Yanukovych’s Son Wanted By Kyiv On Fraud, Forgery Charges

The Ukrainian Security Service has added the eldest son of former President Viktor Yanukovych to a wanted list.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry announced on April 18 that an arrest warrant for Oleksandr Yanukovych has been issued on charges of forgery and fraud.

The minstry said that a court had approved the arrest warrant.

Oleksandr Yanukovych’s whereabouts has been unknown since February 23, around the same time his father fled to Russia as deadly antigovernment protests in Kyiv reached their highest point.

Viktor Yanukovych is also wanted by the current Kyiv government on charges of “mass murder” for allegedly ordering the shooting of protesters in downtown Kyiv in February.
 

Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Fire Breaks Out At Pakistani Weapons Depot

A fire broke out at a military weapons depot overnight on April 18 in Pakistan’s Khyber district near the border with Afghanistan.

The army said the blaze at the depot in the Landi Kotal area was the result of an accident.

However, local residents and intelligence officials said they heard gunfire in the middle of the night before the fire broke out.

They said it appeared the military base had come under attack.

A Radio Mashaal correspondent living in the area reported heavy explosions were heard throughout the night.

No injuries were immediately reported.

All schools in the Landi Kotal area were closed on April 18.

The incident happened just a day after the Taliban announced an end to their 40-day long cease-fire with the Pakistani government.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Japan’s tertiary index -1.0% vs. 0.2% forecast

Investing.com – Japan’s tertiary industry activity index fell unexpectedly last month, official data showed on Thursday.

In a report, METI said that Japanese tertiary industry activity index fell to a seasonally adjusted -1.0%, from 0.2% in the preceding month whose figure was revised down from 0.9%.

Analysts had expected Japanese tertiary industry activity index to rise 0.2% last month.

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Japan’s tertiary index -1.0% vs. 0.2% forecast

Investing.com – Japan’s tertiary industry activity index fell unexpectedly last month, official data showed on Thursday.

In a report, METI said that Japanese tertiary industry activity index fell to a seasonally adjusted -1.0%, from 0.2% in the preceding month whose figure was revised down from 0.9%.

Analysts had expected Japanese tertiary industry activity index to rise 0.2% last month.

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Homs civilians in danger as deal breaks down

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, has said that a deal that allowed some civilians to leave Homs has broken down.

Brahimi’s comments came as activists said on Thursday that barrel bombs were being dropped by government forces targeting opposition-held areas in Homs after Syrian troops and pro-regime militiamen fought their way into the neighbourhoods during the course of the week, after besieging them for nearly two years. 

The special envoy said on Thursday that Syria’s government and opposition groups should resume talks to lift the siege on Homs.

“We urge all the parties to return to the negotiating table and complete the deal which was on the verge of being signed,” he said.

Brahimi added that the discussions had been well underway between the Syrian government and “a negotiating committee representing the civilians and fighters still trapped in the Old city of Homs as well as the inhabitants of the Al-Waer neighborhood”.

Members of the UN Security Council have also expressed “grave concern” over the plight of civilians caught in fighting in the old quarter of Homs.

“It is imperative that those who want to leave Homs are able to do so quickly and safely

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN

Joy Ogwu, Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, who is serving as the council’s current president, said the council ”urged the immediate implementation” of a February resolution to improve humanitarian access in the country. 

She said council members also stand behind Brahimi call to resume negotiations to end the siege.

In a statement, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power appealed “to all those UN member states with influence on Damascus to pressure the regime to return to the negotiating table”. 

“It is imperative that those who want to leave Homs are able to do so quickly and safely,” she said.

Syrian ambassador Bachar Jaafari told reporters that only 170 civilians were trapped in Homs, alongside thousands of terrorists – the regime’s term for rebels. He said the civilians refused to leave.

Activists describe the bombardment as the worse in months. 

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Antakya, in Turkey, said losing Homs would be a major blow to the opposition.

“It is not just strategic territory – lying along a major crossroad between the north and south of the country. Losing Homs would hurt the morale of the opposition,” she said. 

Some of the biggest anti-government demonstrations originally took place in Homs, considered the capital of the rebellion, which began more than three years ago.

Rebel-held pockets have been under a siege for nearly two years, leading to dwindling food and medical supplies.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Forex

Investing.com –

Investing.com – The Japanese yen held flat on Friday in Asia in thin holiday trade that will carry over into Europe and the states with many trading centers closed as well.

USD/JPY traded at 102.43.

The Good Friday session sees markets in Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong and South Korea open.

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics is due to release property prices
for China’s 70 biggest cities for March at 0930 local (0130 GMT).

Overnight, upbeat U.S. regional factory and jobless claims reports erased the dollar’s losses against most major currencies, though Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish speech delivered on Wednesday still weighed on the currency.

The dollar narrowed earlier losses stemming from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish speech on Wednesday and rose on cheery U.S. data.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported earlier that its manufacturing index rose to 16.6 in April, the highest level since September, from 9.0 in March. Analysts had expected the index to tick up to 10.

Separately, the Labor Department reported that the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending April 12 rose by 2,000 to 304,000, better than analysts’ forecasts for a rise to 315,000.

The US Dollar Index, which tracks the performance of the greenback versus a basket of six other major currencies, was down 0.01% at 79.93.

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Iraq: The Road to Chaos

Members of Asaib Ahl al Haq, a Shiite militia, in Karbala, Iraq, March 21, 2014.Baghdad’s version of Tahrir Square is far shabbier than Cairo’s. It consists of a yellowed park, frequented by vagrants, and sits next to a crowded market, where second-hand appliances, sex videos, and penis enlargement pumps are sold. It was here that Iraq experienced its own Arab Spring in the first half of 2011. Almost every Friday, a few thousand people gathered at Baghdad’s Tahrir and in other public squares around the country, from the Shiite-dominated south to the Sunni regions of the north and west. Like their counterparts in Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, and Damascus, the demonstrators had grievances about the existing political order–complaints about human rights abuses, corruption, and the misuse of oil wealth; but also the lack of jobs, reliable electricity, clean water, and adequate healthcare.

Yet in another respect, the very fact that these peaceful protests were taking place seemed to show how much progress Baghdad had made since the end of the violent civil war in 2008; the protesters included both Shiites and Sunnis, and they were facing off against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, though a former political exile with a long history of involvement in Shiite political parties, had sought to appear as a non-sectarian figure running a new national government.

Now, as Iraq prepares for its first national election in four years on April 30, it is hard to imagine democracy activists rallying weekly in Iraqi streets. For months, suicide bombers have been dynamiting themselves in crowded Shiite markets, coffee shops, and funeral tents, while Shiite militias and government security forces have terrorized Sunni communities. The Iraqi state is breaking apart again: from the west in Anbar province, where after weeks of anarchic violence more than 380,000 people have fled their homes; to the east in Diyala province, where tit-for-tat sectarian killings are rampant; to the north in Mosul, where al-Qaeda-linked militants control large swathes of territory; to the south in Basra, home to Iraq’s oil riches, where Shiite militias are once more ascendant; to Iraq’s Kurds, who warn that the country is disintegrating and contemplate full independence from Baghdad.

More than 2,500 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the year, including nearly three hundred in the first ten days of April; in the capital itself, which has become a showcase for the country’s multiplying conflicts and uncontrolled violence, there have been several brazen attacks on government buildings, and a terrifying string of car bombings, including eight on April 9 alone.

In theory, this month’s parliamentary elections, which are being contested by parties from across the political spectrum, will allow voters to take a stand against extremism. While many Iraqis say they are disillusioned with their current leaders, however, few think their vote is likely to produce major changes: Most of the candidates play to the fears of their own sects, or seem too weak to change the currently hateful mood. Across Iraq, people seek diversions through a trip to a mall or coffee shop, half-expecting a fatal explosion, or they lock themselves away at home losing themselves in American movies and video games. Others seek solace in the sectarian fantasies now promoted by the elite political parties: the stories told by many Sunnis of Iran’s domination of Iraq through militias and political figures, and by the Shiite religious parties of a plot hatched in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey to destroy the Shia communities in Syria and Iraq.

On the surface, the speed with which Iraq’s new political order has fallen apart is a puzzle. Although bombings never stopped, there had been relative stability since the spring of 2008, when Maliki, emboldened by the successful US-backed Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda, known as the Awakening, set out to disband the Shiite militias endangering law and order in Basra and Baghdad. The campaign, supported by the Americans, produced a surge of patriotism among both Shiites and Sunnis. By 2010, when the country was preparing to stage its second national elections for a four-year government, Iraq seemed poised to cast off its divisions. Maliki, running for reelection, had learned to present himself as both staunchly Shiite and a leader for all Iraqis. Resisting pressure from other Shiite religious parties and Iran, he ran his own list of candidates, including Sunni tribesmen and secular politicians. His main competition was the Iraqiya bloc, headed by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who had briefly served as prime minister of Iraq’s interim government in 2004–2005; it was supported by many Sunnis and included the most popular Sunni political leaders.

Yet Maliki and his Shiite Islamist supporters were unable to shed their deep mistrust of those they believed had fought them in the past. Rather than being integrated into the political system, several dozen leaders of the Awakening ended up dead or in jail, or forced into exile. Take Mohamed Husayn Jasim, a former Sunni insurgent who joined the movement against al-Qaeda and then became the deputy governor of Diyala province, to the east of Baghdad. His reward was to be arrested on terrorism charges and sentenced to death. (He was released in 2013 when, in a final appeal, a judge found the charges were without merit.)

After the Awakening, al-Qaeda fighters had been forced to retreat to remote rural areas and were in disarray. But the arrest of Awakening leaders like Jasim created a security vacuum that extremist groups were quick to exploit. On a visit I made in the fall of 2010 to Jufr Sakr, a farm community south of Baghdad, residents said they did not dare turn in Sunni militant cells in their area because they did not trust the army and had no one from their own community who could protect them.

Meanwhile, instead of producing a decisive outcome, the 2010 election left the country deeply divided. The vote was a near draw between Maliki and Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, and it took nine months of negotiation and heavy involvement from both the Americans and Iranians to forge a new “national unity” government. According to the compromise reached, it was to be headed by Maliki with important cabinet positions allocated to Iraqiya, including the vice presidency and the ministries of finance and defense. Allawi himself would head a new military and political council, a step the US had strongly pushed for. But as soon as the new government was seated, Maliki refused to relinquish control of the defense and interior ministries, and thwarted the establishment of Allawi’s council. He eventually chased his Sunni vice president and finance minister away with the threat of arrest warrants. As Maliki saw it, his political survival depended in part on ruthlessly limiting his opponents’ power, and he could not leave himself exposed to enemies, whether Shiite Islamist rivals or members of the Sunni opposition.

A poster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, March, 2013.

In the early months of 2011, as popular uprisings raised hopes for democracy around the Middle East, Iraqis were inspired to make their own call for a more democratic government and for a time, it seemed possible that they might induce significant reforms. On February 25, 2011, when thousands of young Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and more than a dozen other cities, several local officials, including the governors of two Shiite provinces, were forced to resign. A few days later, Maliki, unnerved by the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, announced a hundred-day deadline for the government to weed out corruption and improve the delivery of services. Maliki’s Sunni and Shiite critics seized upon the protests. Rather than come together to fix Iraq’s myriad problems, however, each political party saw the demonstrations as a way to pressure its rivals. It was a pattern that would repeat again and again over the next four years as politicians bullied and embarrassed one another at the country’s expense.

That summer, the prime minister responded with authoritarian tactics. During the second Friday protest in Baghdad that June, Maliki supporters and plainclothes security agents descended upon the protesters and attacked them with clubs and knives. These roving bands of pro-Maliki men, who identified themselves as victims of terrorism, waved pictures of Allawi with a giant red X slashed across his face, while shouting “death to Baathists.” Iraqi soldiers stood by and officials from Maliki’s office toured the square in praise of their armed supporters, ignoring the violence.

Maliki understood that the Americans were getting ready to leave and that the American-sponsored rules that had been imposed after 2003 were temporary. Vice President Biden, who traveled to Iraq four times between January 2010 and January 2011 to promote a successful democratic transition, had stopped coming as the American military prepared for its final withdrawal. And during the June crackdown, the US embassy–which is right across the river from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square–remained silent.

By the fall, Maliki’s office was insinuating that his own Sunni-vice president, Tareq Hashimi, was running death squads, and stories were circulating that Hashimi and his fellow Sunni politicians, including finance minister Rafaa Issawi and Parliament speaker Usama Nujafi, were conspiring with Turkey and the Gulf states to bring down the new Shiite-led order. Upon his return from a triumphant visit to the White House that December to mark the formal US withdrawal, Maliki sent security forces to arrest Hashimi, who fled to Turkey, and to surround the homes of prominent Sunni officials inside the Green Zone.

Maliki’s popularity surged with Iraq’s Shiite majority, but he underestimated how much he had alienated mainstream Sunnis. Many Sunni leaders were embittered by their lack of voice after an election they believed they had won, and the uprising in neighboring Syria, which increasingly pitted Syria’s Sunni majority against its minority Alawite leadership, seemed to offer a more radical approach to change. Sunni politicians spoke in private of the creation of a “Sunni crescent ” on Iraq’s Western flank if Syria fell. They believed it would deter Maliki from carrying out raids in their communities. At the same time, they were aware that a Sunni-ruled Syria meant more oppressive policies from Baghdad and the Shiites, who feared international plots by Sunni Islamist groups to topple them.

In February 2013 I traveled to Anbar to spend a week with Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, the crown prince of Anbar’s largest tribal confederation. A hero of the Awakening, he had been one of the first to rise up against al-Qaeda in 2006, and had once posed for pictures with President Bush and then-Senator Obama. Now, however, he was throwing himself behind huge anti-government protests, which had erupted six weeks earlier after Maliki sent troops to arrest the bodyguards of the Sunni finance minister Issawi. Sheikh Ali drove his own jeep from meeting to meeting with tribal figures, a small silver machine gun strapped to his side, enlisting support for the protesters’ demands to free tens of thousands of Sunni detainees and to end discrimination against his sect. During my visit, he also invited Shiite tribal leaders to the demonstrations, hoping to find common cause with them over such grievances as government corruption and abuses by the security forces.

Barack Obama and Sheikh Ali Hatem Suleiman, Ramadi, Iraq, July 22, 2008.

But the government was in no mood to negotiate with Sunni leaders like Sheikh Ali and the demonstrations were quickly exploited by hardliners. In April 2013, after the shooting of an Iraqi soldier near a protest camp in Hawija, a town in the north close to Iraq’s traditional border with Iraqi Kurdistan, elite security units attached to the prime minister’s military office opened fire on the camp, killing fifty-one people, including old men and children. A Western diplomat described the event to me as “carnage” and “a vendetta out of all proportions.” Veteran Iraqi jihadists, many of whom had gone to Syria to fight against Assad, used the Hawija killings to recruit more fighters. The shootings came just two weeks after al-Qaeda-linked militants renamed themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and, while taking over significant areas of northern Syria, began to stage raids in Iraq itself, including a prison break at Abu Ghraib to free more than 500 Sunni militants.

In late December 2013, ISIS fighters ambushed and killed an Iraqi general and seventeen officers in the Anbar desert. Maliki responded by ordering the arrest of a senior Sunni lawmaker and by clearing out the main Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, where Sheikh Ali had been active. Maliki said his actions were necessary to stop al-Qaeda, but the brutal crackdown provoked mainstream Sunni tribes into a general armed uprising and forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes. Sheikh Ali was now roaming the Anbar countryside, trying to wage a guerrilla campaign against Maliki’s elite counter-terrorism forces and juggling an uneasy co-existence with ISIS. “I will die a victor or a martyr,” he told his brother in a phone call from the battlefield.

In interviews, US officials portrayed the fight in Anbar as a battle between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, and sent hellfire missiles for Maliki to use, regardless of the consequences and of the lack of a clearly defined objective. As my Reuters colleagues and I have documented, in recent weeks Iraqi Special Forces soldiers have bragged of executing suspected militants in Anbar. They describe it as revenge for what ISIS did to them. On Facebook community pages, Iraqi soldiers post pictures of ISIS fighters they have killed, depicting the executions as part of a regional war against Sunni extremists that spans from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Despite such boasts, control of the province’s main cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, is now divided among the Iraqi security forces, tribal leaders, ISIS, and other Sunni insurgents. ISIS has even seized a dam near Fallujah and flooded land to prevent the military from approaching its strongholds.

But Iraq’s extremist violence is no longer limited to Qaeda militants, as Shiite militias, emboldened by the security forces’ conflict with Sunnis over the last year, have steadily regrouped. In the center of Baghdad, Shiite militias display pictures of fighters slain in Syria where they have gone to defend a sacred Shiite shrine against Sunni militants. It is a powerful recruiting tool for the groups and testament to their newfound sway in the capital. Shiite eyewitnesses and tribal figures describe Sunnis displaced or executed by militia groups. In Basra, the Shiite-dominated southern city where in 2008 Maliki stood up to the militias, the new radicalism is even more pronounced. The city is once again infested by such groups, some of them, like Asaib Ahl al Haq, enjoying close ties to the government.

Asaib is headed by Qais Khazali, a one-time aid to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr who the US military believes masterminded the kidnapping and execution of five US soldiers in January 2007. Jailed soon after, Khazali was released by US forces two years later under pressure from Maliki. But Khazali promptly reconstituted Asaib, which many Iraqis say has since carried out racketeering, kidnapping, and executions. Asaib and other Shiite militias have been suspected of a wave of killings in Basra that are reminiscent of the darkest days in Iraq’s civil war. At least seventeen Sunnis were assassinated, with some estimates putting the number as high as fifty between September and December. Letters were left on the doors of families from Basra’s main Sunni tribe, the Sadouns, warning the “killers of Hussein” to leave. The UN estimates at least fifty-nine families left Basra and its neighboring province Nasiriya for the north.

In December, I travelled to Basra, where I met Sheik Jamal Sadoun, the head of the Sadoun clan. A policeman watched from the door during our meeting; posters of dead Asaib fighters in Syria papered a nearby wall. Sheik Jamal called the killings and threats a “sectarian campaign” but swore he had never been bothered by Asaib or Kita’ib Hezbollah, another powerful Shiite militia. Echoing comments by Maliki, he nervously claimed that al-Qaeda must be responsible for the violence. “No one can protect you but the state,” he said.

Those not under the watch of the government, however, were far more alarmist. A family from the Sadoun tribe refused to rule out the government or the militias as responsible: “We don’t feel safe. You can’t recognize your enemy. You don’t know who he is.”

The ambiguity between regular security forces and militia groups evokes memories of 2005 and 2006, when many police units often doubled as sectarian death squads. Many Asaib militants carry badges from the prime minister’s office that allow them through checkpoints to conduct operations against their enemies. A Shiite politician, with links to Asaib, said the group has assassinated Sunnis, but that those killed were definitely terrorists. The question is: Are Asaib members carrying out gangland-style hits of Sunnis or Sadrists on behalf of Maliki, or are they free agents the prime minister cannot afford to alienate? One Western diplomat, who defended Maliki, suggested that Asaib bought their badges by bribing officials around the prime minister’s office.

Throughout the country, pervasive corruption has weakened the chain of command of the army and police. Security officers regularly detain people and then offer to free them for thousands of dollars in ransom; they take bribes at checkpoints, and run rackets based on inflating company rosters with names of soldiers who don’t exist. Actual battle commands are now for sale to the highest bidder, according to senior government officials. The more the chaos, the greater the opportunities for criminals and extremists to take advantage of an increasingly weakened state, as was the case during Iraq’s last round of civil war.

With elections now two weeks away the prime minister appears confident. One way his Shiite political opponents might challenge his bid to continue in office would be to form a ruling coalition with Sunnis and Kurds after the election. But despite their shared wish to replace Maliki, the competition among his Shiite opponents to claim his position, and the most lucrative governmental posts, may prevent them from coming together. Sunni political figures are in a similar battle for preeminence within their own community. Sunni candidates also face threats from members of ISIS, the Qaeda-linked group, who consider any participation in the election as traitorous. Deteriorating security conditions in the north and west are likely to limit Sunni voter turnout, and the electoral commission has already announced that some areas in western Anbar will not be able to cast ballots. In any case, a lengthy negotiation period will likely be required after the election to form a new government, during which Maliki, by virtue of his office, will continue to exercise the most power in the land.

Though less popular than in 2010, Maliki believes he will benefit from the fear and chaos, presenting himself as the only one capable of guarding his community and saving Iraq. Sectarian conflict becomes another way of waging politics and outlasting competitors. One evening in December, I visited a former commander of a Shiite militia who had become a politician. He eyed news of a bombing in Baghdad and said, “See, fifteen of our people died today.” As we talked, a dozen military-age men arrived at his house, some wearing green military pants and vests. The politician called the men to a separate room and terminated our meeting. He ordered no one to disturb them: suddenly, he had become his former self, a militia commander who defended Shiite areas against suspected terrorists during the heights of sectarian violence in 2005 and 2006. It was time for the next battle.

Assyrian International News Agency

The Rundown — April 18

RFE/RL Video Roundup – Apr. 17

RFE/RL in the Media

# “Wall Street Journal” opinion piece, which says VOA and RFE/RL have weakened, calls for changes in BBG structure
# “The Guardian” cites Daisy Sindelar’s interview with Ivan Lozowy

Ukraine

Russia

Eastern Europe

# Putin says Transdniester should be able to choose its own fate

Afghanistan/Pakistan

# The dangers of being a journalist in Pakistan

Iran

Central Asia

# Kazakhstan says it’s “disappointed” over Kashagan setback
# Kazakh businessman reportedly offers ransom for murder of Dnipropetrovsk governor

Caucasus

Of Interest

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The Delay having no relevance to Iraq

OKIEOILMAN: GOOD THURSDAY EVENING AMERICA, SHIPS AT SEA AND ALL OUR WORLD WIDE FRIENDS. WHILE SOME INTEL GATHERERS HAS BEEN FOLLOWING CLOSELY THE HAPPENING IN IRAQ I HAVE STATED ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS THAT WHILE OF HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE IT DID NOT HAVE NEAR THE IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS ON THE R/V AS THEY HAVE FELT IT COULD.

THE DELAY HAS ABSOLUTELY NO RELEVANCE TO IRAQ AND WHAT IS GOING ON IN REGARDS TO THEIR POLITICAL SYSTEM OF THE ELECTIONS OR THEIR PASSING OF NECESSARY LAWS-ETC-ETC-ETC.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESTRICTING FACTOR IN ESSENCE IS MORE ON A GLOBAL NATURE RATHER THAN THE COUNTRY THE GCR IS SUPPOSED CONNECTED TOO.

THE DELAY PARTIALLY HAS BEEN THE RELUCTANCE OF THE USA GIVING UP ITS VETO POWER REGARDING IMF MANDATES AND RULES. I HAVE FOUND OUT ONLY LAST NIGHT THE USA AND THE IMF HAS REACHED AN AMICABLE DECISION.

ANOTHER REASON IS/HAS BEEN THE RELEASE OF THE NEW UST NOTES NOW SETTING IN OUR (USA) BANKS READY TO BE DISSEMINATED.

YOU WILL LEARN THE TRUTH SOON AS FINALLY ALL NECESSARY AGREEMENTS HAS BEEN COMPLETED.

WE ARE SITTING IN THE ABSOLUTELY BEST PLACE WE COULD EVER IMAGINE HAVING BEEN IN.

I HAVE GIVEN YOU ONLY A BRIEF TID-BIT OF WHAT THE DELAY HAS BEEN THAT HAS NOW BEEN SETTLED. WE ARE READY FINALLY————BLESSINGS.

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The Middle East War on Christians

This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible’s Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries–yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the “crime” of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The “justice system” in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the “dhimmi pact” to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or “face the sword.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region’s Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region’s remaining Christians.

Ron Prosor is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Assyrian International News Agency

The Middle East War on Christians

This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible’s Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.

The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East’s population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.

In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood.

Christians are losing their lives, liberties, businesses and their houses of worship across the Middle East. It is little wonder that native Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries–yet in many cases they find themselves equally unwelcome. Over the past 10 years, nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes. Many settled in Syria before once again becoming victims of unrelenting persecution. Syria’s Christian population has dropped from 30% in the 1920s to less than 10% today.

In January, a report by the nondenominational Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors documented the 10 most oppressive countries for Christians; nine were Muslim-majority states noted for Islamic extremism, and the 10th was North Korea. These tyrannical regimes uphold archaic blasphemy and defamation-of-religion laws under the guise of protecting religious expression. In truth, these measures amount to systematic repression of non-Islamic groups.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, two men were prosecuted for the “crime” of converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the Islamic kingdom. According to the Saudi Gazette, one of the men, a Lebanese, was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes, and the other man, a Saudi, was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes. Those are relatively mild sentences in Saudi Arabia, where conversion to another religion is punishable by death.

The “justice system” in other Islamic nations is not particularly just for Arab citizens, but it is uniquely oppressive for Christians. Radical Islamists in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa are using an ancient law called the “dhimmi pact” to extort local Christians. The community is faced with a grim choice: pay a tax and submit to a list of religious restrictions or “face the sword.”

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressions of political dissent are regarded as acts of blasphemy. Last summer, three Iranian Christians caught selling Bibles were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. They were relatively lucky. The regime has executed dozens of people for the so-called crimes of “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

The scene unfolding in the Middle East is ominously familiar. At the end of World War II, almost one million Jews lived in Arab lands. The creation of Israel in 1948 precipitated an invasion of five Arab armies. When they were unable to annihilate the newborn state militarily, Arab leaders launched a campaign of terror and expulsion that decimated their ancient Jewish communities. They succeeded in purging 800,000 Jews from their lands.

Today, Israel, which I represent at the United Nations, is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. Its Christian community has increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today, in large measure because of the freedoms Christians are afforded.

From courtrooms to classrooms and from the chambers of Parliament to chambers of commerce, Israeli Christians are leaders in every field and discipline. Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab Israeli, has served as a Supreme Court justice since 2003 and Makram Khoury is one of the best-known actors in Israel and the youngest artist to win the Israel Prize, our highest civic honor.

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest living in Israel, recently told me: “Human rights are not something to be taken for granted. Christians in much of the Middle East have been slaughtered and persecuted for their faith, but here in Israel they are protected.”

Nations that trample on the rights of their people sow the seeds of instability and violence. The uprisings that have erupted across the Middle East are evidence that the region’s Holy Grail has become the pursuit of freedom, democracy and equality. Let us hope that this quest bears fruit before it is too late for the region’s remaining Christians.

Ron Prosor is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Assyrian International News Agency

South Korea ferry tragedy death toll rises

The death toll from a capsized South Korean passenger ferry rose to 25 as parents of missing schoolchildren blamed the ship’s captain for the tragedy after he and shipping company officials made emotional apologies for the loss of life.

South Korean prosecutors on Friday said that the third officer was in charge of the bridge when the ferry capsized in calm seas on Wednesday.

“The captain was not in command when the accident took place,” state prosecutor Park Jae-Eok told a press briefing on preliminary findings of the investigation into the disaster.

Of 475 passengers and crew on the Sewol ferry 179 people were listed as safe and 271 were still missing on Friday.

South Korean authorities were due to restart rescue efforts on Friday morning and to deploy an unmanned submarine to inspect the vessel.

Divers, hampered by strong tides and murky waters, have been unable to gain access inside the ferry.

Theories about the cause of the accident swirled and an official investigation was due to resume with questioning of the captain.

Investigation ongoing 

The vessel started to sink on Wednesday on a routine trip out of the major port of Incheon to the holiday island of Jeju, 480km to the south.

Coastguard officials have said the investigation was focused on possible crew negligence, problems with cargo stowage and structural defects of the vessel, although the ship appears to have passed all of its safety and insurance checks.

The captain, Lee Joon-seok, faces criminal investigation, which is standard procedure in South Korea.

Relatives of those who died have accused him and some of his crew of being among the first to leave the vessel.

Both 69-year-old Lee and the company that owns the ship have apologised for the loss of life, although neither has admitted responsibility.

Most of those on board were children from a high school in the suburbs of Seoul who were on a field trip to Jeju.

Relatives were in mourning overnight in a hospital in the city of Mokpo, close to the port city of Jindo, which is acting as a rescue centre. Some of them spoke bitterly of the captain.

“How could he tell those young kids to stay there and jump from the sinking ship himself?” said Ham Young-ho, grandfather of 17-year-old Lee Da-woon, one of the dead.

Lee has not made any public statement on whether or why he may have left the vessel before many of the passengers.

Witness accounts say crew members instructed some passengers to remain where they were as the ship listed sharply and then capsized in about two hours 25km southwest of Jindo, a large South Korean island connected to the mainland.

Hunting for clues

South Korean media have reported the ship may have turned before listing sharply to port, but investigators have declined to comment.

While Lee and some of the crew members have been criticised for their role in the sinking, he was described as a “veteran” by Chonghaejin Marine Co Ltd, the owner of the vessel.

“He is a veteran captain who has run such passenger ferry between Incheon and Jeju for 20 years,” said Song Ki-chae, who heads one of Chunghaejin’s branch offices.

Song paid tribute to Park Ji-young, one of the crew members who died after escorting children to safety and helping them don life jackets.

Of the 20 crew, half are not accounted for.

Officials will investigate Chunghaejin, the unlisted operator, which owns four other vessels, and which reported an operating loss of 785 million won ($ 756,000) last year.

Earlier efforts to locate survivors inside the hull, which is still partly above water, did not succeed.

Data shows that the speed of the underwater current varies throughout the day and, at its strongest, hit 10km/h, making diving impossible.

Although the water at the site of the accident is relatively shallow at under 50 metres, it is still dangerous for the 150 or so divers working flat out, experts said.

Time was running out to find any survivors trapped inside, they said.

674

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

EUR/USD trims gains on solid U.S. factory, labor market data

Investing.com –

Investing.com – The euro trimmed earlier gains against the dollar on Thursday after upbeat regional factory data and jobless claims numbers out of the U.S. sparked demand for the greenback.

In U.S. trading, EUR/USD was up 0.12% at 1.3832, up from a session low of 1.3814 and off a high of 1.3864.

The pair was likely to find support at 1.3791, Tuesday’s low, and resistance at 1.3905, Friday’s high.

The dollar narrowed earlier losses stemming from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish speech on Wednesday and rose on cheery U.S. data.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported earlier that its manufacturing index rose to 16.6 in April, the highest level since September, from 9.0 in March. Analysts had expected the index to tick up to 10.

Separately, the Labor Department reported that the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending April 12 rose by 2,000 to 304,000, better than analysts’ forecasts for a rise to 315,000.

On Wednesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that monetary policy will need to remain accommodative for some time, citing slackness in the labor market and low inflation, which weakened the dollar, though Thursday’s data gave the greenback some support.

Meanwhile in Europe, Germany’s producer price index contracted 0.3% in March from a month earlier and fell 0.9% on year.

Analysts were expecting a 0.1% monthly increase and a 0.7% on-year decline.

The numbers chipped away at the euro’s gains over the dollar, as a day earlier, data revealed that the annual inflation rate slowed to 0.5% in March from 0.7% the previous month, soft but in line with expectations

Core inflation, which strips out volatile items like food and energy costs, fell to 0.7% from 1.0% in February, missing expectations for a 0.8% reading.

Euro zone inflation has now been in the European Central Bank’s danger zone of below 1% for six straight months, fueling speculation that policymakers will need to implement fresh stimulus measures to shore up the fragile recovery in the euro area.

The euro was up against the pound, with EUR/GBP up 0.04% to 0.8229, and up against the yen, with EUR/JPY up 0.10% at 141.40.

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Is Fate of Kurdish Issue Tied to Erdogan’s Future?

Plainclothes police officers tear down a billboard with a picture of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan in Diyarbakir, Feb. 11, 2014 (photo by REUTERS).Despite sending strong signals that he intends to run for the Turkish presidency in August, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has again asserted that he remains undecided. He gathered his party’s lawmakers on April 16 to discuss the matter and announced, “I have not made my decision yet.” He added, “And I don’t approve of announcing names [for the presidential bid] at this point. There will be no chaos in the party if I decide to run or choose to stay [as the prime minister.] The most important thing is the institutional structure of our party.”

Erdogan’s stated position, however, defies reality simply because of his control-oriented, and some would say self-centered, leadership that dominates all aspects of his party and members’ actions. The party’s success is explained more by Erdogan’s leadership than its institutional structure. In fact, many party insiders tie the fate of the resolution of the Kurdish issue to the prime minister’s political future. They consider the Kurdish vote to be in Erdogan’s pocket if he decides to run in Turkey’s first direct election of its president.

Al-Monitor talked to some of the key Kurdish figures selected by Erdogan’s government to play a role in resolving the Kurdish issue. Their voices could reflect the way in which the government decides to approach this controversial issue.

“There is no doubt that Erdogan will receive Kurdish support if he runs for the presidency,” said Sahismail Bedirhanoglu, head of a business association in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir and the man who put together a contact group aimed at fostering dialogue on Kurdish issues with the consent of the government. “The thing is, we concluded one election [on March 30] and stepped into the sphere of the presidential election. And this ongoing election season makes it more difficult for the government to take some crucial and much-needed steps to assure the advancement of this process. That raises the risk of this issue sliding once again into violence.”

Zubeyde Teker, a member of the government-appointed Wise People Commission, agrees. “Look, the Justice and Development Party [AKP] could consider this process as being equivalent to Erdogan. We don’t see it that way. They scared the people [by telling them] that the graft probe targeted this [Kurdish] process, but the truth is that corruption has always been widespread in this country, and the moral ground in the country is sinking lower everyday,” she told Al-Monitor. “In all sincerity, we couldn’t care less whether Erdogan gets the presidency or not. This process does not depend on Erdogan’s person, because the state decided to keep this process ongoing. [At the same time], we don’t feel like being dependent on this process to get our well-deserved rights.”

Defining the problem of the government as lacking ideology, Teker praised the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for its ideological standing. “The main thing about Zubeyde,” said Teker, referring to herself, “is that she loves [the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan very much. It is so fulfilling, especially as a Kurdish woman, to take the ideological walk with Ocalan,” she said to Al-Monitor. “I have stated this numerous times. I believe the state owes us an apology. The best way of doing that is to write a new civilian constitution that brings about real democracy.”

Teker heads the Federation of Law Solidarity Unions for Prisoners’ and Convicts’ Families and is the spokesperson for the group Freedom for Ocalan. “If the state carried out a coup on Feb. 28 [1997] against the Islamist politicians, then this government launched a coup against the Kurds’ legal political movement, Koma Civaken Kurdistan, on April 14, 2009. They have now released 48 of them [on April 13] and expect us to be happy about it. That just makes us feel more aggravated,” Teker said. “The state started to talk with Ocalan in 2006, and these people were not imprisoned then. They are playing a cat-and-mouse game with us. If they are sincere, all the PKK prisoners should be immediately released.”

Bedirhanoglu told Al-Monitor that the Kurds are now all united in support of the PKK. “I have argued against violence for many years, but the state failed to take a step toward the Kurds during the cease-fires since 1993, and that wiped out all other influential Kurdish voices. Ocalan and the PKK now represent the Kurds in this country. No one should be fool enough to deny it,” he asserted.

Sedat Yurttas, a former parliamentarian from the pro-Kurdish Democracy Party (banned by the Constitutional Court in 1994), agreed. Yurttas, who works closely with the government by taking part in meetings of nongovernmental organizations, said, “We are witnessing a process of Ocalan walking in the footsteps of [the late South African leader Nelson] Mandela,” he told Al-Monitor. “Since he was imprisoned, he expanded his sphere of political influence. He improved his ability to analyze. He reached out to more people, including Turks, more than ever. It would be misleading to characterize him solely as an imprisoned individual.”

The question now is whether the PKK will be satisfied with full recognition of the Kurds’ cultural rights. “This would be a very narrow perspective. One can only say such a naive thing if one is totally ignorant of what the PKK or the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Unit] is all about,” Teker said. “The issue is an all out democratization of this country, tearing down the old republic and rebuilding a whole new one.” Bedirhanoglu concurred, stating, “The Kurdish people will not settle on an agreement that [only] recognizes its cultural and linguistic rights. This is a political movement seeking a political outcome.”

Yurttas sees the situation in the same light. “Former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2004 vetoed the local governance law proposed by this government. People create a tempest in a teapot [now] when we talk about autonomy, but that law was going even beyond that. In five to ten years, it will get easier to talk about these issues,” he told Al-Monitor. He added, “I attended a closed-door meeting in March 2013 where Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke. He is a visionary man, and he talked about the artificial borders that divide Kurdistan [spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria]. He talked about the need to make these borders irrelevant, just as they are on the European continent.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Dollar erases losses on data, Yellen comments still weigh

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Investing.com – Upbeat U.S. regional factory and jobless claims reports erased the dollar’s losses against most major currencies on Thursday, though Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish speech delivered on Wednesday still weighed on the currency.

In U.S. trading on Thursday, EUR/USD was up 0.01% at 1.3818.

The dollar narrowed earlier losses stemming from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish speech on Wednesday and rose on cheery U.S. data.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported earlier that its manufacturing index rose to 16.6 in April, the highest level since September, from 9.0 in March. Analysts had expected the index to tick up to 10.

Separately, the Labor Department reported that the number of individuals filing for initial jobless benefits in the week ending April 12 rose by 2,000 to 304,000, better than analysts’ forecasts for a rise to 315,000.

On Wednesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that monetary policy will need to remain accommodative for some time, citing slackness in the labor market and low inflation, which weakened the dollar, though Thursday’s data gave the greenback some support.

Meanwhile in Europe, Germany’s producer price index contracted 0.3% in March from a month earlier and fell 0.9% on year.

Analysts were expecting a 0.1% monthly increase and a 0.7% on-year decline.

The numbers chipped away at the euro’s gains over the dollar, as a day earlier, data revealed that the annual inflation rate slowed to 0.5% in March from 0.7% the previous month, soft but in line with expectations.

Core inflation, which strips out volatile items like food and energy costs, fell to 0.7% from 1.0% in February, missing expectations for a 0.8% reading.

Euro zone inflation has now been in the European Central Bank’s danger zone of below 1% for six straight months, fueling speculation that policymakers will need to implement fresh stimulus measures to shore up the fragile recovery in the euro area.

The dollar was up against the yen, with USD/JPY up 0.20% at 102.44, and up against the Swiss franc, with USD/CHF up 0.12% at 0.8828.

The yen continued to come under pressure after Japanese Central Bank Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told parliament this week that now is not an appropriate time to discuss exiting stimulus policies.

The greenback was flat against the pound, with GBP/USD down 0.01% at 1.6796.

The dollar was mixed against its cousins in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with USD/CAD down 0.02% at 1.1015, AUD/USD down 0.48% at 0.9325 and NZD/USD down 0.68% at 0.8566.

The US Dollar Index, which tracks the performance of the greenback versus a basket of six other major currencies, was up 0.01% at 79.92.

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Turkey No Longer Respects Europe

Last week, German politician David McAllister, the leading candidate of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for next month’s European Parliament election, had a message for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There is no room in the European Union, McAllister said, for “the Erdogan Turkey of 2014.” The politician, whose father was Scottish, is the former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Germany’s second largest state, and a heavyweight in Merkel’s party.

The CDU has always been ambivalent about Turkey’s EU membership. Like other major parties in Germany, the CDU hopes to attract the votes of the growing number of Germans of Turkish origin, while, at the same time, the party is well aware that a majority of indigenous Germans oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU.

Europe’s political leaders have been promising the Turks EU membership for decades. The recent actions of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, however, offer the CDU a perfect excuse to distance itself from Turkey at a moment when it is politically expedient to do so. Whenever national elections are due, it is always electorally advantageous to cater to the Turkish vote. However, when European elections are due and parties need to convince as many indigenous voters as possible to turn out and vote, it is rewarding to speak out against Turkey. Lambasting “the Erdogan Turkey of 2014″ is then an opportunity not to be missed.

“The Erdogan Turkey of 2014 has moved further away from the standards of the European Union,” McAllister said, referring to Erdogan’s recent ban of Twitter and YouTube in Turkey. The bans were prompted by postings referring to corruption and abuse of power by Erdogan cronies.

“The current assault on freedom of expression [in Turkey] in no way conforms with European standards,” McAllister said. He is right, of course. However, one wonders why the CDU is suddenly disturbed by the “current” assault, while it has been common knowledge for years that the Erdogan regime does not respect freedom of expression. The Erdogan Turkey of 2012 held the world record for jailing journalists, but that did not seem to bother the CDU much at the time.

Also last week, the Netherlands, whose Prime Minister Mark Rutte is a close ally of German Chancellor Merkel, decided to lobby the EU for the suspension of EU funds to Turkey. Here, too, the reason for the sudden Dutch concern is said to be Turkey’s treatment of Twitter and YouTube.

Europe’s, and in particular Germany’s, exasperation with Erdogan’s Turkey, however, has a deeper cause than the EU’s concern for ordinary Turks’ access to social media outlets. Germany, which for over a century has been a traditional ally of Turkey, is simply responding to the cooling of Turkey’s affection for Berlin. Ankara seems to be no longer interested in close links with a Europe that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in world politics.

That, too, became apparent last week. Indeed, writing for a pro-government Turkish newspaper, Erdogan’s chief economic advisor, Yigit Bulut, explained last week that Europe is rapidly losing its political and economic importance in the world. Bulut said that the United States is currently the sole representative of Western values, while Europe no longer matters. He consequently called on Turkey to “end the relations with Europe,” adding “we don’t need [the EU] anymore.”

Bulut’s views come as no surprise. In August last year, Bulut declared that there are only two-and-a-half leaders in the world who really matter. The two leaders are Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the “half-leader” is U.S. President Barack Obama.

In last week’s op-ed piece, Bulut wrote: “In the new equation, the new West for Turkey means only the U.S. We no longer need Europe and its material and moral affiliates which may become a burden to us.” Last March, Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci already announced that by June, Turkey is going to re-open the negotiations about its 1996 Customs Union Agreement with the EU. The Customs Union Agreement is a prerequisite for EU membership, but Zeybekci claims the agreement restricts the competitiveness of Turkey’s exports. The global potential of Turkey’s exports outweighs the eventual benefits of EU membership. This analysis is not very different from that of British diplomat Iain Mansfield, who last week published a report arguing that a British exit from the EU — the so-called Brexit — could lead to greater trade with emerging economies and, hence, an increase of the British GDP. Last February, another report reached similar conclusions regarding Nexit — a Dutch exit from the EU.

The way in which the EU has mismanaged the crisis in the Ukraine, creating the situation which allowed Putin to annex Crimea and leaving a diplomatic and geopolitical mess which the Americans now have to solve, will only have reinforced Ankara’s view that the EU is powerless.

But Europe’s biggest failure vis-à-vis Turkey is another example of its unwillingness to face unwelcome truths. Ironically, this unwillingness has so far benefitted Erdogan, although it did not lead him to respect the EU.

The truth, which Europe fails to confront, is that whenever Islamists go into politics, they never turn out to be moderates. For years, EU leaders such as Merkel saw Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party as the proof that there was a moderate political Islam. They are now, belatedly, coming to realize that he is not their friend. They hope that he will lift his ban on the social media, so that they can welcome him back into their midst, but they refuse to see that his agenda is one of Islamic imperialism. And that the only politicians whose power he fears are Putin’s and, to half of that, Obama’s.

A world where Turkey no longer respects, let alone fears, Europe, is a more dangerous world than one in which the opposite was the case. David McAllister announced on Merkel’s behalf that there is no room for the Erdogan Turkey of 2014 in the European Union. The really sad thing, however, is that there is no longer any room for Europe and its values in contemporary Turkey. And Europe is at least as much to blame for that situation as Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraqi Immigrant Guilty Of Killing Wife In US

In the United States, a court in California has convicted an Iraqi immigrant of beating his wife to death.

Kassim Alhimidi was charged with murdering his 32-year-old wife, Shaima Alawadi, in El Cajon, home to one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi immigrants in the United States.

Prosecutors argued that the 49-year-old defendant lied to police about his troubled marriage and apologized to his wife as she lay dying in a hospital.

Defense lawyers said Alhimidi loved his wife.

Investigators initially considered the March 2012 killing a hate crime after a note was found near the body that read: “This is my country, go back to yours, you terrorist.”

Alhimidi could face life in prison when sentenced.

Based on reporting by AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Bank Story

PassionBee: Chase Bank: I went to a chase bank in Texas today to speak with a wealth manager. They told me that they did not have a wealth manager at that location, but they will have one to come to that location and speak with me.

I told them I am coming into an inheritance and was told to speak to a wealth manager. They wanted to hook me up with a financial advisor but I told them a wealth manager. They ask me how much are we talking about. I told them I didn’t know for sure yet.

I ask the manager whom I was speaking with if she was aware of the foreign currency revaluation and she said yes and their bank is one that will be doing exchanges.

She also said that since they work for the bank that they couldn’t buy any currencies because they know when currencies goes up and down and it is illegal for them to purchase any currencies.

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Iraq Doubles Elections Monitors in Anticipation of High Voter Turnout

Iraq Doubles Elections Monitors in Anticipation of High Voter Turnout

Posted 2014-04-18 00:02 GMT

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on Thursday (April 17th) said it has doubled the number of international observers who will monitor the next parliamentary elections.

“The decision to increase the number of international observers from the EU, UN, and various Asian and western countries to 1,454 observers comes from a desire to give the new democratic process in Iraq more transparency and to monitor any breaches of the country’s election laws in light of the expected high turnout by Iraqi voters,” said IHEC board chairman Sarbast Mustafa.

The previous number of 700 international observers was not sufficient to cover all cities and areas across the country, he said, adding that the UN mission in Iraq has given major support and co-operation in this regard.

Assyrian International News Agency

Gulf states agree deal to end Qatar tensions

Gulf foreign ministers have agreed to a deal to end months of unprecedented tension between Qatar and other members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council over the Muslim Brotherhood.

At an extraordinary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday, the ministers agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other, a statement said.

Such policies must also not affect the “sovereignty” of a member state.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar last month, accusing it of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The three states said at the time that Doha had failed to comply with a commitment by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to non-interference, made during a summit in Riyadh last year with Kuwait’s emir and the Saudi monarch.

During the tripartite meeting in Riyadh in November, Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah sought to ease tensions between Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Sheikh Tamim.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers met for more than two hours at a Riyadh air base and agreed on an “implementation mechanism” to the November agreement, the GCC statement said.

Tensions rose because Doha supported Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi while most Gulf countries hailed his overthrow by the army last July.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.

Tensions that had been simmering for months peaked in early February when Abu Dhabi summoned Doha’s ambassador to protest against “insults” to the UAE by Egypt-born cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi, a Qatari citizen.

Al Jazeera coverage of Egypt, seen by critics as biased in favour of the Brotherhood, has also increased tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours.

The other GCC member states are Kuwait and Oman.

319

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Iraq and Russia bilateral relations

BAGHDAD      - A delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs , headed by sub Minister Nizar Kherallah held talks in Moscow focused on enhancing bilateral relations and exchanging political consultations with officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry , headed by Mikhail Bgdanov.

The consultations addressed , according to a Foreign Ministry statement today, ” ways to develop relations between the two countries in all fields and consolidate bridging between the Republic of Iraq and the Russian Federation.

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Rate of Christian Girls Abducted and Attacked By Extremists on the Rise in Egypt

Young Christian women are facing a greater risk of being kidnapped by extremists, tortured, and even forced to convert to Islam since the Arab Spring ended in 2011.

This year already has seen a spike in the incidents, according to a report by the non-profit advocacy group International Christian Concern. It has been estimated by the ICC and other watchdog groups in the region that there have been 500 reported cases of young women being attacked by Muslim men since 2011, but unreported cases could send the figure much higher.

The girls are often assaulted, raped, kidnapped, forced to change their faith and sometimes killed, the ICC said.Making matter worse, nothing is being done by local authorities to prevent it in provinces across Egypt, according to officials from both the ICC and the Clarion Project, a US-based non-profit think tank and advocacy group.

“Not only are they turning a blind eye, they are often compliant,” Issac Six, a spokesman for the ICC told FoxNews.com, citing one incident in which a father was assaulted by an officer for asking too many questions about efforts to have his abducted daughter returned.

“It’s pervasive; police at the local level are not stopping the abductions. There needs to be more pressure from the top,” he added. “We have seen cases before where we’ve seen victims returned when the police put pressure on the kidnappers. We know it’s possible, unfortunately, the police are often complacent.”

Six added that the problem is largely ignored by the international community and that the U.S. needs to be more vocal about the issue in its dialogue with the Egyptian government.

One reported incident occurred in the city of Luxor as recently as February when 15-year-old Amira Hafez Wahib attended a morning prayer service at a local church, according to the study from ICC. Amira had asked her mother if she could go to a store near the church to buy an item. Her mother let her go but urged her to hurry right back.

But Amira never returned and is still missing.

The next day, Amira’s family went to the local police to report she had vanished.

“We received promises from the police here that they would arrest the accused and return Amira to her family, but there is not any positive step from them till now,” Rafla Zekry Rafla, an attorney handling the case, was quoted as saying.

The girl’s family believes that they know who her kidnapper is– a Muslim man, named Yasser Mahmoud, a soldier who was at one time assigned to protect their church. Mahmoud had tried to abduct Amira a few months earlier at a Christian store near the church where she worked.

The family immediately tracked down where the man lived with his family. Relatives told Amira’s parents that they had not heard or seen from Mahmoud since the same day that their daughter disappeared.

Another recent incident occurred on March 9 when a young girl was abducted in front of her school. The family went to the local police for help in locating her.

A few days later, the father was returning home when he was approached by two masked men on a motorcycle. He was stopped by the pair, who attempted to convince him to give up the search for his daughter.

He was told to “just forget her” and had his life threatened. The two men said they would also abduct his other daughters if he continued his search.

Things got worse for the family, whose identities have not been made public due to safety concerns, when the father went to the Civil Status Authority to get a copy of her birth certificate only to discover that her name had been changed and her religion had been changed to Islam.

The ICC report also suggests that more minor incidents are on the rise as well, such as young Christian women wearing crosses in public having them violently ripped off their necks.

Experts point out that the rise in the abuse against young Christian women is likely due to societal misogyny and Islamist indoctrination as well as the recent loss in government power by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“There’s a huge conflict between the Islamist and Christian populations in Egypt right now,” Ryan Mauro, a National Security Analyst with the Clarion Project, said to FoxNews.com. “The Coptic Christians are supporting General el-Sisi because of the military’s efforts to take the Muslim Brotherhood out of power.”

“The radical Islamists are angry. So they are retaliating,” he added.

The Brotherhood is not helping matters,” Mauro said. “They incite the people to carry out these aggressive acts, but when the people carry them out, they denounce it.”

“They know full well what they are doing.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Rate of Christian Girls Abducted and Attacked By Extremists on the Rise in Egypt

Young Christian women are facing a greater risk of being kidnapped by extremists, tortured, and even forced to convert to Islam since the Arab Spring ended in 2011.

This year already has seen a spike in the incidents, according to a report by the non-profit advocacy group International Christian Concern. It has been estimated by the ICC and other watchdog groups in the region that there have been 500 reported cases of young women being attacked by Muslim men since 2011, but unreported cases could send the figure much higher.

The girls are often assaulted, raped, kidnapped, forced to change their faith and sometimes killed, the ICC said.Making matter worse, nothing is being done by local authorities to prevent it in provinces across Egypt, according to officials from both the ICC and the Clarion Project, a US-based non-profit think tank and advocacy group.

“Not only are they turning a blind eye, they are often compliant,” Issac Six, a spokesman for the ICC told FoxNews.com, citing one incident in which a father was assaulted by an officer for asking too many questions about efforts to have his abducted daughter returned.

“It’s pervasive; police at the local level are not stopping the abductions. There needs to be more pressure from the top,” he added. “We have seen cases before where we’ve seen victims returned when the police put pressure on the kidnappers. We know it’s possible, unfortunately, the police are often complacent.”

Six added that the problem is largely ignored by the international community and that the U.S. needs to be more vocal about the issue in its dialogue with the Egyptian government.

One reported incident occurred in the city of Luxor as recently as February when 15-year-old Amira Hafez Wahib attended a morning prayer service at a local church, according to the study from ICC. Amira had asked her mother if she could go to a store near the church to buy an item. Her mother let her go but urged her to hurry right back.

But Amira never returned and is still missing.

The next day, Amira’s family went to the local police to report she had vanished.

“We received promises from the police here that they would arrest the accused and return Amira to her family, but there is not any positive step from them till now,” Rafla Zekry Rafla, an attorney handling the case, was quoted as saying.

The girl’s family believes that they know who her kidnapper is– a Muslim man, named Yasser Mahmoud, a soldier who was at one time assigned to protect their church. Mahmoud had tried to abduct Amira a few months earlier at a Christian store near the church where she worked.

The family immediately tracked down where the man lived with his family. Relatives told Amira’s parents that they had not heard or seen from Mahmoud since the same day that their daughter disappeared.

Another recent incident occurred on March 9 when a young girl was abducted in front of her school. The family went to the local police for help in locating her.

A few days later, the father was returning home when he was approached by two masked men on a motorcycle. He was stopped by the pair, who attempted to convince him to give up the search for his daughter.

He was told to “just forget her” and had his life threatened. The two men said they would also abduct his other daughters if he continued his search.

Things got worse for the family, whose identities have not been made public due to safety concerns, when the father went to the Civil Status Authority to get a copy of her birth certificate only to discover that her name had been changed and her religion had been changed to Islam.

The ICC report also suggests that more minor incidents are on the rise as well, such as young Christian women wearing crosses in public having them violently ripped off their necks.

Experts point out that the rise in the abuse against young Christian women is likely due to societal misogyny and Islamist indoctrination as well as the recent loss in government power by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“There’s a huge conflict between the Islamist and Christian populations in Egypt right now,” Ryan Mauro, a National Security Analyst with the Clarion Project, said to FoxNews.com. “The Coptic Christians are supporting General el-Sisi because of the military’s efforts to take the Muslim Brotherhood out of power.”

“The radical Islamists are angry. So they are retaliating,” he added.

The Brotherhood is not helping matters,” Mauro said. “They incite the people to carry out these aggressive acts, but when the people carry them out, they denounce it.”

“They know full well what they are doing.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Security Forces Storm Tehran’s Evin Prison

Dozens of Iranian security forces have stormed a section of Tehran’s Evin prison where political prisoners are held, injuring a number of the detainees.

Some thirty prisoners were transferred to solitary confinement following the raid on April 17.

The reports by opposition websites have been confirmed by some of the families of the prisoners.

The daughter of jailed human rights lawyer Abdolfatan Soltani told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that her father was among the prisoners who were beaten up and isolated.

“About 100 guards, members of anti-riot forces, entered the prison. Under the excuse of inspecting section 350, they brutally attacked the prisoners and beat them up,” Maedeh Soltani said in telephone interview from Tehran.

She said she received the information from “reliable” sources inside the prison.

The website “Kalame,” which broke the news, says the “unprecedented” raid is the most violent action against political prisoners in the past 20 years.

“The raid took place after prisoners protested and resisted against a brutal inspection plan, it lasted for five hours. The guards took pictures and filmed their operation,” the website said in its report.

The report said more than 30 prisoners were injured, including four who were transferred outside of the prison to receive medical care. According to the report, some of the prisoners sustained injuries, such as a cracked skull and broken ribs.

The opposition “Sahamnews” reports that at least two prisoners –- national religious activist Emad Bahvar and blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki — were seriously wounded in the attack.

Gholamhossein Esmaili, the head of Iran’s Prisons Organization, dismissed the reports as “rumors.”

“We shouldn’t pay attention to report by anti-revolutionary media,” Esmaili was quoted as saying by the semi-official ILNA news agency.

Amnesty International says reports about the raid have raised fresh fears about the safety of prisoners in Iran.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iraq signs a contract with the Korean Daewoo to develop al- Zubair field

BAGHDAD    -The Iraqi government agreed to a service contract to develop al- Zubair oil field worth 588.8 million dollars, with South Korea’s Daewoo for engineering services and construction.

A statement by the Council of Ministers said that Daewoo takes engineering, procurement and construction needed to build a facility to separate the gas in the giant Zubair field in southern Iraq, which is expected to reach production capacity of 850 thousand barrels of oil per day in 2017.

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Electoral Race Heats Up Among Iraq’s Sunni Factions

Iraqi Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (L) and Iraqiya Sunni Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi hold a news conference for the seniors of the Iraqiya List in Baghdad, Jan. 18, 2012 (photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen).On April 12, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) declared alternative plans for the success of the electoral process in mostly Sunni Anbar province. It is noteworthy that Anbar has seen military operations, and some of its districts are in the grip of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, this announcement did not remove the doubts surrounding the possibility of holding elections there, the turnout of voters in polling centers and the ways to guarantee the transparency and integrity of the elections.

Still, the Sunni blocs and parties in the more secure regions went on to launch their electoral campaigns. Just like the situation in the mostly Shiite cities, the competition in the Sunni provinces is between traditional and new forces, as well as the local parties. It seems that the coming elections will result in a divided Sunni political map, unlike the previous 2010 elections, when the overwhelming majority of Sunni voters voted for the Iraqiya List.

Five main coalitions will compete to win Sunni votes, but we cannot rule out surprise results that might be achieved by small or local parties. Three of these five coalitions, in fact, represent fragments of the Iraqiya List, which is no longer present in the elections. The Mutahidoun bloc, led by parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, is the first of these coalitions. It consists of 13 parties and is seeking to appear as the biggest Sunni force after the elections. The second coalition is the Arabiya led by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, and includes nine parties. Third, there is the Nationalist Coalition, led by Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister who was the leader of the Iraqiya List.

The Nationalist is one of the rare blocs that includes Sunni and Shiite members. Moreover, it is participating in the elections in all Arabic-speaking provinces. However, this coalition has poor chances because of intense sectarian polarization and Allawi’s loss of a large part of his traditional constituency, partly due to the emergence of a new liberal list called the Civil Democratic Alliance.

These coalitions will compete with each other and with two new groups that have emerged on the Sunni electoral scene. The first group, the Karama (Dignity) List, was formed by the prominent Sunni businessman Khamis Khanjar. He was considered the main funder of the Iraqiya List, which participated in the elections in 2010. Karama is more right-wing than other Sunni forces, as it has taken a stricter stance toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and considers itself the political heir of the wave of protests that went on for a whole year in the Sunni cities. MP Ahmad al-Alwani, who was arrested by Iraqi forces on the grounds of sectarian provocation at the end of December 2013, is one of the founding political leaders of the Karama List.

The fifth main group is the Coalition of Iraq, which was formed by another businessman, Fadel al-Dabbas. It is a new coalition that includes several technocrats and is competing in all Sunni and Shiite provinces. This coalition is the most moderate in its attitude toward the Maliki-led government compared to the remaining forces competing over the Sunni seats. It advocates a technocratic governance and a larger role for businessmen. It is widely believed that this coalition is seeking to ally with Maliki after the elections and that it represents the interests of some Sunni tribal and social leaders who are close to the prime minister, such as Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes.

All these forces are seeking to win the support of the Sunni majority, but some have specific geographic areas of influence. The main electoral constituency for the Mutahidoun bloc is in the city of Mosul, the largest Sunni city, from which hails the leader of the coalition and his brother, who is the city’s governor.

Nujaifi has sought to enter into alliances to expand his influence, especially in the Anbar province, where the Iraqi Awakening Conference, headed by Ahmed Abu Risha, is seen as one of the bloc’s founding groups.

Some of the bloc’s leaders and Abu Risha disagreed on certain issues, especially after Abu Risha had made a military alliance with the Iraqi government to confront ISIS. He has gone so far as to publicly criticize some of the coalition’s members, arguing that they failed to take tough stands against terrorism. However, it remains unclear whether or not this disagreement will continue after the elections, in light of the future stances of both sides.

The Arabiya Coalition has influence in the provinces of Saladin and Kirkuk, while its influence declined in Anbar where many think that Mutlaq has been compromised by Maliki. However, Mutlaq has been recently trying to change this perspective, by being harsher in his criticism of Maliki, as shown by an article he wrote for Foreign Policy on April 3.

Mutlaq represents the secular and pan-Arab inclination in Sunni policies, so he enjoys the support of Kirkuk, where the main conflict is between Arab Sunnis and Kurds. It seems that he tried to take advantage of the alliance between Kurds and Nujaifi, and to play the nationalist card in these areas, especially following his alliance with the controversial politician Meshan al-Jabouri.

Jabouri has been recently barred by the IHEC from participating in the elections because of his statements that were seen as inciting hatred against Kurds, but the electoral court, which many accuse of being influenced by the Maliki government, has annulled this decision and allowed him to participate. If anything, this insistence to keep Jabouri in the electoral race despite various accusations against him indicates how important it is to win every additional seat and perhaps a future anti-Kurdish alliance between Mutlaq and Maliki.

It seems that the Karama List considers Anbar to be its main constituency, and is seeking to take advantage of the growing feelings of resentment among Sunni towards the Shiite-dominated government and the disappointment in the performance of Sunni politicians in the government and parliament.

Some Sunni hard-line clerics, such as Sheikh Abudllah al-Janabi — who is currently in Fallujah, which is not under government control — called for boycotting the elections, which reflects previous positions taken by more moderate clerics, such as Abdul-Malik al-Saadi. However, Ali Hatem, the sheikh of the Duleim tribes who is also the spokesman of the anti-government military revolutionary council, announced that if elections should be held, Sunni parties must agree on preventing Maliki from staying in power for a third time.

Finally, some coalitions are fielding candidates in only one province, focusing their efforts on gaining the support of local population. They may be able to win a number of seats at the expense of the larger Sunni blocs. Among these are the National Corrective Movement, led by the former governor of Anbar, Kamel al-Dulaimi; “Diyala is our identity,” which is a group close to Mutahidoun; and the National Coalition for Reformation in Saladin.

Translated by Pascale Menassa.

Assyrian International News Agency

Surprise deal reached on Ukraine crisis

The United States, European Union, Russia and Ukraine have reached agreement on immediate steps to be implemented to ease the crisis in Ukraine.

The tentative deal temporarily puts on hold additional economic sanctions the West had prepared to impose on Russia if the talks were fruitless, AP news agency reported.

Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer, reporting from Geneva, said the agreement had come as something of a surprise as the meeting had not ben expected to achieve anything concrete.

That will ease pressure both on Moscow and on the European Union nations that depend on Russia for energy.

“All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions,” a joint statement issued after the Geneva talks said.

“All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated,” it added.

It also gives amnesty to protesters who comply with the demands, except those found guilty of capital crimes.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called the deal the result of a “good day’s work” but emphasised that the words on paper must be followed by concrete actions and that those who had initially armed the groups were now responsible for making sure the disarmament took place.

He said he had warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Moscow would soon feel the brunt of new sanctions should it not follow through on its commitments under the agreement.

Lavrov, speaking to reporters after the seven-hour negotiation, also spoke about the need for disarmament of unofficial armed groups, saying weapons should only be held by legitimate groups, and that the deal included “all regions of Ukraine.”

Pro-Russian separatists occupying a local government building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, however, said on Thursday they would not leave until supporters of Ukraine’s new government quit their camp around Kiev’s main square, known as the Maidan.

“The people occupying the regional headquarters here in Donetsk have said they are not willing to leave their buildings until the pro-Ukraine protesters in Kiev vacate their building in Maidan. They want to make sure it does not just lead to them losing the gains they have made,” said Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Donetsk.

International observers

As part of the agreement, monitors with the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe will be tasked with helping Ukraine authorities and local communities comply with the requirements outlined in the agreement.

It said Kiev’s plans to reform its constitution and transfer more power from the central government to regional authorities must be inclusive, transparent and accountable, including through the creation of a broad national dialogue.

Kerry lauded as “visionary” the level of autonomy the interim government in kiev is willing to give other regions of Ukraine, saying that it would offer a great degree of freedom of governance.

Despite the moves towards de-escalating the violence in Ukraine, Kerry emphasised there was still a strong disagreement over the future of Crimea.

“We are not giving up but we did not come (to Geneva) to talk about Crimea,” he said of the peninsula which was annexed by Russia last month. He added that the aims of the meeting had been to move away from the spiralling violence currently dominating the situation in ukraine.

“Nobody has left behind the issue of Crimea,” he said.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Ashraf Ghani Pledges ‘Reconciliation’ With Former Warlords

KABUL —  Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani says if elected he will form a national unity government that will include some of the country’s controversial former warlords. 

Ghani, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on April 17, said he would not prosecute those responsible for war crimes but bring about a “genuine reconciliation.” 

The prominent technocrat said the country must not be “bogged down in a past that deprives us of a future.” 

Ghani had previously taken a strong stance against the former strongmen, many of whom were involved in the country’s devastating civil war. 

Ghani said if elected his government would strengthen the rule of law and introduce an economic system that would lessen the country’s dependence on aid. 

Ghani, among the election frontrunners, said he was confident of winning an outright victory in the April 5 vote. 

Preliminary results for the election are expected on April 24.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

David Marsh: IMF overhaul is in U.S. interest

Developing-country economies may be smoldering and about to go up in flames — but the inhabitants of Congress, like Emperor Nero in Ancient Rome, are still fiddling away merrily, impervious to the world outside.

An impasse in Congress over extra powers and new money for the International Monetary Fund, the 70-year-old institution at the center of world finance, is endangering the stability of the global economy at an ill-starred time. During the annual spring meeting of the IMF and World Bank amid the cherry blossoms of Washington this past weekend, I sensed a palpable bitterness and frustration about American intransigence among delegates from developing and developed countries alike.

Senior policymakers repeatedly told me that U.S. obstructionism is depriving the IMF of funding needed to ward off serious financial problems in key emerging-market countries, which could have serious repercussions on the U.S. as well as other parts of the world. All this is coinciding, I was told, with deep-seated tectonic shifts in the world economic balance of power.

States such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia and Turkey, outside the industrialized countries that used to run the international economy, now wield greater clout. One of the most influential attendees, deceptively softly-spoken Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Singapore finance minister and deputy prime minister, said that, as financial and economic power moved away from the West, the U.S. risked suffering “disruptive change” in the next 10 years unless it accommodated developing countries’ requests for more say in running world financial institutions.

In some cases, these are exactly the countries that may face financing problems caused by withdrawals of hot money flows as global capital washes back to the U.S. in the wake of withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve. The more powerful countries among the fast-emerging developing nations have, thanks to globalization, made great strides in economic growth, living standards and stocks of monetary reserves. But, simultaneously, because of the cross-border nature of capital flows, and their openness to adverse swings in currency movements, officials say they are also the most vulnerable.

In addition, these countries express irritation about what they see as the head-in the-sand approach of the world’s biggest economy, the U.S. The large developing economies, led by China, India and Brazil, helped inject extra dynamism into the world economy after the financial crisis in 2008-09, helping the industrialized world (led by the U.S.) to recover.

Now that the world economy is gradually on the mend, and the Federal Reserve is gradually tightening credit again, these countries argue that the richer western nations need to pay attention to

That’s why other countries are angry about Congress’ failure to ratify a 2010 agreement among IMF members that would overhaul the fund. The changes would: double the IMF’s quota — in effect, its equity capital — to $ 720 billion; shift six percentage points of total quota to emerging markets; and move two of the 24 IMF directorships from European to developing countries.

Some Republicans who oppose the agreement question the IMF’s value to U.S. taxpayers and argue that ratification could undermine U.S. authority over IMF spending.

U.S. obfuscation over the IMF’s resources could leave the world’s foremost financial police officer perilously short of funds at a time when heavyweight countries such as Brazil, Turkey and South Africa may need financial support in the next 12 to 24 months to counter capital outflows.

The worries about financing vulnerable emerging-market economies are an additional factor overhanging stock markets, which look set to suffer a major contraction in coming weeks from highs driven by bullishness over corporate valuations. Concerns about Ukraine-Russia tension, as well as the euro area — where deep underlying problems remain, despite last week’s capital market return of serial offender Greece — loom large.

In Washington, the Group of 20 industrialized nations issued a communiqué saying they were “deeply disappointed” by failure to implement IMF changes. They gave the U.S. until the end of the year to do so, threatening to leave America out of new changes otherwise.

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Syria: Fear and Famine Stalk a War-ravaged Land

By John J. Metzler

United Nations — Syria’s harrowing civil war has taken a new turn as the beleaguered Mid East country now faces a deepening drought and food crisis in the midst of an expanding conflict.

UN relief agencies warn that the drought may cut food production thus adding to the country’s woes.

With over nine million Syrian civilians already refugees or internally displaced since the conflict started three years ago, the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) warns that “Low production scenarios combined with the ongoing conflict, will further strain Syria’s already fragile food security situation. The main implications are an increased dependence on imports at a time when Syria’s import capacity is severely diminished by the collapse of real economic growth.”

Hell: Food lines in February in Damascus await assistance by the U.N.’s Relief and Works Agency. Daily Telegraph

Economists state that growth has been in a free fall with an almost 19 percent annual drop.

In a troubling new report on the drought and food security, the WFP states, “During the decade preceding the conflict, drought had been the main event causing significant losses to the national wheat and barley production; since 2012, the civil war has had a market impact on the Syrian cereal production capacity.”

Even optimistic figures reveal that this year’s projected wheat production would be about two million tons, a fall of 17 percent from last year.

WFP’s coordinator for Syria, Muhannad Hadi said, “It has taken a massive effort from WFP and partners to reach 4 million people in March, but we fear now that a possible drought, if rainfall doesn’t pick up, could put the lives of millions more at risk.” He added, “Syria suffered from five years of drought right before the conflict broke out and vulnerable communities in affected areas hardly had time to recover before they were hit by the conflict.”

continued — Tragically, some of the worst affected conflict areas such as Aleppo and Hama, account for about half of the wheat production. According to relief agencies, more than six million Syrians may need emergency food aid, up from the current number of just over four million people.

Yet as the conflict churns on between the Assad family dictatorship, backed by Russia and Iran, and a gaggle of rebel groups , many of them Islamic fundamentalists and Al Qaida affiliates, a political settlement looms as elusive as ever. The U.N. Security Council, in diplomatic deadlock between the West and Russia/China concerning Syria, has frozen further in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, that he is “extremely concerned that groups listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council continue to brutalize the civilian population”. He added that the tragic killing of a Dutch Catholic priest, Father Frans van der Lugt, S.J., who was shot by an unknown gunman, was an “inhumane act of violence.”

The 75 year-old priest had been living in Syria for over forty years and had refused to leave the besieged city of Homs.

The Syrian civil war has seen a deliberate targeting of the country’s ancient Christian minority by some rebel groups. Despite being out of the headlines, the conflict continues with at least 140,000 people killed in the past three years.

And beyond the widening refugee spill over into neighboring countries especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, there’s the acute danger from foreign rebels returning to Europe and spreading terror. United Kingdom intelligence agencies estimates cite hundreds of British nationals who are currently fighting alongside the Syrian rebels, as presenting a radicalized and trained terrorist threat to the U.K. upon their return from the Middle East. The Syrian war serves as a magnet to home-grown Islamic militants throughout Europe.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated unequivocally, “There is a belief by too many in Syria and beyond that this conflict can be won militarily. More violence will only bring more suffering and instability to Syria and sow chaos in the region.”

Tragically this war will not end until there’s the exhaustion of all parties to the conflict who will then grudgingly concede to a peace settlement.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Says It is Releasing $450 Million Of Frozen Iranian Funds

The United States says it is taking steps to release a $ 450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds in response to Tehran meeting its commitment under the interim deal reached with world powers in November. 

State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said April 17 the move comes after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that says Iran is living up to its part of the interim nuclear deal.

“Based on this confirmation and consistent with commitments that the United States made under the Joint Plan of Action, the Department of Treasury took the necessary steps pursuant to the JPOA to facilitate the release of a $ 450 million installment of Iran’s frozen funds,” Harf told reporters.

Under the agreement, Iran halted some of its nuclear activities in exchange for a limited easing of some international sanctions.
 

Based on reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

KRG denies sale oil to( Black Diamond) Company

Arbil / NINA / The Ministry of Natural Resources of the Kurdistan Regional Government denied the announcement of Black Diamond Company, which announced the signing of a contract for the purchase crude oil from the Taq Taq oil field in Kurdistan .

The ministry said in a statement today that it ” denies the statements of the Black Diamond company that it has signed a contract for purchasing crude oil from Taq Taq field of oil and provide a new refiner that it is run by a Kurdish group affiliated to the private sector called the Rejwan company.”

The ministry added , “Diamond Company , based in the Philippines, as well as Rejwan company, which a partner for the first one, have not been registered with the Ministry of Natural Resources in the government of the province , and the ministry do not have information on any of the two companies .”

It continued , “The G-Nel Energy company, which works in the Taq Taq field , told the ministry that it has no deal with Black Diamond and Rejwan ,” pointing out that “the ministry did not authorize the work to any new oil refinery in the region . / End

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KRG denies sale oil to( Black Diamond) Company

Arbil / NINA / The Ministry of Natural Resources of the Kurdistan Regional Government denied the announcement of Black Diamond Company, which announced the signing of a contract for the purchase crude oil from the Taq Taq oil field in Kurdistan .

The ministry said in a statement today that it ” denies the statements of the Black Diamond company that it has signed a contract for purchasing crude oil from Taq Taq field of oil and provide a new refiner that it is run by a Kurdish group affiliated to the private sector called the Rejwan company.”

The ministry added , “Diamond Company , based in the Philippines, as well as Rejwan company, which a partner for the first one, have not been registered with the Ministry of Natural Resources in the government of the province , and the ministry do not have information on any of the two companies .”

It continued , “The G-Nel Energy company, which works in the Taq Taq field , told the ministry that it has no deal with Black Diamond and Rejwan ,” pointing out that “the ministry did not authorize the work to any new oil refinery in the region . / End

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International Jihad Barbarity

Takfiri Islamists that turn to the sword are committing untold barbarity in countless nations. Indeed, it is difficult to pin down if Takfiri Islamists are more inhumane in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or in Nigeria. After all, the Taliban is known to have stoned people to death while Al-Shabaab in Somalia beheads and kills all apostates to the Christian faith. Meanwhile in Syria radical Takfiri barbarians adore beheading people while filming their cruelty to the maximum. Similarly, in Iraq and Pakistan it is clear that Shia Muslims are hated and killing people at funerals and at market places is second nature. Likewise, in Syria even children have been taught to behead captured Syrian soldiers while adults praise Allah. This reality is causing untold mayhem in countless nations and currently Nigeria is one endless bloodbath because of the barbarity of Boko Haram.

Islamic Sharia law deems that non-Muslims are unequal based on apartheid logic and amazingly in 2014 several nations support either imprisoning, or killing non-Muslim males, for marrying Muslim women. If mainstream law in nations like Saudi Arabia support killing apostates from Islam and persecuting non-Muslims based on apartheid Sharia laws — then it is easy to see where so much hatred comes from. Therefore, in the warped minds of militant Salafists and jihadi Takfiris they take this hatred to the ultimate level based on daily slaughter. However, unlike Sharia compliant nations where this law is enforced strictly based on the rule of fear, the Takfiris go one step further. This applies to dhimmitude and jizya at best on non-Muslims that are deemed unequal and worthy of oppression — or complete cleansing like in Somalia; but more alarming for Muslims, they are also deemed apostates in the eyes of Takfiris and radical Salafists if they don’t follow their “year zero logic.”

The above concept according to Takfiris and radical Salafists can be witnessed brutally in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and in a few other nations. This reality means that the Boko Haram in Nigeria think nothing about slaughtering Christians and Muslims alike. In their mindset the majority of Muslims in Nigeria are deemed apostates and worthy of killing. Also, kidnapping young girls to fulfill their sexual impurity is fine in the eyes of Boko Haram. Indeed, in Syria young girls and women from various nations are handed round like a glorified prostitute system in order to fulfill the pleasure of male jihadists and nations like Tunisia are alarmed by this. Of course, some international Takfiris and Islamists in Syria also kidnap and rape Christian, Alawite and Shia girls and brutally rape them via sham marriages based on their twisted and barbaric mindsets. Sadly, if truth is told, then if the legal system in Saudi Arabia allows little girls of 8 and 9 years of age to marry old men of grandfather style ages — then obviously Sharia Islamic law isn’t based on purity and morals in this area. Therefore, Takfiris and various jihadi groups enforce an even more brutal reality on Muslim and non-Muslim girls that come under their control.

Recently in Nigeria the Boko Haram Islamist group kidnapped vast numbers of girls from an educational facility. The immediate fear was that they would become basic sexual slaves for Islamist jihadists that often kidnap Christian (forcibly convert them and then indoctrinate) and Muslim girls. However, the ferocity of the attack appears to have galvanized the armed forces of Nigeria and local authorities to act quickly. According to CNN the vast majority of captured girls are now free but the butchering by Boko Haram is still gathering in pace. Therefore, the government of Nigeria must increase its commitment to firstly contain the crisis and then tackling brutal Islamists that slaughter for fun. Equally important, Nigeria must focus on safe havens in border areas with other nations because these ratlines must be crushed and all traces linked to Gulf petrodollars must be cut.

Fides reported about Boko Haram in the past by stating: “Christians in northern Nigeria are victims of the militant Islamist group “Boko Haram” which aims to establish an Islamic state. In a terrorist campaign that has been lasting for months, many churches have been attacked and Christians killed. According to some public statements, Boko Haram said that “kidnapping Christian women is part of the new efforts to attack Christians and force them to leave the North”.One of the primary goals of the group are schools…..more than 40 people, mostly students, were killed in an attack against a college in the state of Yobe. In another recent attack, the dormitory of an institute was set on fire while the children were sleeping and those who tried to escape the fire were gunned down. Boko Haram means

“Western education is a sin”, and its leader, Abubakar Shekau has publicly asked to multiply attacks against schools “that teach Western education”. In response to the war launched by Boko Haram against the nation, for two months in the Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where militants are the strongest threat, there is in effect a state of emergency.”

It is inconceivable to think that suicide bombers and jihadi butchers believe that they have the right to kill people while praising Allah before causing so much suffering. Yet in their warped worldview not only do these Takfiri sectarians believe this, but they even believe that they will meet virgins in heaven if they die in the cause of Allah. This “year zero virus” is also gaining traction in Europe and North America because international jihadists from these two continents are involved in several conflicts. Therefore, many international jihadists have been brought up in nations that are democratic and secular therefore something is clearly amiss based on various important factors.

Modern Tokyo Times reported in another article: “The state of emergency declared in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe by the current leader of Nigeria appears ineffective. This reality means that President Goodluck Jonathan and the armed forces need to formulate new policies in order to rebuild confidence. Indeed, it may be time to build up local self-defense forces that are well funded and trained to a high level. These self-defense forces in turn should work closely with security forces and regional police departments. Also, Nigeria must focus on intelligence gathering, cutting the flow of money to Islamists in Nigeria, keep Gulf petrodollars out of the country when based on spreading Salafi Islam, challenging any regional state that may be enabling Boko Haram to obtain breathing space — and to develop other important areas.”

In Nigeria the Islamist forces of Boko Haram are turning Northeastern Nigeria into a nightmare. At the same time, the armed forces of Nigeria appear to be at a loss therefore massacres are frequent. This reality is tearing many places apart in Northeastern Nigeria because the sheer barbarity of Boko Haram is truly horrendous. Indeed, Nigeria is turning into “a state within a state” in parts of the country and if this Takfiri fifth column isn’t crushed then the central state will ultimately be challenged.

In various nations in 2014 you have barbaric Takfiris and various jihadist groups. This reality means that Alawites and the Shia are being butchered in Syria by brutal jihadi groups. Likewise, in Iraq various Sunni Islamist terrorist groups slaughter innocents in markets, mosques, built up areas and so forth. Pakistan also follows this pattern because the Shia and Ahmadiyya are both deemed to be apostates therefore many massacres take place and of course neighboring Afghanistan is blighted by the same hatred. Meanwhile in Somalia the al-Shabaab (many members brought up in the West) behead and butcher male and female converts to Christianity by killing them in front of their children and friends. Overall, Takfiri fanatics, radical Salafi groups and various sectarian Islamist terrorist organizations are causing mayhem far and wide therefore the crisis in Nigeria is being replicated in several nations.

Assyrian International News Agency

Talks Result In Agreement To De-Escalate In Ukraine

Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the European Union have announced agreement on measures aimed at defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

After daylong talks April 17 in Geneva, the parties called on all illegal armed groups across Ukraine to disband, to stop occupying public buildings, and to refrain from violence.

Officials said Ukrainian authorities have also agreed to grant amnesty to protesters who illegally occupied property during Ukraine’s unrest, excluding those found guilty of capital offenses.

The four parties also agreed to the deployment of an OSCE mission to oversee de-escalation in Ukraine.

The parties said the United States, EU, and Russia were committed to support the mission, including by providing monitors.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized the call to disband illegal armed groups applied to all groups across Ukraine, including ones that support the new authorities in Kyiv.

In particular, Lavrov said the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector, which played a key role in the protests that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, has so far refused to disarm.

Lavrov also stressed Moscow’s position that Kyiv should negotiate with representatives of all regions of Ukraine on constitutional reforms. 

Lavrov said Russia has “no wish to bring our troops to Ukraine.”

‘Words On Paper’

The four parties also condemned all activity in Ukraine seeking to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

Kerry condemned a reported anti-Jewish incident in eastern Ukraine, and a threat to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kerry said that if the four-party agreement collapses, the United States will have no choice but to impose further measures aimed at punishing Russia.

Kerry said the four parties agreed they could not leave Geneva with the idea that “words on paper” represented progress. He said all agreements reached in Geneva must be translated into actions.

Kerry said there was no progress on the issue of Russia withdrawing some of its military units from the Ukrainian border region.

Kerry said Russia had pledged to pull back one battalion. But he did not confirm this has happened yet.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who appeared at the press conference with Kerry, affirmed that the EU remains committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity.

Ashton also announced there would be a three-way meeting involving EU, Russian, and Ukrainian officials to discuss supplies of Russian gas reaching Europe through Ukraine.

Moscow has threatened to suspend supplies of gas to Ukraine due to Kyiv’s multi-billion dollar bill, raising fears in the EU that gas supplies could be reduced or cut off to Europe.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Exchange Rate in Iraq

Currency Auctions
Announcement No. (2654)

The latest daily currency auction was held in the Central Bank of Iraq on the 17-Apr-2014 results were as follows:

DETAILS NOTES
Number of banks 18
Auction price selling dinar / US$ 1166
Auction price buying dinar / US$ —–
Amount sold at auction price (US$ ) 234,478,000
Amount purchased at Auction price (US$ ) —–
Total offers for buying (US$ ) 234,478,000
Total offers for selling (US$ ) —–

Exchange rates   LINK

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Freedom Denied: Palestinians decry detention

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Algerians cast votes in presidential poll

Algerians have started casting their votes in presidential elections that are likely to lead to Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s fourth mandate, despite wide expections of a low turnout and amid calls for a boycott with the opposition warning of rigged results.

More than 260,000 police have been deployed to protect the 50,000 polling booths opening on Thursday across Africa’s largest country. Around 23 million Algerians have registered on the electoral roll  as eligible voters in Algeria and abroad to choose between the six contesting candidates.

Bouteflika, 77, who is seeking to extend his 15-year rule despite chronic health problems, is the firm favourite.

He has appeared only rarely on television in recent months, looking frail, after suffering a mini-stroke last year which confined him to hospital in France for three months.

His weakness was adamant as he sat on a wheel chair while casting his vote at an Algiers polling station on Thursday. Local media had rumoured that he would not be able to cast his vote in person due to his health condition.

But with opposition parties and youth activists loudly calling on Algerians to snub the poll, and many questioning his ability to rule, Bouteflika faces the risk of a damaging low turnout.

His intention to seek re-election was announced in February, prompting derision from his critics.

Youth protest group

According to the Interior Ministry, turnout has already 15 percent.

Interior Minister Tayeb Belaïz said that the thusfar-reached turnout is “an increase when compared to that recorded during the 2009 election” at the same time, adding that “clues point to the participation rate will increase in later today”. He added that voting is taking place under “ordinary conditions”. 

Algeria, which has largely escaped the massive political alterations brought about by the “Arab Spring”, has witnessed sporadic election-related violence in the weeks leading up to the polls.

Youth protest group Barakat (Enough), a rare public expression of the anger and frustration felt by some Algerians towards political authoritarianism, was founded just two months ago specifically to oppose the president’s bid for a
fourth term.

Police violently dispersed a demonstration the group organised in Algiers on Wednesday and arrested some of its members.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both voiced concerns about efforts by the authorities to restrict freedom of speech ahead of the vote, while Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday highlighted the difficulties faced by journalists trying to cover it.

Out of the total six candidates, the president’s main rival, former prime minister Ali Benflis who ran against Bouteflika in 2004 but lost heavily, said fraud will be his “main adversary” on Thursday. 

Benflis warned that he would “not keep quiet” if the election is stolen.

Despite the sometimes scathing criticism levelled against him in the independent media, Bouteflika remains popular with many Algerians.

He is credited for helping to end the devastating civil war of the 1990s, and containing the social unrest that spread to Algeria in January 2011 by offering political reforms, lifting a 19-year state of emergency and raising wages.

587

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Taking Al-Qaeda’s Media Savvy Seriously

Image from the new al-Qaeda video.Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released a new video. In it, the group’s leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, greets about 100 armed supporters.

Our attention to this video is important for three reasons.

1. WHAT THE VIDEO TELLS US ABOUT AL-WUHAYSHI

In short, he means business. In his personal greeting to the assembled troops and in his smiling, charismatic persona, it’s clear that al-Wuhayshi is presenting himself as the new bin Laden — a global figurehead for Salafi jihadism and a man adored by his followers. Moreover, and I accept that I’m going out on a limb here, the manner in which al-Wuhayshi is speaking openly to a such a large group is perhaps intended as a contrast with the leader of the al-Qaeda core, Ayman al-Zawahiri. After all, al-Zawahiri’s video messages are now produced indoors and with far less energy. Indeed, the video suggests that al-Wuhayshi is trying to return the Salafi revolution to the Arabian Peninsula. And his agenda is certainly transnational — al-Wuhayshi finishes his speech by committing to destroy unbelievers, Christianity, and America.

Still, this wasn’t just a campaign event. In equal measure, it was a celebration. Whether in the form of the jihadi sing-along or of the informal but personal testaments of faith and commitment, this was to AQAP what a campfire is to Americans — shared enjoyment and companionship. That al-Wuhayshi is astute about this dynamic illustrates his leadership skills and awareness. Combined with some of his other actions — the apology he ordered that was made in the aftermath of a hospital attack, for example — it’s obvious that al-Wuhayshi is no idiot. Yes, he might be a brutal ideologue and killer. But ultimately it is what this video encapsulates — his strategic intellect — that makes him so dangerous.

2. WHAT THE VIDEO TELLS US ABOUT U.S. INTELLIGENCE

Sitting across the Gulf of Aden, about 70 miles from Yemen, is Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Here a large group of U.S. special-operations forces, intelligence officers and analysts, and drone operators work to confront regional jihadists. AQAP is a major focus. And this video will cause them some concern.

The fact that al-Wuhayshi was able to assemble such a large group so publicly and with such seeming comfort is illustrative of two broader truths: first, that the U.S. intelligence community lacks adequate human-intelligence penetration of AQAP’s network, and second, that AQAP has gone dark in terms of electronic communications. While it’s commonly assumed that U.S. intelligence services are all-powerful, they’re not. Beset by political leaders who hate loyalty (see Senate Democrats on the CIA) and love leaks (last August, someone in the U.S. government informed al-Wuhayshi and other senior al-Qaeda leaders that their communications were monitored), they have a challenging job (it’s not only the U.S. — look at U.K. intelligence and Syria). Moreover, if terrorists understand how intelligence services operate, they will take steps to evade detection. This video indicates that they are doing so.

3. WHAT THE VIDEO TELLS US ABOUT AQAP AS AN ORGANIZATION

Carefully edited in high-definition presentation and with big names, this video illustrates a new paradigm of al-Qaeda propaganda. The intended narrative is clear: “We’re a professional outlet.” In the setting — a deep, beautiful valley — we see the AQAP’s self-presentation as Spartan warriors, godly servants struggling in purity against Western materialist corruption. And again, in this very public display, we also see a message to AQAP’s jihadist brothers around the world: “The drones are not omnipotent.” Also implicit: a one-fingered salute to Yemeni, Saudi, and U.S. intelligence services.

The video also shows that AQAP gets operational security. Watch it again. As the company processes past the camera, demonstrating military capability and strength in numbers, the terrorists keep their heads down. Clearly they’ve been told to avoid personal identification. In the same vein, watch again the moment when al-Wuhayshi is walking the rope line. Notice how his senior lieutenants have their faces blurred? There’s an important reason why: These are the men who make al-Wuhayshi’s operation work. As Stan McChrystal understood in Iraq, terrorism takes a network. Tellingly, AQAP’s bomb maestro, Ibrahim al-Asiri, doesn’t appear to be present — perhaps a hedge against the drone threat?

Yet simultaneously, some assembled have their faces shown in high definition. This indicates two other AQAP understandings: first, their knowledge that some of the cadre are already known to the group’s intelligence-service adversaries; second, the recognition that propaganda needs a face. Just look at the final collage of photographs, a mix of young and old, fighting in common cause. The imagery sends a powerful message.

Most importantly, this video illustrates how confident AQAP has become. Fueled by money from the Sunni kingdoms, insulated by the weakness of the Yemeni government, and empowered by Yemeni and regional civil instability, AQAP is signaling its intent to advance.

Assyrian International News Agency

Ukraine Restricting Russian Males From Entering Country

Ukraine is stepping up its border controls with Russia, restricting entry for Russian men of “fighting age,” a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine told RFE/RL.

“I can confirm that we temporarily have been forced to strengthen border control efforts in connection with information about possible provocations at the border, and even possible terrorist acts,” said Oleh Slobodyan. “Of course we are looking first and foremost at men, you might say, of a fighting age that are traveling alone or in small groups.” 
 
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has demanded an explanation from Ukraine. It said Russian authorities would consider “possible retaliatory measures.”

In an apparently related development, the Russian Border Guard press service said April 17 that 45 Russian passengers on a train headed to Ukraine were stopped at the Ukrainian border and ordered by Ukrainian border guards to go back.

Crimea Restrictions

In its statement, Aeroflot said that only male Russian nationals arriving in Ukraine to see relatives, or care for sick relatives, or attend a funeral will be permitted to enter the country. It said such Russian male passengers must have documents proving the purpose of their visit.

Aeroflot said similar restrictions apply to residents of Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that was annexed by Russia in March.

Aeroflot said Crimean women between the ages of 20 and 35 will have to undergo special checks on arrival at Ukrainian airports.

Aeroflot recommended in its statement that Russian citizens avoid traveling to Ukraine at this time. 

The action comes as separatist, pro-Russian militants have caused increasing unrest in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian security forces, in turn, have launched an operation against the separatists, which has led to 3 casualties among the pro-Russian activists. 

Ukraine and the United States have accused Russia of fomenting the unrest, but Russian President Vladimir Putin called such claims “nonsense.” Russia has amassed its forces near the border with Ukraine.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Saad calls political rivals to avoid political defamation among them

Baghdad (AIN) –MP, Suzan al-Saad, of Fadhila bloc urged to avoid political defamation among the candidates nominated for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

She stated to All Iraq News Agency “We call all electoral slates and political entities to present their electoral programs away from defaming others.”

“They should talk about their achievements in the previous stage and to keep away from defamation that leads citizens to lose trust in the candidates,” she concluded. /End/

LINK

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Edward Snowden Asks Vladimir Putin A Question

During his annual marathon question-and-answer session today Russian President Vladimir Putin took unsurprising questions from a pensioner in the far east, a new Russian citizen in Crimea, and a former Ukrainian riot policeman in Moscow.

Then came a video message from Edward Snowden.

“Zdravstvuyte,” said the former NSA employee, using the formal Russian word for “hello.” After explaining that several U.S. government studies had found mass surveillance programs “ineffective,” Snowden asked Putin, a former KGB member, if Russia “intercepts, stores, or analyzes in any way, the communications of individuals.” 
 
Putin, who said he had trouble understanding Snowden’s American accent but seemed unsurprised by the question, said because they were both former spies he could address the question “in professional language.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” said Putin, who added that spying technology is used on an individual basis with “criminals and terrorists” threatening Russia. “We do not have the money for the kinds of devices they have in the United States. Our special services are strictly controlled by society and the law.” 

Snowden, whose message was apparently prerecorded, did not have opportunity for a follow-up. Putin’s answer, while unsurprising, seemed to require suspension of disbelief. 

Russia does, in fact, have a mass surveillance program. Called SORM, the system allows Russia’s security service direct access to Internet service providers throughout the country. Russia reportedly used the technology to monitor “all communications” during the Sochi Winter Olympics. 

And a day earlier, the founder of Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte, released documents showing he had been pressured — “in violation of the law” — to turn over personal information for accounts promoting Ukraine’s pro-Europe protest movements.

Roman Dobrokhotov, an opposition activist and journalist who once penned an open letter to Snowden, joked that the American refugee should have asked VKontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, about information collection. 
 


But by allowing Putin to compare his spying program with Washington without actually having to be transparent about its practices, Snowden prompted immediate suggestions that he had become — wittingly or not — a Russian propaganda tool.  
 

As if to prove the point, Aleksandr Sidyakin, a Duma deputy from Putin’s United Russia party, tweeted, “Edward Snowden is with us.” 
 

The Kremlin’s English-language Twitter account also highlighted Putin’s response. 
 


Snowden’s supporters, however, said the outrage was being promoted by those who already disapproved of his bombshell revelations on NSA spying. 
 


Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Snowden to break the NSA story, has forcefully defended the former NSA contractor for moving to Russia where he received asylum last year. Greenwald, who has defended the move as the only tenable option for a man likely to face serious charges in the United States, reacted with sarcasm to today’s pushback. 
 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia

military-spending-asia-sipri-pacific-pivot-south-china-sea

Asian countries are spending more on their militaries even as other regions cut back. (Photo: U.S. Pacific Command / Flickr)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6-percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.

In 2012, for the first time, Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2-percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia — specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan — is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands — and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under 1 percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised a 2.8-percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001, but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012—from $ 8.3 to $ 18.8 billion.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports — in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter. South Asia accounts for nearly half.

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defense systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall, between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasizes “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems, and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements — on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare — will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

KRG propose a compromise to resolve the dispute «oil» with Baghdad

Baghdad: Hamza Mustafa:  Revealed the Kurdistan Alliance bloc in the Iraqi parliament that the talks conducted by the Quartet, which recently set up by the Iraqi parliament to resolve the dispute of oil between Baghdad and Erbil resulted in a proposal submitted by the Committee headed by the first deputy of the Parliament Qusay al-Suhail KRG President Barzani.

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Alliance, a pro Ok, told the «Middle East» «Barzani told the committee, which includes, in addition to al-Suhail, both Aref Tayfur, second deputy speaker of parliament, and Fuad Masum, head of the Kurdistan Alliance bloc, and Adnan al-Janabi, Chairman of the parliamentary oil and energy, he proposed to the federal government in Baghdad to form a technical committee of neutral experts assume the verification process of the potential of each province or territory producer of oil on the quantity that could be exported, and not only because the production is export production ». Ok added that «this proposal will be binding in the event of the Kurdistan Committee approved it also required all oil-producing provinces in Iraq with the aim to get rid of all of the assumptions and preconditions on the amount of what comes out of the oil».The good that «the delegation, which visited the region is not a negotiating team as much as it is a delegation mediation in order to bridge the gap in viewpoints between the two sides and on the back of the tension that happened between the region and the center due to the contents of the budget bill, the amount of commits Kurdistan region exported, which is 400 thousand barrels, as well as imposition of penalty clauses in the event of non-compliance with the export of this quantity ». The good that «quantity contained in the draft budget is not accurate, but is the amount of virtual and therefore the rejection of the terms of the penal stems from the fact that if we were able to produce 400 thousand barrels per day, it is not necessarily to be able to be exported because production is export, since there are oil fields Many in the region produce oil, but they are still without an infrastructure for export, especially the pipes that connect them ». Through good desire for the Kurdistan Alliance to «respond to the federal government for this proposal, which would end the problems between the two parties, including technical problems that quickly turn into problems and political crises», pointing out that «the approval of the formation of the committee would pave the way for the possibility of adoption of the budget after the elections because the current session of Parliament ends practically in mid-June next, and thus is still a chance for approval, rather than carried over to the next government ».

And on whether the Kurdistan Alliance will resume its sessions in parliament to approve the budget, said good: «In case was approved on the Commission, it is imperative that the Cabinet shall issue a supplement to the budget to parliament includes not specify the amount must region exported a 400 thousand barrels per day, and the lifting of sanctions Criminal imposed on the region ».

The Iraqi parliament has recessed several times for lack of quorum due to the masses of the province of the Kurdistan Alliance and «united», led by Parliament Speaker Osama Najafi meetings. Before the end of the legislative term of the last Parliament form a quadripartite committee to resolve the dispute while the oil decided to adjourn until further notice depends on what the Quartet achieve results.

The Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul-Karim and coffee recently announced near the center and the region reach a solution to the dispute of oil after it agreed KRG to export 100 thousand barrels a day through the company «Sumo» National. Non-stop exporting oil due to sabotage suffered by the carrier pipe from Kirkuk to Ceyhan prevented the export of this amount.

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Putin says no Russian troops in east Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in his neighbour’s future on live television.

In a four-hour televised question-and-answer session, Putin dismissed as “nonsense” claims that Russian special forces were fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine.

“It’s all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special forces or instructors in the east of Ukraine,” Putin said.

He did admit, for the first time, that the troops in unmarked uniforms who had captured Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula before its annexation last month by Moscow were Russian soldiers.

Putin also expressed hope that four-way talks between Ukraine, the US, the European Union and Russia in Geneva on Thursday could map a way out of one of Europe’s greatest security threats in decades.

Protesters gather

Protesters gathered on Thursday in front of the occupied city hall which is flying a flag in Russian colours and proclaiming an independent eastern state.

Hundreds of demonstrators staged the rally in the eastern city of Mariupol after Ukrainian soldiers killed three people during a raid on their barracks. 

The three assailants were killed and 13 others wounded when around 300 people attacked the interior ministry troops in the industrial port city overnight with firearms and petrol bombs, according to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

After warning shots, the troops fired on the assailants, resulting in the deaths, he said, adding that 63 people were arrested and “Russian cell phones” were seized.

The interior ministry said additional police had been sent to Mariupol and special forces were helicoptered in as reinforcements.

The attack followed the seizure of administrative buildings by pro-Russian separatists in Mariupol and other towns across the restive east of the country.

There were no casualties among Ukrainian servicemen, the ministry said. At least 63 people involved in the attack were detained, but local media cited police as saying 38 were later released.

The southern Ukrainian city lies on the road running from Russia along the coast to Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed last month. NATO says Russia has up to 40,000 troops along its border with Ukraine.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine’s prime minister accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to sabotage the country’s upcoming presidential election and said Moscow was responsible for deaths in recent clashes in eastern Ukraine.

“Russia is playing only one game: further aggravation, further provocation, because the task, that Putin today officially announced, is to wreck the presidential election on May 25,” Arseny Yatseniuk told reporters.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Kyrgyz PM Says Joining Customs Union Is ‘Right Step’

BISHKEK — Kyrgyz Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev says joining a Russia-led Customs Union is the “right step” and will help his country tackle many economic and social challenges.

Talking to RFE/RL on April 17, Otorbaev said Kyrgyzstan’s products, except gold, are being exported mainly to the Customs Union’s member states — Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia — and therefore it would be wrong to close the borders to those countries.

According to Otorbaev, joining the union would improve the investment climate in Kyrgyzstan and boost its farming sector, including the processing of agricultural products.

Otorbaev did not exclude some “negative impacts” of joining the union, which he did not specify, but said the “positive impact will prevail.”

Russian officials have tried to get former Soviet republics to join the Customs Union, saying that by 2015 it will become the Eurasian Economic Space (EES), modeled after the EU.

(WATCH: Interview With Kyrgyzstan’s New Prime Minister)
 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

WITHIN A FEW DAYS, THEY WILL ANNOUNCE FULL MEMBERSHIP TO THE WTO

POPPY3: DINAR RV CAN STILL HAPPEN AT ANYTIME. ALL THE FOLLOWING WILL HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME, AT LEAST WITHIN A FEW HOURS OF ONE ANOTHER AS THEY ARE ALL TIED TOGETHER:

FIRST – AS I TOLD YOU EARLIER, THE THREE CONTRACTORS HAVE NOT BEEN PAID YET AND THAT LEAVES THE DOOR OPEN FOR THE RV TO STILL BE PENDING TO HAPPEN THIS WEEK.

NEXT – I WAS INFORMED THE RATE WILL CHANGE ON THE CBI SITE… THEN THERE WILL BE ANNOUNCEMENTS THAT THEY HAVE THE BUDGET, HCL, AND FULL TARIFF LAW AND HAVE MOVED IN FINANCIAL RESTRUCTURE TO ARTICLE 8…

THEN, WITHIN A FEW DAYS, THEY WILL ANNOUNCE FULL MEMBERSHIP TO THE WTO BECAUSE THEY WILL HAVE A RE-VALUED CURRENCY AND IT WILL BE TRADABLE INTERNATIONALLY.

ALL THIS COULD HAPPEN WITHIN HOURS, AND IT COULD BE IN DIFFERENT TIMING, BUT ALL WILL HAPPEN VERY QUICKLY AS THEY ARE ALL TIED TO ONE ANOTHER. POPPY3

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Probe Launched Into ‘Illegal Release’ Of Reputed Kyrgyz Crime Boss

Investigations have been launched into last year’s release of a reputed crime boss in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Aida Salyanova (eds: a woman) told lawmakers on April 17 that a probe has been launched into the release of Aziz Batukaev due to new evidence obtained by her office.

Batukaev was sentenced to almost 17 years in jail in 2006 for involvement in several crimes, including the murder of a Kyrgyz lawmaker and Interior Ministry official.

Prison officials released Batukaev in April last year, saying he was suffering from leukemia.

The medical report was later found to be falsified.

Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Atakhanov resigned and the country’s ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, was sacked in the wake of the scandal.

Salyanova says an international arrest warrant might be issued for Batukaev, who is believed to be in his native Chechnya in the Russian Federation.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Scientists Support Seymour Hersh

Tom Stoddart Collection

On April 15, we wrote about the controversy sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line. As in his earlier LRB article, Whose Sarin?, he maintains that the Obama administration knew that the extremist Islamist rebel group, al-Nusra, possessed chemical weapons capabilities and mounted the attack on Damascus suburb Ghouta which spurred President Obama to take the United States to the brink of mounting a massive attack on Syria. Of course, at the last minute he elected to seek the approval of Congress first and then Russian Prime Minister Putin saw Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to refrain from attacking Syria if it liquidated its chemical weapons and raised it.

Compounding the controversy, Hersh also maintained that Turkey helped al-Nusra with the attack on Ghouta to implicate Syria in a false flag operation and lure the West into attacking Syria.

Much of the controversy over Hersh’s articles coalesced around Eliott Higgins, who maintains Brown Moses Blog and clings to the notion that the Syrian government was the guilty party in the chemical weapons attack. Though he’s self-taught, Higgins’s expertise on Syrian rockets and chemical weapons is highly regard. But, at Mint Press, Carmen Russell-Sluchansky talked to Professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT Theodore Postol, as well as Richard Lloyd, an analyst at Tesla Laboratories and former UN weapons inspector. In December 2013, they took the U.S. Government to task for its willingness to act as if it were certain that the Syrian government was guilty of the attack.

“The thing I find extremely disturbing is that the Secretary of State and the White House were very specific,” Postol told MintPress. “They claimed that they had satellite positions of the launches of these rockets. That’s a pretty specific claim. I know the satellites they’re talking about and I also know they can’t tell what rockets are carrying a chemical warhead and what rockets are carrying explosive warheads.”

In addition to stating that the launch points looked like they weren’t in government-held territory

Both Postol and Lloyd are confounded by Higgins’ contention that these “volcano rockets” could have only come from the Syrian army.

“They are well within the manufacturable range by a modest machine shop,” Postol said. “The design is clever for what it’s designed to do, but once you have the design, you can make it pretty easily. … Lloyd points out that he has designed a course on the arms used in the Syrian conflict.

“I have a section all on the rebels,” he explained. “They have factories. A production line. They have just as much capability as anyone else in building these weapons.”

It’s nice to know Hersh has science on his side.

A rebuttal by Higgins can be found in his April 9 post The Knowledge Gap ― Seymour’s Hersh of Cards. (Agreed: lame pun.)

Foreign Policy In Focus