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 on: Today at 07:20 AM 
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Opposition leaders launch Russian TV channel

Belarusian and Russian opposition leaders launch channel to combat Kremlin propaganda around eastern Europe

Alec Luhn in Moscow
Thursday 29 January 2015 15.28 GMT
Belarusian and Russian opposition leaders are launching a Russian-language television channel in Estonia to combat Kremlin propaganda around eastern Europe.

For now, is broadcasting three times a week online, but plans to expand its coverage from April, according to its founder, Belarusian activist Pavel Morozov.

It receives support from MyMedia, an initiative to promote independent journalism in Turkey and several former Soviet countries that is funded by the Danish government.

“ targets people in Russia and the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, the Baltic States and Belarus,” Morozov told Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. “The people behind this project consider its main mission to be providing information free of propaganda elements.”

A previous attempt by Morozov to launch in 2009 was short-lived. Now the format has changed and will have a more “satirical direction”, he told the Estonian site

The channel’s launch comes as Germany’s state-run broadcaster Deutsche Welle attempts to start a new international news service to counter Russian propaganda.

RT, a Kremlin television channel focused on foreign viewers, has been expanding around the world and has received warnings from British regulators for biased coverage of the Ukraine crisis. Late last year, the Kremlin announced SputnikNews, a radio and internet outlet that will also target foreign audiences. is run mostly by political emigres. Morozov received political asylum in Estonia after he faced legal trouble in his homeland in 2005 for creating satirical cartoons of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, and one of the main hosts is Artemy Troitsky, an acclaimed Russian music critic with outspoken views against Vladimir Putin’s government who has also relocated to Tallinn.

The three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have Nato membership and pro-western governments, but their significant Russian-speaking minorities have been shown by polling to be more sympathetic to the Kremlin line. Most people in Ukraine and Belarus also speak Russian, and Russian state television is available across the Baltics and Belarus and in parts of Ukraine.

Since a new government came to power in Ukraine last February after huge street protests, Russian state-owned television channels at home and abroad have derided the regime as a “fascist junta” while giving sympathetic coverage to the Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Combined with longstanding local grievances against the Kiev government, their broadcasts have helped to inflame tensions in the country.

Russian propaganda and Ukrainian rumour fuel anger and hate in Crimea

In a broadcast available on the website called “Trash Parade 2014”, Troitsky ridicules some of the most bizarre moves made by Russian lawmakers in 2014.

“The customs union [of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan] on the orders of the Trade and Manufacturing Ministry has banned the use of lace panties in customs union countries,” a sardonic Troitsky says, wearing a “Navalny’s Brother” T-shirt in support of embattled opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “I think most lace panties are produced in China, this is by all appearances a serious blow, a serious plot against the Celestial Empire.”


Russian propaganda over Crimea and the Ukraine: how does it work?

Vladimir Putin has put boots in the ground – over the airwaves, he is taking the west on a tour of the propagandist’s playbook

Alan Yuhas
Monday 17 March 2014 18.21 GMT

The occupation of Crimea by pro-Russian forces has been accompanied by a remarkable propaganda push by Moscow – an effort that has infiltrated western media and helped redefine the debate in Russia’s favor. On Sunday, a referendum in Crimea decided the peninsula’s fate.

Media pressure has mounted. By shutting down independent press, Russia controls more of the story; by spreading half-truths and rumors, the Kremlin not only confuses opponents but also sows unwitting support for its cause; finally, by pushing the boundaries with its version of events, Moscow’s leadership can force other countries to play by its own very pliable rules.

Win the “information war”, as one Russian MP calls it, and you can gain the upper hand without ever firing a shot.

1. Muzzle the press

Page one isn’t too original, but it’s proven. Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been silencing independent voices one at a time for months, effectively dismantling the press. In December, Putin ordered the “restructure” of the state-owned but historically independent RIA Novosti – liquidating most of the outlet, merging its remains with Russia Today and installing as editor in chief Dmitry Kiselyov, a TV presenter notorious for saying gay people’s hearts should be incinerated and playing up how Russia can turn the US into “radioactive ash”.

RIA was just the first. Dozhd, the country’s last independent TV channel, was “pushed off a cliff” right before the Winter Olympics. Then the radio station Ekho Moskvy had its director replaced by its owner, the state-controlled energy company Gazprom. Most recently, the editor-in-chief of, a highly respected, independent news site, was suddenly replaced with a pro-Kremlin editor, a move apparently made through back channels with the site’s conglomerate owner. Though 69 employees and correspondents wrote an open letter protesting “direct pressure” from the government, even resignations would do little but scatter already disparate independent journalists.
Abby Martin, Russia Today presenter Abby Martin, the Russia Today presenter who railed against propaganda during a broadcast. Photograph: Russia Today

The Kremlin’s tighter grip on the media has coincided with the rise of Russia Today, which unapologetically skews news in Putin’s favor. After a news anchor had an on-air meltdown apropos of propaganda last week, the station’s head simply issued a statement reading: “American propaganda … is so strong that it is capable of brainwashing even the brightest and most ardent people.”

2. Rebrand the revolution

Putin, for whom recent events in Kiev have been not only unfavorable but a threat, wants to rebrand history in such a way that it protects him. To that end, a constant theme spouting from Russian sources has been the Ukrainian revolution’s alliance with “fascists” – a vague word that’s become a catchall for anti-Semites, terrorists, insurgents, anarchists and thugs.

Though there were nationalists and far-right nationalists among Kiev’s protesters, and there are some in the new interim government, there decidedly weren’t and aren’t many – if any – bona fide fascists. This line has been both taken up and debunked (thoroughly), but any discussion of fascists at all is a Kremlin win. If you’re busy trying to decide how anti-Semitic Ukraine’s right wing is, then you’re not busy watching Russian soldiers slip across the border. (Ukraine’s chief rabbi is stalwartly pro-Kiev, by the by, and has taken up propaganda-busting, pointing out that the diverse anti-Yanukovych coalition is now anti-Putin.)

Fear of fascists goes a long way in Ukraine, which suffered in the second world war. By definition, fear (“Fascists are coming for your family!”) and confusion (“Fascists? Are there fascists? What’s a fascist?”) matters much more in propaganda than truth (not so many fascists). It doesn’t have to make sense – in fact it’s better if it doesn’t. Incoherent theories of a gay, Jewish, Muslim fascist conspiracy in Kiev don’t matter so long as they’re riling someone up, like a man in Simferopol who told the Guardian: “I mean, I am all for the superiority of the white race, and all that stuff, but I don’t like fascists.”

    — Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 9, 2014

    Referendum advertisements are popping up in the Crimea. "March 16, we decide!" Go Russian or go Nazi?

Putin has also insisted that Yanukovych’s ouster was not just illegal but a coup, and he has pointed fingers at the west for orchestrating and backing the culprits. Again, slivers of truth work in Putin’s favor: Kiev’s parliament removed Yanukovych on constitutionally murky grounds, though everyone else has now accepted them; because Senator John McCain and European leaders visited Kiev, it looks like the west really did back those obstreperous radicals. Considering Russia’s control over media, this alternate version of events – it wasn’t a revolution, but a coup – is not only not absurd, but a direct appeal to skepticism toward the west and its history of meddling.

3. Sound furious, signify nothing

Skewed facts, half-truths, misinformation and rumors all work in the propagandist’s favor. By playing up a law that would diminish the Russian language’s official status, Kiev looks like it’s persecuting Russian speakers (though the vetoed bill does not ban Russian). By reminding everyone of a real military agreement, you can profess innocence while having military “exercises” overstepping their bounds. By removing insignias from Russian uniforms, you can pretend as long as you like that soldiers with Russian guns and vehicles, speaking Russian and occasionally admitting they’re Russian, are merely local “self-defense” bands.

The one thing the Kremlin loves more than misinformation is when the western media pushes oversimplified stories. The idea that Ukraine is evenly split between a pro-European west and a pro-Russian east actually fits with Putin’s preferred version of events; saying there’s any “one map” you need to understand Ukraine’s crisis” risks unwittingly spreading the Kremlin’s story. Peter Pomerantsev explains:

    The big winner from the conceptual division of Ukraine into ‘Russian’ and ‘Ukrainian’ spheres may well be the Kremlin. The idea that Russia is a separate political and spiritual civilisation, one which is a priori undemocratic, suits the Kremlin as it looks to cut and paste together an excuse to validate its growing authoritarianism. So every time a commentator defines the battle in Kiev as Russian language v Ukrainian, a Kremlin spin doctor gets in another round of drinks.

4. Bend the rules

When talking about Ukraine, Putin has insisted that Russia will have a security presence until the situation “normalizes”, though he hasn’t said what constitutes an acceptable “normal”. Putin’s first press conference after Russian troops moved into Crimea was a masterclass of saying everything and nothing: he placated the west (“We won’t go to war”); insisted he would use force “to protect Russians”; he rambled, mocked, waxed grave, brave and a little insane. Given this kind of performance, it’s no surprise that German chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said Putin is “in another world”. But this kind of incoherence is useful.

Lilia Shevtsova brilliantly dissects these strategies as “Putin’s trap” – considering all the ways they undermine convention and work for the Kremlin. In short, it forces others – like Merkel or US secretary of state John Kerry – into engaging in a sparring match in which no rules exist that can’t be bent or broken. The more boundaries Putin pushes and lines he crosses, the more the west will accept a more extreme version of “normal”.

5. Follow your script

By spreading talk of fascists, of gangs of unknown armed men, of coups and self-determination and persecution – while sending armed men into Ukraine, egging on real and staged protests, bribing politicians and blocking the media – the Kremlin is enacting and realizing its propaganda on the ground. The Ukrainian government and military has shown remarkable restraint in not falling for the ploy, but Putin appears prepared to increase the pressure, especially as protester clashes grow more violent.

James Meek sums up the motives:

    The revolution on Maidan … is the closest yet to a script for [Putin’s] own downfall. In that sense the invasion is a counter-revolution by Putin and his government against Russians and Ukrainians alike.

Timothy Snyder explains the goal:

    Propaganda is thus not a flawed description [of reality[, but a script for action … the invasion of Crimea was not a reaction to an actual threat, but rather an attempt to activate a threat so that violence would … change the world.

Despite the obvious dangers of carrying on this way, the Kremlin looks committed to its path. But as any actor, propagandist or politician should remember, the law of unintended consequences means that not even Moscow can know where this ends.


Crimea's referendum to leave Ukraine: how did we get here?

What does the Crimean referendum mean for Ukraine, Russia and the world, and why is everyone talking about it?

Alan Yuhas and Raya Jalabi
Thursday 13 March 2014 19.04 GMT

Why is Crimea a flashpoint?

Crimea is at the centre of one of the biggest geopolitical crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War, as Russia faces off with the west over Ukraine. Crimea is a hub for pro-Russian sentiment, owing to ties with the country which date back centuries. Crimea remains an important base for Russia, both strategically and ideologically, but not all Crimeans are sympathetic to their former ruler – including the historically anti-Russian Crimean Tatars.

• For more on Crimea's unique relationship to Russia, click here:

This week, pro-Moscow authorities have begun preparations for a referendum on the status of Crimea, to be held this Sunday, 16 March. The campaign for annexation of Crimea began as tensions over Ukraine's recent tumult rapidly mounted.

Crimea and Kiev today are ideologically and geographically a long way apart. The referendum, instigated by the peninsula's regional government, was a direct response to the uprisings in Kiev which led to the ouster of a pro-Russian leader in favor of an anti-Russian interim government. In recent weeks, after pro-Russian groups seized government buildings in Crimea, Crimean MPs voted to join Russia. Sunday's referendum will serve to "confirm" that decision.

• For more on Ukraine's crisis and how it reached this stage, click here.
Recent events: how did Crimea get here?

• Pro- and anti-Russian rallies: on 22 February, Ukraine's parliament sided with Kiev's tenacious protesters and voted president Viktor Yanukovych out of office, after four months of civil unrest and political deadlock between demonstrators and Yanukovych's government. The Ukrainian legislature quickly reassembled an interim government as the pro-Russian leader disappeared.

Only days before Yanukovich's ouster, Russia announced surprise military maneuvers, which it then set in motion along the border and in the Black Sea. Immediately after the change in leadership in Kiev, pro-Russian rallies mushroomed in eastern Ukraine, especially in Crimea.

But the east is not uniformly pro-Russian. For instance, in Simferopol, Crimea's regional capital, 10,000 Crimean Tatars shouted "Ukraine is not Russia" before clashing with pro-Russians.

• Seizing buildings, hoisting flags: On 27 February, armed men seized government buildings including the regional parliament, putting Russian flags on barricades as they progressed.

Over the next two days, gunmen described as "local ethnic Russian 'self-defense squads'" stormed major airports, including a military-civilian facility in Sevastopol. The murky nature of the seizures – seemingly both methodical and lawless – was amplified when the Russian Night Wolves biker gang, which has close ties to the Kremlin, arrived to guard the latter.

Pro-Russian forces, in unmarked uniforms and equipped with Russian vehicles and weapons, then moved onto the peninsula en masse, surrounding Ukrainian bases and taking up positions in major cities.

• The Kremlin steps in: Russian propaganda and mixed local sentiment fuelled continued (and continuing) confusion, as outrage against western "fascists" mingled with discomfort at the Russian occupation. Though genuine pro-Russian sentiment and deep divisionsexist in eastern Ukraine, suspicions persist that Russia has bribed crowds (and violent gangs) – a tactic frequently used by the Kremlin to curb domestic dissent.

Meanwhile, Russia's parliament approved military intervention, though President Vladimir Putin insists Russian troops are neither acting illegally or in Crimea at all. The standoff with Ukrainian military has become increasingly tense, with warning shots fired and a truck smashed through a base's gate.
Seizure of Crimea's parliament and the referendum

• Out with the old, in with the new: After gunmen seized the Crimean parliament on 27 February, it quickly began ousting government chiefs and installing new ones including a new regional prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, whose alleged ties to Ukraine's criminal underworld have bestowed him the moniker "the Goblin".

With gunmen still camped in and around the building, the regional government decided "the only possible way out of the situation … is applying the principles of direct rule", in accordance with the "underlying principles of democracy".

For example: to counter Kiev's vote to hold elections for a new government on 25 May, Simferopol voted to hold a regional referendum deciding Crimea's future on the same day. Aksyonov subsequently announced himself in charge of all Crimea's military and police and appealed for help from Putin.

Then, in a surprisingly brazen move, the Crimean parliament declared the peninsula a territory of Russia. The referendum would therefore would be moved to 16 March, and would serve only to confirm parliament's vote.

• International fallout: Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, dismissed the vote and referendum as "illegal" and said "no one in the civilized world" would recognize the vote. American and European leaders joined the chorus declaring it illegitimate, and threatened sanctions if Russia were to absorb Crimea, directly or indirectly, after the referendum.

But Crimea quickly entered campaign season, with referendum billboards springing up across the region. Most play on the Kremlin propaganda suggesting Kiev is full of fascists:

    — Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 9, 2014

    Referendum advertisements are popping up in the Crimea. "March 16, we decide!" Go Russian or go Nazi?

Crimean leaders, meanwhile, took a jaunt to Moscow, where they were met by crowds and the Kremlin elite. On the peninsula, international observers were kept from entering the region by armed men as pro-Russian crowds forced a United Nations envoy to flee.

Kiev has warned the Crimean parliament that it faces dissolution unless it cancels the referendum, but has also said it will not use its military to stop secession – possibly leaving Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea stranded – a precarious outcome for all parties.

    — greg white (@whitegl) March 7, 2014

    The ballot for the Mar 16 Crimea vote #ukraine RT @golosinfo Форма бюллетеня на общекрымском референдуме

• Please tick 'No': The referendum ballot itself, as posted a few days ago to the parliament's website, doesn't exactly give voters an option to say "No". The two choices are:

    "Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russia?"

    "Do you support restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution, and Crimea's status as part of Ukraine?

This second option is somewhat contradictory: the 1992 constitution asserts Crimea is an independent state and not part of Ukraine (reference to autonomy within Ukraine was inserted at a later date). So by "supporting the restoration of the 1992 constitution" voters will actually support enhanced autonomy. No matter what, voters are ticking a box for independence from Ukraine.

What next for Crimea?

It's unclear how the referendum will go – rallies across Crimea have drawn large crowds for both Ukraine and Russia. Though Putin has said Russia is "not considering" annexing Crimea, the Kremlin has supported its right to self-determination and shown no signs of loosening its de facto occupation. On the contrary, pro-Russian forces have grown more aggressive in recent days.

The US and EU have threatened that the referendum will trigger sanctions – but what they can do, and whether they will do anything, is a complicated problem in its own right. Talks with Russia have stalled as the White House played host to Ukraine's interim prime minister Yatsenyuk in DC on Wednesday. The US administration stepped up its criticism of the referendum, in a joint statement by the G7 leaders which insisted the referendum "would have no legal effect", "would have no moral force" and would not be recognised by the international community.

Despite this, Nato is unlikely to react, although it has sent extra fighter planes to Poland and Lithuania and is conducting exercises.

 on: Today at 07:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sri Lanka to Free Tamils and Return Their Land

JAN. 29, 2015

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan government pledged Thursday to free hundreds of minority Tamil detainees and return much of the Tamil land in the north and east that the military seized and continues to hold years after the end of the country’s bitter civil war.

The promises represent the most significant efforts yet announced by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to heal the still-festering wounds of a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009.

This month, Mr. Sirisena defeated the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in what many analysts said was a surprising upset.

Thousands of civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war, waged by separatist Tamil rebels who had long felt marginalized by the dominant ethnic Sinhalese group.

Hundreds of civilians surrendered to government forces, only to disappear while in government custody. The question of whether those who disappeared were killed by government forces or are still alive in a camp somewhere has long tortured families in the formerly restive provinces.

Rajitha Senaratne, the minister of health and a spokesman for the new government, said this week that 275 people detained on suspicion of rebel involvement were still held in camps and jails, but he added that no one seemed to know how many face charges or have languished without formal proceedings against them.

The promise to return seized lands will also give hope to thousands who have been living in refugee camps for decades.

In many cases, the government seized the lands not for security purposes but simply because the holdings were attractive for development, often providing no compensation in return. Thousands filed suit in cases that have long languished in the courts.

Much of the land was used by the military to develop tourist hotels, golf resorts, and poultry and vegetable farms in former conflict zones in the northern and eastern parts of the country, making the military a significant force in the country’s civilian economy.

Former landowners were mostly barred from visiting the seized areas, and their homes were often bulldozed or left to rot.

“Whatever was acquired for business purposes, other than security purposes, we want to give back to the owners,” said Dr. Senaratne.

Dr. Senaratne said the new policy was a profound change in the government’s philosophy about how to prevent a resurgence of separatist sentiment among the Tamils.

“We don’t believe that by using the army and spending so much on security that we can prevent an L.T.T.E. resurgence,” Dr. Senaratne said at a news conference, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group. “Such a resurgence can only be prevented by politicians, not the army.”

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that the government was waiting for a list of legal titleholders to begin releasing the land to its rightful owners.

“The process should start very soon,” he said in an interview.

The government has also announced that it will issue a “special statement of peace" on National Day, Feb. 4, expressing solidarity and empathy with all victims of Sri Lanka’s conflict, a marked change from the triumphalism of the previous government.

The new government has taken several steps toward reconciliation with the Tamil minority since assuming office three weeks ago.

Soon after Mr. Sirisena’s election, his administration lifted a ban on travel by foreigners to the Northern Province.

Last week, the government appointed a civilian governor to the Northern Province, replacing a former major general who had held the position since the war ended.

The new governor, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, a retired diplomat, will assume his new duties on Monday in Jaffna, the northern provincial capital.

 on: Today at 07:08 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Government Allies Are Said to Have Slaughtered Dozens of Sunnis in Iraq

JAN. 29, 2015

BAGHDAD — Some of the men were shot on their doorsteps, their bodies left crumpled in the streets. Others were lined up, led to a field and killed there. Their relatives, ordered to stay in their homes, heard the gunfire.

At least 72 people from a majority Sunni village in eastern Iraq were methodically singled out for slaughter this week, according to witnesses and local Sunni leaders, who said the victims were killed by Shiite militiamen who were supporting Iraqi security forces.

A spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that the government was investigating the claims. Some local security officials in Diyala Province have asserted the victims were militants killed in battle by the security forces, denying that sectarian executions had occurred.

But witness accounts suggest that is what happened in the village of Barwanah starting on Monday. Several survivors described seeing a column of troops drive into the village that afternoon, quickly followed by a convoy of militia fighters. The militiamen started calling out specific names of people they were seeking, then began killing.

The murders are a potentially explosive descent into the kind of sectarian violence that led many Iraqi Sunnis to lose all trust in their government and its militia allies, even before the jihadists of the Islamic State began their rapid advance through much of northern Iraq last summer.

In recent months, the new, Western-backed government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has urgently sought to regain the trust of Iraqi Sunnis, calling the effort an integral part of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

But the government’s conduct of the war has only deepened distrust in some Sunni areas, as Shiite militias, many with Iranian backing, and Kurdish forces have helped to lead the fight against the Islamic State after the Iraqi security forces broke and ran.

There have been multiple reports of revenge killings in the wake of militia advances in parts of Iraq, creating a troubling counterpoint to widespread accounts of Islamic State atrocities in the areas they control.

The Iraqi military and its allies have steadily gained ground against the Islamic State in Diyala Province, pushing in recent weeks to declare the province liberated from the militants. Barwanah was filled with refugees from fighting surrounding it in recent months, including from the nearby village of Sinsil, a stronghold for the Islamic State, according to local officials.

In the days before the killings on Monday, there had been intense clashes around Barwanah. The village was “a no-man’s land between ISIS and the security forces,” said Abdullah Musa al-Jabouri, a local tribal leader. The Iraqi security forces and militias had sustained heavy casualties, residents and officials said.

But the killings did not occur in the heat of battle, according to five witnesses in Barwanah. An Iraqi Army convoy came to the village about 3 p.m. on Monday, with soldiers reassuring residents that all was well, the witnesses said.

Then, 15 minutes to a half-hour later, another column of vehicles arrived, some of them bearing the insignia of Shiite militias, the witnesses said. Three witnesses said the soldiers left before the militiamen arrived, while another said the army was present during the killings.

The militiamen started asking for identity cards and said they were looking for residents displaced from other areas, including Sinsil.

Abdullah Hassan watched from his roof as they arrived, he said, and was stunned when they fired warning shots at him and told him to come down or they would kill him. The militiamen checked his ID card and ordered him to go back into his house.

“Then I started hearing the calling of the names, and the gunfire,” he said. After the militiamen left, Mr. Hassan said he found his uncle’s body on the village’s main street, where there were at least 10 other bodies.

As the gunmen arrived, Ahmed al-Jabouri, 24, called his cousin Shuaib Kadoori, who is from Sinsil and was staying next door, to warn him, Mr. Jabouri said in an interview.

Mr. Jabouri heard the militiamen knock on his cousin’s door. When Mr. Kadoori answered, and the gunmen had confirmed his identity, they shot him, Mr. Jabouri said. Other men were separated from their families before they were shot.

A 42-year-old man who gave his name as Abu Ahmed said he was among dozens of people who were lined up in the streets and asked to show their ID cards.

Some in the group were let go, but roughly dozens of others were taken away, with the gunmen assuring them that they would fine, Abu Ahmed said.

“We heard shooting,” he said. Later, residents found bodies in a field.

A local security official, Abdullah Ameer al-Zadi, initially denied that a massacre had taken place, saying that the army and affiliated militias, responding to attacks from Islamic State militants in Barwanah, had killed only militants.

Another local military official, though, said that Shiite militias, stinging from recent losses in another battle, had carried out the killings in revenge.

Mr. Abadi has ordered an “urgent” investigation of the violence, to be led by a senior cabinet member, according to his spokesman. And on Thursday, the United Nations envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, joined calls by Sunni leaders to hold the attackers accountable.

“It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all armed forces are under its control, that rule of law is respected and that civilians are protected in all areas of the country, including those areas recently liberated from ISIL,” Mr. Mladenov said in a statement.

After the killings on Monday, Ahmed al-Jabouri said they went to army officers and demanded to know why the military had allowed the violence to occur. The officers insisted the dead were jihadists, but said of their own allies: “They are militias. We cannot control them.”

 on: Today at 07:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Erdogan Says he's No Sultan, but More Like British Queen

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2015, 14:21

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan brushed off criticism that he's trying to amass sultan-like powers, saying he really just wants to be more like Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

Erdogan told state-run TRT channel on Thursday that his desire for an expanded presidential role would not undermine democracy -- and he pointed to the UK as an example.

"In my opinion, even the UK is a semi-presidency. And the dominant element is the Queen," Erdogan said.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy, governed by a parliamentary system, but its hereditary monarch wields only symbolic power.

Erdogan's comments came after fresh criticism from the opposition that he would act like an "Ottoman sultan" once his presidential role has been boosted.

Erdogan said that leaders of presidential systems in the U.S., Brazil, South Korea, Mexico are not accused of acting like monarchs.

"I mean, why is it only a monarchy when an idea like this is floated in Turkey?" Erdogan asked.

"We need to speed up to close the gap in this race," he said. "The biggest advantage... would be in abolishing policy-making through multiple channels."

Erdogan became president in August after more than a decade as prime minister, but the opposition accuses him of transforming the state by imposing a gradual Islamisation and riding roughshod over democracy.

The August elections were the first time a Turkish president, traditionally a ceremonial role, has been directly elected by the people. In the wake of his victory, Erdogan insisted he now has a popular mandate to be an active and powerful leader.

Turkey is set to hold parliamentary elections in June, with the pro-Erdogan ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aiming for a thumping majority to change the constitution and boost Erdogan's presidential powers.

"A new constitution is a must for a new Turkey," Erdogan said.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 07:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Italy Opens Voting for New President. Let the Intrigue Begin.

JAN. 29, 2015

ROME — Shortly before voting began in Parliament on Thursday to elect Italy’s new president, a flash mob gathered in the cold rain outside the Quirinale, as the presidential residence is called.

The small, bedraggled group, donning masks of their candidate and tossing confetti, had come to support the unlikely candidacy of Giancarlo Magalli, a popular television presenter whose name has circulated on social media to succeed Giorgio Napolitano, 89, who resigned this month citing his advanced age.

It mattered little that Mr. Magalli has no chance of winning. His supporters see him as a protest candidate — “an icon of Italian malcontent,” as Federico Spini, a computer engineer who works at Rome’s Third University, put it. “We want them to know that things aren’t right.”

Nevertheless, the Italian president will be elected the usual way: a secret ballot among 1,009 lawmakers and regional delegates that leaves considerable room for all manner of back stabbing, horse-trading and surprises. Even before the start of the voting, which is expected to last at least three days, the speculation and intrigue were underway.

No one party has enough votes to push through a candidate, and the winner is likely to emerge out of a compromise between Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party and the center-right opposition led by the former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

On Thursday, Mr. Renzi formally backed Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court judge and former lawmaker from his party.

But conventional wisdom has it that, as with papal conclaves, those who enter into the first vote as favorites emerge defeated. True to form, supporters of Mr. Berlusconi, whose antipathy for Italy’s judiciary has long been a leitmotif of his political platform, rejected Mr. Mattarella outright.

As expected, the first round of voting did not produce a winner. The parties of Mr. Renzi and Mr. Berlusconi — the two largest in Parliament — cast blank ballots, and a handful of other candidates supported by other parties fell far short of gaining enough ballots.

The early jostling reflected the ways the election has historically been used to consolidate the hierarchy of power within Parliament. Already, various candidates, including former Italian leaders like Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato, have been effectively vetoed, leaving the presidential field wide open.

“Presidential elections are always where showdowns occur,” said Sabino Labia, a journalist and the author of a 2014 book about the history of presidential elections. Though some 40 potential candidates have emerged so far, he said, the winning choice “will have to overcome many obstacles,” successfully navigating “the various wars being fought within each political party.”

For Mr. Renzi, who has been facing growing dissent from within his own Democratic Party, the election has the potential to expose his weakness, should his candidate not receive the necessary backing. The victory of the Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras this week in Greece has already roused the fervor of Mr. Renzi’s challengers in his party.

Starting Friday, there will be two rounds of voting a day until someone is elected, and political commentators said that Mr. Renzi’s position will weaken with every new round.

“Renzi needs to close this quickly because the longer it goes, the more insidious it will become for him, both within his party and within the government, with a strong risk of laceration,” said Gino Scaccia, a constitutional rights professor at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. Mr. Renzi “has to show that he can keep his party and coalition united,” he said.

Italy has had 11 presidents — Mr. Napolitano served part of an unprecedented second term — since 1948. It is a post that serves as the guarantor of the Constitution and exercises several crucial functions to ensure political stability including dissolving Parliament, calling new elections, naming the prime minister and rubber-stamping the cabinet.

The president is the arbiter of national unity, often a mediator for improbable political alliances and occasionally within single political parties, which are often fractious and split among different positions.

The president also appoints judges to the constitutional court, as well as senators for life, and he or she — though there has never been a female president — has the right to grant pardons.

Some have suggested that Mr. Berlusconi, who is serving a sentence for tax fraud and cannot run for public office for two years, was fishing for absolution. But political analysts have said that as the president is representative of national unity, any new head of state would be hesitant to alienate a large part of the electorate that feels Mr. Berlusconi got what he deserved.

Appeals have come from across the political spectrum for the election of a president who is above the political fray, with respected international standing and the freedom to make decisions independent of political pressures.

Debate has also focused on the role the president should play in the country’s political life.

The current constitutional rules are vague enough that presidents have a lot of leeway, and Mr. Napolitano was an active — his critics would say too active — participant during his tenure. For example, he named the economist Mario Monti as prime minister to replace Mr. Berlusconi during the eurozone crisis in 2011.

But reforms under discussion to change the electoral law and the makeup of Parliament are leaning toward reinforcing the executive branch, which could create potential conflict in the case of a decisive president. “The temptation might be to choose a president that wouldn’t be characterized as a leader,” Mr. Scaccia said.

But even that calculation is no guarantee. “The impression I have is that when you’re in the position of president,” Mr. Scaccia said, “above political responsibilities to any one party, even sheep can become lions.”

 on: Today at 07:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Eurozone Inflation Falls to Lowest Level Since 2009

JAN. 30, 2015

FRANKFURT — Inflation in the eurozone has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, according to official data released on Friday, while unemployment remains in the double digits, reinforcing fears of deflation, a sustained drop in prices that could lead to higher joblessness and slumping growth.

Consumer prices in the 19 countries of the eurozone fell 0.6 percent in January compared with a year ago, after dipping into negative territory in December, according to a preliminary estimate by Eurostat, the European Union statistics bureau.

The unemployment rate dipped to 11.4 percent in December, after coming in at 11.5 percent in November, Eurostat said. Economists had expected the rate to stay at 11.5 percent.

Analysts had forecast a 0.5 percent drop in consumer prices for January, though some revised their forecasts downward after data published on Thursday showed a larger than expected fall in prices in Germany, the eurozone’s largest economy. Consumer prices in Germany fell 0.3 percent in January, according to an official estimate.

The second consecutive month of declining prices in the eurozone will be seen as validation of the decision last week by the European Central Bank to begin buying 1.1 trillion euros, or about $1.24 trillion, of government bonds and other debt, in an attempt to pump cash into the economy and raise inflation closer to the official target of close to 2 percent.

The data will also support the arguments of economists who say that the eurozone is already in deflation, a condition in which consumers delay purchases because they expect prices to fall further. When consumer spending falls, companies earn less revenue and face pressure to dismiss workers or cut wages, creating a vicious circle of declining economic activity.

Other economists argue that the decline in prices is a temporary phenomenon linked to the steep fall in oil prices, and is no cause for alarm. Some even say that modest deflation is good, because it increases consumer-spending power.

Inflation in the eurozone was also negative for five months in 2009, reaching a low of minus 0.6 percent in July of that year. But inflation rose again quickly as the eurozone began to recover from the sharp downturn that followed the financial crisis.

The latest bout of falling prices comes after six years of weak growth, and many economists are pessimistic about the chances for a quick recovery. Countries including France and Italy have not made the changes needed to improve economic performance, many say, such as revising labor laws or streamlining approval procedures for businesses.

In addition, countries that have healthy government budgets, like Germany, have been reluctant to spend more on public works to help stimulate growth.

Many economists argue that the central bank stimulus, which will involve buying €60 billion in eurozone assets each month starting in March, will be of little use unless eurozone governments do their part by creating conditions for better job creation.

 on: Today at 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
NATO Praises Aspiring Member Georgia

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 January 2015, 17:30

Deputy NATO head Alexander Vershbow on Thursday praised Georgia's democratic reforms and reiterated the alliance's commitment to the ex-Soviet country's eventual membership in the 28-nation bloc.

"We truly commend the reforms aimed to strengthen your defense, rule of law, and governance," Vershbow told reporters in the Georgian capital Tbilisi after a meeting with the country's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

"We see a mature democracy" in Georgia, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia said, adding that "all 28 NATO allies are committed to Georgia's future membership in the alliance, provided it meets all necessary criteria."

"Integration into the North-Atlantic Alliance is a steadfast choice of the Georgian people and we are doing everything to achieve this goal," Garibashvili said for his part.

NATO leaders agreed in 2008 that Tbilisi could join at an unspecified future date but decided against giving Georgia a formal pre-membership status.

Last year NATO offered Tbilisi a "substantive package" aimed at "bringing Georgia closer to NATO."

Georgia's bid to join NATO and the European Union infuriated its former imperial master Russia, which bitterly opposes the alliance's expansion into former Soviet republics.

In 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the Kremlin-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia's then-president Dmitry Medvedev said in 2011 the war prevented NATO's expansion further into the post-Soviet space.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 06:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Britain Summons Russian Ambassador after Bombers Intercepted

by Naharnet Newsdesk 29 January 2015, 20:32

Britain said it had summoned the Russian ambassador Thursday after Russian military planes were found flying close to British airspace.

The move comes after a string of similar incidents and amid tense relations between Moscow and the West over the conflict in Ukraine and the killing in London of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

"Russian aircraft maneuver yesterday are part of an increasing pattern of out of area operations by Russian aircraft," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

"While the Russian planes did not enter sovereign UK airspace and were escorted by RAF Typhoons throughout the time they were in the UK area of interest, the Russian planes caused disruption to civil aviation.

"That is why we summoned the Russian Ambassador today to account for the incident."

The Ministry of Defense said that the planes involved in the latest incident Wednesday were Tupolev Tu-95 bombers, known by their NATO classification as Russian "bears".

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
A Bus Ticket for Bulgaria, and then Jihad

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2015, 07:18

When Bulgarian police on January 1 arrested Frenchman Fritz-Joly Joachin, a self-confessed "old friend" of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, he was not the first suspected Islamist trying to cross the EU's south-eastern border into Turkey.

Indeed, Bulgarian Interior Minister Veselin Vuchkov says, "hundreds" of Europeans have travelled to Bulgaria to traverse the 275-kilometre (170-mile) border into Turkey, some then crossing into Syria to join Islamic State (IS) militants.

The most popular route for the several thousand European Union citizens believed to have joined the ranks of IS has been to fly to Turkey and then cross the border into Syria.

But with Turkish airports tightening up controls, going by land via Bulgaria, often by bus, has become more attractive, alarmed European officials say.

"With surveillance of arrivals at Istanbul airport being stepped up, this (Bulgarian) channel is being used more and more," a French anti-terrorism official in Paris said on condition of anonymity.

"Crossing the Bulgaria-Turkey border is relatively easy, particularly at night, when it's winter, it's snowing..."

Already in 2012 there were signs that extremists were using this route with the arrest in Bulgaria of Flavien Moreau, the first Frenchman to be convicted of fighting with jihadists, as he tried to return to Syria.

But the case of Joachin, 28, who admits knowing the Kouachi brothers -- who shot dead 12 people in an attack on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7 -- showed how easy leaving Bulgaria can be.

Bulgarian police only arrested the Muslim convert of Haitian origin -- who denies being an extremist -- because of a European warrant based on claims by his wife that he was kidnapping their three-year-old son.

Only after the Paris attacks, six days after his arrest, did the French authorities issue a second warrant, this time for alleged membership of a "terrorist" organisation. He was extradited this week.

Moreover, his three travelling companions on the bus, who also allegedly knew the Kouachis, were allowed to continue their journey. And one of them, Cheikhou Diakhaby, should have set alarm bells ringing.

Diakhaby had spent seven years behind bars in Iraq after being captured while fighting against U.S. forces in 2004 and was sent back to France in 2011. Turkish police managed to pick him up however on January 2 -- on the Syrian border.

- Tighter controls -

Bulgaria's focus until now has been trying to deal with people coming the other way, erecting a barrier topped by razor wire to stem the flow of thousands of refugees from Syria entering the country.

But lately, and in particular since the Paris attacks, Bulgarian authorities have turned their attention to people leaving the country -- and to EU citizens who may be returning after fighting alongside IS.

In recent weeks senior officials including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British counterpart Philip Hammond and EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove have visited Sofia with improved security cooperation high on the agenda.

Bus operators say that their vehicles are attracting more attention from customs officers at the main border crossing point. Passengers' passports are now routinely verified and cross-checked with the EU's Schengen database.

"A few months ago they started scanning all buses," said a manager at Metro, the biggest operator of buses from Sofia to Istanbul. Previously this only happened if customs officers were suspicious.

But the problem remains that the Bulgarian authorities say that they are not given enough information by other EU countries, and can only intercept people when they are alerts about them or an arrest warrant.

"Many hundreds of citizens of the EU, with absolutely valid documents and without any security alerts about them, can easily cross Bulgaria's territory," said Vuchkov, the interior minister.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Today at 06:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Five Troops, 19 Civilians Killed in East Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2015, 11:03

Twenty-four people, including 19 civilians, were killed in the past 24 hours in clashes between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine, officials said Friday.

Pro-Kiev officials in the separatist region of Donetsk said dozens of people were also wounded in shelling across the industrial province. The Ukrainian military said 23 soldiers were injured in the fighting, which has claimed at least 5,100 lives over the last nine months.

Seven civilians died overnight in rebel-held Donetsk and five more early Friday when a food distribution centre was hit, city hall officials said.

The Ukrainian military said that five soldiers and seven civilians were killed in other areas across the mostly Russian-speaking rustbelt.

Heavy fighting was ongoing around Debaltseve, a key government-held town of 25,000 people that straddles a railroad connecting the two rebel centres of Lugansk and Donetsk. Russian-backed rebels claim to have almost encircled the town.

Source: Agence France Presse

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