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Transfer of Syria's chemical weapons
2014.04.12 02:42:34

The transfer of Syria's chemical weapons out of the country under an international accord is back on schedule, a maritime task force in charge of the operation said on Friday.

"After a period without loading and retrieval of chemical substances from Syria, the operation is still on schedule," public affairs officer Simen Rudi said in an email.

On April 4, "the security situation was considered good enough and eight new containers" were loaded onto Danish cargo ship Ark Futura in Syria's Mediterranean port city of Latakia, Rudi said.

Another seven containers were loaded on Thursday.

"This means that the operation is still on schedule, but the previously mentioned security situation will influence whether the operation is completed at the estimated time or not," he said.

On April 3, an international coordinator told the UN Security Council that Damascus can still meet a June deadline for eliminating its chemical weapons but must resume the stalled transfers.

Syria suspended the transfers for what it said were security reasons.

Sigrid Kaag, coordinator for the international operation, warned that any new delay would make it "increasingly challenging" to stick to the June 30 deadline, according to diplomats in New York.

[AFP]



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Al-Qaida inspired group in Egypt
2014.04.12 02:29:01

An al-Qaida inspired group in Egypt has posted a video online showing a suicide bomber attacking a security headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, an assault that killed 16 people in December.

The video by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or the Champions of Jerusalem, also said the suicide bomber previously was injured in Islamist demonstrations against the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt's military.

The comment marks the first time a suicide bomber in the widening campaign of militant attacks striking Egypt has been directly linked to demonstrating Morsi supporters.

The 16-minute video named the bomber as Imam Mahfouz or Abu Mariam. It showed footage of him, wearing a white robe sitting next to Kalashnikov assault rifles, criticizing the Egyptian military for protecting Israeli and helping Syrian President Bashar Assad in his civil war.

"Those of the military are who are killing Muslims... must be killed," he says. "We kill as they killed."

[Associated Press]



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Infighting between rival rebel group
2014.04.12 02:27:10

Activists say the death toll from infighting between rival Islamic rebel groups in eastern Syria has jumped to 68.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says battles are still raging on Friday, for a second day, around Bukamal town in the oil-rich Deir Az Zor province near the Iraqi border.

Rebels from the al-Qaeda breakaway group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and fighters of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and other Islamic groups have been fighting each other in the province for weeks over territory they previously captured together from President Bashar Assad's forces, including oil-fields.

The Observatory said 51 fighters died in fighting around Bukamal on Thursday, when the flare-up started. The Islamic State captured the town, previously controlled by the Nusra Front.

[AP]



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Crimean lawmakers adopt new constitution
2014.04.12 02:14:59

Crimean lawmakers adopted a new constitution on Friday, taking another step to cement the region's absorption into Russia despite strong objections from the Muslim Tatar minority.

All 88 deputies present in the 100-seat legislature broke into applause and stood for the Russian national anthem after approving the constitution in the vote at a session ignored by dissenting lawmakers.

"Step by step we have led Crimeans to realize their dream of returning home to Russia," speaker Vladimir Konstantinov told the assembly of the region, which Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. [Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | Crimea

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Russia is 'more and more' isolated
2014.04.12 02:13:07

Russia is "more and more" isolated over its actions in Ukraine, NATO said on Thursday, while calling for beefed up alliance deployments to defend its eastern members.

"Nobody wants to isolate Russia but Russia is isolating itself internationally more and more every day," the alliance's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday, as tensions remain high over the annexation of Crimea.

The warning shot came a day after NATO released satellite pictures showing up to 40,000 Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border. [AFP]



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Natural gas to Europe
2014.04.12 02:12:03

President Vladimir Putin on Friday said Moscow would fulfill its obligations to send natural gas to Europe but also said the United States had no business interfering in Russia's talks with Europe  over Kiev's debt.

"We certainly guarantee the fulfillment of our obligations before our European customers in full," Putin said in comments released by the Kremlin.

"The issue is not about us, the issue is about securing transit through Ukraine." [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union | United States

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International Monetary Fund
2014.04.12 02:10:29

The International Monetary Fund is able to lend to Ukraine because the country's debt is sustainable, the head of the IMF's European department, Reza Moghadam, said on Friday.

"Debt in Ukraine is sustainable," Reza Moghadam said in a news conference during the IMF and World Bank spring 2014 meetings. [Reuters]



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G20 backs IMF aid for Ukraine
2014.04.12 02:08:10

The Group of 20 major economies shared a view on the need to work closely together to offer assistance to Ukraine, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Thursday.

"G20 economies welcomed and endorsed IMF efforts to work toward offering swift assistance (to Ukraine) on the view uncertainties over geopolitical risks will have a negative impact on the global economy," Aso told reporters after attending a G20 dinner meeting.

[Reuters]



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US warns Russia of more sanctions over Ukraine
2014.04.11 09:04:12

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned his Russian counterpart Thursday of more sanctions if Moscow "continues to escalate" the crisis in Ukraine.

Lew also expressed to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov concerns about reports that Moscow was discussing an oil-for-goods trade deal with Iran, the Treasury said in a statement.

In a meeting on the sidelines of IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington, Lew told Siluanov that "Russia's ongoing occupation and purported annexation of Crimea is illegal and illegitimate."

Lew told him that "in addition to the sanctions already imposed in response to Russia's occupation and purported annexation of Crimea, the United States is prepared to impose additional significant sanctions on Russia if it continues to escalate the situation in Ukraine," the statement said.

Echoing calls from President Barack Obama's administration, Lew said that the United States believed that Russia can resolve the crisis with Ukraine diplomatically.

[AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | United States

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Russia suspended
2014.04.11 09:02:44

Russia was suspended from the parliamentary assembly of European  human rights watchdog the Council of Europe on Thursday in protest at Moscow's behavior towards Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

The 18 Russian parliamentarians who were suspended will not be able to vote in the 318-head assembly, have representation in its main committees or take part in its election observation
missions.

But the body, whose members come from 47 European states, stopped short of withdrawing their rights for good, arguing that would not help efforts to resolve the biggest crisis between the West and Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. [Reuters]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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Egyptian liberal and secular opposition movements
2014.04.11 02:14:18

A number of Egyptian liberal and secular opposition movements have declared they will start a sit-in in front of the presidential palace to denounce a court ruling sentencing three 2011 prominent activists to 3 years in prison.

The protesters said in a press conference on Thursday that sit-ins, marches, protests and other forms of peaceful demonstrating will be staged until Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma are released, and until the government rescinds and anti-protest law the trio are punished for allegedly breaching.



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Draft investment law
2014.04.11 02:13:26

Egypt's cabinet approved a draft investment law on Thursday that prevents third parties from challenging contracts made between the government and an investor, two government officials said, a move that could boost the struggling economy.

Hobbled by political turmoil since a popular uprising toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt badly needs foreign investors, who have been unnerved by legal challenges to deals. [Reuters]



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Syria's al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra loses ground
2014.04.11 02:12:34

Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate lost ground to its rivals around a town on the Iraqi border following heavy fighting that left 31 people dead, a monitoring group said.

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a cross-border group which has been disowned by al-Qaeda's leadership, launched a three-pronged assault on positions held by al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and its allies, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Since dawn there has been fierce fighting inside Albu Kamal. ISIL is advancing and has taken control of several neighborhoods of the town which were previously held by Al-Nusra Front and Islamist brigades," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP on Thursday.

[AFP]



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Egyptian policeman wounded
2014.04.11 02:10:40

An Egyptian policeman was wounded by a bomb in a Cairo suburb on Thursday, a security official told AFP.

The blast, caused by a "primitive bomb," occurred near a police checkpoint in the October 6 suburb, the official said.

Earlier this month, a police brigadier general was killed when two bombs exploded in quich succession at a security post in central Cairo.

Ajnad Misr, a shadowy Islamist militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bombings were the latest in a spate of attacks against the security forces since the army overthrew elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July. [AFP]



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Ship ready to destroy Syria's chemical weapons
2014.04.11 02:02:05

Experts on board a cargo ship transformed into a multimillion dollar chemical weapons destroyer said they were ready to start working on Syria's stock of toxic arms in the middle of the Mediterranean as early as May.

If seas are calm, the Cape Ray - with a 10-country security escort- will head to somewhere in international waters and take about 60 days of round-the-clock processing to neutralize the chemical agents, Rear Admiral Bob Burke, director of US naval operations in Europe and Africa, said on Thursday.

If seas are rough, the process could stretch out to 90 days, though the weather at that time of year is usually fine, he added. Whatever happens, there would be no risk to the blue waters of the Mediterranean, the official insisted.

[Reuters]



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Egyptian military court
2014.04.11 01:59:40

An Egyptian military court on Thursday  sentenced a member of a pro-Islamist information website to one year in jail over leaks involving ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, security officials said.

Islam al-Homosi was found guilty of "harming the armed forces" after the leak of private conversations between Sisi and military officers on the Rassd information site, the officials said.

Rassd made headlines for publishing videos of private meetings between Sisi and military officers and audio leaks of media interviews with Sisi, who retired in March to stand in Egypt's May 26-27 presidential election.

Another Rassd member, Amr Salama al-Qazzaz, was acquitted, the officials said.

Homosi is expected to be able to appeal the verdict after a February presidential decree authorized a higher court to review verdicts handed down by military courts.

Egypt's new constitution adopted in January stipulates that civilians can face military trials in cases involving attacks on military personnel or military installations. [AFP]



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Kuwaiti citizens kidnapped in Syria
2014.04.11 01:36:57

Kuwait said three of its citizens have been kidnapped in Syria and it has asked Turkey for help in trying to secure their release.

It was not clear why the Kuwaitis were in Syria or who abducted them. Some Gulf Arab citizens have entered Syria to join rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

"There were three Kuwaitis kidnapped in Syria. The Foreign Ministry is following this matter," Kuwait's undersecretary for foreign affairs Khaled al-Jarallah told reporters late on Wednesday.

Kuwait has been in contact with authorities in Turkey, which borders Syria, to try to secure their release, he said.

Kuwait's al-Anbaa newspaper reported on Thursday that the kidnappers had asked for a ransom of 1 million euros ($1.38 million) and that the three Kuwaitis may have already been transferred to Turkey.

[Reuters]



Tags: Syria | Kuwait

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Egyptian government exerts influence on mosques
2014.04.11 01:35:31

The Egyptian government has stepped up a campaign to influence the message preachers deliver in mosques.

A report by Reuters news agency said the state had given licenses to more than 17,000 clerics to give Friday sermons in order to curb suspected Muslim Brotherhood influence in places of worship.

The military-appointed interim government has been trying to bring mosques under tighter control since the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi last July.

All of the newly-approved clerics had been trained at Al Azhar University, which a government statement said is a respected center of Sunni Islamic learning and institutions run by the ministry of religious endowments.

The statement added that the move would "strengthen" the ministry's supervision of mosques so that they would not "fall in to the hands of extremists and the unqualified".

Around 12,000 clerics not approved by the state have been removed from service and the minister of religious endowments said he aims to bar 55,000 unlicensed preachers.

[Reuters]



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Lebanon’s Maronite Church
2014.04.11 01:34:03

The head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church suggested that Syrian refugees should be housed in camps inside Syria, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported, reflecting growing frustration among Lebanese over the burden imposed on their country by their neighbors’ war.

Cardinal Beshara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, told a news conference in Geneva that the presence of so many Syrians represented a huge economic, social, political and security burden for Lebanon.

"Why not install some camps for them in Syrian territory where there is security? The area of Syria is 20 times greater than that of Lebanon," he said.

"There is plenty of spare space in secure territory or at least to facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid in no man’s land between the borders of Lebanon and Syria."

The full article can be found on The Daily Star's website.



Tags: Syria | Lebanon

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Civilian expert mission to Ukraine
2014.04.11 01:15:19

The European Union is considering the dispatch of a civilian expert mission to Ukraine to assist with judicial and policing matters, EU diplomats said on Thursday.

The idea was put to ambassadors from the 28-nation bloc jointly by Britain, Poland and Sweden on Wednesday and will be discussed by foreign ministers at talks in Luxembourg on Monday, said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

The three nations behind the mission are hoping for a quick green light from the EU and for a launch by June.

But not all EU states are in favor, with a second diplomat saying it was "essential to be reasonable" by avoiding any decision that "might undermine dialogue with the Russians" ahead of key talks next Thursday.

The top EU and US diplomats meet counterparts from Russia and Ukraine in Europe for the first such talks on April 17.

"Nobody's opposing the mission but there are doubts about whether this is the best moment to launch it," added the second diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It would comprise policing experts, judges, prosecutors," said another source, and could "run into three figures". [AFP]



Tags: Ukraine | Russia | European Union

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