Monday, June 23, 2014

Snowden's year in Russia: From airport hideout to mystery location


With his life being made into a Hollywood movie, ex-NSA analyst Edward Snowden executed the biggest intelligence leak in history and outwitted the spy agency to mark the one-year anniversary of his stay in Russia – his surprise haven from US prosecution. From 'Truth is coming' to 'Merkel Effect': Top 13 Snowden quotes on NSA In June 2013, Snowden was forced to seek asylum after disclosing to several media outlets thousands of classified documents that he had obtained as an NSA contractor for Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. Trying to mastermind the largest secret documents release in history, in May 2013 Snowden left the US for Hong Kong, where he met with journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, handing over the classified data to them. Four days after the initial disclosure of the NSA program in The Guardian, on June 9, Snowden revealed his identity, initiating a manhunt to find him and deliver him to the American justice system. While still in Hong Kong, the US Department of Justice charged the whistleblower with two counts of violating the Espionage Act as well as theft of government property, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. On June 22, the State Department revoked his passport. On June 23, 2013, Snowden flew from Hong Kong to Moscow, allegedly en route to Cuba, but having no passport, Snowden was forced to stay in the transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where he applied for political asylum to 21 countries. Four countries offered Snowden permanent asylum - Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela. But as Moscow has no direct flights between those Latin American states, Snowden, fearing US authorities would try to intercept him en route, applied to for Russian asylum. On August 1, Russian authorities granted him a one-year temporary renewable asylum. RT's Egor Piskunov revisits the scene at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport where these dramatic events played out, and tours the windowless hotel where the whistleblower was staying while awaiting a decision on his fate. Snowden's revelations continue to expose the extensive intrusion of numerous global surveillance programs into people's everyday lives. Most are run or associated with the NSA and the Five Eyes group, in a conspiracy with multinational telecommunication companies and EU governments. Year of the whistleblower: 10 things we didn’t know before Snowden The 31-year-old is credited with revealing the existence of the Boundless Informant program, along with the PRISM electronic data mining program, the Tempora interception project, the XKeyscore analytical tool, the MUSCULAR access point and the massive FASCIA database - all in 2013 alone. In 2014, the Snowden files exposed UK's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, along with the Dishfire database, Squeaky Dolphin's live monitoring of social media channels, the Optic Nerve program used for collection of private webcam images, just to name a few. For his role and courage in exposing government secrets, and sparking a debate about the interrelations of national security and individual privacy, Edward Snowden has received a number of prestigious awards and human rights group recognition for his service. British journalist, Wikileaks supporter and confidante of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison, holds a certificate on the occassion of the awarding of Snowden with the Berlin Award for Moral Courage at the Wall Panorama in Berlin, June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Stephanie Pilick)British journalist, Wikileaks supporter and confidante of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison, holds a certificate on the occassion of the awarding of Snowden with the Berlin Award for Moral Courage at the Wall Panorama in Berlin, June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Stephanie Pilick) In one year, he became the recipient of the German 'Whistleblower Prize', the Sam Adams Award which was presented to him in Moscow, the German "positive" Big Brother Award, the Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize, and the Fritz Bauer Prize which he secured Saturday. In addition, the whistleblower was named as The Guardian's 2013 person of the year, topped Foreign Policy’s 2013 list of leading Global Thinkers, and was named Time's Person of the Year runner-up, behind Pope Francis. Snowden also joined the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founded by Daniel Ellsberg and was elected as a Rector of the University of Glasgow. His persona has also gained popularity in the pop culture with a dramatic thriller about Edward Snowden, 'Classified: The Edward Snowden Story', scheduled for release in September 2014.

​Leaked tape has Polish FM comparing ties with US to giving oral sex

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (AFP Photo / Jason Reed)
The Polish Foreign Minister believes his country’s alliance with the US is worth nothing and compared his government’s stance to giving oral sex and receiving nothing in return, a Polish magazine said, citing a leaked recording of a private conversation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (AFP Photo / Jason Reed)

Excerpts from the alleged exchange between FM Radoslaw Sikorski and Jacek Rostowski, an MP and former finance minister, were published Sunday by Wprost, which promised a full transcript and audio files later on Monday or Tuesday. The same magazine triggered a political storm in Poland this month by releasing a recording of a conversation between the head of Poland’s central bank and the interior minister, implying a link between the two violating the bank’s independence.
According to Wprost, Sikorski is skeptical about the reliance of Poland, one of the staunchest allies of Washington in Eastern Europe, on American protection.
“The Polish-American alliance is not worth anything. It’s even damaging, because it creates a false sense of security in Poland,” Sikorski allegedly said.
“Complete bullshit,” the tape purportedly records Sikorski as saying. “We will get a conflict with both Russians and Germans, and we’re going to think that everything is great, because we gave the Americans a blowjob. Suckers. Total suckers.”
US soldiers stand in front of a Patriot missile battery at an army base in the northern Polish town of Morag (AFP Photo)
US soldiers stand in front of a Patriot missile battery at an army base in the northern Polish town of Morag (AFP Photo)

Sikorski further blamed the nature of relations between Warsaw and Washington on the Polish mentality.
“The problem in Poland is that we have a very shallow pride and low self-esteem,” he allegedly said, decrying such a mindset as “Murzyńskość”, a racially-charged derogative term that could be translated as “thinking like a negro.” Sikorski suggested on Twitter the translation should be “negritude,” linking it to the anti-colonialism movement in Europe.

The Polish government declined to immediately comment on the new leak, saying it may do so after full transcripts are made available. It didn’t challenge the authenticity of the transcript, however.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Monday that the publications of leaks were aimed destabilizing the political situation in Poland. He said they would not force him into making any cabinet shuffles.
US Ambassador to Warsaw Stephen Mull declined comments as well, but said the US-Polish alliance was strong.

The Polish media are now speculating on who could have supplied Wprost with the recording, with many fingers pointing to Russian intelligence. They compare the leak to that of the conversation between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Kiev, in which America’s top diplomat for Europe infamously used the f-word to describe the European Union.
Sikorski is a well-known critic of Russia and supporter of stronger ties with the US, although he grew more skeptical of Washington since the 2009 attempt to “reset” American relations with Russia, which involved review of the plan to deploy elements of NATO’s anti-ballistic missile defense system on Polish soil.
Lately the minister was vocally opposing Russia’s stance on the Ukrainian crisis and called for astronger presence of American troops in Poland.
He is also considered a strong candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as the EU's foreign policy chief and was officially suggested for the position by Warsaw last month.

Ukraine railroad blown up, Russian train derailed (PHOTOS)

The railroad tracks in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region have been blown up as a freight train belonging to Russian Railways was passing by. Fourteen freight cars were derailed in what railroad staff believe was a planned explosion.
The blast happened Sunday evening, damaging the railroad tracks on a stretch between the Donetsk Region towns of Ilovaisk and Kuteinikovo, in eastern Ukraine, Russian Railways said in a statement.
The blast happened after the train passed a mined area. The blast was so strong that 14 cargo cars were derailed.
“We were moving from Ilovaisk to Martsevo [Rostov Region, Russia]. At the 1,168-kilometer mark, we heard a sharp clap similar to an explosion,” Maksim Ustinov, the train driver, told Life News. “When we stopped the train, we saw that the freight cars were derailed.”
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

According to Russian Railways, the locomotive crew of the North Caucasian railway was not affected in the accident.
Meanwhile, personnel from Russian Railways believe the blast was planned. The explosive device was apparently prepared for several days and it might have taken several hours to fix the bomb.
“During further inspection of the train I found some wires running from trees to the railway tracks, the explosion site was resembling a crater,” Ustinov said.
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

The tracks are now being repaired by Ukrainian Railways staff, while trains have been redirected.
In the meantime, another blast occurred on the Ilovajsk-Mospino stretch, in the Donetsk Region, Ukrainian Railways said in a statement. Three railway sleepers and several were damaged in the blast.
The circumstances of the incidents are being investigated, the Ukrainian company said.
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Google Maps

The town of Ilovaisk is located 47 kilometers from the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, where Kiev has launched a massive military operation. The troops are using heavy weaponry, airplanes, choppers and armored vehicles in the eastern regions of the country, in an effort to defeat anti-government forces demanding federalization. The vast majority (over 90 percent) of Donetsk and Lugansk regions’ populations voted for self-rule in May referendums.
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

The town of Ilovaisk is located 47 kilometers from the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, where Kiev has launched a massive military operation. The troops are using heavy weaponry, airplanes, choppers and armored vehicles in the eastern regions of the country, in an effort to defeat anti-government forces demanding federalization. The vast majority (over 90 percent) of Donetsk and Lugansk regions’ populations voted for self-rule in May referendums.
According to the latest UN report, at least 356 people, including 257 civilians, have been killed in the violence since the beginning of the “anti-terrorist” military campaign in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)
The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

The Donetsk Region, Ukraine, June 22, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Maksim Blinov)

Kiev nationalists clash with police outside Orthodox monastery (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Kiev, June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Ukraine nationalists have clashed with police outside the citadel of the Orthodox Church in Kiev, the Pechersk Lavra, as the churchgoers and monks were about to hold a peace service praying for an end to violence in Ukraine.
According to various media reports up to 500 ultra-nationalists, representing the Right Sector and Ukraine's Patriots neo-nazi movements, clashed with around 100 policemen in an attempt to disrupt the Procession of the Cross at one of the centers of the Eastern Orthodox monasticism in Eastern Europe.
Kiev, June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

The procession was supposed to start at noon local time in the Holy Dormition Cathedral of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra and end up at the monument of the Unknown Soldier. Participants in the rally, mostly elderly, oppose Kiev's military operation in the Donetsk region.
Ultra-nationalists claimed that “separatists” were planning to use the event as a chance to gather and form a “Kiev's People Republic” and used a “few dozen grandmas” to disguise their plan.
After the armed ultra-nationalist crowd arrived at the gates of the convent, the Lavra was forced to shut fearing clashes.
“After the crowd of activists with baseball bats and hammers, some wearing bulletproof vests arrived at the Lavra, the entrance and exit to the shrine was closed. According to law enforcement, this was done to avoid clashes,” spokesman for Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Fr. Georgiy Kovalenko shared his account of the events surrounding the procession service on his Facebook page.
The clergy asked the angry mob – some of whom claimed they came to the monastery “to pray” – to lay down their arms. But when asked to cite a prayer, according to Kovalenko, they could not remember a single one.
Around 250 people, some wearing St. George’s ribbons, were forced to seek shelter and hold the procession inside the walls of the monastery, while around 100 law enforcement officers secured the premises. It is still unclear how many people were injured in the clashes outside the walls of the monastery.
READ MORE: POROSHENKO WARNS OF ‘DETAILED PLAN B’ IF UKRAINE CEASEFIRE FAILS
READ MORE: POROSHENKO WARNS OF ‘DETAILED PLAN B’ IF UKRAINE CEASEFIRE FAILS

Kiev Pechersk Lavra issued a statement after the incident saying that according to Appeal Holy Synod, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church “as always calls on all parties to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and enhanced prayer.” It reminded that the monastic life should not be disturbed or used for political purposes.
Policemen guard the entrance of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Policemen guard the entrance of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

After the raid on the monastery around 60 nationalist activists staged a rally at the Russian embassy in Kiev, Russia's Press Atache Oleg Grishin said.
“The gathered are behaving aggressively. They are trying to break through the cordon of the consulate building, stoning representatives Ukrainian law enforcement agencies,” RBK quoted Grishin. “The situation is tense,” the diplomat added. No one was detained at the rally that lasted around two hours.
Activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups sing the anthem as policemen guardthe entrance of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups sing the anthem as policemen guardthe entrance of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

Also on Sunday, the nationalists vandalized a Kiev branch of Russia’s Sberbank pelting cobble stones and throwing firecrackers inside.
Policemen guard the Sberbank of Russia building after it was attacked with stones by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups in Kiev on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Policemen guard the Sberbank of Russia building after it was attacked with stones by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups in Kiev on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

Ukrainian policemen guard the entrance of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Ukrainian policemen guard the entrance of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, an Orthodox Christian complex of monasteries and cathedrals in Kiev, to prevent storming by activists of various pro-Ukrainian radical youth groups on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

Activists of pro-Ukrainian radical group wave a Ukrainian national flag during a rally outside the Consulate department of Russian embassy in Kiev June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)
Activists of pro-Ukrainian radical group wave a Ukrainian national flag during a rally outside the Consulate department of Russian embassy in Kiev June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

People with their faces covered take part in a pro-Ukrainian anti-separatist rally near Kiev Pechersk Lavra, in Kiev June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)
People with their faces covered take part in a pro-Ukrainian anti-separatist rally near Kiev Pechersk Lavra, in Kiev June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

Activists of pro-Ukrainian radical youth group pose in a front of riot police outside Consulate department of Russian embassy in Kiev June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

First in 6 years: Troubled US missile defense system hits test target


​After more than six years of failures and billions of dollars spent the US missile defense system managed by Boeing has successfully hit a mock enemy warhead over the Pacific, the US Defense Department confirmed. “This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system,” said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Admiral James Syring, after a successful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system – the only US defensive system theoretically capable of intercepting intercontinental ballasting missiles midcourse. Syring added that all components involved in the test performed as designed. The performance of the system in Sunday tests will now be analyzed for several months using data obtained during the intercept. The target hit was an intermediate-range missile launched from the Marshall Islands. The simulated launch was then tracked by the US radar systems that communicated the coordinates of the target to the ground-based interceptor, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The warhead – EKV Capability Enhancement II ‘kill vehicle’ – built by Raytheon Co, was successful in destroying the target. Three previous attempts to test GDM’s ability to hit the simulated enemy target failed despite the scenarios being specifically scripted for success. In fact the last time the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had something to brag about was in December 2008, when the system intercepted and destroyed a missile launched from Kodiak. The government funded project is estimated to cost the American taxpayer over $40 billion by 2017. READ MORE: US missile defense system proves to be useless after $40 bln spent Chicago-based multinational Boeing Corporation partnered up with the MDA back in 1998. The system was upgraded to “operational” in 2004 to counter the “North Korean threat.” In December 2008, the MDA awarded the company a $397.9 million contract to continue development of the program. Boeing is responsible of managing the team of other subcontractors, as well as integrating and testing the GDM system under the Development and Sustainment Contract, awarded in December 2011. FILE photo. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (Image from boeing.com)FILE photo. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (Image from boeing.com) Boeing is tasked to provide the US government with round the clock operational capability through the use of multiple land, sea and space-based sensors to detect and track missile threats during their boost phase. In order to annihilate the threat, the system is designed to launch a three-stage solid booster Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) equipped with an Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) towards the target while it’s still in space, outside the planet's atmosphere. The EKV is then supposed to destroy the hostile missile “using only the kinetic force of direct collision,” the company says. Before Sunday tests, only 8 of the total 17 hit-to-kill intercept tests have succeeded. With 47 percent success rate. In response to the repeated failures, the Pentagon had previously demanded a budget increase for the program. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2014 requires MDA to improve the kill assessment capability and the hit assessment capability of the GMD system as early as 2018. The bill authorizes $100 million for design and development of common kill vehicle technology for an upgraded enhanced exo-atmospheric kill vehicle for the GMD system, an increase of $30 million above the budget request, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation reports. “Would you spend $1 billion on an insurance policy that only worked one third of the time?” said Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association. “We need to put the money into making the system better, not bigger,” Reuters reports. MDA currently has 30 ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska. Twenty of the interceptors carry an early version of the kill vehicle that separates from the rocket and hits the incoming missile. The other 10 carry the upgraded version of the EKV. In March 2013, the Obama administration announced plans for an additional 14 at Fort Greely in response to North Korean threats. The deployment of a second TPY-2 radar to Japan was announced at the same time. “What makes the recent intercept test failures especially disconcerting is that these tests have occurred under highly scripted and controlled conditions. For example, the GMD system has never been tested against an intercontinental range missile. In addition, the system has yet to prove effective against decoys and countermeasures that an adversary could deploy to fool our defenses,” Kingston Reif from The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said earlier this year. Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Dr. Michael Gilmore in his Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 report to Congress also questioned the capabilities of the GMD. “Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has demonstrated a partial capability to defend the US Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran,” Gilmore's report to congress states. Phil Coyle, a former Pentagon chief tester and a long-time critic, called for accelerated work on a new design. “We need to make sure we have a system that works, not expand a system we know to be deeply flawed,” Reuters quotes him as saying.

Israel strikes 9 military targets in Syria


Nine Syrian military targets have been hit by Israeli jets and guided missiles, the IDF says, claiming it was a decisive response to a series of cross-border shootings to protect the citizens of Israel. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, “at least 10 members of the Syrian army were killed,” Reuters reported. The strikes on targets in Golan Heights were carried out shortly after midnight, Haaretz reports citing an IDF official, who called it a direct response to Sunday’s deadly incident when an anti-tank projectile fired from Syrian territory struck near the border fence on the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. “The shooting [on Sunday] was a very serious act of provocation, and a continuation of a series of attacks carried out over the past several months against IDF forces throughout the border region, and in this area specifically,” the statement reads. A military command headquarters reportedly was among the targets hit in Syria. Earlier on Sunday, in response to the killing of Israeli teen Mohammed Karaka, IDF artillery pounded military outposts on Syrian territory, with speculations about possible strikes against other targets. The killed teenager was an Arab citizen of Israel, accompanying his father, a Defense Ministry civilian contractor, to the Golan, the ministry said, uncertain whether the boy was 15 or 13 years old. The father and two more people we injured in the incident. An Israeli soldier prepares to load shells into his Merkava tank positioned near the Quneitra checkpoint on the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)An Israeli soldier prepares to load shells into his Merkava tank positioned near the Quneitra checkpoint on the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on June 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana) It was not clear who exactly fired the anti-tank missile that hit the Israeli border from an area contested by the Syrian army and the rebels. Relations between Syria and Israel have been tense since the civil war erupted in the country more than three years ago. Ripped by internal warring factions, numerous cross-border shooting and shelling have become a common occurrence in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, which Tel Aviv secured following the Yom Kippur War of 1973. IDF aerial retaliatory strikes were reported in January 2013, when Israeli planes allegedly struck deep within Syrian territory, reportedly targeting anti-aircraft weaponry outside Damascus. Israeli warplanes also struck a Syrian air-defense base near the port city of Latakia in October 2013, as confirmed by US officials, with some experts speculating that the target was missile equipment that may have been transferred to Lebanese Hezbollah. In May 2013, Syrian media reported "Israeli airstrikes" targeting military positions in Damascus, following bombing in Rif Dimashq governorate. In July 2013, RT reported that Israel used a Turkish military base to launch one of its recent airstrikes against Syria from the sea, a week after July 5 depot attack in Latakia.

Kerry: US ‘not responsible’ for crisis in Iraq, Libya


US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington is “not responsible” for either the crisis in Libya, or violence in Iraq, where militants of the Al-Qaeda offshoot group ISIS are capturing cities one by one. Al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq offensive LIVE UPDATES "The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today," said Kerry at a press conference in Cairo after a short visit to Egypt for talks with its newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as part of his Middle East tour. Speaking on the fallout of the crisis in Iraq, where radical Sunni militants – an Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, also known as ISIL) – are capturing Iraqi cities one by one and pushing away government forces from strategic posts, Kerry urged the republic’s authorities to overcome sectarian considerations and restrain the extremists. "ISIL … it’s an ideology of violence and repression, is a threat not only to Iraq but the entire region... this is a critical moment when we must urge Iraq's leaders to rise above sectarian considerations... and speak to all people," Kerry said at a media conference. A Shiite cleric visits members of Iraqi security forces and volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi security forces to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces, on the outskirts of Diyala province June 16, 2014. (Reuters)A Shiite cleric visits members of Iraqi security forces and volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi security forces to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have taken over Mosul and other northern provinces, on the outskirts of Diyala province June 16, 2014. (Reuters) Amid the growing insurgency threatening the Iraqi government, President Barack Obama said Thursday that up to 300 additional American military personnel will head to Iraq and assume an advisory role. In turn, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Washington on Sunday of exploiting the violence to regain control of Iraq putting the republic “under its hegemony” and rule of “its stooges,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA news agency. Kerry rejected these claims saying that the "US is not engaged in picking or choosing any one individual... it's up to the people of Iraq to choose their own leadership." "The United States shed blood and worked hard for years for the Iraqis to have their own governance... but ISIL crossed the line from Syria, began plotting internally. They have attacked communities and they are the ones marching through to disrupt the ability of Iraq to have the governance it wants." An image grab taken from a video uploaded on Youtube on June 17, 2014, allegedly shows militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) parading with their weapons in the northern city of Baiji in the in Salaheddin province. (AFP Photo)An image grab taken from a video uploaded on Youtube on June 17, 2014, allegedly shows militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) parading with their weapons in the northern city of Baiji in the in Salaheddin province. (AFP Photo) ISIS is focused on achieving total dominance in Iraq by the ongoing rampage aimed at seizing the capital Baghdad. The radical Sunni militants which proclaimed themselves ISIS in April last year have been kept under control by the Arab republic’s government between the initial sectarian strife that broke out following the US-led invasion in 2003 and the American military withdrawal in 2011. READ ALSO: All you need to know about ISIS and what is happening in Iraq On March 20, 2003 the United States opened a military offensive against Iraq under the pretext that the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction - claims later found to be false. From March 2003 to mid-2011 an estimated 460,000 deaths were caused by violence during the war and occupation by the US and allied forced, statistical research published in PLOS (Public Library of Science) Medicine journal published in October 2013 revealed. A vehicle belonging to Kurdish security forces fires a multiple rocket launcher during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the outskirts of Diyala June 14, 2014. (Reuters / Yahya Ahmad)A vehicle belonging to Kurdish security forces fires a multiple rocket launcher during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the outskirts of Diyala June 14, 2014. (Reuters / Yahya Ahmad) Following the withdrawal of US troops, Iraq has been plunging deeper and deeper into sectarian strife mainly between the country’s majority Shiite community and the Sunni minority. The war in bordering Syria that began in 2011 prompted even more violence in the region with radical militants receiving a wave of fresh members and growing funding. 2013 became the bloodiest year in Iraq since 2008 with over 7,000 civilian victims. The UK’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair who joined the US in its diplomatic offensive and offered support in the form of British troops in 2003, now puts the blame for the destabilization of the region and the rising of ISIS on Iraqi authorities. “We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven't. We can argue as to whether our policies at points have helped or not; and whether action or inaction is the best policy and there is a lot to be said on both sides. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region not outside it,” he wrote in his essay entitled 'Iraq, Syria and the Middle East' in June. US troops from the 82nd Airborne division take position during a search for a weapons cache in Fallujah, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Baghdad, 07 November 2003. (AFP photo / Patrick Baz)US troops from the 82nd Airborne division take position during a search for a weapons cache in Fallujah, 50 kms (30 miles) west of Baghdad, 07 November 2003. (AFP photo / Patrick Baz) “Though the challenge of terrorism was and is very real, the sectarianism of the current [Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki government snuffed out what was a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive Iraq.” “Islamist extremism in all its different manifestations as a group rebuilt, refinanced and rearmed mainly as a result of its ability to grow and gain experience through the war in Syria,” Blair explained. “And there will be debate about whether the withdrawal of US forces happened too soon.”

Tear gas, rubber bullets as ethnic Albanians clash with Kosovo police (PHOTOS)

Several people, including police officers, have been injured as ethnic Albanians clashed with security forces in the city of Mitrovica. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protesters who were hurling stones and burning cars.
Twenty one people have reportedly been injured, including 13 police officers and two journalists.
Hundreds of Albanians protested over Serb plans to erect a “Peace Park” on the Mitrovica Bridge over the Ibar River that splits the town into Serbian and Albanian neighborhoods.
Kosovo Albanians run away from tear gas grenades fired by anti-riot police during clashes on June 22, 2014 in the divided town of Mitrovica. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)
Kosovo Albanians run away from tear gas grenades fired by anti-riot police during clashes on June 22, 2014 in the divided town of Mitrovica. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)

The bridge has been blocked by Serbs since 2011 until last Wednesday, when Serbs from northern Mitrovica removed barricades under an EU-brokered deal. However, shortly after large flower pots were still placed in the same spot to keep the bridge closed for traffic, but open for pedestrians.
The protest against the new blockade of the bridge was reportedly organized via social networks and was scheduled to start at 15:00 local time.
Clashes erupted when ethnic Albanian rioters started setting police cars on fire and hurling stones at security forces.

As violence escalated, the NATO-led KFOR and the EU mission EULEX soldiers were deployed to back-up police and prevent the unrest from spreading.

Journalists in Pristina reported two explosions, presumably caused by burning cars. According to local Tanjug news agency, one of the EULEX’s vehicles has also been burnt down.

Kosovo’s local police head Zeljko Bojic said that the situation was calm hours after the clashes that erupted at around 15:30 local time. Increased police presence will remain at the site during the night and until the next morning.
On Saturday, the mayor of southern Mitrovica, Agim Bahtiri, said that “patience came to an end” and that the new barricade on the bridge over the Ibar River disguised as a park must immediately be removed.
Kosovo Albanian demonstrators approach towards the police during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)
Kosovo Albanian demonstrators approach towards the police during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)

His statement came in response to the plans voiced by the mayor of the Serb part of Mitrovica, Goran Rakic, to construct the so-called "Peace Park" on the bridge.
Ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo are reluctant to integrate with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008. Last year Kosovo’s Parliamentapproved an EU-brokered agreement aimed at normalizing ties with neighboring Serbia.
The agreement was widely considered as a step toward Serbia’s entry into the EU as the conflict with Kosovo was its main obstacle to joining the bloc. Both Belgrade and Pristina agreed not to block each other's efforts to seek EU membership.
Kosovo police stop a demonstrator during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)
Kosovo police stop a demonstrator during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)

A U.S. soldier, part of a NATO peace force, places barbed wire on his Humvee during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)
A U.S. soldier, part of a NATO peace force, places barbed wire on his Humvee during a protest in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica June 22, 2014. (Reuters / Hazir Reka)

A Kosovo Albanian man, holding an Albanian flag, walks near tear gas fired by riot-police during clashes on June 22, 2014 in the divided town of Mitrovica. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)

It’s a boy! US exchange student rescued from giant stone vagina in Germany


The German fire services had to be called out in force to rescue a US exchange student from a giant marble vagina, located in a southwestern university town, after he crawled inside for a dare. On Friday afternoon, the Tübingen firefighters received the emergency call: 'A person is trapped in a stone-vulva!' Twenty-two firefighters and a grand total of five vehicles had to rush to his aid to pull him out of the 120,000-euro sculpture, reported Schwäbisches Tagblatt. Photo by Erik Guzman / imgurPhoto by Erik Guzman / imgurThe rescue was successfully undertaken, namely “by hand and without the use of equipment” – presumably forceps. The student had apparently climbed in for a dare, according to local reports. One, likely very unreliable local newspaper declared that: “the young man felt the sculpture of the female vagina to be so attractive that he literally disappeared into it”. However, others suggested it was merely a photo opportunity. “I was there!!! He just wanted to take a funny picture“ imgur user Erick Guzman wrote. “The fire department was not really amused, and he was really embarrassed,” he added. ‘Pi-Chacán’ or ‘Chacán-Pi’ was designed by internationally acclaimed Germany-based Peruvian artist Fernando de la Jara and was erected at the university some 13 years ago. The name means “making love” in Peruvian Indian. The statue is located in Tübingen, southwest Germany, at Tübingen University’s Institute for Microbiology. Some online commenters inevitably facetiously accused the student of statutory rape, while others resorted to more traditional “your mom” jokes. Others suggested installing a sign instructing pilgrims to the statue not to play inside the vagina.

Captain of missing MH370 flight identified as prime suspect – report


The captain of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now the prime suspect in the ongoing investigation into the plane’s mysterious disappearance, after police found suspicious evidence in his house, according to a media report. More than three months since the plane disappeared over Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s police force said that following intelligence checks into all people on board Captain Zaharie Shah, 53, was the only one who raised suspicion, according to a report published by The Sunday Times. Police came to this conclusion after finding a flight simulator in his home with drills rehearsing a flight far out into the southern Indian Ocean and a landing on an island with a short runway, the media report said. The files were deleted from the computer, but experts were able to retrieve them. Zaharie Shah (Image from malaysianreview.com)Zaharie Shah (Image from malaysianreview.com) Zaharie, a father of three, was found to have no social or work-related plans, unlike his colleagues including co-pilot, Fariq Hamid. The newspaper also reported that police were told of rumors concerning tensions in his family. The results of the inquiry have only been released to foreign governments and disclosed by officials in Southeast Asia to the Sunday Times. The Boeing 777-200 plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew went missing on March 8. Police said that the criminal investigation does not rule out that the plane went missing due to mechanical failure or an act of terrorism. However, if the flight was lost due to human factors, then the captain is suspected to be the perpetrator. "The police investigation is still ongoing. To date, no conclusions can be made as to the contributor to the incident and it would be sub judice to say so. Nevertheless, the police are still looking into all possible angles," the Malaysian police was quoted as saying by The Sunday Times.

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