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 91 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 06:09 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

China’s Communist party expected to remain above the law after conference

Theme for annual meeting will be ‘rule of law’ but only small local reforms expected from party that operates above the constitution

Associated Press in Beijing
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 09.22 BST   
   
The conundrum of bolstering the rule of law in Communist party-run China was on the agenda for its leaders on Monday at the start of a four-day conclave to guide policy for the coming year.

Rule of law is a tricky notion in China because the party operates above the law and has never appeared inclined to change. However, the ruling party and the government it controls are under pressure to improve the court system to address citizens’ unease that they have no real recourse in conflicts, including with local officials they accuse of unfairly seizing property and other wrongdoing.

Communist party leaders have set “rule of law” as the theme for this year’s annual meeting of its central committee.

Some experts argue the leadership is invoking the concept to improve China’s image at a time when the authorities are stepping up persecution of dissidents, activists, human rights lawyers, scholars and writers.

No formal decisions are expected until Thursday, when the central committee’s 205 members will conclude the meeting. Political observers are watching for changes to place the party under the authority of the law, although many believe that will not happen.

“Ultimately, people will look at one line – whether the party should be under the constitution or above the constitution,” said Cheng Li, director of the John L Thornton China Centre at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based thinktank.

Carl Minzner, a law professor and expert on China’s legal system at the Fordham law school in New York, said there was “absolutely zero chance” that the party would impose meaningful legal checks on its own power.

Still, some experts are expecting legal reforms that would bring some fairness at a local level, where unrest over injustices has flared up into violence.

The meeting is expected to give provincial courts supervisory powers over their county-level peers in the areas of funding and appointments, taking them out of the influence of local authorities.

Other changes may include vetting judges to ensure they are professionally qualified and making more verdicts available to the public to hold judges accountable for their rulings.

Xu Xin, a Beijing-based legal scholar, said there could also be measures to curb corruption by requiring newly appointed officials to disclose their assets and by setting up an anti-corruption agency.

 92 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 06:07 AM 
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S.Korea Warns North against 'Reckless Provocation'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 October 2014, 07:18

South Korea warned North Korea on Monday against further "reckless" provocations following a series of minor border skirmishes that have heightened military tensions ahead of planned high-level talks.

Troops from both sides exchanged small arms fire on Sunday after South Korean troops fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol moving towards the military demarcation line that divides the peninsula.

"We sternly warn North Korea against reckless military provocations ... that would raise military tensions," Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

On October 7, North and South Korean naval vessels traded warning fire near the disputed Yellow Sea border.

Three days later border guards exchanged heavy machine-gun fire after the North tried to shoot down balloons launched over the frontier with bundles of anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

The North has repeatedly urged the South to ban the leaflet launches organised by activist groups, but Seoul insists it has no legal grounds for doing so.

Last week the two Koreas held military talks to address the tensions but they ended without agreement.

The border incidents have jeopardised a decision -- reached during a surprise visit to the South by a top-ranking North delegation earlier this month -- to resume high-level talks suspended since February.

The South has proposed October 30 as a date for restarting the dialogue, and Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-Cheol told reporters Friday he still believes the talks will go ahead.

"Our government expects the high-level contact to be held as we suggested," Lim said.

Because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.

Source: Agence France Presse

 93 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 06:06 AM 
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Japan PM Abe Loses Two Female Ministers over Cash Scandals

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 October 2014, 07:11

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suffered a double setback Monday with the resignations of two female cabinet ministers over claims they misused political funds, dealing a blow to his proclaimed gender reform drive.

Industry minister Yuko Obuchi and Midori Matsushima, justice minister, fell on their swords after days of allegations that they had misspent money in what opponents insisted was an attempt to buy votes.

Their loss reduces to three the number of women in the cabinet, after Abe's widely-praised move in September to promote a record-tying five to his administration.

"I'm the person who appointed the two. As prime minister, I take responsibility for this and deeply apologize for this situation," Abe told reporters, adding he would replace them both within the day.

The double resignations are the first significant problem for Abe since he swept to power in December 2012, ending years of fragile governments that swapped prime ministers on an annual basis.

While commentators generally agreed that this would not be the end of the hard-charging premier, who has set his sights on reinvigorating Japan's lacklustre economy, they cautioned that he was now vulnerable.

"This is Abe's first major stumble," said Tomoaki Iwai, professor of politics at Nihon University in Tokyo.

"Because of the double resignations, his approval rate is likely to fall and Abe will be under pressure," Iwai said. "If he repeats similar mistakes, it's going to be a fatal blow to his administration."

Obuchi, who inherited the dynasty of her father, a former prime minister, offered a fresh, youthful face on the front benches -- a place generally dominated by older men.

As a mother of two, her family-friendly image was expected to help smooth the way to re-starting Japan's stalled nuclear power plants, with supporters hoping she could convince a skeptical public of their safety.

But her elevation had also reportedly irked male politicians who felt they had loyally served their time on the backbenches and had been passed over in favor of a young woman with little cabinet experience.

 

- Subsidised theater trips -

She began to come unstuck last week when reports emerged that she had spent political funds on make-up and accessories as gifts for supporters.

They were followed by claims that she had subsidized theater trips for voters from her rural constituency.

The claims, which were priced at tens of millions of yen (hundreds of thousands of dollars) over several years, were taken as evidence of attempted vote buying.

"It is not permissible for me as Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to have economy and energy policies stalled because of my own problems," she told a press conference carried live on multiple television channels.

"I will resign and focus on probing what has been called into question," she told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with Abe.

Matsushima has been under fire for allegedly giving out cheap fans with her name and picture printed on them -- another example, said detractors, of trying to buy support.

One of those fans was for sale on an Internet auction site Monday, with the price having reached 2,100 yen ($20).

Money scandals are not uncommon in Japanese politics, where the pork barrel reigns and rules on spending tend to be slightly opaque, barring little except explicit bribery and vote buying.

The promotion of five women to the cabinet was seen as part of Abe's bid to boost the role of women in society, a move viewed as vital to help plug the holes in Japan's workforce and make better use of a pool of latent talent.

Asked if she felt her relative youth and her gender had played a role in the way the scandal emerged, Obuchi demurred.

"I only learnt now that this issue could be seen in this light," she said.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general and the number two in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, earlier said Obuchi's resignation was "extremely regrettable."

"As Ms Obuchi was symbolic of women's having an active role, I think there will be damage (to the government)," Tanigaki told reporters.

 94 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 06:05 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Kerry in Southeast Asia Seeking Support against IS

by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 October 2014, 08:35

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Indonesia Monday to attend Joko Widodo's presidential inauguration and press Southeast Asian nations to step up their efforts in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Kerry is among foreign dignitaries visiting Jakarta for the inauguration of Widodo, a former furniture exporter who is the first leader of the world's third-biggest democracy to come from outside the political and military elites.

During his one-day visit, the United States' top diplomat will use a series of bilateral meetings to urge Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, and other Southeast Asian leaders to take more action against the growing threat from IS, officials said.

During the meetings, "I would put at the top of the list the international effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL," said a senior state department official, using an alternative name to refer to the group.

"Breaking it down, the effort to combat violent extremism, to block recruitment, and to protect against the solicitation of foreign fighters," the official added.

"To guard against the return of hardened fighters to the region, debunking and denigrating extremist propaganda, blocking illicit terrorist financing"

As well as Widodo, Kerry is due to meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the sultan of Brunei and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

IS's jihadist appeal is fanning fears that it could serve as a potent new rallying cry for extremists in the region who had been largely brought to heel following deadly attacks.

There is particular concern about Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, and neighboring Malaysia.

Authorities in those countries have watched with alarm as scores, possibly even hundreds, of their nationals are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the fight for a hardline Muslim caliphate.

Malaysian police have arrested a total of three dozen people this year for suspected IS-related activities.

Jakarta has sought to ban support for IS ideology while police believe up to five Indonesians -- including two suicide bombers -- have died fighting with radical groups in the Middle East this year.

Indonesia launched a crackdown on extremists a decade ago after a series of attacks on Western targets, which has been credited with weakening key militant networks.

During his meetings, Kerry will press Southeast Asian countries on areas "where we believe and hope that the individual countries can do more", the State Department official said.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, climate change and the Ebola virus will also be on the agenda during the meetings, officials said.

Following his visit to Indonesia, Kerry will head to Germany to attend events marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Source: Agence France Presse

 95 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 06:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Iran, Powers Resume Expert-Level Nuclear Talks Wednesday

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 15:36

Expert-level talks between Iran and world powers aimed at clearing the path toward a nuclear deal will be held Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna, a top Iranian official said.

Iran and the P5+1 group of nations (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany) are seeking a comprehensive agreement over Tehran's nuclear program by a November 24 deadline.

However the talks have been hit by disputes over what limits should be placed on Iran's atomic activities, particularly its enrichment of uranium, and on the process of lifting U.S., U.N. and European sanctions.

"Negotiations between experts from Iran and the P5+1 will be held Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna," Iranian negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The date of the next meeting between the Iranian delegation, the United States and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is shepherding the negotiations, will be announced later, according to Araqchi.

The deal being sought, after more than a decade of rising tensions, is meant to ease concerns that Iran might be able to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian energy program.

To do this, the P5+1 wants Iran to scale down dramatically the scope of its atomic activities, offering in return relief from painful sanctions, but Iran is resisting this.

Iran denies seeking to build the atomic bomb.

In months of discussions since an interim agreement struck last November took effect in January, some progress has been made.

This includes possible changes in the design of an unfinished reactor at Arak so that it produces less weapons-grade plutonium, enhanced UN inspections, and alterations to Iran's fortified Fordo facility.

Many analysts believe that the November deadline may be extended, as happened with an earlier target date of July 20, maybe locking in measures related to Arak and Fordo.

Source: Agence France Presse

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

Obama Sees an Iran Deal That Could Avoid Congress

By DAVID E. SANGER
OCT. 19, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.

Even while negotiators argue over the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to spin and where inspectors could roam, the Iranians have signaled that they would accept, at least temporarily, a “suspension” of the stringent sanctions that have drastically cut their oil revenues and terminated their banking relationships with the West, according to American and Iranian officials. The Treasury Department, in a detailed study it declined to make public, has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress, officials say.

But Mr. Obama cannot permanently terminate those sanctions. Only Congress can take that step. And even if Democrats held on to the Senate next month, Mr. Obama’s advisers have concluded they would probably lose such a vote.

“We wouldn’t seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years,” one senior official said.

White House officials say Congress should not be surprised by this plan. They point to testimony earlier this year when top negotiators argued that the best way to assure that Iran complies with its obligations is a step-by-step suspension of sanctions — with the implicit understanding that the president could turn them back on as fast as he turned them off.

“We have been clear that initially there would be suspension of any of the U.S. and international sanctions regime, and that the lifting of sanctions will only come when the I.A.E.A. verifies that Iran has met serious and substantive benchmarks,” Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Friday, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “We must be confident that Iran’s compliance is real and sustainable over a period of time.”

But many members of Congress see the plan as an effort by the administration to freeze them out, a view shared by some Israeli officials who see a congressional vote as the best way to constrain the kind of deal that Mr. Obama might strike.

Ms. Meehan says there “is a role for Congress in our Iran policy,” but members of Congress want a role larger than consultation and advice. An agreement between Iran and the countries it is negotiating with — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — would not be a formal treaty, and thus would not require a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, said over the weekend that, “If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state.” He has sponsored legislation to tighten sanctions if no agreement is reached by Nov. 24.

A leading Republican critic of the negotiations, Senator Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, added, “Congress will not permit the president to unilaterally unravel Iran sanctions that passed the Senate in a 99 to 0 vote,” a reference to the vote in 2010 that imposed what have become the toughest set of sanctions.

Such declarations have the Obama administration concerned. And they are a reminder that for a deal to be struck with Iran, Mr. Obama must navigate not one negotiation, but three.

The first is between Mr. Obama’s negotiators and the team led by Mohammad Javad Zarif, the savvy Iranian foreign minister. The second is between Mr. Zarif and forces in Tehran that see no advantage in striking a deal, led by many in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and many of the mullahs. The critical player in that effort is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has reissued specific benchmarks for an accord, including Iran’s eventual expansion of its uranium enrichment program by nearly tenfold. And the third is between Mr. Obama and Congress.

Mr. Zarif, in an interview last summer, said that Mr. Obama “has a harder job” convincing Congress than he will have selling a deal in Tehran. That may be bluster, but it may not be entirely wrong.

Many of the details of the negotiations remain cloaked. The lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs and a leading candidate to become the State Department’s No. 2 official next month, struck a deal with congressional leaders that enables her to avoid public testimony when the negotiations are underway. Instead, she conducts classified briefings for the key congressional committees.

But it is clear that along with the fate of Iran’s biggest nuclear sites — Natanz and Fordow, where uranium fuel is enriched, and a heavy-water reactor at Arak that many fear will be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium — the negotiations have focused intently on how sanctions would be suspended. To the Americans, the sanctions are their greatest leverage. For many ordinary Iranians, they are what this negotiation is all about: a chance to boost the economy, reconnect with the world and end Iran’s status as a pariah state.

For that reason, many think Mr. Obama’s best option is to keep the negotiations going if a deal is not reached by the deadline, a possibility both Iranian and Russian officials have floated.

“Between now and 2017 Obama’s goal is to avert an Iranian bomb and avert bombing Iran,” said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If Congress feels obliged to pass additional sanctions, the best way to do it would be to create a deterrent — basically to say if you recommence activities Iran has halted, here are new sanctions.”

But Mr. Obama is feeling pressure as well. Some cracks are appearing in the sanctions regime. In the spring, the administration was alarmed to see a spike in Chinese purchases of Iranian oil, seeming to undercut the sanctions. More recently the figures have declined again. Nonetheless they are the subject of behind-the-scenes talks between American and Chinese officials. And the Iranians want far more than a suspension of American-led sanctions: They are also pressing for an end to United Nations Security Council resolutions that bar “dual use” exports that have civilian uses but also could be used in nuclear and missile programs; those resolutions give the United States and its allies a legal basis for demanding inspections of shipments to Iran that could be part of a covert program.

Inside America’s intelligence agencies, the biggest concern is that Iran, concluding that its existing facilities are under too much scrutiny, would once again turn to covert means to obtain nuclear technology — buying it from the North Koreans, or building it in one of hundreds of tunnels.

“We have not seen much lately,” a senior intelligence official said. “But over the past 10 years, we’ve uncovered three covert programs in Iran, and there’s no reason to think there’s not a fourth out there.”

 96 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 05:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Turkey to let Iraqi Kurds reinforce Kobani as US air-drops arms

Turkey to facilitate passage of Kurdish peshmerga forces to help defend Syrian border town from Isis fighters

Reuters in Ankara and Beirut
The Guardian, Monday 20 October 2014 12.26 BST    

Turkey said on Monday it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce fellow Kurds in the Syrian border town of Kobani, while the United States air-dropped arms for the first time to help the defenders resist an Islamic State (Isis) assault.

Washington said the arms had been supplied by Iraqi Kurdish authorities and had been dropped near Kobani, which came under Isis attack in September and is now besieged to the east, west and south, and bordered to the north by Turkey.

Turkey has stationed tanks on hills overlooking Kobani but has refused to help the Kurdish militias on the ground without striking a broader deal with its Nato allies on intervening in the Syrian civil war, saying action should also be taken against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

However, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, told a news conference that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which have also fought Islamic State when the militants attacked the Kurds’ autonomous region in Iraq over the summer. He gave no details.

Turkey’s refusal to intervene in the battle against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, has led to growing frustration in the United States.

The policy has also provoked riots in south-eastern Turkey by Kurds furious at Ankara’s refusal to help Kobani or at least open a land corridor for volunteer fighters and reinforcements to go there.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey.

Earlier the US central command said it had delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to allow the Kurdish fighters to keep up their resistance in the town which is called Kobani in Kurdish and Ayn al-Arab in Arabic.

The main Syrian Kurdish armed group, the YPG, said it had received “a large quantity” of ammunition and weapons.

Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the YPG, said the weapons dropped overnight would have a “positive impact” on the battle and the morale of fighters who have been out-gunned by Islamic State. But he added: “Certainly it will not be enough to decide the battle.”

“We do not think the battle of Kobani will end that quickly. The forces [of Islamic State] are still heavily present and determined to occupy Kobani. In addition, there is resolve [from the YPG] to repel this attack,” he said.

He declined to give more details on the shipment.

The United States began carrying out air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August and about a month later started bombing the militant group in neighbouring Syria.

However, the resupply of Kurdish fighters marks an escalation in the US effort to help local forces beat back the radical Sunni militant group in Syria. It points to the growing coordination between the US military and a Syrian Kurdish group that had been kept at arm’s length by the west due partly to the concerns of Turkey.

Washington has pressed Ankara to let it use bases in Turkey to stage the air strikes, and a Turkish foreign ministry official said the country’s airspace had not been used during the drops on Kobani.

The US president, Barack Obama, gave advance notice to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of the plan to deliver arms to the Syrian Kurds, a group Turkey views with distrust because of its links to Turkish Kurds who have fought an insurgency in which 40,000 people were killed.

“President Obama spoke to Erdoğan yesterday and was able to notify him of our intent to do this and the importance that we put on it,” one senior US official told reporters.

US officials described the weapons delivered as “small arms” but gave no details.

Escalated US air strikes on Islamic State in and around Kobani have helped to slow its progress there in the last week. The Kurds say the US military has been coordinating the air strikes with them, helping to make them more effective.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war in Syria using sources on the ground, said there had been two new air strikes on Islamic State positions after midnight.

In a brief statement, the US. Central Command said US air force C-130 aircraft “delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq and intended to enable continued resistance against Isil’s attempts to overtake Kobani,” using an acronym to refer to Islamic State.

The central command said 135 US air strikes near Kobani in recent days, combined with continued resistance against Islamic State on the ground, had slowed the group’s advances into the town and killed hundreds of its fighters.

“However, the security situation in Kobani remains fragile as Isil continues to threaten the city and Kurdish forces continue to resist,” the statement said.

“We understand the longstanding Turkish concern with the range of groups, including Kurdish groups, that they have been engaged in conflict with,” he added. “However, our very strong belief is that both the United States and Turkey face a common enemy in Isil and that we need to act on an urgent basis.”

The Turkish presidency said Obama and Erdoğan had discussed Syria, including measures that could be taken to stop Islamic State’s advances, and Kobani.

In a statement published on Sunday, it also said Turkish assistance to over 1.5 million Syrians, including around 180,000 from Kobani, was noted in the conversation.

In comments published by Turkish media on Monday, Erdoğan equated the main Syrian Kurdish political group, the PYD, with the PKK, describing both as terrorist organisations.

“It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in Nato to expect us to say ‘yes’ [to supporting the PYD] after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organisation,” Erdoğan said.

Kobani is one of three areas near the border with Turkey where Syrian Kurds have established their own government since the country descended into civil war in 2011.

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

Kobani: US drops weapons to Kurds in Syria

Kobani air drops likely to anger Turkish government, which opposes sending arms to Kurdish rebels in Syria   

Associated Press
theguardian.com, Monday 20 October 2014 10.47 BST      

The US military says it has airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces defending the Syrian city of Kobani against Islamic State militants.

The air drops on Sunday were the first of their kind and followed weeks of US and coalition air strikes in and near Kobani, near the Turkish border. The US earlier said it had launched 11 air strikes overnight in the Kobani area.

Meanwhile Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that Turkey was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to Kobani. Cavusoglu did not provide details on the transfer of the fighters.

In a statement on Sunday night, US Central Command said US C-130 cargo planes made multiple drops of arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. It said they were intended to enable continued resistance to Islamic State efforts to take full control of Kobani.

The air drops are almost certain to anger the Turkish government, which has said it would oppose any US arms transfers to the Kurdish rebels in Syria. Turkey views the main Kurdish group in Syria as an extension of the Turkish Kurd group known as the PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the US and by Nato.

Senior US administration officials said three C-130 planes dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.

One official said that while the results of the mission were still being assessed, it appeared that “the vast majority” of the supplies reached the intended Kurdish fighters.

The official also said the C-130s encountered no resistance from the ground in Syria during their flights in and out of Syrian airspace.

In a written statement, Central Command said its forces had conducted more than 135 air strikes against Islamic State forces in Kobani.

Central Command said: “Combined with continued resistance to Isil on the ground, indications are that these strikes have slowed Isil advances into the city, killed hundreds of their fighters and destroyed or damaged scores of pieces of Isil combat equipment and fighting positions.”

 97 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 05:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola may be clear of the disease

Initial tests on Teresa Romero return negative result for the virus following treatment in isolation unit in Madrid

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 21.17 BST      

The Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola after caring for two repatriated missionaries appears to have overcome the deadly disease, health authorities said on Sunday.

Teresa Romero Ramos, 44, has tested negative for Ebola for the first time since being hospitalised nearly two weeks ago, Spain’s special committee on Ebola said in a statement. The results suggest that she is now clear of all traces of the virus, but authorities noted she would be tested again in the coming hours to confirm the result.

Romero Ramos tested positive for the virus in early October, becoming the first known person in the current outbreak to contract Ebola outside of west Africa. The nurse was part of a team attending to two Spanish Ebola patients who had been evacuated from west Africa to Madrid for treatment in August and September. Both died days after returning to Madrid.

After nearly a week of complaining of a fever, Romero Ramos was brought by ambulance to a hospital in Alcorcón, in the outskirts of Madrid, where she tested positive for Ebola.

She was then placed in isolation at Madrid’s Carlos III hospital, the city’s designated hospital for treating Ebola patients. Her diagnosis set off a string of alarms across Madrid, with health authorities monitoring more than 80 people who had been in contact with the nurse prior to her diagnosis.

For the past week, health authorities had noted that Romero Ramos’ health was improving and said that the presence of the virus in her blood was diminishing. This weekend saw the nurse get out of bed for the first time since being admitted, said hospital sources, adding that her appetite had improved to the point where she was asking for ham and chorizo. Romero Ramos was treated with a serum containing antibodies from Ebola survivors and anti-viral drugs.

She remains in quarantine and will likely need to spend another three weeks in hospital in order to recover and ensure that the virus does not reappear.

Another 15 patients, including Romero Ramos’ husband, remain in isolation in the same hospital. None of them have shown any symptoms of Ebola to date. On Thursday, a man who had travelled from Nigeria and a missionary recently returned from Liberia were admitted to the Carlos III hospital with fever. Both tested negative for Ebola.

 98 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 05:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Antarctic conference to vote on huge marine parks amid strained relations

Meeting of 25 nations, including Russia and Ukraine, in Hobart will consider proposals on the future of Antarctic research and marine protection

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Monday 20 October 2014 04.35 BST    

Tense international relations could sway the outcome of vital research and protection proposals for the Antarctic, the head of a global meeting of scientists says.

Russia and China are among 25 delegate nations meeting in Hobart for the annual gathering of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Representatives from both countries, and others including Ukraine, have previously opposed the creation of two huge marine protected areas, arguing the zones would have a devastating impact on fishing.

This year the commission will again consider the establishment of the ocean sanctuaries – in an amended form – one of which is proposed by Australia, France and the EU, the other by the US and New Zealand.

But international relations, including Australia’s strained links with Russia, could affect the talks.

“No one hangs their coat and hat up at the door, some of those issues come through,” the commission secretary, Australia’s Andrew Wright, told reporters on Monday’s opening day of the meetings.

“We do expect, and it is not unreasonable in a multilateral setting such as this, that there are other issues going on ... that do impact on a member’s political position.”

All 25 delegate nations were represented at this year’s meeting, Wright confirmed.

Talks had been going on between Australian and Russian delegations, but they had been affected by the MH17 tragedy, he said.

“How that plays out over the next fortnight I can’t forecast.”

The agenda for the 10-day meeting includes setting up protected marine areas, combating illegal fishing, limiting catches of krill and other fish species and improving monitoring of Antarctic waters.

The marine park proposal, which Australia has put its name to, has almost halved in size to one million square kilometres since it was last considered by the commission. It also allows restricted fishing activity in its new guise.

The chairman of the commission’s scientific committee, Christopher Jones from the United States, said the initial response to the proposal has been positive.

“It is very important that we make some progress this year,” Jones said of plans for the marine park, which are being considered for a fourth year.

 99 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

Pope Francis’s healing, loving revolution is unstoppable

A minority of bishops clings to conservative ways but the Catholic church is slowly changing and will be holier for it

Austen Ivereigh   
The Guardian, Sunday 19 October 2014 19.44 BST   
       
The remarkable gathering of global Catholic leaders in Rome that ended on Saturday has mostly been filtered through a political lens, as a debate between factions. Thus the hopes of gay people and the divorced were raised by a swing to the liberals but dashed by the conservatives reasserting themselves. But that doesn’t capture what happened. The actual dynamic was more complex, and very different.

For the bishops who attended, assent to doctrinal orthodoxy was the starting point. What Pope Francis called “the fundamental truths of the sacrament of marriage” were never in question: before, during and after the synod, sex was for marriage, marriage was for a man and a woman, open to life, for life, and sexually faithful. There was no debate on these points. Pope Francis did not call this synod to change teaching, but to expand it to include the missing part: the “missionary” and “pastoral” dimension – the merciful, healing, loving, welcoming part of Catholicism, which those outside the faith don’t get to see. Understand why they don’t and you get the point of the synod.

Those of us who know the church know that in our parishes and schools and institutions, our pastors pastor. They tend to us, nurture us, help us and support us, whoever we are, and whatever our stage of moral development. Most of us live in the gap between who we are and who we are called to be; being a Catholic isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. The doorway is wide; and inside, on the whole, it’s warm and welcoming: a clinic for the feeble, not a club of the smug. It’s nuanced and compassionate, even if it keeps the goals clearly in the spotlight.

So why do so many people see only judgmentalism and rejection, even pharisaism? Because since the 1980s, Rome has concentrated on asserting doctrinal clarity and uniformity, partly to restore direction following divisions opened up by the second Vatican council in the early 1960s. This meant keeping out the pastoral. Bishops attended synods but the Vatican controlled the agenda. Awkward pastoral questions were asked but not discussed, and existing teaching and practice were reaffirmed.

Francis has flipped that omelette. He has brought the periphery into the centre, breaking open the Vatican to a new pastoral language. He has invited tough questions to be asked with unprecedented frankness: how to bind the wounds of the divorced, while promoting indissolubility? How to embrace gay people while celebrating marriage as a conjugal institution? How can the church be, like a good parent, both clear teacher and merciful mother? The tensions are as old as Jesus, who called people to lifelong sexual fidelity yet saw the adultress as both sinner and victim. What’s new is bringing the tension into the governance of the universal church.

A few think this is deeply misguided. Tallies of the votes on the final document reveal a small group of 25-35 “rigorists” opposed to the Francis pontificate; they yearn for the old clarity. They made a lot of noise but compared with the 160-180 who consistently voted in favour of Francis’s pastoral and missionary reset, they are a tiny number. The synod was made up overwhelmingly of pastors like Francis, who have agreed to review a whole series of practices and changes.

On two issues the synod did not get a clear green light. One group couldn’t see how the divorced and remarried could ever return to the sacraments without compromising indissolubility. Another group of African and Latin-American bishops refused to agree to treat gay people with respect and tenderness because the wording implied the existence of a gay “identity” which they cannot for cultural reasons accept. These are still minorities – perhaps 30-40 – but, combined with the rigorists, their veto ensured there would not be a two-thirds majority for three of the 62 paragraphs of the report.

But that means only that a lot more discussion and reflection are needed before the synod of bishops comes up with concrete proposals next year. What matters is that the pastoral is being brought to bear on the doctrinal: the church has decided to live in that tension. It’s a lot less tidy, but a lot more holy.

 100 
 on: Oct 20, 2014, 05:46 AM 
Started by Steve - 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   
   
Hiding a submarine off the shores of a foreign capital might seem a tall order, especially when you have helicopters, ships and 200 troops on your trail. But in a murky and distinctly cold war-reminiscent game of cat and mouse, that is exactly what the Swedish navy appear to suspect Russia of doing.

Sweden’s military has spent three days scouring the waters off Stockholm for what has so far been officially described only as “foreign underwater activity”. However, intelligence briefings to local newspapers suggest a Russian submarine might have had mechanical problems while on a secret mission in the region.

In scenes reminiscent of the 1970s and 80s – when neutral Sweden regularly hunted for Soviet spy submarines in the Baltic Sea around the capital – 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 armed forces said was a reliable tipoff about something in the Stockholm archipelago, which has 30,000 islands and rocky outcrops around which a submarine could lurk. 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 Wikström 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 have been damaged. It said the operation was launched on Friday after a 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, the Svenska Dagbladet reported, but it added that Russia does have mini-submarines based at Kaliningrad.

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

Russia, for its part, has denied this, saying its submarines and ships are “fulfilling their tasks in the world’s oceans”. A defence ministry spokesman in Moscow said: “There have been no emergencies or accidents with Russian military vessels.”

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 Löfven, Sweden’s 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.”

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