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Friday, February 26, 2016

Turkey frees 2 journalists from jail after high court ruling

February 26, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Two journalists imprisoned for their reports on alleged government arms-smuggling to Syria were released from jail early on Friday hours after Turkey's highest court ruled that their rights were violated.

A large group of supporters greeted Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the paper's Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, as they emerged from a van after being freed from Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul.

The two were jailed in November, months after the center-left opposition daily Cumhuriyet published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants. The images reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, touching off a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels. The government initially denied the trucks were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid Some officials later suggested the trucks were carrying arms or ammunition destined for Turkmen groups in Syria.

The two were arrested after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed a complaint against them, leading to heightened concerns over conditions for journalists and media freedoms in Turkey. The Constitutional Court ruled late on Thursday that authorities had violated Dundar's and Gul's personal rights as well as their rights to freedom of expression by jailing them, paving their way to prosecution without being held in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking life prison terms for Dundar and Gul on charges of supporting a terror organization, threatening state security and espionage for publishing state secrets. They are accused of collaborating with a movement led by a U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has become Erdogan's top foe.

The prosecutors' indictment accuses the two of working with the movement to create the image that the government was aiding terror groups and to cripple its "ability to rule." Government officials accuse Gulen's supporters of stopping the trucks as part of a plot to bring down the government. The government has branded the movement a "terror organization" although it is not known to have been engaged in any acts of violence.

The journalists' first trial is set for March 25. Dundar called the court's ruling for their release a historic decision for freedom of expression in Turkey. He also said his release Friday would be "a present" on Erdogan's 62nd birthday.

Last month, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with Dundar's wife during a visit to Turkey in a show of support for journalists facing prosecution.

Turkey detains 3 more over suicide bombing that killed 28

February 19, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities on Friday detained three more suspects in connection with the deadly bombing in Ankara that Turkey has blamed on Kurdish militants at home and in neighboring Syria, while Turkey's military pushed ahead with its cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia positions in Syria.

Anadolu Agency said authorities have now taken 17 people into custody as part of the investigation into Wednesday's suicide car bomb attack, which targeted buses carrying military personnel and killed 28 people. It said the latest suspects are believed to be linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said three of the detained suspects are believed to have played "an active part" in the attack. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the attack was carried out by a Syrian national who was a member of the People's Protection Units, or YPG. He said rebels of the PKK, which has led a more than 30-year insurgency against Turkey, were also behind the attack.

Erdogan said Friday that Turkish authorities don't have the slightest doubt that the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, were behind the bombing and said Turkey was saddened by its Western allies' failure to brand them as terrorist groups.

Speaking to reporters following Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan also said he would take up the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama later in the day. Anadolu reported late Thursday that Turkish artillery units were "intermittently" firing shells into Syria, targeting militia positions near the village of Ayn Daqna, south of the town of Azaz.

The leader of the main Syrian Kurdish group, Salih Muslim, has denied his group was behind the bombing, and he warned Turkey against taking ground action in Syria. Following the attack, Turkey stepped up pressure on the United States and other allies to cut off support to the militia group. Turkey views the YPG as a terror group because of its affiliation with the PKK.

The YPG, however, has been most effective in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Ankara appears increasingly uneasy over the group's recent gains across its border and has continued to shell the militia despite international calls for it to stop.

Davutoglu, accompanied by other ministers, placed 28 carnations at the site of the attack Friday in honor of the dead. Hundreds of people, meanwhile, filled two main mosques in Ankara for the funerals of at least eight of the victims.

The attack was the second bombing in the capital in four months.

Turkey: Syrian man behind deadly Ankara car bomb attack

February 18, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Syrian national with links to Syrian Kurdish militia carried out the suicide bombing in Ankara that targeted military personnel and killed at least 28 people, Turkey's prime minister said Thursday.

Turkey's Kurdish rebels collaborated with the Syrian man to carry out Wednesday's attack, Ahmet Davutoglu said during a news conference. "The attack was carried out by the PKK together with a person who sneaked into Turkey from Syria," Davutoglu said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK.

Authorities have detained nine people in connection with the attack, he said. Turkey's military, meanwhile, said its jets conducted cross-border raids against Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq, hours after the Ankara attack, striking at a group of about 60-70 rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

The car bomb went off late Wednesday in Turkey's capital during evening rush hour. It exploded near buses carrying military personnel that had stopped at traffic lights, in an area close to parliament and armed forces headquarters and lodgings. The blast was the second deadly bombing in Ankara in four months.

Davutoglu confirmed earlier news reports that said the attacker was Syrian. Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the government, said the assailant who detonated the car bomb near the military buses in an apparent suicide attack had been registered as a refugee in Turkey and was identified from his fingerprints.

Pro-government Sabah newspaper said the man was linked to the PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy for Kurds in Turkey's southeast region. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which killed military personnel and civilians, although suspicion had immediately fallen on the PKK or the Islamic State group. In October, suicide bombings blamed on IS targeted a peace rally outside the main train station in Ankara, killing 102 people in Turkey's deadliest attack in years.

The attack drew international condemnation and Turkish leaders have vowed to find those responsible and to retaliate against them with force. The military said Thursday that Turkish jets attacked PKK positions in northern Iraq's Haftanin region, hitting the group of rebels which it said included a number of senior PKK leaders. The claim couldn't be verified.

Turkey's air force has been striking PKK positions in northern Iraq since a fragile two-and-a-half year-old peace process with the group collapsed in July, reigniting a fierce three-decade old conflict.

"Our determination to retaliate to attacks that aim against our unity, togetherness and future grows stronger with every action," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. "It must be known that Turkey will not refrain from using its right to self-defense at all times."

The attack came at a tense time when the Turkish government is facing an array of challenges. Hundreds of people have been killed in renewed fighting following the collapse of the peace process and tens of thousands have been displaced.

Turkey has also been helping efforts led by the U.S. to combat the Islamic State group in neighboring Syria, and has faced several deadly bombings in the last year that were blamed on IS. The Syrian war is raging along Turkey's southern border. Recent airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces have prompted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to flee to Turkey's border.

Explosion in Ankara kills at least 28, wounds 61 others

February 18, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A car bomb went off in the Turkish capital Wednesday near vehicles carrying military personnel, killing at least 28 people and wounding 61 others, officials said. The explosion occurred during evening rush hour in the heart of Ankara, in an area close to parliament and armed forces headquarters and lodgings. Buses carrying military personnel were targeted while waiting at traffic lights at an intersection, the Turkish military said while condemning the "contemptible and dastardly" attack.

"We believe that those who lost their lives included our military brothers as well as civilians," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said. At least two military vehicles caught fire and dozens of ambulances were sent to the scene. Dark smoke could be seen billowing from a distance.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Kurtulmus pledged that authorities would find those behind the bombing. He said the government had appointed seven prosecutors to investigate the attack, which he described as being "well-planned."

Kurdish rebels, the Islamic State group and a leftist extremist group have carried out attacks in the country recently. In October, suicide bombings blamed on IS targeted a peace rally outside the main train station in Ankara, killing 102 people in Turkey's deadliest attack in years.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the bombing saying it exceeds all "moral and humane boundaries." Turkey is determined to fight those who carried out the attack as well as the "forces" behind the assailants, he said.

"Our determination to retaliate to attacks that aim against our unity and future grows stronger with every action," Erdogan said. "It must be known that Turkey will not refrain from using its right to self-defense at all times."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the explosion and "hopes the perpetrators of this terrorist attack will be swiftly brought to justice," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Wednesday's attack comes at a tense time when the Turkish government is facing an array of challenges. A fragile peace process with Kurdish rebels collapsed in the summer and renewed fighting has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

Turkey has also been helping efforts led by the United States to combat the Islamic State group in neighboring Syria, and has faced several deadly bombings in the last year that were blamed on IS. The Syrian war is raging along Turkey's southern border. Recent airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces have prompted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to flee to Turkey's border. Turkey so far has refused to let them in, despite being urged to do so by the United Nations and European nations, but is sending aid to Syrian refugee camps right across the border.

Turkey, which is already home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, has also been a key focus of European Union efforts to halt the biggest flow of refugees to the continent since World War II. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of refugees leave every night from Turkey to cross the sea to Greece in smugglers' boats.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg strongly condemned the "terrorist attack" and offered his condolences to the families of the victims. Stoltenberg said there can be no justification "for such horrific acts" and that "NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "In the battle against those responsible for these inhuman acts we are on the side of Turkey." Washington also condemned the attack, according to a statement by Mark Toner, deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department.

"We reaffirm our strong partnership with our NATO Ally Turkey in combatting the shared threat of terrorism," Toner said. After the attack, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu canceled a visit to Brussels Wednesday evening and attended a security meeting with Erdogan and other officials. Erdogan postponed a trip to Azerbaijan planned for Thursday.

The government meanwhile, imposed a gag order which bans media organizations from broadcasting or printing graphic images of the dead or injured from the scene of the explosion and also banned reporting on any details of the investigation. Turkey has imposed similar bans after previous attacks.

Last month, 11 German tourists were killed after a suicide bomber affiliated with the IS detonated a bomb in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district. More than 30 people were killed in a suicide attack in the town of Suruc, near Turkey's border with Syria, in July.

N. Korea confirms new military chief after reported execution

Seoul (AFP)
Feb 21, 2016

North Korean state media on Sunday confirmed the country has a new military chief following earlier reports in Seoul that the former holder of the post had been executed.

Ri Myong-Su, former People's Security Minister, was referred to as "chief of the Korean People's Army General Staff" when the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on an army exercise guided by leader Kim Jong-Un.

Ri Myong-Su was again mentioned in a separate KCNA report on Kim's inspection of an air force exercise.

His predecessor Ri Yong-Gil was reportedly executed early this month in what would be the latest in a series of purges and executions of top officials.

Ri Yong-Gil was accused of forming a political faction and corruption, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing a source familiar with North Korean affairs.

In May last year South Korea's spy agency said Kim had his defense chief Hyon Yong-Chol executed -- reportedly with an anti-aircraft gun.

Hyon's fate was never confirmed by Pyongyang but he has never been seen or heard of since. Some analysts have suggested he was purged and imprisoned.

Reports -- some confirmed, some not -- of purges, executions and disappearances have been common since Kim took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.

A large number of senior officials, especially military cadres, were removed or demoted as the young leader sought to solidify his control over the powerful military.

In the most high-profile case, Kim had his influential uncle Jang Song-Thaek executed in December 2013 for charges including treason and corruption.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the new military chief was one of Kim's top three aides and was known to be well-versed in missile technology.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test last month and launched a long-range rocket this month, sparking international outrage.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/N_Korea_confirms_new_military_chief_after_reported_execution_999.html.

German, French foreign ministers anxious about Ukraine

February 23, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The foreign ministers of France and Germany, on a visit to Kiev, are expressing concerns about the political tensions that are impeding reform efforts in Ukraine and about the persisting conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The two countries have been trying to help resolve the fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, including backing a cease-fire a year ago for the war that has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014. But that truce has appeared increasingly frayed in recent months.

The Ukrainian government has yet to pass legislation that would allow elections in the east, part of the cease-fire agreement. Western governments also are concerned that attempts to tackle Ukraine's endemic corruption have been only fitful.

"The situation in Ukrainian politics now reminds one of a storm," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said a meeting of the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian ministers on March 3 in Paris could be key to pushing forward the cease-fire process. He added that European countries do not see a viable alternative to solidifying the pact.

"The situation is very unstable. We want to avoid further escalation — and the risk for that exists," he said.

Czechs protest Polish greenhouse over light pollution

February 23, 2016

FRYDLANT, Czech Republic (AP) — It's much ado about a greenhouse. A huge and well-lighted greenhouse opened last year on the Polish side of the border with the Czech Republic. The light helps tomatoes grow, and makes Czech neighbors growl.

The dispute has engaged diplomats and the governments. The European Parliament might be the next stage for the spat. The critics say light pollution from the greenhouse risks the future of a rare dark-sky reserve declared in the area, harms the environment and denies people a proper sleep. On the other hand, it creates much-needed jobs.

Members of the Czech Astronomical Society were the first to complain after their measurements confirmed what anyone can see, especially on cloudy nights, that this new installation produces intense light.

"This greenhouse is something completely new for us," astronomer Martin Gembec said on a recent night. He was on a hill about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the greenhouse, which is on the edge of the Polish town of Bogatynia, next to a coal-fired power plant and a big open-pit brown coal mine.

"We have never seen anything like that and we are honestly shocked by it. It shines like a big city of a 100,000 people," Gembec said. The regional government has asked the Polish ambassador to Prague and the Czech ambassador to Warsaw for help, while the issue was high on the agenda of last week's meeting of the environment ministers of the two countries in the Polish capital.

"We will try to find a solution," said Jacek Krzeminski, spokesman for Poland's Environment Ministry. Martin Puta, the head of the regional government, has tried to reach the owner of the Citronex company that operates the greenhouse, but with no luck so far.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, the company said the project "has been done in accordance with Polish construction law and has all the required permissions." Citronex also said it has asked a Dutch research institute to work on a "special system of curtains that would limit the emission of light."

It says on its Web site the project is meant to help develop the region. Puta said he was approaching members of the European Parliament in efforts to set up a public hearing there. In what some already seem as an overregulated EU, there's no regulation to deal with light pollution.

In Frydlant, a Czech town across the border, Mayor Dan Ramzer said he could understand that companies like Citronex create jobs "and that's a mantra for the Poles." But Ramzer wants the Czech complaints to be heard "because there is a night-sky reserve in the Jizerske Mountains and we don't to lose this unique thing."

"And another thing is that you have something on the horizon of Frydlant which disturbs the sleeping of the local people. Darkness is one of things we value highly here," Ramzer said. He expressed hopes that Czech concerns would not go unnoticed as the greenhouse is planned to be expanded.

"We hope that they won't repeat the same mistake and will block the light from leaking." The astronomers agree. "We don't want to ruin anyone's business," Gembec said. "The situation is bad in the entire Europe, but they went too far. The best solution would be for this private company to accept (our concerns) and make steps to fix it. That is in this case to put blankets on it."

Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed.

Ireland votes amid austerity anger, fears of hung parliament

February 26, 2016

DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's voters are deciding who should lead them for the next five years as polls suggest the outcome could be a hung parliament. Prime Minister Enda Kenny asked voters to keep his 5-year-old coalition government in power, arguing he deserved another term because of Ireland's improving employment market and return to Europe-leading growth.

All polls throughout the three-week campaign forecast that Kenny's Fine Gael party should retain its No. 1 spot. But his coalition partners, Labor, face savage losses to opposition candidates critical of the government's painful but broadly successful austerity program.

Analysts say the outcome from Friday's vote could challenge Fine Gael to form an unprecedented partnership with its decades-old nemesis, Fianna Fail, another centrist party that is expected to finish second. Both parties have ruled out partnership.

Hungarian leader seeks referendum on EU migrant quotas

February 24, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's prime minister on Wednesday called for a national referendum on the European Union's plan for a mandatory quota for the resettlement of migrants and refugees. Analysts said the proposal was an attempt by Viktor Orban to establish himself as a leader of those opposed to the EU scheme, and demonstrate his growing influence on the European stage.

Orban said that the referendum question would be: "Do you want the European Union to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?" He said a "no" vote would be "in favor of Hungary's independence and rejecting the mandatory settlement plan."

A political expert, however, said the question proposed by the government was not valid because national referendums could only be about issues decided by Hungary's parliament. "A Hungarian national referendum can in no way obligate a decision-making body of the European Union," said Attila Mraz, specialist on political participatory rights at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

The EU has set up a scheme to share 160,000 migrants arriving in overburdened Greece and Italy. But so far, barely 600 people have been relocated, and only some EU partners have offered places for them — fewer than 5,000 spots in all.

For Hungary, the plan would gravely impact people's lives and "redraw Hungary and Europe's ethnic, cultural and religious identity" for generations to come, Orban said. "The Hungarian government believes that neither the union nor Brussels nor the European leaders nor any European body has the authority to do this," he said. "We feel that introducing a settlement quota without the consent of the people is nothing but abuse of power."

He said the referendum question had already been submitted for approval to the National Election Office. Analysts said that Orban was trying to become the leader of the movement opposed to the German and EU position on quotas.

"It is not a wider anti-EU initiative but Orban wants to show strength on the migrant issue," said Tamas Boros, analyst at Policy Solutions, a political research and consultancy firm. "He wants to show Europe what an influential politician he is."

Boros said that with the referendum idea Orban was also trying to give leaders of other countries in the region opposed to the quota plan, like Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a resource that could be used to put pressure on EU leaders.

For the referendum to be valid, turnout has to be above 50 percent.

Migrants expelled from Greek camp after protest

February 23, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Police have removed hundreds of migrants from a camp at Greece's border with Macedonia following a protest that halted freight rail services to other Balkan countries. In France, hundreds of migrants camped in the port of Calais face a deadline Tuesday evening to move out. , However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be "progressive."

Greek authorities said the mostly Afghan migrants were being put on buses bound for Athens, in the south of the country, after the police operation started early Tuesday. Journalists were not allowed to approach the area.

The migrants were to be taken to an army-built camp near Athens that was set up last week, following European Union pressure on Athens to complete screening and temporary housing facilities. Before Tuesday's police operation, Afghan families were seen pleading with Macedonian riot police officers, through a border fence, to let them cross the frontier.

Macedonia at the weekend began stopping Afghan migrants at the border, and slowing the rate at which asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed to cross the border — leaving thousands stranded in Greece, where an average of 4,000 migrants and refugees each day.

More than 1 million migrants and refugees reached the EU last year, with more than 80 percent of them traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. Greek has strongly criticized Austria's decision last week to cap the daily number of asylum applications and migrants crossing the country. Ioannis Mouzalas, a migration minister in Greece, accused Austria and allied EU member states in eastern Europe of "lacking European culture" and undermining efforts to forge a common European response with unilateral action.

The relief agency International Rescue Committee late Monday said Macedonia's decision to turn Afghans away was "yet another example of arbitrary, unilateral decisions by individual states threatening to cause serious humanitarian consequences for desperate refugees."

Mirwais Amin, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant, said he was separated from relatives after being stopping from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site. "Macedonia isn't letting migrants through. I can't understand why," he said.

"I can't get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It's cold here and we have no food."

Germany implementing new measures to help deal with migrants

February 25, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's Parliament is debating new measures meant to speed up the handling of migrants and cut their numbers, as well as legislation making it easier to deport foreigners who commit crimes.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet has already approved the package of measures and they aren't expected to meet wide resistance in Thursday's vote. The plans involve using special centers to quickly process migrants who have little realistic chance of winning asylum.

They'll also amend laws so even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes — including bodily harm, sexual assault, violent theft or serial shoplifting.

Those changes come after a spate of thefts and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, blamed largely on foreigners.

For Syrian migrant, German classes, visa usher in a new life

February 23, 2016

SAARLOUIS, Germany (AP) — Der, die, das: Little words that are the ticket to a new life. Mohammed al-Haj, a Syrian migrant whose journey across Eastern Europe to Germany last summer was documented by The Associated Press, has finished his first German language course and is getting ready for his second one. The feat, together with his recently granted three-year German residency permit, sets the 27-year-old up for a new life in his adopted home.

A native of Aleppo, Syria's one-time economic capital that now lies in ruins, al-Haj came to the western German state of Saarland in September to benefit from its swift processing of migrants. He has since shown a healthy zeal to adapt.

In November, he accepted an offer by local authorities to take voluntary German classes. He begins mandatory German language classes in April, seeking a proficiency that will allow him to study in Germany.

"Honestly, it was worth the risk," he said of his perilous, two-week journey from Turkey to Greece and across the Balkans to Germany. "The conditions in Germany are very good, at least here in my state. It was worth the risk to build a future here."

Al-Haj has lived in a private home with three other Syrian asylum-seekers since October. His rent is paid by the local government and he receives a monthly stipend of 330 euros ($368) for food and other expenses.

"I manage, but I cannot go to many places because transport is costly," he said. Al-Haj says he can get his point across in halting German, but he hopes eventually to be good enough to enroll at a German university to study media and business administration.

"Without knowing the German language, they (migrants) have no chance in Germany," said Franca Cipriano, director of the Tertia German language school in Saarlouis where al-Haj took his classes. "If they want to work, they have to know the language. If they want to get citizenship in Germany and have a German passport, they have to pass a test about civic education and a language test. So without knowing the language, it is impossible."

Al-Haj was about to start a degree in Arabic literature at Aleppo when the war broke out in 2011, and he had to shelve his dream to work to support his family. His decision to join the over 1 million Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others making the often-perilous, smuggler-filled journey to western Europe last year came after his student visa application to study in Germany was turned down. At the time, he told The AP he had no choice. Returning to Syria was not an option — he was convinced the war would only get worse.

He still doesn't see any hope of going back in the near future. "I don't know what may become of Syria," he said. "I don't expect to visit home in the next three years."

France programs slow death for Calais migrant camp

February 25, 2016

CALAIS, France (AP) — A green light Thursday from a French court sets in motion the evacuation of a large swath of a sprawling migrant camp in Calais where thousands dream of getting to Britain, with promises of a progressive and humane process in what could be a slow death for the wind-swept outpost.

But sceptics say the bid to end an embarrassing chapter in Europe's migrant crisis is not over, warning that many migrants will simply scatter along the northern coast. The state announced this month that the densely populated southern half of the camp — known as the "jungle" — would be razed. A Tuesday night deadline for migrants to pull up stakes was pushed back after human rights groups and migrants took the issue to court.

In a partial victory for the state, the court in Lille ruled that the makeshift shelters where migrants sleep can be destroyed — but that common spaces like places of worship, schools and a library that have sprung up must stand.

The port city of Calais, with ferries and the Eurotunnel rail system to Britain, has for years lived with migrants escaping conflict, human rights abuses and poverty, hoping for the good life across the English Channel. Numerous small camps have been bulldozed inside the city. But the current camp, with an estimated 4,000 migrants, has transformed the port city into a high-security tension point, fueled far-right sentiment and defied efforts to make it go away.

France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve lauded the court decision. Cazeneuve denied that bulldozers and police — who began patrolling this month inside the camp — would flatten the sprawling makeshift settlement.

"It has never been our intention to send in bulldozers to destroy the camp," Cazeneuve said in remarks broadcast after the court ruling was announced. Officials estimate the number of migrants who will be affected at around 800 to 1,000. Humanitarian organizations say over 3,000 migrants live in the targeted southern sector.

Authorities said they will increase daily efforts to move uprooted migrants into a container camp set up last month in the northern sector and encourage them to go to a temporary welcome centers where they can reconsider their plans and eventually apply for asylum in France. No time limit was set on what is likely to be a weeks-long process.

"There will be people who try to stay as long as possible," said Francois Guennoc, an official with one of the associations that brought the legal action, Auberge des Migrants (Migrant Shelter). He has heard that some inside the camp have already left for other points, including Paris.

The ruling "is going to prompt people to set up small improvised camps all over," said Michel Jansen of Doctors Without Borders. Like other critics, he said there are not enough available places to house the uprooted. And he pointed to the case of a Red Cross-run camp in nearby Sangatte — used during its three-year existence by some 68,000 refugees — that was shut down in 2002. Afterward, hundreds moved up the coast to set up small camps around Calais.

Neighboring Belgium, concerned about an influx of Calais evacuees, began implementing border checks on Wednesday. Another filthy camp known as a haven for smugglers, near Dunkirk, France, is being relocated to a more hygienic site with heated tents under the supervision of Doctors Without Borders.

In announcing plans to close the Calais camp, authorities cited security and sanitation concerns and the increasingly tarnished image of Calais, a city of nearly 80,000 that takes pride in drawing tourists to its Opal Coast. An increasingly bold tactic of migrants trying to sneak into trucks is exasperating drivers.

But it is hard to dissuade weary travelers who come to Calais driven by a dream — circulated among migrants, peddled by smugglers. Increased security has compounded the dangers for migrants trying to get to Britain. At least 20 have died since late June, according to the prefecture.

"We have this border in Calais particularly difficult to trespass," said Prefect Fabienne Buccio, the region's state official, after the ruling. "It is now extremely dangerous to cross over to England ... There is no reason for migrants to come to Calais since they can no longer get to England from here."

A "descent shelter" awaits them, she said, "and, most importantly, we will get them out of the hands of smugglers." An Afghan living at the camp, Hayat Sirat, was not tempted by one of the new shelters.

"Going to Britain ... is what people (here) want," he said. "So destroying part of the jungle is not the solution."

Ganley reported from Paris. Ben Barnier and Chris Den Hond in Calais contributed to this report.

Thousands line tracks to see famed steam engine leave London

February 25, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Train-spotters are lining the tracks from London to the northern city of York to see a famous steam engine take its inaugural run with passengers after a 4.2 million-pound ($5.8 million) refit.

Shrouded in steam, the Flying Scotsman is making the journey up the east coast on Thursday. The train started at London's King's Cross station, where hundreds packed the platforms to take pictures and try to get a look.

Some 300 passengers are taking the five-hour trip. Built in 1923, the train was a star locomotive of the British railway system and was the first to break the 100 mph (160 kph) barrier in 1934. The National Railway Museum in York began restoring it in 2006 and will display it until March 6, when it begins a national tour.

New London rail line to be named Elizabeth Line after queen

February 23, 2016

LONDON (AP) — A new rail line under London is to be named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. Developers say the project known as Crosssrail will be named the Elizabeth Line when it opens in December 2018. When it is finished, the line will run for more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) from east to west, including a 13-mile (21-kilometer) underground stretch through London.

The monarch, who turns 90 in April, unveiled a sign with the purple "Elizabeth Line" logo on a visit to a Crossrail tunnel on Tuesday. Several London transit lines already have royal connections. The Jubilee subway line was named in honor of Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee marking 25 years on the throne in 1977, while the Victoria Line and Victoria railway station are named after Queen Victoria.

UN chief: Burundi leader promises to release 2,000 prisoners

February 23, 2016

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi's president promises to release 2,000 people detained during months of violent unrest, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday while visiting the violence-plagued country.

Ban spoke after meeting with President Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday, as well as meetings with officials from Burundi's ruling party, government, opposition and civic groups in Bujumbura, the capital. Ban said Nkurunziza's vow to release some prisoners is "an encouraging step" and urged the president to take more measures to promote peace. Ban said he was also heartened by the reopening of some media outlets and the cancellation of some arrest warrants. He arrived in Burundi on Monday on a mission to encourage dialogue between Nkurunziza and his opponents.

Ban and Nkurunziza spoke to reporters in a joint news conference Tuesday in Bujumbura. "Burundi's political leaders must be willing to summon the courage and confidence that they make a credible political process possible and ensure that the people of this beautiful nation can once again live in peace and enjoy human rights," said Ban.

In his statement, Nkurunziza said he is ready to talk to his opponents and urged Ban "to persuade Rwanda to stop its aggression against Burundi." Rwanda has denied allegations it is training and arming rebels opposed to Nkurunziza.

Gun and grenade attacks continue to plague Bujumbura as Nkurunziza's supporters and opponents target each other. More than 400 people have been killed in Burundi's current unrest which started in April when it was announced Nkurunziza would seek a third term, which he won. A new rebel movement has vowed to oust Nkurunziza from power by force.

Report blames Chechen leader over killing of Kremlin critic

February 23, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian opposition activist bluntly accused Chechnya's Moscow-backed regional leader of involvement in the killing of a prominent Kremlin foe, describing the Chechen strongman as a top security threat to Russia in a report released Tuesday.

Ilya Yashin said he had "no doubt" that Ramzan Kadyrov was behind the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on Feb. 27, 2015, outside the Kremlin in Moscow. Yashin said he was sure the suspected triggerman, an officer in Kadyrov's security force, and his alleged accomplices wouldn't have acted without Kadyrov's approval. Kadyrov has denied the accusations and the official probe has failed to identify the mastermind behind the murder.

The Chechen leader posted a link to Yashin's report on his Instagram account, where he has 1.7 million followers, and other social networks hours before its official release, dismissing it as "chatter."

Yashin's presentation of the report at the opposition party's headquarters in Moscow Tuesday was interrupted by a bomb threat and police moved to clear the hall. An unidentified protester threw replica U.S. dollars at Yashin, suggesting perceived U.S. support for the Russian opposition.

In his report, Yashin accused Kadyrov of misappropriating generous federal subsidies to Chechnya to enrich himself and his loyalists and relying on a personal army of 30,000 to enforce his rule. "Chechnya has become a separate state within the Russian state," Yashin said. "Kadyrov effectively rejects the federal law and ignores the Russian constitution."

President Vladimir Putin has relied on Kadyrov to stabilize the region in Russia's North Caucasus after two devastating separatist wars. The gruff 39-year-old succeeded his father, the former rebel who switched sides to become Chechnya's first Moscow-backed leader before dying in a rebel bombing in 2004.

Kadyrov has used personal ties with Putin to ensure a steady flow of federal funds and effective immunity from federal controls. His unparalleled clout has angered leaders of Russia's powerful law enforcement agencies, who have pushed for Kadyrov's dismissal.

The killing of Nemtsov, who was shot dead while walking across a bridge outside the Kremlin, reportedly made Putin mad and emboldened Kadyrov's foes. The probe into the killing has bogged down, however, apparently reflecting Putin's view of Kadyrov as a linchpin of stability in Chechnya.

Tensions around Kadyrov heightened in recent weeks when he launched scathing criticism of Russian opposition leaders. With Kadyrov's term set to expire in early April, some observers saw his statements as an attempt to secure Putin's support for keeping the job.

In a radio interview broadcast Tuesday, Kadyrov mixed obedience with expressions of unswerving loyalty to the Russian president, saying he was proud to be a "foot soldier" of Putin ready to step down when he says so.

"If they tell me to keep on serving I will serve, and if they say goodbye I will bid farewell," Kadyrov said. He added that he dreams about leading a military unit to fight "enemies of Russia." Yashin strongly called for Kadyrov's ouster, describing his regime as a "threat to national security."

"Vladimir Putin has placed a time bomb in the North Caucasus that may blow up in case of any serious political crisis and turn into a third Chechen war," he said.

Polls open in Iran's parliamentary elections

February 26, 2016

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Polls opened Friday in Iran's parliamentary elections, the country's first since its landmark nuclear deal with world powers last summer. The vote is in part seen as a referendum on the policies of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is credited with bringing about the deal that curbed Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.

At the same time as parliamentary elections, Iranians are also voting for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered to choose or dismiss the country's supreme leader. State TV showed long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots in the twin elections as the polls opened.

Some 53,000 polling stations throughout Iran are taking ballots for the 290-member parliament and the 88-member Experts Assembly. Nearly 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote. In the parliament vote, reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani are pitted against hard-liners who oppose the nuclear deal and openings with the West.

The balloting is unlikely to change Iran's course over major policies regardless of who wins but a win by reformists and moderates will give Rouhani the support he needs as he tries to repair the economy and move toward warmer ties with the United States.

The barring of a majority of reformists from the race by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates, means they are unlikely to win a majority alone but a substantial bloc would mean a new shift in Iran's politics.

Among those who cast their ballot in the first hours of the voting was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme leader who has the final say on all state matters. He had urged Iranians to vote, saying it was both a "right" and a "responsibility" and that a high turnout would boost Iran's image and might.

"Whoever likes Iran and its dignity, greatness and glory should participate in this election," he said after casting his ballot in Tehran. "We have enemies who are eyeing us greedily. Turnout in the elections should be such that our enemy will be disappointed and will lose its hope. People should be observant and vote with open eyes."

A high turnout is likely to help reformists and moderates to return in significant numbers in order to reduce hard-liners' ability to block Rouhani's agenda of economic, social and political reforms. Late Thursday, Iran's Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted a turnout of 70 percent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Polish state archive releases secret file on Lech Walesa

February 22, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An informant codenamed "Bolek" provided information on the views and actions of his colleagues at the Gdansk shipyard to Poland's communist-era secret police, according to documents released Monday that purport to show that national hero Lech Walesa collaborated with the regime in the 1970s.

Photocopies of the documents, from the secret police's file on Walesa, were released by the state National Remembrance Institute. They include details of the information that Bolek provided, receipts for money signed by him, and finally his discharge from collaboration when he was no longer considered a valuable source.

Walesa, 72, the founder of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement that eventually helped topple communism, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Poland's first popularly elected president, claimed Monday that the documents were forged.

The papers include a one-page handwritten note declaring readiness to provide information to the secret police, signed by hand with the name Lech Walesa and the codename "Bolek." "I commit myself to cooperate with the secret police in exposing and fighting the enemies of the PRL (Polish People's Republic)," the document said, using the official name of Poland during the communist era. It was dated Dec. 21, 1970, a time when Walesa was a leader of worker protests at the shipyard in Gdansk where he worked as an electrician. The protests ended in bloodshed.

But another note, from three days later and also signed "Lech Walesa," is in different handwriting. The author says he is afraid that an upcoming meeting required by the security police is a "trap." The documents show that at first Bolek eagerly provided information on opinions and actions by his co-workers and took money for the information. With time, he tried to avoid meeting the secret police officers or provided valueless information and demanded the contacts stop. The collaboration was terminated in 1976.

Allegations against Walesa are not new and he has long acknowledged that he signed a document in the 1970s agreeing to provide information to the much-hated secret police, though he insisted he never informed on anyone and never took any money. Breaking away from such a commitment required courage because it usually led to dismissal from a job and other persecution. In 2000, Walesa was cleared by a special court, which said it found no evidence of collaboration.

Walesa founded Solidarity in 1980 out of a worker protest. The pro-democracy movement helped bring down communism after nine years of struggle. In 1983 he was honored with the Nobel prize and in 1990 he was elected president in a national vote.

The last document in the released files, dated February 1976, says a secret police officer reprimanded Bolek for having criticized the communist party and threatened he would lose his shipyard job. Walesa lost his job that year.

The institute says the documents are authentic papers produced by the secret police of the time, although it is still possible that the police fabricated them — a common practice then. They surfaced last week at the home of the last communist interior minister, Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, who died last year. His widow offered to sell them to the institute, but authorities immediately seized them, acting on a law that gives them the right to important historical documents.

The files contain a note from Kiszczak requesting they not be made available until five years after Walesa's death. A 1973 report by a secret police officer who regularly met with Bolek says he refused any further cooperation, arguing he was "getting nothing, no money out of it." According to the report Bolek agreed to collaborate in 1970 out of fear of persecution after the workers' protest.

There were more reports from meetings with Bolek through February 1976, but in their comments the secret police officers said they found them of no value. The move to open the files so quickly — allowing journalists to see them before historians can analyze them — has proven hugely controversial. Walesa supporters accuse authorities of trying to tarnish the legacy of a man widely considered one of Poland's greatest national heroes. Many people have come to his defense, including former Solidarity activists who recalled how the police used brutal tactics to coerce regime critics to sign agreements to collaborate, as a tool for future blackmail, whether they acted on it or not.

Others, including members of the new government, say it's important to clarify Walesa's role. The head of the ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has long been a bitter political foe of Walesa's — and Walesa has recently been denouncing the new government as a threat to democracy.

"I think that above all we need to know the truth," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said Monday. "Poles deserve this truth and the most important thing is to dispel all doubts."

Greece: Macedonia has closed its borders to Afghan migrants

February 21, 2016

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greek police say Macedonia has closed its southern border with Greece to Afghan migrants, allowing entry only for Iraqis and Syrians. Macedonian authorities reportedly said that Serbia has done the same on its southern border with Macedonia.

Macedonian police started restricting the flow of migrants across the Greek-Macedonian border Saturday, conducting body searches and demanding passports. Earlier, they had accepted Greek police's official documents attesting that an individual had been processed.

The moves have led to a buildup of migrants waiting at the Greek side of the border. Greek police said 800 were stranded at the border Sunday and another 2,750 were waiting in 55 buses nearby. In the 24 hours to 6 a.m. local (0400 GMT) Sunday, only 310 migrants had been allowed into Macedonia.

Germany mulling military training mission in Tunisia: report

Berlin (AFP)
Feb 21, 2016

Germany is considering sending troops to Tunisia to help train soldiers in the fight against the Islamic State group, a newspaper report said on Sunday.

Bild am Sonntag said that representatives of the defense and foreign ministries would hold talks in Tunis on Thursday and Friday about how the German military could lend support in a training mission.

It said the engagement envisaged training Tunisian soldiers first and could eventually be extended to setting up a training camp in Tunisia for Libyan soldiers, run with other international partners.

"The IS terror is threatening all of North Africa," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the newspaper.

She said it was thus crucial "to make every effort to support countries struggling with democracy such as Tunisia".

Von der Leyen told the newspaper that a training camp in Tunisia would be a contribution toward regional stability.

"And if its direct neighbor Libya manages to put in place a unity government one day, its security forces could also benefit from established training facilities in Tunisia," she said.

A defense ministry spokesman told AFP he had no further details beyond the minister's remarks.

A foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the planned talks in Tunis "on further cooperation on security" but declined to provide more information.

German forces are currently engaged in the international alliance against the Islamic State group, including by arming and training Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and flying reconnaissance missions over Syria with Tornado jets.

Since 2013, Germany has provided Tunisia with more than 100 million euros ($111 million) in programs to improve its economy. It also provides its security forces with equipment and training.

However the country's defense commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels warned in a report last month that the German military was overstretched and underfunded and had reached "the limit of its capacity for interventions".

Tunisia suffered two devastating attacks targeting its vital tourist sector last year, in the beach resort of Sousse and on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, that together left 60 people dead. Both were claimed by IS.

IS has also been gaining ground in Libya amid the unrest that has gripped the country since longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted in 2011.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Germany_mulling_military_training_mission_in_Tunisia_report_999.html.

Britain buying solar-powered Zephyr 8 drones from Airbus

Toulouse, France (UPI)
Feb 18, 2016

Airbus Defense and Space has received an order from Britain's Ministry of Defense for its solar-powered Zephyr 8 unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Zephyr 8, described by Airbus as a high-altitude pseudo-satellite craft that provides persistent surveillance and communications links for about a month at a time before it needs to land for refurbishment.

Its altitude ceiling is about 65,000 feet. Its wing span is about 72 feet, and it weighs about 30 percent less than its predecessor, the Zephyr 7.

Solar panels on the aircraft charge its batteries from sunlight during the day and maintain the aircraft's high altitude at night.

Airbus said Britain ordered two of the aircraft. Other contract details were not disclosed.

The first Zephyr 8 ordered is being built at an Airbus facility in England and is due to fly in mid-2017.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Britain_buying_solar-powered_Zephyr_8_drones_from_Airbus_999.html.

US military kept nukes on Okinawa

Washington (AFP)
Feb 19, 2016

The US government has declassified the fact it held nuclear weapons on Okinawa in Japan during the Cold War, though the matter had long been an open secret.

A Department of Defense website states the Pentagon has declassified "the fact that US nuclear weapons were deployed on Okinawa prior to Okinawa's reversion to Japan on May 15, 1972."

The National Security Archive at George Washington University welcomed the disclosure, but pointed to US Air Force photos depicting nuclear weapons on the island that have been publicly available for more than 25 years.

"However welcome the release may be, its significance is somewhat tempered by (that) astonishing fact," the non-governmental research group said in a statement Friday.

The group added that the US government had wasted an "inordinate" amount of time and resources by delaying the declassification.

Japan is the only nation to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing more than 210,000 people and leading to Japan's surrender in World War II.

Japan has since campaigned to abolish the weapons. Former prime minister Eisaku Sato won the Nobel Peace Prize largely for his "three principles" -- that Japan will not possess, produce or allow nuclear weapons on its soil.

Okinawa remained under US control until 1972, and many parts of the archipelago are still used for US bases...

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_military_kept_nukes_on_Okinawa_999.html.

Vietnam decries Chinese missile deployment on island

Hanoi (AFP)
Feb 19, 2016

Vietnam on Friday hit out at China's deployment of missiles on a disputed island chain, saying Beijing had "seriously violated" its sovereignty as international censure mounted over the apparent militarisation of the hotly-contested zone.

Chinese state media on Thursday confirmed the presence of unspecified weapons on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain.

The admission came after Fox News reported that surface-to-air weapons had arrived there in the past week -- although Chinese media suggested they have been in place for longer.

Vietnamese authorities handed "a note of objection" to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi on Friday, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"These were moves that seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelagoes," spokesperson Le hai Binh said Friday, using the Vietnamese name for the Paracels.

"Threatening peace and stability in the region as well as security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation. Vietnam requests China to immediately end those wrongful acts."

China claims all of the Paracels, though Hanoi and Taipei have overlapping claims.

Earlier on Friday Australia urged China to refrain from the "militarisation of islands", a day after the United States slammed Beijing for deploying missiles in the disputed South China Sea.

Tensions in the sea -- through which a third of the world's oil passes -- have mounted in recent months after China transformed contested reefs in the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines also lay claim to parts of the sea.

US President Barack Obama this week hosted Southeast Asian leaders for a summit.

The US wants to shore-up its regional alliances with a view to avoiding flashpoints in the seas and keeping shipping lanes open.

The US and Australia have carried out several so-called "Freedom of Navigation" overflights and sail-bys in the region, which China has described as "provocations".

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Vietnam_decries_Chinese_missile_deployment_on_island_999.html.

FA Cup: World soccer's oldest cup competition not aging well

February 22, 2016

LONDON (AP) — World football's oldest cup competition isn't aging well. Once, FA Cup fixtures were highlights on the English calendar. For many teams, it now seems an inconvenient distraction. Not even a trip to Chelsea was enough to convince Manchester City to take the competition seriously on Sunday. City's weakened lineup, packed with youngsters even the club's fans would struggle to identify, was the latest blow to the cup's prestige.

The 5-1 humiliation was little surprise once the teamsheets were distributed. It could take a long time for the confidence of City's losing youngsters to recover. Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink did not revel in City's misery. The Dutchman was, instead, mournful about the undermining of the cup he grew up watching.

"It's the temple of football," said Hiddink, who won the cup during his first spell as Chelsea manager in 2009. "If the FA Cup winning is beautiful worldwide, so we must be careful not to devalue this (competition)."

That's just what City did to prioritize the Champions League, a competition it started playing in only five years ago. City blamed the need to target resources at Wednesday's game at Dynamo Kiev. But Manuel Pellegrini's team would not have rested its strongest players had Sunday's game been a Premier League encounter, and should have a strong enough squad to fight on multiple fronts.

"If we continue in the FA Cup we don't have the time, if the games are postponed, to play (them) from now until the end of the season," Pellegrini said. "We have an option for the first time in our club to try to reach the quarterfinal of the Champions League, (and) with 13 players (injured) it's not our priority. It's a sensible decision."

Winning the FA Cup is worth less than 4 million pounds ($6 million). City collected 46 million euros ($51 million) just for reaching the round of 16 of the Champions League last season. But can the club afford to be so blase?

City went 35 years without winning a major honor before an Abu Dhabi-funded reboot of a mid-ranking club led to FA Cup glory in 2011. It lacks the history of silverware to match ambitions to become one of the world's biggest teams and catch up with English football's most successful team: Neighbor Manchester United.

United's relationship with the FA Cup, though, is more troubled than City's. When United withdrew from the 1999-2000 competition to throw its resources at the Club World Cup in Brazil, the FA Cup was undermined at the expense of an upstart competition where participation was about furthering English power within FIFA.

The FA sacrificed the integrity of its competition for the sake of futile brownnosing with an organization now shown to have been rife with corruption. Now the FA remains on a constant PR offensive, trying to convince the world the so-called "magic of the cup" endures. Dubai-based airline Emirates was still convinced to sign a three-year sponsorship from this season worth 30 million pounds ($42 million).

But Arsenal, the team sponsored by Emirates, doesn't seem to value the competition so highly. Despite chasing a third consecutive FA Cup title, Arsene Wenger prioritized the Champions League round of 16 game against Barcelona on Tuesday, and saw a much-changed lineup held by second-tier Hull to 0-0 on Saturday.

Perhaps losing like City would have been more preferable, given that Arsenal has to find the space for a replay in its congested schedule. Winning the FA Cup still carries more kudos than lifting the League Cup, which doesn't feature non-league teams like the FA Cup. But the League Cup is over by February — Liverpool faces Manchester City in the final on Sunday at Wembley — rather than dragging on to the end of May like the FA Cup.

And the ultimate prize is the same for both cups: A place in the Europa League. The much-touted solution to elevating the status of the FA Cup is handing a Champions League place to the winner. "It would add luster to the competition," FA chief executive Martin Glenn said last week. "You can't solve things in isolation. It's a Rubik's Cube. That might be one possibility, Of course, running the FA, I'd love it.

"It just needs to be set up and weighed up against all the other criteria and the desires of the competition owners, the Premier League." And the Premier League will not readily sacrifice one of its four guaranteed Champions League places, and no additional spot will be offered by UEFA.

For now, too often the 145-year-old FA Cup resembles a glorified competition for reserve teams. And when even lower-league teams rest first-choice players, the FA knows it has a fight on its hands to make its cup a prize worth chasing.

Norway's Tande sets ski jump record, leads team to win

February 22, 2016

KUOPIO, Finland (AP) — Daniel Andre Tande eclipsed the 1998 record for a ski jump on Puijo hill in eastern Finland and spearheaded Norway to only its second World Cup team victory in 11 years on Monday.

Tande landed after 136 meters as the second jumper of four. He maintained the high standard with 132 meters in the second jump. The previous record, 135.5 meters, was set by Japan's Masahiko Harada in 1998.

Norway amassed 1,057.2 points with the team of Kenneth Gangnes, Tande, Anders Fannemel, and Johann Andre Forfang. Germany was second at 1,002.8 points, and Japan third on 935.4. All eight of Norway's jumps were high class. Tande's 136-meter record jump was scored low in style, but the second of 132 meters was rewarded for its style. After his first jump, the starting gates were lowered and the chances of another record were diminished.

Tande scored 276.4, Forfang 267.1, Fannemel 262.7, and Gangnes 251.0. Gangnes was third overall in the ski jumping, Forfang fifth, Tande seventh, and Fannemel 10th. Germany, which won the first two of the season's team events, was second with Andreas Wank, Richard Freitag, Andreas Wellinger and Severin Freund.

Japan clinched its podium finish when 43-year-old Noriaki Kasai jumped 125 meters on the team's last attempts to hold off Austria by 3.3 points. Japan's starting man, Taku Takeuchi, led in the second round with 132.5 meters. He has lived for long spells in Finland, and in Kuopio, and speaks Finnish fluently. Unlike most jumpers, who dislike the Puijo hill for the shape of its takeoff zone, Takeuchi speaks well of it.

"I like this hill very much, and it is my home hill," he said. The event on Monday was moved on short notice from Lahti, where it was cancelled on Saturday. On Tuesday, Puijo hosts an individual competition, where the favorite will be World Cup leader Peter Prevc of Slovenia. He jumped 133.5 and 129.5 meters, and his 139.5 and 139.4 points were the best among all last jumpers on the nine teams.

Tourists could soon benefit from direct flights to Baikonur Space Center

Moscow (Sputnik)
Feb 22, 2016

The Center for Operation of Space Ground-Based Infrastructure of Russian space agency Roscosmos has announced a tender for air carriers interested in conducting regular flights to the Baikonur space center, the Russian Izvestia newspaper reports.

The newspaper said that the tender was announced after the modernization of the Krayniy Airport in Baikonur. Five airlines, including Kazakhstan's SCAT carrier, have expressed their interest in the tender.

Currently, there are no direct flights to Baikonur, apart from special flights that serve the needs of the space industry.

According to Izvestia, launching regular flights to Baikonur will contribute to the inflow of tourists and will also benefit staff working at the space center.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome is an international facility in Kazakhstan for operating Russian and multinational space programs. Russia has leased the Baikonur space center until 2050.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Tourists_could_soon_benefit_from_direct_flights_to_Baikonur_Space_Center_999.html.

Footprints of a martian flood

Paris (ESA)
Feb 22, 2016

Water has left its mark in a variety of ways in this martian scene captured by ESA's Mars Express. The region lies on the western rim of an ancient large impact basin, as seen in the context map. The image shows the western part of the Arda Valles, a dendritic drainage system 260 km north of Holden Crater and close to Ladon Valles.

Vast volumes of water once flowed from the southern highlands, carving Ladon Valles and ponding in the large Ladon Basin seen in this image.

The plan views show the striking dendritic drainage pattern of the valleys (left). Many contributing streams merge into tributaries of the main channels before flowing down into the smooth-floored impact basin towards the right.

In the upper center of the main image - also clearly identified in the topography and anaglyph images - a large mound is seen with an 8.5 km-wide impact crater at its foot. The mound is possibly the remnant of an older impact basin but may also have been influenced by sediments transported by the surrounding streams, building up a fan deposit.

In the center right of the image, a large 25 km-wide impact crater has also been filled by thick muddy sediments that later collapsed into the chaotic terrain seen in the crater floor. The jumbled nodules in the crater rim probably indicate the former level of the infilling sediments.

To the top right of the scene, the surface has also broken up into a number of giant polygons, likely linked to the loss of underground ice and the slow evaporation of water that was once ubiquitous in this area.

The more concentric fracture-like features seen within the smooth floor of the large basin are likely also related to stresses in the surface resulting from the compaction of the vast amount of sediments that infill the basin.

Some of the fractures seem to join the central crater to the smoother basin floor, particularly evident in the perspective view. They could be a later manifestation of stresses due to subsidence or compaction of surface materials.

Finally, in the lower center of the image, just above the crater at the bottom of the scene and towards the end of the dendritic channels, light-toned and layered deposits have been identified. These are clay minerals, known to be formed in the presence of water.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Footprints_of_a_martian_flood_999.html.

Alpha Centauri: Our First Target for Interstellar Probes

by Tomasz Nowakowski for Astro Watch
Los Angeles CA (SPX)
Feb 22, 2016

With the completion of New Horizons' primary mission of Pluto fly-by, should we now set our sights even much higher, ambitiously taking aim at other star systems? If so, Alpha Centauri would be probably considered as the best target for an interstellar spacecraft due to its "proximity" to Earth.

This system, consisting of three stars and possible planetary companions, is the nearest to solar system, located "only" about 4.3 light years from us. The problem is, getting there in our lifetime is still a mission impossible, or maybe not?

The neighboring system hosts a pair of stars named Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri is a small and faint "red dwarf" - a small and relatively cool star - and may be gravitationally bound to the duo.

However, what still baffles astronomers is the existence of exoplanets in this system. In 2012, the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B was announced, but three years later a new research debunked this theory calling the previous finding a "ghost in the time series". Moreover, in 2015, another study proposed the existence of other alien world accompanying the "B" star.

What is interesting, the two hypothetical exoplanets would be Earth-like if they really exist. This could be another motivator to send our spacecraft there. But before any mission concepts are prepared, a deeper look into the system could be very helpful. Now the trick is that we currently don't even have a telescope that could directly image a planet in this system.

"This would have to be done from space - even then, it would be hard. We don't have a space telescope that can do this right now, especially for small planets. There are no gas giant planets there, if there were any, we would have detected them," Debra Fischer, astronomer and exoplanet hunter at the Yale University, told Astrowatch.net.

4.3 light-years equals 25 trillion miles, so knowing at least some basic information about this destination is quite essential before embarking on such a demanding trip. With current technology, a robotic probe send from Earth would require some 40,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, making the mission totally useless for us.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft which is the fastest-moving spacecraft ever launched from Earth, currently travels at about 36,400 mph. If the probe was aimed at the Alpha Centauri system, it would reach it 78,000 years after launch!

A huge technology advancement is required to make interstellar journeys feasible. Unless new propulsion system would be developed, every concept of mission to other stars could be doomed to fail.

"Once we have the ability to accelerate a probe to 10 percent the speed of light, that is the first place we'll go! It's the closest star system and therefore a great target," Fischer said.

In the past, there were projects that included sending unmanned interstellar spacecraft with a velocity of 4.5 or even 7.1 percent the speed of light. Between 1973 and 1978 a study was conducted by the British Interplanetary Society to send a probe using a fusion rocket that would reach Barnard's Star located 5.9 light years away.

The study, named "Project Daedalus" aimed to develop a spacecraft capable of reaching up to 7.1 percent the speed of light, thus the whole journey would take only 50 years.

Similar study, the "Project Longshot" was developed by the U.S. Naval Academy and NASA, from 1987 to 1988. The project would use a spacecraft powered by nuclear pulse propulsion to reach an average velocity of approximately 30 million mph (4.5 percent the speed of light). That would allow the mission to arrive at Alpha Centauri some 100 years after launch.

There is really a long list of concepts and projects tasked with designing a propulsion system of the future that would allow interstellar travel. In contrary to the ideas based on conventional propulsion, many concepts include using antimatter rockets, warp drive or wormholes.

A laser-powered interstellar sail ship is a very original concept that seems feasible in the near future. It was presented by Geoffrey A. Landis of NASA's Glenn Research Center in 2002. Landis described a starship with a diamond sail, a few nanometers thick, powered by solar energy, which could achieve 10 per cent of the speed of light.

Using this type of propulsion, it would take 43 years to reach Alpha Centauri, if it passed through the system. However, slowing down to stop at our neighboring system could increase the trip up to 100 years. Thus it would be more appropriate for a fly-by performed by an unmanned probe.

When will we be able to develop such a propulsion allowing us to travel at least at a speed of 10 percent the speed of light? That remains disputable.

"We have to have the probe travel faster than 10 percent the speed of light and we need high gain antenna in the outer solar system to pick up the signal that the probe sends back. This is a technology horizon that currently seems far away. 50 years? 100 years? Hard to say!" Fischer concluded.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Alpha_Centauri_Our_First_Target_for_Interstellar_Probes_999.html.

Deadly north India protests lead to New Delhi water shortage

February 21, 2016

NEW DELHI (AP) — As thousands of members of an underprivileged community in northern India continue to protest to demand government benefits, the more than 16 million people in India's capital are facing a water shortage as a result of the violent demonstrations, which have left at least 10 dead.

The protesters have damaged equipment that brings water from Munak canal in Haryana state to New Delhi, depleting the capital's water supply. New Delhi gets about 60 percent of its water from the neighboring state.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister, announced Sunday that schools in the capital would be closed Monday due to the water shortage. He also ordered the rationing of water to people's homes. At least 10 people have been killed in firing on protesters by Indian security forces since the weeklong protests turned violent on Friday, Yashpal Singhal, the state's top police officer, told reporters on Sunday. Another 150 protesters have been injured in clashes in various parts of Haryana.

Sporadic violence was reported in Haryana on Sunday, with protesters setting a bank ATM and bank records on fire. Singhal said no major incidents of violence were reported in the state. He also said paramilitary forces and irrigation engineers were trying to restore the water flow from Munak canal to New Delhi.

The protesters, members of the lower-caste Jat agricultural community, are demanding benefits both at the federal and state levels, including guaranteed government jobs or university spots. Talks Friday between community leaders and state government representatives failed to lead to an agreement.

The protesters are demanding 27 percent government job quotas or university spots for their community. India's constitution includes a system of affirmative action for people in the lowest castes to help them overcome discrimination. The government has expanded the number of groups, including the Jat, qualifying for quotas.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Saudi Arabia to supply Syrian opposition with SAMs

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that it is planning to supply the moderate Syrian opposition with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), AlKhaleej.com has reported. Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir made the announcement during an interview with the Germany weekly Der Spiegel; his comments were then reported widely by other media outlets.

“We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground,” he told Der Spiegel. “It will allow the moderate opposition groups to neutralize the helicopters and aircraft that are dropping chemicals and have been carpet-bombing them.” He noted that something similar happened previously in Afghanistan.

Al-Jubeir repeated his calls for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad “to step down in order to enable a political solution to the five-year-long war.” He suggested that Russian interference does not help the Assad regime in the long term.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24046-saudi-arabia-to-supply-syrian-opposition-with-sams.

Spain Agrees to Purchase Predator Drone System With Four Planes

Moscow (Sputnik)
Feb 19, 2016

The Spanish military decided to purchase a Predator B drone system consisting of four planes and two ground control stations with satellite links, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) said in a press release on Wednesday.

The Predator B is capable of remaining in the air for 27 hours at a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet. The system can be used to monitor borders, help direct rescue efforts following natural disasters and support Spain's military missions worldwide, the release noted.

"GA-ASI is proud to partner with the Spanish Armed Forces to offer our operationally proven Predator B RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] to fulfill Spain's emerging multi-mission requirements," Chief Executive Officer Linden Blue said in the release.

SENER, a leading engineering company in Spain, will provide technical support for the project, according to the release.

"Reaper will contribute significantly to strengthen our country's Defense and Security system and will provide increased protection to our forces," SENER Vice President Andres Sendagorta said in the release.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Spain_Agrees_to_Purchase_Predator_Drone_System_With_Four_Planes_999.html.

Tokyo Rising: Japan Seeks Expanded Role in 'Global Defense and Security'

Moscow (Sputnik)
Feb 19, 2016

Despite its pacifist constitution, Japan plans to play a larger role in "global defense and security." The move comes amid pressure from the United States, and likely won't sit well with Japanese citizens already fed up with the administration's new military adventurism.

"The world faces growing security international threats and Japan wants to play a leading role in combating this," Keiichi Katakami, Japan's ambassador to the EU, said in Brussels this week.

"Japan and the rest of the world are facing fresh challenges by those who choose to use force and intimidation."

Katakami's comments refer partly to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent approval of a $41.4 billion defense budget. This marks the most Tokyo has spent on defense since the end of World War II, when Japan adopted a pacifist clause into its constitution.

That money will go toward acquiring new ship-borne interceptors, and the upgrading of two of Japan's existing Aegis ships. The government is also considering buying the land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from the United States.

Japan's Ministry of Defense has also compiled a hefty shopping list of new military hardware. This includes 11 AAV7 amphibious assault vehicles, 17 Mitsubishi SH-60K anti-submarine warfare helicopters, four Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, three RQ-4 Global Hawk drones, six F-35A Lightning II fighters, one Kawasaki C-2 military transport aircraft, and 36 new combat vehicles.

Tokyo's increased interest in military strength comes at the behest of the United States, which has urged Japan to play a more active role in combating China's growth in the Pacific. Speaking during the same Brussels briefing, Luis Simon of the Institute for European Studies stressed that "Japan is the cornerstone of US defense strategy and force posture in the Asia-Pacific."

"When it comes to security in the Asia-Pacific and, more specifically, in Northeast Asia, Japan and the US are concerned pretty much about the same issues," Simon said. "One issue is, of course, the growing nuclear and missile threat posed by the DPRK [North Korea].

"But arguably the broader, and more systemic geostrategic concern for the US-Japan alliance is the geopolitical and strategic rise of China and its potential to alter the balance of power in the region."

Washington has repeatedly criticized Beijing's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea. While China maintains that it has every right to build within its own territory, and that the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes, the US has launched aggressive military patrols through the region.

"In order to survive, the US-Japan alliance must adapt to the changing geostrategic landscape," Simon said. "This means a greater, joint effort in the realms of missile defense, undersea warfare and cybersecurity."

Not everyone agrees with the Abe administration's plans, however. Plans to expand the US military presence on Okinawa have been met with widespread protest. The island already hosts 32 American military facilities, enough to cover 20% of Okinawa's total landmass.

The government has also seen massive opposition to its passing of a controversial bill which allows Tokyo to deploy forces outside of Japan in an aggressive military posture. Approximately 40,000 people demonstrated against the bill outside of the parliament building last September.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Tokyo_Rising_Japan_Seeks_Expanded_Role_in_Global_Defense_and_Security_999.html.

Kiev demonstrators attack Russian banks

February 20, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Nationalist demonstrators in Ukraine have attacked two offices of Russian banks in the capital amid observances of the second anniversary of the protests that brought down the Russia-friendly president.

Demonstrators on Saturday threw rocks through windows at the offices of Alfa Bank and Sberbank and damaged furniture and equipment inside. Protesters also vandalized the offices of the holding company of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.

Tens of thousands of people in the Ukrainian capital came to various observances of the "Day of the Heavenly Hundred." The term refers to those who died during the months of protests in Kiev that culminated with President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing.

Saturday is the second anniversary of the bloodiest day of the protests, when more than 50 people died from sniper fire.

Another faction quits Ukraine's governing coalition

February 18, 2016

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Ukraine sank deeper into political turmoil Thursday as the governing coalition lost its majority in parliament after a second faction bailed out. The move by Samopomich (Self Help), which has 26 seats in the 450-seat parliament, leaves the coalition partners with 217 votes. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's faction withdrew from the coalition a day earlier.

The failure to create a new majority coalition may lead to early parliamentary elections, something President Petro Poroshenko has sought to avoid, fearing it could further destabilize the nation. The two factions remaining in the coalition are led by Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. They have been uneasy partners, with members of Yatsenyuk's and Poroshenko's blocs engaging in fierce spats which have strained public patience and eroded the confidence of the West.

Some respected reformers have resigned recently, citing their disenchantment with the government's cronyism and corruption. Poroshenko has urged Yatsenyuk to step down amid economic troubles and political infighting, but the premier has refused to do so. Lawmakers failed to oust his Cabinet in a vote of confidence on Tuesday.

Samopomich leader Oleh Bereziuk said the botched attempt to dismiss the Cabinet marked was a victory for "kleptocracy and oligarchy." Poroshenko now needs to quickly attract new coalition partners in order to regain a majority and avoid snap elections. Oleh Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party that has 21 seats and left the governing coalition last fall, signaled that it could move back in.

"We won't allow the country to be thrown into instability, chaos, lack of foreign support for reforms," Yatsenyuk said, adding that he would consult with Poroshenko, the Radical Party and others. Viktor Zamyatin, an expert with the Razumkov Center, a Kiev-based think-tank, said avoiding an early vote would be the top priority for Poroshenko. "New elections would trigger a new round of tensions inside the country and spook key Western creditors, the U.S. and the IMF," he said.

Yatsenyuk became prime minister after Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president was chased from power in February 2014 following massive street protests. Poroshenko was elected several months later with broad support and approval from Western leaders.

The White House said in a statement Thursday that Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Poroshenko on the phone and commended him and the government for the passage this week of anti-corruption legislation.

"The Vice President urged President Poroshenko to continue on this positive trajectory, to include successful implementation of the new legislation and continued visible progress on anti-corruption reforms," the statement said.

Ukraine has remained locked in conflict with Moscow, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula and has supported a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Fighting there has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014 and devastated the nation's industrial heartland.

Last week, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde threatened to halt the delivery of another installment of Ukraine's $17.5 billion aid package, which the country needs to keep the economy afloat.

Serbia: 2 hostages killed in US airstrikes in Libya

February 20, 2016

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Two Serbian embassy staffers held hostage since November died in Friday's U.S. airstrikes on an Islamic State camp in western Libya that killed dozens, Serbian officials said Saturday.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said there was no doubt that Sladjana Stankovic, a communications officer, and Jovica Stepic, a driver, were killed in the American bombing. They were snatched in November after their diplomatic convoy, including the ambassador, came under fire near the coastal Libyan city of Sabratha.

"Apparently, the Americans were not aware that foreign citizens were being kept there," Vucic told reporters. Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade earlier, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said information about the deaths was given to Serbia by foreign officials but had not been confirmed by the Libyan government.

"We got the information, including photos, which clearly show that this is most probably true," Dacic said. American F-15E fighter-bombers on Friday struck an Islamic State training camp in rural Libya near the Tunisian border, killing dozens, probably including an IS operative considered responsible for deadly attacks in Tunisia last year, U.S. and local officials said.

Dacic said Serbia had known where the hostages were and had been working to get them back, adding that Libyan troops were considering an operation to free them. "I believe we had been close to the solution for them to be freed. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the attack against ISIS in Libya, the two of them lost their lives," Dacic said. "We will seek official explanation from both Libya and the United States about the available facts and the selection of targets."

He said, according to the information received by the Serbian security services, a criminal group believed to be linked to IS had demanded ransom for the hostages, who they were holding at the site that was bombed.

"On the other hand, the American administration said it was an (ISIS) training camp," Dacic said. "This is information that has to be checked." He did not specify the amount of ransom demanded of the families, saying only it was "impossible to pay."

"It wasn't in the interests of the people who held them to kill them, because there were no other demands but financial," Dacic said. A Libyan armed group calling itself the Special Deterrent Forces announced on Facebook that the two bodies had been delivered to Tripoli's Matiga Airport. The group posted pictures showing two green coffins inside a hearse, and another of one of the coffins sitting on a tarmac next to a small plane.

The Special Deterrent Forces are loyal to the militia-backed government that now controls Tripoli. The group's posting did not indicate when the bodies would be flown to Serbia. In November, gunmen in Libya crashed into a convoy of vehicles taking Serbia's ambassador to neighboring Tunisia and then kidnapped the two embassy employees. Serbian ambassador Oliver Potezica escaped unharmed along with his wife and two sons.

"The attack happened when one of the embassy cars was hit from behind. When the driver came out to check what happened, he was dragged into one of the attackers' cars," Potezica told Tanjug news agency at the time.

Since the 2011 overthrow of Libya's longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, the sprawling North African nation has fractured into warring camps backed by a loose array of militias, former rebels and tribes.

Libya's internationally recognized government has been forced out of the capital, Tripoli, and now operates out of the eastern cities of Tobruk and Bayda. Another government, backed by Islamist-affiliated militias known as Libya Dawn, controls Tripoli and much of western Libya. U.N.-brokered efforts to form a unity government continue to falter.

The chaos has provided fertile ground for Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group to flourish.

AP writers Jovana Gec, Ashraf Khalil and Maggie Michael contributed.

Kosovo opposition lawmakers block Parliament with tear gas

February 19, 2016

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Despite security checks at the entrance, Kosovo opposition lawmakers on Friday again used tear gas to block work from being done in Parliament to pressure the government into renouncing deals with Serbia and Montenegro.

The session, delayed for about 50 minutes, was temporarily suspended Friday after a tear gas canister was launched from opposition lawmakers' seats. A resumed session an hour later was suspended again for the same reason.

After the use of the tear gas for the third time, Speaker Kadri Veseli, himself wearing an anti-gas mask, could not keep his governing lawmakers from leaving the hall due to the gas. Then police forcefully brought out all opposition lawmakers. One of them, Albulena Haxhiu, fainted while trying to re-enter and clashed with policemen guarding the main entrance.

Veseli said the session will resume, despite the problems. Outside the Parliament a few hundred opposition supporters were gathered shouting anti-government slogans. Opposition lawmakers said they are determined not to allow normal operations at the Parliament, demanding the government's resignation and fresh elections.

Since September, the opposition has disrupted Parliament with tear gas, pepper spray, whistles and water bottles. They reject a deal between Kosovo and Serbia, reached last year, which gives more powers to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. They are also against a border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

In December, Kosovo's Constitutional Court decided that part of the deal with Serbia was not in line with the constitution. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci of the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo said the government is determined to continue its daily agenda, considering the use of tear gas as "ugly."

"Opposition reaction may continue but they should get used to the idea that they cannot come to power by violence," Thaci said. Kosovo's Western backers have denounced the violence, calling on the opposition to resolve the political crisis in Parliament.

Kosovo's 2008 independence has been recognized by 111 countries, including the U.S. and major European Union nations. But it is rejected by Serbia, with support from Russia, which has blocked Kosovo from becoming a U.N. member.

Kosovo and Serbia are holding EU-mediated talks to try to overcome their differences.

Gresa Kraja in Pristina, Kosovo, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.

Greek, German, French leaders meet about migrant crisis

February 19, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The leaders of Germany and France are meeting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras amid growing worry about Greece's lack of control over thousands of migrants crossing its borders into the European Union every week.

Tsipras, Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Francois Hollande are talking on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday. Six hours of talks the night before highlighted still-deep divisions across the continent about how to deal with the EU's worst-ever refugee crisis.

Officials said leaders at Thursday's talks argued over conflicting national reactions to the migrant influx, and the potential collapse of Europe's border-free travel. The EU's executive Commission has given Greece three months to restore order on its borders, but few believe Athens will be able to meet the deadline.

What's in the historic agreement on the UK's place in the EU

February 20, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron says a historic deal agreed by all 28 European Union leaders gives the U.K. "special status in Europe." The agreement, won after two days of wrangling in Brussels, makes changes in four areas where Britain sought a less intrusive relationship with the bloc. Here are the key points:


Britain sought, and got, protections for it and the other eight EU countries that don't use the euro single currency. The leaders' agreement says moves by the 19 eurozone countries to bring their economies closer together are voluntary for the other member states, and stresses that businesses in non-eurozone countries must not face disadvantages within the EU's single market.

The deal also says financial regulation in non-eurozone countries is a matter for those countries' own authorities — a guarantee Cameron had sought for the Bank of England. Non-eurozone countries can also seek a debate in the EU if they think eurozone economic measures are a problem. Countries including France had warned that could give Britain an effective veto on eurozone financial decisions.


The EU leaders stressed that free movement of people is a key principle of the bloc. But because Britain's economy has been a magnet for hundreds of thousands of EU migrants in recent years, the U.K. is allowed to impose temporary restrictions on the benefits paid to EU workers in Britain.

After a tug of war between Britain and eastern European nations — who supply most of the U.K.'s migrants — it was agreed that new workers coming to Britain from the EU will have to wait four years before receiving benefits such as tax credits and child payments. The exemption lasts for seven years, less than the 13 years Britain had sought.

Child benefit payments for children who live in their parents' home countries will be indexed to the cost of living there, rather than to costs in Britain.


The EU's treaty commitment to an "ever closer union" among the people of Europe is a particular bugbear for Britain, where politicians often raise the specter of a "European super-state." This new deal makes it explicit that "references to ever-closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom."


In one of the least-controversial sections of the deal, EU leaders vowed to strengthen the EU's internal market and improve regulation by lowering taxes and paperwork for small and medium-sized businesses and cutting red tape.