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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Colombia's FARC kicks off last congress as guerrilla army

September 17, 2016

YARI PLAINS, Colombia (AP) — The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia kicked off its last conference as a rebel army Saturday as it looks to transition into a political movement following the signing of a peace accord to end more than a half-century of hostilities.

The FARC's top leader, Rodrigo Londono, addressed about 500 mostly unarmed and semi-uniformed guerrillas who had arrived from all parts of Colombia to attend the meeting in which top commanders will ratify a peace accord reached with the government last month and debate political strategy going forward.

Speaking from a giant concert stage dropped in the middle of southern Colombia's desolate plains, the bearded leader known by his alias Timochenko told the guerrillas, many of whom stood in formation with their hands behind their backs, that in pursuing peace there are neither victors nor vanquished.

"If our adversaries want to tout they won the war, that's up to them," Timochenko said in his inaugural address, surrounded by all seven members of the FARC's secretariat, its top decision-making body. "For the FARC, our greatest satisfaction will always be that peace has won."

Timochenko and President Juan Manuel Santos will sign the accord Sept. 26 in the city of Cartagena. A week later Colombians will be asked to ratify or reject the deal in a referendum. Polls show it is expected to overwhelmingly pass.

This the FARC's 10th conference as a rebel army and the first not held in secret. Instead of discussing battlefield strategy, the FARC must settle on a new name for their political movement and deliberate on who it wants to represent it in 10 specially reserved seats in congress created for the group in exchange for laying down its weapons.

For days this makeshift camp has been buzzing with activity as rebels hastily constructed structures to house their comrades arriving on the backs of pickup trucks, with pet dogs and parrots in tow, by way of a long, treacherous dirt road. Hundreds of journalists have also been invited to record the encounter, although access to the deliberations themselves is restricted.

For many rebels who've spent their lives in the jungle, the meeting is also an opportunity to be reunited with comrades and family members, some of whom they hadn't seen for years. "This is a historic moment because the history of Colombia has always been one of war," said a 29-year-old rebel who goes by her nom de guerre Gina as she launched her baby into the air. "This moment is what every Colombian is waiting for."

Alias Mauricio Jaramillo, a commander of the FARC's eastern bloc, said he was optimistic about the road ahead. "I think we're going to have some great news for the country," said Jaramillo, a member of the secretariat. "An opportunity for real peace is opening up for Colombia."

Argentine leader mentions Falklands in chat with British PM

September 21, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he spoke informally with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday and brought up the dialogue the countries have re-established in hopes of resolving the dispute over the Falklands Islands.

Macri told reporters the encounter after a United Nations lunch was "a minute" and "very informal." The two leaders had a similar encounter 10 days ago at the G-20 summit in China. He separately told the official Argentine news agency Telam that he greeted May and told her that "he is ready to start an open a dialogue that includes, of course, the issue of the sovereignty of the Malvinas." The islands are referred to as the Malvinas in Argentina.

Macri said the British leader responded with a "yes, that we should start to talk," according to Telam. Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra later cautioned that while the sovereignty of the disputed islands is something to be discussed with Britain, it would be "a big step to say that the issue is on the table."

There was no comment from the British government. Tensions between Argentina and Britain have eased since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez left office and Macri assumed the post promising a less-confrontational stance.

Last week, the two governments announced that they had agreed to lift restrictions affecting the islands, in a thawing of relations. The sides agreed to increase the number of flights between the Falklands and Argentina, adding one new stop a month in each direction.

Argentina lost a 1982 war with Britain after Argentine troops seized the South Atlantic archipelago. Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain disputes the claim and says Argentina is ignoring the wishes of the 3,000 residents, who wish to remain British.

Italy seeking EU-Africa migration deal

October 07, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Italy's foreign minister says his country "would appreciate" an agreement between the European Union and African countries similar to the one reached with Turkey to curb migration flows across the Aegean into Greece.

Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni praised the migration deal struck between the EU and Turkey in March, saying "we need to have similar agreement to solve, or at least manage, migration flows from Africa."

More than a million people reached Europe in 2015, with thousands of migrants drowning on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. The EU-Turkey agreement stipulates migrants arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast as of March 20 would be detained and sent back. For every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country.

Hungary votes on government's rejection of EU refugee quotas

October 02, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarians are voting in a referendum called by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government seeking support for its opposition to any future, mandatory European Union quotas to relocate asylum seekers.

Nearly 8.3 million citizens can cast ballots Sunday between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. (0400-1700 GMT). "No" votes supporting the government position are expected to be in the great majority, though there is uncertainty whether turnout will exceed the 50 percent plus-one-vote threshold needed to be valid.

The referendum's question is "Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?" Polls show that the relentless campaign urging citizens to "send a message to Brussels" while associating migrants with terrorism has increased xenophobia in Hungary.

Vote in Hungary highlights snags in migrant relocation plan

October 02, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary is holding a referendum Sunday against future European Union quotas for accepting asylum seekers, but schemes already in place to ensure EU member countries are taking in a fair share of the migrants reaching Europe hardly are working now.

The EU decided in September 2015 to move 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other European countries. There, refugees with a "high chance" getting asylum would wait for a decision on their applications and, in case of success, receive permission to settle in the country to which there were relocated.

Under this system, Hungary would receive 1,294 asylum seekers and Slovakia would get 902. Both countries reject the mandatory quotas and are challenging the EU's sharing scheme at the European Court of Justice.

Here's a by-the-numbers look at how the migrant issue is playing out within the 28-nation bloc:

ASYLUM SEEKERS IN EUROPE Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, says there were 1.25 million first-time asylum applicants in the EU during all of last year and 1.44 million in the 12 months before Sept. 21.

Germany led the EU in 2015 with 441,800 first-time applicants, followed by Hungary with 174,435 and Sweden with 156,110. While Germany and Sweden are destination countries for refugees and migrants, Hungary is almost exclusively a transit country and often the first EU country where people heading north from Turkey and Greece register.

Next on the list are two more destination nations: Austria, with 85,505 applications in 2015, and Italy with 83,245. At the bottom are Croatia with 140 first-time applicants, Estonia with 225 and Slovenia with 260.

PROTECTION GRANTED Germany is also first in the EU in approving asylum requests, having granted some sort of international protection to 140,910 refugees in 2015. Sweden is second with 32,215, Italy third with 29,615 asylum seekers recognized last year. France (20,630) and the Netherlands (16,540) round out the top five.

Latvia approved only 20 asylum applications, followed by Croatia with 40 and Slovenia's 45. Eurostat said Hungary approved 505 asylum requests in 2015.

ASYLUM SEEKER RELOCATION The European Commission said just 5,651 asylum seekers of the EU target of 160,000 had been relocated from Greece and Italy as of Sept. 27.

France welcomed the most, 1,952, but was expected to receive 19,714 under the EU quota plan. The Netherlands had 726 relocations out of 5,947 pledged, while Finland took in 690 asylum seekers out of the 2,078 it was assigned.

Austria, Hungary and Poland did not admit any asylum-seekers from the relocation pool.

HUNGARY'S CASE The Hungarian government's assorted objections to the relocation scheme have led to Sunday's referendum which, while not legally binding, has boosted both Prime Minister Viktor Orban's popularity.

Orban has argued that future EU relocation quotas could compel the country of 9.8 million to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them Muslims he says would spoil Hungary's homogenous society along with its Christian identity.

"We are only defending the right to remain unchanged," Orban said this week on state television. "We Hungarians love Hungary the way it is." Orban says support for the government's position in the referendum would make it harder for Brussels to ignore Hungary's quota nihilism.

Local Muslims wary of Hungary's anti-migrant referendum

October 01, 2016

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Muslims in Hungary say they are wary of the government's anti-migrant referendum this weekend, which polls suggest has boosted xenophobic feelings. The government, contending that there is a direct link between migrants and terrorism, is seeking a popular mandate in Sunday's vote for its opposition to accepting any mandatory European Union quotas for resettling asylum seekers.

"I'm starting to feel that my own homeland is repudiating me," says Timea Nagy, a Hungarian Muslim. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said Hungarians have "no problems" with the local Muslim community, but he believes any EU quotas to relocate asylum seekers, including many Muslims, would destroy Hungary's Christian identity and culture.

Orban hopes that a rejection of EU quotas in the referendum will be mimicked by others and force Brussels to reconsider the scheme. A poll taken in August by the Publicus Institute for the Vasarnapi Hirek newspaper found 35 percent of the 1,000 people asked said it was obligatory to help refugees, down from 64 percent in September 2015.

Some 5,600 Muslims live in Hungary, according to the 2011 census, the latest available. On Friday, about 30 people took part in a "Muslims living among us" walking tour in a Budapest neighborhood, an effort to counter prejudice.

"In the past year, especially since the migrant crisis is causing tension in Hungarian society, this is one of our most popular walks," said tour guide Anna Lenard. "We present Hungarian Muslim communities and try to show their human face because people living here get a lot of false information from the media."

The tour in the city's so-called "New Buda" neighborhood stretching to the Danube River includes stops in several shops and mosques, as well as presentations and chats by community leaders. "We could say that this (referendum) campaign is against the migrants but in reality it is covertly against Islam, that's how people mostly understood it," said Tayseer Saleh, imam of the Darusallam Mosque.

"We do not support the migrants coming to Europe," Saleh said. "We support putting an end to the problems there and I guarantee that 90 percent of the people will return to their homeland." Government billboards and media ads have drawn a direct link between migration and terrorism, warned Hungarians that millions more migrants may soon be headed for Europe and asserted that cases of harassment of women in Europe have risen greatly since the start of the migrant crisis.

Speaking last September at a meeting of Hungarian diplomats, Orban said the Muslims in Hungary were a "valuable asset" and wanted to avoid causing "awkward situations, even at the verbal level" for them.

"We are truly glad that there are kebab shops on our avenues. We like buying lamb from Syrian butchers at Easter," Orban said. "We are going to honor this Muslim community in Hungary, but we don't want their proportion to grow suddenly."

Local Muslims said the problems they faced in light of the government's referendum campaign were far beyond awkward. "I consider myself a good Hungarian and I want to be one, too," Timea Nagy said. "But if people are surrounded by this kind of propaganda and they are so impressionable, it often makes you wonder."

Andras Nagy contributed to this report.

Germans visit mosques to learn about Islam

04 October 2016 Tuesday

Germany’s Muslim community opened the doors of its mosques to non-Muslims Monday to encourage dialogue and help overcome misunderstandings about Islam.

Nearly 1,000 mosques across Germany took part in "Open Mosque Day”, an annual event organized by Islamic associations in the country.

Ahmet Fuat Candir, Turkey’s religious services attaché in Berlin, said conflicts in the Middle East and terrorist attacks have sparked fears and anti-Muslim sentiments in Germany.

“The best way to dispel fears about Islam is to have more dialogue. Islam is not what they see on their televisions. Islam is a religion of peace and love,” he told Anadolu Agency at Berlin’s historic Sehitlik Mosque.

During the event, imams made presentations about Islamic faith and culture and answered visitors’ questions.

With a population of 81.8 million, Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the 4 million Muslims in the country, 3 million are of Turkish origin.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/islamophobia/178144/germans-visit-mosques-to-learn-about-islam.

Germany: Hundreds call for end to bombings in Aleppo

October 2, 2016

Hundreds of people rallied in the German capital Saturday to call for an end to the Syrian regime’s continuing airstrikes on Aleppo, which has killed at least 500 people in the past two weeks.

Demonstrators marched in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, raising flags of the Syrian revolution and carrying placards that read “Save Aleppo”, “Aleppo is Burning”, “Stop Assad and Putin” and “Russia Stop Bombing Civilians!”

Most of the protesters were Syrian refugees, but many Germans also joined the rally, which was called by several Syrian NGOs, including Actions4Syria.

During speeches at the rally, organizers warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo, where nearly 275,000 civilians find themselves under siege.

They called on international community to act rapidly to stop the regime’s heavy bombardment, and ensure humanitarian access to the thousands of civilians.

The Assad regime ended on September 19 a week long cease-fire to begin a major offensive in Aleppo, which has killed at least 500 people, including nearly 100 children.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Beirut-based NGO, has put the total death toll from the five-year conflict at more than 470,000.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161002-germany-hundreds-call-for-end-to-bombings-in-aleppo/.

Finland, US to deepen military ties through pact

October 07, 2016

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland and the United States have signed a bilateral defense cooperation pact pledging closer military collaboration at the time when the Nordic country is increasingly concerned over Russia's activities in the Baltic Sea region.

The deal was signed in Helsinki on Friday by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work and the Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto. While Washington and Helsinki already closely cooperate through joint military drills on air, land and sea, the non-legally binding pact seeks to deepen the ties through information exchange, joint research and development in areas like cyberdefense and training among other things.

The pact covers cooperation in ship building, nuclear defense and developing technologies for the Arctic - an area of increasing interest for both nations. In the three-page declaration, the U.S. and Finnish defense ministries jointly state that "the U.S. presence in and around the Baltic Sea undergirds stability in the region, and creates opportunities to increase defense cooperation between our countries."

As a stark reminder of the military realities in the region, Niinisto said earlier Friday that Finland suspects that Russian SU-27 fighter jets violated the country's airspace on two separate occasions in the Gulf of Finland on Thursday.

The claim was quickly denounced by Russia's defense ministry which, as quoted by news agency TASS, said the planes flew over international waters "in strict compliance with the international regulations."

While the Finnish media speculated that the air intrusion may be related to Work's visit, others claimed it was caused by an ongoing air drill by Russian air forces in the region. Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila considered it "serious" that two such incidents took place on the same day, and urged a thorough investigation.

Estonian national broadcaster ERR reported that Russian military has been transporting short-range Iskander missiles by sea to the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad this week complete with substantial air escort - something that could explain intrusions on the narrow international air strip on the Gulf of Finland.

Estonia's military reported separately that a Russian SU-27 fighter plane had violated its airspace early Friday for less than one minute. The United States has expressed concern over what it says is Russia's aggressive and reckless behavior on the Baltic Sea, where Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia - among other nations - have reported air violations and there has been other activity by Russia's military near U.S. aircraft and ships.

During his one-day Helsinki visit Work met with Nordic and Baltic defense officials in a regular gathering to discuss regional defense issues, including Russia's recent maneuvers. "Unfortunately these (Russian air intrusions) are becoming a norm rather than an exception," Work told a news conference after the meeting. "It's hard for me to fathom that Russia would consider Finland a threat in anyway, and activities like these are hard to understand."

Finland's close Nordic neighbor Sweden concluded a similar kind of military pact with the United States in June. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden each struck such a defense cooperation deal also with Britain earlier this year.

Ethiopia: Unrest follows 56 deaths in anti-govt demos

04 October 2016 Tuesday

Protesters attacked trucks and machinery owned by a cement factory in the Oromia state and also set a customs and court office ablaze, as well as government-owned vehicles, in the wake of anti-government protest on Sunday which left 56 people dead, a local official told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

Worku Chala, Oromia’s communications officer, told Anadolu Agency that in the town of Bule Hora in the West Guji zone, protesters also allegedly freed prisoners after burning down a police station.

“Lives were lost following the conflict between security forces and the forces of destruction in Bule Hora,” said Chala. “Demonstrations are flaring up as dead bodies are returned to families, creating a renewed sense of anger and depression among members of society.”

The protests follow a massive demonstration Sunday at Bishoftu, 45 kilometers southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, in which 56 have so far been reported killed and many others injured in a stampede triggered by the sound of gunfire and firing of teargas to disperse the crowd.

The gathering was meant to mark the annual Irrecha thanksgiving event, but turned into a gigantic anti-government protest with people shouting “didne”, which means “enough” as well as “freedom”.

“All the protests over the last couple of days are the result of the unfortunate incident in which the security forces fired into the air and the teargas,” a protester, a teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, told Anadolu Agency.

“The stampede could have been avoided and death would have been thus prevented, but alas, you can’t cry over spilled milk, too many of our brothers and sisters are dead now,” he said.

In a message of condolences, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn blamed the mayhem on what he described as a few “instigators” and anti-peace elements who hijacked a public holiday for ulterior political motives.

Following the Bishoftu incident, the Ethiopian government declared three days of national mourning, with the tricolor flag at half-mast.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/178184/ethiopia-unrest-follows-56-deaths-in-anti-govt-demos.

Likely new UN secretary-general sees 'huge challenges' ahead

October 06, 2016

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The United Nations' probable next secretary-general said Thursday he faces "huge challenges" and hopes to see unity and consensus during his expected term at the international body.

Antonio Guterres praised the U.N. Security Council for its swiftness and unity in approving him by acclamation in a formal vote earlier in the day. "I sincerely hope that that was symbolic and displays an increased ability on the part of the Security Council to — through unity and consensus — be able to take the swift decisions which the troubled world we live in demands," Guterres said in a brief statement at the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon.

Guterres, 67, a former Portuguese prime minister who for 10 years was the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, is almost certain to replace Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general. He said his focus as U.N. chief would be on helping the victims of war, poverty and injustice.

He spoke without notes in Portuguese, English, French and Spanish. He did not take reporters' questions. "I have just two words to express my feelings at this moment: humility and gratitude," Guterres said.

He praised the "intelligence and dedication and commitment" of his rivals for the secretary-general post as well as the Portuguese diplomats who campaigned for him.

UN Security Council formally nominates Guterres

October 06, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Portugal's former prime minister Antonio Guterres, who was formally nominated on Thursday to be the next U.N. secretary-general, said he faces "huge challenges" and hopes to see unity and consensus during his term.

Security Council President Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador, said members approved a resolution by acclamation recommending Guterres for a 5-year term during a closed-door meeting. The council's recommendation now goes to the General Assembly for formal approval, which is virtually certain. The 193-member world body is expected to vote on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's successor next week. Ban's second 5-year term ends Dec. 31.

Speaking at the Foreign Ministry in Lisbon, Guterres said that he hoped the consensus vote in the council, which has been deeply divided over Syria and many other issues, would turn out to be symbolic, bringing "swift decisions which the troubled world we live in demands."

Ban told reporters in Rome that he considers Guterres "a superb choice." He praised his "deep compassion" as U.N. refugee chief for 10 years "for the millions of people who have been forced from their homes," as well as "his wide knowledge of world affairs and his lively intellect."

Russia's Churkin called Guterres a "great choice," describing him to reporters after the vote as "a person who talks to everybody, speaks his mind, a very outgoing, open person." He cited Guterres' experience as prime minister and as the U.N. refugee chief where he traveled the world and saw "some of the most gruesome conflicts we have to deal with."

Guterres topped all six informal polls in the council after receiving high marks from almost every diplomat for his performance in the first-ever question-and-answer sessions for candidates in the General Assembly. He was the only candidate of the 10 in the race to receive no "discourage" votes in Wednesday's poll, which was the first to use colored ballots to distinguish the votes of the five veto-wielding permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

The result disappointed campaigners for a woman or an East European to be the world's top diplomat for the first time. "Antonio Guterres has won this race because he was the best candidate for the race," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said before entering Thursday's meeting. "It was a crowded field, it was a strong field and I'm delighted that seven of the 13 candidates were women but I and others have always been clear that while now is the right time for a woman that we were going to pick the strongest person."

Ban stressed that "as the ninth man to serve as secretary-general, Mr. Guterres has a special responsibility to include, support and empower the world's women and girls." The veteran politician and diplomat said in an interview with The Associated Press and two other news organizations during his campaign that if he got the job his aim would be to work with all countries to help solve the myriad problems on the global agenda.

Guterres will almost certainly select a woman as deputy secretary-general and he said in the interview that one of the things that is "crucial" at the male-dominated United Nations is "to have gender parity."

He said that his 10 years as the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, which ended in December, were "excellent preparation" for a secretary-general who needs to be an honest broker and be seen by countries as independent in order to promote consensus and overcome crises.

"I think we are living in a world where we see a multiplication of new conflicts, and you see an enormous difficulty in solving the conflicts," Guterres said. "There is a clear lack of capacity in the international community to prevent and to solve conflicts."

What's needed, he said, is a new "diplomacy for peace" which requires discreet diplomatic contacts and shuttling among key players in conflicts and disputes. The secretary-general should also engage as much as possible and "act with humility to try to create the conditions for member states that are the crucial actors in any process to be able to come together and overcome their differences," he said.

The 10 years as high commissioner were "the most remarkable experience you can imagine," he said. "It's the most fascinating work you can have, very demanding ... and I gained a lot of experience in dealing with all crises and all governments" involved in crises everywhere.

After his term ended, Guterres said, he felt an obligation to do something "having had this dramatic experience of dealing with people that are suffering enormously" as refugees and having no solution to their plight.

He said the place where he could probably contribute the most to solve that problem and other global crises was at the United Nations so he decided to apply to be secretary-general.

Associated Press writers Michael Astor at the United Nations and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

Israel intercepts Gaza-bound women's flotilla

By Andrew V. Pestano
Oct. 6, 2016

JERUSALEM, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Israeli Defense Forces intercepted the all-female, Gaza-bound "Zaytouna" flotilla that sought to break through Israel's blockade on the Palestinian territory.

Israeli troops on Wednesday boarded the flotilla -- dubbed the "Women's Boat to Gaza" -- in which at least 13 female activists hoped to breach the Israeli blockade to Gaza, which Israeli authorities put in place in 2007 citing security reasons.

"In accordance with government directives and after exhausting all diplomatic channels, the Israeli navy redirected the vessel in order to prevent breach of the lawful maritime blockade," IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

No violence was recorded from either side. The women who participated in the flotilla are from Norway, Sweden, Australia, Egypt, Tunisia, Malaysia, Israel, Canada and the United States.

"We all hope that we will break the blockade and celebrate on the shores of Gaza, but in reality, we know that our ships will probably be intercepted by Israeli forces and we will be illegally detained," Wendy Goldsmith, a Canadian member, told Al Jazeera. "We have set our course to challenge Israel's illegal blockade and to bring messages of hope to Gaza."

Israeli officials on Tuesday said there is no siege on Gaza, adding that anyone can send goods to the Gaza Strip but that such goods must pass a regulated security check.

In 2010, at least nine activists were killed in a confrontation with Israeli authorities when six civilian flotillas attempted to breach the blockade. Accounts over what led to the activists' deaths have been contested by pro-Palestinian organization and Israeli authorities.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/10/06/Israel-intercepts-Gaza-bound-womens-flotilla/7081475769963/.

Rocket launch site to open up New Zealand space industry: Minister

Wellington (XNA)
Oct 04, 2016

New Zealand first space launch site was officially opened Tuesday, with Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce saying it would help generate the national space program.

Joyce said he was looking forward to the first launches this year from the privately run Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island's east coast, followed by more next year when Rocket Lab launched commercial payloads.

"Rocket Lab will be a catalyst for other space-related activity in New Zealand," Joyce said in a statement. "Space activity is pervasive in our lives, to such an extent we are no longer aware that our Internet, our decision-making around energy and resource management, our marine surveillance to name only a tiny fraction, all rely on what we are doing in space."

Attracting international players would be easier now the government had established a regulatory regime to be managed by a new New Zealand Space Agency.

"The new agency has been very busy not only supporting Rocket Lab to navigate the regulatory environment, but also putting in place the foundations for an internationally credible, competitive and well-connected New Zealand-based space industry," said Joyce.

The New Zealand Space Agency would capitalize on Rocket Lab launches to help build New Zealand's capacity and expertise in all manner of space-related activities and support the strategic opportunities that were likely to flow.

The government tabled the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill in Parliament this month and it was intended it will become law by mid-2017.

It would enable the development of a space industry in New Zealand, and enable regulators to manage risks and implement certain international obligations relating to space activities and space technology.

The Bill would also ensure the country's space industry met its international obligations, including the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA), recently signed with the United States.

The U.S.-owned Rocket Lab, a commercial space launch operator using technology developed in New Zealand, had to obtain a license from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration so it could conduct its space launch activities in New Zealand.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Rocket_launch_site_to_open_up_New_Zealand_space_industry_Minister_999.html.

New Zealand government open-minded on space collaboration

Wellington NZ (XNA)
Oct 04, 2016

The New Zealand government is keeping an open mind on international cooperation in its nascent space program, saying it could be open to future collaboration with China and other space powers, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said Thursday.

Joyce, who opened New Zealand's first space launch site on Tuesday, told Xinhua that the newly formed New Zealand Space Agency had to ensure the country meets a range of international conventions and regulatory requirements.

Opening the privately run Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island's east coast, Joyce said attracting international players would be easier now since the government had established a regulatory regime to be managed by the agency.

"We're opening to partnering with countries around space," Joyce said Thursday in an exclusive interview during an official engagement in the North Island city of New Plymouth.

The U.S.-owned Rocket Lab is a commercial space launch operator using technology developed in New Zealand.

"We have a very good relationship with the U.S. and we have a good relationship with China and other countries and we'll just keep an open mind in terms of all our technology collaborations, but obviously we'll be needing partners," Joyce said.

The government tabled the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill in Parliament this month and it is expected to become law by mid-2017.

It would enable the development of a space industry in New Zealand, and enable regulators to manage risks and implement certain international obligations relating to space activities and space technology.

The Bill would also ensure the country's space industry meets its international obligations, including the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA), recently signed with the United States.

However, the TSA would not exclude New Zealand from partnering with other nations in space, Joyce told Xinhua.

"It's really important that you don't share proprietary technologies inappropriately with other countries when they come to New Zealand so it is with U.S. technology, but then I imagine with the Chinese it would be the same with any proprietary technologies that they have," he said.

Rocket Lab is to begin space launches from New Zealand this year and is expected to start taking commercial payloads next year.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Interview_New_Zealand_govt_open_minded_on_intl_space_collaboration_minister_999.html.

Russia lawmakers mull indefinite military presence in Syria

October 07, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian parliament is discussing the ratification of a treaty with Syria that allows Russian troops to stay indefinitely in the Mideast country. Lawmakers spoke in favor of the agreement, in a sign of support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Moscow has backed throughout the devastating civil war.

The vote is to be held later Friday. The treaty allows Russia to keep its forces at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, Assad's Alawite heartland, as long as it wants. Russia launched an air campaign in Syria a year ago, reversing the tide of war and helping Assad's forces win some key ground. Moscow says it seeks to help the Syrian army fight terrorism.

Russia also has a naval base in Syria's port of Tartus.

Australian activists march to get recognition for Palestine

October 4, 2016

Australian activist John Salisbury, joined by a number of Palestinian solidarity activists, launched the “Recognize Palestine Walk 2016” on Sunday, a 300-kilometer march from the Australian city of Sydney to the capital, Canberra.

The activists, set to arrive in Canberra on 11 October, aim to deliver a petition to the Australian House of Representatives, asking their government to recognize the state of Palestine.

Palestinian People Party official Shamekh Badra told Ma’an yesterday that the petition was signed by thousands of Australians, including politicians and academics, to support the Palestinian cause.

Badra stressed the importance of such efforts to gain international recognition of Palestine, saying a Palestinian state must be established to resist Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory.

On its website, the Australian Friends of Palestine Association quoted Salisbury as saying: “From 2-11 October 2016 I will once again walk from Sydney to Canberra in support of Palestinian human rights.”

“The walk will follow the path of a similar endeavor in 2014 led by Israeli academic Dr. Marcelo Svirsky and the same walk by myself in 2015. I will carry with me a petition asking our elected representatives to formally recognize the State of Palestine. Over 130 countries have formally recognized Palestine. Why not Australia?”...

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161004-australian-activists-march-to-get-recognition-for-palestine/.

Putin visits wild horse reserve in Urals

October 03, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited a natural reserve that houses rare wild horses. Putin, on a visit Monday to the Orenburg region in the southern Ural Mountains, led the Przewalski's horses from a fenced enclosure into the steppe.

The reserve serves as a breeding ground for the rare horse, which has become nearly extinct in the wild in Russia. It currently houses a small team of horses from France in order to reintroduce them into their natural habitat.

The Russian action-man president has relished appearing with animals in stage-managed media events. Putin has petted a polar bear, ridden a horse bare-chested, flown a motorized hang glider with cranes and shot a tiger with a tranquilizer gun to tag it with GPS collar.

Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos wins Nobel Peace Prize

October 07, 2016

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people — and said he received the award in the name of the Colombian people.

The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about. Nobel judges conspicuously did not honor his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the rebels.

"The referendum was not a vote for or against peace," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process wasn't dead. "What the 'No' side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement."

Santos said the Colombian people deserved the honor. "Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending," Santos said in an interview posted on the Nobel Foundation's Facebook page. "We are very, very close. We just need to push a bit further to persevere."

Reacting to the award on Twitter, Londono said "the only prize to which we aspire" is one of social justice for Colombia, without far-right militias or retaliation. Santos and Londono — the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko — signed a peace deal last month to end Latin America's longest-running conflict after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba.

Six days later, Colombians rejected it by the narrowest of margins — less than a half percentage point — over concerns that the rebels, who were behind scores of atrocities, were getting a sweetheart deal. Under the accord, rebels who turned over their weapons and confessed their crimes would be spared jail time and they would be given 10 seats in congress through 2026 to transition to a political movement.

In Bogota, 20 activists camped out in front of Colombia's congress to demand the peace deal not be scuttled shouted "Peace deal now!" and "Colombia wants peace!" at the news. "This is a big help, but we're not leaving until there's peace," said Juliana Bohorquez, a 31-year-old artist.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, despite the "No" vote, "has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution." It said the award should also be seen "as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process."

Committee secretary Olav Njoelstad said there was "broad consensus" on picking Santos as this year's laureate — the first time the peace prize went to Latin America since 1992, when Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu won.

Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia's wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the biggest military setbacks for the rebels, known by their Spanish acronym FARC. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Yet awarding Santos alone was a departure from the Nobel committee's tradition of honoring both sides in a peace process, like it did in 1994 for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and in 1998 for peace talks in Northern Ireland.

"I can't think of another time when they didn't give to both sides," said Nobel historian Asle Sveen, who isn't connected to the committee. "But the referendum made it difficult. The opposition who won the referendum would have been provoked. I suspect the committee took the FARC out at the last minute."

The committee recognized that the referendum result had "created great uncertainty" about Colombia's future. "There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again," it said. "This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, continue to respect the cease-fire."

Prize committee chair Kaci Kullmann Five said the prize should be seen as encouragement to the FARC as well. "Giving the prize to Santos is not a belittlement to any of the other parties," she told The Associated Press. "The FARC is obviously a very important part of this process. We note that the FARC has given important concessions."

Santos and Londono met only twice during the entire peace process: last year when they put the final touches on the most-controversial section of the accord — how guerrillas would be punished for war crimes — and last month to sign the accord before an audience of world leaders and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Colombian vote Sunday was also seen as a referendum of sorts on Santos, who has staked his presidency on securing peace but in the process, critics say, neglected the economy and other pressing issues. Santos' approval rating in July was near the lowest it has been since he took office in 2010.

Norway, along with Cuba, has been a sponsor of the Colombian peace process since the outset. The public phase of talks began in Oslo in 2012 and the Norwegian government's bald-headed, mustached representative to the talks, Dag Nylander, has become a minor celebrity among Colombians, who have followed every announcement from Havana on TV.

A record 376 candidates were nominated for this year's award, which carries a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (about $930,000). Last year's peace prize went to Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet for its efforts to build a pluralistic democracy.

The 2016 Nobel Prize announcements continue with the economics prize on Monday and the literature award on Thursday. All awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.

Ritter reported from Stockholm. Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

Greek islanders, Syrian White Helmets top Nobel Peace bets

October 06, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Bookmakers taking bets for this year's Nobel Peace Prize are giving the lowest odds to the Greek islanders who have opened their hearts and homes to hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The award will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway, and as usual the Norwegian Nobel Committee isn't dropping any hints about its choice for 2016. The betting site Unibet gave the lowest odds Thursday to Greek islanders while another betting site, Paddy Power, had the White Helmets rescue group in Syria in first place, followed by the islanders.

Others with low odds included Pope Francis, the architects of Colombia's peace deal and Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege, who treats victims of sexual violence in that nation's civil war. Last year the committee surprised the world by picking the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebel commander Timochenko were considered hot favorites by many until Sunday, when Colombian voters narrowly rejected their peace deal in a referendum. A Colombia award now seems like a less likely, though it can't be ruled out.

Another possibility could be a prize linked to last year's Paris Agreement on climate change, which on Wednesday was ratified by enough countries to enter into force next month. The committee has made the link between climate and peace before, by giving the 2007 award to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former U.S. vice president Al Gore.

A challenge for a prize honoring the Paris Agreement would be identifying the architects of a deal negotiated by more than 190 countries. The committee could play it safe by awarding outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who made climate change a priority as soon as he took the job, or the U.N. secretariat for climate change.

The committee could also devote the prize to the deal on Iran's contested nuclear program or the world's refugee crisis. Options would be many: German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis or grassroots refugee activists like Russia's Svetlana Gannushkina or the Rev. Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest helping asylum-seekers in Italy.

A campaign for the Greek islanders to receive the award focuses on Lesbos locals Emilia (Militsa) Kamvisi, an 85-year-old grandmother and second-generation refugee whose parents fled Turkey in the 1920s, and fisherman Stratis Valiamos, 40, who like many fishermen has rescued refugees from sinking boats.

The committee has dedicated the prize to efforts to help refugees several times before, including with two awards to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in 1954 and 1981. A refugee prize could also be a way for the committee to reference the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. Some say a better way to do that would be to award the volunteer first responders in Syria known as the White Helmets.

Last month the group was honored among the winners of the Right Livelihood Award, a human rights prize sometimes referred to as the "alternative Nobel." It's also a distinct possibility that the committee, like so many times before, selects a winner who isn't in the limelight. Except for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani children's rights activist who shared the prize in 2014, the Nobel committee's choices in the past five years have surprised most observers.

Japanese scientist wins Nobel for study of cell recycling

October 03, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a busy city, a cell works better if it can dispose of and recycle its garbage. Now a Japanese scientist has won the Nobel Prize in medicine for showing how that happens. The research may pay off in treatments for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and Type 2 diabetes.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, 71, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, was cited Monday for "brilliant experiments" that illuminated autophagy, in which cells gobble up damaged or worn-out pieces of themselves. Autophagy means "self-eating."

That process helps keep cells healthy by producing nutrients and building blocks for renewal, making way for new cellular structures and clearing out invading germs and clumps of proteins that could cause disease.

Abnormalities in autophagy (aw-TAH'-fuh-jee) occur in several diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cancer, and more than 40 studies in humans are under way to test drugs to boost or depress the process, Nobel officials said.

Cancer cells, for example, take advantage of autophagy to promote their own survival. Many research groups are exploring a strategy of fighting the disease by reducing these cells' use of the cleanup process, said Eileen White, a researcher at the Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Ohsumi said he never thought he would win a Nobel for his work, which involved studying yeast under the microscope day after day for decades. "As a boy, the Nobel Prize was a dream, but after starting my research, it was out of my picture," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"I don't feel comfortable competing with many people, and instead I find it more enjoyable doing something nobody else is doing," Ohsumi added. "In a way, that's what science is all about, and the joy of finding something inspires me."

The prize is worth 8 million kronor, or $930,000. Ohsumi was honored for work he did in the 1990s. Nobel judges often award discoveries made decades ago, to make sure they have stood the test of time.

Working in yeast, Ohsumi developed a way to identify key genes involved in autophagy and went on to discover the first genes known to play a role. He then showed how autophagy is controlled by specific proteins and complexes of proteins.

"He actually unraveled which are the components which actually perform this whole process," said Rune Toftgard, chairman of the Nobel Assembly. Scientists were aware of autophagy before Ohsumi's work, but they "didn't know what it did, they didn't know how it was controlled and they didn't know what it was relevant for," said David Rubinsztein, deputy director of the Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge.

Ohsumi's work "opened the door to a field," he said. "It provided tools to the whole world to start trying to understand how autophagy is important" in mammals. Now "we know that autophagy is important for a host of important mammalian functions."

For example, scientists said, it springs into action to provide energy when the body is running short on nutrients, such as when a person skips meals or a newborn has not yet begun breastfeeding. Autophagy also removes proteins that clump together abnormally in brain cells, which is what happens in conditions like Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases and some forms of dementia. Animal studies suggest that boosting autophagy can ease and delay such diseases, said Rubinsztein, whose lab is pursuing that approach.

"As time goes on, people are finding connections with more and more diseases," he said. In Tokyo, Ohsumi said many details of autophagy are yet to be understood and he hopes younger scientists join him in looking for the answers.

"There is no finish line for science. When I find an answer to one question, another question comes up. I have never thought I have solved all the questions," he said. "So I have to keep asking questions to yeast."

It was the 107th award in the medicine category since the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1905. Last year's prize was shared by three scientists who developed treatments for malaria and other tropical diseases.

The announcements continue with physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The economics and literature awards will be announced next week. The awards will be handed out at ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.