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 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:16 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The malignant tumor Pig Putin and Japan's Abe Discuss Bilateral Ties, Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 September 2014, 14:06

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe held telephone talks Sunday amid speculation about whether a visit by Putin will go ahead due to frictions over Ukraine.

Local media reports say Putin's visit to Japan planned for this autumn is now uncertain following Tokyo's sanctions on Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

"The leaders discussed the bilateral relationship between Japan and Russia, and the situation in Ukraine" in the telephone conversation proposed by the Russian side, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Both leaders agreed to continue dialogue" on the issues, it said, adding Putin congratulated Abe on his birthday on Sunday.

The Japanese government has never confirmed the timing of Putin's visit. A foreign ministry official in charge of Russian affairs declined to give further details of the telephone talks.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are unlikely to meet on the sidelines of upcoming UN General Assembly meetings in New York, apparently due to Moscow's reluctance, Kyodo News reported.

Abe had actively sought to forge closer diplomatic and economic ties with Russia before it took control of the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March.

He would dearly love to solve a longstanding dispute over a group of islands seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II, and still claimed by Japan.

The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow signing a formal treaty ending the war.

In line with its western allies, Japan has announced sanctions on Russia over the Crimea annexation and over suspicions that Moscow is behind the instability by separatists in the east of Ukraine.
Source: Agence France Presse


Japan Minister Attempts to Convince Public on Nuclear

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 September 2014, 08:51

Japan's new industry minister Yuko Obuchi said Sunday the resource-poor nation should be realistic about its energy needs as the government tries to convince a skeptical public on the necessity of nuclear power.

More than three years after the disaster at Fukushima, where a tsunami sent reactors into meltdown, the Japanese public remains unconvinced of the safety of the technology.

The difficult task of winning them round has fallen to Obuchi, appointed the country's first female minister of economy, trade and industry by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"It would be very difficult to make the decision not to have nuclear power right now," Obuchi said during a live debate program on public broadcaster NHK.

"It's an issue difficult to explain in short phrases -- we have to take seriously voices of concerns after the accident in Fukushima," she said, following her visit to the disaster-stricken plant two weeks ago.

However, with Japan's energy self-sufficiency rate at just six percent, compared with the United States' 85 percent and France's 50 percent, energy costs were soaring, she said.

"After the Fukushima accident, the cost of fossil fuel imports jumped by 3.6 trillion yen ($33 billion), or 10 billion yen ($92 million) per day."

In pre-Fukushima Japan, nuclear power accounted for nearly one-third of the country's energy needs.

The minister stressed that an independent nuclear watchdog set up in the aftermath of the disaster had "the world's strictest safety guidelines".

As a result, "The government policy is to restart a nuclear plant that has passed these guidelines," she said.

An unsteady supply of renewable energy from solar and wind power and the need to reduce CO2 emissions meant Japan could not afford to rely heavily on fossil fuels, she added.

Japan's nuclear watchdog earlier this month gave a green light to plans to restart two reactors, more than three years after the Fukushima disaster.

However, hurdles still remain, including getting the consent of local communities in a country still scarred by the catastrophe where all 48 viable reactors are offline.

Widespread anti-nuclear sentiment has simmered in Japan ever since the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns at Fukushima, sparking the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, many of whom have not been allowed to return, with scientists warning some areas might have to be abandoned forever.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Provincial Vote Is Seen as a Test for Sri Lanka’s President

SEPT. 20, 2014

NEW DELHI — Voters in a southeastern Sri Lankan province headed to the polls on Saturday in what is widely seen as a crucial test of whether President Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to win a third term in the coming months.

The candidates for chief minister of Uva Province are seen as proxies for the coming battle for the presidency. Shashendra Rajapaksa, son of the speaker of Parliament and a nephew of the president, is the chief ministerial candidate from the dominant Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Harin Fernando, a charismatic leader of the United National Party, resigned his seat in Parliament to oppose him.

Both sides held huge rallies in the days leading up to Thursday, when a 48-hour ban on politicking went into effect. In rallies in the towns of Mahiyangana and Wellawaya, President Rajapaksa emphasized that his government had defeated the Tamil Tigers, a brutal insurgency group, in 2009.

“The Rajapaksas can fight any type of war in a democratic manner to its conclusion,” he said. “The Rajapaksas do not need to bribe the people to attain political power.”

The Sri Lankan government has been criticized by international human rights groups for failing to investigate allegations of possible war crimes during the war, in which as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in its final months.

Uva is widely seen as a bastion of support for the governing party, which won 72 percent of the vote in the 2009 provincial elections and secured 25 of 34 seats in the Provincial Assembly.

But the final rallies of the United National Party were packed, giving the opposition considerable hope. In the mountainous towns of Bandarawela and Badulla, the provincial capital, women and children huddled in the cold until well past midnight to cheer opposition politicians. The green banners of the United National Party fluttered throughout major district towns.

“The tide has turned,” Mr. Fernando said in an interview.

Rajpal Abeynayake, editor in chief of the government-owned Daily News, the country’s largest newspaper, predicted an easy victory for the governing party. And he said in an interview that the results would demonstrate that Mr. Rajapaksa was headed for a commanding re-election victory later this year or early next year, when the next presidential election is expected to be called.

“The people here will vote for the leader they think is best for the country, not the person The New York Times and other foreign media think is best,” Mr. Abeynayake said.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, a nonprofit think tank, said that even a narrow loss would embolden the opposition since it would suggest that the Rajapaksas’ popularity is waning.

President Rajapaksa’s victory in the civil war made him hugely popular in the immediate aftermath of the fighting, but it is unclear whether voters are happy with his stewardship of the country since the war’s end. Sri Lanka has received considerable investment from China while facing growing pressure from Western governments to improve its postwar reconciliation efforts.

Mr. Saravanamuttu said that the governing and opposition parties have such differing expectations that he was unsure whether the government would allow a defeat to be registered or the opposition would accept a government victory as legitimate. Results are expected by midday Sunday.

“Whatever happens, the Uva elections have become very important,” Mr. Saravanamuttu said.

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:12 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope Says Religion Cannot be Used to Justify Violence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 September 2014, 11:43

Pope Francis warned during a visit to Albania on Sunday that religion can never be used to justify violence, making apparent reference to the bloodshed wreaked by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

"Let no one consider themselves to be the 'armor' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression," the pontiff said in speech at the presidential palace in Tirana in front of Albania's leaders.

"May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against fundamental rights," he said.

The 77-year-old spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics made the declaration at the start of a packed one-day visit to majority-Muslim Albania, which he held up as an "inspiring example" of religious harmony.

Authorities in the country stepped up security to its highest level after warnings from Iraq that the IS jihadists could be planning an attack on the pope.

His reception by the general public was enthusiastic, however, with hundreds of thousands of Christians and Muslims thronging the Albanian capital to greet him.

Francis in his speech praised the "respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox (Christians) and Muslims" in Albania, which he called "a precious gift to the country".

He stressed that such coexistence was especially important "in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized".

In a seeming reference to the Islamic State organization, which espouses a radical and brutal interpretation of Islam to pursue a dream of reviving a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the pope said the twisting of faith "created dangerous circumstances which led to conflict and violence".

His packed 11-hour trip to Albania comes at a sensitive time amid turmoil in the Middle East and rising intolerance in Europe.

The Vatican has voiced unusual support for U.S. air strikes in Iraq to defend persecuted Christians there.

At the same time, though, the pope is spreading his message of interfaith tolerance around the world -- and doing what he can to attract more devotees to his church.

The Holy See hopes Albania -- a country with one of the youngest populations in Europe -- will be a vibrant source for converts in a continent gripped by secularism.

It is the second papal visit to Albania in modern times. Pope John Paul II traveled there the year after the collapse of its communist regime in 1992.

Yellow-and-white Vatican flags flew alongside Albanian ones in the main streets of the capital while vast portraits of Catholic priests and nuns persecuted under communism -- when Albania became the world's first atheist state -- were strung across roads.

Huge crowds of Albanians gathered along Tirana's main boulevard and the central Mother Teresa Square where the pope was to later celebrate Mass.

Some waved welcome banners while others chanted: "Papa Francesco! Papa Francesco!"

The Argentine pontiff, who loves to mingle with the crowds, traveled in the same open-topped vehicle he uses in Saint Peter's Square. He stopped on several occasions along the boulevard to shake hands with believers or to take children in his arms.

Hysen Doli, an 85-year-old Muslim who had come to the square with 10 members of his family, told AFP: "We belong to another religion but have come here out of respect to get the pope's blessing."

- 'We can all work together!' -

In August, Francis said that his presence in Albania "will be a way of saying to everyone, 'See, we can all work together!'"

He was scheduled to meet the heads of the country's other religious communities including Muslim, Orthodox, Bektashi, Jewish and Protestant leaders, and to visit orphans.

The pontiff also wanted to honor those who suffered under former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, during whose rule priests and imams were persecuted and many churches and mosques razed.

Between 1945 and 1985, dozens of priests, seminarians and bishops died in detention or were executed.

Nearly 2,000 Orthodox and Catholic churches were destroyed or transformed into cinemas, theaters and dance halls, according to Francis, who said the successful rebirth of the Catholic faith after such persecution made Albania a place where "I felt like I should go".

The revival of Catholicism is due in part to the popularity of Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian born in neighboring Macedonia.

Yet only about 15 percent of the population is Catholic, with Muslims in the majority with 56 percent, and the Orthodox making up 11 percent.

- Heightened security -

The Vatican has insisted it has not increased security for the trip, but Albania's interior ministry said police have set up 29 checkpoints in downtown Tirana, where most of the pope's activities were planned.

Some Vatican watchers feared Francis had made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State organization.

Albania last month began sending weapons and ammunition to Kurdish forces fighting IS militants in Iraq, and security sources in the country have dismissed fears that home-grown militants might be planning an attack.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Afghan leaders sign power-sharing deal

Abdullah Abdullah takes newly created role of chief executive, while Ashraf Ghani will be president, ending months of turmoil

May Jeong in Kabul, Sunday 21 September 2014 10.28 BST   

Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates have ended six months of political deadlock by signing a power-sharing agreement that paves the way for the installation of a new president.

In a televised ceremony at the presidential palace on Sunday, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani signed the deal to create a national unity government. The short ceremony was hosted by the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, and attended by cabinet members, and other high-level government officials.

The details of the deal, though leaked to the press, has not yet officially been made public. Conspicuously absent from the signing were the US ambassador, James Cunningham, and head of the UN in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis; both had significant mediating roles during the long negotiations.

According to the four-page deal, the winner of the election, Ghani, will be president. The runner-up, Abdullah – or someone he appoints – will become prime minister, or the chief executive officer. The president will run the cabinet and be in charge of strategic functions, while the chief executive will be in charge of daily duties. He will also chair the new council of ministers.

Neither candidate appeared elated or particularly content as Karzai gave a short speech in which he congratulated the two candidates and expressed his readiness to help in "finishing the work that the current administration had started".

Sunday's ceremony came after months of wrangling between the two parties and their supporters. The latest obstacle came last week when Abdullah asked that the results of the UN-run audit not be made public, a process he deems too mired in fraud. Abdullah had previously boycotted the process, citing "industrial-scale fraud". The claim was not proven during the extensive two-month-long audit. His supporters, who do not consider the audit a fair process, have threatened violence.

The results of the audit are due out on Sunday, a move Abdullah supporters have previously tried to block. It remains unclear whether they have been successful to this end; sources say there may be a compromise wherein the percentage of voters is announced without casting them in the light of winners or losers. Preliminary results announced last month have put Ghani in the lead.

Despite Sunday's ceremony, the two campaigns still disagree on so much, and some fear they will not be able to maintain the precarious union for long. The work that awaits the new administration is immense and will require coordination. Nearly all aspects of life in Afghanistan have come to a halt in the past few months. Among the most urgent is the signing of the bilateral security agreement that will allow foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond this year.

During the brief signing ceremony, Ghani and Abdullah remained silent. Anand Gopal, author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes, referred to their morose disposition on Twitter. He quoted the Israeli writer Amos Oz, likening the deal as "a fitting Chekhovian end".

"In the conclusion of the tragedy by Chekohov, everyone is disappointed, disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, but alive."

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kurds call on 'all Middle East' to help defend stronghold from Isis

Tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees have fled to Syria-Turkey border region of Kobani to escape onslaught of Islamist militants

Agencies in Suruc, Turkey and Beirut, Sunday 21 September 2014 10.14 BST   

Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Iraq are scrambling to help defend a vital Kurdish safe haven in northern Syria, where tens of thousands of Kurds have fled after an offensive by Islamic State (Isis) militants.

The border region of Kobani, home to half a million people, has held out for months against an onslaught by Islamists seeking to consolidate their hold over swaths of northern Syria. But in recent days, Isis extremists have seized a series of settlements close to the town of Kobani itself, sending more than 70,000 mostly Kurdish refugees streaming across the border into Turkey.

A Kurdish commander on the ground said Isis had advanced to within 15km (9 miles) of Kobani.

A Kurdish politician from Turkey who visited Kobani on Saturday said locals told him Isis fighters were beheading people as they went from village to village.

"Rather than a war this is a genocide operation … They are going into the villages and cutting the heads of one or two people and showing them to the villagers," Ibrahim Binici, a deputy for Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP, told Reuters.

"It is truly a shameful situation for humanity," he said, calling for international intervention. Five of his fellow MPs planned a hunger strike outside UN offices in Geneva to press for action, he said.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group that has spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey's Kurds, renewed a call for the youth of Turkey's mostly Kurdish south-east to rise up and rush to save Kobani.

"Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honour of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance," it said in a statement on its website. "[Isis] fascism must drown in the blood it spills … The youth of North Kurdistan [south-east Turkey] must flow in waves to Kobani," it said.

Hundreds of people gathered in solidarity for a third day on the Turkish side of the barbed wire border fence near the town of Suruc, where many of the refugees have crossed. Security forces trying to maintain order fired teargas and water cannon and some protesters started throwing stones at them in frustration.

Even by the standards of Syria's bitter war, the refugee numbers are alarming. Their numbers add to the 2.8 million Syrians who have become refugees in the past three years, and another 6.4 million who have been displaced within their own country – approaching half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Turkish authorities said they were preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving in the coming days.

Kobani's relative stability through much of Syria's conflict meant 200,000 internally displaced people were sheltering there before Isis's advance, UNHCR said.

"This massive influx shows how important it is to offer and preserve asylum space for Syrians as well as the need to mobilise international support to the neighbouring countries," said Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees.


Obama repeats no US troops on ground against Isis as Egypt offers support

Obama: ‘When the world needs help, it calls on America’
Al-Sisi: ‘It’s not a matter of ground troops from abroad’

Martin Pengelly in New York, Saturday 20 September 2014 17.42 BST       

Barack Obama, facing questions on the legal justification for and likely “mission creep” of his air campaign against Islamic State (Isis) militants in Iraq and Syria, on Saturday repeated his promise not to use US ground troops but said: “When the world is threatened, when the world needs help, it calls on America. And we call on our troops.”

Later on Saturday the president of Egypt, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, told the Associated Press he was prepared to support the fight against Isis, but added that “it’s not an issue of ground troops from abroad”.

This week, French planes joined the American effort, which, since 8 August, has delivered more than 170 air strikes on Isis targets in northern Iraq. On Saturday, Isis militants released 49 hostages – 46 Turkish and three Iraqi – who had been taken in Mosul, while Turkey opened its border to 45,000 Kurdish refugees fleeing Isis attacks.

Isis, which has captured swathes of territory in northern Iraq and Syria, has killed two American hostages and one Briton, releasing videos of the killings which have prompted worldwide revulsion.

Delivering his weekly address after gaining congressional support for his plan to arm some anti-government rebels in Syria, Obama said: “I won’t commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria. It’s more effective to use our capabilities to help partners on the ground secure their own country’s futures.”

However, Robert Gates, Obama’s former defence secretary, voiced widespread skepticism about the policy when he told the Associated Press: “They’re not going to be able to be successful against Isis strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the [Kurdish] Peshmerga.

“So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy.”

US military personnel were sent to Iraq this summer, and have the authority to fight back if attacked.

Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, told the AP that would leave Obama with “something of a rhetorical quandary”.

“From a realistic and even legal standpoint, what’s going to be happening in Iraq is going to look a lot like combat,” said Fontaine, a former State Department official.

In his address, Obama also echoed recent statements about the lack of a credible threat to the US itself from Isis, which have led some observers to question the legality of his effort against the militants. He said intelligence agencies had “not yet detected specific plots from these terrorists against America”, and added: “Right now, they pose a threat to the people of Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East.

“But [Isis] leaders have threatened America and our allies. And if left unchecked, they could pose a growing threat to the United States.”

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have emerged as key members of the coalition sought by the Obama administration, brought together by secretary of state John Kerry and sold to Congress this week by Kerry, defence secretary Chuck Hagel and military chiefs.

On Saturday, Egypt’s al-Sisi promoted a “comprehensive strategy” to confront not just Isis, and said he had warned about the threat of terrorism in the region a year ago but that other leaders had only understood when Isis fighters overran parts of Iraq.

Addressing congressional support for his policy, Obama said: “A majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate have now approved a first, key part of our strategy by wide margins. They’ve given our troops the authority they need to train Syrian opposition fighters so that they can fight [Isis] in Syria.

“Those votes sent a powerful signal to the world: Americans are united in confronting this danger. And I hope Congress continues to make sure our troops get what they need to get the job done.”

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill approving the plan to arm Syrian rebels on Wednesday, by a vote of 273 to 156. On Thursday the Senate also voted in favour, by 78 to 22 and despite voluble opposition from Rand Paul of Kentucky, a possible Republican candidate for president in 2016.

“It’s not that I’m against all intervention,” Paul said. “I do see Isis as a threat to us – but I see our previous policy as having made it worse.”

On Saturday, saying “more than 40” countries had committed their support, Obama ended his address by defining the US’s war aims, saying: “We will use our air power. We will train and equip our partners. We will advise and we will assist. And we’ll lead a broad coalition of nations who have a stake in this fight.

“This isn’t America vs [Isis]. This is the people of that region vs [Isis]. It’s the world vs [Isis].”


Back and Forth, Wearily, Across the ISIS Border

SEPT. 20, 2014

MAKTAB KHALID, Iraq — Around 6 each morning, with the sun already a threat, an officer at a security checkpoint here in northern Iraq rolls back the concertina wire just enough to allow travelers to pass one at a time.

Over the course of each day, thousands will move through this opening, one of only a few official routes across the 650-mile border that now separates two lands: Iraqi Kurdistan and the territory under the control of the extremist militants of the Islamic State.

Much of the traffic is one-way: men, women, entire families — their faces drawn with stress and uncertainty, dragging overstuffed bags and seeking refuge among the Kurds.

But many others move back and forth between the two regions, crossing from one side to the other in the morning to go to work or run errands, then returning at the end of the day. Residents on the Islamic State side might cross to the nearby city of Kirkuk to buy supplies, see a doctor or take a university exam, while some from the Kurdish side might head the other way to visit relatives.

The Islamic State’s use of violence as a tool of political control, reportedly including rape and public executions, has sowed panic as the group has advanced. And travelers at the border crossing confirmed that life had become significantly more challenging under the extremists.

But for many, the hardships were not caused by intimidation and violence or the loss of control over their daily lives, but by severe interruptions in the supply of food, power, fuel and employment. A Kurdish embargo on cross-border trade in certain products like cooking fuel, wheat and barley was working, travelers said.

Some said their greatest fear living in militant-held territory was not so much running afoul of the extremists, but the possibility that an Iraqi government offensive might bring the Shiite militias, widely feared among the Sunni population, as well as the sort of indiscriminate bombing that has resulted in numerous civilian casualties in recent weeks.

More than anything, however, the travelers’ accounts spoke of resilience in the face of a political, religious and military struggle over which they had no influence.

“We are getting tired,” said Thamer Hasan, 35, midcommute from his home near the town of Hawija, under the militants’ control, to Kirkuk University College of Education, where he is an Arabic-language professor. He wore an Oxford shirt and carried a briefcase.

A trip that once took 15 minutes in his own car now took two to five hours by way of a series of short taxi rides and long waits at various checkpoints on both sides of the border.

Food and fuel shortages had compounded the difficulties, Mr. Hasan said, as well as a pervasive sense of dread. He had considered moving with his wife and five children to Kirkuk, but apartments were in short supply, and rents were unusually high.

“We have to be honest: Until now, we have not been hurt by them,” he said of the Islamic State, often referred to as ISIS. “But people are afraid of the future.”

Until June, this stretch of road had been open, carrying traffic back and forth between Kirkuk, about nine miles to the east, and the cities and villages of central and northern Iraq. But as the Islamic State’s advance threw the Iraqi national security forces into disarray, the Kurdish military, called the pesh merga, commandeered Kirkuk and the surrounding area — control of which has been long-disputed — and began hardening the redrawn borders of their autonomous region, including the checkpoint at Maktab Khalid.

The militants’ proximity is more than notional: two Islamic State flags were visible about half a mile away and, nearby, the silhouettes of the group’s fighters shifted behind a bunker of sandbags. The group’s checkpoint was just beyond.

“If I had orders, I’d go and take that post tonight,” said Capt. Dler Jabari, 34, one of the pesh merga officers who oversees the border crossing. He peered toward the distant flags. “It’s not very nice to have the enemy there,” he murmured.

Both sides have plenty of weapons that could cause damage at that range, yet a certain stasis has persisted despite a few harassing attacks by Islamic State fighters.

But during recent visits to the border crossing, the Kurdish security at times seemed loose: Men were submitted to little more than a cursory frisk around the waist, some bags were not searched. The scene was one of vaguely organized chaos that the security forces seemed barely able to control.

On one morning, an Iraqi police officer assisting the Kurds beat back the crowd with a truncheon and, from time to time, soldiers fired warning shots with their pistols in an attempt to bring order.

For those coming from the Islamic State side, passing through the concertina wire is only the beginning of the crossing. From there they must navigate a trash-strewn expanse of rubble and concrete barriers, earthen berms and guard towers followed by a 20-minute walk — or a paid ride in a taxi or a shuttle bus — along a road through a barren landscape to a parking lot. There they can catch another ride to a major checkpoint outside Kirkuk, where guards scrutinize identification documents and either allow travelers to proceed deeper into Kurdistan or send them back.

“We are both sick,” offered Ismael Hussein Ali, 74, explaining why he and his wife, 65, were heading to Dohuk, in northern Kurdistan. A retired brigadier general who served in the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein, Mr. Ali was wobbly on a wooden cane as he felt his way across a rough patch of gravel and trash. The couple’s son Hisam was ahead, pushing his mother in a wheelchair that rocked across the uneven ground, threatening to pitch her out of her seat.

Boys with dirty feet ferried the family’s five suitcases in a wheelbarrow. It was still early, but the temperature was already pushing 100 degrees.

Violence had forced the couple from their home in Sinjar, a town in Nineveh Province, to Mosul. They had decided to relocate once again in part because the food and fuel shortages had become so challenging, and also because they needed regular medical attention unavailable on the other side.

“I was crying when I left,” Mr. Ali said of their flight from Sinjar. “I’m still crying.”

Scores of people surged around them in both directions: travelers lugging bags, wheelbarrow porters looking for customers, young men carrying empty canisters of cooking gas toward Kirkuk and hauling full ones the other way, farmers from Islamic State territory selling sheep’s milk yogurt to grocers from Kirkuk who had met them halfway, taxi drivers offering passage to the next stage of the crossing.

Even though the Ali family had made it this far, the most difficult test was still to come.

Since the arrival of the Islamic State, Kurdish suspicion of outsiders has risen considerably, and Arabs in particular are subjected to extraordinary scrutiny at the border and at checkpoints around the region. Many are turned back.

As the family got into a taxi, Mr. Ali turned to a reporter and said cordially, but wearily, “If you’ll allow me, I have to begin the battle.” (The son later reported that the family had been forced to spend the night at the checkpoint entering Kirkuk, sleeping on the seats of another taxi, before being allowed to pass.)

The bulk of the morning traffic points toward Kirkuk and beyond; the tide shifts in the afternoon as residents of the Islamic State-controlled territory return home after the day’s business.

But on a recent morning, Omar, 34, a former police officer, was among dozens traveling against the prevailing current. He was returning from Turkey, where he had applied for asylum, he said.

He feared persecution by the Islamic State because of his previous affiliation with the national security forces. But he was given an interview date in 2018 and, unable to find work in Turkey, he decided to return home to Mosul and rejoin his family. He held a black suitcase in one hand and a laptop bag in the other.

“I am a bit scared, of course, but I don’t have any choices,” he said, asking that his last name be withheld for fear that the insurgents might locate him more easily.

“I’m ready for anything.”


Suspicions Run Deep in Iraq That C.I.A. and the Islamic State Are United

SEPT. 20, 2014

BAGHDAD — The United States has conducted an escalating campaign of deadly airstrikes against the extremists of the Islamic State for more than a month. But that appears to have done little to tamp down the conspiracy theories still circulating from the streets of Baghdad to the highest levels of Iraqi government that the C.I.A. is secretly behind the same extremists that it is now attacking.

“We know about who made Daesh,” said Bahaa al-Araji, a deputy prime minister, using an Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State on Saturday at a demonstration called by the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr to warn against the possible deployment of American ground troops. Mr. Sadr publicly blamed the C.I.A. for creating the Islamic State in a speech last week, and interviews suggested that most of the few thousand people at the demonstration, including dozens of members of Parliament, subscribed to the same theory. (Mr. Sadr is considered close to Iran, and the theory is popular there as well.)   

When an American journalist asked Mr. Araji to clarify if he blamed the C.I.A. for the Islamic State, he retreated: “I don’t know. I am one of the poor people,” he said, speaking fluent English and quickly stepping back toward the open door of a chauffeur-driven SUV. “But we fear very much. Thank you!”

The prevalence of the theory in the streets underscored the deep suspicions of the American military’s return to Iraq more than a decade after its invasion, in 2003. The casual endorsement by a senior official, though, was also a pointed reminder that the new Iraqi government may be an awkward partner for the American-led campaign to drive out the extremists.

The Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, has conquered many of the predominantly Sunni Muslim provinces in Iraq’s northeast, aided by the alienation of many residents to the Shiite-dominated government of the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. President Obama has insisted repeatedly that American military action against the Islamic State depended on the installation of a more inclusive government in Baghdad, but he moved ahead before it was complete.

The Parliament has not yet confirmed nominees for the crucial posts of interior or defense minister, in part because of discord between Sunni and Shiite factions, and the Iraqi news media has reported that it may be more than a month before the posts are filled.

The demonstration on Saturday was the latest in a series of signals from Shiite leaders or militias, especially those considered close to Iran, warning the United States not to put its soldiers back on the ground. Mr. Obama has pledged not to send combat troops, but he seems to have convinced few Iraqis. “We don’t trust him,” said Raad Hatem, 40.

Haidar al-Assadi, 40, agreed. “The Islamic State is a clear creation of the United States, and the United States is trying to intervene again using the excuse of the Islamic State,” he said.

Shiite militias and volunteers, he said, were already answering the call from religious leaders to defend Iraq from the Islamic State without American help. “This is how we do it,” he said, adding that the same forces would keep American troops out. “The main reason Obama is saying he will not invade again is because he knows the Islamic resistance” of the Shiite militias “and he does not want to lose a single soldier.”

The leader of the Islamic State, for his part, declared on Saturday that he defied the world to stop him.

“The conspiracies of Jews, Christians, Shiites and all the tyrannical regimes in the Muslim countries have been powerless to make the Islamic State deviate from its path,” the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared in an audio recording released over the Internet, using derogatory terms from early Islamic history to refer to Christians and Shiites.

“The entire world saw the powerlessness of America and its allies before a group of believers,” he said. “People now realize that victory is from God, and it shall not be aborted by armies and their arsenals.”

Many at the rally in Baghdad said they welcomed airstrikes against Mr. Baghdadi’s Islamic State but not American ground forces, the position that Mr. Sadr has taken. Many of the 30 lawmakers backed by Mr. Sadr — out of a Parliament of 328 seats — attended the rally.

Mr. Sadr’s supporters opposed Mr. Maliki, the former prime minister, and many at the rally were quick to criticize the former government for mistakes like failing to build a more dependable army. “We had a good army, so where is this army now?” asked Waleed al-Hasnawi, 35. “Maliki gave them everything, but they just left the battlefield.”

But few if any blamed Mr. Maliki for alienating Sunnis, as American officials assert, by permitting sectarian abuses under the Shiite-dominated security forces.

Omar al-Jabouri, 31, a Sunni Muslim from a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad who attended the rally and said he volunteers with a Shiite brigade, argued that Mr. Maliki had alienated most Iraqis, regardless of their sect.

“He did not just exclude and marginalize the Sunni people; he ignored the Shiite people, too,” Mr. Jabouri said. “He gave special help to his family, his friends, people close to him. He did not really help the Shiite people, as many people think.”

But the Islamic State was a different story, Mr. Jabouri said. “It is obvious to everyone that the Islamic State is a creation of the United States and Israel.”

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:02 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Turkey celebrates return of hostages and opens border to Kurds fleeing Isis

Government refuses to reveal how 46 captives seized at Turkish consulate in Mosul in June were released

Emma Graham-Harrison   
The Observer, Saturday 20 September 2014 19.33 BST   

Turkey has welcomed home 46 hostages freed by Islamic State (Isis) in mysterious circumstances, hours after opening its borders to tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing another advance by the extremist group.

The captives were seized at Turkey's consulate in Mosul in early June, when the city fell during a lightning Isis advance across the area. They included diplomats and their children, special forces soldiers and the consul general, as well as three Iraqis who stayed in their country after their release.

Concerns about their safety were one of the main reasons cited by Ankara for staying out of a US-led coalition against Isis. Turkey has also refused to let American drones and fighter planes use Turkish airbases for bombing raids on the group.

Turkish leaders celebrating the release refused to go into detail about how they secured such a massive political coup. The prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said there had been no special forces operations, and instead the country's intelligence agency had used their "own methods", but gave no further details.

"After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country," Davutoglu said, as scenes of joyous reunion were broadcast on live television.

The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that no ransom had been paid and no deal struck with Isis, but did not give any source for the reporting.

"I think it's fair to say that we haven't been told the full story," Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, who has studied Turkey's security policy, told the Associated Press.

The release was unlikely to change Turkey's stance on bases or joining the coalition, he said, although it may feel freer to publicise current efforts such as a crackdown on oil smuggling across the border. "There will be some changes, but not as much as people hope," Stein said.

It was not clear where the hostages had been handed over by Isis. During more than three months in captivity, they were held in and around Mosul in difficult conditions, moved at least eight times as fighting raged.

"[Isis] treated us a little better because we are Muslims. But we weren't that comfortable. There was a war going on," Alparslan Yel told the Associated Press.

Militants trying to force the consul to make a video statement had put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him, but he defied them, another former captive said. The consul himself, Ozturk Yilmaz, declined to comment. "I haven't seen my family for 102 days. All I want to do is to go home with them," he said.

The president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is likely to enjoy a political boost from the dramatic release, said the group were freed through "a successful operation".

"I thank the prime minister and his colleagues for this operation, which was pre-planned, whose every detail was calculated, which lasted through the night in total secrecy and ended successfully this morning," Erdogan said in a statement.

Iraqi military spokesman Lieutenant-General Qassim al-Moussawi said that the government had no information about the release of the hostages and didn't know where they had been held or where they were released.

The celebrations in Ankara contrasted with desperation at the border with Syria, where up to 45,000 Kurds streamed through eight crossings along a 20-mile stretch of border, opened to allow them to flee an Isis advance. Extremist fighters have seized control of up to 60 Kurdish villages in the area during a two-day campaign, targeting the city of Kobane or Ain al-Arab. If they succeed in taking control, tens of thousands more Kurds could flee into Turkey.

Syria's exiled opposition National Coalition has warned of the danger of a massacre in the area, where Kurdish fighters, who have resisted Isis for months, have been forced to retreat in recent days.

"Clashes started in the morning and we fled by car. We were 30 families in total," Lokman Isa, 34, a farmer who had crossed into Turkey, told the Reuters news agency. He said Isis fighters entered his village, Celebi, with heavy weapons, while the Kurdish forces battling them only had light arms. "They have destroyed every place they have gone to. We saw what they did in Iraq in Sinjar and we fled in fear," he said as he waited in the town of Suruc for Turkish authorities to set up a camp. Another refugee appealed for international help. "The US, Turkey, Russia, friendly countries, must help us. They must bomb Islamic State."

"All they can do is cut off heads, they have nothing to do with Islam," said Mustafa Saleh, 30, waiting to be assigned a tent in the grounds of a boarding school. "I would have fought to my last drop of blood against Islamic State, but I had to bring the women and children."

At least 11 Kurdish civilians, some of them children, had already been killed by Isis fighters in villages near Kobani, Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters.

More than 300 Kurdish fighters have crossed from Syria into Turkey to try to push back Isis. The extremist group's fighters are now within 10 miles of Kobani, equipped with rockets, artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles, the head of Kurdish forces defending the city said. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called on Friday for international intervention to protect Kobani, saying the insurgents must be "hit and destroyed wherever they are". The US is drawing up plans for military action by an international coalition against Isis in Syria, but will have to move fast if it is to prevent Kobani falling.

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 06:01 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Why Chiantishire has become Ruscany

The lush countryside of Tuscany has long been a favourite of British visitors and expats, but now Russian oligarchs escaping western sanctions are outbidding the competition for eye-catching villas

Tom Kington in Lucca
The Observer, Saturday 20 September 2014 12.45 BST   
The wife of the marquis put down her drink on a silver coaster and sighed. "This area used to be an English colony, but now there is an epochal change under way," she said. "The English? They were gentlemen. Now their place is being taken by the Russians."

It's a busy time at Villa Orlando, a gorgeous 17th-century country mansion surrounded by pools, parks and lemon groves outside Lucca, as wealthy Russian buyers looking for a Tuscan bolthole arrive to cast an eye over the Marquis Ludovico Gavotti's massive oil paintings, damask four-poster beds and frescoed ceilings. The house is now up for sale with an asking price of €8m (£6.3m) as Gavotti struggles with taxes and a broken roof, making it the latest Tuscan jewel that could now be sold to millionaires from Moscow.

Once content to take over sea resorts like Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, the Russians are now spreading out from their beachheads, backed by enormous wealth and spurred by the sanctions targeting their homeland following Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

The peaceful Russian incursion in Tuscany coincides with the 20th anniversary of the death of Harold Acton, the Florence-based British aesthete who personified upper-crust England's cultural identification with, and colonisation of, Tuscany, dating back to the Grand Tour, a siren call which lured Prince Charles and Tony Blair to take holidays in elegant villas perched on cypress-lined hilltops. In their slipstream came hordes of middle-class Brits who have bought up crumbling farmhouses, learned the rudiments of dry stone walling and pressed olives from their own trees.

But now Tuscany is changing its spots, shifting from Chiantishire to what observers are dubbing Ruscany. "We are less interested in the UK market – it spends less," said Dimitri Corti, the head of Florence estate agency Lionard, which specialises in finding Russian buyers for its up-for-sale villas. Lionard's brochure is a two-kilo, hardback collection of stunning mansions and castles, featuring lush photos but no text, apparently giving oligarchs the chance to merely point to a picture and say: "I want that one."

But Corti said that, 20 years after Russians first hopped off their yachts in Italy, they were more discerning. "They increasingly want to avoid Forte dei Marmi because there are too many other Russians," he said. Russians have already discovered the thermal baths at Montecatini Terme, a spa town halfway from Forte dei Marmi to Florence, where Cézanne and Verdi once took the waters. Since Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, checked in two years ago, street signs have gone up in Russian and the council has laid on interpreters as visitors from Russia climb to 50,000 year. "This year we brought in an orchestra to play from St Petersburg," said mayor Giuseppe Bellandi. Corti recently sold two €7m villas at the sea resort of Castiglioncello, farther south down the Tuscan coast, where Italian film stars Alberto Sordi and Marcello Mastroianni owned homes.

But the real treasures he is talking up on marketing trips to Moscow are the secluded villas dotted around the hills near Lucca, starting with three that were once lived in by Elisa, Pauline and Caroline Bonaparte – Napoleon's sisters – during the French domination of Tuscany at the start of the 19th century.

Caroline's home for eight years was Villa Orlando, where successive owners, including the Marquis Gavotti today, have kept intact Caroline's rich red damask double-poster bed, as well as furniture from the period in the bedroom where she enjoyed views over the villa's gardens. If that's not enough pedigree for the likely Russian buyer of the property, Gavotti's lineage is true Italian blue blood. On his father's side he descends from the Gavottis, a noble family that traces its roots in Genoa in the year 1000. His mother's side were Orlandos, shipbuilding Sicilians who helped bankroll Garibaldi's march to unify Italy and bought the villa in 1899.

Today Gavotti, 72, potters around the villa in shorts and a sweatshirt, but until her death aged 93 in 2011 his aunt Maria Luisa lived in high style, surrounded by servants. "She spent a lot of her life on safaris, hence the animal skulls and horns on the walls down in the servants' quarters," said Gavotti. When Maria Luisa was at the villa, she would host passing English nobles, he added. "The English were at home here in Lucca," said his wife, Luisa. But the year Maria Luisa died, the British consul in Florence also shut down – the victim of budget cuts – after 500 years of serving British travellers on the Grand Tour, a closure seen as reflecting the declining influence of the British community in Tuscany. Tellingly, Prince William was partying this weekend at the wedding of a school friend in Italy, but in Puglia – a new favoured destination for well-heeled Brits – not in Tuscany where his father Prince Charles was a regular visitor.

"The Chianti area of Tuscany is still an Anglo-Saxon and northern European holdout," said Ian Heath, an Englishman who works with the Lionard estate agency. "But the prices are overblown," he added. "Who wants to pay millions for a farmhouse, when you can buy a villa with frescoes near Lucca? The Russians aren't stupid, they know a good deal. I heard stories about them arriving here 20 years ago with suitcases of cash and offering triple the price on properties. I don't know how it was then, but it certainly isn't true now." Russians are still, however, considered boorish tourists by many, to the point that a Forte dei Marmi hotelier this year produced a video politely suggesting to Russians that they treat staff more decently and refrain from automatically ordering the priciest wine on the menu.

At the Giglio restaurant in Lucca last week, owner Paola Barbieri said Russians were already catching on. "Gone are the days when they picked the Sassicaia wine because it costs the most," she said. "Now they ask advice. Ten years ago they wanted soup and cucumber salad, because that's what they ate back home. Now they will eat our handmade tortelli and want extra virgin olive oil on their salad, not sour cream." Ian Heath said the proof Russians were getting more cultured was their interest in houses like Villa Orlando. "The new owner will need to spend hundreds of thousands of euros on refurbishment but will not be able to touch the paintings or Caroline Bonaparte's room, which have preservation orders on them," he said.

Another vote of confidence came, surprisingly, from Prince Ottaviano de'Medici di Toscana, a modern descendant of the once-powerful Tuscan Medici family and a preservation activist. This summer the prince lambasted the renting out in Florence of a Medici fort for the wedding of reality star Kim Kardashian. But last week he said he positively welcomed the Russian invasion. "In the second half of the 19th century, the English were here, but so were Russian intellectuals," he said. "Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot while staying in Florence, while a Russian prince, Nikolai Demidov, bought the Medici villa at Pratolino, donated art works and restored the gardens, as well as building the Russian church in Florence," he said.

"The idea of Tuscany has been transmitted in Russian literature and culture since then, even if the Russian presence here was cut off by the revolution. The English never stopped coming, but then they didn't have communism," he added. "As in the past, it is the British and the Russians who are today most concerned about the preservation of Florence. People who criticise the Russians should read a bit more Dostoevsky."

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 05:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Latvian criminals in UK do their probation by email

Revelations come in wake of manhunt over case of missing schoolgirl Alice Gross

Jamie Doward   
The Observer, Saturday 20 September 2014 13.47 BST   

Between 30 and 40 convicted Latvians living in the UK are being supervised by probation officers in their native country via email, according to a criminal justice expert.

The revelation comes after forensic searches were conducted at the home of a Latvian builder named as the prime suspect in the search for Alice Gross, the missing London schoolgirl.

Scotland Yard said it was looking for Arnis Zalkalns, 41, after he was identified on CCTV near the towpath in west London where Alice went missing. Latvian police confirmed Zalkalns served a custodial sentence after he was convicted of bludgeoning his wife, Rudite, to death in his home country in 1998.

He served seven years in prison, prompting questions over why he was allowed into the UK and how much the authorities knew of his violent past.

Harry Fletcher, a former assistant general secretary at the probation union, Napo, and now director of the Digital-Trust, a charity that campaigns against online abuse, said that Latvian offenders living in the UK were obliged only to email their probation officers once a fortnight.

The revelation will further intensify the focus on the supervision of offenders from EU member states residing in the UK. British citizens who had been convicted of murder would be subject to stringent supervision orders for the rest of their lives and details of their offences would be lodged with the relevant authorities.

They would have to be seen regularly by a probation officer and would have to report any changes in their lives. They would also have to seek permission to travel abroad. But Latvia does not insist on such oversight, Fletcher claimed.

"The Latvian authorities don't have a postal address for them, just email addresses," Fletcher said.

"These are offenders currently on licence, some for serious convictions. The Latvian authorities can't take their passports away because of their right to free movement. But this is a legal loophole that needs closing."

Zalkalns went missing a week after Alice was last seen on 28 August, when she was spotted on CCTV by the Grand Union canal in west London. Zalkalns's bicycle was discovered on Friday, although police declined to say where.

It emerged last week that Zalkalns had been arrested on suspicion of indecent assault on a 14-year-old girl in 2009, but no further action was taken.

The mother of his murdered wife described her former son-in-law as a "control freak with a fierce temper".

Scotland Yard insisted it has no evidence suggesting Alice, 14, who suffered from anorexia, has come to harm.

"This is not a murder inquiry in the sense that we don't have any evidence or information to say that Alice is not alive," said Det Supt Carl Mehta, from the Met's homicide and major crime command.

The Home Office can stop EU citizens entering the UK if they are deemed to be a threat to public security, public safety or public health. Each case is looked at individually.

But Scotland Yard said there was no record in the UK of Zalkalns's murder conviction, raising questions about the nature of information sharing between EU member states regarding convicted criminals and the ability of the Home Office to assess how much of a threat they pose.

It is unclear whether the Home Office was aware Zalkalns was a murderer. It has a longstanding practice of not commenting on individual cases.

"We have detailed arrangements in place to identify people of concern entering the UK," said a Home Office spokesman.

"All passengers are checked against police, security and immigration watchlists and where we are aware of individuals who pose a risk, Border Force officers can – and do – refuse them entry."

A reward of up to £20,000 is being offered for anyone who has information that leads detectives to find Alice.

Zalkalns is described as white, 5'10", of stocky build and with dark brown hair that he normally wears tied in a pony tail.

Police have said that Zalkalns "potentially poses a risk to the public" and have asked anyone who sees him not to approach him and to dial 999.


Alice Gross hunt becomes biggest police search operation since 7/7

Met police says 600 officers from eight forces have searched nine square miles of land and 3.4 miles of waterways

Press Association, Saturday 20 September 2014 12.23 BST   

The hunt for the missing schoolgirl Alice Gross has become the biggest search operation since the 7 July bombings in London, Scotland Yard said on Saturday.

Police have been searching for the 14-year-old for 24 days after she went missing on 28 August.

The convicted murderer Arnis Zalkalns, 41, has been named as the prime suspect in the disappearance after he too went missing on 3 September.

The Metropolitan police said that 600 officers from eight forces had searched nine square miles of open land and 3.4 miles of canals and rivers in the largest deployment of search assets for an ongoing investigation since the terrorist attacks of 2005.

Specialist search trained officers, dogs and divers have been mobilised.

Investigators have received more than 630 calls and additional staff have been drafted in to man the phones.

Det Supt Carl Mehta said: "Our thoughts continue to go out to Alice's family as our search continues in a bid to find her.

"I would like to thank the local community who have shown great support to the search effort and police investigation so far.

"Our officers are working through the weekend, carrying on those searches. We will not stop our hunt for Alice.

"Whilst we have already seized many hundreds of hours of CCTV we still need the public's help.

"If you are a shop owner, have CCTV at your home, or were out filming in the areas of Ealing and Hanwell and have footage from the afternoon of Thursday August 28 when Alice was last seen, and right up to September 3 when Arnis Zalkalns was last seen, then please get in touch with us."

Police recovered a red Trek mountain bike belonging to Zalkalns on Friday, but would not say where or in what circumstances.

Forensic teams also searched a property in Hanwell, west London, on Friday, where his partner was thought to have previously lived.

It is the same area where 14-year-old Alice is from, and lamp posts less than 100 metres from the house feature posters appealing for information about the missing girl.

Onlookers at the house said they saw police remove a large parcel wrapped in brown forensics paper in the afternoon.

Radoslav Andric, the landlord of the terraced rental property which is split into seven bedsits, said Zalkalns's partner had lived there until about a year ago and that he stayed there with her.

Andric, 64, who owns a flooring company, said he last saw Zalkalns there about two days before he went missing when he returned to see friends, bringing a broken bike to the house.

The landlord, who is originally from the former Yugoslavia and lives in an annexe at the rear of the building, said he believed Zalkalns had come back because his bike was not working properly.

Police had previously searched a semi-detached house nearby in Ealing, where Zalkalns has been living with his partner and their young child.

Alice has not been since she was spotted on CCTV footage walking alongside the Grand Union canal in west London.

Zalkalns, who was convicted of murder in his home country of Latvia in 1998, was seen 15 minutes later riding past the same spot on a mountain bike.

He has not accessed his bank account or used his mobile phone since he went missing. His passport was left at his house.

Scotland Yard have insisted they have no evidence to suggest that Alice, who suffers from anorexia, has come to harm.

Detectives have said that Zalkalns, who was convicted of bludgeoning and stabbing his wife Rudite Zalkalns to death and served seven years in prison, was also arrested on suspicion of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl in 2009, but no further action was taken.

The general labourer, who works at a building site in Isleworth, west London, is thought to have come to the UK in 2007.

Police said on Thursday that it was their understanding there was no record in the UK of his murder conviction.

A reward of up to £20,000 is being offered for anyone who has information that leads detectives to find Alice.

Zalkalns is described as white, 5ft 10ins, of stocky build and with dark brown hair that he normally wears tied in a pony tail.

Police have said that he potentially poses a risk to the public and asked anyone who sees him not to approach him but dial 999.

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 05:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

CIA has stopped spying on western European governments, sources say

Agency declines to comment but US official says pause in decades of espionage was designed to give CIA time to re-evaulate strategy

Associated Press in Washington, Saturday 20 September 2014 15.52 BST   
Stung by the backlash over a German caught selling secrets to the US and the revelations of surveillance by the National Security Agency, the CIA has stopped spying on friendly governments in western Europe, according to current and former US officials.

The pause in decades of espionage was designed to give CIA officers time to examine whether they were being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery, said a US official who had been briefed on the situation.

Under the stand-down order, case officers in Europe largely have been forbidden from undertaking “unilateral operations” such as meeting with sources they have recruited within allied governments. Such clandestine meetings are the bedrock of spying.

CIA officers are still allowed to meet with their counterparts in the host country’s intelligence service and conduct joint operations with host country services. Recently, unilateral operations targeting third-country nationals – Russians in France, for example – were restarted. But meetings with independent sources in the host country remain on hold, as do new recruitments.

The CIA declined to comment.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said during a public event Thursday that the US is assuming more risk because it has stopped spying on “specific targets”, though he didn’t spell out details.

Spying stand-downs are common after an operation is compromised, but “never this long or this deep”, said a former CIA official, who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because it is illegal to discuss classified material or activities. The pause, which has been in effect for about two months, was ordered by senior CIA officials through secret cables.

The pullback comes at an inopportune time, with the US worried about monitoring European extremists who have fought in Syria, Europe’s response to Russian aggression and European hostility to American technology companies following revelations the companies turned over data to the NSA. While the US co-operates closely with Europe against terrorism, spying can help American officials understand what their allies are planning and thinking, whether about counterterrorism or trade talks.

The current stand-down was part of the fallout from the 2 July arrest of a 31-year-old employee of the German intelligence service. Suspected of spying for Russia, he told authorities he passed 218 German intelligence documents to the CIA.

In a second case, authorities searched the home and office of a German defense official suspected of spying for the US, but he denied doing so, and no charges have been filed against him.

A few days later, Germany asked the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country, an unprecedented demand from a US ally. The move demonstrated how seriously the Germans were taking the situation, having already been stung by revelations made by Edward Snowden, a former NSA systems administrator, that the agency had tapped German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

The NSA disclosure infuriated Merkel, who demanded explanations from President Barack Obama. It embarrassed both world leaders and has left many Germans skeptical about cooperating with the US.

CIA managers were worried that the incident could lead European security services to begin closely watching CIA personnel. Many agency officers in Europe, operating out of US embassies, have declared their status as intelligence operatives to the host country.

The “EUR” division, as it is known within the CIA, covers Canada, Western Europe and Turkey. While spying on Western European allies is not a top priority, Turkey is considered a high-priority target – an Islamic country that talks to US adversaries such as Iran, while sharing a border with Syria and Iraq. It was not known to what extent the stand-down affected operations in Turkey.

European countries also are used as safe venues to conduct meetings between CIA officers and their sources from the Middle East and other high-priority areas. Those meetings have been rerouted to other locales while the pause is in place.

The European Division staff has long been considered among the most risk-averse in the agency, several former case officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to discuss secret intelligence matters by name.

A former CIA officer who worked under nonofficial cover wrote a 2008 book in which he described a number of operational “stand-downs” in Europe, including one in France in 1998 because of the World Cup, and another in a European country in 2005, in response to unspecified security threats.

The former officer, whose real name has not be disclosed, wrote The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, under a pseudonym, Ishmael Jones. He is a former Marine who served 15 years in the agency before resigning in 2006. The CIA acknowledged his status as a case officer when it successfully sued him for publishing the book without first submitting it for pre-publication censorship, as required under his secrecy agreement.

The CIA last faced that sort of blowback from a European ally in 1996, when several of its officers were ordered to leave France. An operation to uncover French positions on world trade talks was unraveled by French authorities because of poor CIA tactics, according to a secret CIA inspector general report, details of which were leaked to reporters.

The Paris flap left the EUR division much less willing to mount risky espionage operations, many former case officers have said.

 on: Sep 21, 2014, 05:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mikhail Khodorkovsky breaks political silence, saying he would lead Russia

The former oil tycoon and adversary of president the malignant tumor Pig Putin has launched a pro-European political platform from exile

Agence France-Presse in Paris, Sunday 21 September 2014 02.59 BST   
The former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in jail after challenging the Kremlin, says he would be ready to lead Russia if called upon.

Khodorkovsky’s statement, at the launch of an online movement called Open Russia, appears to break his promise to steer clear of politics, which he made after being pardoned by president the malignant tumor Pig Putin in December.

“I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally,” he was quoted as saying by Le Monde newspaper.

“But if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favour of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task.”

Open Russia is intended to unite pro-European Russians in a bid to challenge malignant tumor Pig Putin’s grip on power.

“A minority will be influential if it is organised,” Khodorkovsky said during a ceremony broadcast online from Paris.

Khodorkovsky and his allies said political change could come quickly and insisted the time had come to think of Russia’s future after the malignant tumor.

He stressed that his project – named after his charity that was shut down after his imprisonment – would be an online “platform” for like-minded people, not a political party.

But he did not anticipate the malignant tumor Putin would approve.

“I expect him to be upset,” Khodorkovsky said.

Russian activists and prominent emigres including Paris-based economist Sergei Guriyev and London-based businessman Yevgeny Chichvarkin – both of whom fled the country under pressure from security services – joined the online ceremony.

Khodorkovsky, who lives in Switzerland with his family, openly supported the Ukrainian uprising that ousted a Moscow-backed president in February, but indicated he did not want a bloody revolt for Russia.

The former head of the defunct Yukos oil firm sakd all those supporting a pro-European course for Russia should before parliamentary elections scheduled for 2016.

“We support what they call the European choice or a state governed by the rule of law,” he said.

“We believe that the statement ‘Russia is not Europe’ is a lie that is being imposed on society on purpose.

“This is being done by those who want to rule the country for life, those who want to spit upon law and justice,” Khodorkovsky said in a thinly veiled reference to the malignant tumor.

“We are Europe, both in terms of geography and culture.

“We are not simply Russian Europeans. We are patriots. And true patriots even during pitch-dark reactionary times should serve their country and their people.”

Khodorkovsky’s supporters expressed hopes his project would raise awareness among Russians and help them see through state propaganda.

“It is time to open our mouths,” Chichvarkin said.

“We are ahead of a long, hard and dangerous path,” the former deputy finance minister and economist Sergei Aleksashenko said.

Russian state media appeared to enforce a blackout on news coverage of Khodorkovky’s project.

His spokeswoman Olga Pispanen said the project’s website,, became the target of distributed denial of service attacks.

Attempts to prevent activists from joining the ceremony were reported in the central Russian cities of Nizhny Novgorod and Yaroslavl.

While many scoffed at Khodorkovsky’s effort to rally Russians while in exile, some said the project could pay off in the long run.

“Such a project is sorely needed,” political analyst Mark Urnov said, calling it an “antidote” to the country’s grim reality.

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