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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Islamic State militants attack 2 cities in northern Syria

June 25, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — After weeks of setbacks, militants from the Islamic State group launched swift counteroffensives Thursday on predominantly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, killing and wounding dozens and setting off car bombs, activists and officials said.

The two-pronged attack on the northeastern city of Hassakeh and the border town of Kobani came two days after an Islamic State spokesman acknowledged that the group might lose some battles but would not be defeated. The spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, had urged militants to strike back at their foes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and "shake the ground beneath them."

The early morning assault by IS captured part of Hassakeh, which has long been divided between Syrian Kurds and the military forces of President Bashar Assad. The militants also hit Kobani, a northern town on Syria's border with Turkey that had become a symbol of Kurdish resistance against the Islamic State extremists. The Kurdish forces, backed by a campaign of U.S.-led airstrikes, drove the militants from Kobani and surrounding villages in January.

Thursday's fighting in Kobani killed 35 civilians and Kurdish fighters, and 14 extremists, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was the first time in six months the militants, who set off three car bombs, had managed to enter the town, the group said.

The IS militants, wearing Syrian rebel uniforms and carrying flags of the mainstream Free Syrian Army to deceive the Kurdish defenders, launched their attack from areas to the south and west of Kobani, said Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.

Ghalia Nehme, a commander with the Kurdish Women's Protection Units, told The Associated Press by telephone from Kobani that its fighters were defending a position in the town. Another Kurdish official in Kobani, Idriss Naasan, said the fighting was intense in the morning but sporadic at midday.

"We hear cracks of gunfire every now and then," Naasan said around noon, adding that he had heard explosions of unknown origin. Kobani-based activist Mustafa Bali said in the evening that IS fighters were still in the city and held several buildings, but that YPG fighters were trying to surround them. He said some IS militants were using civilians as human shields.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Twitter that four people were killed and 96 people had been wounded in Kobani. A suicide bomber detonated his car near the border gate, according to two Turkish officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Surveillance video seen by the AP showed a fiery explosion around dawn. Syrian state TV said the extremists crossed into Kobani from Turkey, but Kurtulmus dismissed such allegations as untrue, according to Turkey's Anadolu news agency.

IS fighters entered the village of Barkh Botan near Kobani, opening fire on civilians and killing 20 people, the Observatory said. Syria's state news agency SANA said 22 people were killed, including women and children.

The differing casualty figures from Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian sources could not be reconciled in the immediate aftermath of the violence. Natasha Underhill, an expert on Middle East terrorism from Britain's Nottingham Trent University, said the re-entry of Islamic State forces in Kobani "comes as a warning to the strength of the group."

What some may consider a victory over IS in Kobani could actually be an effort by the group to withdraw and develop a different strategy, she added. A year ago, the Islamic State group captured large parts of Syria and Iraq and subsequently declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory under its control. A major IS attack had been widely expected during Ramadan, which began last week.

Referring to the attack on Hassakeh, Khalil said the militants struck government-held neighborhoods on the southern edge of the city and captured some areas. Syrian state TV reported intense clashes inside the southern neighborhood of Nashawi, with IS fighters killing several people they captured. It said there were many casualties among the militants, including the Tunisian commander of the group.

The fighting forced many residents to flee to safer areas, activists said. IS tried to storm Hassakeh earlier this month and reached its southern outskirts before meeting strong resistance from Syrian government troops who pushed them away.

The attacks on Hassakeh and Kobani came days after Kurdish fighters and their allies captured the Islamic State stronghold of Tal Abyad on the border with Turkey and the town of Ein Issa to the south. Kurdish fighters have been advancing since January, thanks to coalition airstrikes.

Associated Press writers Ayse Wieting and Raphael Satter in Istanbul and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

Egyptian textile workers' strike enters 10th day

Saturday, 31 October 2015

The workers’ strike at Egypt’s biggest textile factory has entered its 10th day as the administration threatens to end staff contracts if they do not return to work, Quds Press reported on Friday.

In order to return to work, the workers’ have demanded that the company officially agree on payment of a “social allowance” equivalent to a ten per cent addition to their monthly pay.

They also want this payment to be counted retrospectively starting on the date it was pledged by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

According to Quds Press, the workers became enraged after seven members of staff were turned over to investigation services over claims they had incited the workers to go on strike.

Quds Press reported that the company had agreed to the additional payment, but that the workers said they would not go back to work unless a statement including the decision was posted on the factory notice board.

The company branch in Mahala placed a statement on Wednesday that included threatening nine workers to be dismissed from work and turning seven others over to investigators.

The workers tore down the statement and said they would return to work only after the company places a new statement that includes its agreement to making the additional payment.

Monitors said that this strike recalled the strikes during the last days of the Mubarak era, when a wide range of workers went on strike and arguably sparked the flash that ignited the 25 January Revolution.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/22020-egyptian-textile-workers-strike-enters-10th-day.

Turks head to polls in rerun of key parliamentary election

November 01, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turks are heading to the polls in a crucial parliamentary election that will determine whether the ruling party can restore the parliamentary majority it enjoyed for 13 years.

The contest is a rerun of a June election in which the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, surprisingly lost its one-party rule. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is calling on voters to choose stability and give AKP a new majority. Opposition parties hope to force Davutoglu into forming a coalition.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not on the ballot, but voters will determine whether he can continue to be Turkey's primary political power by guiding his party in parliament. More than 54 million people are eligible to vote at more than 175,000 stations and turnout is expected to be high.

Turkish parties rally ahead of Sunday's election

October 30, 2015

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish political parties on Friday made their closing appeals ahead of Sunday's crucial parliamentary election.

The contest is a redo of a June election in which the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost its majority after 13 years of single-party rule. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for new elections after his appointed prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, failed to form a coalition with any of the three opposition parties represented in parliament.

Opposition parties, however, accuse Erdogan of acting behind the scenes to scupper the coalition efforts in the hope that the ruling party can win back its majority in the repeat election. The ballot comes amid ever increasing instability in neighboring Syria and Iraq and as Turkey grapples with more than 2 million refugees, though the latter hasn't been much of an issue.

As he sought a rebound, Davutoglu campaigned in his home city of Konya on Friday. With the country gripped by violence, he emphasized security at home. "We will one by one defeat the terror and the negative reflection of the conflict in the region," he said.

Supporters chanted "Alone!" in support of the party ruling without a coalition partner. "This is a vote on Turkey's future," Davutoglu said. "It's almost a referendum. You will decide on whether Turkey will continue to rise."

The main secularist opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, campaigning in his party's stronghold, Izmir, promised to restore Turkey's relations with neighbors and the Arab world. "Our relations with the Arabs have soured, our ties with Egypt have soured, our ties with Libya have soured. We are quarrelling with Syria," Kilicdaroglu said. "They say 'Our exports have dropped.' Well you haven't left us with any neighbors. They say 'Tourists don't come.' Why would they come?"

The election comes amid a breakdown in the once hopeful peace process between the government and Kurdish militants. Campaigning on Friday in Istanbul, Selahattin Demirtas of the main Kurdish HDP party cast the election as a referendum on Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the last 13 years.

"Our country is now at a crossroads," he said. "Turkey will head toward a one-man system and oppressive dictatorial regime or it will head toward a road that heads to democracy."

Morocco defends hold on Western Sahara and targets IKEA

October 31, 2015

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco is reacting aggressively to any challenges to its claims on Western Sahara, as it marks 40 years since taking control of the mineral-rich territory. Among apparent targets of its wrath: Swedish icons IKEA, Volvo and H&M.

This month, the Moroccan government announced it would consider boycotting Swedish products and companies over reports that Sweden was planning to recognize the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR, which disputes sovereignty over Western Sahara with Morocco. Some 60 countries consider it an independent state, but no Western nation does. Morocco has been stuck in a frozen conflict for years with the Polisario Front, the Algeria-backed insurgency that proclaimed SADR.

Brands associated with Sweden have faced difficulties in Morocco in recent weeks: The country's first IKEA store was blocked from opening last month over administrative problems. Employees were mysteriously unable to enter a Volvo dealership.

Thousands of Moroccans from labor unions and non-governmental groups marched in front of the Swedish Embassy in support of the possible boycott — some distributing brochures showing the logo of companies such as Swedish retailer H&M crossed out with a bold red "x."

"This is the Moroccan people's decision, not the Moroccan government's," said Mohamed Yacoubi from the Moroccan Center for Human Rights, who participated in the protest. Sweden will undergo a review of its policy toward the Western Sahara, due to be completed in February. But so far, "there has been no dramatic development in Sweden," said Jens Orback, a former Social Democratic Cabinet member and current head of the Olof Palme International Center, a human rights group linked to Sweden's governing Social Democrats.

While in the opposition, the Social Democrats called for Sweden to recognize the Western Sahara as an independent state, but now that they are in government, they appear more cautious. "The experience from (Sweden's) recognition of Palestine have made them realize that they will get a lot of criticism," Orback said.

Meanwhile, Morocco sent a delegation to Sweden comprised of leaders of leftist parties, with Nabila Mounib, Secretary General of the United Socialist Party, at its head. Upon her return, Mounib said that "Sweden does not understand Morocco's anxieties." She said she had the impression, however, that Sweden doesn't plan to recognize SADR independence.

The Sweden flap is one of several signs of tension ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Western Saharan conflict next month, which the Moroccan government is marking with speeches and royal visits. Morocco annexed the mineral-rich former Spanish colony in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991. The territory on the Atlantic Coast is home to the U.N.'s longest-running peacekeeping mission — and its only mission without a mandate to monitor human rights.

Human rights groups say Morocco uses violence to stifle dissent, while the government insists U.N. monitoring is only needed when there are major violations. The issue erupted into a diplomatic dispute with the U.S. in 2013.

The Moroccan government recently urged Human Rights Watch to suspend its activities in Morocco pending a meeting between government representatives and the group's executive director, Kenneth Roth. Human Rights Watch says it responded and proposed meeting dates, with no response.

Then in early October, the Wall Street Journal carried a full-page appeal by Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi to Roth describing the group's activities in Morocco as biased. "We don't understand what motivates this surprisingly aggressive letter," said Ahmed Benchemsi, Human Rights Watch's Advocacy and Communications Director, for its Middle East and North Africa Division.

The group says it's especially surprised by the new pressure because in August it publicly praised the Moroccan government's approval of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Human Rights Abuses Committed by the Moroccan State.

Diplomatic tensions around Western Sahara often manifest themselves indirectly. The troubles with IKEA, for example, erupted just before it was scheduled to open Sept. 29. Morocco's Interior Ministry said its opening was blocked because it lacked a proper "certificate of conformity." But the move came amid Internet rumors about Sweden's potential recognition of the Western Sahara. While IKEA is now based in the Netherlands, its founder and public image are resolutely Swedish.

Soon afterward, the government said it was considering a boycott of Swedish goods. Around the same time, authorities reportedly blocked employees from entering a Casablanca Volvo dealership, operated by a private importer.

"We are not affected by the discussed boycott in Morocco," Volvo Cars said in a statement. "The incident in Casablanca relates to an issue around the ownership and rent of the dealership facility, it has nothing to do with the political debate."

Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.

S. Korea, Japan, China leaders agree to mend strained ties

November 01, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Leaders from South Korea, China and Japan have concluded a rare three-way summit with a pledge to boost exchanges and dialogue and try to repair ties badly strained by history and territorial disputes.

The summit Sunday in Seoul was the first of its kind in more than three years. High-level contact between Tokyo and its two Asian neighbors nose-dived after hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said the sides agreed to try to improve ties by "facing history squarely and advancing toward the future." Beijing and Seoul see Abe as whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities.

The countries also pledged to push for better economic ties and to try to resume stalled international negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

N. Korea to hold biggest party congress in decades

October 30, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea's ruling party said Friday it will hold its biggest convention in decades next May.

The Workers' Party said in a dispatch carried by state media that it has decided to hold its 7th congress as the North is faced with "the heavy yet sacred task" of building a "thriving" nation. It didn't elaborate on what it will discuss.

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will likely use the congress to reshuffle party officials, bolster his grip and present major state policies.

Since taking power after the death of his dictator father in late 2011, Kim has been struggling to revive his country's moribund economy and grappling with an international standoff over the North's nuclear and missile programs. He rules the country with a slew of high-profile posts, including the first secretary of the Workers' Party.

The Workers' Party last held its congress in 1980, when Kim's father Kim Jong Il made his political debut with an appearance that confirmed he was in line to succeed his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Other previous congresses elected top party officials, adopted party regulations and discussed major state policies, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

North and South Korea remain divided along the world's most heavily fortified border since their 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Ukraine to receive U.S. radars by mid-November

by Ryan Maass
Washington (UPI)
Oct 22, 2015

The U.S. will supply Ukraine with long-range counter-battery radar stations by mid-November as the country continues to fight Russian-backed militants.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke about the matter in a speech delivered at the Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas, according to Ukrinform.

"I am proud that we are finally beginning to obtain military-technical aid from our partner nations. We have been waiting for it for one year," Poroshenko said. " am proud that after meeting U.S. President Barack Obama the special long range counter-battery stations will be delivered to us by mid-November Those stations located tens of kilometers from the front lines will assist us to clearly identify enemy's battery firing locations and by using unique experience and capabilities of our artillery we will immediately strike back at the enemy."

The conflict in Ukraine has drawn strong reaction from multiple world powers. The United States, Britain and NATO partner countries have pledged political and material support for Ukraine's government as it moves to bolster its relationship with NATO. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been criticized by Western governments for his support for rebels holding several key areas in eastern Ukraine.

The United States continues to hold military training exercises aimed at improving combat readiness for local forces. Guided missile destroyer USS Porter arrived in the country in mid-October to support a NATO peace mission.

Britain announced more troop training support for Ukraine earlier in the same month, already committing 19 teams to train 1,600 members of the Ukraine Armed Forces.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Ukraine_to_receive_US_radars_by_mid-November_999.html.

Greece: Protesters target border fence after refugee deaths

November 01, 2015

LESBOS, Greece (AP) — Protesters clashed with police guarding a border fence in northern Greece Saturday, following a series of sea accidents that killed dozens of migrants and a warning from authorities that the death toll is likely rise in coming weeks.

About 500 anti-government protesters, who traveled from Athens and several towns in northern Greece were involved in the clashes near the border with Turkey after challenging a police cordon blocking access to the fence that spans more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).

The demonstrators are demanding that Greece tear down the fence and allow refugees to cross by land instead of risking their lives on the sea crossing to Europe. The youths, many wearing hoods and balaclavas, hurled rocks at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

No arrests or injuries were reported. The government says it cannot remove the fence for "practical reasons" and has called on other European Union countries to speed up additional support promised for search and rescue operations in the east Aegean Sea.

Greece is struggling to cope with a surge in arrivals, many fleeing the civil war in Syria and other conflicts, and the crossing is becoming increasing deadly as winter approaches. More than 60 people, half of them children, have died in the past four days while trying to reach Lesbos and other Greek islands from the Turkish coast.

Most of the recent deaths have occurred in an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stretch of sea separating Turkey from the northern coast of Lesbos. The head of the island's port authority, Coast Guard Lt. Cdr. Antonios Sofiadelis warned that smugglers were using increasingly dangerous tactics.

"Many of the boats are going for scrap and they use them for one last trip," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "Smugglers usually take the boats to the edge of Greek waters and then get picked up by speed boats. The people on the boats usually have no experience at sea."

Sofiadelis warned that more fatal accidents are likely as the weather worsens and smugglers become increasingly brazen. "We have 50 to 60 crossings a day to Lesbos and sometimes half of those boats are in distress. We typically have five or six (serious) rescue operations every day. We simply can't be everywhere at the same time. So unless something changes on the Turkish coast, there will be more deaths."

Despite rough seas, thousands more people arrived on Lesbos on Saturday, mostly by dinghy. Many camped on a hill next to a police registration center where refugees obtain travel documents. Afghan Nagib Akhbari warmed himself by a fire in a large basin of scrap metal as his son assembled a tent.

"I came with my five children and wife. We (crossed) Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey in eight days," said Akhbari, who looked exhausted and had bloodshot eyes. "They took my money," he said, referring to payments to smugglers and an incident in eastern Turkey when he said he was robbed. "I have nothing now."

Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece

France's army chiefs, facing new threats, get new 'Pentagon'

October 31, 2015

PARIS (AP) — The building's walls are designed to withstand a missile strike and a highly secured operational room is hidden underground. France's army chiefs are moving into their new defense ministry, aimed at allowing a quicker response to the threats faced by the country — especially terrorism.

About 9,300 military and civil staff who were previously dispersed around a dozen different sites are now based in the 4.2 billion euros building ($4.6 billion), dubbed the "French Pentagon." The joining together of army, air force and navy headquarters will make it easier to lead France's military operations abroad, said Jean-Paul Bodin, secretary general for the administration of the Defense Ministry. "This enables us to be in contact with each other much more easily than before and also to mobilize the staff quicker when needed."

France's military is highly active internationally, with about 7,000 French troops involved in operations around the world, including in the anti-Islamic State coalition in Iraq and Syria and in operations against extremists in Africa's Sahel region. An additional 7,000 troops have been mobilized to patrol sensitive sites across France, following attacks in Paris in January on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery that left 20 dead, including the three Islamic extremist attackers.

Bodin said the new military organization will make the army's decision-making process "more efficient." It will also help reduce costs and staff in the headquarters, as part of a government plan to reduce France's military from 270,000 people to 240,000 by 2019, he said.

The ministry's employees left behind historical buildings in the center of Paris for the new modern site, in a quiet district in the south of the capital. Yet Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian keeps his office in a prestigious Paris mansion from the 18th century, closer to Parliament and the presidential palace.

The new ministry is to be inaugurated by president Francois Hollande next month. It is named the "Hexagone-Balard" — the hexagon being the shape used to describe France's mainland, and also the shape of the heart of the building.

From the outside, the seven-floor structure looks like a modern fortress with its white opaque glass front. It is topped by the largest solar-paneled roof of Paris. Inside, it evokes a small university campus with its succession of gardens surrounded by blue and green facades, and a series of facilities including a hairdresser, library, swimming pool, sports rooms, restaurants and preschools for the staff's children.

Specific military equipment is being kept top secret —even from the architects.

Last UK detainee arrives in Britain from Guantanamo

October 30, 2015

LONDON (AP) — The last U.K. resident imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay returned home to Britain on Friday after almost 14 years in which he became a defiant spokesman for his fellow prisoners.

Shaker Aamer, who was never charged with a crime, arrived aboard a private plane after being released from the U.S. military prison in Cuba on Thursday evening. "My thanks go to Allah first, second to my wife, my family, to my kids and then to my lawyers who did everything they could to carry the word to the world," he said in a statement. "I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice, not just for me, but to bring an end to Guantanamo."

Aamer's release came after celebrities and members of Parliament joined a publicity campaign demanding he be freed and Prime Minister David Cameron urged U.S. President Barack Obama to resolve the case.

His release, the 15th from Guantanamo this year, brings the detainee population there to 112, and comes as part of a renewed push by Obama to close the facility opened by his predecessor after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Aamer, 48, a Saudi citizen who married a British woman and moved to London in the mid-1990s, had told his lawyers that he would seek a medical exam in Britain because of concerns about his health stemming in part from repeated hunger strikes he staged to protest his detention.

He has received more media attention over the years than any other prisoner except the five who face trial by military commission for their alleged roles in planning and providing support to the 9/11 attacks.

In a piece published in the Independent on Feb. 14, 2014, the anniversary of his detention at Guantanamo, Aamer said he was seeking basic human rights and a fair trial through his then ongoing hunger strike.

"Of course I understand the impact of 9/11," he wrote in the British newspaper. "Killing civilians is an offense against Islam. But Guantanamo Bay is no solution for the victims of 9/11. Instead, the hypocrisy of the place recruits people to an anti-American banner."

Aamer was born in Saudi Arabia and remains a Saudi citizen, but wanted to return to London, where he has four children, including a son he has never seen. His wife is the daughter of a prominent retired imam.

Clive Stafford Smith, one of Aamer's lawyers, told the BBC that Aamer faces no charges in Britain and will not be questioned by authorities. Scotland Yard detectives questioned him for three days during his Guantanamo Bay detention.

Aamer has said he went to Afghanistan to help run a school for girls, and fled during the chaos following the U.S. invasion in late 2001. He was captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over to U.S. forces who took him to Guantanamo in February 2002.

The U.S. Defense Department has disclosed that Aamer was accused of significant links to terrorism. They said he shared an apartment in the late 1990s with Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of taking part in the Sept. 11 conspiracy; had met with Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a U.S. passenger jet with explosives in his shoes; had undergone al-Qaida training in the use of explosives and missiles; and received a stipend from Osama bin Laden.

A detainee assessment later obtained and published by Wikileaks included those allegations and more, including describing Aamer as a member of al-Qaida and a "close associate" of bin Laden. Aamer and his supporters have denied the allegations, and the United States never charged him with a crime. He was freed after a task force appointed by Obama conducted a "comprehensive review" of his case, the Pentagon said in a statement.

He had been cleared for release by President George W. Bush's administration in June 2007 and human rights advocates asked why — despite a so-called special relationship with the United States — Britain was unable to secure his release earlier.

"Shaker Aamer's release will bring huge relief to his family but serious questions remain," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty. "Why did it take us so many years to persuade our closest ally to behave decently?"

Aamer spent much of his time at Guantanamo in the disciplinary units of Camp 5, a section of the detention center where prisoners are held alone in solid-walled cells of steel and concrete. He helped organize a hunger strike that involved more than 100 prisoners and often served as an unofficial spokesman, providing detailed insider accounts of life inside Guantanamo through his lawyers.

Aamer was one of several men picked to serve on a short-lived prisoner council formed in the summer of 2005 in an attempt to address detainee complaints. His supporters long maintained that he was not released because of his activism and fears that he would publicize information about the mistreatment he and others endured.

Aamer's biggest challenge will be re-integrating into society after a long absence, said Moazzam Begg, who was held at Guantanamo for three years. "In Shaker's case, I can't even begin to imagine. The last time he saw his daughter, for example ... she was 4 years old. She's now 17. I don't know how that's going to happen, how that process is going to happen," Begg told the BBC last month. "No amount of therapy and so forth will be able to replace those years, so I think this will be a harder struggle for Shaker to deal with than the actual imprisonment."

Fox contributed from Miami.

New Israeli anti-drone counter-measure makes debut

by Richard Tomkins
Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel (UPI)
Oct 23, 2015

A counter-measure system that detects, identifies and disrupts small drones has been debuted by Israel Aerospace Industries.

Drone Guard, displayed at an aerospace exhibition in South Korea this week, combines adapted 3-D radars, electro-optical sensors and dedicated electronic attack jamming systems and comes from IAI subsidiary Elta Systems Ltd.

"We have begun demonstrating these novel capabilities to potential customers, in response to this new threat (from small drones)," said Nissim Hadas, IAI executive vice president and president of Elta Systems. "We believe that in the near future every critical asset and public site will require these safety measures for protection against hostile drones."

Drone Guard uses 3D radars -- including Elta's ELM-2026D, ELM-2026B and ELM-2026BF -- for short, medium and long-range detection of drones, coupled with special detection and tracking algorithms. EO sensors for visual identification of the target are also used.

The systems' jamming systems, which can be used as a standalone system, disrupts the drone's flight and can either cause the drone to return to its point of origin or shut down and crash, IAI said.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/New_Israeli_anti-drone_counter-measure_makes_debut_999.html.

Russian women on space test unworried about absence of men

October 30, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Before six Russian women began an eight-day simulation of a voyage to the moon, they had to answer a key question: How could they cope for such a long time without men or makeup?

The six women climbed into a mock-up spaceship Wednesday to imitate a lunar flight — an experiment to assess the effects of the confinement and stress of long space travel. Russia's space medicine center has conducted previous isolation experiments, including one in which six males spent 500 days in a cramped, windowless module to imitate a Mars mission.

Journalists asked the women if they were concerned about being away from men and cosmetics. Participant Anna Kussmaul said "we're working on fulfilling our tasks, and when you're doing your work, you don't think about men."

CIS Countries Plan to Create Joint Institute for Space Research

Moscow (Sputnik)
Oct 26, 2015

The representatives of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan agreed on multilateral cooperation, an interstate system for space monitoring of emergency situations, as well as an interregional satellite communication system, according to Roscosmos.

A protocol on CIS countries cooperation that includes an agreement to establish a Joint Institute for Space Research, was signed on Friday, Russia's Federal Space Agency Roscosmos said.

"One of the key decisions is the agreement of the partners to start preparing a project on the establishment of an international intergovernmental research organization [called the] Joint Institute for Space Research," the statement reads.

The space agency noted that the final protocol was signed in Minsk, Belarus, following a two-day meeting of representatives from the CIS countries' executive authorities devoted to the cooperation in space.

According to Roskosmos, the representatives of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan agreed to create a new contract-legal basis for multilateral cooperation, an interstate system for space monitoring of emergency situations, as well as an interregional satellite communication system.

On Thursday, the sixth conference devoted to cooperation in space for CIS countries opened in Minsk. The main objective of the event is to discuss acute issues of multilateral interaction in the sphere of research and how space can be used in the interest of CIS member states.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/CIS_Countries_Plan_to_Create_Joint_Institute_for_Space_Research_999.html.

NASA Calls for American Industry Ideas on ARM Spacecraft Development

Washington DC (SPX)
Oct 26, 2015

NASA, through its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has issued a callo American industry for innovative ideas on how the agency could obtain a core advanced solar electric propulsion-based spacecraft to support the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM).

Part of NASA's overall Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), this mission will use a number of important technologies to prepare for an early human exploration mission in deep space - specifically, the area around the moon known as cislunar space.

The robotic mission also will provide the first large-scale asteroid samples on which to conduct research and analysis for better understanding of the composition and nature of these primordial planetary bodies, leading to future use of in-situ resources from asteroids.

The mission both uses and expands NASA's ability to detect, characterize and mitigate the threat these space rocks pose to our home planet. The highest priority of ARM is to affordably demonstrate and prove new capabilities needed for future human missions to Mars.

"We're eager to hear from American companies on their ideas for a spacecraft design that could accommodate our advanced solar electric propulsion requirements and robotic technologies," said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. "We're also interested in what sorts of innovative commercial, international and academic partnerships opportunities might be practical and help reduce overall mission costs while still demonstrating the technologies we need for our journey to Mars."

NASA's ARRM is being formulated to perform a number of technology demonstrations needed for the agency's journey to Mars, including the use of a 20-fold improvement in state-of-the-art deep space solar electric propulsion capability to move and maneuver multi-ton objects.

The objective of the robotic segment of ARM is to acquire a multi-ton boulder from a large asteroid and redirect it to a crew-accessible orbit around our moon, setting the stage for future integrated crewed and robotic vehicle operations in deep space.

NASA's ARRM spacecraft will need to be able to demonstrate support of high power solar electric propulsion, with initial solar array power of approximately 50 kilowatts.

The robotics capture system planned aboard the pioneering vehicle will be capable of acquiring a 20-ton (or larger) boulder of up to about 19 feet (six meters) in width from an asteroid's surface and then returning it to an astronaut-accessible orbit near our moon.

The spacecraft is being formulated to fit atop a variety of launch vehicles - NASA's Space Launch System or a commercially provided rocket. The spacecraft will need to be ready for launch by the end of 2020.

While at a large asteroid, the spacecraft will demonstrate a "slow-push" planetary defense asteroid deflection technique during the mission. This uses the spacecraft and boulder's combined gravitational pull to attempt to change the course of an asteroid.

ARM brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to accomplish several important objectives that are critical elements during our journey to Mars.

Redirecting and "parking" a large asteroid boulder within reach of human and robotic explorers also will provide American commercial enterprises their first opportunities to investigate the viability of mining asteroids for precious metals and other resources.

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission and the robotic component of the overall mission will be the topic of an online Adobe Connect community update on Friday, Oct. 23 from 7 to 10 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT). During the update, NASA leaders will share recent developments for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, including the recent spacecraft design study solicitation and the selection of the mission's Formulation Assessment and Support Team members. The Adobe Connect meeting is open to the public.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_Calls_for_American_Industry_Ideas_on_ARM_Spacecraft_Development_999.html.

Smallest galaxies are yielding big answers

by Jim Shelton for Yale News
New Haven CT (SPX)
Oct 23, 2015

An international research team led by Yale University postdoctoral researcher Hakim Atek recently discovered more than 250 distant galaxies, including some of the faintest, smallest galaxies in the universe. The team relied upon new images from the Hubble Space Telescope, focusing on a trio of cosmic magnifying glasses.

Scientists have long wondered how the universe pierced the heavy veil of hydrogen gas that enshrouded it for millions of years after the Big Bang. This opaque layer of hydrogen was thick enough to block ultraviolet light, and the process of clearing away the hydrogen is known as re-ionization.

Yet the universe's largest and brightest galaxies did not produce enough energy to account for re-ionization. That's where the newly discovered, faint galaxies proved crucial to understanding this cosmic phenomenon. Atek's team found that the accumulated light from these tiny galaxies - added to the other light - would be enough to cause re-ionization.

"The most exciting part of this work was the fact that we keep unveiling fainter and fainter galaxies, and they happen to be more and more abundant," said Atek, who conducted his research at Yale and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in Switzerland. "This raises the question: What are the faintest and smallest galaxies ever formed in the early universe?"

The research team looked at Hubble Frontier Fields images of three galaxy clusters. Powerful gravitational forces generated by these clusters magnify the faint light of galaxies located far behind them; this is called gravitational lensing.

"Hubble remains unrivaled in its ability to observe the most distant galaxies, and the sheer depth of the Hubble Frontier Fields data guarantees very precise understanding of the cluster magnification effect, allowing us to make discoveries like these," said co-author Mathilde Jauzac, of Durham University-UK and the University of KwaZulu-Natal-South Africa.

The research represents one of the largest samples of dwarf galaxies ever discovered from the early universe, just 600 to 900 million years after the Big Bang. With the new information, the researchers said, they estimate the universe became fully transparent about 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Smallest_galaxies_are_yielding_big_answers_999.html.

Victims of Soviet repressions remembered in memorial

October 29, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — On the square outside the former headquarters of the KGB in Moscow, Russians on Thursday read the names of victims of political killings in Soviet times in a 12-hour-long ceremony.

The ceremony, organized by Russian rights group Memorial, came on the eve of the national day for remembrance of victims of political repression. Each participant was given the names of two people to read aloud. But the scale of such executions was so enormous that there wasn't enough time to read all the names.

Historians estimate a million or more were killed just in the infamous 1937-38 purges under Josef Stalin. In the past few years, there has been a push to emphasize the Soviet victory in World War II, rather than address the victims of political repression under the Communist regime.

"This isn't just a political event or a historical event. It can't be. History and politics are too intertwined," said Anna Vardiya, 53, who has attended the annual commemoration ceremony since they began 10 years ago.

Another demonstration was held in the Belorussian capital Minsk, where about 200 activists gathered and protested that repression continues under authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. "We will continue to live under a fearsome, Stalinist government," until there is a frank discussion of Soviet history, said Vladimir Mazanki, who came to the protest with a candle and a portrait of his father in hand.

Yuras Karmanau in Minsk contributed to this story.

India paves way for women in army combat roles

New Delhi (AFP)
Oct 24, 2015

The Indian government gave its nod Saturday for women to fly fighter jets, paving the way for them to assume combat roles for the first time in one of the world's largest militaries.

The federal defense ministry gave the green light to a proposal for recruiting female fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF), where women already fly transport aircraft and helicopters.

"With this decision to open up induction of women in the fighter stream, women have become eligible for induction in all branches and streams of the IAF," a defense ministry statement published on Saturday said.

"This progressive step is in keeping with the aspirations of Indian women and is in line with contemporary trends in Armed Forces of developed nations," it said, adding that after training, selected women "would enter a fighter cockpit by June 2017".

The latest move not only marks the maiden entry of women in combat roles in the IAF but in any branch across the Indian armed forces.

Many countries like the United States, Israel and even arch-rival neighbor Pakistan already allow women as fighter pilots.

But India has kept them out of such roles, reportedly fearing women would be more vulnerable to sexual attacks, and worries over lodging and physical fitness.

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha expressed his reluctance to change tack last year when he said "women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours".

Since then, increasing numbers of female officers have brought court cases demanding better work conditions and permanent commissions instead of temporary terms of five to ten years.

The ministry said it had carried out a review in connection with how to increase roles of women in the forces.

"Once finalized more and more branches would be opened up for induction of women to give them the space which they deserve in the Armed Forces of the country," it said.

Women form some five percent of around 1.32 million active personnel and 2.14 million reservists in the defense forces, according to government figures.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/India_paves_way_for_women_in_army_combat_roles_999.html.