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Archive for August, 2014

Turkey’s Davutoglu announces new government

August 29, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday reappointed all key ministers who served under the new president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, setting a course of continuity for the new government.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for over a decade, was sworn in as Turkey’s first popularly elected president on Thursday. He has picked former foreign minister and loyal ally Davutoglu to succeed him as prime minister and immediately asked him to form a new government.

Erdogan has indicated he wants to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a more powerful position. He has said he would exercise the president’s seldom-used powers such as calling and presiding over Cabinet meetings, which would allow him to be involved in the running of government.

Davutoglu made no substantial changes to Erdogan’s old government with the bulk of his ministers staying in place. He appointed Yalcin Akdogan — Erdogan’s former chief adviser and his closest aide — as a deputy prime minister.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, a minister whose earlier task was to negotiate Turkey’s accession to the European Union, took over the Foreign Ministry from Davutoglu. Former diplomat Volkan Bozkir replaces Cavusoglu as the minister in charge of ties with the EU.

Ali Babacan, a respected deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, would stay in place, in a move that is likely to reassure financial markets. Numan Kurtulmus, a senior party official and economist, was also promoted to deputy prime minister.

Cavusoglu, a U.S.- and British-educated founding member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, was previously the president of the parliamentary assembly of the 47-nation Council of Europe, an organization that promotes human rights and democracy in the continent.

UN: Armed group detains 43 peacekeepers in Syria

August 29, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An armed group detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers during fighting in Syria early Thursday and another 81 peacekeepers are trapped, the United Nations said.

The peacekeepers were detained on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights during a “period of increased fighting between armed elements and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces,” the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. It said another 81 peacekeepers are “currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah.”

The statement did not specify which armed group is holding the peacekeepers. Various Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, have been fighting the Syrian military near the Golan Heights. On Wednesday, opposition fighters captured a Golan Heights crossing point on the disputed border between Syria and Israel.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the 43 detained peacekeepers are from Fiji and are thought to be in the southern part of the area of separation. The 81 troops from the Philippines had their movements restricted.

“The situation is extremely fluid. Obviously, we are very concerned,” Dujarric said. “We are dealing with non-state armed actors,” he said. “The command and control of these groups is unclear. We’re not in a position to confirm who is holding whom. Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with al-Nusra, however, we are unable to confirm it.”

The statement said the United Nations “is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers,” who are part of UNDOF, the mission that has been monitoring a 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.

Philippines military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said in a statement later that Syrian rebels demanded that the Filipino troops surrender their firearms, but the soldiers refused. “They did not surrender their firearms as they may in turn be held hostage themselves. This resulted in a stand-off which is still the prevailing situation at this time,” Zagala said.

Israel captured part of the Golan in the 1967 Mideast war and subsequently annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. Syria retained the rest of the territory. The Security Council condemned the detention of the 43 peacekeepers and the restriction of movement of the other 81 and called for their immediate release. A rapidly drafted press statement blamed “Security Council-designated terrorist groups” and “members of non-state armed groups.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the detainment of the U.N. detachment. “This is a force that is responsible for peacekeeping around the world, and certainly we don’t think they should be a target of these type of efforts,” Psaki said.

In June, the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the intense fighting between Syrian government and opposition fighters in the Golan Heights and demanded an end to all military activity in the area. Syrian mortars overshooting their target have repeatedly hit the Israeli-controlled Golan, and U.N. peacekeepers have been abducted.

Thursday’s statement noted that UNDOF peacekeepers who were detained by armed forces in March and May were later safely released. As of July, UNDOF has 1,223 troops from six countries: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines.

But the Philippine government last week said it would bring home its 331 peacekeeping forces from the Golan Heights after their tour of duty ends in October, amid the deteriorating security in the region.

In June 2013, Austria said it was withdrawing its 377 U.N. peacekeepers from the Golan Heights. Croatia also withdrew in 2013 amid fears its troops would be targeted.

Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed.

India, Japan each seek deals during Modi’s visit

August 29, 2014

TOKYO (AP) — Japan and India both have much to gain from a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and more than a dozen Indian steel, energy and IT tycoons that begins Saturday in the ancient capital of Kyoto.

The two countries have complementary economies, given Japan’s wealth and technological prowess and India’s natural resources and drive to modernize its economy. So far, though, they have failed to capitalize much on those mutual interests. The two countries signed an economic cooperation agreement in 2011 that is gradually dismantling tariffs, but trade between the two — despite gains — remains a tiny fraction of their overall import and export flows. That’s partly because of India’s restrictive policies toward foreign investment and partly because Japanese companies have been so focused on China.

Analysts expect Modi’s visit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to yield some substantial agreements, and possibly a long-awaited deal on cooperation in nuclear power generation technology. But in the long run, Modi must deliver on promises to improve his country’s investment environment while balancing India’s growing engagement with both Japan and rival China.

“I think there’ll be some very big agreements, on the energy side also, not just nuclear but also renewable energy. India has been lagging on that and needs help from Japan,” said Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia-Pacific economist at IHS Economics.

In the run-up to their meeting, Abe and Modi have been exchanging endearments on Twitter. “I deeply respect his leadership & enjoy a warm relationship with him from previous meetings,” Modi wrote of Abe, adding that he hoped to take to take the relationship “to a new level.”

“India has a special place in my heart. I am eagerly waiting for your arrival in Kyoto this weekend,” tweeted back Abe, who is taking the unusually cordial step of traveling to Kyoto to escort Modi and his delegation before they fly to Tokyo late Sunday.

Since taking office in late 2012, Abe has been trotting the globe to help clinch big contracts for Japanese industrial giants like Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, as part of his “Abenomics” agenda to help restore the country’s economic dynamism. India, which plans to spend some $1 trillion on roads, railways and other infrastructure in 2012-2017, is a VIP customer.

And Modi will be trying to woo Japanese investment in three of his favorite projects, including railway modernization, an industrial corridor between New Delhi and Mumbai, and a plan to build 100 “smart cities” with high-tech communication facilities and modern infrastructure.

“Who is a better expert in bullet train technology than Japan?” said Kunal Singh, a researcher at the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi think tank. The financial newspaper Nikkei reported Thursday that the two sides may also expand cooperation on India’s mining of rare earths, as Tokyo diversifies away from a longstanding reliance on China for the minerals used in many high-tech applications.

To help move things along, India needs to attract investment by slashing red tape, experts say. Yet it remains unclear if Japan would proceed with sales of nuclear technology and related equipment to India. Such exports have been hampered by sensitivity in Japan over India’s atomic tests and its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“It is not an easy ride, definitely,” Singh said. But he added that while India is balking at limits Japan wants to impose, the personal camaraderie between Abe and Modi might help, adding “the personal equations have to kick in, and we know they share a good bonhomie.”

So far, Japan’s investments have been concentrated mainly in India’s thriving pharmaceuticals sector and auto industry — Maruti-Suzuki, a subsidiary of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp., is India’s biggest carmaker. In the energy sector, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and other Japanese banks agreed earlier this year to co-finance a $550 million loan for Reliance Industries Ltd.’s expansion of petrochemical and gasification plants and a refinery.

And Abe’s moves to ease restrictions on exports of defense-related equipment dovetails with Modi’s goal of refurbishing India’s military. During a visit by Abe to India in January, the two sides agreed on closer cooperation in the energy and telecom sectors. The two sides also agreed to hold regular consultations between their national security councils on security issues. India invited Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force to participate in this year’s India-U.S. naval exercises off India’s western coast, and it wants to buy an amphibian aircraft called the US-2 and to participate in its production.

Japan’s exports to India, especially of electronics, iron and steel, have jumped in the past decade. From India, Japan imports mostly refined petroleum products, gems and seafood. Yet Japanese brokerage Nomura said in a recent research report that noted that despite a 15 percent annual rate of increase in two-way trade between the two countries in recent years India accounts for only 1 percent of Japan’s total trade, and Japan only 2 percent of India’s.

Despite his keenness on Abe and Japanese investment to help support his economic agenda, Modi can only go so far. Shortly after his return home, he will be playing host to visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“He’s going to have to play a balancing act,” said Biswas at IHS Economics. “He will be playing it relatively even-handedly. Both are important economies and he won’t want to be seen as playing favorites.”

Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Tim Sullivan and Vineeta Deepak in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Turkey’s Erdogan sworn in as president

August 28, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the oath office as Turkey’s first popularly elected president on Thursday, a position that will keep him in the nation’s driving seat for at least another five years.

Erdogan was scheduled to appoint Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu — his designated successor as prime minster and loyal ally — to form a new government in the evening, following ceremonies at the presidential palace.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and won Turkey’s first direct presidential elections on Aug. 10. He has indicated he wants to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a more powerful position and is expected to hold sway in the running of the country. He intends to exercise the full powers of the presidency, including summoning Cabinet meetings.

Taking the oath in parliament, Erdogan said: “As president I swear on my pride and honor that I will protect the state, its independence, the indivisible unity of the nation … and that I will abide by the constitution, the rule of law, democracy … and the principle of the secular republic.”

Later, Erdogan headed to the mausoleum of the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he wrote on the visitors’ book: “Today, the day the first president elected by the people takes office, is the day Turkey is born from its ashes.”

Legislators from Turkey’s main opposition party left parliament minutes before Erdogan arrived in protest of the man they accuse of not respecting the country’s constitution. A legislator was seen throwing a copy of the constitution toward the parliamentary speaker, complaining that he wasn’t allowed to speak.

Erdogan “will pledge allegiance to the constitution but he will lie. I don’t want to witness that lie,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the opposition party’s leader, who snubbed the inauguration ceremony. In a ceremony where he formally took charge of the presidency from his predecessor, Abdullah Gul, Erdogan said that as the first president to be elected by the people — instead of parliament — his tenure would usher in an era of a “new Turkey, a great Turkey.”

Working “hand in hand” with Davutoglu, the two would end divisions in Turkey, strive to further improve the economy, carry out democratic reforms and advance the country’s bid to join the European Union, Erdogan said.

“Our march toward the EU will continue in a more determined way. Our democratic reforms won’t lose speed,” Erdogan said. On Wednesday, Erdogan rejected claims that Davutoglu would merely do his bidding, saying the two would work together.

Erdogan has been a divisive figure. He is adored by supporters after presiding over a decade of relative prosperity. But he is also despised by many for taking an increasing authoritarian tack and is accused of trying to impose his religious and conservative mores on a nation that has secular traditions.

With a splat, paintball fires into Afghanistan

August 29, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The hidden gunman, dressed in long green coveralls and a SWAT-team-style vest and helmet, looks ominous as he takes aim and fires off a short burst.

But this isn’t a Taliban attack in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital — it’s just a friendly game of paintball. The arrival of recreational paintball to Afghanistan may seem peculiar to outsiders, especially in a country that’s known decades of war, faces constant bombings and attacks by Taliban insurgents and is preparing its own security forces for the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

However, it shows both the rise of a nascent upper and middle class looking for a diversion with the time to spare, as well as the way American culture has seeped into the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban.

“These people deserve to have more fun,” said Abbas Rizaiy, the owner of the “Eagle” paintball club in central Kabul. Rizaiy brought the game to Afghanistan just a few weeks ago. He’s a longtime fan of the first-person shooter video game “Call of Duty” and stepped up to the next level by playing paintball in neighboring Iran where he was born.

He moved to Afghanistan 10 years ago and eventually decided to open the club this year in Kabul, a city more associated with real bullets than ones that splatter paint. For those who have never suffered a welt from the game, paintball involves participants geared up in helmets, goggles and protective clothing firing at each other using gas-powered guns that shoot paint pellets. The games can be complicated affairs that last for hours or as simple as a capture-the-flag contest that lasts only a few minutes.

Naqibullah Jafari, a marketing officer in Kabul who came with his friends one day, acknowledged that they didn’t have much of a strategy when he took to the field — other than to shoot each other. “It is my first time that I came here, and I don’t have any special tactics in this game,” he said, with his goggles pushed up to his forehead and his weapon at his side.

Rizaiy said he hasn’t had many issues with the neighbors, though he turned down the speed at which the weapons fire to reduce the noise. Instead, he said the biggest challenge was to get the paintball guns as the ones he imported from India got stuck for six months in Afghanistan’s bureaucracy-laden customs department.

Paintball is one a small number of leisure activities that have sprung up in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. A bowling alley called “The Strikers” opened up a few years ago and a number of pools around the city provide a place for residents to splash around in the summer months. There’s also a 9-hole golf course a short drive outside of Kabul.

But most of these activities are geared toward the city’s small, upper- and middle-class elite who can afford the admission. And customers are overwhelming male because of Afghanistan’s conservative society, which deems it generally not acceptable for women to go to activities involving men who aren’t relatives.

Rizaiy said he’d like women customers, but said women don’t want to be stared at while wearing all the warrior gear. This year is one of many transitions for Afghanistan, with a presidential election that is still undecided and foreign troops scheduled to leave the country. Rizaiy said he thinks at least some U.S. troops likely will stay, providing stability for Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, his customers seem to appreciate the irony of firing toy guns in a country flooded with the real thing. “We can use guns for positive things and also for negative things,” customer Ali Noori said. “These guns are for entertainment.”

Icelandic officials say eruption near Bardarbunga

August 29, 2014

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Icelandic authorities raised the aviation warning code to red Friday after a small fissure eruption near Bardarbunga volcano, but no volcanic ash has been detected by the radar system.

The eruption took place the Holuhraun lava field, north of Dyngjujoekull glacier, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said. The event was described as being not highly explosive — and thus not producing much of the fine ash that can affect aircraft engines.

“If this eruption persists it could become a tourist attraction, as it will be relatively safe to approach, although the area is remote,” said David Rothery, a professor of Planetary Geosciences at The Open University in Britain. “This event should not be seen as ‘relieving the pressure’ on Bardarbunga itself, nor is it a clear precursor sign of an impending Bardarbunga eruption.”

Icelandic Air Traffic Control has closed the airspace over the volcano from the ground up to 18,000 feet (5,486 meters). All of the country’s airports remain open. In 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokul volcano erupted and sparked a week of international aviation chaos, with thousands of flights canceled. Aviation officials closed Europe’s air space for five days, fearing that volcanic ash could harm jet engines.

UN says Syria refugees top 3 million mark

August 29, 2014

GENEVA (AP) — The civil war in Syria has forced a record 3 million people out of the country as more than a million people fled in the past year, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.

The tragic milestone means that about one of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, the Geneva-based agency said. More than half of all those uprooted are children, it said.

“The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Syria had a prewar population of 23 million. The recent surge in fighting appears to be worsening the already desperate situation for Syrian refugees, the agency said, as the extremist Islamic State group expands its control of broad areas straddling the Syria-Iraq border and terrorizes rivals and civilians in both countries.

According to the agency, many of the new arrivals in Jordan come from the northern province of Aleppo and the northeastern region of Raqqa, a stronghold of the group. An independent U.N. commission says the group is systematically carrying out widespread bombings, beheadings and mass killings that amount to crimes against humanity in both areas.

The commission investigating potential war crimes in Syria said on Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians, who are bearing the brunt of a civil war that has killed more than 190,000 people and destabilized the region.

The massive numbers of Syrians fleeing the civil war has stretched the resources of neighboring countries and raised fears of violence spreading in the region. The U.N. estimates there are nearly 35,000 people awaiting registration as refugees, and hundreds of thousands who are not registered.

International Rescue Committee President David Miliband said the Syrian refugee crisis represents “3 million indictments of government brutality, opposition violence and international failure.” “This appalling milestone needs to generate action as well as anger,” he said, calling for more aid to Syria’s overburdened neighbors and for civilians still in the country.

The refugee agency and other aid groups say an increasing number of families are arriving in other countries in shockingly poor condition, exhausted and scared and with almost no financial savings left after having been on the run for a year or more. In eastern Jordan, for example, the agency says refugees crossing the desert are forced to pay smugglers $100 per person or more to be taken to safety.

Lebanon hosts 1.14 million Syrian refugees, the single highest concentration. Turkey has 815,000 and Jordan has 608,000.

Jordan’s king pushes to expand military, intelligence authority

Osama Al Sharif

August 25, 2014

On Aug. 14, the Jordanian government announced that it would ask parliament to approve two constitutional amendments giving the king sole authority to appoint the head of the armed forces and director of the kingdom’s General Intelligence Department (GID). Almost three years ago, in October 2011, in response to public protests calling for political reforms, King Abdullah II had approved a number of constitutional amendments that curtailed some of his powers and allowed for the creation of a Constitutional Court and an Independent Elections Commission.

These reforms were hailed as a major step toward full constitutional monarchy. Jordan’s version of the Arab Spring was largely peaceful and bloodless, and Abdullah was able to project himself as a champion of political reforms that would lead, according to statements made in June 2011, to the formation of parliamentary governments. That promise remains to be fulfilled.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front (IAF) boycotted the 2013 legislative elections, and other political parties performed poorly, failing to fill the vacuum. Weak and unpopular, the parties’ presence in the current Lower House, comprised mostly of independents, is modest. The government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, appointed by Abdullah in October 2012, was supposed to include elected deputies as a precursor to the formation of parliamentary governments. To date, however, Ensour has failed to fulfill that pledge, probably due to royal objections.

It is clear that Abdullah instructed Ensour to handle the two constitutional amendments. Under the current constitution, the government recommends the appointees for head of the armed forces and GID director, and the king approves them through royal decree. The king had asked the prime minister on Aug. 12 to “activate” the Ministry of Defense, whose portfolio has been handled directly by the prime minister for decades. In effect, the portfolio will now be managed by a civilian or a retired army officer. The king said the new ministry will handle “political, economic, legal and logistical duties related to national defense … and nonmilitary services … while allowing the armed forces to dedicate its time to professional military duties.”

The government is rushing the two amendments through parliament, which has been convened in an extraordinary session. The timing and reasons for the amendments, described by Ensour as important reforms that will enhance Jordan’s democratic process, were not made clear. Pundits rushed to explain the surprise move. Clearly Abdullah is looking to expand his authority, making sure that the decision to appoint and fire the heads of two very sensitive institutions remains his alone.

Critics of the move did not waste time making their points. In general, they saw the move as a violation of the constitution and a derogation of the general mandate of the government. A number of retired army officers issued a statement denouncing the action, describing it as “an attack on the constitution and a challenge to the will of the people, who are the source of all authorities.”

Mohammad al-Hammouri, a respected constitutional expert and former justice minister, wrote on Aug. 19, “Giving the king exclusive powers to appoint the heads of the armed forces and GID constitutes an abrogation of the parliamentary system and a coup against the constitution, effectively turning Jordan from a constitutional monarchy to a presidential monarchy.”

He added that the Jordanian system of government is based on the principle of separation of powers, with the people being the source of authority. He added that the only exclusive power that the king has is to prevent amendment of the constitution, while the authority to run the state’s domestic and foreign affairs is tied directly to the Council of Ministers.

Omar al-Atout, a lawyer, published an article on Aug. 14 accusing the government of “committing the crime of undermining the regime.” He wrote that the amendments aim at “implicating the monarchy by making the king directly responsible for any mistakes committed by the security institutions … and by demoting the king from being a judge over all branches of government to a mere player.” He accused “frivolous boys” at the royal court of standing behind such ideas while reminding the prime minister that the first article in the constitution defines Jordan’s system of government as a parliamentary monarchy.

Despite such strong legal objections, it is clear that the royal court is seeking to secure strategic objectives in pushing the amendments. Mohammad Abu Rumman, a political commentator, provided one possible explanation when he wrote in the daily Al-Ghad on Aug. 14 that the royal move aims at “redefining the role of the monarchy in Jordan” and that the king is pushing toward the formation of parliamentary governments “but not until he secures some guarantees … by withdrawing sovereign key decisions from governments and placing them in his hands to protect the country’s security and to prevent key positions from being influenced by political wrangling.” He also said that the suggested amendments will “clash head on with the philosophy of the system of governance and the spirit of the constitution, where the king enjoys full immunity from direct responsibility.”

Abu Rumman’s explanation echoes that of others who believe the king is about to engage Jordanians in a new political experiment through parliamentary government. The legislature is yet to pass a new political parties’ law, and the government has promised to make substantial changes to the controversial election law next year.

Despite vocal opposition from a number of deputies, the lower house of parliament is likely to approve the two amendments in a special session as early as this week. Deputy Tamer Bino told Al-Monitor the amendments “affect the identity of the political system in Jordan,” reminding colleagues that former GID directors had been convicted of corruption in the past and sentenced to jail. He said, “If this happens again, then who will bear the final responsibility?”

Minister of Political Affairs Khaled al-Kalaldeh told Al-Monitor that both the chief of the General Staff of the armed forces and GID director will be under the oversight of both the executive and legislative branches, regardless of the proposed amendments. Deputy Jamil al-Nimri said that the amendments were “unnecessary and based on unrealistic fears,” arguing, “The general mandate of the government could have been saved by maintaining the current system of appointment.” He told Al-Monitor that Jordan should get ready for full parliamentary government and even party-led governments in the future.

It is clear that the controversial amendments will be approved and that the king’s powers will be increased in contrast to the reformist course adopted during the height of the Arab Spring. Apologists say this will pave the way for the creation of full parliamentary governments in the near future, but how this will affect the evolution of Jordan’s monarchy remains an open question.

Source: al-Monitor.


In Zaatari refugee camp, early marriage often trumps school

Mishelle Shmulovich

August 22, 2014

MAFRAQ, Jordan — Rahaf still giggles when she talks about her husband. Newly married to another resident of Zaatari, the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp, the 16-year-old from Daraa carries a picture from their wedding day under her dress, “just above her heart,” she says.

“I’m lucky. He’s Syrian, too,” she gushes. Her husband, Gassem, is 25 and the couple hopes to have children soon.

Such is the case for other Syrian girls living in Zaatari: The path of marriage trumped the option of going to school.

“I wanted to go to school,” she says, “but my father didn’t let me. He didn’t think it was safe. He’d say, ‘What’s the use? It [the degree] will be useless when you go back home.’”

But with the Syrian civil war in its fourth year, the fleeting promise of returning to Syria any time soon dwindles each day.

Zaatari is no longer temporary. It’s home.

Today, 80,428 people live in Zaatari, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administers the camp in conjunction with the Jordanian government. Unofficial sources put the number of Zaatari residents higher, closer to 120,000.

According to UNHCR, approximately 57% of the camp’s population is under 18 — and that percentage is growing. On average, 11 babies are born at one of the camp’s medical clinics each day, and Syrian families with children continue to pour across the border seeking safety in Jordan.

To cope with the ballooning numbers of children in the camp, the Jordanian Ministry of Education, together with UNICEF and partner agencies, opened three schools, which run double shifts — girls come in the morning, boys in the afternoon. Hind Omer, a UNICEF education specialist, told Al-Monitor that three more are set to open in the fall.

Last year, 18,000 children enrolled in Zaatari’s schools. With school set to start Sunday, UNICEF is expecting an increase of 4,000 children — to 22,000 students — according to Omer.

That number is a victory, because it would mean that two-thirds of the school-age population in Zaatari goes to school.

The trends within the overall Syrian refugee community, however, are not as positive. Today, some 3 million Syrian children aren’t going to school or are at risk of dropping out, according to UNICEF.

Much of Zaatari’s success is thanks to aid agencies that have poured millions of dollars into education programs, both formal and informal, for Syrian youngsters living in or outside Zaatari. For example, the European Union, UNICEF’s biggest partner on the issue, has invested more than 30 million euros into Syrian educational programs in Jordan since the crisis began, UNICEF specialist Miraj Pradhan told Al-Monitor.

Yet, many families, like those of the newly married Rahaf, still shy away from sending their daughters to school in Zaatari, and it’s not only due to stigma.

Zaatari, which sits on arid, unforgiving enclosed terrain, has been prone to violence, theft and assault.

More than 90% of Zaatari residents are from Daraa and its neighboring villages, which was home to a conservative and devout Sunni population. Some parents worry they can’t control their daughter’s environment as well as they did in Syria. Living far from the camp’s schools adds to the danger that their daughters can be harassed along the way, one family told Al-Monitor.

Another indirect obstacle to youth education in Zaatari is that 42% of the families in Zaatari are female-headed households. In some cases, the mothers are widows; in others, the men are still fighting the regime in Syria. Especially in this context, boys are viewed as potential breadwinners for the family, making school more of a luxury than an immediate necessity.

But for Manal, a mother of four in her early 30s who was an English teacher before the war, there’s no other option besides school.

“In Syria, most kids go to school. But the classrooms here are so crowded!” she says. Still, she insists that her children must continue their education because the other alternatives, such as boredom or idleness, are even bigger threats.

“We can’t just sit here, not being allowed to leave the camp, without having anything to do,” she says. “My kids would go crazy.”

Amne, 18, has been living in Zaatari for 1½ years. During the day she goes to school — she’s finishing 12th grade this year — and then comes home to rest for two hours before heading to work at one of the camp’s reception centers.

Shy yet sharp, Amne worries about how she’ll continue her education. “I want to go to university, but it’s very difficult for us to do that here in Jordan,” she says, fixating her sky-blue eyes on the swinging tarpaulin that serves as the front door of her neighbor’s home.

For Amne and other college-age Syrians in Zaatari, university often seems like a faraway fable.

With Jordanian universities filled to capacity, and competition from other foreign nationals — such as students from the Gulf countries — for the non-Jordanian spots, Syrian refugees seeking a higher education can easily fall through the cracks, an official from the Ministry of Education told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

UNHCR’s DAFI program was created to address this very need: The program offers more than 2,000 scholarships annually so refugees can study in other countries.

But the demand for higher education among Syrian refugees continues to grow, and for young women like Amne, leaving her family to go study alone in another country isn’t really socially acceptable.

Yusuf, a soft-spoken 20-year-old originally from Daraa, was enrolled in a mechanical college in Damascus before the war broke out, which put his studies on hold indefinitely.

“I applied to the university here in Jordan,” he says, speaking from his father’s dress shop in Zaatari’s open-air market, “but I wasn’t accepted. And now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to finish the degree.”

Even if he were accepted, the task of trying to transfer credits between Syria and Jordan isn’t seamless, Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education acknowledged.

The ministry told Al-Monitor there is no quota on the number of Syrian students allowed to attend Jordan’s universities, but it doesn’t have any special programs for Syrian refugees either.

The cost of university tuition in Jordan, which is higher for foreigners, and the complications of leaving Zaatari — Syrian refugees need a Jordanian sponsor guaranteeing financial support to move out of the camp — in addition to the myriad costs of daily life (another problem as Syrians aren’t given work permits) make going to university in Jordan seem unrealistic, if not impossible, for Amne, Yusuf and countless others.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the young generation of Syrian refugees giving up on their hopes and plans when daily existence is a struggle riddled with pain and unknowns.

But that’s not the case for people with passion, says Amne. “I know there’s a way,” she says, and it’s that hope that keeps her going.

Source: al-Monitor.


South Korea launches fourth of 20 new frigates

by Richard Tomkins

Seoul (UPI)

Aug 25, 2014

A fourth guided missile frigate for the South Korean Navy has been launched by STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, the Ministry of National Defense announced.

The ship, “Gangwon Ham,” is one of 20 new frigates planned for the Navy by the mid-2020s and will be delivered to the service next year.

Gangwon Ham displaces 2,300-tons and 374 feet in length. It carries 120 sailors, has a maximum speed of as much as 30 knots and will carry a full complement of anti-ship and air defense weapons. Among them: the Haeseong ship-to-ship guided missile, Chung Sang Eo light torpedoes and a 5-inch main gun.

More than 90 percent of ship systems are locally made.

“The next frigate will allow our defense ability for near sea to be improved so that North Korean threats can be deterred,” a South Korean Navy spokesman said. “If the enemy provokes us, we’ll instantly punish them and bury them at sea.”

Source: Space War.


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