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    Showing posts with label World News. Show all posts

    Pakistan fails to seal disputed F-16 deal after financing row with US:

    Pakistan seems to have failed to seal the US $700 million deal for the purchase of eight F-16 fighter jets from the US following a row between the two countries over their financing, a media report said on Saturday.

    The Pakistani government was required to provide the Letter of Acceptance for purchase of the jets by May 24, but Dawn News reported that the document was not issued leading to expiry of the offer.

    "Pakistan decided not to fully fund the case with national funds, so the terms of sale have now expired," a diplomatic source was quoted as saying by the daily.

    However, Pakistan's Ambassador to US Jalil Abbas Jilani, told the daily that "a dead-end has not been reached as yet".

    Initially, the US $700 million deal for eight F-16C/D Block-52 multi-role fighters, was to be partially financed through the US Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programme but the Congress disallowed subsidising the sale.

    The subsidising was disallowed over concern that Pakistan had not done enough to end the dreaded Haqqani network's terror sanctuaries on its soil as well as fears over Islamabad's nuclear programme.

    Pakistan, which expected to get the fighters at the subsidised rate of USD 270 million, was subsequently asked by the US administration to make the full payment for the eight aircraft from its national resources.

    This was not acceptable to Pakistani authorities, who remained adamant that the offer must come without any preconditions.The aircraft were required by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, the report said.

    The jets would have come with "all-weather, non-daylight environments and self-defence/area suppression capability".

    It was unclear why Pakistan missed the opportunity despite pressing requirement for the jets, although it had originally desired to acquire 18 F-16s, the daily said.

    Some quarters believe that providing the Letter of Acceptance would have kept the window open for re-negotiating the financing arrangement at a later stage, it said.

    Pakistan Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said last month that Pakistan could look to buy the aircraft from some other country if the deal did not go ahead.

    He also said earlier this month that Pakistan's ties with the US had witnessed a "downward slide" amid the row over the Congress' decision to block the sale of the jets.

    Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had said last week that Pakistan will explore other options to meet its defence needs if the deal for F-16s did not materialise with the US.

    Europe Warns Against Escalation in South China Sea Dispute

      The European Union made its strongest call yet for China and other Asian nations to resolve their dispute over the South China Sea, a position Brussels insists is neutral but that the United States is likely to welcome after pressing the bloc to speak up.

    At a summit of EU and Asian foreign ministers, Beijing escaped any public admonishment over its construction and militarisation of islands in the South China Sea but the EU's foreign policy chief took a firm line in the bloc's first public comments since Washington patrolled the area this month.

    "We are committed to a maritime order based on the principles of international law," Federica Mogherini told a news conference when asked about the dispute. "We oppose any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion, force or any unilateral actions which would cause further friction," she said.

    The United States has been urging the European Union to speak more forcefully about what Washington worries is Beijing's predatory approach to a waterway where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have rival claims.
    But the European Union, despite its deep ties with the United States, has been reluctant to publicly criticise Beijing at a time when it is seeking up to $10 billion of Chinese investment in its new EU infrastructure fund to help revitalise the bloc's weak economy.

    A week after Washington sent a U.S. naval destroyer to underscore its freedom of navigation and challenge China's claim to almost all the South China Sea, the European Union also faced the task of ensuring that the gathering of 50 Asian and European envoys was not completely overshadowed by the dispute.

    The issue is so sensitive for Beijing that the EU-chaired summit could only produce a final summit statement that made no mention of the South China Sea, despite preparatory talks between Asian officials that diplomats described as very tense.

    Placed on paragraph 22 of the 9-page statement, the 53 delegations agreed on the importance "of resolving maritime disputes through peaceful means."

    Signs of Unrest as Baltimore Enforces Curfew

    Armored vehicles lined this battered city’s main thoroughfares and thousands of law enforcement officers and National Guard troops worked to maintain order and enforce a citywide curfew Tuesday night, amid scattered reports of unrest after a day of largely peaceful protests.

    As the curfew went into effect at 10 p.m., hundreds of people remained in the streets near the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North Avenues in blighted West Baltimore, where a CVS drugstore had been looted and burned during Monday night’s riots. There were some reports of arrests, and police fired pepper-spray balls to disperse crowds, who had earlier stood their ground despite entreaties from religious leaders and community activists.

    Shortly before midnight, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts declared the curfew a success.

    Earlier Tuesday night, nearly 1,000 people gathered at the Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, where about 500 religious leaders of different faiths called for healing. Members of the audience spoke about a litany of problems plaguing the city and called for better policing, policies to create jobs, and better schools.
    But out in the streets, there were intermittent clashes with police, as some threw bottles at a line of officers behind riot shields.

    The tense mood Tuesday night was a stark contrast to the almost upbeat feeling earlier in the day, as hundreds of people of all ages and races — many of them toting brooms and trash bags — worked to clear the neighborhood of rocks and debris.

    In the late afternoon, peaceful demonstrators marched through the streets, chanting, “All night, all day, we’re gonna fight for Freddie Gray!” — a reference to the 25-year-old black man whose death, from a spinal cord injury sustained in police custody, set off rioting on Monday night.

    “It’s sad, this don’t make no sense,” said Clarence Cobb, 48, one of many neighborhood residents who, describing themselves as brokenhearted, came out to survey the wreckage and clean up. “It comes to a point where you just got to take pride in your own neighborhood. This makes us look real bad as a city.”

    Indonesia Executes 8, Including 7 Foreigners, Convicted on Drug Charges

    Defying international condemnation and rejecting 11th-hour pleas for clemency, the Indonesian government executed eight drug convicts after midnight on Wednesday, including seven foreigners.

    But the execution of a ninth convict, scheduled to happen at the same time, was unexpectedly postponed at nearly the last minute, according to the Indonesian attorney general’s office.

    The executed prisoners, from Australia, Brazil and Nigeria, along with one Indonesian, were shot by police firing squads about 12:25 a.m. local time at a site outside the gates of Pasir Putih prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan off the southern coast of Java, according to the attorney general’s office.

    The authorities granted the stay of execution to Mary Jane Veloso, 30, a Philippine citizen, after the Philippine government requested her assistance in a human trafficking case involving a woman who surrendered to the Philippine police on Tuesday.
    Continue reading the main story
        The family of Mary Jane Veloso, who is among a group of prisoners facing execution, on its way to visit her on Saturday.
        Despite Protests, Indonesia Moves Forward to Execute Drug ConvictsAPRIL 25, 2015
        Andrew Chan and, behind, Myuran Sukumaran, in 2006, were said to have been flown to an island where people are executed.
        Countries Questioning Indonesia’s Push to Execute Drug OffendersMARCH 3, 2015
        World Briefing: Indonesia: 6 Executed for Drug OffensesJAN. 18, 2015

    “An alleged perpetrator of human trafficking gave herself up, and Mary Jane’s testimony is needed,” Tony Spontana, a spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general, wrote in a text message shortly after the executions were carried out. “Eight people were executed, but not Mary Jane,” he wrote.

    28 years after Rajiv Gandhi's near disastrous visit, confident Modi strides into Sri Lanka

    Optics, symbolism and body language are crucially important in diplomacy. If one goes by that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a powerful statement in Sri Lanka already.

    He came here with folded hands, and then stretched out his arms with an open mind. In bitter contrast, the last time an Indian Prime Minister visited Colombo – Rajiv Gandhi on 30 July, 1987 – he was famously hit by a soldier’s rifle butt when he was inspecting a guard of honour.

    If Rajiv Gandhi had not been alert and ducked, he may have died on the spot. Wijemuni Vijitha Rohana de Silva’s rifle butt hit Rajiv on the shoulder, not on the head where it was meant to land. Wijemuni instantaneously became a popular figure, so much so that after his release from prison he even contested a general election under a ticket for the Sihala Urumaya party in 2000, but lost. Less than two years ago, he admitted in an on-record interview that he intended to kill the Indian premier. Read the full interview here.
    Modi with President Maithripala Sirisena: PTI

    Modi with President Maithripala Sirisena: PTI
    Wijemuni’s action was meant to be an act of revenge against Rajiv Gandhi’s fateful decision of sending the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka.

    This was the time when India-Sri Lanka relations were at their nadir and anti-India rabid Tamil parties were born and got strengthened in Tamil Nadu and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE in Tamil Nadu on 21 May, 1991.

    This contrasting tale of two Indian Prime Ministers in Sri Lanka conveys a lot. To drive the point further home, PM Modi visited the IPKF memorial here and paid homage to IPKF soldiers. This ritual will definitely become a must-do for all future Indian Prime Ministers who visit Sri Lanka.

    The significance of his visit is not lost on Modi himself.

    Sample his words in his media statement after his talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena: "I am conscious of the significance of this visit. It is the first standalone bilateral visit to Sri Lanka by an Indian Prime Minister since 1987. Last month, President Sirisena honoured us by making India his first foreign visit as a President. I am glad to be here so soon. This is how it should be between neighbours. We should meet regularly. It helps us understand each other better; find solutions to mutual concerns; and, move our relationship forward. That is what we achieved in my meetings with President Sirisena today."

    Egyptian court labels Hamas as terrorist group

    An Egyptian court has reportedly declared Palestinian group Hamas as a terrorist organisation after accusing it of supporting an insurgency in northern Sinai.

    Judge Mohamed el-Sayed said in his verdict that the group was undoubtedly involved in acts of sabotage, assassinations and the killing of innocent civilians and members of the armed forces and police in Egypt, reported the BBC.
    The court ruling will effectively ban Hamas inside Egypt. It comes a month after another court listed the armed wing of Hamas as a terrorist group.

    Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which was itself designated as a terror outfit in 2013.

    Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by military last year.

    Transgender Supermodel Lea T. Opens Up About Life After Having Gender Confirmation Surgery

    In 2011, Lea T. was one of the most in-demand supermodels in the world. She had it all -- beauty, fame and a big paycheck. But, as she revealed that year on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she had spent much of her life tormented by a painful secret.

    Lea T. was assigned male at birth and grew up the son of a world-famous Brazilian soccer star and a very religious Catholic mother. As a child growing up in Italy, T. always felt different and questioned her sexuality at a young age.

    "Realizing young [that] I like the same sex, for me was a taboo," Lea T. said on "The Oprah Show" three years ago. "I was feeling really uncomfortable."

    When T. began presenting as a woman, she felt more like her true self, but still struggled with this new life. "It's really difficult because you fight with all the world," she explained at the time. "You fight with your family, you fight with yourself, too, because you have to change everything in yourself."
    In 2008, Lea T. began hormone replacement therapy and was awaiting gender confirmation surgery, a difficulty in and of itself. "When you start your process, your heart becomes really sick. I was really disappointed with life because you walking in the street and the people laughing about you," she said tearfully. "When you start the hormones, it's really, really hard. I think it's weird seeing my breasts and the penis."

    When she spoke with Oprah back then, Lea T. was still awaiting her surgery and admitted that she was scared of both the physical and emotional pain of the procedure. A year after the interview, in 2012, Lea T. had the surgery and recently opened up to "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" about what her life has been like since her medical transition.

    "It was a really intense period," she admits. "I had a lot of pressure on me and on my life."

    At the same time, she says, she understood that the surgery wasn't going to alter anything about her fundamental personality or character.

    Three Killed as Firing, Arson Grips West Bengal's Birbhum

    Three persons were killed and nearly a dozen injured in violent clashes on Monday in West Bengal's Birbhum district, between suspected supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP.

    Footage on channels showed scores of armed assailants running through paddy fields in a village and firing country-made guns indiscriminately. Several people suffered bullet injuries; three of them reportedly died at a local hospital. Many houses were also set on fire.
    No arrests have been made so far, with both the Trinamool and the BJP accusing each other for the violence.

    Questions are being raised on the alleged failure of the police to contain the violence. Police personnel allegedly did not enter the village till at least two hours after the firing.

    The area had been witnessing tension over the last few days.

    On October 24, a police party was attacked with bombs, sticks and bricks when they raided Chakmondola village, seven kilometres from the site of yesterday's clashes, following reports of bombs hidden at a health centre. The same team had earlier seized several plastic drums full of crude bombs from a nearby village.

    Sorry, You're Still Stuck With Cable For Now

    There was much celebration earlier this week when HBO said you would soon be able to access the network's programming without having to pay for a TV subscription. One day later, CBS announced a $6 monthly service that will stream most of its live programming, as well as past and current shows, over the Internet.

    Analysts have called this the beginning of the great unbundling -- the dawning of an age where we'll be able to pick programming a la carte and choose what we want to watch, rather than having to pay each month for hundreds of channels we don't.

    It's "the first crack in the dike," Michael Davies, a co-founder and senior partner at Endeavour Partners, a firm that consults for broadband, media and content companies, told The Huffington Post after HBO's announcement Wednesday. "If HBO will go, then pretty much everybody else will go in due time."

    But it will probably be a while yet before people cut the cord en masse so they can hand-pick from the growing number of Internet-delivered offerings. The cable bundle is still tightly bound, and it's far from coming apart completely. Live sports programming, for one thing, remains a huge draw. CBS's new service, which for now is only available in 14 cities, won't offer Thursday and Sunday NFL games.

    And depending on what you subscribe to, an unbundled world could wind up being pretty pricey. HBO hasn't announced how much its new service will cost, but The Information, a technology news site, has reported it'll be around $15 a month. Some observers have pointed out that once you add up your Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO and CBS subscriptions, plus whatever additional networks come to offer standalone services (ESPN on its own could cost as much as $30 a month, according to one analysis), you could be paying more per month than it would cost to get a premium cable subscription.

    Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw, citing data from Hudson Square Research, reports that it would cost over $100 a month to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO, CBS, the Tour de France, WWE wrestling and three of the four major pro sports leagues. And that's on top of what you're already paying for Internet.

    "If you want all the sports, you should just get cable TV," Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, told Bloomberg.

    But at least you'd have the ability to choose another way to get programming -- and choice is not something consumers have had a lot of when it comes to TV subscriptions. Cable bills have jumped a whopping 97 percent over the last 14 years, and that doesn't include fees, taxes or promotions, according to SNL Kagan, a media researcher.

    Sierra Leone Restricts Travel For Over 1 Million To Stop Ebola Spread

    Sierra Leone on Thursday took the dramatic step of sealing off districts where more than 1 million people live as it and other West African countries struggle to control the Ebola outbreak that has claimed thousands of lives.

    With three new districts under quarantine, about one-third of Sierra Leone's 6 million people are now living in areas where their movements are heavily restricted. In parts of Sierra Leone and in neighboring Liberia where these cordons have been used in this outbreak, food prices have soared, some markets have shut and the delivery of goods has slowed.

    "There is a desperate need to step up our response to this dreaded disease," the Sierra Leone government said. "The prognosis is that without additional interventions or changes in community behavior, the numbers will increase exponentially and the situation will rapidly deteriorate."

    President Barack Obama warned a meeting at the United Nations on Thursday that the world is not doing enough to stop the outbreak, saying there is "a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be."

    The Ebola outbreak, the world's largest ever, has hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea hardest and is believed to have sickened more than 6,200 people. Senegal and Nigeria have also had Ebola cases, but it appears the disease has been contained in those countries.
    U.S. health officials warn that the number of infected people could explode to 1.4 million by mid-January, adding that the outbreak could peak well below that if efforts to control the outbreak are ramped up.

    The outbreak's unprecedented scale and geographic spread have pushed governments to impose severe measures like the cordons, but the disease has continued to overwhelm efforts to contain it.

    In an address to Sierra Leone on Wednesday night, President Ernest Bai Koroma put Port Loko, Bombali, and Moyamba districts under isolation with immediate effect, allowing only people delivering essential services to enter and circulate within these areas. The restrictions will remain in place until the chain of transmission is broken, officials said.

    In other parts of Sierra Leone, including the capital, Freetown, homes will be put under quarantine when cases are identified, according to a government statement. Security forces surrounded a house in a Freetown slum on Wednesday, quarantining residents inside, after a popular herbalist who lived there died from Ebola. The forces will ensure that no one leaves or enters until it's clear that no one else in the house has been infected.

    Islamic State: Kurds issue new call to arms against advancing militants in Syria

    Kurdish militants in Turkey have issued a new call to arms to defend a border town in northern Syria from advancing Islamic State (IS) fighters, and the Turkish authorities and United Nations prepared for a surge in refugees.

    About 70,000 Syrian Kurds have fled into Turkey since Friday as IS militants seized dozens of villages close to the border and advanced on the frontier town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish.

    Carol Batchelor, the United Nations refugee agency's (UNHCR) representative in Turkey said the real figure may be more than 100,000 as Turkey faces one of the biggest influxes of refugees from Syria since the war there began more than three years ago.

    "I don't think in the last three-and-a-half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days," she said.

    "So this is a bit of a measure of how this situation is unfolding and the very deep fear people have about the circumstances inside Syria, and for that matter Iraq."

    A Kurdish commander on the ground said IS militants had advanced to within 15 kilometres of Kobani, whose strategic location has been blocking the radical Sunni Muslim militants from consolidating their gains across northern Syria.

    A Kurdish politician from Turkey who visited Kobani on Saturday said locals had told him IS fighters were beheading people as they went from village to village.
    Video: Syrian Kurds cross the border into Turkey as Islamic State sweeps over northern Syria. (ABC News)

    "Rather than a war this is a genocide operation ... They are going into the villages and cutting the heads of one or two people and showing them to the villagers," Ibrahim Binici, a deputy for Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP, told Reuters.

    "It is truly a shameful situation for humanity," he said, calling for international intervention.
    Five of his fellow MPs planned a hunger strike outside UN offices in Geneva to press for action, he said.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria's civil war, said clashes overnight killed 10 insurgents, bringing the number of IS fighters killed to at least 39. At least 27 Kurdish fighters have died.

    IS has seized at least 64 villages around Kobani since Tuesday, using heavy arms and thousands of fighters.

    It executed at least 11 civilians on Saturday, including at least two boys, the Observatory said.

    "We now urgently need medicines and equipment for operations. We have many casualties," Welat Avar, a doctor in Kobani told Reuters.

    "ISIL (IS) killed many people in the villages. They cut off the heads of two people, I saw it with my own eyes," he said, referring to an incident in the village of Chelebi, near Kobani.

    The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a rebel group which has spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey's Kurds, renewed a call for the youth of Turkey's mostly Kurdish south-east to rise up and rush to save Kobani.

    "Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honour of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance," it said in a statement on its website.

    "ISIL fascism must drown in the blood it spills ... The youth of North Kurdistan (south-east Turkey) must flow in waves to Kobani," it said.

    Hundreds of security forces cleared the border area south of Suruc of a couple of thousand people who had gathered in solidarity with Kobani for a third day on the Turkish side of the barbed wire fence, where many of the refugees have crossed.

    Contractors Ready to Cash In On ISIS War

    America’s rapidly-expanding war against ISIS won’t involve large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, President Obama is promising. And it’s clear that airstrikes alone won’t beat back the extremist group. Which means that if the President wants to have any hope of meeting his far-reaching goal of destroying ISIS, he’s going to have to rely on private military contractors.

    At least, that’s what the contractors are hoping.

    At the height of the Iraq war, these firms hired hundreds of thousands of people: guns-for-hire, IT geeks, logistics specialists, interrogators, and short order cooks to ladle out the slop at the military cafeteria. Over time, some of those contractors became the symbol for everything that was wrong with the Iraq war: hugely expensive, ineffective, and indifferent to Iraqi life. Contractors were at the middle of the war’s biggest scandals, from Abu Ghraib to Nissour Square. And it was the abductions and murder of Blackwater contractors that sparked one of Iraq's biggest battles.

    None of the five current and former contractors who spoke with The Daily Beast expected a replay of last decade’s Iraq war. But they all said a major opportunity was coming—both for them, and for Obama, who could use the private armies as a way to conceal just how many people will be fighting in this new conflict.
    “Iraq this time around is not going to be as big as it was before,” said Roger Carstens, a former special operations officer who has served as a contracted military adviser in Somalia and Afghanistan. “That said, this new war will present an opportunity for the companies that have a resident train and advising capability to contribute to this new effort.”

    President Obama has asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train a new Syrian opposition out of Saudi Arabia. That money would be part of a $5 billion fund Obama requested this spring from Congress to help train and equip U.S. allies to fight terrorists.

    One U.S. military contractor working in Iraq who asked not to be named said, “I can tell you the contractor-expat community is abuzz thinking this will lead to more work. We expect a much larger footprint than he is showing right now.”

    Those expectations were whet earlier this summer, as ISIS was gaining ground in northern Iraq and the first U.S. special operations teams were arriving in Iraq, when the Pentagon asked military contractors to participate in two important surveys.

    Gaza strikes kill 4, EU pushes truce plan

    Israeli air strikes have killed four Palestinians in Gaza as European governments sought UN action to end more than six weeks of bloodshed.

    Fighting flared anew on Tuesday as Egyptian-brokered truce efforts collapsed, with Israel insistent on its demand for security from rocket fire by Gaza militants, and Hamas defiant over its call for an end to eight years of Israeli blockade.

    The death toll since July 8 now stands at least 2087 Palestinians dead, three-quarters of them civilians according to the United Nations, and 67 on the Israeli side, nearly all of them soldiers.

    Two men aged 22 and 24 were killed in a strike on Nusseirat refugee camp early on Friday, emergency services said.

    Two more were killed in an air raid near neighbouring Deir al-Balah.

    The Israeli military said it struck around 20 targets overnight but did not give details.

    Israeli media said the government was seeking US diplomatic help to head off the European bid at the UN to end the violence, the deadliest since the 2005 end of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising.

    Washington has wielded its veto powers at the UN Security Council repeatedly in the past on behalf of its Israeli ally.

    But relations have been strained over the breakdown of US-brokered peace efforts and concerns over the scale of the civilian death toll in Gaza.
    The draft presented by Britain, France and Germany came after one submitted by Jordan on behalf of the Arab League had run into US opposition.

    The European text urged an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, and a lifting of the Israeli blockade.

    It proposed a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire and supervise the movement of goods into Gaza to allay Israeli security concerns.

    It also called for Gaza's return to the control of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas, seven years after his loyalists were driven out of the territory by the Islamists of Hams.

    The text provides for the lifting of economic and humanitarian restrictions on Gaza to allow for a massive reconstruction effort.

    UN chief Ban Ki-moon has pledged help to rebuild Gaza, but warned that it would be "for the last time" after three wars in six years.

    But as the diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire intensified, Israel showed no sign of ending its deadly campaign to halt rocket fire by Gaza militants.

    The security cabinet authorised the call-up of up to 10,000 army reservists in a new troop rotation, Israeli media reported.

    Finance Minister Yair Lapid, regarded as one of the less hawkish members of the security cabinet, threatened further deadly attacks on Hamas commanders after three leading militants were killed in a pre-dawn strike on Thursday.

    Putin plays aid convoy wildcard on eve of key Ukraine talks

     When German chancellor Angela Merkel visits Kiev today, she could be forgiven for imagining she hears an ominous rumbling in the distance. Her talks with Ukraine’s leaders will begin a crucial week of negotiations aimed at ending the country’s bloody crisis, but it will now start not only with guns booming in the east, but a huge convoy of Russian military trucks rolling through disputed territory.

    By sending his aid convoy into Ukraine yesterday without its permission or the co-operation of the Red Cross, Russian president Vladimir Putin sent a message of defiance to Kiev and its western allies.

    He showed he is determined to regain the initiative in Ukraine, despite recent setbacks suffered by Moscow-backed rebels who want eastern regions to join Russia, and the impact of his country’s growing economic and diplomatic isolation.
    The convoy of almost 300 trucks – many of which are almost empty – adds another unpredictable element to a volatile conflict that has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The first trucks arrived last night in Luhansk, a city that has been without power, running water and telephone connections for almost a fortnight, and an island of rebel resistance to the rapid recent advance of Ukrainian troops.

    The separatist strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk are now almost surrounded by government forces, raising hopes among Ukrainian military men that the insurgency could be crushed before tomorrow’s Independence Day celebrations.

    Kiev believes the aid convoy is Moscow’s way of slowing or halting the crackdown on the rebels, and could be used to provide a pretext for a full Russian invasion if it came under attack, either real or staged.

    It is not clear how long the trucks will stay in Ukraine, or even where they will attempt to go, with Russia potentially seeking to send them from Luhansk to Donetsk, through areas of fierce fighting. The convoy is Putin’s wildcard, and the fact he has played it now suggests Ukraine’s crisis is at a vital juncture.

    The 16 Best Towns To Live In, According To OUTSIDE Magazine

    With all the hustle, bustle, glitz and glamour you could ever want, urban centers are hard to pass up. But for the 1.5 million readers who casted their bracket-style votes inOUTSIDE magazine’s Best Towns Competition, that's certainly not the case.

    Between their "delectable dining scenes, friendly, walkable neighborhoods and unparalleled access to outdoor adventure," the top spots included in the publication's annual ranking are proudly showing what quality access to healthy eating options and green, open spaces looks like -- all while making the case for banishing the big city life.

    Check out how the pre-selected towns ranked this year (on a scale of 0 to 100), and see for yourself why you don't need a major metro to live large...-------MORE

    Russian Aid Convoy Drives Into Ukraine Seemingly Without Kiev's Approval

    Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday without Kiev's approval, saying its patience had worn out with the Ukrainian government's stalling tactics. Ukraine called the move a "direct invasion."

    The unilateral move sharply raised the stakes in eastern Ukraine, for any attack on the convoy could draw the Russian military directly into the conflict between the Ukrainian government in Kiev and separatist rebels in the east. Ukraine has long accused Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, a charge Russia denies.

    The white-tarped semis said to be carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags are intended to help civilians in the city of Luhansk, where government forces are besieging pro-Russian separatists. The city only 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border has seen weeks of heavy shelling that has cut off power, water and phone lines and has left food supplies scarce.

    In the past few days, Ukraine says its troops have recaptured significant parts of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city, and suspicions are running high that Moscow's humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at halting Kiev's military momentum. Fierce fighting has been reported this week both around Luhansk and the largest rebel-held city, Donetsk, with dozens of casualties.

    Four troops were killed and 23 wounded in the past 24 hours, the government reported at noon Friday.

    The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had planned to escort the Russian aid convoy to assuage fears that it would be used as a cover for a Russian invasion, said it had not received enough security guarantees to do so Friday.

    Ukrainian security service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko on Friday called the arrival of the convoy a "direct invasion."

    "This is a direct invasion done under the cover of the Red Cross for the first time ever," Nalyvaichenko told reporters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. "These are military men who have been trained to carry cargo, trained to drive combat vehicles, tanks and artillery."

    He asserted that the half-empty aid trucks would be used to transport weapons to rebels and spirit away the bodies of Russian fighters killed in eastern Ukraine.

    He promised, however, that Ukraine will not shell the convoy.

    AP journalists heard the contents of many aid trucks rattling and sliding around on the country road, confirming that many vehicles were only partially loaded.

    Ukraine had authorized the entrance of a few dozen trucks, but the number of Russian vehicles entering the country through a rebel-held border point Friday was clearly way beyond that amount.

    FIGC, 18 ct in Council, and vice Series B

    The Federal Council of the Football Federation was convened for the 13 next Monday, August 18, at the headquarters of the Football Association, in Rome. The meeting will be chaired for the first time by the new federal president, Carlo Tavecchio. On the agenda: Election of Vice-Presidents; Communications from the President; nominations of competence; regulatory changes; order of the High Court of Justice n. 24 11/8/2014: action taken

    FIONA MAY TO THE ROLE OF ADVISER - Even Fiona May will be part of the team that the new president of the FIGC, Carlo Tavecchio, is drawing in these hours. The former athlete blue, as already anticipated by ANSA on Monday after the election of the new number one in Via Allegri, has reiterated today Tavecchio its willingness to assume the role of advisor to the integration and policies against racial discrimination. But it is not only a testimonial: May the work personally to the projects against discrimination involving schools and children.

    Australian among 11 hurt in Swiss Alps train derailment

    The severity of the woman’s injuries is not yet known and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is witholding further information until her family members have been consulted.

    “The Australian Consulate-General in Geneva is providing consular assistance to an Australian woman in relation to a railway accident in Switzerland,” DFAT said in a statement just after midday today.

    Swiss police have confirmed that five people were seriously injured while a further six sustained only slight injuries.

    One carriage slid down a steep slope, saved from a ravine only by large trees.

    The accident occurred in a deep wooded valley between Tiefencastel and Solis, southeast of Zurich in the canton (state) of Graubuenden.

    Police said about 140 people were on board at the time of the accident, about lunchtime. The landslide followed heavy rains over the past 24 hours.

    They injured included eight Swiss and two Japanese citizens as well as the Australian, police said.

    The train had set off from the ski resort of St. Moritz heading north toward Chur, Graubuenden’s administrative capital.

    Police initially said the train ran into a landslide on the track, but later revised their comments to say a landslide hit the train as it travelled between two tunnels along the side of a valley.

    One train car slid about 10 metres down the slope before being stopped by the trees.

    Air rescue helicopters helped with the recovery effort since the crash site was not near a road.

    Baby Gammy: Australian authorities track down couple who 'left Down Syndrome baby with Thai surrogate' and took twin sister

    Child protection services in Australia have made contact with a couple accused of abandoning a baby with Down’s syndrome with its surrogate mother in Thailand.

    There was international outrage when it emerged the Australian couple returned from Thailand with a baby girl born to the surrogate mother, but left her twin brother, Gammy, who has Down's, behind.

    Local media has since claimed court documents released by the Supreme Court of Australia show he was jailed in 1997 for a minimum of three years for sex offences involving three girls aged under 13.

    Child protection officers had been attempting to reach the couple for the past few days. Western Australia Child Protection Minister Helen Morton told Fairfax Radio on Thursday: "We've had telephone contact with the family and we're in the process of putting other arrangements in place.

    The surrogate mother Pattharamon Chanbua claims the couple asked her to have an abortion and left Gammy behind because of his disability. The couple denied this claim to Australian media, saying they did not know Gammy existed.

    But Ms Chanbua, 21, says the father met the twins but only took his healthy twin sister.

    Europe and US increase humanitarian aid as support grows for new Iraqi PM

     Pope calls on Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, to consider the tears and the heartfelt cries of despair of religious minorities and end the humanitarian tragedy

    David Cameron has broken off his holiday to lead the government's response to the Iraq crisis as Europe and the US stepped up their humanitarian support to the persecuted religious minorities stranded in northern Iraq.

    Mr Cameron is chairing a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee this afternoon after returning earlier than expected from his holiday in Portugal.

     In an interview with Sky News, Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "Why bring MPs back? The argument appears to be that when events stir the public conscience and the men in khaki are on high alert, Westminster simply must express itself.

    "Even if no one offers anything workable to be done, there are plenty of things to be said."

    European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is ready to call a special foreign ministers' meeting as early as this week and is talking to EU governments about it, a spokesman said.
    Meanwhile Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, said there had been "five successful air drops" to the region since Tuesday night.
    Thousands more poured across a bridge into Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday after trekking into Syria to escape, most with nothing but the clothes they wore.

    Some women carried exhausted children, weeping as they arrived to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

    But there are still large numbers on the mountain, said 45-year-old Mahmud Bakr.

    "Many of them are elderly; they cannot walk this distance," Bakr told AFP.

    "My father Khalaf is 70 years old - he cannot make this journey. But up there, there is very little food and no medicine," he said.

    UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak has warned they face "a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours".

    In a letter to Ban Ki-moon, the Pope issued a heartfelt plea to the UN secretary-general to help the stranded refugees.

    Pope Francis said: "I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq.

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