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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Freed Ukrainian pilot gets hero's welcome on return to Kiev

May 25, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — During the nearly two years that she was imprisoned in Russia, Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko became a national hero in absentia, lauded for her flinty defiance. On Wednesday she made a celebrated return to the country still embroiled in a fight against Moscow-backed separatists.

Savchenko, who was captured by rebels in June 2014 and then resurfaced in Russian custody, was convicted in March and sentenced to 22 years in prison for complicity in the deaths of two Russian journalists. Prosecutors alleged she was acting as a spotter for mortar fire that killed them.

Savchenko was released after a pardon from President Vladimir Putin, which he said he made on humanitarian grounds at the urging of the journalists' relatives. In turn, Ukraine on Wednesday released two Russians who had been convicted of waging war in eastern Ukraine, where separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since April 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 9,300 people.

Savchenko's case became a celebrated cause at home. Ukrainians admired her unwavering antagonism toward Russian authorities, whom she denounced in court and insulted by raising her middle finger, and they worried about her health as she called several hunger strikes.

Her case also attracted wide international attention, with Western leaders including President Barack Obama calling for her release. But if the release of Savchenko warmed Ukrainians' hearts, it could also serve as a reminder of how intractable the eastern conflict may seem. Cease-fire violations have been reported almost daily in recent months and negotiations on implementing other elements of the Minsk cease-fire agreement show only fitful progress.

Savchenko was elected to Ukraine's Parliament while locked up in Russia and a poster with her picture has adorned the rostrum there for months. That could give her substantial symbolic power if she enters politics full-time. Dissatisfaction with President Petro Poroshenko and the government is strong as the eastern fighting persists and the country wallows in endemic corruption.

If she would stand up and challenge Poroshenko and the government, that could serve Russia's interests by making Ukraine's political stresses even more fraught. Keeping Savchenko in custody clearly had become a liability for the Kremlin, drawing continued international attention to the conflict which has corroded Russia's image. Although Russia persistently denies military involvement, Western sanctions over the conflict have dealt a blow to Russia's economy.

Putin, however, would have looked weak if he had backtracked on her case and could only release her in a swap once she had been convicted. Once her trial and that of the captured Russians had run their course, Putin and Poroshenko made a deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday expressed satisfaction with the release of Savchenko and Ukraine's decision to release the two Russians. Savchenko's release "after a long ordeal that included solitary confinement, is an important part of fulfilling Russia's commitments under the Minsk agreements" on calling a cease-fire in the conflict, he said in a statement.

Putin, at a meeting with the journalists' relatives, expressed "hope that such decisions, driven by humanity, will help to alleviate the stand-off in the conflict zone and help to avoid such terrible and pointless losses."

The two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were also freed on Wednesday, and Russian state television showed them being greeted at a Moscow airport by their wives. The two were captured last year. They acknowledged being Russian officers, but the Russian Defense Ministry, which has denied sending troops to Ukraine, claimed they had resigned from active duty. They were tried in a Kiev court, which sentenced them to 14 years in prison after finding them guilty of terrorism and waging war in eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko sent his plane to pick up Savchenko in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia and bring her home to Kiev, where she received a hero's welcome. "Thank you everyone for fighting for me!" she told a scrum of journalists at Kiev's Boryspil Airport. "You fought for everyone behind bars. Politicians would have kept silent if people had been silent. I would like to say thank you to everyone who wished me well: I have survived because of you."

Savchenko, a professional air force officer, was fighting with a Ukrainian volunteer battalion against Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine when she was captured in the summer of 2014. After she surfaced on the other side of the border, Moscow claimed she had escaped from the separatists and was caught in Russia, while she claimed she was abducted and smuggled into Russia.

In giving her a state award on Wednesday, Poroshenko said she had become "a symbol of pride and steadfastness." Savchenko has skirted questions about her political ambitions and didn't mention it upon arrival on Wednesday, but Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who leads Savchenko's party told reporters Savchenko wants to start working right now.

"She asked me: 'Where do I need to be, where do I go to start working,'" Tymoshenko said. "A strong leader has come back home, that's for sure." But Savchenko hinted Wednesday that physical fighting may be more important to her than political battles.

"I would like to apologize that I am still alive. But I'm ready to go and fight for Ukraine today," she said, standing next to Poroshenko.

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

Ukrainian pilot returns home as unrivalled national hero

May 25, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — When war broke out in eastern Ukraine, pilot Nadezhda Savchenko left her hometown to join the fight against Russia-backed separatists. Nearly two years after she was captured, then tried and convicted in Russia, she returned home to a rapturous welcome in Kiev.

Over the past two years, Savchenko became both Ukraine's national hero and Russia's best-known prisoner. Western leaders and diplomats including President Barack Obama called for her release, graffiti supporting her sprouted up and children made drawings romanticizing her image.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke about her case on nearly every trip abroad. When she arrived at a Kiev airport on Wednesday after being swapped for two Russian servicemen who had been imprisoned in Ukraine, a throng of journalists and well-wishers converged on her.

"Step back if you want me to say anything. I have spent two years in a small cell," snapped Savchenko, barefoot and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Ukraine's national trident. Savchenko, 35, had an illustrious career in the armed forces including a stint as Ukraine's only female soldier in the peacekeeping forces in Iraq. She graduated from a prestigious air force school in 2009, which until then had been open only to men. But when the war started in April 2014 Savchenko, retired and went to the east to join the Aidar volunteer battalion.

She was captured by rebels in June 2014 amid intense fighting in the Luhansk region. After her capture, which the rebels documented and filmed, she disappeared and then resurfaced in Russian custody. Russian authorities said Savchenko crossed into Russia voluntarily and illegally, disguised as a refugee. But Savchenko says the rebels who captured her spirited her across the border and handed her over.

Russian state media used Savchenko as a poster child for alleged Ukrainian atrocities in the east. Even though there didn't seem to be any solid evidence to prove her involvement in any civilian deaths in the east, prosecutors launched a case charging that she had been a spotter who called in coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists.

At her first public appearance in Russia, Savchenko defiantly said she didn't recognize the authority of the Russian court and prosecutors. She went on several hunger strikes before and during her trial.

Savchenko often appeared in court in a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt or in blouses with the Ukrainian coat of arms or other national symbols. Despite the long incarceration, Savchenko has never complained about bad health or prison conditions, unlike her lawyers, but instead focused on using her public appearances as a chance to condemn Russian interference in Ukraine.

The defiance with which the pilot carried herself throughout the detention and the nine-month trial, calling prosecutors names and singing the Ukrainian anthem, turned her in an unrivalled national hero. A poster with her picture and a call for her release has adorned the rostrum at the Ukrainian parliament for months.

In the autumn after her capture, Savchenko was elected a member of the Ukrainian parliament and appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Ukrainian government insisted from the start that Savchenko was a prisoner of war and should be immediately released. That didn't happen because Moscow argued that Savchenko was a dangerous criminal.

While approval ratings plummeted for many Ukrainian politicians who rose to prominence in the 2013-2014 protest movement which ultimately forced President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country, Savchenko's imprisonment became a universal cause for Ukrainians to rally around. The party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko enlisted Savchenko to top their ballot at the 2014 parliamentary election with analysts saying Savchenko's name was a big draw for voters.

"For the whole world and Ukraine, Nadiya embodies the might of Ukraine, strength, a resistance to occupying forces and the immorality which has unfortunately flooded politics," Tymoshenko said Wednesday.

Savchenko has skirted questions about her political ambitions and didn't mention it upon arrival on Wednesday, but Tymoshenko told reporters Savchenko wants to start working right now. "She asked me: 'Where do I need to be, where do I go to start working,'" Tymoshenko told reporters. "A strong leader has come back home, that's for sure."

Orbita, a ghost of Chernobyl in the heart of Ukraine

By Yulia Silina
Orbita, Ukraine (AFP)
May 20, 2016

Missing from maps, a ghost town hides in the pine forests of central Ukraine, abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster but now filling with families fleeing the pro-Russian eastern separatist war.

Orbita, a town whose existence was never registered by the Soviet authorities, was meant to house 20,000 workers at a nuclear power plant whose construction was abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster of April 1986.

The road through the woods that leads to the site is dilapidated, the sign marking the town's entrance covered with rust, but two small playgrounds next to the abandoned buildings are clean and tidy.

Alina, a blonde 10-year-old with a grin and few worries on her mind, is playing next to her grandfather Vladimir Limarchenko, a man who has lived through many hard times.

Her family left their home in the former Soviet republic's industrial heartland almost as soon as the fighting erupted two years ago, in a conflict which has since killed more than 9,300 people and forced 1.7 million from their homes.

"We did not know where to go. We just took a train to central Ukraine, where our relatives live. And by chance our fellow traveler at the station told us about Orbita," said Limarchenko, who worked as a mechanic before retiring.

His new neighbor Vasiliy came to Orbita from the pro-Russian separatist city of Lugansk a few months ago and is now renovating a damp apartment in a five-storey building that stood empty for many years.

"My home was seized by the rebels so I have nowhere to return to. Life is very expensive everywhere, but here I took an apartment on credit for a very low price," said the 36-year-old, who lives on a disability pension.

"It is better to live in the forest than under fire," he added.

- Abandoned lives -

Eight families from various parts of the war-scarred east have relocated to Orbita, attracted by its cheap prices and calm.

It costs less than $1,500 (1,300 euros) to buy one of the Soviet-era apartments, a pittance compared to the average $40,000 that people pay in the capital Kiev.

Orbita's tale is tightly intertwined with that of Chernobyl, whose explosion spewed radiation across nearly three-quarters of Europe and left several thousand people dead or dying.

Plans for the town were initially drafted in 1970, the year ground was broken for the Chygyryn nuclear power plant, whose construction was never completed.

Authorities of then-Soviet Ukraine planned to make Orbita the home of engineers from the plant -- in what was intended to be the equivalent of Pripyat, a city of 48,000 built three kilometers (two miles) from Chernobyl.

In the 1980s, two nine-storey and two five-storey apartment buildings, a department store and all the necessary infrastructure were built.

But the disaster at Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear accident, meant plans to complete the Chygyryn plant were quickly abandoned and because the Communist party had not yet opened an outpost in the town, it was not considered to exist officially and was not included on maps of the region.

Residents of Orbita employed to make preparations for the opening of the power plant lost their jobs and the town was quickly deserted, becoming a silent monument to the shock and terror caused by Chernobyl that reverberated through corridors of power in the Kremlin and around the world.

"There has been no heating or drinkable water here for a very long time," Alina's grandfather said.

"We are similar to Chernobyl, except that there is no radiation. On the contrary -- we have clean forest air," he added.

- 'A post-apocalyptic movie' -

The town, which is proving a draw for the poor from other parts of Ukraine, is currently home to about 50 families who are living in the two five-storey apartment blocks.

Most are elderly, live without heating and gas and have to trek to a nearby village for water. They survive, for the most part, on meager pensions and vegetables grown in their gardens.

But their hardscrabble existence is not made any easier by another nuisance -- curious tourists who come to snap pictures of the peculiar town and who have decided to make it their home.

Kristina, a 19-year-old student from Uzhgorod, a city near Ukraine's western border with Slovakia, came with a group of friends looking for a thrill.

"We wanted to visit Chernobyl, but it is very expensive. You can get here for free and there is no radiation," she said.

"I was intrigued by the atmosphere of this ghost town," she admits.

"It is like being in a post-apocalyptic movie."

But Limarchenko is hardly impressed.

"Do we look like ghosts?" he asks glumly.

"The real ghost towns are now in the separatist east, in the places we came from."

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Orbita_a_ghost_of_Chernobyl_in_the_heart_of_Ukraine_999.html.

Fate of primeval forest in balance as Poland plans logging

May 21, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — It is the last remaining relic of an ancient forest that stretched for millennia across the lowlands of Europe and Russia, a shadowy, mossy woodland where bison and lynx roam beneath towering oak trees up to 600 years old.

Conservationists believe the fate of the Bialowieza Forest, which straddles Poland and Belarus, is more threatened that at any time since the communist era due to a new Polish government plan for extensive logging in parts of the forest. The plan has pitted the government against environmentalists and many scientists, who are fighting to save the UNESCO world heritage site.

Seven environmental groups, including Greenpeace and WWF, have lodged a complaint with the European Commission hoping to prevent the largescale felling of trees, which is due to begin within days. Bialowieza has been declared a Natura 2000 site, meaning it is a protected area under European law. EU officials say they are working with the Polish authorities to ensure that any new interventions in the forest are in line with their regulations, but it's not yet clear what the result will be.

The preservation of Bialowieza is such a sensitive matter that IKEA, which relies on Polish timber for 25 percent of its global furniture production, vowed years ago not to buy any wood from Bialowieza.

"This forest is a Polish treasure but it is also the world's treasure, and we could lose it," said Katarzyna Kosciesza from ClientEarth, one of the groups that filed the complaint. "The logging would really threaten it."

The forest plan is one of many controversial changes that have come with the election last year of a conservative populist party, Law and Justice. The new authorities have been accused by the European Union and human rights groups of eroding democracy and the rule of law.

The party's powerful leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, says he's on a mission to remake the country from top to bottom in line with the party's conservative Catholic and patriotic ideology. Since taking power in November, Poland's government has moved quickly to push broad changes in everything from cultural institutions to horse breeding farms and forestry management.

The government argues they are fixing the country by removing the corrupt influences of former communists and pro-Europeans who have held power in recent years. In the case of Bialowieza, government officials are blaming their predecessors for financial losses from the strict limits on logging. The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, also faulted them for getting the UNESCO world heritage designation, which brings some international oversight.

About 35 percent of the forest on the Polish side includes a national park and reserves, strictly protected zones that the government does not plan to touch. Officials argue the planned logging is not harmful because it will take part only in "managed" parts of the forest that have already been subject to logging in the past. But environmentalists say the logging plan is so extensive it would inevitably lead to the destruction of old-growth areas.

About half of the forest is still considered pristine, meaning those areas have never faced significant intervention since the forest's formation some 8,000 to 9,000 years ago after the end of the last ice age. That has left it with a complex diversity of species unknown in the second-growth forests elsewhere in Europe's lowlands.

That so much has survived is thanks to past Polish and Lithuanian monarchs and Russian czars, who kept it as a royal hunting preserve. Only in the last 100 years has it begun to face logging and human encroachment.

Szyszko last week dismissed 32 of 39 scientific experts on the State Council for Nature Conservation after they criticized the logging plan. They have since been replaced by people who mainly come from the forestry and hunting sectors that favor greater wood extraction. They council's new leader, Wanda Olech-Piasecka, also supports limited commercial hunting of bison, an endangered species.

Szyszko said the new council "will work effectively for the use of natural resources for the benefit of man, which is consistent with the concept of sustainable development." The Environment Ministry argues the logging is needed to stop the spread of bark beetle, which has killed off 10 percent of the spruce trees in the park — 3 percent of the trees overall — in an outbreak that began in 2013.

However, scientists believe that is merely a pretext, and that what officials really want are the profits from felling such old-growth wood. Scientists and environmentalists who oppose the logging plan say removing the dead wood upsets the ecosystem. The dead spruces host thousands of other species, worms and insects and fungi, which then become food for birds, while hollow dying trunks create nesting spaces. Among those who rely on the dead spruces are the pygmy owl, the smallest owl species in Europe, and the three-toed woodpecker, which has a precarious existence in Bialowieza.

Thanks to the bark beetle outbreak, the numbers of the three-toed woodpecker have doubled or possibly tripled, said Rafal Kowalczyk, director of the Mammal Research Institute with the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Scientists fighting the logging say the death of some spruce trees is making way for an increase of other species like hornbeam and lime and is part of the forest's natural adaptation to climate change, as conditions grow warmer and drier. They also say that it would be necessary to kill 80 percent of infected trees simply to slow the outbreak, which is not logistically possible.

Kowalczyk says the bark beetle outbreaks, which have long been a part of the forest cycle, have never threatened its existence before and won't now. "This forest has been shaped for thousands of years by nature," Kowalczyk added. "It is really unique and we should not turn it into a managed forest. There are many other managed forests but this relic of an ancient forest, with its high diversity, shows us what forests looked like hundreds, even thousands, of years ago."

Greek authorities begin evacuation of Idomeni refugee camp

May 24, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities began an operation at dawn Tuesday to gradually evacuate the country's largest informal refugee camp of Idomeni on Macedonian border, blocking access to the area and sending in more than 400 riot police.

The government's spokesman for the refugee crisis, Giorgos Kyritsis, said Monday that police would not use force, and that the operation was expected to last about a week to 10 days. The camp, which sprung up on what began as an informal pedestrian border crossing for refugees and migrants heading north to Europe, is home to an estimated 8,400 people. Greek police and government authorities have said the residents will be moved gradually to newly completed, organized camps.

Journalists were barred from the camp, stopped at a police roadblock a few kilometers (miles) away on a highway junction leading to the nearby village of Idomeni. Twenty buses carrying various riot police units were seen heading to the area while a police helicopter observed from above.

More than 54,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in financially struggling Greece since Balkan and European countries shut their land borders to a massive flow of people escaping war and poverty at home. The vast majority are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly a million people have passed through Greece, the vast majority arriving on islands from the nearby Turkish coast.

In March, the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey meant to stem the flow and reduce the number of people undertaking the short but perilous sea crossing to Greece, where many have died after their overcrowded, unseaworthy boats sank. Under the deal, anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands from the Turkish coast after March 18 faces deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

But few want to request asylum in the country, which has been struggling with a six-year deep financial crisis that has left unemployment hovering at around 24 percent. The government has been trying to persuade people staying in Idomeni, who include hundreds of families with young children, to leave the area and head to organized camps. This week it said its campaign of voluntary evacuations was already working, with police reporting that eight buses carrying about 400 people left Idomeni Sunday. Others took taxis heading to the country's main northern city of Thessaloniki or a nearby town of Polycastro.

On the eve of the evacuation operation, few at the camp appeared to welcome the news. "It's much better here than in the camps. That's what everybody who's been there said," Hind Al Mkawi, a 38-year-old refugee from Damascus, told the AP on Monday evening.

"I've heard (of the pending evacuation) too. It's not good ... because we've already been here for three months and we'll have to spend at least another six in the camps before relocation. It's a long time. We don't have money or work — what will we do?"

Abdo Rajab, a 22-year-old refugee from Raqqa in Syria, has spent the past three months in Idomeni, and is now considering paying smugglers to be taken to Germany clandestinely. "We hear that tomorrow we will all go to camps," he said. "I don't mind, but my aim is not reach the camps but to go Germany."

Cyprus election: Disillusioned public vote on new parliament

May 22, 2016

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cypriots are electing a new parliament Sunday amid public disillusionment with what many see as a discredited political establishment. Some 543,000 voters are eligible to cast ballots for 56 lawmakers, but opinion polls have shown a large undecided vote. Surveys have also indicated that a significant number of voters may turn to smaller parties instead of larger ones that have long dominated the domestic political scene.

As in previous elections, ongoing efforts to heal the country's ethnic division have been pronounced on the campaign trail. However, an economic crisis that saw many lose their jobs, coupled with a sense that corruption is widespread in politics amid recent revelations involving kickbacks on public works projects, have also figured prominently.

"That people are disillusioned is a given," voter Athena Georgiou told The Associated Press. "But my hope is that there will be a greater range of voices in the new parliament." Georgiou also said a move by the larger parties to double the electoral threshold to 3.6 percent — the percentage of votes needed for parties to gain a foothold in parliament — just a few months before the poll may have been perceived by voters as a bid to hoard votes and keep smaller parties out.

"People should vote to give those parties a slap," she said. The vote won't result in a change of government under Cyprus' presidential system. While parliament votes on legislation, ministers are chosen by the president after the presidential election. The next presidential election is set for February 2018.

Cyprus was split in 1974 into a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south when Turkey invaded following a coup aiming at union with Greece. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have made significant headway after one year of talks, but difficulties remain...

Brussels police chief injured during anti-austerity clashes

May 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Brussels police chief was injured Tuesday during clashes at the end of a major anti-austerity demonstration attended by around 50,000 people in the center of the Belgian capital. Police chief Pierre Vandersmissen was treated for a head injury after he was hit with a stone in the back by a red-clad man and fell to the ground during rock throwing by a few dozen protesters after most of the marchers had already disbanded.

With a pepper spray canister, Vandersmissen had been chasing people who had attacked police even though he was not wearing extensive protective gear. He was taken to hospital and is expected to be released on Wednesday.

The demonstration was called to protest the center-right government's social and economic policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium's welfare state. In all, two police officials and eight protesters were injured in the clashes, during which police fired water cannons. About a dozen people were detained. It was a repeat of previous anti-austerity protests when the violence of dozens overshadowed the march of tens of thousands.

The government said in a statement "it condemns the violence committed by a minority" but added it took note of the large size of the demonstration demanding changes. Under the slogan "Our cup runs over" the main unions joined in the march, united in their opposition against moves to increase workers' flexibility at work, longer careers before pensions kick in and less pay under tougher conditions.

The trade unions say the center-right free market policies of Liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel over the past two years are costing an average family about 100 euros ($112) a month, while the promise of many extra jobs remains elusive. Instead the trade unions want the government to tackle tax evasion.

Socialist union leader Rudy De Leeuw denounced the attack on Vandersmissen and said that if the unidentified attacker turns out to be a member of the union, he will be expelled. "It is the most cowardly thing to do," he said.

Ten of thousands protest Belgian social, economic policies

May 24, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ten of thousands of demonstrators have marched through the center of Brussels to protest the center-right government's social and economic policies, which trade unions say cut deep into the foundations of Belgium's welfare state.

Under the slogan "Our cup runs over" the main unions joined in the march, united in their opposition against moves to increase workers' flexibility at work, longer careers before pensions kick in and less pay under tougher conditions.

The trade unions say the center-right free market policies of Liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel over the past two years are costing an average family some 100 euros ($112) a month, while the promise of many extra jobs remains elusive. Instead the trade unions want the government to tackle tax evasion.

Defeated right-wing Austrian president hopeful urges unity

May 24, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — Norbert Hofer, the right-winger who lost only narrowly to a pro-EU rival in Austrian presidential elections, has joined the winner in asking all citizens to try to overcome the ideological divisions that led to the close contest.

Speaking Tuesday, Hofer asked "Austrians to stick together." His opponent, Alexander Van Der Bellen, won the race with 50.3 percent of the votes, ompared with 49.7 percent for Hofer. Van der Bellen, a former Greens party leader who ran as an independent, is also looking to bridge the differences.

He quit the party after his win was announced, in a gesture underlining his intention to be a president for all and declared that both political camps together make "this beautiful Austria."

Left-leaning candidate wins Austria presidency in tight race

May 23, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — A pro-European Union candidate eked out a victory Monday over a right-wing, anti-migrant rival to become Austria's next president, in a tight contest viewed Europe-wide as a proxy fight pitting the continent's political center against its growingly strong populist and anti-establishment movements.

European mainstream parties joined Austrian supporters of Alexander Van der Bellen in congratulating him on his victory over Norbert Hofer, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declaring. "All of Europe is now breathing more easily."

But with less than a percentage point separating the two, Hofer's Freedom Party and its allies across Europe also had reason to celebrate what they cast as a major political surge by one of their own.

Hofer had been narrowly ahead of Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, after the counting of votes directly cast on Sunday. But around 700,000 absentee ballots still remained to be tallied Monday, and those numbers swung the victory to Van der Bellen.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said Van der Bellen collected 50.3 percent of the votes compared with 49.7 percent for Hofer of the Freedom Party. Only a little more than 31,000 votes separated the two, out of more than 4.6 million ballots cast.

The results diminish the scenario that Austria's political landscape could immediately move away from its centrist political image through a new president who could oppose the government's EU-friendly policies and increase pressure for tighter migrant controls.

Still, the narrow margin for Van der Bellen is the latest indication that Europe's anti-establishment parties are gaining influence. Hofer announced his defeat shortly before the official announcement in a Facebook post thanking his backers for their support.

He acknowledged he is "naturally sad," adding: "I would have been happy to have cared for our wonderful country as federal president." His post said that the work of his supporters during the election is "not lost but an investment in the future."

With the results close, Herbert Kickl, secretary general of Hofer's party, said it might demand a recount "in case of significant signs of abuses" during the absentee vote count. A Freedom Party meeting was called for Tuesday.

Hofer's Freedom Party has exploited anti-EU sentiment and fear that Austria could be overrun by refugees to become the country's most popular political force. Van der Bellen was generally supported by pro-European Union Austrians favoring humane immigration policies and others opposed to the right.

Despite pledges by both candidates to be the president of all Austrians, the split vote revealed unprecedented polarization over which direction the nation should now take, particularly over migration and the EU's future. Van der Bellen sought to smooth over the differences in post-result comments.

"We're equals," the 72-year old economist told reporters. It's two halves that define Austria ... and together we make this beautiful Austria." But one thing united Hofer and Van der Bellen despite their ideological differences. Both were protest candidates, mirroring the depth of Austrian dissatisfaction with the status quo. Contenders for the Social Democrats and the centrist People's Party — the two parties that form the government coalition — were eliminated in last month's first round of voting.

Those parties have dominated Austrian politics since the end of World War II and winners of all previous presidential elections since then have been backed by one of the two. Hofer's strong showing reflects the growth of support for anti-establishment parties across the continent to the detriment of the political middle. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, a Social Democrat, described it as "a continuation of a trend."

"People are dissatisfied with the traditional, standard political parties," he said on arrival at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. "I really believe it's time for us to reflect upon it because we must be doing something wrong."

In a tweet reflecting a collective sigh of European establishment relief, Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky of the centrist ANO party hailed Van der Bellen's "narrow but for Europe important victory." German President Joachim Gauck described Van der Bellen as a "convinced European" who wants to work for a "strong, steady, and in the long run stronger European Union."

Europe's right, meanwhile, praised Hofer's close finish as a milestone on the path of international dominance for the right. France's National Front offered "warmest congratulations," adding "This historic performance certainly ensures future success for all patriotic movements, in Austria and elsewhere in the world."

Comments from Austria's foreign minister before the final tally was announced showed the government bracing for the worst in terms of international reaction had Hofer won. President Kurt Waldheim, who was backed by the centrist People's Party, already was boycotted by most of the world decades ago after revelations that he served in a German unit linked to atrocities in World War II. In Brussels, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz appealed "to everyone to respect the results, totally independently from ... whether they are happy with it or not, because this was a democratic Austrian election."

Hofer as president may have been unwelcome in some European capitals as governments there try to keep their populist Euroskeptic parties in check. And the Freedom Party's anti-Muslim campaigning also could have led to Mideast governments avoiding him.

Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels, Karel Janicek in Prague, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, and David Rising, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this report.

Absentee ballot count to decide Austrian election

May 22, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — With all direct ballots counted in Austria's presidential election, a right-wing politician is in a neck-to-neck race with a challenger whose views stand in direct opposition to his rival's anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic message.

Both right-winger Norbert Hofer and Alexander Van der Bellen, a Greens politician running as an independent, each have 50 percent support Sunday, with direct votes tallied and absentee votes to be counted by Monday. With 4.48 million direct votes cast, the nearly 900,000 absentee ballots issued will likely make them the likely vote decider.

Candidates backed by the dominant Social Democratic and centrist People's Party were eliminated in last month's first round, which means neither party would hold the presidency for the first time since the end of the war. That reflects disillusionment with the status quo

Austria's next president could be a right-wing Eurosceptic

May 22, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — For the first time since World War II, a right-wing politician could win Sunday's election for the Austrian presidency as established parties that have dominated postwar politics watch from the sidelines.

Candidates backed by the dominant Social Democratic and centrist People's Party were eliminated in last month's first round, which means neither will become president for the first time since the end of the war.

That reflects deep disillusionment with the political status quo and their approach to the migrant crisis and other issues. As voting got underway Sunday, the contest was too close to call between Norbert Hofer of the right-wing Eurosceptic Freedom Party and Greens Party politician Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running as an independent.

Both men drew clear lines between themselves and their rival as they went into Sunday's race. At his final rally Friday, Van der Bellen said he was for "an open, Europe-friendly, Europe-conscious Austria" — an indirect contrast to what Hofer is offering. Hofer, in turn, used his last pre-election gathering to deliver a message with anti-Muslim overtones.

"To those in Austria who go to war for the Islamic State or rape women - I say to those people: 'This is not your home,'" he told a cheering crowd. The elections are reverberating beyond Austria's borders, with a Hofer win being viewed by European parties of all political stripes as evidence of a further advance of populist Eurosceptic parties at the expense of the establishment.

In Austria, such a result could upend decades of business-as-usual politics, with both men serving notice they are not satisfied with the ceremonial role most predecessors have settled for. Van der Bellen says he would not swear in a Freedom Party chancellor even if that party wins the next elections, scheduled within the next two years. Hofer has threatened to dismiss Austria's government coalition of the Social Democrats and the People's Party if it fails to heed his repeated admonitions to do a better job — and is casting himself as the final arbiter of how the government is performing.

Political isolation for Austria could also be in the offing. Hofer as president is unlikely to be welcomed in most European capitals as governments there try to keep their populist Eurosceptic parties in check. And the Freedom Party's anti-Muslim campaigning also could result in Mideast governments avoiding him.

It would not be a first for Austria. President Kurt Waldheim, who was backed by the centrist People's Party, was boycotted internationally decades ago after revelations that he served in a German unit linked to atrocities in World War II.

Philipp Jenne in Vienna also contributed.

Potential Habitats for Early Life on Mars

San Francisco CA (SPX)
May 25, 2016

San Francisco CA (SPX) May 25, 2016 Recently discovered evidence of carbonates beneath the surface of Mars points to a warmer and wetter environment in that planet's past. The presence of liquid water could have fostered the emergence of life.

A new study by James Wray at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Janice Bishop of the SETI Institute, as well as other collaborators, has found evidence for widespread buried deposits of iron- and calcium-rich Martian carbonates, which suggests a wetter past for the Red Planet.

"Identification of these ancient carbonates and clays on Mars represents a window into history when the climate on Mars was very different from the cold and dry desert of today," notes Bishop.

The fate of water on Mars has been energetically debated by scientists because the planet is currently dry and cold, in contrast to the widespread fluvial features that etch much of its surface. Scientists believe that if water did once flow on the surface of Mars, the planet's bedrock should be full of carbonates and clays, which would be evidence that Mars once hosted habitable environments with liquid water.

Researchers have struggled to find physical evidence for carbonate-rich bedrock, which may have formed when carbon dioxide in the planet's early atmosphere was trapped in ancient surface waters. They have focused their search on Mars' Huygens basin.

This feature is an ideal site to investigate carbonates because multiple impact craters and troughs have exposed ancient, subsurface materials where carbonates can be detected across a broad region. And according to study led James Wray, "outcrops in the 450-km wide Huygens basin contain both clay minerals and iron- or calcium-rich carbonate-bearing rocks."

The study has highlighted evidence of carbonate-bearing rocks in multiple sites across Mars, including Lucaya crater, where carbonates and clays 3.8 billion years old were buried by as much as 5 km of lava and caprock.

The researchers, supported by the SETI Institute's NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team, identified carbonates on the planet using data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), which is on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This instrument collects the spectral fingerprints of carbonates and other minerals through vibrational transitions of the molecules in their crystal structure that produce infrared emission.

The team paired CRISM data with images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and Context Camera (CTX) on the orbiter, as well as the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) on the Mars Global Surveyor, to gain insights into the geologic features associated with carbonate-bearing rocks.

The extent of the global distribution of Martian carbonates is not yet fully resolved and the early climate on the Red Planet is still subject of debate. However, this study is a forward step in understanding the potential habitability of ancient Mars.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Potential_Habitats_for_Early_Life_on_Mars_999.html.

SpaceX Return of Samples Marks Next Step in One-Year Mission Science

by Rachel Hobson for ISS Science News
Houston TX (SPX)
May 24, 2016

More than one thousand tubes of blood, urine, and saliva made their way back to Earth from the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX-8 Dragon capsule, signaling an exciting next step for the scientists leading research for the recently completed One Year Mission. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko returned to Earth from their yearlong mission aboard the orbiting laboratory more than two months ago, but many of the samples critical to the continuation of research have only just made their way back to labs this week.

"[It's] like Christmas in May, with frost to boot," said Scott M. Smith, who holds a doctorate in nutrition and is a principal investigator of the Biochemical Profile investigation.

Smith was referring to the specialized cold stowage needed to safely transport temperature-sensitive samples. After being collected in space, crew members store the samples in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI). The tubes are transferred to either powered freezers or insulated coolers with special ice packs which are then packed inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule to be returned to Earth.

"SpaceX provides our primary capability for sample return, allowing us to bring home freezer bags and powered freezers containing samples," said chief scientist for the space station, Julie Robinson, who holds a doctorate in Biology.

After splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, the Dragon capsule was loaded onto a ship and taken to shore in Long Beach, California. Members of NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) Cold Stowage team transferred the samples to a charter aircraft, where portable, powered freezers awaited. While some investigators were on hand in California to retrieve their samples directly from the Cold Stowage team aboard the aircraft, most of the precious cargo was flown back to Houston for distribution at JSC.

"Samples coming home on Space-X include samples from a variety of human experiments," said Robinson. "Most notably blood, urine and saliva collected from the crew for the One-Year Mission and Twins Study."

Studies supported by the samples coming back in this batch include Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study. A point of contact for each study was on hand to receive the samples from JSC's Cold Stowage team.

"The inventory process is actually pretty intense," said Smith.

Members of the Cold Stowage team hand samples off to researchers, who are assigned time slots for retrieving their precious cargo.

"We inventory and check every tube serial number against what we expected," said Smith. "Once we have all of [our samples], and are sure we don't have anything we're not supposed to, official documents are signed, and we bag them up to carry back to the lab."

Once back in their lab, also onsite at JSC, Smith's team will unpack and re-inventory everything once again, to ensure nothing was lost in the dry ice or during the return to the Nutritional Biochemistry Lab. From there, the samples will be packed in laboratory minus eighty-degree freezers until further preparation for analysis.

Stuart Lee, who holds a doctorate in Kinesiology, and is the principal investigator for the Cardio Ox and Cardio Ox Twins investigations, said many of the samples will be shared between his and Smith's biochemical profiles investigation. Lee said that seven subjects have completed their mission for cardio ox, but samples for only three of those have been previously returned to Earth.

"Given that, we will more than double the amount of data that we have for Cardio Ox with this sample return," said Lee. "Of course, we also get the excitement of starting to receive the data from the One-Year Mission."

Lee said that up until now, scientists' data have described the effects of spaceflight from the typical six-month missions to the space station, but data from the One-Year Mission samples will change that.

"This will be NASA's first glimpse at the effects of space travel which start to approach that which we might expect from a Mars mission," said Lee. "These data may provide clues as to whether we can expect more, or more extreme, changes as mission duration increases."

Samples for the Twins Study, in which Kelly and his identical twin brother, retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, participated, also returned on SpaceX-8. The blood and urine components of those studies offer new molecular analyses for investigators.

"With these samples," said Lee. "we will have pilot data to understand spaceflight effects on and linkages between genetic expression, protein expression, and physiology, improving our understanding of the cardiovascular system in space as well as astronauts' ophthalmologic issues."

This batch of samples includes the final collection returning from space for the One-Year Mission investigations. While some of the investigations include several data collections in the year - or longer - beyond the crew's return to Earth, analysis of the returning samples can begin, in most cases, when they reach the scientists' laboratories. The Twins Study investigators have agreed to wait until after the return plus six-month data collection completes in September 2016, Smith said.

Smith said organization, tracking and careful planning is critical to successful analysis. Thought has to be given to samples that can only be thawed one time, and samples that need to be run at the same time as those collected before and after flight, to reduce variability.

"We analyze over 100 chemicals in each blood sample, and over 30 in each urine sample," said Smith. "We try to have samples available for the folks analyzing them as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, depending on the type of test, and number of samples - it can take quite a bit of time."

With samples being delivered to investigators across the country, Smith remains optimistic that the bulk of testing on these samples will be completed by the end of the year.

"[The research is] very carefully plotted out and planned, reviewed, documented and then executed," said Smith. "We only get one shot at this."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/SpaceX_Return_of_Samples_Marks_Next_Step_in_One_Year_Mission_Science_999.html.

UK's First Spaceport Could Be Beside the Sea

Newquay, UK (Sputnik)
May 24, 2016

Cornwall, famous for its surf, cider and pasties, could soon become England's top destination for space tourists after Newquay was named as a potential site for the UK Space Agency's Spaceport.

Newquay Airport has been earmarked as a potential hub for pretty much everything space-related - from space technology companies, satellite launches, to space tourism and film sets.

The town's airport is already home to Aerohub, an aerospace Enterprise Zone, and has one of the longest runways in the UK - making it ideal for rocket launches.

"Our proximity to the sea means aircraft can be over open water just seconds after take-off," Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership said.

Duddridge also points out on his blog that the Aerohub Enterprise Zone now includes the Goonhilly Earth Station on the Lizard Peninsula which has been used to relay live messages to school kids from British astronaut Tim Peake from the International Space Station.

The revelation that Newquay could become a hub - not just for surfers - but future space tourists alike, emerged after the UK Government outlined its Modern Transport Bill which also includes a commitment to driverless cars and drones.

The Bill promises to "put Britain at the forefront of the modern transport revolution," and that includes the UK's first spaceport.

A spaceport is where sub-orbital planes operate; space experiments are performed and satellites deployed.

So for those tourists fed up with all the Cornwall's surf, cider and cream-teas, a trip into space could one day be on the horizon.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/UKs_First_Spaceport_Could_Be_Beside_the_Sea_999.html.

India's mini space shuttle blasts off

Bangalore, India (AFP)
May 23, 2016

India successfully launched its first model space shuttle on Monday, a top official said, as New Delhi joined the race to develop a reusable rocket to make space travel easier and cheaper.

The winged shuttle blasted off on a rocket from the southeastern spaceport of Sriharikota at about 7:00am (0130 GMT), with television footage showing it streaming through a clear sky.

The shuttle, about one sixth the size of a normal one, was meant to reach an altitude of 70 kilometers (43 miles) before gliding back down and splashing into the Bay of Bengal 10 minutes later.

"The lift-off was at 7am from the first launch pad here," India's space chief Devi Prasad Karnik told AFP.

"We have successfully accomplished the RLV mission as a technology demonstrator," he said.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), known for its low costs, has developed the winged shuttle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle or RLV-TD reportedly on a minuscule budget of one billion rupees ($14 million).

Monday's test mission was a crucial step towards eventually developing a full-scale, reusable shuttle to send up satellites in the future.

India faces stiff competition including from global companies which are developing their own reusable rockets after NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011.

Reusable rockets would cut costs and waste in the space industry, which currently loses millions of dollars in jettisoned machinery after each launch.

Billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin have already successfully undertaken their own test launches.

But ISRO hopes to develop its own frugal shuttle, as it seeks to cash in on a huge and lucrative demand from other countries to send up their satellites.

ISRO made global headlines in 2013 after it successfully launched an unmanned mission to orbit Mars, spending just $73 million. NASA had spent $671 million on its Maven Mars mission.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Indias_mini_space_shuttle_blasts_off_999.html.

Alexander Gerst to be Space Station commander

Paris (ESA)
May 20, 2016

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been assigned a new mission to the International Space Station, where he will fulfill the role of commander during the second part of his six-month mission in 2018.

The news was announced in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel by ESA Director General Jan Woerner at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. Alexander worked on the Station for six months on his Blue Dot mission in 2014. The German astronaut commented:

"I am humbled by receiving the honor to command the International Space Station. This international sign of trust reflects ESA's reliability as a cooperation partner, and was made possible by the fantastic work of my European colleagues on their previous missions. I am delighted by the prospect of continuing the scientific work that has been conducted on the ISS for many years. I am particularly looking forward to contributing to one of humanity's greatest exploration adventures: discovering new horizons.

Eleven European countries participate in the Station through ESA together with USA, Russia, Japan and Canada. ESA astronaut Tim Peake is currently working on the Station, to be followed by Thomas Pesquet in November.

Alexander's mission will continue the program of research that often spans multiple missions. His second flight will likely see Alexander working with ESA's Mares muscle measurement machine, researching plasma crystals in weightlessness, and testing new technologies to support ESA's human exploration program, in addition to the experiments of Station partners.

This is the second time a European astronaut will be commander of the Station in the 15 years it has been occupied - the first was Frank De Winne in 2009. Now heading the European Astronaut Center, Frank noted, "Alexander showed outstanding performance, high professionalism and excellent interaction skills during his Blue Dot mission.

"For these reasons, the European Astronaut Center proposed to the international partners that Alexander be the commander of the Space Station."

Alexander's second mission will run from May to November 2018 as part of Expeditions 56 and 57. He will be commander during the second part of his stay, during Expedition 57.

Alexander joined the ESA astronaut corps in 2009 and was assigned his first mission in 2011. He was awarded Germany's Order of Merit on return from his 166 days in space in 2014.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Alexander_Gerst_to_be_Space_Station_commander_999.html.

Cambridge: Evidence of Comets Orbiting a Sun-like Star

Munich, Germany (SPX)
May 20, 2016

An international team of astronomers have found evidence of ice and comets orbiting a nearby Sun-like star, which could give a glimpse into how our own solar system developed. Using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, detected very low levels of carbon monoxide gas around the star, in amounts that are consistent with the comets in our own solar system.

The results, which will be presented at the 'Resolving Planet Formation in the Era of ALMA and Extreme AO' [adaptive optics] conference in Santiago, Chile, are a first step in establishing the properties of comet clouds around Sun-like stars just after the time of their birth.

Comets are essentially 'dirty snowballs' of ice and rock, sometimes with a tail of dust and evaporating ice trailing behind them, and are formed early in the development of stellar systems. They are typically found in the outer reaches of our solar system, but become most clearly visible when they visit the inner regions. For example, Halley's Comet visits the inner solar system every 75 years, some take as long as 100,000 years between visits, and others only visit once before being thrown out into interstellar space.

It's believed that when our solar system was first formed, the Earth was a rocky wasteland, similar to how Mars is today, and that as comets collided with the young planet, they brought many elements and compounds, including water, along with them.

The star in this study, HD 181327, has a mass about 30% greater than the Sun and is located 160 light-years away in the Painter [Pictor] constellation. The system is about 23 million years old, whereas our solar system is 4.6 billion years old.

"Young systems such as this one are very active, with comets and asteroids slamming into each other and into planets," said Sebastian Marino, a PhD student from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy and the paper's lead author. "The system has a similar ice composition to our own, so it's a good one to study in order to learn what our solar system looked like early in its existence."

Using ALMA, the astronomers observed the star, which is surrounded by a ring of dust caused by the collisions of comets, asteroids and other bodies. It's likely that this star has planets in orbit around it, but they are impossible to detect using current telescopes.

"Assuming there are planets orbiting this star, they would likely have already formed, but the only way to see them would be through direct imaging, which at the moment can only be used for very large planets like Jupiter," said co-author Luca Matra, also a PhD student at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy.

In order to detect the possible presence of comets, the researchers used ALMA to search for signatures of gas, since the same collisions which caused the dust ring to form should also cause the release of gas. Until now, such gas has only been detected around a few stars, all substantially more massive than the Sun. Using simulations to model the composition of the system, they were able to increase the signal to noise ratio in the ALMA data, and detect very low levels of carbon monoxide gas.

"This is the lowest gas concentration ever detected in a belt of asteroids and comets - we're really pushing ALMA to its limits," said Marino.

"The amount of gas we detected is analogous to a 200 kilometer diameter ice ball, which is impressive considering how far away the star is," said Matra. "It's amazing that we can do this with exoplanetary systems now."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Cambridge_Evidence_of_Comets_Orbiting_a_Sun_like_Star_999.html.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A clash of ideas: Bosnian Serbs rally for and against govt

May 14, 2016

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people rallied Saturday in separate demonstrations for and against the regional Bosnian Serb government in the northern city of Banja Luka, kept apart by police and barricades to prevent violence.

The pro-EU Alliance for Changes is accusing the Bosnian Serb government of corruption and its leader Milorad Dodik of dictatorship, saying he has brought the region to the brink of financial collapse. The Alliance claims Bosnian Serbs would be much better off cooperating with others in the country on reforms to improve people's lives and get Bosnia into the 28-nation European Union.

Dodik's camp accuses the opposition of betraying Bosnian Serb national interests, which according to him lie in seceding from Bosnia and creating a new Serb country with close ties to Russia. Bosnian Serbs fought in a 1992-95 war for secession and annexation to neighboring Serbia but the conflict ended with 100,000 dead with a peace agreement that left Bosnia's the external borders intact but divided the country into two regions — Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosniaks and Croats. Each have their own state-like institutions and are linked by a joint government, a three-member presidency and a parliament.

International officials have repeatedly told Dodik the dissolution of the country is impossible but his obstructions to the functioning of the state have left Bosnia lagging on the road toward the EU. His opponents claim he wants a separate country so he can control the courts and hide his financial embezzlements that have enriched him and his allies but impoverished the people.

Both sides brought thousands by bus Saturday to Banja Luka. Opposition supporters held banners saying "You will all go to jail," and demanded an early general election while Dodik's supporters carried pictures of him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"If we do not have a country, we will be killed," Dodik told his supporters. "Republika Srpska is a country and we are defending it." He then sang a folk song with the lyrics "nobody can do us any harm, we are stronger than destiny."

A few hundred meters (yards) away, opposition supporters called for his resignation and chanted "Thief! Thief!" The Alliance for Changes a year ago began revealing evidence of corruption Dodik and his allies were allegedly involved in as well as economic data showing how Bosnian living standards have eroded during his reign.

One after the other, speakers at the opposition rally complained about the bad living conditions, how their retirements are the lowest in Europe and how the children of officials in Dodik's government own property abroad while theirs don't even have jobs.

"Is this in the Bosnian Serb national interest?" asked Milana Karanovic-Miljevic, who came from Drvar, one of Bosnia's poorest towns. At both rallies, former soldiers who fought for Republika Srpska competed in patriotic speeches claiming their respective camp was the real keeper of the ideas of wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and general Ratko Mladic. Both men are jailed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. One is convicted of war crimes and the other is on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, committed while creating Republika Srpska.

Adding to the confusion, Mladic's son appeared on the stage of the pro-government rally to greet Dodik's supporters, while Karadzic's daughter spoke on the other stage, greeting opposition backers. Both said they spoke on behalf of their fathers.

The rallies ended peacefully.

Turkey strips immunity from lawmakers, clears way for trials

May 20, 2016

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's parliament on Friday approved a bill to amend the constitution to strip lawmakers of immunity, a move that paves the way for trials of several pro-Kurdish and other legislators.

A total of 376 deputies in the 550-seat assembly in Ankara voted in favor of the government-backed bill, which was enough to avoid a referendum. It now needs to be ratified by the president. The amendment was proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party after the president accused the pro-Kurdish party, People's Democratic Party, HDP, of being an arm of outlawed Kurdish rebels and repeatedly called for their prosecution on terror related charges. It puts 138 lawmakers, the vast majority of them from two opposition parties, at risk of prosecution.

The result of the vote was criticized by officials in the European Union and Germany and condemned by Turkish opposition lawmakers, who said they would fight against it. Speaking in the Black Sea town of Rize moments ahead of the final round of voting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope the bill would be adopted, saying "my people don't want to see criminal deputies in parliament."

The decision coincides with a wave of violence in Turkey's southeast following the collapse of a more than two-year peace process between the state and the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK. The HDP, which backs Kurdish and other minority rights, denies accusations that it is the political arm of the PKK, considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its allies. The party has urged the government to end security operations in the southeast and to resume peace efforts.

Turkey has a history of excluding Kurds from politics and critics see the bill as an effort to wipe out the pro-Kurdish party at a time when Erdogan is trying to push forward other controversial reforms, including a constitutional amendment to transform Turkey into a presidential system.

Out of 667 legal files, 405 are against the HDP and 102 concern members of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), according to a Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

The parliamentarians at risk of prosecution fall roughly into three categories: those who like HDP members are accused of supporting the PKK, those who are accused of insulting the president, and those under investigation for corruption or other criminal offenses.

Murat Somer, politics professor at Istanbul's Koc University, said the legal proceedings risk paralyzing parliament and weakening government oversight. The legality and constitutionality of the amendment is also likely to come under question.

"Parliament is one important platform where the opposition can voice its criticism and represent its interest but now the parliament itself will be weakened," he said. "It will create a long series of legal questions and complexities."

Turkey is undergoing a period of political transition as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced he will be stepping down. On Sunday the ruling party is due to confirm an ally of the president, Binali Yildirim, as the next premier and party chairman. Many see the shake-up as one in a series of measures designed to concentrate power in the office of the presidency.

Speaking after the vote, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas struck a defiant tone saying a request would be presented to the Constitutional Court to abolish the amendment. "No one from our party, including me, will go to the court will-nilly as if nothing has happened," he said. "Everyone should know this. The fighting has just started."

The result of the vote caused alarm in the EU, which has been working closely with Turkey to address the migrant crisis despite a series of controversies relating to human rights and press freedom that have put pressure on their relationship.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the bloc's top official for enlargement, issued a joint statement describing the decision as a "matter of serious concern." "A restrictive interpretation of the legal framework and the Constitution in particular continue to pose a risk to the freedom of expression of Members of Parliament in Turkey," they added.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert also expressed concern "about the increasing polarization of the domestic debate in Turkey" and said it would be a topic of discussion in an upcoming meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Turkish counterpart.

The NATO member is also part of the U.S.-led alliance against the Islamic State group.

Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin and Lorne Cooke in Brussels also contributed. Bram Janssen and Berza Simsek in Istanbul also contributed.

Turkish president accuses Europe of 'dictatorship, 'cruelty'

May 08, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's president has kept up his rebuke of European nations, accusing them of "dictatorship" and "cruelty" for keeping their frontiers closed to migrants and refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict.

Addressing an audience attending a short film competition titled "Mercy and Justice" in Istanbul Sunday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said European nations had "no mercy and no justice." This week, Erdogan threw into doubt the future of a deal with the European Union which would allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel in Europe, by suggesting that Turkey wouldn't meet a EU demand for his country to reform its anti-terrorism legislation.

His harsh words against the EU came after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who negotiated the deal, announced he would step down later this month, following a rift with Erdogan.

Afghan capital locked down for massive demonstration

May 16, 2016

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Authorities locked down Afghanistan's capital Monday as tens of thousands of members of an ethnic minority group marched through the streets to protest the proposed route of a power line.

By early morning, members of the Hazara minority had filled streets leading into central Kabul. But their path to the presidential palace, their intended destination, was blocked armed police and stacked shipping containers, closing off Kabul's commercial center to all vehicle and foot traffic.

Most of the city's shops were shuttered and armed police units had taken up positions around the city. Authorities told protest organizers that the march would be confined to a specific route that would not take them near the presidential palace. A November demonstration by Hazaras turned violent.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed its consular section and warned Americans to limit their movement within Kabul. "Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence," it said in an emergency message.

Daud Naji, a protest leader, said the Hazaras were demanding access to a planned multimillion-dollar regional electricity line. The so-called TUTAP line is backed by the Asian Development Bank with the involvement of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, in Afghanistan's central highlands, where most of the country's Hazaras live. But that route was changed in 2013 by the previous Afghan government.

Leaders of Monday's demonstration have called the routing of the line away from their territory evidence of enduring bias against the Hazara minority. Hazaras account for up to 15 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 30 million-strong population, are considered the poorest of the country's ethnic groups, and often complain of discrimination.

Bamiyan is poverty stricken, though it is largely peaceful and has potential as a tourist destination. Hazaras, most of whom are Shiite Muslims, have been persecuted in the past, notably by the extremist Sunni Taliban's 1996-2001 regime.

Afghanistan is desperately short of power, with less than 40 percent of the population connected to the grid, according to the World Bank. Almost 75 percent of the country's power is imported. Political commentator Haroun Mir said that what started as an isolated grievance from an ethnic minority has gained momentum and grown into an umbrella issue for the many opponents of President Ashraf Ghani's government.

"This is a mobilization and I know many Tajiks are supporting Hazaras, not because absolutely they want this thing to go through Bamiyan but because they hate this government and this is an opportunity for them to further weaken it," he said.

Intense negotiations between Ghani and lawmakers aimed at cancelling the protest broke down late Sunday. Hazara lawmakers had walked out of parliament on Saturday to pressure the government on the issue.

The president appointed a 12-member team to investigate the viability of rerouting the line through Bamiyan and suspended work on the project until the commission reported its findings later this month, his office said in a statement.

Jordan, Turkey compete to woo Jerusalem

Author: Adnan Abu Amer
May 19, 2016
Translator: Pascale el-Khoury

Jordan and Turkey are vying for power in Jerusalem, and Turkey appears to be gaining the upper hand at this point.

In a clear sign of the decline of the Jordanian role in Jerusalem, Jordan recently called off its agreement with Israel to install surveillance cameras in Al-Aqsa Mosque's courtyards. The cameras were supposed to help control the security situation on the Temple Mount, but the Palestinian Authority wasn't consulted — and wasn't happy about it.

At the same time, Turkey's activity in Jerusalem seems to be gaining momentum. On April 25, Istanbul hosted the “Thank you Turkey” festival organized by Arab nongovernmental organizations in appreciation of Turkey’s role in the protection of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. The festival was attended by Khaled Meshaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, and Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the mufti of Jerusalem and preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The festival also aimed to thank Turkey for increasing financial and in-kind aid to residents of Jerusalem and implementing a series of charity and development projects in the city at a cost estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

This may indicate a switch between the roles of Jordan and Turkey in Jerusalem: Turkey seems to be gaining influence, while Jordan seems to be losing its influence.

Sabri told Al-Monitor, “The Turkish aid to the holy city contributed to its reconstruction in general and alleviated the suffering of Jerusalemites by funding social and humanitarian projects. We, the Jerusalemites, thank Turkey's president, government and people for their aid to the city.”

Sabri urged Turkish citizens and institutions to visit Jerusalem, in light of declining Arab support. He added, ”Arab countries are preoccupied with their internal problems and bloody conflicts and have neglected this city, not to mention the competition over influence between Turkey and Arab countries.”

Perhaps a comparison and look back at how Jerusalemites welcomed visiting Jordanian and Turkish officials indicates the changing influence and implicitly reflects the great appreciation the Jerusalemites have for Turkey. Jerusalemites welcomed Mohammed Gormaz, the Turkish minister of religious affairs, with great warmth when he visited May 15, 2015, and he was asked to deliver the Friday sermon at the mosque.

Only a week later, a visit by Ahmed Halil, Jordan's chief of judges, must have embarrassed him. He was prevented from delivering the Friday sermon or praying at the mosque. There was an attempted attack on the Jordanian delegation, which included Minister of Religious Endowments Hayel Daoud, forcing the group to flee from an Al-Aqsa courtyard.

Meanwhile, Turkey has done more to aid Jerusalem. Some Turkish institutions are implementing charitable projects such as Tika Agency, the Meshale International Student Association and Kanadil Organization.

Bulent Korkmaz, Tika program coordinator in Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor, “Turkey’s projects in Jerusalem are humanitarian and relief projects. These include completing the student housing project at Al-Quds University at a cost of $10 million, equipping the Sharia Court archives, restoring the elderly care home, providing thousands of suhur [breakfast] and iftar [dinner] meals in the holy month of Ramadan, supplying electronic equipment to Jerusalem’s schools, restoring houses and shops and increasing the number of classes of some schools.”

Two reasons may have led to Turkey's growing influence in Jerusalem. First, the Turks have strong feelings of solidarity toward their Muslim brothers — Sunnis in particular — who urge them to support Al-Aqsa Mosque. Second, Turkish leaders aspire to play a regional role similar to that of the Ottoman Empire in the Arab and Muslim world. This probably explains Turkey's increased support in the Palestinian territories.

“The competition between the Turks and the Jordanians in Jerusalem is very obvious, especially with regard to aids and promotion of religious tourism," Khalil Tufakji told Al-Monitor. Tufakji is a Palestinian expert on Jewish settlements and head of the Maps and Survey Department at Jerusalem's Orient House, the PLO headquarters in Jerusalem.

He noted that the countries "are not publicly declaring their competition, yet Turkey’s financial aid and its support for religious tourism in Jerusalem indicates an increased Turkish influence in Jerusalem and, in turn, a remarkable decline of Jordan’s influence."

"The competition between Jordan and Turkey has an economic dimension," he added. "Amman wants Turkish tourists, initially heading to Jerusalem, to travel by road and pass through Jordan, which will generate revenues for its treasury, instead of taking a direct flight from Ankara Airport to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, without passing through Jordan.”

Turkish delegations continue to visit Jerusalem; most recently, Adnan al-Husseini, Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs, received a delegation from the Turkish Green Crescent Society visiting Jerusalem on April 21 to discuss Jerusalem issues.

Turkey has been working on promoting its ties with Jerusalem for some time. Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) issued a decision in April 2015 to include Al-Aqsa Mosque into the Umrah religious pilgrimage. Turkish citizens will stay three days in Jerusalem, four days in Medina and seven days in Mecca.

Former Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Khaled Abu Arafa told Al-Monitor, “Jordan and Turkey’s competition in Jerusalem is no secret, yet they made sure to keep it muffled so as not to sour their relations. It is clear that Ankara has an agenda ... aimed at increasing its influence in Jerusalem, to encourage its citizens to intensify their visits to Al-Aqsa Mosque and to provide scholarships to large numbers of Jerusalemites to complete their studies in Turkey.”

He added, “Turkey has been sending its officials to Jerusalem without coordination with Amman, angering Jordan, which considers itself the guardian of Jerusalem, though there is no agreement binding Turkey to inform Jordan in advance of its intent to make an official visit to Jerusalem. It seems that Israel is concerned about the increasing influence of Turkey in Jerusalem, given that Turkey is a strong state, while Jordan does not seem to have the same strength.”

Turkey’s strength is manifested by its currently thriving economy, whereas Jordan faces a difficult economic situation. A study published in April by Israeli researcher Pinhas Inbari reveals that Israel condones Turkey’s increased influence in the holy city, even though Israel is concerned about the proliferation of Turkish flags and photos of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the streets of Jerusalem.

The Jordanian-Turkish competition for influence in Jerusalem has been reflected for years in political speeches. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's prime minister until recently, stated on several occasions that Turkey considers Jerusalem one of its "domestic affairs." On Nov. 7, 2014, he said, “Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is our cause.”

In September 2015, Erdogan warned that Turkey will not tolerate Israel's continued aggression against Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the hill where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, and said Israel is playing with fire. On the other hand, Jordanian King Abdullah II said in February that the protection of the mosque falls within the royal family's guardianship over Jerusalem.

Hanna Issa, secretary-general of the Islamic-Christian Commission for Support of Jerusalem and Holy Sites, told Al-Monitor, “Jordan is the guardian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, while Turkey is providing Jerusalemites with financial aid and relief services, given its status as a rich country with a powerful economy, while Jordan's economy is stumbling." (Jordan is just beginning to recover from a $3 billion budget deficit and is still burdened by the cost of hosting 1 million Syrian refugees and severely strained by regional instability.)

However, Issa added, "Coordination between the two countries is ongoing to serve Jerusalem and Jerusalemites."

Turkey has close ties with Hamas, whose relations with Jordan have been almost nonexistent since Hamas leaders were ousted from Amman in 1999 and numerous Qatari mediations failed to mend the ties.

The PA’s relationship with Jordan was marred by Jordan's agreement in October with Israel to install the surveillance cameras at the mosque without consulting the PA. PA President Mahmoud Abbas also fears Jordan’s support of his archenemy, Mohammed Dahlan, who visited Amman in April. This situation may work in Turkey’s favor, allowing it to extend its influence in Jerusalem at Jordan's expense.

The spread of Turkish flags, Turkish shawarma restaurants and photos of Erdogan on the walls of Jerusalem indicate that the Turks are serious about increasing their influence in the city.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/turkey-jordan-palestine-jerusalem-competition-influence.html.

Lebanon holds local elections amid tight security

May 08, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese voted Sunday in municipal elections in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley amid tight security and a low turnout in the capital that has recently seen the largest anti-government protests in years following a months-long trash crisis.

Security was tight in the country as authorities took strict measures to guarantee that the vote passes without trouble. Lebanon was hit by a wave of bombings in recent years that killed scores of people and Syria's civil war has spilled over in the past.

Sunday's vote is the first to be held in the country since 2010. The government has postponed parliamentary elections, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. Lebanon has also been without a president since 2014, with the parliament failing to elect a leader amid political disagreements, and a paralysis among political rivals often related to their stance on the war in Syria.

Polling stations for the municipal election will be open on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (0400 GMT to 1600 GMT). Results are expected as early as Monday. There are 1.8 million voters registered for this round of voting. Three other rounds will take place over the coming weeks in other parts of the country.

In Beirut, residents are voting for the first time since an eight-month trash crisis ignited anti-government protests, with an outsider group of candidates challenging a political establishment widely seen as corrupt and incompetent.

Beirut Madinati, Arabic for "Beirut, My City," has vowed to clean up both the city's streets and its politics. It is running against "Beirutis," a list backed by several political groups, including the powerful predominantly Sunni Muslim Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Shiite Muslim Amal group and the country's three main Christian groups.

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group is only backing neighborhood mayors, but not municipal candidates, in Beirut. Hezbollah has a strong base in the country's south and the Bekaa Valley, and is fielding municipal candidates there.

But turnout was low in Beirut by the afternoon. The interior minister said turnout was at 13 percent in the capital. The highest turnout was in Baalbek, a Hezbollah-stronghold near the Syrian border, where 33 percent voted.

Nadine Labaki, a well-known film director and candidate on the Beirut Madinati list, called on voters to "not let us down" in a televised interview. "It is not necessary that everything related to our daily life must wait for political parties to come to an agreement," she told Al-Jadeed TV.

Madinati hopes to channel the energy of the protest movement, which emerged in response to the trash crisis that stemmed from a government failure for months to reach an agreement on how to deal with it. The protests went on to challenge the political class that has governed Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war.

In one of the Bekaa's main cities, Baalbek, political groups, primarily Hezbollah and allied Shiite group Amal are pitted against family-backed candidates. A day ahead of the elections, Lebanese army and police intensified patrols and deployed in front of polling stations. Motorcycles were banned on the day of the vote in an apparent attempt to head off potential attacks or speedy getaways. And to avoid late night crowds, Beirut's famed nightclubs were ordered closed while bars and restaurants had to shut after midnight Saturday.

In the eastern town of Arsal, a curfew was imposed on tens of thousands of Syrian refugees until the polling stations close. Lebanon is home to more than a million registered Syrian refugees, the equivalent of a quarter the country's population of 4.5 million. Another half million unregistered Syrians live in the country.

"Their situation is not right. It is a dangerous thing. Hopefully, when the municipality is elected, they will find a solution for them and they don't stay in town here and return to their country," said voter Walid Saramani from Zahleh, a major town in the Bekaa valley.

Successfully organizing the municipal elections will strengthen the argument that delaying other votes for security concerns is unnecessary. "These (elections) prove that Lebanon's democracy is in good shape and we can hold elections," said Hariri, the son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated by a massive bomb in Beirut in 2005.

Associated Press writers Maeva Bambuck and Andrea Rosa in Beirut contributed to this report.

The number of minor females marriage increasing in Jordan


AMMONNEWS - The number of minor females marriages in the kingdom is increasing from the last years, the number of females who married last year; 2015 is (10866) minors, increasing from the last year, which the minors who married in, is 10834.

In 2013 there were 9618 cases according to what was revealed in a formal statistics recently from the Supreme Judge Department, and Ammon could get a copy.

According to statistics, Jordan gave in marriage 31318 minors in the last three years.

The percentage of the minor females in the kingdom last year is 13.35% of the total marriages number percentage. The number of marriage cases in the kingdom last year was 81373 cases, (10866) of them are minors, 494 minors of them divorced in the same year, which means the percentage of 8.8%.

The status law texts in article 10, the age of the couple should complete 18 solar years, but the law allows the marriage of people whom complete 15 years old under the agreement of the Supreme Judge, and in some cases he permits.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=31308.

Paramount to make armored vehicles for Jordan


AMMONNEWS - An industrial partnership of Paramount Group, the African-based global defense and aerospace company, has begun local production of one of the world’s most advanced armored vehicles for the Jordanian Armed Forces.

Paramount Group and Jordan Manufacturing Services Solutions (JMSS) announced the signing of a new contract that will see JMSS leading on the local production and assembly of the MBOMBE 6x6 at a dedicated facility in the Dulail- King Abdullah II Design Development Bureau (KADDB) Industrial Park. The announcement was made at the Special Operations Forces Exhibition & Conference (Sofex-2016) in Amman, Jordan.

Ivor Ichikowitz, founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group, said: “We are extremely proud to expand our collaborative partnerships with local Jordanian industry, working together to bolster local industrialization, creating advanced technologies and skilled jobs. It is an honour to collaborate on the production of the MBOMBE 6x6 for the Jordanian armed forces and I am committed to developing further such partnerships across the Middle East.”

The international partnership will ultimately deliver 50 MBOMBE to the Jordanian Armed Forces. Paramount Group has been producing the first MBOMBE in South Africa and the process of vehicle delivery has started with the first 25 vehicles expected to be delivered to Jordan over the summer of 2016.

Additional local partners who form the supply chain include: the King Abdullah II Design Development Bureau (KADDB), the Jordan Advanced Machining Company (JAMCO), which will manufacture the turret and pestle mounts, and Aselsan Middle East, which will provide intercom systems.

Khaled Tashtshe, general manager, said: “JMSS is a regional leader in manufacturing Medium and Heavy vehicles, recognized for its technical excellence. We are proud to play a leading role in the local production and assembly of the MBOMBE armored vehicle.”

As with other such Paramount Group partnerships across the Middle East, Jordan will benefit from the South African company’s extensive industrial and technical training programs. Paramount Group will deliver vehicle maintenance training and other highly-skilled courses for Jordanian employees of JMSS and members of the Jordanian armed forces will receive training on the operation and technical maintenance of the MBOMBE.

Ichikowitz added: “Regional governments are working valiantly to confront security threats of unprecedented scope and scale in an era of squeezed military budgets. But they cannot do it alone. Regional security starts with economic security and the defense industry must accept the responsibility of offering more affordable, adaptable solutions.

“As a South African company, with a proven track record of providing solutions to stabilize asymmetrical warfare, Paramount Group is a trusted partner to governments across the Middle East.

“Paramount Group is privileged to play our part in supporting the growth of the Middle East’s military industrial capability, and we look forward to announcing further such collaborations in the future.”

JMSS and partners will start immediately to fabricate the jigs to build the MBOMBE hulls before producing the second tranche of 25 armored vehicles in Jordan. The proposed build will require them to fabricate the hull assembly as all welded sub-assemblies and cut and bend plates will be delivered by Paramount Group. The bolt on assembly will be done in Jordan, as with the major sub-assemblies like the power pack, wheel stations, suspension and hatches.

The Jordanian MBOMBE is a bespoke version developed by Paramount Group. It can uniquely withstand the extreme climates of the Middle East: during the armored vehicle’s development it underwent extensive trials comprising 50-degree Celsius desert environments in Jordan and the UAE, to -50-degree Celsius during winter trials in Kazakhstan.

Across all models, the MBOMBE contains the latest armoured and land mine protected technology in the world, providing unrivalled protection against landmines, IEDs, side blasts and RPG attacks. – TradeArabia News Service

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=31309.

Cabinet Holds Emergency Meeting Over 'Municipalities' Riots


AMMONNEWS - Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit on Wednesday evening called for an emergency meeting for the cabinet and security chiefs to discuss the riots and chaos that took place on Wednesday in several places in the kingdom against the Municipal Elections.

Ammon News learned that Bakhit and Minister of Interior Mazen Saket called for the emergency meeting at the Prime Ministry to deliberate on means of dealing with the various protests taking place demanding mergers or disengagement of local municipalities.

Local residents on Wednesday had blocked the main Queen Alia International Airport highway and main desert highway leading to Aqaba and southern governorates in protest of the municipal decisions.

The riots witnessed fired gunshots, vandalism of passing vehicles, burning rubber tires, and hurling rocks.

The international road leading to Aqaba remained blocked from Al Jiza district and in several other locations, including Al Damakhi, Muwaqqar, and Zamileh.

Several governorates throughout the kingdom had also witnessed protests throughout the week with local residents calling for establishing new municipalities for their respective districts.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14117.

Protest Against 'Neoliberalism' in front of US Embassy in Amman


AMMONNEWS - A Jordanian coalition of pro-reform movements announced that it will partake in a protest organized to take place in front of the American Embassy in Amman on Saturday, October 15.

The Popular and Youth Coalition for Change on Wednesday said it will participate in the protest organized by reform movements, trade unions, and political activists at 5 PM on Saturday against "Capitalism, global neoliberalism, privatization, and destroying the role of the private sector," according to their expression.

The protest comes around the same time as similar demonstrations throughout the world, including the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests in New York, encompassing similar slogans and objectives.

Various governorates throughout the kingdom will also witness demonstrations on Friday organized by populist and youth movements under the banner "Our Unity and Freedom and Red Lines."

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14115.

Libyan boy to receive treatment in King Hussein Medical Center


AMMONNEWS - Under His Majesty King Abdullah’s directives, an eight-year-old Libyan boy arrived in Amman on Tuesday night to receive treatment at the King Hussein Medical Center.

Siraj Salem, who suffers from a brain tumor, will undergo the necessary medical tests and diagnosis before receiving treatment.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=14131.