Thursday, October 31, 2013

Washington’s answers don’t justify NSA spying – EU delegation

General Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
General Keith Alexander, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
 
 
EU diplomats who traveled to Washington over the NSA’s spy program have been left with their questions unanswered. The US insisted all the intelligence gathered in Europe was related to warzones in the Middle East and would continue.
The European Union’s delegation of politicians trusted with getting answers from Washington over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) espionage programs in the EU left with more questions than they arrived with.
The heated condemnation of the reports the US eavesdropped on millions of calls as well as the communication of EU leaders was dampened by spy Director Gen. Keith Alexander.
“It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in us being attacked,” Alexander told House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
Furthermore, he said that the reports in European media alleging the NSA recorded millions of personal phone calls were “completely false.”
Addressing allegations of EU complicity in the spying he said that some data had been provided “to NSA by foreign partners,” but it is “not information that we collected on European citizens.”
“It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations," said Alexander.
Following the meeting members of the delegation told RT’s Gayane Chichikyan that espionage on such a scale could not be justified by the American fight against terrorism.
Spanish MEP Salvador Sedo said that Alexander gave some statistics and an explanation neither of which “clarify the situation.”
“This is not justifiable,” said Sedo, adding that the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was not included in Alexander’s explanation. A group of German officials are also in Washington this week to address allegations of the NSA eavesdropping on the Chancellor phone.
RT’s correspondent, Gayane Chichikyan, described the EU delegation’s visit as purely “symbolic.”
“They came to Washington, expressed reserved indignation and then agreed to cooperate further. This is something that we’ve seen before,” said Chichikyan.
The EU delegation left Washington on Wednesday and it remains to be seen what action will be taken in relation to the talks with US officials. European leaders have threatened to suspend the multi-billion ‘Safe Harbor’ trade pact as a measure against US spying. The deal allows American companies to collect data on clients, something that the EU believes is being undermined by the NSA.

‘A weapon against geopolitical competition’

Geopolitical analyst, Eric Draitser, dismissed the EU delegation’s visit to Washington as “political posturing.” He described the word “collaboration” as not strong enough for the intelligence cooperation between the EU and the US.
“They have been an intimate part of the US intelligence apparatus,” stressed Draitser to RT. “If you exist within the US sphere of influence then you are part of this espionage.”
Accepting NSA Director Keith Alexander’s explanation, Draitser said the assertion the US gathered information for military purposes was technically “valid,” but Washington’s ultimate goal was to use the intelligence as a “weapon of dominance and coercion.”
“Yes, it’s true these things are for military purposes and intelligence gathering. That’s absolutely true. But, in the end the goal… it’s for the purposes of wielding this information as a weapon against political competition and geopolitical rivals,” he concluded.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Record number of nations oppose US embargo of Cuba in UN vote

A session of the General Assembly at the United Nations (AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary)
A session of the General Assembly at the United Nations (AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary)
 
In an overwhelming UN vote, 188 countries have called on the US to lift its 53-year trade embargo on Cuba. Havana has slammed the financial sanctions as a flagrant violation of human rights and said they are tantamount to genocide.
The recording-breaking opposition to the embargo saw Israel isolated as the only country to vote in support of the US. Palau, the island nation that got behind the US last year, abstained in the 22nd UN annual vote, along with Micronesia and Marshall Islands.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla conveyed Havana’s disappointment at the Obama administration, stressing that the human cost of the embargo is “incalculable.” Upon assuming the presidency Barack Obama pledged to take steps to improve US-Cuban relations, but Rodriguez said the sanctions had actually tightened under Obama.

"Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,"
Rodriguez said. "The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba are incalculable.”

Rodriguez also stated that the sanctions had been classified as “genocide” under the Geneva Convention of 1948 and the total cost to the Cuban economy was estimated at $1.1 trillion dollars.

Several other nations spoke out against the US embargo at the UN vote. China’s Deputy UN Ambassador Wang Min urged the US “change its policy toward Cuba” as the “call of the international community is getting louder and louder.”

Moreover, Bolivia’s UN ambassador Sacha Llorenty Soliz decried the embargo as "sullying the history of mankind"

In the name of human rights?


The US mounted its defense in the face of overwhelming opposition and a barrage of criticism, claiming the sanctions were in place “urge respect for the civil and human rights."

Seeking to justify the financial penalties that have been held in place for 53 years, US diplomat Ronald Godard said the US was being used as a “scapegoat” for Cuba’s internal issues.

"The international community cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly [and], impedes independent journalism," Godard said to the assembled UN countries.

Moreover, Godard added that the US had sent $2 billion in remittances to Cuba in 2012 and underlined that the US provides a large portion of the food aid to the island.

The US began imposing economic penalties on Cuba when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and nationalized property owned by American individuals and corporations. The measures were ratcheted up three years later by the US government to a full embargo on Cuba.

Last year Washington took action to ease travel to and from Cuba, granting 16,767 visas to Cubans in the first half of 2013 - 80 percent more than were issued in the same period in 2012.
 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mass riots follow police ‘murder’ of teenager in Sao Paulo

People ride bikes by a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- by police of a 17-year-old boy  (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
People ride bikes by a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- by police of a 17-year-old boy (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
 
 
Enraged protesters torched vehicles and ransacked shops in, Sao Paulo, following the killing of a 17-year-old at the hands of a policeman. Police took around 90 people into custody and have promised an inquiry into the death of the teenager.
Inhabitants of the Jacana district of Sao Paulo took to the streets on Monday evening to protest the death of 17-year-old student, Douglas Rodrigues, shot dead by a policeman on Sunday night.
Activists blocked the Fernao Dias highway in the early evening and set fire to vehicles. According to reports by the Military Police at least five buses, three trucks and a car were torched by protesters in the surrounding area. One man was also injured, reportedly taking a bullet to the chest when military police intervened to quell the unrest.

Riot sence of burnt trucks at highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
Riot sence of burnt trucks at highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
Police say the man was caught in the crossfire when officers tried to prevent rioters from sacking local shops. He is now receiving surgery at Sao Luiz Gonzaga hospital.
As a result of the unrest, police say they made around 90 arrests for vandalism, destruction of property and looting.
The protests intensified following the burial of Douglas Rodrigues, as citizens demanded justice for his killing at the hands of police officer, Luciano Pinheiro, 31.

View of a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
View of a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)

‘Murder’

The victim’s family has accused officer Pinheiro of murdering Rodrigues as he walked past a bar on Bacurizinho Street in the North of Sao Paulo with his 12-year-old brother. Police had been called to the bar after reports of a disturbance of the peace in the area.

Officer Pinheiro claims that the shot that was fired as he exited his vehicle by the bar was ‘accidental.’ Pinheiro is now being held in custody potentially facing a trial for manslaughter, while the Military Police investigate the incident.

“Upon exiting the vehicle, for reasons that have yet to be discerned, a shot was fired by accident that hit a 17-year-old adolescent in the chest,”
said a police statement released following the incident.

View of a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
View of a car on fire in a highway in Sao Paulo, on October 28, 2013, following disturbances triggered by the accidental fatal shooting --on the eve-- of a 17-year-old boy by the police (AFP Photo / Miguel Schincariol)
Reports of police brutality have been widespread in Brazil recently following a wave of mass protests across the country. The latest demonstrations saw thousands of teachers march through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, calling for a salary raise. The peaceful march descended into violence when anarchist group, the Black Bloc, joined the protest, prompting police to open fire with tear gas.

"The police came in firing tear gas, hitting us with clubs. A young Black Bloc stepped right in between me and the police. If it weren't for them, the police would have destroyed us,"
47-year-old Andrea Coelho told AP.
 

Monday, October 28, 2013

US State Department lacks any cyber-security whatsoever – report

Reuters / Jim Young
Reuters / Jim Young
 
Access classified data without authorization, use your account after you’ve been fired, or anonymously request a new account for an Afghan friend – these are just some of the features available in State Department’s SMART system, BuzzFeed reports.
In the wake of the Manning and Snowden classified US intelligence leaks, internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed reveal that the US State Departments’ security systems are vulnerable if not providing open access to classified information.
The breaches in security, horrifying to any IT expert, are reported in the State Messaging and Archival Toolset (SMART) – a cable and messaging system which is based on MS Outlook. The SMART operates with working emails and cables, stored both in classified (ClassNet) and unclassified (OpenNet) enclaves.  
SMART was initially created for improving information sharing after the 9/11 attacks. The internal messaging application has been built and maintained by a team of State Department employees and IT contractors under the $2.5 billion Vanguard contract. 
It became fully operational in September 2008 under US State Secretary Hillary Clinton. However, it turns out the system never complied with all the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act and the National Institute of Standards and Technology requirements, according to a 2010 Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.
Failing to provide enough cyber protection, the system regularly received failing or below-failing grades from its internal monitoring system, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed.
The SMART’s monitoring system, deployed for the purpose of determining whether there has been unauthorized access or modification of files, frequently fails to perform any of that, the report said. And with an existing backdoor between the classified and non-classified enclaves, state secrets can be accessed by a user without proper clearance, even unintentionally, BuzzFeed writes.
Access restriction is in fact one of the biggest problems with SMART, it’s well-known but nobody is willing to fix. 
According to the report, in 2012 three SMART accounts were created for users in Kabul, Afghanistan. Internal audit had shown no one has any idea of who requested their creation or was using them. Since then the mystical accounts have been deleted, but no results on possible unauthorized activities via them have been made public. 

Reuters / Kacper Pempel
Reuters / Kacper Pempel
That unauthorized access was not an isolated incident. According to the report accounts for former employees remain active for some time after they leave. In addition the State Department can only guess about the number of contractors who have access to the system, and whether those contractors have gone through proper security checks.
In some cases, the computer systems also allowed access to data to unregistered users through anonymous unsecured access points with default credentials.
Currently, the database has no hashing, time-stamping, or other capabilities telling that the records have not been accessed, tampered with, copied by unauthorized users, or even switched for a fake.
After the 2010 leak of hundreds of thousands of Pentagon and State Department documents by Army Private Bradley Manning to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, the department has disabled the ability to forward messages, but failed to block the ability to cut and paste messages and cables, BuzzFeed reports.
Legitimate users are also contributing to potential classified data leaks with their routine actions. When a non-classified user’s email on an operating level is included in a classified group mailing list – he begins receiving all classified attachments. Users also regularly mislabel classified information as unclassified, BuzzFeed reports, because they just like unclassified system better and appreciate its user friendly interface.
There have also been complaints concerning service accounts with non-expiring passwords or with no passwords at all, despite federal requirements that they be reset every 60 days. 
Over 19,000 of the 121,702 active accounts including users, service, and mailbox accounts, on the unclassified system alone, do not require passwords, said a 2012 independent audit of the system, conducted for the OIG.
There have been requests to fix the security problem, but it has always been delayed by the authorities, BuzFeed reported.
Back in 2009 the Chief Information Officer, Charlie Wisecarver, tasked the department’s current Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer in charge of the SMART program, Glen Johnson, to immediately fix the problem.
However according to email exchanges obtained by BuzzFeed, Johnson’s answer was that it might not be technically possible nor prudent to change passwords every 60 days, as both users and system operators could forget and be blocked from entering the system.
“It is equally easy to imagine the midnight shift trying to fix a problem and being frustrated because they can’t log in because of an expired or changed password,” he emailed the Wisecarver. “It is equally easy to imagine that regularly passing around a sheet of many passwords has its own risks.”
The IT managers proposed changing only the Active Directory user passwords, not the service accounts, however whether that was implemented is not clear. 
The State Department’s security has been a standing problem since at least 2009, as earlier reports suggested a severe lack of security, including unsecured servers, workstations, unencrypted transfer of secret material, and the intermixing of classified and non-classified information
 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

5,000 march in support of ‘political prisoners’ in Moscow

People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
 
Around 5,000 people took the streets of Moscow on Sunday to participate in an opposition rally, demanding the release of activists jailed after the May 2012 Bolotnaya demonstration and other people they described as “political prisoners.”
The march went off peacefully without incident as protesters made their way around the Boulevard Ring in the center of the capital, the Interior Ministry said. A contingent of 3,000 police officers was deployed to maintain order during the event. 

A demonstrator wears a tape over his mouth reading Putin during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
A demonstrator wears a tape over his mouth reading Putin during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
The demonstrators carried black-and-white portraits of people they consider political prisoners, including activists accused of rioting at the May 6, 2012 Bolotnaya Square protest, where hundreds of people were briefly detained after clashes with police.

Placards also called for the release of members of Pussy Riot punk band, Greenpeace activists detained after an attempt to storm an oil platform in the Barents Sea, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and others.

Large banners carried at the front of the procession proclaimed: “We demand the release of all May 6 prisoners. Freedom to all political inmates,” and “Mass riots are in Putin’s head. Enough with Putinism – release the hostages.”
   
Prominent opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, who took second place in the Moscow mayoral election in September, also participated in the protest, accompanied by his wife, Yulia. 

Russian protest leader Aleksey Navalny and his wife Yulia attend an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
Russian protest leader Aleksey Navalny and his wife Yulia attend an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)
The police said that about 5,000 people participating in the rally. Online news portal Gazeta.ru provided the same numbers, with liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta speaking of a turnout of 7,000.   

The opposition agreed a route for the march with the Moscow authorities on Thursday, initially expecting around 20,000 people to take part in the protest.  

About two dozen people were charged with serious public order offenses after the May 2012 Bolotnaya protest.

Following the riots, law enforcement agencies started criminal cases into calls for mass unrest and violence against police officers.

Two of the detained prisoners have been sentenced to 2 1/2 years and 4 1/2 years behind bars, respectively, and one man has been declared mentally ill and sent to a closed psychiatric ward for compulsory treatment. 

A protestor holds a scythe during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)
A protestor holds a scythe during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov)

Eleven people are currently on trial and other separate cases are still in the investigation phase.

The Presidential Council for Human Rights has submitted a request for amnesty to President Vladimir Putin that, if granted in full, would free all the Bolotnaya prisoners.

The planned amnesty is connected to the 20th anniversary of the modern Russian Constitution, which will be celebrated on December 12.

In mid-September, Putin said that he personally considered it possible to grant amnesty to the Bolotnaya convicts and suspects, but added that this should be done only after the cases are processed by the courts. 

People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev)
People carry pictures of political prisoners during an opposition rally in central Moscow on October 27, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev)
 

Saakashvili era ends as Georgia elects new president

After a decade of controversial rule, Mikhail Saakashvili is set to step down after Georgians elect their new president Sunday. Once a popular and powerful head of state, he steps down from a post that has been largely reduced to ceremonial functions.
Some 3.5 million Georgians are eligible to vote in Sunday’s poll, with more than 50 percent of votes needed to win in the first round of voting. There is no minimum turnout requirement, and if a second round of voting is needed, it would be held within two weeks.
The new Georgian president will be a ceremonial figure thanks to a number of constitutional amendments adopted in the past year by the country’s parliament. The reforms have been pushed through by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, which beat President Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary elections last year.
Prior to Sunday’s election, opinion polls put Georgy Margvelashvili, a candidate endorsed by Ivanishvili, ahead of the other 22 candidates, including Saakashvili’s preferred candidate, former parliamentary speaker David Bakradze. Saakashvili himself is barred from running after two terms in office.
Ivanishvili, who is Georgia’s wealthiest man, took to politics with the goal to oust Saakashvili and his followers from power. Before his party took control of parliament, he pledged to step down as soon as Georgia elected a new president. Now he says he intends to keep his promise, even though the office of prime minister currently holds much more power in the country.

Bidzina Ivanishvili (L) addressing his supporters on October 1, 2012. (AFP Photo / Giorgy Kakulia)
Bidzina Ivanishvili (L) addressing his supporters on October 1, 2012. (AFP Photo / Giorgy Kakulia)

Saakashvili became Georgia’s leader after ousting his predecessor, Eduard Shevarnadze, in the 2003 public uprising dubbed the Rose Revolution. Once in power, he took a strong pro-American stance, hiring a number of western advisers to help his ambitious reforms, sending Georgian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to join the US- and NATO-led forces, and campaigned for Georgia’s accession to NATO.
He enjoyed notable successes in reducing official corruption, cracked down on powerful crime rings and gave a boost to the country’s economy with a combination of liberal reforms and foreign loans. The policies won Saakashvili widespread praise in the West as an example of success and a beacon of democracy in the post-Soviet space.
At the same time, Tbilisi’s relations with Moscow deteriorated dramatically under Saakashvili, as Georgia accused Russia of betraying its role as peacekeeper in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The two regions were parts of Soviet Georgia, but sought independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both fought against Georgia in bloody armed conflicts, and Russia kept its troops in both enclaves to prevent further violence. Tbilisi said that Moscow was secretly supporting and encouraging the secessionists while opposing Georgia’s attempts to bring them back under control.

Still from YouTube video
Still from YouTube video

Moscow too voiced anger at Georgia, saying it turns a blind eye on militants fighting in Russia’s troubled south, who found shelter in Georgian territory. The confrontation reached its peak in 2008, when Saakashvili’s government sent its army to take control of South Ossetia. Angered by the invasion, Russia intervened, defeating Georgian the army and prompting a major diplomatic crisis with western countries. After the war, relations between Georgia and Russia were frozen for years.
The disastrous military campaign seriously weakened Saakashvili’s support at home. However it was his increasingly authoritarian policies that led his party to defeat in the 2012 parliamentary election. His government launched brutal police crackdowns on opposition rallies in 2007, and again in 2011. Critics blamed his party of extorting bribes from big businesses, undermining the independence of the courts and the media and even accused them of political assassinations. The final straw was the release prior to the election of video footage from a Georgian prison, which showed inmates beaten and tortured by guards.

Georgian riot police officers disperse opposition rally in Tbilisi late on May 25, 2011. (AFP Photo / Giorgi Kakulia)
Georgian riot police officers disperse opposition rally in Tbilisi late on May 25, 2011. (AFP Photo / Giorgi Kakulia)
After the new parliament backed an Ivanishvili-led cabinet, Saakashvili’s supporters found themselves in rough water. Several former top officials, including ex-Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, were arrested, while others fled the country. Saakashvili enjoyed presidential immunity from prosecution while in office, but the new government has threatened to take him to court after his term in office ends on several occasions.
Over the past year, Saakashvili’s role in Georgian politics shrank. Among his most recent actions, he delivered an anti-Russian speech at the UN General Assembly, campaigned unsuccessfully for Georgia to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics and made a posthumous award of Hero of Georgia to independent Georgia’s first president, Soviet dissident-turned-nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who died in 1993.
Saakashvili has said that after leaving office he plans to retire from politics, live in Georgia and start a wine business.

4 children among 5 stabbed to death in brutal NYC rampage

A New York Police Department (NYPD) vehicle is seen near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
A New York Police Department (NYPD) vehicle is seen near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
 
 
New York police are investigating the brutal slaying of four children and a 37-year-old woman who were stabbed at a Brooklyn residence. Police say a person of interest has been taken into custody.
The victims included two boys, ages one and five, and two girls, ages seven and nine, police said. The infant boy and both girls were pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders.

The five-year-old boy and woman were taken to two Brooklyn hospitals, where both were pronounced dead.

All five victims had stab wounds to their upper bodies, the NYPD said. Police are withholding the victims’ identities until their families have been notified.
The authorities responded to reports of a stabbing around 11 pm on Saturday at a home on 57th Street near Ninth Avenue, in Sunset Park, police said. The suspect was found bloody and barefoot and is currently in police custody. Authorities believe the suspect is related to several of the victims.
No motive thus far has been established for the attack. 

New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand guard near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
New York Police Department (NYPD) officers stand guard near the scene of a stabbing incident at a Brooklyn residence, in New York October 27, 2013. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)
  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Palestinians reach out to 50+ nations calling for economic boycott of Israeli settlers

A Palestinian man waves his national flag on the sidelines of a march organized by inhabitants of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh to protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
A Palestinian man waves his national flag on the sidelines of a march organized by inhabitants of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh to protest against the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
 
 
The Palestinian Authority is ramping up its diplomatic efforts against Israeli settlements in the territories it occupied in the 1967 war. It has called on 50 countries around the world to freeze business dealings and withdraw investments.
In letters to countries in Latin America and Europe, as well as to South Africa, Australia, Japan and South Korea, the Palestinian Authority asked governments to put pressure on local companies and discourage any relations with the Israeli settlements, Muhammad Shtayyeh, a senior Palestinian official, told the Financial Times.
The messages also requested that Israeli companies with connections to the settlements are barred from doing business in those countries. Citizens of those countries should be advised to abandon the settlements, because staying there is illegal, the Palestinian Authority said.
The campaign for an economic boycott was also given a boost by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his trip to Europe.
"I call on European companies and foreign companies doing business in the settlements to put an end to their activities," he said following his meeting with European Council President Herman van Rompuy this week.
The campaign follows the EU’s decision in June to ban financial assistance to any Israeli organizations operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights from 2014. The decision infuriated Israel and prevented the country from participating in the Horizon 2020 European scientific exchange program.
Also, in recent months, several individual members of the European Union, including the UK and the Netherlands, began to warn their companies against dealing with Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. This month Dutch infrastructure giant Royal HaskoningDHV announced the withdrawal from a wastewater treatment plant project in East Jerusalem, because the location is outside of the pre-1967 border of Israel.
There are currently more than 500,000 Israelis living in the settlements, which continue to be a point of bitter dispute with Palestinians. Many countries consider their existence unlawful and say they are a major stumbling block on the path toward a peaceful Middle East.
The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been actively encouraging development of the controversial settlements in defiance of foreign criticism, which comes even from Israel’s long-time ally the US
 

Rock, paper, surveillance: US Army investing in smarter ‘spy rocks’

A TV grab from Russian television RTR Channel shows what it said was a transmitter in an imitation rock which British diplomats used for spying on a Moscow street and then downloading classified information from it. Russia's intelligence services accused British embassy officials on Monday, January 23, 2006, of spying in Moscow after state television said British diplomats had used a fake rock to try to secure state secrets. (Reuters)
A TV grab from Russian television RTR Channel shows what it said was a transmitter in an imitation rock which British diplomats used for spying on a Moscow street and then downloading classified information from it. Russia's intelligence services accused British embassy officials on Monday, January 23, 2006, of spying in Moscow after state television said British diplomats had used a fake rock to try to secure state secrets. (Reuters)
 
 
Hi-tech weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin presented its latest effort in surveillance technology this week – a web of self-organising sensors with the ability to trigger any kind of device from a distance and have it operating autonomously.
The presentation took place at the annual meeting of The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) that took place Monday through Wednesday.
The goal of the defense contractor’s much lauded “field and forget” technology is to offer vast coverage at little operation cost, as well as the ability for units to remain in sleep mode and without maintenance for years on end. It relies on the sun for power, Wired reported from the meeting.
The official name given to the technology is SPAN – or Self-Powered Ad-hoc Network – a “covert, perpetually self-powered wireless sensor network” that offers its users “unobtrusive, continuous surveillance” at sizes so small it could fit into a rock.
When remotely triggered, the self-organizing sensors can do anything from starting up a camera to ordering a computer to alert human personnel when a civil structure is in danger or simply disrepair.
The SPAN system was originally introduced last year. Earlier in 2013, a former Lockheed Martin subcontractor made headlines by trying to sell an earlier prototype of the “surveillance rock” a few years ago for $10 million. The original idea had had been scrapped by the manufacturer and did not come to fruition.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 7, 2013 shows rocks used to "camouflage" surveillance cameras found on the Syrian coast, which Syrian authorities said were "Israeli spy gear". State television broadcast pictures of "Israeli spy gear" unearthed in Syria, in what it said was proof of Israel's involvement in the armed revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, as Damascus blames foreign-backed terrorists for the deadly uprising against Assad that broke out in March 2011. (AFP/SANA)
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 7, 2013 shows rocks used to "camouflage" surveillance cameras found on the Syrian coast, which Syrian authorities said were "Israeli spy gear". State television broadcast pictures of "Israeli spy gear" unearthed in Syria, in what it said was proof of Israel's involvement in the armed revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, as Damascus blames foreign-backed terrorists for the deadly uprising against Assad that broke out in March 2011. (AFP/SANA)
However, the high-tech rocks being marketed now are an entirely new invention. The company proudly announced that the concealed nature of SPAN sensors allows them to “reduce the likelihood of discovery and tampering.”

This comes on the heels of an embarrassing incident involving British intelligence and Russia, in 2006, when British spies used a fake rock in a Moscow park to exchange information between agents and embassy staff.

At the time, a report on Russian television claimed there was proof that British spies were using electronic equipment hidden inside a fake rock to exchange information between agents and embassy staff. The British government of then-PM Tony Blair initially denied using the spy rocks, but in 2012 his chief of staff at the time, Jonathan Powell, admitted to the surveillance, calling it “embarrassing.”

Iran also discovered a spy rock, at the site of a uranium enrichment site, in September 2012. 
While troops were patrolling the classified site’s perimeter, they found a monitoring device in a rock. When they had approached it, the device exploded; it was presumably rigged to self-destruct on approach.

It was not clear who was behind placing the device at the Iranian nuclear facility, but Israeli, British and American agents have reportedly been actively involved in surveilling Iran’s military and unclear activities, given the countries’ fear of a nuclear-capable Iran. 

Battle of the bulge: US food corporations fueling obesity epidemic with addictive ingredients

By 2030, more than half of Americans could be obese, taxing the nation’s health while costing the country $500 billion in lost economic productivity. The food industry, however, is doing its best to keep the public hooked – no matter what the price.
With one out of three adults clinically obese and 40 percent of children officially overweight, the US is the fattest country in the developed world. The burgeoning public health crisis will see instances of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer skyrocket over the next two decades, taking an already strained healthcare system to breaking point.

But with food manufacturers keen on keeping customers loyal while maximizing their profits, public health concerns are likely to be dwarfed by the bottom line.

“What these food scientists have done is that they’ve gone to a lab and they’ve created these chemical concoctions that are very sweet, very fatty and very salty. And they call that the bliss point. Meaning they’ve created addictive foods that are going to get consumers hooked and they’re going to keep wanting to come back for more and more foods,”
Elizabeth Kucinich, of Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, told RT.
 
And while critics might also point toward issues of self-control, the foods which are least healthy are also the cheapest, although this reality is more a failure of government policy than an inevitable reality.

In 1980, no one had even heard of high-fructose corn syrup. But agricultural subsidies highly distorted market prices, bringing about the rise of cheap corn, which is a staple of highly processed foods like soft drinks and much of what you find on the supermarket shelves.

Between 1985 and 2010, the price of beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup fell 24 percent in real terms, with American children consuming on average an extra 130 calories daily from soft drinks.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a 2010 Princeton University study found that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained substantially more weight than those with access to table sugar, even if their overall caloric intake was equal.  

However, a plan by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit soda drinking cups to 16 ounces, for example, was met with derision, even when the public health benefits of such a ban were obvious.

And it’s not just corn. Casein, a milk protein commonly used in processed foods, also has addictive qualities that lead to overeating.

“Milk protein… casein, when it breaks down in our digestive system, turns into casomorphin, [which] is relative to morphine – the drug,” Kenneth Kendrick, a whistleblower and food safety advocate, told RT. “It gives us a little stimulation in our brain and gives us a little bit of pleasure.”

Kendrik said the reason why food in the US is both addictive and laden with fat, sugar and salt is simple.  

“In one word, I would say: greed. We obviously are putting money above public health,” he said. “Just like with cigarettes, we want to keep people addicted. I equate it to what the cigarette industry did. They deliberately wanted to put things in that were addictive because that drives sales and will continue to drive generations of sales.”

But as savvy and unrestrained marketing campaigns allow corporations full rein to market their products to the US public, the defeat of California’s Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of all food products containing genetically modified organisms, proves that they want full control over the narrative about what US consumers are putting into their bodies.

While European countries require genetically modified foods to be labelled, in the US the biotech industry and corporations like Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola spent millions last year to defeat the California ballot initiative for GMO genetically modified organism labeling,” Kucinich said.
It is this perfect storm of labeling control, addictive food additives and shockingly effective marketing that has America on course for an epidemic of monumental proportions.

Crashing the ban: Saudi Arabian women buckle up for social change

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia (Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)
 
 
Riyadh is gearing up for a different sort of “road rage” Saturday as women get behind the wheel to challenge a de-facto ban on female car drivers. Women are defying authoritarian cyber-dissident laws that forbid online support for protests.
As this Arab monarchy of some 30 million people slowly opens the window of opportunity for its women, Saudi females now seem more inclined to run the red light, so to speak, on other restrictions, including unwritten rules that ban them from driving.

This has prompted some women to participate in a motorized protest on Saturday to challenge the ruling of Muslim clerics, those behind-the-scene wielders of hefty influence over the kingdom’s monarchy who argue that women driving cars is a violation of Sharia law.

Although not quite on the same level as the hand wringing that greeted the arrival of the anti-pregnancy “pill” in the West back in the 1970s, clerics warn that "licentiousness and lewdness" will spread if women acquire the freedom to drive.

A top cleric sparked huge controversy last month when he said that medical studies proved that driving a car damages a woman's ovaries.

Demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia, where the al-Saud family has held a firm grip on power since 1932. The country’s first significant protest in favor of women drivers was held in 1995. Some 50 women who took to their cars in that campaign were imprisoned for 24 hours and had their passports confiscated. Others lost their jobs.

In June 2011, dozens of women drove in several cities to protest the arrest of a woman after she posted a video of herself driving. Two months later, a woman found guilty of driving received a sentence of 10 lashes. However, the sentence was overturned in April 2012.

On Tuesday, 200 Muslim clerics and preachers assembled at the Saudi Royal Court, which is the chief executive office of the king, to protest against the campaign in support of women driving, according to Saudi news website www.sabq.org.

"If those behind the conspiracy of women driving approach the house from the back, the sheikhs (will arrive) through the front doors," said Sheikh Nasser bin Salman al-Omar, secretary-general of the League of Muslim Scholars, the website reported.  
Police checkpoints are visible in some parts of Riyadh, witnesses told Reuters, and there appeared to be more traffic patrols than usual on the streets of the capital.
Meanwhile, activists have already posted a video of a woman - identified as May Al Sawyan - driving a car in Riyadh, AP reported. She is seen wearing sunglasses and her hair is covered by the headscarf traditionally worn by Saudi women. 

Online supporters beware


This year, organizers of the protest, in an effort to attract more participants to their cause, are taking to the internet to popularize the event. Popular social media sites, including Twitter and Facebook, have been used to bring more women on board the campaign.

Activists say they have received over 16,000 signatures on an online petition in favor of the change.

These developments have not escaped the notice of the authorities.

Friday's issue of the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal as saying “cyber-dissident laws” could be enforced against anyone supporting the campaign.

In Saudi Arabia, where public beheadings are still employed for murder and other serious crimes, anybody found guilty of signaling their support of the demonstration could be slapped with five-year prison sentences and hefty fines, Marwan al-Ruwqi, a Saudi consultant on cyber laws, was quoted as saying.

At the same time, however, opponents of the campaign are also taking advantage of social media to attack women activists.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International said the main website of the campaign, oct26driving.org, was hacked early Friday and replaced with the message: "End the leadership of Saudi women."

Curb on driving and freedom


The irony of Saudi Arabia’s implicit ban on female drivers is that the women who are fighting for their right to curse and swear in traffic jams have already received international driving licenses abroad – but only after gaining permission to hop on a commercial jet from a male “guardian.”

Under Saudi law, every adult female is required to have a male relative as her guardian, who is legally entitled to make a number of decisions on behalf of the woman, including permission to travel, study and work.

Meanwhile, any step forward that women in Saudi Arabia are acquiring – which includes the right to vote and participate in municipal elections in 2015 – seems to move back two steps by the refusal to let women drive a car.

As Saudi-born writer and journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider, one of the Arab world's best-known feminists, explained: "In a world of technology, rapid globalization and continuous international challenges, improving the lot of Saudi women and mobilizing them is no longer a matter of choice and luxury. It is a necessity.”

Saudi officials must improve its efforts to remove the “fear from the hearts of the women” so they can participate in the building of society, she added.

The cost of the ban on female drivers is also cited as a reason for the campaign, as families are forced to rely on chauffeurs to accomplish the simplest errands.

However, there have been some notable advances for Saudi women under King Abdullah. In addition to winning the right to vote, as well as participate in municipal elections, 30 women have been granted seats in the 150-member Shura Consultative Council.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that forbids women from driving, and judging by recent events, that ruling may be in place for some time: a proposal by three of the new women delegates in the council to open discussion on the driving ban was rejected outright by the council’s male majority. 

Brazil riot police teargas bus fare-rise protesters amid mass clashes (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


A demonstration demanding free public transportation ended with a riot at a bus station in Brazil’s Sao Paulo. At least six people have been arrested as riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
The violence culminated a protest march Friday, which lasted for some three hours. Part of a crowd of hundreds of demonstrator broke off and attacked a bus terminal in Sao Paulo’s center, police said.
The rioters set on fire a bust and destroyed cash and ticket machines. Police says many of the masked vandals at the station were members of the so-called Black Bloc anarchist group.
Riot police used tear gas and batons against the protesters. A police colonel was hit on the head by a rock amid the clashes, Brazilian media reported.

A masked demonstrator throws a stone against a bus after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
A masked demonstrator throws a stone against a bus after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)

The confrontation continued elsewhere in the city, when some people fled from the bus station and erected barricades.
A hike in bus fares triggered massive protest demonstrations in Brazil in June, when millions of people took to the streets to voice their anger at corruption, poor public services and government spending on projects like hosting the 2014 World Cup football tournament.
Friday’s march in Sao Paulo comes on the same day that President Dilma Rousseff announced a $2.4 billion plan to improve public transportation in the city.


People protest against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
People protest against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)


An autobus burns after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
An autobus burns after a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)


Masked demonstrators vandalize bank ATM machines following a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)
Masked demonstrators vandalize bank ATM machines following a demonstration against rising public transport costs and demanding better public services in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 25, 2013. (AFP Photo/Nelson Almeida)





FBI makes record $28 million Bitcoin bust

US authorities have reported their largest-ever Bitcoin bust amounting to $28 million of the digital currency. It was seized from the owner of the controversial Silk Road website, which was shut down three weeks ago.
A Friday statement by federal prosecutors in New York details the seizure of 144,336 bitcoins, which were discovered on the computer belonging to Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht, alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” Reuters reports. Ulbricht was arrested Oct. 1 in San Francisco on several charges of conspiracy.
Ulbricht’s lawyer could not be reached for comment, but the accused earlier denied all the allegations.
Since its inception in 2011, the now closed website was an anonymous hub for anything from drug deals to weapons and computer hacking programs – even hiring assassins, the Justice Department said.
The digital currency itself has been around since 2008, but it was not until 2011 that authorities showed greater interest in it, following the discovery of the connection to Silk Road and the near to 1 million registered users regularly engaging in illegal activities.
The current bust was part of a joint civil action against Ulbricht and his website. He is expected to appear in court in a matter of weeks to face charges of conspiring to traffic narcotics, launder money and hack computer networks.
Ulbricht’s arrest and the bitcoin seizure followed a string of international arrests of Silk Road users by Swedish, British and US authorities, a testament to the scale of the international crackdown on the website. The director of Britain’s newly-founded National Crime Agency (NCA), Keith Bristow, warned Oct. 9 that the “latest arrests are just the start” and “there are many more to come."
Bristow added that bitcoin will also now be closely watched, after his agency seized millions of pounds of the electronic currency.
Together with the previous figure of 30,000 bitcoins, the new FBI bust puts the current value of seized currency at $33 million, the US Attorney General’s Office said. In the two years Ulbricht’s website was in operation, about $1.2 billion in bitcoins were traded. Silk Road charged between 8 and 15 percent in commissions.

George Frey/Getty Images/AFP
George Frey/Getty Images/AFP
Following Ulbricht’s arrest and the seizure of 26,000 bitcoins from a public wallet, an FBI-linked public wallet was discovered by Reddit users the next day. The owner could not be identified for certain, but bitcoin users quickly seized the opportunity to use it as a platform for voicing their opinions about the FBI.
They made tiny donations to the wallet, dubbed ‘Silkroad Seized Coins’ on another website – Blockchain.info, which allowed them to post comments – the majority of them bashing the FBI for trying to “control” the bitcoin business instead of seeking justice.
But even now, weeks after Ulbricht’s arrest, it remains unclear what the FBI have actually “seized.” To use bitcoins someone must have a private password corresponding to each wallet.
The previous public wallet seizure was carried out easily because those bitcoins were at the less-protected escrow account of the website, Extreme Tech wrote at the time of Ulbricht’s arrest. Ulbricht’s estimated $80 million personal wealth in bitcoins has remained inaccessible to the FBI, and it also remains unclear what the FBI would do with the bitcoins if they did have access to them – as the US government refuses to recognize the currency as legal tender.
The authorities may be able to prevent Ulbricht from transferring the money, but without having the ability to access the bitcoins, seizing them is not much more than simply confiscating a computer.
The success of the Silk Road website was attributed to its operating on the encrypted Tor network, which made its dealings nearly impossible to trace. One transaction would also generate a vast number of fake ones with the purpose of masking the original buyer and seller – another effect of Bitcoin’s anonymous and decentralized nature.

Police militarization expo Urban Shield descends on Oakland

AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
 
SWAT teams, military contractors and law enforcement from the world over are gathering this weekend in Oakland, CA for the annual event Urban Shield, a training and weapons expo made possible by the Department of Homeland Security and arms manufacturers.
Urban Shield, coordinated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, exists under the guise of fighting terrorism and “disaster preparedness” in heavily-populated areas. The event is partly a trade show for a myriad militarized tactical gear and weapons, but there are also training exercises and war-game competitions that teams from California to Guam to Qatar will take part in this weekend. The exercises include protest suppression techniques and SWAT-team-raid simulations.
Past participants in the simulations include the counter-terrorism Israeli Border Police Unit Yamam, which allegedly conducts extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinians, journalist Max Blumenthal has reported. In addition, Bahrain police units, which have devastated its country’s ongoing peaceful protests against the monarch in recent years, have participated in Urban Shield events.
The event is ultimately overseen by a California-based private firm Cytel Inc. and is hosted by the Bay Area Urban Security Initiative (UASI), a law enforcement coalition representing Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and ten Bay Area Counties.
According to East Bay Express, UASI receives its funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has given the Bay Area's police forces millions of dollars since 2009 to fund the annual event and other projects.
In 2012, DHS gave half a billion dollars to police departments in 31 metro regions across the US to "address the unique planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas," according to the DHS website.
For this year’s event, the Alameda Sheriff’s received $7.5 million in federal funding, according to the War Resisters League.
"What Urban Shield represents to us is the epitome of state repression that has been impacting communities of color and immigrant communities for decades," Lara Kiswani, of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told Common Dreams. "Different strategies of surveillance against Arabs and Muslims and brown and black people are being used as tactics against our people back home. This is the militarization of the police."
As US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have waned, major weapons manufacturers have turned to militarizing police units for a new source of revenue. Major names that have provided the US and others with arms - Lockheed Martin, ATK and Colt, among a few - are helping sponsor this year’s Urban Shield.
ATK (Alliant Techsystems) is the Pentagon’s largest supplier of munitions, including depleted uranium munitions.
Colt makes firearms for the military and law enforcement, advertising their wares as such: “From the jungles of Vietnam to the burning sands of the Middle East, Colt weapons have been combat tested under the most extreme conditions by the U.S. armed forces.”
Lockheed, arguably the most powerful military contractor in the world, did $47 billion in business in 2012, much of which came from the US government, including funding for the massively-priced F-35 program.
With US-favored contractors present and the amount the US has offered to pay for the conference, as journalist Rania Khalek pointed out, “that means the federal government is essentially financing a major marketing opportunity for companies invested in police militarization and criminal justice privatization.”
Other participants include drone makers, crowd-control experts, DNA-gathering device makers, tear-gas exporters and armored-vehicle manufacturers.
"The United States exports repression globally," said Kiswani. "The way the occupations in the Arab world repress people, and Israel represses the people of Palestine, these are the same strategies used against communities of color and poor people at home."
The event will draw committed protests that aim to point out the connections between police militarization and the dangers to the communities they patrol.
"We see events like Urban Shield as one of the main engines of militarization of the police and everyday life," Ali Issa of the War Resisters League told Common Dreams.
A coalition of 20 anti-police brutality groups around the Bay area have united for the Facing Urban Shield Action Network to organize protests against the gathering.
"The Bay Area has a long legacy of organizing against police violence," Kiswani said. "We are making those links and trying to raise awareness in our own communities and across communities. We must be prepared to protect our communities in the face of these repression strategies."
Organizers will also offer statements from pro-democracy activists in Bahrain, Palestine, Canada and Turkey.
"My unarmed son was shot with military weapons by the police," protester Dionne Smith-Downes told Common Dreams, saying her son died from his wounds. "I feel that military weapons should not be used in a community."
 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

‘Racist chanting’ prompts UEFA investigation after Moscow Champions League match

 
 
UEFA launched an official investigation after Manchester City’s player claimed that he heard racist chants directed at him from a section of CSKA Moscow supporters during Wednesday’s game.
Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure claimed that he heard the chants by home fans during City’s  2-1 win at Moscow Khimki Arena on Wednesday night’s Champions League match.
“I was quite disappointed, for them to do that again was unbelievable and really, really sad,” Touré said after the game.
He took to his Twitter saying that he would not let the abuse affect him.
The team’s captain, Vincent Kompany, who missed the match, tweeted in his support.
The Ivorian urged the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) to take action, demanding that European football’s governing body would take action and ban European matches at the stadium.
“We have to be as strong as possible, otherwise they will continue like that. Maybe they could ban the stadium for a couple of years or a couple of months,” Toure told reporters after the game.
During the match, the midfielder reported the incident to the match’s referee, Ovidiu Hategan of Romania, but the game was allowed to continue.
Kick It Out, a group campaigning against racism in football, issued a statement on its website, saying that the referee was responsible for the stopping the game.
“It was the referee's role to then stop the game, which would have dealt with the problem instantly. This was a key failing of last night.”
"When abuse is officially logged like this, the offending club should be charged and an automatic partial stadium closure by UEFA can be explored. A second offence could mean a full stadium closure.”
However, Toure was the only player to notice the alleged racist shouts from the stands.  The head coaches of the two teams involved in the match Leonid Slutsky of CSKA and Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini said they were unaware of the abuse.

CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, left, against Manchester City's Yaya Toure in the 2013–14 UEFA Champions League's group stage match on October 23, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Iliya Pitalev)
CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, left, against Manchester City's Yaya Toure in the 2013–14 UEFA Champions League's group stage match on October 23, 2013. (RIA Novosti / Iliya Pitalev)
CSKA officials said they were “surprised and disappointed” by Toure’s claims that racial abuse had taken place.
“Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from fans of PFC CSKA directed to the guests, which was confirmed after the game by the match delegate.”
CSKA striker Seydou Doumbia, also an Ivorian national, noted after the game that his colleague was exaggerating.
“I didn't hear anything like that from the CSKA fans...Yes, they're always noisy in supporting the team, and try to put as much pressure as possible on our opponents, but they wouldn't ever allow themselves to come out with racist chants. So my Ivory Coast colleague is clearly exaggerating.”
CSKA has never been punished for acts of racism and the club regrets the incident, although club officials believe the accusations to be baseless, the club said in a statement.
The incident came as UEFA was marking “Football Against Racism in Europe Action Week,” with all captains wearing anti-racism armbands.
Racist chants against players, officials and fans because of their skin color, nationality, religion or ethnicity have been quite common. In a bid to tackle such abuses, in May UEFA changed the sanctions for racist chanting. The first offence will be punished by a partial closure of the guilty club’s ground and repeat offenders will face permanent stadium closure
 
 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Volgograd mourns victims of bus bombing, police look for organizers

Volgograd law enforcement agents work inside a passenger bus blown up Monday afternoon by a female suicide bomber in Krasnoarmeysky District, Volgograd (RIA Novosti/
Irina Il'icheva)
Volgograd law enforcement agents work inside a passenger bus blown up Monday afternoon by a female suicide bomber in Krasnoarmeysky District, Volgograd (RIA Novosti/ Irina Il'icheva)
 
 
Russian security forces are looking for the organizers of a deadly suicide bombing on a bus in Volgograd that killed six people and injured 37 on Monday.
The bomb, measured at about 500-600 grams of TNT equivalent, was detonated by 30-year-old suicide bomber Naida Asiyalova, a native of Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan, Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
Asiyalova, reportedly the wife of Dmitry Sokolov, a militant from the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, detonated the bomb, filled with metal objects and dowel pins, after getting off a Moscow-bound bus on the outskirts of Volgograd and returning to the city center, Markin said.
“Having bought a ticket to Moscow, Asiyalova was going on a bus from Makhachkala and stopped in Volgograd. Her left hand was in plaster, and she was holding it with her right hand. Almost on the outskirts of the city, Asiyalova left the bus and returned to the Volgograd city center,” Markin said.

Dmitry Sokolov (L) and Naida Asiyalova (Photo from vk.com)
Dmitry Sokolov (L) and Naida Asiyalova (Photo from vk.com)
He also added that investigators didn’t know if it was “planned, or Asiyalova changed her plan on her way, looking for the most crowded places.”
The bomb could be have been triggered by a remote electronic detonator, a source told Itar-Tass.
Asiyalova reportedly converted her husband to radical Islam and convinced him to join a terrorist group in Dagestan, officials say. Sokolov, 21, is part of the Abdul-Jabar armed gang based in Makhachkala, the Interior Ministry said, and is wanted for organizing the Volgograd blast and other terrorist attacks.
Three days of official mourning have been declared in the Volgograd region. All mass cultural events have been canceled, and authorities have asked local TV channels not to broadcast entertainment programs.
Flags will be flown at half-mast during the mourning period.
From early morning Tuesday, residents started bringing flowers to the scene where the blast took place.

RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga
“Those who died were ordinary people, they were innocent. It’s a terrible tragedy. Anyone of us could be in their place. No one thought that anything of this kind could ever happen in our city,” Ivan Skorobogatov, a city resident, told Itar-Tass.
Residents have begun donating blood for those wounded in the blast.
MPs in Russia’s State Duma also held a minute of silence to honor the dead.
Bomb technicians and criminal investigators are working at the scene to determine more details about the blast. Traffic has been partly halted in the area where the blast took place, and the scene of the attack remains cordoned off.
Most of the bomb’s 30 injured victims are in a moderately serious state. Four people in critical condition have been flown to Moscow by helicopter.
 

Terrorist attack averted as powerful bomb defused in Dagestan, southern Russia

Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
 
A bomb equivalent to 12 kilograms of TNT has been deactivated in the Russian North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee says.
The successful anti-terror mission in Dagestan was accomplished the day after a female suicide bomber in Volgograd blew up a bus, killing six people with a device consisting of 500-600 grams of TNT.
The bomb was found near a shopping mall in the city of Khasavyurt, after local residents reported to police they had seen a suspicious object there.
Law enforcement agencies identified the object as a homemade bomb.
The bomb was found at 8 am and 2 1/2 hours later it was deactivated with a water cannon.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee has announced it is conducting an investigation into the incident.
Bomb disposal experts from Russia’s Federal Security Service were sent to the scene. 
“The homemade explosive device was filled with a mixture of saltpeter and aluminum powder, without shrapnel. The device had a detonating fuse and was ready for use,” the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said in a statement.

Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Photo by National Antiterrorist Committee
Dagestan, together with the neighboring republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, has continuously faced potential terrorist threats. This year alone has seen several deadly bombings in Dagestan.
A suicide car exploded near a police station in the republic’s Tabasaransky district a month ago, leaving three people dead and 16 injured.
In May, two suicide bombings took place in the capital, Makhachkala. One bomb, which only injured other people, took place near a federal Interior Ministry building. Another, which killed four people, happened outside the court bailiff’s office.
The same month, two teenagers died in an explosion after they tried to defuse a bomb they found near a Makhachkala shopping mall.
In February, an explosion just outside the city of Khasavyurt, which went off during a routine traffic checkpoint inspection, killed four police officers.
The suicide bomber responsible for Monday’s bomb in Volgograd was reportedly a native of Dagestan and was married to a militant.



 

American airstrikes in Yemen kill more civilians than terrorists – HRW report

People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters)
People gather at the site of a drone strike on the road between Yafe and Radfan districts of the southern Yemeni province of Lahj August 11, 2013. (Reuters)
 
 
A new report by Human Rights Watch once again confirms that Hellfire rockets lack selectivity and exterminate women and children more often than they hit Al-Qaeda associates. Last month the UN urged the US to reveal data on civilian drone casualties.
The prominent human rights organization has released a detailed 102-page report on the US drone attacks and airstrikes in Yemen against militants of the Al-Qaeda wing in the country simultaneously with another human rights organization Amnesty International issuing a report on US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Basically, the HRW report has maintained an already widely-known fact that civilians die too often in reported ‘surgical’ strikes which is unacceptable even by the ‘law of war’.
“The US has launched about 80 targeted killing operations in Yemen since 2009,” claims Humans Rights Watch Senior Researcher Letta Tayler.
Still, the HRW report considers only six of them, one of which took place in 2009, and other five occurring in 2012-2013. These six attacks claimed the lives of 82 people, 57 of whom - or practically 70 percent - were civilians.
According to one of the two the UN reports on drones issued in September, “the first remotely piloted aircraft strike reported in Yemen occurred on November 3, 2002, in an operation aimed at killing a suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in February 2000.”
After that there were no drone strikes in Yemen till May 2011, when a failed attempt to kill cleric Anwar Awlaki, a dual Yemeni and American citizen, took place. 
Several months later, in September 2011, a drone killed Awlaki anyway, opening the way to dozens of ‘target killings’ done by both military and special services, such as the CIA, drones. The total fatalities in Yemen drone warfare estimated by the UN are “between 268 and 393.”
The deadliest of those airstrikes that came into the HRW’s spotlight was probably not the work of drones at all. It occurred in a village of Al-Majalah on December 17, 2009, where alleged US Navy cruise missiles (too big to be fired from a UAV) dropped cluster bombs on a Bedouin village, killing 14 alleged militants along with 41 civilians, including nine women and 21 children. Only five people survived.
“I have a question for America: Despite having drones and spy planes and all of this technology, can’t America differentiate between a terrorist and an innocent civilian?” told the HRW Moqbil Muhammad Ali, who lost 28 relatives in the attack on Al-Majalah village.
So far American strikes to eliminate militants have practically always been accompanied by civilian casualties, despite President Barack Obama promising to avoid them.
“And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians would be killed or injured, the highest standard we can set,” the HRW quoted President Barack Obama as saying.
“President Obama says the US is doing its utmost to protect civilians from harm in these strikes. Yet in the six cases we examined, at least two were a clear violation of the laws of war,” commented Tayler.
The HRW report also points out that civilian casualties actually work against the US efforts to decrease the terror threat in Yemen.
“Should the United States continue targeted killings in Yemen without addressing the consequences of killing civilians and taking responsibility for unlawful deaths, it risks further angering many Yemenis and handing another recruiting card to AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula]. In response to these killings, AQAP has issued statements accusing the United States of fighting a war not just against Al-Qaeda, but against all Muslims. Residents have set up roadblocks and held demonstrations in which they chant anti-US slogans,” the report reads.
Among cases mentioned in the HRW report is an attack that happened on September 2, 2012, when a US strike on a vehicle in a central Yemeni city of Radaa killed 12 civilians, including three children and a pregnant woman, while the intended target, a tribal leader named Abd Raouf Dahab, was nowhere near the vehicle.
Another airstrike took place on January 23, 2013, killing two alleged militants in a Yemeni village of Al-Masnaah, but again with two confirmed civilian victims.
According to the HRW report, civilians who have absolutely no contacts with terrorists sometimes die trying to earn some money and giving a lift to strangers who turn out to be militants. In that case when an airstrike is launched against such vehicles, missiles destroy the cars with everyone inside.

Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah )
Protesters loyal to the Shi'ite al-Houthi rebel group burn an effigy of a U.S. aircraft during a demonstration to protest against what they say is U.S. interference in Yemen, including drone strikes, after their weekly Friday prayers in the Old Sanaa city April 12, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah )
Also witnesses questioned by the HRW very often mention the fact that victims of airstrikes were not simply mutilated, but also charred beyond recognition, which raises a question about possible thermobaric nature of the warheads used in the US missiles.
One modification of the Hellfire rockets in the US possession, AGM-114N, has a thermobaric warhead.
The Human Rights Watch group does not question America’s right to eliminate its enemies in ‘targeted killing’ strikes without a court ruling, but calls to minimize civilian casualties in the process.
“President Obama should acknowledge these strikes and the US should ensure that it is following the law and President Obama’s policies on targeted killings so that civilians are not unnecessarily killed in these strikes,” Tayler said.
Washington has always insisted that its lethal drone strikes abroad, in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, are fully legitimate, being conducted within the framework of the ‘War on Terror’ against terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and its associates.
In September, British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson, the author of second of two latest UN reports on the use of drones, accused the CIA of creating the ‘almost invariably classified’ atmosphere around the special forces drone operations in Yemen.
Drone strikes are being made these days on an ‘accountability vacuum’ condition, Emmerson claimed, demanding a full public investigation into the civilian casualties issue be launched, even if it demands certain “redactions on grounds of national security.”
The CIA’s own estimates of civilian deaths in Yemen due to drone strikes, according to the UN report, confirming no more than 58 civilian casualties at the highest. 
Legal Director of the human rights charity Reprieve, representing civilian victims of drone strikes, Kat Craig, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that the UN report by Ben Emmerson “highlights the US’ failure to reveal any information whatsoever about their shadowy, covert drone program. Hiding the reality of civilian deaths is not only morally abhorrent, but an affront to the sort of transparency that should be the hallmark of any democratic government. Some basic accountability is the very least people in Pakistan and Yemen should expect from the CIA as it rains down Hellfire missiles on their homes and villages.” 

Pro-business party to talk cooperation with Khodorkovsky – report

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company (RIA Novosti/Nikolay Fyodorov)
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos oil company (RIA Novosti/Nikolay Fyodorov)
 
 
Several members of the rightist party Civil Platform have supported the suggestion of inviting former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to join their team when he finishes his prison sentence next year.
Civil Platform’s leader, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, told the press after the closed congress that he had suggested introducing a rotating leadership of the party, including the chairman’s post. He claimed such a move make the party less predictable for its rivals and gradually help to improve its results at the forthcoming municipal elections in several regions.
But even before the planned rotation commenced, some Civil Platform members managed to give the situation an unpredicted turn. According to the mass circulation daily Izvestia, Konstantin Doroshok, who represents the party in the legislature of Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad, suggested that other party members should invite Mikhail Khodorkovsky to cooperate. The newspaper writes that other participants of the congress were ready to support this move.
If everything goes on as normal, Khodorkovsky will walk free in August next year and will be able to take part in the party’s activities,” said Solomon Ginzburg, the head of Civil Platform’s Kaliningrad branch and a member of its Federal Political Committee. Ginzburg added that in his view Prokhorov had enough strength and courage to invite Khodorkovsky to join his team.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the oil firm Yukos – at the time the largest oil company in the world - was arrested in 2003 and subsequently found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion.
Civil Platform is already cooperating with people and structures that had been once linked to Khodorkovsky. The deputy head of the party’s Moscow Branch, Aleksandr Osovtsov, said that many of his party comrades would like to see Khodorkovsky among their ranks and Mikhail Prokhorov had repeatedly expressed his support and sympathy for the jailed ex-tycoon.
Osovtsov himself had close ties with Khodorkovsky as he oversaw the Yukos-sponsored Open Russia public organization and also chaired the board of sponsors in the Russian State University for the Humanities at the time that Khodorkovsky donated money to that institution.
However, despite disclosing the fact that some people in Civil Platform supported cooperation with Khodorkovsky, Osovtsov also noted in press comments that the former head of Yukos had repeatedly stated that he had no political ambitions.
The same cannot be said about Mikhail Prokhorov. As the billionaire spoke to journalists after the closed party congress, he stressed that all reports of his possible stepping down were not true and that he definitely intended to stay at the helm. 

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