is stacked with anti-Thaksin figures and designed to rid the kingdom of his influence.

The new constitution is expected to include clauses preventing those convicted of corruption from entering politics, a move which appears to target Thaksin who fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid jail for a graft conviction.

Prayut seized power from an elected government in a bloodless coup on May 22, shortly after Yingluck Shinawatra was dismissed as prime minister in a controversial court ruling.

It was the latest crisis in a country which has been riven by political divisions since Yingluck's elder brother Thaksin was toppled as prime minister in an earlier military takeover in 2006.

Thaksin, whose parties have won every election since 2001, is reviled by much of Thailand's Bangkok-based royalist elite but draws deep loyalty from the poorer northern portion of the country.

Analysts expect the new constitution to target Thaksin’s political network as well as his enduring electoral popularity in the north by either redrawing constitutional boundaries, culling the number of lawmakers in parliament or part-appointing the lower house.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:19 am 
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Pakistani Government Suspends License of ARY News

OCT. 20, 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government on Monday suspended the license of ARY News, a broadcast network that has been sharply critical of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a move that was widely criticized by rights groups and journalists.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said the 15-day suspension was effective immediately. It also imposed a fine of 10 million rupees, or about $97,000.

The regulatory body said in a statement that ARY had maligned the country’s judiciary in an episode of the talk show “Khara Sach,” which was critical of the court system and senior judges.

However, analysts said that the suspension seemed aimed at curtailing coverage by ARY that had been increasingly critical of Mr. Sharif and his government and party, particularly by the host of “Khara Sach,” Mubashar Lucman, and other hosts on the network. Mr. Lucman has been on a professed campaign against Mr. Sharif’s government, and in one TV appearance distributed candy after a politician allied with the government lost a by-election in central Pakistan.

“ARY TV must be immediately allowed back on air,” said Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. “There is simply no justification for the Pakistani authorities to silence sections of the media solely because of their political leanings.”

“The ban on ARY is a sobering reminder of the threat of criminal prosecution on the basis of overly broad contempt of court or anti-state provisions,” Mr. Qadri said. “Journalists in Pakistan are under attack from all sides, facing harassment, even abduction and killings for carrying out their work.”

Monday’s suspension is the second time this year that a major television news network has been silenced by a government order.

In June, the media regulatory authority suspended the license of Geo TV, the country’s leading news network, after it aired accusations that the head of the country’s powerful spy organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, was behind an attempt to kill Hamid Mir, a popular Geo talk show host.

Even though Mr. Sharif publicly expressed support for Mr. Mir and his channel, the government did little when the country’s powerful military establishment pushed to have the channel taken off the air.

Geo has now been restored, but its management says that its distribution has greatly decreased. The channel has been muted in its criticism of the military ever since it returned to the air.

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:17 am 
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Arrests Follow Acid Attacks on Iranian Women

OCT. 20, 2014

TEHRAN — The police arrested several men Monday in connection with at least four acid attacks on women that appear part of a violent campaign in support of new rules that aim to punish women deemed “badly veiled.”

The attacks spread panic around Iran’s old capital, Isfahan, which is also the country’s main tourist destination. The semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency reported that men on motorcycles had splashed acid on women through open car windows.

The episodes were widely discussed on social media in Iran as people in Isfahan said there had been more than a dozen attacks, a number not confirmed by the police but enough to prompt many women to stay indoors.

“I saw a big crowd and heard that another attack had taken place,” Morvarid Moshtahgian, 19, said in a phone interview of an attack on Wednesday. “Now when I go on the streets my body aches of fear, and when I hear a motorcycle approaching I grab my bag so I can be ready to at least protect my face.”

The attacks coincided with a law passed in Parliament on Sunday protecting those citizens who feel compelled to correct women and men who in their view do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws. Under the Islamic obligation of “propagating virtue and preventing vice,” Parliament has officially empowered the government and private citizens to give verbal or written statements on social issues.

While such rules on dress are not new, the Interior Ministry has opposed the new law on citizens’ policing of them and is trying to alter it, the state Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Monday.

Graphic pictures provided by the Iranian Students’ News Agency show one of the victims, Soheila Jorkesh, in a hospital with her face badly burned.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary has announced that the “most serious punishment” — usually a reference to execution — awaits the perpetrators, a spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said Monday. He also stressed that the attacks “have nothing to do” with improper veiling.

The list of official vices in Iran is long and in many ways reflects a growing disconnect between the lifestyles of many Iranians and Iran’s Islamic laws. In addition to the strictly enforced dress codes, alcohol is banned, as are bars and clubs, sex before marriage, Western pop music and the showing of female hands in advertisements, even for soap. In reality many of these rules are widely flouted. In recent years, some clerics who have tried to correct people have been beaten up on the streets of Tehran.

Acid attacks are not as common in Iran as in India and Pakistan. In 2011, a victim of an acid attack, Ameneh Bahrami, forgave her attacker, a spurned lover, right before she was allowed under Islamic law to blind him as a result of an eye-for-an-eye ruling. Activists welcomed her decision, but now some say that laws must be tougher.

“Overall violence against women has increased because the punishments are not tough enough,” said Mojgan Faraji, a journalist. On social media, there have been calls for a protest on Wednesday in Isfahan.

Women and their families there say they are terrified. “I wear a face mask when I go on the streets,” said Niloofar Abdolhasani, 22, an architecture student. “My friends usually wear a lot of makeup, but when I saw them yesterday they were unrecognizable. We can all be victims. I hope this will be over soon.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:16 am 
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40 Are Killed in Attacks Targeting Shiites in Iraq

OCT. 20, 2014

BAGHDAD — Militants unleashed a flurry of deadly attacks against Shiite targets in Iraq on Monday, including a quadruple car bombing near two of the holiest shrines in Shiite Islam and a suicide attack inside a mosque, officials said.

The four car bombs were detonated in Karbala on the periphery of a pedestrian-only area encircling the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas, killing 22 and wounding 51, officials said.

Those attacks roughly coincided with a symbolically important meeting in Najaf, another holy Shiite city in southern Iraq, between Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. The meeting was widely viewed as a demonstration of support for Mr. Abadi. Ayatollah Sistani had not met with Mr. Abadi’s predecessor, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, for the last few years, which was interpreted by many as a sign of dissatisfaction with the administration.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks in Karbala, but suspicion fell most heavily on the Sunni-led Islamic State, which has deployed car bombs and suicide bombers with increasing frequency in recent weeks, most often targeting Shiite neighborhoods.

Two of the cars were in parking lots where worshipers leave their vehicles before walking to the shrines, officials said. The other two were detonated along busy commercial streets, officials said.

Nusaif Jassim, head of the Karbala provincial council, said the attacks were “a response to the progress” of Iraqi security forces in pushing back the Islamic State in the area around Jurf al-Sakhr, a town strategically located on a corridor between Karbala and militant strongholds in Anbar Province.

The Islamic State has been able to gather support among some Sunnis in part by playing on widespread Sunni mistrust of the Shiite-led government. Mr. Abadi took office last month on the promise that he would reach out to disaffected Sunni populations.

Mr. Abadi said at a news conference after his meeting with Ayatollah Sistani that the cleric spoke about “being more open to others, national unity, and chasing corruption and the corrupted as well as providing the best services to the Iraqi people.”

In Baghdad, a man shot and killed a guard standing outside a small Shiite mosque crowded with worshipers during midday prayer, forced his way through the door and shot and killed the imam and a worshiper, witnesses and the authorities said. Then the man detonated an explosives belt concealed beneath his oversize shirt, killing another 15 and wounding 33, the authorizes said.

Haider Ali Hussein, a porter at a nearby utilities shop, said that for security reasons, the mosque was reserved for people from the neighborhood, Sinak. The guard had tried to block the bomber’s entry because he did not recognize him.

“Very good friends of mine, gone in this explosion,” Mr. Hussein said.

The attack was the second against a Shiite mosque in Baghdad this week. On Sunday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest outside a Shiite mosque in the Harthiya neighborhood of western Baghdad, killing 18 people and wounding 35, the authorities said. Two roadside bombs in the capital on Sunday killed another 8 and wounded 12, officials said.

As the Islamic State has tried to press closer to Baghdad, Iraqi and American officials have insisted that the capital is well protected from a siege and that the most the militants could hope to do was sow fear and death with bombings.

But on Monday, residents of the capital were reminded that mortal threats abound in the city beyond those posed by the Islamic State, especially amid the growth of government-supported militias and the proliferation of weapons.

Shortly after midnight, a protracted firefight between a federal police unit and another armed group erupted along a darkened and otherwise empty boulevard of the Karrada neighborhood, Interior Ministry officials said. The shootout, involving assault rifles and heavy machine guns, lasted at least 20 minutes though remarkably, officials said, only two police officers were wounded.

Saad Maan, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said in an interview that the police had converged on a hotel where “a gang” was holding a kidnap victim. The woman, the relative of a prominent Kurdish politician, had been kidnapped in Basra about two weeks ago and her captors were demanding a $2.5 million ransom, officials said.

The woman escaped her captors during the shootout, Mr. Maan said, yet there were no arrests in the case and it still remained unclear late Monday which group was responsible.

Some government officials initially suspected the kidnapping was the work of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Iranian-backed militia that is fighting the Islamic State alongside government forces. But investigators now believe the kidnappers were a gang of ordinary criminals, Mr. Maan said. Leaders of the militia did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“From now on we will have more discipline on the street,” Mr. Maan said. The new interior minister, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, has vowed “to control the street,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, military officials reported clashes between government forces and the Islamic State around the country. In northern Iraq, a militant driving a truck loaded with explosives drew close to a Kurdish pesh merga building in a village near the Mosul Dam and detonated his cargo, killing 15 soldiers and wounding more than 25, said a high-ranking pesh merga officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to provide information on the record.

It was the single deadliest suicide attack ever against the pesh merga, the official said.

In the Qara Taba district in Diyala Province, pesh merga forces were fighting on Monday alongside Iraqi government forces, the authorities said. Six militants died in those clashes, as well as one Iraqi police officer and two pesh merga fighters, officials said.

There was also fighting reported outside Tikrit, including in the village of Al Hajaj, north of the city, where government security forces supported by Iraqi aircraft were attacking jihadist militants, officials said.

The Pentagon reported that warplanes from the United States, France and Britain conducted six airstrikes in Iraq on Monday

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:11 am 
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Turkey to allow Kurdish peshmerga across its territory to fight in Kobani

Dramatic shift in the Turkish position due to internal protests on government inaction and support for regional fight against Isis

Martin Chulov in Beirut, Constanze Letsch in Istanbul, and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 18.33 BST   

Turkey will allow Kurdish peshmerga forces from northern Iraq across its territory to defend Kurds in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani, in a move that fighters say could tip a month-long battle against Islamic State (Isis) insurgents in their favour.

The announcement marked an abrupt shift from Ankara’s position of refusing to militarily help the Kurds of Kobani and came hours after the US military dropped 24 tonnes of weapons and medicines in the first supply run it had made to the besieged town in nearly five weeks of fighting.

Both developments followed a substantial increase in the number of air strikes against Isis forces, which Kurdish militia members inside Syria and exiled residents of Kobani say are steadily turning the tide of the battle.

Guided in by special forces and by Kurdish spotters operating deep inside the war-ravaged town just south of the Turkish border, the air strikes are believed to have decimated the Isis command in recent days, forcing it to use an increasing number of untested cadres who are struggling to hold ground.

The jihadi group has paid an increasingly heavy price in the fight for Kobani, losing an estimated 400 men and many of the heavy weapons it had brought to the battle from a stockpile it had looted in northern Iraq.

“It is being much more difficult for them,” said a western diplomat based in the region. “If what has been delivered can make a measurable difference then they can’t win. They will need to recalibrate their commitment.”

The state of the battlefield is now markedly different than late last week, before the increase in strikes, when Isis forces were advancing despite the presence of US and coalition jets and seemed poised to overrun Kobani, the fourth-largest Kurdish town in Syria.

Such a victory would have been a significant boost for Isis, proving it could prevail over the US and its Arab partners as it continued on its rampage through the centre of the region.

The jihadis’ gains had been made while Turkey refused to support the fighters inside Kobani, because of their links to the PKK, which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish government for nearly 40 years.

Kurdish fighters contacted by the Guardian say the weapons drops have boosted morale and, if continued, will help them hold back the Isis onslaught.

“The weapons aren’t enough to change the game in one night,” said Sores Hassan, a spokesman for the YPG militia, which is fighting in Kobani. “But if the aid is continued, it will help us a lot. This support is helping us morally and lifting our spirits more than really helping us on the ground. We are talking to the coalition through different channels to continue the support and we hope it will happen more often.”

Another fighter, who identified himself as Ameen, said: “The game has changed now. After the Americans provided us with weapons, we turned from defending the city to attacking Isis. Now we are no longer playing the defensive in this war. I believe the next couple of days will bring us victory.

“In the first week of the air strikes, the Americans were bombing empty Isis headquarters. Now, it is different. They are more accurate and they know the right places to bomb.”

Mahmoud Haji Omar, a member of the peshmerga committee in the Kurdistan parliament, confirmed that peshmerga troops were preparing to deploy to Kobani: “We are planning to send a number of peshmerga forces to go and fight in Kobani against (Isis). We are currently selecting the fighters that will be going to Kobani. Turkey has agreed to give passage as long as the peshmerga fighters bring back the weapons that they take in to Kobani.”

Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry said the Obama administration decided to airdrop weapons and ammunitions to “valiant” Kurds because it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support them.

Kerry told reporters in the Indonesian capital Jakarta that the US administration understood Turkey’s concerns about supplying the Kurds, but said the situation is such in Kobani that the resupplies were deemed absolutely necessary in a “crisis moment”.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect [to] the PKK,” Kerry said. “But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy Isil [Isis], and it is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani.”

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu said that the decision to allow the peshmerga to pass through its territory was in line with a wider regional effort to fend off Isis.

“We want the region to be cleared of all threats. We assess the military and medical materials aid provided by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all forces defending Kobani in this framework,” he said. “There are seven or eight groups that are fighting together with the PYD [the Democratic Union party] [in Syria].”

Some observers pointed out that the perceived policy shift in Ankara was no surprise and pointed to a string of violent protests that shook Turkey two weeks ago in response to the government’s perceived inaction over the crisis in Kobani.

Nevertheless, it underscores a bewildering array of allegiances: Turkey last week bombed PKK positions inside its borders, and is days later preparing to aid the PYD, which it says is a direct PKK ally.

Mesut Yegen, a historian of the Kurdish issue, said that Turkey could not risk the fall of Kobani: “The events from two weeks ago clearly showed that if Kobani should fall, the peace process would end. The Turkish government wanted to test how people would react, and they saw what would have happened. Turkey can no longer be seen as watching the drama in Kobani unfold without doing anything.”

Additional reporting: Mais al-Bayaa


Who will help Turkey help Kobani?

We can no longer continue to act like the UN. A global response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq is imperative
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu   
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 21.21 BST          

The plight of the small town of Kobani has become the focus of the world’s attention amid the devastation and misery of Syria. With each day the reign of terror of Islamic State (Isis) has been moving too close for comfort.

It’s worth remembering that Kobani was not Isis’s first target – the extremists have overrun a vast terrain from Azzaz in Syria to Kirkuk in Iraq. Just as they have been driving the Kurds out of Kobani they have killed, intimidated and driven Turkomans out of Çobanbey on the Turkish border; Arabs in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Mosul; Yazidis in Sinjar; and Christians in Aleppo. The tales of horror there are just as atrocious.

With a 1,295km border with Syria and Iraq, this is a danger felt far more acutely by Turkey than any other country. It is a matter of the greatest national security to see the threat of extremism disappear from our neighbourhoods. We are ready, able and willing to do our part to this end – after all, we know only too well the toll of terrorism. Turkey will always be on the frontline in combating terror, including this new menace.

We have opened up our borders and embraced all those from Kobani who wish take refuge in Turkey. We have provided Kobani with all the humanitarian aid possible. We have acted in full cooperation with the international coalition. We are also facilitating the passage of Kurdish peshmerga forces to Kobani. We will continue our contribution to saving the town so its residents can go back to their homes.

Beyond Kobani, effective action requires a clear strategy and endgame. Everyone has to be prepared to play their part, and nobody should be left to bear the consequences alone. Isis is the product of a bigger evil. Not only the fertile ground offered by instability in Syria, but also the ardent support of the regime has helped terrorist groups grow. The regime was Isis’s patron, with the intention that it would eradicate the Syrian opposition, together with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. But Bashar al-Assad’s plan backfired. Isis grew out of control, fed by the territory and weapons it seized in Iraq.

In Kobani, nearly 400 people have died in the past three weeks. In Syria, more than 200,000 people have died since the regime chose to wage war against its own people, more than three years ago. The regime has not hesitated to use heavy artillery against civilian neighbourhoods or fire ballistic missiles. Airborne attacks and barrel bombs have become a daily routine. It even used chemical weapons. As long as this regime remains, Syria will not be stable and secure: violence, particularly terrorism, will continue to emerge – the regime has no qualms about using any method that will keep it in power. The root causes must be tackled.

Resolute and comprehensive action is required to achieve this, involving the establishment of a no-fly zone with safe areas in Syria to protect its citizens. Without it, any operation will be insufficient to eradicate the current threats.

Our past warnings of likely outcomes both in Iraq and Syria regrettably fell on deaf ears. In Syria, the objective must be to make the regime understand that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The regime must engage in serious negotiations for a genuine and inclusive political transition that will lead to a real political change as envisaged by the Geneva conference of 2012.

In Iraq, the aim must be to ensure the mistakes of the previous government are not repeated. Isis has been able to make such a rapid advance due to the environment created by the sectarian and oppressive policies of the past decade. As the new administration takes office, we have the chance to end that sectarianism and reason to be optimistic.

In the meantime we will remain attentive to the needs of the Syrian and Iraqi people. Turkey’s assistance is unprecedented. The number of Syrians from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who have fled and found refuge in Turkey continues to rise, and is now approaching 2 million people. Over the past couple of weeks 200,000 Syrians have arrived from Kobani.

This burden has been appreciated in words but not in deeds. The costs so far have reached $4bn (£2.5bn), and Turkey cannot continue to act as if it were the United Nations. A collective responsibility to address Syria’s plight, including a no-fly zone, becomes imperative.

This is a serious challenge facing the entire world. The callous indifference should end. We should deal head-on with the international peace and security threats posed by Syria and Iraq. The world should no longer allow the Syrian regime to make a mockery of international law and order.

History is made over such events. Good can always prevail over evil. We only need to help it happen.


Humiliation replaces fear for the women kidnapped by Isis

Widow with child sold for marriage after raiding Isis militants shot her husband and took them into captivity

Annabell Van den Berghe in Duhok
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 18.32 BST   

Human Rights Watch believes hundreds of women, many of them Yazidi, are being sold into forced marriages by Isis.

Click to watch:

They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

“A 50-year-old man with a dark beard came to buy me,” she recalls. “From that day on, I didn’t want to live any more.”

Amsha is one of hundreds of Yazidi women from northern Iraq captured during Islamic State’s rapid advance this year. Interviews with women who escaped reveal that Isis corralled the women into halls and other detention centres and gradually sold them off to fighters as the spoils of war.

Isis said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children.

For Amsha, the only mercy is that she managed to retain her son, who is 21 months old. He sits on her lap, holding on tightly, as she recounts the story of the past three months.

The fighters attacked her town in early August, around sunset. Thousands fled to nearby mount Sinjar, but those who weren’t fast enough faced a fate that was sudden and savage.

“When we heard that [Isis] was approaching, we left everything behind and started running,” Amsha says. She and her husband joined a group of tens of other families before they found themselves face to face with Isis.

“The men were then separated from their families and we were forced to follow orders from these men who had just captured the village,” she recalls. “They were told to lie down and face the ground. My husband and brother-in-law laid there shoulder to shoulder.”

Amsha’s voice cracks as she resurrects a terrible memory. “I thought they would rob them. Steal their phones or something like that.”

For a brief moment, Amsha looks up from under her headscarf. It is covering a face full of tears. She plays with the tips of the scarf between her fingers.

“But they killed them. They shot them in the head, one by one.”

After Amsha witnessed her husband’s death, she was forced alongside other women and girls into one of several minibuses that brought them to Mosul, the Iraqi stronghold of the self-proclaimed caliphate.

“I was held prisoner in a dark hall together with hundreds of other women, and girls. Some of them children who were not more than five years old.”

For Amsha, it was not the killing of her husband nor the imprisonment that broke her, but the marriage she would be forced to succumb to.

“Nobody was allowed to leave the prison, unless they were sold,” she says. “On a daily basis, men entered the room to pick out a girl. First the most beautiful girls, the young ones.”

Amsha remembers how mostly Iraqis, but frequently foreigners as well, entered the room to choose themselves a treat. “One day, a 10-year-old got separated from her mother, because a group of men decided to buy the girl. I am constantly worrying for that girl, and all the other girls that are still stuck in that prison.

“When the young girls were sold, I knew my time had come,” Amsha says. Her 50-year-old husband, a man called Zaid, was rough with her. “When I didn’t obey, he’d hit me. You can still see the scars on my back,” she says, pointing at her shoulder blades. “He humiliated me to the bone.

“I was forced to call my mother to tell her I was married. A shame for our family,” she says.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said the precise number of women being enslaved and sold into marriage was unknown. But it cited several escaped women saying they had personally seen hundreds in captivity.

The principal centres for the trade appear to be the main cities under Isis control – Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch, said his group had heard of forced religious conversions, forced marriage, sexual assault and slavery, with some of the victims being children. “The Islamic State’s litany of horrific crimes against the Yazidis in Iraq only keeps growing,” he said.

Dozens of women have escaped and are in hiding. Amsha is one of them.

“Muhanned was thirsty and didn’t stop crying,” she says. “I was banging the door but nobody answered. When I opened the door, I found the guards sleeping,” Amsha says. “I ran away with my son, as fast as I could.”

Without knowing which direction to go, she kept running until she met a man who offered his help. “I wasn’t convinced, but what could I do?” Amsha asks rhetorically. “I decided to put my fate in his hands, and he kept his word.”

The man smuggled her out of Mosul that week, using his daughter’s papers. But, for Amsha, the ordeal isn’t over.

“My parents are happy that I’m here. But I don’t have the courage to continue. At this moment, I only wish to die.”

 on: Oct 21, 2014, 06:05 am 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sinn Fein Leader Is Accused of Covering Up Rape by I.R.A. Member

OCT. 20, 2014

DUBLIN — Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, is at the center of a new controversy over his handling of rape allegations against a senior member of the Irish Republican Army.

A Belfast woman with a strong Republican family pedigree has claimed that she was raped repeatedly by Martin Morris, a senior I.R.A. member, in 1997 when she was 16, and that Mr. Adams was complicit in a cover-up. Mr. Morris has denied the charges.

In recent years, Mr. Adams’s party has weathered several storms arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland. They included his questioning in April by the police in the North over the murder and disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10 who was abducted and shot by the I.R.A. in 1972.

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the I.R.A., has surged in popularity in the Republic of Ireland, where a recent poll showed it was as popular as Fine Gael, the major government party. With an election due in 18 months at the latest, analysts have suggested that Sinn Fein’s political baggage, personified by Mr. Adams, might prove a major stumbling block.

The woman in the rape controversy, Mairia Cahill, now 33, said that after she had confided in some members of the I.R.A., she was summoned to a series of “kangaroo courts” where she was interrogated by the group’s top members and warned not to go to the police or even tell her parents.

Ms. Cahill’s great-uncle, Joe Cahill, was a founding member of the modern-day I.R.A. and a close ally of Mr. Adams. In a BBC Spotlight documentary that was shown last week, Ms. Cahill gave details of meetings she said she had with Mr. Adams, who was considered a family friend, about the rape allegations. Ms. Cahill said Mr. Adams had apologized to her on behalf of the Republican movement; Mr. Adams said the subject of her abuse had not even come up.

Since the program aired on Oct. 14, Ms. Cahill has continued to put pressure on Sinn Fein, and on Mr. Adams in particular, through interviews with news media in Northern Ireland and Ireland. She met with First Minister Peter Robinson of Northern Ireland on Monday and was expected to meet with Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland later in the week.

She said she knew many more women who had similar experiences and were now prepared to come forward.

Mr. Adams told the BBC program that he had cooperated fully with the police on the matter.

After the documentary was shown, Mr. Adams issued a statement denying he had ever made the comments attributed to him by Ms. Cahill and said he had taken legal proceedings against the BBC over the remarks.

Last year, Mr. Adams was accused of covering up the rape and sexual abuse of his niece by her father, Mr. Adams’s brother, Liam. Mr. Adams has said that he was made aware of the allegations in 1987 and that in 2000 he confronted his brother, who admitted they were true. However, he failed to make a statement to the police until 2009, when his niece went public about the abuse. Liam Adams was found guilty and last November was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

In her case, Ms. Cahill’s credibility has forced Sinn Fein — and Mr. Adams in particular — into a defensive position, attempting to contextualize I.R.A. involvement in the policing of such matters during the three decades of the Northern Ireland conflict, known as The Troubles.

This culminated on Sunday in a lengthy statement on Mr. Adams’s blog, in which he admitted that the I.R.A. had shot sex offenders and other criminals such as car thieves, burglars and drug dealers.

The I.R.A. often took on this role reluctantly, he said, and only because it had no choice at a time when Northern Ireland nationalists had a deep distrust of the police. That distrust extended to other state agents, like social workers, he said.

“Despite the high standards and decency of the vast majority of I.R.A. volunteers, I.R.A. personnel were singularly ill equipped to deal with these matters,” he said. “This included very sensitive areas, such as responding to demands to take action against rapists and child abusers. The I.R.A. on occasion shot alleged sex offenders or expelled them.”

Mr. Adams did not comment specifically on Ms. Cahill’s case.

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