AIR TRAVEL-Federal air traffic controllers would remain on the job and airport screeners would keep funneling passengers through security checkpoints. Federal inspectors would continue enforcing safety rules.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL-The State Department would continue processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas would continue to provide services to American citizens.
BENEFIT PAYMENTS-Social Security and Medicare benefits would keep coming, but there could be delays in processing new disability applications. Unemployment benefits would still go out.
FEDERAL COURTS-Federal courts would continue operating normally for about 10 business days after the start of a shutdown, roughly until the middle of October. If the shutdown continues, the judiciary would have to begin furloughs of employees whose work is not considered essential. But cases would continue to be heard.
MAIL-Deliveries would continue as usual because the U.S. Postal Service receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations. It relies on income from stamps and other postal fees to keep running.
RECREATION=All national parks would be closed, as would the Smithsonian museums, including the National Zoo in Washington. Visitors using overnight campgrounds or other park facilities would be given 48 hours to make alternate arrangements and leave the park. Among the visitor centers that would be closed: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Alcatraz Island near San Francisco and the Washington Monument.
HEALTH-New patients would not be accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, but current patients would continue to receive care. Medical research at the NIH would be disrupted and some studies would be delayed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be severely limited in spotting or investigating disease outbreaks, from flu to that mysterious MERS virus from the Middle East.
FOOD SAFETY-The Food and Drug Administration would handle high-risk recalls suspend most routine safety inspections. Federal meat inspections would be expected to proceed as usual.
HEAD START-View gallery.”
FOOD ASSISTANCE-The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, could shut down. The program provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their children.School lunches and breakfasts would continue to be served, and food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, would continue to be distributed. But several smaller feeding programs would not have the money to operate.
TAXES-Americans would still have to pay their taxes and file federal tax returns, but the Internal Revenue Service says it would suspend all audits. Got questions? Sorry, the IRS says taxpayer services, including toll-free help lines, would be shut as well.
LOANS-Many low-to-moderate incomes borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays during the shutdown. The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees about 30 percent of home mortgages, wouldn’t underwrite or approve any new loans during the shutdown. Action on government-backed loans to small businesses would be suspended.
SCIENCE-NASA will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space station, where two Americans and four others are deployed. The National Weather Service would keep forecasting weather and issuing warnings and the National Hurricane Center would continue to track storms. The scientific work of the U.S. Geological Survey would be halted.
HOMELAND SECURITY-The majority of the Department of Homeland Security’s employees are expected to stay on the job, including uniformed agents and officers at the country’s borders and ports of entry, members of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration officers, Secret Service personnel and other law enforcement agents and officers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees would continue to process green card applications.
MILITARY-The military’s 1.4 million active duty personnel would stay on duty, but their paychecks would be delayed. About half of the Defense Department’s civilian employees would be furloughed.
PRISONS-All 116 federal prisons would remain open, and criminal litigation would proceed.
VETERANS SERVICES-Most services offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue because lawmakers approve money one year in advance for the VA’s health programs. Veterans would still be able to visit hospitals for inpatient care, get mental health counseling at vet centers or get prescriptions filled at VA health clinics. Operators would still staff the crisis hotline and claims workers would still process payments to cover disability and pension benefits. But those veterans appealing the denial of disability benefits to the Board of Veterans Appeals will have to wait longer for a decision because the board would not issue any decisions during a shutdown.
WORK SAFETY-Federal occupational safety and health inspectors would stop workplace inspections except in cases of imminent danger.___Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Frederic J. Frommer, Kevin Freking, Andrew Miga, Deb Riechmann, Lauran Neergaard, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Mark Sherman, Stephen Ohlemacher, Lolita Baldor, Jesse Holland, Seth Borenstein, Mary Clare Jalonick and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.
Despite shutdown threat, House passes spending bill that delays Obamacare for one yearView galleryHouse Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. Heat is building on balkanized Republicans, who are convening the House this weekend in hopes of preventing a government shutdown but remain under tea party pressure to battle on and use a must-do funding bill to derail all or part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)Chris Moody, Yahoo! News 10 hours ago The House approved a spending bill early Sunday morning that would fund the government through Dec. 15, but tacked on amendments that would delay the federal health care law known as Obamacare for one year and repeal the medical device tax, a move that sets up a showdown with Senate Democrats and increases the probability of a government shutdown Tuesday.The Obamacare delay amendment passed 231-192, and the vote on the medical device tax, which would help cover the costs of Obamacare, was 248-174. The House also unanimously passed a bill to fund the military in the event of a shutdown.Congress must agree to a federal spending bill by Tuesday, or the federal government will partially close down until members can find a compromise solution. The Republican-led House and the Democrat-controlled Senate disagree over whether the bill should include the health care law. Last week, the House sent a spending bill to the Senate without Obamacare funding , and the Senate responded by returning the bill on Friday with the funding inserted.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Saturday after the Republicans announced their spending plan that the upper chamber would reject anything short of a bill identical to the one passed by the Senate, and the White House issued a statement saying that the president would veto the House bill.“Today’s vote by House Republicans is pointless. As I have said repeatedly, the Senate will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill or the debt ceiling,” Reid said in a statement. „To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax.” The White House also responded by reiterating the president’s call to pass a spending bill without riders attached. „The President has shown that he is willing to improve the health care law and meet Republicans more than halfway to deal with our fiscal challenges, but he will not do so under threats of a government shutdown that will hurt our economy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. „Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown.” Before the vote Saturday, House Republicans held a private meeting where leaders presented the plan to delay Obamacare and listened to opinions from rank-and-file members. Lawmakers emerged from the meeting to say that the conference was united behind the proposal. With a Republican conference full of conservative lawmakers with little interest in conceding to Senate Democrats on Obamacare, House Speaker John Boehner faced a difficult choice. He could have either passed a funding bill with Obamacare amendments and risk a shutdown, or pass a “clean” bill like the Senate with help from House Democrats and risk facing the wrath of furious Republicans. He chose the formerNow that the bill has passed the House, it will be sent to the Senate, which is scheduled to reconvene Monday afternoon. „We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown,” House Republican leaders Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a joint statement. The Senate bill that passed Friday would extend current spending levels only through Nov. 15. Democrats say that time frame would provide a month for Congress to pass a larger budget deal before the end of the year and replace the automatic, sequestration cuts now in effect.
Israel announces arrest of Iranian ‘spy’
View gallery4 hours agoJerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s Shin Bet security service on Sunday announced the arrest on September 11 of an Iranian „spy” carrying photographs of the US embassy in Tel Aviv.News of the arrest was released just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left for Washington and New York, determined to expose what he described as „sweet talk” by Israel’s arch-foe Iran.The suspect, holding a Belgian passport, was sent to Israel by Iran’s elite Republican Guards and arrested at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport, Shin Bet charged in a statement.The domestic intelligence service identified him as Ali Mansouri, 58, and said he had enrolled in a „special operations unit of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for numerous terrorist attacks around the world.”He had been using the fake identity Alex Mans after being recruited last year, the agency said, naming his four alleged handlers as senior Iranian officials.View gallery.”Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem on September 15, 201 …The Shin Bet said that under questioning, the suspect had said he had been promised $1 million to use his position as a businessman to set up companies in Israel on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services to „harm Israeli and Western interests.”He had previously visited Israel in July 2012 and last January. An Iranian national, the suspect had in 2006 married a Belgian woman whom he had since divorced.On the diplomatic front, Netanyahu has been dismissive in his response to the drive by Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani to mend fences with the international community, which culminated in a historic 15-minute telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Friday.Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power, remains adamant that Iran is bent on developing a nuclear weapons capability, something it regards as a threat to its existence.Israeli leaders have repeatedly vowed to take military action rather than see Iran develop a bomb and have called on its US ally to take tougher action against Tehran, saying they see no real change of policy under Rouhani.
Nigeria: Militants kill students in college attackView galleryA grab made on July 13, 2013 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau (AFP Photo/)ADAMU ADAMU and MICHELLE FAUL 2 hours agoPOTISKUM, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic extremists attacked an agricultural college in the dead of night, gunning down dozens of students as they slept in dormitories and torching classrooms in an ongoing Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria, the school’s provost said.As many as 50 students may have been killed in the attack that began at about 1 a.m. Sunday in rural Gujba, Provost Molima Idi Mato of the Yobe State College of Agriculture, told The Associated Press.”They attacked our students while they were sleeping in their hostels, they opened fire at them,” he said.He said he could not give an exact death toll as security forces still are recovering bodies.The Nigerian military has collected 42 bodies and transported 18 injured students to Damaturu Specialist Hospital, said a military intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.The school’s other 1,000 enrolled students have fled the college that is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the scene of similar school attacks around Damaturu town, said provost Mato.He said there were no security forces stationed at the college despite government assurances that they would be deployed. The state commissioner for education, Mohammmed Lamin, called a news conference two weeks ago urging all schools to reopen and promising protection from soldiers and police.Most schools in the area closed after militants on July 6 killed 29 pupils and a teacher, burning some alive in their hostels, at Mamudo outside Damaturu.Northeastern Nigeria is under a military state of emergency to battle an Islamic uprising prosecuted by Boko Haram militants who have killed more than 1,700 people since 2010 in their quest for an Islamic state. Boko Haram means Western education is forbidden in the local Hausa language.Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week published a video to prove he is alive and prove false military claims that they might have killed him in an ongoing crackdown.Government and security officials claim they are winning their war on terror in the northeast but Sunday’s attack and others belie those assurances.The Islamic extremists have killed at least 30 other civilians in the past week.Twenty-seven people died in separate attacks Wednesday and Thursday night on two villages of Borno state near the northeast border with Cameroon, according to the chairman of the Gamboru-Ngala local government council, Modu-Gana Bukar Sheriiff.The military spokesman did not respond to requests for information on those attacks, but a security official confirmed the death toll. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give information to journalists.Also Thursday, police said suspected Islamic militants killed a pastor, his son and a village head and torched their Christian church in Dorawa, about 100 kilometers from Damaturu. They said the gunmen used explosives to set fire to the church and five homes.Meanwhile, farmers and government officials are fleeing threats of imminent attacks from Boko Haram in the area of the Gwoza Hills, a mountainous area with caves that shelter the militants despite repeated aerial bombardments by the military.A local government official said there had been a series of attacks in recent weeks and threats of more. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said Gwoza town was deserted when he visited it briefly under heavy security escort on Thursday.He said militants had chased medical officers from the government hospital in Gwoza, which had been treating some victims of attacks. And he said they ahd burned down three public schools in the area.The official said the Gwoza local government has set up offices in Maiduguri, the state capital to the north.More than 30,000 people have fled the terrorist attacks to neighboring Cameroon and Chad and the uprising combined with the military emergency has forced farmers from their fields and vendors from their markets.The attacks come as Nigeria prepares to celebrate 52 years of independence from Britain on Tuesday and amid increasing political jockeying as the country gears up for presidential elections next year.___Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writer Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
Italian president hopes to solve political crisis without new voteGavin Jones and Stephen Jewkes 10 minutes agoView galleryItalian President Giorgio Napolitano waves to reporters at the Quirinale palace April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Max …ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will meet the president on Sunday to try to chart a way out of a deep political crisis after Silvio Berlusconi pulled his ministers out of the government and called for new elections.President Giorgio Napolitano said he would only dissolve parliament as a last resort but just seven months after the last vote it is not clear if an alternative majority can be found.Berlusconi, the center-right former prime minister who was forced from office in November 2011 at the height of the euro zone debt crisis and faces a ban from parliament for tax fraud, has already launched his election campaign.On Sunday he attacked Letta’s government and demanded a vote „as quickly as possible”, but said his party would still vote for the 2014 budget, which must be presented next month, on the condition the package of measures „is really useful to Italy”.Infighting among the left-right coalition government has thwarted efforts to push through reforms Italy needs to emerge from a two-year recession, a 2-trillion-euro public debt and youth unemployment of around 40 percent.The political paralysis resulting from the government’s collapse will delay those reforms even further in the euro zone’s third largest but most sluggish economy.”It is tradition for the president to dissolve parliament early when it isn’t possible to create a majority and a government for the good of the country,” Napolitano told reporters ahead of his meeting with Letta.The prime minister will address parliament on the crisis early next week.Berlusconi said he decided on the shock move on Saturday after the government’s failure to avert a long-programmed hike in sales tax at a cabinet meeting the day before.Letta dismissed the motivation as a „huge lie,” saying instead that the media tycoon, who celebrated his 77th birthday on Sunday, was acting out of fury at his impending expulsion from parliament following a conviction for tax fraud.”Markets have grown accustomed to Italy’s dysfunctional politics but there’s a sense that things are now spinning out of control, with potentially dangerous consequences for both Italy and the euro zone,” said Nicholas Spiro, head of Spiro Sovereign Strategy.With fears that markets will punish Italy for the political turmoil, all eyes now are on whether Napolitano can muster backing either for a second Letta government or for an administration led by another figure.If not, Italy would be forced to return to the polls with a major risk that, with a dysfunctional electoral law and three parties of roughly equal size, they would produce a hung parliament and yet more instability.ELECTION CALL-There were signs that some of Berlusconi’s allies may not be willing to follow his call for new elections.Hopes of Letta or another figure being able to govern in the present parliament may depend on there being sufficient numbers of rebel lawmakers from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party, which he recently re-named Forza Italia (Go Italy!).Constitutional Reforms Minister Gaetano Quagliariello and Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin on Sunday both said they would resign but not be part of the nascent Forza Italia, while Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi warned that the new party risked being „extremist”.Another long-time Berlusconi loyalist, Fabrizio Cicchitto, expressed rare dissent over the way Berlusconi had withdrawn his ministers without party consultation.Whether these misgivings develop into a full blown revolt remains to be seen and will be crucial to the prospects of avoiding an election.Letta has a commanding majority in the lower house, and if he can gain support from a few dozen Senators among Forza Italia or opposition groupings such as the anti-establishment 5-Star movement, he could form a new government.”The only path to follow is to go with determination towards new elections,” Berlusconi told a party gathering in Naples in a telephone link-up. „I am convinced that a government of taxes is not in the interests of our country.”Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni played down the risk that Italy’s borrowing costs would shoot up when markets open on Monday, a danger highlighted by other cabinet members.”I think the uncertainty connected to the government’s instability has been largely already factored in during the last few weeks,” he told business daily Il Sole 24 Ore.Italy’s borrowing costs hit a three-month high at an auction of 10-year bonds on Friday, while the premium investors demand to hold Italian debt rather than German paper widened to about 267 basis points from under 250 at the start of the week.Saccomanni’s deputy Stefano Fassina warned on Sunday that benchmark bond yields would rise by up to 300 basis points if new elections were called.(Writing by Gavin Jones. Editing by Giles Elgood and Anna Willard)
View gallerySyria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Italian television station RaiNews24 ROME (Reuters) – Syria will respect United Nations accords on chemical weapons, President Bashar al-Assad told Italian television station RaiNews24 on Sunday.”We joined the international agreement against the acquisition and use of chemical weapons even before this resolution was passed,” he said when asked if Syria would comply with Friday’s U.N. resolution.The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution on Friday that demands the eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons but does not threaten automatic punitive action against Assad’s government if it does not comply.”The central part of it is based on what we ourselves wanted. So it is not about a resolution, in reality it is our own intention,” he said, according to the Italian translation of his remarks.”The central part of it is based on what we ourselves wanted. So it is not about a resolution, in reality it is our own intention,” he said, according to the Italian translation of his remarks.”In 2003, the U.N. Security Council proposed liberating this entire region from these arms and declaring the Middle East a region free of chemical weapons. So it is obvious, we have to respect these conditions, it is part of our history,” he said. „We have to respect all treaties we sign.”The U.S.-Russia deal averted punitive U.S. military action against Assad’s government, which Washington blamed for the August 21 sarin nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds. The Syrian government and its ally Russia blamed anti-government rebels for the attack.(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
View gallery Security officials, rescue workers and residents gather at the site of a bomb attack in Peshawar September …PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Twin blasts in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar killed 33 people and wounded 70 on Sunday, a week after bombings at a church there killed scores, police and hospital authorities said.Islamist violence has been on the rise in Pakistan in recent months, undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to tame the insurgency by launching peace talks with the Taliban.The blasts outside a police station hit an area known as Quiswakhani, or the storytellers’ bazaar, crowded with shoppers. Police said they thought at least one of the explosions in the city close to the Afghan border had been caused by a car bomb.There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid condemned the attack.Two policemen tried in vain to hold back the crowd gathered outside the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, where many of the victims had been taken.Distraught relatives dialed mobile phone numbers of those caught up in the blasts but were unable to get through. Women sobbed as ambulances pulled up with more bodies.”Who is burning Peshawar, who is burning Peshawar?” screamed one woman in a long headscarf.Shop owner Sher Gul said he had made repeated trips on his motorbike to bring six people to hospital. Gul cursed a provincial government minister who came to visit the victims.”Why have you come so late?” Gul shouted.Inside the hospital, people tripped over the injured lying in corridors as they hunted for loved ones. Nine members of one family were among the dead.The blasts follow an attack by a Taliban faction on Peshawar’s Anglican church last Sunday that killed more than 80 people, the deadliest assault on Christians in predominantly Muslim Pakistan.The Taliban have repeatedly rejected Pakistan’s constitution and have called for the full implementation of Islamic law and for war with India.Sharif was due to meet Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly later on Sunday, only hours after Singh described Pakistan as the „epicenter of terrorism in our region”.Another Pakistani politician, former cricket player Imran Khan, has suggested the Taliban might open an office in Pakistan to help negotiations, but the suggestion drew an angry response from those caught up in Sunday’s blasts.”The government wants to open an office for the Taliban? What office? They are killing us. For how long do we have to suffer like this? I have no hope,” said Waheed Khan as he searched for his nephew, a rickshaw driver.(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Paul Tait and Andrew Heavens)
Foreign minister: Iran open to negotiationsView gallery FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2013 file photo, seated at the table from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Always scrutinized, Iran now will be under even greater watch as the U.S. looks for signals the Islamic Republic’s new president is serious and powerful enough to pursue detente with Washington and an end to the painful economic penalties imposed over its nuclear program. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)
Wanted Greek lawmaker gives himself upView galleryDEMETRIS NELLAS 3 hours ago SocietyATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek lawmaker sought by police surrendered on Sunday, bringing to six the number of legislators from the extreme-right Golden Dawn party now in custody and accused of being members of a criminal organization with intent to commit crimes.The government crackdown on the fiercely anti-immigrant party marks the first time since 1974 that sitting members of a Greek Parliament have been arrested. The arrests underline the government’s efforts to stifle Golden Dawn, which has been increasingly on the defensive since the Sept. 17 fatal stabbing of a Greek man blamed on a Golden Dawn supporter.Thirteen Golden Dawn members and two police officers also have been taken into custody, and arrest warrants issued for 11 other suspects who remain at large, officials said.As he turned himself in at police headquarters in Athens on Sunday, Christos Pappas — a lawmaker described by prosecutors as the Golden Dawn’s No. 2 official — condemned the crackdown on his party and the painful austerity measures that have been imposed during the bailout of Greece’s battered economy.Several Greek TV channels broadcast his arrival live, showing him leaving a taxi, ducking under the cordon surrounding the building, and turning to the cameras.View gallery.”Leader of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by anti-terror pol …”I present myself voluntarily. I have nothing to hide, nothing to fear. The occupation government of the bailout deals has begun unprecedented political persecutions, using so-called independent justice. Nationalism will prevail. Golden Dawn will survive,” he said.Pappas then shouted, „Hail Golden Dawn!” and waved as he entered the building.Five other legislators from the party have been in custody there since Saturday, including Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos. They were formally charged with membership in a criminal organization with intent to commit crimes, and Pappas will be, too.They are scheduled to appear before a magistrate on Tuesday. Given the seriousness of the charge they face, the arrested Golden Dawn suspects are expected to be transferred to a prison as they await trial. However, the jailed lawmakers will remain members of parliament and only lose their seats if they are convicted or resign.The government said Sunday that it plans to introduce legislation on Monday aimed at cutting all state funding to the Golden Dawn party, which is slated to receive more than €873,000 ($1.18 million) in 2013.
AP PHOTOS: Syrians seek safety in ancient ruinsView gallery The Associated Press 1 hour ago SyriaKAFER ROUMA, Syria (AP) — Looking weary and malnourished, the baby girl could hardly open her eyes.Fatima was born just a month ago amid the ancient ruins outside Kafer Rouma, a village in northern Syria that has come under shelling by President Bashar Assad’s forces during the country’s civil war. Her family fled their home in the village to the giant stone blocks and centuries-old walls so that Fatima’s mother could give birth in relative safety.”We left because of the planes dropping TNT barrels and because of the shelling,” said Fatima’s father, who agreed to give only his nickname of Abu Ahmad for fear of reprisals.Some 2 million people have fled Syria since the country’s uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011, according to the United Nations. Over that time, more than 4 million Syrians also have been internally displaced within the country, including Abu Ahmad, his wife and six children.Abu Ahmad’s family is among dozens of people who have found shelter amid a cluster of lichen-covered ruins outside of Kafer Rouma, in one of several dozen ancient settlements that dot northwest Syria. The ancient buildings — usually houses, churches and baths — date from the 1st to the 7th century AD and were abandoned afterward as trade routes changed.View gallery.”
Jailed Russian tycoon is honored by Lech Walesa GDANSK, Poland (AP) — A son of Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky received a $100,000 human rights award on behalf of his imprisoned father on Sunday during a ceremony in Poland conducted by Solidarity founder Lech Walesa.The award, announced on Thursday, was bestowed in recognition of the tycoon’s efforts to build a free economy and a civil society in Russia.In the ornate 14th-century Artus Court in Gdansk, Walesa gave the award to 28-year-old Pavel, Khodorkovsky’s eldest child, who read his father’s letter of thanks in English.In his speech, he said the award is a great encouragement to his father at a time when he needs it and a sign that Europe are standing on his side, said Pavel Khodorkovsky who lives in New York and heads The Institute of Modern Russia think tank.Walesa said he hopes that „our recognition for suffering and struggle will bring effects.”View gallery.”Solidarity founder and former Polish President Lech Walesa, left, and the son of imprisoned Russian …Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky has been convicted in two separate trials in Russia of evading taxes, stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds. He has spent nearly 10 years in prison and is due for release in 2014.At the time of his arrest in 2003 most Russians were pleased to see Putin reining in the oligarchs, who had gained fantastic wealth and political influence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Khodorkovsky’s demeanor during his trials and his writings from prison earned him much respect.His case is seen as Putin’s punishment for his political ambitions and support for the opposition. Amnesty International had declared Khodorkovsky a prisoner of conscience.Gdansk shipyard electrician Walesa received the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize for founding Solidarity, the Polish freedom movement that grew out of worker discontent. In 1989 it peacefully ousted communism from Poland and the following year Walesa became Poland’s first popularly elected president.He has since withdrawn from active politics but continues to support pro-democracy efforts around the world, including the Lech Walesa human rights award that he founded in 2008.View gallery.”Solidarity founder and former Polish President Lech Walesa, left, gives his foundation’s annual priz …Walesa turned 70 on Sunday, and the award-giving ceremony began with presents, flowers and good wishes for him.
Cameron says cuts working ahead of conferenceView galleryAlice RITCHIE 4 hours ago PoliticsElectionsDavid Cameron Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday the austerity drive pursued by his government was „beginning to pay off” after his Conservative party announced two potentially crowd-pleasing measures ahead of its annual conference.With the long-struggling economy showing signs of recovery, Cameron said a scheme to allow first-time buyers in England to take out home loans of up to 95 percent of the price will be launched next week — three months ahead of schedule.The measure has been largely well-received in a country where home ownership remains a goal for most, and it came on top of a Conservative move to introduce tax breaks for married couples.Heading into the conference in Manchester, Cameron insisted it was the right time to introduce the Help to Buy scheme because the market was „recovering from a very low base”, and dismissed fears it would fuel a housing bubble.”As prime minister, I am not going to stand by while people’s aspirations to get on the housing ladder are being trashed,” he told BBC TV.The pledges will be seen as a riposte to the main opposition Labour party’s pledge to freeze energy bills if it is elected in 2015.Cameron’s reputation on the world stage was damaged by his defeat over Syria in August, when lawmakers forced him to back down on threats of military strikes over the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons.But the Conservatives’ poll ratings are improving as the economy is finally showing signs of recovering from the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, in what ministers see as a vindication of their programme of deep cuts to public spending.At this time last year, Labour had a 14-point lead in polls, but the Tories have closed the gap.A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put Labour on 42 percent and the Conservatives on 31 percent.’Ever-present tensions’The Tories’ ever-present tensions over Europe have also calmed, after Cameron promised to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU before putting it to a referendum by 2017.View gallery.”British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at his hotel on the morning of the first day of the Con …But commentators warn there is no room for complacency if the Conservatives want to win a majority at the 2015 election, which would allow them to govern without their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.A major issue remains the challenge from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), an anti-immigration party calling for Britain to exit the EU which threatens to syphon off some of the Tories’ traditional support.Although they do not have any members of parliament, UKIP came third in local elections this year and are predicted to finish first in European Parliament elections in May.Some Conservative lawmakers will use the Manchester conference to push for more clarity about what powers Cameron intends to claim back from Brussels before holding the referendum.Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee that represents Conservative backbench lawmakers, said Cameron must show his hand before the European elections.”We’ve been very clear that the public will have the final say about [whether] what we negotiate is acceptable or not, but I think it’s essential to be up-front and clear and we also need to be really quite radical,” Brady told The Times.Some lawmakers have called for an earlier referendum, before the 2015 election, but Cameron insists this is impossible as long as the Tories share power with the pro-European Lib Dems.The prime minister will likely use his conference speech on Wednesday to pledge his support for the three-year-old coalition.Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, made clear to his party earlier this month that he wanted to maintain the status quo.But both sides are starting to emphasise their differences as they limber up for the 2015 vote.Labour leader Ed Miliband set out some battle lines in his conference speech this week, shifting to the left with a promise to freeze energy bills for 20 months if it is elected.”The Tories need to rise to the challenge of a Labour message that they may have underestimated,” wrote Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie this week.
Ruling French coalition split over Roma ejection callMark John 4 hours ago PoliticsSocietyFranceView gallery French President Francois Hollande speaks during a news conference during the UN General Assembly at …By Mark John PARIS (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande is battling to heal a rift in his ruling coalition over treatment of France’s Roma population after his interior minister said most of them should leave France.Manuel Valls enraged left-wingers in Hollande’s government this week by arguing that the vast majority of 20,000 Roma living in makeshift camps outside French cities could never be integrated into society and so should be „taken back to the border” for transfer back to Romania and Bulgaria.The remarks, widely supported by the public, brought a quick rebuke from European Union authorities which recalled that France was bound by rules on freedom of movement of EU citizens, while human rights groups have warned the comments could stir ethnic hatred.Hollande’s decision to back Valls, whose tough talk on law and order has made him France’s most popular minister, has added to discontent among leaders of the French left already dismayed by new public spending curbs aimed at slashing France’s deficit.Housing Minister Cecile Duflot of the ecologist Greens accused Valls of betraying the values of the French Republic and urged Hollande to „heal the wounds” caused by the remarks – an implicit call for him to reprimand his interior minister.”Until Francois Hollande tells Valls his job is to bring people together rather than to provoke them, it is just not on,” Marie-Noelle Lienemann, a leader of the left-leaning faction in Hollande’s broad-based Socialist Party, told reporters.”I think this is weakening Hollande,” she said of the impact of the dispute on Hollande’s leadership. The president’s popularity ratings have already hit a new low of 23 percent in a survey released this week that showed dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy.”KNEE-JERK REACTION”-Around 10-12 million Roma are spread throughout Europe, according to EU estimates. Countries such as France, Spain and Germany have long struggled to deal with tensions between them and local communities.Roma is an umbrella term which EU authorities use to refer to semi-nomadic groups including Manouches and Sinti and which number around 300,000 in France – most of them French citizens.The current row focuses on the much smaller number of Roma immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria housed in some 400 camps on the outskirts of Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Lille and elsewhere.The far-right National Front has made the issue a top campaign theme for March’s municipal elections, warning of a new influx of immigrants when current restrictions on the movement of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens in the EU expire in January.Hollande’s government has been at pains to distance itself from the policy under conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who accused Roma of links to crime and launched a program of deportations.Yet since the beginning of the year some 13,000 Roma have been evicted from illegal camps and welfare groups say the failure of schemes to re-house their inhabitants means they find themselves on the streets or simply set up new camps elsewhere.”It’s the same old knee-jerk reaction of trying to find a scapegoat when times are hard,” Jean-Francois Corty, who heads activities in France for aid group Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde), told Reuters.”But this is putting families on the street, it is putting children in danger,” said Corty, whose organization administers health treatment in camps often with limited access to water and other utilities.”FIRMNESS AND HUMANITY”-The dispute is not so much over tearing down the large, shanty-town-like camps that have grown up around France but what happens to the Roma once they are evicted.The official policy is that they should be helped to find new accommodation and granted welfare support. But the European Union has warned that France is not allocating enough resources to ensure that happens – a criticism echoed by Roma themselves.One Roma woman interviewed by Reuters at a camp in the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve just before the row over Valls’ comments broke said she and her family were only there because they had already been evicted from a nearby camp.”If they force us to leave here, I don’t know where we will go,” said Monteana, a 42-year-old mother of four.Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem this week defended official policy as a combination of „firmness and humanity” and said Roma returning to their country of origin was just one possible solution.While there has been no clear sign yet of an all-out revolt over the issue by Hollande’s coalition allies the Greens or his other left-wing backers, anger at Valls’ comments has rallied his critics.The Greens’ 2012 presidential candidate, Eva Joly, said the row showed the ecologists had more in common with the left of Hollande’s Socialist Party than its mainstream and raised the prospect of a creating new partnership between Greens and like-minded left-wingers, including from the Socialist Party itself.While that plan remains vague, Jean-Luc Melenchon, the head of the Left Party who scored 11 percent in the 2012 presidential election running against Hollande, has expressed interest.For now, Hollande may consider that Valls, himself the son of Spanish immigrants, has managed to tap into the public mood: a survey by pollster BVA released at the weekend showed 77 percent of French polled agreeing with him.(Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier, Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Austrian ruling coalition faces far-right challenge in voteMichael Shields and Georgina Prodhan 4 hours ago ElectionsPoliticsView gallery By Michael Shields and Georgina Prodhan VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrians voted in a parliamentary election on Sunday with a resurgent far right party challenging the political establishment and calling for an end to taxpayer-funded bailouts of struggling euro zone countries.The governing Social Democrats (SPO) and their People’s Party (OVP) conservative partners were counting on their record in piloting the Alpine republic through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed to win another five-year term.Opinion polls indicated the two pro-Europe parties that have dominated post-war politics would scrape through to a combined majority, with the anti-immigrant and euroskeptic Freedom Party (FPO) hard on their heels.”My gut feeling is fine,” Chancellor Werner Faymann said as he cast his vote in Vienna. But the two mainstream parties may need to find a third partner to govern should two small blocs clear the 4 percent hurdle for entering parliament.The environmentalist Greens, an opposition party that has sided with the coalition on European issues such as creating the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund, is the most likely option should the big two need a partner to govern.Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPO could improve on the 17.5 percent it got in the 2008 election. It may even overtake the OVP despite competition from car-parts magnate Frank Stronach’s new party, also euroskeptic but without the anti-foreigner tone.View gallery.”Austrian Chancellor and leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPO) Werner Faymann and his wife Mart …Unlike in neighboring Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a landslide victory on September 22 partly on the strength of the German economy, many Austrians feel hard done-by despite the lowest EU jobless rate and economic growth clearly above the EU average.Around 19 percent of the Austrian population are first- or second-generation immigrants, and the FPO plays on fears that these and asylum-seekers are depriving Austrians of benefits, while euro zone bailouts only benefit banks.DISENCHANTMENT-A string of corruption scandals has contributed to disenchantment with mainstream Austrian politicians, helping trigger ructions at provincial elections this year in which long-entrenched parties were ousted from power.At one polling station in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district close to the center, voting was brisk but most voters declined to divulge their choice. Greens were most open about their vote.Christine Kraus, a 47-year-old office worker from Klosterneuburg near Vienna, said earlier she would switch to the Greens from the Social Democrats as she was disappointed with the status quo and liked the personality of the Greens’ leader.”I’m your typical vote-switcher. I’ll look at all the parties apart from the FPO and the BZO,” she said, referring to the small, right-wing and economically liberal party that split from the FPO in 2005.View gallery.”People line-up in front of polling station to vote during the Austrian general election in Vienna Se …Turnout in dry, mild early autumn weather was expected to be close to the 79 percent of the last national vote in 2008.Polls close at 1500 GMT, when initial projections are set to appear. Preliminary official results are due around 1730 GMT, but in a very close election the outcome may not be clear until domestic absentee ballots are counted – by Monday.Faymann’s Social Democrats have led the pack from the start, campaigning on a platform of defending jobs and pensions and redistributing wealth via a new tax on millionaires.The more free-market Peoples Party, led by Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, has called for liberating business of red tape to promote economic growth and help shore up public finances hit by aid to bailed-out banks.Raimund Berger, a farmer selling his wares at a Vienna market on Saturday, said he would vote for the right wing.”The left doesn’t know how to do business,” he said, adding he had nothing against foreigners who came to Austria, worked hard and integrated, but said they had no right to get benefits.Faymann has said he wants to form a new coalition with the OVP should he win, while Spindelegger has declined to say the same, leaving the door open for a center-right coalition.(Editing by Mark Heinrich)