Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a hearing about border security by the Senate Homeland Security …BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. envoy on Wednesday after U.S. Senator John McCain called Prime Minister Viktor Orban a „neo-fascist dictator.”The United States has become increasingly critical of Orban’s government, accusing him of getting too close to Russia since East-West tensions rose over Ukraine.Hungary’s foreign minister called in Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend over McCain’s comments, made in the U.S. Senate during a political spat over the appointment of Hollywood producer Colleen Bell as U.S. Ambassador in Budapest.McCain, a Republican, told the Senate on Tuesday: „I am not against political appointees … I understand how the game is played, but … (Hungary) … is on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator, getting in bed with Vladimir Putin, and we’re going to send the producer of ‘The Bold and The Beautiful’ as the ambassador.”Bell has since been approved in the Senate and is expected to take up her position in Hungary.”The Hungarian government … rejects the words of Senator John McCain regarding the Hungarian Prime Minister and the relationship of Hungary and Russia,” Foreign Ministry State Secretary Levente Magyar told national news agency MTI.Noting Orban’s Fidesz party has won parliamentary, European, and local elections, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told MTI: „Hungarian citizens … articulated a very clear opinion that everyone ought to respect.”He added that the Hungarian embassy in Washington would contact McCain’s office to inquire about the Senator’s words and their background.McCain’s office in Washington reaffirmed to Reuters that the senator had been referring to Orban when he used the words „neo-fascist dictator.”The U.S. State Department distanced the U.S. administration from the remarks. „I think it’s no surprise that there are a number of views Senator McCain has espoused that we don’t share,” Spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular news briefing.The United States, as well as European Union partners, has also criticized Orban for what they see as weakening democratic checks and balances and attacking non-governmental organizations.(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Additional reporting by David Storey in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton, Ruth Pitchford)
Western sanctions, ruble crash hit Russians hard By LAURA MILLS7 hours ago MOSCOW (AP) — Oyster Bar built a thriving business serving mollusks to well-heeled Muscovites. Then came Western sanctions, and the restaurant was forced to rechristen itself this fall. Today, it serves up burgers and pizza under a new name: No Oyster Bar.Related Stories
Co-owner Ilya Sokhin said a Russian ban on European oyster imports hit hard, and the average check at his restaurant — a sleek new building in the famous Gorky Park — has more than halved.Russia’s economy has been battered this year by uncertainty over the conflict in Ukraine, the falling price of oil, Western sanctions and retaliatory Russian import bans. Poor and middle-class Russians are increasingly challenging government insistence that a 40 percent drop in the value of the ruble — now worth a record low of 54 to the dollar — will affect mainly the rich.Approval ratings have so far remained high for President Vladimir Putin, who has staked the reputation on Russia’s reemergence as an economic powerhouse after the turbulent 1990s. But Putin, who will give his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, faces growing anger from middle-class families and even poorer Russians as their quality of life declines.Mikhail Antonov, a 27-year-old manager at a children’s goods store, had saved up this year to drive with friends from Moscow to Germany, and spend a week visiting Christmas markets and the countryside. But the 30,000 rubles he has saved up have gone from being worth 670 euros ($830) at the start of the year to less than 450 euros ($560) today, and he has canceled the trip.”This would have been my first trip abroad and my girlfriend and I had saved up,” he said. „Now because of the situation in Europe and Ukraine, everything has gotten more expensive and our savings have been reduced to nothing.”In this photo taken on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, a customer looks at mannequins as part of the Christmas …According to Vladimir Kantorovich, vice president of Russia’s Tour Operator Association, travel abroad for the winter holidays is down 30 percent, and trips to Europe have fallen about 50 percent. On Wednesday, Russia’s flagship airline, Aeroflot, hiked its ruble-denominated prices by 15 percent.Olga Kupriyanova, a 35-year-old law professor at Moscow State University, says her family of four feels the pinch particularly when it comes to putting food on the table. Inflation is estimated to reach 10 percent by early next year, and food is rising fastest. According to the Federal Statistics Service, chicken costs 27 percent more than it did last year, pork 25 percent, and the beloved staple of buckwheat 48 percent. Russians on average spend about 30 percent of their income on food, compared with 6.7 percent in the United States.”We’ve started to economize on food, but nonetheless because of rising prices our expenses have grown by about 10 percent,” said Kupriyanova, who has replaced red meat with chicken and cut most cheese and fish out of the family’s diet.Russia’s economic woes stem from a trifecta of problems. First, oil and gas exports, which finance half of Russia’s budget, have been hit by the plummet in world markets: the global price of crude oil has fallen some 25 percent since the summer. Renaissance Capital analyst Oleg Kouzmin says if prices stay there, Russia could see its economy shrink by 3 percent next year.Second, Russia’s banks, which were slapped with sanctions this summer as a response to Moscow’s role in Ukraine, have to pay off $90 billion in external debt before the end of 2015, which is becoming harder by the day as the ruble loses value. The central bank had tried to support the ruble but after spending $29 billion in October alone it gave up and floated the currency last month.In this photo taken on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, customers walk at an Apple Premium reseller inside the …Finally, Russia banned Western meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit this summer in response to the sanctions, helping drive the steep spike in prices.On Tuesday, Russia’s economic development ministry revised its economic forecast for 2015, predicting a drop of 0.8 percent instead of 1.2 percent growth. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said the sanctions are costing Russia $40 billion a year, and falling oil prices another $90-$100 billion.Politicians and state-run television have pushed a narrative that only the rich will be affected by the depreciation of the ruble. But slowing growth and rising inflation have affected average Russians like Kupriyanova and Antonov, who both earn less than the average Moscow salary of 50,000 rubles a month, now worth about $925.”Politicians are trying to make the best of the situation, but this attacks low-income households more than middle- and high-income households,” said Konstantin Sonin, an economist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. „They spend more on consumption and food, and they are the most vulnerable.”Putin’s ratings remain high, with a recent poll by the independent Levada Center showing over 50 percent of Russians would vote for him if elections were held tomorrow. But he is coming under increasing pressure to act.One joke making the rounds on Russian social media: „What do Putin, the price of oil, and the ruble have in common? They’ll all hit 63 next year.”___Alexander Roslyakov contributed to this report.
Protests erupt in New York after jury decision in police death By Mariano Andrade45 minutes ago New York (AFP) – Demonstrators hit the streets in several areas of New York City after a grand jury declined Wednesday to charge a white police officer in the choking death of a black man, days after a similar decision sparked unrest in US cities.Related Stories
Soon after the decision by the grand jury, hundreds of protesters converged on the Rockefeller Center and in New York City’s iconic Times Square chanting „No justice, no peace,” the signature call of demonstrators already angered by a jury decision last week not to indict a white policeman in the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.Police made at least 30 arrests, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.Both cases, coupled with the death of a 12-year-old black boy who was gunned down by police officers in Ohio while handling a toy pistol in a playground, have reignited a longstanding debate in the United States about relations between law enforcement and African Americans, as well as accusations of overly aggressive policing.Following Wednesday’s jury decision, Attorney General Eric Holder said the US Justice Department will launch a federal civil rights investigation into the case of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo while being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island, a NYC borough.Holder’s announcement — which means Pantaleo could still face trial — failed to deter protesters in Times Square who waved signs with messages such as „Black lives matter,” and „Respect human lives.” Several people were arrested as they tried a sit-in near the famed Rockefeller Center by police who were out in force, an AFP reporter said.Police keep watch during a protest in Grand Central Station on December 3, 2014 after a grand jury d …There was another protest at Grand Central Terminal, where about 50 protesters lay, pretending to be dead, and on Staten Island. Small demonstrations also broke out in Harlem, Union Square and Columbus Circle, while there were similarly small but peaceful protests in Washington, DC.In New York, demonstrator Susan Schneider told AFP: „The police has impunity. They can run away whatever they do.”And when you see them on the streets, how they are equipped, it’s like war. It’s worse than in the 60s. The racism is more strong now.”- ‘An American problem’ -The July death of Garner, 43, is one of a string of high-profile, racially charged incidents in which white police officers have been accused of using unreasonable force or being too quick to fire at black suspects.Protestors shout in Grand Central Station on December 3, 2014 after a grand jury decided not to char …In brief comments following the grand jury decision, Barack Obama — the first black president of the US — addressed the inherent mistrust many African Americans have of police.”We’re seeing too many instances where people do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly,” Obama said.”In some cases, those may be misperceptions, but in some cases that’s a reality, and it is incumbent upon all of us as Americans… that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem.”The August shooting death of 18-year-old Brown by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri sparked consecutive nights of violence and became a rallying cry for African-American communities across the United States fed up with what they say is racially biased policing.A grand jury in that case also decided not to charge the white officer involved, triggering demonstrations in cities across America last week and into the weekend.Police keep watch on December 2, 2014 as workers repair a fence which surrounds a business that was …”Today’s outcome is one that many in our city did not want,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was quick to call for calm.”New York City owns a proud and powerful tradition of expressing ourselves through non-violent protest. We trust that those unhappy with today’s grand jury decision will make their views known in the same peaceful, constructive way.”- Wearable cameras for cops -A New York City medical examiner had ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused in part by the chokehold used during the arrest.De Blasio has said authorities need to address the „underlying reality” highlighted by the deaths of Brown and Garner.De Blasio, who is white, has a mixed-race son and said he is well aware of the difficulties young black people can face.”We’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police,” the mayor said.De Blasio noted that America is „dealing with centuries of racism.”Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Michael Brown’s family, said the recent incidents were undermining trust in the US justice system.”Why are police officers always given special treatment and not held accountable, especially in minority communities?” he told CNN.Meanwhile on Wednesday, New York authorities announced a pilot program to equip about three dozen police officers with body cameras to record their behavior towards the public.De Blasio hailed the tool as „one of the ways to create a real sense of transparency and accountability.”
Boeing completes test flight with ‘green diesel’ 10 hours agoThis Boeing handout photo shows the ecoDemonstrator 787 during flight testing in Seattle, Washington (AFP Photo/John D. Parker)New York (AFP) – Boeing announced Wednesday that it completed the first test flight with „green diesel,” which offers potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in aviation.A Boeing 787 dubbed the ecoDemonstrator successfully flew with 85 percent conventional fuel and 15 percent green diesel, the company said.The „green” fuel is made from vegetable oils, waste cooking oil and waste animal fats. It has previously been used for ground transportation, but not for aviation.”Green diesel offers a tremendous opportunity to make sustainable aviation biofuel more available and more affordable for our customers,” said Julie Felgar, a director of environmental strategy at Boeing’s commercial airplane unit.”We will provide data from several ecoDemonstrator flights to support efforts to approve this fuel for commercial aviation and help meet our industry’s environmental goals.”Boeing said green diesel could soon supply as much as one percent of global jet fuel demand. The aerospace giant said that with US government incentives, the fuel is near price parity with conventional jet fuel.
American automakers still barred from Iran: US December 2, 2014 4:57 PMIranians drive on a street in the capital Tehran on November 25, 2014 (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)Washington (AFP) – US car manufacturers remain barred from doing business in Iran even though European automakers are eyeing huge deals as sanctions are eased against the Islamic republic, a US official said Tuesday.France’s PSA Peugeot-Citroen was in „intense” talks about resuming production in Iran, halted since March 2012, a company representative said in Tehran on Monday at the start of the Iran Auto Show.”We are aware of this auto show,” a State Department official told AFP.”As we have said previously, we do not consider Iran open for business, though our sanctions on foreign companies doing business with Iran’s auto sector are suspended,” he said, following an interim deal with Tehran on reining in its suspect nuclear program.The official stressed, however, that even though with the easing of sanctions earlier this year foreign auto makers could seek fresh deals in Iran, „the majority of US sanctions remain in place, including the provision of most goods and services by US companies to Iran.””US companies are not permitted to engage in trade with Iran in the auto sector as a result,” he warned.”Put simply, US companies cannot do business in Iran at this time, including in or with Iran’s automotive sector.”Total Iran car production was 1.6 million in 2011, but it had halved two years later.US sanctions on the auto industry in 2013 were the main cause, on top of American and European bans on Iranian bank transactions abroad.
Egypt to criminalize ‘insulting revolutions’ 17 hours ago CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has said his office is drafting a law to criminalize insulting the uprisings that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and his Islamist successor Mohammed Morsi last year.The move intends to ease concerns on both sides of a widening rift over whether the two popular movements expressed the genuine will of Egyptians. The dispute was further stoked by a judge’s dismissal last weekend of a murder case against Mubarak over the killing of protesters.Just what would constitute an insult however was unclear, as was the timeframe for the legislation’s implementation. Such a law, however, would infringe on the freedom of expression guaranteed by the nation’s new constitution. It follows an intense, yearlong media campaign to denigrate the 2011 uprising and paint those behind it as foreign agents.Many of those who participated in the 2011 uprising also supported massive street demonstrations in June 2013 accusing Morsi of monopolizing power and demanding his resignation, but were later targeted by a crackdown that saw many of their leaders jailed.News of the draft law broke late Tuesday when the presidential palace released comments by el-Sissi to a group of young media workers. El-Sissi, who led the military ouster of Morsi in July 2013, wields legislative authority since Egypt’s last elected parliament was dissolved by a 2012 court ruling. Elections for a new legislature are due next year.Another law being drafted, according to el-Sissi, would remove the statute of limitations on graft crimes.That appeared to be in response to a weekend court ruling acquitting Mubarak, his two sons and a businessman friend of corruption charges because the alleged crime took place over 10 years ago. The prosecution alleged that the businessman, Hussein Salem, bribed the Mubaraks by selling them vastly discounted villas in a Red Sea resort. Salem, a fugitive living in Spain, was tried in absentia.
Turkey-US moving closer on Syria no-fly zone: Ankara 9 hours agoAnkara (AFP) – NATO allies Turkey and the United States are narrowing their differences over plans to create a no-fly zone along the Syrian border, the Turkish foreign minister said on Wednesday.Related Stories
However, his comments contrast with statements from the White House which suggest the two countries remain divided on how to respond to the Syria conflict.”When the idea of a no-fly zone and safe zone emerged everybody had differing views, and some did not even understand what it meant,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted by the state-run Anatolia news agency following a NATO meeting in Brussels.”But we have allies, especially the United States, who have begun to understand its importance.””I can say that our approach on this issue with the United States in particular is getting closer. We see the number of countries considering a no-fly zone or safe zone a must increasing,” Cavusoglu added.His comments, however, stood in stark contrast to messages from the United States indicating a no-fly zone was off the table for now.A photo made available by Turkish Presidential Press Service on November 22, 2014, shows US Vice Pre …On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Washington was „open to discussing a range of options with the Turks” but that establishing a no-fly zone over Syria was not under consideration „at this point”.Turkey has been pushing for a buffer zone to be backed up by a no-fly zone inside Syria to provide shelter to refugees of the three-way fight between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, rebels and Islamic State (IS) jihadists.Ties between the United States and Turkey have been strained over Ankara’s reluctance to take robust action against IS militants who have siezed control of swaths of Iraq and Syria right up to the Turkish border.Washington is pressing Ankara for the use of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to facilitate US jet strikes on IS militants.Turkey, however, has refused to succumb to the pressure, and set several conditions for playing a greater role in the US-led coalition.Those include the creation of a no-fly zone, as well as the training of moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad.Talks between US Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish leaders in Istanbul last month produced no breakthroughs on the issue. But Turkish authorities maintain both sides are working to move towards common ground.”But we are engaged in a sincere and open dialogue,” a Turkish official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.”Everyone understands each others’ concerns. We are discussing ways to resolve our differences, but we are in full agreement on final objectives.”