Archive for July, 2013

UN to M23 rebels: Disarm in 48 hrs or face military force

UN troops

Newscast Media KINSHASA—On Tuesday, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in
the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) published a statement saying the
rebels around the eastern city of Goma should either disarm or face “the use of

MONUSCO gave the M23 rebels around Goma until 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Thursday
“to hand in their weapon to a MONUSCO base,” or the peacekeeping mission would
use its new mandate against them for the first time.

The statement said after the deadline the rebels would be “considered an
imminent threat of physical violence to civilians and MONUSCO will take all
necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in
accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement.”

The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, was
recently renewed by the UN Security Council. The new mandate allows the creation
of a special unit, called the Force Intervention Brigade, to carry out targeted
offensive operations against armed groups rather than merely protecting civilians.

The M23 rebels seized Goma on November 20, 2012 after UN peacekeepers gave up
the battle for the frontier city of one million people. M23 fighters withdrew from the
city on December 1 under a ceasefire accord.

The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese Army in April 2012 in protest over
alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo
(FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace
deal signed in 2009.

Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in eastern Congo.
About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into
neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding
poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has
dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.

Source: Press TV


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm

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Kerry: Palestinians and Israelis to re-engage in talks within two weeks

John Kerry

Newscast Media JERUSALEM—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday
that the Israelis and the Palestinians will meet within two weeks for more peace talks,
and all the final status issues—Jerusalem, security, the Jewish settlements, borders
and refugees, will be on the table for negotiations.

“The parties have agreed to remain engaged in sustained, continuous and substantive
negotiations on the core issues, and they will meet within the next two weeks either
in Israel or the Palestinian territories in order to begin the process of formal
negotiations,” the top American envoy told reporters at the State Department at the
conclusion of two-day initial talks between the two sides.

The initial talks aimed at setting agenda and procedures for the formal final status
negotiations that both sides have agreed will last at least nine months. Kerry
described the meetings as “constructive” and “positive.”

“The parties have agreed here today that all the final status issues, all the core
issues and all other issues are all on the table for negotiations,” Kerry told the press,
with Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat at
his side.

Source: Xinhua


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 30, 2013 at 9:36 pm

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Will Sheila Jackson Lee become Secretary of Homeland Security?

Sheila Jackson Lee (L) and her daughter Erica Lee (R) at a holiday party.—Photo by Joseph Earnest

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—A letter that was written by the Congressional Black
Caucus recommending Houston, Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee to be the
replacement of outgoing Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Janet
Napolitano, is creating ripples in Washington D.C.

“Representative Jackson Lee would serve as an effective DHS Secretary because she
understands the importance of increasing border security and maintaining homeland
safety,” the letter read. “Representative Jackson Lee has been a tenacious advocate
for national security, border security and immigration reform…We encourage you to
strongly consider Representative Jackson Lee as you seek a new DHS Secretary,” the
letter concluded.

Click here to read or download the entire Sheila Jackson Lee letter.

Napolitano leaves office at the end of August and an active search for her
replacement is underway. Barack Obama hasn’t yet decided whether to act on the
recommendation or not.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 6:29 pm

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China tackles its air pollution problem with new regulations

Air pollution

Newscast Media BEIJING—China recently unveiled a massive plan to tackle air pollution, a source of growing social discontent. The move highlights how the issue has become a priority for Beijing. But experts say more radical changes are needed. Beijing calls it its “most comprehensive and toughest plan” yet to reduce air pollution.

According to the state-run “China Daily” newspaper, the Chinese government is set to invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to control and in some regions reduce air pollution by the year 2017, setting stricter limits on the levels of PM 2.5 particles. The tiny floating particles, measuring 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter, are hazardous because they can penetrate deeply into the lungs and cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The so-called Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan specifically targets northern China, particularly in the cities Beijing, Tianjin and in Hebei province. The government aims to reduce air emissions by 25 percent by 2017 compared with 2012 levels in those areas, according to the report.

Zhao Hualin, head of the pollution prevention and control department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told the newspaper that the state council had approved the plan last month. He added that the program was one of three key action plans to be released over the next five years, designed to address airborne pollution prevention, water pollution control and improvements to the rural environment.

“The thick smog and haze that covered large areas of the country in January has focused public attention on this issue,” Zhao is quoted as saying.

China has depended heavily on coal as a source of energy which has helped the country experience an unprecedented economic growth over the past decades. But that growth has come at a high price. According to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease (GDB) published in the British medical journal “The Lancet,” air pollution contributed to about 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 alone.

Source: Radio Deutsche Welle

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 29, 2013 at 8:31 pm

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Modern-day slavery banned by new French law

A poster of the Zero Tolerance for Slavery campaign

Newscast Media PARIS—France has recognized modern-day slavery as a new crime punishable by up to 30 years in jail. Previously, courts were only able to convict suspects on other charges, such as taking advantage of vulnerable people, that carry lighter sentences.

The bill, unanimously adopted by France’s upper house, the Senate, last Thursday, means that anyone holding people against their will and making them work for free, will face between seven and 30 years in prison.

Romana Cacholi, head of advocacy with London-based Anti-Slavery International, told Radio France Internationale that his organization welcomes France’s tough stance. Almost 21 milllion people around the world are currently victims of forced labor, according to the International Labour Organisation.

French anti-slavery campaigners receive more than 200 reports of enslavement per year but believe that it is much more widespread, because it happens in private, often within families.

In France the majority of victims are minors from west Africa, according to Sylvie O’Dy, head of the Committee Against Modern-Day Slavery in France.

“They hope to find a better life in France,” she explained. “They are vulnerable and most of the time, have no clue about our country or our laws. They are therefore easy prey for unscrupulous people.”

The group will now be helping to train the police and legal teams to identify victims of slavery.

Source: Radio France Internationale

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 4:11 pm

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Amazon hiring spree–Creating 7,000 new jobs in 13 states


Newscast Media SEATTLE—Online retail giant has announced that it will add 7,000 new jobs in 13 different states to its customer service and order fulfillment divisions. According to the eCommerce company, Amazon’s median pay is 30% higher than that of people who work in traditional retail stores, and currently employs over 20,000 full-time employees at its U.S. fulfillment centers alone.

The available positions are in Coppell, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, Haslet, Texas Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, Middletown, Delaware, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Charleston, South Carolina, Patterson, California Chester, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona, San Bernardino, California, Hebron, Kentucky, Spartanburg, South Carolina, Indianapolis, Indiana, Tracy, Calif. and Jeffersonville, Indiana.

“We’re hiring more than 5,000 people to join our team and help us continue to innovate and serve our customers,” said Dave Clark, vice president of worldwide operations and customer service at Amazon.

“We’re focused on sustained innovation across Amazon and want to help our employees succeed—whether at Amazon or elsewhere—so we offer programs like Career Choice, where we’ll pay for up to 95% of eligible employees’ tuition regardless of whether the skills they learn are relevant to a career at Amazon.”

The company is also adding 2,000 jobs in customer service, including full-time, part-time and seasonal. Jobs are available in Winchester, Ky.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Kennewick, Wash. and Huntington, W.Va. Work from home positions are available in Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 2:54 pm

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Syrian government claims capture of rebel stronghold

Syrian army

Newscast Media DAMASCUS—Syrian state media are reporting troops loyal to
President Bashar al-Assad have captured a rebel stronghold in the strategically
important city of Homs.

According to reports on July 29, Syrian troops captured the district of Khaldiyeh as
part of an offensive launched a month ago with fighters from Lebanon’s Hizballah to
retake Syria’s third-largest city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denied that all of Khaldiyeh
had been captured, saying fighting was continuing in southern parts of the district.

The fall of Khaldiyeh, which has been controlled by rebels since 2011, would be a
second major setback for the rebels, following the capture in June of Qusayr, near the
border with Lebanon.

The UN estimates that more than 90,000 people have been killed in the 28-month

Source: Radio Free Europe

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 1:54 pm

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Assad will stay in power for many more years says French report

Syria's Assad

Newscast Media PARIS—Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for many years, and the opposing Coalition delegation comes out empty-handed from a meeting with Hollande.

Assad can stay in power for many years because Russia, Iran and Hezbollah professional fighters are backing him, according to a French report that was handed to French president Francois Hollande at his request to evaluate and identify the French policy in the region for the coming stage.

The French report asserted that the fragmentation of the Syrian Opposition factions and militant groups strengthened the Syrian president and drove the western countries to halt arming the opposition militants.

The report further stressed the sterility of the Western plan to arm the opposition militants without granting the extremists any access to the sent ammunition as al-Nusra Front fighters sequestrated a large quantity of the Arab and Western ammunition sent to the Free Syrian Army after clashes between the two parties. In a related context, the Syrian Coalition delegation that met the French president Fracois Hollande announced that France had abandoned all its pledges and promises to arm the militant groups. An opposing Syrian figure emphasized the complete failure of the Syrian Coalition to execute its main missions.

“The Coalition failed to carry out its main tasks which are obtaining weapons and eliminating al-Qaeda,” he said.

The opposing figure revealed that the Coalition is facing financial problems since the countries that support the Syrian opposition started to fund specific opposing figures, instead of funding the decomposed Coalition whose members are competing for the financial gains.

A number of opposition Figures reported that al-Nusra Front fighters receive large financial support, while some militant groups are unable to pay the salaries of their gunmen.

Source: Al Manar news

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 27, 2013 at 3:33 am

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Annie Dougherty-Changing their world as it changes them

Courtesy photo—Annie Dougherty with the aspiring oratorians in Zambia

Newscast Media LUSAKA—It is summer of 2012. Everyone in her senior class has graduated. Some graduates are doing mission work, while others are pursuing admirable paths in their chosen vocations. Meanwhile, the thoughts of Annie Dougherty, a 22-year-old Psychology graduate, have drifted thousands of miles away to a land she has only read about and seen on television and in movies.

Annie planned to spend the entire fall 2012 and part of winter 2013 in Africa working with underprivileged and at-risk children in the remote village of Mazabuka, Zambia.

Teaching would come naturally for Annie Dougherty, since she was home-schooled, and as the second eldest of a large family, she got real life practice teaching her younger siblings. Yet the school system in Africa was a little confusing for her. Upon arrival in the Continent, Annie was assigned the first set of eight girls she would be helping pass the written exams which include science and maths.

“It makes a world of a difference to work with people who are equally serious about the goals in front of them,” Annie said. “My task was to help the girls pass the writing exams. Some girls had trouble reading and I think one was dyslexic, so we were learning how to overcome or work through the problems,” she added.

The students were between grades 1-12 therefore each student had a different need, in regard to the amount of attention and time needed to overcome any impediment. Everything was a challenge in the “City of Joy”, which is the name of the girls’ shelter in Mazabuka, Zambia. However, Annie was thankful that she was getting fulfillment from helping the villagers learn, and was doing it on a voluntary basis.

By 6 A.M., everyone was starting their day, and the girls actually walked to school while Annie stayed home with those who went later, that way she could do the tutoring. Transportation to the local parish for religious ceremonies was in the back of a pickup truck.

Despite being a foreign guest, the women encouraged Annie to roll up her sleeves, and work with a pair of oxen, because they loved to see a White girl do the same kind of tasks they did when they were growing up. “It was a thrill cultivating the fields,” Annie said. “Every time I had a chance, I volunteered myself because I enjoyed the work I was assigned to do,” she added.

Annie plowing the ground with oxen in Mazabuka, Zambia

In addition, Annie Dougherty lived in the volunteer house by herself, which is owned by the Salesian Sisters, while the girls lived in three separate houses. Each house that accommodated the girls had a “mami”—an older African woman between the age of 20-35 years, whose duty was to mentor the younger girls. The Salesian Sisters had their own living quarters in the vicinity.

Annie with the older African women at high noon after cultivating the earth and planting seed in time for the summer harvest.—Courtesy photo by Annie Dougherty

“Sugarcane is what Mazabuka is known for,” Annie said. “The factory seems to employ half the city. Nsima is the most common item on the menu—maize flour cooked to the consistency of grits or porridge. I learned how to eat with my hands like a real Zambian, and have also learned a few Tonga expressions,” she reminisced.

Annie & company on a sugarcane plantation in Mazabuka, Zambia enjoying sugarcanes after a long day of hard work.—Courtesy photo by Annie Dougherty

Every visitor to a foreign culture experiences both culture shock, and has to deal with stereotypes, and Annie Dougherty found herself in such a situation during the early days of her arrival in Zambia, as she was scrubbing the floors of the volunteer house.

“Don’t clean too much, or you will get tired,” one of the little girls said to Annie. “White people don’t clean.” Taken aback by the thought that White people don’t do manual labor, Annie simply smiled and continued cleaning. It was a misconception portrayed by our culture and the media, in which they never show non-Blacks doing hard work or manual labor.

After the cleaning was complete, Annie sat down with the girl and told her about the kind of labor she had to do in order to afford a plane ticket to Zambia.

“I had to tell her that I spent the entire summer cleaning houses, in order to pay for my flight. I did not get upset…it gives me a chance to break the stereotypes and understand the culture here a little better.”

Annie participating in a street celebration to commemorate Zambia's Golden Jubilee. —Courtesy photo by Annie Dougherty

Indeed, the Zambians noticed Annie had a strong work ethic and did not have any false airs. In appreciation for what she was doing for the girls in the village, she was gifted with a “Chitenge” (African garb), and was told by them that she was practically Zambian, because she blended so well with, and embraced the Zambian culture.

As she and the other African ladies would go shopping to the local markets, Annie recalls that the men would say to her, “Mzungu,” which means “White person,” as they tried to get her attention, because they viewed her as tourist who had tons of money to spend on local goods.

“I really can’t describe the openness and genuine character of the people I met there. It has given me a new perspective on many things. Here there seems to be more of a sense of community. Everyone shares.

“Father Gregory Boyle who once worked with gangs in Los Angeles said that in working with the poor and underprivileged, we are allowing our hearts to be broken by the very things that break the heart of God. I think what he said is important because sometimes I am tempted to give up, when I don’t see the fruit of my work, or the results I expect,” Annie told this journalist.

In Chimungala village with native Zambian children—Courtesy photo Annie Dougherty

Annie also made an interesting observation: “I got many odd questions like how many friends I have, or are there people in America who do not know how to read? In my experience so far, the culture seems to be non-reflective. It is pretty rare to hear someone say, “I think” or “I feel”, usually people do say, “I’m asking for… or I am telling you about…”"

As remote as Mazabuka may sound, Annie Dougherty had limited access to high-speed Internet, when there was power, and was able to keep in touch with her family and also update herself with news and current affairs around the world.

Perhaps her most satisfying event after completing six months of teaching in Africa, was the graduation ceremony, as any teacher would wish for a pupil to achieve.

This occasion found Annie’s spirit already most disposed by the ambition of seeing her students’ work come to fruition…it created a profound sense of gratitude that she will forever carry within the domain of her soul.

The undertaking she embarked upon, that is infused with recollections, of which some are amusing, while others instructive, created a new reality in Annie’s world that allowed her human side to fully express itself, as a way of demonstrating her homage to the aesthetics of a newly-discovered culture.

Impelled by the hope of further opportunities, Annie Dougherty has since returned to Texas, and is currently working at a pregnancy resource center, and also interns at a refugee settlement center.

Annie hopes to return to Africa at some future time, and plans to use her experience and resources to affect the lives of the underprivileged, by helping them change their world for the better, as it also changes them.


4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 2:27 am

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U.S. expands list of humanitarian aid to Iran

Humanitarian aid to Iran

Newscast Media TEHRAN—The U.S. Department of the Treasury took actions July 25 to reinforce long-standing U.S. government efforts to ensure that the extensive economic and financial sanctions on Iran — adopted to encourage Iran to comply with its international obligations — do not impede Iran’s humanitarian imports.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) expanded the list of basic medical supplies authorized for export or re-export to Iran under an existing general license by adding hundreds of items. OFAC previously had issued specific licenses authorizing these items. The office also issued clarifying guidance on existing broad authorizations and exceptions applicable to the sale of food, agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices by non-U.S. persons to Iran.

“Today’s action to expand the general license for the export of medical devices to Iran reflects an important element of our sanctions policy. Even as we continue to implement and enforce our rigorous sanctions regime against Iran, we are committed to safeguarding legitimate humanitarian trade,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.

In the July 25 actions, OFAC expanded the list of basic medical supplies authorized for export or re-export under an existing general license, originally issued in October 2012, to include a broad range of medical supplies and devices, including electrocardiography machines (EKGs), electroencephalography machines (EEGs) and dialysis machines, along with other types of equipment that are used by hospitals, clinics and medical facilities in Iran.

These items, which were previously eligible for specific licensing from OFAC, can now be exported without prior approval from the office, Treasury said. Exporters are also encouraged to apply for specific licenses for medical devices that may not be included in the expanded list, the department added.

Even as the U.S. and international sanctions have tightened, the Treasury and State departments have had extensive discussions with foreign pharmaceutical and medical supply companies that sell, export, and get paid for exports to Iran, as well as the foreign financial institutions involved in those transactions, to ensure that the exemptions from U.S. sanctions are understood.

Medicine and medical supply exporters reporting barriers to trade have repeatedly pointed to obstacles placed by the government of Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran’s failure to allocate sufficient foreign currency, Treasury said. “The Central Bank of Iran has access to sufficient foreign currency funds outside of Iran — which are otherwise usable only to fund bilateral trade— to finance the import of medicines and medical equipment,” Treasury said July 25 in announcing the changes.

As OFAC has made clear in its “Clarifying Guidance: Humanitarian Assistance and Related Exports to the Iranian People,” issued February 6, 2013, and in the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations, foreign financial institutions may process transactions for the purchase of humanitarian goods, including food, agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, using funds in Central Bank of Iran accounts without being subject to U.S. sanctions. The July 25 “Guidance on Sales of Food, Agricultural Commodities, Medicine, and Medical Devices to Iran” is meant to ensure that all parties to these transactions fully understand the broad humanitarian allowances embedded in U.S. sanctions laws, Treasury said.

The July 25 expanded List of Basic Medical Supplies (PDF, 45KB) authorized for export or re-export to Iran, the Guidance on Sales of Food, Agricultural Commodities, Medicine, and Medical Devices to Iran (PDF, 135KB) and the Clarifying Guidance: Humanitarian Assistance and Related Exports to the Iranian People (PDF, 248KB) are available on the Treasury Department website.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm

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Pope to young and old: Do not let yourself be marginalized

Pope Francis

Newscast Media RIO DE JANEIRO—Pope Francis on Thursday met with young people from Argentina gathered in Rio’s Cathedral to greet him.

The unscheduled late morning event saw the Pope speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish after the welcoming words of the President of the Argentinian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop José Maria Arancedo.

After words of thanks to the Argentinian youth for their presence, both inside the Cathedral and outside where he noted some 30,000 young people were standing in the rain, the Pope revealed that following a special personal request, the organizer of the Papal trip had managed to set up this event.

To a cheering congregation, many of whom were dressed in the blue and white colours of Argentina, Pope Francis said: “I would like to tell you what my expectations are regarding this World Youth Day. I would like us to make noise, I would like those inside the Dioceses to go out into the open; I want the Church to be in the streets; I want us to defend ourselves against all that is worldliness, comfort, being closed and
turned within – Parishes, colleges and institutions must get out otherwise they risk becoming NGOs, and the Church is not a Non-Governmental Organization”.

Pope Francis also spoke with concern about this moment of history in which material wealth is worshiped and in which a philosophy which excludes the young and the old risks perpetrating what he called a kind of hidden euthanasia.

The young, he said, who do not have the experience and the dignity of work, and the aged who are not allowed to speak, are being marginalized.

In addition, Pope Francis invited young people to go out and to fight for these values: he urged the aged to speak out, to pass on history and memory, and said that young people must not be against the elderly: “they must listen to them”.

Young people and old people in this moment of history – the Pope continued – are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. “Don’t let yourselves be excluded!”

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 25, 2013 at 8:22 pm

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Syria receives UN chemical weapons inspectors to investigate

Weapons inspectors

Newscast Media DAMASCUS—A senior United Nations team tasked with investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syrian conflict arrived in Damascus on Wednesday to discuss with government officials a possible inquiry into such attacks, AP reported.

This is the first such trip by international experts and the talks are expected to be thorny — focusing on about a dozen incidents in which chemical arms were allegedly used. The militants, the United States, France and Britain, have accused the Syrian government of using weapons of mass destruction, while Damascus and its ally Russia have blamed the insurgents for such attacks.

The team was invited by the Syrian government to discuss the terms of a possible probe.

Damascus has requested the UN to investigate only one of the reported attacks — a March 19 incident in the northern village of Khan al-Assal in which both rebels and the government accuse each other of using chemicals weapons — but refused inquiries into other alleged attack sites in the central city of Homs, Damascus and elsewhere.

UN officials have called on Assad’s government to grant the United Nations team unfettered access to investigate all allegations of possible chemical weapon use. Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom and UN disarmament chief Angela Kane arrived from neighboring Lebanon for a two day visit, during which they are to meet with senior Syrian officials, the UN said in a brief statement issued in the Syrian capital.

On July 9, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations said that firsthand evidence shows that militants, and not the Syrian army, manufactured sarin nerve gas and used it during an attack near the city of Aleppo in March.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that Russian experts collected samples at the site of the attack in the region of Khan al-Assal, where over two dozen people, including 16 Syrian troops, died on March 19.

The samples were examined at a laboratory in Russia which is certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the results of the analysis prove that a missile fired by the militants was filled with sarin, he stated. Britain, France, and the United States have accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons. Damascus has denied the charges, saying it was actually the militants who used chemical weapons on several occasions.

On June 13, US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes claimed in a White House statement that the Syrian government “has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale” against the foreign-backed militants “multiple times in the last year.”

In response, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said, “The White House published a statement full of lies about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, based on fabricated information, through which it is trying to hold the Syrian government responsible for such use.”

On June 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the materials collected by the Obama administration allegedly proving that Syrian troops used chemical weapons would not meet the requirements of the Hague-based OPCW.

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to the UN, more than 90,000 people have been killed and millions of others displaced in the violence. Damascus says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.

Source: Tehran Times

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 24, 2013 at 11:50 pm

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Obama: Washington using political posturing and phony scandals

Barack Obama

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama gave one of his several big speeches for the summer, by focusing on the economy. The speech was given at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. where he gave his first big speech on the economy as a newly elected U.S. senator in 2005.

On the recession, Obama said, “Today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back. Together, we saved the auto industry, took on a broken health-care system and invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil and double wind and solar power. Together, we put in place tough new rules on big banks, and protections that cracked down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies.”

The president also commended the American people for enduring the financial crisis and laying a new foundation for stronger, more durable economic growth.

“In our personal lives, we tightened our belts, shed debt, and refocused on the things that really matter,” he said. “As a country, we’ve recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world. With new American revolutions in energy, technology, manufacturing, and health care, we are actually poised to reverse the forces that have battered the middle class for so long, and rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead,” Obama added.

Despite businesses creating new jobs and breaking record profits, Obama said nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. He also pointed out that the average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009, but the average American earns less than he or she did in 1999, and companies continue to hold back on hiring those who have been out of work for some time.

“Today, more students are earning their degree, but soaring costs saddle them with unsustainable debt,” the president said. “Health-care costs are slowing, but many working families haven’t seen the savings yet. And while the stock market rebound has helped families get back much of what they lost in their 401ks, millions of Americans still have no idea how they’ll ever be able to retire. In many ways, the trends that I spoke of here in 2005 – of a winner-take-all economy where a few do better and better, while everybody else just treads water – have been made worse by the recession,” Obama added.

“This growing inequality isn’t just morally wrong; it’s bad economics. When middle-class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country.

“That’s why reversing these trends must be Washington’s highest priority. It’s certainly my highest priority. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years in particular, Washington hasn’t just ignored the problem; too often, it’s made things worse.

“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball, and I am here to say this needs to stop.”

Obama concluded his speech by saying, “Our economy will grow, though slower than it should; new businesses will form, and unemployment will keep ticking down. Just by virtue of our size and our natural resources and the talent of our people, America will remain a world power, and the majority of us will figure out how to get by.”

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 10:42 pm

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Report: Syria militants asking Assad for amnesty

Syria government

Newscast Media DAMASCUS—Opposition fighters are disillusioned by the extremists’
twist of the so-called Syrian revolution, with growing numbers of them are signing up
to a negotiated amnesty offered by the government, a report said.

British daily, the Telegraph reported on Tuesday that “growing numbers of rebels are
signing up to a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime.”

It said that these militants are “disillusioned by the Islamist twist that the revolution
in Syria has taken,” and “exhausted after more than two years of conflict.”

The Telegraph added that the fighters are feeling they are losing the fight.

“At the same time, the families of retreating fighters have begun quietly moving back
to government-controlled territory, seen as a safer place to live as the regime
continues its intense military push against rebel-held areas.”

The Syrian government has established a “ministry of reconciliation” with the task of
easing the way for former opposition militants to return to the government side.

The minister in charge of reconciliation, Ali Haidar said: “Our message is, ‘if you really
want to defend the Syrian people, put down your weapons and come and defend
Syria in the right way, through dialogue’.”

“Haidar, who has a reputation as a moderate within the regime, has established a
system in which opposition fighters give up their weapons in exchange for safe
passage to government-held areas,” The Telegraph added.

Source: Al Manar TV news

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - at 6:31 pm

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Hezbollah: EU decision written by US hands with Israel ink

Hassan Nasrallah

Newscast Media BEIRUT—Hezbollah expressed in a statement issued Monday evening
firm rejection of the European Union’s decision to put its military wing on the list of
terrorism, and considered it as “aggressive, unjust decision written with Zionist ink.”

Hezbollah saw in the EU bowing to pressures of the US administration and Israel as a
serious turnover in its compliance to the White House dictates.

“It looks as if the decision was written by American hands with Zionist ink and the EU
had only to put its seal for approval,” Hezbollah’s statement said.

Hezbollah considered that this unjust decision does not reflect the interests of the
peoples of the European Union “and comes in contrast with its values and aspirations
that support the principles of freedom and independence, which it had always

“If the EU countries think they are booking its locations in our Arab and Islamic
countries by submitting to the logic of U.S. blackmailing, we assure them that
Washington had made similar decision and gained only further failures and
disappointments,” the statement ended up saying.

Source: Hezbollah Media Relations


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Survey reveals only half of Europeans favor the euro


Newscast Media BRUSSELS—Only 51 percent of Europeans are in favor of the euro
and only 62 percent of those living in the euro zone support the single currency,
according to the latest Eurobarometer survey released on Tuesday.

More than half of the Europeans do not know what their rights are, although six out
of ten citizens in the EU feel “European” and want to know more about their rights,
said the survey.

The results came during the 2013 European Year of Citizens, a year dedicated to
improving the awareness about the rights of European citizens. In addition, EU
institutions are scheduled to hold general elections next year, facing multiple
challenges after years of economic crises.

In addition, the survey showed that nearly six out of ten identify the free movement
of people, goods and services as the most positive result of the European integration

The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews in May among nearly
32,700 people across member states and in candidate countries.

Source: Xinhua


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SEC charges Texas man with running ponzi scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Texas man and his company with defrauding investors in a Ponzi scheme involving Bitcoin, a virtual currency traded on online exchanges for conventional currencies like the U.S. dollar or used to purchase goods or services online.

The SEC alleges that Trendon T. Shavers, who is the founder and operator of Bitcoin Savings and Trust (BTCST), offered and sold Bitcoin-denominated investments through the Internet using the monikers “Pirate” and “pirateat40.” Shavers raised at least 700,000 Bitcoin in BTCST investments, which amounted to more than $4.5 million based on the average price of Bitcoin in 2011 and 2012 when the investments
were offered and sold. Today the value of 700,000 Bitcoin exceeds $60 million.

The SEC alleges that Shavers promised investors up to 7 percent weekly interest based on BTCST’s Bitcoin market arbitrage activity, which supposedly included selling to individuals who wished to buy Bitcoin “off the radar” in quick fashion or large quantities. In reality, BTCST was a sham and a Ponzi scheme in which Shavers used Bitcoin from new investors to make purported interest payments and cover investor withdrawals on outstanding BTCST investments. Shavers also diverted investors’ Bitcoin for day trading in his account on a Bitcoin currency exchange, and exchanged investors’ Bitcoin for U.S. dollars to pay his personal expenses.

The SEC issued an investor alert today warning investors about the dangers of potential investment scams involving virtual currencies promoted through the Internet.

“Fraudsters are not beyond the reach of the SEC just because they use Bitcoin or another virtual currency to mislead investors and violate the federal securities laws,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “Shavers preyed on investors in an online forum by claiming his investments carried no risk and huge profits for them while his true intentions were rooted in nothing more than personal greed.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Shavers sold BTCST investments over the Internet to investors in such states as Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Shavers posted general solicitations on a website dedicated to Bitcoin discussions, and he misled investors with such false assurances about his investment opportunity as “It’s growing, it’s growing!” and “I have yet to come close to taking a loss on any deal,” and “risk is almost zero.”


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Military options for Syria risky and costly says Pentagon


Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The US forces could carry out a variety of missions to support Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar Assad’s regime, but most of these missions would bear high cost and risk of retaliation, the United States’ top military officer said.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an unclassified assessment of the options for using the US military in the Syrian conflict in a letter to US lawmakers made public on Monday.

According to Dempsey, Pentagon is ready to undertake such missions as training the opposition, conducting limited stand-off strikes, establishing a no-fly zone, establishing buffer zones and controlling chemical weapons.

“All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime,” Dempsey said in the letter.

“We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state,” he warned.

The general followed with a brief outline of potential costs and risks involved in each option. For instance, a no-fly zone option “would require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications.”

“Estimated costs are $500 million initially, averaging as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year,” Dempsey said, adding that the risks involved potential loss of US aircraft and failure to reduce the violence as Assad’s regime “relies overwhelmingly” on ground forces.

Even the training and advising the opposition would incur an estimated cost of $500 million a year, the general said.

The United States has been providing humanitarian aid and nonlethal help to the Syrian opposition, so far. However, the White House has recently vowed to step up its support for the Syrian opposition, including military aid, in the wake of fresh US claims that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons multiple times during the conflict.

Leading US senators, including Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, have been pressing President Barack Obama to take a more forceful approach to defeat Assad’s forces.

Source: RIA Novosti

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 23, 2013 at 2:07 am

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World Bank proposes steps to end land grab in Africa

Africa land grab

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly half of the world’s usable, uncultivated land but so far the continent has not been able to develop these unused tracts, estimated at more than 202 million hectares, to dramatically reduce poverty and boost growth, jobs, and shared prosperity.

According to a new World Bank report, “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity,” released today, African countries and their communities could effectively end ‘land grabs,’ grow significantly more food across the region, and transform their development prospects if they can modernize the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management over the next decade. Africa has the highest poverty rate in the world with 47.5 percent of the population living below US $1.25 a day.

“Despite abundant land and mineral wealth, Africa remains poor,” says Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “Improving land governance is vital for achieving rapid economic growth and translating it into significantly less poverty and more opportunity for Africans, including women who make up 70 percent of Africa’s farmers yet are locked out of land ownership due to customary laws. The status quo is unacceptable and must change so that all Africans can benefit from their land.”

The report notes that more than 90 percent of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation with poor compensation. However based on encouraging evidence from country pilots in African countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity suggests an action plan that could help revolutionize agricultural production, end land grabbing, and eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.

An action plan for change

The report suggests that Africa could finally realize the vast development promise of its land over the course of the next decade by:

* Championing reforms and investments to document all communal lands and prime
lands that are individually owned.

* Regularizing tenure rights of squatters on public land in urban slums that are
home to 60 percent of urban dwellers in Africa.

* Tackling the weak governance and corruption endemic to the land governance
system in many African countries which often favor the status quo and harm
the interests of poor people.

* Generating the political will of African governments to mobilize behind these land reforms and attract the political and financial buy-in of the international development community.

The new report says it would cost African countries and their development partners, including the private sector, US $4.5 billion spread over 10 years to scale up these policy reforms and investments.

“Improving the performance and productivity of Africa’s agricultural sector is vital for broad-based growth, more jobs, investment, and substantially less poverty,” says Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in Africa.

“Land governance is a proven pathway to achieving transformational change and impact that will help secure Africa’s future for the benefit of all its families.”

Opportunities for change have never been better

Surging food commodity prices and foreign direct investment have increased the potential return on investing in effective land administration through higher agricultural yields and better market access and prices. Most African countries already have the basic land laws in place that recognize customary land rights and gender equality which are essential to reinforce needed reforms.

In addition, new satellite and information technologies can greatly reduce the cost of land administration. A growing number of African countries are now using these technologies to reduce the costs of surveying and mapping land and computerizing their land registries to improve efficiency and reduce corruption.

Some 26 African countries have established at least one continuously operating reference station (CORS) and about 50 CORS are contributing data to the African geodetic reference system, which, once completed, will provide a uniform coordinate reference system across the continent.

Challenges remain

With only 10 percent of Africa’s rural land registered, inefficient land administration means that it takes twice as long and costs twice as much to transfer land compared to industrialized countries, and weak governance is the leading cause for corruption in the land sector.

The report warns that “… unless communal and individual land rights are registered and land governance is improved, the recent surge in foreign direct investment in Africa will not generate shared and sustained growth, as disruptions will likely arise from the dispossession of local communities, and investors’ deals will face severe uncertainty or collapse, as witnessed in Madagascar in 2009.”

Source: Food and Agricultural Organization and World Bank


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Joseph Earnest - July 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm

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U.S. and China partner to combat wildlife trafficking and poaching

Xi Jinping and Barack Obama

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The United States and China have committed to work together to combat wildlife trafficking, the State Department said last week in an announcement.

During the 2013 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Robert D. Hormats and Administrator Zhao Shucong of the Chinese State Forestry Administration led a historic breakout session on wildlife trafficking. At the session, experts from multiple agencies met to review efforts to combat the global illegal trade in wildlife and identify areas for increased cooperation.

“The United States is committed to working with China to address this global challenge,” the State Department said.

“In recognition of the economic and security consequences of burgeoning illicit trade networks, the two nations committed to pursue more effective mechanisms for cooperation; strengthen enforcement at the national, regional and global level, including enhanced cooperation among law enforcement agencies; efforts to eliminate the supply and demand for illegal wildlife products; the development of innovative
technologies to advance such efforts; and strengthening international cooperation in wildlife conservation and protection,” the department said.

Wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar illicit trade that undermines security, economic development, health and the rule of law across the globe, the department said. The United States and China are major destinations for trafficked wildlife products.

The United States has been leading an international effort to halt wildlife trafficking, and on July 1, President Obama signed an executive order establishing a presidential task force and calling for a U.S. national strategy to combat wildlife trafficking. The order, in part, calls for the United States to assist foreign nations in building their capacity to combat wildlife trafficking.

“The poaching of protected species and the illegal trade in wildlife and their derivative parts and products (together known as “wildlife trafficking”) represent an international crisis that continues to escalate,” Obama said in the executive order.

“Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates.

“The survival of protected wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna, and turtles has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations,” Obama said.

Source: State Dept.

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