Brussels (AFP) – Russia and Ukraine resumed talks in Brussels on Tuesday to end a bitter gas price dispute and build on a tentative push by Kiev’s new president towards peace after months of conflict.Related Stories
Ukraine’s new Western-backed president Tuesday ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors in the separatist east that could save civilians and advance his plan to end nearly two months of fighting by the end of the week.Petro Poroshenko’s initiative meets a major demand put forward by Moscow and helps address growing concern among rights groups about Kiev’s use of firepower in heavily populated areas to suppress the pro-Russian insurgency.But the 48-year-old chocolate baron and political veteran stopped short of accepting the Kremlin’s request to allow Russian aid into the eastern rustbelt — a move Kiev fears could be used to help arm the rebels.Russia said the corridor decision was „welcome” but left room for concern that Poroshenko might only step up his offensive once civilians leave for safer parts of Ukraine.”Military operations are continuing and even intensifying in a number of cases,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his German and Ukrainian counterparts in Saint Petersburg.View galleryUkraine’s President Petro Poroshenko salutes people during his inauguration in Kiev on June 7, 2 …But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he saw „the light at the end of the tunnel” and a „readiness from all sides to act to de-escalate the crisis”.Poroshenko has unveiled plans to end the rebellion that has killed more than 200 and shaken the foundation of the splintered ex-Soviet state.- Elusive gas deal -His efforts include high-stakes negotiations to stave off a Russian gas cut that would also impact Europe and plunge economically-devastated Ukraine into even deeper recession.Another marathon round of EU-mediated gas talks broke up in Brussels early Tuesday and ministers returned to the EU capital later in the day after consultations with their respective governments.View galleryMap of Europe showing pipelines carrying Russian gas through Ukraine, and pipelines that circumvent …News agency reports in Russia said Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak conferred with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin to apprise him on where the laborious gas price talks stood for now.EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, the broker for the crunch gas talks, said an overall agreement should not be expected for days.Russia had set a deadline for Ukraine to cover a debt Moscow puts at $4.5 billion (3.3 billion euros) or have its shipments end Wednesday.Ukraine has refused to pay the gas bill in protest at Russia’s decision to nearly double its rates in the wake of the February ouster of Kiev’s Kremlin-friendly president after months of pro-EU protests.About 15 percent of Europe’s gas from Russia transits through Ukraine — a dependence that EU nations have been trying to limit ever since suffering similar disruptions in 2006 and 2009.View galleryA man carries boxes containing food and medical supplies at the self proclaimed People’s Republi …Analysts had expected the two sides to agree to a new price of around $350 per thousand cubic metres of gas — a sum about halfway between Russia’s old rate and the one set after the rise to power of the new pro-Western authorities.But Kiev appears to be taking a hardline position by demanding the same price Russia awarded the previous authorities.- Intensified fighting -The multipronged peace push by Poroshenko received only suspicion by the pro-Russia rebels in the East.A top leader in the self-proclaimed „Donetsk People’s Republic” said the level of violence inflicted on the region made him doubt the real intention behind Poroshenko’s civilian corridors.”We heard about this initiative but doubt it will come into force,” Donetsk „deputy governor” Andriy Purgin told Russia’s Interfax news agency.The government’s assault — dubbed an „anti-terrorist operation” by Kiev and a „punitive operation” by Moscow — has gathered considerable momentum since Poroshenko’s May 25 election.The fighting has engulfed two economically-vital regions that are home to seven million people and have extensive trade and cultural ties to Russia.The battles are now primarily being waged along Ukraine’s border with Russia and outside Slavyansk — a city of 120,000 that was the first of a dozen to fall under rebel command in early April.A Ukrainian military source told AFP that government forces had also successfully repelled a second attempt by guerrillas to seize the main airport in the neighbouring region of Lugansk since the weekend.But rights groups question whether Ukraine’s growing reliance on artillery fire in Slavyansk and neighbouring towns was entirely justified.”Criminal conduct by the insurgents does not relieve the Ukrainian forces of their obligations to act in accordance with international law,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Poroshenko.
Ukraine president orders civilian corridor in east
Petro Poroshenko ordered security agencies to organize transport and relocation to help civilians leave areas affected by fighting between rebels and Ukraine’s military, his office said in a brief statement published online. It gave no details on where the civilians could be relocated, or what accommodation was available.Ukraine’s Interior Ministry later elaborated that civilians who want to leave the area of fighting could do so through government checkpoints, where they will be provided with documents allowing access to pensions and other social payments, health care and education. They would be able to move to any other region of Ukraine where authorities could provide temporary accommodation, the ministry said in a statement.It said that a special center will be created under the Emergency Situations Ministry to help coordinate assistance to those who flee the fighting.Poroshenko also announced the appointments of media executive and business ally Boris Lozhkin as chief of staff, and Svyatoslav Tsegolka, a journalist at the TV station owned by Poroshenko, as press secretary. Lozhkin, who sold his major news holding last year, has never been publicly involved in politics. He hails from the country’s eastern city of Kharkiv.The new president did not announce any shakeup in the defense or foreign ministries, where changes could be pivotal for Ukraine’s ongoing offensive in the east. Ukrainian officials say at least 200 people, including 59 servicemen, have been killed in clashes in the east.View galleryPro-Russian fighters from a group that calls itself „Russian Orthodox Army” guard at a che …It is unclear how many civilians have fled the fighting. The United Nations’ refugee agency in May said Ukraine’s tensions had resulted in about 10,000 displaced people, both from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and from the violence in the east.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday said some 30,000 Ukrainian refugees are now in Russia’s Rostov region, which borders Ukraine.Lavrov, after meeting with his German and Polish counterparts in St. Petersburg, said the announcement on establishing safe passage was „a step in the right direction,” but criticized Ukraine for continuing the offensive.”The key to toning down the situation in our view is ending this military operation against protesters. Then, I am convinced, these people who you call separatists will take reciprocal action,” he said.The government in Kiev calls the security sweep an „anti-terrorist operation.” Russian officials deny allegations by Kiev and Western countries that it is fomenting or supporting the uprising in the east and it is uncertain how much influence Moscow can exert on the insurgents.View galleryA pro-Russian fighter from a group that calls itself „Russian Orthodox Army” guards at a c …Poroshenko’s statement gave no indication that he was planning to wind down the government’s operation against the rebels, who have continued to seize administrative buildings, police stations, border posts and garrisons across the region.At his inauguration on Saturday, Poroshenko said he would grant amnesty to any insurgents who laid down their arms and had not been involved in bloodshed, and encouraged the creation of a safe corridor for rebels to go to Russia. He ruled out negotiations with any „gangsters and killers” among them.U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who spoke to journalists briefly in Kiev on Tuesday, praised Poroshenko’s plan to resolve the conflict and promised that $48 million pledged by Vice President Joe Biden to Kiev on Sunday would be used „in eastern Ukraine in conjunction with the president’s peace plan.”__Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.
US urges Ukraine to work with UN on civilian corridors
Washington (AFP) – The United States called on Kiev’s new leaders Tuesday to work with the United Nations and other aid groups as it seeks to allow civilians to flee eastern Ukraine.Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met demands from Moscow and ordered the establishment of humanitarian corridors to provide safe passage out of the areas caught up in fighting.”Their goal here is to explore options to remove civilians from harm’s way,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, adding Kiev’s top priority was „the safety of its citizens.””We are encouraging them with this or any other related effort to work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations to plan for any internally displaced persons,” she added.Fighting has raged as the Ukrainian authorities have sought to wrest back control of towns seized by pro-Russian separatists, with most battles primarily taking place along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Slavyansk.Rights groups have questioned whether Ukraine’s growing reliance on artillery fire in Slavyansk, under rebel control since April, and neighboring towns is entirely justified.But Psaki said „the Ukrainian government has every right to take steps to promote calm and stability on the ground.”She could not predict whether opening civilian corridors was a way of allowing people to flee ahead of a stepped-up government assault, after Poroshenko vowed to stop the fighting this week.”They’re dealing with a range of armed separatists on the ground who are posing a threat to the safety and security of their own people,” Psaki said.
Germany urges Russia, Ukraine to work together on border control
ST PETERSBURG Russia (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on both Russia and Ukraine to better control their common border ahead of a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.”(It is about ensuring) there is common border management in some form,” said Steinmeier shortly before the meeting, which will also include Poland’s foreign minister.Steinmeier added that the situation in eastern Ukraine must be stabilized and that it was important to ensure a substantial exchange develops between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko.The two met briefly in France last week at a World War Two anniversary event.On Monday, Ukraine said it had reached a „mutual understanding” with Moscow on parts of a plan proposed by Poroshenko for ending violence in the east of the country.The Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski emphasized his worries about the situation in eastern Ukraine.”We will explain to our Russian colleague the concern that we feel in the European Union at the destabilization of eastern Ukraine,” said Sikorski before the talks.Scores of people have been killed since April in eastern Ukraine, including separatists and government forces. But fighting has ebbed in the past few days despite renewed shelling of rebels in the city of Slaviansk.(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Madeline Chambers in Berlin; Editing by Noah Barkin)
Ukraine says repulses separatist mortar attacks
In a three-hour battle near the airport of Kramatorsk, rebels attacked the army with mortars but government forces returned fire, destroying their position and killing 40 „mercenaries”, said the spokesman, Vladyslav Seleznyov.This figure could not be independently confirmed and there was no immediate word from the side of the separatists.In Slaviansk, just north of Kramatorsk, two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded when rebels, who control the city, attacked an army position on the perimeter using grenade-launchers.In Luhansk, on the border with Russia, separatist fighters opened fire on the airport and nearby Ukrainian army positions.”The attack of the (separatist) fighters was repelled by special force units. There are no losses on the Ukrainian side,” said Seleznyov.Separatist rebellions broke out in Russian-speaking regions of eastern Ukraine in April after street protests in the capital Kiev toppled a Moscow-backed president. Scores of separatists, members of government forces and civilians have been killed.Kiev has accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest and allowing mercenaries from Russia to cross the long border with consignments of arms to support the rebels. Moscow denies this.„SAFETY CORRIDOR”-Ukraine’s newly-elected pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, who took office on Saturday, has pledged to end the fighting while promising to address the legitimate grievances of people in the east, by for example granting them greater autonomy and guaranteeing the status of the Russian language.Ukraine said on Monday it had reached a „mutual understanding” with Russia on parts of a peace plan proposed by Poroshenko, though it gave no details and Moscow made no direct comment on the issue.However, the overnight clashes demonstrated the continuing high tensions in the hot spots of eastern Ukraine.In a separate initiative, Poroshenko ordered security chiefs to establish a „safety corridor” to help civilians caught up in the fighting to leave the area if they wished, his press service said on Tuesday.Poroshenko also told the government to organize medical assistance to civilians in areas at risk and to send in mobile units to deliver drinking water, food and medical supplies.(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)
The deaths were a fresh reminder that the conflict is nowhere near over for some U.S. troops, who will keep fighting for at least two more years.Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the five American troops were killed Monday „during a security operation in southern Afghanistan.””Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen,” Kirby said in a statement.In Washington, U.S. defense officials said the five Americans were with a special operations unit that they did not identify. Earlier, officials had said all five were special operations-qualified troops, but later an official said their exact affiliation was unclear and one or more may have been a conventional soldier working with the special operations unit.The deaths occurred during a joint operation of Afghan and NATO forces in the Arghandab district of southern Zabul province ahead of Saturday’s presidential runoff election, said provincial police chief Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Rooghlawanay. After the operation was over, the troops came under attack from the Taliban and called in air support, he said.”Unfortunately five NATO soldiers and one Afghan army officer were killed mistakenly by NATO airstrike,” Rooghlawanay said.View galleryAn Afghan policeman stands near a destroyed NATO supply truck in Behsud district of Jalalabad east o …There was no way to independently confirm Rooghlawanay’s comments. The coalition would not comment and NATO headquarters in Brussels also declined to comment.However, special operations forces often come under fire on joint operations and are responsible for calling in air support when needed. Because of constraints placed by President Hamid Karzai, such airstrikes are usually called „in extremis,” when troops fear they are about to be killed.Airstrikes have long caused tensions between the Afghan government and coalition forces, especially when they cause civilian casualties.Airstrikes that kill coalition soldiers are far less common. One of the worst such incidents came in April 2002, when four Canadian soldiers were killed by an American F-16 jet fighter that dropped a bomb on a group of troops during a night firing exercise in southern Kandahar. In April 2004, former National Football League player Pat Tillman was killed by coalition fire while serving in an Army Ranger unit in one of the most highly publicized cases.Relatives identified two of the five American troops killed Monday.One of those killed was 19-year-old Aaron Toppen of Mokena, Illinois, who had deployed to Afghanistan in March, a month after his father died, according to a family spokeswoman, Jennie Swartz. His family was suffering a „double hit” of grief, Toppen’s sister, Amanda Gralewski, told the Chicago Sun-Times.View galleryAfghan security personal surround the area after Taliban fighters stormed a government building in J …A cousin said military representatives went to the home of Justin Helton’s parents in Beaver, Ohio, early Tuesday to inform them of their son’s death. Mindy Helton said her cousin specialized in dealing with explosives and was based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She said the 25-year-old Helton had been in Afghanistan for about two months and was engaged to be married.The Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday’s ambush in Zabul.A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said a battle took place between foreign troops and Taliban fighters in the Arghandab district, and a „huge number” of NATO soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims.The insurgents have intensified attacks on Afghan and foreign forces ahead of Saturday’s presidential runoff, and officials are concerned there could be more violence around the time of the vote, although the first round in April passed relatively peacefully.Of the 30,000 or so U.S. troops left in Afghanistan, special operations forces are among the only ones that are active on the battlefield, mentoring and advising Afghan commandos during raids.An even smaller group that operates independently of the NATO coalition mandate, which expires at the end of the year, goes after high-value targets including the remnants of al-Qaida. Many of those special forces are likely to remain after the end of 2014, when foreign combat troops leave the country.5 U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED BY POSSIBLE FRIENDLY FIRE Play VideoAlthough the U.S. has pledged 9,800 troops will remain until the end of 2016, a bilateral security agreement allowing them to do so has yet to be signed. The two candidates vying to succeed Karzai have said they will sign the deal.Most of those troops will be training and advising the Afghan army and police, but a small counterterrorism force will still go after high value Jihadists still in the country.The main opposition candidate, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has little love for the Taliban and is unlikely to stand in the way of such operations. The other contender, former finance minister and Karzai adviser Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, may be more reticent.Separately, a NATO statement said a service member died Monday as a result of a non-battle injury in eastern Afghanistan.The deaths bring to 36 the number of NATO soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, with eight service members killed in June.Casualties have been falling in the U.S.-led military coalition as its forces pull back to allow the Afghan army and police to fight the Taliban insurgency. All combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from the country by the end of this year.Violence against Afghans, however, has continued unabated.Insurgents attacked two vehicles carrying civilian de-miners in eastern Logar province, killing eight and wounding three, said provincial spokesman Din Mohammad Darwesh.In eastern Ghazni province, insurgents kidnapped 33 university instructors who were travelling to Kabul for a seminar. Kandahar provincial spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal said the 33 were taken by a large group of insurgents and there was no word on their fate. He said all were from the southern province._Quinn contributed from Cairo. Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.
Spurs’ record half has them up 21 over Heat
Kawhi Leonard made his first six shots and scored 18 points for the Spurs after two quiet games in San Antonio. Danny Green added 13, going 6 for 6, as San Antonio finished 25 of 33.The previous best half was by the Orlando Magic, who went 24 of 32 (75 percent) against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009.LeBron James scored 16 points for the Heat, who made 56 percent but were at risk of getting blown out of their own building because of the Spurs’ ruthless execution.Returning to the arena where they were oh-so-close to winning a fifth championship last year, the Spurs came out playing like they were trying to build a lead that was impossible to blow.They shot 13 of 15 in building a 41-25 lead after one, then hit their first six shots in front of a stunned crowd in Miami while going ahead by as much as 25.View gallerySan Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) and guard Danny Green (4) defend Miami Heat forward LeBr …Leonard scored only 18 points in the first two games, looking frustrated while getting into foul trouble trying to defend James in Game 2. But he had his outside shot working early, and the effect on the Spurs’ offense was obvious.The NBA Finals were back along the shores of Biscayne Bay for the fourth straight year, as much a part of the late-spring scene in Miami as beaches and boats. The last three NBA seasons ended right in this building, the last two followed by championship parades.The local fans were being forced to watch a clinic by the Spurs, who closed the first half with a 9-2 burst after Miami tried to get back into it by closing to a 14-point deficit.Coach Erik Spoelstra said he would keep communicating with James in Game 2 to make sure there were no lingering problems from the cramps that forced him to miss the final minutes of the opener.But there was no way he could rest James early because James was the only one keeping the Heat in the game. He had 14 of their first 20 points, but even James couldn’t keep up with the Spurs’ pace.
Why China Is Angry About a Game of Beach Volleyball Vietnam and the Philippines put their differences aside to present a united front against China.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, right, greets Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.By Mark C. Eades + More China has been angry before, but never about volleyball.Vietnamese and Philippine troops gathered on a disputed island in the South China Sea on Sunday to drink beer and play beach volleyball in a show of unity that has enraged Beijing. The gathering took place on Southwest Cay in the Spratly Islands, disputed between Vietnam, the Philippines and China. This show of unity between Vietnam and the Philippines in the face of growing Chinese aggression produced a quick reaction from Beijing.”Don’t you think this small move together by Vietnam and the Philippines is at most a clumsy farce?” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a daily press briefing on Monday. „China has irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and the seas nearby. … We demand that Vietnam and the Philippines stop any behavior that picks quarrels and causes trouble … and not do anything to complicate or magnify the dispute.”[READ: China Learned All the Wrong Lessons From Tiananmen]China’s „irrefutable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and the rest of the South China Sea is, of course, quite refutable. China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea based on its unilaterally-declared „nine-dash line,” a claim unrecognized by anyone but the Chinese themselves. Never mind — China will make up its own version of reality as it goes along, based on China’s own preferences without regard to what the rest of the world thinks. China is a master at creating works of pure geopolitical fiction, then convincing itself that that these are „irrefutable” facts. The trouble is, China can’t convince anyone else.Despite their own competing claims on Southwest Cay and other islands, Vietnam and the Philippines put aside their differences in the face of what the two Southeast Asian nations increasingly see as a far greater threat from China. The two have agreed to expand naval cooperation, and Vietnam recently expressed interest in a case for international arbitration filed by the Philippines against China. Both countries have also strengthened ties with the United States, irritating China. This fits a general pattern of Asia-Pacific nations pulling closer together and into closer cooperation with the United States for fear of Chinese aggression. To China, however, it is its Asia-Pacific neighbors and the United States that are guilty of „picking quarrels and causing trouble.” Poor China is only an innocent victim of others’ troublemaking.[READ: Sanctioning China, Saving Lives]Tensions have risen between China and Vietnam since China recently placed a massive oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands off Vietnam’s coast. China has accused Vietnam of sending ships and divers to disrupt its drilling operations, while Vietnam has accused China of threatening its vessels near the rig. „The two sides are testing each others’ resolve to see who will blink first,” said security analyst Alexander Vuving. „China is in a position to show it has more resolve than Vietnam. This is part of China’s overall strategy of turning the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. Once China can control the South China Sea, it can dominate the maritime areas of the western Pacific.”China has taken its case to the United Nations, accusing Vietnam of illegally disrupting Chinese drilling operations and ramming its ships. The Paracel Islands „are an inherent part of China’s territory,” said China’s complaint to the UN, „over which there is no dispute.” Once more, China makes up its own facts as it goes along, claiming as „indisputable” that which is eminently disputable.Tensions have also risen between China and the Philippines over islands that China claims are an „indisputable” part of Chinese territory. Beijing has accused the Philippines of being „a determined challenger of Chinese national interests and the devoted hatchet man of foreign anti-China forces,” the latter a clear reference to Manila’s increasingly close relationship with Washington.[SEE: Cartoons on Chinese Hacking]Now China is angry about a game of beach volleyball. This will not make it any easier for the rest of us to take China seriously as a world power.
Merkel berät mit Juncker-Gegnern über Zukunft der EU-Kommission
“The country has to do some soul-searching about this,” Obama said gravely in a town-hall question-and-answer session led by Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp in the White House’s State Dining Room.“This is becoming the norm. And we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me,” he said. “I am prepared to work with anybody, including responsible sportsmen and gun owners, to craft some solutions. But right now, it’s not even possible to get even the mildest restrictions through Congress. And we should be ashamed of that.”Obama, who did not stifle his profoundly emotional response to the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, lamented that politicians “terrified of the NRA” have blocked limited responses such as tougher background checks.“I have been in Washington for a while now, and most things don’t surprise me. The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me,” he told a roomful of Tumblr users. (Yahoo acquired Tumblr on May 20, 2013.)“I’ve got two and a half years left. My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage,” the president said. “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this.”Fresh from his 2012 re-election, Obama pushed hard for a modest package of measures to curb gun violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook killings. But that effort failed in the face of a vigorous NRA lobbying effort that rallied bipartisan opposition.Rather than target his anger at Congress, Obama on Tuesday pleaded with Americans.“The only thing that’s going to change is public opinion. If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change,” he admonished. “I’ve initiated over 20 executive actions to try to tighten up some of the rules and the laws, but the bottom line is … we don’t have enough tools right now to really make as big of a dent as we need to.”Obama underlined that Australia had sharply tightened its gun laws and has not had a mass shooting in recent years. „We have a different tradition. We have a Second Amendment. We have historically respected gun rights. I respect gun rights,” he insisted.But America needs “a fundamental shift in public opinion” and for voters inclined to back tougher gun restrictions to be as passionate as those who champion gun rights, the president said.“Until that’s a view that people feel passionately about and are willing to go after folks who don’t vote reflecting those values — until that happens, sadly, not much is going to change,” he said.Obama also took issue with those who argue that the problem is less guns than mental illness.“The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people,” he said. “And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else. Well, what’s the difference? The difference is … these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses. And that’s sort of par for the course.”
Obama has tough love for young people in Tumblr student loan chat ‘You know, work is not always fun’
Obama told the audience of Tumblr users gathered at the White House that despite skyrocketing tuition costs, college is still worth it for most people.“Is this a good investment? It absolutely is,” the president said in response to a question from a Tumblr user about sky-high loans. “It continues to be a very smart investment for you to go to college.”But the president also added that college is not for everyone and suggested that some young people might prefer to try trade school. He also said they should remain “practical” about choosing a career that will actually pay off their loans.“I worked for a year in a job I wasn’t interested in, because I wanted to pay off my loans,” he said of his time at a law firm. “You know, work is not always fun. And you can’t always follow your bliss right away.”The discussion was moderated from the White House by the microblogging site’s 27-year-old founder, David Karp. Karp, who founded Tumblr at age 21, skipped college in favor of the startup world.But the president said other young people should not follow in Karp’s shoes.“You wouldn’t know it looking at you, but you’re like LeBron or Durant,” Obama said, referring to the NBA stars. He said students shouldn’t bank on becoming superstars without a college degree.Obama appeared to be the most moved by a question from a Tumblr user that veered from the topic of college loans to ask what the country can do about shootings that take place on school campuses around the country.“My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage,” Obama said. “We’re the only developed country where this happens. … It happens once a week. And it’s a one-day story.”The president said he is astonished that the Sandy Hook shootings a year and a half ago did not result in a change in gun laws. (A bill to strengthen background checks failed in the Senate last year.)“I have been in Washington for a while now, and most things don’t surprise me. The fact that 20 6-year-olds were gunned down in the most violent fashion possible and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me,” Obama said, referring to Washington, D.C.He added: “The country has to do some soul-searching about this.”Tumblr solicited questions from its users — 40 percent of whom are between 18 and 34 years old — beginning last Thursday for the discussion. Yahoo acquired Tumblr on May 20, 2013. Ahead of the chat, the president expanded a program so that millions more borrowers can qualify for lower monthly payments, capped at 10 percent of their income. And he used part of the discussion to stump for a bill introduced this week by Senate Democrats, which would allow many borrowers to refinance their old student debts.Critics of the bill and the president’s executive action say they don’t do enough to address the root problem: higher education’s skyrocketing cost. Obama didn’t discuss specific ways colleges could keep costs down, but said he has urged college presidents to tackle that problem. The president often says he wants the country to lead the world in the share of the population that has a four-year degree by 2020. But lightning-fast increases in tuition, especially at public institutions, have made it more challenging for low-income and middle-class young people to go to college. By this spring, average college debt will reach $30,000. The total amount of outstanding student debt passed $1 trillion last year.The president has held “White House Socials” before, answering questions on Twitter, Reddit and other platforms. This was his first time using Tumblr for such an event.
Egypt’s ultraconservative Islamists back Sisi, seek to eclipse Brotherhood
ABU HOMOS Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt’s ultra-conservative Islamist Al Nour party is voicing interest in joining President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new government as part of a strategy to replace the banned Moslem Brotherhood as the country’s most influential Islamist movement.Al Nour chief Younes Makhyoun, who enjoys strong support in Egypt’s poor cities and slum areas where Sisi’s liberal-leaning allies are weak, said in an interview with Reuters his party’s strategy would be to „help Sisi in his rule”. He backed the former general when the army toppled the Brotherhood last year.When asked if his party would be willing to take up a post in Sisi’s new government, Makhyoun, said: “Very likely and I expect so if God is willing.” “We are ready and we don’t mind any opportunity to present through it something for Egypt. It is a national duty to seek that. I would not mind joining the president as a consultant on his team or in the coming cabinet if he offered us so.”Sisi has indicated he will show little tolerance for political Islam in a country where leaders with military backgrounds have battled militants for decades.But political and security officials say he might see advantages to engaging them in some form after parliamentary elections expected in few months provide a clear view of the country’s political landscape.Sisi could need broader support in moving to crush militants who have stepped up attacks on soldiers and police since the former army chief deposed President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood last year after mass protests against his rule.For now, security officials said, Sisi needs technocrats to fix a soaring budget deficit and education and health problems.KINGMAKERS-The Salafists, whose doctrine asks followers to obey the ruler of their country, have already asserted some influence. In the aftermath of Mursi’s ouster, they became kingmakers, blocking, in one instance, the nomination of a prime minister.Opposing Sisi would be a risky affair for any political movement, not least one of an Islamist stripe. Security forces killed hundreds of Brotherhood members in street protests, arrested thousands of others and put its leaders on trial.View galleryEgyptians celebrate after the swearing-in ceremony of President elect Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, in fron …Al Nour appears to be betting that favour from following its support for Sisi will help it remain relevant, and safe, in a country where repression against Islamists has reached unprecedented levels.Al Nour came second after the Brotherhood in the 2012 parliamentary election with 20 percent of the vote.Makhyoun acknowledged that allegations that Mursi usurped power, imposed the Brotherhood’s views on society and mismanaged the economy tarnished Egypt’s Islamists in general.”There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood made major mistakes when they were in power and that they affected us,” Makhyoun said, talking in his villa in the poor village of Abu Homos, north of Cairo.”It had affected us negatively. Our power now on the street is different to how it was after the Jan. 25th revolution,” he added, referring to the 2011 popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and brought Mursi to power.But the Brotherhood’s demise has also given Nour the chance to become the dominant Islamist group.The Nour party is formed mostly from religious preachers and popular Salafi scholars. It is unclear where it gets money to fund mosques, charities and branches across Egypt.But some analysts said it could be getting a financial aid from similar groups in wealthy Gulf Arab States.FLEXIBILITY-The party’s flexibility has contributed to its survival, avoiding politics then embracing it to manoeuvre in Egypt’s volatile and polarised political climate.Sisi offered rare praise of an Islamist grouping when he commended what he called Al Nour’s nationalism.But comments in television interviews during the election campaign offered strong hints that he would show no tolerance for overly-ambitious Islamists, saying there is no such thing as a religious state – challenging a central Islamist concept.Makhyoun, a soft-spoken dentist with a long beard, did not seem disturbed by Sisi’s remarks. ”He was talking about the practices of a certain group that used religion to reach power,” he said, in a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.In order to survive Egypt’s upheaval, Al Nour was nimble. The party first welcomed Mursi; then when mass protests against his rule erupted, it switched sides.These days it endorses the state’s campaign against fellow Islamists, the Brotherhood. Human rights groups say there are now over 16,000 political detainees in Egypt.”We first need to build the state’s institutes and reach stability then fix any such violations,” said Makhyoun, who worked as a religious preacher for 40 years.”We know that the Egyptians are religious, love Islam and its Sharia laws and in time and by us being close to the people on the streets, our situation and image will be enhanced.””I think the situation is moving in the right direction.”
Russia’s FSB says bomb attacks foiled in Moscow, Crimea
Brazil’s World Cup preparations have stoked countless protests from those angered by the billions spent on the event while the quality of public services in the health, education, security and transport spheres is lacking.In a pre-taped speech aired during prime time Tuesday night, Rousseff called on all Brazilians to back the national team regardless of their political persuasion or whether they fully agree with the nation hosting the event.”I’m certain that in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people, and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal,” she said, referring to sharp drops in poverty that Brazil has seen in the past decade under Workers Party leadership.Rousseff also defended the $11.5 billion spent on the Cup. Three out of every four Brazilians polled say they are convinced that corruption has tinged the myriad works related to the Cup.An Associated Press investigation earlier this year found that big construction firms responsible for building the bulk of the stadiums, roads and other works had dramatically increased their campaign contributions since Brazil was named as the host of this year’s Cup.Much of that money was funneled to Rousseff’s ruling Workers Party though spending also went to the opposition. In one case, top builder Andrade Gutierrez, which has helped build or renovate four stadiums, hiked campaign contributions 500-fold from one election to the next after it was determined which 12 cities would host matches.That stoked anger and increased suspicions about collusion between politicians and the big builders — especially after reports from government auditors began to surface, indicating massive cost overruns along with allegations of price-gouging, principally in the building of stadiums. For instance, the cost of the stadium in Brasilia, a city with no major professional soccer team, has nearly tripled to $900 million from original price estimates published by the government.”Have no doubt, the accounts of the Cup are being meticulously analyzed by auditing agencies,” Rousseff said. „If there exists any irregularity, those responsible will receive the maximum punishment.”About half of Brazilians polled have said they’re against even hosting the World Cup and the mood is mixed about the event just days before it starts. That was once unthinkable for a nation that embodies soccer like no other, the country that has won the World Cup a record five times.However, many Cup watchers also think that if the Brazilian team gets on a roll and starts winning, the mood could quickly pivot and the nation could show the world a celebration worthy of its international reputation as a land of free-wheeling festivals and easy going, friendly people.Rousseff said that „for any nation, organizing a Cup is like taking part in a tough — and many times painful — game.”The leader rebuked those who argue Brazil has spent too much on the Cup, saying that since 2010, the government has spent more than 200 times what it invested in stadiums on education and health care systems.Adding to fears of chaos during the Cup, subway worker unions in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro were both expected to announce decisions soon on whether they would call transportation strikes for the coming days.Rousseff, whose poll numbers are slipping ahead of an October political election, concluded her speech by urging all Brazilians to rally around their team, whom she addressed directly.”Beneath those green and canary jerseys, you embody a powerful legacy of the Brazilian people. The national team represents nationality,” she said. „It’s above governments, parties and interests of any group.”_Follow Bradley Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks