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 91 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:55 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sculpture at heart of Romanian identity waits to hear her fate

Owners have to offer the state first refusal before selling the Wisdom of the Earth by Constantin Brâncuși – but they may be in for a long wait

Kit Gillet in Bucharest
Tuesday 24 February 2015 07.45 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 February 2015 12.11 GMT
Guardian
   
The woman, carved from limestone, sits with her arms resting on her pulled-up legs and looks enigmatically ahead. She is regarded as one of Romania’s finest modernist artworks, yet the Bucharest government’s refusal to say whether it wants to buy her has left the €20m (£15m) sculpture in a murky legal limbo, and its owners unable to sell.

The statue, The Wisdom of the Earth by Constantin Brâncuși, has a history that reflects the tumult in its creator’s native land. First sold in 1911, it was confiscated by the communists in 1957 and became the subject of a lengthy legal battle after the fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, ending in 2008 with it returned to the family of its original owner.

The latest instalment began in September 2014 when the family announced it was putting Brâncuși’s statue, his most celebrated work still in Romania, up for sale.

As an artwork considered a national treasure, Romania has a right of first refusal should it wish to keep the Brâncuși out the hands of a foreign gallery or collector. But by failing to officially respond or enter into meaningful negotiations, those involved in the sale say the Romanian state has in effect blocked the legal owners from selling to anyone else.

International galleries such as the Tate Modern, which already owns four Brâncuși sculptures and could be one potential destination, are unlikely to push ahead while legal uncertainties exist.

“If you want to sell a work of art that is a national treasure, the state has a pre-emption right to buy, but it must give an answer within 30 days of notification,” said Bogdan Grabowski, the lawyer acting for the Romascu family, the sculpture’s owners. “Until now the state hasn’t proposed a certain sum or asserted that it is willing to take its pre-emption rights.”

Brâncuși, who spent much of his life living in Paris, is considered Romania’s most important artist, and his sculptures change hands for up to €26m. The Wisdom of the Earth is considered one of his defining works.

“The truth is that it is an iconic sculpture for Romanians; it’s an iconic image that is present in all the books about our national identity. The state used it a lot in its cultural propaganda and transformed it into an icon of the Romanian soul,” said Alexandru Baldea, managing partner of Artmark, the Romanian auction house charged with selling the piece.

“Legally we’re allowed to sell it. But as a matter of fact we cannot sell it. Basically we are obliged to wait for an official response from the state.”

The challenges surrounding first the ownership and now the sale of The Wisdom of the Earth underscore the difficult situation in Romania in relation to the many works of art confiscated by the former communist regime.

Roxana Theodorescu, the director of the National Museum of Art of Romania, told MPs in January that since 2000 the National Museum had returned 2,000 works of art to their original owners, and that in the near future it would be returning 253 more, with several hundred others under litigation.

“I invite you to visit our museum as quickly as possible because with the frequency we are returning works it is possible that in the near future you won’t have anything to look at,” she told those present, according to Romanian media.

Many believe that the Romanian state simply doesn’t have the funds available to buy the sculpture, despite earlier comments made by the then minister of culture, Kelemen Hunor, who last September told Romanian media that if the price was right the authorities needed to find the money in the budget.

There have been suggestions that a public campaign within Romania could raise part of the money needed through donations. There is a precedent: one of Bucharest’s main concert halls was partly funded through a public offering in the 1880s.

Those involved in the attempted sale of The Wisdom of the Earth have little sympathy for the Romanian state.

“It is a similar situation with the works of art confiscated by the Nazis,” claimed Grabowski, the family lawyer, who said the legal process behind reclaiming works of art confiscated during the communist period had been unnecessarily complex.

The Wisdom of the Earth was originally purchased in 1911 by Gheorghe Romascu, a Romanian engineer and art lover. His daughters began the process of trying to reclaim the sculpture shortly after the 1989 revolution but encountered a drawn-out legal process that only ended in 2008. One of the two daughters died in 2006. The surviving daughter is 92.

“She is expecting at any time that the state will cause more problems. She would prefer it to be sold overseas,” Grabowski said.

The Romanian ministry of culture did not respond to repeated interview requests for this article.

 92 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ukraine separatists celebrate Soviet holiday in Donetsk

Medals awarded to outstanding fighters as thousands of people gather to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day, also known as Men’s Day

Alec Luhn in Donetsk
Monday 23 February 2015 16.17 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 February 2015 00.20 GMT
Guardian    

Thousands of residents and rebel fighters have gathered in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic to celebrate Defender of the Fatherland Day, also known as Men’s Day – a celebration that has taken on additional meaning during the conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Kiev.

The holiday, which was originally known as Red Army Day and is widely celebrated throughout the former Soviet Union, in recent years has come to be less militaristic and more broadly focused on male relatives and friends.

But the atmosphere in Donetsk was decidedly Soviet, with the crowd waving Soviet flags beneath a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in the main square. Commanders awarded medals to outstanding fighters, some of them posthumously, and performers read patriotic songs and poems.

“Now this holiday is not just about girls congratulating boys, it’s about congratulating those who make it possible to build civilian institutions here,” said Denis Pushilin, vice-speaker of the people’s council of the DPR. “Our guys have proven that they’re worthy of the memory of our grandfathers, who once drove the fascist scourge out of Donbass. Now they are doing the same.”

A group of French volunteers fighting with the rebels spoke out against the Kiev government. The crowd clapped and cheered for the fighters, who stood in front of the stage and called the names of popular commanders. They joined in a moment of silence for those killed in the conflict, which has claimed more than 5,600 lives since it began last April.

Alexander Khodakovsky, head of the rebel security council who founded the prominent Vostok Battalion, said 172 men from his unit had been wounded and 110 killed. “When the enemy falls from your bullets, mourn him,” Khodakovsky said. “But they came here with the sword. We didn’t invite them.”

The highlight of the holiday was a concert by the Russian singer and MP Joseph Kobzon, a native of the Donetsk region and a popular Soviet-era crooner who was sanctioned by the European Union this month over his support for the annexation of Crimea and the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed DPR attend the rally Defenders of the Fatherland day.

The local poet Oleg Tokarev read lines dedicated to a nine-year-old boy named Vanya, who Tokarev said had lost his legs to shelling and was recuperating in a Moscow hospital.

“I was too young to become a rebel, but as soon as they let me out of this Moscow hospital, I’ll dance a victory dance without legs,” Tokarev said, speaking from Vanya’s point of view.

Nina Anatoliyevna, a teacher in the crowd, said: “We’ve celebrated this holiday since Soviet times. Today it’s even more important.”

Her companion Anatoly Nikolayevich, also a teacher, argued that Donetsk was standing up to a “fascist junta” that had taken power in Kiev. Some protesters in Kiev who demonstrated in favour of ousting President Viktor Yanukovych last winter were from far-right groups, but they have remained relatively marginal in Ukrainian politics since then.

Despite a ceasefire agreed in Minsk on 15 February, Nikolayevich said shelling near the hotspot of the Donetsk airport had not ceased. “You can’t sleep at night. We don’t turn on the light or a shell could come flying in,” he said. “Nothing has changed since the ceasefire. I go to work in the morning and see where the shells hit.”

On Sunday Eduard Basurin, a Donetsk deputy militia commander, said 29 instances of shelling had been reported in the past 24 hours, most of them near the Donetsk airport, which rebels took nominal control of last month after heavy fighting. Basurin said pro-Russia forces were not firing back and the withdrawal of heavy weapons called for in the Minsk peace agreement would begin on Tuesday.

On Monday Ukrainian authorities reported the first major outbreak of shelling in the Luhansk region since the ceasefire took effect. Mortar fire hit the outskirts of Popasnaya, a government-controlled town a few miles from rebel positions, at 4am and again at 6am, according to the Luhansk governor’s office.

Artillery shelling struck Ukrainian positions near the towns of Krymske and Trokhizbenka on Sunday and Monday, and occasional fire was reported in Troitske. These towns are located near Stakhanov and Pervomaisk, which are held by Cossacks who have clashed with the leadership of the Luhansk People’s Republic and who have criticised past ceasefire attempts.

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Foreign Ministers Scramble to Salvage Ukraine Peace Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk 24 February 2015, 14:16

Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France gathered Tuesday to try to revive a shaky ceasefire in eastern Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin ruled out an "apocalyptic scenario" of all-out war.

Top diplomats from the four countries, whose leaders hammered out the initial peace plan in the Belarussian capital Minsk 12 days ago, met in Paris, with Kiev accusing Moscow and pro-Russian rebels on the ground of torpedoing the truce.

"The Minsk agreements are not being respected and everyone has to say clearly that this can not go on," a high-ranking Ukrainian diplomatic source told AFP.

Germany has voiced concern that a "comprehensive truce" remains elusive, but European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the deal was the only hope for peace in Ukraine.

"The agreement is 10 days old, we have to insist to make it work. This is what the Ukrainians are asking us, this is what our duty is as Europeans," Mogherini said on a trip to London.

Fighting has dropped off significantly since rebels ignored a truce to seize the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve last week, but clashes still continue around strategic flashpoints in Ukraine's industrial east.

Ukraine's military said one soldier was killed and seven injured in the past 24 hours and that rebels had again tried to storm the village of Shyrokine which lies east of the key port town of Mariupol.

A rebel commander close to the hotspot village told AFP that three of his fighters were killed by Ukrainian bombardments Monday and that there was "daily fighting".

The continuing clashes have delayed a pull-back of heavy weapons that was due to start a week ago under the peace plan signed in Minsk.

Kiev refuses to withdraw its big guns from the frontline until the shooting stops definitively.

The rebels have claimed several times that they have started to withdraw arms but this has not been confirmed by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The latest fighting came as Putin -- whom Kiev and the West accused of masterminding the conflict -- said he thought the prospect of all-out war between Russia and Ukraine unlikely.

Asked in an interview with Russian state television if he thought the current situation could lead to a direct confrontation, Putin said: "I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope that it will never happen."

"If the Minsk accords are complied with, then I am sure that the situation will gradually get back to normal."

He added: "No one needs a conflict, moreover an armed one, on the periphery of Europe."

Ukraine has accused Russia of sending in more tanks to bolster rebel forces around Mariupol, the latest allegation that Moscow is spearheading the insurgency.

Moscow denies it is sending arms and troops into the former Soviet state.

However it made similar denials over Crimea -- the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula it annexed last year -- before finally admitting that it had deployed forces.

If Mariupol were to fall to the pro-Russian rebels, it would remove a key obstacle to creating a land corridor stretching from Russia's border with Ukraine to Crimea.

Kiev has pressed for U.N. or EU peacekeepers to enforce the peace plan, but its demand has been opposed by Moscow and failed to gain much traction with the West.

"We view this operation as an indispensable instrument to ultimately help implement these agreements and bring peace back," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the U.N. in New York on Monday.

Germany and France brokered the Minsk truce in a last-ditch effort to end fighting that has claimed at least 5,793 lives since April. The peace deal was subsequently endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

Until now, the main act of compliance with the Minsk agreement has been a prisoner swap on Saturday in which nearly 200 captured fighters from both sides were traded.

The United States and the European Union have strongly warned against further breaches of the ceasefire, with Washington saying extra "consequences" could be imposed on Russia within days.

Russia has already been hit by successive rounds of Western sanctions, savaging its economy, which is headed for recession because of a collapse in oil prices.

Meanwhile, Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom warned Tuesday it could cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine within two days, upping the stakes in the crisis there -- and threatening supplies to the rest of Europe.

Source: Agence France Presse

***********

Britain Says Russia 'Cynical' on Ukraine Ceasefire

by Naharnet Newsdesk 23 February 2015, 18:42

Britain on Monday criticized Russia for failing to enforce the terms of a tattered truce in eastern Ukraine in the face of ongoing attacks by pro-Russian separatists.

"I have to say from the experience of the last 10 to 12 days, the Russian engagement in the Minsk process is rather cynical," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

"It's like an agreement on paper that has been immediately broken on the ground."

Despite the ceasefire agreed in the Belarussian capital over a week ago, rebels launched an assault on the strategic town of Debaltseve last week and pro-Russian forces have now massed near the port city of Mariupol.

Britain has a "high degree of skepticism about a Russian commitment to achieving genuine peace in Ukraine on anything but terms unilaterally dictated from the Kremlin," Hammond added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia last week to withdraw all forces from eastern Ukraine and to end its support for the pro-Moscow separatists as the so-called Minsk II ceasefire appeared to unravel.

Source: Agence France Presse

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

Lithuania FM: West Making Little Headway in Ukraine Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk 24 February 2015, 07:08

Despite pressure from sanctions and a high-level Franco-German mediation, the conflict in east Ukraine shows little sign of ending, Lithuania's foreign minister said Monday.

"Despite all these efforts, the situation has almost not changed," Linas Linkevicius told Agence France Presse in an interview. "We do not see any effect."

Linkevicius, whose country is a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, attended a special debate at U.N. headquarters on maintaining international peace and security.

The foreign minister warned the 15-member Security Council that Russia was flouting the latest ceasefire deal and that the conflict could expand, citing a weekend attack in Kharkiv.

"We are afraid that this will not stop," Linkevicius told AFP.

A vocal supporter of Ukraine, Lithuania is next month celebrating its 25th anniversary of independence from the former Soviet Union amid much trepidation about Russia's next move.

"It's not about us today, but tomorrow it could be about us if we neglect what is happening now," said the foreign minister who was scheduled to have talks with U.S. administration officials.

Linkevicius lamented what he said was a lack of a strong response from the West to the Ukraine crisis, despite repeated claims that Moscow is backing the separatist rebels in east Ukraine.

"What else should happen in order to cross the line? These lines were crossed by tanks many times - all our red lines, just crossed," the foreign minister said.

He questioned European resolve to ramp up sanctions on Moscow over violations to the latest ceasefire deal reached between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

The foreign ministers of those countries are to meet in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the ceasefire as Ukraine accused Moscow of massing troops near the key city of Mariupol.

The latest ceasefire was agreed by President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko following marathon talks with France's Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the Belarussian capital of Minsk.

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors Estonia and Latvia are concerned about possible attempts by Russia to stoke conflict among their ethnic Russian minorities, the foreign minister said.

While ethnic Russians represent less than 7 percent of Lithuania's population, Estonia and Latvia have larger Russian minorities who could be more vulnerable to manipulation, he said.

Source: Agence France Presse

 93 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Greece struggles to address its tax evasion problem

Anti-austerity programme of new prime minister Alexis Tsipras depends on collecting billions in unpaid revenues

Adéa Guillot
Tuesday 24 February 2015 11.44 GMT
Guardian    

The new government of Greece, led by Alexis Tsipras, has promised to tackle tax evasion. It hopes this strategy will yield €3bn ($3.4bn) in the coming months in order to cover part of the cost of its €12bn Thessaloniki anti-austerity programme. This would entail various measures – a gradual increase in the minimum wage to reach €750, an extra month’s income for pensioners receiving less than €700 a month, and various welfare benefits – to help the most vulnerable members of the community.

“If this government thinks it can change the system in a few weeks it is underestimating how complicated it is to collect tax in Greece,” says Haris Theoharis, narrowly elected to parliament for the centrist To Potami party. Between January 2013 and June 2014 he was secretary general for public revenue, a job imposed on the then conservative New Democracy government by the country’s creditors, increasingly irritated by slow progress against fraud and tax dodging.

“In Greece more than two-thirds of the population – private- and public-sector employees – pay tax in the normal way, because it is deducted at source,” Theoharis explains. “The problem is that it’s still too easy for contractors, people in the professions and some big companies not to declare all or part of their earnings.”

He claims the state misses out on between €10bn and €20bn in revenue. Direct and indirect taxation should bring in an average of €50bn a year.

“Even with a low estimate of the amount lost – say €5bn a year – you can see that if we’d been able to collect €5bn more over the past 12 years, that would make €60bn. In other words there would be no debt problem,” says Tryfon Alexiadis, deputy head of the tax collectors’ union, close to Tsipras’s Syriza party.

In 2010, when Greece’s creditors began looking at the state of its tax administration, they discovered, according to a well-informed source, “a situation in which the various tax offices operated almost independently from the central administration. Above all there were serious problems of cronyism and corruption.” This prompted a drive to reorganise the system. The number of staff was cut from 10,500 to fewer than 9,000, and many tax offices were closed, their number dropping from 290 to 120.

“These cutbacks did not make matters any easier. On the contrary. According to the Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations (Iota), there is now only one tax collector per 1,127 Greek citizens, whereas in Germany it’s one per 730. And we’re being asked to do a better job with less staff,” Alexiadis says.

“We computerised part of the procedures, organised cross-checking of data between tax returns and the balance of bank accounts. Taxpayers now fill in their return on the internet and pay tax through their banks, which limits scope for corruption,” Theoharis explains. With less direct contact there is less opportunity for misdealing.

“It’s a good idea in itself and it will certainly help reduce petty fiddling,” Alexiadis adds. “But, you know, most Greek tax collectors are not corrupt. The problem is elsewhere.

It’s the protection governing policymakers give their friends and the lack of political will to deal with the very big tax evaders.”

The government has vowed to target this category, asserting that as newcomers they have no political clientele in government departments, nor are they friends with the powerful. The government plans to address the issue of outstanding debt. Taxpayers currently owe €72bn to the state. “With the crisis taxation increased a great deal. It was one of the measures imposed by the creditors to reduce the public-sector deficit. But it led to a lot of tax arrears, people just being unable to pay,” Theoharis admits.

During the election campaign Tsipras promised to make greater provision for negotiated deals, with payment of arrears being delayed. Disregarding the advice of the country’s creditors, the outgoing government had also proposed to introduce a system of 100 monthly payments to settle debts. However, Theoharis says that “unpaid fines make up the vast majority of this debt and they will probably never be paid. They concern companies which simply don’t exist, shell companies opened using forged papers and bogus names.”

Collecting such debt proved the most difficult task for the former secretary general for public revenue.

The first source of resistance was inside the tax administration itself. “Departments sought every possible excuse to justify the fact that the work had not been done. Meanwhile, their supervisors failed to carry out the necessary audits and had no sense of being responsible for revenue actually being collected,” he says. But there were problems at a political level too. “Pressure was exerted. This involved imposing other – social or political – criteria on the work of the administration. For example, I was asked not to be so strict, not to debit funds from offenders’ bank accounts at a time when a general election was looking increasingly likely. We thought the department should do its job independently, regardless of any elections.”

Theoharis even received threats. “I had letters or phone calls promising to break my legs, but, according to the police officers tasked with assessing the reality of these threats, my life was not really in danger,” he says.

In June 2014, three years before the end of his term of office, he resigned. “The pressure I was putting on the tax departments to get results has stopped since,” he claims.

“And yet it was beginning to show a return. In 2013 we saw a 32% increase in direct debits on outstanding arrears. That year we achieved 80% to 90% of our collection targets, compared with 20% to 25% previously. We managed to collect much more by focusing on large debtors.” He believes that this effort contributed to the primary surplus reported by the conservative government at the end of 2013.

“In Greece people try to get round tax because they feel that they get a very poor level of public service in return,” says Theoharis. “They need to understand that if tax revenue increases the country’s creditors will be less likely to impose new austerity measures.”

But there is still much to be done to modernise Greek tax administration. “In the past two years we’ve seen 48 laws passed on taxation. Is there any other European country that has changed its tax rules 48 times in so short a time?” asks Alexiadis. The message from the tax collectors seems clear: to do their job, they want an end to crony politics, more staff, effective tools and a stable legal framework.

Tsipras has repeated that combating tax evasion is one of his key reforms. France has already offered technical assistance in this field. To stop resorting to borrowing and international aid, as the new government proposes, Greece must consolidate its assets and increase tax revenue. As a source close to Tsipras puts it: “We should see tax as a tool for regaining our national sovereignty.”

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

 94 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Russia offers to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Iran

Tehran said to be considering offer, which could have an impact on nuclear talks approaching a deadline next month

A Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The Russians are now offering Iran the Antey-2500 system, which is more advanced.

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
Monday 23 February 2015 19.56 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 February 2015 00.35 GMT
Guardian   

Russia has reportedly offered to sell Iran powerful and advanced anti-aircraft missiles in a deal that could have an impact on nuclear talks approaching a deadline next month.

Sergei Chemezov, head of the Russian state arms conglomerate Rostec, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying the firm was willing to supply Tehran with Antey-2500 missiles with the capability of intercepting and destroying ballistic and cruise missiles as well as aircraft. Chemezov said Tehran was considering the offer.

If the sale goes ahead, the missiles are likely to represent a significant defence against any future air strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities, and so could in theory diminish pressure on Iran to come to an agreement in nuclear negotiations.

Conversely, if the talks fail, a missile deal could raise pressure from Israel and from US hawks for military action before the delivery of the Russian weapons makes air strikes riskier and less effective.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is due to deliver an address to the US Congress next week in which he is expected to urge the administration to take a tougher line against Iran.

The planned sale of a less sophisticated and shorter-range surface-to-air missile system, the S-300, was cancelled in 2010 after concerted Israeli and US pressure on Moscow. But since then Vladimir Putin has returned to the presidency in place of the more conciliatory Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow’s relations with the west have dramatically worsened over the Ukraine conflict, and the sharp drop in the oil price together with western sanctions have left Moscow increasingly desperate to find new sources of foreign currency. Russian arms sales last year generated $13bn (£8.4bn).

“As far as Iran is concerned, we offered Antey-2500 instead of S-300. They are thinking. No decision has been made yet,” Chemezov said, according to Tass. “I don’t conceal it, and everyone understands this, the more conflicts there are, the more they buy off weapon from us. Volumes are continuing to grow despite sanctions. Mainly, it’s Latin America and the Middle East.”

In Geneva on Monday, nuclear talks adjourned after the latest in a long series of meetings between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The negotiations are aimed at finding a formula by which Iran accepts curbs on its nuclear programme – particularly uranium enrichment – for a certain number of years, in return for sanctions relief. Kerry and Zarif were joined in Geneva for the first time by the head of the Iranian atomic energy organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, and the US energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, in a development which negotiators described as necessary to confront the complex technical issues at the heart of the talks. Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also took part in the latest discussions.

Diplomats from US and Iran, as well as the other parties to the talks – UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – are due to reconvene in Switzerland next week in an attempt to reach a framework agreement before a deadline of late March. They have until the end of June to fill in all the details of what would be a complex but historic accord.

US and Iranian negotiators characterised the Geneva talks as constructive, with progress made but still a long way to go.

Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said: “It appears that the final touches to a mutually acceptable formula for curtailing Iran’s enrichment capacity were added by Iranian and American nuclear chiefs. What remains is a similar solution for untangling the intricate spider web of sanctions.”

The proposed missile sale appears to have been discussed by the Russian defence minister, General Sergey Shoigu, when he visited Tehran last month. The two countries have been in dispute since the cancellation of the S-300 delivery five years ago. The Antey-2500 is an improved version of the S-300 with a longer range and enhanced capabilities.

Nato labels the system as the SA-23 Gladiator. It is a mobile system, launched from tracked vehicles complete with radar and command post. It can launch a variety of anti-ballistic missiles, depending on the nature of the target it has to intercept. Its Russian maker claims it can stop not only missiles and fixed-wing aircraft but also drones and precision-guided bombs. Russia has sold the same system to China, Vietnam and Cyprus.

 95 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Russia offers to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Iran

Tehran said to be considering offer, which could have an impact on nuclear talks approaching a deadline next month

A Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The Russians are now offering Iran the Antey-2500 system, which is more advanced.

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
Monday 23 February 2015 19.56 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 24 February 2015 00.35 GMT
Guardian   

Russia has reportedly offered to sell Iran powerful and advanced anti-aircraft missiles in a deal that could have an impact on nuclear talks approaching a deadline next month.

Sergei Chemezov, head of the Russian state arms conglomerate Rostec, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying the firm was willing to supply Tehran with Antey-2500 missiles with the capability of intercepting and destroying ballistic and cruise missiles as well as aircraft. Chemezov said Tehran was considering the offer.

If the sale goes ahead, the missiles are likely to represent a significant defence against any future air strikes aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities, and so could in theory diminish pressure on Iran to come to an agreement in nuclear negotiations.

Conversely, if the talks fail, a missile deal could raise pressure from Israel and from US hawks for military action before the delivery of the Russian weapons makes air strikes riskier and less effective.

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is due to deliver an address to the US Congress next week in which he is expected to urge the administration to take a tougher line against Iran.

The planned sale of a less sophisticated and shorter-range surface-to-air missile system, the S-300, was cancelled in 2010 after concerted Israeli and US pressure on Moscow. But since then Vladimir Putin has returned to the presidency in place of the more conciliatory Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow’s relations with the west have dramatically worsened over the Ukraine conflict, and the sharp drop in the oil price together with western sanctions have left Moscow increasingly desperate to find new sources of foreign currency. Russian arms sales last year generated $13bn (£8.4bn).

“As far as Iran is concerned, we offered Antey-2500 instead of S-300. They are thinking. No decision has been made yet,” Chemezov said, according to Tass. “I don’t conceal it, and everyone understands this, the more conflicts there are, the more they buy off weapon from us. Volumes are continuing to grow despite sanctions. Mainly, it’s Latin America and the Middle East.”

In Geneva on Monday, nuclear talks adjourned after the latest in a long series of meetings between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The negotiations are aimed at finding a formula by which Iran accepts curbs on its nuclear programme – particularly uranium enrichment – for a certain number of years, in return for sanctions relief. Kerry and Zarif were joined in Geneva for the first time by the head of the Iranian atomic energy organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, and the US energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, in a development which negotiators described as necessary to confront the complex technical issues at the heart of the talks. Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also took part in the latest discussions.

Diplomats from US and Iran, as well as the other parties to the talks – UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – are due to reconvene in Switzerland next week in an attempt to reach a framework agreement before a deadline of late March. They have until the end of June to fill in all the details of what would be a complex but historic accord.

US and Iranian negotiators characterised the Geneva talks as constructive, with progress made but still a long way to go.

Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said: “It appears that the final touches to a mutually acceptable formula for curtailing Iran’s enrichment capacity were added by Iranian and American nuclear chiefs. What remains is a similar solution for untangling the intricate spider web of sanctions.”

The proposed missile sale appears to have been discussed by the Russian defence minister, General Sergey Shoigu, when he visited Tehran last month. The two countries have been in dispute since the cancellation of the S-300 delivery five years ago. The Antey-2500 is an improved version of the S-300 with a longer range and enhanced capabilities.

Nato labels the system as the SA-23 Gladiator. It is a mobile system, launched from tracked vehicles complete with radar and command post. It can launch a variety of anti-ballistic missiles, depending on the nature of the target it has to intercept. Its Russian maker claims it can stop not only missiles and fixed-wing aircraft but also drones and precision-guided bombs. Russia has sold the same system to China, Vietnam and Cyprus.

 96 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:43 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Northern Ireland farmers jailed for 'shocking' case of animal cruelty

Stanley Porter, 80, and son given four months for what judge described as ‘one of the worst cases of cruelty in Northern Ireland or anywhere in these islands’

Henry McDonald
Monday 23 February 2015 20.04 GMT
Guardian   

A father and son have been jailed for what a judge described on Monday as one of the worst cases in the UK or Ireland of animal cruelty on a farm.

Seventy-five animals had to be put down on their farm at Saintfield, south of Belfast, a court was told.

Stanley Porter, aged 80, and his 44-year-old son, also called Stanley, were convicted in Downpatrick magistrates court on animal cruelty charges.

Sentencing the pair to four months in prison, the judge said: “It’s one of the worst cases of cruelty in Northern Ireland or anywhere in these islands.”

The Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland also said it was one of the worst cases they had seen.

Inspectors at the farm found rotting carcasses and animals that were not being properly fed and watered or being given dry areas on which to lie.

Danny Gray, the head of enforcement at the agriculture department, said: “This was a shocking case of animal neglect and animal suffering. Today’s sentence sends out a clear message that those who neglect animals will be pursued.

The farmers had been previously warmed about the state of animal welfare on their farm two years ago, the court heard.

 97 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
A close encounter with the 'arsey' ponies of Dartmoor

The ponies near the Devon town of Haytor are famously ‘tame’ thanks to the huge number of tourists they see. It make the job of checking their health and wellbeing particularly entertaining …

Tom Cox
Tuesday 24 February 2015 12.05 GMT
Guardian   

“I see you’ve got a bit of water on your coat,” said the man at the petrol station. “Is it raining out there?” “No, it’s pretty nice,” I replied, checking my sleeve. “Oh, right. A pony bit me earlier. It looks like it left some drool.” I worry that I could be getting a reputation at this petrol station where, only the previous week, after a woodland walk, I’d emptied around a dozen pieces of kindling from my pocket on to the counter in order to locate a pound coin to pay for a packet of crisps. Then again, perhaps not: the petrol station is on the edge of Dartmoor, a place where you have to put some serious work before you get a reputation. “Did it hurt?” asked the man.

As it happened, the bite was virtually painless: more the kind of small, ineffectual nip you might get from a spoilt child. The pony responsible was queuing up for some ice cream at the time in the car park near Haytor, and perhaps thought I’d jumped in ahead of him. I’d always wondered who was crazy enough to buy ice cream from the ice cream vans in the car parks on Dartmoor in February, and now I had the answer: it was ponies. Especially one of the ponies who like to hang around Haytor, who, according to Charlotte Faulkner, founder of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, are some of the most “arsey and tame” ponies on the moor.

The reason the ponies near Haytor are arsey and tame is because Haytor is one of the most tourist-heavy areas of Dartmoor and tourists are constantly feeding the ponies snacks, despite signs asking them not to. By feeding the ponies, tourists increase the risk of them getting hit by a car, and make them harder to round up during the area’s annual pony drift. “I went and told a car full of them off the other day,” Tony, a farmer from near Buckfastleigh, told me. “They were parked in the middle of the road with the window down, feeding some ponies a tube of Pringles.”

The purpose of a pony drift on Dartmoor is to round them up so their health can be checked, the foals among them can be weaned, and those who’ve strayed can be returned to their correct area. Some of them are also subsequently sold, in order to keep the numbers of ponies on each common in accordance with the rules set by Natural England. What a lot of people don’t know is that every pony on Dartmoor belongs to a specific farmer (Tony and his wife, for example, own more than dozen).

The Haytor drift, which Charlotte invited me to join in with, is one of the simpler drifts, in the sense that it takes place over a relatively small area of ground, but it’s difficult due to the spoilt, recalcitrant nature of the ponies here and the amount of half-term sunny day traffic. There’s also the added hitch that the field where it used to conclude is now privately owned. In other words, the ponies no longer have an ingrained sense of where to go when they’re rounded up.

Giving us our instructions today was a middle-aged farmer people referred to as “Mr Retallick”: a man with small glasses and a slight demeanour of the leader of a heist in a grainy, low-lit 1970s film. Charlotte told me he has his own words for some of the areas here, and his advice to us was full of rich topographical language: “Seven Lords”, “Yarner Bank”, “Leighon Valley”.

The people doing the hardest work rode a mixture of horses and quad bikes. The likes of myself, meanwhile, served as peripheral foot soldiers: my main job being to stand halfway up Saddle Tor, about a quarter mile south west of the start point, and wave my arms and shout at the ponies if they hurtled past. An hour and a half into the drift four of them did, in spectacular fashion. This was essentially the nearest I’d ever got to being in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1864. “I’m getting quite emotional watching it,” said Kerry, a passing walker. She gestured at the traffic and tourists below. “Isn’t it a disaster waiting to happen?”

I’d witnessed another small pony-themed near-disaster a three weeks previously a few miles west of here, on Yartor Down. Whilst walking, I’d noticed a pony roll over on his back, about forty yards from the path I was on. “Hello!” I said to it, in the fake posh voice I always use when addressing horses, ponies or medium-sized attractive dogs. I assumed he was just rolling for fun, but he was very still and, as I got closer, his legs stayed in the air and he didn’t seem at all affected by my presence. He kicked his legs again but stayed in the same position, breathing heavily, and I began to properly worry about him. Fortunately, I was in one of the few spots on Dartmoor where my phone gets reception and managed to get in touch with Karla McKechnie, Dartmoor’s Livestock Protection officer, and send her a photo. Karla thought the position of the pony’s legs suggested that he might be ill or in trouble.

I gave Karla the OS map reference and she sent a local farmer out to check on the pony. An hour later I received a call explaining that the pony had actually been trapped between two rocks, but the farmer had now freed him, and he was trotting happily around again, chewing on bracken. I was relieved, but surprised: Surely Dartmoor ponies were hardy and experienced enough to avoid getting trapped between rocks? Perhaps the pony in question was just a bit inept, and did this a lot? The other, more hillwise ponies around him certainly seemed a bit casual about his troubles. Their attitude seemed a bit: “Oh, there’s Greg again, with his drama and pratfalls. I’m not going to rise to it. I’m just going to carry on eating and ignore him.”

After assisting in rescuing Greg I immediately began to get more interested in Dartmoor’s 1,000 or so ponies: the crucial role they play in creating biodiversity on the moor, the way their hooves are specifically evolved to break down the gorse, the way their bracken-chewing has boosted the population of rare butterflies and other fauna. Every time I talked to anyone I knew who lived on the moor, Charlotte’s name, and the brilliant work she is doing to preserve Dartmoor’s ponies, seemed to come up. After less than an hour in her company I’d got a clear sense of her immense energy, hurtling from tor to tor over tussocky ground, hearing her alternately shouting instructions into her walkie talkie and explaining her plans to find a sustainable future for one of the the moor’s most financially-troubled elements.

It was, however, proving to be a difficult drift. By early afternoon, the stretch of craggy, marshy ground between Haytor and Saddle Tor resembled a giant quad bike graveyard. One particularly forlorn specimen lay abandoned tyre-deep. As Charlotte drove me back to my car, the four mischievous ponies who’d galloped so close to me earlier made a break for it, directly to our right, and Charlotte tried to head them off. “These,” she somehow managed to eloquently explain to me at the same time, “are what I call ‘immaculate conception’ foals. We’ve paid £5,000 to clear this area of stallions yet they still appear.” “So you’ve actually seen the stallions?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she said, “I’ve seen them in a line, queuing up for a bonk.” She also told me of the roots of her love of riding: “It all started before I was born, when my mum was a little girl and my grandparents found her in the field, riding the family cow.”

Here was as clear an example of the two sides of the moor, side by side, that I’d seen: the one some tourists view as a really wild reality theme park and the one occupied by hardworking, weather-bitten people, fighting to preserve a way of life. Only 30 out of 80 ponies had made it to the pen, but the day was bright and invigorating and nobody appeared glum or jaded.

Before I got in the car, Charlotte pointed up towards the hill beyond the disused quarries behind Haytor. “Oh, gosh, she’s still up there,” she said. “She’s going to be tired tonight.” I followed the direction of Charlotte’s hand and saw a lone figure on a horse, belting at great speed across the ridge, in pursuit of four ponies. It was one of her daughters, Ginny. The far-off silhouette of horse and tenacious rider, and their escaping targets, against these wild magical hills, could have been an image from a forgotten film. Seeing it here in Britain, in three dimensions, in 2015, whilst standing next to a brightly coloured van selling 99 Flakes, felt like a surreal, thoughtful gift.

For more info on the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, please visit http://www.dartmoorhillpony.com. Tom Cox’s latest book, The Good, the Bad and the Furry is published by Little Brown. Follow him on Twitter @cox_tom.

 98 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 06:38 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Long-necked sauropod dinosaurs had major drinking problem

February 23, 2015
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Long-necked sauropod dinosaurs like brachiosaurus had a major drinking problem, namely how to prevent a major blood rush to the head when bending its neck to take a sip of water.

Matthew Bonnan, a biologist at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, recently told National Geographic that looking at modern long-necked animals like giraffes would tell us that sauropods probably had a series of blood-regulating valves and shunts that maintained the proper blood supply to the head.

Like the rest of us, long-necked animals must maintain high enough blood pressure to the brain to prevent getting light-headed of even losing consciousness.

“For a giraffe, gravity is a huge problem,” Bonnan noted. He pointed out that a giraffe’s 25-pound heart “can pump blood at high pressures to the head.”

Giraffes wear compression socks

Giraffes also have special tissues in their legs that “act like pressure stockings to keep blood from pooling in their extremities,” Bonnan said. They also have “specialized valves in their carotid arteries, which bring blood to the brain, prevent blood from sliding backward.”

Finally, giraffes employ a series of unique blood vessels at the base of their brain called rete mirabile that control blood pressure, particularly when the animals bend their long neck to take a drink and swallow the liquid.

Ashley Morhardt, a paleobiologist at Ohio University, told Nat Geo that the fossil record does not support the idea that sauropods had rete mirabile, but some of their lineages in the form of modern birds do have the cardiovascular structures.

“Whether or not it was associated with the brain and/or functioned like the rete mirabile of a giraffe is not known to paleontologists—at least not yet,” Morhardt said.

Another possibility is that sauropods didn’t really drink all that much, as giraffes actually get most of their water through their steady diet of leafy greens.

Sauropods also tripped out on drugs

While Nat Geo recently explored the idea that sauropods had a drinking problem, a study published earlier this month questioned the possibility that these giant were tripping on hallucinogens.

That study was based on the examination of an amber specimen that contained ancient grass laced with ergot, a fungus known to have psychedelic properties when ingested.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it would have been eaten by sauropod dinosaurs, although we can’t know what exact effect it had on them,” said study author George Poinar, Jr., a paleontologist at Oregon State University.

Ergot is probably best known for conveying the psychedelic effects found in the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Its effects aren’t limited to humans either as animals that consume the fungus have been seen staggering, hallucinating, delirious, convulsing, and even developing gangrene.

The study team said that a few grasses have normal defense mechanisms, and theorized that ergot could be among them, assisting in the repulsion of herbivores. The fungus is bitter and a problem in cereal and grass seed creation, along with providing complications in pastures and grazing land.

 99 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 04:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Skywalker
Hi Group,

I can do Saturn in the Third/Gemini and Mercury in Scorpio as Rad suggested since it´s my natal placement.

All the best

 100 
 on: Feb 24, 2015, 01:01 AM 
Started by Heidi - Last post by Heidi
Thanks so much for all your responses!

Quote
Thus, what has been meaningful loses its meaning, and the Soul desires, needs, new directions in order for a new sense of meaning to occur. A sense of disillusionment with certain parts of our life can precede this ‘crisis of action’ as the Soul initiates new directions in order to discover new forms that generate meaning for its life.

Quote
In addition to the potential for disillusionment, the Neptune square Neptune aspect is also one that brings confusion over one’s best choices and options. This happens when the individual loses sight of, actively outgrows, needs to let go of and/or move beyond that which has been previously cherished, that which has been unconsciously or consciously projected to hold ultimate value, meaning and purpose. During a Neptune square Neptune transit, we can be deceived by others or ourselves. The transit also exposes our own self deception, how we lie to ourselves in order to cover up our truths, how we tell ourselves what sounds like truth when it is really a cover-up for that which we know at the core.

Funny but I'm not liking the word disillusionment right now, not that it's inaccurate but that it feels "bigger" somehow than that. (CindyRenee, the other two planets are Mars and Venus, Mars is the apex of a T-Square and conjunct transiting Neptune). I have been under the influence of this transit for nearly 2 years now and all the hopes, dreams, desires, and expectations that I had (in my relationship) have completely and utterly dissolved. This has happened gradually over time and has brought a lot of grief and sadness along with it. It seems that I have developed more value, meaning, and purpose for what I want for my future, who I am, and who I want to be with, rather than being driven by unconscious desires and motivations and trying to build something on top of them. I never deceived or felt deceived, but there have been times times over the past couple of years that nothing really seems real, as if I don't even know who I am or who the other person is; that I know nothing. I'm still at the end of all this but ultimately I feel extremely humbled and grateful for what I have been through, and what I will be able to create moving forward from a place of clarity and value in who I am, and what I need.

My Mars is in the 4th house and the clarity is still way off here. The core issue is "home," and which country that is going to be in the very near future. I feel like I have been living on a cloud for years now, having no roots and not able to make future plans. The frustrating part is that the option I feel I should be headed in is totally out of my control. I so want to initiate a new direction but really am powerless in my direction of choice. I can relate to what Rose said in terms of "confusion over one's best choices and options" since I feel that having no control in one direction makes me start to convince myself that the other direction would be what I wanted. I desperately feel the need for solid ground and somewhere where I can put down roots, so sometimes I feel that wherever I end up when I finally fall through the cloud will somehow be ok.


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