DDMA Headline Animator

Monday, February 15, 2016

Anti-migrant force builds in Europe, hurting Merkel's quest

February 15, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — So where should the next impenetrable razor-wire border fence in Europe be built?

Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban thinks he knows the best place — on Macedonia's and Bulgaria's borders with Greece — smack along the main immigration route from the Middle East to Western Europe. He says it's necessary because "Greece can't defend Europe from the south" against the large numbers of Muslim refugees pouring in, mainly from Syria and Iraq.

The plan is especially controversial because it effectively means eliminating Greece from the Schengen zone, Europe's 26-nation passport-free travel region that is considered one of the European Union's most cherished achievements.

Orban's plan will feature prominently Monday at a meeting in Prague of leaders from four nations in an informal gathering known as the Visegrad group: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Visegrad group, formed 25 years ago to further the nations' European integration, is marking that anniversary Monday. Still, it has only recently found a common purpose in its unified opposition to accepting any significant number of migrants.

This determination has emboldened the group, one of the new mini-blocs emerging lately in Europe due to the continent's chaotic, inadequate response to its largest migration crisis since World War II. The Visegrad group is also becoming a force that threatens the plans of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wants to resettle newcomers across the continent while also slowing down the influx.

"The plan to build a new "European defense line" along the border of Bulgaria and Macedonia with Greece is a major foreign policy initiative for the Visegrad Four and an attempt to re-establish itself as a notable political force within the EU," said Vit Dostal, an analyst with the Association for International Affairs, a Prague based think tank.

At Monday's meeting, leaders from the four nations will be joined by Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov so they can push for the reinforcements along Greece's northern border. Macedonia began putting up a first fence in November, and is now constructing a second, parallel, fence.

"If it were up only to us Central Europeans, that region would have been closed off long ago," Orban said at a press conference recently with Poland's prime minister. "Not for the first time in history we see that Europe is defenseless from the south ... that is where we must ensure the safety of the continent."

Poland has indicated a willingness to send dozens of police to Macedonia to secure the border, something to be decided at Monday's meeting. "If the EU is not active, the Visegrad Four have to be," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said recently. "We have to find effective ways of protecting the border."

The leaders will try to hash out a unified position ahead of an important EU meeting Thursday and Friday in Brussels that will take up both migration and Britain's efforts to renegotiate a looser union with the EU. The Visegrad countries have also recently united against British attempts to limit the welfare rights of European workers, something that would affect the hundreds of thousands of their citizens who now live and work in Britain.

The anti-migrant message resonates with the ex-communist EU member states, countries that have benefited greatly from EU subsidies and freedom of movement for their own citizens but which now balk at requests to accept even small numbers of refugees. The Visegrad nations maintain it is impossible to integrate Muslims into their societies, often describing them as security threats. So far the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks have only accepted small numbers, primarily Christians from Syria.

Many officials in the West are frustrated with what they see as xenophobia and hypocrisy, given that huge numbers of Poles, Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans have received refuge and economic opportunity in the West for decades.

Indeed there are plenty of signs that the countries are squandering a lot of the good will that they once enjoyed in the West for their sacrifices in throwing off communism and establishing democracies.

Orban's ambitions for Europe got a big boost with the rise to power last year in Poland of the right-wing Law and Justice party, which is deeply anti-migrant and sees greater regional cooperation as one of its foreign policy priorities. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo's government says it wants to do more to help Syrian refugees at camps in Turkey and elsewhere while blocking their entry into Europe.

Although Orban is alienating Greek authorities, who are staggering under the sheer numbers of asylum-seekers crossing the sea from Turkey in smugglers' boars, he insists he must act as a counterweight to Western leaders, whom he accuses of creating the crisis with their welcoming attitude to refugees.

"The very serious phenomenon endangering the security of everyday life which we call migration did not break into Western Europe violently," he said. "The doors were opened. And what is more, in certain periods, they deliberately invited and even transported these people into Western Europe without control, filtering or security screening."

Dariusz Kalan, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said he doesn't believe that the Visegrad group on its own can destroy European unity but says Orban's vision is winning adherents across the continent in far-right movements and even among mainstream political parties.

"It's hard to ignore Orban," Kalan said. "People in Western Europe are starting to adopt the language of Orban. None are equally tough and yet the language is still quite similar."

Karel Janicek in Prague and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed to this report.

What does the future hold for Syria’s people?

February 11, 2016
Robin Yassin-Kassab

The revolution, counter-revolutions and wars in Syria are terribly misunderstood, particularly in the English-speaking West, by politicians and publics alike. There are many shining exceptions, but in general, poor media coverage, ideological blinkers and Orientalist assumptions have produced a discourse which focuses on symptoms rather than causes, and which is usually unencumbered by grassroots Syrian voices or any information at all on Syrian political and cultural achievements under fire.

The consequent incomprehension is disastrous for two reasons – one negative, one positive.

First, the exponentially escalating crisis in Syria is a danger to everybody – Syrians and their neighbors first, but Europe immediately after. Russia’s bombing is creating hundreds of thousands of new refugees.

Meanwhile there’s good reason to believe Russian president Vladimir Putin is funding far-right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe. It is very possible that this year’s flood of refugees will re-establish Europe’s internal borders, destroying the “Schengen” free movement area, seen by some as Europe’s key political achievement since the Second World War.

With 11 million homeless, traumatized people on the eastern Mediterranean, terrorism is sure to increase. And the long-term geopolitical consequences of allowing, even facilitating, Russia, Iran and Syrian president Bashar Al Assad to crush the last hopes of democracy and self-determination in Syria will create a still more dangerous world for our children. Yet European heads are being buried in the sand. Some still imagine a peace process is underfoot.

And the positive reason. Amidst the depravities of war, Syrians are organizing themselves in brave and creative ways. The country now boasts more than 400 local councils, most democratically-elected, as well as many free newspapers, radio stations, women’s centers, and an explosion in artistic production.

We shouldn’t just be feeling sorry for Syrians, but learning from them too. Their democratic experiments are currently under full-scale international military assault. They may be stamped out before most non-Syrians have even heard of them.

These factors spurred me, a British-Syrian novelist, and Leila Al Shami, a British-Syrian activist, to write our book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

In place of inaccurate grand narratives we have amplified the voices of Syrian revolutionaries. Instead of sensationalism we have tried to provide context (for without context all we are left with is ideology and assumptions). This means that we also seek to explain the perspectives of those we disagree with – the different varieties of extremists, for instance, or pro-regime Alawites, who are often reluctantly driven to loyalty by fear and a lack of alternative leadership.

The following extract is taken from our chapter entitled ‘Scorched Earth: The Rise of the Islamisms’:

“We used to laugh at the regime propaganda about Salafist gangs and Islamic emirates. Then the regime created the conditions to make it happen.” – Monzer Al Sallal

Tormented, bereaved and dispossessed, the Syrian people turned more intensely to religion. This doesn’t mean they became advocates of public beheadings and compulsory veiling; almost all were horrified by the appearance of these phenomena and most still expressed the desire for a civil rather than an Islamic state. A minority, disgusted by the uses to which religion had been put, questioned it more intensely than before. But in general religious emotions were inflamed, religious references were reinforced.

The first cause was the same one which powered militarisation – the brute fact of extreme violence. In most cultures the proximity of death will focus minds on the transcendent – there are no atheists in foxholes, as the saying goes – and more so in an already religious society like Syria’s. Faith is intensified by death and the threat of death, and by the pain and humiliation of torture. And when the nation is splintering, sub-national identities are reinforced. In death’s presence, people want to feel like we, not like I, because I is small and easily erased.

Source: The National.
Link: http://www.thenational.ae/arts-life/the-review/the-long-read-what-does-the-future-hold-for-syrias-people.

Saudi warplanes arrive in Turkey's Incirlik base

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Saudi military jets have arrived in Turkey's Incirlik air base in southern Adana province to carry out missions against Daesh, a Saudi military spokesman said late Saturday.

Brigadier Ahmed al-Assiri told Al Arabiya television network that the aircraft will be used in joint operations against Daesh in Syria.

Assiri also said that no Saudi ground forces had been sent yet.

About the possibility of a ground operation in Syria, the Saudi official said that military specialists were still analyzing the situation and details would be finalized in the upcoming days.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said Saturday that no decision about a possible Turkish ground operation in Syria had been made yet. "[There is] currently… no decision or a strategy to conduct ground operations," although Turkey has long advocated land operations in Syria, Cavusoglu said.

Turkey, together with coalition forces, has been making efforts to eliminate Daesh in Syria.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/23908-saudi-warplanes-arrive-in-turkeys-incirlik-base.

US deploys more Patriot missiles in S. Korea

Seoul (AFP)
Feb 13, 2016

The United States has temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea following North Korea's recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, US Forces Korea said Saturday.

The move came as the two allies plan to start detailed discussions on bringing in an advanced, high-altitude US missile defense system opposed by China as early as next week.

"This deployment is part of an emergency deployment readiness exercise conducted in response to recent North Korean provocations," the US Forces Korea said in a press statement, referring to the temporary roll-out of a Patriot missile battery, which was flown from Fort Bliss, Texas this week.

"Exercises like this ensure we are always ready to defend against an attack from North Korea," said Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army.

The newly deployed Patriot battery is conducting ballistic missile defense training with the Eighth Army's 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Osan Air Base, some 47 kilometers (30 miles) south of Seoul.

The brigade has its own two Patriot battalions. One Patriot battalion is reportedly composed of four batteries.

Just hours after North Korea launched a long-range rocket that both condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test, South Korea and the United States announced their intention to start discussions on deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD).

The Pentagon has since stressed that it would like the system to be deployed in South Korea "as quickly as possible".

A senior South Korean defense ministry official said Friday detailed discussions on THAAD deployment would kick off as early as next week.

China and Russia argue that it would trigger an arms race in the region, with Beijing voicing its "deep concern" over the deployment.

South Korea had previously declined to formally discuss bringing in THAAD in deference to the sensitivities of China, its most important trade partner.

But North Korea's continued missile testing and frustration with Beijing's resistance to imposing harsh sanctions on Pyongyang apparently triggered a change in Seoul's stance.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_deploys_more_Patriot_missiles_in_S_Korea_999.html.

Germany presses Russia, Ukraine to implement peace deal

February 13, 2016

MUNICH (AP) — Germany's foreign minister pressed for progress on a year-old peace plan for eastern Ukraine as he met Saturday with senior officials from Russia, Ukraine and France, saying he hopes that Moscow and Kiev realize that they don't have forever to implement the deal.

After the effort in Munich to push forward diplomatic efforts, Russia's prime minister and Ukraine's president exchanged accusations at a security conference in the city — underlining the depth of distrust between the two sides and the hurdles diplomats face.

Germany and France brokered the peace deal for eastern Ukraine in Minsk, Belarus, a year ago and have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to try to implement it. Still, fighting hasn't fully stopped and there has been little progress in bringing about a political settlement.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosted Saturday's meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine's Pavlo Klimkin, along with the French Foreign Ministry's political director Nicolas de Riviere. Steinmeier told the Munich Security Conference after the gathering that "not talking to each other in times of crisis can't be the answer."

In a written statement, he added that "we are still a fair way from implementing Minsk." He said the ministers called for proposals before their next meeting — which German officials hope will happen by the beginning of March — on how to ensure the cease-fire is better respected and prepare for local elections in eastern areas held by pro-Russian rebels.

"I am counting on it being clear to all those in positions of responsibility in Kiev and Moscow that we no longer have forever to implement what was agreed in Minsk," Steinmeier said. "We must not let up in our efforts to push the parties to the conflict to take further steps."

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said later Saturday that the Minsk agreement must be observed by everyone — "but we believe that it's first and foremost up to the Kiev authorities to do that." He added that Ukraine hasn't amended its constitution as it was supposed to do and hasn't "lived up to its obligations on a broad amnesty" allowing everyone to vote in local elections.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, meanwhile, stressed the need to return control of the Ukrainian-Russian border to Kiev. Blasting Russia's actions in Ukraine and in Syria's civil war, he said they are "a demonstration that we live in a completely different universe with Russia."

Multiple crises challenge European Union before summit

February 15, 2016

LONDON (AP) — If the European Union were a patient, its survival would be seen as threatened by multiple organ failure.

That's the view of many experts as EU leaders prepare for a Brussels summit that starts Thursday. Analysts believe the combined strain of challenges including a refugee crisis, threats facing the euro currency and Britain's plan to hold a referendum on whether to leave the EU may be unbearable for the 28-nation bloc.

Just 20 years ago, the EU seemed to be growing in stature as it proudly offered freedom and democracy — along with lucrative subsidies, military alliances and billions in foreign investment — to newly freed former Soviet satellites.

Now, NATO warships are steaming toward the Aegean Sea in an escalated bid to impose order on the chaotic arrival of more than 1 million migrants, which has not abated despite the wintry weather in southern Europe.

Informal mini-blocs have formed within the European Union, with some countries banding together to challenge, or just ignore, the EU's announced refugee resettlement program. Temporary border controls have been introduced in key countries including Germany and France, threatening the cherished notion of freedom of movement across European borders.

Britain, a nuclear power with a seat at the U.N. Security Council, is demanding concessions before a referendum on whether the U.K. should simply abandon the EU, a prospect known as "Brexit." And a slow-burning, extremely divisive budget crunch threatens the future of the euro single currency that has been a hallmark of European integration.

Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network research group in London, said the EU is "undergoing an existential crisis" as a once shared sense of mission fades. Countries are pursuing their perceived national interests instead of seeking collective solutions, he said, and the notion of European solidarity is fading.

"It's anybody's guess now whether it will survive long term," he said of the European Union. "I think it's that serious. It's not just the migration crisis, or Brexit. The challenge is the lack of faith in the mainstream political class in Europe that is evident across the continent, manifested in the rise of populist movements. The migration crisis has simply highlighted it."

The summit is one of a series of meetings that have tried, but mostly failed, to find an effective collective response to the chaotic arrival of so many people. Leaders will consider fairly minor changes to Britain's status aimed at placating restive British voters ahead of a referendum, and assess how well — or poorly — earlier edicts on migration have been implemented.

The union has a knack for solving difficult situations by building consensus, and papering over cracks with layers of bureaucracy, but some warn the migrant situation is a more serious threat to continental unity.

Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe group at King's College London, says the European Union simply doesn't have a practical method of tackling its myriad mounting problems. The structures set up when the union was formed by six countries as the European Economic Community in 1958, and diluted with the addition of so many countries with differing perspectives, are simply too weak, he said, so nations either make unilateral decisions or forge small alliances with other countries in the bloc that share their concerns.

"The European project is probably in trouble," he said. "The EU is where it's been for the last few years: Very big crises without the tools to address them. It's a halfway house of integration. You have a little bit of authority in these areas — the migrants, Greece — but the big decisions are made by the member states. It's fragmented because the member states have completely different views."

Europe needs to have one cogent immigration policy to cope with the influx of people from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere but won't be able to forge one because countries don't view the problem the same way.

"The countries in the south like Greece and Italy are facing the brunt of it," Menon said. "A few countries in the north — Germany and the Scandinavians — were generous at first and are now regretting it. The Brits are pretending it's not happening. And the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) say they are not interested in helping for reasons of culture and history. They say they have no history of taking in migrants."

Officials had expected the flow of desperate people fleeing war and poverty would slow during the winter months, but The International Organization for Migration said this week that 76,000 people — nearly 2,000 per day — have reached Europe by sea since Jan. 1, a nearly tenfold increase over the same period the year before. More than 400 have died, most of them drowning in frigid waters.

In this diffuse environment, it is difficult to see the EU managing to respond effectively to such an unpredictable situation. It was much easier 20 years ago, before Islamic extremism had showed its face inside Europe. The opening of the continent's internal and external borders was seen then as a welcome part of a peace dividend, not an Achilles' heel that left residents more vulnerable to suicide bombings and marauding gunmen. The relative stability in the Middle East meant the flow of migrants was manageable, not seen as a threat.

At the time, French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl articulated forceful arguments in favor of more integration, and they were used to imposing their vision on the rest of the bloc, which was smaller and easier to manage.

When the Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 it heralded a new era of passport-free travel in much of Europe, speeding trade, facilitating the easy movement of workers and students, and giving concrete, facts-on-the-ground reality to the idea of a continent turning its back on the wars of the past in favor of a more hopeful vision.

This inclusive approach guided the expansion of the European Union — as the bloc was renamed in 1993 — when Eastern European countries lined up to join. Stefan Lehne, visiting scholar with Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said the unsolved refugee calamity may put the EU integration process into reverse by rendering the Schengen agreement unworkable — pointing out that border controls have already been temporarily reintroduced in some countries, as allowed by Schengen rules — and threatening other integration goals.

He said the rule of law, and the EU's authority, has already been undermined by the bloc's failure to implement an agreed upon quota system calling for the resettlement of refugees in a number of countries. Stark divisions have been exposed, he said, by the way the Visegrad countries in Eastern Europe reap the economic benefits of EU membership but while refusing to help the refugees.

All these factors, he said, have put the brakes on integration — and may shortly lead to its opposite. "This is really the first time we might lose a very real achievement of the integration project, Schengen, with important economic costs," he said. "It's also very symbolically important. My sense is that unless we get a grip on refugees, the integration process will be reversed."

50 Latvian couples get hitched in midair, literally

February 14, 2016

JEKABPILS, Latvia (AP) — Latvian couples have tied the knot in the air on Valentine's Day hoping to set a world record in the number of simultaneous weddings in hot air balloons.

Fifty couples in 30 balloons rose into the sky Sunday during the Love Cup festival near the southeastern city of Jekabpils, watched by thousands of spectators but the balloons were hitched to cars because it was snowing at the time, impeding them from rising higher than some 15 meters.

It wasn't immediately clear if the ceremony would qualify for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest airborne wedding in hot air balloons. The event was watched by independent observers, including a Guinness representative who couldn't be reached for comment.

Haiti lawmakers elect Senate chief as provisional president

February 14, 2016

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Lawmakers chose the Senate chief on Sunday to lead a caretaker government that will fill the void left by the end of President Michel Martelly's term last week and perhaps ease tensions that suspended elections and pushed deeply polarized Haiti into political crisis.

In the early hours of Sunday, Jocelerme Privert was elected as provisional president and sworn in after a plodding session by Haiti's bicameral legislature. He was formally installed in the afternoon before a crowd of Haitian officials and foreign diplomats.

The veteran politician was one of three candidates vying to lead an interim government that is supposed to last only 120 days. His new position will be that of a powerbroker who hopefully carries enough weight to quickly smooth political divisions that have left Haiti without a president chosen by voters or a completed Parliament due to the suspended elections. Prime Minister Evans Paul remains in office for now, but Privert and lawmakers are expected to choose a No. 2 official in coming days.

During a speech to lawmakers hours before their final vote, Privert promised that if selected he would lead a caretaker administration that would "foster confidence within all sectors of society," ensure stability and see that the electoral cycle is concluded "as soon as possible."

He submitted his resignation letter from the Senate to start his new post. An initial vote by legislators gave Privert just two votes more than Edgard Leblanc, a former Senate president who was being backed by Martelly's political faction. But after closed-door negotiations, Privert became interim president after 3 a.m. in a second round of voting that gave him a clear majority of hand-written votes from senators and lower house deputies.

Martelly, who was barred by Haiti's constitution from seeking a consecutive term as president, left office a week ago without a new elected leader in place. A runoff presidential election was delayed for a second time last month amid violent opposition protests and deep public suspicions about possible vote-rigging in favor of his chosen successor.

Less than 24 hours before Martelly was set to step down Feb. 7, top Haitian leaders managed to cobble together plans for a short-term provisional government and a roadmap to hold the postponed presidential and legislative runoffs. As Senate chief, Privert was a central figure in those talks.

Privert faces an uphill battle in bringing the troubled country and its perennially feuding politicians together. In recent days, some demonstrators took to the capital's streets to protest against his inclusion as a candidate for provisional president, while others marched to support him.

The elevation to interim leader is a dramatic transformation for Privert, who was jailed for over two years at the start of Haiti's last provisional government in 2004. Charges that were eventually dismissed alleged the former Cabinet minister orchestrated a massacre of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's opponents during the buildup to an armed rebellion that ousted Aristide. Privert always maintained he was a political prisoner and had no involvement in any killings.

Privert recently told The Associated Press that a new electoral council will be created soon to ensure that the postponed runoff voting is fair and transparent. The accord on the interim government says the vote should be held April 24, but Privert has stressed that the next council is responsible for confirming the date and all other electoral matters.

Uganda's president cites security as key topic in debate

February 13, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's long-time president declared Saturday he would deal firmly with any security threats during and after next week's presidential election, brushing aside fears of violence during a televised debate with seven challengers.

President Yoweri Museveni missed the first presidential debate and later said such events "should be left to high school students." But he took part in Saturday night's debate, which was watched by millions on live television, amid signs the race is tighter than previously thought.

"The bottom line is no one can play around with the security of Uganda when I am president," the 71-year-old leader said. Ugandans will choose a new president on Thursday, and opinion polls have shown Museveni in a close race with opposition leader Kizza Besigye to lead this east African nation of 36 million.

Uganda has not had a peaceful transfer of power since the country's independence from Britain in 1962. Museveni himself took power by force in 1986. Besigye, a four-time presidential candidate, has been holding massive rallies across the country as he campaigns on a promise to clean up Ugandan politics and to improve government efficiency.

"I was disappointed when Museveni did not attend the first debate, because he should be a role model for others to follow," said Junior Muhwezi, a university student who watched Saturday's debate. Museveni has been a U.S. ally on regional security, especially on the topic of Somalia, which has been plagued by attacks by violent Islamic militants. But at home, Museveni's critics accuse the 71-year-old of increasingly behaving like a dictator.

Last month an army general who criticized Museveni as authoritarian was arrested by the military and sent to jail, drawing condemnation from critics who accused the government of intimidating perceived political opponents.

Central African Republic voters seek leader to end chaos

February 14, 2016

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Central African Republic went ahead with a presidential runoff vote Sunday that many hope will solidify the country's tentative peace after more than two years of sectarian fighting left thousands dead and nearly 1 million people displaced including most of the capital's Muslim population.

Armored U.N. personnel carriers roamed the streets of Bangui as residents headed to the polls not long after sunrise. Some 2,000 U.N. peacekeepers are deployed in the capital while 8,000 others were working to secure the vote in the largely anarchic provinces.

Residents said they planned to set aside painful memories of the chaos that intensified in late 2013 when Christian militia fighters known as the anti-Balaka attacked Bangui, unleashing cycles of retaliatory violence with mostly Muslim Seleka fighters. At the height of the violence people were killed and dismembered by mobs in the capital's streets. More than 460,000 people fled for their lives to neighboring countries, many aboard trucks that came under attack even as refugees tried to leave.

The conflict at the time was a political dispute over who would lead Central African Republic, but it divided communities among religious fault lines: Hundreds of mosques and churches were destroyed, interreligious marriages unraveled. A new spasm of violence late last year effectively barricaded most of Bangui's remaining Muslims inside the PK5 neighborhood for several months.

Now voters are being given a choice of two former prime ministers — both promising to unite the country and bring the peace people here desperately want. Front-runner Anicet Georges Dologuele received about 24 percent in the first round and also was endorsed by the third-place finisher. However, Faustin Archange Touadera has strong grassroots support after placing second in the December ballot.

Noel Poutou, 74, is a lifelong resident of the PK5 neighborhood, never venturing outside it over the last two years. Even when bloody stones on the ground marked where fellow Muslims had been beaten to death by mobs, he stayed.

"Everything has a beginning and an end," he said with his wooden cane at his side, dressed in a deep green traditional Muslim tunic and white prayer hat. "For me, this is the end of the crisis. Everyone here has lost loved ones and friends. I ask God to bring peace so that people can forget and become a family here again."

Voters lining up at 6 a.m. in the Fatima district of the capital said they too hoped the vote would bring a definitive end to the violence. Tensions, though, were high as some were momentarily blocked from voting because they did not have photo identification along with their voting cards.

Such ID was not required in the first round of balloting, and many frustrated voters said they had lost their papers along with their homes during the latest wave of violence late last year as Seleka fighters attacked predominantly Christian neighborhoods.

"I've been standing here in line since 5 a.m.," said Anne-Marie Betaboye as she clutched her Catholic rosary beads in her right hand. "My house was burned to the ground; I'm living on the grounds of the church."

Authorities said they were talking to neighborhood officials about finding a solution. Other voters said their names did not appear on the list at the polling station where they voted during the first round in December.

A period of relative peace has taken hold in the months since Pope Francis pushed aside suggestions it was too dangerous to visit Central African Republic. The pope set an example for many, residents said, by coming to PK5 in November to meet with Muslim community leaders even as peacekeepers manned sniper points from the minarets in case the pope's entourage came under attack.

Sunday's vote, which was delayed several times, is designed to bring an end to the transitional government set up two years ago. Its formation was the culmination of a chaotic period when the last elected president was overthrown by rebels, then the rebel leader forced to step aside as his fighters carried out atrocities against civilians.

And yet even as conditions improve, tens of thousands are casting their ballots from refugee camps in neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Two of the most prominent anti-Balaka leaders are on the ballot, running for legislative seats.

Junior Yangangoussou, 30, a finance administer in Bangui, acknowledges it's a delicate situation. While voting day is expected to go smoothly, things could become tense once the ballots are counted, he says.

"We are somewhat afraid of the results, and we are praying to God for peace," he said. "The country has not been disarmed. Weapons are everywhere in every district of Central African Republic."

Barcelona sets club record of 29 straight games without loss

February 11, 2016

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona broke the club record with its 29th consecutive unbeaten game when its second-stringers salvaged a 1-1 draw against Valencia in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Wednesday.

Barcelona reached its third straight Copa final 8-1 on aggregate after it won the first leg 7-0 at the Camp Nou last week. Striker Alvaro Negredo gave Valencia the lead in a breakaway before halftime, but Cameroon-born youngster Wilfrid Kaptoum, a member of Barcelona's B team, equalized in the 84th, two minutes into his senior debut.

Barcelona eclipsed the record it shared with Pep Guardiola's 2011 squad, despite playing without nearly all of its regular starters at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, including Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. Coach Luis Enrique used youngsters, with Ivan Rakitic the only experienced starter.

"Honestly, the record wasn't our main goal," Rakitic said. "We are happy, but the most important thing is to win titles at the end of the season. We would all exchange the record for titles." The draw should increase pressure on Valencia coach Gary Neville, the former England defender who has been struggling in his first head-coaching job. He also used second-stringers in his squad, resting some of the starters for the Spanish league game against Espanyol on Saturday.

Barcelona will likely play the final against Sevilla, which holds a four-goal lead over Celta going into Thursday's second leg in Vigo. It will be Barcelona's sixth Copa del Rey final in the last eight seasons.

"We are thrilled to make it to another final," Enrique said. "Our fans are getting spoiled, just look at the number of Copa finals that we've played in the last few years. It tells a lot about this club's capacity to reinvent itself, it tells a lot about the type of players that we have."

Enrique's team hasn't lost since a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the seventh round of the Spanish league in October. It was trying to win its 11th in a row on Wednesday. Guardiola's steak ended with a 3-1 loss at Real Betis in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. His team won 23 games and drew five, scoring 85 goals and conceding 14.

Enrique's squad has won 23 games and drawn six, scoring 87 and conceding 15. The Barcelona team coached by Rinus Michels and including Johan Cruyff in the 1973-74 season, won 27 straight games. Negredo opened the scoring after entering the area free from markers. He found the net after his initial shot was partially blocked by Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. The late equalizer by the 19-year-old Kaptoum came with a close-range shot after a low cross by Juan Camara.

Valencia had lost three straight games. It hasn't won in the Spanish league in 12 rounds, nine of those under the command of Neville. "It's a small step to try to regain some confidence and keep us in the right direction to turn things around," Valencia forward Pablo Piatti said. "We are disappointed, the team hasn't met expectations so far."

Only about 16,000 fans showed up at the 55,000-seat Mestalla. A supporter held a banner that read: "Bye bye, Neville." "I'm thankful for the fans who came to the stadium. Some didn't want to come and that was their right," Neville said. "We weren't playing under the best circumstances after what happened (in the first leg) last week, but the players played with dignity. We deserved to win."

Rosetta's lander faces eternal hibernation

Paris (ESA)
Feb 13, 2016

Silent since its last call to mothership Rosetta seven months ago, the Philae lander is facing conditions on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from which it is unlikely to recover.

Rosetta, which continues its scientific investigations at the comet until September before its own comet-landing finale, has in recent months been balancing science observations with flying dedicated trajectories optimized to listen out for Philae. But the lander has remained silent since 9 July 2015.

"The chances for Philae to contact our team at our lander control center are unfortunately getting close to zero," says Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager at the German Aerospace Center, DLR. "We are not sending commands any more and it would be very surprising if we were to receive a signal again."

Philae's team of expert engineers and scientists at the German, French and Italian space centers and across Europe have carried out extensive investigations to try to understand the status of the lander, piecing together clues since it completed its first set of scientific activities after its historic landing on 12 November 2014.

A story with incredible twists and turns unfolded on that day. In addition to a faulty thruster, Philae also failed to fire its harpoons and lock itself onto the surface of the comet after its seven-hour descent, bouncing from its initial touchdown point at Agilkia, to a new landing site, Abydos, over 1 km away. The precise location of the lander has yet to be confirmed in high-resolution images.

A reconstruction of the flight of the lander suggested that it made contact with the comet four times during its two-hour additional flight across the small comet lobe. After bouncing from Agilkia it grazed the rim of the Hatmehit depression, bounced again, and then finally settled on the surface at Abydos.

Even after this unplanned excursion, the lander was still able to make an impressive array of science measurements, with some even as it was flying above the surface after the first bounce.

Once the lander had made its final touchdown, science and operations teams worked around the clock to adapt the experiments to make the most of the unanticipated situation. About 80% of its initial planned scientific activities were completed.

In the 64 hours following its separation from Rosetta, Philae took detailed images of the comet from above and on the surface, sniffed out organic compounds, and profiled the local environment and surface properties of the comet, providing revolutionary insights into this fascinating world.

But with insufficient sunlight falling on Philae's new home to charge its secondary batteries, the race was on to collect and transmit the data to Rosetta and across 510 million kilometers of space back to Earth before the lander's primary battery was exhausted as expected. Thus, on the evening of 14-15 November 2014, Philae fell into hibernation.

As the comet and the spacecraft moved closer to the Sun ahead of perihelion on 13 August 2015 - the closest point to the Sun along its orbit - there were hopes that Philae would wake up again.

Estimates of the thermal conditions at the landing site suggested that the lander might receive enough sunlight to start warming up to the minimum -45+ C required for it to operate on the surface even by the end of March 2015.

It is worth noting that if Philae had remained at its original landing site of Agilkia, it would have likely overheated by March, ending any further operations.

On 13 June 2015, the lander finally hailed the orbiting Rosetta and subsequently transmitted housekeeping telemetry, including information from its thermal, power and computer subsystems.

Subsequent analysis of the data indicated that the lander had in fact already woken up on 26 April 2015, but had been unable to send any signals until 13 June.

The fact that the lander had survived the multiple impacts on 12 November and then unfavorable environmental conditions, greatly exceeding the specifications of its various electronic components, was quite remarkable.

After 13 June, Philae made a further seven intermittent contacts with Rosetta in the following weeks, with the last coming on 9 July. However, the communications links that were established were too short and unstable to enable any scientific measurements to be commanded.

Despite the improved thermal conditions, with temperatures inside Philae reaching 0+ C, no further contacts were made as the comet approached perihelion in August.

However, the months around perihelion are also the comet's most active. With increased levels of outflowing gas and dust, conditions were too challenging for Rosetta to operate safely close enough to the comet and within the 200 km where the signals had previously been detected from Philae.

In more recent months, the comet's activity has subsided enough to make it possible to approach the nucleus again safely - this week the spacecraft reached around 45 km - and Rosetta has made repeated passes over Abydos.

No signal has been received, however. Attempts to send commands 'in the blind' to trigger a response from Philae have also not produced any results.

The mission engineers think that failures of Philae's transmitters and receivers are the most likely explanation for the irregular contacts last year, followed by continued silence into this year.

Another difficulty that Philae may be facing is dust covering its solar panels, ejected by the comet during the active perihelion months, preventing the lander from powering up.

Also, the attitude and even location of Philae may have changed since November 2014 owing to cometary activity, meaning that the direction in which its antenna is sending signals to Rosetta is not as predicted, affecting the expected communication window.

"The comet's level of activity is now decreasing, allowing Rosetta to safely and gradually reduce its distance to the comet again," says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft operations manager.

"Eventually we will be able to fly in 'bound orbits' again, approaching to within 10-20 km - and even closer in the final stages of the mission - putting us in a position to fly above Abydos close enough to obtain dedicated high-resolution images to finally locate Philae and understand its attitude and orientation."

"Determining Philae's location would also allow us to better understand the context of the incredible in situ measurements already collected, enabling us to extract even more valuable science from the data," says Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist.

"Philae is the cherry on the cake of the Rosetta mission, and we are eager to see just where the cherry really is!"

At the same time, Rosetta, Philae and the comet are heading back out towards the outer Solar System again. They have crossed the orbit of Mars and are now some 350 million km from the Sun. According to predictions, the temperatures should be falling far below those at which Philae is expected to be able to operate.

Nevertheless, while hopes of making contact again with Philae dwindle, Rosetta will continue to listen for signals from the lander as it flies alongside the comet ahead of its own comet landing in September.

"We would be very surprised to hear from Philae again after so long, but we will keep Rosetta's listening channel on until it is no longer possible due to power constraints as we move ever further from the Sun towards the end of the mission," says Patrick Martin, ESA's Rosetta mission manager.

"Philae has been a tremendous challenge and for the lander teams to have achieved the science results that they have in the unexpected and difficult circumstances is something we can all be proud of.

"The combined achievements of Rosetta and Philae, rendezvousing with and landing on a comet, are historic high points in space exploration."

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Rosettas_lander_faces_eternal_hibernation_999.html.

Russian military reveals rocket launching, flame throwing tank killer drone

Moscow (Sputnik)
Feb 13, 2016

The Russian military has unveiled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which can carry anti-tank rocket launchers and flamethrowers; it can also fly on reconnaissance missions, transport cargo and coordinate artillery fire on the battlefield.

The drone was developed by the United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation (UIMC), a subsidiary of the civil and military technology firm Russian Technologies State Corporation (Rostec).

"The drone determines the coordinates of a location using GLONASS satellite signals and can correct artillery fire. The combat multicopter is able to find enemy objects such as tanks and armored vehicles and destroy them with rockets," UIMC explained.

"It is capable of carrying out reconnaissance and monitoring, patrolling closed and open spaces, transporting cargo, preparing cartographic material and also conducting military operations," UIMC general director Sergey Skokov told RIA Novosti.

"The human role in the management of the robots has been minimized. The squadron of drones is capable of working autonomously, as each machine independently fulfills its function and precisely follows a specified route," Skokov said.

UIMC presented its new invention on Wednesday at a military technology conference held at the 'Patriot' military exhibition center outside Moscow, devoted to the 'Robot Automation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.'

The conference was the first of its kind in Russia, and attracted more than 500 representatives of Russian firms working in the defense technology industry.

"The aim of the conference is the development of practical recommendations for the robot automation of the armed forces," explained Aleksandr Mironov, head of scientific research at the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Mironov told RIA Novosti that conference participants discussed regulatory and technical-organizational issues regarding the development of Russian robotics, such as greater cooperation between agencies to exchange knowledge and experience in the creation and implementation of robotic systems.

"The number of exhibitors, the large number of about 500 conference participants and their interest in solving assignments, demonstrate that the problems of robot automation will be solved and that new recommendations and pathways are being developed," Mironov told RIA Novosti.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russian_military_reveals_rocket_launching_flame_throwing_tank_killer_drone_999.html.

Russia sends brand new cruise missile ship to Syria: report

Moscow (AFP)
Feb 13, 2016

Russia has dispatched a new ship armed with cruise missiles to the Mediterranean, the navy announced Saturday, as reports said it is bound for Syria.

The Zelyony Dol, a patrol ship armed with Kalibr cruise missiles that only joined the Black Sea fleet in December, departed for the Mediterranean, the Black Sea fleet said in a statement.

RIA-Novosti news agency further quoted a security source in Crimea -- where the Black Sea fleet is based -- saying that the ship is bound for Syria and may take part in Russia's campaign to support the Syrian army.

"The goals of the ship are not public but considering that it is carrying long-range cruise missiles, its participation in the military operation should not be excluded," the source was quoted as saying just a day after world powers agreed to cease hostilities in the war-ravaged country.

Zelyony Dol was only built last year and this week took part in a massive landing operation exercise to train "holding the coast" while landing troops attempt to take control.

Moscow is under fire for its bombing campaign in Syria, with the United States this week accusing it of undermining peace talks by helping in an offensive on the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Russia meanwhile warned against any ground intervention in Syria by countries in the US-led coalition with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying it would unleash another war.

"Don't threaten anyone with a ground operation," he said Saturday in Munich in a speech that lashed out at the West and talked of a "new Cold War."

Russian navy used cruise missiles to strike Syria in October, launching them from the Caspian Sea, as well as in December, when they were launched from a submarine in the Mediterranean.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_sends_brand_new_cruise_missile_ship_to_Syria_report_999.html.

Nepal Maoists mark 20 years since start of civil war

Kathmandu (AFP)
Feb 13, 2016

Nepal's former Maoist rebels paid tribute to fallen comrades Saturday in a ceremony marking 20 years since the start of an insurgency that transformed the Himalayan nation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.

On 13 February, 1996, Maoist guerrillas attacked a police post in western Nepal's Rolpa district, launching a decade-long civil war that eventually claimed some 16,000 lives and left hundreds of people missing.

Hundreds of Maoist cadres gathered at the party's office in Kathmandu, waving red flags as senior leaders placed garlands on the "martyr's pillar" -- a monument built to honour fallen and missing combatants.

The rebels laid down arms in 2006 before entering politics and eventually helping to draft the country's new national constitution.

Introduced in September, the charter established Nepal as a secular federal republic, reflecting Maoist ideology.

"The constitution is the product of our war and we... take ownership of the new constitution," Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom-de-guerre Prachanda, told cheering cadres in Kathmandu.

But for many ordinary Nepalis, who voted for the party in Nepal's first constituent assembly elections held in 2008, the Maoists failed to deliver on their pledge of bringing equality and progress to the deeply feudal country.

"Many people lost their lives, many went missing or became disabled so things would change in this country," Rina Tamang, a shopkeeper in Kathmandu, told AFP.

"Now we have a new constitution but we are still waiting for the change the Maoists promised us. Personally, I have no hope left anymore," the 39-year-old said.

After sweeping to victory in the 2008 polls, the former rebels soon came under fire for abandoning revolutionary ideals and developing a taste for luxury.

They alienated their voter base and crashed out in Nepal's second constituent assembly elections in 2013, finishing in third place.

"A few leaders compromised on their promises, a few betrayed the revolution for lucrative positions in government... all this needs to be rectified to bring real change," said former guerrilla, Laxmi Prasad Chaulagain.

The constitution, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to bolster Nepal's transformation into a peaceful democratic republic after decades of political instability.

But it has instead sparked violence, with more than 50 people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators from Nepal's Madhesi ethnic minority, who say it leaves them politically marginalized.

Ongoing discussions between the government and protesting parties have failed to yield an agreement.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Nepal_Maoists_mark_20_years_since_start_of_civil_war_999.html.