EUR/USD inches up as Ukraine unease softens dollar

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Investing.com – The euro edged higher against the dollar on Thursday after escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine offset positive U.S. data on demand for long-lasting consumer products and weakened the greenback.

In U.S. trading, EUR/USD was up 0.09% at 1.3829, up from a session low of 1.3792 and off a high of 1.3843.

The pair was likely to find support at 1.3785, Tuesday’s low, and resistance at 1.3855, Wednesday’s high.

Ukraine military forces killed five separatists earlier, while Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev against stepping up its offensive against the rebels.

Geopolitical tensions eclipsed overall positive U.S. data and sent investors chasing safe-haven yen positions, while markets took dovish comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi in stride.

The Commerce Department reported earlier that U.S. orders for durable goods rose 2.6% in March, beating expectations for a 2% gain.

Core durable goods orders, which exclude volatile transportation items, rose 2% last month, far outpacing forecasts for a 0.6% gain.

Separately, the Labor Department said the number of individuals who filed for unemployment assistance in the U.S. in the week ending April 19 rose by 24,000 to 329,000. Analysts had expected an increase of 5,000.

Despite the increase, underlying trends still point to recovery in the labor market, giving investors room to shrug off the data.

Meanwhile in Europe, ECB President Mario Draghi reiterated his stance that a strengthening euro could trigger further monetary easing, which capped the euro’s gains.

Speaking at a conference in Amsterdam, Draghi said the euro exchange rate is an “increasingly important factor” in monetary policy. The exchange rate is not a policy target in itself, but the bank’s monetary policy stance could be affected by a continued appreciation in the currency, Draghi added.

He also said the ECB could launch a “broad-based” asset purchase program if the medium-term inflation outlook deteriorated.

Elsewhere in Europe, German research institute Ifo reported that its business climate index rose to a two-month high of 111.2 for April from 110.7 in March, beating expectations for a 110.5 reading.

The euro was down against the pound, with EUR/GBP down 0.02% to 0.8232, and down against the yen, with EUR/JPY down 0.09% at 141.55.

On Friday, the U.S. is to round up the week with revised data on consumer sentiment.

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Elections in Kirkuk: The Kurdish Fight for the Arab Vote

KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region — In the run up to this month’s parliamentary and provincial elections, Kurdish parties in Kirkuk are reaching out to the city’s Arab and Turkmen population, recruiting them as candidates and printing multilingual campaign posters.

Aso Mamand, head of the local bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) believes that his list has already won the trust of all ethnic groups through public services.

“The leader of the PUK list will win many votes from the Arab, Turkmen, and the Assyrian-Chaldean groups of Kirkuk due to the social services he brought to their neighborhoods,” Mamand told Rudaw.

Najmaldin Karim, the current governor of Kirkuk and senior PUK member is the head of his parties list for the provincial elections.

Observers believe that Kurdish parties are targeting Kirkuk’s ethnic groups because they failed to form a united list of their own.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK are the two major parties in Kirkuk. But despite running on a joint list in most previous Iraqi elections, they decided to run separately in the April 30 polls due to political disagreements.

Both parties are now vying for Kirkuk’s more than 841,000 eligible voters.

“Unfortunately we could not create one united Kurdish list of candidates,” says Mamand. “However, we are not going to base our expectations on the results of the 2010 elections and we do expect to win more seats this time around.”

Meanwhile representatives of smaller parties in Kirkuk think that the KDP-PUK split aside, the two parties are likely to lose many voters due to their poor political record in the multiethnic province.

“The PUK and the KDP have bored the people of Kirkuk with their election campaigns,” says Suad Ghazi, the Communist Party candidate for the Iraqi parliament. “They have monopolized six Kurdish seats among themselves and would not allow that number to increase if it is not in their own interest.”

Winning the votes of non-Kurdish groups isn’t going to be easy. The Kurds have strong Arab groups to contend with, among them the Arabic Coalition of Muhammad al-Tamimi, Iraq’s current Minister of Education, who said recently that he has “allocated one billion Iraqi Dinars for the election campaign,”

Al-Tamimi said that Kurdish candidates do not stand a chance among Arab voters who are determined to keep Kirkuk as an Iraqi city.

“We will increase our votes though our slogans, especially when we tell the Arabs that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city,” he said. “This will ruin the dreams of those who claim that the Arab voters will vote for the non-Arabic lists.”

Despite Kirkuk’s large Kurdish population the province’s Arab candidates present a formidable force. In 2010 they won more than 211,000, giving them six seats in parliament.

“We will protect the unity in Kirkuk this time despite the various threats facing us, especially the lives of our candidates,” Abd al-Rahman Murshid al-Assi, leader of the Arab Front in Kirkuk told Rudaw.

Al-Assi said that so far there have been four assassination attempts against Arab candidates in Kirkuk.

According to Arshad Salihi, the leader of the Turkmen Front, Turkmen voters are more vulnerable to the Kurdish campaign than their Arab neighbors.

“The candidates of the Kurdish groups are visiting the Turkmen neighborhoods and promise to bring social services in return for their votes,” said Salihi. “We believe our votes are in danger this time.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Russian jets hold drills near Ukraine border

The Russian military has conducted fighter-jet drills in the southwestern Krasnodar region close to Ukrainian territory.

The southern military district’s Sukhoi-25 fighter jets on Thursday held drills in overcoming enemy missile defence and firing at land targets.

The Kremlin ordered the new military exercises on Ukraine’s border after the Ukrainian government said its troops killed five “terrorists” in operations to take back the pro-Russian stronghold of Slovyansk.

NATO estimates Russia has also deployed up to 40,000 troops to the border areas.

An amateur video published on Thursday showed a large Russian military convoy moving in the town of Novoshakhtinsk just 10 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.

The footage shows numerous military trucks, as well as tanks and armoured personnel carriers moving on a highway.

Russia has maintained it has the right to protect Russian-speakers if they come under threat, a reason it gave for annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last month.

Separatists killed

Earlier on Thursday Ukraine’s interior ministry said Ukrainian troops had killed the pro-Russian separatists in the Slovyansk operations as paratroopers took over three “illegal checkpoints” around the town, which has been in separatist control for almost two weeks.

Videos posted online showed smoke rising from barricades around the town. Reports said rebels had set fire to the barricades as they abandoned them and retreated from Ukranian forces.

Russian Defence Minister Sergie Shoigu said Russia was “compelled to react to such a situation”.

“From today, military exercises have started in regions bordering Ukraine involving battalions of tactical forces of the southern and western military districts,” Shoigu said.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had warned earlier on Thursday that there would be consequences if the Ukraine army was used against pro-Russian activists.

“If Kiev really began to use the army against the country’s population… that is a very serious crime against its own people,” he said.

The Slovyansk operation came hours after the Ukrainian government reported that its forces had taken control of the town hall in the city of Mariupol, and repelled an attack on an army base in the eastern town of Artemivsk, the ministries said.

Separatist sources also reported the loss of the town hall in Mariupol. The city was the scene of a rebel attack on troops last week that left three rebels dead. The separatists had held the town hall since April 13.

“The town hall is liberated and can function normally,” Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a statement that Ukranian forces repelled nearly 100 separatists in an attack on the military base in Artemivsk, just north of rebel-held Donetsk.

“The attackers were repelled and suffered significant losses,” Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, said.

Ukraine’s army moves to reclaim eastern town

US President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Russia had failed to abide by the spirit of a deal to ease tensions in Ukraine, and that new sanctions against Russia were being “teed up”.

He said “malicious armed men” continued to occupy buildings in eastern Ukraine, in contradiction to a deal agreed last week in Geneva by Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US.

“So far we have seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva,” Obama said.

If that continued, he said, “there will be further consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions”.

616

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Crude rises as Ukraine crisis heats up, stirs supply fears

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Investing.com – Crude futures rose on Thursday after tensions between Russia and Ukraine heated up, with Moscow threatening action if Kiev continues to crackdown on separatists.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in June traded at $ 101.94 a barrel during U.S. trading, up 0.49%. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $ 101.43 a barrel and a high of $ 102.35 a barrel.

The June contract settled down 0.30% at $ 101.44 a barrel on Wednesday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $ 101.20 a barrel, Wednesday’s low, and resistance at $ 104.97 a barrel, the high from April 15.

Ukraine military forces killed five separatists earlier, while Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev against stepping up its offensive against the rebels.

Concerns that the West may impose new sanctions against Russia stoked fears over possible supply disruptions. Russia is the world’s second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile in the U.S., positive data sent prices gaining as well.

The Commerce Department reported earlier that U.S. orders for durable goods rose 2.6% in March, beating expectations for a 2% gain.

Core durable goods orders, which exclude volatile transportation items, rose 2% last month, far outpacing forecasts for a 0.6% gain.

Separately, the Labor Department said the number of individuals who filed for unemployment assistance in the U.S. in the week ending April 19 rose by 24,000 to 329,000. Analysts had expected an increase of 5,000.

Despite the increase, underlying trends still point to recovery in the labor market, giving investors room to shrug off the data and stick with oil under the assumption the U.S. economy is on the mend and will demand more fuel and energy going forward.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for June delivery were up 1.21%, trading at US$ 110.43 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$ 8.49 a barrel.

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She Survived the Turkish Genocide, But Lost Her Assyrian Identity

(AINA) — In 1974, at the height of the Kurdish insurrection in north Iraq, a woman knocked on the door of a house in the Assyrian quarter of Kirkuk. The owner of the house, Michael, opened the door and saw an elderly Kurdish woman. According to Michael, he was so shaken and disturbed by this encounter that immediately afterward he sat in his living room and sobbed for two hours.

The following is a transcript that Michael wrote after this incident occurred. He kept it for thirteen years, never telling anyone about it. In 1985 he immigrated to Chicago. In 1986 he gave the transcript to Delilah, who had immigrated to Chicago in 1984. When asked by Delilah why he had not told her in 1973, he said at the time he wished to spare her the pain of remembering the genocide, which had claimed the life of his own father, and which this incident had triggered so many painful memories in him. But now his perspective had changed, and he felt that Delilah and her family had a right to know, and such accounts should be made available to all, so that the genocide would never be forgotten.

Delilah died in 1986. Michael died in 1987.

The Turkish genocide of Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians occurred between 1915 and 1918, and claimed the lives of 750,000 Assyrians (75%), 1.5 million Armenians and 500,000 Pontic Greeks. It was a genocide designed to exterminate Christians and it nearly succeeded. Today Turkey is 99% Muslim. In the 1820s 40% of its population was non-Muslim, mostly Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and some Jews. In 1915 the non-Muslim population had declined to 19%. In 1918 it had declined to less than 1% directly as a result of the genocide.

That the genocide occurred is beyond dispute. The evidence comes from multiple sources. The genocide was recorded by Arnold Toynbee, famed British historian, as well as countless American and German missionaries. Toynbee’s document runs for more than 600 pages and is entitled, “Arnold Toynbee Papers and Documents on the Treatment of Armenians and Assyrian Christians by the Turks, 1915-1916, in the Ottoman Empire and North-West Persia.” The national archives of the British, French and American states contain a large collection of documents related to the genocide. The Diplomatic French archives, for example, included 45 volumes on the Assyrian question from 1915 to 1940.

There is also the testimony of thousands of Assyrian, Greek and Armenian survivors. The following is one such testimony.

The names in the following transcript have been Anglicized. The transcript was translated from Assyrian by AINA.

Michael opens the door after hearing a knock.

“Your neighbor sent me here,” she said in Kurdish and broken Assyrian.

“May I help you?”

“Yes. I am looking for my family. I told your Arab neighbor I am an Assyrian; he sent me here.”

“What is your name?”

“My Kurdish name is Neurez. My Assyrian name is Susan [Shooshan].”

“Are you Kurdish or Assyrian?”

“I am an Assyrian. I was born in Turkey in 1903. I am from the village of Ishtazin. My father was John David [Youkhana Dawid].”

“I am Michael.”

“My mother, father and two brothers were killed by a Kurd in 1915. He spared my life and forced me to marry him. I want to find my family. I had two uncles on my father’s side, and an uncle and an aunt on my mother’s side.”

“What were their names?”

“My father’s brothers were Zia and Tower. My mother’s sister was Batishwa and her brother was Paul [Paulus]. Zia was married and had a boy and a girl, Matthew [Matay] and Delilah [Dalaleh]“

“There’s a woman who lives four doors from here. Her name is Delilah and I am almost sure she is from the village of Ishtazin.”

“Delilah? Uncle Zia’s daughter?”

“I am not sure. Let me see if my wife knows. Will you please come in?”

“No.”

Michael said he went into the house and asked his wife if Delilah was Zia’s daughter, and if she was from the village of Ishtazin.

“My wife says that Delilah is Zia’s daughter and they are from Ishtazin. They are most likely your relatives.”

Michael reported seeing tears in Susan’s eyes, and she became silent for nearly five minutes, gazing off into the distance.

“I think you are a very lucky woman. Come, let me bring you to her.”

“No!” she screamed.

“But that is why you came, is it not?”

“Yes…but I can’t stay, I am a Kurd now, I have children and grandchildren.”

“You would not have to stay, just meet her.”

“I…would not be able to leave if I met her. I…am a Muslim now.”

“Where do you live?”

“Sulaymaniyah.”

“You have come a long way. You should not leave without seeing if that’s your family.”

“No! No! I must leave now.”

“No wait!”

Michael said that Susan darted off with remarkable agility, never to be seen again.

Assyrian International News Agency

The Central Bank has printed currency notes of small groups and also large groups

4-24-2014 Millionday: Article: “The Central Bank’s Treasury Director Ihsan Al-yasseri said the Central Bank has printed currency notes of small groups (250, 500 and 1000) and also large groups (5, 10 and 25) 1,000 dinars.” this is not the release of the coins and the small denoms but is obviously a huge sign they are back from the printer and done also – they are for trade business…this is huge when you think about the major bank issues we have been seeing with no currency and citizen complaints – also huge because it is on the streets — large denoms we knew they printed. [also, why give a note that is worth only $ 0.21 security features?] bingo. this has NOW BEEN IDENTIFIED TO BE ONE OF THE STEPS CBI/TURKI SAID WE WOULD SEE FOR THE ACTIVITY OF THE ACTIVATION OF THE MONETARY POLICY — AN IDENTIFIED STEP.

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Turkish Genocide Scholar Visits Assyrian, Armenian Genocide Memorials in Yerevan

Assyrians at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia.Yerevan (AINA) — Today, on the 99th anniversary of the Turkish Genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, Assyrians of Armenia visited the Armenian Genocide monument in Tsitsernakaberd and paid tribute to the memory of the victims. They laid a wreath at the memorial and placed flowers near the eternal flame of the victims.

Dr. Eran Gunduz, the Turkish representative from the German Association for the Recognition of the Genocide visited the Assyrian genocide monument in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. He laid flowers at the monument and honored the memory of the Assyrian people with a minute of silence. Dr. Gunduz said he planned in advance that today after visiting the Armenian genocide memorial complex he would pay respects to the Assyrian victims who were subjected to genocide in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

“I hope one of these days the Republic of Turkey will recognize this historical injustice and will accept its guilt,” he said.

The Turkish genocide of Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians occurred between 1915 and 1918, and claimed the lives of 750,000 Assyrians (75%), 1.5 million Armenians and 500,000 Pontic Greeks. It was a genocide designed to exterminate Christians and it nearly succeeded. Today Turkey is 99% Muslim. In the 1820s 40% of its population was non-Muslim, mostly Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and some Jews. In 1915 the non-Muslim population had declined to 19%. In 1918 it had declined to less than 1% directly as a result of the genocide.

The Assyrian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia.

That the genocide occurred is beyond dispute. The evidence comes from multiple sources. The genocide was recorded by Arnold Toynbee, famed British historian, as well as countless American and German missionaries. Toynbee’s document runs for more than 600 pages and is entitled, “Arnold Toynbee Papers and Documents on the Treatment of Armenians and Assyrian Christians by the Turks, 1915-1916, in the Ottoman Empire and North-West Persia.” The national archives of the British, French and American states contain a large collection of documents related to the genocide. The Diplomatic French archives, for example, included 45 volumes on the Assyrian question from 1915 to 1940.

Assyrians at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia.

Assyrian International News Agency

OSCE Slams Putin For The ‘Height Of Hypocrisy’

The secretary-general of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for having “double standards.” 

Spencer Oliver told RFE/RL that it was the “height of hypocrisy” for Putin to condemn Ukrainian forces for taking action against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Oliver noted that Putin signed a Russian law criminalizing separatism with jail time in December.

Oliver said: “In the OSCE, the Russians are always alleging double standards, but this is ridiculous because in Russia, anybody who calls for separatism is a criminal. So, that means that the people in Ukraine under Russian standards would be criminals.”

As Ukrainian forces moved against pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk on April 24, Putin said the use of force by the Ukrainian government would be a “serious crime against their own nation.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Guatemala: Suppressing Dissent at Home and Abroad

guatemala-human-rights-violations-otto-perez-molina

Last year saw the sharpest escalation in attacks on human rights defenders since Guatemala’s armed conflict ended in 1996. (Photo: Wikipedia)

It’s a rare occasion when the president of a small Central American country tries to get a U.S. Senate aide fired. But Guatemala’s Otto Pérez Molina is not having the typical term.

Pérez Molina presided last year over the sharpest escalation in targeted attacks on human rights defenders since Guatemala’s armed conflict ended in 1996. Attacks on human rights defenders—a term encompassing journalists, judicial workers, unionists, indigenous leaders, and others working for basic rights—increased last year by 126 percent, by far the greatest jump recorded in any year in post-war Guatemala. Eighteen human rights defenders were assassinated, a 72-percent increase over 2012, even as the country’s general murder rate has decreased. Also last year, President Pérez Molina was accused of participating in genocide. A former soldier testifying during the trial of former dictator General Efrain Ríos Montt swore under oath that President Pérez Molina had committed atrocities.

Still, Otto Pérez Molina was hoping that the United States would restore military aid to Guatemala, which has been restricted for decades because of human rights abuses. He achieved a measure of success. The United States recently lifted the outright ban on military aid to Guatemala for the first time in 24 years. The 2014 Appropriations Act instead links any future resumption of military aid to the fulfillment of several specific conditions that the State Department must certify. These conditions include ensuring that the military is cooperating with prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers and confirming that the government is taking “credible steps” to compensate communities affected by the government massacre of a Mayan community in the 1980s to make way for the Chixoy dam. International military education and training (IMET) funds also have been held up, pending certification that the Guatemalan army has met key conditions.

Stung by the aid restrictions, Pérez Molina—perhaps inadvertently—gave the U.S. Congress a view into his government’s attitude toward dissent and the methods he uses to try to stifle it. He unleashed a disinformation and character assassination campaign, a tactic his administration is employing ever more frequently. The Guatemalan president’s target: Tim Rieser, majority clerk on the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

“This has to do with the interests of a person, and we know exactly who he is, who believes he is the owner of Guatemala, being a Senate aide,” the president said in a February 5 news conference. He named Rieser, an aide for Senator Patrick Leahy, as the sole reason for the funding restrictions, stating—incorrectly—that Rieser had been maintaining the aid ban since 1977. Rieser began working for the subcommittee in 1989. In any case, military funding was restored in 1982 and not cut off again until 1990. He said Rieser was “still living in the time of the armed conflict” and didn’t realize Guatemala had changed since 1977.

The president’s unprecedented attack on the Senate staffer made international news, prompting Senator Leahy to respond. “Rather than blame a staff member for a law passed by the U.S. Congress,” he wrote in a communique sent to the Guatemalan government, “Guatemalan officials should fulfill the state’s responsibility to implement the 2010 Chixoy reparations plan and its commitments under the Peace Accords.”

Pérez Molina, in spite of Leahy’s rebuke, persisted. In a three-page letter posted on the Guatemalan government’s website and sent to the U.S. Congress via the Guatemala chancery, he wrote, “The unwarranted and disproportional reaction expressed in the provisions of the Appropriations Bill makes it clear that Mr. Rieser, based on his scarce and outdated knowledge of the Guatemalan reality, has poorly advised and misled the Honorable Senators and Members of Congress.” He added, “Only the misinformed or the malintentioned can state that Guatemala has not made significant advances to comply with human rights.” His government was calling attention to the “biased, partial, and outdated assistance,” he said, because it was certain that that “the Congress of the United States requests from its aides a high professional and ethical standard.”

For Pérez Molina, the tactic is likely to have been a colossal misstep; he has curried no favor on Capitol Hill. The accusations most likely bounced off Rieser, who is highly respected, powerful, and well established after decades in the Senate. For ordinary Guatemalans, though, who are increasingly the targets of government campaigns of smears, unfounded accusations, delegitimization, and criminalization, the results of such tactics can be devastating—and even deadly. And for Guatemalan society as a whole, the consequences of crippling those who defend human rights will be enormous. 

Suppressing Dissent at Home

The steps the Guatemalan government is taking to stifle dissent are careful and calculated. Last year the government filed 61 unsubstantiated criminal complaints against human rights defenders, holding some leaders for months on charges ranging from usurpation to terrorism. Most of those targeted were indigenous leaders defending their land from transnational companies that are erecting large-scale mining projects, plantations of sugar cane and palm oil, and hydroelectric dams without the consent of communities. Indigenous leader Roberto González Ucelo, for example, president of the Xinca Parliament in a community in eastern Guatemala, which has been opposing a mining operation, had an arrest warrant pending against him for seven months. Guatemala’s interior minister, Mauricio López Bonilla, accused him openly of being a hired assassin, a drug trafficker, and a terrorist. A court dismissed all charges for lack of evidence. Ruben Herrera, a community organizer opposing a hydroelectric dam, was detained on frivolous charges for nearly two months.

Journalists, too, have been sued, for charges ranging from slander and extortion to insulting the president. José Rubén Zamora, a respected journalist in Guatemala who edits one of the major dailies and who in 1995 won a Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom award, has spoken in the Guatemalan media about the campaign of intimidation he insists the president and vice-president are behind. “I know their script well,” he said in an October 2013 interview. “There are five steps: Attempt to bribe. If that fails, financial strangulation. If that fails, campaigns of character assassination, using all the means, and if that is not very effective, law suits, and finally, direct physical assaults.” Step four has been tried and discarded. In November, the president sued Rubén Zamora but then, facing international pressure, later dropped the suit.

Zamora believes Pérez Molina may now be planning his assassination. Politically motivated murder isn’t rare in Guatemala—four journalists were assassinated in 2013. Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla claimed that their killings were over personal matters, although investigators had established no motives.

Human rights defenders not subjected to lawsuits were still widely denounced in various media as Marxists, communists, and terrorists. The Guatemalan government has taken no action to tamp down these accusations, which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has termed hate speech. Confronted with this fact, the Guatemalan government told the Inter-American Commission it fully intended to the respect freedom of the press.

Last October a group of Guatemalans representing various organizations went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to denounce the campaign of intimidation, defamation, and criminalization directed at human rights defenders by pro-military groups, private enterprise, and the government. The human rights representatives noted that the government rarely investigates attacks on human rights defenders—only 2 percent of such attacks are ever prosecuted. They also told the Inter-American Commission that after the recent assassinations of some human rights defenders, a government official had said, “They got what they deserved.”

As if to prove the human rights defenders’ point, Interior Minister Bonilla—himself a former army officer—told Chamber of Industry members that the human rights defenders who had traveled to Washington to present that complaint before the Inter-American Commission were extortionists and black-mailers, no better than the gang members that held up urban buses. He later clarified his remark, saying what he meant was that “there are people who are attacking the governability of the country.”

Claudia Samayoa, director of the Unity for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, told Spain’s Noticias de Gipuzkoa, “Unfortunately we have had state violence now for the past two years, and it’s the very government itself that is attacking journalists and human rights defenders.” In an email exchange, she explained, “I am referring to the criminalization but also to the actions from the army and the police in the framework of the constant stigmatization that the president and minister of the interior are carrying out.”

Attacks on Judges

The widely hailed reformist Supreme Court judge, César Barrientos, was prophetic when two years ago he asked the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to “identify the presence of a process aimed at disqualifying independent judges” and investigate whether they are being “criminalized with practices similar to those used against human rights promoters, and if this leads, for ideological reasons, to a purge of those who exercise independent judicial functioning.”

That process is now in full gear. In March, Barrientos committed suicide. He had complained of “psychological warfare,” including government threats to prosecute members of his family. In April, the Guatemalan bar association, in a vote dominated by members linked to Pérez Molina’s party, suspended Judge Jazmin Barrios, notable for convicting former general Efrain Ríos Montt of genocide last year. And Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, internationally recognized for her impartial and courageous prosecutions, is likely to be forced out in May, more than half a year before her term expires.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a press statement warned, “The ruling suspending Judge Barrios suggests the existence of a pact of impunity in Guatemala among various sectors to prevent continuing advances in transitional justice and other areas of justice in Guatemala.” The ICJ called on CICIG to investigate this pact. In the opinion of the ICJ, the bar association lacks the authority to impose such a sanction on Barrios. Barrios, who recently received a Woman of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department, made clear that the charge the bar association based its ruling on—abuse of authority during Ríos Montt’s trial—was one the Disciplinary Council of the Judiciary had already considered. The council absolved her. An attorney for Ríos Montt, Moisés Galindo, filed the charge, saying Barríos had disrespected and humiliated him. The ICJ stated that the trial was observed internationally and at no moment did any disrespect toward Galindo occur.

The argument to shorten Claudia Paz y Paz’s term is equally dubious. The Guatemalan Constitution guarantees attorney generals a four-year term. In February, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that Paz y Paz would have to step down in May, arguing that her term had officially begun in May 2010, when former Attorney General Arnulfo Conrado Reyes Sagastume was removed from office due to irregularities in his selection process. Paz y Paz, however, did not take his place until December 2010. She was expecting to continue in office until December 2014, as required by Guatemalan law.

These legal maneuverings have a chilling effect on all those working for justice. Ríos Montt, who was convicted of genocide last May before the verdict was annulled on a technicality, is under house arrest, and his trial is expected to continue in January. Various appeals have been filed, including one arguing that he and his co-defendant, former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, should be amnestied. More than 60 judges have excused themselves from ruling on the amnesty issue.

The purging of the courts is particularly urgent for certain sectors of Guatemalan society. “The 2014 election of the courts and the public prosecutor will be the mother of all battles,” wrote Phillip Chiccola shortly after Ríos Montt’s conviction in a blog on the website of CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful business lobby. “The next Supreme Court must confirm or reject—on appeal—the sentence. The next attorney general will define whether the persecution continues, if the trials are stopped, or if cases against the guerrillas are taken up. That is to say, the result of this trial will depend on who controls the judiciary.”

After Judge Barrios’ suspension, Iduvina Hernández, a prominent promoter of human rights who works for an organization called Security in Democracy, tweeted, “All that remains now is for those who committed genocide to complete their crime by prosecuting the witnesses.” The conditions certainly are being laid for more persecution, through the judiciary, of those seeking justice and defending their rights. It’s a broad-based effort. Former military officers and the wealthy of Guatemala whose interests are bound up with them have played a large role in harassing and attempting to oust judges that are willing to prosecute military officers for crimes of the past. On entering office, Claudia Paz y Paz had started prosecuting cases against former military officials and police officers that had previously languished in the courts.

“We weren’t going to allow ourselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter,” said Ricardo Méndez Ruiz in a November 2011 interview with the Guatemalan daily El Periodico. He leads the so-called Foundation Against Terrorism, which over the summer put out various strident publications denying genocide and accusing human rights organizations of terrorism. He admitted the foundation wouldn’t exist if not for Claudia Paz y Paz. “It’s against the attorney general,” he said, “for the love of God, I’m aiming at her.” Ricardo Sagastume Morales, the lawyer who first posed the complaint in the Constitutional Court arguing that Paz y Paz’s term should end in May, was a presidential candidate for the far right-wing National Convergence Front party, composed largely of former military officers. Sagastume is also the former director of Guatemala’s Chamber of Commerce.

The tactics of the Foundation Against Terrorism and other groups representing the military and the economic elite would be threatening but perhaps manageable if their charges against human rights defenders were not echoed so consistently by the government. By prosecuting and denouncing human rights defenders, rather than protecting them, the government is further weakening the already fragile institutions of a country that has one of the greatest wealth divides in Latin America and a history of horrific human rights abuses, including genocide.

Escalation of Violence

The violence against human rights defenders so far this year includes four murders.

Even as Pérez Molina was named 2013 Leader of the Year by Latin Trade, Guatemala was rated the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists and is living up to its title. Two trade union leaders were killed in January. A 16-year-old girl and her father, both anti-mining activists, were gunned down by unknown assailants in April. The girl, Topacio Reynoso, died from her wounds.

In January, the body of indigenous leader Juan Tuyuc was found by the roadside. He had been run over, shot several times, and beaten. According to his sister, well-known human rights advocate Rosalina Tuyuc, Juan had been arrested prior to the discovery of his corpse on the roadside. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern and called for an investigation. The Guatemalan government insisted Tuyuc died as a result of the “accident” and was neither shot nor detained previously—and accused the Inter-American Commission of using “conjectures” and “unsubstantiated information.” The government further criticized the Inter-American Commission: “We hope that in the future the Commission will base its public communication in the most scientific and true fashion possible,” not on versions presented by family members and human rights organizations.

As its rebuke to the Inter-American Commission indicates, the Guatemalan government’s plan to stifle dissent includes separating the international community from Guatemala’s human rights defenders, leaving its version of events as the sole account. Accompaniment projects such as Peace Brigades International and the Network in Solidarity with Guatemala, as well as other international human rights organizations, have themselves become a target for smears and threats. Last October, the minister of the interior announced a “warning” for all foreigners on tourist visas in Guatemala. “It doesn’t matter what flag you come under, if you’re ecologists, human rights defenders, whatever outfit they want to put on. We will not permit their involvement in the internal affairs of Guatemala.” The minister argued that, according to intelligence reports, foreigners were participating in social protests and “inciting people to commit crimes against private property and the authorities.”

In a report, Peace Brigades notes an ever-increasing effort to discredit international accompaniment, including smear campaigns against those assisting in efforts to promote the defense of human rights. “We interpret these actions as direct attempts to discredit and weaken the human rights movement and to make human rights defenders, organizations, and communities feel more vulnerable.”

The government’s permissiveness concerning the attacks against defenders and its efforts to isolate them, combined with the catastrophic and unprecedented rise in abuses, have taken a large toll. Rob Mercantante, a staff member with the Guatemala Human Rights Commission who has worked in Guatemala since the 1980s, considers the crisis the most acute he has seen since the years of the war. In an interview in Washington, DC, he said, “People come to me asking me to give them something for migraines, something for depression, something to help them sleep. People are having breakdowns; they’re having to get out of the country.”

Ironically, “involvement in the internal affairs of Guatemala” is one of the charges Pérez Molina leveled at the U.S. Congress regarding the conditions placed on military aid. He called the conditioning of aid an attempt to legislate the internal affairs of Guatemala. In fact, the United States is legislating its own potential involvement in terror, asserting the right and duty not to support state terrorism. Senate aide Tim Rieser is not stuck in the past, a past in which the United States assisted in Guatemala’s genocide and supported decades of bloody military rule. This, perhaps, is what Pérez Molina regrets. Much—as he himself said—has changed.

Patricia Davis is former director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA and co-author, with Dianna Ortiz, of The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Israel suspends peace talks with Palestinians

The Israeli government has decided to halt peace talks with the Palestinians in response to a new unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions.

The decision appears to end a nine-month peace initiative by United States Secretary of State John Kerry. The negotiating period is scheduled to end next Tuesday, though the sides had been trying to agree to an extension.

Israel’s Security Cabinet unanimously decided to cut off contacts after a five-hour meeting on Thursday. They announced the decision in a statement.

Reuters reported that Israel was also considering imposing economic sanctions against the Palestinians.

The Palestinians said they were considering “all options” in response to Israel’s decisions to halt the talks.

“The Palestinian leadership will look into all options to respond to Israeli government decisions against the PA,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat told AFP.

“The priority now for the Palestinians is reconciliation and national unity,” he said.

Israel is furious over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to form a unity government with the Hamas movement after a seven-year rift.

Israel and the US consider Hamas a “terrorist” group.

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, meanwhile, welcomed the accord between the Palestinians, but still viewed the peace talks with Israel as a priority, a spokesman for Ashton said. 

New government

Under the milestone reconciliation pact reached on Wednesday, the Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas will form a national consensus government in five weeks.

Hamas, which was democratically elected to rule the Gaza Strip, is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians, while Fatah governs parts of the West Bank, home to another 2 million Palestinians.

The groups will form a government together to rule the Palestinian territories under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and will hold elections in six months.

Israel cancelled a session of peace negotiations scheduled for Wednesday night after the announcement of a new Palestinian government.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said in a statement that “whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace”.

“I said this morning that Abu Mazen (the Fatah-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) needs to choose between peace with Israel and an agreement with Hamas, a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel and which both the United States and the European Union define as a terrorist organisation,” Netanyahu said.

Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli foreign minister, described the signing of the agreement as “tantamount to a signature on the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.

Lieberman told Radio Army on Thursday that Israel should resist international pressure to resume talks.

“There is no doubt that in the international arena there will be … pressure to force (an agreement),” Lieberman said.

“This is our test, to withstand the pressure.”

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Oil exports from southern Iraq heading to high record in April

Shafaq News/ Oil exports from Iraq’s southern ports is heading to register a high record in April, according to loading data and sources in the oil sector , reflecting Iraq’s efforts to increase its productivity and growth of the oil supply in 2014 , Reuters said in news briefed by “Shafaq News”.

Oil sources said that shipments from Kirkuk in northern Iraq is still stopped since the bombing that stopped the flow of oil and the pipeline failure on the second of March , which made Iraq’s exports generally lower than its levels .

The navigational data showed that exports from the southern ports of Iraq amounted to an average of 2.55 million barrels of oil per day in 23 first days of April , A source in the oil sector exports are watching similar estimates .

If this level continues in the remaining period of April , oil exports from the south of the country will exceed the recorded level in February at 2.5 million barrels per day , the highest of its kind since 1979 .But traders do not expect the imminent return of Kirkuk crude .

A commercial source in a company that buy Iraqi oil said that, ” There are no shipments of Kirkuk crude in April, it does not seem to be good for May as well. ” adding that there are still delays in shipments of Basra , but the situation is better , compared with the past few months.

Iraq has increased export capacity of South Oil as an Iraqi official said on the third of April that his country aims to increase shipments to exceed 2.5 million barrels per day in April, thanks to the additional quantities of West new Qurna -2 .

LINK

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Baghdad Claims Preliminary Accord in Oil Talks; Erbil Reports No Progress

Shahristani said that the KRG has given preliminary approval for Kurdish oil exports through Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Comments by officials in Baghdad and Erbil shed no light on a seething oil quarrel between the two sides, with Iraq’s deputy premier saying that a preliminary agreement had been reached and the Kurdish premier reporting no progress in talks.

Meanwhile, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz added that facilities storing Kurdish crude at the port of Ceyhan – awaiting sale and re-export once the Erbil-Baghdad row has been resolved – are nearly full.

In an interview with Sky News Arabia, Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy affairs, Hussein Shahristani, said that the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has given preliminary approval for Kurdish oil exports through Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO).

He claimed that Erbil had said in a statement that the exports would be within the framework of Iraqi regulations, and that they had not begun yet due to technical reasons. Shahirstani said that Baghdad was waiting for Erbil to commit to that decision.

However, there has been no indication from Erbil that such an accord has been agreed.

Earlier, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announced that talks with Baghdad had made no progress. “We were expecting to reach an agreement within Iraq and for that we showed a lot of patience, but our patience has a limit,” the premier said at a news conference.  “If we know we can’t reach an agreement we will have our own solution,” he warned.

Iraq and its autonomous Kurds fail to see eye-to-eye over oil exports from the Kurdistan Region. Early this year the Kurds began exports through a newly-extended pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Baghdad vehemently objected, cutting off Erbil from the national budget, declaring the exports “illegal” and threatening to sue any company lifting Kurdish oil at Ceyhan.

Turkey, which badly needs Kurdish oil for its growing economy but also does not want to anger Baghdad, said it would only store the oil until an accord was reached between Baghdad and Erbil. Months later, there is still no clarity over the issue.

Yildiz, the Turkish energy minister, said lately that the volume of exported crude from Kurdistan via its own independent pipeline has reached 1.5 million barrels. “We will be in a position to send this oil to world markets once the tanks are full. We can’t keep this in tanks,” he said.

“The pipeline on the Iraqi side is in unusable shape. This is a loss for Iraq,” the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Kurdistan’s completion of an independent pipeline early this year, to export oil to Turkey, added to the tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. Each claims to have authority over oil extraction and export based on different interpretations of Iraq’s constitution.

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

The Online Debate Over A Mysterious Russian ‘Medal’

That the Russian Defense Ministry would present a medal to compatriots for “the return of Crimea” to Russia would not normally turn heads. 

It is pictures of what is allegedly written on the back that have caused alarm. 

Photos that originally appeared on the Facebook page of Volodimir Prosin, a historian and journalist from the Luhansk region of Ukraine, show what he claims is the backside of the medal. “For the Return of Crimea: February 20, 2014 – March 18, 2014,” it says.  

The end date makes sense — on March 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the territory. On February 20, however, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was still in power, Russian troops were still relegated to their Black Sea fleets. And in Kyiv, on that date, over 60 antigovernment protesters were killed by snipers believed to be under the control of Yanukovych. 
 

Putin has said the decision to support a referendum on Crimea took place only after a secret poll conducted after new authorities — who he claims present a threat to Russian speakers — took over in Kyiv on February 22. 

We do not normally report on Internet rumors and we cannot confirm the photos, but the circumstances surrounding the medals drew our interest. 

According to Rustem Adagamov, a well-known Russian blogger and photographer, pictures of a March 25 medal ceremony in Crimea, along with the frontside of the awards, were posted to the Russian Defense Ministry website, but then taken down on the same day.  

And “Russian Ribbon,” a ribbon-manufacturing company, claimed in a celebratory note, along with photos on its website, that it had been commissioned to “rush” and order the trimming to accompany the medals.  

Evgeniy Levkovich, a journalist for the Russian-language edition of “Rolling Stone,” claimed on Facebook that after a conversation with “Russian Ribbon’s” general director he had determined that the February 20-dated medal was “not a fake.” 

Levkovich said the director, Vera Yolkina, told him that an order for the medals had come directly from the Defense Ministry. 

In a conversation with RFE/RL though, Yolkina acknowledged that her company had agreed to manufacture the ribbons for the Defense Ministry, but said they had never actually seen the metal pieces that would accompany them.

“Only on the Internet did we see them,” she said. 

An official at Russia’s Defense Ministry, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, denied altogether that such a medal existed. 

“There has never been a liberation of Crimea,” he said. “There was a referendum and the people decided.” 

– Glenn Kates, Crimea Unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Pakistan Says 37 Killed In Air Raids Near Afghan Border

A Pakistani official says air raids on insurgent hideouts in the tribal region near the Afghan border have killed 37 suspected militants and wounded 18.

No independent confirmation of the government official’s report from the remote region was immediately available.

In addition to air strikes, government officials said ground troops were also taking part in the operation in the Tirah Valley in the northwestern Khyber tribal region, where the Taliban and the banned militant group Lashkar-i-Islam are active.

The Pakistani Army said the strikes were in response to a series of recent attacks against police and civilians in Islamabad and Peshawar.

The Pakistani Taliban formally ended a 40-day cease-fire last week after peace talks with the government appeared to falter.
 

Based on reporting by AP and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Guard kills US doctors in Kabul hospital

At least three American doctors have been killed by a security guard at an international hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Afghan security sources say.

Hafiz Khan, district police chief, said the guard suddenly started shooting on Thursday morning in Cure Hospital in the west of the capital, according to AP news agency.

Khan says the attacker was a member of the Afghan Police Protection Force assigned to guard the hospital, which specialises in children’s medicine.

“Five doctors had entered the compound of the hospital and were walking toward the building when the guard opened fire on them”, said Bektash Torkystani, a Ministry of Health spokesman. 

“Three foreign doctors were killed and two other doctors were wounded.” 

With great sadness we confirm that three Americans were killed in the attack on CURE Hospital

US embassy, Afghanistan

Another policeman in the area shot the attacker, injuring him.

The attacker was in surgery at midday in the same medical facility under heavy police guard.

Attacks targeting foreigners 

The US embassy said the three doctors killed were US citizens. ”With great sadness we confirm that three Americans were killed in the attack on CURE Hospital,” the US embassy said on its Twitter account. “No other
information will be released at this time.”

Cure International is a non-profit organisation founded in 1998, based in Pennsylvania and working in 29 countries including Afghanistan.

It describes itself as an “unapologetically Christian organisation” on its website, adding that it offers “treatment regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or ability to pay”.

Its hospitals and health programmes specialise in treating children with conditions including clubfoot, cleft lips, burn injuries and brain diseases.

Cure International took over the hospital in west Kabul in 2005 at the invitation of the Afghan government, and runs obstetrics, gynaecology, pathology and surgery departments as well as training schemes for doctors and nurses.

There was no immediate comment from Taliban spokesmen after the hospital shooting.

The shooting is the latest attack on foreign civilians in Afghanistan after the bombing of a popular restaurant in January and an attack on an upscale hotel in March.

It also follows the shooting of two Associated Press staff by a police officer in the country’s east this month.

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Bank Story

Iko Ward:    WF info as of 04.22.04. Spoke to my wealth manager. I went in to set up my primary VNN and IQN accounts instead of waiting for the appointment. I asked her direct questions about the exchange. They have had meetings. They will only be doing retail level exchanges at our area currency exchangers (4 locations. I am NW of Philadelphia).

I will be passed on to the WF Private Banking subsidiary after my initial exchange. She knew nothing of contract rates. I will still have my everyday money at the local branch. She asked how much I had. I told her it was best not to answer. This was all she was allowed to say.

What was different this time is she was rehearsed, no hesitation, clearly there has been some training and since she is on the fast track in their wealth management division she was towing the line. She also told me the guy I had been dealing with on the next level up would tell me the exact same thing, and that he was being promoted.

I take all this as simple evidence of the pending event. All of us, me included, go through the worst case scenario, but conversations like this help me stay level headed.

Whatever bozo said something about two years this week pushed my buttons, but then I went down my checklist of how does that make sense? (a permanent saying now in my list of ten things to say) which always calms me down.

I still plan on the international rates, but have also planned scenarios for the contract rates. Whatever the case, I am wealthy.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Turkmen Starting To Complain In Greater Numbers

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Under Turkmenistan’s notoriously repressive regime, those who publicly criticize the government have been known to end up in jail. But that hasn’t stopped an increasing number of Turkmen from approaching RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents in recent months to voice their dissatisfaction with officials. Is it bravery, desperation, or a more tolerant atmosphere?
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Putin Warns Against Using Ukrainian Army In The East

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the deployment of the Ukrainian Army in the east of the country by the Kyiv authorities constitutes a “serious crime against their own people” and will have “consequences.”
 
Putin’s comments on April 24 came as Ukraine’s military launched an assault to retake the rebel-held flashpoint town of Slovyansk, during which up to five separatists were reported killed.
 
Speaking at a gathering in St. Petersburg, Putin described the offensive as a “punitive operation” and called the pro-Western government in Kyiv a “junta” and a “clique.”
 
He said that if Kyiv authorities have begun using force in the east, “there will certainly be consequences for the people who make such decisions, as well as for our bilateral relations.” He did not specify the nature of the consequences.
 
Putin also said that sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over its actions in Ukraine are having an impact on its economy but not a critical one.
 
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow that the assault by Ukrainian security forces on separatist posts near Slovyansk was an “unacceptable” act of violence.
 
Lavrov said the United States should use its influence to persuade Kyiv to implement its commitments under an international agreement signed last week.
 
The agreement signed by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union calls for illegal armed groups to lay down their weapons and leave official buildings they occupy.
 

LIVE BLOG: Ukraine in Crisis

 
Earlier on April 24, U.S. President Barack Obama — speaking on a visit to Tokyo — accused Moscow of failing to live up to “the spirit or the letter” of the Geneva agreement and warned of possible further sanctions.
 
Also on April 24, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said all parties to the Geneva agreement should “do their utmost” to de-escalate the crisis.
 
Michael Mann, Ashton’s spokesman, pointed out that the parties had committed to “use their influence” to disarm militias and help restore government control over buildings and areas they have seized.
 
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement that military and special police forces had killed “up to five terrorists” while destroying three checkpoints north of Slovyansk on April 24. The statement said one of the government troops was injured.
 
Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the Slovyansk insurgents, said she could confirm that two pro-Russia militants had been killed at a checkpoint north of the city.
 
The situation inside Slovyansk, a city of 130,000, was reportedly quiet, with armored vehicles earlier on April 24 taking up positions on roads leading into the town and a helicopter flying overhead.
 
Correspondents on the ground said that the armored vehicles later withdrew from at least one checkpoint they had seized hours earlier near the town. The reasons for the withdrawal were not immediately clear.

 
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Maliki: One of the Wrongest Horses the U.S. Ever Backed

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Image Wikimedia Commons

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Image Wikimedia Commons

In yet another definitive piece for the New Yorker titled What We Left Behind, Dexter Filkins writes about Iraq today, especially Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who the United States helped install. Many Americans blame Iraqis for killing their fellow citizens simply because they’re of a different sect of Islam. But we need to remember: besides perpetrating a huge amount of the violence ourselves, by invading Iraq the United States effectively freed an evil genie ― excuse any cultural insensitivity the metaphor may conjure up ― out of its bottle. When it subsequently rampaged across the land wreaking death and destruction, the United States took little responsibility for catching it and stuffing it back in.

The best that can be said for the United States is that when it left Iraq, the murderous sectarian strife between the Sunnis and Shiites had lowered in intensity. But Shiites have been protesting against Maliki’s Shiite government and he has responded with a heavy hand that has sparked violence on a scale that harkens back to the worst of when the U.S. was still there. Filkins writes:

When Maliki became Prime Minister, some Iraqis hoped that he might help unify the country. He brought members of parliament into his coalition by promising to reach out to Sunnis and Kurds. But, far more often, Maliki used his position to continue the war for the Shiites, fighting what he sees as an irreconcilable group of Sunni revanchists.

Here’s an example of the resurgence in violence and how Maliki deals with dissidents. In 2011, shortly after the Americans left, he sent in troops to clear protesters from Ramadi.

Anbar Province erupted, along with the rest of Sunni Iraq, and the violence has not ceased. A wave of car bombers and suicide bombers struck Baghdad; in January, more than a thousand Iraqi civilians died, the overwhelming majority of them Shiites, making it one of the bloodiest months since the height of the American war. In the effort to put down the upheaval, Maliki ringed the province’s two largest cities, Falluja and Ramadi, with artillery and began shelling.

Another example:

[Maliki’s] government responded savagely to the new round of protests. In April [of this year], after a soldier was killed in the Sunni town of Hawija, troops attacked an encampment of protesters there, killing at least forty-four people. In a televised speech, Maliki warned of a “sectarian war,” and blamed the violence on “remnants of the Baath Party.” Hundreds of Iraqis, most of them Sunni civilians, were killed as the crackdown continued.

To an extent, Maliki is fighting yesterday’s war. Before the Iraq invasion, he engineered attacks against the hated Saddam from outside the country and is described by Filkins as obsessed.

From the beginning, Maliki was fixated on conspiracies being hatched against him—by his Iraqi rivals, by the Baathists he imagined were still in the Iraqi Army, even by the Americans. A former American diplomat described it as “Nixonian paranoia,” adding, “We had a hundred and fifty thousand troops in the country, and he was obsessed that a few dozen former Baathists were going to try to overthrow him.”

Yet, “Maliki has grown steadily more imperious, reacting violently to the slightest criticism. He often claims to have files on his rivals, filled with evidence of corruption and killings.” In fact

Maliki has even resurrected a Saddam-era law that makes it a criminal offense to criticize the head of the government. He has filed defamation suits against scores of journalists, judges, and members of parliament, demanding that they spend time in prison and pay damages.

In conclusion

Among many Iraqis, the concern is that their country is falling again into civil war, and that it is Maliki who has driven it to the edge. On April 30th, Iraqi voters will go to the polls to choose a parliament and ultimately a Prime Minister; after eight years in office, Maliki is seeking a third term. … The recent violence, along with Maliki’s growing authoritarianism, has prompted many to imagine the future in the darkest terms.

Maliki may not be as bad as Saddam Hussein, but he can scarcely be viewed as an improvement, only slightly less worse.

Foreign Policy In Focus

With Ukraine’s ‘Antiterror’ Operation In Full Swing, Putin Warns Of ‘Consequences’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the deployment of the army in eastern Ukraine by the Kyiv authorities constitutes a “serious crime against their own people” and will have “consequences.”

Putin’s comments on April 24 came as Ukrainian authorities announced their first successes in a military operation to dislodge pro-Russia insurgents in the east.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry posted a statement saying ”antiterrorist” operations in the Slovyansk region of Donetsk had cleared and destroyed three illegal armed checkpoints and killed five “terrorists.” One Ukrainian counterterrorism troop was reportedly wounded.
 

FOLLOW our Live Blog of the Ukraine crisis

Putin, speaking at a gathering in St. Petersburg, described the offensive against the separatists as a “punitive measure” and called the pro-Western government in Kyiv a “junta or clique.”

He also said that sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over its actions in Ukraine are having some effect on its economy but not a critical one.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow that the United States should use its influence to persuade Kyiv to implement its commitments under an international agreement signed last week in Geneva.
 

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, and RFE/RL

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukraine forces move in on rebel stronghold

Ukraine’s government has said its troops have killed five “terrorists” in operations to take back the pro-Russian stronghold of Slovyansk, a day after declaring an Easter truce over.

The Interior mMnistry said on Thursday that the pro-Russian rebels were killed as paratroopers took over three “illegal checkpoints” around the town, which has been in separatist control for more for almost two weeks.

 

Videos posted online showed smoke rising from barricades around the town. Reports said that rebels had set fire to the barricades as they abandoned them and retreated from Ukranian forces.

The Reuters news agency reported that Ukrainian troops had set up new positions around the town. The AFP agency said that Ukrainian forces had told pro-Russian rebels to leave government buildings they were occupying, although this was not confirmed by any other source.

Russia condemned any such operations, with President Vladimir Putin saying on Thursday that there would be consequences if the Ukraine army was used against pro-Russian activists.

He said any such action was “just a punitive operation and it will of course incur consequences for the people making these decisions, including [an effect] on our interstate relations”.

The operation came hours after the government reported that its forces had taken control of the town hall in the city of Mariupol, and repelled an attack on an army base in the eastern town of Artemivsk, the ministries said.

Separatist sources also reported the loss of the town hall in Mariupol. The city was the scene of a rebel attack on troops last week that left three rebels dead. The separatists had held the town hall since April 13.

“The town hall is liberated and can function normally,” Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement that Ukranian forces repelled nearly 100 separatists in an attack on the military base in Artemivsk, just north of rebel-held Donetsk.

“The attackers were repelled and suffered significant losses,” Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s acting president, said.

US President Barack Obama said on Thursday that Russia had failed to abide by the spirit of a deal to ease tensions in Ukraine, and that new sanctions against Russia were being “teed up”.

He said “malicious armed men” continued to occupy buildings in eastern Ukraine, in contradiction to a deal agreed last week in Geneva by Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US.

“So far we have seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva,” Obama said.

If that continued, he said, “there will be further consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions.”

On Wednesday Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, gave warning that Russia would respond if its interests were threatened, and made reference to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 after Georgian forces attacked separatists in its pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia.

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French, German FMs In Tbilisi To Discuss Ties

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has held talks with the visiting foreign ministers of France and Germany, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The Georgian presidential press service said that the sides discussed on April 24 EU-Tbilisi cooperation, Georgia’s plan to sign an Association Agreement with the EU in June, regional security, and the crisis in Ukraine.

The French and German foreign ministers also held talks with their Georgian counterpart, Maia Panjikidze, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, and parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili.

Speaking at a joint news conference after talks with Panjikidze, Fabius and Steinmeier said their joint visit is an expression of support ahead of the signing of an Association Agreement.

Steinmeier added that the Association Agreement is not targeted against any third party, adding that the EU “wants cooperation with Russia.”

Based on reporting by civil.ge and apnsy.ge

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Daghestani Security Forces In Gun Battle With Suspected Militants

Security forces have launched a counterterrorism operation against suspected militants in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan.

Local law-enforcement officials say the suspects opened fire when security troops tried to search a house in Daghestan’s western city of Khasavyurt on April 24.

They say a woman who emerged from the building and started shooting was killed on the scene.

A gun battle is continuing with at least two more people inside.

Based on reporting by Interfax and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

One Killed, Three Injured By Suspected Gas Blast In Tashkent

A suspected natural-gas explosion has killed one woman and injured three men in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

The explosion hit a business center in Tashkent on the evening on April 23.

Four people were hospitalized with severe injuries. One of them, a woman, whose name was not disclosed, later died of her wounds.

The Uzbek Interior Ministry said on April 24 that the explosion took place on the building’s ground floor, which is under repair. A preliminary investigation has revealed that the blast may have been caused by improper use of natural gas.

The explosion damaged the building’s first two floors, but there is no danger of the building’s collapse, ministry officials said.

However, RFE/RL correspondents report that the nine-story building is visibly leaning after the accident.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Obama backs Japan in islands row with China

The US president has reiterated that islands at the centre of a Sino-Japanese dispute are covered by a US-Japan defence pact, in a public show of support for allies in Tokyo.

In comments made on Thursday in Japan, Barack Obama said that the islands – known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China – were historically administered by Tokyo and came under the terms of joint-defence alliance.

He said US commitment to the treaty was “absolute”, and that it covered all territory administered by Japan.

“This is not a new position. This is a consistent one,” he said. “Article five covers all territories under Japan’s administration including Senkaku islands.”

However, he said: “We stand together in calling for disputes in the region, including maritime issues, to be resolved peacefully through dialogue.”

He said the US commitment to defend Japan was a matter of historical fact rather than a rebuke to China: “The treaty preceded my birth, so obviously this isn’t the red line that I’m drawing.”

During the same news conference, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said that he and Obama had agreed to broaden their nation’s co-operation on defence issues, adding that Obama welcomed Tokyo’s review its pacifist constitution.

Changing the constitution, which was agreed after defeat in the second world war, could leave Japan free to increase military spending, fight overseas, and conduct joint operations with its allies.

Security deal

The row over ownership of the Senkakus has come to the fore in the last two years, with paramilitary vessels from both sides jostling in nearby waters to assert control.

In November, China declared an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea, including the skies above the islands. The US sent B52 bombers on patrol to test that zone, drawing criticism from Beijing.

Obama’s comments came after an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Wednesday, in which he said: “The policy of the United States is clear – the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security.

“And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.”

Obama is on a week-long tour of Asia, part of what is being dubbed by the White House a “rebalancing” eastward of US foreign policy.

He will also discuss a new Pacific trade partnership in meetings with the leaders of the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea. Although China is not on his itinerary, it is central to issues being discussed on every leg of the tour.

427

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Asian shares mixed with Nikkei drifting lower

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Asian shares wer narrowly mixed on Thursday with the Nikkei drifting down.

The Nikkei 225 eased 0.44% while the Hang Seng inched up 0.10% and the Shanghai Composite fell 0.14%.

In Japan, Kobe Steel, Ltd. (5406.TOK) rose 2.3% after a Nikkei report it swung into the black in the last full year beating guidance.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s KOSPI fell 0.2% after data showed that the country’s first-quarter gross domestic product had grown 0.9% quarter-on-quarter, slightly weaker than expected, and Australia’s SP/ASX 200 added 0.2%

The absence of any significant catalysts kept many markets close to the break-even mark, leaving investors looking ahead for cues. In Japan, investors were waiting for the Japanese fiscal year earnings season to ramp up. Also in focus was U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan, which could lead to an announcement relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

Overnight, U.S. stocks fell after data revealed new home sales disappointed in March with the Dow 30 easing 0.08%, the SP 500 index declining 0.22% and the NASDAQ Composite index fell 0.83%.

The Commerce Department reported that sales of new homes in the U.S. fell to the lowest level since July 2013 in March.

Sales on new homes dropped 14.5% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 384,000, lower than analysts’ forecasts for a sales rate of 450,000.

After the close of European trade, the DJ Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.65%, France’s CAC 40 fell 0.74%, while Germany’s DAX fell 0.58%. Meanwhile, in the U.K. the FTSE 100 fell 0.11%.

On Thursday, the U.S. is to publish data on durable goods orders and the weekly report on initial jobless claims.

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Three Foreigners Killed In Afghan Hospital Attack

At least three foreigners are reported to have been killed when a security guard opened fire at an international hospital in the Afghan capital.

Afghan security sources are quoted as saying the attack occurred on April 24 on the grounds of the CURE International Hospital, which is located in western Kabul and is run by a U.S. charity.

A foreign doctor is reported to be among the dead.

The nationalities of the dead are not known.

No further details were immediately available.
 

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kap talks about a float.

Kaperoni Article: “Iraq issued a new currency with a high security specifications” Looks like the new dinar is already starting to circulate. This announcement validates two things, the dinar will rise gradually (no RV because reprinting these notes makes no sense then) and their is no redenomination (LOP) again makes no sense to reprint current denominations. This “only” makes sense in a gradual appreication or float in which these notes can be used by the citizens while the dinar appreciates and a slow transition per the statement…”will give a great power of the Iraqi dinar against other world currencies”

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Toxic Legacy: Uranium Mining in New Mexico

Many Navajo families live within 50 feet of old uranium mine and mill sites. (Photo: New Mexico Environmental Law Center)

Many Navajo families live within 50 feet of old uranium mine and mill sites. (Photo: New Mexico Environmental Law Center)

Most people are unaware that the third-largest nuclear disaster in world history occurred in New Mexico.

Less than four months after the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in 1979, three times as much radiation was released when a spill at a uranium mill at Church Rock, New Mexico, dumped 94 million gallons of mill effluent and more than 1,000 tons of acidic, radioactive sludge into an arroyo that emptied into the Puerco River.

The only two nuclear disasters that have released more radiation were those at Fukushima and Chernobyl.

The Navajo Nation, where the spill occurred, is riddled with 521 abandoned uranium mines across the three states included within the reservation, according to the EPA; 450 of those mines and eight former uranium mill sites are in New Mexico, and three of these are designated superfund sites. These sites are the source of contamination for tens of millions of gallons of groundwater and countless acres, the brunt of which is on Navajo land.

Like other indigenous peoples whose reservations happened to have uranium deposits the federal government, and later private companies, desired, the Navajo were not warned of the dangers of radiation.

Unexplained Respiratory Problems

Larry King is one of them.

“I just got through two months of battling respiratory problems that had me in the hospital,” King told Truthout. “There was an unofficial survey done by an organization working to log former miners, and they found a lot of us were complaining of unexplained respiratory problems. That’s what I have, unexplained respiratory problems, but I know where they came from.”

King attributes his sickness to his former job working in a uranium mine as a surveyor for United Nuclear Corporation (UNC), the company responsible for the 1979 Church Rock spill.

“I strongly believe I’m sick because of the years I worked underground,” King continued. “My job was to be behind miners, and I had to make trips into tunnels not ventilated, which had high readings of radon gas, and being exposed daily to contaminated water, Radon, diesel fumes and dust.”

For months after his job ended, King said he was “coughing up black stuff in my phlegm, or it was coming out of my nose.”
Now on to his second doctor trying to find proper treatment, his efforts continue to be unsuccessful, and his health continues to decline.

“I can’t work for a long time or I get fatigued and short on breath,” King said. “I was breathing contamination for seven hours a day for years, and I explained this, but my doctor just keeps giving me antibiotics and inhalers.”

And King is far from alone. Thousands of former uranium mine and mill workers remain sick with symptoms that have now been attributed to their work, as well as countless other people, mostly indigenous, who live in close proximity to these contaminated sites.

In New Mexico, a disproportionate number of unremediated uranium mine and mill sites are on lands traditionally used and occupied by the Navajo. Thus, a disproportionate amount of pollution from uranium sites occurs in Navajo communities, so the Navajo continue to bear the brunt of the health problems associated with these toxic sites.

Navajo families have bathed in, showered in, washed clothes in, played in and drunk radioactive water. Their men worked in the mines while breathing carcinogenic gases then spread radionuclides throughout their families simply by returning home from work. But it wasn’t until the spill was designated as a superfund site in 1983 that the Navajo who were being irradiated and sickened for more than 30 years learned the truth.

Chris Shuey, an environmental health specialist with the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) in Albuquerque, has been working with Navajo communities affected by uranium mining and milling for more than 30 years. “The health of people living near the uranium mines and mills, and the communities impacted by uranium mining and processing have not been well-studied,” Shuey told Truthout.

But he and SRIC have been studying the impacts since the uranium-mining era ended by the mid-1960s.

“What has been known for decades is the men working in the early mines were suffering from excess risk and incidence of respiratory disease, malignant and nonmalignant lung cancer and disease at rates far beyond rates in the rest of the US,” Shuey said.

But that is only the beginning of the problems.

Read the entire story at Truthout

Dahr Jamail

The Rundown — April 24

RFE/RL Video Roundup – April 23

RFE/RL in the Media

# Read Robert Coalson in ‘The Atlantic” on Moldova’s east-west conundrum 

Russia

Sweeping new law could result in ban of Google, Facebook and Skype, among others

Ukraine

Eastern Europe

# Nicholas Kristof says Moldova should win gold medal for “bravest nation

Afghanistan/Pakistan

# Afghanistan could create “meaningful” aerospace industry

Iran

Iraq

Caucasus

# Armenia considers outlawing anonymous comments online

Central Asia

Of Interest

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kap states that using the dollar is not an option.

Kaperoni The CBI is following the directive of the IMF…and that will be a gradual appreciation of the dinar. And once they open the market economy and capital account, the dinar should rise fairly quickly based on the IMF’s own statement..the Balassa-Samuelson effect. Give it a bit…remember the Iraqi’s need a currency they can appreciate and be proud of and use while the dinar rises. Using the dollar is not an option.

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India votes on second biggest polling day

The world’s biggest election in India, which passed the halfway mark last week, has entered its second-biggest day of staggered polls, in which  Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party is widely seen as the front-runner to be country’s next prime minister.

In the multi-phase election, voters of 117 constituencies in the following 11 states and one Union Territory will cast their ballots: Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Puducherry.

Security measures were tightened in India’s northeastern province of Assam to ensure safe and fearless environment for voters.

On Thursday morning, voters queued up outside polling booths in Guwahati city to exercise their franchise.

The election has turned into a face-off between Rahul Gandhi, best known for his famous last name, and Modi, who has been lauded by Indian corporate leaders and foreign companies for his business-friendly policies and his Gujarat model.

BJP and its allies are set to win a narrow majority of the 543 parliamentary seats but fall short of the 272-seat mark needed for a majority, according to latest polls.

The ruling Congress party, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and its allies were forecast to win just 111 parliamentary seats in the poll. Congress faces a struggle to be re-elected after a decade in power due to public anger over the economic slowdown, high inflation and a string of corruption scandals.

Indian elections are notoriously hard to predict, however, due to the country’s diverse electorate and a parliamentary system in which local candidates hold great sway and translating vote share into actual seats won is not always reliable.

292

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

U.S. Businessmen Confess To Selling Technology To Iran, Syria

Two men in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania have agreed to plead guilty to charges of illegally selling banned technology to Middle Eastern countries.

Harold Rinko conspired to export banned laboratory equipment, including equipment used to detect chemical weapons, to Syria, U.S. federal prosecutors said on April 23.

In a second case, Helmut Oertmann confessed to conspiring to ship a high-tech lathe used to manufacture automobile and aircraft components to Iran.

All items involved in the cases are considered “dual-use” items with both civilian and military applications. The United States requires that to export such items to Syria or Iran requires a license.

Rinko faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $ 25,000. Oertmann faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $ 250,000. In addition, Oertmann’s company, Hetran Inc., could be fined up to $ 1 million.
 

Based on reporting by AP, triblive.com, and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Millionday talks budget.

Millionday Article: “Announced the Finance Committee in the Iraqi Council of Representatives, that the Council will resume its sessions in the sixth month of May next to approve the budget bill for fiscal 2014.” so as we see here they are going to meet about the budget on may 6th after elections for the budget… CBI is a separate entity so with the many announcements of them moving forward with economic reform with international investment they would be pressured into also activating their own projects

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Navalny Fraud Trial To Open

A Moscow court is expected to begin hearing a fraud case against Russian activist blogger and opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.

The April 24 hearing in a Moscow district court will open the trial of Navalny and his brother, Oleg, on charges of defrauding two companies who were clients of a freight-transportation company the two men owned.

According to an April 22 post on Navalny’s blog, however, one of those companies, cosmetics giant Yves Rocher, has written to prosecutors to say that it was not defrauded and had not incurred any damages.

Navalny, who is currently under house arrest in connection with another case and who says he has been denied access to the Internet in an effort by prosecutors to prevent him from publicizing the Yves Roche letter.

By violating the terms of his house arrest, Navalny risks having the five-year suspended sentence he was given for embezzlement in July with a real prison term.
 

Based on reporting by “The Moscow Times” and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The March of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption

Polar bear on Bernard Harbor, along the Beaufort Sea coast, Arctic Alaska, June 2001. (Photo: Subhankar Banerjee)

Polar bear on Bernard Harbor, along the Beaufort Sea coast, Arctic Alaska, June 2001. (Photo: Subhankar Banerjee)

Last year marked the 37th consecutive year of above-average global temperature, according to data from NASA.

The signs of advanced Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) are all around us, becoming ever more visible by the day.
At least for those choosing to pay attention.

An Abundance of Signs

While the causes of most of these signs cannot be solely attributed to ACD, the correlation of the increasing intensity and frequency of events to ACD is unmistakable.

Let’s take a closer look at a random sampling of some of the more recent signs.

Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city (over 12 million people), will see its biggest water-supply system run dry soon if there is no rain. Concurry, a town in Australia’s outback, is so dry after two rainless years that their mayor is now looking at permanent evacuation as a final possibility. Record temperatures in Australia have been so intense that in January, around 100,000 bats literally fell from the sky during an extreme heat wave.

A now-chronic drought in California, which is also one of the most important agricultural regions in the United States, has reached a new level of severity never before recorded on the US drought monitor in the state. In an effort to preserve what little water remained, state officials there recently announced they would cut off water that the state provides to local public water agencies that serve 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland. Another impact of the drought there has 17 communities about to run out of water. Leading scientists have discussed how California’s historic drought has been worsened by ACD, and a recent NASA report on the drought, by some measures the deepest in over a century, adds:

“The entire west coast of the United States is changing color as the deepest drought in more than a century unfolds. According to the US Dept. of Agriculture and NOAA, dry conditions have become extreme across more than 62% of California’s land area – and there is little relief in sight.

“Up and down California, from Oregon to Mexico, it’s dry as a bone,” comments JPL climatologst Bill Patzert. “To make matters worse, the snowpack in the water-storing Sierras is less than 20% of normal for this time of the year.”

“The drought is so bad, NASA satellites can see it from space. On Jan. 18, 2014 – just one day after California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency – NASA’s Terra satellite snapped a sobering picture of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Where thousands of square miles of white snowpack should have been, there was just bare dirt and rock.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico’s chronic drought is so severe the state’s two largest rivers are now regularly drying up. Summer 2013 saw the Rio Grande drying up only 18 miles south of Albuquerque, with the drying now likely to spread north and into the city itself. By September 2013, nearly half (PDF) of the entire US was in moderate to extreme drought.

During a recent interview, a climate change scientist, while discussing ACD-induced drought plaguing the US Southwest, said that he had now become hesitant to use the word drought, because “the word drought implies that there is an ending.”

As if things aren’t already severe enough, the new report Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress: Water Demand by the Numbers shows that much of the oil and gas fracking activity in both the United States and Canada is happening in “arid, water stressed regions, creating significant long-term water sourcing risks” that will strongly and negatively impact the local ecosystem, communities and people living nearby.

The president of the organization that produced this report said, “Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions. Barring stiffer water-use regulations and improved on-the-ground practices, the industry’s water needs in many regions are on a collision course with other water users, especially agriculture and municipal water use.”

Read the entire story at Truthout

Dahr Jamail

NYMEX crude rebounds in Asia after bearish U.S. stocks report

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Crude oil prices rebounded in Asia on Thursday after a decline on U.S. supplies reaching an all-time high in weekly EIA data going back to August 1982.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in June traded at $ 101.58 a barrel, up 0.13%, after hitting an overnight session low of $ 101.21 a barrel and a high of $ 102.07 a barrel.

Brent crude on the ICE Futures Exchange fell 16 cents, or 0.2%, to $ 109.11 a barrel on Wednesday.

Overnight, crude futures dropped after weekly supply data revealed the U.S. is awash in crude, though prices bounced back as a bearish report was already priced into trading.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that crude oil inventories rose by 3.52 million barrels in the week ended April 18, surpassing expectations for a build of 2.27 million barrels.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 397.7 million barrels as of last week.

The EIA said total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 0.27 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a decline of 1.71 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles rose by 0.59 million barrels.

A report from the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday showed U.S. oil inventories rose by 519,000 barrels last week, while gasoline stocks fell by 3.4 million barrels and distillate stocks increased by 570,000 barrels.

Crude prices fell on Tuesday in anticipation of a bearish supply report, though bottom fishing sent prices rising after the report published, with futures breeching into positive territory at times.

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Turkish Soldiers Inside Syria Abducted By Islamist Rebels

ISTANBUL — Turkish troops conducting a resupply mission to a small Turkish military post inside Syrian territory were ambushed and detained Wednesday by Islamic extremists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, according to Turkish media reports.

The troops were later returned to Turkey, news outlets in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa said. But it wasn’t clear what happened to the four armored personnel carriers they’d been traveling in. One report said ISIS had kept the vehicles, which had been seen flying ISIS flags.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday confirmed that a convoy had been sent to the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb lies about 15 miles inside Syria, but Turkey claims sovereignty over the area under a 1921 territory. Erdogan said the convoy had been sent to deliver supplies to the Turkish military contingent assigned to guard the tomb.

He did not, however, mention the ISIS ambush or the abduction of the Turkish troops, an incident that could put Turkey’s military, widely regarded as the region’s best equipped, on a collision course with ISIS, whose militants are fighting both Syrian government forces and other anti-government rebel groups for control of eastern Syria.

“Right now, the issue is not about ISIS,” he told reporters in Ankara. “The job of our convoy is to transfer aid to the Suleyman Shah tomb.”

The Turkish military said the dispatch of the convoy was a planned activity, and nothing out of the ordinary.

Local news reports said the vehicles crossed into Syria from the Sursitpinar border gate and were ambushed near the town of Manbij. The troops — the exact number was not reported — were then taken to Manbij and later repatriated to Turkey, Sanliurfa.com reported, citing local Syrian sources and another unnamed source.

The news portal, without naming its source, said that the vehicles, after their capture, were being driven about with ISIS flags on them.

In mid-March, ISIS demanded that Turkey abandon its military outpost at the tomb and threatened to attack and destroy it. This apparently gave rise to a secret conversation among top Turkish officials about whether Turkey should seize the opportunity to take on ISIS, an Iraq-based offshoot of al Qaida that is also fighting the Iraqi government for control of western Iraq and is considered a serious menace to regional stability. Al Qaida leaders denounced the group earlier this year for disobeying orders to withdraw from Syria, where another rebel group, the Nusra Front, is al Qaida’s recognized affiliate.

A recording of the secret conversation about a possible incursion into Syria was posted on YouTube and proved deeply embarrassing to the Erdogan government, which launched a major investigation to find the source of the security breach. The government also blocked access to YouTube and Twitter in an effort to halt dissemination of the recording.

According to news accounts, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu can be heard on the recording saying that “without a strong pretext,” Turkey would not receive support for an intervention into Syria from the United States or other allies. The chief of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, reportedly responded that “if needed, I would dispatch four men to Syria” and “have them fire eight mortar shells at the Turkish side and create an excuse for war.” He added: “We can also have them attack the tomb of Suleyman Shah as well.”

If the government was seriously considering doing anything at the time, it was put on hold following the publication of the discussion.

Based on the scanty details available Wednesday, it wasn’t possible to determine whether the resupply convoy was a genuinely routine operation or a probe to test ISIS’s intentions.

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkey’s PM offers condolences to Armenians

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians who were killed by Ottoman soldiers during World War I.

Erdogan made the statement on Wednesday, on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the start of mass deportations of Armenians.

Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister

“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain,” Erdogan said.

He acknowledged that the events of 1915 had “inhumane consequences”, but also said it was “inadmissible” for the past to be used as an excuse for hostility against Turkey today.

Erdogan’s comments were the first overt attempt by a Turkish leader to offer condolences for the killings that some historians consider to be the first genocide of the 20th century.

Armenia has tried to get Turkey to recognise the killings of up to 1.5m people as genocide.

But Turkey says 500,000 people died because of fighting and starvation during World War I and refuses to term the killing of the Armenians a genocide.

“Millions of people of all religions and ethnicities lost their lives in the First World War,” Erdogan said.

‘Inhuman act’

The arrest and massacre of 2,000 Armenian leaders began in Istanbul on April 24, 1915.

A century later, the killings still fuel bitter controversy, often upsetting relations between Turkey and the West.

But there have been some gradual signs of change. 

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, last year called the events of 1915-16 a “mistake” and an “inhuman act” during a trip to the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Erdogan’s statement on Wednesday also called for a dialogue between the two countries and for the setting up of a commission to probe the events surrounding the killings.

“Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences – such as relocation – during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another,” Erdogan said.

It was not immediately clear if the prime minister’s words would be enough to thaw relations between the two countries.

370

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Turkey’s Assyrian Demand Government Support for Schools

The head of the Turkey Syriac Associations Federation, Evgil Turker, has told Hurriyet Daily News that efforts are being taken to open a Syriac elementary school, the first ever in the history of the republic.

However, having difficulty to undertake the financial burden of opening school in Mardin’s Midyat district, the community will appeal to the Ministry of Education for support.

The Syriacs are also lacking certificated Syriac speaking teaching staff and will also ask the ministry to allow Syriac teachers from Syria, Iraq and Europe to provide training in Turkey, Turker added.

The Turkey Syriac Associations Federation sent an application to Mardin’s Provincial Directorate for National Education last year to open the school. The last Syriac school in Turkey was closed down in 1928.

Stressing that they do not have the financial capabilities to open the elementary school, the federation was planning to meet with officials from the Ministry of Education for state support, Turker said.

So far, the federation has exchanged letters with the ministry to learn the procedures, but they have yet make progress since the ministry was waiting for the Syriacs’ preparations.

Meanwhile, the Syriac community in Istanbul is almost ready to open a kindergarten for the 2014-2015 school year, and has submitted a syllabus to the ministry, Sait Susin, the President of the Meryem Ana Church Foundation told the Daily News.

“We are now working to establish a training staff,” Susin added.

The kindergarten will be opened in Yesilkoy and will have three classes with capacity of 80-90 students.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq – Sweden – Maldives, bilateral relations .

BAGHDAD / Nina /– Foreign Ministry Sub Minister, Nizar Kherallah discussed with the Swedish Ambassador in Baghdad, Jurgen Ndstrm economic and investment joint consolidated cooperation of Swedish companies in Iraq.

According to a statement by Foreign ministry today: ” During the meeting they discussed bilateral relations , in addition to political and security developments in Iraq , especially the upcoming parliamentary elections and the international and regional situationsز

Elsewhere Kherallah discussed in a separated meeting with the non resident ambassador of Maldives Republic , Abdullah Hamid ways to promote cooperation between the two countries and re- establishing of diplomatic representation, joint coordination in international forums as well . / End

LINK

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Turkey Denies Sending Troops to Confront ISIL in Syria

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an stated on Wednesday that Turkey has sent aid to the Tomb of Süleyman ?ah in Syria, the burial place of the grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, but has not sent troops to confront the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.

In recent months, reports have emerged that ISIL forces in Syria are trying to gain control of the area around the Tomb of Süleyman ?ah. Turkey said it would retaliate appropriately in the event of an attack on the tomb in Syria, regardless of the attacker’s allegiances.

Touching upon reports claiming that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had sent a large number of armored vehicles to the Tomb of Süleyman ?ah for deployment near ISIL bases, Erdo?an stated: “Right now, ISIL is not the issue. The job of our convoy there is to transfer aid to the Tomb of Süleyman ?ah.”

According to reports, six tanks and 12 armored vehicles have been deployed within 200 meters of ISIL bases, and there are also claims that ISIL has started to send reinforcements to the area.

Diplomatic sources have told Today’s Zaman that they have no information on the matter; however, they added that the convoy could be acting as reinforcements to protect the tomb.

According to press reports, ISIL forces are about one kilometer from the tomb. Turkey is following the developments in Syria with great concern. There is a security crisis due to a lack of power and authority in the area, with radical groups increasing their terrorist activities in northern Syria.

Turkey previously stated that its armed forces are maintaining their vigilance along the Syrian border and have been ready for any contingencies since the start of the Syrian civil war.

In a leaked voice recording last month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, National Intelligence Organization (M?T) head Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlio?lu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ya?ar Güler can allegedly be heard discussing a possible intervention in Syria and the potential global reaction.

Their conversation appears to center on a possible operation to secure the Tomb of Süleyman ?ah, which is in an area of northern Syria largely controlled by militant Islamists.

Ankara regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. About two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers guard the tomb permanently.

Assyrian International News Agency

US lays charges in Syria smuggling scheme

US prosecutors have charged a man from the state of Pennsylvania and two foreign citizens with conspiring to illegally export chemical weapon detection devices and other equipment to Syria, according to authorities.

A federal judge on Wednesday unsealed the case after the prosecutor, Todd Hinkley, signed a plea agreement for Harold Rinko, of Pennsylvania, one of the three men who were charged in 2012.

Rinko, along with Ahmad Feras Diri, of London, and Moawea Deri, a Syrian citizen, stand accused of illegally shipping goods to Syria through other countries for nine years by creating false invoices, mislabelling items and listing fake purchasers and end users.

“We know they were exported to Syria,” Hinkley said. “The end user information we weren’t able, at least to this point, to develop in the investigation.”

Prosecutors said the items included masks used in civil defence against chemical agents, industrial engines used in oil and gas fields, a device used to locate buried pipelines and portable instruments used to detect, measure and classify chemical agents.

The United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the UK were allegedly used as transfer points for the items.

Unanswered questions

A 31-page indictment did not say how authorities discovered the alleged scheme, and Hinkley said that he could not comment on it.

Investigators also do not know who used the products once they were in Syria.

Diri and Deri allegedly used Rinko as a “front” to purchase the items and ship them to countries without export bans.

Prosecutors said Diri is awaiting extradition in London, where he was arrested last year.

Deri is thought to be in Syria, which has no extradition treaty with the US.

Syrian opposition activists and other witnesses told the AP news agency that government forces have attacked rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas in recent months. 

But the Syrian government denies these claims.

302

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

IHEC in Diwaniya announces distributing 99% of electoral E-cards

Diwaniya (IraqiNews.com) The office of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Diwaniya announced distributing 99% of the electoral E-cards.

The Deputy Director of the IHEC office in Diwaniya, Faris al-Atea, stated to the reporter of IraqiNews.com “About 99% of the electoral E-cards were distributed where 19969 cards out of 20088 were distributed and only 119 are left.”

LINK

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Sergei Lavrov’s U-Turn On Invasion

In early March, as Russia deployed thousands of troops in Crimea to back the process of the peninsula’s annexation, it also began to build up its troop presence on the country’s border with Ukraine.
 
At the same time, Russia denied that the buildup was anything more than a military exercise. 
  
Many suspected that Moscow’s next target would be Ukraine’s south and east — where there are large Russian-speaking populations — and reacted skeptically to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s repeated denials that Moscow had “plans to send troops into the rest of Ukraine. 
 
But since the apparent failure of a de-escalation agreement signed in Geneva last week, Lavrov’s rhetoric has become harsher — and in an interview with RT on April 23 — he all but said Russia was on the brink of war with Ukraine.
 
See how his statements have evolved over the past five weeks below:
 
March 14: After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Lavrov said “Russia does not have — and cannot have — any plans to invade the southeastern regions of Ukraine.”
 
March 29: On Russian state TV:  “We have absolutely no intention and no interests in crossing the Ukrainian border — absolutely [none].” 
 
April 11: Responding to a question on Russian state TV about whether Moscow had plans to take over the south and east of Ukraine: “We can’t have that wish — it goes against Russia’s fundamental interests.”
   
April 23: On RT, Russia’s state-run English-language news outlet: “”If we are attacked, we would certainly respond. If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law. Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation.” Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008 after fighting broke out between Georgia and its Russia-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia.
 


– Glenn Kates

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Iraqi Ambassador Predicts Prolonged Delay in Forming New Government

Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily at his office in Washington, April 16, 2014 (photo by Twitter/IraqiEmbassyUSA).Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily said April 23 that parliamentary elections scheduled next week are unlikely to produce a majority for any one party and that the United States retains considerable influence in Iraq despite the withdrawal two years ago of all American combat troops.

Faily, speaking to Al-Monitor a day after completing the Boston Marathon, said Iraqis have a different “concept of time” than Westerners and suggested that the elections could also help clarify nagging divisions that have undermined Iraqi unity, such as the distribution of oil revenues among Iraqi regions and provinces.

In the run-up to elections, stories in US media about Iraq have been almost universally gloomy, stressing the danger of the country dissolving back into civil war following the entrenchment of religious extremists in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, an epidemic of suicide bombings directed against Shiites and growing separatist tendencies in the northern Kurdish area. Nearly 8,000 civilians died last year and more than 2,500 people have been killed since January — tolls not seen since Americans were fighting in Iraq in 2008.

Faily, a British-educated mathematician of Kurdish origin who previously served as Iraq’s ambassador to Japan, did not minimize the challenges. However, he pointed out that some 9,000 people are running for 328 seats in parliament — an increase in candidates since the last elections in 2010 — and said that participation was expected to be around 60%. To prevent the disenfranchisement of Sunnis — which diminished the legitimacy of Iraq’s 2005 elections, boycotted by many Sunnis — the nearly 400,000 residents of Anbar who have fled their homes since fighting broke out there in December will be permitted to vote in neighboring provinces, Faily said.

Former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking April 22 at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said the most likely outcome is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition receives the most votes but not enough to form a government without protracted negotiations. Faily agreed. “We know for a fact that there will not be one party that takes a majority,” he said. “If you look at Anbar or the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] region, State of Law does not have representation. … No single party or even bloc can dominate. … They have to get the buy-in of others.”

After the 2010 elections, it took Iraqis nine months to form a new government and this could happen again, with Maliki serving in an acting capacity, said the ambassador, who comes from Maliki’s Dawa Party. “The key challenge is that most of the political blocs don’t have clear red lines, which creates confusion and misreading of each other,” he said. “You may have prolonged government formation after. Historically it wasn’t quick. But the concept of time is not as crucial for us as in the Western concept.”

Among the tough decisions on hold until after elections: agreement on how much of their oil Kurds can export through Turkey and how much revenue they will get from the central government. Faily said the Kurds are not the only ones who are looking for more resources from Iraq’s oil wealth. “We get more calls from the governor of Basra than from the KRG on this issue,” he said.

At the same time, Faily said that oil remains the “gel” for society and could keep Iraq from fragmenting into three or more pieces. “There is enough oil there for everybody to be prosperous,” he said.

Beyond its own significant ethnic and religious divisions, Iraq has suffered from the spillover of Syria’s three-year bloodbath. Faily said, “At this moment, we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel in relation to the Syrian situation.” He called the situation in Syria “as complicated as Iraq” but less prone to resolution because “you don’t have the wealth of the oil to entice parties into government formation.”

Syrian factions, he said, are embroiled in a truly existential struggle where combatants are unable to negotiate because “nobody is willing to accept the other. … What we had in Iraq was sectarianism; what you have in Syria is the annihilation of ethnicities.”

Faily denied allegations that the Baghdad government is encouraging Shiite fighters to go to Syria to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While Iraqis who opposed Saddam Hussein were sheltered by Assad’s father, Faily said, “As a government, we never advocated any fighters to go there. … People try to pigeonhole us into supporting the Syrian regime. We’ve never tried to say we support what the Syrian regime is doing. At the same time, give us an alternative form of government.”

Many commentators have suggested that Iran — which also sheltered Saddam’s opponents — is now Iraq’s most important ally. Faily said he could not quantify the relationship but asserted that the United States was still a key partner, particularly in trying to resolve the conflict in Anbar. Americans have influence because of Iraq’s need for US military equipment and training, the history of the 2007-2008 surge and of the Sahwa, or Awakening, of Sunni Arab tribes opposed to al-Qaeda, he said. He said Iraq also looks to the United States for expertise in education, health care and other core infrastructure and noted that Iraq has a strategic framework agreement with Washington, not Tehran.

Asked what more the United States could do to help remove Sunni extremists hunkered down in Fallujah, Ramadi and other Anbar cities, Faily said, “We are willing to discuss with you all of our needs and cooperation short of boots on the ground.” He said the Barack Obama administration and Congress are exhibiting a new “sense of urgency” about Iraq but that “we also know we can’t get it in the pace we want it.” Apache helicopters, for example, are just being delivered and “we would have wanted them last year,” he said.

Faily, who offered in an interview with Al-Monitor shortly after he arrived in Washington last year for Iraq to serve as a bridge between the United States and Iran, suggested that Iraq no longer needed to play a mediating role because Washington and Tehran are talking directly. However, the US-Iran relationship “is still in the discovery mode,” he said, and nuclear negotiations would be the “acid test for this relationship to see if it can be evolved into some kind of coexistence and normality rather than tension and animosity.”

If Iran concludes a long-term nuclear agreement with the United States and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, that will have a soothing effect on the entire region, Faily said. “It will automatically lead to a better environment for mutual understanding … on matters having to do with the Gulf, with nuclear proliferation, with the sectarian element and stability and security of Israel and Hezbollah and Syria are a direct extension of that.”

In terms of Syria and the regional sectarian divide, however, Faily said a bigger factor would be Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia. “An Iranian-Saudi rapprochement will have a significant impact on Syria, which will indirectly have an impact on us,” he said. It “may be more influential than Iranian-American rapprochement because these two are direct players.”

In terms of his own mission to the United States, Faily said he was working hard to improve Baghdad’s understanding of the dynamics “within the Beltway” and to increase people-to-people ties. That is why he is active on Twitter (@failylukman) and took part in the Boston Marathon.

The “key indicator” of whether he is a successful ambassador, Faily said, is if Americans “have a positive connotation of Iraq in their psyche” when he finishes his assignment a few years from now.

Assyrian International News Agency