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Monday, May 16, 2016

Report: Germany to spend $106 billion on refugees

May 14, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's federal government expects to spend 93.6 billion euros ($106.2 billion) to support refugees over the next five years, weekly Der Spiegel reported Saturday. The Hamburg-based magazine cited a finance ministry document that predicted the annual costs would rise from about 16.1 billion euros ($18.2 billion) this year to 20.4 billion in 2020.

Much of the money would go toward basic benefits, housing support and language lessons for asylum-seekers, but the overall amount also includes spending on efforts to fight the reasons why people flee their home countries and seek refuge in Germany.

Finance ministry spokesman Juerg Weissgerber declined to comment on the figures but confirmed that federal officials were in discussion with representatives from Germany's 16 states about the cost of supporting refugees. They are aiming to reach an agreement on sharing the cost by the time Chancellor Angela Merkel meets state leaders on May 31.

Heavy government spending on refugees has boosted Germany's economy in recent months, but has also stoked resentment among some Germans who believe that migrants are getting preferential treatment. A nationalist party, Alternative for Germany, has surged in recent polls and the number of attacks against refugee shelters has increased sharply over the past year.

Almost 1.1 million asylum-seekers entered Germany last year, although the government has stressed that the figure doesn't account for those who move on to other countries or return home. The finance ministry document cited by Der Spiegel predicts that 600,000 refugees will come to Germany this year, falling to 400,000 in 2017 and 300,000 in the following years. It assumes that over half of those who are officially recognized as refugees will find work within five years.

Thanks to low unemployment and strong exports, Germany recorded a budget surplus of 12.1 billion euros last year on federal spending of 299.3 billion euros. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has stuck to his policy of balancing the country's budget despite the cost of dealing with the influx of migrants. Schaeuble said last week that Germany should be "able to manage the current major challenges without new debt."

German village with big refugee camp defies fears of trouble

May 09, 2016

SUMTE, Germany (AP) — When state authorities called Mayor Grit Richter in October to tell her they planned to temporarily house up to 1,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere in a former office complex in the tiny village of Sumte, she couldn't imagine how it would work. The area is short on jobs, public transport and other facilities, and residents were anxious about the new arrivals.

Six months after the first arrivals, not only have fears of violence and overtaxed utilities not materialized, but the shelter has brought benefits including dozens of jobs to the sleepy village of 102 people and the isolated rural region of northern Germany where it is located.

There are few signs of friction, and if people still have concerns, they're not willing to talk to reporters about them. Residents have better lighting and more police, and some even hope the facility will remain after its planned one-year life span ends.

"What has been very positive is the jobs — that is very important — and the economic spring it has brought. That's needed here," said Richter, the mayor of the Neuhaus municipality, which includes Sumte. "It would be nice if it lasted."

She wasn't always so confident. "My first thought was, my God, so many refugees, so many people in this building — Sumte's infrastructure can't deal with that ... and how are we supposed to do it?" recalled Richter, who got the call when the influx of migrants was at its peak. In all, nearly 1.1 million people were registered as asylum-seekers in Germany last year.

Germany has been the biggest destination for migrants in Europe, with several other countries reluctant to share the burden. And while Germans have generally been welcoming, that hasn't been the case everywhere: screaming anti-refugee mobs made headlines in some places, particularly in the ex-communist east.

At a sometimes heated town-hall meeting in the tiny next-door town of Neuhaus, residents raised concerns about children's safety, the prospect of many single men arriving and whether the sewage system would collapse, among other things.

"A lot of questions were asked, people were very anxious — but we saw in retrospect that these fears were unfounded," said Kim-Eileen Fischer, 20, who graduated from high school last summer and became deputy chef at the facility.

The first refugees arrived in early November, after a few frantic weeks knocking the building into shape. Jens Meier, who runs it, hired around 70 people to keep it going: security staff, people to work in the kitchen and medical center, administrators and others. He says more than 40 were local residents.

They include Sabine Schack, who landed a position running the laundry after losing her previous job of some 20 years and said it was "very nice, very important" to get the work after an 18-month sickness break.

"You have to take on the challenge and not go with prejudices," she says of the task of hosting the migrants. She's still in contact with two families who moved on from the facility, where people live for the first few months before being moved to more permanent accommodation.

Drive through Sumte — essentially a single street of well-tended houses, lined with blossoming fruit trees — and you could miss the facility entirely. The single-story complex, once home to a debt-collection company that was the biggest local employer, is hidden down a side road on the village's edge, between fields with cows and horses. There's a bus shelter and nothing else. The nearest shop and snack bar are in Neuhaus, 4 kilometers (2 ½ miles) away. Many locals make long commutes during the week to Hamburg or the county seat, Lueneburg, but the refugee center has meant orders for local firms and jobs nearby for some.

Before the first migrants arrived, the sewage system and pumps were upgraded and more street lamps installed. They're now kept on overnight, rather than being switched off to save money. The municipality now has four police officers rather than two, and longer police station opening hours. The state government picked up most of the costs, while a lighting manufacturer also made a donation.

There have been minor problems, quickly resolved, among them a complaint about empty bottles being tossed into a field by youths gathering at the bus stop. The bottles were cleared up, camp residents told not to do it again — and another bus shelter was set up outside the refugee complex for young people to hang out in.

That apart, "everyday life has remained unchanged," Richter said. Locals have gotten used to newcomers in the local supermarket, to which the shelter runs shuttle buses. While there isn't much contact between migrants and locals, the refugees organized a Christmas concert that residents attended.

In the end, the number of refugees in Sumte peaked at 706. It's now down to 115, with no new arrivals since late February. Sumte's remoteness, along with northern Germans' traditionally calm and reserved mentality, may have helped make the project a success.

"The quietness of this area may have played a certain role," said Meier, the shelter chief. "You can really wind down here, particularly if you come from turbulent circumstances." Amir Sharafiddin, a 26-year-old from Homs, Syria, said the uneventful life is "not a problem" for people coming from a broken country — "it's good for them now."

A resident of the shelter for five months, he's now helping as an Arabic-English translator, saying he wants to give something back to Germans for fear they may "get tired." "I cannot say something bad about Sumte," he said.

World's biggest cruise ship sets sail from France

May 15, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of French well-wishers waved goodbye to the largest cruise ship in the world as it set sail on its maiden voyage to the U.K. after 32 months in a French shipyard. The $1 billion Harmony of the Seas cut a gargantuan silhouette Sunday as it left the western port town of Saint-Nazaire.

At 362 meters (1,187 feet) long, the 16-deck ship is bigger than the Eiffel Tower and holds the record for being the widest cruise ship ever built — boasting a 6,360-passenger capacity. It's been compared to a floating city with more than 2,500 staterooms, 20 dining venues, 23 swimming pools and a park with more than 10,000 plants and 50 trees.

The Harmony of the Seas is expected in Southampton on Tuesday, before its inaugural voyage on May 22 to Barcelona.

France's government survives vote over labor reform

May 12, 2016

PARIS (AP) — French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday survived a no-confidence vote prompted by a divisive labor reform, as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the country's major cities to protest against the law.

Facing almost daily protests and legislative gridlock, the government decided to use a special measure to push the bill through without a vote in the lower house of parliament. The conservatives tried to object by setting up a no-confidence vote, but with 246 votes they failed to gather the minimum of 288 needed to bring down the government.

The contested labor reform — including longer workdays, easier layoffs and weaker unions — will now be debated in the Senate. A date hasn't been set, but it's expected to be discussed in the coming weeks.

In his speech to lawmakers, Valls said he is proud of the law because it will help social progress and it is an "indispensable reform" in a globalized world. A rain-drenched march through Paris was largely peaceful Thursday, but police fired tear gas at some rowdy demonstrators and arrested seven people. Similar scenes played out in Marseille on the Mediterranean, and Nantes on the Atlantic Coast.

The Interior Ministry said a total of 55,000 protesters took to the streets across France. New street protests and strikes called by workers unions to reject the reform are already scheduled next week.

The labor reform is the boldest any French government, left or right, has tried in years and has unleashed daily, often-violent protests from wine country to the troubled suburbs. It has torn apart the Socialists and further damaged their weak chances of keeping the presidency and legislative control in next year's elections.

Protesters are also angry about the government's decision to pass the law without a vote, using an article of the French Constitution instead. "The government must listen. Democracy must prevail, within our movement and at the National Assembly," said Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the CGT union.

Using the constitution to pass the law "has only fueled the anger of workers, students and citizens," he told reporters. "By ignoring us, the government will end up hitting a snag." The French bill is relatively modest, especially after the government softened it to meet union demands.

It will not abolish the 35-hour workweek, but will allow companies to negotiate deals for up to 48 hours a week or 12-hour shifts. It will change rules for layoffs in companies, to create more flexibility during downturns — under conditions depending on the size of the businesses.

It even adds some new protections — a "right to disconnect" from emails and smartphones negotiated with employers — and a new 461-euro ($527) allowance for young job-seekers. The head of the opposition conservatives in the lower house said the law doesn't go far enough to open up the country's economy. Christian Jacob criticized the bill as "empty".

Germany rebuilt its labor system in the early 2000s; Spain and Italy overhauled their labor markets amid recent debt crises. Yet in France, even small changes prompt anger. "France is trying to do the bare minimum," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform. But "politically it seems almost impossible to do this without street protests."

Critics see the bill as a symbol of something much bigger, a surrender to a heartless, globalized world, and a fundamental betrayal of hard-fought worker protections and a way of life that France has long prided itself on.

Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri acknowledged that the government made mistakes in how it handled the reform and how it explained it to voters. But she insisted in an interview published Thursday in Directmatin that it will help France better compete in "the world of today."

The government hopes to lure companies to invest in France and to hire — especially young people, bearing the brunt of chronic 10-percent unemployment. Yet among its fiercest critics are the young. "They're incredibly conservative ... they don't understand the world has changed. If you want companies to hire, you need to make it easier to fire. That is a lesson that the Spanish and Italians learned, and the Germans learned," Grant said.

Unions are not letting go, threatening widespread strikes. The protests are "a reaction against an obscene system of abuse of power by the oligarchy," far left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, a former presidential candidate who says the bill is a gift to CEOs and will worsen inequality, wrote on his blog. "This pillaging of the country by a caste that fattened itself on the back of workers has lasted long enough."

AP correspondent Alex Turnbull contributed to this story.

Hundreds rally as French govt pushes ahead with labor reform

May 10, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Paris police sprayed rubber pellets and tear gas on hundreds of protesters outside France's National Assembly on Tuesday, hours after the government decided to use special powers to push a hotly contested labor reform through the lower house of parliament without a vote.

The protesters want the government to abandon the reform, which extends working hours and makes layoffs easier in an effort to make France more globally competitive. President Francois Hollande has faced months of fierce resistance to the bill from lawmakers, unions and students who accuse him of betraying his leftist base and eroding worker rights.

After a three-hour protest Tuesday, police hemmed in the demonstrators, and when the crowd shifted direction, officers moved in with unusual violence, firing rubber pellet grenades and using their shields to squeeze protesters out of the Left Bank neighborhood.

The decision to force passage of the bill by invoking article 49-3 of the Constitution came after the government failed to find a compromise with legislators and convened an emergency Cabinet meeting.

The reform has divided the governing Socialist Party, where a group of rebels refuses to vote for it. The conservative opposition responded by filing a censure motion, which will force Prime Minister Manuel Valls to defend his pro-business policies and face a no-confidence vote in coming days in the lower house.

Valls is likely to pass the no-confidence vote as the Socialist rebels are, despite their discontent, unlikely to threaten their government's stability. Valls was booed by politicians from the far left and from the conservative ranks when he announced the decision at the lower house.

"This text, useful for businesses and for workers, faces - and I regret it - opposition from all sides. My responsibility is to move forward and ensure that this text is adopted," Valls said. Another street protest against the reform, organized by seven labor unions and youth organizations, was scheduled for Thursday.

The decision means the government "refuses the democratic debate on this law," the FIDL youth organization said in a written statement. The reform will still need to be debated in the Senate. The government was in the same situation last year and resorted to article 49-3 to pass an economic reform that has allowed stores to open more often on Sundays.

Chris den Hond in Paris contributed to this report.

Croats commemorate WWII massacre amid far-right surge

May 14, 2016

BLEIBURG, Austria (AP) — Thousands of far-right supporters, many brandishing insignia and waving flags of Croatia's World War II Ustasha regime, gathered Saturday in a field in southern Austria to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazis by victorious communists at the end of the war.

The annual event this year came amid a surge of far-right sentiments in the European Union's newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly Ustasha soldiers, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav communist offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful antifascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.

The Ustasha regime sent tens of thousands Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian anti-fascists to death camps during the war. The gathering Saturday on a vast field surrounded by mountains was attended by top Croatian officials and Croatian Catholic Church clergy who held a mass for the killed Croats.

"All (WWII) victims deserve the same respect and reverence and the totalitarian regimes which committed the crimes deserve equal blame," Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister Bozo Petrov said after the ceremony. "We should stop divisions over the victims."

Since taking power in January, Croatia's center-right government has widely been blamed for turning a blind eye to the rising extremism and downplaying the crimes of the Ustasha regime. The policies have triggered protests from Croatia's minority Jewish and Serb communities.

"We are faced with an effort to totally relativize the Ustasha crimes," said the head of the Zagreb Jewish community, Ognjen Kraus. "It all started with such denials in Germany in 1933 and in Croatia in 1941."

The Croatian government, which has cracked down on free media and non-government organizations, has denied backing policies that counter EU standards, saying it's focused on major economic and social reforms and not the revival of the far-right sentiments.

On Saturday, the ultra-nationalists wore black T-shirts with the Ustashas' "U'' symbol and waved flags with inscriptions of their wartime chant "For the Homeland, Ready!" "I'm here because my grandfather perished in the Bleiburg massacre," said Elvis Duspara, wearing a T-shirt with the chant. "We Croats were never aggressors, we only defended our homeland. That's why we proudly say: For the homeland, ready!"

Crimean Tatars celebrate Eurovision win, Russians cry foul

May 15, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Crimean Tatars on Sunday celebrated Ukrainian singer Jamala's win at Eurovision with a song that sheds light on their horrific deportations to Central Asia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin but also hints at their recent treatment under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many Russians, whose Eurovision Song Contest entry won the popular vote but finished third when the national juries' votes were added, said they felt robbed of the win because of political bias. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman joked sarcastically that to win next year's contest a song will need to denounce "bloody" Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Moscow but blamed in the West for Syria's 5-year civil war.

Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 was condemned by the United States and European Union, which responded by imposing punishing sanctions. Inside Crimea, the seizure of territory from Ukraine was most strongly opposed by the Tatar minority, who now face persecution on the Moscow-ruled Black Sea peninsula.

"This song is about our tragedy ... and I hope that people heard this," said Emine Ziyatdinova, a 27-year-old Crimean Tatar who was among those celebrating the win at a Tatar restaurant in Kiev. Jamala's song, "1944," recalls how Crimean Tatars, including her great-grandmother, were deported during World War II.

In the space of three days in May 1944, all 200,000 Tatars, who then made up a third of Crimea's population, were put on trains and shipped off to Central Asia upon Stalin's orders, suspected of collaborating with the Nazis during their long occupation of the peninsula during the war.

Thousands died during the grueling journey or starved to death in the barren steppes upon their arrival. In the decades after the war, the Soviet Union developed Crimea as a naval base and a tourist destination, dominated by ethnic Russians along with Ukrainians.

It was not until the 1980s that the Tatars were allowed to return to their native land. Jamala, the stage name for Susana Jamaladinova, was born in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan in 1983. She now lives in Kiev.

The lyrics of her song don't touch on Russia's annexation of Crimea, and Jamala insists there's no political subtext. But there's no doubt the lyrics are powerful. She starts the song in English, singing "when strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say 'we're not guilty.'"

Russians believe anti-Russian sentiment in Europe swayed the vote. Their entry, Sergey Lazarev, had all the right ingredients for a Eurovision winner: a song with a thumping techno beat, a catchy refrain and a buff man in a tight shirt riding on an iceberg through space.

"This is a political contest, 100 percent," said Anastasia Bagayeva, who watched the contest from a Moscow restaurant. "This is not fair, but this is the current time." Russian officials also cried foul. Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said bitterly in a Facebook post that next year's winning Eurovision song needs to be about Assad. She suggested this chorus in English: "Assad blood, Assad worst. Give me prize, that we can host."

The country that wins Eurovision gets to host it the following year — an expensive obligation for the state broadcaster. In reporting on Ukraine's victory, Russian state television questioned how the extravagant song contest can be held in a country where "there is a hole in the budget, a war is being waged in the east and in the capital there is often disorder."

After Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president was ousted by street protests in early 2014, Russia seized Crimea and backed separatists who now control swathes of territory in Ukraine's industrial heartland in the east. Their fight against the Ukrainian government has claimed more than 9,300 lives.

Alexander Roslyakov and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed.

Austria's chancellor resigns, in Europe's shift to the right

May 09, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — Austria's chancellor abruptly resigned Monday, a high-profile victim of Europe's growing shift to the right, which threatens to push into obscurity some parties that have dominated post-World War II politics.

Werner Faymann cited lack of backing from his fellow Social Democrats as his reason for stepping down both as the nation's and his party's leader. "This country needs a chancellor who has the party's full support," he said in a statement.

Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, of coalition partner People's Party, was to take over until the government nominates a new candidate for presidential approval. The Social Democrats announced that a new party head would be chosen June 25.

Pressure had been mounting on Faymann since his party's candidate was drubbed in the first round of presidential elections last month by a rival from the right-wing Euroskeptic Freedom Party. But his resignation was unexpected, signaling not only disarray within the Social Democratic Party but also a shift in Austria's traditional political landscape.

In his more than seven years at the helm, the Social Democrats — who once commanded absolute majorities — have seen their popularity sink both in the 2013 national elections and in provincial votes. The centrist People's Party — the other dominant post-World War II political force — saw a similar loss of support even before the migrant crisis hit full-force last year. In both cases, much of the backing for the traditional parties has shifted to the right-wing Freedom Party.

The Freedom Party's strongest card is strong anti-migrant sentiment within Austria. But it also has benefited from perceptions that the establishment parties are out of touch over other issues, including unemployment and terrorism.

Recent polls show support for the Freedom Party has surged to 32 percent, compared with just over 20 percent for the government coalition. Even before the migrant influx strengthened the right-wing opposition, decades of established party bickering over key issues — most recently tax, pension and education reform — has fed perceptions of political stagnation.

Reflecting Austria's political upheaval, Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer received 35 percent of the vote in the April 24 first round presidential vote to just over 10 percent each for the Social Democratic and People's Party hopefuls. Hofer is the favorite going into the May 22 runoff against a former leader of the Green party running as an independent.

The shift in favor of a vehemently Euroskeptic party is significant, as Austria has been traditionally in the pro-EU camp. For pro-European politicians, it's a worrying sign of what could happen in the country's next general election, which must be held within two years, and the latest indication of the strength of anti-EU parties in Europe.

In EU founding member France, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party won European Parliament elections two years ago, and a recent poll had 80 percent of respondents saying they think she'll make it to the second round of France's 2017 presidential election. In the Netherlands, a poll this year had anti-EU populist Geert Wilders' party leading in popularity.

Hungary and Poland are already governed by Euroskeptic parties, while the Czech president regularly criticizes the EU. In Scandinavia and Finland, populist parties advocating national interests over EU authority are either in power or strongly represented in parliament.

Germany's anti-EU AfD party, is in eight state parliaments, scoring in the double digits last month in three state parliament elections. Political scientist Peter Filzmaier says the populist surge has paralleled growing disenchantment with the European Union and traces both back to the 2008 world financial crisis.

Since then, he says, "trust in EU institutions has crumbled, but trust in national governments is hardly better." Faymann had hoped to stop the Freedom Party surge by swinging to end Austria's open-border policies for refugees earlier this year. But that only hurt him and his party. While many Social Democrats backed the move, others accused him of betraying their party's humanitarian principles.

Whistling and boos met him at his party's traditional May 1 event, drowning out the cheers of his backers. Many in the more than 10,000-strong crowd carried signs demanding he step down. Faymann appeared unbowed, telling Austrians just last week to "continue reckoning with me." The abrupt change of mind appeared to reflect an acknowledgment that change at the top is needed.

"This government needs a new start," he said Monday.

Ugandan opposition leader charged with treason over protests

May 14, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's main opposition leader has been charged with treason and jailed in a remote area in the country's northeast, a judiciary spokesman said Saturday. Kizza Besigye was handed charges late Friday stemming from his public attacks on the legitimacy of President Yoweri Museveni, who won a disputed election in February, said Solomon Muyita.

Besigye, a qualified physician, was Museveni's personal doctor during the guerrilla war that launched Museveni into power in 1986. He held various government positions and rose to become a colonel in the army, but then broke ranks with Museveni in 1999.

Besigye ran for president in 2001, promising a more democratic government, and has challenged Museveni in elections since then. He claims he won the February vote and has repeatedly urged his supporters to wage a defiance campaign against the authorities.

There is a video online purportedly showing Besigye being sworn in as Uganda's president. The Associated Press couldn't independently verify the authenticity of the video, but Besigye's party, the Forum for Democratic Change, reported on Twitter that Besigye had been sworn in on the eve of Museveni's inauguration for a fifth term.

Muyita cited the alleged inauguration of Besigye as one of the reasons for the treason charge, which carries a maximum penalty of death on conviction. Besigye was charged in the district of Moroto, where he had been flown after being arrested on Wednesday in the capital Kampala.

His lawyer didn't answer calls seeking a comment Saturday.

U.N. hails Liberian elections

Oct. 12, 2011

MONROVIA, Liberia, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Liberian people deserved praise for heading to the polls "in a calm and peaceful manner."

Liberians voted in presidential and parliamentary elections Tuesday. It was the second vote since the country's lengthy civil war and first election overseen independently by Liberian election officials.

Lines to vote were reportedly long and the vote went off with few reports of violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message issued through his office, "commends the people of Liberia for exercising their right to vote in a calm and peaceful manner." The election, he added, "is an important milestone in the efforts to consolidate peace and democracy in the country."

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, praised Liberians for their ability to demonstrate political maturity in their second post-civil war vote.

Observers note that in Liberia concerns about food trump any prestige Sirleaf may have gained from the Nobel Prize.

She squared off against former diplomat Winston Tubman, who shared the ticket with former soccer start George Weah, who lost to Sirleaf in 2005 elections.

There are roughly 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed across Liberia to secure the peace. Nearly 150,000 people died and another 850,000 fled to neighboring countries during the decade-long civil war in Liberia.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/10/12/UN-hails-Liberian-elections/UPI-34161318427543/.

More oil than thought in Kenya

By Daniel J. Graeber
May 10, 2016

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 10 (UPI) -- A Canadian oil company with a focus on Africa said an independent survey of its holdings in Kenya led it to increase its reserve estimate by 24 percent.

Africa Oil Corp., which has its headquarters in Vancouver, said an independent review of its reserves in the South Lokichar basin in Kenya found an estimated gross of 766 million barrels of oil. That's a 24 percent increase from the previous estimate.

President and CEO Keith Hill said the results led him to believe the basins in the north of Kenya could hold as much as 1.6 billion barrels of oil.

"The level of these resources gives us confidence that we will exceed the threshold required for development and we continue to push forward for development sanction during 2017," he said in a statement.

In a deal with Africa Oil Corp., Danish company Maersk Oil last year agreed to cover upfront the costs of exploring frontier areas of northern Kenya and Ethiopia. The Canadian company has also teamed up with Tullow Oil in the discovery of more than 600 million barrels of oil in the region.

Last year, Tullow, which has headquarters in London, said it didn't find any hydrocarbons worth exploring further at a frontier, or wildcat, well in northern Kenya. In March, however, the company said it made its most significant find yet in the Kerio Valley basin in northern Kenya.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Industry/2016/05/10/More-oil-than-thought-in-Kenya/3411462880209/.

5 Boko Haram leaders arrested; dozens of captives freed

May 14, 2016

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — The multinational forces fighting the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram have arrested five of the group's leaders and freed dozens of captive women and children, Cameroon's government announced Saturday.

The raids targeting Boko Haram bases in the northern Madawaya forest earlier this month freed 28 children and at least 18 women, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma said. Boko Haram had set up camp in the forest after fleeing another military operation in neighboring Nigeria and had been training captive young girls and women as suicide bombers, he said.

The news came as French President Francois Hollande joined several West African leaders at a summit in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, where they discussed progress in the fight against Boko Haram and how to resolve the humanitarian crisis it has created. The extremist group has forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes, some across borders.

"We have to make sure they can get back to their homes," Hollande said after meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari before the summit, noting the need for "the right development policies." Marginalization and corruption has allowed the Islamic extremists to flourish in northeast Nigeria.

Both leaders stressed the success of a multinational force of Nigeria and its neighbors — helped by training, intelligence and information-sharing by France, Britain and the United States — that has recaptured territory where Boko Haram had declared an Islamic caliphate. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was at the summit along with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"Now our main problem is the rehabilitation of infrastructure destroyed — educational, health, bridges blown, etc," Buhari said. But many refugees say they will not return home until it is safe and there are doubts Nigeria's military can secure the vast rural areas where Boko Haram now roams. The extremists have turned to using suicide bombers, often women and girls, to hit soft targets like mosques and marketplaces.

The nearly 7-year insurgency, which has spread beyond Nigeria's borders, has killed at least 20,000 people, according to Amnesty International.

Hard-talking mayor favored to be next Philippine president

May 09, 2016

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Millions of Filipinos lined up Monday in blazing heat to vote for a president that opinion polls show will likely be a foul-mouthed mayor who gained huge popularity with his pledges to kill criminals and end corruption within six months.

Weary of poverty, corruption and insurgencies in the hinterlands, voters are looking for a radical change at the top, and hope the man to lead it is Rodrigo Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of the southern Davao city.

An ex-prosecutor, Duterte has peppered his campaign speeches with boasts about his Viagra-fueled sexual prowess and jokes about rape. But Duterte has successfully tapped into discontent and voters appear willing to overlook his foul language.

"All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," Duterte told a huge cheering crowd Saturday in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."

The brash Duterte, who has been compared to U.S. Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, has threatened to close down Congress and form a revolutionary government if legislators stonewall his government.

This has alarmed the political establishment, which fears that Duterte will squander the hard-won economic progress under outgoing President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino has called Duterte a threat to democracy, and likened him to Adolf Hitler.

Besides Duterte, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, backed by Aquino, and three other candidates are vying to lead one of Asia's liveliest democracies. More than 45,000 candidates are contesting 18,000 national, congressional and local positions in elections that have traditionally been tainted by violence and accusations of cheating, especially in far-flung rural areas. The results are not expected for at least 24 hours, perhaps longer.

At least 15 people have been killed in elections-related violence and more than 4,000 arrested for violating a gun ban, according to police. "Let us show the world that despite our deep passion and support for our candidates, we can hold elections that are peaceful and orderly and reflect the spirit of democracy," said Aquino, who cast his ballot after standing in line for more than an hour with other voters in a Manila constituency.

Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista said no major glitches were expected in the voting despite the massive logistical challenges. About 55 million Filipinos have registered to vote in 36,000 voting centers across the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, including in a small fishing village in a Philippine-occupied island in the disputed South China Sea.

In final campaigning Saturday, Aquino warned voters that Duterte could be a dictator in the making and urged them not to support him. He cited the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as an example of how a despotic leader can gain power and hold on to it without public resistance.

Filipinos have been hypersensitive to potential threats to democracy since they rose in a 1986 "people power" revolt that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who faced allegations of plundering the poor country and condoning widespread human rights violations by state forces. In 2001, a similar uprising forced Joseph Estrada from the presidency over alleged large-scale corruption.

On the campaign trail, Duterte offered radical promises, including his bold anti-crime pledge and a plan to sail to China's new artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea and plant the Philippine flag there. The other candidates stuck to less audacious reforms.

Duterte's opponents — Roxas, Sen. Grace Poe, Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago — have all criticized him for remarks that threaten the rule of law and the Philippines' hard-won democracy.

"Duterte is completely out of the system, he's out of the box," said political science Prof. Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University in Manila, adding that in the mayor's portrayal of social problems, "there is a gap between the rhetoric and reality but it's working, it's creating panic among a lot of people and rallying them behind Duterte."

Duterte built a political name with his iron-fist approach to fighting crime in Davao city, where he has served as mayor for 22 years. During the campaigning he joked about wanting to be the one to first rape an Australian missionary who was sexually abused and killed by inmates in a 1989 prison riot.

Despite his devil-may-care way with expletives, obscene remarks and allegations of corruption hurled against him, Duterte has led in election polls by more than 10 percentage points over Roxas and Poe. While it may be difficult for rivals to catch up, analysts say the race remains too close to call.

Aquino had a mixed record during his six-year term that ends in June. He presided over an accelerating economy, which had recorded one of the highest growth rates in Asia at an average of 6.2 percent between 2010 and 2015. He also introduced new taxes, more accountability and reforms, including in the judiciary, and cracked down on tax evaders.

But more than a quarter of the country's 100 million people remain mired in poverty, inequality is rampant and an immediate solution to decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies in the south remains elusive.

Annual debt payments, some dating back to the Marcos years, and limited funds stymie infrastructure improvements and public services, including law enforcement, fueling frequent complaints.

NASA, Space Station partners announce future mission crew members

Houston TX (SPX)
May 10, 2016

NASA and its International Space Station partners have announced the crew members for missions to the orbiting laboratory in 2017. The selection includes first-time space flyer NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and veteran Randy Bresnik.

"There's so much going on aboard the space station at this point, so many science experiments and technology demonstrations," said Chris Cassidy, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Scott and Randy have their work cut out for them, but I have no doubt they'll do excellent jobs."

Tingle is a member of NASA's 2009 astronaut class and will fly with cosmonauts Ivan Vagner, who is also a first-time flier, and veteran Alexander Skvortsov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. They will launch in September 2017. The three will join the station's Expedition 53 crew of NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Paolo Nespoli and Roscosmos cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.

Tingle, a captain in the U.S. Navy, was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, but considers Randolph, Massachusetts, his home. He was commissioned as a naval officer in 1991 and earned the gold wings of a naval aviator in 1993. He has accumulated more than 4,000 hours in 48 types of aircraft, 700 carrier landings and 54 combat missions.

Tingle earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Massachusetts University in Dartmouth in 1987, and a master's degree in mechanical engineering, with a specialty in fluid mechanics and propulsion, from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, in 1988. He also is a 1998 graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School.

Bresnik's mission will begin in November 2017, when he and his crewmates Sergey Ryazansky of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will join Tingle, Skvortsov and Vagner on the station for Expedition 54.

Bresnik, who considers Santa Monica, California, to be his hometown, is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. Bresnik received his commission in May 1989 and was designated a Marine Corps aviator in 1992. He flew the F/A-18 Hornet in support of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has accumulated more than 6,000 hours in 81 types of aircraft.

Bresnik was selected as an astronaut in May 2004. His first spaceflight was in November 2009 aboard space shuttle Atlantis for STS-129, which lasted 11 days. The flight was the 31st shuttle flight to the space station, during which Bresnik conducted two spacewalks totaling 11 hours and 50 minutes.

Bresnik graduated from The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1989 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics, and earned a master's degree in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2002. He is also a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air War College.

The crew comprising Expedition 53 will be:
+ Jack Fischer, NASA
+ Paolo Nespoli, ESA
+ Fyodor Yurchikin, Roscosmos
+ Scott Tingle, NASA
+ Alexander Skvortsov, Roscosmos
+ Ivan Vagner, Roscosmos

The crew comprising Expedition 54 will be:
+ Scott Tingle, NASA
+ Alexander Skvortsov, Roscosmos
+ Ivan Vagner, Roscosmos
+ Randy Bresnik, NASA
+ Sergey Ryazansky, Roscosmos
+ Norishige Kanai, JAXA

The space station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth.

It has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and, since then, has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_Space_Station_partners_announce_future_mission_crew_members_999.html.

On Victory Day, Putin calls for non-bloc security

May 09, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the annual elaborate Victory Day military parade in Red Square, says Russia wants to help build an international security system that transcends military blocs.

Putin's short speech on Monday also warned against "unacceptable double standards that shortsightedly indulge those who are nurturing new criminal plans." He made no specific accusations but both the accusation of double standards and the call for a "non-bloc system of international security" echo Russia's frequent criticism of the West and the NATO alliance.

The hour-long parade, in which military equipment including the advanced Armata tank and the Yars ICBM launcher lumbered across the square, concluded with a flyover by dozens of military aircraft from helicopters to long-range bombers.