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Republicans are back on offense, and more quickly than many had expected, after seeing their approval ratings plunge during last month’s partial shutdown and worrisome talk of a possible U.S. debt default.They pillory administration officials at Capitol Hill hearings. They cite the millions of people getting dropped by insurers despite President Barack Obama’s promise that it wouldn’t happen. They harp on the program’s flawed enrollment process.Now they’re relishing Obama’s apology to those who are losing health insurance plans he had repeatedly said they could keep.”If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he’ll do more than just issue a halfhearted apology on TV,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.Republicans once pinned their health care criticisms largely on computer glitches in the application and enrollment process. Today, they’re accusing Obama and congressional Democrats of much worse, including deceit and incompetence.View gallery.”FILE – In this Oct. 30, 2013, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at Boston’s historic Faneuil …Conservative groups are pouring money into ad campaigns reminding voters that many Democrats had promised Americans they could keep their current insurance policies if they wanted. In particular, Republicans hope these efforts will help them with women, who tend to vote Democratic and often make health care decisions for their families and in-laws.In the 2014 elections, „this is going to be a big issue, and it’s not going away,” said Daniel Scarpinato of the National Republican Congressional Committee. „Democrats who voted for Obamacare,” he said, „are pretty desperately running around with their hair on fire, trying to distance themselves, which they’re not going to be able to do.”The White House says canceled policies can be replaced with better coverage, sometimes at lower prices. What the administration doesn’t emphasize is that better coverage often costs more, and those looking for new policies may not qualify for the tax subsidies available under the new law.Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the GOP’s top Senate campaign group, acknowledged that Republicans took a hit last month when an angry public blamed them for the 16-day partial government shutdown.
But now, he said, „there’s a spring in the step” of party activists.View gallery.”President Barack Obama speaks about the economy, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at the Port of New Orleans. T …Potential congressional candidates „who might have been 50-50 about running for office might be a little more inclined” to plunge in, he said. Best of all, Dayspring said, the most vulnerable Democratic lawmakers have echoed Obama’s now-disproven promises about insurance cancellations and „most of them are on film doing it.”The conservative group American Crossroads already is using such film clips against Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who face re-election next year. The group is paying to place the videos on Facebook and other sites.Another conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, says it will spend $2 million in a new ad campaign tying Obama’s health care law to Hagan and Landrieu.Begich, Landrieu and Hagan were among the 16 Democratic senators who met with Obama on Wednesday, a day after two gubernatorial elections highlighted the party’s struggles with the health issue. Half of New Jersey voters and 53 percent of Virginia voters said they oppose the president’s health law. The two Democratic gubernatorial nominees won 11 percent and 14 percent of those voters, respectively.Democrat Terry McAuliffe was elected in Virginia, while Republican Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election in New Jersey.View gallery.”Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listens from the audience before …Several of the Democratic senators cited the program’s malfunction website when they urged Obama to extend the enrollment deadline for people to sign up for health insurance.Republicans must pick up six Senate seats next year to gain control for the first time in eight years. If they prevent Democrats from gaining 17 net House seats, they will sustain the GOP House majority they won in 2010.Dayspring said the law’s problems will help his party combat Democrats’ claim that Republicans are engaged in a „war on women” on matters such as access to contraceptives. His campaign committee is targeting Hagan, Landrieu and other female Democrats with messages saying „Obamacare could hurt hundreds of thousands of women,” yet these Democratic lawmakers stand by the law.Landrieu was among the first Democrats to propose legislation to let people keep their current health insurance policies even if they don’t cover newly required areas such as hospitalization, laboratory services and prenatal care.Landrieu said Louisiana voters won’t buy the GOP’s new attack lines against her and other Democratic women.”If the Republican Party does not stop talking about a bill that is already passed, signed into law” and promising „that middle-class Americans and small businesses can for the first time get private insurance that they can afford and that they can count on, they will rue the day,” she said.Republicans also are making the „Obamacare”-hurts-women argument in New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen faces re-election next year. Shaheen calls the claims absurd.The Republican Party’s basic position on health care, Shaheen said, „opposes contraceptives for women and is unwilling to provide access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest.”Now, she said, Republicans want people to believe „that the great new preventive coverage that women are going to get under the new health care law is somehow not going to be good for women and families.””It’s like being called ugly by a frog,” Shaheen said.___Follow Charles Babington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbabington
Three get life terms for Moscow airport bombing20 minutes agoView galleryPolice officers patrol outside Moscow’s Domodedovo international airport on January 24, 2011, soon after an explosio Moscow (AFP) – A Moscow region court on Monday sentenced three men to life in prison for their roles in a 2011 suicide bombing attack on a major Russian airport that killed 37 people.The January 2011 Domodedovo International Airport strike was claimed by the Caucasus Emirate movement of Islamist warlord Doku Umarov.The rebel commander is seeking to establish an Islamist republic in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus in the south of the country and has threatened to disrupt next year’s Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.Russian authorities established the identity of the suicide bomber as Magomed Yevloyev — a member of a militant group that answers to Umarov. Investigators said that his attack was plotted at a camp in Ingushetia run by a Caucasus Emirate leader Aslan Byutukayev.The Moscow regional court ordered Yevloyev’s brother Akhmed, who was accused together with Bashir Khamkoyev of hosting Yevloyev in the city of Nazran, providing him with money and putting him on a bus to Moscow, to serve a 10-year sentence in a standard-regime penal colony.The Interfax news agency reported from the courtroom that Akhmed Yevloyev denied knowing his brother had planned to attack the Moscow airport.Three others — brothers Islam and Ilez Yandiyev and Khamkhoyev — received life sentences in maximum security penal colonies on terrorism and other charges.The brothers had met Yevloyev upon arrival in Moscow and organised his transportation and lodging in the capital, the Investigative Committee said.Interfax said that Islam Yandiyev acknowledged his role in the attack and asked the court for forgiveness while Khamkhoyev denied his guilt.The report did not mention Ilez Yandiyev’s plea.
Gun violence rampant in movies for teens, study showsBy Kerry Sheridan 9 hours agoView gallery Washington (AFP) – Gun violence is on the rise in US movies and has more than tripled since 1985 in those rated as acceptable for teenagers 13 and older, according to a study out Monday.The amount of such violence seen in modern movies rated PG-13 even exceeded that in films rated R for adults in 2012, said the findings by American and Dutch university researchers in the US journal Pediatrics.The findings raise concern about the impact that seeing shootings in fictional movie scenes may have on youths in real life, since a large body of research has shown that viewing violent films can increase aggression, the researchers said.”We do not draw a direct causal link to the recent rise in school and other public shootings but the rise in gun violence in films certainly coincides with those events,” said co-author Daniel Romer, director of the Adolescent Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.Researchers found that by analyzing the number of violent sequences in 945 films — all of them picked from the top 30 films each year from 1950 to 2012 — that characters were using guns to kill people more often than they had in decades past.”Gun violence was defined as shooting a gun and hitting a living target,” said the study, noting that weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenades and artillery were not counted, nor were hunting scenes.View gallery.”A man walks by a movie theatre where ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is showing, in Silver Spring, Maryland, …They found that gun violence has been increasing in all films and more than doubled since 1950.But violence has spiked specifically in PG-13 movies, a rating that was introduced in 1985.”Since 2009 it has been as high or higher than R-rated films,” said the study.In 2012, PG-13 movies actually had more gun violence than the average among those rated R for mature audiences.That meant that the gun violence appeared on average in the top R-rated films in 2012 in about 2.15 five-minute segments per hour. In PG-13 movies, the average rate was about three five-minute segments per hour.View gallery.”Actress Milla Jovovich poses for a photo with a gun during a press conference for the promotion of ‘ …Some of the recent PG-13 movies that were analyzed for the study and „had a lot of gun violence,” according to Romer, were The Dark Knight (2008), Terminator Salvation (2009), Inception (2010), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), The Avengers (2012), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), and Taken 2 (2012).”It is interesting to contrast some of the movies that came out earlier and were rated R but that have sequels that are more recently rated PG-13,” he told AFP in an email.”These include the Terminator movies that were rated R in earlier incarnations… as well as the Die Hard series which in a more recent version, Live Free or Die Hard (2007), was rated PG-13.”Recognizing that ample research has already found that exposure to media violence can increase aggression, the research team from Ohio State University, VU (Vrije Universiteit) University Amsterdam in The Netherlands and the University of Pennsylvania decided to do the study to probe whether the presence of gun violence in films for young people could be influencing the spate of mass shootings as a result of the well-known „weapons effect,” first established in 1967.More than 50 scientific studies have since shown that the presence of a weapon can make people act more aggressively, they said.”It’s shocking how gun use has skyrocketed in movies that are often marketed directly at the teen audience,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.”It appears sex scenes are more likely to result in an R rating than scenes of violence.”The findings are „troubling,” said the study, pointing to the wealth of prior research that has shown violent media can have harmful effects on young people.”Even if youth do not use guns, the current research suggests that because of the increasing popularity of PG-13–rated films, youth are exposed to considerable gun violence in movie scripts. The mere presence of guns in these films may increase the aggressive behavior of youth,” it concluded.PG-13 movies carry the warning: „Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.”
Syria opposition accepts peace talks, says Assad must goBy Dasha Afanasieva 1 hour agoView gallery Free Syrian army fighters take up position with their weapons in the Mouazafeen neighbourhood in Deir …By Dasha Afanasieva Related Stories
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ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Syria’s Western-backed opposition agreed on Monday to attend planned peace talks in Geneva but said President Bashar al-Assad could play no part in a transitional government aimed at ending the 2-1/2-year-old civil war.The Syrian National Coalition also demanded the release of women and children from Syrian jails and an easing of military sieges of rebel-held areas as a precondition for going to Geneva.No date has yet been agreed for the peace talks, which have been repeatedly delayed by discord between Washington and Moscow and by the coalition’s failure to define its stance until now.”The coalition agreed to take part in the conference on the basis of a transfer of power to a transitional ruling authority with full powers, including the presidency, military and security,” it said in a statement after late-night talks.There could be no role for Assad „or his aides whose hands are stained with Syrian blood” in Syria’s future, it said.The United States welcomed the coalition’s decision to attend the talks and endorsed its conditions relating to prisoner releases and humanitarian access.”We will continue to work closely with our international partners, including Russia, to urge the regime to take these steps and move towards convening the Geneva conference,” a State Department spokesman said, without commenting on the coalition’s rejection of any role for Assad in any interim government.The United States and its Western and Arab allies, which have all called on Assad to step down, say last year’s Geneva agreement ruled out a future role for the president. Russia, Iran and other supporters of Assad challenge that view.Syrian National Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba had expressed willingness to attend the U.S- and Russian-sponsored talks but this was the first time the whole group had backed the idea.”BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS”—“Our position makes it clear that Geneva must result in the removal of Assad, and that Assad and his cohorts with blood on their hands have no role in any transition,” coalition vice-president Farouq Tayfour told Reuters in Istanbul.”Foreign forces must also leave the country,” he said, without specifying which forces. Sunni Muslim jihadis have flocked to Syria to fight Assad’s army, while the president has been supported by Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah fighters.Tayfour said last-minute touches were being made to the coalition declaration, but several delegates said they did not expect significant changes to the position on the Geneva talks.Assad himself, after months of steady gains on the battlefield, has given no suggestion that he is ready to step down and his ministers have repeatedly said that the government would not show up in Geneva simply to surrender power.He has also refused to talk to rebels viewed by Damascus as terrorists and said no one who backs foreign political or military intervention in Syria can sit at the negotiating table.The coalition’s envoy in France, Monzer Makhous, said almost everyone had voted for the statement, which addresses demands made by fighters on the ground. „We know very well that they should be a part of any (peace) project,” he told Reuters.The statement said the coalition would hold talks with rebels in Syria, many of whom openly despise the politicians in exile and say they represent the interest of foreign powers.A group of leading rebel brigades said two weeks ago they would charge with treason anyone who attended peace talks which did not result in an end to Assad’s rule.A rebel who uses the name Abu Nidal, from the Mustafa Brigades in Damascus, said on Monday that his group rejected the Geneva meeting, saying it „does not meet our aspirations”.The coalition statement said the Geneva talks should be based an international accord agreed in the Swiss city on June 30, 2012, which endorsed the idea of a transitional government.The statement did not refer directly to another disagreement among international powers – whether Iran should attend.The Syrian National Coalition reached the consensus decision after two days of discussions. In further talks on Monday, the coalition was expected to approve a cabinet led by Ahmed Tumeh and charged with restoring order in rebel-held areas.(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; editing by Dominic Evans and Alistair Lyon)
NATO arrests suspects in foiled Indian Ocean ship attackBy Joseph Akwiri 2 hours agoBy Joseph Akwiri MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) – Nine suspected pirates have been arrested on suspicion of trying to hijack a Danish refined oil and chemical carrier in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, NATO’s regional anti-piracy force said on Monday.Pirate attacks stemming from the Horn of Africa, notably Somalia, are at their lowest level since 2006 because of tougher ship security and more Western naval patrols. However, the last few weeks have seen an upsurge.”This incident is both a positive example of the successes of the international community in deterring piracy and a reminder that we must remain vigilant,” said Commodore Henning Amundsen, commander of the Ocean Shield force.The force said the nationality of the suspects had not been formally determined, but investigations had shown that their craft left Somalia’s southeastern coast in late October.The TORM KANSAS, owned by the Danish shipping company Torm A/S, was en route from Sikka in India to Mossel Bay in South Africa when the pirates opened fire as it passed east of Tanzania. An armed security team repelled the attackers before NATO’s Esbern Snare rushed to the scene.NATO also said another vessel, which it did not name, had come under attack three days earlier from a skiff in a similar position, but been repelled by armed security staff.Suspects detained in similar cases have been handed over for prosecution in Kenya, the Seychelles or Mauritius, although the cases are difficult and lengthy to bring to trial.The United Nations said last month that there had been 17 attacks originating in Somalia on ships in the first nine months of 2013, compared to 99 in the same period last year.However, piracy stemming from the impoverished and relatively lawless country may still cost the world economy about $18 billion a year, the World Bank said in April.Somalia is struggling to rebuild after two decades of civil war and lawlessness, and the pirates have found the seizure of ships for ransom in the Arabian Sea and off East Africa to be a lucrative business.Meanwhile, attacks on ships in the West African Gulf of Guinea have jumped by a third this year.
View galleryItaly’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta holds a news conference at the end of a European Union leaders summit …VALLETTA (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta urged the next German government on Monday to push for more growth in Europe, saying it was in Berlin’s own interest to ensure that economies across the continent pulled out of recession.Related Stories
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„The hope is that it brings economic policies which consider that recovery in Europe is a priority for Germany as well,” Letta told a news conference with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.Italy and others in southern Europe are pushing Berlin for an easing of the strict austerity imposed on them in the euro zone’s debt crisis, blaming it for their continuing struggle with recession and high unemployment.The United States last month also aimed a broadside at Germany for running a huge trade surplus at a time when other countries need its rich consumers to be buying more of their goods to bolster growth.Both Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats reject those charges as they continue talks on forming a grand coalition of the country’s two biggest parties.German economists argue it has more than halved its trade surplus with the rest of the euro zone but its critics point to a gap that is higher than even the 6 percent threshold the European Commission considers excessive.”If there is growth and stability only in Germany and the rest of Europe is left out, in the end it will be bad for Germany as well,” Letta said. „Germany’s internal stability makes sense as long as it helps growth and stability in Europe.”Letta said he would make the same point at Germany’s Social Democrat party congress later this week and at a separate conference organized by the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, is still stuck in its longest recession since World War Two.The government forecasts a 1.8 percent contraction this year before growth of 1.1 percent in 2014, though the 2014 projection is considered too upbeat by virtually all independent forecasters.On Monday Giorgio Sangalli, the head of the main retail body Confindustria, said there was no reason for optimism.”Our companies in the retail, tourism and service sectors have no strength left, from north to south, and unfortunately 2014 certainly won’t be the year of a substantial recovery,” he said at a conference in Rome.(Reporting By Steve Scherer, James Mackenzie, Roberto Landucci; editing by Patrick Graham)
France’s Hollande booed at tribute to fallen WWI soldiers2 hours agoView galleryFrance’s President Francois Hollande leaves after a ceremony to commemorate the end of the World WarPARIS (Reuters) – French police arrested about 70 people at an Armistice Day memorial ceremony on Monday after protesters who the government said were linked to the far right booed President Francois Hollande.Newscasters said it was the first time a French head of state had been jeered on November 11, which commemorates the signing of the armistice in 1918 between World War One allies and Germany.Scuffles erupted between police and the protesters as the Socialist president’s motorcade drove up the tree-lined Champs-Elysees boulevard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.Some of the protesters shouted „Hollande, step down” and „Socialist Dictator!” and Interior Minister Manuel Valls said they included members of far-right groups opposed to government policies such as same-sex marriages.”Today on the Champs-Elysees, several dozen individuals linked to the far right … did not want to respect this moment of contemplation and gathering,” Valls told reporters, describing their actions as „unacceptable”.One protester told BFM-TV the boos and gibes were targeted purely at Hollande.”I find it absolutely shameful that we don’t have the right to speak up without being arrested,” said the woman. „Saying ‘Hollande, step down’ is not offensive.””We have the impression that he’s not listening so we have to protest,” she said, without specifying why she wanted the president to resign.A CSA poll published last Friday showed Hollande’s popularity ratings, pummeled by an ailing economy, heavy taxes and other issues, at the lowest level of any president since the founding of France’s Fifth Republic 55 years ago.Protests have forced Hollande to give ground over planned tax increases, including most recently a new levy on heavy trucks that mobilized hundreds in the western region of Brittany. Hollande has now deferred but not scrapped the levy.Valls said Monday’s protesters included members of the far-right National Front, which has seen its popularity surge on the back of the widespread public discontent ahead of municipal and European elections scheduled for next year.(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Gareth Jones)
Exiled in Lebanon, Syria refugees celebrate their cuisineBy Rana Moussaoui 2 hours agoView gallery Dekwaneh (Lebanon) (AFP) – In a bustling neighbourhood outside of Lebanon’s capital Beirut, a group of Syrian refugee women are learning to translate knowledge of their regional dishes into a marketable skill.They hail from different provinces across the war-torn country, united by their exile in Lebanon, and are hoping their famed cuisine can provide both an income and empowerment.For about two months they have been participating in a food skills workship dreamed up by a Lebanese restaurant and financed by the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR with help from the Lebanese branch of the Caritas charity.In a modest basement belonging to Caritas in the Dekwaneh suburb of Beirut, Ibtissam Masto proudly shows off her „monk kibbeh” — balls of bulghur wheat seasoned with pomegranate molasses that is a speciality of Jisr al-Shughur in northwestern Idlib province.The petite young woman, wearing a black headscarf, fled several months ago from her home town, which is now better known for violence between rebels and regime troops than its culinary specialities.”I had a great life in Jisr al-Shughur before the war. I used to sing anasheed (religious songs) during marriages and funerals,” says Masto.View gallery.”Syrian refugee women prepare regional dishes at Caritas Lebanon Immigrants Centre in Beirut on Novem …”I gave lessons at a religious school and I worked in a pharmacy,” she adds, in a voice full of energy.”Here, not only am I unemployed, but my husband, who is a plumber, is diabetic and can’t work every day,” she says as she prepares the pomegranate molasses, a key ingredient in Syrian cuisine.”The idea of this workshop excited me. I hope I’ll be able to make some money.”Though their primary motivation is financial, the workshop has also given the refugees — most of whom are housewives — a way to feel useful, to forget their exile and the war, and also to get to know Syrians from across their country.Participants come from diverse regions including Idlib, northwestern Hasakeh and northern Aleppo provinces.View gallery.”Syrian refugee women prepare regional dishes at Caritas Lebanon Immigrants Centre in Beirut on Novem …For Marlene Yukhanna, an Assyrian Christian from Hasakeh, the experience has been a chance to learn Syrian specialities that were new to her.The 40-year-old mother-of-three can now whip up the Idlib dish of mahshi bulghur — eggplants stuffed with bulghur and chickpeas — and kibbeh semmayeh, which uses the spice sumac and hails from Aleppo.In exchange, she and her friend Nahrain, who both fled Hasakeh three months ago as fighting between Kurds and jihadists there intensified, have been teaching their colleagues their specialties.Among them is Assyrian kofta, pounded meat mixed with rice, parsley and tomato sauce, and kotal Mosul, a dish of cracked wheat with meat that comes from Iraq, which the Assyrian community was forced to flee in the early 20th century.Because many dishes are common to cuisines throughout the Levant, the participants have been encouraged to produce only unique regional specialities little seen elsewhere.View gallery.”Syrian refugee women prepare regional dishes at Caritas Lebanon Immigrants Centre in Beirut on Novem …”We did the same project previously with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and it worked very well,” said Jihan Shahla of Tawlet Souk al-Tayeb, the Lebanese restaurant behind the project.”We’re helping them have the ability to do something, to have an income, to build a brand image that will allow them to be sought out to cater a wedding, for example,” she added.Every participant carries with them a tale of grief.”Hasakeh became unbearable in the last few months,” said Yukhanna, who has short hair and who sports a white T-shirt.”The (jihadist) Nusra Front harassed me, demanding that I put on the veil and they destroyed my husband’s car. Then there were kidnappings.”View gallery.”
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The case showed the new lengths local smugglers will go to bring goods to market despite years of an Israeli blockade and sour relations between Egypt’s military-backed government and the Islamist group that runs Gaza.Two Gazan smugglers carried the car, a dismantled Hyundai Sonata, on a fishing boat and sailed through the coastal enclave’s waters before being intercepted by coastal forces, Gaza police spokesman Ayoub Abu Sha’ar said.The two smugglers tried to jettison their cargo, sped away from their pursuers and eventually jumped ship. They were rescued and detained by police divers who spent 10 hours bringing the car parts to the shore.”We will maintain our borders and any attempt by any people to violate will be followed up and chased,” Abu Sha’ar said.Since the overthrow of Egypt’s elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, Egyptian security forces have sealed and destroyed most of the 1,200 tunnels that used to bring food, cars and weapons into Gaza.View gallery.”Hamas naval police inspect parts of a car which they said was seized from two Palestinians who tried …Hamas largely condoned and had oversight over cross-border tunnel smuggling.Bringing in cars through the tunnels was a semi-legal trade as they were legally bought from Egyptian companies, carried on trucks and then driven into Gaza.The car being smuggled in by sea may have been stolen, not purchased. Hamas has said it would not allow smuggling by sea.Hamas officials said Egypt’s closure of tunnels had caused a severe economic crisis in Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, slowed construction, caused sharp fuel and power shortages and led to hike in prices.Relations between Hamas and Egypt’s new rulers have been tense. Cairo accuses the Islamist faction of meddling in its affairs on behalf of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, an ally of Hamas – an allegation Hamas rejects.Israel allows car imports into Gaza but at higher prices and often with daunting bureaucratic hurdles it attributes to security concerns.An Israeli military spokesman said smuggling by sea had increased recently and Israel was determined to prevent the movement of weapons.(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
UN court ruling on Cambodia-Thai land disputeBy MIKE CORDER 6 hours agoView gallery THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The United Nations’ highest court was issuing its ruling Monday on a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land surrounding a 1,000-year-old temple near the Southeast Asian neighbors’ border.Related Stories
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The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple stands in Cambodia, but Thailand says the court did not draw definitive boundaries around the World Heritage-listed site and the two countries’ armies have repeatedly clashed there in recent years.Soldiers from both countries were near the temple over the weekend ahead of the announcement of the judgment at the court’s headquarters in The Hague.Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a statement over the weekend that Thailand and Cambodia have to work together to maintain good relations, regardless of the outcome.But villagers close to the temple feared that the ruling could trigger new military clashes.In Srah Kdol, a Cmbodian village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the temple, several families had left ahead of the verdict and others had dug or were in the process of digging bunkers.View gallery.”A temple guard stands guard at the famed Preah Vihear temple near Cambodia-Thai border in Preah Vihe …Prak Samouch, 45, said she had packed and was ready to leave if there was fighting. She said she didn’t know what the ICJ was but heard about the ruling through word of mouth.”I’m not scared, because I’m used to it,” she said, adding that she last had to leave due to fighting about three years ago.The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization put the temple, perched on a rocky plateau overlooking Thailand and Cambodia, on its world heritage list in 2008.UNESCO called the temple, „an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture, in terms of plan, decoration and relationship to the spectacular landscape environment.”But, ironically, the 2008 listing — intended to help protect the site — instead led to an escalation of long-simmering tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the 1962 ownership ruling.In 2011, the court in The Hague created a demilitarized zone around the temple after fighting left about 20 dead and displaced thousands of people, but talks about withdrawing troops went nowhere.___Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang contributed from the Preah Vihear temple.
Oxfam warns DR Congo conflict far from over4 hours agoView gallery Kampala (AFP) – British charity Oxfam warned Monday that the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was far from over and said it was vital to set up a political process to address deep-seated grievances in the troubled region.Related Stories
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The Kinshasa government and the M23 rebel group which was defeated in a UN-backed offensive this month are set to sign a peace deal on Monday in what diplomats hope will be a key step in efforts to end decades of war.”With more than 30 other armed groups active in the region, the conflict is far from over,” Oxfam said in a statement, adding that civilians were being exposed to daily violence.Oxfam called on the Congolese army and the UN force in the vast central African country to „take clear steps to minimise the negative impact of operations on civilians”.”Previous operations against armed groups led to human rights violations and threatened their safety, both as a direct consequence of operations and also due to ‘reprisal attacks’ carried out by all sides,” Oxfam said.”They must learn from the outcome of previous operations and not repeat the same mistakes,” Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator in the eastern city of Goma, said in the statement.View gallery.”Jeeps full of M23 rebels drive towards the town of Sake in the east of the Democratic Republic of th …Oxfam also warned that a military solution to the armed groups alone will not address the structural causes of conflict in the region.”The government must also offer credible alternatives for those combatants who want to lay down their arms,” it said, calling on Kinshasa to set up a „strong and comprehensive disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme to provide alternatives to war and fighting”.It also emphasised the importance of a political process to address deep-seated community grievances that push local people to join and support armed groups.The M23, made up essentially of ethnic Tutsis who mutinied from the Congo army, is one of several armed groups that have terrorised the mineral-rich province of North Kivu in almost two decades of conflict.With the M23 defeated, the next priority for the UN intervention brigade is expected to be the Rwandan Hutu rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Hydraulic fracturing Brennan Linsley April 11, 2013 12:55 PMView gallery16 photos The North American energy industry’s reputation for ironclad secrecy is starting to crack as producers discover a little transparency can help save millions of dollars.That is what is motivating Continental Resources Inc, the biggest player in North Dakota’s prolific Bakken shale field, to take the unusual step of sharing its long-term drilling plans with pipeline companies. (Reuters)
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ABU DHABI/LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he hoped an agreement on Iran’s disputed nuclear program would be signed within months and London and Tehran revived diplomatic ties, signs of a warmer atmosphere between the Islamic Republic and the West.In a further indication of cooperation, the United Nations nuclear watchdog reached an agreement under which Iran will grant U.N. inspectors access to more nuclear facilities.Iran and six world powers – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China and Germany – came close to a preliminary nuclear agreement at the weekend during talks in Geneva and decided to resume negotiations on November 20 in their attempt to defuse a decade-old standoff.”This is not a race to complete just any agreement,” Kerry told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. However, he added: „Through diplomacy we have an absolute responsibility to pursue an agreement.”While saying that a deal with Iran was expected within months, Kerry tried to reassure Washington’s Arab allies and Israel that his country would not abandon them.Thumping the podium to make his point, Kerry said President Barack Obama had said „that he will continue to defend his friends and allies in this region, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, others, he will defend them against any external attack.”That is the promise of the United States and as I stand here as Secretary of State, as long as I’m Secretary of State, that is also our policy, my policy, representing the President of the United States in executing it.”The fact that a deal might be within reach after a decade of confrontation between Iran and Western powers shows the shift in the tone of Tehran’s foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June.View gallery.”Russian workers work inside a reactor building at the nuclear plant in the southwestern Iranian city …Rouhani began diplomatic moves towards a nuclear deal in order to ease sanctions that have throttled Iran’s vital oil industry and cut it off from the international banking system.On the table initially is phased, limited and reversible relief from sanctions. Iran, however, wants an early lifting of the oil and banking sanctions.Britain and Iran said they were reviving diplomatic ties two years after a mob of students attacked the British embassy in Tehran. Both sides said they were appointing a new charge d’affaires.Britain closed the embassy in 2011 after a rally against British sanctions escalated into violence and protesters scaled the walls, ransacked offices and burned buildings.MAJOR POWERS–But with a breakthrough in Geneva tantalizingly close, divisions within the powers emerged when France declined to endorse the proposal, believing it did not do enough to neutralize the risk of an Iranian atom bomb.French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius nonetheless expressed hope on Monday that a deal could be reached, although he said Tehran still had to make an effort on a few points.”We are not far from an agreement with the Iranians, but we are not there yet,” he told Europe 1 radio. „I am hopeful we will reach a good deal. We want an accord that ensures regional and international stability.”Kerry sees Iran nuclear deal in monthsPlay video.”Fabius said Iran must suspend construction of its Arak heavy-water reactor and halt uranium enrichment to a concentration of 20 percent to win a relaxation of the sanctions, a position long held by Paris.Some diplomats accused France of grandstanding during the talks at the weekend, which Fabius denied, saying Paris was not isolated but had an independent foreign policy.Kerry denied reports of rifts among the powers and suggested Iran was not ready to accept the plan at that point.The powers were „unified on Saturday when we presented a proposal to the Iranians, and the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment, they weren’t able to accept that particular thing.”A senior western diplomat said, however, that not only the French but other members of the big powers believed the deal was not yet ready despite „very intensive, very complex, very detailed and constructive negotiations”.”The collective assessment of the group was that some more time would still be needed. That was not just the assessment of the French,” the diplomat told reporters.JOINT STATEMENT–In deal agreed on Monday aimed at improving transparency in Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran will grant U.N. inspectors „managed access” to a uranium mine and a heavy water plant within three months.Under the technical accord signed by U.N. nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano in Tehran, Iran will also provide information about planned new research reactors and sites for future nuclear power plants, as well as clarify earlier statements about additional uranium enrichment facilities.The IAEA and Iran have agreed „to strengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” a joint statement distributed in Vienna said.The deal will allow inspectors access to the Gchine uranium mine and the Arak heavy water production plant.On the diplomatic front, Iran and the six powers are searching for a preliminary agreement that would cap Iran’s nuclear capacity and open up the program to U.N. inspectors. In exchange, they have offered some relief from sanctions, which Iran says does not go far enough.Under discussion is a temporary deal entailing a freeze to higher-grade uranium enrichment – which Iran bills as fuel for a medical research reactor but which is also potential material for bombs – lasting about six months.During that time, Iran and the six powers would negotiate a permanent agreement aimed at ensuring that none of Iran’s nuclear activities could be diverted towards bomb-making. Tehran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.(Additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush, Marcus George, Peter Griffiths and John Irish; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by David Stamp)
BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States and the European Union sought Monday to get past a rough patch in diplomatic relations to resume talks on a free trade deal that would grow what is already the world’s biggest business relationship.Related Stories
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Negotiators for the Obama administration and the EU say an agreement would create jobs and boost growth in the two economies, which represent almost half of global output but are still not fully recovered from recession. The trade volume in goods and services between the two economies totaled 800 billion euros ($1.08 trillion) last year.The negotiations, however, are taking place against the backdrop of European pique over reported U.S. electronic espionage of EU citizens, including high-profile leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel. The Greens in the European Parliament on Monday became the latest political group to call for the trade talks to be frozen in response.Concerns over the talks also grew last week when a Belgian court accused the EU’s top trade official of tax fraud. European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen assured reporters on Monday that Karel De Gucht’s legal troubles „will not have any impact” on the talks.But both European and U.S. officials have said the benefits of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are too great to let other issues jeopardize them. The week-long bargaining session in Brussels, which was delayed due to the U.S. government shutdown, was expected to discuss services, investment, energy and raw materials, and regulatory issues.A deal could include a reduction in tariffs. But negotiators say the biggest boon, to business and consumers alike, could come from trimming the red tape that often makes it difficult to buy and sell across the Atlantic.View gallery.”Workers adjust a billboard at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. U.S. …One European study has found that dealing with regulations and bureaucracy on the other side of the ocean can add 10 to 20 percent to the price of an imported item, like a car. TTIP could make it possible for a vehicle deemed safe for sale in Europe to be sold in the United States, or vice versa, without additional tests or adaptations being needed.According to a study co-sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, TTIP could create as many as 750,000 jobs in the United States. The European Commission estimates it would inject 120 billion euros ($161 billion) yearly into the economy of the 28-nation trade bloc, and lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”The TTIP would be the cheapest stimulus package imaginable,” the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade said in a report.Frances Burwell, the Atlantic Council’s director of Transatlantic Relations and Education Programs, said that as well as administering a welcome jolt to the American and European economies, TTIP could establish health and safety rules that would become standard not just for America and Europe, but for China and other rising economic powers.”If you look forward, the U.S. and Europe in 20 years will be a smaller part of the global economy. We need to figure out ways to stay competitive,” Burwell said an interview. „And also we need to figure out ways to reinforce the rules that have helped us to be competitive and protect the safety and security of our citizens in terms of the goods they buy, the foods they eat.”A first round of TTIP talks was held in Washington in July. Negotiators will return there the week of Dec. 16. At a minimum, the Europeans are hoping to announce results in some areas by 2014.
US seeks to pacify Israel public over Iran deal37 minutes ago IranIsraelBenjamin NetanyahuView galleryDan Shapiro (left) with US Secretary of State John Kerry at Ben Gurion airport on November 8, 2013 as Kerry arrives in Israel for a private meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP Photo/Jason Reed)Jerusalem (AFP) – US Ambassador Dan Shapiro on Monday sought to quell Israeli fears over an emerging deal with Iran, vowing that Washington would never let Tehran acquire a nuclear weapon.Related Stories
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„On this crucial issue the US and Israel share an identical agenda,” Shapiro told delegates attending the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Jerusalem.US President Barack „Obama has made it crystal clear that he will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon period, and is prepared to use all elements of our national power to ensure that we are successful,” he said.His remarks were made as the US and Israel were locked in an escalating war of words over negotiations between world powers and Iran in a bid to halt its nuclear programme, which is widely believed to be a front for developing a military capability.Diplomats have said they are closing in on an interim agreement that would freeze or curb some of Iran’s nuclear activities for as long as six months in exchange for an easing of the tight sanctions on the Islamic republic, after failing to secure a deal at weekend crunch talks in Geneva.In the past few days, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has furiously denounced the emerging agreement as „dangerous”, reaching out to world leaders and to the American public to get his point across.”Iran gives practically nothing and it gets a hell of a lot. That’s not a good deal,” Netanyahu told CBS on Sunday.”It’s a bad and dangerous deal that deals with the thing that affects our survival,” he told a conference of North American Jewish groups in Jerusalem. „And when it comes to the question of Jewish survival and the survival of the Jewish state, I will not be silenced.”On Monday he made the same point at a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders.”The common goal for ourselves, the United States, Europe, China and Russia is to stop Iran developing a military nuclear capability,” a statement from his office quoted him as saying.”I think this is the time to improve the agreement. Iran is in economic distress and it is possible to get a better deal,” he said. „Before easing sanctions we need to get a good deal, not a bad deal.”US Secretary of State John Kerry, who took part in the Geneva talks, challenged Netanyahu’s stand, saying Washington has the interests of ally Israel at heart and that he shares Netanyahu’s „deep concerns”.”But I believe the prime minister needs to recognise that no agreement has been reached about the endgame here that’s the subject of the negotiations,” he said.A delegation of US officials headed by chief negotiator Wendy Sherman visited Israel on Sunday to brief officials on the Geneva talks.Maariv newspaper reported that a senior US official told Israeli reporters that the proposed sanctions relief would be „modest” could be „revoked”.The official said that intensifying sanctions would „cause the Iranians to leave the negotiating table and accelerate their nuclear program,” according to Maariv.Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is to travel to the United States on Tuesday, with part of his trip focusing on meetings with senators and members of the US Congress over the issue.Israel, the region’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat and has said it will not be „bound” by any world deal with Tehran, refusing to rule out the threat of military action to halt it.
U.S. warship hit by technical glitch in Singapore11 hours agoView gallerySINGAPORE (Reuters) – The USS Freedom, the first of a new class of U.S. warship, developed technical problems in Singapore hours before it was to take part in a naval exercise in Brunei on the final part of its first major overseas deployment, a senior officer said on Monday.The glitch is the latest problem to hit the ship, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., after it faced electrical problems while preparing for a naval exercise with Singapore in July.Lieutenant Commander Clay Doss said the problems which arose on Sunday were minor compared to those it faced in July. He declined to comment on how much longer the ship would have to prolong its stay in Singapore as a result.The warship is the U.S. Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a class of shallow-draft vessels built to patrol coastal waters while tackling threats including mines and other systems used to deny access to big warships.In July it faced generator problems and issues with its coolant system. Navy tests also found vulnerabilities in its computer network.Top Navy officials have staunchly defended the LCS and warned lawmakers that halted funding for the ships or their equipment could drive up costs.View gallery.”The USS Freedom is moored at Changi Naval Base ahead of U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ visit …The Navy plans to buy 52 of the new LCS warships at a cost of more than $30 billion for a range of missions, including surface warfare, mine hunting and ant-submarine missions.It plans to buy some of Lockheed’s steel mono-hull design and some of an aluminum-hulled LCS trimaran design built by Australia’s Austal Ltd.Doss said the latest problems arose as the ship was conducting steering checks at Changi Naval Base while it prepared to sail to Brunei on the way to its home port in San Diego.”Although maintenance issues can sometimes cause unpredictable schedule impacts, technicians currently do not expect this problem to significantly affect Freedom’s deployment schedule,” Doss said in an email.He said a feedback cable in the port steerable waterjet stopped sending signals to a control console on the bridge that indicates the waterjet’s position. The ship is scheduled to stay in Southeast Asia for coming weeks before ending its 10-month deployment in the region.(Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Nick Macfie)
George Clooney Reveals Russell Crowe Apology and Feelings About Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio
By ABC News | ABC News Blogs – 1 hour 13 minutes agoHollywood leading man George Clooney once got an apology from actor Russell Crowe after the star said uncomplimentary things about him.In a frank and wide-ranging interview in Esquire magazine’s December issue, Clooney discussed his feelings about a number of issues and people – including fellow A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Crowe.He said Crowe „really went after (him)” in GQ magazine article a few years ago. In the article, Crowe slammed Clooney and others for using their celebrity to do commercials, Clooney said.”The truth is that [Russell Crowe] did send me a book of poems to apologize for insulting the [expletive] out of me, which he did. He picked a fight with me. He started it for no reason at all,” the „Gravity” star told Esquire. „I think he said ‘I was misquoted’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever.'”This was the first time Clooney revealed the apology from Crowe.Related: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock’s Son Bonded Over HoopsClooney, 52, also took aim at actor Leonardo DiCaprio. In the interview, he discussed playing basketball against DiCaprio and some of DiCaprio’s friends. Those friends, he said, bragged excessively about their skill and threatened to beat Clooney and his friends on the court. They didn’t. In fact, they failed miserably.”We’re all like fifty years old, and we beat them three straight: 11-0, 11-0, 11-0. And the discrepancy between their game and how they talked about their game made me think of how important it is to have someone in your life to tell you what’s what. I’m not sure if Leo has someone like that,” he said.In the same article, Clooney had nice things to say about „Ocean’s Eleven” co-star Brad Pitt for Pitt’s worked in the movie „World War Z.”He said he and Pitt met up in London after Pitt admitted that a series of re-shots for the film were tough.”And I was like,’How you holding up?’ And he took out a knife and stabbed it in the table and we drank a lot of vodka and he just said, ‘This one’s going to kill me, man,'” he said.Clooney also shared his feelings about Twitter. He doesn’t understand why celebrities would be on the microblogging site.”Because you’re going to be available to everybody … So one drunken night, you come home and you’ve had two too many drinks and you’re watching TV and somebody pisses you off, and you go ‘Ehhhhh’ and fight back. „And you go to sleep, and you wake up in the morning and your career is over. Or you’re an a**hole,” he said. „Or all the things you might think in the quiet of your drunken evening are suddenly blasted around the entire world before you wake up. I mean, when you see, like, Ashton Kutcher coming out going, you know, ‘Everybody leave Joe Paterno alone,’ or whatever he said, you just go, ‘Fifteen minutes longer and a thought process and probably you wouldn’t have done that.”New Miss Universe models million-dollar swimsuitNovember 10, 2013 8:17 AMView galleryMiss Venezuela and Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler celebrates during a press conference after the 2013 Miss Universe competition in Moscow on November 9, 2013 (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)Moscow (AFP) – Newly crowned Miss Universe, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela, took up her duties in Moscow on Sunday, twirling in a jewel-studded swimming costume valued at $1 million.Isler, 25, spoke to reporters a day after winning the title at a glitzy ceremony at a Moscow concert hall, saying she had stayed up all night talking to friends and family on the phone.”I feel very happy to share my first day as Miss Universe,” Isler said. „I’m a simple girl. I am just come to have fun, to enjoy the moment — and here I am.”She said she felt „honoured” at becoming the seventh Venezuelan Miss Universe, triumphing over 85 other women at the first competition held in Russia in its 61-year history.Isler wowed the judges including Aerosmith singer Steve Tyler with her appearances in a bikini and sparkly silver evening dress.She then won the final interview round by saying in response to a question about her greatest fear: „We should overcome all our fears and this in turn will make us much stronger.”As the new face of an Italian lingerie company, she posed in a Moscow hotel in a white cut-away swimming costume featuring an emerald pendant and swirls of diamonds and rubies, with a fur boa wrapped around the hips.”It’s very simple but very elegant, so it’s like me,” she said.The organisers of Miss Universe said the costume was sewn with 900 stones and is worth $1 million (750,000 euros).”We do have armed guards, so don’t get any ideas,” quipped the president of the Miss Universe organisation, Paula Shugart.The organisers did not make clear whether the swimsuit was for sale. Isler said she did not know what would happen to it next, but she would like to keep it.”I’m still asking: where are those guards, because I’ll run with it,” Isler joked, although her towering heels would have hindered an escape attempt from the hotel’s 20th floor.The Miss Universe competition, which began in the United States as a promotional campaign for swimwear, includes several rounds in which the contestants are judged based on their appearance in bikinis and one-piece swimsuits.
Will Elizabeth Warren challenge Hillary Clinton in 2016?By Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News 1 hour agoView gallery Will Elizabeth Warren challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016?That’s what some observers in Washington are wondering, after a profile of the Massachusetts senator published by the New Republic on Sunday („Hillary’s Nightmare?„) takes a hard look at the possibility of a Warren run for the White House.“Yeah, Hillary is running,” a former Warren aide told the magazine. “And she’ll probably win. But Elizabeth doesn’t care about winning. She doesn’t care whose turn it is.”Earlier this year, Warren co-signed a letter with other Senate Democratic women urging the former first lady, senator and secretary of state to run in 2016. But she sidestepped a direct question from the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber about the possibility of taking on Clinton in 2016.“You’ve asked me about the politics,” Warren said. “All I can do is take you back to the principle part of this. … I know what I am in Washington to do: I’m here to fight for hard-working families.”Most insiders say Clinton would be an overwhelming favorite against any Democratic primary opponent. One far-too-early poll released in July showed Clinton holds a 48-point lead over Vice President Joe Biden and a 50-point advantage over Warren among Iowa Democrats.However, former aides say the former Harvard law professor would be undeterred by polls.“She has an immense — I can’t put it in words — a sense of destiny,” one said. “If Hillary or the man on the moon is not representing her stuff and her people don’t have a seat at table, she’ll do what she can to make sure it’s represented.”Scheiber lays out Clinton’s „nightmare” like this:Any candidate who challenged Clinton would need several key assets. The candidate would almost certainly have to be a woman, given Democrats’ desire to make history again. She would have to amass huge piles of money with relatively little effort. Above all, she would have to awaken in Democratic voters an almost evangelical passion. As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.Reminder: The first votes that count in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Iowa caususes, are scheduled for early January 2016.