DDMA Headline Animator

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Turkish bombing of Islamic State marks end of tacit truce

July 24, 2015

ISTANBUL (AP) — Last month, the first edition of the Islamic State group's Turkish-language magazine contained not a word of criticism of the Turkish government. This week, the second edition calls Istanbul occupied territory and blasts President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a tyrant.

The difference? Turkey has started to crack down on the group under Western pressure and Islamic State now sees Turkey as the enemy, raising the stakes in the struggle against the extremist network. And Turkey's decisive response on Friday — airstrikes on Islamic State targets and 290 arrests nationwide — show how seriously the nation is now taking a threat it had long downplayed.

The abrupt shift in Islamic State's Turkish propaganda magazine shows just how quickly a tacit truce has come apart. But the underlying changes have not happened overnight. Islamic State — also known by acronyms ISIS and ISIL — has spent years building its network inside Turkey, even as Turkish security services monitored the group to glean valuable intelligence.

"There is significant evidence that ISIS has built a network and an infrastructure in Turkey to support its operations in both Syria and Iraq," said Andreas Krieg, an analyst at King's College London. "Turkey has never thought that these jihadists would ever become a problem for Turkey itself. Quite on the contrary, they were under the impression that jihadists who wanted to go to Syria are embarking on a local — not a global — jihad."

While Turkey was early to brand IS a terrorist group, the two largely refrained from attacking each other. Turkey took a soft line on Islamic State because it was fighting the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad — Turkey's arch-enemy — and Ankara has actively supported other Islamist groups trying to bring down Assad. That gave Islamic State cover to continue building its network in the country.

Now, Turkey faces questions about whether its policy of restraint has backfired — finding itself facing an extensive, well-funded and organized extremist group threatening it from within. This week's suicide bombing that killed 32 people in the border city of Suruc forced Turkey's hand, causing it to beef up anti-IS efforts with Washington. Then came a big escalation.

On Thursday, as Turkey's government tried to counter criticism over the suicide bombing, Islamic State struck again, this time in an ambush along the border that left a Turkish soldier dead. Turkish police then carried out simultaneous raids in Istanbul and 12 provinces on Friday, detaining 290 people before lunch, compared with about 500 in recent months. Officials say the mass arrests reflect careful monitoring of IS's followers over a long time, but the scale of detentions also underscores how broad Turkey has allowed the Islamic State network to become.

The IS web in Turkey even extended into the jailhouse, according to court documents for a Spanish woman detained in Turkey and accused of recruiting for Islamic State. Islamic State hired a lawyer linked to the group to represent the woman. Samira Yerou was granted repeated phone calls that allowed her to be "duly informed, by at least two members of ISIL, of the passage of female recruits joining the group from Turkey to Syria, changes in hiding places, etc., even from within the detention center," according to the court documents.

In one chilling episode, Yerou, who was jailed along with her 3-year-old son, had a freewheeling phone call with a Saudi emir for Islamic State, telling the child what to say. "Tell him, 'I will behead the police,'" she ordered. The boy repeated her words and both she and the Saudi emir laughed after the child spoke. The documents do not indicate how authorities obtained the transcript, but make clear that communications and information were freely available in the jail — and that recruitment continued apace behind bars.

Authorities and analysts say Turkish citizens are a relatively small proportion of IS fighters and supporters, but they are crucial for shepherding supplies and recruits from the West and North Africa safely across the border to Syria or Iraq.

According to Omer Ozdemir, a researcher at Sakarya University, most of the IS supply network in Turkey is contracted out to large tribes that have worked as smugglers on both sides of Turkey's borders for generations. He said the government could work to put pressure on the tribes to end the relationships and significantly squeeze IS.

While Turkey appears to have a close eye on IS operations in Turkey, this week's suicide bombing shows that Turkish authorities can't afford to miss one IS operative.

Hinnant reported from Paris. Alan Clendenning in Madrid and Mohammed Rasool in Istanbul contributed.

Look at Shiite mosque attacks claimed by upstart IS branch

June 26, 2015

An Islamic State affiliate that calls itself Najd Province said it was behind a deadly bombing at a Shiite mosque on Friday in Kuwait City, the third in a string of attacks that the previously unknown group has claimed responsibility for in wealthy Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Here's a look at the attacks on Shiite mosques that the group, which calls itself Najd Province — a reference to the historic region of the central Arabian Peninsula where the Saudi capital Riyadh is located — claims was its work:

May 22

A suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia as worshippers commemorated the birth of a revered saint, killing 21 people and wounding dozens more. The attack happened in the village of al-Qudeeh in the eastern Qatif region, the heartland of Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority. It was the deadliest militant assault in the kingdom in more than a decade.

The Islamic State group views Shiites as apostates deserving of death and also seeks the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, which it considers corrupt and illegitimate. Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has repeatedly called for attacks on the Saudi kingdom.

Following the attack, the Islamic State warned of more "black days" for Shiites in Saudi Arabia, a member of the U.S.-led coalition targeting the group.

May 29

A suicide bomber disguised as a woman blew himself up in the parking lot of the only Shiite mosque in the Saudi port city of Dammam, killing four people. Dammam is in the kingdom's oil-rich east, where the Shiite community has long complained of discrimination. The death toll at the Imam Hussein mosque could have been higher had authorities and worshippers not been on alert for attacks. One witness said the bomber was chased from the entrance away by young men who had set up checkpoints.

June 26

An explosion at the Imam Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait City left at least 16 dead and dozens wounded. Following the attack in al-Sawabir, a residential and shopping district, a posting on a Twitter account known to belong to the Islamic State group said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt. IS said on Twitter that the bomber had targeted a "temple of the apostates."

All of the attacks took place on a Friday, when mosques are generally full of worshippers. The attacks bolster concerns that Islamic State militants are establishing a toehold outside of the group's stronghold in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq's Ahmad Chalabi, leading voice behind 2003 war, dies

November 03, 2015

BAGHDAD (AP) — Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi politician who became a Pentagon favorite when he helped convince the Bush administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003 by pushing false allegations of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 71.

Iraqi state TV said he died in Baghdad but did not provide further details. Chalabi, a secular Shiite politician who lived in exile for decades, was a leading proponent of the invasion and had close ties to many in the Bush administration, who viewed him as a favorite to lead Iraq.

However, he had a falling out with the Pentagon after the invasion, and was largely sidelined by other Iraqi leaders, many with close ties to neighboring Iran. Chalabi had most recently been serving as the chairman of parliament's finance committee, and was previously a deputy prime minister.

To his supporters in Iraq, Chalabi was a campaigner for democracy who deserves credit for Saddam's removal. "It is a very bad day for Iraq," Shiite lawmaker Muwaffak al-Rubaie, a former national security adviser, told The Associated Press. "He was one of the most seasoned and pioneering politicians. Chalabi worked for a democratic, liberal Iraq ... I am glad he died peacefully."

But Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who met with Chalabi repeatedly in the mid-1990s and in the lead-up to the 2003 war, called him a "con man" who was able to manipulate American politicians. "He was the most charming man I've had to deal with at the CIA and the most educated," Baer told the AP. "He understood American politics and he understood the American political narrative better than most Americans."

The scion of a wealthy Baghdad family, Chalabi fled Iraq as a teenager when the monarchy was overthrown. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965, and then went on to get a PhD in mathematics at the University of Chicago.

He became a leading figure in Iraq's exiled opposition in the 1990s and cultivated close ties with the future Vice President Dick Cheney and Washington's so-called neo-conservatives, who favored a more muscular U.S. policy in the Middle East.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chalabi played a key role in convincing the administration that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida, unfounded claims at the heart of the case for war.

"There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam has them, and they are developing them continuously, and I think, if there is a correct way to look for them, they will be found," Chalabi told AP television in 2003.

After the invasion, Chalabi was appointed to the 25-member Iraqi governing council and earned a seat directly behind First Lady Laura Bush during the 2004 State of the Union. "He more than any other Iraqi helped get rid of Saddam," said Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform in Baghdad. "He brought together all the opposition parties — Islamists, communists, ex-Baathists, secularists, nationalists."

Chalabi went on to chair Iraq's de-Baathification Committee, which worked to purge the government of Saddam loyalists but was seen by the country's Sunni minority as a means of sectarian score-settling by the country's newly empowered Shiite majority.

Baer, the former CIA officer, said Chalabi's role in de-Baathification in particular was severely destructive. "He alienated the Sunnis more than anyone" else in Iraq, Baer said. Chalabi's relationship with the U.S. soured in the months after the invasion, and in 2004 U.S. forces raided his home on suspicions that he was funneling intelligence to Iran.

In 2010, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said Chalabi was "under the influence of Iran," and "a gentleman who has been challenged over the years to be seen as a straightforward individual." After a closed-door briefing with Chalabi in 2005, then-Representative Christopher Shays told The AP: "I wouldn't be surprised if he told Iranians facts, issues, whatever, we did not want them to know in order to develop a relationship."

Chalabi strongly denied the allegations, dismissing them as politically motivated. Chalabi also faced accusations of financial impropriety throughout his career linked to business dealings in neighboring Jordan.

In 1992, a Jordanian court tried and convicted Chalabi in absentia for bank fraud in connection with the collapse of Petra Bank, an institution he established in the late 1980s with the help of members of the Jordanian royal family. After quickly becoming one of the country's leading banks, it collapsed in 1990 with millions missing in deposits. He fled the country days after Jordanian authorities took control of the bank.

An audit commissioned by Jordan months later found Petra Bank had overstated its assets by more than $300 million. Chalabi was sentenced to 22 years of hard labor in prison and ordered to pay back $230 million of the bank's funds the court said he embezzled, a sentence he never served.

He repeatedly denied the charges, and filed a suit in the U.S. against the Jordanian government, claiming the ruling was politically motivated. King Abdullah II of Jordan eventually pardoned Chalabi after he assumed the post of deputy prime minister of Iraq.

In recent years, Chalabi focused his efforts on budget talks and working to expose fraud within the government. He also lent support to the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, led by that country's Shiite majority against its Sunni monarchy.

His Baghdad home was a testament to one of his passions — art collecting — with paintings lining the hallways and exotic sculptures decorating each room. As recently as a month ago, he regularly attended events at the Baghdad National Theatre and other music and art venues.

He is survived by his wife Leila Osseiran, the daughter of the prominent Lebanese politician Adil Osseiran, and their four children, including Tamara Chalabi, a well-known author.

Associated Press writers Vivian Salama and Susannah George in Baghdad and Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.

For the first time since 1948, Egypt votes for Israel at UN

Sunday, 01 November 2015

Egypt’s representative at United Nations voted on Friday in support of Israel’s bid for membership of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Israeli media reported.

Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and its acceptance to membership of the UN, Egypt had never voted in its favour at the UN before last Friday.

One hundred and seventeen countries voted in favor of Israel, 21 abstained, while only Namibia voted against the decision. Countries that abstained include: Qatar, Tunisia, Syria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq and Algeria.

Israeli sources said that they were accepted to this UN committee after "intensive diplomatic efforts" exerted at different levels.

Prior to the vote, spokesman for the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs Ahmed Abu Zeid refused to comment on the matter. However, in the face of fierce domestic criticism, he said that voting for Israel was necessary in order to secure the membership of a number of Arab countries to the committee.

Egyptian politicians and activists widely rejected this move and severely criticized Egyptian Military President Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi.

In 1973, Egypt and Syria started a war against Israel that paved the way for peace talks between Egypt and Israel. It ended up with a peace treaty in 1979 that ended state of war between the two sides, reciprocal recognition and normalization of ties.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/22027-for-the-first-time-since-1948-egypt-votes-for-israel-at-un.

Turkey president urges respect for his party's election win

November 02, 2015

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday hailed a big victory for his ruling party in the country's parliamentary election and demanded the world respect the result.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, secured a stunning victory in Sunday's snap parliamentary election, sweeping back into single-party rule only five months after losing it. With all of the ballots counted early on Monday, the preliminary results showed that the party won more than 49 percent of the votes. It was projected to get 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, restoring the party's single-party majority that it had lost in a June election.

Turkish financial assets were buoyant Monday after the AKP's victory as investors hoped it will bring an end to a long period of political uncertainty. The Turkish lira was one big beneficiary from the result, surging by 5 percent or so on foreign exchange markets.

"The whole world must show respect. So far I haven't seen such a maturity from the world," Erdogan said after attending prayers at a mosque and visiting his parents' graves. It was an apparent reference to Western media's often critical coverage of AKP's policies in the past few years, including the ruling party's backsliding on democratic reforms and moves to muzzle critical voices.

International election observers on Monday noted that elections were free and peaceful but criticized media restrictions in the run-up to the vote, including the seizure by the government of an opposition media company and criminal investigations of journalists for allegedly supporting terrorism or defaming Erdogan. The observers said the incidents of violence as well as physical attacks on party officials had hindered many of the contestants' ability to campaign freely.

"Unfortunately we came to the conclusion that this campaign was unfair and was characterized by too much violence and by too much fear," Andreas Gross, who headed a delegation of parliamentarians from the Council of Europe, told a news conference in Ankara.

There were no allegations of large-scale fraud. Any hope that Erdogan would ease media repression evaporated on Monday after a court ordered police to seize all copies of a weekly political magazine for suggesting on its front page that the aftermath of the election would mark the start of a civil war in the country. Nokta magazine said on its website that its chief editor and a manager were expected to be questioned for allegedly inciting people to violence.

Erdogan had called for a new election after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu failed to form a coalition with any of the three opposition parties in parliament after the June vote. Sunday's election was held amid renewed violence and Erdogan and Davutoglu argued that only a single-party majority could restore stability.

Fighting between Turkey's security forces and Kurdish rebels has left hundreds of people dead and shattered an already-fragile peace process. Two recent massive suicide bombings at pro-Kurdish gatherings that killed some 130 people, apparently carried out by an Islamic State group cell, also raised tensions.

"The will of the people ... opted for stability," Erdogan said. "The developments in that short span of time made the people say: 'there is no way out other than stability.'" Most analysts had expected AKP to fall short of a majority again, but the preliminary results suggest it picked up millions of votes at the expense of a nationalist party and a pro-Kurdish party.

On Monday, the European Union's chief diplomat Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement praising the strong voter turnout of more than 85 percent as a sign of the Turkish people's commitment to democracy. They said the 28-nation group would work with the new government to advance ties.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in Washington that "we congratulate the people of Turkey on their participation in yesterday's parliamentary election. The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament, and with the future government."

Trudeau also reiterated U.S. concerns "that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition."

In Germany, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was now important for Turkey to tackle challenges including fighting IS militants, solving the Kurdish conflict and overcoming polarization "in the spirit of national unity and readiness to compromise."

The lira's recovery Monday came following a bad year. As well as suffering from the fallout of the previous election, the lira has been hit by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will soon raise interest rates. That will ratchet up the costs for Turkish companies, many of whom have borrowed in dollars to fund their expansion. It could also see an outflow of funds from Turkey as the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates encourages investors from around the world to reduce their exposure to emerging markets in favor of improving returns in the U.S.

As a result, analysts were careful not to get too carried away by Sunday's election result as the fundamentals haven't changed. "This rally should not blind us to the underlying issues in Turkey, such as the continued current account deficit which is causing underlying pressure on the currency as the market continues to fear the first Fed rate hike," said Simon Smith, chief economist at FxPro.

Another worry in markets centers on whether President Erdogan will use the opportunity offered by his party's surprisingly big election victory to push for greater powers. According to Derek Halpenny of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, any aggressive move by Erdogan on that front "could unsettle investors."

He said that the AKP has also been well-known to interfere with central bank decision making, one of the factors behind the lira's recent slump. "The strong gains we see for the lira are unlikely to be repeated going forward," he said.

Pan Pylas in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Qatar offers 100 new scholarships for Gaza university students

Monday, 02 November 2015

Qatar has announced 100 new scholarships for Gaza’s university students through Al-Fakhoora organisation, Qatar’s Al-Raya newspaper reported yesterday.

The scholarships are an extension of previous subsidies provided by Qatar, Al-Raya added, these include the reconstruction of the Strip in partnership with UNICEF, UNRWA and other international organisations.

Al-Fakhoora has already offered 600 scholarships and is due to offer 1,000 extra scholarships by 2016, in effort aimed at paving the way to educate future leaders in Gaza.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22034-qatar-offers-100-new-scholarships-for-gaza-university-students.

Protests drive out Romanian government after nightclub fire

November 04, 2015

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's government collapsed Wednesday after thousands of people took to the streets to protest a deadly fire at a heavy metal concert, the final straw after a five-month corruption investigation that has shaken the nation.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta said he and his government would resign "to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society," adding: "I hope handing in my and my government's mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters." But thousands of people turned out for new protests Wednesday evening demanding early elections and more accountability in government.

Even before last weekend's fire, the deadliest in Romania's history, Ponta faced widespread calls to resign as he was tried on charges including tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements. The charges relate to activities in 2007 and 2008, when he was a lawmaker and a lawyer. Ponta denies wrongdoing.

Then came the fire Friday night at the basement Colectiv nightclub, which sent panicked people stampeding for the single exit. The death toll stands at 32, with about 130 more hospitalized, dozens of them in serious or critical condition. The club's three owners have been detained on manslaughter charges for allegedly failing to comply with fire regulations. Many Romanians also suspect authorities of taking bribes to overlook the violations.

After three days of mourning, some 20,000 people took to the streets Tuesday night in a spontaneous protest, shouting "Assassins!" and waving Romanian flags. "It is not normal in a European Union country for our children to die like this," said Mariana Draghici, a security guard who took part in the protest. "Something has to change in Romania."

Ponta, who had resisted earlier calls from President Klaus Iohannis to resign, stepped down hours later but warned the collapse of his government could bring about instability. "We have turbulence, uncertainty, and unrest," he said. "We risk ruining everything we built."

Iohannis said that if fire regulations had been respected "nobody would have died," calling it a shame that so many had to die before the government caved into the pressure. On Wednesday evening, thousands massed in Bucharest's University Square and in at least three other cities, calling for early elections and better governance.

"I believe in a clean Romania, a dignified Romania, where citizens are respected," said Alexandru Ispas, a 23-year-old history student. Most likely, however, Ponta's party will remain in place until parliamentary elections that aren't scheduled until December 2016. Since the party dominates parliament, its leader will likely get the chance to form a government, and parliament will likely approve it. It's only if parliament rejects the government twice that new elections would be called — an unlikely scenario.

The protesters also criticized the powerful Romanian Orthodox Church, accusing it of failing to address an outpouring of national grief. "We want hospitals, not cathedrals!" they chanted. In a day of resignations, the mayor of the district where the nightclub is located stepped down, saying he felt morally guilty for the fire. The interior minister, who was already under fire over the death of a police motorcyclist who died in a crash while escorting his car, also resigned and said he would take no part in a future government.

Germany's Merkel, domestic critic show unity over migrants

November 03, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her most prominent domestic critic put on a public show of unity over the refugee crisis Tuesday, appearing together to stress their aim to limit the influx.

Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's governor and leader of the Bavarian branch of Merkel's conservative bloc, has criticized Merkel's welcoming approach to refugees for weeks, stridently demanding federal government action.

On Sunday, however, the conservatives thrashed out their demands in the enormous migration crisis facing Europe, patching up a damaging rift and switching instead to pressuring their coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats.

Their deal doesn't refer to any limit on the number of refugees, as some conservatives have advocated, and Merkel still says closing borders isn't an answer. But it does advocate "transit zones" near the country's borders to weed out those with no realistic asylum claim, and curbing relatives from joining some asylum-seekers.

"We want to organize and steer the refugee flow, fight the causes of flight and so reduce the number of refugees," Merkel, speaking alongside Seehofer, said before a meeting of conservative lawmakers.

She stressed again the need for "European solidarity" on the migrant crisis. "I want people in Germany to be able to say in a few years 'they did it well, and we were able to manage it,'" she said. Seehofer said helping people in need and integrating new arrivals is only feasible "if there is also a reduction in the refugee figures."

Leaders of Germany's coalition government are meeting Thursday. Seehofer said "we should, perhaps even must, reach an agreement so the population sees ... the coalition partners are in a position to act."

So far, though, they are still arguing about the vague "transit zones." Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's Social Democrats, one of the parties in the German government say the "transit zone" plan is impractical because it would effectively detain masses of people. They also say the number of arrivals from Balkan countries deemed safe has dropped so low that it's barely relevant.

"I think it's relatively silly that we're arguing about a problem that affects 2.4 percent of incoming refugees," Gabriel said.

UK lawmakers wary of government plan for Syria airstrikes

November 03, 2015

LONDON (AP) — The British government insisted Tuesday that it is still considering airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria, even though an influential group of lawmakers said the military action would be "incoherent" and ineffective without a plan to end the country's civil war.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee dealt a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron's attempts to expand U.K. action against the militants from Iraq into Syria. The committee — dominated by members of Cameron's Conservative Party — said the debate about airstrikes "is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria."

Committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a Conservative legislator, said he feared the government was "responding to the powerful sense that something must be done ... without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating (IS) and ending the civil war."

The Royal Air Force is part of a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq. But in 2013 British lawmakers unexpectedly rejected the government's proposal for military action against President Bashar Assad's forces in neighboring Syria.

Treasury chief George Osborne said Tuesday that the government still hoped to ask lawmakers for a mandate to launch strikes against I.S. in Syria. "But we are not going to go to the House of Commons unless we would be clear that we would win that vote and there would be a consensus for that action, and at the moment it's not clear that there is a majority for it," he said.

In a report, the foreign affairs committee said Russia's intervention in the conflict in support of Assad's government "has complicated even further any proposed action in Syria by the U.K." It said that without an international strategy to end Syria's civil war, "taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent."

The committee said the government needs to answer fundamental questions about the proposed airstrikes — including their legality without United Nations approval and whether they would have support from regional powers including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Until then, it said, "we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria." The committee's report is not binding on the government, but its warnings will make it harder for Cameron to gain lawmakers' approval for airstrikes.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said RAF airstrikes had had "a substantial impact in degrading (IS) in Iraq" and that further military action was still on the table. "It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIL while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian civil war," he said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.

Construction begins in Bahrain of British army base

Dubai (AFP)
Nov 1, 2015

Construction work has begun in Bahrain to build Britain's first permanent military base in the Middle East since 1971, amid security threats in the region, Bahrain's state media reported Sunday.

"The ground-breaking ceremony for the establishment of the marine facilities headquarters in the kingdom of Bahrain" was launched on Saturday, the official BNA news agency.

The ceremony was attended by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa, it said.

Hammond tweeted on Saturday that "work starts today on new @RoyalNavy base at Mina Salman #Bahrain," and said the new base "is a symbol of UK's enduring commitment to Gulf security".

The new base is part of a deal reached last year between the two countries to increase cooperation in tackling security threats in the Middle East.

Bahrain -- which is part of a US-led coalition that has been carrying out air strikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria -- is already home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Britain is part of the US-led coalition but takes part only in air strikes on Iraq, with its warplanes taking off from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus, where it also has a second garrison.

The new base in Bahrain "will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf," British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said last year.

Sheikh Khalid, quoted by BNA, said the construction of the new base was expected to "strengthen the partnership between the two countries and enable the forces to carry out their duties effectively".

Construction of the base will cost 15 million ($23 million, 19 million euros) and, according to Bahrain's Al-Wasat newspaper it should be completed next year.

Britain withdrew from bases in the Gulf in 1971, in a move that led to the independence of Bahrain and Qatar and the creation of the United Arab Emirates.

Currently Britain uses US facilites in Bahrain's Mina Salman Port.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Construction_begins_in_Bahrain_of_British_army_base_999.html.

Navajo Nation, where many struggle, weighs $20M for planes

November 03, 2015

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Lawmakers on the Navajo Nation have given the OK for a team to negotiate a $20 million loan to acquire three new planes, raising questions among tribal members about the priorities on the vast reservation where half the workforce is unemployed and thousands live without running water and electricity.

The tribe has three Beechcraft King Air turboprop planes that have taken tribal officials to meetings in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Salt Lake City, to the nation's capital for President Barack Obama's inauguration and to Colorado to assess a mine spill.

The sponsor of the loan package, Davis Filfred, said the planes put into service in the late 1980s and early 1990s will be grounded next year because it's too costly to keep overhauling their engines and other parts are badly worn.

He said the planes are essential for doing business, particularly when the reservation has no commercial air service and driving to meetings can take hours. Some of his colleagues on the Navajo Nation Council disagreed, arguing the deal sends the wrong message.

"It reinforces the perception of Navajo Nation leadership that the people feel we're out of touch with the everyday struggles of our people," Delegate Amber Crotty said in an interview. "I don't believe the government would shut down if we don't have aircraft."

Filfred's bill awaits action by President Russell Begaye, who has said he will veto it if it affects direct services to Navajo people. Air transportation rarely, if ever, is mentioned as a dire need for ordinary Navajos. Begaye and the Tribal Council agreed earlier this year to focus on nine, wide-ranging issues that include infrastructure, water rights, education, housing and the economy.

Filfred said the planes provide a means to lobby for funding for the country's largest American Indian reservation. According to the flight-tracking website flightaware.com, the three tribal planes have flown more than 400 times this year alone. Priority is given to the president, vice president and council speaker, but they're available for use by any tribal agency.

A spokesman for Begaye did not respond to requests for annual air transportation budgets, frequency of flights, passenger lists and destinations. Tribal Council spokesman Jared Touchin said the legislative branch does not keep detailed information on air travel.

The Judicial Branch used a tribal plane once in the last fiscal year, spokeswoman Karen Francis said. A round-trip flight from tribal headquarters to Phoenix is about $1,400, while the trips tribal leaders made to Washington for Obama's inaugurations in 2008 and 2012 cost about $14,000 each.

Joe Berardesco, a pilot who oversees the tribe's Air Transportation Department, declined an interview request from The Associated Press. He said in legislative sessions that the tribe would trade in the existing aircraft and spend $20 million for the purchase of new aircraft — possibly jets — along with training and maintenance.

"With a new fleet of aircraft, you guys will be set for another 35 years," he said. In a letter published in the Navajo Times, tribal pilot Adriel Heisey wrote that the turboprop planes could be replaced with newer ones, but corporate jets are another option and could take tribal leaders to Washington, D.C., nonstop in under four hours.

Depending on what the tribe actually buys, the aircraft could have trouble taking off from some of the tribe's runways. In Tuba City, a hump in the pavement limits planes to mostly the southern end of the runway. The Window Rock airport cannot be expanded in its current location. Residents also have complained about noise from planes, airports manager Arlando Teller said.

It's not uncommon for governors and state lawmakers to use government aircraft for official business. Government officials in Utah can rent travel time per hour on any of three small planes. New Mexico maintains a 2006 Beechcraft King Air turboprop plane for the governor and lawmakers. Arizona has a fleet of 13 turboprop planes, which it plans to reduce to 10.

Navajos have mixed feelings about spending $20 million on planes. Some cited what they said were more pressing needs on the reservation and suggested tribal officials could drive to their destinations or to commercial airports.

Lorinda Ben of Nazlini said Navajos struggle daily with having to travel long distances on rough roads, most of which are unpaved on the reservation. Electricity and running water can be considered luxuries among tribal members.

"We live in a third-world country over here," Ben said. "How does a third-world country have lavish planes like that? It's ridiculous."

Associated Press writers Bob Christie in Phoenix and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

General: Russia sends anti-aircraft missiles to Syria

November 05, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has sent anti-aircraft missiles to Syria in order to safeguard its jets involved in airstrikes against militants in the war-battered Arab country, the commander of the Russian Air Force was quoted as saying Thursday.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State fighters in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia's long-term ally. Russian officials have insisted that their military involvement in Syria will be limited to an air force operation.

Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda that the anti-aircraft missiles are there to project Russian fighter jets from a possible attack or hijack while on mission.

"There can be different emergencies, such as hijacking the jet on the territory of a neighboring country or an attack on it," he said. "We should be prepared for that." Bondarev did not specify the type of missiles Russia provided.

Russia and Western nations have been engaged in intense diplomatic talks in the past few weeks, aiming to bring about a political settlement in Syria, which has been torn by a civil war since 2011 that has killed 250,000 people and forced millions to flee.

A Russian deputy foreign minister said earlier this week that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week. He said the Syrian government has agreed to participate but it's unclear which opposition groups might come.

Developing Commercial Spaceports in the USA

Bethesda, MD (SPX)
Nov 03, 2015

Just two months ago, the FAA gave Houston the "go-ahead" to build America's 10th commercial spaceport. Yes, the US already had nine spaceports designated for commercial operations.

One must ask, "Why do we need 10 spaceports for so little commercial space activities?" This represents a great deal of investment and ongoing expense for an industry still in its infancy. The reason for all this excitement among several states and entrepreneurs is space tourism, a "killer" space applications that has yet to become reality.

Yes, the media has expended a great deal of energy and newsprint on the topic. So much so, that al ay person might think we are launching tourist spaceships, every hour on the hour, the some orbiting hotel and resort complex. In fact, that industry is still taking "baby" steps toward the future objective of populous orbiting resorts and theme parks.

The first step of sending passengers on suborbital flights is still in the development and testing phase. While it is true that when Richard Branson first launched the Virgin Galactic Mothership II he predicted a steady flow of launches that carried wealthy tourists to the edge of space by 2009.

That schedule has been stretched some six years already. The 2014 crash of SpaceshipTwo has increased the delay and caused some customers to ask for refunds on deposits.

One additional casualty of this situation is Spaceport America, a $200 million facility investment that is gathering dust, and not much more. Virgin Galactic was its anchor tenant.

It is hardly a surprise that Spaceport America has had to readjust its business model and is looking for new clients. The New Mexico site has become an elaborate events space, hosting everything from school trips and corporate events to product launches.

Thanks to the early hype, spaceport projects have attracted international attention and countries around the globe have announced plans for building such facilities. Sweden and the UK are both hoping to build spaceports that may dominate the European space tourism business. In addition, Space Ventures announced interest in building spaceports in Singapore and the UAE.

There appears to be little doubt that space tourism will become reality. It is simply a matter of time. The market for commercial space transportation and human space travel will likely grow exponentially, and the demand for spaceport services will grow with as well.

Launchspace has anticipated such new space support activities and has created a new course for spaceport operators and users. It is "Spaceport Operations for Commercial Clients," and it is available for presentation at your facilities and on demand.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Developing_Commercial_Spaceports_in_the_USA_999.html.

Disk gaps don't always signal planets

Boston MA (SPX)
Nov 03, 2015

When astronomers study protoplanetary disks of gas and dust that surround young stars, they sometimes spot a dark gap like the Cassini division in Saturn's rings. It has been suggested that any gap must be caused by an unseen planet that formed in the disk and carved out material from its surroundings. However, new research shows that a gap could be a sort of cosmic illusion and not the sign of a hidden planet after all.

"If we don't see light scattered from the disk, it doesn't necessarily mean that nothing is there," says lead author Til Birnstiel (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy), who conducted the research while at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

The researchers studied disks that shine in visible or near-infrared wavelengths due to scattered, or reflected, light. (In contrast, radio or millimeter telescopes pick up emission directly from the disk itself.)

Scattered light comes from starlight that bounces off tiny particles about the size of cigarette smoke. Those particles initially suffuse the protoplanetary disk, but undergo changes over time.

Small particles can clump together to form larger and larger objects, eventually growing into full-fledged planets. However, when particles collide they sometimes break apart instead of sticking together. Particles can also move closer to or farther from the star in a process called migration. The team modeled these processes using the Smithsonian's Hydra supercomputer cluster.

"Growth, migration and destruction can have tangible, observable effects," explains co-author Sean Andrews of the CfA. "Specifically, these processes can create an apparent gap in the disk when the small particles that scatter light are cleared away, even though larger particles still remain."

Birnstiel offers the analogy, "Throwing a stone in the air doesn't obstruct my view, but throwing a handful of dust in the air does. Similarly, as small particles grow bigger in some areas of the disk, they don't obstruct our view any more and those regions appear empty."

So how can astronomers tell if a gap in a protoplanetary disk is real, or simply an area where pebbles reign and dust is gone? The key is to make observations at longer wavelengths of light that can pick up the pebbles.

To that end, the team will conduct observations of a well-known example of a disk with a gap, TW Hydrae, with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). If they find large grains within the apparent gap, that will suggest there is no planet. However, if the gap appears empty in these observations as well, then the evidence will be stronger for the existence of an unseen planet.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Disk_gaps_dont_always_signal_planets_999.html.

China's scientific satellites to enter uncharted territory

Beijing (XNA)
Nov 03, 2015

A series of scientific satellites, including one to probe dark matter, will be launched later this year and next year, said Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The development of four scientific satellites is going well, Wu said recently at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of cooperation between China's Double Star space mission and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cluster mission to investigate the earth's magnetosphere.

The first of the series, the dark matter particle explorer, will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at the end of this year. All the major tests and experiments have been completed, and a mission control center for scientific satellites has been set up in Huairou, a northern suburb of Beijing, Wu said.

The dark-matter particle explorer satellite will observe the direction, energy and electric charge of high-energy particles in space in search of dark matter, said Chang Jin, chief scientist of the project.

It will have the widest observation spectrum and highest energy resolution of any dark-matter probe in the world.

Dark matter is one of the most important mysteries of physics. Scientists believe in its existence based on the law of universal gravitation, but have never directly detected it.

China will also launch a satellite for quantum science experiments next year. "It's very difficult to develop the payload of the satellite. We have overcome many difficulties in making the optical instrument. We are confident of launching it in the first half of next year," Wu said.

A retrievable scientific research satellite, SJ-10, will also be launched in the first half of 2016. It will carry out research in microgravity and space life science to provide scientific support to manned space missions.

The satellite is expected carry out 19 experiments in six fields: microgravity fluid physics, microgravity combustion, space material science, space radiation effect, microgravity biological effect, and space biological techniques.

Eight experiments in fluid physics will be conducted in the orbital module, and the others will be conducted in the re-entry capsule, which is designed to return to earth after 12 days in orbit. The orbital module will keep operating in orbit for three more days.

The SJ-10 project is jointly developed by 11 institutes of the CAS and six Chinese universities in cooperation with the ESA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Next year's launch schedule also includes a hard X-ray telescope, which will observe black holes, neutron stars and other phenomena based on their X-ray and gamma ray emissions,

Wu said that since the space era began in 1957, the United States and the former Soviet Union had made 90 percent of the "firsts". In recent years, Europe and Japan have also made great progress. The first landing on Titan and the first landing on a comet were accomplished by Europe's Huygens mission and Rosetta-Philae mission; and the first mission to take an asteroid sample back to earth was made by Japan.

"But we didn't hear any Chinese voice in those great missions. China is the world's second largest economy, and a major player in space. We should not only be the user of space knowledge, we should also be the creator of space knowledge," Wu said.

"China should not only follow others in space exploration; it should set some challenging goals that have never be done by others, such as sending the Chang'e-4 lunar probe to land on the far side of the moon."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Chinas_scientific_satellites_to_enter_uncharted_territory_999.html.

Cassini images dunelands on Saturn's moon Titan

Pasadena, Calif. (UPI)
Nov 2, 2015

Cassini's documentation of Saturn and its myriad satellites continues. On Monday, NASA shared a new Cassini image showcasing the dunelands of Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons.

Through the haze of Titan's atmosphere, the image reveals two vast regions of dunes, Fensal to the north and Aztlan to the south. Titan's dunes are made of hydrocarbon sands. A patch of vertically oriented dunes connects the two regions, forming an dark H-like shape on the moon's otherwise white icy surface.

Composed mostly of water ice and rocky material, Titan is both strange and familiar. Like Earth, it boasts clouds, rain and lakes, but they're made of liquid methane and ethane.

Unlike Earth, Titan receives barely any sun. Yet, its atmosphere, comprised mostly of nitrogen with a small amount of methane, is twice as thick as Earth's. Methane's greenhouse gas effect keeps Titan warmer than it would otherwise be -- a balmy negative 179 degrees Celsius.

Despite the thick atmosphere, the moon hosts relatively few clouds, enabling Cassini to photograph its many unique features.

Cassini's infrared light imager captured the newly shared photo on July 25, 2015. The probe, which has been exploring Saturn and its moons since 2006, periodically surveys Titan for surface changes -- helping scientists better understand Titan's weather patterns and geological processes.

Source: Saturn Daily.
Link: http://www.saturndaily.com/reports/Cassini_images_dunelands_on_Saturns_moon_Titan_999.html.

Finding New Worlds with a Play of Light and Shadow

by Francis Reddy for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX)
Nov 02, 2015

Astronomers have used many different methods to discover planets beyond the solar system, but the most successful by far is transit photometry, which measures changes in a star's brightness caused by a mini-eclipse. When a planet crosses in front of its star along our line of sight, it blocks some of the star's light. If the dimming lasts for a set amount of time and occurs at regular intervals, it likely means an exoplanet is passing in front of, or transiting, the star once every orbital period.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has used this technique to become the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than a thousand established discoveries and many more awaiting confirmation. Missions carrying improved technology are now planned, but how much more can they tell us about alien planetary systems similar to our own?

A great deal, according to recently published studies by Michael Hippke at the Institute for Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany, and Daniel Angerhausen, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. They show that in the best-case scenarios upcoming missions could uncover planetary moons, ringed worlds similar to Saturn, and even large collections of asteroids.

"We expect a flood of discoveries from these new missions, so we want to get a feel for the possibilities so scientists can make the most of the data," Angerhausen said.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are building on Kepler's success. NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), scheduled to launch no later than 2018, will be the first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey. Over the course of two years, TESS will monitor some 200,000 nearby stars for telltale transits. ESA's Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) satellite, which is expected to begin a six-year mission in 2024, will search for planets around roughly a million stars spread over half the sky.

The amount of stellar dimming caused by a transiting planet tells astronomers how big the planet is in proportion to its star, while recurring events can tell us how long it takes for the object to orbit its star. Additional transits increase confidence the dimming isn't caused by another cosmic object (such as a faint star), dark sunspot-like regions on the host star, or noise in the detector.

Over the operational lifetime of a satellite, the strongest signals always come from larger planets orbiting close to their stars because they produce both a deeper dimming and more frequent transits.

"Planets with sizes and orbits similar to Mars or Mercury will remain out of reach, even when six years of PLATO data are combined," said Hippke.

"But worlds similar to Venus and Earth will show up readily." Kepler has demonstrated the presence of planets smaller than Earth in very close orbits around stars smaller than the sun, but these sweltering worlds are unlikely to support life. TESS and PLATO will reveal Earth-sized worlds in Earth-like orbits around stars similar to the sun. Orbiting within the star's habitable zone, these planets may possess pools of liquid water, thought to be a prerequisite for the development of life as we know it.

Jupiter and Saturn each take more than a decade to orbit the sun. Similar worlds may only transit once during the TESS and PLATO missions but will produce a strong event. If, like Jupiter, the planet has a few large moons, their transits could show up in the data too. "We wouldn't have a clear detection, and we wouldn't be able to say whether the planet had a single large moon or a set of small ones, but the observation would provide a strong moon candidate for follow-up by other future facilities," explained Angerhausen.

Today, rings have been detected around only one exoplanet, called J1407b. The ring system is more than 200 times larger than Saturn's. Considering how a more Saturn-like planet would appear to PLATO, the researchers show that the transiting ring system produces a clear signal that precedes and follows the planet's passage across its star. These findings were published in the Sept. 1 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

In a second study, published in the Sept. 20 issue of the same journal, the researchers explored the possibility of detecting asteroids trapped in stable orbital zones called Lagrange points, locations where a planet's gravitational pull balances its sun's. These areas lead and follow the planet in its orbit by about 60 degrees.

In our solar system, the most prominent example occurs near Jupiter, where at least 6,000 known objects have gathered in two groups collectively called the Trojan asteroids. Less well known is that Earth, Mars, Uranus and Neptune similarly have captured one or more asteroids along their orbits, and astronomers now refer to all objects trapped in this way as Trojan bodies.

The same phenomenon will occur in other planetary systems, so Hippke and Angerhausen combined Kepler observations of more than 1,000 planet-hosting stars to hunt for an average dip in starlight that would indicate transits by Trojan bodies. They turned up a subtle signal corresponding to the expected locations of objects trapped in two Lagrange points.

"As good as the Kepler data are, we're really pushing them to the limit, so this is a very preliminary result," Hippke said. "We've shown somewhat cautiously that it's possible to detect Trojan asteroids, but we'll have to wait for better data from TESS, PLATO and other missions to really nail that down."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Finding_New_Worlds_with_a_Play_of_Light_and_Shadow_999.html.

Space station marks 15 years inhabited by astronauts

Kennedy Space Center FL (AFP)
Nov 02, 2015

Astronauts celebrated 15 years of circling the Earth aboard the International Space Station Monday, a new milestone for an orbiting space lab that some say deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

With operations expected to last another decade, the world's space agencies are now looking to the outpost to provide key data on how future space pioneers may withstand the rigors of venturing further, perhaps even to Mars.

"We do a lot of experiments up here but I think the most important experiment is the space station as an orbiting vehicle that keeps humans alive in space for long periods of time," said NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, during a live press conference with the station's crew to mark 15 years of continuous habitation.

Along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, Kelly is spending one year at the ISS so scientists can study the effects of long-term spaceflight on the body and mind.

Any trip to Mars would likely last years, raising the issue of harmful radiation. But it could also help scientists understand how to nourish astronauts for long periods and how to maintain healthy crew psychology.

"The space station really is a bridge," US astronaut Kjell Lindgren told the media conference. "It is a test bed for the technologies we need to develop and understand in order to have a successful trip to Mars."

Space pioneers

The ISS was just a two-module unit when the first crew to inhabit the research laboratory project arrived on November 2, 2000.

They were American astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.

Since then, a rotating cast of more than 220 of the world's elite astronauts have lived and worked at the ISS, which includes 16 participating nations and is led by the United States and Russia.

Modules were added over time and today the football-stadium-sized outfit represents about $100 billion dollars in investment and provides as much living space as a six-bedroom house.

Traveling at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) and a speed of about 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour, the space station circles the Earth once every 90 minutes.

Typically, six crew at a time eat, sleep and float around in the microgravity environment, working 35 hours per week on a host of science projects for a mission duration of about six months.

After one crew of three astronauts departs, three replacements blast off aboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship, now the only mode of transport to and from the ISS after the US space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

Peace Prize?

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, called the 15th anniversary an "incredible achievement," and said "the international partnership that built and maintains the station is a shining example, moreover, of what humanity can accomplish when we work together in peace."

In the past, NASA administrator Charles Bolden has said the project is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Asked about that assertion, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, who also took part in Monday's news conference, said Bolden is "100 percent right."

"People on the ground sometimes fail to hear each other, to see each other. Here in space, this is impossible," Kononenko said through a translator.

"Everyone is important here and the success of the program -- and sometimes even life -- depends on what each and every one of us does."

The six crewmen currently living in space planned to mark the anniversary with a communal dinner and some reflection, said Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.

"We are going to have a meal together," he said.

"And also we would like to talk about the future."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Space_station_marks_15_years_inhabited_by_astronauts_999.html.

China's first moon rover sets record for longest stay

Jinan, China (XNA)
Nov 01, 2015

China's first lunar rover, Yutu, has been operating on the moon for almost two years, setting the record for the longest stay by a rover, according to a Chinese lunar probe scientist.

Yutu was deployed and landed on the moon via China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe in 2013, staying longer than the Soviet Union's 1970 moon rover Lunokhod 1, which spent 11 months on the moon.

Its operations have streamed live through Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, and its Weibo account has nearly 600,000 followers.

Yutu experienced a mechanical control abnormality in 2014, but it was revived within a month and, though it is unable to move, it continues to collect data, send and receive signals, and record images and video.

"Human history is relatively short, and people are brimming over with curiosity about the universe," said Ye Peijian, chief scientist with China's Chang'e-3 program. "We have to explore more by going out."

The launch of Dongfanghong-1, China's first satellite, in 1970 made China the fifth country to launch a domestic satellite using a domestic rocket, following the Soviet Union, the United States, France and Japan.

China launched its manned space program in the 1990s and successfully sent Yang Liwei, the country's first astronaut, into orbit on the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft in 2003.

The Chang'e-1 mission in 2007 inaugurated an era of Chinese lunar exploration, followed by Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3, with the latter marking completion of the second phase of China's lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth.

Chang'e-3 delivered the rover and a stationary lander to the lunar surface in 2013, making China the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to carry out such a mission.

Meanwhile, China is planning to be the first country to land a lunar probe on the far side of the moon, or "dark side of the moon," which is never visible to Earth.

The mission will be carried out by Chang'e-4, a backup probe for Chang'e-3, according to Ye.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Chinas_first_moon_rover_sets_record_for_longest_stay_999.html.

Did Jupiter Expel A Rival Gas Giant

Toronto, Canada (SPX)
Oct 30, 2015

It's like something out of an interplanetary chess game. Astrophysicists at the University of Toronto have found that a close encounter with Jupiter about four billion years ago may have resulted in another planet's ejection from the Solar System altogether.

The existence of a fifth giant gas planet at the time of the Solar System's formation - in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that we know of today - was first proposed in 2011. But if it did exist, how did it get pushed out?

For years, scientists have suspected the ouster was either Saturn or Jupiter.

"Our evidence points to Jupiter," said Ryan Cloutier, a PhD candidate in U of T's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and lead author of a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Planet ejections occur as a result of a close planetary encounter in which one of the objects accelerates so much that it breaks free from the massive gravitational pull of the Sun.

However, earlier studies which proposed that giant planets could possibly eject one another did not consider the effect such violent encounters would have on minor bodies, such as the known moons of the giant planets, and their orbits.

So Cloutier and his colleagues turned their attention to moons and orbits, developing computer simulations based on the modern-day trajectories of Callisto and lapetus, the regular moons orbiting around Jupiter and Saturn respectively.

They then measured the likelihood of each one producing its current orbit in the event that its host planet was responsible for ejecting the hypothetical planet, an incident which would have caused significant disturbance to each moon's original orbit.

"Ultimately, we found that Jupiter is capable of ejecting the fifth giant planet while retaining a moon with the orbit of Callisto," said Cloutier, who is also a graduate fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

"On the other hand, it would have been very difficult for Saturn to do so because Iapetus would have been excessively unsettled, resulting in an orbit that is difficult to reconcile with its current trajectory."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Did_Jupiter_Expel_A_Rival_Gas_Giant_999.html.

Russia says it doesn't mind if Assad stays or steps down

November 03, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — In an apparent effort to set the stage for transition talks, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Moscow does not consider it a matter of principle that Syrian President Bashar Assad should stay in power.

Asked whether it was crucial for Moscow that Assad stays, Maria Zakharova said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station: "Absolutely not, we've never said that." "What we did say is a regime change in Syria could become a local or even regional catastrophe," she said, adding that "only the Syrian people can decide the president's fate."

Russia is believed to be Assad's strongest backer and has previously balked at the West's suggestions that the Syrian president should be ousted. Russia in September began carrying out air strikes at Islamic State fighters in Syria at Assad's request.

Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week. Bogdanov said the Syrian government has agreed to participate, but that it is unclear which opposition groups might come. He did not give a specific date for the proposed talks.

The talks are expected to be discussed Wednesday at a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura, Bogdanov said. Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow last month, which was viewed as a signal that Russia ultimately seeks a political settlement after weeks of heavy airstrikes in Syria, although the terms of such an arrangement are uncertain.

Iran Ayatollah: 'Death to America' refers to US policies

November 03, 2015

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The slogan "Death to America" is not aimed at the American people, but rather American policies, Iran's supreme leader said in comments reported on his official website Tuesday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed the slogan while meeting with Iranian students ahead of the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. Militant students stormed the compound and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since then. However, current President Hassan Rouhani has made efforts to improve relations, including a landmark nuclear agreement reached with world powers this past summer.

Khamenei says the "aim of the slogan is not death to American people. The slogan means death to U.S. policies and arrogance." The slogan has "strong support" In Iran, he said. Khamenei and hard-liners in the Iranian government remain deeply suspicious of the United States and view its policies a threat to the country.

He reiterated his warning that the U.S. is not to be trusted despite the nuclear deal reached with the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. The agreement promises Tehran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Khamenei also expressed his apparent belief that the U.S. "will not hesitate" if given a chance to destroy Iran. "The nature of the U.S. attitude is continuation of the same hostile aims from the past, and the nation will not forget this," Khamenei said.

However, anti-American sentiment is rife in Iran. As every year, ahead of the anniversary, the Tehran municipality displays anti-American posters and billboards along the Iranian capital's main squares and key streets.

One such billboard this year — at Tehran's Vali-e asr Square — represents a mock-up of the historic and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1945 "Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima" photo by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, one of the iconic images from World War II. Except in the billboard, the hands of the Marines are stained red from blood and instead of rocks and stones, the U.S. troops are standing on a pile of corpses.

Australian KC-30A successfully refuels USAF F-35s

Canberra, Australia (UPI)
Nov 2, 2015

The Royal Australian Air Force's KC-30A has successfully demonstrated its capability to refuel F-35 Lightning II fighters in flight.

The demonstration took place in September and October in the United States while operating from Edwards Air Force Base in the California.

The Australian Department of Defense said the RAAF KC-30A flew 12 sorties with a U.S. Air Force F-35As and refueled the fighters using a 50-foot advanced refueling boom system in its tail.

During the sorties a total of 479 dry and 24 wet contacts with the refueling receptacle on the F-35A were made and 104 tons of fuel transferred.

"These trials are another important step in building KC-30A capability and the results will inform the training practices of current and future RAAF personnel on both aircraft types," said Wing Commander Grant Kelly, the KC-30A Transition and Receiver Clearance Manager.

"Air-to-air refueling will be an important 'force multiplier' for the F-35A fleet, considerably boosting their range and endurance, or allowing them to carry bigger payloads."

In addition to the advanced refueling boom system, or ARBS, in its tail, the KC-30A also is equipped with hose-and-drogue refueling pods that are compatible with F-18 aircraft.

"The impact of the KC-30A is already being felt in the Middle East region, where the ARBS and hose-and-drogue capabilities are enabling RAAF and coalition aircraft to fly sorties of more than 10 hours," Kelly said.

"After more than a year of deployed KC-30A operations, it has built a reputation as the ... tanker of choice."

Australia currently has five of the aircraft, which are based on the Airbus A330 commercial aircraft.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Australian_KC-30A_successfully_refuels_USAF_F-35s_999.html.

Africa's long-awaited intervention force finally stutters to life

By Kristen VAN SCHIE
Lohatlha, South Africa (AFP)
Nov 1, 2015

As the sun rose over South Africa's dry and sparsely populated Karoo west of Johannesburg, more than 5,000 multinational troops launched a mock attack heralding a long-awaited African Union strike force for the troubled continent.

Men in fatigues peered through binoculars and crouched over maps, coordinating the movements of soldiers from more than a dozen African countries taking part this week in the first field exercise of the African Standby Force (ASF).

The script called for rapid deployment in response to reports of genocide in a fake country called Carana -- a war game with a bitter touch of reality on a continent that has suffered the bloodshed of Rwanda and Darfur.

First proposed in 1997, the ASF aims to have forces from one of the continent's five regional economic blocs on standby at any time, ready to respond swiftly to crises across Africa, with an overall force size of 25,000.

"Given our experiences, specifically in response to conflict in the past, the AU felt the international community very slow to respond," the African Union's head of peace support operations, Sivuyile Bam, told AFP.

"It takes time between the mandate being passed and the forces arriving on the ground -- the rule of thumb is usually nine months.

"The types of conflicts we are dealing with simply do not allow for the luxury of time."

The ASF aims to be able to move in and take action within 14 days of being mandated by African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, and it was that capacity that was being tested on a Karoo farm six hours west of Johannesburg.

- Dependent on aid -

But even as it strains for institutional independence, the AU remains heavily dependent on foreign donors -- including for part of the estimated $15 million cost (13.6 million euros) of the war games from October 19 to November 7.

"The current reality is that AU (peacekeeping) operations are funded above 90 percent by partners including the United Nations, the European Union, the US and the UK," said Bam.

The AU has estimated it will cost $1 billion for the standby force to be fully operational, and has proposed a model that would see it raise 25 percent of the funds of an operation and then rely on the UN to fill the gap.

But for the standby force to be truly "on standby", the funding behind it needs to be more predictable, said Bam.

The troops' ability to respond rapidly is also constrained by the continent's insufficient airlift capabilities, said defense analyst John Stupart.

"There are significant challenges blocking getting troops moved very quickly. The AU states simply don't have the planes to transport people and equipment anywhere very quickly," he told AFP.

"I think the general assumption has been that the ASF is a good idea, but I don't think there's been concerted questioning about whether it really is the right or realistic mechanism.

"It's been modeled as a military module that you plug into a crisis, but Africa is a large place. Its issues are complicated and different.

"The crisis in Somalia is different to Nigeria's fight against Boko Haram, which is different to the ongoing problems with rebel groups in North Africa, which is different to Lesotho's political crisis."

- Problems remain -

The establishment of the force has been delayed for nearly a decade, its deadline pushed first from 2008 to 2010, then 2013, and eventually to December 2015.

The war games in South Africa are designed to see whether the ASF is finally operational, with a report set to be presented to the continent's defense and security ministers at the next AU summit in Addis Ababa in January.

But it's not just the AU watching.

"The EU also needs to decide whether this project is still worth funding," said Stupart.

On the ground, the ASF's proponents admit it's unlikely to tick all the boxes by December.

Commanders at the training exercise told AFP that militarily the troops were ready, but said the legal loopholes permitting their deployment still needed to be closed.

"If you don't have a Memorandum of Understanding between the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to move troops, that will become an obstacle," said Zimbabwe National Army Major-General Trust Mugoba.

The key, said Bam, was greater buy-in from the continent.

"If the member states are not willing to step forward and provide the capabilities we need, then we do not have a force."

Source: Africa Daily.
Link: http://www.africadaily.net/reports/Africas_long-awaited_intervention_force_finally_stutters_to_life_999.html.