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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Germany withdraws Patriot missiles from Turkey

Washington (UPI)
Dec 23, 2015

Germany has begun withdrawing its Patriot missile batteries from Turkey, concluding its three-year mandate to support the NATO mission in the region.

The German military initially deployed their Patriot missile systems to Turkey as part of the NATO initiative to bolster its defenses in the country. Germany provided two of the five NATO batteries, in addition to about 250 personnel for the three-year mission, according to Daily Sabah.

While the withdrawal leaves only Spanish Patriot missile systems at the request of the Turkish government, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltengberg says the alliance's mission will continue with air and naval support to boost the country's defense capabilities.

The German government said earlier this year it would not renew its Patriot missile commitment to Turkey, Defense News reports.

While NATO has been supporting Turkish airspace for several years, officials have moved to strengthen their defenses in the wake of the downing of a Russian aircraft that entered Turkish airspace in November.

"This is something we have been working on long before the incident and is separate from the incident," Stoltenberg said.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Germany_withdraws_Patriot_missiles_from_Turkey_999.html.

Nordic countries in annual contest to claim real Santa

December 23, 2015

HELSINKI (AP) — Most kids learn that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, but children in Scandinavia are taught he lives a bit further south. Where exactly is a matter of much debate, with businesses in Finland, Sweden and Norway competing to cash in on the cachet that comes with claiming Santa's hometown.

Finnish children know his home to be in the mythological Korvatunturi (Ear mountain) in the northern wilderness of the Finnish part of Lapland while Swedes say he hails from the small town of Mora. Norwegians claim he was born hundreds of years ago under a stone in Drobak on the Oslo fjord.

Danes, who enjoy milder and mostly snowless winters, teach their children that Santa's home is on the distant Arctic island of Greenland, a sparsely populated semiautonomous Danish territory. In the battle to beat their Scandinavian neighbors, Finland's public broadcaster YLE every year sends out a video of a red-cloaked Santa leaving his log cabin on a sleigh drawn by a white reindeer in the frozen snowy landscape that reaches millions of viewers worldwide. A regular feature for the past 30 years, it was first broadcast in 1960.

The biggest town in Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi, has been dubbed the official hometown of Santa Claus and depends on the myth for a large part of its yearly tourism turnover of some 210 million euros ($230 million). Situated just south of the Arctic Circle, it attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually — five times the town's population.

"Santa Claus is a very important and known person globally ... and that's a good basis for us to build up this kind of business," Mayor Esko Lotvonen said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

The origins of Santa Claus — widely known elsewhere in Europe also as St. Nicholas — are shrouded in the mists of mythology, but the benevolent figure is believed to be based on St. Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century Greek Christian bishop who lived in a province of the Byzantine Empire that now is Turkey.

Danes, Swedes and Norwegians base their Santa on a mythological figure — a gnome known as a "tomte" or "nisse" in the Scandinavian languages — whereas Finns, who are ethnically and linguistically a different people, know Santa as "joulupukki," a Christmas buck or goat, derived from old pagan Norse mythology.

In the Nordic region, Santa doesn't clamber down chimneys but visits homes on Dec. 24, meeting the children, or if he's too busy leaving behind a bag or basket of presents. Mora in central Sweden has claimed itself as Santa's home since 1984, with some 50,000 visiting Santaworld annually.

Nicklas Lind, director of Santaworld, which includes Santa's house, a troll safari, moose park and restaurants, says the town, known for its knives and an annual 90-kilometer cross-country skiing race, welcomes the extra money brought in by Santa but was unable to give figures.

"It's very important for the region and the town, for hotels and skiing," he said. "We get some millions; that's all I can say." The message that Santa's home is somewhere in the Nordic region has spread far and wide. Santaworld's post office has received 400,000 letters this year addressed to Santa, his post office in Rovaniemi claims more than 500,000 letters with 100,000 more expected before the year-end.

The Norwegian Santa in Drobak is too busy to talk as Christmas approaches. Instead, his cousin Tom picks up the phone but doesn't want to discuss business. "It's time for Christmas cheer not for competition, but we can't be angry if our good colleagues in Sweden, Finland and Greenland think otherwise," he says. "All Norwegian children know the real Santa lives here."

A group of schoolboys enjoying their Christmas break at a shopping mall in Helsinki are just as confident Santa is from Finland. Six-year-old Matias, who doesn't want to give his family name, looks puzzled when asked the question, before blurting out: "He lives in Korvatunturi (Ear mountain), of course."

"And he's coming to see us again, he did last year," Matias says.

Associated Press reporter James Brooks contributed to this report from Rovaniemi.

In a first, rival Cyprus leaders offer joint holiday wishes

December 24, 2015

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — For the first time, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders of the ethnically divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus took to the airwaves together to send out holiday wishes in both Greek and Turkish.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said during a televised message Thursday they hoped the new year ushers in a peace accord. Anastasiades expressed hope that next year sees Greek and Turkish Cypriots living peacefully together again in a reunified Cyprus. Akinci said he hoped 2016 would bring lasting peace, calm and prosperity to all.

The messages aimed to reaffirm their commitment to reach a peace deal as negotiations enter their eighth month. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece.

Sweden's 1st female foreign minister Karin Soder dies at 87

December 27, 2015

HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden's first female foreign minister and party leader, Karin Soder, has died. She was 87.

Center Party spokeswoman Ingrid Brask said Sunday that Soder died in Stockholm on Dec. 19 but gave no cause of death. Soder entered Parliament in 1971 and was a lawmaker for 20 years. She held the foreign minister's position in 1976-1978.

In 1985, she became the first woman in Sweden to lead a political party when elected chairwoman of the Center Party. She quit two years later. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told the TT news agency that Soder was a pioneer in Swedish politics and had "broken new ground."

She led Sweden's member organization of Save the Children between 1983 and 1995. Soder is survived by her husband and three adult children.

Christmas Day cleanup after storms kill 14 in US

Chicago (AFP)
Dec 25, 2015

Rescue workers and heartbroken residents on Friday sifted through what was left of homes wiped out by several ferocious storms and tornadoes that killed at least 14 people in the US southeast.

The storms, feeding on unseasonably warm air, left a trail of destruction in rural communities from Alabama to Illinois, just as Christmas reached its crescendo.

More than a dozen tornadoes were reported in six states, with the southern state of Mississippi hardest hit. Seven people were confirmed dead there and another 60 injured, with one person missing, said the state's emergency management agency.

"We are experiencing some flash flooding today, with storms coming through right now in five counties. And damage assessments are still ongoing," the emergency agency's Brett Carr told AFP.

Among the Mississippi dead was a seven-year-old boy who was killed when a brutal storm picked up and tossed the car he was travelling in, fire chief Kenny Holbrook told reporters in the town of Holly Springs, where thousands greeted Christmas Day without power.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in seven counties after the storms caused widespread damage.

Six fatalities were confirmed in neighboring Tennessee, including three people found dead Thursday in a car submerged in a creek, according to the fire department in Columbia, Tennessee.

One person was reportedly killed in Arkansas.

Georgia's governor declared a state of emergency in counties affected by the severe weather.

Debris from ravaged buildings and other structures littered roads, making them impassable in parts of the southeast.

Officials were inviting volunteers to help clean up or make donations as people who fled returned to their homes to see what, if anything, was still standing.

Television footage and pictures posted on social media showed homes flattened across several states, with possessions and Christmas presents strewn on the ground or left in a messy heap.

Power lines, trees and mobile phone towers were also toppled.

Therese Apel, a reporter at Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger newspaper, spoke with a north Mississippi family hard hit by the violent weather.

"The Wilkins family lost everything, but they told me, 'It's still Christmas. It's about family and being grateful,'" Apel posted on Twitter.

The worst appeared to be over, but forecasters at the National Weather Service warned severe weather was possible in several states including Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma. Flash floods in the US southeast were also a possibility.

The East Coast meanwhile was enjoying unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures in New York's iconic Central Park peaking at 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 Celsius) Thursday, the warmest Christmas Eve since records began in 1871.

The location set a Christmas Day record with temperatures reaching 66 degrees (19 Celsius) on Friday.

Atlanta, Georgia was also expected to set a record with temperatures reaching 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 Celsius).

The opposite was happening in other areas of the country.

"Ho Ho Ho! Vegas got snow!" reported the National Weather Service before dawn Friday, saying the trace of white tied the record set in 1941 for Christmas Day snow in normally balmier Las Vegas. That record was also tied in 1988 and 2008.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Christmas_Day_cleanup_after_storms_kill_14_in_US_999.html.

Central American nations announce deal on Cuban migrants

December 29, 2015

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Central American nations have reached a deal to let the first of thousands of stranded Cuban migrants continue their journey north toward the United States next month, officials said Monday.

The humanitarian transfer will airlift an unspecified number of Cubans the first week of January from Costa Rica to El Salvador, from where they will continue by bus toward Mexico, Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Guatemalan government, which hosted a diplomatic meeting earlier in the day to consider the issue, described it as a "pilot" program and said a work group has been tasked with coordinating logistics.

The two governments did not immediately release further details, citing some nations' desire for discretion on what has become a diplomatic flashpoint between Costa Rica and neighboring Nicaragua. The number of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica has reached at least 8,000 since Nicaragua closed its border to them weeks ago. The islanders say they are trying to reach the United States, where favorable migratory policies toward Cubans mean nearly all are allowed to stay and apply for residency.

On Sunday, Pope Francis called for their plight to be resolved. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said the measure will be available only to Cubans who are already in Costa Rica. Ministry spokeswoman Melissa Duran told The Associated Press it will be up to the migrants to pay the costs of their travel, but did not give more specifics.

On Dec. 18, Costa Rica stopped issuing transit visas for Cuban migrants and announced that any who arrived after that without a visa would be deported. Cuba has seen a spike in outward migration in the year since it and Washington announced they would re-establish diplomatic ties after more than five decades of open hostility. Many Cuban migrants say they chose now to emigrate out of fear that detente could bring about an end to the U.S. policies that benefit them — although U.S. officials say no change is in the works.

Cuba and its close ally Nicaragua argue that the U.S. policies toward Cubans encourage them to attempt dangerous migratory routes and cause a brain drain on the island.

Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed.

Putin signs decree on dissolving Federal Space Agency

Moscow (Sputnik)
Dec 28, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on dissolving the country's Federal Space Agency in line with the creation of Roscosmos state corporation, the Kremlin press service said Monday.

The agency will be dissolved in accordance with a federal law of July 13, 2015, according to the presidential decree, published on Kremlin's official website.

The decree comes into force on January 1, 2016.

Under the decree, the Russian government is due to ensure the continuity of the agency's functioning.

In accordance with the law, in the near future the government should carry out liquidation procedures, as well as provide the agency's employees with legal guarantees and compensation.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Putin_signs_decree_on_dissolving_Federal_Space_Agency_999.html.

Ousted Russian Orthodox Church cleric assails Russian elites

December 25, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — A conservative priest who lost his high-level job at the Russian Orthodox Church assailed Russia's "immoral elites" Friday and predicted a national catastrophe if the country fails to allow free public discussion.

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, who headed the Moscow Patriarchate's department for cooperation between church and society, was relieved of his duties Thursday and his department was disbanded. The church's Holy Synod explained the move by citing the need to increase efficiency.

Chaplin sharply criticized Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill for failing to listen to critical voices and predicted that Kirill would be replaced soon. Chaplin hadn't issued any public criticism of Kirill before being relieved of his duties, and in the past had staunchly defended the Patriarch against accusations of indulging in luxury.

Chaplin told a news conference Friday that Russia would face an "inevitable catastrophe" if the authorities fail to allow "live discussion and live public process." He said that "immoral elites are hampering the nation's development," adding that "to prevent a revolution, we need to actively offer models of peaceful reforms," according to the Interfax news agency.

Speaking to RBC news portal, Chaplin said that his view that the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church should have taken a stronger action in support of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine had caused tensions between him and the patriarch.

The 47-year-old Chaplin has long attracted public attention with controversial statements. He said once said women should dress more modestly to avoid provoking rapes. Chaplin declared recently that "we in Russia should fulfill the best ideals of the Holy Russia, caliphate and the USSR, the systems that cast a challenge to injustice and diktat of narrow elites."

He recently has drawn strong criticism with his statement that Russia was waging a "holy war" against extremists in Syria.

Russia delivers S-300 missile system to Kazakhstan free of charge

Washington (UPI)
Dec 23, 2015

The Russian government has completed the free delivery of its S-300 air defense system to the government of Kazakhstan, according to Russian media reports.

The delivery supports the initiative between Moscow and Astana to construct and operate a common aerospace defense system. Russian defense officials say they delivered the missile system free of charge because it is the country's main contribution to the integrated air defense system.

"We have completed the project on free of charge S-300 air defense system deliveries to Kazakhstan," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a meeting according to Sputnik International.

Russian state-owned media outlet Tass reports the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of former Soviet states including Kazakhstan, has plans to further develop its joint air defense system.

"We have approved for 2016 a plan of work of the Defense Ministers' Council of the CIS countries and a plan of common steps on the joint air defense system," Shoigu added.

The S-300 missile defense system was developed by the Soviet Union and now used by the Russian government and other armed forces around the world as a surface-to-air defense system against airborne threats.

Moscow has also agreed to deliver S-300 missiles to Iran by the end of 2016.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_delivers_S-300_missile_system_to_Kazakhstan_free_of_charge_999.html.

India donates Mi-25 helicopters to Afghanistan

Washington (UPI)
Dec 23, 2015

India has delivered the first of four planned Mi-25 attack helicopters to the government of Afghanistan for use by the Afghan Air Force.

The donation marks the first time India has gifted combat equipment to Afghanistan, which has historically been met with objection from neighboring nation Pakistan. Indian military officials are also scheduled to train Afghan Air Force pilots to operate the aircraft. The deal was subject to approval from Russia as the manufacturer of the helicopters, according to The Economic Times.

The Mi-25 attack helicopters are designed to engage enemies in fortified positions, and transport troops to locations under heavy enemy fire. India is currently in the process of replacing its fleet of Mi-25 helicopters with U.S.-made Apache aircraft.

Once the deliveries are complete, the Afghan Air Force will use the Mi-25s to replace their fleet of Mi-35 helicopters, of which only one is in a state to fly, according to IHS Janes. The deliveries add to the Afghan Air Force's fleet of 109 aircraft, comprised of Russian, Indian and U.S.-made planes.

Afghanistan will receive the first of 20 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft from the United States in January 2016.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/India_donates_Mi-25_helicopters_to_Afghanistan_999.html.

Indian premier Narendra Modi visits Russia for annual summit

December 23, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks expected to focus on defense, nuclear and space cooperation.

Modi began his visit Wednesday with a private dinner with Putin. More talks involving top officials from both countries are to be held in the Kremlin on Thursday. Trade between India and Russia was just below $10 billion in 2014. The two countries have set an ambitious goal of increasing trade to $30 billion by 2025.

Russia and India have shared close ties since the Cold War, when Moscow was a key ally and the main arms supplier to New Delhi. Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters ahead of the visit that Russia is a "very major military and strategic partner," adding that there will be discussions on more arms purchases for the Indian military, including a deal to manufacture 200 Kamov-226T helicopters in a joint venture located in India.

While India has remained a major customer for the Russian arms industry, the country in recent years has sought to diversify its purchases, buying military hardware from the United States, France and Israel.

Jaishankar said Modi's talks in Moscow will also include nuclear cooperation. "We have a road map for nuclear cooperation with Russia, and we are moving in accordance with that," said Jaishankar. Russia has built a nuclear reactor at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in India and is now completing a second unit there. The two nations have a plan envisaging that Russia will build a total of 12 nuclear reactors in India over 20 years.

Five dead, 150,000 evacuated in Latin America floods

Asuncion (AFP)
Dec 24, 2015

Flooding dampened Christmas eve celebrations in parts of Latin America on Thursday, leaving five people dead and driving almost 150,000 from their homes in Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.

Some 130,000 people have been forced from their homes across Paraguay, officials said, as President Horacio Cartes declared a state of emergency to free up more than $3.5 million in disaster funds.

Three people traveling Paraguay's international Route 2, which links Asuncion and Foz de Iguazu in Brazil were killed when a tree fell on their vehicle before dawn.

Another woman traveling by motorcycle in Asuncion was killed by a falling tree overnight, official sources told AFP.

The National Emergency Secretariat (SEN) reported a dozen other similar incidents in the capital.

The agency's head of operations, David Arellano, said rescue and evacuation operations were underway for dozens of families in the face of floodwaters from the Paraguay River.

Around the capital Asuncion 125,000 homes were without power and 17 power distribution centers knocked out across the country.

Northeastern Argentina also reported widespread disruption and one fatality from the worst flooding in half a century.

A 13-year-old boy was electrocuted by a power cable while trying to assess storm damage to his home in the city of Corrientes, local media reported.

In Entre Rios province at least 10,000 people were evacuated, with Concordia, a city of some 170,000 on the banks of the Uruguay River, the worst affected with nonstop rain throughout the night, Mayor Enrique Crest said.

"This is the worst flooding in 50 years," he said, adding that although "flooding was predicted due to El Nino, no one thought that it would be so substantial."

The city is located 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the Salto Grande dam, which was helping to hold the waters back, but was nearing its full capacity, Crest said.

The governor of Entre Rios said the total number of evacuees across the province could rise to "between 16,000 to 20,000."

Argentina's vice president, Gabriela Michetti, traveled Thursday to the affected region to view the damage and assess disaster relief needs.

The country has declared a state of emergency for the Panama, Uruguay and Paraguay rivers and their tributaries, following exceptionally high rainfall.

In November and December, the Rio de la Plata river basin in Argentina's northeast received between 150 and 300 millimeters more rain than is typical for the period, the farm industry ministry said in a statement.

Uruguay on Wednesday also declared a state of emergency in three northern departments affected by flooding.

The number of displaced people reached almost 5,500 Thursday, as the situation worsened.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Five_dead_150000_evacuated_in_Latin_America_floods_999.html.