• Breaking: Russia vows retaliation against OBAMA sanctions

    29/Dec/2016 // 1008 Viewers

     

    The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow rejects accusations that it hacked US political parties and the new sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on Thursday, The Washington Post reports.

    The new measure include the sanctioning of agencies and individuals tied to the hack and removal of 35 top government officials from the United States

    This is a developing story and will be updated.


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  • B-U-S-T-E-D! See faces of 14 of Europe’s most wanted criminals captured in commando raid

    29/Jul/2016 // 1084 Viewers

     

    European police forces have tracked down and arrested 14 people on a “most wanted” list in the six months since its launch, many thanks to public tip-offs, officials said Friday.

    “In at least eight of these arrests, the leads provided via the online platform played a direct role in locating the fugitives,” the European police agency, Europol, said in a statement.

    Police forces from across the European Union came together to launch www.eumostwanted.eu after criticism over a lack of coordination in the wake of November’s jihadist attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead.

    Those now behind bars include Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the attacks, and Ibrahim Abrini, the brother of Mohamed Abrini, a Moroccan-Belgian implicated in both the Paris assault and the March Brussels bombings.


     
    Their arrests were not directly linked to the website, which has received millions of views since it was launched on January 29.

    But in February Romanian “yoga teacher and spiritual mentor” Gregorian Bivolaru, 64, was captured in a Paris book store after years on the run thanks to a tip-off.

    AFP reported in June that a French court has ordered him to be extradited to Romania to face charges of exploiting children and child pornography between 2002 and 2004.

    Bivolaru was targeted on the most wanted list along with other fugitives including a Belgian tracked down to Gabon, a Pole discovered in Malta and a wanted Swede located in Britain.

    Italian mafia boss Ernesto Fazzalari, 46, wanted for murder, was captured in a remote part of Italy late last month after two decades on the run, according to media reports.

    “Many of those on the list were caught in different European countries,” Europol press officer Tine Hollevoet told AFP, adding it showed the benefits of cooperation.

    Twenty-eight of the original 45 names on the list still remain, and Hollevoet urged people to look again at the site as new names have been added.

    “You never know if you will recognise someone,” she said.

    Each national police force can post two people onto the list, and once someone is arrested their names and profiles are removed and a new fugitive selected.

    A second woman has now been added to the list. Cypriot Efi Irodotou, 29, is wanted for murder after a 17-year-old boy died in a 2007 hit-and-run car accident in the island’s southern resort of Limassol.

    She joins Cecilia Kettunen, 30, still wanted by Finnish authorities for “aggravated fraud… worth a significant amount of money”.

    Men from different countries are also wanted on a variety of charges including rape, murder, extortion and drug trafficking.


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  • EgyptAir plane hijacked to Cyprus, most passengers freed

    29/Mar/2016 // 325 Viewers

     

    By Yiannis Kourtoglou

     

    LARNACA, Cyprus, March 29 (Reuters) - An Egyptian plane on a flight between Alexandria and Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus by a man apparently distressed over a family matter.

    After the EgyptAir plane landed at Larnaca airport, the hijacker released all the people onboard except four foreign passengers and the crew following negotiations, EgyptAir said.

    About 60 people, including seven crew, had been onboard the Airbus 320, Egyptian and Cypriot officials said.

    The pilot reported that the man was strapped with explosives, although this was not confirmed.

    Citing security sources, Cypriot state media said that the motives of the hijacker appeared personal and he had asked to contact his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus.

    "It is not something which has to do with terrorism," Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.

    Asked if a woman was involved he said "There is always a woman involved."

    There was some confusion over the identity of the hijacker.

    Egyptian state media named him as Ibrahim Samaha, an Egyptian, but gave no other details about him.

    However, Gamal al-Omrawi, a deputy dean at Alexandria University, said that Samaha was a passenger on the plane and not the hijacker. He said he had spoken by phone to Samaha, who confirmed that he was one of the passengers who was released.

    The Civil Aviation Ministry said the plane's pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had informed authorities that he was threatened by a passenger wearing a suicide explosives belt who forced him to land in Larnaca.

    A Cyprus Foreign Ministry official said he could not confirm the man was rigged with explosives. The hijacking occurred in Cyprus's flight information region.

    Witnesses said the hijacker threw a letter on the apron of the airport in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.

    Passengers on the plane included eight Britons and 10 Americans, three security sources at Alexandria airport said. The Dutch Foreign Ministry said a Dutchman was among the foreigners still onboard the aircraft.

    Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the hijacking, according to an Israeli military source.

    Egypt's vital tourism industry was already reeling from the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai in late October.

    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said it was brought down by a terrorist attack. Islamic State has said it planted a bomb on board, killing all 224 people on board.

    Cyprus has seen little militant activity for decades, despite its proximity to the Middle East.

    A botched attempt by Egyptian commandos to storm a hijacked airliner at Larnaca airport led to the disruption of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt in 1978.

    In 1988, a Kuwaiti airliner which had been hijacked from Bangkok to Kuwait in a 16-day siege had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.


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  • Shipwrecks ‘kill up to 700 migrants’ in one week – UNHCR

    29/May/2016 // 823 Viewers

     

    (AFP) - At least 700 migrants are feared drowned in a series of shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in the last few days, the UN refugee agency says.
    The boats sank south of Italy on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the migrants tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy vessels.

    Spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.
    EU ships have rescued almost 13,000 migrants this week, Italy says.
    Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for UNHCR, gave details of the shipwrecks:
     
    Almost 100 migrants are missing from a smugglers’ boat which capsized on Wednesday. Horrifying pictures of the incident and its aftermath were filmed by rescuers.

    About 550 other migrants are missing from a boat which overturned on Thursday morning after leaving the Libyan port of Sabratha on Wednesday.
    In a third shipwreck on Friday, 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies pulled from the water and an unspecified number of others are missing.


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  • The world's longest rail tunnel, in numbers

    29/May/2016 // 492 Viewers

     

    Geneva (AFP) - The world's longest rail tunnel, which runs under the Alps and took 17 years to build, is inaugurated on Wednesday.

    Here are four key numbers about the project, called the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT).

    - 57 -

    At a length of 57 kilometres (34.5 miles) the GBT will overtake Japan's 53.9-kilometre Seikan tunnel as the longest rail tunnel in the world.

    A total of 152 kilometres of tunnel was carved through the mountain. That figure includes separate tubes for northern and southern travel, as well as cross passages and access tunnels.

    - 1882 -

    That was the year the first rail route through the Gotthard pass opened, a landmark in Swiss history that helped boost trade through the Alpine nation, which had previously been arduous to cross.

    Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner first sketched the idea for a rail tunnel under the Alps at the Gotthard Pass in 1947.

    Sixty-nine years later, at a cost of just over 12 billion Swiss francs ($12 billion, 11 billion euros), the Gotthard Base Tunnel is set to open.

    - 43,800 -

    According to the Swiss federal rail service, it took that number of hours of non-stop work by 125 labourers rotating in three shifts to lay the GBT's slab track.

    The tunnel was carved by a massive 410-metre-long boring machine that removed roughly 28 million tonnes of rock.

    - 2 hours and 40 minutes -

    That is the estimated length of time it will take to get from Zurich to Milan once the GBT opens full service in December, roughly an hour shorter than the journey currently takes.

    The federal rail service projects a boom in rail travel in the coming years, including a surge in daily passengers from the current 9,000 people to 15,000 by 2020.

    Ultimately, 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains should pass through the GBT per day, at speeds of 200 kilometres per hour, the rail service said.


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  • Jailed Saudi blogger wins EU rights prize

    29/Oct/2015 // 146 Viewers

    A Saudi blogger sentenced in 2012 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim clerics has won the European Union's prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

    EU lawmakers said Thursday that they had chosen to honour Raif Badawi as a symbol of the fight for freedom of speech. The prize was to be announced publicly later at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

     

     

    "2015 #SakharovPrize awarded to @raif_badawi Deserved recognition of his role; also strong message to Saudi regime," The Greens/European Alliance parliamentary group said in a tweeted message shortly before the official announcement.

    Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal bloc, added: "The European Parliament has sent today a strong political and humanitarian message to Saudi Arabian authorities."

    "We urge His Majesty King Salman to release Raif Badawi from prison and in any case to end the barbaric punishment of flogging."

    The Freedom of Thought award is named after the Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. It was set up in 1988 to honour people and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    Badawi was one of three nominees for the prize, along with the Venezuelan opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, and assassinated Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

    (FRANCE 24 with AP)


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  • Sarkozy to meet Putin as French right looks to Russia

    29/Oct/2015 // 444 Viewers

    Latest update : 2015-10-29

    Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow Wednesday where he is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the latest sign the French right is seeking closer ties with the Kremlin in defiance of François Hollande’s government.

    Sarkozy is due to meet with Putin on Thursday accompanied by a cohort of senior members of his Les Républicains party – France’s centre-right main opposition party that was until recently known as the UMP.

    The two men are set to hold an “exchange of views … on bilateral relations”, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, quoted by Russian state media. Top of the bill “is likely to be Syria”, he added.

    The visit comes at a time of tense relations between Russia and the West, not least France, overMoscow’s military intervention in Syria where it has been accused of targeting moderate rebel forces, along with Islamic Stage group militants, in support of Putin’s ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Sarkozy: Hollande’s Russia policy ‘risks new cold war’

    Hollande’s government has been one of the strongest Western opponents of involving Assad in any solution to the Syria conflict – a position that has put Paris at loggerheads with the Kremlin.

    Russia was conspicuously absent from a meeting on Syria hosted by Paris on Tuesday, that included representatives from Germany, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the US.

    Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine has also been a thorn in the side of relations between Paris and Moscow – one that led Hollande to scrap the sale to Russia of two French-built warships last year, a deal that was signed off by Sarkozy during his 2007–2012 presidency.

    Sarkozy, along with others on the right of French politics, have become increasingly critical of Hollande’s hardline stance with Russia and have repeatedly called for a more conciliatory approach.

    Sarkozy’s Russian trip, according to one party member, is designed to deliver a “particular message” to Putin.

    That message is that “Europe must maintain a dialogue with Russia and that France, within Europe, has an important role to play, one it has not been playing for a long time”, Les Républicains MP Thierry Mariani told France Info radio.

    Sarkozy himself recently accused Hollande of “a serious error of creating conditions for a new cold war with Russia”, a line that has also been used by far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in criticising the French government’s dealings with Moscow.

    French right’s ‘fascination with Putin’

    Others within Les Républicains have called for France to cooperate with Russia over Syria, including working with Assad.

    Russia has been “maligned so stupidly these last few years”, wrote Les Républicains former prime minister François Fillon in a recent blog post. “The time has come for France to revise its diplomatic strategy [in Syria].”

    At the same time, a recent Ifop poll for French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche found that Putin is considerably more popular with right-wing voters. While the survey found negative opinions of the Russian leader were still the norm among the majority, 24 percent of Les Républicains supporters and 37 percent of National Front supporters said they had a “good opinion” of Putin, compared to 19 percent among supporters of Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS).

    “There is a sort of fascination among the French right with Putin’s authoritarian regime, which explains [Sarkozy’s] visit,” Bruno Le Roux, leader of the PS in parliament, told France Info Wednesday.

    However, he admitted there could be a certain “usefulness” to the former president’s meeting with Putin.

    “Everyone has the right to talk,” he later told the AFP news agency. “There is a usefulness in maintaining relationships with all countries.”

    "At the same time, in these sorts of moments, the position of France, the position which is that of Europe, must be kept in mind.

    “I’ll of course be very interested to know what was said.


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  • The old man and the seaborne migrant: two worlds meet in Italy

    29/Oct/2015 // 109 Viewers

    Sant'Egidio volunteers in the port of Catania hold flowers for the many migrants who lost their lives attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. © Photo courtesy of the Community of Sant'Egidio
     
    Voluntary schemes to bring migrants into contact with Sicily’s vulnerable communities have helped defuse tensions and revive the island’s age-old role as a bridge between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
     
    When Caramo and Giuseppe met at a retirement home in the Sicilian city of Catania, the unlikely pair instantly bonded. Caramo, 22, had left his native Gambia to hunt for a better life in Europe. Giuseppe, 92, was wrapping up his own long life at the foot of Mount Etna. Both had lived in Libya's Tripoli: Giuseppe as a youngster during the short-lived Italian empire, Caramo as a penniless migrant in the chaos that followed the fall of Colonel Gaddafi.
     
    “They would spend entire afternoons chatting away about their time in Libya,” says Emiliano Abramo, a local community worker who helped bring about their encounter. “Caramo was amazed at the tales of imperial Tripoli, and Giuseppe couldn't believe the country was now wrecked by war.”
     
    When Giuseppe passed away a few months ago, more than 30 migrants showed up for his funeral – easily outnumbering family members. After the service, they proceeded to recount Giuseppe's Libyan adventures to his Sicilian relatives and friends, who were startled to hear stories of his childhood he had always kept to himself.
     
    Like Caramo, hundreds of Gambians, Nigerians, Syrians and Eritreans have befriended elderly Italians at retirement homes in the Catania area. They are part of a voluntary scheme run by Abramo and other members of the religious Community of Sant'Egidio. Its aim is to bring comfort to the needy while helping migrants connect with the locals and learn Italian.
    Every day, Sant'Egidio members make the one-hour drive between Catania and the vast Mineo complex, a former US Army barracks converted into Europe's largest migrant reception centre. They bring back groups of migrants who take part in voluntary work helping the poor, homeless and elderly.
     
    “Our aim is to take them away from the sheer boredom and loneliness of life in Mineo, where some have to wait up to two years to have their application processed,” says Abramo, adding that community service helps migrants socialise and connect with Italians of their age, many of whom also take part in voluntary work.
     
    Once they set foot in Italy, migrants are under immense pressure to find a job and send the promised money back home. “It is hard for them to explain to their families that it's not that easy,” Abramo notes. “By engaging in social work they feel useful again. They sense that they are giving and not just taking.”
     
    ‘Lessons in generosity’
     
    While Greece has recently become the main port of entry for migrants desperate to reach Europe, Italy had previously borne the brunt of the crisis, which shows no sign of ending. More than 136,000 new arrivals have been registered so far this year. Almost 100,000 asylum seekers now live in immigration centres run by the state, with many more spread across the country in emergency shelters, squats or sleeping rough in the street.
     
    Earlier this month, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reacted angrily after EU Council President Donald Tusk bracketed Italy with Hungary as member states that had broken EU rules on asylum seekers. Renzi accused Tusk of showing “little respect for the efforts of the Italian people”, adding that Italy had given “lessons in civilisation and generosity”.
     
    In 2014, Italy launched a vast search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, dubbed Mare Nostrum, which helped rescue thousands of migrants attempting the perilous crossing. The operation was shelved a year later when wealthier countries in northern Europe refused to help fund it. Mare Nostrum was replaced by Triton, a cheaper EU operation focused on policing – and the deadly shipwrecks spiked again.

    The Italian government is well aware that most migrants don't want to stay in Italy, where job prospects are dire for the locals, let alone newcomers. It has turned a blind eye to the northward flow of migrants hoping to cross the borders into France and Austria. Those who stay behind often scrape a living on the black market, working long hours in return for a pittance in southern Italy’s giant orange groves.

    A year ago, investigators uncovered a corruption scheme centred around the country’s overcrowded and underfunded refugee reception system. Mafia leaders were arrested for embezzling funds intended for migrant services. "Do you have any idea how much I make on these immigrants?" one was caught saying. "Drug trafficking is less profitable."

    The employment of migrants as voluntary workers to clean parks, run soup kitchens and provide care for the elderly has also come under criticism. Earlier this year, a trade union spokesman accused the city of Bari of exploiting refugees as “free labour”, a scheme he described as “institutionalised racism”. Others warned that unpaid migrants constituted unfair competition for local workers.

    Shaping perceptions of immigration

    The notion that migrant volunteers might be taking jobs away from Italians is rejected by Sant’Egidio’s spokesman in Rome, Roberto Zuccolini. He says the arrival of refugees has merely compensated for a decline in economic migrants. Besides, studies have shown that migrants tend to perform jobs that are shunned by most Italians.

    Zuccolini points out that voluntary work is often the only activity available to asylum seekers given the dearth of jobs – it is also the only alternative to sitting idly in overcrowded shelters rife with tension. “Voluntary work is a different concept. It is about choosing to help others and feeling part of a collective enterprise,” he says. “And crucially, it helps build bridges between communities and defuse conflict.”

    Initiatives such as Sant’Egidio’s – which have been reproduced across Italy and in other European countries where the group is present – play a decisive role in “shaping public opinion and perceptions of migrants”, says Zuccolini. This is particularly the case in a country like Italy that is more accustomed to emigration than immigration.

    “There is a lot of generosity on display in Italy today, far more than antagonism towards refugees – even though the latter invariably gets more press,” he says, noting that by engaging in voluntary work migrants can partake in a proud Italian tradition of community service.

    Roberto Zuccolini of the Community of Sant'Egidio says voluntary work helps shape perceptions of migrants in Italy. © Photo courtesy of the Community of Sant'Egidio
    It is a view shared by Oliviero Forti, who is in charge of the Immigration Office at Italy’s Caritas, another Catholic institution with an extensive network of charities that work with migrants across the country.

    “Community initiatives, like ours, play a crucial role in complementing the state’s welfare programmes – and substituting them where necessary,” he says, hailing the so-called “third sector” of associations and charities as an Italian specificity.

    Forti believes Italy has reacted positively to the enormous challenge posed by the refugee crisis, despite the stigmatisation attempted by a handful of vocal extremist groups with a political agenda. He says: “Our country is gradually adopting a mature view of immigration, but it is a slippery slope and we have to remain vigilant.”

    Rebuilding Sicily’s melting pot

    Back in Catania, there are growing signs that integration is making huge strides in a region once seen as conservative and parochial. Sant’Egidio’s Abramo says more and more migrants are signing up for voluntary work, “and a growing number have found friends and partners among Italian fellow workers”.

    Not all the migrants are itching to reach Europe’s richer north. Some choose to stay behind, reviving businesses and breathing new life into aging communities.

    Catania is now home to southern Italy’s largest mosque. Last year, the local imam teamed up with the region’s food bank to distribute meals at the mosque. The idea proved a success and more than 80 percent of beneficiaries are now non-Muslim Italians. It mirrors similar initiatives across the country, where “pasta and couscous” events are increasingly popular.

    Slowly, migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are helping restore the multicultural fabric that once defined regions like Sicily, harking back to a time when the Mediterranean united civilisations rather than divide them.

    As Abramo puts it, “We Sicilians are culturally predisposed to these population flows. Arabs settled here centuries ago. It is time we rebuild our melting pot.”

     


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  • US, Iran to meet before multilateral Syria talks

    29/Oct/2015 // 146 Viewers

    © Pool/AFP | US Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane after arriving at Vienna International Airport on October 29, 2015 in Austria

     

    VIENNA (AFP) - 

    US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart in Vienna on Thursday afternoon, ahead of multilateral talks over the Syrian conflict later in the day, a senior State Department official said.

    Tehran will take part for the first time in international negotiations aimed at resolving the war, as key nations backing Syria's warring sides seek to thrash out differences.


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  • French court upholds acquittal of Femen topless protest at Notre Dame inShare

    29/Oct/2015 // 303 Viewers

    Latest update : 2015-10-29

    The acquittal of eight women from the activist group Femen over a topless protest they held in Paris's Notre Dame cathedral two years ago was upheld by a French court of appeals on Thursday.

    The feminist activists mixed with hordes of queuing visitors to enter the 12th century church unspotted in 2013 - one day after Pope Benedict resigned - before bearing torsos painted with slogans such as "Pope No More" and "Get lost, homophobe".

    The case against the Femen women, some of whom were smacked in the face by angry Catholics before security staff bundled them out of the church, had been pursued on the grounds that they degraded a place of worship, in a protest during which they tapped on the cathedral's bells with wooden sticks.

    "In this affair, the real victims were the activists who were assaulted by Notre Dame security staff," one of the women, Elvire Charles, told reporters. "We were just exercising our right to free speech."

    The Paris court also confirmed suspended fines imposed on two members of the Notre Dame security staff and acquitted another one.

    Nine Femen women taking part in the protest were acquitted by a French court in September 2014. One of them has died since the first court decision.

    Notre Dame, standing on an island in the middle of the Seine river in the heart of Paris, is visited by millions of tourists and religious devotees every year. It was being fitted with new giant bells at the time to celebrate its 850th anniversary.

    (REUTERS)


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