Senator Robert Menendez criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for agreeing to the deal under which Iran will accept restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions that have damaged its economy and cut deeply into its oil exports.Many Republicans already have criticized Obama over the agreement, and some Democrats, who tend to more hawkish on Iran than Obama’s administration, have been skeptical about it.A bill to impose further sanctions against Iran has been stalled in the Senate after Obama’s administration appealed for a delay to allow time to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear problem.”What I don’t appreciate is when I hear remarks out of the White House spokesman that … if we’re pursuing sanctions we’re marching the country off to war. I think that’s way over the top, I think that’s fear-mongering,” Menendez said on the National Public Radio program „All Things Considered.”The White House declined to respond to his comments.Menendez who often supports Obama, but is a hawk on Iran, said he would push ahead with fresh sanctions measures that would take effect if Iran stops cooperating with Western powers.The United States and six world powers agreed to the deal with Iran last weekend, but many members of the U.S. Congress, particularly those who strongly support Israel, have expressed concern about the agreement, even though it has reduced the risk of U.S. military action in the Middle East.”We have to worry about the hardliners in Iran,” said Menendez. „And it seems that the Iranians get to play good cop-bad cop, (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani as the good cop, the hardliners as the bad cop.”Democrats and Republicans, including Menendez, said they would work together „over the coming weeks” to pass legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran.The White House and the Iranian government have said Congress could kill the deal if it enacts new sanctions now.The Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to be out of session next week for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.(Reporting By Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Christopher Wilson)
Dems, Obama, head into 2014 distant, determined
At issue, several Obama allies said, is a loss of trust in the president after only 106,000 people — instead of an anticipated half million — were able to buy insurance coverage the first month of the new „Obamacare” websites. In addition, some 4.2 million Americans received notices from insurers that policies Obama had promised they could keep were being canceled.”Folks are now, I think in talking to members, more cautious with regard to dealing with the president,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and one of the first leaders in his state to endorse Obama’s presidential candidacy six year ago.Cummings, the White House’s biggest defender in a Republican-controlled committee whose agenda is waging war against the administration over the attack in Benghazi, the IRS scandal, a gun-tracking operation and now health care, said he still thinks Obama is operating with integrity. But he noted that not all his Democratic colleagues agree.”They want to make sure that everything possible is being done to, number one, be transparent, (two) fix this website situation and, three, to restore trust,” Cummings said.Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., like Cummings a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus who personally likes Obama, struggled to describe the state of play between congressional Democrats and the president.”I am trying to think if you can call it a relationship at this point,” he said.Clay said the administration is now obligated to „fix it, fix all of it” after Obama apologized this month for both the insurance website problems and his earlier promises that people could keep their old policies. Otherwise, he said, „a wide brush will be used to paint us all as incompetent and ineffective.”Obama is now allowing insurance companies to reissue their canceled policies for another year. But „Obamacare’s” problems have left Democrats vulnerable to an orchestrated assault by Republicans who six weeks ago were on the losing end of the government shutdown.The political body language tells the story of the strain. Thirty-nine House Democrats in Obama’s party defied the president’s veto threat and voted for a GOP-sponsored bill to permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of requirements in the law.”I think people want to have a little more transparency going forward with whoever is implementing the website and other elements,” said Jeff Link, senior adviser to Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for Senate and voted for both the original health care law and the GOP-sponsored House bill this month. „If demanding that kind of transparency means lack of trust,” he added delicately, „then I think people probably would like to have had more transparency.”Across the Capitol, several swing-state Senate Democrats have signed onto legislation to further weaken the health care law. Sponsored by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who’s facing a tough re-election challenge, the bill would require insurance companies to permanently continue selling policies that the law deems substandard. Landrieu herself skipped an event with Obama earlier this month when he appeared at the Port of New Orleans. She said she had a long-standing engagement elsewhere in the state, which Obama lost last year by 17 percentage points.Repairing the relationship between Obama and his allies may be as complex as fixing the website and health care law. Much rests on rebuilding trust with the public, a solid majority of which now opposes „Obamacare,” according to multiple polls. Both parties will be watching on Saturday to see whether the vast majority of those who try to sign up for policies on the website will succeed, as Obama has promised. Democrats have urged the administration to quit setting „red lines” like the Nov. 30 deadline, that carry the risk of being broken.Nearly a year from the midterm elections, Republicans in both chambers are launching a drive to link virtually every congressional Democrat to Obamacare. In the House, the effort, based around dozens of votes to repeal the law, is about denying Democrats the 17-seat gain they would need to win back the majority. In the Senate, it’s about gaining the six seats Republicans need to take control of that chamber.”So you’re running on Obamacare,” read a faux tip sheet from House Republicans to House Democrats that went out over the holiday week. „The best thing to do,” it advises Democratic lawmakers in 28 districts, „is step in front of the cameras and explain to voters why government should run their health care.”Senate Republicans, meanwhile, showed notable discipline last week when they complained loudly about the Democrats’ new limits on filibusters — then pivoted in as little as one sentence back to „Obamacare.”The filibuster limits, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, can be chalked up to „broken promises, double standards and raw power — the same playbook that got us Obamacare.”Democratic leaders scoff at the notion that missed deadlines and other problems could threaten the party’s prospects 11 months down the road. A similar budget-and-debt fight that sparked the shutdown and smacked Republicans last month looms early next year, they point out. There is time, they insist, for the law to begin working as intended and to help elevate the Democrats’ political prospects.”Yesterday’s battles and today’s battles and tomorrow’s battles create different environments,” said House Democratic campaign chief Steve Israel, D-N.Y. Independent voters, the keys to elections in the most competitive districts in the country, are pragmatic, he added. „They want the Affordable Care Act not to be repealed, but to be fixed. They don’t want to go back, they want to go forward.”___Jennifer Agiesta, director of polling for The Associated Press, contributed to this report.
Analysis: Ukraine fiasco raises doubts about EU neighborhood policy
PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union’s failure to conclude a landmark agreement with Ukraine this week raises questions about a policy designed to surround the bloc with a „ring of friends” that has done little so far to stabilize its neighborhood.The fiasco at an Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius has been blamed mostly on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s opaque post-Soviet governance, and on pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin.But some critics, including one of the architects of the European Neighborhood Policy, say EU efforts to export democracy and the market economy to countries on the bloc’s eastern and southern fringes have long been hampered by an unrealistic balance between carrots and sticks.Brussels set too high requirements for partners to adopt EU standards of business regulation, governance and human rights in return for too small financial and political rewards, says Michael Leigh, a senior adviser to the German Marshall Fund, a transatlantic think-tank.Supporters of the policy remain convinced that it will ultimately succeed in drawing the EU’s neighbors into its economic orbit provided Europeans have the strategic patience to ride out short-term disappointments.Yanukovich pulled back from signing an EU association agreement on Thursday after Russia pulled trade and energy levers to dissuade the former Soviet republic, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas. Armenia dropped out in September after being subjected to similar threats.Yanukovich told EU leaders they had not offered enough money to help Ukraine’s economic transition and had interfered in its domestic affairs by making the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko a condition for the deal.”For the EU, the ‘nyet’ of Ukraine and Armenia, taken together with the situation in most Arab countries around the Mediterranean, mean the end of a 10-year effort to put into place a European Neighborhood Policy,” Leigh, who was director-general for enlargement and neighbourhood policy at the European Commission until last year, told Reuters.Current policy practitioners see things differently. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Vilnius the EU’s offer to Ukraine remained on the table and the Europeans had to „drill through a think plank” and should set no deadline for a deal.She rejected Yanukovich’s suggestion that the EU, Russia and Ukraine should all get around a table and work out a strategy to help his country overcome its deep economic crisis.„RING OF FRIENDS”--Former European Commission President Romano Prodi first floated the idea of building a special relationship with the EU’s neighbors shortly before 10 central and east European countries joined the bloc in 2004.In his vision, a „ring of friends” from Russia to Morocco would share „everything but institutions” with the EU.Free trade and common rules in areas such as environmental protection, public procurement and investment security would give those countries the benefits of the EU’s single market and make them attractive to foreign investors.Through a network of association agreements, they would adopt large chunks of the EU’s rulebook and build democratic, clean governance structures with technical help and limited financial assistance from Brussels.”This was misconceived from the outset and I was one of the culprits,” Leigh said. „Too closely modeled on the enlargement process but without the incentive of membership, the ENP provided too few benefits in exchange for political reforms which partner governments anyway had no intention of carrying out.”Without the magnetic pull of accession, the EU does not exert the same sway on partners with authoritarian rulers and entrenched economic elites that – often correctly – perceive EU policies as a threat to their positions.Rival powers such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar wield chequebooks that dwarf EU aid, without attaching strings about democracy, judicial independence and fighting corruption.”In retrospect, the EU made a number of serious mistakes. It was not necessary or appropriate to present Ukraine with an incredibly demanding Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement,” Leigh said. He argues that Brussels should offer lighter trade pacts on less intrusive terms to start with.Even supporters of the aborted deal acknowledge it would have entailed high initial compliance costs for Kiev, which is struggling to avoid default, while the economic benefits would accrue more gradually.The initialing of association agreements with Georgia and Moldova in Vilnius was a meager consolation for EU leaders who had hoped for the big prize of drawing Ukraine, a strategically located potential market of 46 million, into its orbit.SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT–The EU has been no more successful on its southern rim, 18 years after launching the so-called Barcelona process of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation.European hopes that the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled veteran autocrats would bring forth democratic partners committed to transparency and better governance have largely run into the sand.Tunisia, where the ruling Islamist Ennahda party has agreed in principle to hand over power, seems to offer the last chance of an EU-sponsored democratic transition.Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, has reverted to military-dominated rule and remains in economic decay, kept just afloat by Gulf money, after the army toppled elected Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in July and cracked down hard on his Muslim Brotherhood.Libya is in chaos with a weak government unable to assert its authority over rival militias. Algeria, Europe’s number two gas supplier, dodged the Arab Spring and remains an opaque system with an ailing president who has barely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in April. In Morroco, King Mohammed’s cautious experiment in sharing some power with moderate Islamists has been gradually put into reverse.Supporters of European Neighborhood Policy are undeterred by the setbacks and say the EU strategy continues to offer the only realistic path for countries that aspire to modernize and lift their populations out of poverty.Ukraine will eventually take that road, they say, possibly as early as next year, but maybe only after Yanukovich goes.Pawel Swieboda, head of the DemosEuropa think-tank in Warsaw, said central European countries achieved this transition in the 1990s by adopting EU standards that attracted foreign direct investment and brought huge productivity gains.”For a country like Ukraine, you need a change in governance and it was a smart idea for the EU to try to lure them into an arrangement in which step-by-step the system would have to be reformed from the inside,” said Swieboda, a former Polish negotiator on EU accession.”You have to give it time and patience, forget about the end destination of the journey and start getting them moving.”(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Yves Clarisse in Paris,; Andreas Rinke in Vilnius; Writing by Paul Taylor)
Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan sign landmark energy contracts
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan signed a package of landmark contracts earlier this week that will see the semi-autonomous region’s oil and gas exported via pipelines through Turkey, sources close to the deal told Reuters on Friday.The sources said the deals were signed during Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s three hour-long meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday.The move is likely to further infuriate Baghdad, which claims the sole authority to manage Iraqi oil and which said late on Thursday that any energy deal with Kurdistan would be „an encroachment on the sovereignty of Iraq”.The Turkish Energy Ministry declined to comment.Crude flow in the KRG’s new pipeline will start very soon, and will link up with the 40 inch-line of the existing Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline to be exported to world markets.The state-backed Turkish Energy Company (TEC), which Ankara set up to operate in northern Iraq, has also signed a contract to operate in thirteen exploration blocks, in about half of those it is teaming up with U.S. giant ExxonMobil.The contracts also envisage the building of a new oil pipeline and a gas pipeline, aimed to help the region’s oil exports to climb to 1 million bpd by 2015. The gas flow is likely to start by early 2017.Under the deal, payments for KRG’s oil will be collected in an escrow account at a Turkish state bank. Once the contractor fees are paid, the balance will remain untouched until KRG and Baghdad reach a deal on the revenue sharing.(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Orhan Coskun; Editing by Daren Butler)View gallery.”Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP
Syrian refugee host countries need ‘massive’ aid: UN
„Fuel is actually coming in, as of today, through the Kerem Shalom (goods crossing with Israel), purchased by UNRWA and distributed by the UN,” the organisation’s Middle East special coordinator Robert Serry told a news conference in northern Gaza.”That doesn’t resolve the fuel crisis in Gaza, but it does provide a safety net, we hope, for the coming two to three months for those critical installations here,” he added.Serry’s announcement came as the Islamist Hamas-run Palestinian territory suffers the most serious fuel crisis in its history, with daily power outages of up to 16 hours.Hospitals, water and sanitation plants, businesses and private homes are all being hit.The minister responsible for the Middle East at Britain’s Foreign Office said that a year after a truce ended fighting between Israel and Hamas, conditions in Gaza had only worsened.View gallery.”A shared taxi crosses the bridge over the garbage and sewage filled Wadi Gaza, a low-lying farming a …”It is profoundly disappointing that the living conditions for the 1.7 million civilians inside Gaza have, if anything, deteriorated,” Hugh Robertson said in a statement.“We call on the Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian authorities to work together to ensure that the efforts to shut down smuggling tunnels are accompanied by equally determined efforts to open up legal trade and movement for the people of Gaza,” he said.”The needs and rights of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza must be protected, as must the legitimate security concerns of Israel and Egypt.”Serry said he had come to investigate the overflowing of „a critical sewage station” in Gaza City last week as a result of the fuel shortage.”It is due to a Turkish donation that I can tell you that this station has now been getting the needed fuel to continue to operate,” he said.View gallery.”A dead palm tree is seen in a sewage prone area north of Gaza City on November 27, 2013 (AFP Photo/M …”Turkey is always ready to offer any assistance to improve the difficult humanitarian conditions in Palestine and especially in Gaza,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu told AFP.Since Sunday, the Gaza Strip has relied on donkey-drawn carts to keep the streets clean because of a lack of petrol for dustbin lorries.Officials have warned that the growing mountains of rubbish are likely to pose a serious health risk to residents of the enclave.On November 1, Hamas’s energy authority announced that Gaza’s sole power plant, which supplies 30 percent of its electricity needs, had stopped working because there was not enough fuel to power it.Hamas has blamed the power outage on Egypt’s destruction of cross-border tunnels used for bringing in diesel and has also accused the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of charging inflated prices for fuel.Since early 2011, the smuggling tunnels have been the main route for the supply of fuel to the enclave.That supply almost completely dried up this summer after the Egyptian army began demolishing the tunnels in earnest following its overthrow in July of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, rapidly souring relations between Hamas and Cairo.The fuel shortage compounds an already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza which has been under tight Israeli blockade since 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier.It was further tightened in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza but has since been eased considerably, although restrictions on movement and the import of building materials are periodically tightened.
Americans kick off 2-day holiday shopping marathon
More than a dozen major retailers from Target to Toys R Us opened on Thanksgiving Day and planned to stay open through Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. As a result, crowds formed early and often throughout the two days.A Kmart store in New York City was packed with people shopping for clothing and holiday decor items on Thanksgiving night. Long checkout lines formed at a Target in Colma, Calif., on Black Friday morning. And hundreds waited outside a Kohl’s in American Park, Utah, the same morning start their holiday shopping.Meanwhile, at North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga., Jessica Astalos, 20, had already been shopping for six hours starting on Thanksgiving as another wave of shoppers made their way into the mall around 5:30 a.m. Friday.”I like being around crowds of people all doing the same thing,” said Dalton Mason, 22, of Stockbridge, Ga.The start of the holiday shopping season has transformed into a two-day event. For nearly a decade, Black Friday had been the official start to the busy buying binge sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was named Black Friday because that was traditionally when retailers turned a profit, or moved out of the red and into the black.But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. Some like Macy’s opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Others like Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, opened some stores earlier on Thanksgiving than the year before. And many pushed up the discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November.The earlier openings and sales were met with some resistance. Some workers’ rights groups had planned protests on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday because they opposed having retail employees miss family meals at home. Some shoppers had said they would not venture out on Thanksgiving because they believe it’s a sacred holiday meant to spend with family and friends.And Curtis Akins, 51, openly lamented the early openings on Friday as his wife shopped. By 5 a.m. Friday, he was sitting on a bench – looking slightly exhausted — inside a mall in Atlanta’s northern suburbs as his wife looked for deals. „I think it’s going to end because it’s taking away from the traditional Thanksgiving,” he said of the Black Friday tradition.But that sentiment didn’t stop others from taking advantage of the earlier openings and sales. „We like to shop this time of night … We’re having a ball,” said Rosanne Scrom as she left the Target store in Clifton Park, N.Y., at 5 a.m. Friday.The reception to the double-day holiday shopping start has led some retail experts to question how much further Black Friday will creep into Thanksgiving. Some now even refer to the holiday as Black Thanksgiving or Gray Thursday. „Black Friday is now Gray Friday,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.It’s unclear whether or not the early openings will lead shoppers to spend more over the two days or simply spread sales between the two days. Last year, sales on Thanksgiving were $810 million last year, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year as more stores opened on the holiday, according to Chicago research firm ShopperTrak. But sales dropped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion on Black Friday, though it still was the biggest shopping day last year.Sales figures for this year’s Thanksgiving and Black Friday will trickle out in the next couple days, but some big chains already are proclaiming early Friday morning that the start to the holiday shopping season had gotten off to a successful start.Most Wal-Mart stores are open 24 hours, but the world’s largest retailer started its holiday shopping sales events at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart said that customers bought 2.8 million towels, two million TVs, 1.4 million tablets, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.Wal-Mart also noted that one million customers took advantage of its one-hour guarantee program, which allows shoppers who are inside a Wal-Mart store within one hour of a doorbuster sales event to buy that product and either take it home that day or by Christmas.Rival Target, which opened at an hour earlier this year at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, also said that traffic starting in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving on Target.com and at its stores later in the day was „strong.”At a Target in Brooklyn in New York City, about 25 people waited in line at about 5 hours ahead of the 8 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving. Theresa Alcantaro, 35, a crossing guard, was waiting with her 12-year-old son to buy an Xbox One video game system. She was missing a gathering of 40 family members but said she would meet up after shopping.”Honestly if I can get a good deal I do not mind,” she said about shopping on Thanksgiving. „I see my family every day, they understand.”
Mexican drug cartels now make money exporting ore
BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China sent several fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into its new air defense zone over the East China Sea, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, raising the stakes in a standoff with the United States, Japan and South Korea.Japan and South Korea also flew military aircraft through the zone, the two countries said on Thursday, while Washington sent two unarmed B-52 bombers into the airspace earlier this week in a sign of support for its ally Japan. None of those aircraft informed China.China last week announced that foreign aircraft passing through its new air defense zone – including passenger planes – would have to identify themselves to Chinese authorities. The zone includes the skies over islands at the heart of a territorial dispute between Japan and China.The Chinese patrol mission, conducted on Thursday, was „a defensive measure and in line with international common practices”, Xinhua cited air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying.The aircraft, including Russian-designed Su-30 fighter jets, conducted routine patrols and monitored targets in the zone, Shen said.”China’s air force is on high alert and will take measures to deal with diverse air threats to firmly protect the security of the country’s airspace,” he said.However, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said it was „incorrect” to suggest China would shoot down aircraft which entered the zone without first identifying themselves. He did not elaborate.Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Friday he did not know if Chinese planes were in the zone but added there was no change to Japan’s sense of alertness.Ties between China and Japan have been strained for months by the dispute over the islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands but recognizes Tokyo’s administrative control and says the U.S.-Japan security pact applies to them.Europe’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, said the European Union is concerned about China’s decision to establish the new air defense zone as well as its announcement of „emergency defense measures” if other parties do not comply.”This development heightens the risk of escalation and contributes to raising tensions in the region,” Ashton said in a statement. „The EU calls on all sides to exercise caution and restraint.”CRITICISM–China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang criticized Ashton’s remarks, saying China hoped the EU could treat the situation „objectively and rationally”.”Actually, Madam Ashton should know that some European countries also have air defense identification zones,” Qin said. „I don’t know if this leads to tensions in the European regional situation. European countries can have air defense identification zones. Why can’t China?”When asked to clarify China’s expectations for what information airlines were expected to report, Qin said: „International law does not have clear rules on what kind of flight or airplane should apply”, adding that each country makes its own rules.”Therefore, China’s method does not violate international law and accords with international practice.”China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that since the zone came into force there had been no impact on the safe operation of international civilian flights, although it added that China „hoped” airlines would cooperate.Japan’s two biggest airlines have defied the identification order since Wednesday at the request of the Japanese government.Although there are risks of a confrontation in the zone, U.S. and Chinese military officials have stepped up communication with each other in recent years and are in regular contact to avoid accidental clashes.U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is visiting China, Japan and South Korea next week, and will try to ease tension over the issue, senior U.S. administration officials said.”We decline to comment on Chinese flights, but the United States will continue to partner with our allies and operate in the area as normal,” a Pentagon spokesman said.China’s Defense Ministry has said that it was aware of the U.S., Japanese and South Korean military aircraft in the zone and had tracked them all.Ties between China and Japan, often tense, have increasingly been frayed in recent years by regional rivalry, mutual mistrust over military intentions and what China feels is Japan’s lack of contrition over its brutal occupation of part of China before and during World War Two.In a show of support to the military, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a base in Jinan in eastern China, where he said „military training is critical to beef up the PLA’s war capacities”, according to the Xinhau news agency.Xi did not make direct mention of the East China Sea air defense zone.”Though life is becoming better, history can’t be forgotten and those who made sacrifices for (the) new China’s founding must be remembered,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying in a separate report.The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, praised the government for its calm response in the face of „provocations”, saying China would not target the United States in the zone as long as it „does not go too far”.But it warned Japan it could expect a robust response if it continued to fly military aircraft in the zone.”If the trend continues, there will likely be frictions and confrontations and even a collision in the air … It is therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts,” it wrote in an editorial on Friday.(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Nigeria sharia police smash 240,000 bottles of beer
The banned booze had been confiscated from trucks coming into the city in recent weeks, said officials from the Hisbah, the patrol tasked with enforcing the strict Islamic law, known as sharia.Kano’s Hisbah chief Aminu Daurawa said at the bottle-breaking ceremony he had „the ardent hope this will bring an end to the consumption of such prohibited substances”.A large bulldozer smashed the bottles to shouts of „Allahu Ahkbar” (God is Great) from supporters outside the Hisbah headquarters in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.Kegs containing more than 8,000 litres of a local alcoholic brew called „burukutu” and 320,000 cigarettes were also destroyed.”We hope this measure will help restore the tarnished image of Kano,” said Daurawa.View gallery.”Local Islamic policemen destroy crates of beer bottles to enforce a sharia law ban on the consumptio …Since September, the Hisbah have launched sweeping crackdowns and made hundreds of arrests in Kano following a state-government directive to cleanse the commercial hub of so-called „immoral” practices.The 9,000-strong moral police force works alongside the civilian police but also has other duties, including community development work and dispute resolution.Sharia was reintroduced across northern Nigeria in 2001, but the code has been unevenly applied.Alcohol is typically easy to find in Kano, including at hotels and bars in neighbourhoods like Sabon Gari, inhabited by the city’s sizeable Christian minority.But the Hisbah boss vowed that this was set to change.”We hereby send warning to unrepentant offenders that Hisbah personnel will soon embark on an operation into every nook and corner of (Kano) state to put an end to the sale and consumption of alcohol and all other intoxicants,” Daurawa said.People accused of engaging in prostitution and homosexual sex have been among those arrested in the latest crackdown, along with alleged drunks and drug addicts.Nigeria is divided between a mostly Christian south and a predominately Muslim north.
Iran nuclear freeze to start by January: envoy
Cameron complained to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso late Thursday at a summit in Lithuania about remarks made by EU Employment Commissioner Lazlo Andor.”I raised Commissioner Andor’s comments with @BarrosoEU — totally inappropriate for unelected officials to complain about legitimate concerns,” the prime minister tweeted.A spokesman for Cameron’s Downing Street office added: „When elected European leaders are raising real and substantive concerns about an issue affecting people, it is not for officials to dismiss those without any discussion.”Cameron announced his plans on Wednesday in response to growing concerns in Britain about the expected influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers when restrictions on their movement across the European Union are lifted on January 1.He said EU migrants would not receive unemployment benefits until three months after arriving in Britain, and then only for six months, while migrants found to be begging or homeless will be removed and barred for returning for a year.Andor said the proposals were „an unfortunate over-reaction” and followed „hysteria” about immigration in Britain, which he said risked being seen as the „nasty” country of Europe.The 28 EU commissioners are appointed to their positions, not elected, subject to the approval of the European Parliament.Cameron also called for more permanent limits on the free movement of labour, seen as one of the fundamental principles of the EU single market, to stop „vast migrations” of workers from poor, new members to other parts of the bloc.He set out his proposals to fellow EU leaders over dinner in Vilnius on Thursday night, Downing Street said, while reiterating Britain’s support for future EU enlargement.
For poor, America is ‘land of less’ this Thanksgiving
As Americans stock up on turkeys for Thursday’s traditional Thanksgiving feast, food pantries and charities are bracing for higher demand after lawmakers slashed $5 billion from the nation’s largest hunger safety net.And lawmakers aimed at trimming the US budget deficit are contemplating more cuts to food stamps for the poor — formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — an initiative that helps feed almost 48 million, or one in seven Americans.Under the SNAP cuts, a four-person household, for example, loses $36 a month, or about 21 meals, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.”Talk about ‘Les Miserables’ in America,” Leonard Edwards, an unemployed food stamps recipient, told AFP.Edwards — a volunteer at Bread for the City, a nonprofit pantry in Washington — said he receives $20 less a month in benefits. Even before the cuts, he struggled to afford food.”I can stretch it to about those last three days” of the month, said Edwards, a military veteran who also takes home food from the pantry.View gallery.”Volunteers at the New York City Rescue Mission serve meals during the 15th Annual Great Thanksgiving …Determined to reduce the government’s huge debt and chronic deficits, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are now haggling over more cuts to food stamp benefits, ranging from $5 billion to $40 billion over 10 years.Meanwhile, in the US capital, one in three children struggles with hunger — the second-worst rate after New Mexico, according to Feeding America.The nationwide network of 200 food banks says the number of low-income people it feeds annually grew 46 percent from 2006 to now, from 25 million people to 37 million.In Washington, the hub of one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, legions of the homeless line up daily in front of charity-run food trucks.Soup kitchens and food pantries are racing to meet demand from the growing numbers of those suffering from „food insecurity” — the term used by the US Department of Agriculture that runs the SNAP program.Bread for the City has seen an increase of about 10 to 15 percent in the number of individuals and families served by its two food pantries in Washington since the 2008 economic crisis, said its chief executive, George Jones.View gallery.”A volunteer hands out free turkeys at CAMBA’s Beyond Hunger Emergency Food Pantry on November 26, 20 …”For the people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, the recession’s not over,” he said.Food stamp cuts affect people already struggling to pay rent, medical bills and transportation costs, he noted.”It exacerbates the entire economic constraints that these folks live with every day.”The volumes of food distributed by the huge Capital Area Food Bank highlight the sheer scope of the need in the Washington area.In 2012, the CAFB distributed 45 million pounds (20 million kilos) of food, or 37.5 million meals, helping nearly 500,000 people.It moved last year into a new 123,000-square-foot (11,400-square-meter) warehouse after being forced to turn away millions of pounds of donated food because its former warehouse, half as big, lacked the capacity.The CAFB director of public policy, Brian Banks, said that they normally get in more supplies for the holidays.But with the SNAP cuts they have increased supplies even more, because „we wanted to prepare for the worst.””With the cuts happening, we have seen an increase in people that some wouldn’t expect to use the program.”Now they have to turn to this program because they just don’t know where to get food from,” Banks said.It is not strictly a matter of joblessness, Banks underscored.The majority of people looking for help, both in the capital and nationwide, are working full-time, but just do not make enough money to live on, he said.Bread for the City’s Jones said that makes it hard for anyone to argue that people seeking food aid „don’t deserve a greater measure of justice, don’t deserve the support that the food stamp program really represents.””We always have more people here than we can serve,” he said.
NBA to fine Jason Kidd $50,000 for spilled drink stunt
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine’s refusal to sign a trade pact drawing it into Europe’s orbit marked a victory for Vladimir Putin, winning him time to lure Kiev into a project for a trade and political bloc stretching from the frontiers of China to the edge of the EU.The Russian president sees his „Eurasian Union”, in which Ukraine would play a central role, as a future rival to China, the United States and the European Union. Some say he sees it as the president’s personal political legacy – a strong force emerging from the ashes of the old Soviet Union.”The Eurasian Union is a very important project for Putin. Without Ukraine, he will lose all enthusiasm for it,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor who has also worked in Ukraine. „Without Ukraine, Putin’s project is impossible.”Putin also hopes to woo several other former Soviet republics that were being courted by EU leaders at a summit in Lithuania on Friday. But none is more important to Putin than Ukraine, a huge market and the cradle of Russian civilization.The opposition-minded Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta described the situation as a love triangle in which Ukraine was a cheating husband, the EU an attractive mistress and Russia an angry wife. Who would win out in the end was unclear.For Putin it may be a question of exercising the kind of ‘soft power’ that comes to a nation as vast as Russia.Putin is widely thought to have offered Ukraine lower prices for gas supplies and threatened crippling trade sanctions if it signed the planned trade pact with the EU in Lithuania, although he denies this.President Viktor Yanukovich may also have been ‘shopping around’ for the best finance deal to rescue his country. Russia has clearly offered him better terms than the 600 million euros the EU has put on the table. He urgently needs money to meet scheduled debt repayments of more than 8 billion dollars next year if he is to secure re-election in 2015.Yanukovich, for whatever reasons, may have backed away from signing a trade accord at the EU Vilnius summit; but there is no guarantee his country of 46 million will now follow Putin’s declared will in joining a Moscow-led customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan – a precursor of the Eurasian Union which the Russian president envisages.Certainly, at home there have been protests against the turn away from the West.RESERVATIONS-The Eurasian Union is intended to recoup potential lost when the Soviet empire collapsed 22 years ago and to group like-minded states against any meddling by the West or China.Putin showed his intent by adopting a decree on the first day of his new presidency last year making it a priority to develop ties with the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – the very loose association of states created after the Soviet collapse.Putin has looked for ways to reunite former Soviet republics since becoming prime minister in 1999 and being elected president the following year. He has capitalized on nostalgia for stable prices, predictable government and open borders within the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.He touched a chord among many, mostly elderly Russians in 2005 when he called the Soviet Union’s demise „the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. He said „old ideals” had been destroyed, although he dismisses any idea he is seeking any kind of resurrection of the Soviet Union.Instead, he said, he wants to create a „powerful supra-national union” of sovereign states based on the EU model, connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific, and on an equal footing with the United States and China.The aim is to unite economies, legal systems and customs services, as well as military coordination.The customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, formed in 2010, was a first step to launching the Eurasian Union in 2015. It has a market of about 165 million and covers about three-quarters of the post-Soviet region – the Soviet Union minus the three Baltic states.The combined gross domestic product of the three economies is around $2.3 trillion. Both Russia and Kazakhstan are oil producers.Kyrgyzstan and Armenia say they will join but other former Soviet republics such as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, which are being wooed by the EU, have reservations. So do Uzbekistan, a large market of 30 million, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.Despite Putin’s pledges, there are concerns in such states that Russia will reassert its control over its „near abroad”.Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the planned Eurasian Union last year as „a move to re-Sovietize the region” and added: „We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”Some Western states have also noted with concern that Russia is building up its military at the same time as constructing a trading and political bloc. Russia announced last year that its defense budget would rise by about 25 percent, pushing spending above that of France and Britain.SOFT AND HARD POWER–Putin’s determination to keep the former Soviet republics out of Brussels’ orbit was evident in the sudden decision by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan – after talks with the Russian president in September – to join the customs union.Diplomats suggest Putin threatened to withdraw military support for Armenia that it needs in its territorial dispute with Azerbaijan. Yanukovich was also won round after talks with Putin, and the other ex-Soviet states are well aware that Moscow has ways of turning the screws on them as well.Moldovan wine imports have been suspended by Russia as Chisinau seeks stronger ties with the EU. Georgia and Ukraine have suffered Russian trade restrictions and Tbilisi is wary of Moscow after a five-day war which it lost to Russia in 2008.But there are limits to Moscow’s power and its ability to attract others. Tough bargaining is not necessarily the best way to persuade nervous allies to join the Eurasian Union.The five former Soviet republics in Central Asia have increased trade with China, despite Moscow’s attempts to build relations in the region. A World Bank report last year concluded that Russia had gained more from the customs union than Belarus and Kazakhstan because the tie-up had involved these countries accepting higher Russian import tariffs.There are also questions about public support for teaming up with Russia in other ex-Soviet states. Moscow needs to overcome public doubts about the merits of integration with struggling economies such as that of Belarus when its own is stuttering and could be dragged further down.”By pushing its plan to build a political Eurasian Union of neighboring states, the Kremlin is digging itself even deeper into a neo-imperialist hole, presumably to appeal to Russian nationalist sentiments,” wrote Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in a recent Moscow Times opinion piece.”It is an offensive to expand this entity of unwilling allies. This costs Russia large amounts of money, harms its economy, and alienates the country from the rest of the world.”There are also no guarantees that Russians overwhelmingly back Putin’s idea. Although many want Russia to be a force on the world stage again, such people resent the flood of migrant workers from Central Asia who do not need visas – a result of the push for integration with other CIS countries.Putin says he opposes introducing visas for CIS citizens. That is a potentially risky position after a rise in hostility towards migrants and riots last month by ethnic Russians in an area of Moscow heavily populated by immigrants.(Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Jason Bush and Ralph Boulton)
China media urges countermeasures against Japan planes
AFP/Jiji Press/AFP/File – This photo taken on October 13, 2011 shows a P-3C patrol plane from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying over the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and …more
View PhotoMap showing Air Defence Identification Zones (ADIZ) over the East China Sea regi …View PhotoA Chinese fighter jet is displayed outside the Aviation Industry Corporation of China …View PhotoView PhotoChina‘s state media called Friday for „timely countermeasures without hesitation” if Japan violates the country’s newly declared air zone, after Beijing sent fighter jets to patrol the area following defiant military overflights by Tokyo.Japan and South Korea both said Thursday they had disregarded the air defence identification zone (ADIZ) that Beijing declared last weekend, showing a united front after US B-52 bombers also entered the area.The zone includes disputed islands claimed by China, which knows them as the Diaoyus, but controlled by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, and Beijing’s ADIZ was condemned in Washington, Tokyo, South Korea and elsewhere.China sent fighter jets and an early warning aircraft into the area Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported after Tokyo said its military and coastguard had both flown through it.Washington has security alliances with both Tokyo and Seoul, and analysts say that neither China nor Japan — the world’s second- and third-biggest economies, and major trading partners of each other — want to engage in armed conflict.But Beijing is facing mounting internal pressure to assert itself.The Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, said in an editorial Friday: „We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China’s newly declared ADIZ.”If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ.”The paper, which is close to China’s ruling Communist party, raised the prospect of „tension in the air like in the Cold War era between the US and the Soviet Union”, adding: „We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan.”But it shied away from threatening Washington, which sent giant Stratofortress bombers inside the zone, issuing an unmistakable message.”If the US does not go too far, we will not target it in safeguarding our air defence zone,” the paper said, adding that Australia could be „ignored” and that South Korea „understands” as it has tensions of its own with Japan.China’s Communist Party seeks to bolster its public support by tapping into deep-seated resentment of Japan for its brutal invasion of the country in the 1930s.Such passions are easily ignited, and posters on Chinese social media networks have urged Beijing to act, with one saying Friday: „Japan, US and South Korea jointly ran the red light on purpose, the Chinese government should take decisive measures to deal with them as a war of words won’t solve any problems.”The media rhetoric came after Chinese planes conducted air patrols on Thursday, Xinhua said, after it first sent fighters, scouts and early warning aircraft into the zone on Saturday.The Chinese ADIZ requires aircraft to provide their flight plan, declare their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication — or face unspecified „defensive emergency measures”.At a regular briefing Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang retorted: „Ms Ashton knows that within the EU, some countries have ADIZs, so I don’t know if that means the situation in Europe is getting more tense.”US vice president Joe Biden is visiting the region next week, and administration officials said that while in Beijing he will raise Washington’s concerns about the ADIZ, and China’s assertiveness towards its neighbours.The Philippines has voiced concern that China may extend control of air space over disputed areas of the South China Sea, where the two nations have a separate territorial dispute.The islands dispute lay dormant for decades but flared in September 2012 when Tokyo purchased three of the uninhabited outcrops from private owners.Beijing accused Tokyo of changing the status quo and has since sent surveillance ships and aircraft to the area, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets hundreds of times.
AFP/AFP – Masked protestors hold placards reading „No to repression!” (L) and „We want fucking rights!” as some 40 people, prostitutes and members of associations, demonstrate on November …more
View PhotoA masked protester demonstrates against the proposed prostitution bill during a rally …View PhotoAccording to the interior ministry, foreign prostitutes make up 80 to 90 percent …View PhotoMaud Olivier — who drafted the bill against prostitution and sex trafficking by …View PhotoA protester holds a placard reading „It’s not the clients who rape us, it’s …
French lawmakers were Friday to start debating a bill that would punish those who use prostitutes and has sparked fierce debate in a country famed for its liberal attitudes to sex.Prostitution is legal in France, but soliciting, pimping, and the sale of sex by minors are prohibited. protestorsThe government says the bill is aimed at preventing violence against women, but critics warn that it would force prostitutes further underground and put them in more danger.They say everyone should be allowed to use their own body as they see fit.Activists and sex workers have staged rallies in several cities in France, and those for and against the bill will protest Friday near France’s National Assembly, the lower house, when the debate kicks off.Lawmakers are likely to focus on the most controversial clause in the bill, which would punish clients with a fine of 1,500 euros ($2,040) for a first offence and more than double that for repeat offenders.There are an estimated 20,000-plus sex workers in France, many of whom come from Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania; African nations like Nigeria and Cameroon, and China and South America.According to the interior ministry, foreign prostitutes make up 80 to 90 percent of all sex workers in France.A vast majority of these are victims of trafficking rings, and the bill takes inspiration from Sweden where a similar law punishing clients has reduced street prostitution by half over the past decade.It also seeks to cancel the offence of „passive soliciting”, effectively shifting the focus away from sex workers.Maud Olivier, one of the lawmakers spearheading the bill, said the billed was aimed at „dissuading clients from feeding the (prostitution) rings with their money and to make it clear that a sexual act must not be bought”.The bill also puts forward measures to help prostitutes who want to quit, including foreigners, who would be given a six-month, renewable residence permit.But critics insist that shifting the focus on clients will only force prostitutes further underground, and a majority of lawmakers from the main opposition UMP party are expected to abstain.The Greens, meanwhile, are planning to vote against the bill, which they believe does not make enough of a distinction between victims of prostitution rings and independent sex workers who fear their revenues will fall.Many of these have taken to the streets in recent days, denouncing a bill that is already scaring clients away.”I’ve lost 80 percent of my turnover,” Priscilia, a 40-something sex worker in Paris, told AFP recently.”This law is… killing me,” she said, pointing out that one of her clients had told her he now goes to the more discreet Chinese massage parlours.Around 60 people, including singer Charles Aznavour, released an open letter this month opposing the bill.Another more contentious letter released last month, titled „Don’t touch my whore!”, said: „When parliament gets involved in adopting rules on sexuality, everyone’s freedom is threatened.”Lawmakers in the National Assembly are due to vote on the bill on Wednesday, and if approved, it will move to the upper house Senate.
Protest prevents Gibraltar chief speaking in Spain
AFP/AFP – Spanish students and fishermen hold a banner reading „The fishing sector wants his fishing area. Picardo fascist” as they disrupt a conference of Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo …more View PhotoChief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo (2ndL) is escorted out of Algeciras university …Spanish activists and fishermen hurled insults Thursday at the political chief of Britain’s outpost of Gibraltar, preventing him from speaking to law students in Spain.Several dozen Spanish protesters including activists and fishermen joined in the rowdy rally against Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo at a time of high tension over the sovereignty of the „Rock”.A group of young men and women, some with their faces covered, unfurled banners and Spanish flags while hurling insults and chanting „Gibraltar is Spanish” at the event in a faculty in Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar.Fishermen from the Spanish ports of La Linea and Algeciras joined in, shouting that Picardo and Gibraltar had ruined their livelihoods.After about 20 minutes of angry scenes, organisers from the University of Cadiz cancelled the event, citing safety concerns.”The visible level of hate and violence I witnessed was frankly remarkable. I sincerely believe that we should be talking to resolve the political issues between us,” said Picardo, a lawyer by profession.”Violence and intolerance will not achieve anything. It will certainly not change my pro-dialogue views,” he said.The conservative Popular Party-run Algeciras city council had opposed the invitation for Picardo to speak to students. Socialists members of the council, however, defended the event as a matter of academic freedom.Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty, and the territory remains a source of diplomatic tension.Gibraltar dropped 70 concrete blocks into the sea in July, saying it aimed to create an artificial reef. But the barrier also prevented Spanish fishing boats that trawl for shellfish from operating in the area.Spain then introduced stringent border checks in August, leading to lengthy delays for motorists trying to enter the tiny territory on the southern tip of Spain.This month, Britain called in the Spanish ambassador over a „provocative” day-long stand-off in which a Spanish state research vessel defied Royal Navy orders to leave waters Gibraltar claims as its own.In the latest spat, Prime Minister David Cameron said this week that Spain had promised there would be no repeat of an „extremely serious” incident in which its officials searched British diplomatic bags at the Gibraltar border.
EU fails in bid to bring Ukraine closer to West