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 41 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iran Wants Sanctions Lifted before Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 07:00

Iran wants all Western sanctions to be lifted before striking a deal on its contested nuclear program by a November deadline, a top official said Wednesday.

The announcement came amid intensifying efforts to conclude a definitive pact. The six powers in the talks with Iran -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany, known as the P5+1 -- have set November 24 as the deadline.

The chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said the U.S. proposal of a gradual lifting of sanctions was "unacceptable."

"If we want a definitive accord on November 24, there must be an immediate lifting of sanctions," he told a news conference in Paris.

A Western diplomat close to the negotiations with Iran on Monday said a firm deal by the deadline was highly unlikely, saying Tehran would have to make "significant gestures."

The aim is to close avenues towards Tehran ever developing an atomic bomb, by cutting back its enrichment programme, shutting down suspect facilities and imposing tough international inspections.

In return, the global community would suspend and then gradually lift crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.

But the two sides, despite long-running talks, remain far apart on how to reconcile their objectives.

Source: Agence France Presse

 42 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

First Iraqi Kurdish fighters enter Isis-besieged Kobani

Monitoring group says peshmerga fighters have arrived with heavy weapons, crowning a dramatic turnaround for Syrian town

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 30 October 2014 12.10 GMT      

The first Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have entered the besieged Syrian town of Kobani through the border crossing with Turkey, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The British-based monitoring group said 10 fighters moved in on Thursday and the others were expected to enter the town, which has been under attack by Islamic State (Isis) for more than a month, “within hours”.

A convoy of peshmerga fighters had arrived close to the Turkish town of Suruc on Wednesday night, meeting up with others who had flown in earlier in the day.

“About 10 members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces entered the town of Ayn al-Arab through the border crossing between the town and Turkish territory,” the Observatory said. Ayn al-Arab is the Arabic name for mainly Kurdish Kobani.

The Syrian foreign ministry condemned Turkey for allowing foreign fighters to enter Syria, describing the move as “blatant violation” of its sovereignty and a “disgraceful act”.

The new troops bring heavy weapons, the main request of the Kurdish militia who have kept their well-armed enemies at bay with a combination of assault rifles and occasional US air strikes.

They travelled through Turkey after a US lobbying campaign broke down Ankara’s opposition to allowing military convoys into Kobani.

“The force is equipped with heavy guns including mortars, canons, rocket launchers, etc,” said Safeen Dizayee, spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, on Thursday. The troops were sent, he added, as a “moral, political and nationalistic duty”.

“This force will not engage in frontline combat but will have a support role,” he said, adding that Kurdish fighters in the city said they had enough troops, but needed weapons and ammunition. More peshmerga fighters could be sent if needed.

The troops’ arrival crowns a dramatic turnaround in the fate of Kobani, which just a few weeks ago seemed all but doomed to a painful capitulation, as tens of thousands of refugees fled across the border in panic ahead of a blitzkrieg-style Isis advance.

US officials ordered air strikes, then all but washed their hands of the town, with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, saying it was not a strategic objective and a Pentagon spokesman warning that bombs alone could not save it.

Kurdish forces’ skilful defence of the town led to hope that defeat might not be inevitable, and won time to mobilise support worldwide through reports about Isis atrocities and the heroism of the defenders.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/29/2014 04:31 PM

New Alignments: The Kurds' Lonely Fight against Islamic State Terror

By Ralf Hoppe, Maximilian Popp, Christoph Reuter and Jonathan Stock

The terrorist group PKK represents the West's last hope in the fight against Islamic State. Their lonely resistance to the advancing jihadists will result in lasting changes to the region. Some developments are already well advanced.

The headquarters of one the world's mightiest terrorist organization is located in the mountains northeast of Erbil, Iraq. Or is it the nerve center of one of the Western world's most crucial allies? It all depends on how one chooses to look at the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

All visits to the site in northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains must first be authorized by PKK leaders, and the process is not immediate. But after days of waiting, our phone finally rings. "Get ready, we're sending our driver," the voice at the other end of the line says. He picks us up in the morning and silently drives us up the winding roads into the mountains. At one point, we pass the burned out remains of a car destroyed by Turkish bombs three years ago, killing the family inside. The wreckage has been left as a kind of memorial. The driver points to it and breaks his silence. "Erdogan has gone nuts," he says.

Just behind the Kurdish autonomous government's final checkpoint, the car rounds a bend in the road and suddenly Abdullah Öcalan's iconic moustache appears, part of a giant mural made of colored stones on the opposite hillside. The machine-gun toting guards wear the same mustache. "Do you have a permit, colleagues?" they ask.

Officially, we're in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. Really, though, it is a PKK state. A region of 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) of rugged, mountainous territory, it provides a home for PKK leadership in addition to training camps for fighters. It also has its own police force and courts. The surrounding hillsides are idyllic with their pomegranate trees, flocks of sheep and small stone huts. But they are also dotted with Humvees, captured by the PKK from the Islamic State terrorist militia, which had stolen them from the Iraqi army.

It is here in the Qandil Mountains that PKK leaders coordinate their fight against Islamic State jihadists in the Syrian town of Kobani and in the Iraqi metropolis of Kirkuk in addition to the ongoing battle in the Sinjar Mountains. Turkey, some fear, could soon be added to the list.

A Preposterous Collaboration?

Just a few years ago, the idea of the West working together with the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan would have been preposterous. Over the past three decades, PKK has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish civilians, providing the US and the European Union ample reason to keep the group on its lists of terrorist organizations. For many in the West, however, these former outlaws have become solitary heroes in the fight to save the Middle East from IS. With an estimated size of 15,000 fighters, PKK is the strongest fighting force in the region and the only one that seems willing and able to put up a fight against Islamic State. They are disciplined and efficient in addition to being pro-Western and secular.

The West would have preferred to rely on the PKK's Kurdish rivals, the 100,000-strong Peshmerga force of the northern Iraq autonomous region. But Peshmerga was overpowered by Islamic State. Furthermore, they have little combat experience, a dearth of modern weaponry, insufficient training and no central command. It isn't really even a true army, merely a hodgepodge of extracurricular clubs, partisan troops and special units. In August, they ceded the Sinjar Mountains to IS virtually without a fight, forcing thousands of Kurdish Yazidis to flee. The Peshmerga retreated elsewhere too in the face of IS advances.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, the president of northern Iraq, is essentially a family-run business with an associated small state, as corrupt as it is conservative. The PKK, and its Syrian counterpart YPG, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. The tightly run cadre isn't democratic, but neither is it corrupt -- and in Kobani, they are giving their all in the fight against Islamic State. Indeed, it was the PKK that succeeded in establishing a protective corridor in Sinjar that enabled tens of thousands of Yazidis to flee. It was also PKK that defended the cities of Makhmour and Kirkuk in Iraq against Islamic State militias.

The US Air Force is now air-dropping weapons for YPG fighters in Kobani, while the German military is delivering bazookas to the Peshmerga -- and not to Kobani where they are far more urgently needed. Everyone is assuring that these weapons won't fall into the hands of the PKK. Meanwhile, Turkey has acquiesced to allowing Peshmerga fighters to join the fray in Kobani and politicians in Europe and the United States are timidly considering removing PKK from their lists of terrorist organizations. To many, it seems like a necessary step when establishing a partnership with the PKK, even if it would mean conflict with Turkey.

A Difficult Balancing Act

It's a perplexing alliance in an abstruse conflict and it raises a number of prickly issues. Is the delivery of weapons to the Kurds a defensible strategy for the West? Is it even a moral obligation, to prevent a massacre? And what happens if those weapons are then one day used against Turkey? What happens if the Kurds' growing political and military self-confidence ultimately manifests itself in a demand for independence?

It's a difficult balancing act for the West. It has to ensure that the Kurds win the battle of Kobani -- not just to ward off IS, but also to save a peace process between PKK and the Turkish government that has been jeopardized by the conflict. At the same time, it wants to prevent a broader Kurdish triumph that could destabilize the entire region.

It's possible that the civil war in Syria and the fight against IS has already planted the seeds of a Kurdish spring that could radically shift the balance in the Middle East. Subjugated by foreign powers, some 30 million Kurds, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, have for years been fighting for recognition and for their own state in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq -- mostly without success. Only once, in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, did a Kurdistan province exist, and it disappeared after just 20 years. After World War I, the Western allies promised the Kurds they would be granted their own state, but Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, didn't keep the promise.

Turkey even refused to recognize the Kurds as an ethnic minority and it banned their language and traditions. Kurds also faced discrimination and repression in Iran, Syria and Iraq. The tragic nadir of this persecution was the massacre at Halabja. In March 1988, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered his air force to drop chemical weapons on the city, killing up to 5,000 people in the attack.

A few decades later, Kurds today enjoy a broad degree of autonomy in northern Iraq, even possessing their own government and army. Northern Iraq has become both a model for, and the envy of, other Kurds in the Middle East. It's an interdenominational success, too, given that Sunnis, Alevis, Yazidis and Christians peacefully coexist with one another in what is the most stable and prosperous part of Iraq. With upheaval taking place across the Middle East, Kurds in Syria and Turkey are hoping to implement a similar model. Now, though, the Kurds have become a primary target of the Islamic state, even though the two groups share the same Sunni branch of Islam. It is precisely the Kurds' newfound strength that has placed them in the crosshairs of IS.

+++ The Qandil Mountains of Iraq: A Visit to PKK Leaders +++

After the driver passes the stone portrait of Öcalan, he applies the brakes in front of a farmhouse. A short time later, PKK spokesman Zagros Hiwa arrives. He inspects the cameras, collects our mobile phones and closes the drapes. He then pulls a PKK flag out of a plastic bag and hangs it on the wall. PKK often uses civilian homes, with its leaders constantly changing locations.

Shortly thereafter, Sabri Ok enters the room with his body guard and five fighters. The 58 year old has been a member of PKK since its founding in 1978 and he's part of the group's top echelon. He spent a total of 22 years in prison in Turkey, a stint which included an extended hunger strike. Peace negotiations between PKK and Turkey have been ongoing since 2012, but Ok says they will end if Kobani falls to IS. Should that happen, attacks and violence will return in Turkey.

He warns that many young PKK supporters are itching for a fight. "The new generation is different from us older people," Ok says with concern. "They are more radical. They have seen the war in Kurdistan and their brothers and sisters have died in Syria. It will be difficult to control them."

Ok believes that Turkey is merely using the peace talks to buy time and does not think that a peaceful solution is possible. "We're not a war-loving people, but the Kurdish question has to be resolved," he says. "It is absurd for North Kurdistan to conduct peace negotiations while the same Kurds are being murdered by IS in Kobani with Turkish support." He claims that the Turks are providing IS with artillery and money, that they are treating wounded jihadists and allowing fighters to cross its borders into Syria. There is no proof of his allegations about weapons and money, but the other claims are verifiable.

The YPG, he says, have been defending the city for 37 days. "Without them," he says, "Kobani would have already fallen 37 times by now."

Last week, Turkey reached an agreement on sending 200 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Iraq through Turkey and into Syria in order to help in the battle to save Kobani, but Ok has little regard for the plan. "What Peshmerga?" he asks, grinning. "I fought with the Peshmerga -- that was 30 years ago. But it is no longer the same army. They've become weak. When people just sit around, they lose their will to fight." He says that weapons, medicine and ammunition are needed in Kobani, not Peshmerga fighters.

He believes that PKK's ongoing ban in Germany is unjustified. Doesn't the PKK share the same principles as the West, he asks? Things like women's rights, environmental protection and democracy? He discounts the darker side of PKK -- that involving contract killings, involvement in the drug trade, kidnappings and terror attacks.

He then invites us to lunch for a meal of wild honey, chicken and salad.

+++ Kirkuk, Iraq: The Front against IS +++

The old Saddam-era fortifications still encircle Kirkuk, built by the dictator as a bulwark against the Kurds. Today, they are manned by Peshmerga and PKK units, staring out at the black Islamic State flag flying across from them.

The Iraqi army left Kirkuk months ago, leaving the Kurds to defend the oil city on their own. Islamic State jihadists are now just a few kilometers away. The PKK and Peshmerga have fought against in each other in the past, but now they're working together. During the day, 150 Peshmerga guard the front, with 300 PKK fighters taking over at sundown. Most of the serious combat happens at night.

Their commander, Agid Kellary, is based a little further to the south in Daquq. The PKK man has set up a make-shift office in a half-finished apartment. An Iraqi army helicopter roars overhead and shots can be heard. Kellary, a friendly and soft-spoken man who studied literature, explains, "We're in control here. If you don't show any strength, no one will respect you."

Kirkuk is located on the important arterial between Erbil and Baghdad. The area is flat, meaning that whoever has control of the city also has control of the surrounding area. Bulldozers push large ramparts around the camp and workers dig deep trenches behind the front. It looks like they are planning to stay. Kellary says he's looking forward to winter, in the hopes that snow and mud will restrict IS movements to major roadways, making them easier to stop.

But Islamic State is a powerful adversary, one with more than 30,000 fighters at its disposal, seemingly unlimited resources and modern heavy weaponry, much of it captured in recent months. Most has been seized from the Iraqi army, which was armed by the United States, but some has also come from the Syrian regime. Last week, IS even presented three fighter jets along with pilots, but it was likely just propaganda, an area in which the jihadists have proven themselves to be highly adept.

The next sentence that comes out of Commander Kellary's mouth would have been unfathomable only a few months ago. "We thank the Americans for their help," he says. "When they help us, they are also helping themselves. We share the same enemy." He says weapons deliveries from Germany to the Peshmerga are also nice, but that it would be more important for Berlin to finally abandon its support of Turkey.

Kellary says that, even as the battle of Kobani gets worldwide coverage, the ongoing fight in the Sinjar Mountains has been virtually ignored. "Our units are trapped, under constant fire -- it's the heaviest fighting that I can recall," he says. The corridor they had been using just a few weeks ago to deliver food and humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis in the mountains is now under Islamic State control and the threat of another massacre is growing.

'If No One Helps Us, We're All Going To Be Killed'
Heydar Shesho, commander of the Yazidi army in the mountains, sounds a little desperate on the phone. "We are surrounded on all sides," he says. "Islamic State is attacking us with tanks and artillery. There are still 2,000 families here. If no one helps us, we're all going to be killed." There has been no air support from the US and no aid deliveries, he says, before adding that they urgently need heavy weaponry.

The Kurdish government has also dispatched a few hundred Peshmerga to the mountains. "But you can forget about them," Shesho says. "They just wait around here and they don't fight. They might as well just fly home."

+++ Ömerli, Turkey: The Home of Öcalan's Brother +++

Barring a visit to the prison where he is being held, the closest you can get to the PKK's leader is the village of Ömerli on the Turkish-Syrian border, 70 kilometers from Kobani. Abdullah Öcalan was born and raised here, and it is the place that his younger brother Mehmet still calls home.

The path to his house leads through a pistachio orchard to a simple stone house. Garlands in the green, yellow and red of the Kurdish flag hang from the ceiling bearing Abdullah Öcalan's portrait. Memhet Öcalan, 63, sits beneath them in a plastic chair. He bears an unmistakable likeness to his brother, with the same compact stature, slouching shoulders, coarse facial features and broad moustache. Öcalan is a farmer and his hands are toughened from hard labor in the fields. He wears simple clothing -- a blue shirt, cloth pants and sandals. He leads us into his living room, the walls of which are also covered with photos of his brother and other PKK commanders.

The Öcalan family was poor and the parents couldn't afford to send all seven of their children to school. Mehmet never learned to read and write while Abdullah went to school and proved to be a good pupil, eventually making it to secondary school in Ankara. Mehmet Öcalan says that politics was never a topic in his parents' home. Their Kurdish heritage didn't play a role, either. The state denied that Kurds even existed and for a time they were referred to as "mountain Turks". Their language was forbidden. The Öcalan family assimilated.

But Abdullah found himself searching for a direction and, for a while, thought he had found it in Islam. He often frequented the mosque in Diyarbakr, where he spent two years working in the land registry. He saved his wages and he enrolled at Ankara University at the beginning of the 1970s to study political science. It was an era in which left- and right-wing groups often brawled and in which thousands of people died in street battles.

Abdullah Öcalan went from being a devout Muslim to a Socialist, one who admired both Marx and Mao. He also became involved in the left-wing extremist movement and was sentenced to several months in prison, where he became radicalized after seeing how other political prisoners were tortured. He also began to focus more on the oppression of his people.

The PKK's Armed Struggle

Following his release, Öcalan began propagating armed struggle in the fight for an independent Kurdish state and founded a group that ultimately gave birth to the PKK in 1978. His troops carried out attacks, took hostages and murdered soldiers -- but also killed thousands of civilians, resulting in his group being placed on European and American lists of terrorist organizations. Starting in 1977, Mehmet Öcalan didn't see his brother for two entire decades, preferring to stay in his home village and staying away from the PKK. He suffered from Turkish state oppression nonetheless, with police raiding his home repeatedly. He was also arrested and beaten in prison.

He certainly wasn't alone. Thousands of Kurds were tortured in the 1980s, particularly in the military prison in Diyarbakir, known as "Hell Nr. 5." Guards would force prisoners to rape each other and to climb into bathtubs full of feces; they ripped out their hair, tore out their nails and zapped them with electric shocks.

It was nothing less than war between the PKK and Turkey. Turkish soldiers lit entire villages on fire, shot farmers dead and raped their wives; hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled their homes to escape the violence. Mehmet Öcalan also had to leave his village of Ömerli, finding work in the fields on the Gulf of Iskenderun. He was only able to return home many years later.

Initially, the PKK was not universally supported by the Kurdish population, with many in the countryside unable to connect with its Marxist-Leninist liberation ideology. Furthermore, Abdullah Öcalan was brutal in his treatment of dissidents, pursuing suspected collaborators across borders and even executing women and children. But the ferocity of the Turkish military served to push many people into the arms of the PKK.

Mehmet Öcalan gazes at a photograph of his brother in his hand. He says he doesn't reproach his brother for everything that happened. "Abdullah did what he had to do," he says. He adds that although he isn't political himself, he does support his brother's fight.

The PKK leader was finally captured by the Turkish secret service in 1999 in Kenya with CIA assistance. Initially, he was sentenced to death for establishing a terrorist organization and for high treason, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. For the last 15 years, he has been held in a high-security prison on the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara. He is only allowed to leave his cell once a day for an hour. For a long time, a radio was his only connection to the world outside, though he has had a television for the last two years. His lawyers say that he suffers from migraines and has developed breathing difficulties.

Abdullah Öcalan's Link to the Outside World

Mehmet recalls that Abdullah looked pale and seemed absent the first time he was able to visit him in prison and that they were only allowed to talk for 15 minutes. "You know that I did everything for the Kurdish people," Abdullah told his brother.

Now, though, Mehmet has become his brother's most important connection to the outside world. Though he shies away from public appearances, Mehmet receives Kurdish politicians to discuss his brother's ideas.

The two have never been able to talk without supervision during their meetings in Irmali, with security personnel constantly present, Mehmet says. Still, they spend much of their time talking about political issues, following Abdullah's initial questions regarding the family's wellbeing. At their last meeting in early October, Mehmet says his brother was riled up, fearful that the Turkish government was in the process of torpedoing the peace process.

Ankara began secret talks with the PKK in 2009 in Oslo. But it wasn't until the fall of 2011 that Turkish government officials approached Abdullah Öcalan, realizing that any peace agreement would have to bear his signature. Mehmet says his brother agreed to the negotiations with Ankara because he realized that the guerilla war had not been successful in guaranteeing more rights and freedoms for the Kurds.

The talks, by contrast, have resulted in significant improvements. Kurds are now allowed to use their language in schools and Kurdish newspapers and television channels have been established. Many Kurds are also more prosperous, having profited from the economic boom and from government investment in their region, which had long been neglected. In the summer, parliament in Ankara passed a law aimed at making it easier for PKK fighters to return from the Qandil Mountains, a move Abdullah Öcalan welcomed as an "historic initiative." An end to the decades-long conflict appeared nigh.

But Mehmet says the PKK now finds itself at a crossroads. His brother said he can only continue the talks if Erdogan ceases his support for the Islamic State, but Ankara appears to be pursuing a schizophrenic approach to the Kurds at the moment. To that end, Erdogan recently compared the PKK to Islamic State and he is still blocking any kind of aid for Kobani. It looks as though the Turkish president is hoping that the Kurds will be satisfied with a minimal compromise -- pushed through by Abdullah Öcalan so that he can get out of prison and, perhaps, so that he will go down in history as a peacemaker rather than a terrorist. But it is a risky gamble that has strengthened radical elements. "My brother alone is to thank for the fact that the conflict has not yet escalated," Mehmet says. How much longer people will continue listening to him remains an open question.

+++ Diyarbakir, Turkey: The Younger Generation +++

Ulas Yasak, a young PKK activist, is sitting in a windowless room in a concrete building on the outskirts of Diyarbakir, smoking filterless cigarettes and waiting. There are several Kurdish-language newspapers on the table in front of him and a poster of Abdullah Öcalan hangs on the wall. "I am ready to go on the attack," he says.

With his gaunt, sunken cheeks and scruffy beard, Yasak looks much older than his 30 years. He used to fight for the PKK in northern Iraq, but he is now the commander of the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), a PKK sub-group focused on establishing a parallel society, with its own schools, security forces and judiciary.

Yasak, who prefers to keep his real name secret, is illustrative of a generational conflict currently threatening to split the Kurdish movement. Young Kurds seem determined to take the fight to the streets and have engaged in battles with Turkish security forces in recent weeks. Indeed, nationwide protests at the beginning of October resulted in 20 deaths, with the scene reminiscent of the 1990s, when the conflict between Turks and Kurds devastated the region.

Just the night before, Yasak tells us, he met with his comrades to discuss what they should do if Turkey continues standing by as Kurds are slaughtered by Islamic State militants in Kobani. "Our leadership advises us to remain calm. But my people are losing their patience." Erdogan, he says, sought to use the negotiations with PKK to win over Kurdish voters, but the situation in Kobani shows that reconciliation was not his main priority.

Kobani, the Embodiment Kurdish Dreams
Yasak believes that Kobani embodies everything they have been fighting for over the years. In addition to being self-governed by the Kurds, it is also democratic and secular -- and is seen by Kurds as a model for the entire region. Were it to fall, Yasak warns, all of Turkey would pay a high price. "Then we would light the country on fire."

During the last three decades, 40,000 people in Turkey have lost their lives in the conflict between PKK and the state, including Yasak's uncle and cousin. As a child, Yasak was not allowed to speak Kurdish and when he went to university to study sociology, he was arrested and sent to prison, having been accused of spreading propaganda for PKK. When he got out of jail, he joined the group.

When the peace process began, he returned to Diyarbakir and realized that it had undergone a transformation while he was away. Several Turkish companies have opened branches there and the cafés are full of young men and women checking their smartphones. Stores in the city are open around the clock and the airport is currently being expanded to become one of the biggest in the country. Kurds in the region have profited from peace and many have started new companies themselves. That could all be in danger now.

+++ Afrin, Syria: Inside the Kurdish Mini-State +++

The Turkish government is even more afraid of the Kurds in neighboring Syria than it is of those inside its own country. Kobani is one of three separate regions where Kurds live in Syria. The second is the area surrounding Qamishli. There, the PYD leadership continues to cooperate with Damascus. Assad's air force uses the city's airfield to launch air strikes against towns and cities that are bastions of the opposition.

The third Kurdish region is Afrin, located northwest of Aleppo. It is here where the term canton -- a word Kurds have borrowed from Switzerland to refer to the three regions they control -- fits best, with Afrin seeming almost like a miniature Kurdish state. Two-thousand square kilometers (770 square miles) large, the enclave is both lush and green along the Afrin river valley, and arid and craggy in the surrounding hills. The violence nearby seems far away here, despite the presence of some 300,000 refugees who have joined the official population of 1.2 million. The region includes 366 villages and six small cities, all of it under the control of the PYD, the Syrian branch of PKK. In addition to a functioning administration, a court system and police, the region also boasts its very own secret service and it produces its own electricity. Furthermore, the government actively seeks to attract companies to the region and has a council dedicated to stimulating the economy. Allied rebel groups are welcome to come to the region for a bit of shopping and to have their wounded tended to.

It is a remarkable spot in war-torn Syria, with new construction everywhere and families strolling in the streets until late in the evening, enjoying the several newly opened cafés (including a Starbucks knock-off). Afrin is so safe that more than 100 textile factories and workshops from the decimated city of Aleppo have moved in. The region has its own mineral water bottling plant, being sold under the brands Kalos and Hana, and there are soap factories, printing shops and construction companies. Other plants produce tomato paste, hoses and toilet paper.

It is a grand experiment in statehood, and one that is being conducted largely out of the limelight. Its seeming success is almost certainly disquieting for the Turks.

Building a State

It is a bit surreal to watch regional officials go about their daily tasks, despite being surrounded by a war zone. Abdulrahman Ibo, Afrin's chain-smoking mayor, for example, says that his greatest triumph in office was moving the city's bus station out of the city center. The energy minister, a gold trader from Aleppo, is currently working on a law to regulate gravel mining while waiting for the return of an envoy who went to Helsinki to propose a wind and solar energy project to the government there.

Meanwhile, Afrin's Prime Minister Hevin Ibrahim, an Alawi chemistry and physics teacher, is phoning around to find out what became of the school books he ordered from a Turkish publishing company. They have to be smuggled across the border into Syria.

"We don't want independence and we don't want our own state," the prime minister insists, sitting in her office. "We don't want enemies and we are doing our best to prevent Syria from falling apart." They are not in the process of establishing a state, she says. Rather, they are merely engaged in "self-management." Nobody should be overly concerned, she insists. "We are technocrats," she adds, doing her best to look friendly and innocuous.

The line being walked here is a fine one. They neither want to dare a complete breakaway from Syria nor to raise Turkish suspicions with talk of secession. But the trappings of autonomy are difficult to ignore.

Even the meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim almost failed to come about because Afrin sets its clocks differently than the rest of Syria, having resolved to turn the clocks back here for daylight-savings, just like in Europe. Furthermore, in a step that is ironically reminiscent of a significant milestone on Turkey's own path to statehood, the Kurds of Afrin have introduced Latin script. The founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, did the same almost 100 years ago as a way of further delineating his country from the collapsing Ottoman Empire. Now, Latin lettering has replaced Arabic almost everywhere in Afrin: in school books, on street signs and in newspapers. "It's simply a better fit for the way Kurdish sounds," Ibrahim says in a stroke of linguistic disingenuity.

It would hardly be possible to separate more completely from a state that one professes to want to preserve. But it is a strategy -- that of quietly and pragmatically building one's own structures -- that has served the Kurds in Syria well. In the beginning, they did so to fill the vacuum left behind by the departure of Assad's troops. But now, they have gone well beyond that. "We are now preparing an electoral council for all three cantons," assures the prime minister, "to enable a step-by-step introduction of democracy." Should the Syrian state completely collapse at some point, the Kurds of Afrin are prepared. They don't talk about having their own state, they simply focus on building it.

Not everybody, of course, is quite so diplomatic. When asked about Afrin, Sabri Ok, the PKK leader in the Qandil Mountains near the border with Iran, excitedly exclaims: "That kind of self-government is something we want for all of northern Kurdistan and for all Kurdish communities in the world."

Afrin's Foreign Minister Suleyman Jafer says officials there would like to initiate a dialogue with Turkey. "We even went so far as to send them a letter saying that we wanted peaceful relations with them, but we didn't get an answer," he says. Indeed, Jafer admits, he hasn't had much contact at all with any real states. It is a bit reminiscent of Europe during the Thirty Years' War, but Jafer is clearly an admirer of today's Europe. "We should simply get along with each other. Like in the EU. A world without borders!"

The government has, however, thoroughly fortified its own borders. A kind of Kurdish Maginot Line has developed in recent months on hilltops throughout the canton, complete with guard towers connected to each other with reinforced tunnels. In addition, a 50-kilometer-long, four-meter-deep trench is being dug around the canton -- for protection, of course, not as a border.

Currently, it is quiet on the outskirts of Afrin. But prior to this spring, the canton was besieged for almost a year by Islamic State fighters and other Syrian rebel groups angry with the Kurds for their cooperation with the Assad regime. Indeed, the civil war has allowed the Kurds to seize control of their regions without suffering the kind of destruction visited upon Arab towns and villages. One could say they have taken advantage of the suffering of others. Or simply that they have made the best out of a bad situation.

The Next IS Target?

Still, everyone in Afrin knows that if Kobani falls to Islamic State, their own peaceful world will be the Islamists' next target. Indeed, Afrin has long been on the IS radar. Recently, a one-man sleeper cell was discovered in Afrin, in the guise of a 17-year-old who had been recruited by Islamic State, trained in Turkey and sent home. He was told to join YPG and await further orders. There have also been attacks on Kurdish checkpoints surrounding Afrin. Furthermore, YPG and Islamic State exchanges prisoners every three to four months.

But the real ruler of Afrin is not Prime Minister Hevin Ibrahim. It is "Sipan," the YPG commander, who has some 30,000 men and women -- fighting in Kobani, Qamishli, Kirkuk and the Sinjar Mountains -- under his command.

To meet with Sipan, it is necessary to spend hours driving from checkpoint to checkpoint until one reaches a small wooden shack in the forest. After a few minutes, the commander, dressed in battle fatigues and a leather jacket, emerges with three attendants. He smokes slims, drinks tea and has an open face with attentive eyes: He says he is 40 years old and declines to provide more than his nom de guerre.

Sipan immediately wants to know how the German government views the fight for Kobani and the role being played by Turkey. The fact that Germany is only providing weapons to the Peshmerga and not to the YPG, which is leading the battle for Sinjar, makes no sense, he says. "You could also give weapons directly to us." He says that meetings have been held with US officials in both northern Iraq and Europe since September. "We talked about how our fighters could identify target coordinates in Kobani and pass them along," he says. They have apparently been successful. US air strikes have become much more accurate since then.

He also says that Turkey's recent announcement that it would allow Peshmerga fighters from Iraq to come to Kobani to defend it from Islamic State -- while continuing to prevent YPG from doing the same -- is nothing but a PR move. The Peshmerga, Sipan says, won't make the trip: "They first have to get the situation under control in Iraq."

Proxy War

The commander says that the battle for Kobani has increasingly become a proxy war. "The Turks are supporting Islamic State, the Americans are supporting us. It will be a valuable lesson for the US and Europe, he says, teaching them who their allies are and who are their enemies.

YPG, for its part, is doing all it can to appeal to the West, including ensuring that women play an important role. Whereas Islamic State kidnaps women and turns them into sex slaves, Kurdish women are fighting on the front.

During a visit to a training camp in Afrin, 34 young women in fatigues were presented by their commander, a 24-year-old named Saria. When asked how many of them had been in battle, 10 of them raised their hands. "No matter how much training I had before, it was different against Islamic State," says Bafri, 21, adding that she killed jihadist fighters. "I knew what I was doing it for," she says.

Once Bafri broke the ice, all of the women had stories to tell and they began talking about the differences between fighting in the mountains and house-to-house fighting in the towns. It was an unusual scene for this part of the world: Women speaking freely to strangers.

Later, during training, they had to balance on a two-meter-high beam, crawl under barbed wire and roll forwards over a half-meter-high block while running. These, too, are things that women don't commonly do in the traditional Kurdish and Arab world. During ideological training, the subject of the day has nothing to do with Kurdistan, focusing on the rights of women instead.

It is an interesting combination. Women here are fighting for the Kurdish nation, but they are at the same time trying to carve out more freedom for themselves. And the PKK has indeed changed the rigid family structures in the areas under its influence. Fathers may still be able to forbid their daughters from any number of things in their lives, but they cannot stop them from joining the PKK at the front.

Eight young women from the Afrin training camp have been sent to Kobani, a mission with no return should the city fall. But the fight against the jihadists is not just a military mission, the commander says: "It is more. It is also a fight against their macho demeanor." Some of the troops start laughing. "It exists here too, among the Kurds," she goes on. "This mentality that we belong to the men is one that we have to eliminate."

 43 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Future of French Dam in Balance after Eco-Protester's Death

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse

 44 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Pressure Grows on Spanish PM to Tackle Corruption

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 21:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse

 45 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
E.U. Budget Clearance for France and Italy Comes With an Asterisk

By JAMES KANTER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 46 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
The ‘Russification’ of Oil Exploration

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 47 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:42 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The ‘Russification’ of Oil Exploration

By ANDREW E. KRAMER
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 48 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Proposed Internet Tax Draws Hungarians to Streets in Protest

By RICK LYMAN
OCT. 29, 2014
IHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 49 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/29/2014 06:52 PM

Bound for Syria: German Kurds Join Fight against Islamic State

By Jörg Diehl and Fidelius Schmid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Home In One Piece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Further Escalation'

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

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

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

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

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

 50 
 on: Oct 30, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ukraine, Russia Begin Fresh Talks Aimed at Ending Gas Row

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.N. Chief Deplores Ukraine Rebel Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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East Ukraine's Rebels Prepare for a Long Cold War

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 October 2014, 07:09

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

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

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

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

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

"There are plenty others there," he said.

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

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

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

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

- 'Winter will be tough' -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse

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Seven Soldiers, 1 Civilian Killed in Eastern Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 October 2014, 14:09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse

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