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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mosul battle rages as IS bombings elsewhere in Iraq kill 20

November 06, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's special forces worked Sunday to clear neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Islamic State-held Mosul as bombings launched by the extremist group elsewhere in the country killed at least 20 people.

The Mosul offensive has slowed in recent days as Iraqi forces have pushed into more densely populated areas, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.

"There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them," said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi. "This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now." Some civilians are fleeing the combat zone, while IS militants are holding others back for use as human shields, making it harder for Iraqi commanders on the ground to get approval for requested U.S.-led coalition air strikes. Iraq's special forces are some of the country's best troops, but they still largely rely on air support to clear terrain.

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city on Tuesday. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have advanced just over a kilometer (mile) into the city. On the southern front, Iraqi forces are still some 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the city center. The fighting is centered on the town of Hamam al-Alil, where Associated Press journalists could hear gunfire and saw attack helicopters firing on IS positions.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched mortar rounds and fired heavy artillery at the IS-held town of Bashiqa, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Mosul. The town, which is believed to be largely empty except for IS militants, has been encircled by Kurdish forces.

The extremists captured Mosul and surrounding areas in 2014, and have had plenty of time to dig trenches, block off roads and mine approaches to the city. "Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs," said al-Timimi, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.

The extremists meanwhile struck far from the front lines with a series of bombings. The deadliest attack took place in the city of Samarra, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, which is home to a major Shiite shrine. Provincial spokesman Ali al-Hamdani said the attacker set off a bomb-packed ambulance in a parking lot near Shiite pilgrims before detonating his explosives vest.

The attack killed 11 people, including at least four Iranians, and wounded up to 100 other people. Another suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden car into a busy checkpoint outside the city of Tikrit, killing at least nine people. Al-Hamdani said five female students, a woman and three policemen were killed in the attack, while 25 others were wounded.

IS had also captured Tikrit during its lightning blitz across Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces drove the militants from the city, around 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, in April 2015.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the two attacks, which he said had killed 21 people, including 10 Iranian pilgrims, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting tolls, which are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks.

In an online statement, IS claimed all three bombings and said the ambulance bomb was set off by a second suicide attacker. The AP could not verify the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists.

In the capital, Baghdad, a series of smaller bombings killed at least 10 people and wounded 21 others, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. No one immediately claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of IS.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Cristiana Mesquita near Bashiqa, Iraq, Balint Szlanko near Hamam al-Alil, Iraq, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Iraqi forces say defenses, civilians hamper Mosul advance

November 06, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's special forces struggled Sunday to clear areas retaken from the Islamic State group along Mosul's eastern edge, where the extremists have built up fortifications and ramparts in residential neighborhoods.

The slowdown highlights the challenges ahead for Iraqi forces as they press into more populated areas deeper in the city — where the civilian presence means they won't be able to rely as much on airstrikes.

"There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them," said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi. "This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now." Some civilians are fleeing the combat zone, while IS militants are holding others back for use as human shields, making it harder for Iraqi commanders on the ground to get approval for requests for U.S.-led coalition air strikes. Iraq's special forces are some of the country's best troops, but they still largely rely on air support to clear terrain.

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city on Tuesday. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have only advanced just over a kilometer (mile) into the city. On the city's southern front Iraqi forces are still some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city center.

The extremists captured the city in 2014, and have had plenty of time to erect fortifications. Trenches and berms have turned the streets and alleyways of a neighborhood once named after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into a maze, and concrete blast walls have blocked off access to other areas.

"Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs," said al-Timimi, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. IS fought back Saturday, pushing the special forces from the southern edge of the Gogjali neighborhood, where the troops had made their first major foray into the city itself after more than two weeks of fighting in its rural outskirts.

Both sides fired mortar rounds and automatic weapons, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Snipers dueled from rooftops in residential areas, where most buildings are just two stories high.

Egypt's population now at 92 million

November 25, 2016

Egypt’s population reached 92 million people on Thursday evening, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) has revealed.

Egypt’s population increase represents a rise of one million people in less than six months as there were 91 million Egyptians in June this year.

“Egypt’s population is growing at a rate five times higher than that of developed countries, and twice as high as developing countries,” CAPMAS warned.

According to the agency, 2.6 million children are born every year and there are 600,000 deaths. “The population growth limits the state’s ability to make tangible changes in living standards, since the population growth is not proportionate to the current economic growth.”

Only 7.8 per cent of Egyptian territory is habitable. More than a quarter of the population live below the poverty line.

CAPMAS statistics show that Cairo is the most populous governorate with 9.5 million people, while South Sinai is the least populated with just 172,000 residents.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161125-egypts-population-now-at-92-million/.

Arabic signs face removal threat in Istanbul's Little Syria

November 25, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — With its colorful signs, flashing lights and awnings displaying sales messages in Arabic, Istanbul's Aksaray neighborhood looks just like its nickname, "Little Syria." Those scenes soon could change as part of a crackdown on what one local official calls "visual pollution."

Last week, Aksaray businesses and residents received a notice ordering them to declutter building facades and overhaul their signage. The order represents the latest salvo in an eight-year effort to standardize storefronts and require all signs to be in the Turkish language, which uses the Latin alphabet. It also seeks the removal of signs in Cyrillic lettering and all signs with neon and LED lights.

Some Syrian residents are vowing to ignore the order, seeing it as an assault on their culture. Turkey today is home to 3 million refugees, mostly Syrian. "I will defend my rights because I don't agree with this decision," said Mehmet Basil Souccar, who manages five Syrian restaurants in Istanbul.

The 45-year-old, a dual Turkish-Syrian national, estimates that more than two-thirds of Aksaray's stores are owned and operated by Syrians — and predicts street clashes if authorities try to remove Arabic signage.

"You can be sure that if they enforce this order, there will be a very ugly picture in Aksaray," he said. Some argue that their businesses must be identified with Arabic signs to be identified by their largely Syrian clientele, many of them refugees from the besieged city of Aleppo.

"Our restaurant's name was well known in Aleppo," said Mahrusi restaurant manager Samer Abou Dan. "If we remove our sign, we might as well shut the restaurant down and leave." Local officials bill the crackdown on non-Turkish signage as part of an initiative to beautify Istanbul's central district of Fatih, which includes Aksaray. They deny pursuing an anti-Syrian or anti-Arabic agenda.

"This is not a project that we planned today," Fatih spokeswoman Nurcan Albayrak said in an email to The Associated Press. She said Fatih was part of a historic peninsula that required "aesthetic consistency" and described the spread of ornately lit and non-Turkish signs as part of a wider problem of "visual pollution."

Many Turkish businessmen in Aksaray, including kebab shop owner Mehmet Gunduz, back the effort. "I want everybody to put up their signs in Turkish," he said. "We won't have any Turkishness left if all the signs are in Arabic. How will we know we're Turkish?"

Associated Press reporters Mehmet Guzel and Neyran Elden in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Suspect in Turkey car-bombing reported dead after shootout

November 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A car bomb attack targeting a government building in southern Turkey killed at least two people and wounded 33 others Thursday, senior cabinet officials said. A suspect was later reported dead after a shootout with security forces.

Minister of European Union Affairs Omer Celik said police opened fire on a light utility vehicle believed to be carrying the person responsible for the attack in the city of Adana when the driver refused to stop.

"Ultimately, those who committed this heinous act will not get away with it," Celik said. Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported Thursday night that police removed the suspect's body from the vehicle before dispatching a remote-controlled bomb disposal robot to defuse explosives still on board the vehicle.

The bombing outside the office of the governor of Adana province was the latest in a string of deadly attacks that have rocked Turkey for more than a year. The attacks have been carried out by Kurdish militants or the Islamic State group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack. The car bomb was detonated remotely at the entrance to the Adana governor's office, and the governor was the likely target, Celik said.

The governor, Mahmut Demirtas, said earlier that the attack was believed to have been carried out by a woman. Several cars in the parking lot caught fire after the blast, video footage showed. The blast also damaged the government building, Anadolu Agency said.

Some of the wounded were in serious condition, said Huseyin Sozlu, the mayor for the city. "The bomb that was detonated was a high-impact one," he said. The European Union has expressed increasing disapproval of Turkey's wide-ranging crackdown on critics and political opponents following a failed coup attempt in July, actions Ankara defends as part of an ongoing war on terror.

The EU Parliament on Thursday held a non-binding vote to freeze talks on Turkey's bid to join the 28-nation bloc. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus condemned the bombing and offered condolences on Twitter, adding: "Having become a target because it has disrupted the game being played in the region, Turkey will not yield to terrorism, it will continue its fight against terrorism with determination."

As with previous attacks, Turkish authorities imposed a media ban, barring broadcast and publication of graphic images or information that might hinder the investigation. A statement by the United States Consulate urged all citizens to "avoid this area throughout the day, maintain a high level of vigilance, monitor local media for updates, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity."

American troops are stationed at the Incirlik Air Force base, roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city center. Incirlik serves as a base for aircraft involved in the U.S.-led coalition's campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Cinar Kiper reported from Istanbul

Car bomb attack in southern Turkish city kills 2, wounds 33

November 24, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A car bomb attack Thursday targeting a government building in the southern Turkish city of Adana killed at least two people and wounded 33 others, a senior cabinet official said.

Energy Minister Berat Albayrak condemned the attack during a news conference in Adana, promising to "bury ... those who commit terrorism, their pawns and their supporters." The attack was the latest in a string of deadly bombings that have rocked Turkey for more than a year. The attacks have been carried out by Kurdish militants or the Islamic State group.

Adana governor Mahmut Demirtas told the state-run Anadolu Agency that the attack occurred in a parking lot near the entrance to his office. He said it was believed to have been carried out by a woman, without saying whether it was a suicide attack.

"Terror hit my hometown today. Lost 2 citizens, dozens wounded. It is a shame to talk about proportionality against terrorist organizations," Omer Celik, the minister in charge of European Union affairs, wrote on his Twitter account.

The European Union regularly criticizes Turkey's sweeping crackdown following the failed coup attempt in July, which Ankara defends as part of an ongoing war on terror. The bloc will hold a non-binding vote on Thursday on whether or not to freeze Turkey's membership talks.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus condemned the attack and offered condolences on Twitter, adding: "Having become a target because it has disrupted the game being played in the region, Turkey will not yield to terrorism, it will continue its fight against terrorism with determination."

Several cars in the parking lot caught fire after the blast, video footage showed. The blast also damaged the government building, Anadolu Agency said. Some of the wounded were in serious condition, said Huseyin Sozlu, the mayor for the city. "The bomb that was detonated was a high impact one," he said.

As with previous attacks, Turkish authorities imposed a media ban, barring broadcast and publication of graphic images or information that might hinder the investigation. A statement by the United States Consulate urges all citizens to "avoid this area throughout the day, maintain a high level of vigilance, monitor local media for updates, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity."

American troops are stationed at the Incirlik Air Force base, roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city center. Incirlik serves as a base for aircraft involved in the U.S.-led coalition's campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Cinar Kiper reported from Istanbul

Lebanon stopped wall construction around Palestinian camp

November 26, 2016

The Lebanese army has halted construction of a security wall around the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, a Lebanese-Palestinian group in the refugee camps said in a statement yesterday.

“The Lebanese army responded to our demands and stopped the construction of the so-called security wall around the Palestinian refugee camp,” a statement by the group known as the Unified National Leadership (UNL) said.

During a meeting held on Thursday between the UNL and representatives of the Lebanese army, the latter said that it would halt the construction of the wall around the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp, though it was not immediately clear if this was a temporary measure.

According to the statement, the meeting came in the wake of different activities and several contacts made during the last week, noting that those efforts led to the army’s halting of construction of the wall.

The UNL thanked the Lebanese army for accepting their request to stop building the wall, stressing it would exert its utmost efforts to maintain the security situation inside the Palestinian camps to allay Lebanese fears that terrorists and organised criminals were operating within refugee camps.

Last week, the Palestinian Hamas organization, who hold sway over the Gaza Strip, called on the Lebanese authorities to stop building the wall around Ain Al-Hilweh.

Hamas’ spokesman in Lebanon, Ali Baraka, called for launching “a dialogue with the leaders of the Palestinian factions about the reality and future of Palestinian existence in Lebanon,” stressing that his movement rejects any policy to isolate the refugee camp.

“Building the wall is bad for Palestinian-Lebanese relations,” he insisted, “and harms the interests of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.”

Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Meshaal also denounced the building of a wall around the camp, and communicated with several leading Lebanese politicians, including major players such as Saad Al-Hariri who is likely soon to be Lebanon’s prime minister.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161126-lebanon-stopped-wall-construction-around-palestinian-camp/.

ISIL extremists surrender in Libya’s Sirte

23 November 2016 Wednesday

Several members of the ISIL extremist group surrendered late Tuesday to forces loyal to Libya’s unity government following fierce clashes in the northern city of Sirte, according to a military source.

He went on to suggest that they had surrendered because they had run out of ammunition.

In a related development, the general hospital in Libya’s northwestern city of Misurata (located some 240 kilometers from Sirte) said in a statement that it had received the bodies of five Libyan soldiers killed in Sirte on Tuesday in clashes with ISIL.

Military sources also said that forces loyal to the unity government had recently killed at least 30 ISIL militants in Sirte.

The same sources went on to estimate that only 50 ISIL militants still remain in the coastal city.

Since May, forces loyal to Libya’s Tripoli-based Presidential Council have been trying to retake Sirte from ISIL, which captured the city in early 2015.

In September, Libyan forces wrested most of Sirte from the militants, who now remain concentrated in the city’s eastern districts.

Source: World Bulletin.
Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/africa/180577/isil-extremists-surrender-in-libyas-sirte.

Colombia government, rebels sign revised peace agreement

November 25, 2016

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a revised peace agreement with the country's largest rebel movement on Thursday, making a second attempt within months to end a half century of hostilities.

Santos and Rodrigo Londono, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the 310-page accord at Bogota's historic Colon Theater — nearly two months after the original deal was surprisingly rejected in a referendum.

After signing with a pen crafted from the shell of an assault rifle bullet, they clasped hands to shouts of "Yes we could!" Thursday's hastily organized ceremony was a far more modest and somber event than the one in September, in the colonial city of Cartagena, where the two men signed an accord in front of an audience of foreign leaders and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, all of whom were dressed in white to symbolize peace.

Santos looked and sounded tired after a two-month political roller coaster that saw him rise from the humiliating defeat to win this year's Nobel Peace Prize. This time the deal will be sent directly to Congress without a public referendum.

He tried to inject a dose of optimism about the hobbled accord whose outlook for implementation is shrouded in uncertainty. "In 150 days — only 150 days — all of the FARC's weapons will be in the hands of the United Nations," he said during the only part of his speech that drew applause from the audience of a few hundred local politicians and officials.

FARC leader Londono used his address to call for a transitional government to ensure the accord is effectively implemented, a suggestion immediately denounced by the opposition as a veiled attempt to extend Santos' tenure past elections in 2018, when he'll be constitutionally banned from competing. The rebel leader also congratulated Donald Trump on his victory and called on the president-elect to continue strong U.S. support for Colombia on its path to peace.

"Our only weapons as Colombians should be our words," said Londono, better known by his alias Timochenko, in a 15-minute speech. "We are putting a definitive end to war to confront in a civilized manner our contradictions."

The new accord introduces some 50 changes intended to assuage critics led by still-powerful former President Alvaro Uribe. They range from a prohibition on foreign magistrates judging crimes by the FARC or government to a commitment from the insurgents to forfeit assets, some of them amassed through drug trafficking, to help compensate their victims.

But the FARC wouldn't go along with the opposition's strongest demands — jail sentences for rebel leaders who committed atrocities and stricter limits on their future participation in politics. Members of Uribe's political party are threatening protests against what they consider a "blow to democracy." They also are demanding another referendum, which they are confident they'll win. Shortly after Thursday's ceremony, Santos delivered the accord to congress, where a solid pro-peace majority is expected to ratify it in as early as next week.

"I ask public opinion to reflect on what this means for the future of the country," Uribe said on the Senate floor Thursday, drawing attention to the fact that FARC leaders will be allowed to fill specially-reserved seats in congress before completing any sentences handed down by special peace tribunals.

The lack of broad support for the accord will make the already-steep challenge of implementing it even tougher. Colombians overwhelmingly loathe the FARC for crimes such as kidnappings and drug-trafficking. Ensuring that the 8,000-plus fighters don't wind up joining criminal gangs rampant throughout the country, or the much-smaller National Liberation Army, will also test the state's ability to make its presence felt in traditionally neglected rural areas at a time of financial stress triggered by low oil prices.

There's also a risk that peace could trigger more bloodshed, as it did following a previous peace process with the FARC in the 1980s when thousands of former guerrillas, labor activists and communist militants were gunned down by right-wing militias, sometimes in collaboration with state agents.

That fear, although less prevalent than in the darker days of Colombia's half-century conflict, has become more urgent with more than a dozen human rights defenders and land activists in areas dominated by the FARC being killed by unknown assailants since the initial signing ceremony in September.

Santos this week held an emergency meeting with his Cabinet and U.N. officials to discuss the murders, taking an opportunity to reinforce his message that peace can't wait. So far this year, 70 have been killed, according to Bogota-based We Are Defenders, more than in all of 2015 and 2014.

"We couldn't delay implementation a single minute longer," Santos said in his speech, alluding to the risk of a ceasefire falling apart if negotiations were allowed to stretch on. Once signed, Santos will introduce the accord to Congress, where a solid majority in support of peace is expected to ratify it as early as next week. Lawmakers will then embark on the nettlesome task of passing legislation so the guerrillas can begin concentrating in some 20-plus demobilization areas where they will begin turning over their weapons to United Nations-sponsored monitors.

After fatal fire, Greece presses EU on migrant relocation

November 25, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece asked the European Union Friday to press member states to speed up the relocation of migrants, after a fire raged through an overcrowded refugee camp, killing two people and seriously hurting two others.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was "shocked, as is the entire Greek nation, by the tragic event" that occurred overnight at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos. The government said it would seek the faster deployment of promised EU personnel to help process asylum claims. Tsipras' office said he had spoken by phone with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

A gas canister, used for cooking or heating inside a tent, started the fire, police said. The victims were a young boy and an older woman, who have not been identified. Another woman and a second child were severely injured and flown by military plane to Athens, where they were hospitalized in serious condition. Several others were less seriously hurt.

Human rights groups strongly condemned the loss of life and blamed it on the intransience and inattentiveness of governments across Europe. "How many more people need to die in a tent, trying to keep warm, before EU and Greek authorities take action?" said Loic Jaeger, head of mission in Greece for the relief agency Doctors Without Borders, or MSF.

Moria is one of five Greek island camps sheltering refugees and migrants listed for deportation back to Turkey, under a deal struck between the EU and Ankara in March. More than 62,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece, including nearly 11,500 being restricted to the islands, according to government figures .

Despite the overcrowding, EU member states have accepted fewer than 4 percent of the migrants they are committed to hosting under the bloc's Emergency Relocation Mechanism. Early Friday, migrants at Moria clashed with police as they were evacuated from the camp during the blaze. The fire was extinguished by firefighters and no arrests were made.

Jaeger of Doctors Without Borders said the insistence of authorities not to move migrants to the Greek mainland had led to the tragedy. "The fire in Moria is more than an accident. It is a direct consequence of the deplorable living conditions that Greek and EU authorities force refugees to live in inside Moria camp and other places across Greece," he said.

Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece contributed.

Greek ferries tied up in port during 24-hour seamen's strike

November 24, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek ferries have suspended their routes to and from the country's islands due to a 24-hour seamen's strike protesting pension cuts and other measures arising from Greece's bailout commitments.

Thursday's walkout by the seamen came as the country's largest civil servants' union staged a 24-hour strike against austerity measures. Greece has been surviving on rescue loans from three international bailouts since 2010, when rising borrowing costs left it locked out of bond markets. A new round of talks between the left-led government and international creditors has paused, with Greece accusing bailout hardliners of proposing new cuts that would be a "social disaster."

Greece wants to overcome differences with eurozone lenders and the International Monetary Fund by early December to unlock more funds and trigger talks on debt relief.

Lufthansa pilots strike for 4th day, 137 flights canceled

November 26, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Pilots at Lufthansa are staging a fourth consecutive day of strikes against the German airline, with chances of an immediate resolution to the pay dispute looking slim after their union rejected a new offer from the company.

The Cockpit union targeted Lufthansa's long-haul services Saturday, prompting 137 flight cancellations and affecting some 30,000 passengers. That's fewer than on previous days, when Cockpit members also hit short-haul flights.

Cockpit said there will be no walkout Sunday and it will give at least 24 hours' notice of any strikes next week. Cockpit is seeking retroactive raises of 3.66 percent a year going back 5½ years. On Friday, Lufthansa offered to increase pay by 4.4 percent by mid-2018, and make a one-time payment equal to 1.8 monthly salaries in lieu of past raises.

1 big difference between French primary candidates: Russia

November 25, 2016

PARIS (AP) — Perhaps the biggest difference between the two men competing in France's conservative presidential primary is how they view Vladimir Putin's Russia. And whatever French voters decide in Sunday's primary runoff, it's pretty clear what Putin's preference would be.

Francois Fillon, who polls suggest is the front-runner, wants to end sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, work alongside Russia against the Islamic State group, and insists "Russia poses no threat to the West."

His rival, Alain Juppe, is sticking close to France's current line: keeping up pressure on Putin to make peace with Ukraine and to stop bombing Syrian opposition groups on behalf of President Bashar Assad.

If Fillon wins the nomination, that would put him in a powerful position heading into the April-May election — and his strongest challenger might turn out to be far-right leader Marine Le Pen, an open fan of Putin.

Like U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who cozied up to Putin during his campaign, some conservative French politicians are increasingly talking about partnering with Putin's Russia instead of isolating it. Russia — and notably its role in Syria — is emerging as a key foreign policy issue in the French campaign.

"Western countries have made a 'virtual enemy' of Russia in recent years, rejecting cooperation with Moscow even though Russia poses no threat to the West," Fillon said on Europe-1 radio this week. Fillon said this attitude pushes the country away toward Asia, which "is absurd."

"I'm just asking that we sit around the table with the Russians —without, by the way, asking for the Americans' approval — and with them we try to re-establish ties," he said in a televised debate with Juppe on Thursday night.

Sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis "did not change a thing except ruin the French farmers," he added. Fillon and Putin signed multiple trade deals when they were both prime ministers — Fillon from 2007-2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy, Putin from 2008-2012 while Dmitry Medvedev assumed the presidency.

Putin, speaking to reporters in Moscow on Wednesday, said of Fillon: "Despite his very European manner ... he is capable of defending his point of view. ... He is a high-class professional." Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday the two men have a "good relationship," and added, "We follow the French campaign with a great interest."

The Russian praise didn't go unnoticed in France. Juppe bristled at what he suggested was Russian meddling in the conservatives' campaign. "It's the first time in a French election the Russian head of State chooses his candidates. I'm a little bit surprised," Juppe said.

While Juppe called for a good relationship with Russia, he also insisted: "To talk with Russia does not mean always say: yes, yes. It means to tell them the truth. The truth I want to tell to Mr. Putin is that one does not annex a part of a neighbor country in violation of all international conventions."

Juppe insisted that Russia respect the so-called Minsk accord seeking peace in Ukraine before the EU sanctions can be lifted. "I don't want France to be the vassal of Washington or Moscow. Neither one nor the other," he insisted.

Putin likely would try to exploit a more-friendly figure in the French presidency to push for abandonment of the European Union sanctions that have hit the Russian economy; French business interests already have called for lifting the sanctions, which would need unanimous approval of the EU's member states.

Russia could also gain from a French president whose interests in Syria were more focused on wiping out terrorist groups rather than ousting Assad. A right-wing figure also probably would be less inclined to take Russia to task over media freedom and democratization issues.

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

Denmark urged to clean up US military waste in Greenland

November 26, 2016

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Greenland is calling on Denmark to clean up an abandoned under-ice missile project and other U.S. military installations left to rust in the pristine landscape after the Cold War.

The 1951 deal under which NATO member Denmark allowed the U.S. to build 33 bases and radar stations in the former Danish province doesn't specify who's responsible for any cleanup. Tired of waiting, Greenland's local leaders are now urging Denmark to remove the junk that the Americans left behind, including Camp Century, a never-completed launch site for nuclear missiles under the surface of the massive ice cap.

"Unless Denmark has entered other agreements with the United States about Camp Century, the responsibility for investigation and cleanup lies with Denmark alone," said Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland's minister in charge of foreign affairs.

Camp Century was built in 1959-60 in northwestern Greenland, officially to test sub-ice construction techniques. The real plan was top secret: creating a hidden launch site for ballistic missiles that could reach the Soviet Union.

The project was abandoned in 1966 because the ice cap began to crush the camp. The U.S. removed a portable nuclear reactor that had supplied heat and electricity, but left an estimated 200,000 liters of diesel oil and sewage, according to an international study published in August.

Scientists are warning that as global warming melts the ice cap, the waste could surface and pollute the environment. In an Oct. 24 letter to Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, obtained by The Associated Press, Qujaukitsoq asked about Denmark's plans for Camp Century, adding that an international study said the waste includes "radioactivity, oil and PCB pollution."

PCBs stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, a man-made chemical once widely used in paints, plastics and other products, but were banned after they were demonstrated to cause cancer and other ailments.

At a meeting on Nov. 17 in Nuuk, the Greenland capital, to discuss the issue, Jensen said Denmark's Environment Ministry was investigating the environmental risks. "I hope it can be done as quickly as possible," he told a news conference, declining to give any specifics.

Jensen later told The Associated Press in an email that "it is still too early to say who will be involved in a possible cleanup." The U.S. military was interested in Greenland during the Cold War due to its strategic location in the Arctic. Under the 1951 agreement, the U.S. also built four radar stations as part of an early warning system to detect incoming Soviet bombers.

The U.S. Air Force still uses the Thule Air Base, about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) below the North Pole. Military airfields in Narsarsuaq, Kulusuk and Kangerlussuaq have become civilian airports. Several other military installations have been abandoned, some in remote areas, in the hope they would be entombed forever in the thick ice cap that covers most of the vast island.

Local authorities have started clearing some of the sites, but don't have sufficient resources, said Rasmus Eisted of Danish engineering company Ramboll, which has been involved in some cleanup projects.

Eisted singled out a junkyard in Kangerlussuaq containing miscellaneous military equipment from the time it was a U.S. Air Force Base known as Sondrestrom. The continuing cleanup task was larger than first anticipated, he said.

Aleqa Hammond, a former Greenland premier who now represents the mostly Inuit population of the Arctic island in the Danish Parliament, said Greenland could bring Denmark before a U.N. panel on indigenous issues unless it deals with the junk.

"Denmark is responsible for cleaning up after the Americans," Hammond told AP. "I see a potential political crisis between Greenland and Denmark."

Nikki Haley accepts U.N. ambassador post in Trump administration

By Andrew V. Pestano
Nov. 23, 2016

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday said she accepted Donald Trump's offer to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations out of a "sense of duty."

Haley confirmed reports of her nomination Wednesday morning with a statement posted on Facebook, saying she previously anticipated finishing the last two years of her term as governor.

"Not doing so is difficult because I love serving South Carolina more than anything," she said.

"I was moved to accept this new assignment for two reasons. The first is a sense of duty. When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation's standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed. The second is a satisfaction with all that we have achieved in our state in the last six years and the knowledge that we are on a very strong footing."

Haley, 44, the daughter of Indian immigrants who was born in Bamberg, S.C., has little foreign policy experience but has worked on domestic trade and labor issues. Her foreign policy work centers on negotiating with international companies seeking development deals in South Carolina and leading seven overseas trade missions during her two terms as governor.

Haley supported Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during the Republican primary and criticized Trump's campaign proposal to temporary ban Muslims from entering the United States.

In what was regarded to be a dig at Trump's campaign, she also criticized the "angriest voices" within U.S. politics and their "siren call" to voters during the Republican response given to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address earlier this year.

Despite previous criticism, Haley said she never disliked Trump after the president-elect visited her last week. In 2012, Trump made a $5,000 contribution to a pro-Haley political group.

"He was a friend and supporter before he ran for president, and was kind to me then. But when I see something I am uncomfortable with, I say it," Haley said. "When we met, it was friends who had known each other before."

Henry McMaster, South Carolina's lieutenant governor, would replace Haley as governor if she is confirmed.

"I will remain as governor until the U.S. Senate acts affirmatively on my nomination," she said Wednesday. "We still have much to do in South Carolina, and my commitment to the people of our state will always remain unbreakable, both while I continue to hold this office, and thereafter."

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/11/23/Nikki-Haley-accepts-UN-ambassador-post-in-Trump-administration/4271479901935/.

Police respond to 'riots' at Dakota Access pipeline; protesters report tear gas

By Daniel J. Graeber
Nov. 21, 2016

MANDAN, N.D., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Law enforcement personnel in North Dakota said protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline escalated into riots, with activists settling in for the winter.

The Sheriff's Department in Morton County, N.D., said its troopers were working Sunday evening to control what they described as a riot on a bridge north of a protest encampment. About 400 demonstrators were reportedly moving against law enforcement personnel.

Fires were reported on the area's Backwater Bridge, which was closed by the state highway authority after protests in late October.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Friday it appears that many protesters were looking to set up camp through the winter to protest against the pipeline's construction.

"We've seen that many of these protesters are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters, and we urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety," he said in a statement.

Comments posted on the Facebook page for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, one of the groups leading the effort to stop the pipeline, suggest police used tear gas and other non-lethal methods to thwart protesters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said further review was needed in order to assess tribal interests associated with the construction of the last few hundred feet of the Dakota Access pipeline. The decision means pipeline consortium Energy Transfer Partners is delayed in the construction of a $3.7 billion pipeline meant to carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from North Dakota oil fields to Illinois and then onto the southern U.S. coast.

The last few hundred feet of construction requires drilling under the Missouri River.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Police-respond-to-riots-at-Dakota-Access-pipeline-protesters-report-tear-gas/4741479727613/.

Celebration, sorrow mingle after death of Fidel Castro

November 26, 2016

The death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro prompted celebrations among the country's exiles in Miami, and expressions of sorrow from some world leaders. Within half an hour of the Cuban government's announcement of the death of the 90-year-old revolutionary leader, cheers were heard in Miami's Little Havana. Thousands of people banged pots, waved Cuban flags and whooped in jubilation. "Cuba si! Castro no!" they chanted, while others screamed "Cuba libre!"

"Feels weird," said Gabriel Morales, a 40-year-old financial executive in Miami, whose parents left Cuba after Castro came to power. "Been waiting to hear this news all my life. Seems unreal," Morales said in a text message to an AP reporter.

However, Castro was mourned by some present and former national leaders. "Fidel Castro in the 20th century did everything possible to destroy the colonial system, to establish cooperative relations," former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.

"Fidel survived and strengthened the country during the most severe U.S. blockade, while there was enormous pressure on him, and still led his country out of the blockade on the road of independent development."

Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the president of El Salvador, said he felt "deep sorrow ... of my friend and eternal companion, Commander Fidel Castro Ruz." Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that "Fidel Castro was a friend of Mexico, promoting bilateral relations based on respect, dialogue and solidarity."

"India mourns the loss of a great friend," Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi said on Twitter. The country's president, Pranab Mukherjee tweeted: "Heartfelt condolences on sad demise of Cuba's revolutionary leader, former president & friend of India, Fidel Castro."

Peter Hain, a former member of the British Cabinet and anti-apartheid campaigner, tempered praise for Castro with criticism of some aspects of his long rule. "Although responsible for indefensible human rights and free-speech abuses, Castro created a society of unparalleled access to free health, education and equal opportunity despite an economically throttling USA siege," Hain said. "His troops inflicted the first defeat on South Africa's troops in Angola in 1988, a vital turning point in the struggle against apartheid."

A statement from the Spanish government hailed Castro as "a figure of enormous historical importance." "As a son of Spaniards, former president Castro always maintained close relations with Spain and showed great affection for his family and cultural ties. For this reason Spain especially shares the grief of Cuba's government and authorities," the government statement said.

West Bank settlement evacuated in 5th day of Israeli fires

November 26, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — More than 40 homes have been burned in a Jewish West Bank settlement and all 1,000-plus of its residents evacuated as firefighters continue battling blazes across the country for a fifth day.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says Saturday's fire in Halamish erupted in several locations and quickly spread throughout the settlement. Several other fires were still raging. The blazes began four days ago near Jerusalem. Backed by dry, windy weather, they later spread elsewhere. The most devastating fire hit Israel's third-largest city of Haifa.

Though no deaths or serious injuries have been reported, dozens have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Hundreds of homes have been damaged and an international fleet of firefighting aircraft has arrived to assist.

The country's leaders claim Arab arsonists are behind many of the blazes.

Haifa fire overcome but others rage elsewhere in Israel

November 25, 2016

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli firefighters on Friday reined in a blaze that had spread across the country's third-largest city of Haifa and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country for the fourth day in a row.

Some 60,000 have yet to return to their homes as police forces and firefighting units were still heavily deployed in the Haifa area for fear that the fire could be reignited due to the rare dry, windy weather.

Though no serious injuries were caused, several dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Hundreds of homes were damaged and in a rare move, Israel on Thursday called up military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and made use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by several countries.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a small village in the forests near Jerusalem was evacuated overnight as several homes there caught fire. Overall, he said 12 people have been arrested across Israel on suspicion of arson. The country's leaders have raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blazes.

Israel has been on edge during more than a year of Palestinian attacks — mostly stabbings — that have tapered off but not completely halted in recent months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Palestinian incitement for fueling those attacks. Israel's police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters on Thursday that early indications on the fires pointed toward a series of "politically motivated" arson attacks.

The fires began three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together. Later, blazes erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem before the largest ones spread across Haifa.

The rash of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history. That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft arrived from as far away as the United States.

Israel has strengthened its firefighting capabilities since then, buying special planes that can drop large quantities of water on affected areas. Several countries, including Russia, France, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy were also sending assistance to battle this week's blazes. In a rare gesture, the Palestinians also offered to send firefighting teams to help combat the flames.

Nude students, Filipino activists protest dictator's burial

November 26, 2016

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of Filipinos, including more than a dozen nude students, protested against the hasty burial of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a heroes' cemetery, in a growing political storm that's lashing the president who allowed the entombment.

A few thousand activists joined a "Black Friday" protest despite rainy weather at Manila's seaside Rizal Park, where they carried Marcos' effigy in a mock coffin. While the anger was directed at Marcos and his family, President Rodrigo Duterte was also targeted for allowing the burial of the dictator, who was ousted in a largely peaceful "people power" revolt three decades ago.

Protesters held placards reading "Digong traitor, a lapdog of the dictator," referring to Duterte by his nickname. Dozens of students trooped outside the presidential palace in Manila in a separate protest and burned an effigy of Marcos in a mock coffin.

At the state-run University of the Philippines, a fraternity turned its annual recruitment ritual into a protest with naked student recruits running with placards that read, "Marcos dictator not a hero."

"This run is a manifestation of our anger against what we see as the Marcoses trying to revise history, trying to revive their name because they have fallen from grace," Alpha Phi Omega fraternity spokesman Toby Roca said. "We are angry that they are trying to ignore our painful history of human rights abuses under his term."

Duterte, whose father served in Marcos's Cabinet, allowed the burial on grounds that there was no law barring his interment at the Heroes' Cemetery, where presidents, soldiers, statesmen and national artists are buried. It was a political risk in a country where democracy advocates still celebrate Marcos's ouster each year.

Duterte's decision was upheld earlier this month by the Supreme Court. Marcos opponents had 15 days to appeal the decision, but Marcos's family, backed by Duterte's defense and military officials, buried him in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony with military honors last week at the cemetery.

The stealthy burial enraged democracy advocates and sparked protests in Manila and other cities. Protest leader Bonifacio Ilagan, a left-wing activist detained and tortured under Marcos, said many protesters are young Filipinos who did not experience the brutalities of the dictatorship but "got assaulted by the surreptitious burial."

Ilagan said he was struck by the message on a placard carried by a college student in a recent rally that said, "If he was a true hero, why was he buried in secrecy?" Human rights victims who suffered under Marcos's rule asked the Supreme Court this week to order the exhumation of his remains and to hold his heirs and Duterte's officials in contempt for their role in burying the body before the court heard final appeals.

Marcos's rule was marked by massive rights violations and plunder. After being ousted in 1986, he flew to Hawaii, where he lived with his wife and children until he died in 1989. Duterte has allowed the protests to proceed without permits but has stood by his decision to allow the burial. During a speech in southern Zamboanga city, he said he tried to strike a balance by considering the sentiments of many pro-Marcos followers in the dictator's northern political stronghold. He has said that past presidents opposed to the burial should have taken steps to legally prevent it, for example by passing legislation.

Duterte's deadly crackdown on illegal drugs has been widely criticized but has not sparked widespread protests because many crime-weary Filipinos back the effort despite concerns over the killings of many drug suspects, said political analyst Ramon Casiple, the director of a think tank promoting electoral and political reforms.

"Duterte's decision to allow the Marcos burial opened up old wounds," Casiple said.

Putin gives Russian passport to US actor Steven Seagal

November 25, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has given a Russian passport to U.S. action film star Steven Seagal, calling it a sign of a thaw in relations with the United States. The 64-year old actor has been a regular visitor to Russia in recent years and has accompanied Putin to several martial arts events.

Seagal also has vocally defended the Russian leader's policies and criticized the U.S. government. After awarding Seagal citizenship through a presidential decree earlier this month, Putin hosted the actor at the Kremlin on Friday and handed him the passport.

Putin told Seagal he hopes the ceremony, which was shown on Russian state television, is "also a sign of a gradual normalization of the relations between the countries."