Monday, 11 March 2013

New Russian bomber taking shape

The development of the Russian Perspective Aviation Complex of Long-Range Aviation (PAK DA) which is to replace Tupolev-95MC and Tupolev-22M3 planes, except the latest Tupolev-160, in the 2020s-2030s is being discussed in the press again.
According to some reports, the Russian Air Force have already chosen the shape of the new plane. It is to be a small inconspicuous long-distance subsonic plane. The media report that the development of the new plane is being carried out by the Tupolev Design Bureau. 
Some information published by the media raises experts’ doubts. First of all, many experts do not believe that the Tupolev Design Bureau is capable of independently developing such a large-scale project. In this connection it is believed that one of the participants in the project, if not the chief developer, will be the Sukhoi Design Bureau. It has enough experience in designing heavy planes, though it has never designed long-distance bombers. 
It is believed that the PAK DA project could be based on the results obtained while making the T-50 fifth-generation fighter. 
It is not the ultimate truth either that the speed of the new plane would not exceed the speed of the sound. One should take it into consideration that the prospective bomber is not only to replace the strategic Tupolev-95 but also Tupolev-22M long-distance bombers one of whose tasks is fighting against the enemy’s Navy. In this case supersonic speeds are essential. 
Russia has inherited the USSR’s huge experience in the development and operation of the Air Force long-distance supersonic aircraft and naval missile-carrying supersonic aircraft. A platform for long-distance flights at maximum supersonic speeds could also be useful for reconnaissance and targeting in the Russian Navy. The Navy always stakes on the fire power of rocket launchers and submarines. For these vessels an outside firing pointer is of paramount importance. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

After election win, Anastasiades tackles Cyprus bailout

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cypriot president-elect Nicos Anastasiades, armed with a clear mandate from voters to spare the island from insolvency, said on Monday he was committed to reforms in return for a financial bailout.

The Conservative Anastasiades won decisive backing in a presidential election on Sunday for an aggressive approach to resolving the island's worst financial crisis in four decades.

Less than 24 hours after his resounding victory on Sunday, Anastasiades said he would appoint Michael Sarris, a former World Bank economist who enjoys broad respect at home and abroad, as his finance minister.

Anastasiades has promised a quick deal with foreign lenders and to bring Cyprus closer to Europe, in a shift from the policies of the outgoing Communist government that first sought aid from Russia before turning to the European Union.

"Long-term prospects for Cyprus are excellent as we are committed to carrying out necessary structural reforms. We only need a helping hand now," Anastasiades told Germany's Bild newspaper, according to advance excerpts of an interview to be published in Tuesday's edition.

Berlusconi revives political career in chaotic Italian election

Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time Italian prime minister, billionaire playboy and perpetual criminal defendant who was all but counted out of Italian political life when a debt crisis forced his resignation in 2011, shocked the country Monday by shooting back into a position of influence.

Even by the chaotic standards of Italian politics, the resurgence of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, which seems to be in contention to win the most seats in the Italian Senate, along with the astonishingly strong showing of a naysaying protest party led by Beppe
Grillo, a seething ex-comedian opposed to the euro, has cast the Italian government into confusion.

The results have created the remarkable possibility that Italy could find itself next week without a government or a pope.

That instability rippled across the Atlantic. As details of the election became clear through the day, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 200 points, or about 1.5 percent, in a potent reminder of how sensitive markets remain to events in the euro zone. The currency region’s financial crisis has ebbed in recent months, but only on the assumption that political leaders would follow through on promised economic policies — something the Italian results may throw into doubt.

Tunisia arrests suspect in killing that sparked unrest

 A hardline Islamist has been arrested in connection with the killing of a Tunisian opposition politician whose death earlier this month touched off protests across the country, a security source said on Monday.

Tunisia was plunged into political crisis when the secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his house on February 6, igniting the biggest street protests since the overthrow of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.

"The police arrested a Salafist suspected of killing Belaid," the source told Reuters without giving more details.

Last year, Salafist groups prevented several concerts and plays from taking place in Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles. Salafists also ransacked the U.S. Embassy in September, during international protests over an Internet video.

Tunisian radio station Express FM cited a senior security official as saying police had arrested three Salafists, including a police officer, in connection with Belaid's killing.

BBC blocked in China just days after reporting on Chinese hackers

The British Broadcasting Corporation may have discovered a new “red line” for the Chinese government: don’t bring reporters near the Shanghai complex where China’s suspected military hacking team is thought to be located.

The BBC says its “World Service” broadcast is being jammed inside China, preventing people there from hearing the program. The network said in a statement, “The jamming of shortwave transmissions is being timed to cause maximum disruption to BBC World Service English broadcasts in China.”It’s hard to pinpoint the rationale behind the blocking, and not just because the Chinese government does not of course claim responsibility. But we have a pretty good hint in this story from last week, when members of the Chinese military detained some BBC journalists who were trying to film outside the Shanghai complex where China’s elite military hacker team is thought to work. The BBC journalists were held inside the building until they surrendered their footage, which sounds as it were mostly just banal exterior shots.

Sri Lankan forces 'raped' Tamils in custody, study says

Sri Lankan security forces have committed crimes of sexual violence against ethnic Tamils in state custody, a new Human Rights Watch report says.

The study focuses on cases of alleged rape of men, women and minors detained between 2006 and 2012 because of their suspected links to Tamil Tiger rebels.

It documents 75 accounts of alleged sexual abuse and torture, saying most of them are backed by medical evidence.

Sri Lanka's government has dismissed the report as "rubbish" and "lies".

At least 100,000 people died during the 26-year war between government troops and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighting for a separate homeland. The Tamil Tigers were defeated in 2009.

Both sides were accused of human rights abuses throughout the conflict and particularly in its final stages, when thousands of civilians were trapped in a thin strip of land in the north of Sri Lanka as fighting raged around them.The report comes during a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is expected to discuss a resolution critical of Sri Lanka's human rights record and the army's conduct during the last phase of the war.

Philippines Martial Law Victims to Receive Reparations

Philippine President Benigno Aquino signed into law Monday legislation that would recognize and compensate victims of human rights abuses during martial law under former President Ferdinand Marcos.

Lawmakers spent 14 years trying to pass various forms of a proposal that would make the government recognize human rights victims of injustices under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Congressman Walden Bello says it passed this year because many legislators realized the victims were aging, if not dying, and had grown sickly.

“It’s great that we were finally able to muster the forces to get it through both Houses of Congress," Bello said. "Also, I think it’s very significant because the Philippines is one of the few if not the only government that has in fact designated reparations payments for human rights violations that have been admitted by its agencies.”

The new law sets aside $250 million to compensate victims or families of victims, determined by an independent panel, to have been murdered, tortured or suffered other injustices at the hands of law enforcement and the military of the Marcos administration.

Vietnam to Participate in UN Peacekeeping Missions

Vietnam says it will begin participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations early next year, a further sign that it wants to assume a bigger role in international affairs.  Facing rising demand, the U.N. has appealed for countries to send more troops and police officers to help carry out its peacekeeping missions around the world. Vietnam didn't say how large a contribution it is prepared to make. Most of the 115 participating countries currently make only token contributions of less than 40 people.

The state-controlled Tien Phong newspaper on Tuesday quoted Vice Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh as telling visiting U.N. Assistant General Secretary Edmond Mulet that Vietnamese troops would be available from early next year. The report gave few other details.

Vietnam opened its economy to foreign investment in the 1990s and has followed a steady policy of embracing regional and international institutions. But the Communist rulers of the country's 87 million people have shown no sign of relaxing bans on freedom of speech and political activism even as they seek greater global clout.

Drop in Taliban attacks incorrect

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan incorrectly reported a decline in Taliban attacks last year, and officials said Tuesday that there was actually no change in the number of attacks on international troops from 2011 to 2012.

The corrected numbers - from the original reports of a 7 percent decline to one of no change - could undercut the narrative promoted by the international coalition and the Obama administration of an insurgency in steep decline.

A coalition spokesman, Jamie Graybeal, attributed the miscounting to clerical errors and said the problem does not change officials' basic assessment of the war.

The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the coalition's website in late January as part of its monthly update on trends in security and violence. It was removed from the website recently without explanation. After The Associated Press asked last week about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data and would re-publish the report in coming days.

Iran said to deploy aging foreign tankers, avoiding sanctions

Iran is using old tankers, saved from the scrapyard by foreign middlemen, to ship out oil to China in ways that avoid Western sanctions, say officials involved with sanctions who showed Reuters corroborating documents.

The officials, from states involved in imposing sanctions to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, said the tankers - worth little more than scrap value - were a new way for Iran to keep its oil exports flowing by exploiting the legal limitations on Western powers' ability to make sanctions stick worldwide.

Officials showed Reuters shipping documents to support their allegation that eight ships, each of which can carry close to a day's worth of Iran's pre-sanctions exports, have loaded Iranian oil at sea. Publicly available tracking and other data are consistent with those documents and allegations.

"The tankers have been used for Iranian crude," one official said. "They are part of Iran's sanctions-busting strategy."

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Raytheon and General Atomics team-up to integrate onto MALD Reaper

Raytheon and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Have joined forces, to integrate the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) onto the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft.

The companies say That Were ground verification tests completed in November 2012 at General Atomics' Gray Butte flight operations facility in Palmdale, California. Raytheon's MALD of integration onto the General Atomics-built aircraft is expected to be completed in 2013.

"Integrating MALD is remotely Piloted aircraft weaponry systems is integral to Maintaining air superiority in today's and tomorrow's conflicts," says Harry Schulte, Raytheon's vice president of air warfare systems. "This new Offering Provides Unprecedented electronic warfare capability Enabling remote, unmanned suppression of enemy air defenses"

Elbit Develops Unique Surveillance System with BEL

The company is icts Expanding cooperation in India, signs memorandum of understanding with BEL at Aero India exhibition for the development of a new surveillance system

Elbit Systems has signed HAS memorandum of understanding with the Indian company Navratna Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) at Aero India, the 9th International Exhibition on Aerospace, Defense and Civil Aviation, taking up at Bengaluru, India. El-Op, an Elbit filiale, at the expo Announced That  it will Jointly economic development of a Compact Multi Purpose Advance Stabilization System (COMPASS) for naval applications with BEL.

Compass is a surveillance system Intended for day and night applications and includes a color camera, a sensor 3rd generation FLIR, Laser Target Designator and a Rangefinder (LTDRF) as well as automatic tracking and command and control capabilities.

The compact system includes a mission computer further Top, fire control radar, GPS and other subsystems, and it is Intended for use in a variety of platforms and interfaces

RQ-21A Small UAV Completes First Flight Ship-Based

RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System Completes First Flight Ship-Based

GULF OF MEXICO --- The Navy's RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) completed icts first flight at sea Feb. 10 from the San Antonio-class amphibious dock transportation USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19).

The system completed three months of trial flights land-based at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif.., Before launching from a LPD-class ship.

EADS confirms offer for Denis Ranque his presidency

The Appointments Committee of EADS confirmed on Wednesday proposed to appoint former CEO Denis Ranque, Thales to its presidency in the context of the evolution of its governance.

This proposal will be considered by the new Board of Directors at the end of an extraordinary general meeting held on 27 March, which will also decide on a proposed acquisition of shares, said the European aerospace and defense .

The parent company of Airbus announced the selection of Denis Ranque on the social network Twitter.

The former CEO of Thales, aged 61, is expected to succeed to the presidency Arnaud Lagardère, the group plans to sell its stake in EADS.

The announcement Wednesday confirmed the information obtained last week by Reuters from two sources familiar with the matter.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The No. 2 Pentagon Patriot inspects the Syrian-Turkish border

During his first official visit to Ankara, the number two at the Pentagon, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter spent the day with Turkish officials of the defense, and he then went southeast of Gaziantep near the Syrian border to inspect one of two Patriot missile batteries that are U.S. Border Syrian-Turkish.

But before meeting with Turkish leaders, the number two defense in the United States was stopped at the U.S. Embassy on Atatürk Boulevard, where Friday 1st February, a suicide attack against a checkpoint on the perimeter the embassy, ​​killed Mustafa Akarsu a guard in his forties, father of two teenagers.

At the embassy, ​​Monday, February 4, Ambassador Frank Ricciardone ordered the American flag be flown at half mast until sunset Wednesday, February 6, and hours of work and staff at the embassy were temporarily reduced .

Members of the Embassy staff working today to welcome the Deputy Secretary of Defense, observed a minute of silence at 13:13 one minute, hour Ankara, exactly 72 hours after the explosion of the bomb. The explosion blew out the windows on Friday checkpoints, throwing shards of glass and debris, killing and injuring several people who tried Akarsu Mustafa tried to save the lives of his colleagues and friends.

Senators ask Obama for Legal Basis for Targeted killings of Americans

U.S. Senators Have Requested the legal justification for the killings of U.S. Citizens Suspected of Terrorism by the Obama administration. Meanwhile a 'chilling' leaked memo que le Showed little need for government Sees constraint on the outcome.

A group of 11 Senators wrote a letter on Monday to President Barack Obama, Asking him to release all Justice Department memo 's on the practice of targeting U.S. Citizens Suspected of Being terrorist leaders with lethal force, drone airstrikes Particularly. The request comes as the administration seeks Senate approval for John Brennan, Obama's nomination for CIA chief.

"As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask That You Ensure That Congress is Provided with the secret legal opinions Outlining your authority to Authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations," the letter's opening paragraph reads.

Brennan, who is deputy national security advisor to the president, is to face questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 7. As the Obama administration caries on Many of the Bush-era Policies That exist in something of a legal gray area, Lawmakers want to be sour They Have all the information possible in order to "avoid year Unnecessary confrontation That Could Affect the Senate's consideration of nominees for national security positions. "

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Shipborne helicopters of the Russian Navy will have a new 'vision'

Ka-27M helicopters of the Russian Navy will have a "vision" of improved radar, they will be equipped with tactical command systems based on a new radar.

The complex systems unite aboard the helicopter, including precision acoustic monitoring, radio magnetic, and radar systems. All data will be displayed on the dashboard.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Venezuelan opposition cracks could help Chavez's allies

 Venezuela's multiple opposition parties took a decade to unite against President Hugo Chavez, but old strains are emerging again just as he could be forced from power by cancer.The increasingly public tensions between moderates and radicals within the five-year-old Democratic Unity coalition play into the government's hands should Chavez fail to recover from the disease and a new presidential election be held."They're beating each other up. They have no respect for agreements, that's the opposition we have," gloated Congress head Diosdado Cabello, the third most powerful government figure after Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro.After years of in-fighting, election defeats and chaotic attempts to remove Chavez through street protests, an oil industry strike and even a brief coup, some 30 ideologically diverse political groups formed the opposition coalition in 2008.

Spain’s Premier Is Drawn Into a Widening Graft Scandal Gripping His Party

Just as Spain’s financial troubles seemed to be diminishing, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has become engulfed in a widening corruption scandal involving paymeOn Thursday, El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, published what it said were excerpts from the party’s financial accounts that showed regular payouts to leading party members above their official salaries. Mr. Rajoy first appeared in the ledgers in 1997 and received sums averaging $34,000 a year through 2008, the newspaper said. The money, it said, came from “donations” from companies, particularly construction companies.

Former party treasurers, including Luis Bárcenas, who has been at the heart of the scandal, are suspected of maintaining the ledgers. Two weeks ago, the Swiss authorities informed Spanish investigators that Mr. Bárcenas had deposited as much as $29 million in Swiss bank accounts. El País, which said it gained access to the Popular Party’s internal accounts from 1990 to 2008, said that Mr. Rajoy declined to comment on its report until internal and external audits ordered by him into the party’s finances were complete. The audits were ordered after news of the Swiss accounts emerged.

But the report is certain to compound the troubles facing his government as it tries to navigate Spain’s economic crisis in a climate of increasing anger and suspicion from the public of all politicians, as scandals related to Spain’s boom years before the 2008 economic collapse come to light in all corners of the country.

Milan court convicts 3 Americans in CIA kidnapping

 A Milan appeals court on Friday vacated acquittals for a former CIA station chief and two other Americans, and instead convicted them in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a Milan street as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
The decision means that all 26 Americans tried in absentia for the abduction now have been found guilty.
The ongoing trials, which have dragged on for years, brought the first convictions anywhere in the world against CIA agents involved in a practice alleged to have led to torture. The case has been the source of diplomatic tensions, although three successive Italian leaders, including the technical government of Premier Mario Monti, have invoked state secrets, which has had the impact of limiting evidence in the successive trials and led to the acquittals of five Italians, including two spy chiefs.
An appeals court sentenced former CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli to seven years, and handed sentences of six years each to Americans Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando. A lower court, while convicting 23 other Americans in November 2009, had acquitted the three, citing diplomatic immunity.
None of the Americans have ever been in Italian custody or have ever appeared in court, but they risk arrest if they travel to Europe. Only two have had any contact with their lawyers, both of whom expressly requested their own counsel late in the first trial phase, in the face of U.S. official silence on the case and citing special personal and legal circumstances. A number of the names listed on the official docket are believed to be aliases.

Armenia Presidential Candidate Shot, Election in Doubt

 An Armenian presidential candidate was wounded by unknown gunmen in the capital Yerevan on Thursday night, police said, in an attack that could delay February's election. Paruyr Hayrikyan, whose life was not in danger after the shooting, is one of eight candidates running in the February 18 vote but is not seen as a strong challenger to Serzh Sarksyan, who is expected to be re-elected for a second five-year term.

However, according to Armenia's constitution, the election could be postponed by two weeks if a candidate is unable to campaign or run. In the event of a candidate's death, a new election is called, to be held within 40 days.

The 2008 presidential election in Armenia - a landlocked ex-Soviet republic of 3.2 million that is Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus - were marred by violent clashes between opposition protesters and police.

Bank scandal helps surge by Berlusconi ahead of Italy election

 A growing scandal at Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world's oldest bank, has helped Silvio Berlusconi close the gap with the center-left frontrunners to five percent, its tightest so far, weeks before Italy's election, a poll showed on Friday.

An SWG survey showed former premier Berlusconi's center-right coalition had gained 1.3 percent in a week and was now on 27.8 percent, compared to 32.8 percent for Pier Luigi Bersani's center left, which had lost 1.6 percent.

Berlusconi, a 76-year-old billionaire media magnate, has made an astonishing comeback over the last month through a blitz of radio and television appearances, but SWG said the Monte dei Paschi scandal had also had a significant impact.

Taiwan's Premier Resigns Amid Weak Popular Support

aiwan's top economic official resigned Friday as popular support for the government has plunged, though the island appears to be rebounding from an economic slowdown.Premier Sean Chen said at a news conference that his health condition did not allow him to fulfill his heavy duties as head of the Cabinet.

President Ma Ying-jeou's office said Ma has accepted Chen's resignation. He will be succeeded by Vice Premier Jiang Yi-hua, the office said in a statement.

The 63-year-old Chen is a prestigious financial expert. He became premier shortly after Ma was re-elected to his second term in January 2012.

His first job was a difficult, unpopular task to resolve the government's worsening fiscal problems.

The Cabinet's decision last year to raise oil and electricity prices has led to moderate inflation, which has triggered widespread public grievances. Many Taiwanese complained that their salary levels are among the worst in Asia.

Lebanese soldiers killed near Syria border

At least three people, including two Lebanese soldiers, have been killed in clashes in the Bekaa Valley
.At least two Lebanese soldiers and a man suspected of links to an armed group have been killed during clashes with armed men near a border town with Syria.
"An army patrol was ambushed in the village of Arsal as it hunted a man wanted for several terrorist acts," the army said in a statement on Friday.
It said an army captain and soldier were killed while several others were wounded in the clash with an unspecified number of gunmen, who also sustained casualties.
"A number of military vehicles were badly damaged," the army said, adding that reinforcements were sent to seal off the area and hunt down the suspects.
An AFP correspondent saw ambulances leave Arsal located in Bekaa Valley and head for Baalbek, the main town in eastern Lebanon.

Missiles were at Syrian military base when aircraft struck Read more here:

The anti-aircraft missiles that were the target of a disputed Israeli airstrike on Syria this week were on a military base outside Damascus and had yet to reach the highway that leads to Lebanon when they were destroyed, two Israeli intelligence officials familiar with the air assault told McClatchy on Thursday.

The officials differed on the details, with one saying that the convoy carrying the missiles was parked at a military base in the Jamraya district outside Damascus, while the other said the convoy was in the process of being moved from the base to the highway. But both agreed that the location of the base, less than five miles from the Lebanese border, made Israeli officials unwilling to wait any longer to attack.

One said that waiting until the missiles had reached the highway, the main link between the Syrian capital and Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, would have made it more difficult for Israeli aircraft to target them without risking civilian casualties.

"What is important is that a convoy carrying weapons which would have been very dangerous for Israel was taken out before it could reach its target in Lebanon," said one of the officers, who’s based in Israel’s north. Both agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the airstrike with journalists.

The Israeli officials’ accounts, if they’re accurate, help explain the Syrian government’s assertion that Israeli jets had targeted a scientific research center in Jamraya and not a military convoy when they flew low over the Israel-Syria border Wednesday in the pre-dawn hours. Syria said two workers were killed and five injured when the planes attacked.

The U.S. needs a completely different approach to Iran

As Washington and its great power partners prepare for more nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration and policy elites across the political spectrum talk as if America is basically in control of the situation. Sanctions, we are told, are inflicting ever-rising hardship on Iran’s economy. Either Tehran will surrender to U.S. demands that it stop enriching uranium or, at some point, the American military will destroy Iranian nuclear installations.

This is a dangerous delusion, grounded in persistent American illusions about Middle Eastern reality. Because of failed wars-cum-occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan; a war on terror that has turned Muslim societies ever more firmly against U.S. policy; and de facto support for open-ended Israeli occupation of Arab populations, America’s position in the region is in free fall. Increasingly mobilized publics will not tolerate continuation of such policies. If, in this climate, the United States launches another war to disarm yet another Middle Eastern country of weapons of mass destruction it does not have, the blowback against American interests will be disastrous. Nonetheless, that is where our current strategy – negotiating on terms that could not possibly interest Iran while escalating covert operations, cyber-attacks, and economic warfare against it – leads.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad's Wife Pregnant?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is embroiled in a now two-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands, gave a cheery interview to unnamed “visitors,” as reported by a sympathetic newspaper, in which he offhandedly revealed that his wife is pregnant. Asma al-Assad, the 37-year-old, British-born young mother of three (now four?), was warmly profiled in Vogue’s February 2011 issue for her style and flair; shortly after, she was placed under severe economic sanctions by the European Union for her role in state abuses.
Bashar al-Assad let the news slip in a recent talk with mysteriously anonymous “visitors,” who relayed his comments to the Beirut-based al-Akhbar newspaper, an aggressive outlet often described as aligned with such anti-Western movements as Hezbollah. He mostly spent the interview insisting, against all evidence, that his regime was sure of imminent victory in the country’s civil war and that the resistance came purely from foreign-funded extremists. The article also strained to show Assad as coolly confident, including by apparently confirming rumors of his wife’s pregnancy:
On the personal level, the man seems calm and in control. His confidence level stands out. Also, there’s the news of the pregnancy of his wife Asmaa, which could not be dealt with as a simple personal matter between a couple.

Iran launches monkey into space: state news agency

 Iran has successfully launched a live monkey into space, the state news agency IRNA said on Monday, touting it as an advance in a missile and space program that has alarmed the West and Israel.
There was no independent confirmation of the report, which quoted a defense ministry statement. It said the launch coincided "with the days of" the Prophet Mohammad's birthday last week but gave no date.
IRNA said the monkey was sent into space on a Kavoshgar rocket. The rocket reached a height of more than 120 km (75 miles) and "returned its shipment intact", IRNA reported.
The Islamic Republic's state-run, English-language Press TV said the monkey was retrieved alive.
Iran announced plans in 2011 to send a monkey into space, but that attempt was reported to have failed.
Western powers are concerned that the long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into

Philippines accuses China of chasing fishing boats

 Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Saturday accused Chinese vessels of preventing Filipino fishing boats from seeking shelter at a disputed South China Sea shoal in new incidents that he said prompted his government to elevate the case to international arbitration.

Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos that the incidents took place recently at the Scarborough Shoal near the western coast of the northern Philippines. He said in one incident Chinese vessels got within 10 meters (yards) of two fishing boats and sounded their horns at full blast, and on another occasion two other Philippine boats were ordered out of the shoal despite bad weather.

Aquino quoted the fishermen's account given to Philippine authorities.

The Chinese government did not immediately comment late Saturday.

Vietnam Tries 22 Democracy Activists on Subversion

A Vietnamese court has begun the trial of 22 democracy activists on charges of plotting to overthrow the Communist government in one of the biggest such trials in years.

A court official in central Phu Yen province says the defendants appeared in court Monday. The official didn't give his name, citing government policy.

He says the trial could last five days.

State-controlled media have quoted the indictment as saying the group operated under the cover of an ecotourism company. The media say the group allegedly authored documents that distorted Communist Party policies to create distrust.

Compensation for Philippine dictatorship victims

 Almost four decades after he was arrested and tortured and his sister disappeared into a maze of Philippine police cells and military houses, playwright Bonifacio Ilagan is finally seeing his suffering officially recognized.
A writer for an underground communist newspaper, Ilagan and thousands like him were rounded up by dictator Ferdinand Marcos' security forces after he placed the Philippines under martial law in 1972. Detentions, beatings, harassment and killings of the regime's opponents continued until Marcos was toppled in 1986.
Even though democracy was restored, it would take another 27 years for the Philippine Congress to vote on a bill awarding compensation and recognition to martial law victims. The bill was ratified Monday and will be sent to Pres. Benigno Aquino III for signing into law, said Sen. Francis Escudero, a key proponent.
"More than the monetary compensation, the bill represents the only formal, written document that martial law violated the human rights of Filipinos and that there were courageous people who fought the dictatorship," said a statement from SELDA, an organization of former political prisoners that campaigned for the passage of the bill.

Former PM Wins Czech Presidency

Left-leaning former Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman has won his country's first direct presidential elections with about 55 percent of the vote.  The international community was closely watching the voting as it will impact the Czech Republic's future relations with the European Union.

Supporters celebrated upon learning that Zeman won the Czech Republic's first direct presidential poll since the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993. It came as a blow to his rival, Karel Schwarzenberg, the current Czech foreign minister, who at age 75 hoped to become the first prince-turned-president of a European Union nation.

The election defeat of the pipe-smoking prince followed a bitter campaign in which both men clashed over the Czechs' troubled history and about the European Union.

Senators Offer a Bipartisan Blueprint for Immigration

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a set of principles for a sweeping overhaul of the immigration system, including a pathway to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants that would hinge on progress in securing the borders and ensuring that foreigners leave the country when their visas expire. The senators were able to reach a deal by incorporating the Democrats’ insistence on a single comprehensive bill that would not deny eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants, with Republican demands that strong border and interior enforcement had to be clearly in place before Congress could consider legal status for illegal immigrants.

Their blueprint, unveiled on Monday, will allow them to stake out their position one day before President Obama outlines his immigration proposals in a speech on Tuesday in Las Vegas, in the opening moves of what lawmakers expect will be a protracted and contentious debate in Congress this year.

Lawmakers said they were optimistic that the political mood had changed since a similar effort collapsed in acrimony in 2010. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and one of the negotiators, said he saw “a new appreciation” among Republicans of the need for an overhaul.

“Look at the last election,” Mr. McCain said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours.” The senator also said he had seen “significant improvements” in border enforcement, although “we’ve still got a ways to go.”

Brazil tries to fight cocaine trafficking at huge, porous borders

Brazil — The cocaine that anti-drug officials say is flooding into Brazil these days comes from neighboring Bolivia, in small planes that make 20-minute flights, in luggage ferried into river ports and in small dugout canoes that make clandestine trips in the middle of the night.

But in hamlets such as this one, Brazilian federal police officers try to stem the flow by urging villagers to report the suspicious activity on the 2,126-mile frontier with Bolivia, one longer than the U.S.-Mexico border. And in a speedboat, others patrol the Mamore River separating the two countries, guessing which of the countless motorized boats are carrying drugs bound for Brazil’s big cities. Here, the problem is grave, with lots of drugs crossing constantly,” said Alexandre Barbosa, one of 35 federal police officers assigned to this sector in Rondonia state in far western Brazil. “You see this region, where the frontier is separated by a river. So there are many ports. Every 100 meters, or sometimes less, you see a port. So you can move from one port to the other very fast.”

The tide is not favoring Brazil, which is facing the newest big trend in the transnational drug trade in South America.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Argentina and Iran create 'truth commission'

Argentina and Iran have reached a breakthrough in the investigation of a Jewish centre bombing that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires 19 years ago, agreeing to establish an independent international "truth commission" led by a jurist "with high moral standing and legal prestige" to examine Argentina's worst terrorist attack.

The commissioners will examine the evidence and recommend how to proceed "based on the laws and regulations of both countries".

Then, commissioners and Argentine investigators will travel to Tehran to question the suspects.

Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, Argentina's President, described the agreement signed on Sunday in Africa by foreign ministers Hector Timerman and Ali Akbar Salehi as "historic".

A van loaded with fertiliser and fuel oil was exploded on July 18, 1994, levelling the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building.

Friday, 25 January 2013

U.S. man who aided Mumbai plotters sentenced to 35 years in prison

CHICAGO (Reuters) - David Headley, an American who admitted scouting targets for the 2008 Islamic militant raid on Mumbai and later agreed to testify against the plotters to avoid the death penalty, was sentenced on Thursday to 35 years in prison.

The sentence, handed down by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, was the maximum sought by federal prosecutors.

The attacks killed more than 160 people, including six Americans. Headley, a 52-year-old U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, admitted videotaping sites that were targeted by the Mumbai attackers.

He was arrested in 2009 and pleaded guilty to 12 charges, including conspiracy to bomb places of public use and commit murder and plotting an attack on a Danish newspaper.

After entering his plea in 2010, Headley cooperated with U.S. investigators and foreign intelligence agencies to avoid the death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan or Denmark, agreeing to testify in foreign judicial proceedings, the government said.

Spanish newspaper withdraws 'fake photo' of Hugo Chávez

Spain's influential El País newspaper has withdrawn what it says was a false photo of Hugo Chávez that it published in its online and print editions on Thursday.

The grainy photo that El País originally splashed on its front page, billed as a global exclusive, portrayed the head of a man lying down with a breathing tube in his mouth.

The Venezuelan president has cancer and has been undergoing medical treatment in Cuba, where he had surgery in December. He has not been seen publicly for six weeks.

El País, one of the biggest Spanish-language publications in the world and an institution both in Spain and in Latin America, said in a brief online statement that it had withdrawn the photo after ascertaining that the image was not of Chávez.

Venezuelan political opposition leaders have criticised government secrecy over Chávez's condition while his supporters have accused foreign media of being in league with the opposition to spread rumours that the president's medical condition is worse than it is.

Canadian police in Algeria to investigate gas plant attack

Canadian police are in Algeria looking for evidence that Canadian citizens were involved in last week's attack and hostage-taking at a desert gas plant, a government official said on Thursday.

Around 70 people died when Algerian troops stormed the plant and ended the siege on Sunday. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said a Canadian gunman, identified only as "Chedad," had coordinated the operation.

"I can confirm that they are on the ground," the official told Reuters when asked whether members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were in Algeria.

The official declined to give more details. A spokeswoman for the Mounties said she could not comment.

Slovenian Government on Verge of Collapse

Slovenia's conservative government is on the verge of collapse after a junior partner quit the coalition Wednesday.

The Civic List party says it is quitting over Prime Minister Janez Jansa's refusal to resign because of alleged corruption.

Jansa will now be forced to govern with a minority in parliament, until early elections are held.

Meanwhile, government offices and schools were closed Wednesday and hospitals were forced to cut services because of a day-long strike by government workers. Tens of thousands of civil servants marched against economic austerity plans, including layoffs and pay cuts.

Malta parties fight "tablet war" as election nears

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Parties running for election in Malta launched a 'tablet war' on Thursday, issuing rival promises to hand out iPad-style computers to school children if elected next month.

Putting education and technology at the center of the two-party race to lead the tiny island state, the opposition Labour Party promised a tablet computer for every eight-year-old school child.

Two hours later, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi unveiled his Nationalist Party's electoral program which included plans to give tablets to all school children aged between 5 and 16.

Bloggers in the euro zone's smallest country lampooned the politicians' largesse, likening the parties to both Father Christmas and Moses, the biblical figure who brought the word of God inscribed on tablets of stone.

Gonzi said his government had already given laptops to all teachers and put computerized white boards into all classrooms. Giving tablets to all children was the next logical step, he said, adding that pupils would in future use digital text books.

Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat told a news conference: "Tablets are key to fighting IT illiteracy."

Spain's unemployment rate reaches record high

Nearly 55 percent of Spanish youth under 25 years out of job as unemployment rate surges to 26 percent in final quarter.

Spain's unemployment rate has surged to a modern-day record of 26.02 percent in the final quarter of 2012 as nearly six
million people searched in vain for work in a biting recession, official data shows.
The jobless rate data released on Thursday climbed from 25.02 percent the previous quarter, reaching the highest level since Spain returned to democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975.
The story for young people was even grimmer: the unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 soared to 55.13 percent, up from 52.34 percent the previous quarter.
The result shattered even the modest expectations of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government, which had been forecasting an unemployment rate of 24.6 percent by the end of 2012.
"It is a very, very high figure," said Soledad Pellon, market strategist at IG Markets in Madrid.
"The expectation is that this figure will carry on growing during 2013.
This year will still not be a year in which we will see job creation," she said.

Poland stumbles as shale gas industry fails to take off

 A map of Poland, unevenly colored in shades of yellow, brown, green and purple, like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle, hangs prominently on the walls of the country’s ministries, state agencies and corporations. Official visitors are cordially invited to take a closer look.

The label in the upper right-hand corner of this new map reads, “Map of Concessions for Hydrocarbon Exploration and Production.”

Poland, which last century was the target of foreign armies shaping the region’s political history, today is being divided up by a hydrocarbon fever that the Polish government has energetically encouraged. Hoping to reproduce the recent “energy revolution” brought about in the United States by the advent of fracking and other drilling technologies, the Polish government has spearheaded shale gas exploration in Europe in the hopes that one day it will have its own dynamic natural gas industry.

“Shale gas exploration and extraction is a priority for our government, and that’s the reason we’ve decided to focus the investment energy of many companies,” says Mikolaj Budzanowski, Poland’s treasury minister, supervising the country’s state-owned oil and gas enterprises.

Two years since uprising, Egypt braces for more protests

(Reuters) - Egypt marks the second anniversary of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power with little to celebrate. Deeply divided and facing an economic crisis, the nation is bracing for more protests, but this time against a freely elected leader.
President Mohamed Mursi's opponents plan to march to Tahrir Square on Friday to vent anger at the new Islamist leader and his Muslim Brotherhood backers, whom they accuse of betraying the goals of the January 25 revolution that galvanized Egyptians in a display of national unity that has not been seen since.
"We don't see it as a celebration. This will be a new revolutionary wave that will show the Brotherhood that they are not alone - that there are other forces that can stand against them," said Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 - a group that helped ignite the uprising by using social media to organize.
The Brotherhood has said it will not send its supporters to Tahrir Square on Friday - a decision that at least limits the scope for more of the unrest that has compounded Egypt's economic troubles.
Instead, with its eye on forthcoming parliamentary polls, the electorally savvy Brotherhood is marking the anniversary with a campaign to help the poor. With allies, it promises to send volunteers to renovate 2,000 schools, plant trees, deliver medical aid and open "charity markets" selling affordable food.
"The importance of the anniversary is to lift the spirits of the Egyptian people: more hope and more work," said Ahmed Aref, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman who was in Tahrir Square for the entire 18-day uprising against Mubarak.

Japan Forces Taiwanese Activists to Retreat from Islands

Japanese forces used water cannons to repel a ship carrying Taiwanese activists who were headed to a disputed island in the East China Sea on Thursday.

The Japanese Coast Guard says the boat, escorted by four Taiwanese government ships, was turned away about 30 kilometers from the islands, which are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Taiwan's official Central News Agency says the activists had wanted to reach the islands to install a statue of Matsu, the "goddess of the sea," which they believe will help protect Taiwanese fishermen in the area.

The islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, have become a flash-point for small-scale conflicts in recent months, mostly between Japanese and Chinese vessels.

More recently, both countries have also sent fighter jets to patrol the islands, raising fears of war between Asia's two largest economies.

The uninhabited islands are located in a strategic area of the East China Sea and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially vast energy deposits.

U.N. to consider validity of China's claim over disputed islands

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations is planning to consider later this year the scientific validity of a claim by China that a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea are part of its territory, although Japan says the world body should not be involved.

Tensions over the uninhabited islands - located near rich fishing grounds and potentially huge oil-and-gas reserves - flared after Japan's government purchased them from a private Japanese owner in September, sparking violent anti-Japanese protests across China and a military standoff.

Taiwan also claims the islands, known as the Diaoyu islands in China, the Senkaku islands in Japan and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan.

In a submission to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, China claims that the continental shelf in the East China Sea is a natural prolongation of China's land territory and that it includes the disputed islands.

Under the U.N. convention, a country can extend its 200-nautical-mile economic zone if it can prove that the continental shelf is a natural extension of its land mass. The U.N. commission assesses the scientific validity of claims, but any disputes have to be resolved between states, not by the commission.

Gay Marriage Could End Humanity, Nigerian Pastor Says

A prominent Nigerian pastor this week said gay marriage could wipe out the human race within 20 years.  This comes as the Nigerian parliament sends a bill to President Goodluck Jonathan that would make gay marriage an offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Pastor Enoch Adeboye heads the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a mega-church in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.  The church has 6,000 parishes around the world and the president of Nigeria attends his sermons.

Last weekend, the pastor weighed in on an issue that is barely controversial in Nigeria - gay marriage.  He called gay marriage an “evil” and that, if it is allowed, no one will have babies and the human race will die out.

Right now, gay marriage is not recognized anywhere in Nigeria but it’s not a crime either-not yet anyway.

Late last year, the Nigerian parliament passed a bill that will make gay marriage, or ‘abetting or aiding’ gay marriage punishable by up to 14 years in prison.  The lone voice of dissent among lawmakers said homosexuality is already a crime in Nigeria, so the bill is redundant.

Philippines Aims to Drill in South China Sea

Palestinians say they may have no choice but to take Israel to Hague court

 The Palestinians declared Wednesday that they will have no choice but to complain about Israel to the International Criminal Court if the Jewish state proceeds with plans to build housing on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the Middle East, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said his government's decision will largely depend on what the Israelis do with the so-called "E1" area outside the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.

"If Israel would like to go further by implementing the E1 (settlement) plan and the other related plans around Jerusalem then yes, we will be going to the ICC," he said. "We have no other choice. It depends on the Israeli decision."

The Palestinians have previously suggested that bringing their various disputes with Israel to the Hague-based court was an option, but Malki's remarks on Wednesday were the most direct threat his government has made against the Jewish state to date.

Bahraini princess facing multiple torture charges

A Bahraini princess is facing charges of torturing pro-democracy activists in the Gulf island kingdom.
Noura Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa, who serves in Bahrain's Drugs Control Unit, is accused along with another officer of torturing three people in detention.
Hundreds of protesters were detained as Bahrain struggled to put down a popular uprising that began in February 2011.
The uprising, which began peacefully with calls for democratic reform, was crushed by the ruling al-Khalifas.
Noura al-Khalifa, 29, who denies the charges, appeared in court on Sunday and Monday to hear the allegations.
In one case, the princess is accused of torturing two doctors, Ghassan and Bassem Daif, brothers who worked at the Salmaniya medical complex.
Medical staff from the facility went to help injured protesters after security police used force to disperse thousands of people who had camped out at an iconic landmark, Pearl Roundabout, in the capital, Manama.
At least two people were killed and hundreds wounded when police attacked with batons, tear gas and birdshot.

Turkey Aids Iran Through Gold Trade

Saudi Arabia Sent 1,200 Death Row Inmates To Fight In Syria

A leaked internal memo shows how Saudi officials commuted 1,200 death row inmates under the condition they go and fight against Assad in Syria, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.

 From the memo:

We have reached an agreement with them that they will be exempted from the death sentence and given a monthly salary to their families and loved ones, who will be prevented from traveling outside Saudi Arabia in return for rehabilitation of the accused and their training in order to send them to Jihad in Syria.

Saudi officials apparently gave them a choice: decapitation or jihad? In total, inmates from Yemen, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, and Kuwait chose to go and fight in Syria.

The news agency AINA also reported that an unnamed Iraqi official said Russia objected to the Saudi's decision to release the prisoners. Russia has several military contracts with Bashar al Assad and has

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Mexican president vows to end hunger for millions

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a campaign against hunger on Monday, pledging to transform the lives of nearly 7.5 million of the country's poorest, though he gave few details, prompting criticism that the plan was a "rehash" of old policies.
Tackling the poverty that blights Mexico has been a priority for many presidents of Latin America's second-biggest economy, and it was one of the first pledges Pena Nieto made when he launched his election campaign at the end of March.
The 46-year-old president outlined a four-point plan to tackle hunger in 400 of Mexico's roughly 2,500 municipalities, urging community action, local government responsibility and pledging to strengthen agricultural production in afflicted areas.
However, he did not detail the cost of the plan.
"It's painful and saddening that there are still Mexicans suffering with hunger here in Chiapas, and, it has to be said, in every corner of Mexico," said Pena Nieto, who took office on December 1.
"This is not a handout program; it's not just about giving out food to those that need it," he added.
Pena Nieto was speaking in Las Margaritas in the poor southern state of Chiapas, a town that was a hotbed of resistance to the federal government in the 1990s.
Las Margaritas was also a stronghold of the Zapatistas, a leftist revolutionary movement that rose up against the government in 1994, partly in protest against Mexico's signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada.
Pena Nieto has won praise for pushing hard on a variety of reforms since taking office, but analysts were not convinced on Monday, saying the anti-hunger plan was vague and seemed much like existing policies.
"I would say it's a disappointment because it's very thin on details," said Susan Parker, an economist at Mexico City's CIDE university, adding that it failed to address what would happen to older poverty-fighting programs.

Confident Obama lays out battle plan as he launches second term

A confident President Barack Obama kicked off his second term on Monday with an impassioned call for a more inclusive America that rejects partisan rancor and embraces immigration reform, gay rights and the fight against climate change.
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol was filled with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back inauguration compared with the historic start of his presidency in 2009 when he swept into office on a mantle of hope and change as America's first black president.
Despite expectations tempered by lingering economic weakness and a politically divided Washington, Obama delivered a preview of the priorities he intends to pursue - essentially a reaffirmation of core liberal Democratic causes - declaring Americans "are made for this moment" and must "seize it together."
His hair visibly gray after four years in office, Obama called for an end to the partisanship that marked much of his first term in the White House in bitter fights over the economy with Republicans.
"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," Obama said from atop the Capitol steps overlooking the National Mall.
Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people that was smaller than the record 1.8 million who assembled on the mall four years ago.
Speaking in more specific terms than is customary in an inaugural address, he promised "hard choices" to reduce the federal deficit without shredding the social safety net and called for a revamping of the tax code and a remaking of government.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Israeli election campaign enters final hours

Israelis to vote in general elections, widely expected to usher in government which will swing further to the right.

With less than 24 hours until Israelis vote in general elections, party leaders were campaigning down to the wire ahead of a ballot that is expected to return Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to office.
The vote on Tuesday is widely expected to usher in a government which will swing further to the right, whittling away at the chances of a peace deal with the Palestinians and raising the prospect of greater diplomatic isolation for Israel.
Those elected will face key diplomatic and foreign policy questions, including Iran's nuclear programme, which some governments believes is a cover for a weapons drive, and pressure to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
No less pressing are the domestic challenges, including a major budget crisis and looming austerity cuts which are likely to exacerbate already widespread discontent over spiralling prices and the cost of living.
For weeks, opinion polls have given a clear lead to Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud, which is running on a joint list with the hardline secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu.
Falling support
But as the day of reckoning neared, polls showed falling support for the joint list, which was seen taking 32 seats - 10 lower than they currently hold - or just over a quarter of the 120-seats in parliament.
With the campaign entering its home stretch, party leaders and activists fought to secure the support of the as-yet undecided 15 percent of the electorate, which press reports said amounted to 17 or 18 seats.
One of the key issues of the vote has been the public anger over the rising cost of living, with Netanyahu coming in for heavy criticism over his economic record.
In an 11th-hour attempt to sway voters, Netanyahu on Sunday night named a former Likud minister known for his success in slashing mobile phone costs to the top post in the Israel Land's Administration in a move he claimed would significantly lower the price of housing.
But his opponents slammed the move as a "fig leaf" and several pundits said it was testimony to the "panic" that Netanyahu was feeling ahead of the vote.

Islamists to sit out Jordanian election

The candidates running in Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections have slogans and campaign promises that would sound familiar to voters in the historic recent polls of other Arab countries.But a quick glance at the Jordanian ballot reveals a list of hopefuls who stand apart from many of the competitors in other post-Arab Spring elections: Of the 1,400 candidates running on Wednesday for this 
monarchy’s 150-seat Parliament, only 22 are Islamists. After major gains in elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, Islamists are set to make little electoral impact in the first Jordanian polls since a pro-democracy movement broke out here in 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood — which is Jordan’s strongest opposition force and runs its most organized political party — is boycotting the vote, mainly in protest of an elections law it claims will prevent a fair vote.The boycott has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Jordan’s first elections since 2010, which officials tout as the centerpiece of the democratic reforms undertaken by the kingdom after nearly two years of simmering protests. But the boycott has also highlighted a key difference, and limitation, that Islamists in the region’s monarchies confront as they seek to capi­tal­ize on the rise of political Islam.

Iraq PM trades blame with Kurd leader in row

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the leader of the Kurdish region traded barbs on Sunday, each blaming the other for an ongoing political crisis amid weeks of anti-government protests.

The two issued rival statements in the latest in a series of disputes that have hardened opposition against Maliki and pitted him against several of his erstwhile government partners, including Iraq's main Kurdish political faction, who accuse him of authoritarianism and sectarianism.

"The federal government... has increased the crisis through neglect and threats that have led to dangerous consequences," Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani said in a statement issued late on Saturday.

"Iraq has, for a long time, been going through a major crisis because of the neglect of services for citizens, and not implementing the constitution and agreements."

Barzani also backed "the legitimate demands" of demonstrators in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq who have for weeks railed against the Shiite-led authorities for allegedly holding members of their community without charge and misusing anti-terror laws to target Sunnis.

Maliki, meanwhile, issued his own statement on Sunday in which he expressed surprise at Barzani's statement, which he said "reveals a desire to hinder dialogue among the Iraqi people and components, and revive ugly sectarian strife."

NKorea Eases Rules, Lets Visitors Bring Cellphones

North Korea is loosening some restrictions on foreign cellphones by allowing visitors to bring their own phones into the country. However, security regulations still prohibit mobile phone calls between foreigners and locals.For years, North Korea required visitors to relinquish foreign cellphones at the border until their departure, leaving many tourists without an easy way to communicate with the outside world.

The ritual of handing over phones was part of an exhaustive security check that most visitors face at immigration in North Korea. Many foreigners — including Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, who traveled to North Korea earlier this month — choose to leave their phones behind in Beijing before flying to Pyongyang.

Now, foreigners can bring wideband, WCDMA-compatible mobile phones into the country or rent a local handset at the airport, and purchase a local SIM card for use in North Korea. The SIM card allows them to call most foreign countries, foreign embassies in Pyongyang and international hotels in the North Korean capital, according to Ryom Kum Dan of 3G cellphone service provider Koryolink.

Dissident Eritrean troops seize ministry

Dissident Eritrean soldiers with tanks took over the information ministry on Monday and forced state media to call for political prisoners to be freed, a senior intelligence official said.

The renegade soldiers have not gone as far as to demand the overthrow of the government of one of Africa's most secretive states, long at odds with the United States and accused of human rights abuses.

Eritrea has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke from bigger neighbor Ethiopia. The fledging gold producer on the Red Sea coast has become increasingly isolated, resisting foreign pressure to open up.

Soldiers forced the director general of state television "to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners," the Eritrean intelligence source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate statement from the Asmara government.

Cameron to Deliver Delayed Europe Speech on Wednesday

Prime Minister David Cameron will deliver his postponed address on Britain’s future relations with Europe on Wednesday, his office said Monday.Mr. Cameron had planned to deliver the speech in Amsterdam on Friday but delayed it amid the Algerian hostage crisis, in which at least three Britons were killed. However, Mr. Cameron’s office released excerpts suggesting he had planned to explicitly warn that Britain might leave the European Union unless the bloc changed the way it was run.

Under pressure from his Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron has signaled his readiness for a referendum on the relationship with Europe, although the precise question to be asked is not clear.

The United States has been unusually public in its insistence that Britain, a close ally, stay in the union. Last week, a White House spokesman quoted President Obama as telling Mr. Cameron by telephone that “the United States values a strong U.K. in a strong European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity and security in Europe and around the world.”

Split Emerges Over Cyprus Bailout Package

Cyprus is in urgent need of money from the euro rescue fund, but the troika responsible for the bailouts is split over how it should be structured. The IMF is worried that the country's debt load is not sustainable.
When euro-zone finance ministers meet in Brussels on Monday, a welcome guest will be missing. Christine Lagarde, 57, the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is currently unwilling to discuss giving aid money to ailing euro-zone member Cyprus. For some time now, the Americans in particular have been eyeing the IMF's involvement in Europe with suspicion, causing the Frenchwoman to hit the brakes time and again. "I have no mandate for that" is a statement that the euro-zone finance ministers have heard only too often from Lagarde.As such, it remains to be seen whether the IMF will ultimately participate in a loan program for Cyprus. A number of countries, Germany first and foremost, have said that IMF participation is crucial. The statutes of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone's €700 billion ($931 billion) permanent backstop fund, stipulate that the IMF must rubber stamp a country's debt sustainability before any cash can flow.
But this time around, the IMF is hesitating. A member of the troika which is currently negotiating the bailout deal with the Cypriot government, the IMF has an entirely different notion as to how the program should look.

Obama sworn in for 4 more years in office

 Stepping into his second term, President Barack Obama took the oath of office Sunday in an intimate swearing-in ceremony at the White House, the leader of a nation no longer in the throes of the recession he inherited four years ago, but still deeply divided.
The president, surrounded by family in the ornate White House Blue Room, was administered the oath by Chief Justice John Roberts. With Obama's hand resting on a Bible used for years by Michelle Obama's family, the president vowed "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States," echoing the same words spoken by the 43 men who held the office before him.
"I did it," Obama whispered to his youngest daughter, Sasha, as he wrapped her in a hug moments later.
The president said the oath in just minutes before noon on Jan. 20, the time at which the Constitution says new presidential terms begin. There was little pomp and circumstance Sunday - Obama walked into the room flanked by his family and exited almost immediately after finishing the oath.
He'll repeat the swearing-in ritual again Monday on the west front of the Capitol before a crowd of up to 800,000 people.
Only about a dozen family members were on hand to witness Sunday's swearing in, including the first lady, daughters Malia and Sasha, and the president's sister Maya Soetoro-Ng and her family. Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, and the first lady's brother, Craig Robinson, and his family were also on hand, along with a few reporters and photographers.
Yet the mood in the nation's capital was more subdued during this year's inaugural festivities than it was four years ago, when Obama swept into office on a wave of national optimism, becoming the first African-American to hold the nation's highest office. Since then, he has endured fiscal fights with Congress and a bruising re-election campaign - and has the gray hair and lower approval ratings to show for it.