Fighting rages around airport in eastern Ukraine By MSTYSLAV CHERNOV10 hours ago Reuters Videos Black smoke rises over Donetsk airport Around The Globe DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian rebels pressed Friday to seize a key airport in eastern Ukraine despite fierce resistance by government forces.Related Stories
An AP reporter on Friday saw three rebel tanks firing their cannons at the main terminal of Donetsk airport, where government forces have holed up. Sniper shots rang around the area.Rebels have made some gains in the area near the airport, seizing some buildings on its fringes and using them to target the main terminal.Fighting for the airport has intensified this week, threatening to derail the truce declared Sept. 5. A follow-up deal which called for both parties to pull back their artillery to create a buffer zone hasn’t been implemented.”Since the ceasefire was signed on September 5th, continued violence has killed well over 200 people, many of them innocent men, women and children,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington. „We call on all parties to take all feasible precautions to prevent the loss of innocent life, comply with international humanitarian law, and respect the facilities of humanitarian organizations.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov early Friday, expressing his concern about the intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine, she added.View galleryA pro-Russian rebel tank rolls to take position near to the airport in the town of Donetsk, eastern …Kiev and the West have asserted that Moscow is fueling the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine by providing arms and personnel, something Russia denies.Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, told reporters Friday that „it is evident that Russia demonstrates little resolve to fully comply with obligations under the Minsk arrangements.”He said Russia still regularly shells Ukrainian military and civilian areas and the failure to follow the agreement „would be absolutely disastrous.””So far, positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been shelled about 800 times,” he said. „As a result of these attacks, about 40 Ukrainian servicemen were killed and about 200 wounded.”The pro-Russian rebels, in turn, have accused the Ukrainian government forces of breaching the truce and shelling residential areas of Donetsk.View galleryA Pro-Russian rebel prepares his sniper rifle for action near the airport, in the town of Donetsk, e …Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said two Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and another nine wounded since Thursday. He said that Ukrainian forces at the airport have undergone rotation and firmly stood their ground.The airport, located just north of Donetsk, the largest city in the east, gives the Ukrainian forces a convenient vantage point to target rebel positions. Its loss would be a major blow to Ukraine and would also allow the rebels to receive large cargo planes with supplies in addition to truck convoys from Russia.Residential areas in Donetsk have been caught in the crossfire. A Red Cross staffer died Thursday when a shell landed near the group’s office in Donetsk.A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement late Thursday, saying the aid worker’s death, along with the shelling of a school that killed three people earlier this week, „underscore the fragility of the current cease-fire and the importance of ensuring a secure environment in south-eastern Ukraine that will allow humanitarian actors to carry out their work and deliver critical assistance to those most in need.”_Cara Anna in New York and Mathew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Teach English, not Russian in Ukraine schools: president7 hours agoView photo Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he answers questions during a press conference in Kiev, on September 25, 2014 (AFP Photo/Genya Savilov)Related Stories
Lviv (Ukraine) (AFP) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday risked further angering the Kremlin by suggesting that English lessons replace Russian ones in schools to improve the country’s standard of living.”English should become the second language to be taught in schools,” Poroshenko said on a visit to Lviv, a nationalist bastion of political support for the new pro-Western leader where Russian speakers make up a minority.”There is a connection between people’s standard of living and their level of knowledge of English,” he said. „The more Ukrainians speak English, the better off Ukraine will be.”Russian has historically been the second language in Ukraine, a country linguistically split into the Ukrainian-speaking west and Russian-speaking east, where pro-Moscow separatists have declared independence in two regions.The ousted Kremlin-backed leader, Viktor Yanukovych, signed a law in 2012 that ensured that Russian could be spoken freely in the east, a decision that angered nationalist politicians.Despite calls to repeal the law after a pro-EU uprising established new leadership in Kiev in February, the new leadership has decided to preserve Russian language rights in the east.Moscow has accused Kiev of „genocide” against Russian speakers in the industrial rustbelt, where a five-month insurgency has cost more than 3,200 lives. The Ukrainian government says that Russia has masterminded the violence in an attempt to prevent Ukraine from integrating with the West.
Latvia holds election with Ukraine on its mindBy RAYYAN SABET-PARRY22 hours ago Wochit Latvia Heads To Election Under Shadow Of Assertive Russia Latvia Heads To Election Under Shadow Of Assertive Russia RIGA, Latvia (AP) — The Ukraine crisis looms large over Latvia’s parliamentary election on Saturday as the Baltic country worries over how best to deal with resurgent neighbor Russia. Here’s a look at some of the key issues for the nation of 2 million:EMBRACE MOSCOW OR STEER CLEAR? Alarmed by Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, Latvia’s center-right coalition government has welcomed the buildup of NATO forces in the region as protection against Russia. But the opposition Harmony Party, a left-leaning group supported mainly by the country’s Russian-speaking minority, wants to balance Latvia’s Western orientation with stronger links to Moscow.”I, as a person of Russian ethnicity, find it easier to talk about certain practical matters in Moscow than, for example, in Berlin or Washington,” Harmony leader Nils Usakovs told the Latvian news agency LETA.Though Harmony is currently first in the polls, comments like those are likely to keep it from being invited to coalition talks by other parties, who fear that Moscow wants to pull the Baltic region back into its orbit.LATVIA’S LARGE RUSSIAN MINORITY View galleryLatvian voters cast advance ballots at a high school in Riga on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. The Baltic c …After regaining independence in 1991 following five decades of Soviet occupation, Latvia and Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia turned west and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. Western integration always had less appeal for the countries’ Russian minorities, however.About one-third of Latvia’s people speak Russian as their native language. Many of them aren’t even Latvian citizens because they cannot — or don’t want to — meet Latvian citizenship requirements, including speaking Latvian.”I was born and raised in Latvia, I don’t understand why I have to take a citizenship test if I was born here,” said Julian Beryukov, a 62-year-old from Riga who two years ago decided to apply for Russian citizenship instead.Although Usakovs and his Harmony Party say they want to bridge the divide in Latvian society, they’re viewed with suspicion by many ethnic Latvians. Former defense and foreign minister Artis Pabriks has warned that giving Harmony or smaller, pro-Russia parties greater influence will set Latvia backward.”It will undermine everything. It’s not acceptable,” said Pabriks, now a member of the European Parliament.WELCOMING NATO’S LONG SHADOW At its recent summit in Wales, NATO promised to increase its presence in the Baltics. Thousands of NATO troops will rotate around the region to send a strong signal for Russia to back off. More Russian warships and jets, meanwhile, have been observed near Latvian territory.Kalris Zalans, a 28-year-old IT specialist and ethnic Latvian, said he fears a Ukraine-style scenario — where a chunk of the country is annexed — could happen in Latvia. He hopes that residents will vote for any party but the pro-Russian ones.”In a perfect world, Latvia could work with Russia and the EU. But in today’s world, Russia doesn’t act like that,” Zalans said. „Russia will try to do what they did in Ukraine to Latvia.”
How the Secret Service’s problems became a secret in Washington Getting absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 meant the Secret Service director has not publicly discussed the agency’s budget with Congress in a decade.By Meredith Shiner 8 hours ago View photo WSJ White House correspondent Carol Lee discusses the factors that led to the resignation of Secret Service director Julia Pierson. Photo: AP In April 2003 then-U.S. Secret Service Director W. Ralph Basham submitted 11,451 words of written public testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, the powerful congressional panel charged with controlling the federal government’s wallet. That chapter-size report to Congress outlined the agency’s financial needs, as well as details on how that money would be spent.Related Stories
One month later, he went before the Senate Appropriations Committee to again detail the operational needs of the government body charged with protecting the president and major public officials.Those dual appearances more than a decade ago would be the last time a Secret Service director would testify in an open session before the most influential committees of Congress.Though they are not formal oversight committees, appropriations committees have provided critical monitoring and oversight of government agencies during the annual budgeting process, as agency directors and Cabinet secretaries are called on to explain what they are doing and justify any requests for more money.“We come before you today during what is truly a momentous period for the Secret Service. For the first time in the 138 years of our existence, the Secret Service is no longer a part of the Department of the Treasury,” Basham told Congress back in 2003. “On March 1, 2003, pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, our agency and all of its functions and assets were transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security.” That switch of jurisdiction, from Treasury to the bureaucratic behemoth of Homeland Security, would throw a cloak of secrecy over the Secret Service’s financial needs, performance and areas in need of improvement. Henceforth, public information about what was happening at the Secret Service would be much harder to find, bursting into view only when there was a failure or an embarrassing scandal.Once characterized by public conversations between the director of the agency and elected members of Congress, over the past decade the dialogue of the Secret Service and Congress has mostly happened either at a staff level or behind closed doors.There has not been significant change in the funding given the agency in recent years — no major top-line increases or cuts, despite fiscal belt-tightening across the government.According to figures provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee, over the past five fiscal years, the Secret Service has received a constant level of funding from Congress. Between fiscal years 2010 and 2015, Congress appropriated $1.4 billion to just over $1.6 billion each year. But it’s not entirely clear how those funds are directed within the agency, and congressional staffers reached for this story did not have publicly available breakdowns of money directed toward the Secret Service’s role fighting counterfeiting, as opposed to protecting Washington’s most powerful and visible politicians.Back when the director appeared in public congressional hearings, he would testify how much money went toward maintaining security personnel vs. how much funding was needed to oversee its “investigative program,” which covers such areas as counterfeiting, computer crime, identity theft and global financial crimes. The director even went so far as to detail to Congress how the agency planned to diversify its staff to include more female and minority agents.These days the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to a panel aide, hears from the agency mostly at a staff level, while an aide for House Appropriations confirmed that members heard from the Secret Service for this fiscal year in a closed-door briefing that was not made public “due to security sensitivities.”In public hearings with secretaries of Homeland Security, the issues facing the Secret Service have been treated as a tiny part of a giant policy portfolio, and the secretaries spent very little time discussing the service in these on-the-record meetings with appropriations members.Asked about why the operations of the Secret Service are now too “sensitive” to reveal publicly when they were not in 2003, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.The lack of open, high-level Secret Service relationships on the Hill was apparent earlier this week, when embattled director Julia Pierson resigned after stumbling through a brutal, hours-long hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And while the bipartisan uproar over recent security breaches — from a fence jumper who entered the White House to a unvetted security contractor who carried a gun into an elevator with the president in Atlanta — could lead to further charged oversight hearings, there are no indications that the Appropriations Committees will restore the tradition of public Secret Service budget requests.The Secret Service may be getting a change in leadership in acting director Joseph Clancy (or his permanent, confirmed replacement), but so long as the agency doesn’t have to openly discuss its budget before Congress, the public will be largely left in the dark as to whether reforms are being made and how much they may cost.
Tensions surge in Hong Kong protests amid scuffles, signs of backlashBy John Ruwitch and Clare Jim1 hour agoView galleryAnti-Occupy Central protesters stand behind a police cordon on Nathan Road at Hong Kong’s Mongkok …By John Ruwitch and Clare Jim Related Stories
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Fresh scuffles broke out on Saturday between Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and opponents of the week-long demonstrations, reigniting concerns that the Chinese-controlled city’s worst unrest in decades could take a violent turn.The protests have been largely peaceful since police last Sunday fired tear gas at crowds demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong the unfettered right to choose its own leader. But the mood turned ugly on Friday at the most volatile protest site, in the teeming suburb of Mong Kok where some criminal gangs are suspected to be based.Police intervened to prevent a violent escalation, but a rowdy crowd of around 2,000 filled a major intersection in the small hours of Saturday and the atmosphere was highly charged as police in riot gear tried to keep them under control.Witnesses said about a thousand protesters faced off in Mong Kok at mid-morning on Saturday, although there were no uniformed police in sight.Pro-democracy activists vowed to hold their ground through the weekend. „We will retreat after that if the situation gets worse, such as if mobs start flashing their knives at us,” said Daniel Tang, who is in his 30s.View galleryPro-democracy protesters line up to protect their tent from being demolished by anti-Occupy Central …Student activists, established protest groups and ordinary Hong Kongers have joined forces to present Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.Tens of thousands of protesters have staged sit-ins across Hong Kong over the past week, demanding the city’s pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun-ying step down and China reverse a decision in August to handpick the candidates for a 2017 election.Police said they had arrested 19 men since Friday, with local state-owned broadcaster RTHK saying eight of them were suspected members of Triads, or Chinese criminal gangs. Eighteen people were injured, including six police officers, according to the RTHK report.One of the main student groups behind the „Occupy Central” protest movement said it would pull out of planned talks with the Hong Kong government, because it believed authorities had colluded in the attacks on demonstrators in Mong Kok.”The government and police today connived in the attack by Triads … on peaceful occupiers, so they have shut the way to dialogue and must bear the consequences,” the Hong Kong Federation of Students said in a strongly worded statement.View galleryA pro-democracy protester (C) is grabbed by an anti-Occupy Central protester (R) at Hong Kong’s …The notorious Triads operate bars, nightclubs and massage parlors across Mong Kok, an area of high-rise apartment blocks across the harbor from the main protest areas.Witnesses said anti-Triad police wearing trademark black vests were active in the area on Friday.At times over the past week, police have left the streets, saying they wanted to ease tensions, though the reason for their apparent absence from this scene on Saturday morning was unclear.Police have defended their handling of fighting in the area, saying they had exercised „dignity and restraint and tried our best to keep the situation under control”.But Amnesty International issued a statement criticizing them for „(failing) in their duty to protect hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy protesters from attacks by counter demonstrators.”View galleryProtesters hold umbrellas in front of railings as police stand guard outside Hong Kong’s Chief E …PROTESTS „BUT A DAYDREAM” The ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, in a front page editorial on Saturday, praised Hong Kong police for their restraint in the face of what it said was lawless protests, including „poking” of police with umbrellas.”A democratic society should respect the opinions of the minority, but it does not mean those minorities have the right to resort to illegal means,” it wrote.The protests will never spill over into the rest of China, the newspaper added.”For the minority of people who want to foment a ‘color revolution’ on the mainland by way of Hong Kong, this is but a daydream.”View galleryA pro-democracy protester (C) bleeds in the month as he is escorted by the police after being beaten …Facing separatist unrest in far-flung and resource-rich Tibet and Xinjiang, Beijing is standing firm on Hong Kong, fearful that calls for democracy there could spread to the mainland, especially if successful.STANDOFF Demonstrations across Hong Kong have ebbed and flowed since last Sunday, when police used pepper spray, tear gas and batons to break them up in the worst unrest in Hong Kong since the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.At times, tens of thousands of people gathered to block roads and buildings in central areas, bringing them to a virtual standstill.Earlier this week, Leung rejected protesters’ demands to resign, and he and his Chinese government allies made clear they would not back down.He did, however, offer talks with leaders of the movement.China rules Hong Kong through a „one country, two systems” formula underpinned by the Basic Law, which accords Hong Kong some autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and has universal suffrage as an eventual goal.But Beijing decreed on Aug. 31 it would vet candidates who want to run for chief executive at an election in 2017, angering democracy activists, who took to the streets.(Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu, Clare Baldwin, Joseph Campbell, Donny Kwok, James Pomfret, Bobby Yip, Irene Jay Liu, Farah Master, Diana Chan, Kinling Lo, Twinnie Sui, Venus Wu and Jason Subler in HONG KONG, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Mike Collett-White & Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall & Kim Coghill)
Sweden to recognise Palestinian state, US urges cautionBy Camille Bas-Wohlert8 hours agoStockholm (AFP) – Sweden’s new prime minister announced Friday that the country will recognise a Palestinian state, becoming the first EU member in Western Europe to do so.Related Stories
Social Democrat leader Stefan Loefven — who won last month’s general election — said the Nordic country wanted to bolster a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Washington reacted quickly calling Stockholm’s recognition „premature”, while Palestinians cheered the decision as „courageous” and urged the rest of the European Union to follow suit.”A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and the will to co-exist peacefully,” Loefven said in his inaugural address to parliament.This should take place with respect for the „legitimate demands of the Palestinians and the Israelis as regards their right to self-determination and security”, he added.Seven EU members in eastern European and the Mediterranean have already recognised a Palestinian state, namely Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.Sweden’s new prime minister Stefan Loefven addresses the press after his government declaration …But the United States cautioned against Sweden joining them.”We believe international recognition of a Palestinian state is premature,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.”We certainly support Palestinian statehood, but it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognitions by both parties.”Israelis and the Palestinians, Psaki said, must be the ones „to agree on the terms on how they live in the future two states, living side-by-side.”Sweden’s new foreign minister Margot Wallstroem told public broadcaster SR that Sweden was „in good company since 130 countries in the world have already done the same”.View gallerySaeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian negotiator, speaks during a meeting on August 11, 2014 at the League …- ‘An important signal’ -At least 112 countries have recognised a Palestinian state, according to an AFP count, although a Palestinian estimate puts the number at 134.Wallstroem said that a recognition would be „an important signal facilitating… a two-state solution”.Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the rest of the EU should follow Sweden’s example.”We hope that all countries of the European Union will take the same courageous and remarkable decision… as there is no reason not to recognise the Palestinian state,” he said in the West Bank capital of Ramallah.Loefven’s Social Democratic-Green Party coalition — which formed a minority government on Friday — is more supportive of demands for a Palestinian state than Sweden’s previous centre-right administration.The Social Democrats, the largest party in the Swedish parliament, wrote in their election manifesto that „Israel’s war crimes must be investigated and the occupation of Gaza lifted”.The party added that „Sweden and the rest of the world must actively support its (Palestine’s) work towards reconciliation”.The prime minister did not specify whether the policy would be put to a vote in parliament.Sweden’s foreign ministry declined to comment when asked by AFP if parliamentary approval was necessary.The Palestinian envoy to Sweden, Hala Husni Fariz, said in a statement that the decision „reflects the historical support of the Swedish government for freedom, dignity and human rights”.Sweden voted in favour of Palestinian observer status at the United Nations in 2012, which was granted despite opposition from the United States and other countries.The Swedish announcement coincided with the start of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the „Day of Atonement”, and an Israeli government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Why Turkey is joining fight against Islamic State without enthusiasm Turkey authorized military intervention in Iraq and Syria, including allowing ‘foreign militaries’ to launch cross-border operations from Turkey. But it still has worries.By Howard LaFranchiOctober 2, 2014 6:58 PM Malaysiakini videos Turkey pushes for more than ‘dropping tons of bombs’ on IS Turkey pushes for more than ‘dropping tons of bombs’ on IS Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States with Islamic State militants grabbing villages just across its southern border in Syria, is joining President Obama’s international coalition to fight the Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria.Related Stories
Turkey’s decision Thursday will hearten US officials – to a certain degree.What the addition of the Atlantic alliance’s only Muslim country to the ranks of anti-Islamic State countries is not likely to do is quiet Turkey’s criticisms of the anti-IS strategy – or end Turkish leaders’ ambivalence about entering a fight that looks to part of the Turkish population like a Western war on political Islam.Recommended: How much do you know about the Islamic State?Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to authorize military intervention by the country’s armed forces in Iraq and Syria. The approved resolution notably includes language authorizing “foreign militaries” to launch cross-border operations from Turkish soil.That language has the potential to allow the US to use air bases in Turkey to launch airstrikes on IS positions in Syria and Iraq.But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetorical mix of support and criticism in the run-up to the vote on military authorization suggests to many regional analysts that Turkey is not likely to join the fight with IS quickly or enthusiastically.Mr. Erdogan’s public beefs with the US strategy to “degrade and eventually destroy” IS in Iraq and Syria include what he sees as an over-reliance on airstrikes, and the absence from the strategy of any effort to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.Privately, Turkish officials worry that actions against IS will serve to reinforce Kurdish populations on both sides of the border – and Erdogan has not shied away from raising the Kurdish issue publicly.Turkey’s concerns about the region’s Kurds – who straddle the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and who have long dreamed of an independent Kurdistan – are nothing new. But the regional turmoil and a blurring of borders in the wake of the IS advance from Syria into Iraq are stoking those concerns.Kurdish fighters along the border in Syria accuse Turkey of tacitly condoning the spread of IS militants across northern Syria, while some Turks along the Syrian border openly profess a preference for the Sunni Muslim forces of IS over the Kurds.But none of these issues was enough to prompt Erdogan or a sizable number in the parliament – the vote in favor of authorizing military action was 298 to 98 – to remain on the margins of the coalition of about 40 countries pledging to join the US-led battle against IS.In the pre-vote debate Erdogan had declared that Turkey was prepared “for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism.” The vote came the same day the United Nations released a new report detailing a long list of “gross human rights abuses” IS is committing in the territory it now holds, from murder and sexual assault to trafficking in persons – primarily the selling of women into sexual slavery – forced conversions, and destruction of places of worship.At the same time, however, Erdogan called for a broader strategy to reach beyond just the struggle with IS to include efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war.But some Western leaders remain wary of where Erdogan will take Turkey under the new authorization to intervene. Last week, the Turkish leader told Obama on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting that Turkey’s contributions to the effort would be “both military and political.”But back in Turkey this week, Erdogan said in a speech that the West was becoming increasingly “anti-Islam,” as it ramps up the anti-IS effort.He also queried rhetorically why it is that the West is mobilizing against IS, which he referred to by the alternative name ISIS, after having ignored for decades the threat posed to Turkey by the Kurdish extremist separatist group, the Kurdistan Workers party, or PKK.“While the ISIS terror organization is causing turmoil in the Middle East, there has been ongoing PKK terror in my country for the last 32 years,” Erdogan said, “and yet the world was never troubled by it. Why?” he added. “Because this terror organization did not carry the name ‘Islam.’ ”US officials seem likely to remind the Turkish leader that the US has for decades stood with his country in its battle with violent Kurdish separatists, having named the PKK a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.It’s true that some voices in Washington are calling for the PKK to be de-listed – in part because the PKK has formally renounced hostilities with the Turkish government and especially in light of the role PKK fighters have played in rescuing some minority populations from IS slaughter. But US officials may refrain from mentioning the de-listing campaign as they probe the Turks on the role they’re ready to play in the anti-IS fight.
Bulgarian to vote, fate of gas pipeline in balanceBy VESELIN TOSHKOV15 hours agoView gallery SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgarians are voting Sunday in a parliamentary election that will determine whether the country continues to build a Russian gas pipeline that would give the Kremlin even more leverage over Europe’s energy market — a project the European Union opposes. Here’s a look at Bulgaria, the vote and the controversial pipeline:DIVIDED LOYALTIES The Balkan country of over 7 million is very much divided in its loyalties. Bulgaria belongs to NATO and the 28-nation European Union, but many Bulgarians feel a strong kinship to Russia, and the country’s extensive dependence on Russian oil and gas leaves it vulnerable to political meddling by the Kremlin.Opinion surveys predict the biggest vote winner will be center-right GERB party led by a former prime minister, Boyko Borisov, who says he would only continue building Bulgaria’s part of the South Stream pipeline if the EU approved. That’s a sharp contrast with the Socialists, who want the project at any price.Although Borisov’s party is expected to win the most votes, polls show it will fall short of a majority, and the 55-year-old could face an uphill battle in building a coalition government.WHAT ABOUT THAT PIPELINE?View galleryFILE – In Thursday, May 16, 2013 file photo, Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s ex-prime minister pauses, …The European Commission has pressured Bulgaria to withdraw from the South Stream project and the work has stalled. South Steam aimed to transport gas from Russia through the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then to several other European countries, including Serbia, Hungary and Austria. Moscow’s hope was to bypass Ukraine, which is now a major transport route for Russian gas.The EU opposes South Stream because Russia’s Gazprom plans to both operate the pipeline and sell the gas transported through it — a violation of the bloc’s anti-monopoly regulations.Bulgarians have displayed overwhelming public support for the South Stream project, which is expected to bring jobs to the EU’s poorest member.SOCIAL UNREST SMOLDERS First elected in a landslide victory in 2009, Borisov held power until 2013, when he resigned under the pressure of nationwide protests that turned violent at times. The protests were sparked by austerity measures, high electricity prices and allegations of corruption by officials.View galleryA pre-election poster is seen on a pole as a Roma woman arranges her carpets, on a street in the Rom …But Tihomir Bezlov, an analyst with the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, says some people received money from GERB’s political enemies to take part in the protests.”Borisov believes that he lost power in 2013 because of the Russians and must be cautious,” Bezlov said.Borisov has promised better fiscal discipline, an improvement of the country’s infrastructure and a better use of EU funds.PLENTY OF CHALLENGES AHEAD Bulgaria is struggling with corruption and a widespread disillusionment with the governing elite that is expected to result in a low turnout Sunday. A weak economic recovery is now also threatened by a Russian ban on European food imports and a major crisis in the country’s fourth largest bank.View galleryA pre-election poster of Bulgaria’s former prime minister Boyko Borisov is seen on a house as a …The Corporate Commercial Bank, or Corpbank, has been closed since it was hit by a run in June amid allegations of shady dealings by its managers, leaving about 200,000 depositors still unable to access their money. That has led to frequent street protests that factored into the July resignation of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski’s Socialist-led government.A caretaker government in charge since then has not had the authority to tackle any of the major reforms Bulgaria needs in its judiciary, educational system or health care.Political analyst Antonii Galabov expects more parties than the current four to enter parliament, which he said „reflects the deep fragmentation of Bulgarian society.””The same faces are popping up on the TV screen, promising the same good things like last time. But life is getting harder, and now they even try to get hold of people’s savings,” said Donka Stamenova, a 53-year-old nurse who says she won’t vote.__Associated Press Writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.
Kurds call to arms as Islamic State closes in on Syrian townBy Ayla Jean Yackley and Tom Perry10 hours agoView gallery Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian …
By Ayla Jean Yackley and Tom Perry Related Stories
SURUC Turkey/BEIRUT (Reuters) – The main Kurdish armed group in Syria called on its kinsmen across the region to help it stop a massacre in the Syrian town of Kobani as Islamic State militants armed with tanks edged closer on its outskirts and pummeled it with artillery fire.Islamic State’s battlefield gains in recent months have come as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have focused on other rebel groups. On Friday the army advanced on the city of Aleppo further west, threatening rebel supply lines in a potentially major reversal.U.S.-led forces have been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq but the action has done little to stop the group’s advance in northern Syria towards the Turkish border, piling pressure on Ankara to intervene.Canada said it would send fighter jets and other aircraft to take part in the U.S.-led strikes on Islamic State in Iraq for a period of up to six months.Turkey said it would do what it could to prevent Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town just over its southern border, from falling into Islamic State. It has stopped short of committing to any direct military intervention and Syria warned on Friday against any Turkish „aggression” on its territory.A statement issued by the YPG, the main Kurdish armed group, vowed „never ending” resistance to Islamic State in its advance on Kobani. „Every street and house will be a grave for them.””Our call to all the young men and women of Kurdistan … is to come to be part of this resistance.”DESTRUCTION Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kurdish forces defending Kobani, said the distance between his fighters and the insurgents was now less than one kilometer (half a mile).View gallery