US official: Obama still weighing sending arms to Ukraine – By DEB RIECHMANN11 hours agoA mini van drives past a damaged Ukrainian military vehicle in Ocheretyno, eastern Ukraine, Monday, March 2, 2015. Complicating the dispute are deliveries to Ukraine’s rebel-held east, where fighting between Kiev’s forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed nearly 5,800 people. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)WASHINGTON (AP) — Both Republican and Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to support Ukraine with weapons to defend against attacks from pro-Russian rebels.”To not decide is to decide,” Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said.Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the committee that the U.S. is watching whether the so-called Minsk agreements, which led to last month’s cease-fire, are implemented. She noted that President Barack Obama and European leaders have agreed to deepening sanctions against Russia if the cease-fire agreement is further violated.”We are watching the implementation of Minsk. We do have concerns now about new firing on the ground now in the last couple of days,” she said. „I do think that the environment on whether this is implemented will affect the calculus both on the sanctions side and on the security support side.”Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming rebels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 6,000 people and forced over a million to flee their homes. The fighting began in April, a month after Russia annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.U.S. lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties have repeatedly urged Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons. Many European governments, however, oppose any U.S. move to provide military support for Ukraine’s government, fearing that might spark a wider proxy war.Nuland said says Obama has received recommendations and advice from Cabinet agencies, but that he has not yet decided on the issue of sending arms to Kiev. Nuland declined to say whether the State Department has advised the White House to send arms to Ukraine.Many members of the committee asked what is holding up the decision.”There is no shortage of the will to fight, only a shortage of defensive weapons,” Royce said.”Last week, I met with the first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament who said that his country urgently needs anti-tank weapons. … He needs radar to pinpoint enemy fire in order to do the counter battery work to suppress that artillery. And he needs communications equipment to overcome Russian jamming.”Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., agreed: „Last month I met with President (Petro) Poroshenko….His request was simple. Provide Ukraine with key weapons and military technology to defend itself. Specifically Ukraine needs light anti-tank missiles to protect itself and its rebels attacking with heavy Russian-supplied armor, not to evict the thousands of Russian troops inside Ukrainian borders.”
Russian court keeps hunger-striking Ukrainian pilot in jail By JIM HEINTZ9 hours ago MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court refused Wednesday to release a Ukrainian military officer who has been on hunger strike in a Russian prison since mid-December and has become a national hero in Ukraine.The case of 33-year-old Nadezhda Savchenko has attracted global attention in recent weeks as concerns rise about her health. Both the United States and the 28-nation European Union have urged Russia to release the woman who is seen as a symbol of heroic resistance in Ukraine and has been elected to parliament.Savchenko has been in Russian custody since June on charges that she provided guidance for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists who were covering the war between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. At the time of the attack, she served with the Aidar volunteer battalion that fights alongside the government forces in eastern Ukraine.The circumstances of her capture remain unclear. Russia’s Investigative Committee alleges Savchenko crossed into Russia voluntarily and illegally, disguised as a refugee. But Savchenko says she was captured by the separatists in eastern Ukraine and spirited across the border into Russia.Savchenko is widely lauded at home. She was well known even before her captivity because of her stint as a soldier in Iraq with a Ukrainian contingent and later as one of the nation’s few female military pilots.In the autumn after her capture, she was elected a member of the Ukrainian parliament and appointed a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, an arm of the continent’s leading human rights body. The rejected appeal asked for her to be released in order to attend a PACE session.Ukrainian jailed military officer Nadezhda Savchenko, center, escorted from a court room in Moscow, …PACE president Anne Brasseur said that „time is running out” to save Savchenko’s life, and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a decision calling for her urgent release.EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement Wednesday that after being on hunger strike for 82 days, Savchenko „faces permanent damage to her health, or death” and called again for her release on humanitarian grounds.Russian officials, in their turn, have insisted that Savchenko is not in immediate danger and if there is a serious change in her condition, she would be sent to a civilian hospital. In her court appearance Wednesday, Savchenko, wearing a red-and-white sweater, appeared glum but not disabled.In an interview with the Open Russia website this month, Savchenko said she has been consuming a compound that includes protein and lactose.”I am taking this mixture so that my brain will be the last thing to break down. Only for this,” she said.Vira Savchenko, sister of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko speaks during her interview for The Ass …Her sister, Vera Savchenko, told The Associated Press in Kiev Wednesday that Savchenko decided to continue her hunger strike until the 99th day.”This is not done out of stubbornness,” she added. „This is just the weapon she has deployed. She is standing up against the Kremlin.”Savchenko’s case has been a contentious issue in the Ukrainian conflict and in Russia-West relations. Ukraine demands that she be considered a prisoner of war, which would nominally make her eligible for the prisoner exchange taking place in stops and starts under a stumbling internationally brokered peace agreement.On Monday, the presidents of Ukraine, France and Germany appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Savchenko. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Wednesday he had written separately to Putin. But the Kremlin hasn’t responded publicly yet.Russia has insisted that Savchenko must face trial. Keeping her in custody also has given Russia leverage to repeatedly denounce Ukrainian forces as the killers of journalists.Savchenko’s sister said she was disappointed but unsurprised by Wednesday’s court ruling.”The whole world has come out in her support and yet they tell her: ‘Lay down your arms, you cannot win. They have broken others, everybody else has given up,'” Vera Savchenko said, adding her sister won’t give up. „She will hold on to the last and will be free.”_Raf Casert in Brussels, Peter Leonard in Kiev and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
A murderer and rapist’s views reflect those of many in India By MUNEEZA NAQVI16 hours ago AFP Videos Attacker shows no remorse over infamous Delhi gang-rapeNews Attacker shows no remorse over infamous Delhi gang-rape NEW DELHI (AP) — When a condemned killer said the woman he and others brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus was responsible for what had happened to her, his comments were shocking in their callousness and lack of remorse. But the underlying view has wide acceptance in India.Related Stories
Blaming women for rape is what hundreds of millions of men here are taught to believe.And the code for women in this country is simple: Dress modestly, don’t go out at night, don’t go to bars and clubs, don’t go out alone. If you break the code, you will be blamed for the consequences.When one of the four men sentenced to death for the high-profile gang rape of the woman in 2012 was quoted in a new documentary as saying „a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he was repeating something community and religious leaders in this nation of 1.2 billion routinely say.”A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. … Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes,” Mukesh Singh said in the documentary, „India’s Daughter,” meant to be shown on Sunday, International Women’s Day, in India and several other countries.But how different were the convicted rapist’s words from comments that Manohar Lal Khattar, the top elected official of Haryana state made last year?”If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way,” Khattar told reporters, „Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are Western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”The convicted rapist learned only what he has heard leaders in his community say, said Jagmati Sangwan, a women’s rights activist who heads the All India Democratic Women’s Association.British filmmaker Leslee Udwin addresses a press conference on her documentary film „India’ …”This man is just following the example our leaders are setting for our young men,” she said.In 2009 when a rightwing Hindu group attacked women in a pub in the southern state of Karnataka, then-Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa said that he wanted to „end the culture of boys and girls roaming around in malls holding hands.”Women leaders are not immune.When a female journalist was shot dead in 2008 while driving home from work well past midnight, New Delhi’s top official at the time, Sheila Dixit, make clear she partly blamed the victim.”All by herself till 3 a.m. at night in a city where people believe…you know…you should not be so adventurous,” she told reporters.It’s a view that Sangwan hears all too often.”It’s a heinous view to hold, but it’s the view of our religious leaders, our community leaders, our legislators,” she said.In this Dec. 22, 2012 file photo, protesters gather outside the Indian Presidential Palace during a …The country’s women aren’t surprised either.”A lot of Indian men think this way. They don’t have any empathy or they are brought up in such a way that they don’t feel anything for women. They feel that women are only for sex and to be thrown away,” said Bhavleen Singh, an 18-year-old student at Delhi University.Mukesh Singh, who was driving the bus for much of the time that the 23-year-old woman was being attacked, told the documentary film maker that the victim should have remained silent and allowed the rape, and that they would have spared her life.The documentary, which includes a 2013 jailhouse interview with Singh, set off government alarm bells after transcripts were released this week. On Tuesday, India’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry ordered television channels not to air the film.It remains unclear whether the government will be able to block the film but the legal wrangling will most likely delay its screening in India.The brutality, and perhaps the fact that the gang rape occurred on a moving bus in a posh New Delhi neighborhood, galvanized this country of 1.2 billion, where sexual violence is rampant.The woman and a male friend were returning home from seeing a movie at an upscale mall when they were tricked by the attackers into getting on the bus, which the men had taken out for a joyride. The attackers beat the victim’s friend and took turns raping her. They penetrated her with a rod, leaving severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later.Four men were convicted of rape and murder in an unusually fast trial for India’s chaotic justice system. A fifth man died in prison, and another attacker who was a juvenile at the time was sentenced to three years in a detention center.The four adults who went to trial confessed to the attack but later retracted their confessions, saying they’d been tortured into admitting their involvement. Legal appeals against their death sentences are pending in the Supreme Court.In response to the 2012 attack and the widespread public protests it provoked, India’s government rushed through legislation doubling prison terms for rapists to 20 years and criminalizing voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.But while laws can change quickly, mindsets do not. India’s Parliament held a stormy debate Wednesday on whether the film should be screened. Some legislators questioned how the filmmaker, who is British, had gotten into the prison to do the interview. Many, though, were uncomfortable with having India’s problems aired publicly — particularly by a foreign filmmaker.But several lawmakers, many of them women, disagreed.”What the man spoke reflects views of many men in India,” Anu Aga, a prominent businesswoman and legislator said in Parliament.”Every time a rape happens, the victim is blamed to have provoked the men. Let’s be aware of the view and not pretend all is well,” she said._Associated Press journalist Chonchui Ngashangva contributed to this report.
Concern grows for civilians as noose tightens around Tikrit By Hassan al-Obaidi9 hours ago Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP) – Concern mounted Wednesday over the fate of civilians in Tikrit where Iraqi forces were trying to trap Islamic State group jihadists on the third day of a huge offensive to retake the city.Related Stories
Around 30,000 security forces and allied fighters launched Monday the biggest anti-IS ground operation yet in Iraq, closing in on Tikrit from at least three directions.A senior commander said operations were focused on cutting supply lines of weapons and reinforcements to the jihadists, who seized the city since June.The next step will be to „surround the towns completely, suffocate them and then pounce on them,” Lieutenant General Abdel Amir al-Zaidi told AFP.Troops have still not retaken Ad-Dawr to the south and Al-Alam to the north, but some units were already on the edge of the city, military sources said.Zaidi said the operation had already secured areas further out in Salaheddin province and forcing IS fighters to regroup in urban areas.”The first phase of the battle to liberate Salaheddin was successfully completed — and in record time — by clearing the areas in the east of the province,” he said.The government advance has been slowed by car bombs, roadside bombs and sniper fire, as IS fighters retreated to urban positions but seemed unable to fight back in open areas.US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey appears before a Senate Armed Services …- Revenge killings -Government forces, Shiite militias and volunteer units have been supported by Iraqi jets and helicopters, as well as Iran.”This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.”Frankly, it would only be a problem if it resulted in sectarianism.”But sectarian-fuelled revenge killings have been a feature of past operations and rights groups expressed concern Wednesday.”We are concerned about the possible recurrence and increase of such attacks in the ongoing operations,” Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera told AFP.Some leaders and fighters have described the operation as an opportunity to avenge last June’s IS massacre of hundreds of new, mostly Shiite, recruits from the nearby base of Speicher.Some 30,000 Iraqi troops and militia are taking part in the offensive to retake the northern city of …Some Sunni tribes have been accused of taking part in the massacre, considered the worst of its kind since IS swept through Iraq’s Sunni heartland and beyond the same month.Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday when he announced the Tikrit operation that residents should turn on IS.Speaking to parliament the next day, he said that „in this battle, there is no neutral party,” arguing that anyone choosing neutrality was effectively siding with IS.”Abadi’s statement that there can be no neutrality is worrying,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.- Smugglers -Many civilians fled the cities conquered by IS last year but the group has recently prevent resident from leaving in some recent cases.A former army officer who gave his name as Abu Ahmad fled the town of Al-Alam with his wife and five children Sunday and said he had to pay a smuggler.”We left with a ‘guide’, a guy who knows the roads. We were five families, and paid him $1,000 (900 euros) each,” he said by telephone from Kirkuk.The Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk is only 100 kilometres (62 miles) away but the route they took was a huge loop through the desert that saw them cover eight times that distance.”In the time it took us to get here, I could have gone to Hajj and back,” he joked, referring to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.Tikrit, a Sunni city 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad on the Tigris River, is of both strategic and symbolic importance in Baghdad’s fight against IS.It is the hometown of former the late president Saddam Hussein, the remnants of whose Baath party have collaborated with IS.Commanders have also said Tikrit is a stepping stone toward an even more ambitious operation of retaking second city Mosul to the north, which has been IS’s main Iraqi hub.Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said after meeting his Turkish counterpart, Ismet Yilmaz, that Ankara had expressed „total willingness to help Iraq in all fields, whether in training, arming or equipment.”Turkish cargo planes delivered military equipment to Baghdad on Tuesday, the latest sign that Ankara– once accused of allowing IS to operate freely on its soil — was getting more involved in the fight against it.Speaking in Baghdad, Yilmaz claimed that „after recent intelligence cooperation, Turkey banned close to 10,000 terrorist suspects from entering Turkey. It also expelled 1,200 suspects.”
Merkel says EU focused on current Greek bailout 13 hours agoGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) and European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans in Brussels on March 4, 2015 (AFP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand)Brussels (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that the EU was focused on completing Greece’s current bailout, playing down any talk of a third rescue package for debt-hit Athens.Speaking in Brussels after talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, Merkel said work was still under way to implement the terms of last month’s deal to extend Greece’s current programme until June.”We are currently doing all that we possibly can to ensure that the second programme be successful,” Merkel told a press conference when asked about the possibility of a third Greek bailout.”The Bundestag (German parliament) has voted in favour (of an extension) so we now need to implement what was agreed in the Eurogroup” of eurozone finance ministers in February.”The Troika (of Greece’s creditors, the EU, ECB and IMF) is going to assess all of this and I think we’ve got plenty to be getting on with to make this agreement work, that’s what I want to focus on.”Juncker meanwhile said it was „premature” to talk of a new bailout to add to the 2010 and 2012 rescue packages worth a combined 240 billion euros that saved Greece from bankruptcy and leaving the euro.”I think it’s really premature to be talking in terms of a third programme, that’s speculation and I think it’s best avoided,” he said, urging Greece however to avoid any „unilateral” measures.Greece new hard-left government has repeatedly rejected talk of a third bailout, saying it wants a new deal with its creditors that would restructure its mountain of debt and which eases tough austerity measures.But speculation about a third Greek bailout has mounted in recent days with Spain insisting that it is on the cards and Greece still unable to regain access to the financial markets before its current programme expires in June.Kerry pushes back on Israeli criticism of Iran nuke talks By GEORGE JAHN and MATTHEW LEE6 hours ago MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — U.S. officials sought Wednesday to tamp down expectations of a substantial preliminary nuclear deal with Iran by the March deadline while working to move past the political dust kicked up by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of an emerging agreement’s contours.Related Stories
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was well aware of the potential nuclear danger Iran poses to countries in the region and will endorse only an agreement that seriously and verifiably crimps Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms.”We continue to be focused on reaching a good deal, the right deal, that closes off any paths that Iran could have towards fissile material for a weapon and that protects the world from the enormous threat that we all know a nuclear-armed Iran would pose,” Kerry told reporters at the end of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.The Iranian diplomat told NBC News on Wednesday, „We believe that we are very close, very close.”The sides hope to have a progress report by late March allowing them to finesse details into a final pact by June. But a senior U.S. official appeared to walk back from the significance of that first stage, describing it as only „an understanding that’s going to have to be filled out with lots of detail” by the June final target date.The official’s comments could be an attempt to stretch the interpretation of what should be achieved by March, allowing further negotiations even if nothing more is achieved than a vague declaration.Pro-Palestine demonstrators wearing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu masks and symbolic &qu …They contrast sharply with what the West laid down earlier.Justifying an extension of the talks on Nov. 24, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond of Britain — one of the five powers backing the U.S. at the talks — said he expected „an agreement on substance” by March. Western and Iranian negotiators said then they would use the time between March and June only „if necessary … to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work.”The U.S. official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department rules, said President Barack Obama will make a call on whether to continue into June once he sees the March assessment from U.S. negotiators.Playing down the prospects of any lasting damage to U.S.-Israeli ties caused by Netanyahu’s speech to the joint houses of Congress Tuesday, the U.S. official said senior Israeli officials would be briefed by secure phone by top U.S. negotiators on the latest round.Still the Netanyahu speech is likely to further embolden critics in U.S. Congress who fear the U.S. may accept terms too lenient on Iran. He told Congress Tuesday that the agreement taking shape is dangerous and would allow Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AI …Last week, senators introduced legislation to give Congress a say over any deal, and Republicans are trying to get it passed even as the talks continue.The American public appears divided. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows more than 6 in 10 Americans initially say that they favor Congress instituting new sanctions against Iran, while only 7 percent say they are opposed. Another quarter of Americans say they are neither in favor nor opposed.But the new poll also finds that 31 percent of those who initially said they support new sanctions say that Congress should hold off if the administration says it would reduce the likelihood of a future deal. In total, about 4 in 10 Americans think Congress should go forward with sanctions even over the president’s protests.The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.Netanyahu offered no alternate negotiating tactic beyond urging the U.S. to walk away from the table, a point Kerry noted Wednesday.US United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ( …If talks are successful, the deal being negotiated will „achieve the goal of proving that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain peaceful.” Kerry said. „No one has presented a more viable lasting alternative for how you actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”The focus of his comments to reporters at the Swiss resort town of Montreux reflected U.S. concerns about the potential damage Netanyahu’s speech could have on the negotiations by further empowering powerful Republican opponents in Congress.Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s claims that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon. „Mr. Netanyahu has been proclaiming, predicting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within two, three, four years since 1992,” he told NBC News.”There may be people who may have been affected by the type of hysteria that is being fanned by people like Mr. Netanyahu, and it is useful for everybody to allow this deal to go through,” Zarif said.Kerry planned to meet with Arab Gulf state allies in Riyadh Thursday before sitting down with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany in Paris on Saturday to share the state of the negotiations.
Egyptians race to expand Suez Canal, hoping for trade surge By BRIAN ROHAN18 hours ago ISMAILIA, Egypt (AP) — Bulldozers push earth and dredgers spit mud round the clock at Egypt’s Suez Canal in a race to quickly expand the strategic waterway for two-way traffic, a project trumpeted by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to revive both the country’s damaged economy and visions of nationalist glory.While the government’s goal of more than doubling annual canal revenues to some $13 billion in less than a decade appears overly ambitious, shippers and analysts say the reduction of waiting time to almost nothing will draw some vessels. Any major increase, however, depends on something unlikely to happen soon — a large jump in European demand fueling greater shipping from Asia.”It all depends on the trade volume between East and West, not the capacity of the canal,” said Xu Zhibin, managing director for the Egyptian affiliate of China’s state-owned COSCO, one of the world’s top container shippers. „Volume will rise if the European economy begins to boom … As of now, I don’t think that there will be an increase in volume.”The expansion’s importance is more long term, as it will better position the canal to keep its prominence in the future. In the short term, it appears to be more of a prestige exercise to boost national pride after four years of demoralizing turmoil and to shore up the image of President el-Sissi as the savior of the nation. Egypt’s economy has been battered since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His successor, Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist, was overthrown by then-army chief el-Sissi during mass protests in 2013.El-Sissi, who was elected president last spring, has risen on promises to stabilize the country and rebuild the economy. In a dramatic move after his election, he ordered that the Suez Canal expansion, envisaged as a three-year project, instead be completed in one year.The military is directing the work, which involves digging a new waterway running for 35 kilometers (22 miles) parallel to the canal to end in the Red Sea, while deepening and expanding existing bypasses. Authorities say it is on track to open in August.FILE – In this Aug. 5, 2014 file image released by the Egyptian Presidency, warplanes fly overhead d …At the Suez Canal Authority’s headquarters in Ismailia, films shown to journalists and potential investors lavish praise on el-Sissi with an almost Soviet-era extravagance. Men in the footage thank God for his arrival and elderly women call him „pure” and „good.” In televised speeches in which el-Sissi has touted the canal, martial music plays over footage of special forces, tanks and fighter jets interspersed with shots of a vigilant el-Sissi directing officials and inspecting operations.Bonds offered to fund the $8.5 billion military-led expansion were snapped up — mostly by individuals — in just over a week last autumn in a sale driven by nationalist fervor — and a 12 percent interest rate.The canal has long been tied to Egyptian national pride. Inaugurated in 1869, it connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, giving maritime traffic between Europe and Asia a short cut to avoid the long trip around Africa. In 1956, then-President Gamal Abdel-Nasser nationalized the canal from the British and French companies that owned it, a moment cherished by Egyptians as a defiant break from imperialist control. Egypt fought three wars with Israel around the canal, in 1956, 1967 and 1973 — when Egypt launched a surprise attack across the canal that is now remembered as the country’s greatest battlefield victory.The canal is also one of Egypt’s biggest foreign currency earners, drawing in a record $5.5 billion in 2014. With the expansion, the canal authority projects it can double the number of ships transiting daily to 97 by 2023, boosting toll incomes to $13.2 billion that year.But hitting that target requires not just a jump in global economic growth. It depends on fuel prices and the canal’s fee structure, all factors that shippers weigh to determine whether it’s worth taking the canal or the long route around Africa.FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2015 file photo, ferries cross the Suez Canal during a media tour in Ismailia …”If petroleum and thus fuel prices increase, the canal becomes more attractive, but now they are decreasing, which means the opposite is true,” said Xu, of COSCO, which on average sends a vessel a day through the canal. „If the tolls, which are based on the old oil prices of over $100 a barrel, increase, some shippers will want to travel via the Cape of Good Hope.”The European Union, the destination for most ships passing through the canal, forecasts its economy will grow by a mere 1.7 percent this year, and 2.1 percent in 2016 — hardly enough to boost canal traffic significantly, shippers say. Industry estimates of container shipments through the canal project only three to five percent annual growth for the years ahead. In 2014, container tonnage transiting the canal grew 5.5 percent compared to the previous year, authority statistics show.Still, with global shipping trends moving toward the use of ever larger, slow-sailing container ships, the canal stands to maintain an advantage for years to come with the container trade, already the largest single type of vessel to use it in both number and cargo tonnage.An expansion of the Panama Canal due to be finished next year could draw some traffic between Asia and the U.S. East Coast. But „the biggest, massive container ships will never be able to pass there as it can’t accommodate them, so that’s a natural advantage for Suez,” said Greg Knowler, a Hong Kong-based shipping expert from U.S. analysts JOC.Although they don’t plan to ramp up operations immediately, shippers welcome the plans in general. Denmark-based Maersk, the largest single customer of the canal, says it wholeheartedly supports the project, calling it a historic effort to enable more global trade and boost prosperity overall.FILE – In this Sept. 4, 2014 file photo, Adel Mohammed Ahmed, wearing a national flag, holds an inve …Keith Svendsen, vice president of operations, said the reduced waiting time would allow the company to save some fuel, but that over the long term transparent, properly adjusted pricing policies will keep traffic from taking the route around Africa.”We’re currently looking at whether there’s a case for sailing some ships south, but our preference is to continue to go through Suez — it’s a shorter route, better for emissions, and we have good cooperation with the canal authorities.”_Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report._Follow Brian Rohan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brian_rohan
Abbas says talks with Israel still on table By Nasser Abu Bakr9 hours ago Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday talks with Israel are still on the table, despite moves against the Jewish state at the UN and numerous failed rounds of negotiations.Related Stories
Abbas was addressing the Palestinian leadership at the opening of a two-day conference in the West Bank to discuss the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose existence is under threat after Israel cut off a key source of funds.”We ask all countries of the world to recognise the state of Palestine,” he said.”But we want to say to the Israeli side, these recognitions do not mean in any way that we do not want to negotiate, or that we’re running away from negotiations.”There was no immediate Israeli reaction to Abbas’s speech.US-backed talks between the Palestinians and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government collapsed in April after nine months of fruitless meetings amid bitter recriminations and mutual blame.Relations have since further deteriorated, after a devastating war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza during the summer, and with Palestinian moves against the Israelis in the international arena.The Palestinians submitted a UN Security Council resolution in December — which was voted down — calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank within two years, and in January joined the International Criminal Court, where they plan to press for war crimes against Israel.Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves following his address to a joint session of the …Israel has in response frozen $127 million per month in tax revenues due the PA, depriving it of most of its funds and rendering it unable to pay tens of thousands of employees.”This is the third month in a row that we’re taking loans from the banks,” Abbas said, adding that a „political solution” was the best way to end the deadlock.- Elections, Israeli and Palestinian -Abbas said the Palestinians were ready to deal and talk with „whoever” wins an Israeli general election on March 17.”We are not interfering, or saying who we’d like to see or who we’d not like to see” win the vote, he said.”Whoever that man is, or whatever his politics… the (Israeli) people will elect who they want, and we will deal with him.”Netanyahu, whose rightwing coalition includes members who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, is likely to return for a fourth term in office, making a return to peace talks unlikely.Israeli women hold placards and flags during a march outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on …In Jerusalem, thousands of Israeli women gathered outside parliament to call for peace with the Palestinians, at a rally organised by Women Wage Peace, a group formed after the Gaza war.”Two weeks ahead of the elections, we’ve heard no word on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No candidates have given their verdict on the issue,” Irit Keinan said in a speech.”We’ve suffered through enough wars,” she said.”Among us are young women, mothers and grandmothers, people who will raise our children — the next generation of soldiers who will be forced to go to war. It’s enough!”Back in Ramallah, referring to the Palestinians’ own elections, Abbas urged rivals Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, to coordinate with the PA in making sure a long-overdue Palestinian vote goes ahead.”As soon as Hamas sends me written official approval, I will immediately issue a decree calling for elections,” he said.- ‘Peaceful, popular resistance’ -Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in April which was to pave the way for a general election by the end of 2014, but the Gaza war and a failure to implement the unity deal has caused delays.The last Palestinian general election was in 2006, when Hamas won a majority, but then ejected Abbas’s Fatah party from Gaza during bitter fighting the following year.Under last year’s unity deal, an independent consensus government agreed on by Hamas and the PLO was to take over administrative and security control of Gaza, but with continuing disputes, including over the payment of Hamas security forces, the Islamist movement remains in de facto control.The United States and Europe refuse to deal with Hamas, branding it a terrorist group, and seeing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians.Abbas reiterated his commitment to non-violence.”We won’t use violence. Peaceful, popular resistance is the only way for us,” he said.
NATO flotilla enters Black Sea for training amid Ukraine crisis 9 hours ago BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A NATO flotilla arrived in the Black Sea on Wednesday to train with ships from the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish navies, the U.S.-led Western alliance said.Tensions in the Black Sea region are running high because of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the country’s Crimea Peninsula last year.”NATO regularly deploys ships to the Black Sea for maritime awareness and training. This scheduled deployment, given Russia’s continued assertiveness, carries an additional message of reassurance to allies in the region,” a NATO official said.The multinational naval rapid reaction force commanded by U.S. Rear Admiral Brad Williamson consists of flagship USS Vicksburg, a guided missile cruiser, and five other ships.The training will include simulated anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises, as well as simulated small boat attacks and basic ship handling maneuvers.(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
EU, Cuba resume talks to normalize relations 5 hours agoEuropean chief negotiator Christian Leffler (C) and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno (R) are seen before a meeting in Havana on March 4, 2015 (AFP Photo/Yamil Lage)Havana (AFP) – The European Union and Cuba resumed negotiations Wednesday in a third round of talks aimed at normalizing relations, as Havana and Washington work through their own historic rapprochement.Related Stories
The two-day session, part of a dialogue that began 11 months ago, is aimed at tackling sensitive human rights issues and finalizing an agreement „on political dialogue and cooperation,” meant to turn the page on a decade of estrangement.”Our agenda is focused on cooperation, with the ambition to start dealing with the two other major topics (political dialogue and commerce) and set a stage for the next steps,” a European diplomat told AFP.A Thursday evening press conference scheduled by the EU delegation will take stock of the progress made during the closed-door discussions.The talks mark the first meeting between the European bloc and Havana since the United States and Cuba surprised the world by announcing in December that they would move to restore relations after half a century.The EU launched its normalization process with the communist island to encourage President Raul Castro to pursue reforms allowing for private initiatives without changing the one-party political system.The talks are being led by European chief negotiator Christian Leffler and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno. The pair headed the two previous rounds in Brussels in August and in Havana in April.The session, initially scheduled for January, was postponed by Cuba just before the thaw with Washington was announced.The EU hailed the move, calling it a historic turning point. However, Spain in January urged the EU to speed up its process of normalization to not lose ground to Washington, particularly on trade.Meanwhile France announced Tuesday that President Francois Hollande will travel to Cuba in May, the first visit by a French chief of state.An accord with Havana would facilitate European aid to the ailing Cuban economy, and favor the island’s exports to EU nations.Cuban tobacco, one of the country’s main exports, is subject to a 26 percent tariff in the EU, slowing sales.Bilateral trade has increased, however, and the EU is Cuba’s second biggest trading partner behind Venezuela, with exchanges valued at $3.7 billion in 2012, according to the latest Cuban government figures.While Cuba exports mostly raw materials, it imports mainly manufactured goods from the European Union.
Knife-wielding attacker slashes face of U.S. ambassador in South Korea By James Pearson and Ju-min Park29 minutes agoU.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert leaves after he was slashed in the face by an unidentified …By James Pearson and Ju-min Park SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert was slashed in the face by a Korean nationalist but was not seriously hurt during an attack at a breakfast forum held in the capital on Thursday to discuss Korean reunification, police and witnesses said.Lippert, 42, was bleeding from a facial wound but was walking after the attack as he was taken to the hospital. He was later reported to be in stable condition and officials in Washington said his injuries were not life-threatening.The assailant was caught by police and identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong. In 2010, Kim tried to attack the Japanese ambassador to Seoul by throwing a piece of concrete and was given a suspended jail term, according to police.Witnesses and police said Kim used a small fruit knife in the attack, which took place inside a large government arts center across the street from the heavily guarded U.S. embassy on Seoul’s main ceremonial thoroughfare.”We strongly condemn this act of violence,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.The U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (R) leaves after he was slashed in the face by an un …U.S. President Barack Obama quickly called Lippert to wish him a speedy recovery, a White House official said.The assailant was dressed in traditional Korean clothing and shouted that North and South Korea should be reunited just before he attacked Lippert. He also shouted that he opposed „war exercises”, a reference to annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began this week.”I carried out an act of terror,” Kim shouted as he was pinned to the floor by event attendees.Kim said while in police custody he had acted alone. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Kim also said he was part of a group that had cut and burned a U.S. flag on the embassy grounds in Seoul in 1985.Kim is a member of the pro-Korean unification group that hosted the event, police said. He also stages one-man protests against Japan over disputed islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (3rd L) leaves after he was slashed in the face by an un …”The guy comes in wearing traditional Korean brown and tan dress. He yells something, goes up to the ambassador and slashes him in the face,” witness Michael Lammbrau of the Arirang Institute think tank told Reuters.‘WRESTLED TO THE GROUND’Police were at the venue as part of routine operations but not at the request of the U.S. embassy or the organizer, a police official said.”People wrestled the guy to the ground, the ambassador was still in his chair. The ambassador fought him from his seat … There was a trail of blood behind him. He had about a seven inch-long gash on the right side of his face,” Lammbrau said.Lammbrau said the man shouted about Korean independence while he was being restrained. „It sounded like he was anti-American, anti-imperialist, that kind of stuff.”Security personnel detain an unidentified assailant who attacked the U.S. ambassador to South Korea …South Korean President Park Geun-hye, speaking in the United Arab Emirates, called it an „attack on the South Korea-U.S. alliance.”Known for his open, informal style, Lippert is active on Twitter and can often be seen walking his basset hound, Grigsby, in Seoul. His wife recently gave birth to a son, who was given a Korean middle name.Thursday’s event was hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. The group later issued a statement in which it condemned the attack and apologized to the governments of the United States and South Korea.The annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises routinely provoke an angry response from North Korea, which denounces them as a preparation for war.A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said the exercises, due to run for eight weeks, would continue as planned.Lippert was a U.S. Senate aide to Obama and served in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan and Iraq, winning the Bronze Star. He was chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel before taking up his post in Seoul in November.(Additional reporting by Sohee Kim and Seungyun Oh in SEOUL and Ian Simpson, Roberta Rampton and Peter Cooney in WASHINGTON; Writing by Jack Kim and Tony Munroe; Editing by Paul Tait)
China premier says confident of peaceful growth in Taiwan ties 1 hour agoChinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers the government work report during the opening of the annual full …BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday that he was confident of the peaceful growth in relations with self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own, saying it was a historic trend that could not be reversed.Cross-strait business ties have surged to their most extensive in six decades, supported by the policies of Taiwan’s China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou.But Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist party took a major drubbing in recent local elections largely seen as a referendum on ties with China.That followed a weeks-long occupation of Taiwan’s legislature last spring by students and activists in protest against a trade deal with China.Speaking at the opening of the annual full session of the National People’s Congress, Li made no direct mention of the protests or the Taiwan elections, but said he wished to make progress on relations.”We will strive to make progress in discussion and dialogue between the two sides of the strait, advance cross-strait economic integration for mutual benefit and promote local and youth exchanges,” he said.”We are firmly confident that the peaceful growth of cross-strait relations is a historical trend that can be neither resisted nor reversed,” Li added in his speech, a major policy address for the year ahead.Taiwan holds presidential elections early next year.The Nationalists fled across the narrow Taiwan Strait after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown little interest in wanting to have political talks with China, still ruled with an iron fist by the Communist Party, and there are also deep military suspicions on either side.China’s President Xi Jinping said in 2013 that a political solution for the Taiwan issue could not wait forever.Li said he both sides should work together to „achieve China’s peaceful unification”.”We hope that our compatriots on both sides of the strait will continue to strengthen mutual understanding and trust, deepen their bonds of kinship, bring hearts and minds together,” he said.(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)