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 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Report: Taiwan Tests Submarine-Launched Missiles

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 09:15

Taiwan's navy successfully test-fired two anti-ship missiles from a submarine, in the first such exercise since the weapons were acquired from the United States, local media reported Sunday.

The Harpoon missiles were launched from Hai Hu (Sea Tiger), a Dutch-built conventional submarine, during a drill last week, the Liberty Times and the United Daily News said, citing unnamed naval sources.

Taiwanese navy started taking delivery of the missiles last year to arm two submarines.

The missiles, which have a range of 150 nautical miles (278 kilometres), would boost the attack capabilities of the two submarines previously only armed with torpedoes with a limited range, the naval sources were quoted as saying.

The defence ministry declined to comment on the reports.

Taiwan, which already has Harpoons installed on frigates and F-16 fighter jets, ordered the submarine-launched missiles in 2008 as part of a $6.5 billion arms sale that sparked strong protests from Beijing.

The deal also included advanced interceptor Patriot missiles and Apache attack helicopters.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 promising to boost trade links and allow more Chinese tourists to visit the island. Ma was re-elected in 2012.

But Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though Taiwan has governed itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.

China has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan should the island declare formal independence, prompting Taipei to seek more advanced weapons, largely from the United States.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Malaysia's Sedition Act Crackdown 'Chilling' Free Speech

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 08:33

A Malaysian government crackdown under its Sedition Act is creating a climate of fear in the country, according to rising numbers of critics who say it could stunt a recent flowering in freedom of speech.

About 40 people -- mostly opposition politicians including leader Anwar Ibrahim, but also student activists, lawyers, academics and a journalist -- have been investigated, charged or convicted under the act this year, activists say.

The crackdown, accelerating in recent weeks, is widely seen as an attempt by Malaysia's longtime regime to reverse years of increasingly boisterous speech that has coincided with tremendous electoral gains by the opposition.   

"It has a chilling effect," said Ibrahim Suffian, head of independent pollster Merdeka Centre, who adds that many Malaysians are beginning to "self-censor".

"I think we haven't seen the worst of things."

The act outlaws speech deemed to incite unrest or insult Muslim-majority Malaysia's largely ceremonial Islamic royalty. It can bring three years in jail.

International organisations have condemned the crackdown, including a group of United Nations human rights experts who said last week it "threatens freedom of expression by criminalising dissent".

The U.S. embassy in Malaysia joined in on Friday, saying it had "raised our concerns about the rule of law and human rights with the Malaysian government".

It urged the government "to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently, and apolitically".

- Selective prosecution -

Malaysia has seen years of increasingly open, largely Internet-enabled public criticism of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is frequently tainted by corruption, rights abuses and other scandals.

UMNO tightly tethers traditional media, but its critics have harnessed the power of the unshackled Internet in a country with huge rates of social media use.

Outspoken independent news sites have helped inspire millions to envision a political alternative in a country where power is monopolised by the Malay Muslim majority, to the chagrin of its sizeable religious minorities.

But many fear that flowering is now under threat.

"(The sedition crackdown) has definitely had a negative impact on freedom of speech in Malaysia," said Andrew Khoo of the Malaysian Bar Council, and "perpetuates a cycle of ignorance and intolerance".

Khoo helped organise a Kuala Lumpur protest march Thursday by hundreds of lawyers who decried the Sedition Act as "an antithesis of democracy, rule of law, justice and human rights".

"It's a huge issue," said Irin Tan, 22, a law graduate who took part in the march.

"It's an abuse of human rights. Now we even have to be careful what we put on Facebook."

Some of the sedition charges are questionable at best, critics say.

An opposition state lawmaker was charged in August for uttering "Damn, damn UMNO" to colleagues.

Meanwhile, UMNO-aligned groups are allowed to make incendiary racial statements. One influential conservative Malay nationalist recently called for the burning of Bibles.

Power tussles within UMNO may be behind the clampdown.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who took the helm of one of the world's longest ruling regimes in 2009, promised two years ago to scrap the Sedition Act to placate demands for openness.

But he has abandoned political reform under pressure from UMNO conservatives, especially after he stunningly lost the popular vote in elections last year, though he clung to control of parliament.

In August, authoritarian former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who remains an influential conservative, harshly criticised Najib's reform rhetoric, saying it would lead to instability.

Shortly after, the pace of sedition arrests picked up sharply.

Najib's administration has since been unclear on whether the Sedition Act will indeed be replaced. His office declined comment.


- 'Losing control' -

Analysts said Najib -- who portrays himself aboard as a moderate reformer -- may be allowing the crackdown so he can look tough ahead of UMNO's annual assembly in November, or to tighten the reigns ahead of looming political flashpoints.

These include the introduction next April of a controversial goods and service tax expected to lead to unpopular price rises.

Opposition leader Anwar also faces an October 28-29 hearing that will produce a final ruling in a controversial sodomy conviction and five-year jail sentence, which could potentially spark opposition protests if he is imprisoned.

Anwar calls the episode politically motivated.

Yap Swee Seng, a prominent activist and spokesman for a coalition of more than 100 NGOs opposing the Sedition Act, said Najib may simply have "lost control" to conservatives.

Since the law shields the country's Islamic Malay monarchs, concern is growing that UMNO could also be seeking to use Malaysia's royalty as a bulwark against democracy, as several recent sedition cases involve comments allegedly insulting to the monarchy.

University lecturer Azmi Sharom has been charged for allegedly questioning the actions of a state sultan in a 2009 political controversy, and has since launched a constitutional challenge to the Sedition Act.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
20 Tajik Islamists Held for 'Plot to Blow Up' Road Tunnels

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 October 2014, 20:29

Police in Tajikistan have arrested 20 alleged Islamists for plotting to blow up two key road tunnels in the central Asian country, officials said Saturday.

"The Islamists wanted to blow up the strategic tunnels" which link the center to the north of the impoverished ex-Soviet republic, an interior ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

He claimed all those held had returned to the country after fighting against President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria.

More than 200 Tajiks, most young unemployed radical Islamists, are now fighting in Syria, according to the authorities.

Islamists were deeply involved in a bloody five-year civil war in the secular, majority-Muslim country that ended in 1997. Tajikistan been led since 1992 by former Soviet apparatchik Emomali Rakhmon.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Huge Crowds as Benazir Bhutto's Son Makes Political Debut

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 October 2014, 21:03

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis gathered on Saturday to hear Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, address a massive rally billed as his formal political debut.

Ultra-tight security measures were in place for the rally in Pakistan's biggest city Karachi, where huge crowds of supporters sang and danced, waving the flag of Bhutto's main opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Bilawal, 26, is being groomed to lead the party by his father Asif Ali Zardari, who was Pakistan's president from 2008 until last year.

The rally marked the seventh anniversary of the devastating bomb attack that hit Benazir Bhutto's homecoming parade in Karachi on October 18, 2007, killing 139 people in the deadliest single terror attack on Pakistani soil.

Bilawal arrived at the rally by helicopter and was set to address the crowds from the same bullet and bomb-proof truck that his mother used for the ill-fated parade, which was meant to mark her triumphant return after nearly a decade of self-imposed exile.

She survived the bombing, but was assassinated in a gun and suicide attack in an election rally in Rawalpindi two months later.

"I start this journey for my people, for the martyrs, for my mother," Bilawal wrote on his Twitter page ahead of the rally. "Boarding the truck bought back some painful memories."

Analysts say the main purpose of Saturday's rally is to present Bilawal as the true political heir to his charismatic mother, who twice served as prime minister.

"From Khyber to Karachi peoples are chanting welcome Benazir welcome and bidding farewell to the political orphans," read another post on Bilawal's Twitter page.

The tweet did not name cricket star turned opposition politician Imran Khan, but party sources say the rally was planned to combat the political threat posed by Khan, who they accuse of having the patronage of Pakistan's powerful military.

Khan, along with populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, has been staging a sit-in in the capital Islamabad since August 15 aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Protest rallies have also been held in other Pakistani cities, attracting huge crowds.

Thousands of police officers and commandos were deployed for Saturday's rally at Karachi's Bagh-e-Jinnah park, while hundreds of security gates were set up to scan the crowds as they entered the venue.

Hundreds of shipping containers were placed around the perimeter as part of security measures, while roads within a couple of kilometers' radius were closed. 

But the mood inside was jubilant ahead of Bhutto's keynote speech, with women and children whirling to the rhythm of party songs, wearing the red, green and black of the party flag.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Modi’s Party Leading in Key State Elections

OCT. 19, 2014

NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party led by a large margin in two important state elections where votes were counted on Sunday, substantially expanding the Bharatiya Janata Party’s territory and opening the door to future control of the upper house of Parliament.

The strong showing could largely be attributed to Mr. Modi himself, who served as the face of the B.J.P.'s campaign — a departure from tradition in state campaigns, which usually center on local issues and the personality of the candidate for chief minister.

The Indian National Congress, still staggering from its crushing loss in the general election in May, placed a distant third in both states, Maharashtra and Haryana, which it has controlled politically since 2009. Constrained in his ability to push through legislation, Mr. Modi has been intensely focused on gaining a foothold in the upper house of Parliament, which will see substantial turnover in 2016.

Together, Maharashtra and Haryana send 24 representatives to the upper house. Currently, the B.J.P. holds just two seats from Maharashtra and none from Haryana.

Though final counts were still underway by late afternoon Sunday, the B.J.P. had secured 47 of 90 seats in the northern state of Haryana, allowing the party to form a state government without forming a coalition. This is remarkable because the B.J.P. has traditionally had little support in the heavily agricultural state, having secured only four seats in Haryana’s previous state assembly.

The B.J.P. also led in Maharashtra with 112 of the state’s 288 assembly seats, falling short of the majority necessary to form a state government without forming a coalition.

On Election Day last week, many voters in Maharashtra said they decided to back B.J.P. because it was in control of the government and therefore could deliver services.

“Ask anyone in Chimbai who to vote for, and they will tell you: ‘Jeetane ke liye vote dey do,' " a Hindi phrase that means “vote for the winner,” said Chanda Devi, a maid who lives in a village inside Mumbai. “That is a very simple thing to understand. A majority will bring strong government.”

The B.J.P. has saturated Maharashtra with a glossy campaign of print, television and social media advertisements, most of them focusing on Mr. Modi.

Gayatri Balani, a jewelry designer, said her whole family backed Mr. Modi because they see him as capable of reining in the country’s bureaucrats, who are widely viewed as corrupt and indolent. “Fear is the only thing that can bring discipline to people in government who have never ever heard of discipline,” she said. “I hear officials in Delhi are actually showing up to their offices on time, which is unheard-of.”

She said she voted for the B.J.P. because she was “sick of things not working.” But some expressed frustration with the focus on Mr. Modi. Mohammad Rafi Elahi, a Mumbai tailor, said the issues that mattered to him were close to home, like the efficient supply of power and water.

He expressed frustration that in his neighborhood, “there are no toilets here for poor people,” forcing local residents to send workers to urinate and defecate on the rocks by the sea.

“This election is about local issues,” he said, ones decided by local officials, not the prime minister. “Modi, Modi, Modi. Especially on TV, that’s all you hear. What’s wrong with you media people that you keep going on about this man? Tell me one thing he has done.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
A Train Ride Through Time: From Iraq’s Checkered Past Into an Uncertain Future

OCT. 18, 2014

BAGHDAD — Saad al-Tammimi is in his fourth decade working for Iraq’s railroads, a career that has taken him all around his country, and around the Middle East. Nowadays, though, he can go only from Baghdad to Basra, across the relatively calm Shiite-dominated south of this war-torn country.

“If we have a problem and have to stop, it’s safe,” he said on a recent evening as he drove his regular route. “Even the Sunnis feel comfortable going to Basra.”

With so much violence, neglect and political dysfunction here, it has been years since passenger trains leaving Baghdad went anywhere other than Basra. In recent years, however, grand ambitions to link the country by railroad had begun taking shape. Freight trains shuttled goods around Iraq, and a few years ago there were test runs of a new train service between Mosul and Turkey. But as the militants of the Islamic State have advanced around the country, those efforts have halted.

At least Mr. Tammimi has a new train to drive, a sleek and shiny one built in China that glides out of the station at dusk and through the closed-in thicket of this city. It almost kisses the storefront awnings and low-slung homes that line the track as it moves past waving families, boys playing soccer and trash being burned, before reaching the rural south, past endless rows of date palms, on an overnight journey to Basra.

Inside are the luxuries of first-class rail travel, including flat-screen televisions and refrigerators in the sleeper cabins. Rowdy young army recruits, answering the call to arms from their Shiite religious leaders and on their way to basic training, crowd the brightly lit cafe car. The food is second-rate — cold fried chicken and soggy French fries — but there is a good falafel joint in Hilla, a town on the way; if you call in advance, sandwiches will be waiting at the station.

The new train is a small but noticeable sign of progress — of oil money spent in the interests of the public — in a country consumed by violence and corruption that is quickly coming apart in the face of an onslaught by the Sunni militants of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.

It is also a reminder of what has been lost in Iraq and in the broader Middle East. Once, the region was connected by trains; building rail lines was central to the imperial ambitions of European powers — the Germans, the British and the French — to exert influence in the Middle East in the years before World War I, when the region was part of the Ottoman Empire. In more recent times, sectarian violence has torn apart diverse societies, especially in Iraq and Syria, that, for better or worse, were once held together by dictators. The areas reachable by trains have steadily shrunk, the diversity of the passengers who rode them a long-lost memory.

“Before was different,” said Ahmed Ali, who for 31 years has held various jobs for Iraqi Republic Railways, the state rail authority, and now works as a cashier in the cafe car. “I used to meet the educated people, the uneducated, the actors, the poets, the poor man. Many different groups.”

He adds, “Now, everything is gone.”

Mr. Ali recalled trips to Mosul, where on layovers he would visit the city’s famous tombs and shrines, and buy candy and pistachios and clothes to bring back to his family in Baghdad. For months now, Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has been under control of the militants, and many of those historical sites have been destroyed.

On alternate evenings at dusk, the new train, which was introduced in recent months and would operate at high speed if it were not for the woeful condition of Iraq’s tracks, leaves for Basra. On the other nights, an older train, built by the French and in operation for almost three decades, makes the same 12-hour trip. That train may lack amenities, but it has an abundance of charm with its wood floors and paneling and green velvet seats in the cafe.

Riding the trains feels like an act of nostalgia — and, in some ways, an act of defiance, for the train represents connection in a place where people and communities are increasingly becoming detached from one another.

For those who have spent their lives working on Iraq’s railroads — jobs that have been passed down through generations, from father to son — each train journey is like a journey to the Iraq of their memories.

Ehab al-Shiekhly stood recently under a giant, twinkling chandelier in the grand, domed foyer of Baghdad Central Station, built by the British and opened in 1953. It is one of his favorite spots in the city.

“Sometimes I just sit here and take pictures of the dome,” said Mr. Shiekhly, 41, who has worked here for a quarter of a century, beginning as a teenager operating the telegraph machine. “It reminds me of the old days of Iraq, when it was safe.”

Standing under the chandelier, an old memory came to Mr. Shiekhly and he smiled, and pointed to a corner.

“I used to stand there waiting for a girl I liked,” he said. “I would go stand and wait for her and smile at her.”

The girl became his girlfriend, but they never married, and he still misses her.

“Her father was a high-ranking officer, and they refused because they were wealthy and I came from a poor family,” he said.

With just one departure daily, the station is mostly empty. But Mr. Shiekhly says that in his mind’s eye he can still see the girl, and everything else that once made the station such a special place to him: a nice restaurant over there; groups of men playing backgammon and dominoes; the officers’ lounge that was, he recalls, “beautiful and full of wood.”

The station itself is a time capsule. The ticket booths in the circular room are identified by destinations long out of reach to passenger trains.

One sign reads, “Booking for Mosul Train.” Another booth is where passengers once bought tickets to Turkey, Syria and Anbar Province.

“Now you have to take tanks or jet fighters to get to these places,” said Ahmed Abdulrahman, 50, who has worked at the station since the late 1970s.

Outside, near the tracks, a banner in red and blue on a white background speaks of the present with these words, written in Arabic: “The Iraqi Railways supports the Iraqi Army against ISIS and terrorists.”

Sitting in the cafe car of the new train on a recent evening at the outset of an overnight trip to Basra, Ali Abdul Hussein, a rail worker for 24 years, recalls the old bar car, where the favorite drink during the times of rule by Saddam Hussein’s secular, but brutal, Baath Party was Grant’s whisky. There is no booze available these days on the train — nor at the station, where it once flowed freely in the V.I.P. room and in the officers’ saloon — a reflection of the religious mores that have dominated Iraqi life since 2003.

As for Mr. Hussein, he had his own train, which now sits in a railroad graveyard in an overgrown field near the station. Partially looted after the American-led invasion, it stands as a remnant of a different era.

Salam Hamid, 54, a railway worker with more than 30 years of service, showed a visitor around and shared a story of the time he was working as a technician and rode with Mr. Hussein to Mosul in the 1980s.

The day was hot, and the air-conditioner in the dictator’s cabin — which Mr. Hamid was responsible for maintaining — broke down.

One of Mr. Hussein’s aides, he recalls, said to him, “Saddam is saying it’s hot in here. Get it fixed.”

“I was really afraid,” he said. “Maybe he would just put a bullet in my head.”

Luckily, he got it fixed.

As the country is being pulled apart by the Islamic State insurgency, the men of the railways are dreaming of knitting it back together.

In his office at the station, Hamid Ali Hashim, a project manager, lays out a map on a table and traces his finger from Jalawla in the northeast, a city that has seen fierce fighting against ISIS militants, to Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish north, and across to Mosul. It is one piece of an ambitious, $60 billion rail project that at this stage feels aspirational at best — one that Mr. Hashim said, “would mean all the villages and cities in Iraq would be linked.”

“This,” he said, with a degree of optimism rare in Iraq these days, “is the goal.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:31 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Where Mud Is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees

OCT. 18, 2014

VELIKY NOVGOROD, Russia — The note, from father to son, was the sort of routine shopping list that today would be dashed off on a smartphone. In 14th century Russia, it was etched into the bark of a birch tree and curled into a scroll.

“Send me a shirt, towel, trousers, reins, and, for my sister, send fabric,” the father, whose name was Onus, wrote to his son, Danilo, the block letters of Old Novgorod language, a precursor to Russian, neatly carved into the wood with a stylus. Onus ended with a bit of humor. “If I am alive,” he wrote, “I will pay for it.”

The scroll and a dozen others like it were among the finds from this year’s digging season, adding to a collection of more than 1,000 birch-bark documents uncovered here after being preserved for hundreds of years in the magical mud that makes this city one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites on earth. “Novgorod for Russia is like Pompeii for Italy,” said Pyotr G. Gaidukov, the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology. “Only Novgorod is still alive.”

Written in conversational language, on everyday topics, the birch-bark documents provide a remarkable human soundtrack to accompany a vast — and still growing — trove of artifacts including coins, official seals, kitchenware, jewelry and clothing. Each year, thousands of items are found amid buildings and streets, once paved with wooden logs, buried in the soil.

There are records of business transactions, demands for payment of debts, inventories of goods, accusations of crimes, convoluted discussions of legal disputes, personal letters among family and friends, even love letters. “Marry me,” a man named Mikita wrote to a woman named Anna in a birch-bark letter dated to between 1280 and 1300. “I want you, and you me.”

Archaeologists say the documents, once deciphered by linguists, breathe life into all of their other findings. “They open a road for us, a window in the everyday life and relations,” said Sergei Yazikov, who led a dig on Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street where many of this year’s birch writings were found. “The people of ancient Novgorod are talking to us through these scrolls.”

Nestled in a curve of the Volkhov River, with the crenelated brick walls of its Kremlin-fortress and the sparkling gold and silver domes of its churches, Veliky Novgorod looks like the setting of a medieval fairy tale.

In a way, it was.

The city was founded, according to legend, by Rurik, a Varangian chieftain, in 859. It is a place where democracy once flourished, where benevolent princes ruled with the consent of a parliament of local elites called the Veche, where markets hummed and international trade thrived, where women were empowered to participate in business and other aspects of public life.

It was a place where children began attending school around the year 1030. Among the most poignant of the birch documents are writings by a boy named Onfim, believed to be 6 or 7 years old. Dated to around 1260, they included school exercises and doodles. In one drawing, Onfim seems to envision himself as a warrior, writing his own name next to a figure on horseback who has slain an adversary. In another, there is a four-legged creature with a tail, and the words, “I, beast.”

In an interview in his office, the city’s mayor, Yuri I. Bobryshev, glowed with pride as he described its history as a major trading post of the medieval Hanseatic League, with strong ties to the European centers of Lubeck, Bruges, Ghent and London.

“It was a union of merchants and the decisions taken by that union were unconditionally carried out by the rulers of all European states,” Mr. Bobryshev said, adding with a sly smile, “Of course, at that time there was no trace of the United States.”

He then boasted about Novgorod’s role, along with Kiev, as one of the two principal cities of Kievan Rus — the original Russian Federation — adding that Moscow could lay no claim to national prominence until Ivan III made it the capital in the 15th century.

“That’s why we speak of Novgorod as the motherland of Russia,” Mr. Bobryshev said. “In Novgorod, the first customs office appeared. The ruble appeared in Novgorod. The first school was in Novgorod, in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise, our Novgorod prince. It was founded not only for the children from rich families, but for everyone. So Novgoroders were absolutely literate people in the Middle Ages.”

“It’s not something I made up,” he said. “Here, I move to the subject of archaeology: all of this has been confirmed by findings.”

The city and its outskirts are dotted with excavation sites, including the Troitsky dig, which has been underway since the 1970s. The first birch-bark scrolls were found in 1951. At the huge pit on Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, which yielded some of the most important finds this summer, Mr. Yazikov bounded down a ramp, descending through hundreds of years of Russian history (with every few steps). Small white pieces of paper marked the layers in the soil corresponding to the different centuries.

Coins, seals and jewelry point to a merchant’s home being on the site for much of its history. There is evidence that in the 10th century the area was mostly used for gardens and an apple orchard. In the 12th century, the city was flourishing, with evidence of large wooden buildings. Experts say the wet, clay soil that lies under Novgorod, and contains little or no oxygen, has the unusual chemical quality that preserves both hard artifacts made of metal and items made of softer material like leather.

Jos Schaeken, the dean of Leiden University College The Hague, who is a professor of Slavic and Baltic languages, said that Novgorod had not received sufficient notice in the West given its importance to archaeologists, linguists and historians.

“It is revolutionary in the sense that it gives you inside knowledge of a medieval city that had international ties with the East and the West, how it was organized and functioned, and how people communicated with each other,” he said. The birch-bark documents date from the 1000s through the 1400s, when paper became more readily available.

In Russia, Novgorod is the place where archaeology students hope to apprentice and professionals seek to make their careers. And the newest birch-bark findings often create a sensation, with hundreds of students and members of the general public attending lectures by Prof. Andrey A. Zaliznyak, a noted linguist, at Moscow State University, summing up the major discoveries.

Dmitri Sitchinava, a linguist who has attended the lectures for the past decade, said they were a theatrical event attracting hordes of fans, professionals and amateurs alike. “We have the voices of people who lived a thousand or so years ago, and they have exactly the same issues to discuss as we do,” he said.

But Mr. Sitchinava said that medieval Novgorod was idealized, and the archaeological findings proved this to be the case. “There is a conception that the early medieval Russia was much more European,” he said, adding that there was an idea that Novgorod then “was kind of like a paradise lost. It is presented as a democratic or republican alternative lost during the Middle Ages.”

But, he said: “We know there were slaves, there were serfs in old Novgorod. There were some political troubles, and the democracy was very, very different from what we understand now. But this myth lives and it’s very vital. It fosters the interest in this place.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Albania Flag Burning in Belgrade Aggravates Tensions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 14:37

Albania on Sunday condemned the burning of its flag during a football match in Serbia, the latest in a series of incidents aggravating political tensions between Belgrade and Tirana.

The Albanian foreign ministry urged Serbian authorities to bring the preparators to justice and called on "Serbian politicians to distance themselves from those acts that are... harmful for the future and stability of the Balkans."

The incident took place during the match between Serbian first division sides Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade on Saturday, when Red Star fans were photographed setting fire to an Albanian flag.

The incident further threw into doubt the forthcoming historic visit of Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade, the first by an Albanian prime minister in 68 years.

Rama was due in Belgrade on Wednesday, but there were already questions over whether the visit would go ahead after the violent end of a Serbia-Albania football match on October 14.

The Euro 2016 qualifying tie in the Serbian capital had to be abandoned after a drone carried a pro-Albanian flag over the stadium, sparking a brawl on the pitch.

European football's governing body UEFA has opened a formal probe into both Serbia and Albania over the violence.

Serbian leaders labelled the incident a planned "political provocation."

Rama said on Friday he had decided to travel to Belgrade, but his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic was still undecided whether to allow the visit.

Belgrade accused Rama's brother of controlling the drone from his seat in the stadium's executive box. But Olsi Rama, who later returned to Tirana with the Albanian team to a hero's welcome, denied the claims.

Following the incident, hooligans attacked several ethnic-Albanian owned shops in Serbia, notably in the northern town of Novi Sad. A Molotov cocktail was thrown into one bakery, while several others had their windows broken, local media reported.

Rama's visit was made possible by improved ties between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians.

The 2013 deal between Belgrade and Pristina on normalisation of ties was brokered by the European Union that the former foes, as well as Albania, hope to join.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 despite opposition from Belgrade.

Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been sensitive over Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian minority in southern Serbia, which often demands more autonomy.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Thousands of African child migrants feared in thrall to Italian traffickers

More than 3,000 minors may have fallen victim to forced labour and sexual exploitation after vanishing from homes and shelters

Luca Muzi in Catania and Rome
The Guardian, Friday 17 October 2014 08.00 BST   

Thousands of migrant children are disappearing after arriving in mainland Europe, triggering concerns that they are falling prey to a new and thriving market for child trafficking and forced labour.

Of some 12,164 unaccompanied minors who arrived in Italy from north Africa this year, about one-third have vanished from foster homes and government shelters (pdf), with the authorities warning they are likely to face sexual and labour exploitation if left unprotected.

Hundreds of children, mainly from Egypt, Eritrea and Somalia, are arriving on Italy’s shores every month. In Catania, on the eastern coast of Sicily, local NGOs say that Eritrean children have begun to be kidnapped from parks and train stations.

“Most of the Eritrean children refuse to be identified by the authorities on arrival in the country because the Dublin Convention doesn’t allow them to claim asylum in other countries if they have been registered in Italy,” says Elvira Iovino, director of Centro Astalli, a migrants shelter in Catania.

“While they are sleeping at the train station they are intercepted by networks of traffickers who promise to give them shelter and get them jobs. But then they are locked up in houses and, if the family can’t pay for them to be released, they have to work for them selling drugs, through prostitution or working in the Sicilian agriculture. These are all high-income activities for these networks.”

Children who are registered as unaccompanied minors upon arrival in Italy are also vulnerable to exploitation. Under Italian law, children arriving in the country without their family should automatically come under the care of the state; they should first be housed in emergency shelters, then moved to foster homes and into integration and education programmes. Yet, as authorities in Sicily buckle under the weight of the influx of migrants, children are being left in overcrowded and decaying emergency shelters for months, with little protection.

In the Sicilian town of Augusta, which has been the landing point for more than 4,000 of the 12,164 migrant children who have arrived in Italy so far this year, local authorities say they simply can’t cope with the numbers of children for whom they are becoming responsible.

“Recently we had 1,500 people arriving at our port in one night – 250 of these were children,” says Francesco Puglisi, the commissioner in Augusta responsible for immigration. “Here we just don’t have the structures to give the right protection to such large numbers.”

Conditions at the Scuola Verde first aid centre, Augusta’s only emergency shelter for migrant children, are increasingly grim, with overcrowded dormitories and rubbish-strewn hallways. The centre has the facilities to support 20 children, but there are as many as 150 currently housed there. Many minors who were supposed to be relocated after 48 hours are still at the centre four or five months later.

According to migrant rights activists, many children who escape, or are lured out of emergency shelters or foster homes by the promise of employment, end up working in conditions of forced labour, packing boxes of tomatoes in basements or greenhouses in Sicily.

Others head for cities and towns across Italy. The Guardian followed the trail of migrant children from Sicily to Rome, where young Egyptian teenagers were found working for a few euros an hour at the train station and fruit and vegetable markets. Some said they were told by their traffickers where to find work to pay off their debts before they left for Europe; others received instructions on their arrival in Sicily.

“I said ‘Bye bye, Sicily,’ as nobody was helping us in the centres over there,” says Hamdi, a 17-year-old from Kafr Ikhsha in Egypt. “There are guys who help you with the tickets. When I arrived in Rome, an Egyptian man told me to go to Ponte Mammolo bus terminal and find the bus with all the other Egyptians, which would take me to the market. You only earn between two to 10 euros for a day of work, but my family have to pay back the 2,500 euro trip to Italy we paid.”

Ahmed, who claims he is 17 but looks years younger, says he is under huge pressure to find a way of repaying the 3,500 euro debt he incurred on his journey to Europe. He is scared about a contract his family signed with the smugglers who brought him across to Sicily. “Even five euros a day would be something,” he says. “I have to send money home, my family only have five months to repay the debt.”

Mariella Chiaramonte, chief of the police station in Tivoli, near Rome, says that Guidonia’s 140-hectare (350-acre) market, 15 miles from Rome, has become a hub of child labour in the past few years. In the past month there have been efforts to clamp down on the exploitation of migrant children working as porters at the market, but the problem persists.

“Until about a month ago, all the porter work at the market was done by Egyptian children, because their labour is so cheap,” she says. “Their employers give them two pennies and take advantage. The situation is out of control. Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and those who employ them at the markets, so we are planning an investigation to establish these links.”

The fear of their families facing the wrath of the traffickers is driving some to find quicker ways of repaying their debt. Khaled, another Egyptian teenager, who is earning 50 euros a week at a petrol station, says many young Egyptian children are recruited by drugs and prostitution gangs upon their arrival in Rome.

“Other guys accept selling drugs or prostituting themselves to pay off their debt. It is much quicker and not difficult to find this kind of job. It’s enough to just wait at the Termini bus station and somebody will come to you,” he says with a shrug. “Sometimes they are Egyptians and sometimes Tunisians, but I don’t want to do these things. All I want to do is pay off my debt and send money home.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:20 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Sweden searches for suspected Russian submarine off Stockholm

Helicopters, minesweepers and 200 service personnel mobilised in search after tipoff about ‘foreign underwater activity’

Peter Walker   
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 12.43 BST      

Swedish ships, helicopters and troops are scouring the waters off Stockholm for what was officially described as “foreign underwater activity”, amid reports that a Russian submarine might have had mechanical problems while on a secret mission in the archipelago.

In scenes reminiscent of the cold war when neutral Sweden regularly swept the island-strewn Baltic Sea coastline around the capital for Soviet spy submarines, more than 200 service personnel were mobilised along with helicopters, minesweepers and an anti-submarine corvette fitted with stealth-type anti-radar masking.

The operation began late on Friday following what Sweden’s ministry said was a reliable tipoff about “foreign underwater activity” in the archipelago. The officer leading the operation declined to give more details, saying only that there had been no armed contact.

“We still consider the information we received as very trustworthy,” Captain Jonas Wikstrom told reporters. “I, as head of operations, have therefore decided to increase the number of units in the area.”

The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper said it was believed the intruder was a Russian submarine or mini-submarine that may be damaged. It said the operation was launched on Friday after a visual sighting of a “human-made object” in the waters. The day before, Swedish intelligence operators intercepted a radio conversation in Russian on a frequency usually reserved for emergencies, the paper said.

Another signal was intercepted on Friday night, but this time the content was encrypted. However, the report said, Swedish intelligence was able to pinpoint the locations of the participants. One was in the waters off Stockholm, while the other could be traced to Kaliningrad, the port that is the home of Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet.

The military sources would not confirm that a Russian craft was in distress, Svenska Dagbladet reported, but Russia does have mini-submarines based at Kaliningrad, it added.

Defence analysts cited in other reports speculated that a submarine might be have been replacing old spy equipment or monitoring a Swedish naval exercise.

Sweden is among a series of Nordic and Baltic nations on increased alert over growing tensions with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. In September two Russian Su-24 attack jets reportedly violated Swedish airspace over the Baltic, prompting Sweden’s air force to scramble its own fighters.

Last week Finland complained that the Russian navy had twice harassed one of its environmental research ships in international waters, ordering it to change course and later sending a helicopter and submarine to pass close by.

The submarine hunt is an early political test for Stefan Lofven, the new prime minister, whose centre-left minority government took office this month. Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister, told Svenska Dagbladet that the government hoped to be more open than its predecessor about military activity.

“What’s been happening in the Baltic Sea, including airspace incursions, shows that we have a new, changed situation,” he said. “Russia has made enormous military investments … with their increased strength they are training more, and that influences the security environment.”

Alerts were not uncommon during the cold war. The most famous incident took place in 1981 when a Soviet submarine hit rocks near Karlskrona, the main Swedish naval base, in the south of the country. The Russian captain claimed that the submarine had strayed off course and got lost.

After a tense standoff in which a Russian recovery convoy turned back after Swedish coastal artillery and warships trained their guns on it, Sweden interrogated the captain and inspected the submarine, before towing the craft off the rocks into international waters.

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