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Monitor The Strategic Trends

Global Government Introduction:

 

      The move toward a global government received a big boost this summer by the introduction of a proposal for an International Criminal Court. Over U.S. objections, the United Nations Diplomatic Conference voted 120 to 7 in favor of establishing an international criminal court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.


[READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION]

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Behold a Black Horse

 Behold a Black

Horse

 

 

Price R 249.00 

 

 

 

Behold a Black Horse:

 Economic Upheaval and Famine

DVD

by Dr. Chuck Missler

 

 

The third of the “Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse” brings inflation and famine on an unprecedented scale.
•What is the real cause of inflation?
•What are the real causes of famine?

Most famines are the direct results of government’s deliberate decisions. Germany sank into the most severe hyperinflationary period in recorded history after printing 1.3 trillion marks: that translates to about 4 trillion in today’s dollars. Ironically, that is almost exactly the same amount of money the United States government has printed since 2008. What are the implications for us today?

How can one use Bayes’ Theorem in “reverse probability”? (Can you form a hypothesis based on experience, common sense and whatever data are available; then test the hypothesis not by what has happened before, but by what comes after?)

The theorem has proved its worth, such as in 2012 when it was used to successfully predict the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in all 50 states before the final vote counts were available.

Join Dr. Chuck Missler in the Executive Briefing Room of the River Lodge, New Zealand, as he explores the identity of the third of the Five Horsemen of Revelation.

This briefing pack contains 2 hours of teaching
 

Available in the following formats

 DVD:

•2 MP3 files

•1 PDF Notes file

 

 

 
 
 

http://www.spacewar.com/Superpowers.xml

 

Thinking the unthinkable

 
‎18 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:14:54 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Aug 16, 2015 - Is it unthinkable that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could win their parties' nominations for president? In writing about the possibility of thermonuclear war, the iconic Cold War strategist Herman Kahn challenged his readers to "think the unthinkable." In writing about politics, here is another "unthinkable" proposition to ponder.

Suppose Democrats reject Hillary Clinton (or Hillary withdraws over the email or other exploding political time bombs). And suppose celebrity status becomes the Republican metric for electability.

Further suppose that a majority of the American electorate, outraged by the failed politics and broken government in Washington, turn to non-traditional candidates. Is a Sanders versus Trump choice for president "unthinkable?"

Common sense argues not only yes but hell yes! Wiser heads in the GOP would never tolerate a Trump-led ticket even though the former real estate mogul and television star threatens to split the Republican Party if he is not treated "with respect."

If Hillary falters, Vice President Joe Biden could enter the lists possibly to serve as a one-term president, while picking a particularly attractive number two -- perhaps one of the two Virginia senators or a well regarded governor from either party -- who could fleet up in four years time to the top spot.

But, for a moment, suspend reality and think the unthinkable. Could a Sanders-Trump run-off actually occur and, aside from guaranteeing a radioactive and spectacular media circus, what would that race mean for America? That specter should keep Americans awake at night.

Clearly, voter animosity and disenfranchisement with Washington would be the forcing function. For Mr. Trump, that means his current lead in the polls is not a ceiling. The contagion of his loyalists would spread to other Republicans and, more importantly, to independents.

Trump's celebrity status and Pied Piper ability to attract millions of viewers to watch the first debate are his major (and probably only) strengths. If Trump is serious about winning and reaches deeply into what he brags are his well-lined pockets to invest many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in winning the nomination, he will overtake and outdistance even the well funded Jeb Bush. Sadly, today, money dominates politics, often determining winners and losers.

For the Dems, Sanders is riding high. If Hillary is not mortally wounded and does not withdraw or concede, the same disgust with Washington could propel Sanders to the nomination. The other Democratic contenders are so far behind as to be irrelevant.

If Hillary does drop out, a Biden or other late entry would challenge a Sanders nomination. Age would not be an issue as both Biden and Sanders are in their seventies. Despite his many qualities and experience, Biden is gaffe prone. And a late entry into the race could be too late given Sanders' uncanny ability to attract tens of thousands to his rallies and speeches.

What might a Sanders or Trump presidency look like? Even though it is early in the race, that frightening question is unanswerable. Sanders and Trump only offer vague promises about fixing broken government that ignore reality and lack substance and credibility. The respective websites of both candidates are useless. The Trump website is a paid infomercial selling the Donald without a singe policy prescription.

Sanders' website is aggressively progressive, socialist and naïve if not scary. The world is literally ablaze. But nary a word is mentioned about foreign policy, national security and dangers to America other than those posed by Wall Street and the billionaire class.

The eight issues listed on Sanders' site are entirely domestic, ranging from income and wealth inequality to getting money out of politics to real family values, climate change and environment and, of course, reforming Wall Street. The policy prescriptions are a mélange regurgitating the senator's largely unsuccessful prior pronouncements to deal with these issues. And his promise of a trillion dollar government program to modernize the nation's failing infrastructure ignores who would pay for it and how it would be funded.

Trump boasts that he will make America strong again; fence off Mexico with Mexican money; rebuild the military; and create millions of jobs. How this is to be done remains a work very much in progress and thus "missions unaccomplished." At some time, perhaps Trump, the showman and prestidigitator, will provide substance to these grandiose wishes. We will see.

Returning to Herman Kahn, a thermonuclear war thankfully was never fought. And, as remote is the specter of a Sanders versus Trump race. Unthinkable -- one hopes.

________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."

 

 

Philippines can't afford full military modernisation: officials

 
‎18 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:14:54 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Aug 17, 2015 - The Philippines can only afford a "frugal" military upgrade, defence officials said Monday, even though maritime tensions with China are growing.

Despite a proposed 25 percent rise in next year's defence budget, the government must still divide resources between external defence and internal threats like insurgencies and natural disasters, Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and other security officials added.

Since President Benigno Aquino took office in mid-2010, the Philippines has acquired two former US coast guard cutters, three landing craft from Australia and South Korea and seven surplus UH-1H helicopters.

"The goal of updating and modernising our armed forces is a long and painstaking process," Gazmin told a ceremony for the commissioning of 10 more newly-acquired air force helicopters.

"That means we have to be frugal and acquire reliable platforms at very reasonable costs... as allowed by our meagre financial resources."

The modest upgrade has been prompted partly by China's moves to stake its claim to most of the South China Sea.

These include building new islands in the Spratly archipelago and taking effective control of Scarborough Shoal after a standoff with the Philippine Navy.

Philippine Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Jeffrey Delgado said the 10 new helicopters will be used to address internal security problems.

The military expects more aircraft deliveries this year including possibly the first two of 12 FA-50 fighter jets earlier ordered from a South Korean supplier, Delgado told reporters.

Delgado said the FA-50S were mere "transition aircraft" toward more advanced more advanced fighters jets which the Philippines cannot now afford.

Defence department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said communist and Muslim insurgencies remained a priority despite the new watchfulness on Philippine borders.

"We are first focusing on internal security and in the succeeding horizons, we will go towards external defence," he said, criticising China's reclamation work.

"They should stop their island-building. That steps up the pace of militarisation," Galvez said.

The Philippines has been among the most vocal in challenging China's sea claims, which also overlap those of Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

US ambassador Philip Goldberg said the United States, the Philippines' closest defence ally, was ready to provide surplus military equipment and budgeted $50 million in foreign military aid to the Philippines last year.

 

 

Finland triples training sessions for reservists

 
‎18 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:14:54 AMGo to full article
Helsinki (AFP) Aug 14, 2015 - Finland's military is tripling the number of reservists called up for refresher training courses, from 6,000 last year to 18,000 in 2015, a senior official said Friday.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, which is accused by the West of involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine. But assistant chief of staff Hannu Hypponen said the move was planned three years ago and was not related to the conflict.

"For the past three years the armed forces had an obligation to make savings... Now the number of refreshers has been put back to the level where it was in 2010," Hypponen told AFP.

"Around 2,400 employees were let go, allowing savings in staff expenses so that assets can be allocated for operational activities such as refresher courses," he added.

Hypponen admitted that while the restructuring began three years ago, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has other implications for the military in Finland, which is not a member of NATO.

The Baltic Sea has recently witnessed an upsurge in Russian military activity which has prompted non-aligned Finland to announce closer military cooperation with its Nordic neighbours -- in particular Sweden but also with NATO members Norway and Denmark.

"Stepping up the readiness of the armed forces is linked to the situation in Ukraine," Hypponen said, referring to a recently-announced plan for a quicker call-up system for reservists.

Military service is compulsory for adult males in Finland, lasting between 165 and 347 days. Conscripts can later be called up for refresher courses lasting five to seven days on average.

 

 

Three ex-Marines will raise US flag in Cuba, 54 years after lowering it

 
‎18 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎10:14:54 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Aug 13, 2015 - Three ex-Marines who lowered the US flag at the American embassy in Cuba in 1961 will be back Friday with Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the Stars and Stripes once again.

"I'm gonna love seeing that flag go back up," said Jim Tracy in a video posted on the State Department website.

Tracy was a Marine sergeant tasked with lowering the flag at the embassy in Havana when the United States severed relations with Cuba on January 4, 1961.

A huge crowd of Cubans had gathered outside the embassy seeking visas to leave the island, then in the throes of a communist revolution.

As Tracy, corporal Mike East and lance corporal Larry Morris marched out of the embassy, the crowd parted and the marines proceeded to bring down the flag, ceremoniously folding it up.

"It was a touching moment," said East.

On Friday, they will go back to Havana with Kerry to seal the renewal of diplomatic relations embarked on in December by US President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raul Castro.

White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas said the former marines were being reunited "to raise the flag again tomorrow at the ceremonial opening of the US Embassy in Cuba."

The flag itself will not be the some one taken down 54 years ago, a State Department source said.

Even so, for the now gray-haired former marines the ceremony means the repairing of a breach.

The flag, said Morris, "is coming back to where it should be."

 

 

NATO denies it is making war more likely in Europe

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) Aug 12, 2015 - NATO on Wednesday defended the number of military exercises it has staged as a response to "growing Russian aggression" and refuted suggestions that they were helping make war in Europe more likely.

The alliance was reacting to a warning from a London-based think tank about the risks from a sharp increase in Russian and NATO war games since the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists flared up in April last year.

"NATO military exercises are not, as the reports suggest, making war in Europe more likely," NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said after the European Leadership Network (ELN) published its assessment.

"They are intended precisely to have the opposite effect: to enhance security and stability in Europe in response to growing Russian aggression," Romero said in a statement.

"All NATO military activities are proportionate, defensive, and fully in line with our international commitments," she added.

The ELN report was titled: "Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe more Likely?"

It profiled a Russian exercise in March this year involving 80,000 military personnel and a series of NATO "Allied Shield" manoeuvres along the alliance's eastern flank that involved 15,000 personnel from 19 member states and three partner states.

The ELN report authors said the nature and scale of the exercises contradicted claims from both sides that they targeted hypothetical opponents.

"Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia," ELN said.

It did not suggest that either side has decided to go to war or that war is inevitable, but warned that the exercises fuelled tensions.

And when the exercises are not announced beforehand, as seems to be the case with Russian manoeuvres, the situation becomes more unpredictable, it said.

It called for both NATO and Russia to boost communications about exercises as well as examine the benefits and risks of increased war games.

The two sides, it said, should start "conceptual work" as soon as possible on a treaty limiting both sides from deploying certain types of weapons.

Romero said the "report misleadingly puts NATO and Russian exercises on a par," adding that Moscow has announced 4,000 exercises for this year, more than ten times what the allies have planned.

"Moreover, Russia has incorporated nuclear and nuclear capable forces in its recent exercises," Romero said.

She said NATO has already gone beyond the recommendations of the ELN report by taking "new initiatives" to keep political and military channels with Russia open.

Romero also said NATO exercises, unlike those conducted by Russia, are announced months in advance and are open to observers, including from Russia.

lc/bmm/rob

April

 

 

Ukraine battles pro-Russian rebels for access to key port

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Starognativka, Ukraine (AFP) Aug 12, 2015 - Ukraine on Wednesday reported intense battles with pro-Russian insurgents near the last major government stronghold in the former Soviet country's separatist east.

A military spokesman in Kiev said clashes north of the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol had killed one soldier and injured three.

The rebels reported the death of a civilian in a different part of the Russian-speaking war zone.

The latest battles are focused on the control of a highway linking Mariupol with the separatists' de facto capital Donetsk.

Most of the road is currently overseen by government forces. Its access could potentially help the insurgents step up their stop-start campaign to capture Mariupol.

The industrial port of nearly half a million exports most of the east's factory output and provides a land bridge between rebel territories and the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula.

One resident of a village situated about half way between Donetsk and Mariupol said the exchanges of heavy mortar and rocket fire started on Monday and had not ceased since.

"It has been three days now -- day and night," said a pensioner who identified himself only as Andrei out of security concerns.

A local military spokesman said the two sides were now waging one of their most intense and continuous battles since the signing of a shaky ceasefire deal in February.

"We are giving the enemy's artillery fire a sufficient and equally heavy response," local government forces spokesman Yaroslav Chepurniy told AFP.

"If they grab this territory, they will take Mariupol itself."

The United Nations estimates that the conflict -- sparked by the February 2014 ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed president -- has killed more than 6,800 people and driven at least 1.4 million from their homes.

Russia denies accusations by Ukraine and its allies of orchestrating and supporting the conflict to try to prevent the former Soviet state establishing closer ties with the West.

video-zak/ach

 

 

Rules not power in South China Sea, Britain's FM says in Beijing

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Aug 12, 2015 - Visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a Beijing audience Wednesday that competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, a key global trade artery, risk boiling over and must be resolved peacefully.

China claims most of the South China Sea, overlapping with areas the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan deem to be their territory.

Beijing has been pouring massive amounts of sand to expand and fortify small reefs and build facilities in the area, which it says are meant to promote maritime and navigational safety and scientific research, as well as having military purposes.

There was "tension and the risk of escalation" in the area, Hammond told students at the capital's elite Peking University, adding: "We want to see claims dealt with by rules-based, not power-based, solutions in Asia as elsewhere."

As well as China, most of the Southeast Asian claimants have also built facilities in the waters.

The United States and Southeast Asian nations have called for a halt to further island-expansion and construction by Beijing, though China's foreign minister said last week that land reclamation had stopped.

Britain depends on global sea lanes for the delivery of 95 percent of its trade and "has a strong interest in the stability of the South China Sea region", Hammond said, adding $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the area every year.

The issue needed to be addressed "in a way which is consistent with the long-term peace and stability of the region, with freedom of navigation and overflight, and in accordance with international law, including the Law of the Sea", he said.

China has a growing role on the global diplomatic stage and Hammond said that "with increasing power comes increasing responsibility".

Hammond was in China for high-level talks ahead of a planned state visit to Britain in October by Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which he will stay with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

The countries have been making efforts to improve ties that were strained when British Prime Minister David Cameron met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in 2012.

London and Beijing have also clashed over democracy protests last year in Hong Kong, which Britain handed back to China in 1997.

But in March, Britain was the first European country to declare it would join China's new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) despite opposition from close ally the United States.

Hammond was scheduled to meet State Councillor Yang Jiechi, China's top foreign policy official on Thursday, according to a Foreign Office statement, and they would discuss issues including foreign and security policy, global efforts on health and a major climate summit in Paris later this year.

He will also hold discussions with Lu Wei, China's top cyber security official, the statement said.

 

 

Not ready for prime time: The Republican presidential parody

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Aug 10, 2015 - Amid great fanfare and hype last week, particularly by the Fox News Channel who sponsored the first debate among seventeen presidential hopefuls, the "A" team of ten followed an earlier warm up by the junior varsity of seven whose standing in the polls did not warrant a prime time slot.

For those anxious to hear specific policies and visions molded by facts and clear-headed analysis, disappointment was predictable. The debate was largely theater and entertainment occasionally interlaced with fantasy and delusion.

One yearns for the famous Kennedy-Nixon debates of long ago!

In a phrase, while at least sixteen of the seventeen candidates had prepared and prepped for the debates, few were ready for prime time, at least as far as content and substance were concerned. The looming pre-debate question unsurprisingly was the Donald, aka Mr. Trump, would do. Equally unsurprisingly, Trump was himself -- bombastic, flamboyant and promiscuous in use of word and phrase to bully rather than to argue logically and cogently to make a point.

In fairness, this was the first debate and at best the beginning a long and painful process until both parties chose their presidential candidates a year from now. Viewers from afar must have questioned the seriousness if not the sanity of the U.S. political process after watching this debate. The reason is the disconnect between many of the promises made by the presidential aspirants and reality. Of course, the almost certain likelihood is that one will become the Republican nominee and could become the president.

While the A-team debate was better theater than the group of seven's earlier exchanges, general themes emerged. Regarding the economy, regulations would be slashed; the tax code amended; Obamacare repealed; and jobs by the millions created. Regarding national security and defense, the border with Mexico would be sealed; the military would be "strengthened;" the Islamic State defeated simply by labeling it radical Islamic extremism; the nuclear agreement with Iran abrogated the first day of the new presidency; and Israel given even more security guarantees. And, of course, the obligatory Republican deference to "Guns, Gays, God and Gestation periods" was underscored.

Several of the governors argued that each would fix Washington by working with the opposition as they had done in state capitols. And Mr. Trump who, with face time of over ten minutes clearly dominated that vital metric, boasted how he and only he could create jobs and correct the ills of Washington created by the "stupid people" who inhabit government. The proverbial Martian observer would wonder on what planet these candidates were living and to what depths have American politics sunk?

Not one candidate had specific plans for how to repair a government that was badly broken along party lines -- only the belief it could be done. And many were simply ill informed or not informed on basic facts. Some of the biggest whoppers, for example, concerning only the Iranian nuclear deal were:

-- Abrogate the agreement on taking office irrespective of whether it was working or not

-- Deny Iran all nuclear capacity even though the non-proliferation treaty guarantees Tehran nuclear power for peaceful purposes

-- Re-station missile defense in Europe to protect against a nuclear Iran even though over the next few years the process is underway to deploy such systems

Equally blunt critique could be liberally applied to the other topics.

That is not to say Democrats are any better. Perhaps because that field is a quarter of the size, their debates will be less entertaining. But the Democrats have one big advantage Republicans ignore at their peril. To win the presidency, the magic number is 270 electoral and not popular votes.

Arguably, the Democratic candidate most likely has bout 230 electoral votes virtually assured.

Demographics for women and minorities are also skewed in their favor, especially as the Republicans in the debate had little to say to change that dynamic. And Trump's answer to a question of why he has described women as "pigs" and worse did little to gain the female vote.

If Republicans are truly serious about winning the White House, they need to come to their electoral senses. First, facts matter. Words are cheap. Basic understanding of reality rather than fantasy or whim must underwrite policy prescriptions.

Second, the Republican nominee cannot win without significant women and minority voters.

Third, politics in Washington and abroad are tough, complex and complicated. The naivete shown by many of the candidates is embarrassing. But will their prescriptions improve? One hopes. But hope may be the only possibility.

_______________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist; Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business; and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

Berlin to spend billions upgrading military hardware

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Berlin (AFP) Aug 7, 2015 - The German military is to invest billions of euros to fix recurring problems with its aircraft, helicopters and other military equipment, an official said on Friday.

"We will invest up to 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in the next seven to eight years to obtain improvements in these areas," a defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

Der Spiegel news weekly, which first revealed the investment programme, said the army planned 120 measures to boost personnel and stocks of spare parts.

The paper Der Spiegel cited "numerous" defence documents, which confirmed the "hardware problems constraining the capacity" of the Bundeswehr.

It listed radar problems with Eurofighter jets and with winches on board the NH90 transport helicopters that hampered their use in operations.

Only four of military's 39 NH90 helicopters are currently useable, Der Spiegel said.

Germany's military has come in for repeated criticism in recent months over the state of its weaponry.

The G36 assault rifle became the butt of jokes following reports it had trouble firing straight in high temperatures.

The army has since stop using the rifle.

In September, Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen admitted that the army could not currently meet its commitments to NATO in the event of an attack on an alliance member.

She blamed the situation partly on delays in the supply of spare parts for planes and helicopters.

 

 

US says won't tolerate navigation curbs in tense South China Sea

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Aug 6, 2015 - The United States warned Thursday it would not tolerate efforts to control sea and air routes in the South China Sea, as Southeast Asian nations debated how hard to pressure Beijing on its island-building.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a regional summit that open navigation of the strategically important area was an "intrinsic right".

"Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, after attending a summit dominated by the flashpoint issue.

China has sparked alarm by expanding tiny reefs and constructing military posts, steps viewed by some of its neighbours as violating a regional pledge against provocative actions in the area.

The long simmering dispute has flared at the Malaysia meet, which is being hosted by the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and includes envoys from more than a dozen other nations such as China, Japan, South Korea and the US.

Beijing claims control over nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei -- all ASEAN members -- also have various claims, as does Taiwan, many of which overlap.

Each year the regional ASEAN bloc, which prides itself on its history of consensus diplomacy, releases a joint communique after the annual meeting of its foreign ministers, which took place Tuesday.

But the nations have been at loggerheads for the last three days over the wording of the paragraphs addressing the South China Sea.

Diplomatic sources told AFP that the Philippines and Vietnam in particular were pushing for stronger language on Chinese land reclamation, which could help shore up Beijing's disputed territorial claims.

- Chinese friends -

But there was pushback from traditional China allies among the association, they added.

"China's friends are taking a hard stance," said one diplomat familiar with the drafting.

The diplomat did not specify which countries were taking a hard line, but Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar traditionally ally with China within ASEAN.

The tug-of-war raises the spectre of a 2012 ASEAN meeting hosted by Cambodia, when the bloc was unable for the first time in its four-decade history to issue a joint statement.

Cambodia was accused of precipitating the debacle by refusing to allow criticism of China over its maritime territorial assertions.

"China has already figured out how ASEAN works on the South China Sea, it knows how to divide us. Look at what happened in Cambodia," one diplomat at the talks in Kuala Lumpur told AFP.

Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters Thursday morning that the joint statement was supposed to have been completed the previous day.

"It has not been finalised as of now. There are difficulties," he said.

"The paragraphs relating to the South China Sea are causing some problems," he added.

A draft of the communique obtained by AFP makes no mention of halting reclamation.

Instead it warns that recent developments in the sea "have the very potential of undermining peace, security and stability".

Delegates said they still hoped to get a final joint statement by the end of the day.

The United States and Southeast Asian nations have called for a halt to further land-reclamation and construction.

China had so far refused, but on Wednesday Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said land reclamation had "already stopped".

However some delegates in Kuala Lumpur have played down those claims.

One diplomat told reporters: "They're not saying they're stopping construction, nor are they saying they'll stop future reclamation."

At his press conference Kerry told reporters: "The Chinese have indicated that they have stopped. I hope it is true. I don't know yet."

 

 

First Catholic bishop for three years ordained in China

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Anyang, China (AFP) Aug 4, 2015 - The first Catholic bishop to be ordained in China for more than three years was consecrated on Tuesday amid a heavy police presence, worshippers said.

Joseph Zhang Yilin was installed as the official bishop of Anyang in the central province of Henan, as hundreds of police blocked access to the Sacred Heart of Jesus church. AFP was denied entry to the ceremony.

The Chinese state does not recognise the Vatican's authority over Catholics in the country -- estimates range from nine to 12 million. It oversees them with its own Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).

Even so, many believers pray at "underground" or "house" churches which seek to exist outside government control.

Beijing and the Holy See do not maintain formal diplomatic relations, and the right to select bishops is a key sticking point between them, but some priests are supported by both.

According to the Catholic press agency UCA News, Joseph Zhang Yilin had been approved by the Vatican long before the CPCA chose him for the post in April.

During rehearsals on Monday the 44-year-old, a short man with a lively demeanour, stood in the chancel flanked by parish priests and altar boys as the choir sang.

A man in civilian clothes brusquely told AFP to leave the premises.

The last ordination of a bishop in China ended in turmoil, when Shanghai's newly installed Thaddeus Ma Daqin denounced the CPCA and was taken away. He has been under house arrest ever since the ceremony in 2012.

Three Chinese bishops were present at Anyang on Tuesday to ordain Joseph Zhang Yilin, all of them Vatican-approved according to UCA News. Had a non-Vatican-approved bishop been among them, it would have been seen as a provocation by Beijing.

Since taking office, Pope Francis has given new impetus to discussions that have been ongoing between Rome and Beijing since the 1980s. In December he ducked out of a meeting with the Dalai Lama, whom China reviles as a "splittist" seeking Tibet's independence.

Around 100 priests attended Tuesday's ceremony, worshippers said, including some Chinese who travelled from the US, Italy or France for the event.

"He comes from a very traditional Catholic family," one said of the new bishop, asking not to be named as the priests had been told not to speak to the media.

"I'm glad he is becoming our bishop. He has a very deep faith and I know he will be able to accomplish his ministry well."

Restrictions on civil and religious society have been stepped up in China since President Xi Jinping came to power two years ago.

In Zhejiang province a campaign to remove crosses from both Protestant and Catholic churches has been running for more than a year, with some houses of worship demolished on the grounds that they violated building codes.

 

 

South China Sea tensions flare at Asia security talks

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Aug 4, 2015 - Southeast Asian diplomats said Tuesday that China's controversial island-building drive is raising regional tensions, with the Philippines slamming its "unilateral and aggressive activities".

The US and some Southeast Asian states have watched with growing alarm as Beijing expands tiny reefs in the South China Sea, topping some with military posts to reinforce its disputed claims over the strategic waters and fanning fears of future conflict.

The flashpoint issue has taken centre stage at the annual security forum hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that began Tuesday.

But China has insisted it will not discuss the dispute during the meetings.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from the Philippines, which along with Vietnam has been involved in the most direct territorial confrontations with China.

"As we speak, we see no let-up on the unilateral and aggressive activities of our northern neighbour in the South China Sea," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told fellow ASEAN foreign ministers at an afternoon meeting, according to a transcript of his remarks obtained by AFP.

He also hit out at what he described as "massive reclamation activities" and construction by Beijing in the disputed sea which had "undermined peace, security and stability".

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday that such gatherings are not "the appropriate place for discussing specific bilateral disputes," and that doing so would "heighten confrontation."

He reiterated China's position that it would not bow to pressure on its land reclamation.

But despite Beijing's protestations, Malaysia's foreign minister said the South China Sea disputes were "discussed extensively" during the day's meetings.

"We also discussed ways to address erosion of trust and confidence amongst parties following recent developments in the South China Sea, including land reclamation, as well as escalation of tension on the ground," Anifah Aman told reporters.

- Competing claims -

Beijing claims control over nearly all of the South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei -- all ASEAN members -- also have various claims, as does Taiwan, many of which overlap.

Beijing insists disputes must be handled on a bilateral basis between rival claimants. Diplomats and analysts say this stance is aimed at preventing ASEAN from presenting a more united front.

But delegates say China will not be able to escape the issue in Kuala Lumpur this week.

"This is not Cambodia or Laos," one diplomat attending the talks told AFP, referring to a 2012 foreign ministers' meeting in which host Cambodia -- China's ally -- was accused of preventing discussion of it.

Adding to the tensions, a Washington-based think tank said this week Beijing could be preparing to build a second airstrip on an artificial island.

China is already building a 3,000-metre (10,000-foot) runway on Fiery Cross reef, which could ultimately be used for combat operations, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Wang rejected calls by some rival claimants and the United States to suspend the land reclamation.

"The freeze proposal may seem even-handed on the surface but it is actually unrealistic and will not work in practice," he said.

The talks will expand over the coming two days into the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, China's Wang and envoys from the wider region including Japan, the Koreas, Russia and elsewhere.

Kerry, who landed in Kuala Lumpur in the afternoon after a brief stopover in Singapore, is to meet Wang on Wednesday morning on the sidelines.

 

 

NATO halves Baltic air policing mission

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Vilnius (AFP) Aug 4, 2015 - NATO on Tuesday said that from September it will reduce its air patrols over the Baltic states, which it stepped up amid concern over Russia's activity in the region.

"As of the 1st of September NATO will have eight aircraft assigned to the Baltic air policing mission," NATO military spokesman Jay Janzen told AFP.

"Right now we happen to have 16 aircraft assigned to the mission but that's well above the military requirements."

Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas downplayed the defence alliance cutback, telling AFP it would not affect regional security.

"Recently there were no airspace violations. Russian aircraft were escorted many times but we avoided violations. Taking that into account, the decision was made based on a rational use of resources."

NATO allies had gradually increased the number of aircraft patrolling over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, from four fighter jets early last year, amid tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine.

NATO has been guarding Baltic skies since 2004, when the trio joined the defence alliance but lacked the air power to monitor their own airspace.

Under Moscow's thumb until 1991, the three small states have been on high alert since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year.

Russian manoeuvres in the Baltic region have stoked concern that the Kremlin may try to destabilise the countries.

The United States has responded by sending rotational forces and pledging to deploy heavy weaponry in the region, moves condemned by Russia as a provocation.

 

 

Japan says temporarily halting work on new US base in Okinawa

 
‎13 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎05:40:15 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Aug 4, 2015 - Tokyo said Tuesday it would temporarily halt work on a controversial new US military base in southern Okinawa as talks continue with local officials opposed to the project.

The one-month delay comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeing his popularity plunge, largely owing to his efforts to expand the role of pacifist Japan's military.

On Tuesday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said construction would be suspended from August 10 until September 9.

The plan to relocate Futenma air base, first mooted in 1996, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist it should be shuttered and a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

"We will once again explain to Okinawa our views on the US base relocation... and hold concentrated discussions to solve these problems," he said.

Takeshi Onaga, the combative governor of Okinawa, told local media that the temporary construction halt was a "positive step".

Both Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the relocation plan, with Abe insisting it was "the only solution".

All sides agree that Futenma's current site -- in the middle of a crowded urban area where its aircraft are a nuisance to thousands of locals -- is not appropriate, but the US will not close it until a replacement facility is ready.

US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that Washington was "confident that both sides remain committed to implementing the relocation of the Marine Corps air station out at Futenma to Camp Schwab at Henoko bay."

Henoko is a small coastal area on Okinawa.

Asked why it had been delayed, Toner said: "These are discussions that need to take place between local authorities and the government of Japan."

Abe has faced opposition over the Okinawa plan and his public opinion ratings are dropping as parliament debates controversial legislation aimed at changing the Japanese military's narrowly defensive role.

The legislation, which Abe says is necessary to counter rising regional tensions, has sparked rare protests in Japan.

 

 

NATO eastward expansion would be 'catastrophic': Russian official

 
‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:33 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 28, 2015 - NATO enlargement into Ukraine and Georgia would have "catastrophic consequences" for Europe, Russia's envoy to NATO warned Tuesday in a television interview, as relations between Moscow and the West sink to Cold War-era lows.

"Any political game concerning NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine is filled with the most serious, most profound geopolitical consequences for all of Europe," Russia's permanent representative to NATO, Alexander Grushko, told LifeNews television channel.

"I hope that people in Brussels and other capitals fully understand the danger of this game, the danger of the cards some forces are still trying to play. This would have catastrophic consequences," he told the Russian channel.

Grushko added that NATO expansion would be catastrophic for Ukraine as well, where a conflict has pitted pro-Moscow rebels against Ukrainian troops since last year.

Moscow's annexation of Crimea last March and the subsequent violence in eastern Ukraine have strained Russia's already tense relations with NATO, and each accuses the other of meddling in the affairs of the former Soviet country.

Grushko accused NATO of raising an "Iron Curtain" in Europe by deploying troops and holding military exercises near its eastern border, a move the military alliance said was aimed at deterring Moscow.

Earlier this year, NATO agreed to boost its defences with six command centres in eastern Europe and a spearhead force of 5,000 troops. The organisation also said it would hold continuous military drills in the region.

On Sunday, Russia announced a new naval doctrine to counter what it called "inadmissible" attempts by NATO to move military infrastructure close to Russia's borders.

 

 

Trump the Donald and other musings

 
‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:33 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 26, 2015 - While the squealing over the Iran nuclear agreement has dropped a few decibels in volume, foreign observers must be confused and occasionally amused over the discourse and tone of America's politics. Not even in Putin's Russia or Communist China, let alone "Clericocratic" Iran, has the rancor over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action approached within light years the acrimony of reactions in America. But another factor will eclipse this brouhaha -- the so-called Donald factor!

For those Americans who have been vacationing on Pluto and for those who have been following this soap opera saga from beyond these shores, the emergence of Donald Trump as a presidential contender must be as much a mystery as that distant planet was until a few days ago. By his many admissions, Trump has been a fabulously successful real estate mogul and entertainment entrepreneur. Based on those triumphs, Trump has thrown himself into the presidential sweepstakes with the finesse of a wrecking ball blasting one of the huge structures he has built.

Claiming to be worth $10 billion, Trump has used his experience as host of his celebrity television series, "The Apprentice" et. al., to obliterate most anything and everything in his path from Mexican rapists in America to demeaning Senator John McCain's exceptional courage as a prisoner of war because he was shot down over Hanoi and captured in 1967. Trump has insulted virtually all the other Republican challengers for the nomination, labeling one of them, Senator Lindsey Graham, "a lightweight."

A large 69-year-old man easily recognized by his extraordinary hairstyle -- rivaling North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong Un's -- Trump believes that attack is the best form of politics and any notoriety is to his benefit. Seen by many as a buffoon who will soon self-destruct of his own weight and lip, Trump is discounted as one of the anomalies that infect American politics from Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy of the 1950's; environmental activist Ralph Nader a generation later; to Ross Perot in the early 1990's. Unfortunately, to discount Trump is a serious mistake.

For all the pomp, circumstance and hot air, Trump could be, and the emphasis is could be, a formidable contender. By one poll last week, Trump was favored by 24 percent of potential Republican primary voters, double the favorite Jeb Bush's second place of 12 percent. The reason for Trump's popularity is understandable.

A number of Americans are furious with Washington and a government that is viewed as hopelessly in gridlock or worse. Trump promises that as an outsider he, and only he, will fix Washington. He points to his (massive) accomplishments in business to establish his bonafides. And his trademark slogan from his TV show "you're fired" will no doubt be liberally applied to Washington if elected and will come into play in the forthcoming debates to intimidate and humiliate his opposition.

This appeal to populism and disgust with Washington could prove infectious. Even if only a fraction of Americans are seduced by this siren song, many more would like to believe something can be done to clean up the mess in the nation's capital. Ross Perot, whose small stature and squeaky voice were far from charismatic or photogenic, captured 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential elections. What could the oversized and blustery Donald do? No one knows yet.

If Mr. Trump were really committed to winning the Oval Office and was prepared to put his money where his ever-present mouth is, he would be a serious candidate. Mitt Romney tithed ten percent of his income to his church. Should Trump commit ten percent of his wealth to his campaign, a billion dollars can draw a great deal of attention and more importantly, votes.

That Trump has put the Republican Party in a tailspin may only be temporary good news for the Democrats. Clearly, how the GOP responds to the Donald's challenge could have profound consequences for the election, good or ill. And so far, the party and the candidates seemed reluctant or afraid to take Trump head on.

That Trump lacks the experience and judgment, let alone character, to be president is not relevant given that Americans do not always nominate or elect the most qualified candidates as the nation's chief executive. And Trump's bent for destructive and acrimonious commentary may ironically appeal to many voters who are disenfranchised from and angry and highly disgusted with government.

The looming question is whether and when Mr. Trump will trump himself. The sooner the better may be too late.

________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist as well as Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

China shows off victory over Japan logo

 
‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:33 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 27, 2015 - China on Monday unveiled its official logo for the forthcoming commemorations of victory over Japan 70 years ago, invoking both peace in the form of doves and robust nationalism with Communist colours and imagery of the Great Wall.

The symbol is centred around a large red-coloured "70" for the years since 1945 and what Beijing calls the end of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War.

Five flying doves ascend from right to left, starting in red and ending in yellow, and the lower part depicts a V-shaped Great Wall.

The logo's dominant colours are red and yellow, the same as the ruling Communist Party and China's post-1949 national flag.

The state-run Xinhua news agency, citing the State Council Information Office (SCIO), said the V of the wall represents China's national unity as well as the usual meaning of victory.

The five doves "demonstrate the memory of history and the aspiration for peace, representing people from the five continents united and moving together towards a beautiful future after going through 'blood and fire'," Xinhua said.

The birds "also symbolise the Chinese people are flying to a future of great rejuvenation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China", Xinhua added.

The phrasing is a reference to President Xi Jinping's much-quoted concept of a "Chinese dream".

The logo's release comes in the run-up to the centrepiece of the commemorations, a huge military parade through Beijing on September 3 -- the day after the anniversary of Japanese forces' formal surrender.

As well as victory over Japan, the events are also meant to mark the broader global defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, regimes that were bound with Tokyo in the Axis alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will attend, and China's defence ministry has confirmed Russian troops will take part in the event.

Moscow held its own parade in May to celebrate victory over Nazi Germany, watched by Xi.

Most Western leaders stayed away due to lingering tensions over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

They are also expected to shun the Beijing parade, which will pass through Tiananmen Square, where student-led protestors demanded democratic reforms in 1989 before the Communist Party sent in troops to crush the demonstrations.

Beijing's Changan Avenue, which runs along the north side of the square, has been equipped with "an explosion proof layer underneath" ahead of the parade, the Global Times newspaper reported on Monday.

The extra padding was for "security and air defence purposes", the paper said, citing a report in the online chinanews.com.

 

 

US extends training to Ukrainian military

 
‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:33 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 25, 2015 - The United States is to begin training Ukrainian army troops in an expansion to its military involvement in the divided country, the State Department said Friday.

US troops have already deployed in small numbers to Ukraine to train National Guard forces, but under the new plan would also take on regular military units.

This will bring the total cost of a security assistance package for the embattled country -- locked in a conflict with pro-Russian separatists -- to $244 million since 2014.

But a spokesman said the training would take place in the west of the country, far from the frontline in the rebellious east and did not mark a major change in US strategy.

"This is going to be small unit training conducted by US Army Europe for Ukrainian Ministry of Defense personnel to help strengthen Ukraine's internal defense capabilities," Mark Toner told reporters.

"This training is part of our long-running defense cooperation with Ukraine and is taking place at the invitation of the Ukraine Government," he said.

"I don't have anything to announce in terms of any types of new equipment or new weaponry," he said. "Our focus is on... non-lethal aid. And there is no plans to change that."

Ukraine has waged a 15-month war against Russian-backed eastern insurgents, in a conflict that has claimed more than 6,500 lives.

The United States and its NATO allies have backed Ukraine diplomatically and have denounced what they see as Russia's intervention to support the rebels and prolong the destabilizing conflict.

But they have been cautious not to be drawn directly into military confrontation with Moscow, offering limited training support for Kiev's units rather than arms shipments.

 

 

Russia revises navy doctrine over NATO's 'inadmissible' expansion

 
‎29 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎02:06:33 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 26, 2015 - Russia aims to boost the strategic positions of its navy on the Black Sea and seek to maintain an Atlantic and Mediterranean presence, according its latest naval doctrine which has been revised over NATO's "inadmissible" expansion.

Published Sunday on the Kremlin website, an updated version of the Russian Navy's doctrine came half a year after a revised military doctrine that dramatically reflected deteriorating relations with the West.

NATO was already seen a major threat in an earlier version of the doctrine published in 2010, but the war in Ukraine has further raised tensions to levels not seen since the Cold War.

The new navy document underlines "the inadmissible character of the Alliance's plans to move military infrastructures towards its borders."

The Russian text sets targets of "developing infrastructures" for its fleet at the Black Sea in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed in 2014 by Russia.

It also calls for the "accelerated reconstitution and completion of strategic Russian positions" in the Black Sea.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin also highlighted "the accent put on the Atlantic and the Arctic" in the new doctrine.

"Our attention towards the Atlantic is justified by the expansion of NATO in the East," he told Russian news agencies.

The doctrine also stipulates the aim of "guaranteeing an adequate military naval presence for Russia in" the Atlantic region.

The same target was set for the Mediterranean, with a deployment of a "permanent manner".

For the energy-rich Arctic, the doctrine wants to "reduce threats on national security and to guarantee strategic stability."

It also sees the "development a Northern Fleet".

"These changes show that Russia pays particular attention to the reinforcement of its naval potential in the Arctic and the Atlantic to counter NATO," military expert Alexander Golts on Moscow Echos radio said.

But "without a decisive reinforcement of the fleet's capacities, all of these make no sense," he added.

NATO agreed in February to dramatically boost its defences with six command centres in eastern Europe and a spearhead force of 5,000 troops, to counter what the alliance called Russian aggression in Ukraine.

 

 

 

Russia begins treason case against ex-military engineer

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 22, 2015 - A Russian court on Wednesday began hearing a treason case against a former military engineer who is accused of giving away state secrets to a Swedish company in a letter seeking employment.

The Moscow City Court held a preliminary sitting into whether Gennady Kravtsov committed treason, his lawyer Ivan Pavlov said. The entire case is classified and will be closed to the media.

Kravtsov quit his job as a military engineer in 2005 and then applied for work abroad, Pavlov said.

"He sent a letter in 2010 to one Swedish organisation asking if they would be interested in inviting him to work," he told AFP. The defence argues that the information in the letter did not contain state secrets.

Kravtsov was born in 1968 and has three children, Pavlov added.

Some Russian media have said that Kravtsov was working for the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia's military intelligence agency.

He has been held in the notorious Lefortovo jail, used for sensitive cases, since May 2014, and the court on Wednesday has extended his detention until January 10.

Russia has charged an increasing number of its citizens with high treason in recent months amid heightened tensions with the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Separately, a spokeswoman for another court in Moscow told AFP that three men facing treason charges -- Yevgeny Chistov, Viktor Shure and Maxim Lyudomirsky -- had their detention extended in hearings Wednesday.

No details could be given out about the cases as they had been classified as secret, the spokeswoman said.

Among other high-profile treason cases was that of a provincial housewife and mother of seven who phoned the Ukrainian embassy worried that soldiers stationed in her town may be sent there. The charges were later dropped after a public outcry.

 

 

Finland says no plans to deploy units along Russia border

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Helsinki (AFP) July 22, 2015 - Finland's defence minister on Wednesday denied recent reports that his country is planning to deploy rapid response units along its border with Russia, amid intense regional tensions over the crisis in Ukraine.

"We don't have any new units, and during peacetime no redeployment of units is happening," Jussi Niinisto told Finnish news agency STT.

Reports of such plans popped up in Russian media last weekend, after a US-based defence weekly published a story claiming the Nordic non-NATO member planned to deploy new units near its 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia.

Niinisto called the claims "typical disinformation", and said recent quotes had been taken out of context.

Finland's military announced in June it was planning a quicker call-up system for reservists due to the Ukraine crisis and increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea area.

Finland has tried to maintain good relations with its powerful neighbour since the end of World War II.

 

 

Japan defence paper slams China's 'coercive' maritime demands

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 21, 2015 - Japan on Tuesday slammed Beijing's bid to reclaim land in the South China Sea as a "coercive attempt" to force sweeping maritime claims, in a defence paper that comes as Tokyo is expanding the role of its own military.

Tokyo said China was acting "unilaterally and without compromise", as it also highlighted concern about North Korea's nuclear programme and Russian moves in violence-wracked Ukraine.

The white paper accused Beijing of "raising concerns among the international community" as it ramped up criticism from last year's report, an annual summary of Japan's official view on defence matters.

"China, particularly over maritime issues, continues to act in an assertive manner, including coercive attempts at changing the status quo, and is poised to fulfil its unilateral demands without compromise," said the report entitled "Defense of Japan 2015".

China is locked in disputes with several countries over its claims to almost the entire South China Sea and is currently pursuing a rapid programme of artificial island construction in the region.

It is also embroiled in a separate row with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands -- which it calls the Diaoyus -- in the East China Sea, as Chinese ships and aircraft regularly test Japanese forces in the area.

While the Sino-Japanese spat has cooled considerably over the last 12 months or so, observers have warned that it could spiral into a limited armed conflict.

Separately, Japan has complained that China may have started offshore drilling for gas in the disputed waters.

"Japan has repeatedly lodged protests against China's unilateral development and demanded the termination of such works," the report said.

The document repeated Tokyo's concerns over China's growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in the Pacific and over what it calls the "opaqueness" of Beijing's sky-rocketing military budget.

But it also noted that China has worked to set up an emergency hotline with Tokyo to prevent unintended conflicts at sea.

- 'Harsher security environment' -

Following the issuing of the Japanese white paper, Beijing criticised the document for playing up "the so-called 'China military threat'".

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said that a foreign ministry spokesman argued the white paper "ignores facts, makes irresponsible remarks... deliberately plays up the 'China threat' and stirs up tensions".

Last week, China criticised Tokyo after the lower house of parliament passed bills that could see Japanese troops fight abroad for the first time since World War II, in provisions that allow for so-called "collective defence" -- coming to the aid of allies under attack.

A fraught mutual history makes Beijing particularly sensitive to any suggestion that Japan may abandon its pacifism.

Millions of Chinese died in the years after Japanese forces launched a full-scale invasion of the country in 1937.

But Tokyo's move to give greater leeway to its well-equipped and well-trained military is far from popular at home, and polls show approval ratings for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- the driving force behind the changes -- are plunging.

A new weekend poll showed just 35 percent of voters positively rated Abe, his lowest level since coming to power in 2012.

"We hope to explain to the public that the bills are necessary amid a harsher security environment around Japan," the government's top spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters Tuesday, asked about unpopularity of the bills and the government.

Referring to the Ukraine crisis, the report said Russia "has engaged in so-called 'hybrid warfare' that is difficult to identify definitively as an armed attack by a country, and has attempted to change the status quo by force or coercion".

"The Russian attempt is considered to be a global security issue possibly affecting the whole international community, including Asia," it said.

On North Korea, the report warned of a "greater risk" of Pyongyang deploying ballistic missiles mounted with nuclear warheads "that include Japan in their range".

 

 

Philippines hikes defence budget 25% amid China tensions

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) July 21, 2015 - The Philippines is planning a 25 percent hike in its defence budget next year, mainly to bolster its claims in the disputed South China Sea, officials said Tuesday.

The proposed 2016 national budget, which President Benigno Aquino is to present to parliament for approval on Monday, would reserve a record 25 billion pesos ($552 million) for defence spending.

Funds would be used to acquire navy frigates and patrol aircraft, budget and defence officials told AFP.

"We need to protect what is clearly within our territorial jurisdiction," Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said, when asked if the increase was due to the Philippines' maritime row with China.

"Certainly, we need to at least be able to effectively monitor the developments in the area, particularly those in disputed zones," he added.

Under the three-trillion-peso budget bill, defence spending would be up from a 20-billion-peso military budget last year and five times bigger than in 2013, the officials said.

The proposed 2016 defence budget is part of a five-year, 75-billion-peso military modernisation programme approved by Aquino in 2013, Abad said.

The amount would still be dwarfed by China, which claims most of the South China Sea including areas close to the shores of its Asian neighbours.

Beijing budgeted $142.9 billion for its military this year.

- Modernisation catch-up -

One of the region's most poorly equipped, the Philippine military relies on half-century old ships and aircraft keeping watch over the South China Sea, where tensions have flared recently.

The Philippines is catching up on military modernisation after spending was held back to just five billion pesos in 2013 as the government shifted resources to recovery from Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the country that year leaving 7,350 people dead or missing.

The Philippine military's mission to protect the country's territory is complicated by long-running communist and Muslim insurgencies that forces it to devote troops and equipment for internal security.

While China has gone on an island-building frenzy to reinforce its claims on South China Sea reefs and waters, the Philippines has set repairs on a crumbling World War II ship that serves as its lonely outpost there.

The BRP Sierra Madre, emblematic of the Philippine military, was deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1995 in a desperate move to check China's advance in the Spratly islands.

The South China Sea chain is also disputed in whole or in part by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"This budget will allow us more latitude in acquiring new assets for the Armed Forces of the Philippines," defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.

"We are pushing hard on modernisation and we will need all the help we can get.... This includes the purchase of frigates and patrol aircraft."

Two of 12 fighter jets that the Philippines had bought from South Korea are expected to be delivered as early as November, he said.

A United Nations-backed tribunal is expected to decide in months whether it has jurisdiction over a Philippine petition to declare China's claims as illegal.

Beijing has refused to cooperate in the arbitration proceedings.

 

 

Philippines cheers growing outcry over South China Sea

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) July 19, 2015 - The Philippines on Sunday hailed what it termed growing international support for its efforts to counter China's claims to most of the South China Sea.

The comments from a presidential spokesman came as the US Pacific Fleet released photographs of its commander in a surveillance flight over the sea, where tension is rising between Manila and Beijing.

Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said that "there are additional voices supporting our move for a peaceful resolution to the debate over... the South China Sea."

He said many nations agreed that the dispute "must go through legal process as signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea".

"We welcome the growing support for the position of our country," Coloma told reporters, citing the European Union, Australia, Japan and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Coloma also cited recent remarks by leading US senators such as John McCain, praising the Philippine efforts to resolve the matter peacefully and calling on the United States to continue to maintain peace in the region.

The Philippines earlier this month argued its case before a UN-backed tribunal in the Hague, challenging China's claim over most of the resource-rich sea.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings and called on the Philippines to agree to bilateral talks instead.

The Philippines and other countries have also recently raised alarm at China's reclamation of outcrops in the Sea to create islands that could house military facilities.

China claims most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbours.

The Philippines, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have their own claims.

The Philippines, which has one of the region's weakest militaries, has been improving defence ties with its close ally the United States.

In an apparent sign of the continued alliance, the US Pacific Fleet released photographs on its website on Sunday of its commander, Admiral Scott Swift, aboard a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft, flying a "seven-hour maritime surveillance mission" over the South China Sea on Saturday as part of his recent visit to the Philippines.

It was not stated which parts of the sea the US commander flew over.

The Philippines said Thursday it would reopen a US naval base that was closed more than 20 years ago, stationing its own military hardware at Subic Bay facing the South China Sea.

 

 

Philippines to re-open former US base amid China sea row

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) July 16, 2015 - The Philippines said Thursday it would re-open a former US naval base that was closed more than 20 years ago, stationing its own military hardware at the facility that faces the flashpoint South China Sea.

The announcement comes as the Philippines is embroiled in a bitter dispute with China over rival claims to parts of the sea, including a rich fishing shoal close to the military base.

Defence department spokesman Peter Galvez said the Philippines would station aircraft and naval vessels at Subic Bay, which was one of the US military's biggest overseas bases until it closed in 1992.

"It's location is very strategic," Galvez said, referring to its position facing the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.

"If we need to deploy to the West Philippine Sea, it (Subic) is already there, we do not deny that. It's a deepwater port."

After the Americans left, the sprawling base about two hours' drive north of Manila was converted into a trading zone and industrial hub with tax concessions for businesses who set up shop.

The Philippine military has recently leased back some of those facilities from the government authority that manages the business zone, presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said.

Last year, Manila signed an agreement giving its defence ally the United States more access to Filipino military facilities, as part of plans by the poorly equipped Filipino forces to attain a deterrent capability.

However this deal, under which US forces could potentially have regained use of Subic Bay, has been postponed amid a legal challenge now being heard by the Supreme Court.

China claims most of the South China Sea -- home to strategically vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas -- and is currently pursuing a rapid programme of artificial island construction in the region.

The Philippines is among the most vocal critics of China's claims, and has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to declare China's claim over most of the South China Sea as illegal.

Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino Navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

Subic Bay is 198 kilometres (123 miles) east of Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines said Wednesday it was also repairing a crumbling ship serving as its lonely outpost in the disputed waters.

The move, which will ensure the rust-eaten World War II-vintage BRP Sierra Madre remains livable for a tiny unit of marines guarding Second Thomas Shoal, was lambasted by China, who branded the Philippines a "hypocritical troublemaker and rule breaker".

 

 

Manila to base jets, frigates near China-claimed waters

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) July 20, 2015 - The Philippines plans to station fighter jets and frigates on a former US naval base facing the South China Sea, where it is engaged in a maritime row with China, a defence official said Monday.

They will be located in Subic Bay, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) from a shoal off the northern Philippines controlled by Chinese forces, said Arsenio Andolong, the defence department's public affairs chief.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines "will use portions of Subic for the new assets coming in like the FA-50 (jets) and the new vessels that are arriving," Andolong told AFP.

"They (the Subic facilities) are ideal: it has a deep-water port, the runways are perfect for the FA-50," he added.

Manila said last week it would reopen Subic Bay -- one of the US's largest overseas bases until it was shut down more than two decades ago -- and station Filipino military assets there for the first time.

Andolong said the military has leased part of Subic Bay for 15 years and plans to use it as a base for new equipment that will be bought over the next few years as part of a modernisation programme.

The first pair of a dozen FA-50 fighter jets are scheduled to be delivered this year and the other 10 will arrive within two years, he added. The military is still evaluating from where to acquire two new frigates.

Subic Bay currently serves as a commercial port and tourist site facing onto the South China Sea where China is locked in a dispute with the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan over conflicting territorial claims.

Andolong said the South China Sea dispute was "one of the considerations that was envisioned when the (lease agreement) was signed".

He also said the "proximity" to Scarborough Shoal -- a rich fishing ground that was occupied by Chinese ships after a standoff with the Philippines in 2012 -- was another.

The Philippines has been building up its weak military and improving defence ties with close ally the US as its territorial dispute with China has increased.

Andolong said US ships could continue to make port calls and hold military exercises there as they have been doing in recent years, but brushed aside speculation Subic would become a US base again.

Last year, Manila signed an agreement giving the United States more access to Filipino military facilities, but the deal has been postponed because of a legal challenge now being heard by the Supreme Court.

 

 

US-led drills in Ukraine may threaten peace process: Moscow

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 20, 2015 - Moscow said on Monday that US-led military exercises in western Ukraine that began this week may have "explosive" consequences and threaten to derail the peace process in the separatist east.

"The military drills involving NATO members and Ukraine's army that started in Lviv region under US command are a clear demonstration of NATO's provocative policy to unequivocally support the policies of current Kiev authorities in eastern Ukraine," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ukrainian and US troops on Monday launched fresh drills involving 1,800 soldiers from 18 countries, meant to bolster the morale of the armed forces amid an ongoing 15-month conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

Russia responded mere hours after the drills kicked off near Ukraine's border with Poland.

"Not only is NATO not ready to recognise the wrongness and possible explosive consequences of holding such drills but it is considerably increasing their scope," it said.

"These actions... may threaten to disrupt the visible progress in the peace process concerning the deep internal crisis in Ukraine," it said.

Kiev has been locked in a conflict since April 2014 with pro-Moscow rebels in parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, accusing Russia of funnelling in troops and resources to sustain the insurgency -- charges Moscow denies.

A peace accord was struck in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February, but deadly clashes continue despite the truce.

 

 

Beijing chides US over South China Sea flight

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 20, 2015 - China on Monday called on Washington not to pick sides in quarrels over the South China Sea, state media said, days after a US naval commander flew over the disputed waters.

US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift on Saturday made what the fleet called a "seven-hour maritime surveillance mission" over the South China Sea aboard a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

Swift also visited the Philippines, a close US ally and one of several countries locked in territorial disputes with China over competing claims to the Sea.

China's defence ministry responded by calling on the US to "take more actions to promote regional peace and stability, and not the opposite".

"We hope the US will abide by its promise not to take sides over South China Sea issues," it added in a statement reported by the Global Times newspaper.

China claims most of the South China Sea, overlapping with areas the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan deem to be their territory.

The Philippines has been improving defence ties with the United States as the conflict has grown, and last week said it would open a US naval base that closed more than 20 years ago facing the Sea.

It was not stated which parts of the disputed waters Swift flew over in the flight, reported Sunday on the website of the US Pacific Fleet.

 

 

US-Cuba relations: A half-century of twists and turns

 
‎23 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:23 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 19, 2015 - Relations between the United States and Cuba, more strained than neighborly over the past century, have seen US occupations, Cold War enmity, and even the brink of nuclear war.

Here are some key events in US-Cuba relations, as the two sides prepare to restore full diplomatic ties and reopen embassies in their respective capitals:

- 1961: The United States breaks diplomatic ties with Cuba on January 3. On April 17, an invasion force of Cuban exiles organized by the Central Intelligence Agency is routed at the Bay of Pigs.

- 1962: The 1960 US embargo is expanded to cut off all trade with Cuba except food and medicine. Soviet missiles are then discovered in the country, sparking the 13-day nuclear crisis.

- 1965: Cuba allows hundreds of exiles to sail to the United States in the October-November Camarioca boatlift. US President Lyndon Johnson establishes "freedom flights," and 260,561 Cubans leave until the program ends in April 1973.

- 1977: US-Cuban relations improve slightly with the establishment of "Interests Sections" in their respective capitals.

- 1980: As part of the Mariel boatlift, Castro says anyone wanting to leave the country can do so through the port of Mariel. Some 125,000 refugees arrive in Florida by late September.

- 1996: The US Congress passes the Helms-Burton Act strengthening the embargo against Cuba.

- May 2002: Former US president Jimmy Carter visits Cuba, becoming the first US leader in or out of office to do so since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

- November 2004: Havana bars US dollars for commercial transactions.

- December 2009: Alan Gross, a government contractor for the US Agency for International Development, is arrested for importing banned computer technology for distribution to Cuba's small Jewish community.

- March 2011: Gross is sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state."

- Spring 2013: US President Barack Obama authorizes exploratory negotiations with Cuba on normalizing ties, leading to secret negotiations, at times aided by the Vatican.

- December 17, 2014: Obama and Castro simultaneously announce plans to normalize ties and the release of prisoners. Cuba releases the 65-year-old Gross and a Cuban spy, while the United States frees three Cubans imprisoned on espionage charges.

- January 12, 2015: US announces that Cuba has released 53 political prisoners as part of the normalization deal. Washington eases travel and trade restrictions a few days later. The embargo, however, remains in place.

- January 21-22: The highest-level US delegation in 35 years holds talks with Cuban counterparts in Havana on migration and the reopening of embassies -- the first round of several held by diplomats.

- January 26: Fidel Castro, Cuba's revolutionary leader, breaks his silence, saying he does not oppose the rapprochement even though he lacks confidence in Washington.

- March 11: A direct telephone link is established between the two countries.

- April 11: Obama and Raul Castro meet in Panama on the sidelines of the Americas summit, the first face-to-face talks between a US and Cuban president since the 1959 revolution.

- May 29: The United States removes Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key stumbling block.

- July 1: Obama and Castro exchange letters confirming the re-establishment of diplomatic ties as of July 20 and the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana. Obama calls it a "historic step forward."

 
 

Japan's top security envoy to visit China

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 15, 2015 - Japan said Wednesday its top security diplomat will tour China and Mongolia in a trip seen as a potential precursor to another summit between Tokyo and Beijing.

Shotaro Yachi, the head of the National Security Council, will visit Beijing from Thursday through Saturday for talks including a meeting with Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat who serves as state councillor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Yachi will also go to Mongolia after his visit to Beijing, Suga added.

The government said the trip by Yachi, formerly a top career diplomat, is part of routine work to build ties with his counterparts around the world.

Yachi "regularly visits foreign countries under the prime minister's orders to meet with his counterparts to build relations," Suga told a press briefing. "This trip to China and Mongolia will be part of that," he said.

Local media is rife with speculation that he is going there to pave the way for a possible visit to China by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for what would be his third talks with President Xi Jinping.

The two conservative leaders met in November 2014 for the first time and in April this year -- both on the sidelines of international meetings.

Strains over territorial disputes and attitudes towards wartime history continue to divide Asia's top economies.

But Abe and Xi are seen as gradually warming up to each other to foster better ties, particularly economic relations.

Abe is considering travelling to China around the time of a September 3 ceremony in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Nikkei daily and the Mainichi Shimbun said over the past weekend.

China officially invited Abe to attend the event marking Beijing's victory in what it calls the war of resistance against Japanese aggression, but it has yet to receive a response, Kyodo News reported.

 

 

Chaos in Japan parliament as defence bill sparks uproar

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 15, 2015 - There were chaotic scenes inside Japan's normally orderly parliament Wednesday as opposition lawmakers thronged a committee room in an unsuccessful bid to block Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's controversial security bills.

Dozens of politicians held signs protesting against what they said was the "forced" passage of legislation that will bolster the role of Japan's military, in a way they say is anathema to the country's pacifist constitution.

The floor of the committee room filled moments after chairman Yasukazu Hamada, a member of Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), called a vote.

Lawmakers chanted "nay, nay, nay" and held posters saying "No to Abe politics", and "No to a forced decision", as their LDP colleagues pressed on with the vote, which they won comfortably.

"This will drastically change our defence policies. It's also likely they are unconstitutional," said Katsuya Okada, head of main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

"I strongly protest that these bills were forced through the committee," he said.

The bills, which are expected to go to a vote of the powerful -- and LDP-dominated -- lower chamber on Thursday, are something of a pet project for Abe, despite widespread public disquiet over what many Japanese say is an affront to 70 years of pacifism.

Hundreds of people protested outside parliament Wednesday, with numbers expected to swell throughout the evening.

On Tuesday, around 20,000 people rallied against the changes.

Abe, a robust nationalist, has pushed for what he calls a normalisation of Japan's military posture. He has sought to loosen restrictions that have bound the so-called Self-Defense Forces to a narrowly defensive role for decades.

But unable to muster the public support to amend the pacifist constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, Abe opted instead to re-interpret it for the purpose of his bills.

- Political cost -

Chief among the changes that the legislation will enable is the option for the military to go into battle to protect allies -- so called "collective defence" -- even if there is no direct threat to Japan or its people, something successive governments have ruled out.

If, as expected, the lower chamber passes the bills on Thursday, they will go to the upper house.

Abe has been forced to extend the parliamentary session months beyond its normal finish in a bid to get the legislation through both chambers.

But there are growing signs that his determination to push the unpopular bills is exacting a political cost.

Abe's support rate has fallen to 39 percent, lower than the 42 percent disapproval rating, according to the latest poll by the leading Asahi newspaper.

The shift in military policy is supported by just 26 percent of those polled, while 56 percent expressed opposition.

While there is little chance of Abe stepping down, the premier's declining popularity echoes that of his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, whose support for a security treaty with the US helped bring about his resignation as prime minister in 1960.

"Unfortunately, the Japanese people still don't have a substantial understanding" of the bills, the prime minister told the panel on Wednesday.

"I will work harder so public understanding would deepen further."

Japanese politics abounds with the notion that those who disagree with a position do not understand it properly, and must have it explained to them more carefully.

 

 

Greece bailout deal important for 'security': NATO

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Ljubljana (AFP) July 13, 2015 - NATO on Monday welcomed a bailout deal reached between its "staunch ally" Greece and EU leaders, saying the nation's economic stability was also vital for the "security" of other NATO countries.

"I welcome the agreement because I think that it is important for the Greek economy but also for the whole of Europe and NATO," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Slovenia.

"The stability, economic prosperity (of Greece) is important for many reasons, but of course also important for the security of all our countries."

Stoltenberg described Greece as a "committed ally".

"It's an ally that has spent more than two percent of GDP on defence for several years and I'm absolutely confident that Greece will continue to be a staunch and committed ally," he said.

"Greece is going to invest in defence also in the future."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed on Monday to tough reforms in return for a three-year bailout worth up to 86 billion euros ($96 billion), the country's third rescue programme in five years.

 

 

Dark mystique of French Foreign Legion keeps drawing foreigners

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Fontenay-Sous-Bois, France (AFP) July 13, 2015 - It's the stuff of legends. An elite force that takes in people from all over the world, erases their troubled pasts and asks them to fight tooth and nail for a country that isn't theirs.

Thousands of potential recruits knock on the door of the French Foreign Legion every year, hoping to joina 6,800-strong force that has fought for France for close to two centuries in conflicts the world over.

"The Legion is one of the best armed forces in the world, a legend. It's a school of life," says Gidey, a 24-year-old Ethiopian who is trying his luck at Fort de Nogent near Paris -- one of the Legion's two selection centres.

For one week, Gidey and others will take physical and psychological tests with the hope of one day becoming a member of the elite force, and maybe slow-march down the Champs-Elysees in France's trademark July 14 national day military parade.

"We only accept one in eight. You've got to earn it," says Francois-Xavier Petiteau, in charge of recruitment at the Foreign Legion.

"The law allows us to take in illegal migrants. We're careful though, we need to be able to identify them, and then there is a whole host of checks."

- Major crimes off limits -

Established in 1831, the crack corps was set up as a unit for foreign volunteers who could change their identities and turn a page on their past by fighting the enemies of France.

The mystique of the adventure-seeking corps was enshrined in Hollywood movies such as "Beau Geste" and "March or Die."

It used to be that wanted criminals could find solace at the Legion, hiding under the white, flat-topped military hat, known as the kepi, that has come to embody the force.

But those who committed murders, sex crimes or were involved in drug trafficking are now off-limits.

"When it comes to smaller offences, it depends," says Petiteau, smiling.

Those who knock on the door of the elite force -- aged 17-and-a-half to 40 -- often have troubled pasts and are searching for redemption, for a second chance or simply for a life of adventure.

Take Lawrence Franks, an American soldier with suicidal urges who abandoned his unit to join the Legion, serving for five years under an assumed name before being convicted for desertion in December by the US military.

But before anyone is accepted, the Legion's investigators meticulously go over a candidate's past -- and sometimes even enrol the help of international police agency Interpol.

"It can take a while," says Petiteau.

"Sometimes they tell us: 'That one, out.' They don't say why and we don't ask."

- 'Shed blood' to become French -

After the initial, week-long selection, wannabe legionnaires are sent to Aubagne in the southeast for more tests, and then they move to a base near the southern town of Castelnaudary where they undergo 16 weeks of gruelling training.

This begins with a largely sleepless month in an isolated farm, where the candidates are closed off from the outside world.

"They are put into a system that will shatter everything from their past life, and overcome all differences in nationalities," says spokesman Francois Herve-Bazin.

The month ends with a long, arduous march come rain or shine, at the end of which they formally enter the Legion and get given the coveted kepi.

"The French flag becomes your flag," General Philippe Chalmel, who supervises the cap-giving ceremony, tells new recruits.

Three more months of training, and the soldiers are ready to go.

Most of those who join, though, do not speak French.

In June, a majority of the 70 men who were on their month-long initiation at the Bel Air farm near Castelnaudary were Russian speakers. One of the soldiers-to-be was Mongol and spoke fluent French.

"Within 16 weeks, they must know 500 words of French," says Clement Dutoit, one of the instructors.

The legionnaire can get French nationality after five years of service, and less if he is injured.

"I feel that the best thing in the Legion is to give someone the possibility to become French by shedding his blood," says Chalmel.

 

 

Dozens of Russian troops 'flee unit, fearing Ukraine deployment'

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 11, 2015 - Dozens of Russian soldiers are facing trial for fleeing their unit, fearing deployment to Ukraine, a news site and a lawyer for five of the men said Saturday.

The popular Gazeta.ru website said several dozen soldiers would be prosecuted after fleeing a training ground in southern Russia where they were under pressure to "volunteer" to fight in Ukraine.

The troops had freely enlisted for the army and are not draftees, it said.

It is the latest report to allege Russian soldiers are being sent to eastern Ukraine despite Moscow's insistence that only "volunteers" are fighting alongside the pro-Russian separatists.

The defence ministry said that only four soldiers named in the report are under investigation for "disciplinary offences", denying dozens were involved, the Echo of Moscow radio station reported.

Gazeta.ru cited mothers of two soldiers from the unit, based in the town of Maikop in the North Caucasus, as saying their sons had fled a training ground in the southern Rostov region, fearing being sent to Ukraine.

- Pressure to 'volunteer' -

A lawyer representing five of the soldiers, Tatiana Chernetskaya, speaking by phone to AFP confirmed the report and said "dozens" of soldiers faced tribunals.

"They all have the same story. They all served together in the same unit," said Chernetskaya, based in the southern town of Krasnodar.

"They weren't directly forced to go to Ukraine. People came to the unit to canvass them to go," Chernetskaya said, adding the recruiters were "not wearing any identification tags."

"According to the soldiers, they offered 8,000 rubles ($142) per day," she said.

The soldiers fled, not wanting "to find themselves in battle," she said.

Since Russia is technically not at war with Ukraine, "if they were sent to Ukraine, it could be seen as a criminal act," she added, calling the soldiers "law-abiding."

"They went back to Maikop and started writing resignation letters but these were not accepted and this all led to the launching of criminal cases."

She said four of her clients are charged with going AWOL while one is charged with the more serious offence of desertion.

She said soldiers started going on trial in March and several had already been convicted.

Gazeta.ru cited the mother of 21-year-old soldier Ivan Shevkunov, who is facing up to 10 years' jail as a deserter.

"He said that soldiers were being forced to go (to Ukraine) as volunteers," said the soldier's mother, named as Svetlana Nikolayevna.

Gazeta.ru also published a handwritten statement by another soldier, Pavel Tynchenko, who has been charged with going absent without leave.

In the statement to the judge of the military tribunal, Tynchenko wrote: "I did not want to go against the oath I swore and did not want to take part in military actions in Ukraine."

Gazeta.ru cited official statistics on Maikop garrison's military tribunal, saying it convicted 62 soldiers of going AWOL in the first half of 2015.

The court's website says a soldier from the Maikop unit on Thursday was convicted of going AWOL and robbery and sentenced to nine months in a prison colony.

The Kremlin's rights council, an advisory body, is due to visit Maikop next week and Chernetskaya said she planned to meet them to raise the soldiers' trials.

"The number of witnesses of this state crime (illegally sending soldiers to participate in an undeclared war) is already such that it is impossible to conceal them," opposition politician Alexei Navalny wrote on his blog.

 

 

Japanese envoy to visit China ahead of possible summit: reports

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 12, 2015 - Japan's top security diplomat could visit China as early as this week ahead of a possible visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to repair strained ties between the neighbours, local media said Sunday.

Shotaro Yachi, the head of the National Security Council, plans to visit Beijing for talks with Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat who serves as state councillor, Japan's public broadcaster NHK and other media reported.

Yachi is expected to lay the groundwork for a summit between Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, following their meeting in April in Jakarta on the sidelines of international conferences, they said.

Abe is considering travelling to China around the time of a September 3 ceremony in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Nikkei daily and the Mainichi Shimbun said.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have warmed over the past year, but strains over territorial disputes and attitudes towards wartime history continue to divide Asia's top economies.

China officially invited to Abe to attend the event marking Beijing's victory in what it calls the war of resistance against Japanese aggression, but it has yet to receive a response, Kyodo News reported.

The visit could be imperilled if Abe makes any divisive comments in a statement on the war anniversary, Japanese media said.

Abe's language in the planned statement is being closely watched by China and South Korea, who suspect him of being a historical revisionist bent on re-forging global opinion of Japan's warring.

Beijing and Seoul vociferously argue that Tokyo has not properly atoned for its actions in the 1930s and 1940s and does not fully accept its guilt.

Abe has said he may not issue a direct apology for Japan's past aggression as he wants Japan to have what he calls a less masochistic view of its history.

 

 

Russia poses 'greatest threat' to US national security: Dunford

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 9, 2015 - Russia now poses the greatest threat to US national security and its behavior is "nothing short of alarming," Marine General Joseph Dunford, the nominee to be the US military's top officer, said Thursday.

Dunford, currently the commandant of the US Marine Corps, told senators at his confirmation hearing it would be "reasonable" to provide lethal weapons to Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian rebels.

But he also said that the Pentagon nevertheless needed to maintain some kind of "effective" military-to-military relationship with Moscow.

"Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security," Dunford, who is expected to replace General Martin Dempsey as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He stressed that Russia is a nuclear power that is capable of violating the sovereignty of US allies and doing "things inconsistent with national interests."

"If you want to talk about a nation that could pose a threat to the United States, I would have to point to Russia. If you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming," Dunford said.

Dunford also cited China, North Korea and the Islamic State group as threats to US national security.

Ties between former Cold War foes Washington and Moscow have plunged to new lows since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region last year. Ukrainian forces are still locked in battle with pro-Russian rebels in the separatist east.

"From a military perspective, I think it's reasonable we provide that support to the Ukrainians," Dunford said.

"Frankly, without that kind of support, they're not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression."

Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the panel, welcomed Dunford's push for arms.

"In Europe, Vladimir Putin's Russia continues its onslaught in Ukraine," said McCain.

"But even as Russian troops and equipment execute this neo-imperial campaign to undermine Ukraine's government and independence, the United States has refused Ukraine the weapons it needs and deserves for its defense."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acts as the top military advisor to the US president and the secretary of defense.

 

 

History will prove me right over security bills: Japan PM

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:11:48 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 9, 2015 - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed Thursday his push to beef up Japan's military in the face of public and parliamentary opposition would be vindicated by history.

Abe, who is being assailed for security bills that opponents say will drag Tokyo into American wars, invoked his grandfather, former premier Nobusuke Kishi -- who was arrested, but never charged, for war crimes -- as a man who had been proved right by the passage of time.

"At the time of the renewal of the Japan-US security treaty in 1960, there was strong opposition and even criticism inside the party," Abe said.

"My grandfather said that in 50 years his move would be understood, but only 25 to 30 years later a majority of the public supported the renewal of the Japan-US security treaty," he said.

As it was with Kishi, so would it be with him, the prime minister hinted.

"As to the revisions (to security legislation) this time, the situation in the world, especially in Asia, is changing, with North Korea having hundreds of ballistic missiles while developing nuclear warheads.

"To protect Japan, it is necessary to strengthen Japan-US security ties," Abe said.

Abe, a robust nationalist, has pushed for what he calls a normalisation of Japan's military posture. He has sought to loosen restrictions that have bound the so-called Self-Defense Forces to a narrowly defensive role for decades.

But unable to muster the public support to amend the constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, Abe opted instead to re-interpret it for the purpose of his bills.

Chief among the changes is the option for it to go into battle even if there is no direct threat to Japan or its people, something successive governments have ruled out.

Washington, which for 70 years has been the guarantor of Japan's security, has welcomed the move, which to many foreign eyes seems relatively uncontroversial.

However, it has proved deeply unpopular among academics and Japan's public, who are deeply wedded to the commitment to pacifism.

Many legal experts warn the bills -- based not on amendment to the pacifist constitution but changes in interpreting it -- are unconstitutional.

At the forum in Tokyo, hosted by The Economist magazine, Abe noted the comparison with his grandfather extended only so far; Kishi resigned in return for parliament's passage of the treaty renewal.

"I'm not thinking at all of calling a snap election," he said dismissing chatter that he might be forced to go to the people in a bid to rekindle his public popularity.

"As we proceed with discussions, I think people will get to understand the bills step by step, so we will explain carefully and in plain words," he said.

 

Georgia launches joint drills with five NATO countries

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Tbilisi (AFP) July 8, 2015 - Georgian troops on Wednesday launched joint military exercises with United States marines and soldiers from four Eastern European NATO members, the pro-Western ex-Soviet nation's defence ministry said.

The drills dubbed "Agile Spirit 2015" are part of a "substantive package" of measures aimed at bringing Georgia -- which has long sought full NATO membership -- closer to the US-led alliance's standards, the ministry said in a statement.

"One of the priority areas of the package is the holding of NATO exercises on Georgian territory," the ministry said.

Georgia -- which lost a brief war with Moscow in 2008 -- has been rattled by Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and alleged fuelling of a separatist conflict in the east of the country.

Some 220 US marines and platoon-sized Bulgarian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Romanian units will hold the two-week exercises at the Vaziani base outside the Georgian capital Tbilisi with soldiers from the Georgian army's 4th mechanised brigade, according to the ministry.

Georgia's bid to join NATO and the European Union infuriated its former imperial master Russia, which bitterly opposes the alliance's expansion into former Soviet republics.

In August 2008 Georgia fought and lost a brief war with Russia over the Kremlin-backed separatist region of South Ossetia.

Just ahead of the war, NATO leaders agreed at a summit in Bucharest that Georgia would one day join the alliance, but did not put the country on a formal path to eventual membership.

 

 

Britain commits to NATO defence spending target

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 8, 2015 - Britain's Conservative government said Wednesday it would meet a NATO target of spending two percent of GDP on defence until 2020, a move immediately welcomed by the United States.

The defence budget has been slashed since 2010 as part of Prime Minister David Cameron's austerity drive, prompting concerns that NATO's second strongest power will no longer be able to pull its weight in the military alliance.

The armed forces have been reduced by 18,000 personnel in five years and only last month, finance minister George Osborne announced further defence cuts of 500 million pounds (695 million euros, $768 million).

But in his first budget statement since the general election in May, Osborne committed to meet the NATO pledge "not just this year, but every year of this decade".

He told the House of Commons he would increase defence spending every year in real terms, and set up a new "security fund" of 1.5 billion pounds a year by 2020.

The news was greeted with loud cheers from Conservative lawmakers, many of whom had despaired at the government's refusal to commit to the NATO target beyond next year.

Officials said they were waiting for the outcome of a strategic defence and security review, which is due to be completed later this year.

The United States, which itself announced on Tuesday that it would be cutting 40,000 army jobs over the next two years, was quick to welcome Britain's move.

"America welcomes Her Majesty's government's commitment to two percent defense spending, proving again the indispensability of the UK to global security," US ambassador to Britain Matthew Barzun said on Twitter.

However, there are questions over exactly how Britain will calculate the two percent target, after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon indicated last month that it could include some money spent on development aid.

Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, also warned that the target looked set to include the 2.5 billion pounds spent each year on the intelligence agencies.

"The pledge to meet the NATO target of two percent of GDP on defence is not quite as profound as it appears," he said, adding that his committee and others would examine the detail of the government's plans in the coming months.

 

 

Philippines warns China flouting UN maritime laws

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) July 8, 2015 - The Philippines has appealed to an international tribunal to declare China's claims to most of the South China Sea illegal, warning the integrity of United Nations' maritime laws is at stake.

In opening comments to the tribunal in the Hague on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines had sought judicial intervention because China's behaviour had become increasingly "aggressive" and negotiations had proved futile.

Del Rosario said the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to resolve their bitter territorial dispute.

"The case before you is of the utmost importance to the Philippines, to the region, and to the world," del Rosario told the tribunal.

"In our view, it is also of utmost significance to the integrity of the convention, and to the very fabric of the legal order of the seas and oceans."

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategically vital waterway with shipping lanes through which about a third of all the world's traded oil passes.

Its claim, based on ancient Chinese maps, reaches close to the coasts of its southern neighbours.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the sea, which have for decades made it a potential military flashpoint.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent years as a rising China has sought to stake its claims more assertively.

Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino Navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

China has also undertaken giant reclamation activities that have raised fears it will use artificial islands to build new military outposts close to the Philippines and other claimants.

China has rejected all criticism over its actions, insisting it has undisputed sovereign rights to the sea.

However del Rosario told the tribunal in the Hague that China's argument of claiming the sea based on "historic rights" was without foundation.

"The so-called nine dash line (based on an old map used by China) has no basis whatsoever under international law," he said.

The Philippines submitted its case to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, a 117-state body that rules on disputes between countries, in early 2013.

Del Rosario's comments, held in closed door proceedings but released by his office in Manila on Wednesday, were part of the Philippines' opening oral arguments.

China has refused to participate in the proceedings and said it will not abide by any ruling, even though it is has ratified the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However the Philippines hopes a ruling in its favour will pressure China into making concessions.

Any ruling from the tribunal is not expected until next year.

 

 

CORRECTED: Putin hosts BRICS summit amid standoff with West

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Ufa, Russia (AFP) July 8, 2015 - Russian President Vladimir Putin is to meet world leaders on Wednesday including China's Xi Jinping and India's Narendra Modi ahead of the start of a summit of the BRICS emerging economies.

Putin is to hold bilateral talks with leaders of the other BRICS countries -- China, Brazil, South Africa and India -- in the city of Ufa in the Ural mountains for a summit that Moscow hopes will show it is not cut off, despite its standoff with the West over Ukraine.

South African President Jacob Zuma arrived on Tuesday in Ufa while China's Xi was set to arrive Wednesday, as was India's Modi, breaking off a visit to Central Asia. The BRICS summit itself is on Thursday.

Taking place at the same time in the provincial city about 1,100 kilometres (750 miles) from Moscow is a meeting of the regional security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), at which Putin will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran has observer status in the SCO, which is made up of Russia, China and the ex-Soviet Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The high-profile gatherings come as Moscow is locked in an bitter standoff with the West over the Ukraine crisis that has seen Putin given the cold shoulder by the EU and the United States.

The hosting of the BRICS summit "emphasised that Russia's isolation is non-existent as before, despite the claims of some politicians in the United States and the European Union," political analyst Alexei Mukhin who heads the pro-Kremlin Centre for Political Information, told Kommersant FM radio.

BRICS "augurs the formation of a new world, in which the West will not dominate," Fyodor Lukyanov, the Kremlin-linked chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, wrote in Rossiiskaya Gazeta state daily.

"Behind closed doors and at a working lunch, the leaders will discuss all the current problems on the international agenda including Ukraine, including Greece, and the terrorist threat from the Islamic State group," Yury Ushakov, Putin's top foreign policy aide, told journalists ahead of the summit, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.

Among the main items on the agenda will be the establishment of a BRICS bank to finance infrastructure projects in member states and developing countries.

"This will probably be one of the world's leading institutions, which will focus on infrastructure projects," Russia's economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev said.

 

 

Manila starts South China Sea case at Hague tribunal

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) July 7, 2015 - The Philippines opened its case against China before an international arbitration tribunal Tuesday, which it hopes will rule in its favour in an increasingly fraught territorial dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea.

"The case has started for the hearing on jurisdiction and admissibility before the arbitral tribunal," a source familiar with the hearing told AFP.

Manila in early 2013 submitted its case to the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, a 117-state body set up in 1899 to rule in disputes between countries, and private parties including companies.

The Philippines hope to convince a five-member panel of judges and law academics at a closed-door meeting that the PCA has the jurisdiction to hear the case. China is refusing to participate.

If the PCA decides it has jurisdiction, the merits of Manila's case against Beijing's claim over most of the resource-rich sea could be heard at a later round of hearings.

Herminio Coloma, spokesman for Philippines President Benigno Aquino earlier told journalists that Manila is "following its position of seeking a rules-based, diplomatic and peaceful solution."

But China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters it opposed the arbitration.

"China has on many occasions expounded its position by neither accepting nor participating in the arbitrary procedure unilaterally initiated by the Philippines in breach of (an) agreement repeatedly confirmed with China as well as the Philippines," she said.

"China opposes any moves by the Philippines to initiate and push forward the arbitrary proceedings," Hua said.

The PCA's arbitral tribunal is to issue a ruling, called an "award" after the hearing wraps up on Friday, but it was unknown how long it would take and whether it would be released in public.

The panel's ruling is binding on both parties, according to the PCA's arbitration rules published on its website.

The panel's decision also cannot be appealed and must be carried out without delay, said Aaron Matta, a senior researcher at the Hague Institute for Global Justice.

But "the fact that China is not collaborating with the proceedings, casts doubts regarding the future enforcement of the court's eventual award," Matta told AFP.

Based at the Hague's Peace Palace, the PCA is not under obligation to make its rulings public, but could do so with the consent of all parties or where it has a legal duty to do so.

 

 

US to cut 40,000 soldiers from Army: official

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 8, 2015 - The US Army is to cut 40,000 soldiers from its ranks over the next two years at home and abroad, a defense official said Tuesday, in a move that will raise doubts about its ability to fight wars.

Under the cost-cutting plan, the Army will be down to 450,000 soldiers at the end of the 2017 budget year, even though in 2013 it argued in budgetary documents that going below 450,000 troops might mean it could not win a war, USA Today said.

By comparison, the Army swelled to 570,000 men and women during the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

Some 17,000 civilians working for the Army will also be laid off, the official told AFP, confirming the USA Today report.

The paper quoted a document it had obtained and said the cuts are being made to save money.

It will affect virtually every Army post domestically and abroad, USA Today said

The defense official told AFP that the Army plans to announce the cuts soon, with USA Today adding that the matter would be addressed this week.

Across-the-board government budget cuts are due to kick in in October and if Congress does not avert these the Army will have to lay off another 30,000 soldiers on top of the 40,000, according to the document quoted by USA Today.

It comes just a day after President Barack Obama said that the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group would step up its campaign in Syria, while cautioning a long battle remained.

Brigades stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska will be among those downsized, USA Today said.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, told the paper that the cutdown "makes no strategic sense."

More than a year after IS fighters overran much of Iraq and Syria, the United States and its allies are struggling to turn the tide against the extremists in an air campaign known as Operation Inherent Resolve.

The Pentagon last month said it was sending 450 additional US troops to act as advisers to help Iraqi forces seize back control of the western city of Ramadi from jihadist fighters.

Speaking to reporters after a briefing at the Pentagon on Monday, Obama warned the war "will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign."

He added that more needed to be done to train government forces and Sunni tribal fighters in Iraq, as well as moderate Syrian rebels.

 

 

IS in Afghanistan on Xi, Putin's summit agenda: China

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 6, 2015 - Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders will discuss the threat the Islamic State group poses in Afghanistan at a Eurasian security summit in Russia this week, a Chinese official said Monday.

Xi travels to the Russian city of Ufa for a summit on Thursday and Friday of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

It will be preceded by a meeting of leaders of the BRICS group of emerging economies -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

"Due to the spillover effect of the Islamic State terrorist activities, Afghanistan now faces a grim security situation," Chinese vice foreign minister Cheng Guoping told reporters.

SCO leaders "will certainly have in-depth discussions on the Afghan issue", he added. "And they will talk further about how to respond to the security situation there."

China is seeking business interests in Afghanistan and is sensitive to any spillover of Islamic-inspired extremism from the country, which has a short border with its mostly Muslim western region of Xinjiang.

Afghanistan's militant Taliban are seeking to halt defections to IS after some insurgents adopted its flag to rebrand themselves as a more lethal force as NATO troops depart the country.

Last month the Taliban warned the leader of IS group against waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan, after reported clashes between militants loyal to the two groups.

Afghanistan has "observer" status in the SCO, along with India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan, according to the group's website.

- Security co-operation -

The summit will begin procedures for India and Pakistan to join the group as full members after their candidatures were approved last year, Cheng said.

The acceptance of the nuclear-armed rivals -- which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and jockey for influence in Afghanistan -- would mark the SCO's first expansion since its inception in 2001.

Cheng shrugged off any concerns over their tense relations, saying membership "will not only help the organisation become better but will also play a productive role in promoting friendly relations between the two countries".

He also said that China remained on guard against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) it says foments unrest in Xinjiang among the region's ethnic Uighurs, though many analysts outside China have questioned whether any large scale organisation of the kind exists.

"It has participated in some terrorist activities of the IS," he said of ETIM. "China is concerned about that and we will also maintain security cooperation with relevant countries."

Besides the group summits, Xi will hold bilateral talks with Putin in their eighth such meeting since Xi became president in 2013. Xi visited Russia in May to witness a vast military parade at Red Square to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

"The Chinese and Russian leaders have established a very good working relationship and personal friendship," Cheng said, adding: "As permanent members of the (UN) Security Council a sound relationship between these two countries plays an important role in promoting world peace".

He said they will discuss bilateral relations, including economic cooperation and "specific cooperation projects", without elaborating.

Russia -- which invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and occupied it for a decade -- has strengthened ties and trade with China since coming under Western sanctions for its actions in Ukraine.

Russia became China's top crude supplier in May for the first time in a decade, Bloomberg News reported last month, as Moscow seeks new markets for its oil.

 

 

Japan joins US-Australia war games amid China tensions

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Sydney (AFP) July 5, 2015 - The United States and Australia kicked off a massive joint biennial military exercise on Sunday, with Japan taking part for the first time as tensions with China over territorial rows loom over the drills.

The two-week "Talisman Sabre" exercise in the Northern Territory and Queensland state involves 30,000 personnel from the US and Australia practising operations at sea, in the air and on land.

Some 40 personnel from Japan's army -- the Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) -- will join the American contingent, while more than 500 troops from New Zealand are also involved in the exercise, which concludes on July 21.

"It is a very, very important alliance," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday in Sydney on board the USS Blue Ridge, which is taking part in the exercise, referring to Australia-US ties.

"It's a very important relationship and right now we are facing quite significant challenges in many parts of the world but particularly in the Middle East."

The war games, being held for the sixth time, come as China flexes its strategic and economic muscle in the region.

Beijing has been building artificial islands and facilities in disputed waters in the South China Sea, and has a separate territorial dispute with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands -- which it calls the Diaoyus -- in the East China Sea.

"There's subtle message going out that at every level -- from hardware to technical and strategic expertise and cooperation -- the main American allies and America are working very closely together largely to account for China," John Lee, a China specialist at the University of Sydney, told AFP.

"It's definitely linked to the notion that China is becoming more assertive and that it seems to be putting money into military capabilities to back up its assertiveness in the South China Sea in particular."

Beijing rejected US criticism of its reclamation works in the South China Sea during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue meeting in May, saying it was just exercising its sovereignty.

- Stepping up Japan ties -

The US has been pursuing a foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia, which has rattled China, and is rotating Marines through northern Australia -- a move announced by President Barack Obama in 2011.

While Beijing would not be pleased with Japan's involvement in the drills, it would also not be surprised, experts said.

Australia has stepped up its relationship with Japan in recent years and last July Abbott described his counterpart Shinzo Abe as "a very, very close friend" during a state visit to Canberra.

The Australian government is also considering buying Soryu-class submarines from Japan, which Lee said would be fully integrated with US weapons systems.

"It's a continuation of a deepening security relationship between Australia and Japan," Andrew Davies, a senior defence capability analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told AFP of Japan's inclusion in the exercise.

"It's been a work in progress for at least a decade now and it's gathering pace, and Australia and Japan are looking for opportunities to do things together in the military space."

At the same time, the US's regional strategic relationships were evolving even before China's recent actions, with a shift away from bilateral pacts towards multilateral alliances, Davies said.

America's other allies -- such as Singapore, Malaysia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines -- would be supportive of the exercise, as well as Australia and Japan's activities in the region, Lee added.

"Undoubtedly it would be received very well because all the other countries are desperately hoping that America and capable allies can actually work together to counter China," he said.

Japan's involvement has in part also been driven by domestic politics, Asian security specialist Craig Snyder of Deakin University said, as Abe's right-wing government tries to increase Tokyo's participation in regional security.

 

 

China has nearly finished runway on artifical island in South China Sea

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Jul 05, 2015 - According to new satellite photos, an airstrip being constructed by the Chinese government atop the Fiery Cross Reef could be completed even sooner than expected. The images, taken on June 28, show the rapid progress made by the Chinese government in building the 10,000-foot runway on Fiery Cross Reef. Large enough to support almost every type of military aircraft, the airstrip is also accompanied by an apron and taxiway.

According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which published the photographs, the runway is in the final stages of being paved and marked. The US military had predicted that the airstrip could be complete as soon as next year, but the new images suggest that estimate underestimated Beijing's progress.

Satellite images also detail two helipads on the island, at least 10 communications antennas, and what appears to be a radar tower.

Further to the east, satellite imagery also provides more detail about construction activity on South Johnson Reef. Significantly smaller than Fiery Cross Reef, the island still features a 3,000 square meter harbor and multiple radar installations. Construction has recently begun on a large military facility in the island's center, and what appear to be weapons towers.

The Chinese government has stated its intentions with the islands are largely humanitarian, allowing crews to respond rapidly to emergency situations. Last month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said that military installations would be added to meet the "necessary military defense requirements."

Beijing's land reclamation projects are taking place in the South China Sea, a highly contested stretch of water. While China lays claim to most of the sea, there are overlapping claims by Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Nearly $5 trillion in trade passes through the waterway each year.

Washington has been fiercely critical of the projects, despite China's repeated statements that it has every right to build within its own territory. The US has also remained silent as regional allies conduct their own land reclamation ventures. Satellite imagery has shown both the Philippines and Vietnam building artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago.

"We also reiterated...our concerns about China's behavior in the South China Sea, and stressed that substantive diplomacy is the proper way to resolve disputes among the claimants in the region," a US State Department official said last month, ahead of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

In the meantime, Washington has, however, stepped up patrols in the region, conducted large-scale military exercises with territorial claimants, and encouraged Pacific allies to counter what it fears to be a growing Chinese influence.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Files reveal UK 'plan' to move HK residents to N.Ireland

 
‎09 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎10:17:38 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 3, 2015 - Weighed down by the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, British officials jokily discussed the possible benefits of relocating the entire population of Hong Kong to the province, newly released documents showed Friday.

Government archives reveal how a proposal by an English academic to set up a new city state for Hong Kong's 5.5 million inhabitants prompted some creative correspondence between ministry officials.

In the Belfast News Letter in October 1983, a lecturer at the University of Reading, Christie Davies, warned that when Britain handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, its residents' future would be in doubt.

He suggested they should be resettled in a new city state to be established between Coleraine and Londonderry, saying the move could revitalise the stagnant economy in the British-controlled province.

After seeing the article, Northern Ireland ministry official George Fergusson wrote a memorandum to a colleague in the Foreign Office, declaring: "At this stage we see real advantages in taking the proposal seriously."

He said it could help convince the pro-British population in Northern Ireland of London's commitment to the province, which was locked in a sectarian conflict between Catholic Republicans and pro-UK Protestants.

- 'A spoof between colleagues' -

Fergusson received a response two weeks later from David Snoxell, an official at the Foreign Office, suggesting it might send Northern Ireland residents heading in the opposite direction.

"The proposal could be useful to the extent that the arrival of 5.5 million Chinese in Northern Ireland may induce the indigenous peoples to forsake their homeland for a future elsewhere," Snoxell wrote.

"We should not underestimate the danger of this taking the form of a mass exodus of boat refugees in the direction of South East Asia.

"On the other hand, the countries of that region may view with equanimity the prospect of receiving a God-fearing, law-abiding people with an ingrained work ethic, to replace those that have left."

He warned the proposal could also have serious implications for Britain's dispute with the Irish government over ownership of Lough Foyle, an estuary on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"The Chinese people of Hong Kong are essentially a fishing and maritime people," Snoxell wrote.

"I am sure you would share our view that it would be unwise to settle the people of Hong Kong in the vicinity of Lough Foyle until we had established our claims on the lough and whether these extended to the high or low water mark."

Snoxell, now retired, said he was surprised the exchange had been preserved in the National Archives, saying it was "a spoof between colleagues who had a sense of humour".

"Sadly, it's impossible to make jokes like this any more, the Diplomatic Service has lost its sense of humour," he told the BBC.

An estimated one million Hong Kong residents left the territory in the run-up to the handover to China, most going to Canada, the United States and Australia. Britain received about 50,000 families.

 

 

Beijing's South China Sea runway 'nearly complete': US think-tank

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 2, 2015 - Beijing has nearly completed building a 3,000-metre (9,800-foot) airstrip on a reef in disputed waters in the South China Sea, where tensions are mounting with its neighbours, a US think-tank said.

A satellite picture taken on Sunday showed that China was paving and marking the runway on Fiery Cross Reef and an apron and taxiway have been added, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said on its website.

Beijing's project to build artificial islands and facilities on various reefs and outcrops in the Spratly islands only became publicly known in recent months but construction has since been rapid, raising tensions with both its neighbours and Washington.

The South China Sea is home to strategically vital shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine America's naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles -- the normal territorial zone around natural land -- of the new artificial islands.

A lake in the middle of Fiery Cross Reef has been filled in and it has a partially-developed port with nine temporary loading piers, CSIS said.

Personnel could be seen walking around and two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and one possible radar tower were also visible, it added.

Washington wants Beijing to halt construction and militarisation, which "the Chinese show no indication of willingness to do", Bonnie Glaser of CSIS said.

She anticipated a short-term lull in construction as summer is typhoon season in the South China Sea while China's President Xi Jinping is due to visit the US in September and "the Chinese are attaching priority to having a successful summit".

But she expected activity would pick up again later.

The runway will be long enough for the People's Liberation Army to land any of its aircraft on the island, analysts say.

Arthur Ding, an expert on China's military at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, said the airstrip would "definitely improve or enhance somewhat China's military capability in the South China Sea", including being able to deploy jet fighters to the island, although they would need "sophisticated logistical" support.

Other neighbouring countries have also built artificial islands in the area, he pointed out. But the speed and scale of China's works were much faster, he told AFP, and whatever it does "definitely will have a serious repercussion on the South China Sea and the regional order".

- 'Occupied islands' -

Fiery Cross Reef, once little more than coral, is now 2.74 square kilometres (1.06 square miles) in size, Washington-based CSIS said. China has reclaimed land on seven different reefs totalling an estimated 12.8 square kilometres, it added.

At one of the sites, South Johnson Reef, CSIS said Beijing has added a small port with two loading stations, two helipads on the reef and up to three satellite communications antennas.

It also had a "large multi-level military facility" with two possible radar towers being built, along with up to six security and surveillance towers, and four possible weapons installations.

Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, including areas close to the coasts of other littoral states, locking it into disputes with several neighbours, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam.

It also has a long-running row with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.

China's foreign ministry said this week that some of the land reclamation works in the Spratlys had been recently finished on schedule, and facilities would be built mainly for civilian purposes, but "necessary military defence requirements will also be fulfilled".

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Thursday that she was "not aware" of details of the latest CSIS report.

In a commentary Thursday China's official Xinhua news agency said that Beijing remained committed to dialogue and the peaceful settlement of disputes, stressing that it had refrained from forcefully taking back "occupied islands".

But it warned: "Expecting China to sit idly by as other countries rush to occupy South China Sea islands is unrealistic and unthinkable."

 

 

Russia to loan Armenia $200 million for arms: Yerevan

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Yerevan (AFP) July 2, 2015 - Moscow is to give Armenia a $200 million loan to purchase sophisticated Russian weapons at a discount, officials in Yerevan said on Thursday.

Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, has been shaken by nearly two weeks of protests over plans by a Russian-owned company to hike electricity prices in the small Caucasus country.

Armenia's deputy defence minister Ara Nazaryan told a parliament session that Russia would provide Yerevan with a 13-year loan of $200 million (180 million euros) at a three percent interest rate.

The money will be spent to purchase modern Russian weapons at a discount in 2015-2017, he said before the parliament ratified the credit agreement with Moscow.

But some opposition politicians in Armenia criticised the deal, claiming the Kremlin was pulling Yerevan into an arms race with foe Azerbaijan, which bought $1 billion worth of tanks, artillery cannons and rocket launchers from Moscow in 2013.

"Russia is selling super-modern weapons to Armenia's enemy Azerbaijan and thus is dragging Armenia into an arms race," opposition Heritage party lawmaker Zaruhi Postanjyan said in parliament.

"Armenia is now forced to take a Russian loan to restore military balance in the region," she said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a longstanding conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

Yerevan-backed ethnic Armenian separatists seized Karabakh from Baku during the 1990s conflict that left some 30,000 dead.

Despite years of negotiations, Azerbaijan and Armenia have not signed a final peace deal.

The predominantly Armenian-populated region is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

Some in Armenia see the Russian loan as a concession after nearly two weeks of protests in a country where former master Russia owns some of the most prized assets including the power distribution firm.

Both Armenian activists and President Serzh Sarkisian denied the rallies against a planned hike in electricity prices were anti-Russian.

But grievances against Moscow have long been building and rippled to the surface during the rallies which started on June 19 but have largely died down by now, observers say.

 

 

US warns of Russia, China military threat amid growing global chaos

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 1, 2015 - America's new military strategy singles out states like China and Russia as aggressive and threatening to US security interests, while warning of growing technological challenges and worsening global stability.

A somber report released Wednesday by General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns of a "low but growing" probability of the United States fighting a war with a major power, with "immense" consequences.

Russia has "repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals," the 2015 National Military Strategy says.

"Russia's military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces."

It points to Russian troop presence in the Ukraine conflict, though Moscow denies it has deployed its military in eastern Ukraine to bolster a separatist insurgency.

And the report expresses concern about states developing advanced technological capabilities that are causing the US military to lose its edge in that field.

"When applied to military systems, this diffusion of technology is challenging competitive advantages long held by the United States such as early warning and precision strike," the paper says.

In addition to China and Russia, the paper also includes Iran and North Korea -- highlighting their nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities -- in a list of countries that pose "serious security concerns" to America and its allies.

"Since the last national military strategy was published four years ago, global disorder has trended upward while some of our comparative advantages have begun to erode," Dempsey told reporters.

The 2011 report spoke little of Russia.

"China's actions are adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region," the document states, in reference to China's land reclamation efforts to build islands in the contested South China Sea to boost its military and civilian presence.

America's enormous military has an annual budget of about $600 billion, dwarfing that of any other nation.

And faced with non-state adversaries like the self-proclaimed Islamic State group that has seized significant portions of Iraq and Syria, Dempsey warned of long and complex fights ahead.

"Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield," he wrote in the foreword to the report.

Violent extremist groups "pose an immediate threat to transregional security by coupling readily available technologies with extremist ideologies," the report states.

 

 

Russian activist probing Ukraine troop deaths found guilty over fraud, amnestied

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 1, 2015 - A Russian court on Wednesday found an elderly rights activist guilty on a fraud charge she said was aimed at her work investigating Russian troop deaths in Ukraine, but then immediately amnestied her.

Lyudmila Bogatenkova, who heads a committee of soldiers' mothers in the southern Russian region of Stavropol, was given a one-year suspended sentence but had the punishment dropped straight away by the court in the town of Budyonnovsk.

"Charges were laid against me after I published a list of the Russian soldiers who had been killed in eastern Ukraine," Bogatenkova, 74, who was charged with fraud in October, told AFP.

"I spent two days with the Federal Security Service (FSB) and prosecutors. They [authorities] pressured people in my surroundings to give incriminating evidence against me. But they couldn't find anything in my finances and I have now been fully rehabilitated."

Lawyer Andrei Sabinin told AFP that prosecutors were unable to prove his client had promised a man 800,000 rubles ($14,400) in exchange for having his son released from police custody.

Bogatenkova was also cleared of additional fraud charges that had been laid against her, Sabinin said.

Moscow has repeatedly denied Ukrainian and Western claims that it has deployed troops in east Ukraine to bolster a separatist insurgency.

Rights activists and investigative journalists insist they have uncovered a growing body of evidence -- including unexplained military funerals and testimonies from relatives -- pointing to Russia's military role in the Ukraine conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in May signed a decree classifying the deaths of Russian troops in peacetime "special operations" as a state secret.

 

 

NATO keeps mum on 'Baltic brigade' request: Lithuania

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Vilnius (AFP) July 1, 2015 - NATO has vowed to hold "continuous" military exercises in eastern Europe to deter Russia but has yet to respond to a request by Baltic states for a permanent brigade, Lithuania said Wednesday.

In May, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formally asked NATO's top commander to deploy a "permanent rotational" battalion-sized unit in each country amid concerns triggered by Russia's military resurgence.

NATO has so far refused to approve a substantial permanent deployment, with some saying it could breach a 1997 agreement with Russia and trigger an arms race.

Lithuania's military spokesman Captain Mindaugas Neimontas confirmed to AFP Wednesday that US General Philip M. Breedlove sent Vilnius a classified document "several weeks ago" vowing that NATO's military drills would continue without considerable breaks.

"NATO's military exercises programme in the region (will be) continuous, that is, exercises will be held without major intervals," he added.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP Wednesday that "even if allied forces are not called permanent but are permanently rotated, we are happy about it."

"Discussions about numbers and the size of units are continuing at the working level," he said.

Lithuania's top military man, Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Zukas, said he was happy that "NATO troops will be training in the Baltic Sea and on its land without major interruptions".

"We want the required level of deterrence in our region to be ensured on a continuous basis. How this goal is achieved is not that important", he said in a Wednesday statement.

Currently, Lithuania is hosting over 600 troops from the United States, Germany, Portugal, Norway and Italy participating in military drills and NATO's long-term Baltic air police mission.

Last month, the US pledged to deploy unmanned heavy weapons, including tanks, in the Baltic states as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.

Russia has denounced the NATO moves as Cold War-style provocations while upgrading its own armed forces, including a pledge to deploy more than 40 new nuclear ballistic missiles this year.

The Baltic republics with a combined population of six million were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained under Moscow's thumb until 1991.

They joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and now fear that Moscow could try to destabilise them to test NATO's commitment to collective defence.

Russia's Prosecutor General's office said Tuesday it was reviewing the legality of the independence of the three Baltic countries, drawing furious reactions from Baltic leaders.

The Kremlin and Russian foreign minister said they were unaware of the initiative.

 

 

US-Cuba relations: A half-century of twists and turns

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 1, 2015 - Relations between the United States and Cuba, more strained than neighborly over the past century, have seen US occupations, Cold War enmity, and even the brink of nuclear war.

Here are some key events in US-Cuba relations, as the two sides prepare to reopen embassies in their respective capitals:

- 1961: The United States breaks diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3. On April 17, an invasion force of Cuban exiles organized by the Central Intelligence Agency is routed at the Bay of Pigs.

- 1962: The 1960 US embargo is expanded to cut off all trade with Cuba except food and medicine. Soviet missiles are then discovered in the country, sparking the 13-day nuclear crisis.

- 1965: Cuba allows hundreds of exiles to sail to the United States in the October-November Camarioca boatlift. US President Lyndon Johnson establishes "freedom flights," and 260,561 Cubans leave until the program ends in April 1973.

- 1977: US-Cuban relations improve slightly with the establishment of "Interests Sections" in each other's capitals.

- 1980: The Mariel boatlift: Castro says anyone wanting to leave can do so through the port of Mariel. Some 125,000 refugees arrive in Florida by late September.

- 1996: The US Congress passes the Helms-Burton Act strengthening the embargo against Cuba.

- May 2002: Former US president Jimmy Carter visits Cuba, becoming the first US leader in or out of office to do so since Castro took power.

- November 2004: Havana bars US dollars for commercial transactions.

- December 2009: Alan Gross, a government contractor for the US Agency for International Development, is arrested for importing banned computer technology for distribution to Cuba's small Jewish community.

- March 2011: Gross is sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state."

- Spring 2013: US President Barack Obama authorizes exploratory negotiations with Cuba on normalizing ties, leading to secret negotiations, at times aided by the Vatican.

- December 17, 2014: Obama and Castro simultaneously announce plans to normalize ties and the release of prisoners. Cuba releases the 65-year-old Gross and a Cuban spy, while the United States frees three Cubans imprisoned on espionage charges.

- January 12, 2015: US announces that Cuba has released 53 political prisoners as part of the normalization deal. Washington eases travel and trade restrictions a few days later. The embargo, however, remains in place.

- January 21-22: The highest-level US delegation in 35 years holds talks with Cuban counterparts in Havana on migration and the reopening of embassies -- the first round of several held by diplomats.

- January 26: Fidel Castro, Cuba's revolutionary leader, breaks his silence, saying he does not oppose the rapprochement even though he lacks confidence in Washington.

- March 3: A direct telephone link is established between the two countries.

- April 11: Obama and Raul Castro meet in Panama on the sidelines of the Americas summit, the first face-to-face talks between a US and Cuban president since the 1959 revolution.

- May 29: The United States removes Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key stumbling block.

- June 30: Obama and Castro exchange letters confirming the re-establishment of diplomatic ties and the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana as of July 20. Obama calls it a "historic step forward."

 

 

Needed: A brains-based approach to strategy

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jun 28, 2015 - Tomorrow I shall be addressing the Royal United Services Institute's Land Warfare conference, hosted by British Army Chief General Sir Nick Carter. The title of the talk is "An Effective Brains Based Strategy for the 21st Century" to which has been added "And What The (British) Army Can Do About Implementing One.

Those who keep up with defense issues know that concern has been registered by a number of senior American officials, in and out of uniform, about Britain's military and the impact of (severe) budget cuts on its ability to wage and deter war. The Army that defeated Napoleon and Hitler is down to about 82,000 or about half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Royal Navy that once ruled the waves now numbers a handful of major warships. And the Royal Air Force, the victor of the Battle of Britain, will muster just seven squadrons worth of aircraft.

While U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey observes that this year's proposed American defense budget of what will be well over $600 billion is "the ragged edge," Britain's spending this year on its military of about 43 billion pounds or $70 billion is almost a tenth of the Pentagon's. And only by creative accounting will that spending amount to 2% of GDP, the minimum level set by NATO -- which only five of its 28 nations will meet. Further cuts will turn the British military into a variant of the dreaded "hollow force" that plagued the United States after the Vietnam War.

What to do since more money for UK defense is unlikely to be forthcoming is to follow the advice offered by Sir Winston Churchill. Now that we have run out money, Churchill opined, we will need to use our brains to think our way clear of danger -- or thoughts to that effect. A brains-based approach is one way to follow Sir Winston's lead.

Now it is clear that no sane or sensible person would attempt to deny the use of brains and intellect in creating any strategy whether for defense or business. Yet the nature of politics; ideology; short-term thinking; bureaucratic and constituent interests; laziness; and deferring tough choices often overwhelm brains and intellect. Hence, in the case of the U.S., we could invade Iraq in 2003 without answering the "what next?" question or mistakenly shift the mission in Afghanistan in 2001 from destroying al Qaeda to rebuilding a broken country.

In my view, a brains-based approach to strategy consists of three parts. The first is the recognition that strategy must be structured on intimate knowledge and understanding of the tasks at hand; what is required to attain those tasks; the impediments and obstacles; the alternatives; the needed resources; and the consequences of various course of action.

Second, this approach must incorporate a mindset for the 21st century which is far different from what drove strategic thinking in the 20th century.

Third, this approach must be directed at affecting, influencing and controlling the will and perception of the adversary or adversaries.

Regarding knowledge and understanding, what is needed is a 21st century version of the Bletchley Park code breaking teams of World War II relying instead on social media and public technologies such as Google Earth to derive intimate knowledge and understanding of adversaries. Searching the Internet and sites such as YouTube and Facebook, it is amazing how much information can be turned into actionable intelligence. And the cost is far less than the hundreds of billions that have gone into high tech satellite and other detection systems.

Regarding a mindset, what distinguishes today is the empowerment of individuals, transnational groups and non-state groups at the expense of states and the linkages between and among many crises from Ukraine, Russia and Europe to the Middle East, Maghreb and Persian Gulf. It is these linkages that must form the sinews for strategy.

Finally, strategy must be about getting people to do what we wish and stop doing what we find objectionable. Force may or may not always be necessary. It is not always sufficient, however, in today's more complex and interdependent world.

Of course, brains cannot always substitute for an absence of resources. But brains can help devise new strategies that take into account the lack of money to make most effective use of what is available. And brains can always be useful in informing elected political leadership what they may not wish to hear about what consequences lay ahead when intellect can take one only so far.

__________________________________________________________________

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist as well as Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at both Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace.

 

 

Rousseff puts spy scandal behind her with US visit

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Brasilia (AFP) June 26, 2015 - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrives in the United States on Saturday for a long-delayed visit, looking to shore up economic ties almost two years after scrapping a trip following revelations that Washington spied on her.

At the time Rousseff called off her October 2013 visit, the chill between the Western hemisphere's two largest economies was the worst diplomatic fallout to date from Edward Snowden's leaked trove of embarrassing US intelligence secrets.

Both sides have emphasized that the new trip -- a five-day tour that has been labelled an "official visit" rather than the top-tier "state visit" she postponed -- shows the countries have moved past the damaging revelation that the National Security Agency spied on Rousseff's cell phone communications and Internet use.

"We've put that behind us," Brazilian diplomat Carlos Paranhos told a press conference in Brasilia Thursday. He said the trip came about after months of high-level contacts, including direct conversations between Rousseff and President Barack Obama.

"This visit I think really does indicate the extent to which we have turned the page and are moving forward," said senior Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes.

The trip, which will take Rousseff to New York, Washington and San Francisco, comes as Brazil's first woman president faces a crisis at home.

Rousseff, 67, has seen her popularity slump to 10 percent just six months into her second term. She has been hit by an economy on the brink of recession and a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras that has tainted her party.

"The internal importance of this trip (in Brazil) is much greater than the external importance. At this point in time, it's much more important for Brazil than for the United States," said Carlos Melo, a political scientist at Brazilian business institute Insper.

"A picture of Dilma with Obama will be politically significant in Brazil. Symbolically, it communicates a president who is more open to the world, to dialogue."

- Seeking to restore confidence -

Besides sitting down with Obama over the course of four days in Washington, Rousseff will meet with American business and financial leaders, seeking to attract investment and convince them her government's $23 billion in spending cuts will soon right the world's seventh-largest economy.

In New York, she will attend a business conference and seek to drum up interest in her government's recently announced $64-billion infrastructure spending package.

Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, a University of Chicago-trained economist, is going along to present his plans to get the country out of the 1.2-percent economic contraction it is forecasting for this year.

The United States is Brazil's largest investor and second-largest trading partner after China. Last year bilateral trade totalled $62 billion, according to Brasilia, with a balance of $8 billion in favor of the US.

"We think that we can double that trade again over the next 10 years. And I think what you'll see out of this visit are steps that will take us in that direction," said Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Rousseff and Obama's agenda also includes climate issues, with a particular focus on UN climate talks due to take place in Paris at the end of the year.

Feierstein said the meeting needed to send a "strong signal" on the proposals the two countries are preparing to make at the talks, which aim to seal a final deal on curbing carbon emissions.

Brazil has yet to announce its emission reduction goals ahead of the talks.

The South American country, the world's seventh-largest producer of greenhouse gases, also faces the challenge of curbing Amazon deforestation, which contributes to global warming. It is under pressure to make ambitious pledges ahead of the talks.

The White House said Vice President Joe Biden had called Rousseff ahead of her visit to emphasize the importance of working together to achieve a "robust" agreement.

In California, Rousseff will have lunch at Stanford University with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who now teaches international business there. She will also visit the headquarters of Google and a NASA research center.

 

 

US warship visits Georgia amid Ukraine crisis

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Batumi, Georgia (AFP) June 28, 2015 - A US warship arrived Sunday in Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi on a training mission, the US embassy said, sending a message of support to the NATO aspirant amid the conflict in Ukraine.

The US 6th Fleet's guided missile destroyer USS Laboon "will conduct routine combined training with the Georgian Coast Guard," the US embassy in Tbilisi said.

The port call "reaffirms the United States' commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners like Georgia, while working toward mutual goals of promoting security and stability in the Black Sea region," the embassy said in a statement.

Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Kiev's rule and its support for Ukrainian rebels have alarmed Georgia, which fought and lost a brief war with Russia in 2008.

The Ukraine crisis has triggered the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War, and the US said last week it would deploy heavy weapons in central and eastern Europe in a move that angered Moscow.

Georgia's bid to join NATO and the European Union infuriated its former imperial master Russia, which bitterly opposes the alliance's expansion into former Soviet republics.

US warships delivered humanitarian aid to Georgia in the wake of the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008.

Moscow criticised the decision to send the sophisticated warships, saying they were unsuitable for aid missions.

 

 

Philippines halts repairs on Spratlys airstrip ahead of UN suit

 
‎03 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎09:58:40 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) June 28, 2015 - The Philippines has halted the repair of its airstrip in the disputed Spratly islands due to its pending suit at The Hague challenging China's claim over the waters, a presidential spokesman said Sunday.

The work on the airstrip on Thitu island, which the Philippines calls Pagasa and which hosts a small community, comes as China builds up outcroppings in the waters into islands that can host military facilities.

"The repair has been stopped because we uphold the principle of keeping the status quo in the areas involved," said President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma.

"This is part of our strategy for a rules-based and diplomatic approach where we have filed an arbitration case with the UN tribunal," he added.

The tiny airstrip on Pagasa had been largely used to bring in supplies for the small town that the Philippine government established there to stake its claim over part of the Spratlys.

However the airstrip has deteriorated over the years, forcing the government to rely on ships which must go through a gauntlet of Chinese vessels to reach the island.

China claims almost all of the Spratlys and the South China Sea, even areas close to the coasts of its neighbours. Its claim is disputed by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The waters are a crucial sea lane and rich fishing ground also believed to hold large mineral resources.

In 2013 the Philippines asked The Hague, based in the Netherlands, to declare China's claim invalid and in violation of international law.

Hearings -- looking at whether Manila's complaint has legal merit as well as whether the court has jurisdiction over the case -- are set to begin next month.

 

 

 

 

 

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The History of the House of Rothschild

by Andrew Hitchcock

 

 

  • Hitchcock also wrote a history for the bankers:

 

 

  • One of our listeners added images and photos and turned this Rothschild document

into a PowerPoint presentation. It is very large; 67 megabytes:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rothschilds have been in control of the world for a very long time, their tentacles reaching into many aspects of our daily lives, as is documented in the following timeline.  However, before you jump to the timeline, please read this invaluable introduction which will tell you who the Rothschilds are as oppose to who they claim to be.

The Rothschilds claim that they are Jewish, when in fact they are Khazars.  They are from a country called Khazaria, which occupied the land locked between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea which is now predominantly occupied by Georgia.  The reason the Rothschilds claim to be Jewish is that the Khazars under the instruction of the King, converted to the Jewish faith in 740 A.D., but of course that did not include converting their Asiatic Mongolian genes to the genes of the Jewish people.

You will find that approximately 90% of people in the world today who call themselves Jews are actually Khazars, or as they like to be known, Ashkenazi Jews.  These people knowingly lie to the world with their claims that the land of Israel is theirs by birthright, when in actual fact their real homeland is over 800 miles away in Georgia.

So, next time you hear an Israeli Prime Minister bleating about the so-called persecution of the Jews, consider this, every Prime Minister of Israel has been an Ashkenazi Jew.  Therefore when all these Prime Ministers have curried favour with the West for their re-establishment of a Jewish homeland, they have knowingly and deliberately lied to you, as they were never from that region, and they well know it, because it is they who call themselves Ashkenazi Jews.

The Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verse 9, states the following which would appear to be about these Ashkenazi Jews:

"I know thy works, and tribulation and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan."
The most wealthy bloodline in the world bar none and the leader of the Ashkenazi Jews in the world today is the Rothschild family.  As you will see in the timeline, the Rothschilds have obtained this position through lies, manipulation and murder.  Their bloodline also extends into the Royal Families of Europe, and the following family names:  Astor; Bundy; Collins; duPont; Freeman; Kennedy; Morgan; Oppenheimer; Rockefeller; Sassoon; Schiff; Taft; and Van Duyn.

However, these are not the only bloodlines to worry about.  You are probably aware of the centuries old pratice undertaken by many Ashkenazi Jews whereby they would change their name, in order for them to appear part of the dominant race of the country in which they lived, so as they could obtain influential positions in that country, which they would then exploit to serve their real masters elsewhere.  There is plenty of evidence to prove the Rothschilds continue that deceptive tradition.

Furthermore the Rothschilds are known to sire many children secretly that they can put into positions of power when required.  This started with the very first man who took the name Rothschild, who had a secret sixth son.  Finally, remember the world is a diverse place, I could if I wanted change my name to Rothschild, or any of the names listed above, and that would not make me part of this family anymore than converting to Judaism in 740 A.D. will make these Ashkenazis Jewish.

Please, therefore, do not automatically assume someone you see with the name Rothschild or any of the names listed above are part of the Rothschild criminal network.  Furthermore and most importantly, the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are innocent and not part of this network.  Check the facts out for yourself first, this article is designed to inform people who the enemy is, not single out people of a particular race or people with a particular surname, who may have nothing to do with this Rothschild criminal network.
 

1743: Mayer Amschel Bauer, an Ashkenazi Jew, is born in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Moses Amschel Bauer, a money lender and the proprietor of a counting house.

 

Moses Amschel Bauer places a red sign above the entrance door to his counting house. This sign is a red hexagram (which geometrically and numerically translates into the number 666) which under Rothschild instruction will end up on the Israeli flag some two centuries later.

 

1753: Gutle Schnaper, an Ashkenazi Jew (future wife of Mayer Amschel Bauer), born to respected merchant, Wolf Salomon Schnaper.

1760: During this decade Mayer Amschel Bauer works for a bank owned by the Oppenheimers' in Hanover, Germany.  He is highly successful and becomes a junior partner. Whilst working at the bank he becomes acquainted with General von Estorff.

Following his father's death, Bauer returns to Frankfurt to take over his father's business. Bauer recognises the significance of the red hexagram and changes his name from Bauer to Rothschild, after the red hexagram or sign signifying 666 hanging over the entrance door ("Rot," is German for, "Red," "Schild," is German for, "Sign").

 

Now Mayer Amschel Rothschild, he discovers that General von Estorff is now attached to the court of Prince William IX of Hesse-Hanau, one of the richest royal houses in Europe, which gained its' wealth by the hiring out of Hessian soldiers to foreign countries for vast profits (a practice that continues today in the form of exporting, "peacekeeping," troops throughout the world).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The European Union (flag pictured) is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe".

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South Sudan must sustain efforts to protect human rights, says UN official

Conflict in Darfur
Date 2003–2009 /2010

 

Location Darfur, Sudan
Belligerents
Sudan JEM factions
Bandera Darfur.svg SLM (Minnawi faction)
Sudan LJM
Allegedly supported by:
 Chad
 Eritrea
Sudan Janjaweed
Sudan Sudanese Armed Forces
Sudan Sudanese Police
Foreign Mercenaries
African Union
 
United Nations
Commanders and leaders
Sudan Khalil Ibrahim
Sudan Ahmed Diraige
Bandera Darfur.svg Minni Minnawi
Sudan Abdul Wahid al Nur
Sudan Omar al-Bashir
Sudan Musa Hilal
Sudan Hamid Dawai
Sudan Ali Kushayb
Sudan Ahmed Haroun
Rodolphe Adada
United Nations
Martin Luther Agwai
Strength
NRF/JEM: Unknown N/A 9,065
Casualties and losses
unknown
  • 178,258-461,520 excess deaths
  • 2,850,000 Displaced (UN estimate)
  • 450,000 Displaced (Sudanese estimate)
unknown 51 peacekeepers killed

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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