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« Reply #16470 on: Today at 06:48 AM »

Future of French Dam in Balance after Eco-Protester's Death

by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 October 2014, 18:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse


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« Reply #16471 on: Today at 06:53 AM »


First Iraqi Kurdish fighters enter Isis-besieged Kobani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/29/2014 04:31 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Preposterous Collaboration?

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

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

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

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

A Difficult Balancing Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PKK's Armed Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abdullah Öcalan's Link to the Outside World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next IS Target?

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

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

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

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

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

Proxy War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Iran Wants Sanctions Lifted before Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 07:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Agence France Presse


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« Reply #16473 on: Today at 06:57 AM »

Modi Fails, So Far, to Return Illicit Funds to India

By MANU JOSEPH
OCT. 30, 2014
IHT

NEW DELHI — Thousands of years ago in India, “a plastic surgeon, perhaps,” fixed an elephant’s head on a boy who had lost his, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed on Saturday in a Mumbai hospital, which does not offer such a service yet. He was not saying that ancient Indians were negligent when choosing head donors, but that Indians were once so great that the things they did were like magic.

The prime minister need not have searched so far.

Millions of modern Indians have the ability to make money invisible. A large part of the Indian economy, though nobody is sure just how large, officially does not exist, but it exerts an unmistakable influence on the visible world. Illicit money, which is income that has been earned through illegal means or evaded taxes, has a dual life in general Indian perceptions.

Most of India’s middle class, especially entrepreneurs, deal in it in some form and view it as a practical necessity to make a profit in a country where the cost of doing business is high. But they view larger, more organized hoarders of illicit cash as criminals. There is a perception that the big fish smuggle the money out of India.

There is no evidence to suggest that most of India’s illicit money is outside India rather than within, but Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party exploited that perception when it campaigned on the promise that it would bring back all the money that Indians had squirrelled abroad as a part of its war against corruption.

The party claimed that trillions of rupees were lying in foreign banks and that it would get the money back to India within 100 days of assuming power.

More than 150 days have gone by, but Mr. Modi has yet to show Indians the money. What his government has instead is a list of Indians with foreign bank accounts, not all of them dubious. On Monday, it released the names of a few account holders whom it accused of hoarding illicit money abroad.

The list was a disappointment, at least to those who had assumed that Mr. Modi was serious about his war on what Indians call “black money.”

Mr. Modi and his party during campaigning had Indians believe that several prominent politicians, especially from the rival Indian National Congress party, had money stashed away in foreign banks. But the names that were released on Monday were of little-known businesspeople. Two of them had made donations to both the B.J.P. and the Congress party.

The government indicated that it could not reveal all the names as it was constrained by the legal arrangements it has with the countries that shared the information. But, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court rebuked the government for protecting the shady, and gave it one day to submit the list of names to it in a sealed envelope, which the government has now done.

This is the new government’s first fiasco, because it has come across as an ally of the big players in the shadow economy, exactly what it had accused the previous government of.

If it is true that the government wants to protect some powerful Indians, then the Supreme Court intervention, though embarrassing, is in fact very convenient. The government has been relieved of the responsibility of revealing the names itself.

Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, who ran for office against Mr. Modi in the general elections, implied in a written statement that the government was shielding those who had financed its expensive election campaigns while unleashing tax raids on the less useful.

Two years ago, Mr. Kejriwal released a list of Indians who he claimed had suspect foreign bank accounts. The list included Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, who is believed to be very close to Mr. Modi.

In fact, it was in a hospital run by Mr. Ambani that the prime minister fondly remembered the ancient plastic surgeon who had fixed an elephant’s head on a boy.
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« Reply #16474 on: Today at 06:59 AM »

Clashes in Bangladesh as Islamists Protest Leader's Death Order

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 10:44

Islamists clashed with police in several Bangladesh cities on Thursday as part of a nationwide strike to protest against their leader being sentenced to death for war crimes, police said.

Officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at rock-throwing protesters who tried to block several key highways in the northwestern cities of Bogra and Rajshahi, police officers told AFP.

Protesters exploded cocktail bombs in Bogra, a stronghold of the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, local police chief Saifuzzaman Faruqui said.

"At least 140 Jamaat activists have been arrested from the city to prevent violence," he said. Nearly 100 Jamaat activists were also arrested from Rangpur region, police said.

Demonstrations and sporadic clashes also erupted in about a dozen other towns and cities, local media reported, as Jamaat supporters took to the streets to enforce the three-day strike starting on Thursday.

The clashes came one day after a court convicted Motiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of Jamaat since 2000, of mass murder, rape and looting during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

The war crimes tribunal sentenced Nizami to death for his role as head of a notorious pro-Pakistani militia blamed for killing some of the country's top intellectuals, doctors and journalists.

Similar verdicts against some of Nizami's top lieutenants plunged the nation into one of its worst crises last year as tens of thousands of Jamaat activists clashed with police, leaving hundreds dead.

Jamaat called the strike in protest, accusing the secular government of ordering the trials against its leaders as part of a witch-hunt against opposition figures.

On Thursday schools, colleges and private businesses were shut across the country as the strike took hold.

Highways were deserted as inter-city bus and lorry services ground to a halt, while deliveries from ports were suspended.

Police also fired rubber bullets at protesters in Rajshahi and the northern town of Mithapukur after they tried to block roads, police officials told AFP, adding that the Rajshahi head of Jamaat was arrested on charges of planning subversive activities.

Source: Agence France Presse


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« Reply #16475 on: Today at 07:00 AM »

Myanmar President Calls Unprecedented Talks with Parties, Army

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 10:28

Myanmar's president has called an unprecedented summit of army top brass and political rivals including Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, political figures said Thursday, a year ahead of crucial elections.

The talks, scheduled for Friday in the capital Naypyidaw, are the first of their kind in the country that is attempting to emerge from the shadow of decades of outright military rule.

Experts say the meeting comes at a critical time, with Myanmar searching for a nationwide ceasefire to several rebellions as it heads towards elections in a year's time.

Those polls are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government.

Confirming the talks, Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Force party, said the meeting will cover "democratic reforms, peace and (the) transition period."

The talks come just days after Myanmar's election authorities announced that the upcoming poll would be held in the last week of October or the first week of November 2015.

Myanmar authorities have promised the vote will be the freest in the country’s modern history after the military ceded direct power to a quasi-civilian government three years ago.

The meeting also follows heated parliamentary debates over constitutional and electoral reform, as well as pervasive jitters that the government, which is dominated by former junta generals, may find a reason to delay next year's poll.

"I think it's really significant, this is the first time he (Thein Sein) has had this kind of meeting," said one Western expert, who asked to remain unnamed.

There is "potential for tension to build up -- this is a very important time for everyone to get on the same page."

Suu Kyi's party is expected to win a major slice of the legislature in the 2015 vote, and parliament will select a president following the poll.

But the 69-year-old veteran activist, who spent more than a decade under house arrest during the junta years, is currently barred from taking the top job by the constitution.

Khin Maung Swe said the meeting would include the two vice presidents, the influential parliamentary speakers, the election commission and six main political parties.

The NLD said it was unable to confirm details of the meeting when contacted by AFP Thursday.

Sai Aik Paung, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, hailed the meeting as an "important" step, but said more parties should have been invited.

Source: Agence France Presse


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« Reply #16476 on: Today at 07:02 AM »

Australia Outlaws Travel to Terror Hotspots

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 07:08

Australia on Thursday passed a law criminalizing travel to terror hotspots, a tough counter-terrorism measure aimed at stopping jihadists from going to Iraq and Syria to fight.

The Australian government has been increasingly concerned about the flow of foreign fighters to the Middle East to join militant groups such as Islamic State, with 70 Australians believed to have already made the journey.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) includes measures that make it an offense to enter a "declared area" where a terrorist organization is engaging in hostile activity, without a valid reason.

The offense carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

"The foreign fighters bill that has passed the parliament today will mean, first of all, that it is easier to secure convictions against Australians who have been fighting with terrorist groups overseas," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament Thursday.

"It will mean that it is easier to monitor potential terrorists here, and it will also mean... that it is easier to prosecute the preachers of hate who create the potential terrorists."

Abbott told parliament about 100 Australians were supporting jihadists who had traveled to the Middle East to fight with recruitment and funding from home.

Some 20 jihadists who fought with terrorist groups in the region had also returned to Australia, Abbott added.

"The best way to deal with returning foreign fighters is to stop them leaving in the first place... and I'm able to inform the House that some 70 Australian passports have been canceled to stop terrorists or potential terrorists from traveling."

The new law, which was passed by the lower House of Representatives on Thursday with bipartisan support, came as the Labor opposition raised concerns that another national security measure passed in September could see journalists jailed for up to 10 years.

Attorney-General George Brandis refuted the concerns, saying that the legislation was instead "intended to deal with a Snowden-type situation".

Documents leaked by U.S. intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden included reports in November that Australian spies tried to tap the phones of former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle, damaging relations between the two countries.

Source: Agence France Presse

********

Abbott government agrees to delay data retention bill until next year

Parliament will not vote on the bill to force telcos to store Australians’ metadata until a bipartisan committee reports

Daniel Hurst, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 October 2014 09.21 GMT   

The Abbott government has agreed to delay a parliamentary vote on mandatory data retention until next year, while digital rights groups warned the scheme would create “enormous honeypots” of sensitive information about millions of Australians.

The government presented a bill to parliament on Thursday that would require Australian telcos and internet service providers to store data about their customers’ activities for two years, but it will not be subject to a vote until after a bipartisan committee completes an inquiry.

The law will allow the storage of internet protocol (IP) addresses assigned to customers and who they emailed, but not their web-browsing history or the content of their emails.

It will allow the storage of details about phone customers’ calls, including the numbers contacted and the time, date, duration.

The communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the attorney general, George Brandis, argued such “metadata” was a crucial investigative tool for law-enforcement agencies, and vowed to negotiate with Labor on the timeframes for the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security.

It is understood the government has agreed that the reporting date should be next year, but negotiations on the date are continuing. The government has suggested a three-month inquiry.

Labor’s communications spokesman, Jason Clare, said the bill was “complex and controversial and broader than national security”.

“It involves privacy concerns from everyone that’s got a mobile phone or access to the internet, and potential cost concerns,” he told the ABC.

“Our view is it needs to be subject to serious scrutiny, and we’ve made that point to the government today. We’ve said this shouldn’t be passed through the parliament in the next few weeks, it needs a couple of months of consideration by the parliamentary committee, and the government’s agreed to that.”

The executive officer of Electronic Frontiers Australia, Jon Lawrence, said laws forcing telcos and internet service providers to retain of data of all Australians were “unnecessary and disproportionate”, likening it to “speculative surveillance”.

“We’re not opposed to targeted surveillance,” he said. “We are opposed to indiscriminate society-wide capturing of huge honeypots of valuable data in case it’s needed later.”

Lawrence said it was inevitable that there would be data breaches, whether by hacking or a disgruntled system administrator. “The only secure data is data that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Lawrence also raised concerns about the costs of forcing telcos and internet service providers to store data that they may not have a commercial need to retain. “As taxpayers or consumers, we’re going to pay for it one way or another,” he said.

The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the government would “impose a surveillance tax on the entire Australian population” and could expect “a very serious campaign” against the plans.

Turnbull said he expected “to make a substantial contribution” to the companies’ implementation and operational costs, but the government did “not have a final figure at this point”.

“We’re asking these companies to do things that they don’t have a business need to do and there is an expense,” he said. “There are ballpark figures being thrown around but they are at this stage not of sufficient accuracy for me to be citing.”

Turnbull said securing the data safely was “the responsibility of the telcos and of course they’re very alert to data security already and very sophisticated in that regard”. He indicated the government was preparing separate legislation to strengthen telecommunications security.

Brandis said law enforcement agencies already could access metadata, but this depended on telecommunications providers storing the information of their own volition.

He said changing business practices and technology meant some metadata was no longer being stored, or would no longer be stored. Brandis said a mandatory scheme was required to prevent “a very significant degradation of Australia’s counter-terrorism and general crime-fighting capabilities”.


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« Reply #16477 on: Today at 07:03 AM »

Burkina Parliament Set Ablaze in Protests over President

by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 October 2014, 12:24

Angry demonstrators went on the rampage in Burkina Faso on Thursday, setting parliament ablaze in a surge of violence that forced the government to scrap a vote on controversial plans to allow President Blaise Compaore to extend his 27-year rule.

Hundreds of people broke through a heavy security cordon and stormed the National Assembly building in the capital Ouagadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars, before attacking the national television headquarters.

One man was killed in the chaos that erupted in the poor west African nation shortly before lawmakers were due to vote on the controversial legislation, AFP correspondents said.

The government, facing its worst crisis since a wave of mutinies shook the country in 2011, later announced it was calling off the vote but it was not immediately clear if this was a temporary move.

Black smoke billowed out of smashed windows at the parliament building, where several offices were ravaged by flames, including the speaker's office, although the main chamber so far appeared to be unscathed.

Several hundred protesters also broke into the headquarters of the national television station RTB, pillaging equipment and smashing cars, the correspondents said.

The ruling party headquarters in Burkina Faso's second city of Bobo Dioulasso and city hall was also torched by protesters, witnesses said.

"The president must deal with the consequences," said Benewende Sankara, one of the leaders of the opposition which had called for the people to march on parliament over the Compaore law.

The country has been tense for days in the run-up to Thursday's vote over the constitutional changes, which the European Union had warned could jeopardize stability.

Police were out in force around the parliament after mass rallies called by the opposition earlier this week but failed to stop the onslaught despite using tear gas against the protesters.

The European Union has urged the government to scrap the legislation, warning that it could "jeopardize... stability, equitable development and democratic progress", and had called for all sides to refrain from violence.

Several thousand protesters had marched through the capital on Wednesday, the day after street battles erupted during a mass rally by hundreds of thousands of people against what they see as a constitutional coup by supporters of Compaore.

The legislature had been due to examine a proposed amendment that would allow Compaore, who took power in a coup in 1987, to run for re-election in November next year.

"October 30 is Burkina Faso's Black Spring, like the Arab Spring," said Emile Pargui Pare, an official from the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), a young and influential opposition party.

Government spokesman Alain Edouard Traore issued a statement Wednesday hailing the "vitality" of Burkina Faso's democracy despite what he termed anti-government "misbehavior".

Compaore's bid to cling to power has angered the opposition and much of the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of the population of almost 17 million is under 25.

Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and -- with the poor former French colony stagnating at 183rd out of 186 countries on the U.N. human development index -- many have had enough.

The situation is being closely watched across Africa where at least four heads of state are preparing or considering similar changes to stay in power, from Burundi to Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in the coup in which his former friend and one of Africa's most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.

The 63-year-old has remained in power since then, re-elected president four times since 1991 -- to two seven-year and two five-year terms.

In 2005, constitutional limits were introduced and Compaore is coming to the end of his second five-year term.

The opposition fears the planned new rules would enable Compaore to seek re-election not just once, but three more times, paving the way for up to 15 more years in power.

The third largest party in parliament had said at the weekend it would back the amendment, which would have given the ruling party the two-thirds majority needed to make the change without resorting to a referendum as first promised.

Protesters have erected barricades and burned tyres in the capital since the proposal was announced on October 21.

Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the landlocked country became independent from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso ("the land of upright men") in 1984.

Source: Agence France Presse


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« Reply #16478 on: Today at 07:06 AM »


Tunisia election results: Nida Tunis wins most seats, sidelining Islamists

Secularists rule out unity government with Ennahda party after winning 85 seats and the right to form government

Associated Press
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 October 2014 05.51 GMT      

A liberal party with ties to the deposed regime has taken the most seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections, leaving the once-dominant Islamists running a close second, the country’s election commission has announced after the completion of final counting.

The Nida Tunis (Tunis Calls) party, running on an explicitly anti-Islamist platform, won 85 of the 217 seats in parliament, giving it the right to name a prime minister and lead a coalition government.

The Ennahda party, which had previously dominated the parliament on a platform of moderate Islamism, won 69 seats.

Since overthrowing its dictator in 2011 and kicking off the Arab Spring pro-democracy wave Tunisia has been buffeted by economic turmoil and terrorist attacks.

Analysts described Sunday’s election as a referendum on the Islamist-led coalition’s stormy two years in office and punishment for a poor economic performance and unfulfilled expectations of the revolution.

Nida Tunis is led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran politician who previously served as foreign minister in the 1980s and parliament speaker in the early 1990s under later deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The party, which includes businessmen, trade unionists and politicians from the old regime, has all but ruled out forming a coalition with the Islamists, describing it as “against their nature”, and will turn to a collection of smaller parties to garner the necessary 109-seat majority.

Running a distant third was the Free Patriotic Union of Slim Rihai, a millionaire football club owner and political neophyte, with 16 seats.

In fourth place came the leftwing coalition of parties known as the Popular Front, which had two of its members assassinated by extremists in 2013.

The liberal Afek Tounes came in fifth place with eight seats. The remaining 24 seats were split among another dozen small parties.

Election Commission head Chafik Sarsar said Nida Tunis lost one seat in the southern city of Kasserine following reports of widespread election violations by its partisans in that city.

Tunisia’s transition to democracy has remained broadly on track while Libya and Syria have descended into civil war and Egypt’s military overthrew the elected post-revolution president.

Despite three years of political wrangling, economic turmoil and a rising number of terrorist attacks, Tunisian politicians from different parties managed to work together to pass a new constitution and hold elections for a permanent government.

*********

The Tunisian election result isn’t simply a victory for secularism over Islamism

The battle between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda is more complex than enlightened secularists versus backwards Islamists

Monica Marks   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 29 October 2014 11.27 GMT   

A self-styled, secular, modernist party called Nidaa Tounes won against the Islamist Ennahda party in the Tunisian election this week. For many, the subsequent headline – “Secularist party wins Tunisia elections” – will seem more impressive than the fact Tunisia just completed its second genuinely competitive, peaceful elections since 2011.

Indeed, in a region wracked by extremism and civil war, the secularists’ victory will strike many as further proof that Tunisia is moving forward and is the sole bright spot in a gloomy region. Some may prematurely celebrate, yet again, the death of political Islam, arguing that Tunisians achieved through the ballot box what Egyptians achieved through a popular coup, rejecting the Brotherhood and its cousin-like movements once and for all. We should exercise caution, however, in labelling Nidaa Tounes’s victory part of a seamless sweep of democratic achievements, or seeing Sunday’s vote as a clear referendum against all varieties of political Islam.

Despite feeling kinship with the party because of its secular label, westerners understand surprisingly little about Nidaa Tounes, mainly because they’ve tended to hold the magnifying glass of critical inquiry up to Islamists but not secularists over the past three years. Counter-intuitively, Nidaa Tounes’s internal structure is noticeably more authoritarian than Ennahda, which boasts representative decision-making structures from its grassroots to national leadership.

Nidaa Tounes, founded in mid-2012 by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran of both the Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes, is described, even by members of its executive bureau, as a patchwork of political tendencies – an electoral front comprised primarily of leftists and individuals associated with Ben Ali’s now-dismembered RCD party and organised around its one charismatic leader, Beji Caid Essebsi. Parties are united almost exclusively by opposition to Ennahda, which they caricature as retrogressive, uncultured and uncompromising.

Leftist fears that the RCDists would be over-represented in internal elections prevented Nidaa Tounes from holding a party congress. Instead the party has made key decisions – including nominating Essebsi as presidential candidate and selecting its parliamentary lists – in a top-down fashion, prompting a series of resignations this summer. Party insiders have also raised concern about the prominent role of Essebi’s son, Hafedh, and say Nidaa Tounes might unravel if Essebsi either fails to be elected in the 26 November presidential vote or dies while Nidaa is in power. Such concerns raise important questions about the party’s sustainability and whether it will be able to overcome its own lack of internal democracy to consolidate Tunisia’s newborn democratic structures.

Critics of Nidaa Tounes fear the party may resurrect Tunisia’s traditional model of one-man paternalistic politics along with Ben Ali-era security practices, potentially ostracising Islamists and anti-RCD activists from political life under the banner of combatting terrorism. Such prospects particularly concern Ennahda activists, an estimated 30,000 of whom endured politically motivated detention and abuses including torture during the early 1990s. Already, under the technocratic government of the current prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, more than 155 non-governmental organisations were arbitrarily closed this summer and youths, some of whom identify as Salafists, have complained of arbitrary police round-ups justified by reference to the terrorist threat, which Tunisian media emphasises ceaselessly. Some Ennahda members, who decried their leadership’s opposition to a law that would have excluded ex-RCD figures, including Essebsi himself from competing in elections, now fear Essebsi’s predicted presidential victory could pave the way for a securitised crackdown not just against Salafists, but against Islamists in general.

Nidaa Tounes’s win on Sunday, however, suggests that many Tunisians find its discourse of statesmanship and experience an attractive alternative to the disappointments of an Ennahda-led government. Broken promises, paired with a struggling economy and media accusations that Ennahda was single-handedly responsible for extremist violence has fuelled cynicism and regime nostalgia. Everyday issues such as poor rubbish collection and widespread joblessness prompt some to say things were better under Ben Ali, and that Nidaa Tounes – a party whose leadership hails from Tunisia’s traditional, coastal political elite – could offer much-needed know-how.

Though neither Ennahda nor Nidaa Tounes managed to communicate clear policy platforms to address Tunisia’s thorniest challenges – namely economic growth, security sector reform, and judicial reform – Nidaa benefited from disappointment in Ennahda’s post-revolutionary governance, reviving a Bourguibist model of enlightened technocratic management. That model feels familiar here in Tunisia, a country used to its leaders hailing from prominent coastal families – a decidedly different demographic than comprises the leadership of Ennahda and its main secular ally, CPR, many of whose leaders also come from Tunisia’s long-marginalised interior and south.

Significantly lower voter turnout than 2011, combined with victory for Nidaa, suggests multiple dynamics are at play: increased voter cynicism regarding the ability of political elites to solve important local problems, hope that Nidaa Tounes might represent the best alternative to three years of disappointing governance, and the beginnings of old regime nostalgia – a phenomenon common to countries undergoing early transition from authoritarian rule. rule. Especially anemic turnout amongst young people – many of whom say Tunisian politics is a battle between aged dinosaurs from an outdated era – indicates parties are still struggling to craft vibrant political visions that speak across the generational divide.

Whether Nidaa Tounes crafts an inclusive coalition or drifts toward authoritarian models of decades past remains to be seen. For now, observers should applaud Tunisia for successfully holding another election, and resist the simplistic tendency to frame Tunisia’s transition as a conflict between enlightened “democratic” secularists and backwards Islamists. The reality is far more complex.

Presidential elections featuring dozens of candidates are set for 23 November.


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« Reply #16479 on: Today at 07:10 AM »


UAE's leading role against Isis reveals its wider ambitions

Emiratis, who have played a role in US-led attacks on Islamic State, are increasingly assertive in fightback against jihadism

Ian Black in Abu Dhabi
The Guardian, Thursday 30 October 2014   

Major Mariam al-Mansouri, a female pilot with the UAE air force, played the starring role in a publicity stunt last month when she was photographed in the cockpit of the F16 fighter she had flown in the first wave of US-led attacks on targets of the Islamic State in Syria (Isis).

Thumbs up and beaming for the camera, it was a striking image that combined empowered Muslim women, the Arab fightback against jihadi extremism – and the pride of the small but wealthy Gulf state that is flaunting a new-found assertiveness and promoting its political agenda in a region in profound turmoil.

Operating from the al-Dhafrah airbase in the desert south of Abu Dhabi, Mansouri and other Emirati pilots have flown more combat sorties than any of the other four Arab participants in Barack Obama’s campaign to destroy Isis. Precise figures remain secret and the communiques issued by US central command, which initially mentioned individual contributions by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, now only refer collectively to “partner nations” in Operation Inherent Resolve. Diplomats also hint that only a handful of Arab aircraft are involved and that the number of missions is already declining. The symbolism, in any event, probably counts for far more than any military impact.

Still, the UAE’s leading role in the war on Isis is of a piece with its wider ambitions in a Middle East transformed by the Arab spring. Egypt has been weakened by turmoil since the overthrow first of Hosni Mubarak and then of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. Turkey is disliked by conservatives for backing Islamists, while Syria and Iraq are ravaged by bloodshed and sectarianism. Saudi Arabia, the autocratic Sunni giant of the Gulf, is slow, cautious and led by ageing royals.

The Emiratis, by contrast, are dynamic, confident and unapologetic – adding plans to send an unmanned space probe to Mars to accomplishments that include the world’s tallest building and largest indoor ski resort. “Now they are sticking their heads above the parapet,” said a western diplomat. “They are highlighting their successful model and they want to counter the Muslim Brotherhood line that the Islamists are the solution.”

Emiratis have deftly woven themselves into the fabric of US defence strategy. UAE forces serve in Afghanistan – the only Arab state to do so. But they operate independently too. In August UAE aircraft based in Egypt bombed Islamist targets in Libya – though the operation was never officially avowed, a practice borrowed from the Israelis (with whom they are said to maintain discreet contact). Its F-16E/F Desert Falcons are even more advanced than those in service with the US – in part because the UAE invested millions in R&D. It wins praise from American officials who note the recent introduction of conscription and have nicknamed it the “Sparta” of the Gulf – a catchy if reductionist label.

“Whether one agrees with it or not, the UAE’s policy is the most coherent of all the Gulf states,” argues Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “This small country has gained a seat at the table by developing serious military capabilities. Compared to others in the Gulf, there is unity of purpose and effort in the Emirati national security system. It helps that the big domestic issues, notably succession, have been sorted out.”

Fighting Islamists at home and abroad – and thus supporting fellow autocrats – is the centrepiece of the official Emirati world view as laid down by Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince, and articulated by Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs. “Instead of being moderated through engagement, so-called moderate Islamists are increasingly being drafted into the ranks of radical groups,” Gargash declared at the inaugural session of the recent Abu Dhabi Strategic Dialogue – an event that attested to the country’s agenda-setting ambition.

The UAE, the UK’s second biggest trading partner in the Arab world, was instrumental in persuading the British government to conduct a controversial review of Brotherhood activities – apparently hoping it would lead to proscription.

Emirati opinion-formers sing the same tune on this issue – dismissing the argument that outlawing Islamists who embrace parliamentary democracy and shun violence risks leaving a vacuum that will be filled by jihadis such as al-Qaida and Isis. “It is true that the Brotherhood is not the same as Isis,” concedes Mohamed al-Otaibi, editor of the National, Abu Dhabi’s government-owned English language daily. ”But the concern is that if the MB came to power you would get a larger Isis element. And in the end the MB does not deliver. People in the UAE are happy with the way things are.”

Emirati citizens – officially 18% of the country’s total population – enjoy the fruits of high economic growth, free education, generous scholarships and health care. Sheikhs can be petitioned and a federal national council has limited powers. But political parties are banned. The Brotherhood was purged in the 1990s and the conviction of 69 Islamists and others on charges of seeking to overthrow the government was criticised harshly by human rights groups, though not by western allies. Social media is closely monitored and dissidents are routinely detained. Treatment of migrant labour attracts regular censure from NGOs.

The UAE’s assertiveness, suggests Mishaal Gergawi, who runs the Delma Institute thinktank from high up in one of Abu Dhabi’s many glittering towers, is driven by its new-found capacity to participate in global as well as regional affairs. The other factor is its no-holds-barred competition with Qatar – the maverick neighbour that has done so much to champion the Brotherhood. Both countries helped rebels fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in 2011, but Qatar backed Islamist militias while the Emiratis supported rival nationalists. The mysterious air strikes on Tripoli in August took their hostility to a new level.

Emirati involvement in Egypt has also been driven by rivalry with Qatar, whose al-Jazeera TV became an outspoken cheerleader for Morsi and the Brotherhood and continues to highlight the crackdown by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – who is lionised in Abu Dhabi. UAE media and PR firms focus intensely on exposing and countering Doha’s influence. The ugly diplomatic row that turned the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council against Qatar has cooled, but it is far from over.

With the Saudis, the Emiratis have given billions of dollars to bail out the Egyptian economy and promote reforms.

“Jobs and growth are the most effective safeguards against radical ideologies and sectarian hatred,” said Gargash. Gergawi goes further: “If the UAE succeeds in turning Egypt around the multiplier effect will be enormous,” he said. “It’s THE bet. We’re going all in.”

Aversion to Islamism in all forms has meant that UAE policies towards the war in Syria have differed from those of its neighbours. The Qataris and Saudis, individuals and governments, both spent vast amounts funding Islamist groups, some of which morphed into Isis over time. The Emiratis want Bashar al-Assad to go – but not at any price; they have backed only moderate opposition fighters approved by the US and other western countries.

Emiratis are more trusting of the US than the Saudis. But an undercurrent of concern about Obama’s determination, the limitations of his strategy, the risk of a Sunni backlash and his bid for US rapprochement with Iran is clearly audible – even as Mansouri and her fellow pilots are bombing the jihadis.

“You look at the Americans and you do wonder what they are going to do next,” said Gergawi. “Two hundred thousand people have already been killed in Syria and then four westerners are beheaded and they start to fight Isis. The difference between Bashar and Isis is that he doesn’t upload YouTube videos. It’s incredibly upsetting for the UAE to have to attack Arabs. It’s a little bit challenging. But what else are we going to do?”


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« Reply #16480 on: Today at 07:12 AM »

Israel’s closure of Al-Aqsa mosque a ‘declaration of war,’ Palestinian president says

Agence France-Presse
30 Oct 2014 at 06:34 ET                   

Israel’s closure of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors following the shooting of a Jewish hardliner is tantamount to a “declaration of war,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Thursday.

“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque this morning,” he told AFP.

The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the most sacred spot for Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.

Although non-Muslims can visit the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could disturb the fragile status quo.

“This decision is a dangerous act and a blatant challenge that will lead to more tension and instability and will create a negative and dangerous atmosphere,” he said.

“The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks.”

Israel ordered the compound closed to all visitors, both Jewish and Muslim, early on Thursday after an overnight shooting incident in which a man on a motorbike tried to gun down an ultranationalist Jewish activist who has long worked to secure Jewish prayer rights at the Al-Aqsa plaza.

Several hours later, police stormed the house of the suspected Palestinian gunman, sparking a gunfight in which he was killed.

Arab east Jerusalem, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized internationally, has been wracked by violence since early July, with clashes erupting between stone throwers and police on an almost daily basis.


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« Reply #16481 on: Today at 07:15 AM »


Ebola ‘may have reached turning point’

Dr Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust says international community is belatedly taking actions necessary to stem tide of disease

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 17.17 GMT   
   
The Ebola epidemic in west Africa may have reached a turning point, according to the director of the Wellcome Trust, which is funding an unprecedented series of fast-tracked trials of vaccines and drugs against the disease.

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Data appears to show that the number of burials and lab tests requested for the virus are down and the numbers of empty beds in treatment centres are up - there have been reports of as many as a hundred. Aylward said huge efforts to educate and inform the community on the risks of Ebola and how to avoid infection and bringing in safe burial practices may have made the difference.

But infections could shoot up again, as they did in Guinea. “The danger is that instead of a trend that takes us down to zero, we end up with an oscillating pattern,” he said. Getting to zero will involve grindingly hard work, identifying every Ebola case and tracing all the contacts. Without that effort, Ebola will remain at a lower but still dangerous level.

There have now been 13,703 cases, said Aylward, and he expected there would have been over 5,000 officially recorded deaths, although that number is not yet confirmed. Many cases and deaths are unrecorded. The death rate is 70%, although slightly better in treatment centres.

The Wellcome Trust announced it was funding the first human trials of a third vaccine, to start imminently, so that it can be tested in health workers and burial teams in west Africa in December, alongside two others.

The vaccine, called rVSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. So far it has been tested only in monkeys, but in the hope it could prove effective, 800 vials have been donated by the Canadian government. The safety trials – in which people at no risk of catching Ebola are vaccinated to ensure there are no serious side-effects – will start in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya. The Wellcome Trust is donating £3.1m to enable the collection of safety data, overseen by the World Health Organisation.

The Wellcome Trust’s experts describe the VSV vaccine candidate as one of the most promising. There are two others that are more advanced in clinical trials - one made by the British pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline and the other by Johnson & Johnson in the US. Both will move into trials in west Africa in December.

Farrar says the grounds for hope rest on three developments. “The first advance has been a step change in urgency from the rich world, which is finally starting to commit resources and people on the scale required,” he says. The EU has now nearly doubled its funding to €1bn (£790m) and large UK and US investments “mean that money should no longer be a barrier”. The WHO, initially so slow to respond, is now showing leadership.

“Finally and potentially most significantly, vaccine development has changed up a gear,” Farrar says. A safe and effective vaccine could transform the situation.

But he concludes that the huge effort must continue.

“The pressure must not let up. The constructive diplomacy of recent days has not saved a single life, nor protected anybody from infection. The epidemic’s exponential curve means it will get worse before it gets better. We have not yet begun to control Ebola, and the new interventions could yet fail. But if the world lives up to its promises, the past week may come to be seen as the turning point.”

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

Third possible Ebola vaccine to be sped through human safety trials

Vaccine has so far been tested only in monkeys, but human trials set to start in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya

Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 15.41 GMT   

A third potential Ebola vaccine could be tested on healthworkers in west Africa in December following the announcement of funding to speed it through its first-ever human safety trials.

The vaccine, called rVSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. So far it has been tested only in monkeys, but in the hope that it could prove effective, 800 vials have been donated by the Canadian government. The safety trials – in which people at no risk of catching Ebola are vaccinated to ensure there are no serious side-effects – will start imminently in Germany, Switzerland, Gabon and Kenya.

The Wellcome Trust is donating £3.1m to enable the collection of safety data, overseen by the World Health Organisation.

“Several crucial pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place in terms of the global leadership and action required to turn this epidemic around,” said Prof Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust. “Communities in west Africa continue to suffer from the crisis with remarkable fortitude and finally the rich world has committed significant finance and resources to support critical public health measures, and progress in the search for treatments is encouraging.

“Now, accelerated vaccine development is being properly prioritised too, so we have the best possible chance of a safe and effective vaccine in time to transform our prospects of containing Ebola.”

The Wellcome Trust’s experts describe the VSV vaccine candidate as one of the most promising. There are two others that are more advanced in clinical trials – one made by the British pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline and the other by Johnson & Johnson in the US. Both will move into trials in west Africa, probably in health workers and burial teams, in December.

The Canadian vaccine uses a weakened form of live vesicular stomatitis virus, a pathogen found in livestock that has been used in other vaccines and elicits a strong response from the body’s immune system. It will have been modified so that the gene for the outer protein of VSV is replaced with a segment of the gene for the outer protein of the Zaire Ebola virus species.

Although it is expected to produce a good immune response against the Ebola virus, there are questions over the possible side-effects, which could include fever – one of the earliest symptoms of Ebola and also malaria.


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« Reply #16482 on: Today at 07:17 AM »


Dilma Rousseff has a second chance to invigorate Brazil’s foreign policy

The South American giant needs to live up to its ideals on the global stage, and civil society activists have a role to play

The Guardian
10/30/2014

After an election campaign that was more unpredictable and nerve-wracking than Brazil’s popular soap operas, President Dilma Rousseff will lead the country for another four years.

Brazil’s government has defined its foreign policy as “active and prominent”. This is a legacy of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who wanted to lead Brazil towards greater autonomy and relevance in the global order. He wanted Brazil to contribute to a more democratic and multipolar world; diversify its partnerships – with particular focus on countries in the global south and the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); and promote South American integration.

However, these initiatives were not without their tensions and contradictions. Rousseff appeared to give less priority to foreign policy and some of the achievements of Lula’s administration stagnated under her. What should she focus on now the election is out of the way?
Regional integration

The global economic crisis played a major role in slowing moves towards strengthening regional bodies such as the Union of South American Nations and the Common Market of the South.

Given its size and influence, Brazil should seize the opportunity to be both a political and economic engine to trigger a different and more collective answer to crisis and strengthen the region in the face of an increasingly globalised and volatile economy (for example, Russia increased food imports from Brazil as a result of Europe’s sanctions over its actions on Ukraine). Moreover, its initiatives need to go beyond economic integration and promote people-centred integration.
Development financing

While Brazil should continue to pressure the US Congress to approve the changes negotiated over five years ago with the G20 on a larger voting quota at the IMF, it needs to move beyond traditional sources of finance available from the Bretton Woods institutions. The Brics development bank, announced in July, is one obvious space in which to do this.

Brazil’s record has been unimpressive in relation to similar initiatives such as the IBSA Fund and the Bank of the South. If it truly aspires to alternative approaches to development, and hopes to challenge this northern-dominated sector, Rousseff’s administration will need to make this a priority.
South-south cooperation

One area in which Brazil has been prominent politically is south-south cooperation, promoting collaboration on politics, economics, society, culture, the environment and technology. However, there have been persistent challenges. Brazil’s budget for cooperation initiatives has decreased significantly since 2010, while there have been concerning trends blurring the boundaries between cooperation, trade and investment. The ProSavana project in Mozambique is a perfect example, where the Brazilian government has been accused of exporting domestic contradictions.

Brazil needs a strong agency to coordinate its efforts; ways to ensure transparency; and spaces for civil society to be involved. Rousseff has to prove that south-south cooperation really is different from north-south cooperation, as both she and Lula have declared.
Democratising foreign policy

Civil society has been calling for foreign policy to be more democratic by creating a participatory council linked to Brazil’s foreign ministry. This is in the context of a wider effort to incorporate social participation across government, and has even been agreed, in principle, by foreign minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. However, negotiations reached a standstill.

Brazil’s foreign policy in the past 12 years has taken a new turn. The country has gained a place at the global table. It has played its cards as both a southern and a rising power. It is Rousseff’s responsibility to lead a public dialogue to define which identity better fits the wakening giant.

• Bianca Suyama is executive coordinator at ArticulaçãoSUL and adviser to the Brazil and the South Observatory. Gonzalo Berrón is director of projects at FES-Brasil. Both are members of the International Relations Reflection Group


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« Reply #16483 on: Today at 07:23 AM »


Flying car approaches liftoff as most advanced prototype yet is unveiled

Creators say AeroMobil’s Flying Roadster 3.0 could become regular mode of transport for commuters

Philip Oltermann in Vienna
The Guardian, Wednesday 29 October 2014 16.22 GMT      

With its sportscar cockpit and dragonfly wings that fold in neatly behind the cabin, it looks like something straight out of the Batcave or Q’s secret laboratory. But the creators of AeroMobil’s Flying Roadster insist their innovation is more than just a boy’s toy dreamt up by science fiction fans. The time of the flying car, they announced at Wednesday’s unveiling of their most advanced prototype, has come.

Speaking at Pioneers festival, a two-day entrepreneurship and digital technology conference in Vienna, AeroMobil’s chief designer, Stefan Klein, and CEO, Juraj Vaculik, said their innovation could “change personal transport on a global scale”. Their flying car, Vaculik said, could eventually become a regular mode of transport for commuters and middle-distance travellers, especially in countries with underdeveloped road infrastructure.

The Flying Roadster 3.0 prototype has a top groundspeed of 124mph and a flight travel range of 430 miles or up to four hours – enough to reach Aberdeen from London.

The length of a luxury saloon car, the vehicle can be parked in regular parking slots and fuelled at normal petrol stations – though once in gliding flight mode it is more energy-efficient than road cars.

AeroMobil admitted the vehicle was unlikely to live up to the flying car’s ultimate sci-fi promise. With at least a 50m strip of land required for landing and 200m for take-off, even flying cars can get stuck in traffic. A vertical take-off, even if physically possible, would instantly use up half the fuel.

But Klein insisted that his invention did not require an airport or even a concrete runway. In spite of the car’s low centre of gravity, he said, the Flying Roadster could land on stretches of lawn or even farmland.

If scepticism about AeroMobil’s vision persists, it is partly because the flying car has been part of visions of the future for so long that it almost feels retro. A first patent was registered in 1903, and Waldo Waterman’s “aerobile” went on its maiden flight in 1937. In 1940, Henry Ford prophesied that “a combination of airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come”.

Rapid advances in modern technology and relaxation of regulations in the sport aeroplane aviation industry have recently given the idea a new lease of life. US company Terrafugia has had a flying prototype of a “roadable plane” for five years, yet the wait has continued. Terrafugia CEO, Carl Dietrich, told the Guardian that it would be “probably another two to three years” until there was a controlled launch, with a ballpark price tag of $279,000 (£172,000). AeroMobil, likewise, remain vague on when the car will be production-ready.

The European version of the flying car does have an added emotional value. Former sculptor Klein started experimenting with his father on a prototype in their garage in communist Czechoslovakia more than 25 years ago – an undertaking which, as he later found out, had been monitored by the state intelligence service.

In 2010, he teamed up with entrepreneur Vaculik, a former theatre director and student leader in Czecheslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, in order to find ways to commercialise the concept. The current prototype was built over ten months, with a team of 12 people, including Klein’s 20-year-old son.

The dream of overcoming borders, said Klein, had always motivated his work on the vehicle: “In the Czechoslovakia, we got very good training as pilots, but we didn’t have the freedom to go anywhere. Nowadays I can use an app to check in my flight on the way to the airfield and I’m in Croatia in ten minutes. For me the freedom to move is really in the DNA of this project.”

The dream of door-to-door travel by flying car, he said, also hinged on Europe sticking to the principle of free movement. The reintroduction of border checks in the Schengen area would route all inter-state flights via airports.

In the long term, Europe’s first flying car may have a better chance of success outside Europe. While building roads remains expensive and air is still free, countries with less developed infrastructure but less tightly regulated airspace, such as Africa, China or Russia, are more likely to take a punt.

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/video/2014/oct/29/flying-car-prototype-unveiled-vienna-technology-show-video


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