GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Saturday to join talks on Iran’s contested nuclear program with Tehran and six world powers appearing on the verge of a breakthrough to defuse the decade-old standoff.The Chinese, Russian, French, British and German foreign ministers – Wang Yi, Sergei Lavrov, Laurent Fabius, William Hague and Guido Westerwelle – also prepared to take part in the push to seal an interim deal under which Iran would curb its nuclear work in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.Diplomats said a formidable sticking point in the intense negotiations, which began on Wednesday, may have been overcome with compromise language that does not explicitly recognize Iran’s claim to a „right to enrich” uranium but acknowledges all countries’ right to their own civilian nuclear energy.But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Iran’s demand to continue construction of a heavy-water reactor near Arak that could, when operational, yield bomb-grade plutonium remained one of the main outstanding issues.Ryabkov said a breakthrough was closer now than at the November 7-9 round of Geneva talks but, he told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency, „unfortunately I can’t say that there is a certainty of reaching that breakthrough.””It’s not a done deal. There’s a realistic chance but there’s a lot of work to do,” Germany’s Westerwelle told reporters.The powers’ goal is to cap Iran’s nuclear energy program, which has a history of evading U.N. inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran of refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs rather than electricity.”We are close to a deal but still differences over two-three issues remain,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbar Araqchi, a senior negotiator.A senior European diplomat had told reporters earlier that foreign ministers of the six states would come to Geneva only if there was a consummated agreement to sign.An interim accord on confidence-building steps would be designed to start a cautious process of detente with Iran after decades of estrangement, and banish the specter of a devastating Middle East war over its nuclear quest.The draft deal would have Iran suspend some sensitive nuclear activities, above all medium-level enrichment, in exchange for the release of some of many billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts, and renewed trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and aircraft parts.The United States might also agree to relax pressure on other countries not to buy Iranian oil. Tehran has made clear it wants a more significant dilution of the sanctions blocking its oil exports and use of the international banking system.France’s Fabius, who objected to what he felt was a one-side offer to Iran floated at the November 7-9 negotiating round, appeared guarded on arrival in Geneva early on Saturday.”I hope we can reach a deal, but a solid deal. I am here to work on that,” he said. France has consistently taken a tough line over Iran’s nuclear program, helping Paris cultivate closer ties with Tehran’s adversaries in Israel and the Gulf.TALKS AT „FINAL MOMENT”?-Kerry left for Geneva „with the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.Echoing optimism that a deal was close, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying the talks „have reached the final moment”.The United States and other Western powers say there is no such thing under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a „right to enrich”, but Iran has viewed this as a matter of national sovereignty and crucial to any deal.Diplomats said new, compromise wording on the table did not explicitly recognize a right to produce nuclear fuel by any country. „If you speak about the right to a peaceful nuclear program, that’s open to interpretation,” a diplomat said.Iran also wants relief from sanctions that have severely damaged its oil-dependent economy in return for any nuclear concessions it makes that could allay the West’s suspicions about its stockpiling of enriched uranium.For the powers, an interim deal would mandate a halt to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to a purity of 20 percent – a major technical step towards the bomb threshold, more sweeping U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran and an Arak reactor shutdown.If a preliminary agreement is reached, it would run for six months that would provide time for the powers and Tehran to hammer out a broader, longer-term settlement.Diplomacy on Tehran’s nuclear aspirations has revived remarkably since the election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as president in June on promises of winning sanctions relief and diminishing Iran’s international isolation.The sides have struggled to wrap up a deal, however, bogged down in politically vexed details and hampered by long-standing mutual mistrust.„CHRISTMAS PRESENT”–The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is covertly trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.Israel pursued its public campaign against the offer of respite from sanctions for Iran, voicing its conviction that all this would achieve would be more time for Iran to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told local media in Moscow that Iran was essentially given an „unbelievable Christmas present – the capacity to maintain this breakout capability for practically no concessions at all.”(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Louis Charbonneau, Justyna Pawlak, Fredrik Dahl and Katya Golubkova in Geneva, Marcus George in Dubai, John Ruwitch in Shanghai, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem, Hortense de Roffignac in Paris, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
View galleryHouse Speaker John Boehner attempts to sign up for healthcare on the DC Health Link in Washington, in …By Roberta Rampton and Sharon BegleyRelated Stories
(Reuters) – The Obama administration announced a flurry of fixes to its troubled HealthCare.gov website on Friday that officials said would soon double its current capacity, a crucial step toward getting the system working by a November 30 deadline.It also pushed back a deadline for people to enroll in insurance plans for 2014 under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in a nod to millions of applicants who have been unable to sign up because of technical glitches for nearly two months.The healthcare reform, popularly known as Obamacare, aims to provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans. Obama’s biggest domestic policy achievement, however, has now become one of the biggest political crises of his presidency as polls show Americans increasingly souring on the reform.As a result, the administration is in a race against time to fix the website, an online insurance exchange, that is central to Obamacare. People need to make decisions on healthcare plans in December if they want insurance in place by January.People needing health insurance by January 1, 2014 will have eight extra days to sign up, officials said. The original deadline for year-end coverage was December 15, but now will be moved to December 23.Jeffrey Zients, the troubleshooter named by Obama to oversee fixes to HealthCare.gov told reporters on Friday that the website will soon be able to handle 50,000 simultaneous users – twice its current capacity, and up from fewer than 1,000 in the days after its botched launch on Oct 1.The website will be able to handle 800,000 people per day by the end of November, Zients said, largely because of more than 300 software and other fixes made to the site in the past seven weeks, and because of a doubling in the system’s hardware capacity, which will happen this weekend.DIRECT ENROLLMENT–View gallery.”A busy screen is shown on the laptop of a Certified Application Counselor as he attempted to enroll …Some of the technical fixes will allow insurance companies to more easily directly enroll consumers in health plans, a senior administration official said.The administration will run a pilot program for direct enrollment in three states with large numbers of uninsured people – Texas, Florida and Ohio – and use the results to expand the availability of the „direct enrollment” option.”We do believe that it’s substantial. We’re looking at hundreds of thousands of people who we believe may well opt to do this,” the official told Reuters.Insurance companies worked with the administration to address the technical challenges in the direct enrollment option, said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group.”Getting direct enrollment working will enable health plans to do what they do best, and that’s enroll people in coverage,” Zirkelbach said.Greg Thompson, a spokesman for Health Care Service Corporation, which operates health plans including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, said he did not immediately know whether the Texas plan would participate in the pilot project.”We are looking at a variety of ways that people can have access to enrollment,” Thompson said. „We want to make sure it can happen both on and off the exchanges.”DELAY FOR YEAR TWO–Officials were adamant that they have no plans to extend the ultimate deadline of March 31, 2014, the date when people without insurance must enroll in a plan or face a tax penalty.But with the first enrollment period barely off the ground, the Obama administration also has decided to delay enrollment for the second year of the program to give insurance companies more time to calculate rates, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.The delay will mean consumers will start shopping for insurance for Year Two of Obamacare on November 15, 2014 – more than a week after voters go to the polls for midterm elections, when congressional Democrats are expected to face tough questions about the policy they supported.”That means that if premiums go through the roof in the first year of Obamacare, no one will know about it until after the election,” said Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa.But Carney rejected any assertion that politics was behind the extension.”The fact is, we’re doing it because it make sense for insurers to have as clear a sense of the pool of consumers they gain in the market this year, before setting rates for next year,” Carney said.(Reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Sharon Begley in New York; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Caroline Humer and Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Fred Barbash, Ross Colvin, Grant McCool and Eric Walsh)
Kerry in Geneva for Iran nuclear talksBy DEB RIECHMANN 5 hours agoView gallerySecretary of State John Kerry listens to opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, prior to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to examine the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)Related Stories
GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading into a tough round of negotiations in Geneva where six world powers are trying to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.Kerry landed Saturday morning in the Swiss city to work on a first-step agreement that would begin to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of U.S. and international sanctions that are hurting Iran’s economy.The latest round of talks began on Wednesday, but so far there is no deal.Before he left Washington, Kerry said he had no particular expectation that an agreement could be reached this week. But after talking with top European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton on Friday, he decided to travel to Geneva to help negotiators narrow their differences.
Egypt expels Turkish ambassador, scales back ties1 hour agoCAIRO (AP) — Egypt downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey Saturday and ordered its ambassador expelled from Cairo, a sharp escalation in tensions between the two countries that have mounted since the Egyptian military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi this summer.Related Stories
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the Turkish envoy has been considered persona non grata and is being asked to leave the country because of what he described as Ankara’s continued „interference” in Egypt affairs.In reaction to the decision, Turkish President Abdullah Gul told reporters that he hoped our relations „will be restored soon.”Turkey’s Islamic-rooted ruling party had strongly backed Morsi — a leading figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — as an example for the Arab world of a democratically elected, pro-Islamic leader. It has criticized his July 3 overthrow by Egypt’s military, while also criticizing the West for what it has deemed a weak response to a military coup.Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors in August after Turkey sharply criticized Egypt’s new leaders over the ouster of Morsi. Turkey’s ambassador returned weeks later, but Egypt had declined to return its envoy to Ankara.Saturday’s decision comes after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed his criticism of Egypt’s new leaders, dismissing the trial of Morsi which opened earlier this month on charges of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, and describing on Thursday the situation in Egypt as a „humanitarian drama.””This (Turkish) leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and by supporting meetings for groups that seek to create instability in the country and by making statements that can only be described as an offense to the popular will,” the foreign ministry statement said.Egyptian officials and media have repeatedly accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of meeting in Turkey to plan protests and other ways to undermine the new government in Cairo.____AP writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report from Istanbul
Boeing warns of engine icing risk on 747-8s, DreamlinersBy Alwyn Scott and Hideyuki Sano 32 minutes agoView galleryA staff of Japan Airlines’ (JAL) walks past one of the company’s Boeing Co’s 787 Dreamliner plane at …By Alwyn Scott and Hideyuki SanoRelated Stories
SEATTLE/TOKYO (Reuters) – Boeing advised airlines on Friday about a risk of engine icing problems on its new 747-8 and 787 Dreamliner planes with engines made by General Electric, urging 15 carriers to avoid flying them near high-level thunderstorms.The warning led Japan Airlines to pull 787 Dreamliners from two international routes. Other affected airlines include Lufthansa, United Airlines, an arm of United Continental Holdings and Cathay Pacific Airlines.”Boeing and JAL share a commitment to the safety of passengers and crews on board our airplanes. We respect JAL’s decision to suspend some 787 service on specific routes,” a Boeing spokesman said.The move followed six incidents from April to November involving five 747-8s and one 787 when aircraft powered by GE’s GEnx engines suffered temporary loss of thrust while flying at high altitude.The problem was caused by a build-up of ice crystals, initially just behind the front fan, which ran through the engine, said a GE spokesman, adding that all of the aircraft landed at their planned destinations safely.View gallery.”A airport worker drives a luggage transport vehicle past one of the company’s Boeing Co’s 787 Dreaml …Boeing on Friday issued a notice prohibiting the affected aircraft from flying at high attitude within 50 nautical miles of thunderstorms that may contain ice crystals.Japan Airlines said on Saturday it will replace Dreamliners on its Tokyo-Delhi and Tokyo-Singapore flights with other types of aircraft while also dropping a plan to use 787s for its Tokyo-Sydney route from December.JAL will continue to fly 787s for other international and domestic routes, which are unlikely to be affected by cumulonimbus cloud for the time being, a company spokesman said.”The aviation industry is experiencing a growing number of ice-crystal icing encounters in recent years as the population of large commercial airliners has grown, particularly in tropical regions of the world,” the GE spokesman said.GE and Boeing are working on software modifications to the engine control system, which they will hope will eliminate the problems, he added.Both aircraft types can be powered by either GEnx engines or rival Trent 1000 engines made by Rolls-Royce Plc.(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Greg Mahlich)
Kerry, Russian FM join Iran nuclear talksBy JOHN HEILPRIN and JAMEY KEATEN 2 hours agoView gallery GENEVA (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of other major powers joined Iran nuclear talks on Saturday, throwing their weight behind a diplomatic push to complete a deal after envoys reported progress on key issues blocking an interim agreement to curb the Iranian program in return for limited sanctions relief.Related Stories
Kerry was joining foreign ministers from the five other countries — Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany — that have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program for years. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the talks had reached „the final moment,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency.Before leaving Washington, Kerry said he had no particular expectation that an agreement could be reached this week but decided to come after talking with top European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton on Friday.Germany’s Guido Westerwelle spoke of „a realistic chance, but there is still a lot of work to do.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA-Novosti news agency that negotiations were very close to a breakthrough but „unfortunately I cannot say that there is assurance of achieving this breakthrough.”French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters he wanted „a deal — but a solid deal — and I am here to work toward that end.”France’s concern that the negotiators were rushing into a flawed deal with Iran helped delay an agreement during a session nearly two weeks ago.View gallery.”EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, next to members of her delegation attends talks ov …The ministers rushed to Geneva after diplomats said Friday that Iranian Foreign Minister and Ashton, who is hosting the meeting, had made progress on a key sticking point — Iran’s claim to a right to produce nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment.Enrichment is a hot-button issue because it can be used both to make reactor fuel and to make nuclear weapons. Iran argues it is enriching only for power, and scientific and medical purposes, and says it has no interest in nuclear arms.Washington and its allies point to Tehran’s earlier efforts to hide enrichment and allege it worked on developing such weapons.Iran has insisted on that right throughout almost a decade of mostly fruitless negotiations. But Zarif last weekend indicated that Iran is ready to sign a deal that does not expressly state that claim.Iranian hard-liners are suspicious of talk of nuclear compromise since moderate President Hassan Rouhani took office in September, fearing his team will give not get enough in terms of sanctions relief over the six-months of any first-stage agreement.View gallery.”Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, attends talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Ge …Several U.S. senators — both Democrat and Republican — have voiced displeasure with the parameters of the potential agreement, arguing that the U.S. and its partners are offering too much for something short of a full freeze on uranium enrichment.On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country would never compromise on „red lines.” Since then Tehran has publicly reverted to its original stance — that the six powers must recognize uranium enrichment as Iran’s right, despite strong opposition by Israel and within the U.S. Congress.Still, comments from Iranian officials in Geneva indicated that reverting to tough talk on enrichment may be at least partially meant for home consumption.In Geneva, a senior Iranian negotiator said the Iranian claim to the right to enrich did not need to be explicitly recognized in any initial deal, despite Khamenei’s comment, adding that the supreme leader was not planning to intervene in the talks. He did suggest, however, that language on that point remained difficult and that there were other differences.The negotiator demanded anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the confidential talks.___Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and George Jahn in Geneva, and Robert H. Reid in Berlin contributed to this report.
Prince Harry lands in Antarctica for South Pole trek
London (AFP) – Britain’s Prince Harry arrived in Antarctica on Friday ahead of a gruelling trek to the South Pole with injured troops.The 29-year-old royal landed at Novo airbase, near the coast of the frozen continent, after storms delayed his departure from South Africa by two days, according to the Walking With The Wounded charity which has organised the trip.Speaking at the airbase, Harry, a helicopter gunner with the British army, said it was „nice to be here”.”The weather forecast is supposedly alright, but it seems to be getting worse,” he told Sky News.Harry is taking part in a 335-kilometre (210-mile) race to the South Pole between three teams of wounded veterans representing Britain, the United States and the Commonwealth (drawn from Australia and Canada).Once acclimatised to the altitude and freezing temperatures, the teams hope to begin the race on November 30. They aim to reach the South Pole around 18 days later.Harry, who is fourth in line to the British throne, is patron of Walking With The Wounded, which raises funds to retrain injured troops and help them find new careers outside the military.The prince joined the charity for part of a trek to the North Pole in 2011, but had to come home early to be best man at his brother Prince William’s wedding.
KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai will call for a security pact with the United States to be delayed until after an April election when he gives a closing speech to a grand assembly that will decide on the deal, his spokesman said on Saturday.With most foreign forces preparing to leave Afghanistan next year, the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States will help define the terms under which U.S. troops stay on. Without an accord, the United States could pull out all its troops at the end of 2014 and leave Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own.The United States has repeatedly said it cannot wait until the April election for Afghan approval of the pact and it must be signed by the end of this year.But Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the president would call for a delay in approval of the pact when he addresses a grand council of tribal elders and political leaders in Kabul on Sunday, when the meeting is due to end.”On the last day of the Loya Jirga, in his speech, the president will explain in full details his reasons to the people, why he wants the signing of this document to be after the elections,” Faizi told Reuters.View gallery.”Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch near a building in which the Loya Jirga (or grand cou …The dispute over the timing of the pact has overshadowed the grand assembly, known as a Loya Jirga. Delegates are widely expected to reflect Karzai’s wishes in their conclusion.Karzai wanted the United States to fulfill three conditions, including helping with next year’s election, before the deal is signed, Faizi said. He also wanted peace and security to prevail and help with peace talks with the Taliban, he said.In his opening speech to the assembly, Karzai said the deal was in the country’s best interest but he then threw it into doubt with the suggestion it should be signed after April.The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Karzai by telephone on Friday night and stressed the deal was needed promptly so Afghanistan’s allies could begin preparations for a post-2014 military presence, Faizi said.Karzai, for his part, reiterated his intention to wait until after the election, in which he is not eligible to stand.View gallery.”Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch near a building in which the Loya Jirga (or grand cou …Karzai has led Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.„NO MORE OPERATIONS ON HOMES”–While backed by the United States, Karzai has often had a tense relationship with the U.S. government.U.S. officials express frustration with his frequent about-faces and occasional denunciations of the U.S.-led NATO force helping Afghanistan fight the Taliban.U.S. missteps, including the killing of Afghan civilians, have put Karzai in a difficult political spot.View gallery.”A member of the Loya Jirga, or grand council, walks at a corridor to attend a committee session in K …In his conversation with Kerry, Karzai also complained about the killing of two Afghans by U.S. special forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Tuesday, Faizi said.”President Karzai insisted on the Afghanistan stance that no more military operations should be conducted on Afghan homes,” Faizi said.The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed an operation had taken place, but said those killed were insurgents.Raids on Afghan homes by U.S. forces have been one of the thorniest issues holding up the deal, which the two governments have wrangled over for about a year. Karzai eventually conceded U.S. troops be allowed into Afghan homes under exceptional circumstances.Another important concession won by the United States was immunity for its troops from Afghan prosecution.Karzai called for the Loya Jirga to muster public support for a pact regarded by many Afghans with contempt.The Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and impose their vision of Islamist rule, have condemned the Loya Jirga as a farce.(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Aziz ibrahimi; Editing by Robert Birsel)
L.A. airport partly evacuated after car crash, report of armed man5 hours agoView gallery LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles International Airport was partly evacuated and some flights delayed on Friday evening after passengers mistook the noise from a car crash outside for gunfire, at around the same time as an anonymous caller reported an armed man in a terminal, officials said.The reports of an armed man and shots fired, while they appear to be false, disrupted flight operations and alarmed passengers at the California airport, one of the world’s busiest, where a gunman killed a federal security agent and wounded several others in a shooting spree on November 1.Shortly before 7:30 p.m. local time on Friday, airport police responded to a report from passengers that shots were fired at terminal 5. They found this report to be false, citing a „loud noise” produced from a multiple-vehicle traffic accident on a roadway outside the terminal, according to airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.At around the same time, an anonymous caller told airport police that there was a man with a weapon in terminal 4, Castles said. Police investigated and found that report to be false but fully evacuated the terminal so it could be searched.At least 2,000 passengers are estimated to have either fled on their own or under direction by airport police.”It was just a crazy, crazy night,” said another airport spokeswoman, Katherine Alvarado. „There was a car accident that was very loud and people thought it was gun shots. They started evacuating.”Flight operations in terminal 4 were temporarily disrupted, but were expected to resume once passengers re-entered security checkpoints and returned to their boarding gates, Castles said.Terminal 4 was secured and employees were returning to work, Castles said.Delta Air Lines, which operates out of terminal 5, and American Airlines, which operates out of terminal 4, were reporting some delayed flights, with two diversions to regional airports, but no cancellations, the airport said.(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Pravin Char)
„Thank God almighty, the tree… aged more than 150 years has been removed, after people were worshipping it instead of God,” said the source on Thursday via his Twitter account named „our call is our jihad”.He also posted pictures of a man in a black mask using an electric saw to cut down the tree. A black Al-Qaeda-style flag bearing the Islamic profession of faith had been planted on top of the tree.The jihadist sympathiser used the hashtag used by supporters of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the tree had been cut down, adding that it stood next to an ancient shrine in Atme.After jihadists took over the shrine and prevented people from going to pray there, prayers were held by the tree instead.The reports came hours after ISIL took over the town of Atme in northwestern Syria’s Idlib on Thursday, according to the Observatory and a local rebel source.ISIL „have taken over Atme… They have set up checkpoints across the town,” said Abu Leila, a rebel from Idlib who was angered by the capture.He saw it as a strategic loss for mainstream opposition fighters, many of who have been at loggerheads with the jihadists.”Atme was oxygen for the (rebel) Free Syrian Army” fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, he told AFP.The rebels had been using Atme „as an entry point for everything from weapons to food, and as an exit point for the wounded” into Turkey’s hospitals, said Abu Leila.
China creates air defence zone over Japan-controlled islandsBy AFP | AFP – 16 minutes agoView PhotoAFP/Jiji Press/AFP/File – Image taken on September 15, 2010 shows the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in ChinaView PhotoA Japan coastguard handout photo taken on November 2, 2013 shows a Chinese ccoastguard …Tokyo branded as „very dangerous” a move by Beijing Saturday to set up an „air defence identification zone” over an area that includes disputed islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by China.In a move that raised the temperature of a bitter territorial row between the two countries, China’s defence ministry said that it was setting up the zone to „guard against potential air threats”.It later scrambled air force jets, including fighter planes, to carry out a patrol mission Saturday in the newly established zone.The outline of the zone, which is shown on the Chinese defence ministry website and a state media Twitter account (pic.twitter.com/4a2vC6PH8O), covers a wide area of the East China Sea between South Korea and Taiwan that includes airspace above the Tokyo-controlled islands known as the Senkaku to Japan and Diaoyu to China.Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese foreign ministry’s Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, lodged a protest by phone to Han Zhiqiang, minister at the Chinese Embassy in Japan, the ministry said in a statement.He said Japan could „never accept the zone set up by China” as it includes the Tokyo-controlled islands, the statement said.Ihara also told the Chinese side that such move by Beijing would „escalate” current bilateral tensions over the islands, branding it „very dangerous”.Japan’s vice foreign minister Akitaka Saiki plans to summon the Chinese ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, as early as possible on Monday and state Japan’s position on the matter, Kyodo news agency reported.Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said the establishment of the zone, which became operational on Saturday morning, was aimed at „safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial land and air security, and maintaining flight order”.”It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defence rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace,” Yang said in a statement on the ministry’s website Saturday.”China will take timely measures to deal with air threats and unidentified flying objects from the sea, including identification, monitoring, control and disposition, and it hopes all relevant sides positively cooperate and jointly maintain flying safety,” he said.Along with the creation of the zone in the East China Sea, the defence ministry released a set of aircraft identification rules that must be followed by all planes entering the area, under penalty of intervention by the military.Aircraft are expected to provide their flight plan, clearly mark their nationality, and maintain two-way radio communication allowing them to „respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries” from Chinese authorities.Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, said late Saturday that it had conducted a patrol of the area using early warning aircraft and fighters.”The patrol is in line with international common practices, and the normal flight of international flights will not be affected,” Shen said.Four Chinese coastguard boats briefly entered Senkaku waters on Friday, following multiple incursions at the end of October and start of November which revived tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said in late October that the repeated incursions were a threat to peace and fell in a „‘grey zone’ (between) peacetime and an emergency situation”.He spoke after a report said Japan had drafted plans to shoot down foreign drones that encroach on its airspace if warnings to leave are ignored.The Chinese defence minister warned Japan that any bid to shoot down its drones would constitute „an act of war”.Sino-Japanese relations have remained at a low-ebb for more than a year as a result of the dispute, which was revived when Japan nationalised three of the archipelago’s five islands in September 2012.Since that time, China has sent regular coast guard patrols to the islands, which are 200 kilometres (125 miles) northeast of Taiwan and 400 kilometres west of Japan’s Okinawa.
China bolsters East China Sea claim, warns of ‘defensive measures’By John Ruwitch | Reuters – 1 hour 40 minutes agoView PhotoReuters/Reuters – A Chinese military plane Y-8 airborne early warning plane flies through airspace between Okinawa prefecture’s main island and the smaller Miyako island in southern Japan, out over the Pacific, …more By John RuwitchSHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Saturday bolstered its claim to islands that Japan says it owns, warning that it would take „defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly in airspace over them.Ties between the Asian powers have been strained for months by the dispute over the East China Sea islands, called the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, which are believed to be surrounded by energy-rich waters.China’s government-run Xinhua news agency published a map and coordinates for the newly established „East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone”, which covers most of that sea including the disputed islands.It also released Defence Ministry identification rules for aircraft in the area.”China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions,” Xinhua said.Xinhua said the rules came into force on Saturday and the air force conducted its first patrol over the zone. The patrol included early warning aircraft and fighters, it said.A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Japan lodged a severe protest at China’s embassy in Tokyo and reiterated its position that the islands belong to Japan and China’s action was not acceptable.”Setting up such airspace unilaterally escalates the situations surrounding Senkaku islands and has danger of leading to an unexpected situation,” Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.Patrol ships from both countries have been shadowing each other near the islets on and off for months, raising fears that a confrontation could develop into a clash.There have also been several incidents involving military aircraft flying close to each other. In October, Chinese military aircraft flew near Japan three days in a row, and Japan scrambled fighter jets each time in response.The new Chinese rules mean aircraft have to report flight plans to China’s Foreign Ministry or civil aviation administration, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries, keep radar transponders turned on, and bear clear markings of their nationality and registration.The Defence Ministry said it was the „administrative organ” for the zone, Xinhua said.The zone is outside China’s territorial airspace, but its establishment had a sound legal basis and accords with common international practices, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in an interview carried by Xinhua.He noted that other countries had established similar zones and said China would put more in place in future.”It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defence rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace,” Yang said.(Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Mauritania holds elections despite opposition boycott
By Hademine Ould Sadi | AFP – 2 hours 5 minutes agoView Photo
AFP/AFP/File – Mauritania’s president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (left) with Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall at Dakar airport on September 10, 2013
View PhotoOpposition parties’ supporters attend a meeting in Nouakchott on November 21, 2013, …View PhotoMessaoud Ould Boulkheir delivers a campaign speech in Nouakchott on November 21, …Mauritanians voted Saturday in nationwide elections overshadowed by a widespread boycott of opposition parties, with all eyes on the performance of an Islamist party allowed to take part for the first time.The mainly-Muslim republic, a former French colony on the west coast of the Sahara desert, is seen by the West as strategically important in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked groups within its own borders, as well in neighbouring Mali and across Africa’s Sahel region.”I think these elections today are a victory for democracy in my country,” President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said after visiting his local polling booth in Nouakchott.Around a third of Mauritania’s 3.4 million people are eligible to vote in the first parliamentary and local polls since 2006, a test of strength for Abdel Aziz five years after he came to power in a coup and four years after he won a widely contested presidential vote.His Union for the Republic (UPR) is expected to retain power but opinion is divided over whether the main Islamist party Tewassoul, only legalised in 2007, will give the favourites a run and emerge greatly strengthened by Saturday’s polls.Some 1,500 candidates from 74 parties representing the administration and the so-called „moderate” opposition are registered to vie for 147 seats in parliament and the leadership of 218 local councils dotted across the shifting sands of the vast nation.But Tewassoul is the only member of the so-called „radical” opposition, the 11-party Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD), contesting the polls after its coalition partners said they would „boycott this electoral masquerade”.The party, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, professes to hold more moderate beliefs than the country?s jihadist fringe and draws support from female voters and Mauritania’s young, urban middle-class — although it has just four seats in parliament.It describes its participation as a form of struggle against the „dictatorship” of Abdel Aziz.The UPR is the only party fielding candidates in every constituency, making it a strong favourite over Tewassoul, its closest rival, and the People’s Progressive Alliance of parliament leader Messaoud Ould Boulkheir.Observers in Nouakchott are split over whether the elections will give Tewassoul a major boost or stymie the nascent party.The polls are also a test for the rest of the COD, which says election day will „intensify the political crisis in the country” and expects a „relatively large” proportion of the electorate to heed its boycott call.Ahmed Ould Daddah, one of the main leaders of the „radical” opposition, warned on Tuesday that the UPR was „about to commit fraud as it did in the 2009 presidential election”.Following independence from France and the ensuing one-party government of Moktar Ould Daddah, deposed in 1978, Mauritania had a series of military rulers until its first multi-party election in 1992.Abdel Aziz seized power in a 2008 coup and was elected a year later, but the COD has never accepted his rule as legitimate and demanded he make way for a neutral leader to administer the vote.”We made the necessary effort to ensure that everyone could participate in these elections but, unfortunately, not all the parties were involved,” the president said casting his ballot.”I think, unfortunately for them, they missed an opportunity, an important date, because they find themselves in a situation where they will be absent from the National Assembly and therefore the political debate.”The „moderate” opposition includes the three-party Coordination for a Peaceful Alternative, a key player in Mauritania’s nascent democratic process responsible for negotiating the establishment of an independent electoral commission.It was also behind a move to increase the number of seats in the National Assembly from 95 to the current 147 level and a change in the law which outlawed coups and punished slavery, which is nevertheless still practised in Mauritania.