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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Young Lebanese activists challenge old political class

August 27, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — First they egged the prime minister's building. Then they dumped some of the garbage piling up on Beirut's streets outside the home of the environment minister, furious the government couldn't get its act together to find a solution when Lebanon's main landfill shut down.

But perhaps the most electrifying move by the young, tech-savvy group of activists was when they spread their catchy slogan "You Stink" across social media. It helped turn the trash crisis into a popular uprising against a political class that has dominated Lebanon since its civil war ended in 1990.

The core founders of "You Stink" include one of the Middle East's most influential bloggers, as well as a creative media strategist, a rights lawyer, journalists and an actress whose film was banned by authorities for addressing touchy sexual issues. The group quickly picked up supporters from across the spectrum of Lebanon's divisive politics and sects.

"We are the future of this country and the agents of change. If the youth didn't do this, no one will do it," said Nadyn Jouny, a 25-year-old freelance journalist who is among the group's founding members.

She said the movement was a reflection of the growing frustration with an aging and corrupt political class that has failed to even show concern for people's woes. She called it "the regime of the warlords."

"You Stink" claims to have set aside ideology in its effort to mobilize support for an uprising against the political establishment. It says it seeks to ditch a patronage system that divvies up power to each of Lebanon's multiple communities — Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze and more — in favor of a non-sectarian culture.

That system has been the center of Lebanese politics for decades and helped fuel the 15-year civil war — and critics say it leads politicians to spend more time cultivating their sectarian fiefdoms than actually governing.

"You Stink" is up against aging warlords and oligarchs who have passed power on to their sons and relatives for generations — and continue to hold the country's top positions with expansive business interests and powerful militias that helped them survive the war. Consecutive governments neglected to improve the country's infrastructure, leading to chronic water shortages and electricity cuts that continue 25 years after the war ended.

"The corruption has been around for so long. But the people have also now smelled it," said Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old "You Stink" supporter. Jouny said the stench from the mounds of trash that blocked Beirut streets was a wake-up call to residents who took pride in their beautiful city. Two major rallies over the weekend brought some 20,000 people into the streets of the capital, numbers rarely seen in a country wary of the chaos in neighboring Syria.

The last time large numbers took to the streets was a decade ago, after the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hundreds of thousands of people from all sects demonstrated in peaceful rallies that were dubbed the "Cedar Revolution." Those protests eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after a decades-old presence — but sectarian politics quickly returned.

The idea for "You Stink" began on Facebook, and the group has tried to avoid the mistakes of other Arab protest movements by reaching out to existing youth organizations to help coordinate, Jouny said.

Neamat Bader al-Deen is a leftist activist with a group that calls itself "We Want Accountability," one of several organizations collaborating with the movement. "We are asking the government to resign because it failed to resolve the crises," the 34-year-old Bader al-Deen said. "We will not let this pass. This is robbery."

Sarhan said his father initially ridiculed the group's symbolic protests. But when thousands turned up at the allies last weekend, his father called to offer support. "Keep it up, son," he says his father said.

At first the veteran politicians ignored the protesters. But after the crowds grew and turned violent over the weekend, the government erected a concrete wall Monday outside its main building to keep them at bay.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government grafitti. On Tuesday, authorities took it down, just 24 hours after it went up. Now, politicians are trying to co-opt the young grass-roots movement. A main Christian party has called on its supporters to join the next "You Stink" protest on Saturday.

"The parties want to spoil the movement ... because it is becoming popular and that is scaring them," Jouny said. She said to ensure the group reflects the mood on the street it scans views on social media before making decisions. Several hundred volunteers have been prepped on strategies to ensure violent clashes don't erupt at Saturday's rally, which is being promoted with a video decrying Lebanon's endemic electricity shortages.

Assad Thebian, one of the country's best-known bloggers and the winner of an Arab creative digital campaign award, said attempts to stymie the movement will fail. That's because young men and women fed up with the sectarian system are its backbone, he said.

"They are disgusted with the same political class robbing them, and sucking their blood all their lives, same as their fathers and their grandfathers," he said. "This is something we want to get rid of. We want to all become children of the state."

Islamic State in control of Palmyra ruins, activists say

May 21, 2015

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Islamic State militants overran the famed archaeological site at Palmyra early on Thursday, just hours after seizing the central Syrian town, activists and officials said, raising concerns the extremists might destroy some of the priceless ruins as they have done in neighboring Iraq.

The Islamic State's capture of the town of Palmyra late Wednesday was a stunning triumph for the militant group, only days after it captured the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq's largest Sunni province.

As IS took Palmyra, government forces collapsed in the face of the attacks and Syrian soldiers were seen fleeing the area, activists said. In Damascus, state TV acknowledged that pro-government forces had withdrawn from the town.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the extremists overrun the archaeological site, just to the southwest of the town itself, shortly after midnight Wednesday.

An activist in Homs who goes by the name of Bebars al-Talawy also confirmed that IS now controls the ruins at Palmyra. Both activists said that the militants had not damaged the site so far. The ruins at Palmyra are one of the world's most renowned historic sites and there were fears the extremists would destroy them as they did major archaeological sites in Iraq. The UNESCO world heritage site is famous for its 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and other ruins and priceless artifacts. Before the war, thousands of tourists a year visited the remote desert outpost, a cherished landmark referred to by Syrians as the "Bride of the Desert."

In Damascus, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, the head of the Antiquities and Museum Department, said Palmyra's town museum had suffered "minor damages" during the IS onslaught. "The city is now totally controlled by gunmen and its destiny is dark and dim," warned Abdul-Karim. "We are in a state of anticipation and fear" about what will happen to "the archaeological site and the remaining artifacts in the museum."

Before the fall, hundreds of "the most precious and beautiful" pieces from Palmyra were taken to safe houses in Damascus, he added. Also Thursday, many Palmyra residents were fleeing the town toward the city of Homs and the capital, Damascus, according to Talal Barazi, the governor of the central province of Homs, which includes Palmyra.

The Syrian army is now outside the town, from where it is targeting Islamic State reinforcements, he said. "We have not received any news about (the archaeological site's) destruction," Barazi told The Associated Press. "We hope that there will be no massacres in the city or damage to the ruins."

Palmyra has a population of some 65,000 people, according to Barazi. He added that 1,300 residents fled over the past days and more were trying to leave on Thursday. On Wednesday, the head of the U.N.'s cultural agency called on Syria's warring factions to immediately end hostilities within the archaeological site.

"I am deeply concerned by the situation at the site of Palmyra. The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East and its civilian population," UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said in a statement.

She urged all parties to respect international obligations to protect cultural heritage during conflict. In taking Palmyra, IS also overran the town's notorious Tadmur prison, where thousands of Syrian dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured over the years.

An amateur video posted online showed IS fighters setting a giant poster of President Bashar Assad, allegedly inside the prison in Palmyra, cheering as flames rose around them against the night sky. The video and its location could not be independently verified but appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events.

Al-Talawy, the Homs activist, said the government had recently transferred thousands of detainees from the Palmyra prison to a jail near Damascus. But he added that IS extremists freed some of those who were still inside by the time they captured the prison. He could not provide any definitive figures but there were believed to have been thousands prisoners still there.

The Observatory said that with the capture of Palmyra and surrounding areas in recent weeks, IS now controls half of Syria — and most of the country's oil wells. Despite the stunning victory by IS in Palmyra and Iraq, the extremists suffered a setback in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh, where they have come under attack by Kurdish fighters.

The Kurdish fighters captured much of the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tel Tamr on Wednesday, according to the Observatory and the Kurdish forces known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG.

The Observatory said YPG fighters were backed by airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing IS positions in Syria since September.

Mroue reported from Beirut.

'I have fallen in love with Islam': Reverted Malaysian pop star

August 27, 2015

Kuala Lumpur: A top Malaysian pop singer officially proclaimed her conversion to Islam during a press conference held at Astro on Tuesday, confirming rumors about embracing Islam after being spotted wearing hijab, according to media reports.

Rumors about Akademi Fantasia Season 6 champion’s reversion to Islam were circulated on social networking sites after she had appeared in a video taking the Islamic declaration of faith while dressed in hijab.

The 25-year-old star officially converted to Islam at the Johor Baru religious office in Johor and took a Muslim name, Ummu Syaikhah Stacy binti Anam.

The pop star, who has four albums, hopes that fans wouldn’t question her conversion to Islam. “I have fallen in love with Islam and I am ready to embrace it with all my heart,” she said.

Being in a relationship with a Muslim popular actor and TV personality Akim Ahmad was not the reason behind her conversion to Islam.

“Being a Muslim is a huge responsibility. There are a lot of things that I need to learn.

“So my focus now is to learn to become a good Muslimah first, before I can think about marriage,” she added.

Last month, two popular African footballers; Emmanuel Emenike and Emmanuel Adebayor reportedly converted to Islam.

Source: The Siasat Daily.
Link: http://www.siasat.com/news/i-have-fallen-love-islam-reverted-malaysian-pop-star-823004/.

Azeris get Israel UAVs built under license

Baku, Azerbaijan (UPI)
Oct 7, 2011

Azerbaijan is expected to acquire 60 small Israeli-designed unmanned aerial vehicles built under license in the oil-rich former Soviet republic that's moving closer to the Jewish state as the Baku government modernizes its military.

The burgeoning military and intelligence alliance between the countries is causing growing concern in Iran, Azerbaijan's southern neighbor, and in nearby longtime rival Armenia.

The Israeli Aerostar and Orbiter 2M UAVs are being manufactured by Baku's Azad Systems Co., a joint venture between Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry and Aeronautics Defense Systems of Israel.

That's the country's third largest UAV manufacturer after Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems.

Around 70 percent of the components are produced in Israel, the rest in Azerbaijan.

Sixty of the drones are to be delivered to Azerbaijan's armed forces by the end of the year, primarily for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Azerbaijan's military already operates Elbit Systems' Hermes 450 and IAI's Searcher reconnaissance drones, as well as some of Aeronautics Defense Systems' Aerostar and Orbiter craft.

Azerbaijan Minister of Defense Industry Yavar Jamalov told the Azerbaijan Press Agency that Baku is considering the production of missile-armed UAVs within the next two years, a development guaranteed to deepen Iranian and Armenian concerns.

The UAV deal with Azerbaijan allows Israeli manufacturers to pick up some of the slack that appeared when Israel's strategic military alliance with Turkey collapsed in 2010.

APA reported that Aeronautics Defense Systems beat out several Turkish defense firms, including TAI, Baykar Makina and Global Teknik, for the UAV venture set up in March.

Azerbaijan, which lies in the energy-rich Caspian Basin, has oil reserves of more than 1.2 billion barrels as well as 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It is one of Israel's largest suppliers of crude oil.

Last Sunday, Israel's air force marked the 40th anniversary of the formation of its first UAV unit, Squadron 200 at the Palmachim Air Base on the Mediterranean coast south of Tel Aviv from where IAI satellites are launched.

The squadron was equipped with a drone named the Scout, built by what was then Israel Aircraft Industries, and became operational in October 1981. The Scout made its combat debut in the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

That campaign evolved into a counter-terrorism conflict that has dragged on to this day, even after Israeli withdrew from its last foothold in south Lebanon in May 2000.

In the years since the Scout took to the skies, but particularly after 9/11, Israel has become one of the world's leading UAV manufacturers, second only to the United States.

The Israeli Defense Ministry's defense export and defense cooperation arm, known as SIBAT, says Israel's export of counter-terrorism systems, including UAVs, has risen from $2 billion a year 10 years ago to nearly $7 billion.

Defense experts expect the export of counter-terrorism systems to increase.

"The threats aren't getting any smaller," SIBAT Deputy Director Itamar Graff told Bamahane, the armed forces' magazine.

"We constantly cope with terrorist threats ?The world's moving in the direction of dealing with terrorist threats.

"On issues such as home front protection, shore security and missile defense, people from around the world come to learn from us," Graff said.

"We're dealing with a variety of possible threats and we'll continue to be a dominant and significant factor in the world."

The Scout was retired in 2004. It was replaced by, among others, IAI's Searcher, which carried advanced navigation, communication and sensor systems and is in service with 10 countries.

IAI has since developed the long-endurance, 1-ton Heron that can operate at altitudes of 30,000 feet and can loiter over targets for 24 hours.

The Heron Turbo Prop, known as the Eitan, introduced into military service with Squadron 210 in February 2010, is the air force's largest and most sophisticated unmanned aerial system.

Its takeoff weight is 5 tons and can carry payloads of 2,200 pounds. It has a wingspan of 84 feet, about the same as a Boeing 737. It can stay airborne for 24 hours and has a range of around 650 miles.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Azeris_get_Israel_UAVs_built_under_license_999.html.

Hungary border fence proving futile in slowing migrant flow

August 26, 2015

ROSZKE, Hungary (AP) — The fence being built by Hungary on the border with Serbia meant to stem the rising flow of migrants trying to reach the European Union is being proved futile, as record numbers of migrants keep entering.

Police said that 2,533 migrants were detained on Tuesday, up from 2,093 on Monday and by far the highest figure of the year. After requesting asylum and registering with authorities, migrants are sent to one of Hungary's refugee centers but most try to quickly leave for richer EU countries like Germany or Sweden.

Scores of migrants were seen Tuesday morning by Associated Press journalists near the border town of Roszke, climbing over or crawling under the barbed wire to enter Hungary — just as they had done at the Greek-Macedonia border.

UN's Cambodian soldiers clear land mines in divided Cyprus

August 26, 2015

MAMMARI, Cyprus (AP) — Cambodian army Lt. Sovannara Leang says helping clear ethnically-divided Cyprus of land mines has hit home with him.

"This has affected my country as well," said the 32-year-old officer who's been in the army since 2002. "It's a humanitarian issue. It affects people's lives." Land mines remain a scourge for Cambodia where millions of undetected mines left over from three decades of conflict continue to injure, maim and kill.

Leang and his 20-man team where seconded from Lebanon's U.N. peacekeeping force to help clear a parcel of farmland inside a no-man's land that separates breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north from internationally recognized Greek Cypriots in the south.

U.N. Peacekeeping Force Commander Maj. Gen. Kristin Lund said the team disposed of two anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mine fragments that had shifted into the U.N.-controlled area from an adjacent Turkish Cypriot minefield during winter floods.

The 17,000 square meter (183,000 square foot) parcel will be released for cultivation and grazing. Lund said the U.N. has received a pledge from Turkish Cypriot authorities to clear their minefield in the coming months and eliminate the danger of mines shifting in the area once and for all.

The land mines, like the U.S.-made, World War II-era anti-tank mines the Cambodian team disposed of, are a vestige of defenses set up in the wake of the 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a coup that aimed to unite Cyprus with Greece.

U.N. led-demining work between 2004 and 2011 removed more than 27,000 mines from inside the 180 kilometer-long (120-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone. But Lund said no progress has been made in accessing the buffer zone's remaining four minefields — three controlled by the Greek Cypriots and the other by Turkish forces.

Many more minefields lie on either side of the buffer zone, although all anti-personnel mines have been removed from Greek Cypriot minefields under the country's international treaty obligations. Lund, who's the U.N.'s first and only female peacekeeping force commander, said there's now "real momentum" to move ahead with ridding Cyprus of all remaining minefields amid a positive climate in renewed talks to reunify the country.

Underscoring their commitment to peace, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have agreed to open new crossing points across the divide which Lund said has refocused attention on demining needs in those areas.

Earlier, Anastasiades provided Akinci with detailed information about 28 Greek Cypriot minefields in the north. Lund said 25 of those minefields were found to pose no mine risk at all. "I don't think this beautiful island should have any mines at all and this will be to everyone's benefit," Lund said.

Norway accused of unfairly taking away immigrant children

August 26, 2015

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — One August day, Airida Pettersen received the news many immigrant mothers have come to dread: School representatives told the Lithuanian that child welfare officials removed her two children from the classroom and placed them in a foster home.

She pleaded to know why — but she said nobody would give her a straight answer. Pettersen, who moved to Norway in 2008 after marrying a Norwegian, is one of hundreds of immigrant parents whose children were taken away by Norway's Child Protection Service, or Barnevernet, ostensibly to protect them from mistreatment.

After a series of highly charged custody disputes, the oil-rich Scandinavian country now faces accusations of cultural insensitivity at best and child theft at worst, as increasing numbers of immigrant children are being seized by officials and handed over to Norwegian foster families. Of 6,737 children taken in 2012 — the latest available data — some 1,049 were immigrants or born to immigrant parents. That compares to 744 children of immigrants taken away, of a total of 5,846, in 2009.

The authorities insist they're acting in the best interests of the children. But their perceived heavy-handedness has stirred diplomatic disputes with several eastern European countries and India. All Western European countries assert the right to place children, both of nationals and foreigners, in foster care when there is evidence of abuse. And complaints of unfair seizures, allegedly for cultural reasons, are known to arise. But Norway is the only country where it has become as major issue — both due to the scale of the phenomenon and the fierce criticism of the government.

A relative managed to spirit Pettersen's children away from their foster family while they were at school and reunite them with their mother in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius — where they remain today.

Morten Moerkved, head of the agency in the small town of Malvik where the Pettersens lived, said he could not comment on any specific case but insisted that the sudden removal of children happens only in "acute" circumstances, including cases of abuse or "serious deficiencies" in the daily care of a child, citing persistent drunkenness or drug use by the parents or evidence of malnourishment.

Official guidelines also make a point of ensuring that the special needs of a sick or handicapped child are adequately met and that parents have to be able to take sufficient responsibility so that a child's health or development is in no way "seriously injured."

Pettersen believes officials took her children partly because of her 10-year-old daughter's clothes, which she alleges authorities found too provocative for a pre-teen. "I dress my daughter in a pretty dress and make her comb her hair," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Lithuania. "They look at me like I'm from a Third World country. In my country if you don't take care of yourself you don't get a husband."

The child welfare agency insists children would never be removed from their families unless they were considered to be in danger, but Moerkved said that if children were attending class badly dressed or in smelly clothes it would be a factor in considering a child's welfare.

"There are some culture differences between families coming to Norway," said Solveig Horne, Norwegian Minister for Children and Families. "All children who come to Norway have the same rights as Norwegian children ... If they are neglected or abused or if there is violence in the family the (child protection) agency should protect the children first of all."

Statistics show that children born abroad are more than three times as likely to be removed from their homes as native Norwegians, with nearly 3 percent of foreign-born children in foster care. In May, hundreds of people marched in the capital Oslo to protest alleged human rights abuses by child welfare officials. The demonstration was organized by Norwegian human rights campaigner Marius Reikeras, who has denounced his country's child protection agency in television interviews in the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Turkey.

Reikeras accuses the agency of depriving children and their biological parents of "their fundamental human rights." "The aim should be to reunite children with their families as soon as possible," he said. "But Barnevernet too often does the opposite and seeks to break biological bonds."

Brushes with the authorities have led to several cases of foreign nationals escaping across borders with their children. Norwegian authorities estimate that almost 500 children have been illegally removed from the country in the last 10 years, usually by their parents.

In January, 7-year-old Gabrielius Bumbulus, a Lithuanian, was returned to his foster family after being caught fleeing through Sweden with his uncle. Three months later, a Turkish mother says she narrowly avoided having her small children removed from home after a tipoff. Instead of showing up at a meeting with officials, Sedef Mustafaoglu made a dash through Denmark to Germany with her two youngest children, aged 6 and 8, and boarded a plane to Turkey.

Speaking by phone from the Turkish capital, Mustafaoglu said an earlier visit from the agency, when her daughters were toddlers, left her terrified. "They came into my home and filmed how I woke up and how I woke my children, how I fed my children, how I gave them a shower and how I played with them," she said. "Having a child in Norway is like being in a scary movie."

Her husband, Feridun Mustafaoglu, who stayed behind in Stavanger, Norway's rich oil center on the west coast, said their problems started in 2011 when their son started having severe epileptic fits, which he believes officials mistook for signs that the parents weren't caring for the child.

Gunnar Toresen, head of the Child Protection Service in Stavanger, insists there was no plan to remove Mustafaoglu's children but declined to discuss the case, citing confidentiality rules. He did recognize the fear many foreign families feel in dealing with officials: "Very many people come from other cultures with no government intervening in their domestic affairs. Then they come to Norway and the government intervenes in the family and they have no experience with this," he said. "So I understand that this is a very emotional situation."

In 2012, Toresen was briefly involved in a diplomatic spat between Norway and India when two Indian children were removed from their parents. After diplomatic and media pressure from India, they were returned to their uncle in India.

"The media said the reason for our intervention was that the parents were hand-feeding their children, and the child was in the bed with the parents, which of course had nothing to do with why they were taken away," Toresen said.

He acknowledged that there had been a reference in an earlier case file about hand feeding and sleeping arrangements. However, he stressed the case revolved around much more and complicated family circumstances, thought he provided no details, in line with the privacy policies.

The child welfare service aims to provide in-home help for struggling parents before removing a child. But in the three years to 2013, the proportion of in-home measures decreased while the number of foster cases grew.

Campaigners and lawyers for parents say the decisions too often are rooted in cultural misunderstandings. "I have a lot of foreign cases. Often the lunchbox ... is not good enough for school or there is problem with schoolwork," said Ieva Rise, an Oslo lawyer representing several Latvian families in disputes with officials. "In Latvia and Russia, children help more in the home when they are quite small. This can be a problem as well."

Gro Hillestad Thune, a human rights lawyer, says Norway's strict attitudes against slapping — acceptable in some other countries — can also be a reason taking away children. "This zero tolerance (to violence) is a basic problem. Parents should be given a chance to learn through dialogue, not through having their children removed," Thune said. "But the child protection officials take the children instantly ... in too many cases."

Venezuela, Colombia vow more cooperation in border dispute

August 27, 2015

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — The foreign ministers of Colombia and Venezuela promised to increase cooperation Wednesday following talks to ease heightened tensions caused by the closure of a major border crossing and a weeklong crackdown on Colombian migrants and smugglers.

Diplomats left the meeting in this Caribbean coastal resort without announcing a decision to re-open the border crossing or end the deportations from Venezuela, only saying that defense officials from the two countries would talk in the coming days to form a joint plan for border security.

Meanwhile, in the Colombian city of Cucuta, residents complained of long gas lines as Venezuela's security offensive cuts off trade, legal and otherwise, between the two nations. Across the border, scores of Colombians packed their belongings into suitcases and prepared for an army escort out of Venezuela, joining the estimated 1,000 of their compatriots who have already been deported.

Donamaris Ramirez, the mayor of Cucuta, says he plans to order gas stations to remain open 24 hours to attend to demand normally met by curbside smugglers who purchase gasoline in Venezuela at less than a penny a gallon and resell it for huge profits in Colombia.

With two main border crossings closed, the underground economy has come to a halt, satisfying Venezuelan officials who have long blamed transnational mafias for widespread shortages but also jeopardizing the livelihood of tens of thousands of poor Colombians who depend on the black market.

On Tuesday, a group of 100 Colombians fled the border town of San Antonio del Tachira by wading across a knee-deep river with their possession, everything from TVs to doors, slung across their backs. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered to help returning Colombians find work during a visit Wednesday to an emergency shelter in Cucuta overrun with deportees, and promised deported citizens a subsidy of about $80 to help them land on their feet.

Earlier, in a speech in Bogota, he ran through a series of economic and crime statistics, everything from projections Venezuela's economy will shrink 7 percent this year to widespread shortages comparable to those found in war zones like Syria, in a sharp retort to the aggressive rhetoric coming from Caracas in recent days

"Venezuela's problems are made in Venezuela, they're not made in Colombia or other parts of the world," Santos told a forum of former presidents from around the world. While some 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, the security offensive has focused on a few towns near the border where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames migrant gangs for rampant crime and smuggling that has caused widespread shortages.

The crisis was triggered a week ago when gunmen Maduro claimed were paramilitaries linked to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe shot and wounded three army officers on an anti-smuggling patrol. The socialist leader has vowed to keep two normally busy international bridges closed, and possibly extend restrictions to other transit crossings until Colombian authorities help bring order to the porous, 1,400-mile (2,200 kilometer) border. A state of emergency allowing the government to restrict peoples' movement for up to 60 days has been declared in six cities.

Venezuelan soldiers blocked the river crossing on Wednesday morning, but were helping Colombian residents of a slum that is slated for demolition leave Venezuela via a legal bridge crossing. A group of about 300 Colombians staged a protest Wednesday in front of Venezuela's consulate in Bogota.

Maduro has angrily denied the denunciations of mistreatment, saying that Venezuelans are unfairly paying the price for Colombia's disregard of its poor. "Santos has the gall today to seek respect for Colombians. Who is treating Colombians with disrespect? Those that expel them from their country, deny them work and housing and don't provide education?" Maduro said on state TV late Tuesday.

The Colombians who abandoned their cinder block homes Tuesday in a riverside shantytown community known as La Invasion — "the Invasion" — said they were given 72 hours to pack up and leave by Venezuela's army. Officials say the slum has become a haven for paramilitaries and contraband traffickers.

In recent decades, many Colombians have moved to Venezuela, either fleeing from conflict or seeking better opportunities in an oil rich country that was long the wealthier of the two. Critics have accused Maduro of trying to distract Venezuelans from soaring inflation and empty supermarket shelves.

Under the state of emergency, constitutional guarantees such as the right to protest, carry weapons or move freely will be restricted for 60 days. "I'm sorry if this is creating a humanitarian crisis in Cucuta, but we are only responsible for protecting people who are Venezuelan," National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said. "Colombia needs to take care of its own problems."

AP writers Fabiola Sanchez contributed from Caracas, Yhoger Contreras from San Antonio del Tachira and Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona from Bogota, Colombia

South Sudan leader signs peace deal amid sanctions threat

August 26, 2015

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — South Sudan President Salva Kiir on Wednesday signed a peace deal with rebels, more than 20 months after the start of fighting between the army and rebels led by his former deputy.

Kiir signed the agreement in Juba, South Sudan's capital, in a ceremony witnessed by regional leaders. Kiir said he was signing the document despite having serious reservations. He signed the same agreement endorsed last week in Ethiopia by rebel leader Riek Machar, said Kiir's spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.

Machar, the former deputy president, signed the agreement last week in Ethiopia but Kiir refused, saying he needed more time, drawing condemnation from diplomats who want a quick agreement to end the violence in the world's newest country.

Kiir was under intense pressure to sign the accord mediated by a group of neighboring countries, with the U.S. threatening new U.N. sanctions if he failed to do so. Signing the agreement Wednesday, Kiir said he felt the peace deal had been imposed on him and said the agreement is flawed. Kiir said some aspects of the deal "are not in the interest of just and lasting peace ... We had only one of the two options, option of an imposed peace or the option of a continued war ... We are here talking about peace."

He accused rebels of attacking positions held by government troops in two areas in the volatile state of Unity on Wednesday. The agreement binds Kiir into a power-sharing arrangement with Machar, a political rival whose dismissal in July 2013 sparked a political crisis that later boiled over into a violent rebellion.The fighting has often been along ethnic lines, pitting Kiir's ethnic Dinka people against Machar's Nuer.

The deal calls for the establishment of a coalition government within 90 days. Previous ceasefires have been quickly broken, however, with both sides accusing the other for truce violations. Thousands of South Sudanese have been killed in the fighting and more than 1.6 million people have been displaced. Atrocities have occurred in which young girls have been raped and burned alive, said the U.N.

Mars Express: Current flows and 'islands' in Ares Vallis

Berlin, Germany (SPX)
Oct 10, 2011

The Ares Vallis outflow channel meanders for more than 1700 kilometers across the southern highlands of Mars and ends in a 100-kilometer-wide delta-like region in the lowlands of Chryse Planitia.

On 11 May 2011, parts of the Ares Vallis channel were photographed using the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft during orbit 9393.

The images show a large, partially eroded crater, streamlined 'islands' and terrace-like 'river banks' on the valley walls; all signs of erosion by the water that, in the period of Mars' early formation, would have flowed through Ares Vallis.

The photographs, acquired from an altitude of 300 kilometers, show a section of the Ares Vallis channel located at 16 degrees north and 327 degrees east. The image resolution is about 15 meters per pixel. The valley was named after Ares, the Greek god of war, whose counterpart among the Roman deities was Mars.

The Ares Vallis outflow channel was discovered in 1976 in images acquired by the US Viking spacecraft. In 1997, the small Mars Pathfinder rover landed in the Ares Vallis channel to investigate the signs of water flow.

The most distinctive landscape characteristic is the large impact crater Oraibi, about 32 kilometers across. The crater lies just 100 kilometers south of where Pathfinder landed (see context map) on 4 July 1997; it explored the area for 12 weeks.

Crater flooded by large quantities of water

The signs of erosion are easily spotted on the Oraibi crater. The landscape formation shows that the crater was heavily engulfed; the force of the water was so strong that the southern rim of the crater was breached and the interior of the crater flooded and filled with sediment (frame 1 in the overview picture; north is towards the right). It seems that water would have once flowed through the valley with considerable force and managed to erode large quantities of material.

As a result, the 'river banks' have a stepped, terrace-like morphology (frame 2 in the overview picture). Parallel ridges and troughs running in the direction of flow also suggest powerful erosion. Other patterns of erosion on the valley floor can be identified by means of the streamlined islands (frame 3 in the overview); these indicate the former direction of flow.

Just as revealing are the 'ghost craters' - the outlines of which can just be made out. They are found both in the valley itself and on the plateau (left half of the overview image).

This suggests that some areas of the plateau, which rises to about 1000 meters above Ares Vallis, were also at least partially flooded. On the plateau, many isolated buttes, or monadnocks, are visible (frame 4 in the overview).

They appear to be remnants of an earlier continuous coverage that has mostly been eroded. On the left edge of the image, part of an ejecta blanket from a large impact can also be seen on the plateau.

A landslide and dense clusters of impact craters

On the top left edge of the image (frame 5 in the overview image) we see an interesting detail - a landslide. It is about four kilometers wide and could have resulted from the impact of the asteroid whose crater ejecta blanket is shown in frame 4. Some of the individual rays of these ejecta can be followed to the landslide.

Also characteristic of this region are the unusually dense clusters of impact craters (frame 3 in the overview image) that are either arranged in clusters or in a directed pattern. Two processes can be responsible for forming crater groups like this.

Some crater groups develop when an asteroid penetrates the atmosphere and breaks into numerous small pieces of debris, which then individually impact the surface.

Other crater groups are characteristic of secondary craters; that is, many pieces of rock are thrown up by the impact of an asteroid - these then fall back to the surface over a distance of several kilometers and form smaller craters.

The color image was generated from data acquired by the HRSC nadir channel and color channels; the oblique perspective images were generated from HRSC stereo channel data.

The anaglyph image, which conveys a 3D impression of the landscape when seen through red/blue or red/green glasses, was derived from data acquired with the nadir channel and one of the stereo channels.

The black-and-white detail image was acquired using the nadir channel, which captures image data at the highest resolution of all the channels.

The High-Resolution Stereo Camera, HRSC, on the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission is led by the Principal Investigator (PI) Prof. Dr Gerhard Neukum, who was also responsible for the technical design of the camera. The science team of the experiment consists of 40 co-investigators from 33 institutions and 10 nations.

The camera was developed at DLR under the leadership of the PI and it was built in cooperation with industrial partners EADS Astrium, Lewicki Microelectronic GmbH and Jena Optronik GmbH.

The instrument on Mars Express is operated by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, through ESA/ESOC. The systematic processing of the HRSC image data is carried out at DLR. The scenes shown here were processed by the PI-group at the Institute for Geosciences of the Freie Universitat Berlin.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mars_Express_Current_flows_and_islands_in_Ares_Vallis_999.html.

Opportunity is on the Move Again

Pasadena CA (JPL)
Aug 17, 2012

Opportunity is on the move again at the north end of Cape York on the rim of Endeavor Crater.

On Sols 3036 and 3037 (Aug. 8 and 9, 2012), the rover completed a set of Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) measurements on a surface target, called "Rushall_1."

With the APXS integrations done, Opportunity swung the robotic arm out of the way so detailed Panoramic Camera (Pancam) images could be taken on Sol 3039 (Aug. 11, 2012).

On the next sol, the rover drove south with a 90-feet (27.5-meter) drive toward the small impact crater, called "Sao Rafael."

With "drive-by" imaging of the crater complete, Opportunity drove again on Sol 3042 (Aug. 14, 2012), with a 128-feet (39-meter) drive toward another small impact crater, called "Berrio."

The rover also had enough energy on that sol to collect an atmospheric argon measurement with the APXS.

As of Sol 3042 (Aug. 14, 2012), the solar array energy production was 545 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.564 and a solar array dust factor of 0.688.

Total odometry is 21.57 miles (34,705.88 meters).

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Opportunity_is_on_the_Move_Again_999.html.

China should have own ambitions for space development

Beijing (XNA)
Oct 10, 2011

The launch of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft has attracted the attention of the world and some TV viewers in some foreign countries even watched the live broadcast in late September. The public opinion is generally neutral.

Some have made objective evaluation of the event, giving good-willed blessings to China's technological progress and expressed desires to extend cooperation with China, while others have expressed concerns that their own leading space positions are being challenged.

The concerns have mostly come from the United States. Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin recently said at a hearing of NASA's supervision committee that China has almost the same strength with the United States as a strong space competitor.

It is impossible for the world's largest developing country to have the same strength as the largest developed country. China's explorations in space technology could by no means challenge in the near future the leading position of the United States.

Americans tend to have awareness of potential dangers and inspire themselves by exaggerating rivals' strength. As a potential competitor, China's development pace is so rapid and it is so different from the United States in terms of cultural traditions and political system.

All of the aforementioned factors have turned China's launch of the Tiangong-1 into a piece of "incentive" news and even made it relevant to the evolvement of the world geopolitical landscape. The "uncertainties'" in China's development are largely generated in this way.

The concerns held by the United States run some risks. The United States has viewed China's normal development as a challenge - the negative impact of which is not limited to the false interpretation of the intentions of China's development.

Therefore, some U.S. experts with far sight are worried that if the United States really takes China as its rival, China will eventually regard the United States as its opponent.

China has long been committed to contributing to the well-being of the mankind. As a major economic power, China is bound to adopt a comprehensive development strategy, so it is natural for the country to carry out its space program and to launch the Tiangong-1 space laboratory module.

China has been paying great attention to the role of technological innovation in transforming its economic growth model. As it continues to increase input into scientific research, the country will make more breakthroughs in cutting-edge technologies in the future.

Instead of being worried about China's rising power, foreign countries should pay attention to how China uses its power. It would be unwise to regard the Tiangong-1 as a space threat because China's peaceful development strategy determines that it stands against the weaponization or any arms race in outer space.

China will not change its principle of peaceful use of outer space because of a space station. Western countries firmly believe that a major power is bound to seek hegemony, but that does not apply to China. They will make more mistakes if they continue to view China's peaceful development with their outdated mentality.

The Newsweek magazine published an article on "Ping-Pong diplomacy" about 40 years ago.

An American professor said at the end of that article that U.S.-China relations might warm up if the United States can realize that China has its own difficulties and ambitions, just like any other country in the world. Although much time has passed, the professor's words still have great practical significances.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_should_have_own_ambitions_for_space_development_999.html.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boko Haram changes its name to ‘ISIL in West Africa’

28 April 2015 Tuesday

The ISIL armed group may have gained a firm foothold beyond the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, after Nigeria’s Boko Haram adopted the name “ISIL’s West Africa Province” (ISWAP).

The Nigerian armed group’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL last month, but the diffuse organization had appeared to continue to operate under its official name.

But now propaganda materials shared by ISIL-affiliated social media accounts have dropped both those names for ISWAP, and appear to share the slick production values and brazen style more usually associated with members in Syria and Iraq.

The images show Boko Haram members toting guns and with their faces visible for the first time – with the exception of figurehead Shekau, group members have previously been reluctant to reveal their identities.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/158459/boko-haram-changes-its-name-to-isil-in-west-africa.

IS 'executes at least 37 civilians' in central Syria

March 31, 2015

Beirut (AFP) - The Islamic State jihadist group Tuesday executed at least 37 civilians, including two children, in a raid on a regime-held village in Hama province of central Syria, a monitor said.

IS "executed at least 37 people, including women and children, by burning, beheading, and firing on them" in the village of Mabujeh, said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syrian state television reported that 44 people were killed and 21 injured in the raid.

Mabujeh, east of the provincial capital Hama, has a population of Sunni Muslims as well as Alawites and Ismailis, minority sects that are offshoots of Shiite Islam.

IS has regularly targeted minority sects in Syria, especially Shiite Muslims it accuses of apostasy, as well as Sunnis who it alleges have violated its interpretation of Islam.

Mabujeh lies near a vital road that serves as the regime's only link between the central province of Homs and the northern province of Aleppo.

IS militants have repeatedly tried to sever the route.

In late March, the extremist group killed 83 regime soldiers in the region in a bid to gain control over the road.

In northwest Syria, the Observatory said Tuesday, at least 32 people were killed in government air strikes on the city of Idlib in the past 48 hours.

Regime forces lost control of the city Saturday to a coalition of Islamist forces led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

In Geneva, the UN's human rights office said it was worried about the situation in the city.

"We are deeply concerned by the human rights situation in Idlib" after the rebel takeover, spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said at a briefing.

Pouilly said the UN was concerned about reports of an attack on a hospital run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the city.

Syria's Red Crescent published photos of destruction at its Idlib hospital on Facebook, but did not give details on how it had been damaged.

Pouilly also voiced UN concerns over the fate of Fuaa and Kafraya, two Shiite-majority villages near Idlib city.

One of the leaders of the Islamist coalition that captured Idlib warned Sunday that the two villages would be targeted if the regime bombed Idlib.

Syria's conflict began with peaceful demonstrations in 2011 but has since spiralled into a bloody civil war that has left more than 215,000 people dead.

Hezbollah throws weight behind protests, deepening crisis

August 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The powerful Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah threw its weight Tuesday behind mass protests calling for the government's resignation, deepening a crisis that started over piles of uncollected garbage in the streets of the capital but has tapped into a much deeper malaise.

The explosion of anger targets the endemic corruption, hapless government and sectarian divisions of a brittle country once torn by civil war and now struggling with a wave of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

A grassroots youth movement calling itself "You Stink" mobilized thousands of people in two rallies over the weekend, and has called for another large protest on Saturday. The Hezbollah announcement of support for the protests is likely to fuel concerns the Iranian-backed group will try to hijack a rare, non-political movement for its own political gain.

Hezbollah ministers and their allies walked out of a Cabinet meeting Tuesday meant to discuss the worsening garbage crisis. Prime Minister Tammam Salam called the emergency session after the weekend clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting corruption and poor public services.

The six ministers withdrew four hours into the meeting. Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, whose Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with Hezbollah, said he was pulling out because of the political "theater" surrounding the trash issue.

During the Cabinet session, ministers unanimously rejected the winning bidders to manage Beirut's trash collection, citing high costs and a bidding procedure some said was questionable. The Cabinet tasked a ministerial committee with restarting the bidding, meaning no imminent solution to the crisis was likely.

Salam suggested dumping the garbage in the remote, impoverished region of Akkar, which has been neglected for decades, in exchange for $100 million in development projects as an incentive. That further riled the protesters. "Akkar is not a garbage dump!" read the slogan on one protester's T-shirt.

The trash crisis has exacerbated the long-existing fault lines in Lebanon which in recent years have pitted the Iranian-backed Hezbollah against the country's Western-aligned, pro-Saudi camp. Those divisions mirror the larger regional Shiite-Sunni divide, and have long paralyzed the government.

Although Salam's government has elements from both camps, Hezbollah regards the prime minister as an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Shiite group's ally, Christian leader Michel Aoun, has been assailing the prime minister over his handling of Cabinet and security appointments.

In a statement Tuesday, Hezbollah said the garbage crisis reflected the "endemic and accumulated corruption of the past two decades" and policies that only serve "personal and political interests at the expense of citizens." It said holding peaceful protests was a legitimate right.

A columnist in the daily An-Nahar newspaper accused Hezbollah of exploiting the "You Stink" movement for its own agenda. Tarek Sarhan, a 17-year-old "You Stink" supporter, said there would always be groups that try to manipulate grass-roots movements for their own political gains in a country like Lebanon.

The protesters say they are fed up with leaders they accuse of caring only about lining their own pockets and a system they say ensures incessant bickering and paralysis. They contend the entire trash crisis is about which politicians get the bigger cut from waste management contracts.

Meanwhile, the political paralysis continues. The country's politicians have been unable to decide on a president, a post reserved for a Christian in a sectarian power-sharing system, for over a year. According to that system, the prime minister must be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. The current parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has been in his post for 23 years.

Parliament has extended its term twice without elections and has been paralyzed because some lawmakers insist a president be elected first. Government has not made any substantial decisions as rival parties bicker over the decision-making process in Cabinet in the absence of a president to preside over the sessions.

Anger about the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut's streets boiled over this week, with thousands protesting the government's failure to deliver basic services. The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti. "State of Shabiha," one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man's body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: "The shroud of the state."

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed. "They won't fool us by removing the wall," said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. "Remove it or not, we don't care. We want... an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state," he said.

"This is a corrupt government, an immoral government that is starving us and conspiring against the people," said Hassan Qatayesh, who suffered an injured jaw when he was struck by rocks during Saturday's protest.

"They raised the wall to protect themselves from the people, thinking that this wall will prevent our voices from reaching them. But our voices are louder than walls, tear gas and rubber bullets."

Libyan rebels take control of Surman

Monday, 24 August 2015

Rebel forces loyal to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar on Sunday took control of the town of Sorman, 80 kilometers from the capital Tripoli, and took up positions in the city center, security sources have reported.

Sources said that the Dawn of Libya militant group, which had previously controlled the city, withdrew towards Tripoli.

Sorman is a link between the city of Tripoli and the Ras Jedir border crossing between Libya and Tunisia.

Airplanes affiliated with Haftar’s forces are reported to have launched airstrikes against Dawn of Libya sites in Al-Hashan and Bawabet Al-Sahlah amid violent clashes with tribal forces in several areas in the west of Libya.

The United Nations has been leading intense efforts since September last year to resolve the security and political crisis in Libya.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/20583-libyan-rebels-take-control-of-surman.

Saudi sentences chief of terrorist organization to 20 years in prison

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Saudi criminal court has initially sentenced Saleh Abdullah Al-Qar’awi to 20 years in prison over charges of heading the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a militant group blacklisted in the Kingdom, Al-Khaleejonline.net reported on Sunday.

Al-Qar’awi was initially involved in the war in Chechenia, and went on to join Al-Qaeda. He later headed the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and maintained contacts with its branches in Yemen and Lebanon.

He also got married the daughter of Al-Qaeda security official Abu-Jihad Al-Masri and adopted the son of former Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu-Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi.

Al-Khaleejonline said that Al-Qar’awi used Iran as a base to recruit terrorists and plan attacks against Saudi Arabia. He was also involved in plans to attack the American embassy in the UAE and further plots against the UK.

Recently, Al-Qar’awi was severely wounded in an American airstrike that cost him both legs as well as his right eye and right. He was returned to Saudi Arabia following demands made by his family.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/20591-saudi-sentences-chief-of-terrorist-organisation-to-20-years-in-prison.

Ukrainian filmmaker sentenced to 20 years by Russian court

August 25, 2015

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — A Russian military court convicted a prominent Ukrainian filmmaker on Tuesday of conspiring to commit terror attacks and sentenced him to 20 years in prison in what critics called a politically motivated show trial.

A security officer walks past the portraits of Oleg Sentsov and other political prisoners in front of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2105. A Russian court convicted a prominent Ukrainian filmmaker on Tuesday of conspiring to commit terror attacks and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don said Oleg Sentsov had set up a terror cell in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year, and was plotting attacks. He will serve time in a maximum-security prison.

The court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don said Oleg Sentsov had set up a terror cell in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed last year, and was plotting attacks. He will serve time in a maximum-security prison.

Such lengthy prison sentences are rare in Russia even for politically tainted trials. The 39-year-old Crimean native was tried along with Crimean activist Alexander Kolchenko, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As the judge wrapped up the session, the two men smiled and began to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

"Glory to Ukraine," Sentsov said at the end, to which someone in the courtroom gave the traditional response: "Glory to the heroes." Sentsov was a vocal opponent of Russia's 2014 annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. Critics have dismissed his prosecution by Russia as retaliation for his pro-Ukrainian position.

"The whole trial was designed to send a message. It played into Russia's propaganda war against Ukraine and was redolent of Stalinist-era show trials of dissidents," said Heather McGill of Amnesty International.

The international rights group, whose representatives observed the trial, said it was "rife with irregularities, including shocking revelations about the use of torture and other ill treatment to extract testimony."

Russian prosecutors claimed both men were plotting to blow up a Lenin monument and were behind attempts to burn down the offices of two Russia-related organizations. Sentsov, who unlike most Crimean residents didn't apply for Russian citizenship after the annexation, was grabbed on a street in Crimea's capital in May 2014 by Russian security officers and resurfaced days later in custody in Moscow. Sentsov had pleaded not guilty and insisted that a Russian court had no jurisdiction in his case.

In his closing arguments last week, Sentsov said he believes there are Russians who oppose the Kremlin but are afraid to speak out. He said many Ukrainians felt the same way before joining the protests that led to the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian president in early 2014.

"The only thing I can wish this third, informed part of the Russian population: Learn not to be afraid," he said. His sister said the verdict was exactly what defense lawyers expected. "The investigators said a year ago that Oleg would get exactly 20 years and they kept their promise, despite our battle," Natalia Kaplan told journalists. She said they would appeal.

Dozens of prominent Russian filmmakers have petitioned the Kremlin to release Sentsov, including Andrei Zvyagintsev, whose 2014 film "Leviathan" won a Golden Globe. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on his Facebook page sent a message of support for Sentsov.

"Hang in there, Oleg," he wrote. "A time will come when those who set this trial for you will land in the dock." The United States condemned the sentences. "This is a clear miscarriage of justice," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "Both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills. They have reported abuses by Russian authorities who also restricted their access to lawyers, family, and others while in jail for more than a year."

"Mr. Sentsov and Mr. Kolchenko were targeted by authorities because of their opposition to Russia's attempted annexation of Crimea," he added. Britain also called the trial politically motivated. British Minister for Europe David Lidington said the charges were "disproportionate" and voiced concern that the two men did not have access to a fair trial.

Nataliya Vasilyeva and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

Soviet WWII plane, Jewish tombstones found in Polish rivers

August 25, 2015

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — As river levels in Poland fall to record lows amid a prolonged drought, Jewish tombstones and a Soviet fighter plane with the remains of its pilots have been found in the riverbank, evidence of Poland's tortured 20th-century history.

Those discoveries follow the findings of stone fragments from the early 20th-century Poniatowski Bridge across the Vistula River in Warsaw, which the Germans blew up in 1944 as they crushed the Warsaw Uprising. The bridge was rebuilt after the war.

"The Vistula River is hiding no end of secrets. They are everywhere," said Jonny Daniels, the head of Jewish foundation "From the Depths," who waded Tuesday into a shallow area of the Vistula, picking up fragments of stones with Hebrew lettering.

Officials knew that archaeological remnants remained hidden under wild and murky waters of the Vistula River and its tributaries, but it was impossible to carry out searches for them until now. The Vistula, which flows 1,047 kilometers (651 miles) from the Beskidy Mountains to the Baltic Sea, is now at its lowest level since measurements started in the late 18th century.

On Sunday, explorers found the remnant of the Soviet fighter bomber in the Bzura River, a Vistula tributary, near the village of Kamion in central Poland. The pieces have been moved to a museum in nearby Wyszogrod for examination, with more recovery work planned for Saturday.

The head of the museum, Zdzislaw Leszczynski, told The Associated Press that parts of Soviet uniforms, a parachute, a sheepskin coat collar, parts of boots, a pilot's TT pistol and radio equipment were found, along with a lot of heavy ammunition. The inscriptions on the control panel and the radio equipment are in Cyrillic.

It's all part of the devastating war that played out across Poland from 1939-45: a German invasion from the west, a Soviet invasion from the east, the murder of Jews across occupied Poland and fighting between the Soviets and Germans after Adolf Hitler turned on former ally Josef Stalin.

Leszczynski said, according to witnesses, the plane was hit while flying low in January 1945 and crashed through the thick ice into the river. At the time, the German army was retreating toward Berlin before the Red Army's advance.

"Until now, the water level did not allow for the search and there was no one willing to enter this swamp," he said. Russian Embassy spokeswoman Valeria Perzhinskaya said she considers the discovery important and believes the crew could be identified by the numbers on the wreckage and properly buried. About 600,000 Soviet troops were killed fighting the German army on Polish territory.

The Jewish tombstones found in Warsaw are believed to come from the Brodno cemetery in the Polish capital's Praga district. Once the resting place for 300,000 Jews, only 3,000 tombstones remain there today. The rest were removed during and after the war, used as building materials and to reinforce the Vistula's banks.

Two weeks ago, a man walking along the river in Warsaw came across fragments of the tombstones with Hebrew lettering. On Tuesday, he took Daniels there. In the meantime, some had already been removed, although a few fragments were still lying on the riverbed.

Now Daniels hopes to take students there to do a more thorough search and return anything he can find to the cemetery. "Jewish history is buried in the Vistula," he said.

Surge of migrants walking through Balkans hits Hungary

August 25, 2015

SUBOTICA, Serbia (AP) — Thousands of migrants, many from Syria, poured into Hungary on Tuesday as soldiers frantically tried to finish a border fence to keep them out — the latest flashpoint as Europe struggles to handle a torrent of asylum seekers.

The rush over the border by migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia followed Macedonia's decision to lift a three-day blockade of its border with Greece after thousands of migrants simply stormed past the Macedonian police who tried to stop them with force.

Nearly 10,000 migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and then headed up north toward European Union-member Hungary. Once inside the 28-nation EU, they seek to reach more prosperous Western European nations such as Germany, The Netherlands or Sweden.

The so-called Balkan corridor for migrants is becoming increasingly popular as migrants seek to avoid the dangerous boat crossings in the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. About 140,000 migrants have reached Hungary already this year, over three times as many as in all of 2014. According to Hungarian police data, 2,093 migrants were detained while crossing illegally Monday, the highest figure so far this year. Over the past week, the average was nearly 1,500 people a day.

So far the Hungarian border fence consists of three layers of razor wire, which the government says will be completed this month along its 174-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia. But there's no wire over railroad lines and roads and there are doors on the fence where the migrants can enter and formally seek asylum.

Once they do, they can easily slip from Hungarian asylum centers and head further west and north. Hungary, beleaguered by the influx and facing a right-wing backlash, has been rushing to build the fence both as a physical barrier and a symbol of its tough anti-foreigner stance. The government's anti-migrant billboard campaign and efforts to link migration with terrorism have drawn sharp criticism from the U.N. and others, who say it vilifies refugees and promotes xenophobia.

Hundreds of migrants, including a pregnant woman holding the hand of a small boy, children, and one man pushing another man in a wheelchair, walked along the railway tracks Tuesday leading into Hungary.

About a dozen migrants from Syria, including men, women and a child, were seen by AP journalists as they walked with their backpacks through a cornfield to the border fence. An elderly woman managed to cross over the wire fence, then two Hungarian policemen showed up and stopped the rest, telling them to go to an open gate instead.

The group hesitantly walked into Hungary one by one, escorted by the police. After entering, the migrants are taken to processing stations where they are registered and then sent by train to refugee centers around the country. The majority request asylum, but most quickly leave for other EU countries before their claims are settled.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Tuesday that the migrant flow needs to be better controlled. Besides the border fence and the increased police presence, Hungary is preparing laws to make it a crime to cut through the fence or to enter Hungary illegally and is increasing the penalties for human traffickers.

"It is in the interest of all of us, Hungarians and Europeans, to develop some kind of order," Kovacs said in an interview, warning that otherwise many European cities could face unsustainable situations.

A U.N. migrant expert, however, said building physical barriers to stop migrants was futile. "Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention ... will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe," said Francois Crepau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. "Let's not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay."

Abdul Munir Rahimi, a 33-year-old from Kabul, Afghanistan, said he and his family were aiming to go to Germany. His brother, his sister-in-law and their two children were hoping to take a taxi to the Hungarian border later in the day.

"No security in Afghanistan, no security," he said. "We have relatives in Germany."

Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. AP writers Dusan Stojanovic, from Belgrade, Serbia, and Amer Cohadzic, from Gevgelija, Macedonia, contributed.

Colombians flee homes in Venezuela amid border crackdown

August 26, 2015

SAN ANTONIO DEL TACHIRA, Venezuela (AP) — Colombians carrying their possessions on their backs waded across a knee-deep river back into their homeland, fleeing a Venezuelan crackdown on illegal migrants and smugglers that has generated an increasingly angry dispute between the South American neighbors.

The dramatic scene came ahead of a meeting Wednesday between the nations' foreign ministers to cool tensions that spiked after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government closed a major border crossing last week, declared a state of emergency in six western cities and deported more than 1,000 Colombian migrants it blamed for rampant crime and widespread shortages.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday delivered his strongest rebuke yet of Maduro's actions since the crisis began. "Raiding homes, removing people by force, separating families, not letting them remove the few goods they own and marking their homes for demolition are totally unacceptable practices," Santos said. "They recall the bitterest episodes in history that can't be repeated."

Maduro said he was acting to defend residents along the border after gunmen he claimed were paramilitaries linked to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe shot and wounded three army officers on an anti-smuggling patrol.

The socialist leader has vowed to keep the normally busy Simon Bolivar international bridge closed, and possibly extend restrictions to other transit crossings, until Colombian authorities do their part to bring order to the porous, 1,400-mile (2,200 kilometer) border, an area long plagued by violence and drug-trafficking.

On Tuesday, more than 100 Colombians, many of whom have lived in Venezuela for years, said they were abandoning their cinder block homes in a riverside shantytown community known as "La Invasion" — the Invasion — after they said they were given 72 hours to pack up and leave by Venezuela's army.

With makeshift pedestrian bridges between the two countries destroyed as part of a weeklong security offensive, police from Colombia helped migrants, including children and the elderly, ford the 10-meter wide Tachira River with mattresses, TVs and kitchen appliances slung across their backs and shoulders. Left behind were homes spray-painted in blue by security forces with the letter "R," for reviewed, while those marked with a "D'' are believed to be slated for demolition.

"People are carrying everything they can," said a weeping Virgelida Serrano, a 60-year-old seamstress who has lived in Venezuela for more than a decade. "We're going to Colombia to see what help the government gives us."

An estimated 5 million Colombians live in Venezuela, many of them displaced years ago by Colombia's half-century civil conflict. Although their homeland is much safer now, deep roots and the higher cost of living in Colombia has dissuaded many among the poor from returning despite mounting economic woes such as widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation.

Venezuela says more than 1,000 people have been deported in the past week, more than half the 1,772 people expelled last year, according to Colombian statistics. Those returning with no place to go have overwhelmed five government-run shelters in and around the border city of Cucuta to provide temporary sleeping quarters and channel donations of clothes and food to returning nationals.

Colombia's Ombudsman said it had registered 207 accounts of mistreatment by deportees, the most frequent forced removal from one's homes but also complaints that Venezuelan authorities broke up families and seized their belongings.

Maduro had denied security forces have used excessive force and says that all those expelled are being treated with respect, adding that he is a good friend of Colombians. He said he was forced to act to protect communities from violent mafias that smuggle goods purchased in Venezuela at ultra-low prices and resell them for huge profits across the border, further emptying already barren supermarket shelves.

Critics in Venezuela and Colombia have said the actions are an attempt by Maduro to distract Venezuelans from the severe economic crises facing his oil-rich country, which is troubled by soaring inflation and empty supermarket shelves.

As mandated by the constitution, the pro-government National Assembly approved the state of emergency decreed by Maduro during a special session Tuesday held near the border. For the next 60 days, constitutional guarantees such as the right to protest, carry weapons or move freely will be restricted, although officials have gone to great lengths to say they are using the extraordinary powers sparingly.

"I'm sorry if this is creating a humanitarian crisis in Cucuta, but we are only responsible for protecting people who are Venezuelan," National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said, brushing aside human rights concerns and claims by critics that the closure of the border is a ploy to influence upcoming congressional elections.

"Colombia needs to take care of its own problems," he said.

Sanchez reported from Caracas. AP writers Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona contributed from Bogota, Colombia.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Egyptian teen Muslima invents million-dollar Biofuel

August 22, 2015

by Terry Turner
Source: GoodNews Network

An Egyptian teenager has discovered an inexpensive way to turn plastic trash into fuel — and it could be worth tens of millions of dollars a year.

Azza Faiad’s ideas attracted the attention of the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute. The institute gave the teen access to a lab and its researchers in order to help refine her trash to fuel formula.

Faiad discovered a cheap and plentiful catalyst called aluminisilicate that drastically reduces the cost of converting plastic waste into gases like methane and propane, which can be turned into ethanol, what some scientists are calling “biofuel” because the organic chemicals from plastic polymers she extracts, are the same chemicals extracted from vegetation to create ethanol biofuel.

The process releases other chemicals that can also be recycled and sold.

Egypt produces a million tons of plastic trash every year, and it’s estimated Faiad’s process could convert that much trash into fuel worth$78 million every year.

In fact, she believes it could raise the total return to $163 million each year from Egypt’s plastic trash.

The European Union Contest for Young Scientists has already honored Faiad with a prize for her work and she is now working on a patent for her trash to fuel process.

Source: Muslim Village.
Link: http://muslimvillage.com/2015/08/22/112544/egyptian-teen-muslima-invents-million-dollar-biofuel/.

Turkey's Erdogan expected to call new elections

August 24, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected on Monday to formally call new elections for Nov. 1 and re-appoint Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form an interim administration, a day after the deadline passed for establishing a government following Turkey's inconclusive election in June.

The Islamic-rooted ruling party, which Erdogan founded, lost its parliamentary majority in June for the first time since 2002. Davutoglu's efforts to form a coalition alliance failed last week, setting the stage for Erdogan to declare repeat elections he is reported to have favored all along.

Erdogan is thought to have pressed for new elections to give the ruling party the chance to win back its majority and rule alone. Turkey faces new elections as it is grappling with a sharp increase in violence between security forces and Kurdish rebels and is more deeply involved in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State group extremists. The Turkish lira has dropped to record lows against the dollar amid the political uncertainty.

More than a hundred people — mostly soldiers and police — have been killed since July in renewed conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the security forces, which has wrecked a 2 1/2-year-old peace process with the Kurds.

On Monday, PKK militants detonated a bomb on a road near Semdili town as a military vehicle was passing, killing two soldiers and injuring three others. Semdinli is near Turkey's borders with Iraq and Iran.

Two opposition parties have already declared they will not participate in the interim government, leaving Davutoglu with little choice but to form a government made up of independent figures and politicians from the pro-Kurdish party, who would be taking government posts for the first time in Turkish history.

Country's first solar-powered bus unveiled in Istanbul

August 20, 2015

The Istanbul Electric Tramway and Tunnel Establishments (İETT), the city's transportation authority, introduced a solar-powered bus on Wednesday.

The bus is the first of its kind to be used in mass transit in the country, which seeks to increase its renewable energy use and has an annual solar power capacity of 380 billion kilowatt hours, one of the highest in Europe.

İETT officials demonstrated the bus to the media at a bus depot in the Topkapı district, the first station for the bus's route, which will continue on to Eminönü, a busy commercial hub in Istanbul's historic peninsula dotted with landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Fitted with 15 solar panels on its roof, the white bus with the slogan "We thought of the future and used solar power in public transportation" inscribed on its sides, took its first passengers to Eminönü.

Fatma Nur Yılmaz, an İETT official, told reporters at the unveiling event that the world is already using solar power in transportation, especially in vehicles capable of operating over long distances, but it was the first time solar power is being used in city mass transit where speeds and operation of buses greatly vary due to traffic. Yılmaz said the bus had an environmentally friendly engine and they sought to boost awareness to renewable energy use.

Although the bus runs on gasoline, the solar panels cover almost every energy need of the bus like powering information screens, cellphone charge units, Wi-Fi connection, loudspeakers, cameras and electronic ticket units. They also provide additional power for the bus's battery and contribute to fuel efficiency. More importantly, the bus does not pollute the air as it does not have carbon monoxide emissions, İETT officials said.

Yılmaz said millions of people use public transportation in the city, adding to carbon emissions. She said their aim is to reduce emissions through solar-powered buses. More solar-powered buses will take to Istanbul roads in the near future.

Elif Özdemir was one of the first passengers on the bus. "We need more projects like these. People have difficulty breathing because of high carbon monoxide levels. I think this bus will prove beneficial, especially in Istanbul's heavy traffic," she said.

Selim Özkul, another passenger, said buses can also be used in other cities as Turkey has fairly sunny weather.

Public transport serves more than 14 million people in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, which also has the notoriety of having the worst traffic in the world according to a study sponsored by a leading electronic navigation company with travel times for even short distances taking up a few hours in rush hour. Add to this the carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles in traffic - over 3.5 million according to latest statistics - and transportation deals a serious impact on the environment. The İETT already introduced another environmentally friendly bus last year. Botobus, a "botanic" bus, running between Edirnekapı and Taksim, with plants on its roof to help to offset the carbon emissions the bus generates.

Source: Daily Sabah.
Link: http://www.dailysabah.com/nation/2015/08/20/countrys-first-solar-powered-bus-unveiled-in-istanbul.

Turkey ranks among world's top aid donors

20 August 2015 Thursday

Turkey has carried out humanitarian work in over 40 countries across four continents, helping people reeling from the effects of natural disasters or civil wars, the country’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has said.

The figures come in a week which marks World Humanitarian Day – the Aug. 19 anniversary of the death in 2003 of 22 aid workers murdered in a bombing at UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.

Turkish volunteers are providing humanitarian assistance through charity organizations, in addition to state institutions, helping millions affected by conflicts and disasters.

AFAD, for instance, has established 25 temporary housing centers for Syrian people in Turkey, offering accommodation to thousands who fled their country after the onset of civil war.

The total amount of money spent supporting Syrian people since April 2011 has reached 5.6 billion Turkish liras ($1.9 billion).

Three other housing centers were established in northern Iraq, with a spend of 52.8 million Turkish liras.

AFAD has also sent humanitarian aid worth 456 million Turkish liras to Somalia, since 2011.

Following Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake, AFAD sent medical aid worth 814,000 Turkish liras.

Turkey ranked third in the list of countries with the most international humanitarian work in 2012 and 2013, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, TIKA, says in its Turkish Development Assistance 2013 report -- the latest such figures from the agency.

According to another 2013 Global Humanitarian Assistance report, the top five donors were the U.S. with $3.8 billion, followed by EU institutions ($1.9 billion), the U.K. ($1.2 billion), Turkey ($1.0 billion) and Sweden with $784 million.

The GHA report in 2014 said: "Nine of the ten largest government donors in 2013 showed a rise in their giving from the previous year. The five largest in 2013 (U.S., U.K., Turkey, Japan and Germany) made some of the largest increases."

The most generous country by gross national income (GNI) is Turkey with 0.21 per cent, the report wrote.

The top five recipients were Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Somalia and Pakistan, the report says.

Last year, the Turkish Red Crescent spent over 92 million Turkish liras to help over 810,000 people at home in Turkey and abroad who suffered from traffic accidents, industrial incidents and natural disasters.

Some Turkish NGOs are also actively taking part in humanitarian aid work across the world.

IHH, for example, is one of the biggest aid foundations in Turkey; it has around 100,000 volunteers of all ages.

The foundation provided humanitarian aid for around 1.5 million people both in Turkey and 96 other countries during Ramadan last year.

Among the countries that Turkish humanitarian organizations send aid to are: Bangladesh; Ethiopia; Pakistan; Somalia; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Yemen; Afghanistan; Palestine; Iraq and many others.

Tens of thousands of people from dozens of countries were treated with 90,000 medical examinations and 5,000 surgeries supplied by Doctors Worldwide in the last two years.

Turkey's Cansuyu Foundation, meanwhile, provides humanitarian aid during Ramadan each year for 500,000 people in 30 countries. The foundation also established an orphanage in Gaza with the capacity to home up to 650 children in May 2015.

Turkey's official development assistance has increased every year from $85 million in 2002 to $3.3 billion in 2013, TIKA has reported.

Of the total Turkish official development assistance in 2013, 49 percent was reported as humanitarian aid.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/163397/turkey-ranks-among-worlds-top-aid-donors.

Protesters pour into Beirut demanding government resignation

August 23, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of protesters poured into central Beirut on Sunday demanding that the country's top politicians resign, hours after Prime Minister Tammam Salam hinted he might step down following violent protests triggered by a monthlong trash crisis.

The demonstrations, the largest in years, railed against the corruption and dysfunction that has brought about Lebanon's current political crisis. The country does not have a functioning Cabinet or parliament, and hasn't had a president for more than a year.

Salam said in a news conference at the government's headquarters that if this Thursday's Cabinet meeting is not productive, "then there is no need for the council of ministers." Lebanon has a sectarian power-sharing system that ensures equal representation between the country's main religious sects. The arrangement often leads to complete paralysis.

It was not clear why Salam would hint about resignation. It was unlikely that he would step down, as the move could create a total political vacuum and plunge Lebanon into chaos. By Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters chanting "revolution" massed near the government building, demanding that Salam resign immediately.

"The people want to topple the regime!" protesters cried out, a slogan used during the Arab Spring protests that swept through the region. Waving Lebanese flags and chanting, they stood in front of a ring of barbed wire that separated them from government headquarters and riot police. Two trucks with water cannons stood ready.

The mood in central Beirut was tense, one day after dozens were wounded after security forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons on protesters. Saturday's demonstrations were by far the largest since garbage began piling up on the streets after the capital's main landfill was closed a month ago. Bickering politicians have been unable to agree on an alternative system for waste management.

Residents in this proud Mediterranean city have resorted to burning trash on the streets and dumping garbage into valleys, rivers and near the sea, leading to warnings of a health catastrophe. An online group calling itself "You Stink!" and other civil society groups organized the rallies, urging others to join them in a revolt against a corrupt system.

"You Stink!" issued a statement Sunday afternoon calling on Salam to resign immediately, saying, "Our patience has run out." The group called for a demonstration at 6 p.m. (1500 gmt) in front of the government headquarters.

In what appears to be an attempt to calm down protesters, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk said the name of the consortium that will be in charge of waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon will be announced on Monday, a day ahead of schedule. Machnouk's statement was carried by state-run National News Agency.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014. Parliament has been paralyzed and unable to meet to elect a president because of lack of quorum. Meanwhile, in southern Lebanon, sporadic clashes continued in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon between Islamists and the mainstream Fatah movement.

The fighting which began Saturday in Lebanon's largest refugee camp killed three people and wounded 20, according to Lebanese security officials.

Spain: New leftist mayors turn back on bullfighting

August 22, 2015

VILLAFRANCA DE LOS CABALLEROS, Spain (AP) — Bullfights or schoolbooks? A new breed of local officials in Spain are asking.

Julian Bolanos, the mayor of this central Spanish town of around 5,000 inhabitants, recently announced he was taking the 18,000 euros ($20,000) in public funding for bullfights to invest it in textbooks and other educational material.

Days before, his new leftist counterpart in the northwestern city of A Coruna withdrew 50,000 euros in bullfight subsidies and vowed to find a better way to spend it. The measures may be surprising in a country where bullfights are an emblematic part of the culture and a traditional fixture in nearly every town's summer festival. But they are not unusual: Since May 24 local elections, the ruling, pro-bullfighting, conservative Popular Party has been ousted from town halls and regional governments across the country and replaced by leftist coalitions that are questioning funding for bullfights — seen as a luxury in times of economic hardship.

"Of every 10 people that come to me, nine ask for work or help, not one has come to me asking for bullfights," Bolanos, a Socialist party member, told The Associated Press. His town, like most of Spain, suffered severely in the economic crisis that has left the country with 22 percent unemployment.

In Madrid, the world's bullfighting capital, new leftist Mayor Manuela Carmena has said she won't be using the presidential box at the bullring — a mayoral privilege — and is studying withdrawing subsidies and declaring the capital an animal-friendly city, a mostly symbolic gesture toward animal rights groups.

That move has already been taken by Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, also administered by a new left-wing mayor. The major city of Valencia, in the east, also has a new leftist town hall team that has axed bullfight subsidies, while nearly a dozen towns in the region, including the port city of Alicante, are pushing for referendums on keeping bull events as part of town festivals.

"We're under attack," said Carlos Nunez, president of the Spain's Fighting Bull Breeders Union. "The May 24 elections have brought about many changes with coalitions including anti-bullfighting parties."

He said it was unjust treatment for a spectacle that has been declared part of Spain's national heritage, and is the country's most popular spectacle after soccer. Bullfighting and bull-running have always stirred strong passions; some see the spectacles as artistic while others view them as anachronistic, bloody and cruel.

Going against the trend is the northern Basque city of San Sebastian, which under a new conservative mayor has reintroduced bullfighting, ending a two-year ban by the former leftist town hall. The first bullfight was held Thursday, attended by former King Juan Carlos and other members of his family. The monarch called for bullfighting to be defended, saying it "is an asset for Spain that we must support."

The king received a rousing ovation by those attending and a special dedication by one of the bullfighters, who said the king was defending culture and freedom by his presence. Outside, pockets of anti-bullfight protesters joined forces with anti-monarchists.

The debate of tradition versus animal rights has little to do with this particular debate, however. Spain's economic crisis plunged bullfighting into crisis, with smaller crowds at ever fewer bullfights. Younger people preferred to spend what little money they had on travel, theater shows, movies, pop concerts and night clubs. Despite dwindling popularity, Spain still holds some 2,000 bullfights annually and some 16,000 town festivals include bull events.

One milestone in the debate came in 2011, when Catalonia, the rich northeastern regions whose capital is Barcelona, became Spain's second region to ban bullfighting. It joined the Canary Islands, which stopped the practice in 1991.

In response, a string of other regions mostly run by the Popular Party passed directives protecting the spectacle. Parliament also took moves to enshrining bullfighting as a key part of the nation's cultural heritage following a petition bearing 600,000 signatures, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

Giles contributed from Madrid.

Ukraine vows to increase troops to fend off rebel attacks

August 24, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president vowed to increase troop numbers to fend off attacks by Russia-backed separatist rebels and warned his countrymen that there is still the threat of a "large-scale invasion," in an impassioned speech to mark Independence Day on Monday.

Speaking during a military parade, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine must not be complacent even though hostilities have largely died down. In a show of force, thousands of Ukrainian servicemen marched in downtown Kiev to commemorate the country's independence from the Soviet Union on Aug. 24, 1991.

"We stand for peace, but we are not pacifists," Poroshenko said. "We must get through the 25th year of independence as if on brittle ice. We must understand that the smallest misstep could be fatal. The war for independence is still ongoing."

Poroshenko didn't say how many more troops he would send to eastern Ukraine. He claimed that Russia had massed about 50,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, still had 9,000 soldiers in eastern Ukraine and had supplied the rebels with about 500 tanks and 400 pieces of artillery. Poroshenko warned that Russia is wary of carrying out an outright invasion and is instead developing another strategy: sow discord across all of Ukraine and thus spoil its relations with its Western allies.

Poroshenko compared the rebel-held territories in the east and their viability to the evil kingdom of Mordor from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels. Russia's foreign minister said Poroshenko's statements about Russian troops were "unsubstantiated and unscrupulous."

"It is difficult to escape the thought that their goal was to break the genetic code that guarantees the unity of our peoples," Sergey Lavrov said. "I don't think he will succeed." The Ukrainian troops taking part in the Independence Day commemorations carried rifles, but, unlike last year, the parade didn't feature any of the more powerful weaponry. This could have been seen as provocative because of the conflict in the east, which has claimed more than 6,800 lives since it began in April 2014 and saw a major uptick in violence last week with nine civilians and soldiers killed in just one day.

Ukraine's military said Monday that the rebels violated a cease-fire 82 times overnight in the eastern part of the country, in some cases with large-caliber weapons that should have been withdrawn in line with a truce signed in February.

Poroshenko later traveled to Berlin for an evening meeting with the leaders of France and Germany, in which the three reasserted that the ceasefire agreed to in Minsk, Belarus in February must be implemented.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there are still hostilities and observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers cannot move freely to assess the situation. "Everything possible must be done to ensure that the ceasefire is a reality," she said.

Poroshenko said that Ukraine is fulfilling its obligations on the ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and on humanitarian issues. "We clearly declare that today Russia and the fighters it supports are the only threat to the peace process. "

Moscow did not send a representative to Berlin, but said it would watch the meeting closely, and Merkel said that there was still regular contact with Russia. A top French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to speak on the issue, said the gathering was planned as a three-party meeting and that talks also including Russia could be expected "in the next few weeks."

Poroshenko told reporters in Kiev that the meeting was crucial for Ukraine, Germany and France to "coordinate their positions" before a possible meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On front-line positions in eastern Ukraine, the mood was less festive.

"Today... is a happy day for Ukrainians, but it's an ordinary day for us here on the front line," platoon commander Roman Pikulyk said in the town of Avdiivka. "My heart longs to celebrate, but here the holiday feels different, because at war every day is a miracle when one has survived."

Sylvie Corbet and Thomas Adamson in Paris, Lynn Berry and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.