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Friday, June 3, 2016

A look at some of the world's longest railway tunnels

June 01, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — Capping a mammoth 17-year, $12 billion project, Switzerland has built the world's longest railway tunnel: The Gotthard Base Tunnel. Here's a look at it and others among the longest railway tunnels in the world.


The inauguration of the 57-kilometer (35.4-mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps and central Switzerland drew the leaders of France, Germany and Italy for the celebration Wednesday. At its maximum point, the tunnel is more than 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) underground, deeper than any other rail tunnel. The 17-year project cost $12 billion but is expected to reap benefits across Europe for years, including faster travel between Italy and points north and less reliance on trucks that were polluting the Swiss Alps air.


This tunnel in Japan reigned as the world's longest railway tunnel for nearly 30 years. It travels 53.9 kilometers (33.5 miles) under the Tsugaru Straits, linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. While the Gotthard goes deepest underground, Seikan hits the lowest elevation for a tunnel — 240 meters (790 feet) below sea level.

CHANNEL TUNNEL, between Britain and France

More than 13,000 workers took over five years to complete this 50.5-kilometer (31.4-mile) undersea tunnel between Britain and France, which was inaugurated in May 1994. The Channel Tunnel runs as deep as 75 meters (250 feet) below sea level and had been Europe's longest tunnel until the Gotthard Base Tunnel came along.


Inaugurated in 2007, the second-longest Swiss tunnel runs for 34.6 kilometers (21 miles) and is part of the same three-tunnel project in Switzerland as the Gotthard Base Tunnel to its east.


This 28.4-kilometer (17.7-mile) tunnel in Spain was inaugurated in 2005 after about 32 months of construction. It links Madrid, the capital, with northwestern Spain.

Rhoda Shafner contributed from New York.

Swiss inaugurate $12 billion rail tunnel, world's longest

June 01, 2016

GENEVA (AP) — Just like Hannibal in ancient times, Swiss engineers have conquered the Alps. More than 2,200 years after the commander from the ancient North African civilization of Carthage led his army of elephants and troops over Europe's highest mountain chain, the Swiss have completed another gargantuan task: Burrowing the world's longest railway tunnel under the Swiss Alps to improve European trade and travel.

European dignitaries on Wednesday inaugurated the 57-kilometer (35.4-mile) Gotthard Railway Tunnel, a major engineering achievement deep under the Alps' snow-capped peaks. It took 17 years to build at a cost of 12.2 billion Swiss francs ($12 billion) — but workers kept to a key Swiss tradition and brought the massive project in on time and on budget.

Many tunnels crisscross the Swiss Alps. The Gotthard Pass itself already has two — the first, also for trains, was built in 1882. But the Gotthard base tunnel is a record-setter eclipsing Japan's 53.8-kilometer (33.4-mile) Seikan Tunnel as the world's longest — and it also bores deeper than any other tunnel, running about 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) underground at its maximum depth.

The tube bores through the Gotthard massif that includes the 2,500-meter (8,200-foot) Piz Vatgira on the way to Italy. It is part of a broader, multi-tunnel project to shift the haulage of goods from roads to rails amid concerns that heavy trucks are destroying Switzerland's pristine Alpine landscape.

The tunnel's impact will be felt across Europe for decades. The thoroughfare aims to cut travel times, ease roadway traffic and reduce the air pollution spewed from trucks traveling between Europe's north and south. Set to open for commercial service in December, the two-way tunnel can handle up to 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains per day.

Swiss planners have dreamt of such a tunnel for decades, and Gotthard's 17 years of construction don't include the many years spent to scope out suitable paths. Switzerland pulled out all the stops for Wednesday's inauguration. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Francois Hollande of France and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi all came to southern Switzerland for an upbeat, glitzy celebration featuring musical bands, dancers and even a theme song for the tunnel.

Under purple neon lights, performers dressed in orange miners' suits and protective helmets danced atop a moving rail car, while others in skimpy outfits feigned wrestling and trapeze artists hung from chains or ropes.

The tunnel runs between the German-speaking Swiss town of Erstfeld in the north to the Italian-speaking town of Bodio in the south, cutting through central Switzerland. The tunnel journey takes about 20 minutes for passenger trains.

Split-screen TV images Wednesday showed two trains in opposite directions entering and leaving the tunnel entrances nearly simultaneously. The project, funded in part by Swiss taxpayers and fees on trucks, received financial support and industrial know-how from around the European Union. Although Switzerland isn't one of the bloc's 28 members, the EU railway network gets a big boost from this shortcut through the Alps, notably on the route from Germany to Italy.

"The new tunnel fits into the European railway freight corridor, which links Rotterdam and Genoa" — key ports in the Netherlands and Italy, said Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. "Aside from saving time, more merchandise can be carried through the Alps."

A test run by the EU leaders on Wednesday turned into a sort of mini-summit beneath real Alpine summits: Merkel, Renzi, Hollande and Schneider-Ammann sat face-to-face for a ride in first class through the tunnel. A band played Rossini's "William Tell Overture" after they arrived.

Merkel said it was a "wonderful feeling" to be on the train. Though "more than 2,000 meters of rocks" were above, she said she felt a "feeling of security, because I believe in the security of the Swiss civil engineers."

She congratulated the punctual Swiss and noted how costs were kept within targets. "That's something Germany still needs to strive for," she added Hollande, host of the U.N. climate change summit held in Paris last year, pointed to the tunnel's environmental benefits.

"You have created a great European infrastructure," Hollande said at the tunnel's southern exit. "It will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, redirect traffic from the road to rail and move passengers and goods faster."

He also used the chance to remind Britons of the unity that the tunnel under the English Channel has brought between Britain and the continent — comments that came just weeks before Britons vote June 23 on whether to stay in the EU or leave.

"More than 20 years ago, a construction was completed between France and the United Kingdom: The Channel Tunnel," Hollande said. "Since then, we are united like never before, and I hope the British remember that when the time comes."

Renzi echoed that connective symbolism, despite the current discord in the EU over how to best handle a surge of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. "At a time when some are thinking about building walls ... today Switzerland gives us a beautiful signal about building a tunnel, connecting, and making chances for meeting," Renzi said.

Swiss forces took no chances with security for the inauguration. Almost 2,000 additional Swiss troops were called, helicopters buzzed overhead and air space restrictions were put over the tunnel area.

Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

Polish justice minister revives Polanski extradition drive

May 31, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's justice minister on Tuesday revived an effort to have filmmaker Roman Polanski extradited to the U.S., where he is wanted in a nearly 40-year-old case involving sex with a minor.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro's office said he asked Poland's Supreme Court to annul a ruling in October by a court in Krakow which found that Polish law forbids Polanski's extradition. In November, prosecutors said they found no grounds to challenge the decision.

Ziobro took office late last year, after the ruling, as part of a new conservative government. The minister, who is also the country's chief prosecutor, argues that celebrity status is shielding Oscar-winning director Polanski in Poland, where he grew up and which he often visits.

The Krakow court's decision was at odds with a Polish-U.S. extradition agreement, Ziobro's office argued in a statement. It said that, "according to the extradition agreement, the defendant should be handed over to the United States."

The director pleaded guilty in 1977 to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. In a deal with the judge, he served 42 days in prison, but then fled the U.S. fearing the judge would have him imprisoned again for much longer.

The U.S. has been seeking to bring Polanski back and put him before a court. Last year, the Krakow judge ruling on the case found that Polanski served his punishment in confinement in the U.S., and later for 10 months — partly under house arrest — in Switzerland in 2009-2010 when the U.S. unsuccessfully sought his extradition there.

He argued that U.S. judges and prosecutors in the case violated legal procedures, broke the plea bargain in 1977, denied Polanski the right to proper defense and appeared biased. Jan Olszewski, Polanski's lawyer in Krakow, where the filmmaker has an apartment, told The Associated Press he had contacted the director about Ziobro's decision, which "we had been expecting."

"The court's verdict stands and Mr. Polanski is a free man," he said. "But I cannot exclude that this situation will affect his decisions as to visiting Poland." Paris-born Polanski, 83, has Polish and French citizenship. He lives in Paris but often visits Poland, where he is popular and is preparing to make a film.

Polanski's artistic output is deeply admired in Poland, where he spent his World War II childhood and later went into filmmaking. His mother died at the Auschwitz death camp. The filmmaker's movements are restricted by an Interpol warrant in effect in 188 countries, but he has avoided extradition by traveling only between France, Poland and Switzerland, which in 2011 rejected a U.S. request to extradite Polanski. Ziobro's move could now make Poland a risky destination for him.

Polanski won an Academy Award for best director for his 2002 film "The Pianist," which he filmed in Warsaw, and was nominated for his 1970s movies "Chinatown" and "Tess."

Polish Church leader appeals for end to political conflict

May 27, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The head of Poland's influential Catholic Church Episcopate has appealed for an end to a political conflict that has divided the nation and strained foreign ties. Poles are divided over the deep changes that the conservative Law and Justice party has been introducing ever since it won presidential and parliamentary elections last year. Some of the moves, like new legislation regulating the Constitutional Tribunal and more government control of state media, have drawn massive street protests and international censure. The European Union has urged Poland to find a solution soon, and a senior EU leader, Frans Timmermans pledged all necessary support, during his visit to Warsaw Tuesday. But no real steps have been taken to end the conflict, with the government and the opposition sticking to their positions. In opinion polls, Law and Justice is well ahead of any opposition party.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki said that the "state of tension" in Poland calls for a "national reconciliation." The remarks, made during Thursday's Corpus Christi procession in the western city of Poznan, were posted on the Episcopate's website on Friday.

"More often than not, social peace calls for mutual concessions, that are sometimes difficult and even painful," Gadecki said. "But the alternative is a senseless life in constant conflict that paralyzes social and public life."

The Church's opinion matters to the ruling party that promotes Catholic values and considers the Church a moral authority. The party largely owes its electoral victory to the Church which more or less directly supported its candidates across the nation.

Strikes test relevance of France's leading militant union

May 31, 2016

NOTRE-DAME-DE-GRAVENCHON, France (AP) — Outside Gate A of the ExxonMobil oil refinery, the strike was fizzling. Few had walked off the job. The complex was humming. As members of hard-left General Confederation of Labor gathered for a meeting, the event was crashed by counter-demonstrators.

"I want to be able to work," said Corinne Cavaille, 43, one of the 50-odd people who'd come to voice their opposition to the union, known by its French acronym CGT. Within an hour, the strike was off.

Despite all the disruption of this month's revolt against French labor reforms — fuel shortages, blocked bridges and street protests — there are signs that France's unions are losing power to mobilize workers. Some employees want less confrontational tactics, others worry about scaring away foreign employers.

For the CGT, the most militant of the two leading unions, it means that the fight against the government is also becoming a fight for relevance. "It's been about 20 years since unions have forced a government to back down," said Stephane Sirot, a historian of the French labor movement at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. "If the movement finishes once more in failure, it might make further mobilization more complicated."

May's fight is centered on the Socialist government's slate of proposals aimed at loosening restrictions on working hours, layoffs and compensation — all in the hope of bringing extra flexibility to France's arthritic job market.

Talk to anyone in Le Havre, an industrial town ringed by container ports and oil refineries which have been wracked by industrial action, and you'd get any number of reasons for the anger that's disrupted the country: record arms sales to foreign governments, clampdowns on civil liberties and an overall sense that France's ruling Socialists have betrayed their base.

For France's biggest militant union, it's also a way to keep its sway over the country's politics. "The CGT is losing steam," said Denis Jamet, a 65-year-old retiree making his way through Le Havre's unusually quiet city center Wednesday. "They're trying to stay relevant."

Only about 8 to 11 percent of the workforce in France is unionized. But their influence reaches beyond that, mainly through workplace elections of union representatives and the ability to negotiate industry-wide deals on behalf of non-unionized members. The recent ferment has a lot do with those elections, whose results are due in 2017, according to Dominique Andolfatto, a professor of political science at the University of Burgundy. The CGT, a union closely associated with the French Communist Party and the events of May 1968 — when the French government was nearly brought to its knees by a massive strike — is on the defensive in the face of gains by more dovish unions like French Confederation of Labor, known by its French acronym CFDT.

"These blockages are a sign of strength, but one can also argue that they're a sign of weakness," said Andolfatto. "If they were really that powerful they would do classic strikes, or massive protests. But they're having trouble mobilizing that many people."

Last week's debate outside the ExxonMobil gave some hint as to how globalization weighs against 1968-style action, even in a country with relatively modest levels of foreign direct investment. As strikers and counterdemonstrators hashed it out, one non-striker warned that "this refinery belongs to people in the United States. ... If we show this image, foreign companies are going to leave."

Another, who gave his name only as Denis, took the microphone to warn that the number of French refineries had fallen from 12 to only eight in the past decade. "If you block the refinery every time you have a grievance how many more are going to be left?" he said.

The CGT and its allies have had more success elsewhere. Le Havre's oil terminal, responsible for 40 percent of France's oil imports, has been either completely or partially closed by strike action since last week. On Thursday, at least 10,000 people, led by striking dock workers and the CGT, descended on Le Havre's City Hall with a percussion band, powerful fireworks and paint bombs, decorating the grey, 1950s building with red-blue-and-yellow splatters.

"We're going back to '68," said Yamina Berriouche, a 46-year-old protester who struggled to make herself heard over the drums and the explosions. "People are angry." Union-watchers say the fight between the CGT and the government is too close to call. On the one hand President Francois Hollande and his combative Prime Minister Manuel Valls are both unpopular and their reforms have divided the Socialist party. On the other hand, the more conciliatory CFDT has backed the reforms and many French people — like the Le Havre brasserie owner who said he'd like to go on strike against the strikers — are losing patience with the CGT and its mustachioed leader, Philippe Martinez.

Both sides have hinted at compromise in recent days as France's attention turns to the European Championship soccer tournament. "Martinez is a big soccer fan," said Andolfatto, the academic. "He doesn't want to screw up the Euros."

If Hollande and Valls fold, it will leave the Socialist Party hobbling into next year's presidential election, when it will be challenged by the right-wing Republicans and the far-right National Front. But if the CGT fails to win the withdrawal of the reforms, it risks accelerating its slide into second place behind its CFDT rival and "consolidating a more practical-minded unionism," according to Andolfatto.

He was quick to caution that still wouldn't mean the disappearance of France's notorious strikes. "There's a kind of revolutionary passion in France," said Andolfatto. "That won't be eradicated right away."

Heavy rain drenches swaths of France, disrupts French Open

May 31, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Heavy rain drenched parts of France on Tuesday, prompting flood warnings near the English Channel, causing more delays at the French Open and soaking tourists in Paris. Floods or heavy rain were forecast for about a quarter of the country Tuesday, from Normandy in the west to Burgundy southeast of Paris.

Rescue workers evacuated homes or ordered people to higher floors in the Pas-de-Calais region in the far north as rivers rose more than a meter (3 feet) in some spots, according to local authorities. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged people to exercise the "greatest caution." He said rescue services were deployed 4,500 times overnight and Tuesday morning to help people affected by rising water. No casualties were reported.

The national meteorological service, Meteo France, warned of possible exceptionally dangerous floods in the Loiret region, south of Paris. France has seen rain and storms now for several days. During a sudden storm Saturday, a lightning bolt struck a children's birthday party at a Paris park. Five of the 11 people hit remained hospitalized Tuesday.

All matches at the French Open were cancelled Monday, the first all-day shutdown in 16 years. Matches got underway on Tuesday, but play was soon disrupted again by rain. Canadian tourist Helene Gazaille, who was visiting Paris to celebrate her 50th birthday, was determined to have a good trip even if that meant stuffing plastic bags into her sneakers in the morning and using a hair dryer to dry them out at night.

Others like Tang Jiru, a 26-year-old Chinese groom-to-be, looked on the bright side of the gray weather. Posing for photos with his fiancee in the Trocadero's Warsaw fountains, across from the Eiffel Tower, he said he was pleased despite — or maybe even because of — the driving rain.

"The weather, it's like blue. Blue means romantic," he said, his white tie-tuxedo-and-waistcoat combo becoming increasingly wet as his 27-year-old bride-to-be, Liu Yuan Yuan, smiled in her rain-sodden wedding dress.

"Every time you take a photo, it's a sunny day. But it's a rainy day, (so) oh it's special!" said Tang, who is getting married in September in Shanghai but had flown to Paris for the express purpose of taking romantic photos.

Raphael Satter in Paris contributed to this report.

German, French leaders mark 100 years since Battle of Verdun

May 29, 2016

VERDUN, France (AP) — In solemn ceremonies Sunday in the forests of eastern France, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked 100 years since the Battle of Verdun, determined to show that, despite the bloodbath of World War I, their countries' improbable friendship is now a source of hope for today's fractured Europe.

The 10-month battle at Verdun — the longest in World War I — killed 163,000 French and 143,000 German soldiers and wounded hundreds of thousands of others. Between February and December 1916, an estimated 60 million shells were fired in the battle. One out of four didn't explode. The front line villages destroyed in the fighting were never rebuilt. The battlefield zone still holds millions of unexploded shells, making the area so dangerous that housing and farming are still forbidden.

With no survivors left to remember, Sunday's commemorations were focused on educating youth about the horrors and consequences of the war. Some 4,000 French and German children were taking part in the day's events, which conclude at a mass grave where, in 1984, then-French President Francois Mitterrand took then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's hand in a breakthrough moment of friendship and trust by longtime enemy nations.

"Verdun is the more than the name of your town — Verdun is also one of the most terrible battles humanity has experienced," Merkel said in a speech at city hall, calling Hollande's invitation to join the centenary "a great honor."

"We are all called upon to keep awake the memory (of Verdun) in the future, because only those who know the past can draw lessons from it," the German leader said. Hollande praised the city of Verdun as "the capital of peace."

"Verdun is a city that represents — at the same time — the worst, where Europe got lost, and the best, a city being able to commit and unite for peace and French-German friendship," he said. Merkel said the commemorations show "how good relations between Germany and France are today" and the achievements of European unity.

"In a world with global challenges, it is important to keep developing this Europe," she said in a weekly address Saturday, expressing hope that Britain would not vote to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum.

Amid rising support for far right parties and divisions among European countries over how to handle refugees, Hollande said he wants to work alongside Merkel to "relaunch the European ideal." "We must take action ... at a moment when Europe is affected by the disease of populism," he told France Culture radio this week. He also noted the threat from violent extremism, saying the EU "must protect the people," especially against "terrorism."

Hollande and Merkel spent the entire day together. In the morning, he welcomed his German counterpart under heavy rain at the German cemetery of Consenvoye, near Verdun, where 11,148 German soldiers are buried. They laid a wreath, accompanied by four German and French children, and walked side by side for few minutes in the cemetery, sharing an umbrella.

After lunch, they were visiting the newly renovated Verdun Memorial. The museum, which reopened in February, immerses visitors in the "hell of Verdun" through soldiers' belongings, documents and photos, and from its new rooftop, they can observe the battlefield.

"The visit follows the steps of the soldiers. First reaching the front, moving into shell holes, fighting, surviving on the front line, the daily life," said historian Antoine Prost. Verdun has become a common place of remembrance because "it's a place of massive death equivalent for the French and the Germans," Prost added.

The main ceremony will take place in the afternoon at the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial to 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. The ceremony conceived by German filmmaker Volker Schloendorff will include children re-enacting battlefield scenes to the sound of drums amid thousands of white crosses marking the graves.

Bank of England's new 5-pound note features Churchill

June 02, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Britain's new five-pound note features the image of World War II leader Winston Churchill — and comes with a promise that it can stand up to all his favorite things. That means the new polymer notes can survive a splash of Claret, a flick of cigar ash and the nip of a bulldog.

Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney unveiled the full new design of the note Thursday at Churchill's birthplace in Oxfordshire. The new fiver will be printed on polymer, a thin flexible plastic film. The current note features prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. When the new design was announced in 2013, an outcry followed because no woman would appear on Britain's cash aside from that of Queen Elizabeth II.

Novelist Jane Austen was later chosen for the 10-pound note.

Study suggests dogs first appeared in 2 places in Eurasia

June 02, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — The long-debated question of where dogs first appeared has always been complex, and now a new study suggests it may have two answers. Dogs arose from the domestication of wolves, and the new work suggests this happened twice, once in Asia and also in either Europe or the Near East.

"We were slightly surprised," since domestic animals usually have a single origin, said lead study author Laurent Frantz of Oxford University. In a paper released Thursday by the journal Science, he and co-authors stressed that their conclusion is only a hypothesis, and that more work is needed to assess it.

Dogs were the first domesticated animal, the only one to appear before people settled down to be farmers. They evolved from wolves that had begun to associate with people, perhaps drawn by food the people left behind.

The study drew on genetics and archaeological records. It included a complete genome from a dog that lived in Ireland about 4,800 years ago and more limited DNA from 59 European dogs that lived 14,000 to 3,000 years ago. The ancient DNA was compared to genetic data for 685 modern dogs.

The complex analysis led to this proposed scenario: Dogs arose from wolves in Asia and from a different wolf population in Europe or the Near East. Then, the Asian dogs traveled west along with humans. They arrived on the turf of the other dogs between about 6,000 and 14,000 years ago and partially replaced them or interbred with them, establishing a new population that is genetically different from Asian dogs.

Many dogs today show some genetic heritage from both the eastern and western groups of dogs, Frantz said. Adam Boyko of Cornell University, who has proposed a central Asia origin for dogs but didn't participate in the new study, said he found the dual-origin idea intriguing. More samples of DNA from ancient dogs will be needed to support it, he said.

Last call for owners to claim cars left in 1974 Cyprus war

May 26, 2016

EPISKOPI, Cyprus (AP) — It's last call for the owner to reclaim a late 1950s Dodge Coronet, shades of sky-blue paint still visible on its tailfins, that's been rusting on a British military base for over four decades.

The lone Dodge sits among some 400 vehicles — including Land Rovers, Fiats, Lambretta mopeds and Bedford trucks — that were abandoned by the Turkish Cypriot owners inside the Episkopi Garrison amid the confusion of a 1974 war that cleaved Cyprus along ethnic lines.

The vehicles have sat since inside this wind-swept, fenced-off field for safe-keeping. But the relentless Mediterranean sun and humidity, coupled with a huge brushfire that swept through the field 15 years ago, have turned more than half of them into little more than rusting hulks.

Now, base authorities are hoping to reawaken the interest of owners — either in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island or abroad — to reclaim the vehicles before their disposal starts next year.

"We have to make the effort to give them back before we start disposing of them, it's the proper thing to do," said Ian Brayshaw, a British Bases official in charge of the project. The overwhelming majority of the vehicles are of little value other than scrap metal. But there are a few gems that could be worth some money, including the aluminum-framed Land Rover Mark 1 and a decrepit Volkswagen Beetle that is said to be worth as much as 2,000 euros ($2,230) despite its condition, Brayshaw said.

It doesn't all necessarily boil down to money — the sentimental value can't be brushed aside. There have so far been around two dozen inquiries about the vehicles, with the son-in-law of one man who used to own a bus fleet making the trip to look at six bus carcasses.

"He was quite emotional because of the obvious history of the buses," Brayshaw said. "He was grateful for the efforts of the bases to give the vehicles back, but disappointed at their condition." Many of the vehicles, some vandalized and damaged, were abandoned on streets of RAF Akrotiri — a British air base in the island's southern, Greek Cypriot half.

With tensions running high immediately after an invasion Turkey mounted in response to a coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece, Turkish Cypriots couldn't drive their vehicles out of the base. Instead, the refugees were flown out from RAF Akrotiri and taken to Turkey before ending up in the island's Turkish-controlled northern part with whatever belongings they could carry with them.

"The sad thing for me is when you see a child's toy in the backseat of a car and it makes you think about how serious this all was, it was war," Brayshaw said. Some Turkish Cypriots have come forward over the years to reclaim mostly agricultural equipment, said Brayshaw.

Owners have until the end of the year to claim their vehicles. Those that aren't reclaimed will either be sold for scrap or auctioned off. Brayshaw said all the money raised will go to projects helping the Turkish Cypriot community.

Photos of most of the cars, trucks, tractors and motorbikes are posted on the base website for owners — and others who may be interested — to peruse. Anyone who wishes to take a vehicle is responsible for all transport costs.

Uganda, South Korea leaders sign co-operation agreements

May 29, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda and South Korea signed cooperation agreements Sunday that officials here hope will lead to transfer of technology as Uganda tries to implement an ambitious industrialization program.

The memorandums of understanding in areas such as health and education were signed at Uganda's State House in Entebbe, where visiting South Korean leader Park Geun-hye and her delegation were given a banquet. Details of the agreements were not yet available.

"There is a great potential for co-operation between South Korea and Uganda for the mutual benefit of both countries," Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said during the banquet, according to his office.

Uganda is the second leg of Park's Africa visit, during which she has focused on trade and business. In a speech Friday before the African Union in Ethiopia, Park urged African leaders to support international efforts to denuclearize rival North Korea.

Uganda has good diplomatic relations with North Korea, which has recently been training Ugandan security forces. Museveni said Sunday that he supports the peaceful reunification of Korea. Park's next stop is Kenya.

Duterte wins Philippine presidency in official count

May 27, 2016

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine lawmakers completed the official vote count from May 9 elections on Friday and announced that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency by an overwhelming margin, while Rep. Leni Robredo triumphed as vice president.

Duterte, the tough-talking mayor of southern Davao city, received more than 16.6 million votes, 6.6 million more than his closest rival, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who was backed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino III.

About 81 percent of more than 54 million eligible voters cast ballots for a successor to Aquino and thousands of other national, congressional and local officials whose terms end on June 30, according to lawmakers and official figures released by Congress.

Duterte had led by a wide margin in an earlier unofficial count, and most of his rivals have conceded defeat. The vice presidential race, however, was closely fought. Robredo, who was also backed by Aquino, received more than 14.4 million votes, according to the official count, just 263,000 more than Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of a dictator ousted in a 1986 "people power" revolt sparked by widespread human rights abuses and corruption.

Presidents and vice presidents are elected separately in the Philippines, and often are from different parties. It was not immediately clear if Robredo's victory would be contested by Marcos, who has raised suggestions of election irregularities.

"It was a very divisive and difficult election," Robredo said in a TV interview. "We need to rebuild as one country and President Duterte really needs all our help." Robredo, a lawyer who has helped the poor with free legal services, said she learned of her victory while she was with her daughters at a cemetery in her home province southeast of Manila to mark the 58th birthday of her late husband, a reformist politician who perished in a 2012 plane crash.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who helped oversee the vote count, said Congress will officially proclaim Duterte and Robredo as winners on Monday. Duterte, 71, who has stayed mostly in Davao city since the elections, did not immediately comment. He has said he does not plan to attend his proclamation as president-elect in metropolitan Manila.

The outcome of the official count cements the stunning political rise of Duterte, who won on an audacious promise to eradicate crime and corruption within six months as president. The pledge resonated among many crime-weary Filipinos, although police officials have said it is impossible to accomplish, noting that crime continues to hound Davao city, where the president-elect has served as mayor on and off for more than 22 years.

Human rights groups have also been alarmed by Duterte, who they suspect instigated the extrajudicial killings of many crime suspects by motorcycle-riding gunmen dubbed the Davao death squads in his city. The suspicions have been bolstered by Duterte's public threats to kill drug dealers and other criminals.

Aquino, the son of democracy champions who fought against Marcos' dictator father, campaigned against Duterte, saying he may become a dictator. Duterte has been likened to presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump because of his brash rhetoric and unorthodox political style. The Filipino politician detests the comparison, saying Trump is a bigot and he is not.

He has said he plans to offer four Cabinet positions to designated allies of communist guerrillas who have been waging a decades-long insurgency in the poor Southeast Asian country.

NASA taking another stab at inflating space station room

May 27, 2016

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA is taking a second crack at inflating an experimental room at the International Space Station. Flight controllers, along with the astronauts, will try again Saturday to expand the world's first soft-sided compartment for space travelers. Thursday's effort was halted after the pod barely grew in size when air was let in.

Officials told reporters Friday that friction among the compressed fabric layers likely kept the chamber from expanding to its full 13 feet in length and 10 ½ feet in diameter. In fact, the pod — called BEAM for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module — only swelled a few inches beyond its packed 7 feet in length and 8 feet in diameter. Overnight, it expanded slightly more.

BEAM was launched by SpaceX in April following months of rocket delays and attached to the outside of the station. Because of the postponement, the pod was packed up tight longer than anticipated. NASA relieved some of the pressure inside BEAM on Friday to relax the materials and, hopefully, allow the chamber to expand more easily on the next go-around.

Bigelow Aerospace is behind the technology demonstration. The Nevada company envisions using inflatable spacecraft to house tourists orbiting Earth — founder Robert Bigelow is in the hotel business, after all — as well as astronauts bound for Mars.

Because this has never been done before at a space station, NASA is proceeding slowly and methodically to inflate the room, said mission operations manager Kenny Todd. If too much force was exerted by BEAM on the space station — say by a rapid pressurization — the connecting modules could be weakened.

"To be honest with you, it doesn't surprise me a great deal that we ended up here," Todd said, given the conservative approach. There is no hurry to inflate BEAM, Todd stressed, and it poses no safety hazard to either the space station or its six-man crew. BEAM is supposed to remain at the orbiting outpost for two years, with astronauts only occasionally ducking inside. Sensors will measure temperature and radiation levels, as well as possible impacts by space debris.

New Russian submarine launched

by Richard Tomkins
St. Petersburg, Russia (UPI)
May 31, 2016

A sixth diesel-electric submarine for Russia's Black Sea fleet was launched Tuesday at a shipyard in St. Petersburg.

The Varshavyanka-class sub, named Kolpino, is an advanced version of what NATO designates as a Kilo-class submarine.

Built under the Russian Navy's Project 636.3, the submarine is between 229 and 242 feet long and has a submerged speed of as much as 25 knots. Weaponry includes torpedoes, mines and missiles.

"It's a big day for the Navy, for St. Petersburg, for the country," Deputy Commander of the Russian Navy Vice Adm. Alexander Fedotenkov was quoted by state-owned Tass as saying.

"The submarine launch is a national event. Admiralty Shipyard is indeed the flagship of the national shipbuilding industry. Your ships are delivered on time and with proper quality."...

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/New_Russian_submarine_launched_999.html.

Dozens in Russia imprisoned for social media likes, reposts

May 31, 2016

TVER, Russia (AP) — Anastasia Bubeyeva shows a screenshot on her computer of a picture of a toothpaste tube with the words: "Squeeze Russia out of yourself!" For sharing this picture on a social media site with his 12 friends, her husband was sentenced this month to more than two years in prison.

As the Kremlin claims unequivocal support among Russians for its policies both at home and abroad, a crackdown is underway against ordinary social media users who post things that run against the official narrative. Here the Kremlin's interests coincide with those of investigators, who are anxious to report high conviction rates for extremism. The Kremlin didn't immediately comment on the issue.

At least 54 people were sent to prison for hate speech last year, most of them for sharing and posting things online, which is almost five times as many as five years ago, according to the Moscow-based Sova group, which studies human rights, nationalism and xenophobia in Russia. The overall number of convictions for hate speech in Russia increased to 233 last year from 92 in 2010.

A 2002 Russian law defines extremism as activities that aim to undermine the nation's security or constitutional order, or glorify terrorism or racism, as well as calling for others to do so. The vagueness of the phrasing and the scope of offenses that fall under the extremism clause allow for the prosecution of a wide range of people, from those who set up an extremist cell or display Nazi symbols to anyone who writes something online that could be deemed a danger to the state. In the end, it's up to the court to decide whether a social media post poses a danger to the nation or not.

In February 2014, when Ukraine was in the middle of a pro-European revolution, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill tightening penalties for non-violent extremist crimes such as hate speech. In July of that year, three months after Russia had annexed the Crimean Peninsula, he signed a bill making calls "to destroy" Russia's territorial integrity a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. The new amendment makes the denial of Russia's claims on Crimea an even greater offense if the statement is made in the press or online, even on a private social media account.

Many of the shares that led to the recent rash of convictions were of things critical of Russia's involvement in Ukraine. This was true of the articles and images shared by Bubeyeva's husband, a 40-year-old electrician from Tver, a sleepy provincial capital halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

"Andrei Bubeyev thinks that he was charged as an example so that other ordinary citizens would be discouraged from expressing their opinion," said his lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina. Bubeyev spent a lot of time online, sharing links to various articles on his VKontakte page and engaging in political debates on local news websites, his wife says.

In spring 2015, he left town to work on a rural construction site. After investigators couldn't get through to him on the phone, they put him on a wanted list as an extremism suspect. When Bubeyev stopped by to visit his wife and young son at their country cottage, a SWAT team stormed in and arrested him.

His wife now lives alone with their 4-year-old son in a sparsely furnished apartment on the ground floor of a drab Soviet-era apartment block. After her husband was arrested, Anastasia Bubeyeva, 23, dropped out of medical school because she couldn't find affordable day care for her child, who still wears an eye patch for an injury he suffered when he bumped his head during the raid.

Several months after his arrest, Bubeyev pleaded guilty to inciting hatred toward Russians and was sentenced to a year in prison. His offense was sharing articles, photos and videos from Ukrainian nationalist groups, including those of the volunteer Azov battalion fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Among them was an article about the graves of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine and a video describing Russia as a "fascist aggressor" and showing Russian tanks purportedly crossing into Ukraine.

Less than two weeks after the verdict, Bubeyev was charged again. This time, he was accused of calling for "acts of extremism" and "actions undermining Russia's territorial integrity." He had shared the picture of a toothpaste tube and also an article under the headline "Crimea is Ukraine" by a controversial blogger, who is in jail now, calling for military aggression against Russia.

"He was interested in politics, read the news, shared things, but he did it for himself. It was like collecting newspaper clippings," his wife said. "His page wasn't popular — he only had 12 friends. He couldn't have aimed to coerce anyone into anything."

The new charges were soon followed by a damning report on local television station Tverskoi Prospekt. The program showed an anonymous blogger complaining about social media users who voiced their support for Ukrainian troops and were "ready to back a coup in Russia and take up arms and kill people as the Nazis did." The television report claimed that the blogger's complaint had prompted the prosecution of the electrician.

On May 6, Bubeyev was convicted and sentenced to two years and three months in prison. Also this month, a court in the Caspian Sea city of Astrakhan sentenced a man to two years in prison for his social media posts urging Ukrainians to fight "Putin's occupying forces."

In December, a court in Siberia sentenced a man to five years in prison for "inciting hatred" toward residents of eastern Ukraine in his video posts. In October, a court in southern Russia sent a political activist to prison for two years for an unsanctioned picket and posts on social media criticizing Putin and calling for southern Russia to join Ukraine.

The articles, photos and videos that landed Bubeyev in prison were posted on his page on VKontakte, Russia's most popular social media network with 270 million accounts. VKontakte founder Pavel Durov sold the site and fled Russia in 2014, claiming that he had come under presser from the security services for VKontakte to disclose personal data of the users of a group linked to a protest movement in Ukraine. The company is now controlled by the media holding of Kremlin-friendly billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova group, says roughly half of the convictions of hate speech online are about posts on VKontakte, which he said might be because its administration might be easier for the Russian police to deal with than that of foreign-owned social media.

Bubeyev's defense claimed that the privacy settlings on his account made the articles he shared available only to him and his 12 friends. Sidorkina, his lawyer, said she has no explanation for how the security services found his posts unless they received the credentials to his account from VKontakte.

VKontakte declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Russia faced a surge of racially motivated attacks against Central Asian migrant workers in the 2000s, but the crime rates dropped drastically after dozens of neo-Nazis got lengthy prison sentences for extremism.

Rights activists and lawyers who have worked on extremism cases say the drop in violent hate crimes sent police and investigators scrambling to prosecute people for non-violent offenses to show a solid record of tackling extremism.

The Moscow-based Center for Economic and Political Reform said in a 23-page report on extremism law released this month that most convictions for this type of crime resulted in fines or a few days in custody, with the aim of boosting the crime statistics.

But as tensions with neighboring Ukraine heated up, courts across Russia began to hand out more and more prison sentences for hate speech, the report said. Many of the hate speech convictions do deal with dubious content, but the severity of the punishment doesn't seem to correspond to the level of public danger posed, said Verkhovsky of Sova.

"These cases are very arbitrary because there are lots more people out there who have done the same thing. Such enforcement of the law does not address or combat radical activities," he said. "No one knows where the red line is: It's like roulette."

Putin blasts West on first trip to EU country this year

May 27, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — On his first trip to a European Union country this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday sharply criticized western policy toward Moscow, describing a newly expanded U.S. missile defense system as a threat to his country's security — and vowing to retaliate.

Putin arrived in Athens on a two-day visit and emerged from talks with the Greek government to lash the United States and NATO allies, also accusing them of stifling trade and energy cooperation with Russia.

Earlier this month, the U.S. program was declared operational at a site in Romania, drawing an angry reaction from Russia. NATO says the system is purely defensive and a response to a growing capability of ballistic missiles globally.

"We keep hearing that it's not a threat against Russia, that it's not aimed at Russia," Putin said late Friday. "Of course it's a threat to us. It can easily be modified to have an aggressive capability," he said.

"And if yesterday some parts of Romania did not know what it means to be targets, we will now be forced to take certain actions which will guarantee our security," he said, but did not elaborate. Putin has made only a handful of visits to EU countries since sanctions were imposed on Moscow two years ago in response to the Ukraine crisis and Russia's annexation of Crimea following an internationally disputed referendum.

"The issue of Crimea is over forever, based on the will of the people who live there. Russia will never negotiate on this issue," Putin said. Athens is keen to maintain its traditionally close ties with post-Soviet Russia, despite its participation in EU sanctions against Moscow, and a gas pipeline project designed to limit Russia's regional energy dominance.

Russia is one of Greece's main trading partners, but business has been hit by the sanctions and a drop in commodity prices. Greece is also keen to reverse a slump in tourist arrivals from Russia last year, and attract interest from Russian companies in the planned privatization of rail and other transport services.

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, noted that Putin's visit comes just days after Athens reached a deal with eurozone bailout creditors to continue rescue loans, under a deal that expands power of a state privatization committee.

"Improving relations with Russia on multiple levels is a strategic choice," Tsipras said. "Of course ... when the disagreements exceed our powers, we can act a positive influence within the EU and NATO."

Putin traveled to Greece with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and top executives from state oil and gas companies. Amid heavy security at Athens Airport, air force F-16s buzzed overhead as part of a welcoming ceremony.

"This will be the first time Putin has visited an EU country in the past six months and Russia-EU relations will be definitely on the agenda," said Alexander Kokcharov of the U.S.-based IHS Country Risk group.

"Putin is likely to offer investment projects in Greece, most likely in energy and transport sectors. However, we do not expect that Greece would go against the EU consensus." On Saturday, Putin will visit the autonomous Orthodox Christian monastic community of Mount Athos, joined by the head of Russia's Othodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Some 2,500 police were providing security for Putin's visit in Athens, and much of the city center was blocked to motorists and public transport. Outside Parliament, a small group of demonstrators from a Greek gay and lesbian rights association gathered in protest against Putin's visit, chanting "Greece, Russia, Homophobia."

Protester Savvas Kleanthous said violence against gays in Russia goes largely unpunished "We're here to support the Russian gay community," he said. "We haven't forgotten them."

Associated Press writers Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Alina Heineke in New York, and Costas Kantouris in Mount Athos contributed to this report.

NATO chief says Warsaw summit comes at 'critical time'

May 31, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A NATO summit set for Warsaw in July comes at a "critical time" as the alliance deals with Russian assertiveness and the threat of terrorism amid other challenges, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

Stoltenberg was speaking following talks with Poland's Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who said that four battalions are to be stationed in Poland and in the three Baltic states, giving the region a greater sense of security. A battalion typically has between 300 and 800 troops.

They were discussing preparations for the July 8-9 summit, which is to decide how many additional NATO troops will be deployed on the eastern flank, and where exactly. Concerned over Russia's actions, Poland has been seeking a significant, permanent NATO presence on its territory and the region.

Stoltenberg said the summit comes amid a "more assertive Russia, intimidating its neighbors, and changing borders by force," violence in North Africa and the Middle east and terrorism, cyberattacks and ballistic missile proliferation.

He said NATO is responding by "implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War." In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said Russia will take measures in response to an increased NATO military presence close to its borders, but did not give details.

"We have to ensure the security of our state," Russia's TASS agency reported Meshkov as saying. NATO's enhanced presence already includes a significant increase in the number of troops ready for quick reaction, speeding up decision-making and holding a greater number of major international military exercises, like Anaconda-16, which will involve some 30,000 troops in Poland in June.

Australia approved for $302 million SM-2 missile deal

by Richard Tomkins
Washington (UPI)
May 31, 2016

Australia has received State Department approval for acquisition of as many as 80 SM-2 missiles through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which manages the program, said the possible deal carries a total value of $302 million and would include vertical launch canisters for the SM-2 Block IIIB missiles, contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services.

"It is vital to U.S. national interests that Australia develops and maintains a strong and ready self-defense capability," the agency said in its notification to Congress. "This sale is consistent with U.S. regional objectives."

Australia plans to use the missiles for anti-air warfare test firings during Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials for the Royal Australian Navy's three new Air Warfare Destroyers now under construction.

The SM-2 Block IIIB missiles, combined with the destroyers' Aegis combat systems, will provide enhanced area defense capabilities over critical Southeast Asian air and sea lines of communication.

The principal contractors would be Raytheon and BAE Systems.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Australia_approved_for_302_million_SM-2_missile_deal_999.html.