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Archive for March, 2015

Hezbollah leader slams Saudi intervention in Yemen

March 27, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group unleashed a tirade against Saudi Arabia on Friday over its intervention in Yemen, calling it “surprising and painful,” and suggesting Riyadh would suffer a “humiliating defeat” if it didn’t resolve the conflict through negotiations.

Hassan Nasrallah rejected Riyadh’s claim that it had assembled a coalition to conduct airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels in order to save Yemen, an operation named “Decisive Storm.” He said that since Israel was created in 1948 “there has been no decisive storm or even a decisive breeze” to help the Palestinians.

Hezbollah, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels, is supported by Iran, which Saudi Arabia views as its main regional rival. Iran has openly armed and assisted Hezbollah since its creation, but both Iran and the Houthis deny it has sent arms to the Yemeni rebels.

“The real reason (for the war) is that Saudi Arabia lost its control and dominance in Yemen and the aim of war is to restore control and hegemony over Yemen. Period,” Nasrallah said. He condemned what he called a “Saudi-American aggression on Yemen, its people, army, installations, present and future.” The Hezbollah leader called for a political solution in Yemen, warning Saudi Arabia that it will not win the war.

“Throughout history, invaders were defeated and the invaders were humiliated,” Nasrallah said. “The rulers in Saudi Arabia still have an opportunity in order not to face a humiliating defeat.” Nasrallah said the countries taking part in the military campaign should review their policies. “Should the region go to war because of Saudi money?” he asked.

In some of his harshest comments to date, Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of sending suicide attackers to Iraq and of creating the Islamic State group. Addressing Saudi Arabia, he said Iran had expanded its influence in the region because “you are lazy, losers, and you don’t take responsibility.”

Uzbekistan’s election sees turnout at 91 percent

March 29, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Uzbekistan’s election commission said 91 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday’s presidential election, where victory by longtime authoritarian leader Islam Karimov is a foregone conclusion.

The 77-year-old Karimov has led the former Soviet republic in Central Asia since the late 1980s and ruthlessly quashed all opposition to his rule. While Uzbekistan is untroubled by any immediate signs of unrest, the future of the country of 30 million people is colored with uncertainty amid a troubled security situation in neighboring Afghanistan and the lack of a clear succession plan should Karimov suddenly leave office.

Economic woes could also be in store as a knock-on effect of the looming recession in Russia, where around 3 million Uzbeks live and work. Russian news agencies, citing the Uzbek Central Election Commission, said turnout was 91 percent. Results will be released Monday.

Karimov faced three purely nominal rivals. In the previous election in 2007, he won 91 percent of the vote. A Russian parliament member who served as an election observer, Ilyas Umakhanov, said the citizens of Uzbekistan were voting for “further guarantees of stability and the social-economic development of the country,” the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Since gaining independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has pursued a policy of economic self-reliance and sought to balance its diplomatic relations with the West and Russia, playing them against each other. The United States installed a military base in the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It was forced to abandon that facility in 2005 as relations between the countries soured following a violent government crackdown on rioters in the Ferghana Valley city of Andijan that is believed to have left hundreds dead.

Almost all Western media have been barred from reporting inside the country since that time. Independent journalists and activists face sustained harassment.

Greek prime minister: Debt needs restructuring for repayment

March 30, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece will be unable to repay massive bailout debts without eventually restructuring them, the prime minister said, as pressure from lenders mounted on Athens to produce viable cost-cutting reforms to unlock emergency funds and prevent default.

Alexis Tsipras told Greek lawmakers late Monday that his two-month-old government had not abandoned its pledge to seek a debt settlement and push for more generous deficit targets. “There is the recognition (from lenders) of the need to finally begin a debate on the necessary restructuring of the Greek debt,” he said.

“Because without such an intervention it is impossible to repay it.” Greece’s reserves are running low on money needed to repay debts and keep the country running after troubled negotiations with lenders and early general elections in January stalled the payout of more than 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) left in bailout funds for months.

In Brussels, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said a deal with Greece “requires a lot of technical work” even after hours of meetings to discuss the Tsipras government proposals over the weekend.

Athens faces debt repayments and rollovers of nearly 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in April, mainly in the middle of the month, with obligations rising further in the coming months. Not being able to raise money on international bond markets, Greece depends on bailout creditors for the money to meet those obligations.

Germany, the biggest individual creditor to Greece’s bailouts, insists a lot more still needed to be done. Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said the talks were “to be honest a little hard to evaluate — clearly not an officially submitted comprehensive reform list.”

The Commission’s Schinas appeared a bit more optimistic, saying the continuation of the discussions “is a positive sign that shows willingness and seriousness of all sides to constructively engage.” So far, Greece says reworked reforms for 2015 would yield 3 billion euros from measures it argues wouldn’t depress economic activity in Greece — cuts to salaries and pensions are out.

An official in Athens said last week that the reforms had been cost-assessed and would still leave Greece with a primary budget surplus — what’s left after debt payments — of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2015 and growth of around 1.4 percent.

Raf Casert reported from Brussels. Elena Becatoros in Athens, and Geir Moulson in Berlin, contributed to this report.

Greek energy minister to visit Moscow, hits out at Germany

28 March 2015 Saturday

Greece’s Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis will meet his Russian counterpart and the CEO of energy giant Gazprom in Moscow on Monday, as he hit out at the EU and Germany for tightening a ‘noose’ around the Greek economy.

Outspoken Lafazanis, on the left wing of Greece’s co-ruling Syriza party, will meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller as well as other senior government officials, the energy ministry said on Saturday.

But as Athens battles to have a list of reforms accepted by its EU partners in order to secure much-needed funds to stave off bankruptcy, Lafazanis criticized Berlin and said the government must not roll back on its commitments.

“No list should go over the will and sovereignty of the people,” he told Kefalaio newspaper in an interview on Saturday.

Greece will run out of money by April 20, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday, unless it manages to unlock aid by agreeing on a list of reforms with EU-IMF partners with Lafazanis opposed to several energy privatizations.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/todays-news/157101/greek-energy-minister-to-visit-moscow-hits-out-at-germany.

France’s far-right wins 62 seats but not a local council

March 30, 2015

PARIS (AP) — Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen couldn’t hide her disappointment Monday not to have won one single local council in France’s election, but insisted she was satisfied with her party’s performance.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and its allies won 46 percent of Sunday’s vote, taking control of 66 of the 98 local councils, mostly at the expense of the left, which lost 25 of them, according to the Interior Ministry. The left captured 32 percent of the vote and the National Front won 22 percent, the agency said. Turnout was 49.98 percent.

In an interview Monday with radio RTL, Le Pen reminded her audience that that her party won just a single seat in 2011, and 62 of the 4,108 available on Sunday. “I obviously express my satisfaction. We have multiplied by 62 our number of elected councilors,” she said.

It’s the latest in a series of elections that have expanded the National Front’s presence in French politics, part of Le Pen’s strategy toward a 2017 presidential campaign. Le Pen herself is looking ahead to France’s regional election in December.

“I believe that we have serious hopes of success in 4 to 5 regions (out of 13 total),” she said. France’s governing Socialists are facing their fourth electoral defeat since President Francois Hollande took power in 2012, reflecting the government’s unpopularity due to its failure to boost the lagging economy and lower the 10 percent unemployment rate.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls had called on voters to choose anyone running, even a rival conservative, to block National Front candidates. Conservatives gained spectacular victories in Correze in central France and Essonne near Paris, the electoral homes of Hollande and Valls. They also won some councils governed by the left for decades, including as Bouches-du-Rhone — Marseille and its surroundings — that had been continuously led by Socialists for over 60 years.

Candidates were elected by pairs —one man, one woman— to ensure that 50 percent of council members are women.

Campaign begins for most unpredictable UK election in years

March 30, 2015

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron paid a courtesy call on Queen Elizabeth II, then launched a most uncourteous attack on his main political rival as campaigning formally began Monday in the most unpredictable U.K. election in decades.

The royal audience — possibly Cameron’s last as prime minister — came as Britain’s Parliament was officially dissolved ahead of the May 7 vote. Polls, bookmakers and politics-watchers say the election is too close to call, and no party is expected to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Some form of coalition government is likely, and smaller parties — such as the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Greens and the anti-Europeans — could hold the balance of power. “This is the most unpredictable election we have seen in our lifetimes,” said Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-Europe U.K. Independence Party, which is currently running third in popular support. “All bets are off.”

While issues such as the European Union and immigration will play a big role in the campaign, both Cameron’s Conservatives and their main opposition, the Labor Party, are focusing their pitches on the economy.

Cameron said a Labor victory would bring “economic chaos” and threaten Britain’s recovery from the Great Recession. “Debt will rise and jobs will be lost as a result,” he said. Speaking outside his 10 Downing St. office after meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, Cameron said when he took office in 2010, “Britain was on the brink.”

Now, he said, “Britain is back on her feet again,” and growing faster than other G-7 economies. But Labor leader Ed Miliband argued that for many voters, that recovery “feels like it’s happening to someone else, somewhere else.” He kicked off campaigning with a speech aimed at reassuring business that Labor won’t increase tax and red tape.

And he called the Conservatives’ vow to hold a referendum on whether Britain should leave the 28-nation EU a “clear and present danger” to British businesses. Britain’s electoral system means only Labor or the Conservatives, as the country’s two biggest parties, can hope to lead the next government.

But voters are defecting in droves to alternatives, including the pro-independence Scottish National Party and UKIP, which wants to leave the EU and impose tough controls on immigration. UKIP, which has just two lawmakers of 650 in the House of Commons, launched its campaign with a photo-call near Parliament. It unveiled five election promises, including exiting the EU and cutting foreign aid spending.

Farage called foreign aid “a waste of money” and said the funds would be used instead to cut the deficit and strengthen the armed forces. Cameron’s visit to the palace was a courtesy, since this election ends the historic practice of prime ministers asking the monarch to dissolve Parliament. That is now done automatically. The same law set election dates to be the first Thursday in May every five years, unless the government loses a confidence vote in Parliament.

Associated Press writer Gregory Katz contributed to this report.

UK prime minister rallies party before ‘knife edge’ election

March 28, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday that Britain’s election campaign is on a knife edge, as he rallied the Conservative party with a personal attack on his main rival.

Cameron told a party rally that “this isn’t any election. This is a high-stakes, high-risk election.” “This is a knife-edge election and can only be cut two ways: Conservative or Labor,” Cameron said. “Britain on the rise or turning the clock back.”

The campaign officially kicks off Monday, when Parliament is dissolved before the May 7 vote. Polls suggest neither the Conservatives nor Labor will win a majority of seats. In a sign the close-fought battle will be bruising, Cameron launched a personal attack on Labor leader Ed Miliband.

“I know what this role needs — and frankly, I don’t think Ed Miliband has it,” Cameron said. “Some people might say, ‘Don’t make this personal,’ but when it comes to who’s prime minister, the personal is national.”

Cameron slammed Miliband’s left-of-center party as a “bunch of hypocritical, holier-than-thou, hopeless, sneering socialists.” Miliband launched his election campaign Friday from the top of London’s Orbit tower, promising to preserve the cash-strapped National Health Service.

Cameron also made the NHS a key issue, vowing that his government would ensure people had access to doctors and hospital services seven days a week. ”With a future Conservative government, we would have a truly seven-day NHS,” Cameron said — though he didn’t outline how he would pay for it.

Cameron’s coalition government has cut billions in spending in a bid to curb the country’s deficit, and he says austerity measures will continue in a second term.

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