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Archive for November, 2015

London protesters oppose UK airstrikes on IS in Syria

November 28, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators in London are urging British lawmakers not to back airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Syria.

Protesters chanting “Don’t bomb Syria” gathered outside Prime Minister David Cameron’s 10 Downing St. office. Protests were also being held Saturday in other British cities. Britain’s Royal Air Force is already part of a U.S.-led campaign against the militants in Iraq, and on Thursday Cameron argued that the strikes should be expanded to Syria. He said, “we have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands.”

The government is trying to build support among lawmakers for military action before calling a vote in Parliament, which could come next week. The main opposition Labor Party is deeply divided. Leader Jeremy Corbyn says he will oppose airstrikes, but many Labor legislators back them.

Carson visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan

November 28, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is in the Middle East this weekend to meet with Syrian refugees.

The retired neurosurgeon has been facing questions about his command of foreign policy. Carson planned to tour one of Jordan’s major refugee camps Friday and Saturday, campaign manager Barry Bennett said. Bennett declined to release more details about the two-day mission because of security concerns.

Like other Republicans, Carson has sometimes taken a harsh tone when discussing the issue. Last week, he likened blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees to handling a rabid dog. “We have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly,” he said. “Who are the people who want to come in here and hurt us and want to destroy us?”

Debate over Syrians fleeing their war-torn country has erupted following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that raised security concerns across the West. Carson and his GOP rivals have criticized President Barack Obama’s plan to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees this budget year, expressing concern that terrorists may sneak into the country among them. Many Republicans have linked the Paris attackers to Syrian refugees, although European authorities have yet to confirm such connections.

Carson has repeatedly struggled to discuss international affairs as they become a greater focus in the 2016 presidential contest. Those close to him concede his foreign policy fluency isn’t yet where it needs to be. They hope missions like this will help change that.

“I’d say he’s 75 percent of the way there,” Armstrong Williams, Carson’s longtime business manager and closest confidant, said last week of the candidate’s grasp of foreign policy. “The world is a complex place, and he wants to get it right.”

Carson is scheduled to return to the United States late Saturday, Bennett said.

Canadian PM Trudeau: Syrian refugees not security risk

November 25, 2015

LONDON (AP) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has slowed down plans to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees within weeks in order to allay citizens’ security concerns after the Paris attacks.

Trudeau had wanted to resettle 25,000 refugees in Canada by Dec. 31. On Tuesday, his Liberal government said Canada would resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year and another 15,000 by the end of February. Health and security screening will take place overseas, rather than once the newcomers arrive in Canada.

In London on Wednesday, Trudeau said last week’s deadly gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group, had changed “the perception that Canadians had.” He said people who were previously supportive of the refugee plan “had a few more questions. And we realized that the most important thing is to be able to reassure Canadians that absolutely everything is being done to keep Canadians safe.”

He said he did not want the refugees to be “a cause for anxiety or division.” Trudeau, on his first visit to Britain since being elected last month, met Wednesday with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and held talks with his British counterpart, David Cameron, at 10 Downing St.

Trudeau told an audience at the Canadian embassy, Canada House, that his country drew strength from its diversity, and refugees brought economic benefits. “We’re not just welcoming 25,000 refugees,” he said. “We’re welcoming 25,000 new Canadians.”

Outgoing Argentine president says she’s not going away

November 25, 2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — When Argentines chose a new president in recent elections, many voters seemed more concerned about what would happen with the old one.

Such is the hold of outgoing President Cristina Fernandez on the public imagination in this South American country, where the telegenic, combative and polarizing leader steps down Dec. 10 after dominating the political landscape during eight years in office. Fernandez, who was constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, leaves with high approval ratings despite myriad economic problems and the cloud of several alleged corruptions scandals.

Perhaps most significantly, she’ll be leaving after a major political defeat: Her chosen successor, Daniel Scioli, lost Sunday’s presidential election to Mauricio Macri, who campaigned on free-market ideas as well as promises to roll back many of Fernandez’s left-leaning policies and distance the country from Venezuela.

“It’s unlikely that Fernandez goes quietly into the night,” said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. “But her concrete plans postelection? Your guess is as good as mine.”

Fernandez, 62, has said little about her future, other than repeatedly promising not to go away. It’s hard to imagine anything less from Argentina’s most important female political figure since Eva Peron, the country’s iconic first lady from the 1940s. Even before assuming the presidency, Fernandez was a central figure as first lady in the administration of her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, and as a senator.

“Know this,” Fernandez told thousands of supporters late last month. “I won’t be president Dec. 10, but I will always be there for the people when I’m needed.” But the lack of clarity over her future has not stopped speculation. Some theorize she is positioning herself for a presidential run in 2019 while others say her political era has run its course.

In the short-term, Fernandez will try to keep control of the Peronist Party, which maintains a majority in the Senate, the largest bloc in the lower house and governorships of 15 out of 24 provinces. She’ll have some powerful allies, including son Maximo Kirchner, who leads large political youth movement called La Campora, and outgoing Economy Minister Axel Kicillof. Both have been elected to Congress.

But Fernandez will also face fierce competition. A principal adversary will be Sergio Massa, a former Fernandez Cabinet chief who broke with the president to form his own political movement. Massa got 21 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential voting last month, appealing to dissident Peronists frustrated by Fernandez’s administration.

“Peronism is entering a process of rupture and change,” said Roberto Bacman, director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies, a South American research firm. “The fight is to see who will be its leader over the next four years.”

One common theory, flatly rejected by her supporters, is that Fernandez wanted Scioli to lose, and thus didn’t campaign hard on his behalf. The logic is that she could be a more powerful force as opposition leader than as a former president who had to play nice with the new party standard-bearer.

In the days after Scioli’s worse-than-expected showing in the first round of the election, speculation of a rupture between him and Fernandez was so intense that Scioli felt compelled to come out and dispel what he said were unfounded rumors.

In Fernandez’s first comments after the first found, she spoke for two hours, touting her record, reminiscing about her late husband and promising to defend the power couple’s accomplishments. She never mentioned Scioli.

Raul Aragon, director of consulting firm Raul Aragon and Associates, says Fernandez’s chances of returning to power have been hurt by the success of Maria Eugenia Vidal. The 42-year-old from Macri’s PRO party won the vast Buenos Aires province, traditionally a bastion of Peronist support, edging out a candidate hand-picked by Fernandez.

“Vidal is going to keep Cristina from returning to power,” said Aragon. “She is young, charismatic and occupies some of the same political space as Fernandez.” Several alleged corruption scandals could also hurt Fernandez. One ongoing probe involves Hotesur, a firm owned by the president to manage her family’s hotels.

Late last year and again in July, Hotesur’s headquarters were raided amid an investigation into whether the firm had failed to pay taxes on Fernandez’s hotels. Administration officials have always claimed the investigation is politically motivated.

It’s also unclear whether Macri will make investigating the outgoing administration a priority. He said during his victory speech Sunday that his presidency will not be about “settling scores.” “People are tired of the confrontations, the fights and all the accusations,” said Analia Del Franco, director of consulting firm Analogias. “In that way, Cristina’s style has run its course.”

Mars to lose its largest moon, Phobos, but gain a ring

Berkeley CA (SPX)

Nov 25, 2015

Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, is slowly falling toward the planet, but rather than smash into the surface, it likely will be shredded and the pieces strewn about the planet in a ring like the rings encircling Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Though inevitable, the demise of Phobos is not imminent. It will probably happen in 20 to 40 million years, leaving a ring that will persist for anywhere from one million to 100 million years, according to two young earth scientists at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a paper appearing online this week in Nature Geoscience, UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Black and graduate student Tushar Mittal estimate the cohesiveness of Phobos and conclude that it is insufficient to resist the tidal forces that will pull it apart when it gets closer to Mars.

Just as earth’s moon pulls on our planet in different directions, raising tides in the oceans, for example, so too Mars tugs differently on different parts of Phobos. As Phobos gets closer to the planet, the tugs are enough to actually pull the moon apart, the scientists say. This is because Phobos is highly fractured, with lots of pores and rubble. Dismembering it is analogous to pulling apart a granola bar, Black said, scattering crumbs and chunks everywhere.

The resulting rubble from Phobos – rocks of various sizes and a lot of dust – would continue to orbit Mars and quickly distribute themselves around the planet in a ring.

While the largest chunks would eventually spiral into the planet and collide at a grazing angle to produce egg-shaped craters, the majority of the debris would circle the planet for millions of years until these pieces, too, drop onto the planet in ‘moon’ showers, like meteor showers. Only Mars’ other moon, Deimos, would remain.

Different moons, different fates

Black and Mittal, both in UC Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, were drawn to the question of what might happen to Phobos because its fate is expected to be so different from that of most other moons in our solar system.

“While our moon is moving away from earth at a few centimeters per year, Phobos is moving toward Mars at a few centimeters per year, so it is almost inevitable that it will either crash into Mars or break apart,” Black said.

“One of our motivations for studying Phobos was as a test case to develop ideas of what processes a moon might undergo as it moves inward toward a planet.”

Only one other moon in the solar system, Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, is known to be moving closer to its planet.

Studying such moons is relevant to conditions in our early solar system, Mittal said, when it’s likely there were many more moons around the planets that have since disintegrated into rings – the suspected origins of the rings of the outer planets.

Some studies estimate that during planet formation, 20-30 percent of planets acquire moons moving inward and destined for destruction, though they would have long since disappeared. Some of Mars’ several thousand elliptical craters may even have been formed by remnants of such moonlets crashing to the surface at a grazing angle.

When tidal stresses overcome rock strength

To estimate the strength of Phobos, Black and Mittal looked data from similarly fractured rocks on Earth and from meteorites that struck Earth and have a density and composition similar to Phobos.

They also constrained the strength of Phobos based on results from simulations of the 10-kilometer diameter Stickney impact crater, which formed in the past when a rock rammed into Phobos without quite smashing the moon apart. That crater spans about one-sixth the circumference of Phobos and looks as if someone took a scoop out of the moon.

Once they determined when and how they expected tidal forces to tear Phobos apart, Mittal modeled the evolution of the ring, adapting techniques developed to understand Saturn’s rings.

“If the moon broke apart at 1.2 Mars radii, about 680 kilometers above the surface, it would form a really narrow ring comparable in density to that of one of Saturn’s most massive rings,” Mittal said.

“Over time it would spread out and get wider, reaching the top of the Martian atmosphere in a few million years, when it would start losing material because stuff would keep raining down on Mars.”

If the moon breaks up farther from Mars, the ring could persist for 100 million years before raining down on Mars, they found.

Mittal said it’s not clear whether the dust and debris rings would be visible from earth, since dust does not reflect much sunlight, whereas ice in the rings of the outer planets makes them easily visible. But Mars’ ring may reflect enough light to make Mars slightly brighter as seen from Earth, he said, and through a telescope the shadows of the rings might also be visible on the surface.

“Standing on the surface of Mars a few tens of millions of years from now, it would be pretty spectacular to watch,” Black said.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mars_to_lose_its_largest_moon_Phobos_but_gain_a_ring_999.html.

Putin orders sanctions against Turkey after downing of jet

November 29, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called for sanctions against Turkey, following the downing this week by Turkey of a Russian warplane.

The decree published on the Kremlin’s website Saturday came hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had voiced regret over the incident, saying his country was “truly saddened” by the event and wished it hadn’t occurred.

It includes a ban on some goods and forbids extensions of labor contracts for Turks working in Russia as of Jan. 1. It doesn’t specify what goods are to be banned or give other details, but it also calls for ending chartered flights from Russia to Turkey and for Russian tourism companies to stop selling vacation packages that would include a stay in Turkey.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier in the week had ordered his cabinet to develop a list of goods to be sanctioned. Putin’s decree also calls for ending visa-free travel between Russia and Turkey and orders the tightening of control over Turkish air carriers in Russia “for security reasons.” The decree was issued “to protect Russian citizens from crimes,” a Kremlin statement said.

Erdogan’s expression of regret Saturday was the first since Tuesday’s incident in which Turkish F-16 jets shot down the Russian jet on grounds that it had violated Turkey’s airspace despite repeated warnings to change course. It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane and drew a harsh response from Moscow.

“We are truly saddened by this incident,” Erdogan said. “We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.” Addressing supporters in the western city of Balikesir, Erdogan said neither country should allow the incident to escalate and take a destructive form that would lead to “saddening consequences.”

He renewed a call for a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a climate conference in Paris next week, saying it would be an opportunity to overcome tensions. Erdogan’s friendly overture however, came after he again vigorously defended Turkey’s action and criticized Russia for its operations in Syria.

“If we allow our sovereign rights to be violated … then the territory would no longer be our territory,” Erdogan said. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said he hoped a meeting between Erdogan and Putin would take place in Paris.

“In such situations it is important to keep the channels of communication open,” he said. Putin has denounced the Turkish action as a “treacherous stab in the back,” and has insisted that the plane was downed over Syrian territory in violation of international law. He has also refused to take telephone calls from Erdogan. Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday that the Kremlin had received Erdogan’s request for a meeting, but wouldn’t say whether such a meeting is possible.

Asked why Putin hasn’t picked up the phone to respond to Erdogan’s two phone calls, he said that “we have seen that the Turkish side hasn’t been ready to offer an elementary apology over the plane incident.”

After the incident, Russia deployed long-range S-400 air defense missile systems to a Russian air base in Syria just 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with Turkey to help protect Russian warplanes, and the Russian military warned it would shoot down any aerial target that would pose a potential threat to its planes.

On Saturday Turkey issued a travel warning urging its nationals to delay non-urgent and unnecessary travel to Russia, saying Turkish travelers were facing “problems” in the country. It said Turks should delay travel plans until “the situation becomes clear.”

Heintz reported from Moscow.

Russia suspends visa-free travel with Turkey

November 27, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia announced Friday that it will suspend visa-free travel with Turkey amid the escalating spat over the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet at the Syrian border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Moscow will halt the existing visa-free regime starting Jan. 1, saying that Turkey has become a conduit for terrorists and has been reluctant to share information with Moscow about Russian citizens accused of involvement in terrorist activities.

Turkey’s downing of the Russian military jet Tuesday, the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane, has drawn a harsh response from Moscow. Russia has since restricted tourist travel, left Turkish trucks stranded at the border, confiscated large quantities of Turkish food imports and started preparing a raft of broader economic sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin has also ordered the deployment of the long-range S-400 air defense missile systems to a Russian air base in Syria just 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the border with Turkey to help protect Russian warplanes, and the Russian military warned it would shoot down any aerial target that would pose a potential threat to its planes. The military also moved the missile cruiser Moskva closer to the shore to help cover Russian bombers om combat missions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to apologize for the plane’s downing, which Ankara said came after it flew for 17 seconds into Turkish airspace. At the same timed, Erdogan said he has tried in vain to speak by phone to Putin to discuss the situation and expressed hope they could meet at the sidelines of a climate summit in Paris next Monday.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said Friday that the Kremlin had received Erdogan’s request for a meeting, but wouldn’t say whether such a meeting is possible. Asked why Putin hasn’t picked up the phone to respond to Erdogan’s two phone calls, he said that “we have seen that the Turkish side hasn’t been ready to offer an elementary apology over the plane incident.”

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus voiced hope that Moscow would keep military and diplomatic channels open and added that Ankara was mulling possible measures in response to Russian economic sanctions. He said that Turkey doesn’t think Russia would risk losing it as a partner.

Speaking to reporters after Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Kurtulmus said that Turkey would not have shot down the plane if it had known it was Russian and said this is what Turkish officials have told senior Russian officials. He added that if the pilots had responded to the Turkish warnings and informed them that they were Russians, the shooting wouldn’t have occurred either.

In Moscow, Russian air force chief, Col.-Gen. Viktor Bondarev, reaffirmed Friday that Turkey hadn’t issued any warnings on a previously agreed radio frequency before downing the plane. He insisted that the Russian Su-24 bomber hadn’t veered into Turkey’s airspace, and also claimed that the Turkish F-16 fighter jet flew into Syria’s airspace for 40 seconds to down the Russian plane.

The tug-of-war between the two countries has been driven by a clash of their leaders’ personal ambitions. Putin and Erdogan have been frequently compared to each other. Both are populist leaders who frequently crack down on critics and often revert to anti-Western rhetoric. They had enjoyed close relations until recently, despite differences over Syria, and regularly exchanged visits. In September, Erdogan traveled to Moscow where he and Putin attended the opening of a new mosque, and they also met separately on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit hosted by Turkey.

The summit in Antalya marked their deepening rift over Syria, when Putin showed fellow G-20 leaders aerial pictures of what he said were convoys of oil trucks carrying crude from fields controlled by the Islamic State group into Turkey.

Putin’s move came as Russia, the United State and France all have focused their air strikes on the IS oil infrastructure, seeking to undermine the group’s financial base following the terror attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt.

Erdogan angrily dismissed the Russian accusations, but Putin retorted Thursday that it was hard to believe that the Turkish leadership didn’t know about the illegal oil trade. “We have no doubt whatsoever that this oil goes to Turkey, we are seeing it from the air,” Putin said. “If Turkey’s political leadership doesn’t know anything about it, they should know now.”

Lavrov said Friday that Russia strongly backs France’s proposal to shut down the Turkish-Syrian border as a way to fight Islamic State fighters in Syria.

Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

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