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Monday, December 17, 2012

Iran warns Patriot missiles in Turkey could lead to 'world war'

The planned deployment of NATO Patriot missiles along Turkey's border with Syria could lead to a "world war" that would threaten Europe as well, Iran's military chief of staff was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Turkey asked NATO for the Patriot system, designed to intercept aircraft or missiles, in November to help bolster its border security after repeated episodes of gunfire from war-torn Syria spilling into Turkish territory.

General Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian armed forces chief, said Iran wanted its neighbor Turkey to feel secure but called for NATO not to deploy the Patriots in its easternmost member state, which also borders Iran.

"Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war," Firouzabadi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency. "They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself."

Iran has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the 21-month uprising against his rule and long a strategic adversary of Western powers who have given formal recognition to Syria's opposition coalition.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order on Friday to send two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey along with American personnel to operate them, following similar steps by Germany and the Netherlands.

Iranian officials including parliament speaker Ali Larijani have previously said that installing the Patriot missiles would deepen instability in the Middle East, and the foreign ministry spokesman said they would only worsen the conflict in Syria.

Turkey has repeatedly scrambled jets along its border with Syria and responded in kind when shells and gunfire from the Syrian conflict have hit its territory, fanning fears that the civil war could inflame the wider region.


Cyprus Needs Almost $400 Mln. to Avert Default

ATHENS, December 17 (RIA Novosti) - Cyprus needs from 200 to 300 million euros ($250-400 million) in short-term loans to avert a default, Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary Christos Patsalides said on Monday.

“We’ve discussed a loan of 7.8 billion euros [$10.3 billion] to support banks with the troika [of international lenders]. In addition, approximately 200-300 billion euros are needed to finance the present needs of the state. We agreed that these funds will be provided by semi-state companies,” Patsalides said on the state TV.

The Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CyTA) agreed to provide the state with a three-month loan of 100 million euros (over $131 million) at an interest rate of 5.5 percent, the Cyprus Mail reported.

The Ports Authority has already pledged 38 million euros ($50 million) to the state, with the offer of a further 12 million euros (almost $16 million) if needed.

Patsalides said the country’s authorities “have no plan B” and the country faces a technical default if the semi-government organizations (SGOs) refuse to allocate the money.

Cyprus has requested bailout loans from the trio of international lenders comprising the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The loans are required to repay Cyprus’s 6.1 billion euro ($7.5 billion) external debt and also recapitalize local banks.

However, a bailout agreement is expected no earlier than in late January.

The Cypriot government has said it would seek to get extra loans from Russia. Moscow has already granted Cyprus 2.5 billion euros worth of low-interest loans, but has not yet decided on whether to lend any more cash.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on December 4 that further Russian aid might be unnecessary as the island nation is close to securing bailout loans from the international lenders.

RIA Novosti

“If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, and check for your ID.”

Paragould, Arkansas Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall announced at a December 14 Town Hall meeting that beginning in 2013 the streets of their city were going to be patrolled by police officers bearing SWAT gear and AR-15s. “If you’re out walking, we’re going to stop you, ask why you’re out walking, and check for your ID.”

The move comes in response to a recent increase in violent crime. In a city with a population of only 26,113, Paragould had 86 rapes, robberies and assaults in 2010 and those numbers are expected to nearly double for 2012. Paragould currently has a City-Data crime index rating of 465.0, well above the national average of 309.3.

Property crime statistics in Paragould are even more alarming. While the national average for burglary, theft and auto theft is at 7 for every 1,000 people, the Paragould average is 20.14.

Police Chief Stovall told citizens attending the Town Hall meeting that he did not consult an attorney before making plans to institute what he considers martial law. He also announced that task force members could stop anyone they wanted to and didn’t even need to be looking for a specific suspect on the streets.

According to Stovall, any individual who does not produce identification could be charged with obstructing a governmental operation.

“I’m hoping we don’t run across [any] of that,” Stovall said. “Will there be people who buck us? There may be. But we have a right to be doing what we’re doing. We have a zero-tolerance. We are prepared to throw your hind-end in jail, OK? We’re not going to take a lot of flack.”

Stovall claims it’s not necessary to consult an attorney because the alarming rise in crime meets the requirements of “reasonable suspicion,” enabling him to legally accost citizens.

“To ask you for your ID, I have to have a reason,” he said. “Well, I’ve got statistical reasons that say I’ve got a lot of crime right now, which gives me probable cause to ask what you’re doing out. Then when I add that people are scared…then that gives us even more [reason] to ask why are you here and what are you doing in this area.”

Stovall is labeling his initiative “Stop-and-ID” similar to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy in New York City, a program that’s had disastrous results and stirred outrage among the African-Americans and Latinos who’ve become targets of racial profiling and police harassment and brutality.

Toni Miquel of MSNBC calls Bloomberg’s Stop-and-Frisk policy “racist and ineffective, leaving the city with, in essence, a policy of racial harassment.”

The NYPD is one of the few departments in the city to operate without an oversight committee. Officers are given daily quotas for stops and rewarded for meeting those quotas. If they don’t meet those quotas their jobs are in jeopardy.

Obviously, the easiest way to meet those quotas is to go into the poorer neighborhoods, populated by African-Americans and Latinos – where you’re sure to find plenty of people walking on the street. It doesn’t matter if they’ve committed a crime or not, the officer just needs to file a report. But if the target resists, so much the better. Then they can tie him up in the court system and add his legal fees to the city’s coffers.

In response to phone calls the day after the Paragould Town Hall meeting, Mayor Gaskill tried to alleviate fears by stating the he wasn’t concerned about the potential for racial profiling by the police department. Officers would only be patrolling the areas with the highest crime rates.

But Mayor Bloomberg said essentially the same thing about his Stop-and-Frisk initiative and we’ve all seen the results in the now infamous video where a young African-American man named Alvin was verbally and physically harassed by officers and called a “mutt”, simply for walking on the street.

And so far, Bloomberg’s initiative has had little to no effect whatsoever on New York City crime rates. In 2002 there were 1,892 victims of gunfire in New York City and police officers stopped-and-frisked 97,296 people. In 2011, there were still more than 1,800 victims but stops had increased to almost 686,000. In total, guns have been found in less than 0.2 percent of the more than 4 million stops since 2002.

Paragould Chief Stovall is adamant though. Citizens will be stopped and asked to produce ID and a reason for being on the street. “They may not be doing anything but walking their dog,” he said. “But they’re going to have to prove it.”

Info wars

Tourists Flee and Residents Prepare As 'Monster' Cyclone goes to Fiji

Fijian authorities scrambled to evacuate tourists and residents in low-lying areas Sunday as a monster cyclone threatened the Pacific nation with "catastrophic damage" after causing devastation in Samoa.

At least four people were killed when Cyclone Evan slammed into Samoa and the toll was expected to rise with a search launched for eight men missing on three fishing boats.

Only one survivor has been found, said the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is overseeing the search.

After crossing Samoa, Evan intensified as it ploughed through the Pacific and forecasters said destructive winds could reach nearly 300 kilometres per hour (186 miles per hour) by the time it hits Fiji early Monday.

Government officials fear it could be as devastating as Cyclone Kina, which killed 23 people and left thousands homeless in 1993.

Squally thunderstorms were expected to flood low-lying areas while coastal villages were at risk of sea flooding, authorities said.

The international airport at Nadi was packed as 850 tourists were removed from luxury resorts on outlying islands,

"The safety of the tourists was paramount," said Fiji Tourism and Hotel Association managing director Dixon Seeto, but with most flights booked the holidaymakers had little chance of getting out before the storm.

Fiji's main airline Air Pacific either cancelled or rescheduled its Monday flights while other airlines said they were closely monitoring the situation..

Philip Duncan, head analyst with the WeatherWatch.co.nz meteorological service, said Fiji faced the prospect of flash flooding and mudslides.

"Gusts may end up climbing to 280 kilometres per hour or greater around the centre of Evan," Duncan said.

"Some small, low-lying communities and resorts may suffer catastrophic damage and some small islands may be entirely submerged as the storm and storm surge roll by."

More than 200 evacuation centres have been opened and Information Ministry permanent secretary Sharon Smith-Johns said people at risk should move.

"People living in low-lying areas should consider moving to higher ground or evacuation centres," she said.

Fiji's military leader Voreqe Bainimarama has warned the storm is an "impending disaster" and offers of international aid have already been received.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Canberra was offering financial assistance as well as expert personnel and supplies.

The cyclone is expected to hit the northern part of Fiji early Monday with strong winds and heavy rain striking several hours earlier, said Nadi Weather Office duty forecaster Amit Singh.

"The cyclone is not going to slow down. It is intensifying," he said.

Meanwhile, it could be some days before the full extent of the damage in Samoa is known because of the difficulty reaching outlying islands.

About 4,500 people remain in emergency shelters after Evan destroyed houses and damaged electricity and fresh water supplies, Samoan officials said.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele also warned of possible food shortages next year because crops were destroyed.

The New Zealand Air Force and Tahiti search and rescue authorities were scouring the ocean for the fishing boats missing in rough seas.

New Zealand search coordinator Tracy Brickles said the 30-year-old skipper of one boat survived and made his way ashore after his vessel tipped over on Friday but there was no information about his crew.

A vessel fitting the description of another boat has been seen washed up on an island but there was no sign of survivors.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/tourists-flee-residents-prepare-as-monster-cyclone-bears-down-on-fiji-2012-12#ixzz2FKFOHOsg

"I Think If We're Going To Control Guns, We Really Have To Do It Massive"

You see action...reaction
Now they have the excuse they need for gun control.

DAVID BROOKS, PBS NEWSHOUR (5:55 in video): I would -- just purely in the political -- the politics of it, a few points. First, gun ownership is way down. It's -- we are at a historic low.

Second, oddly -- and I'm not sure why -- I don't have any explanation for this -- support for gun control laws has dropped significantly over the last 20 years. I'm not sure why that is.

The third point is that these kind of shootings historically have had no effect on public opinion in the gun debate. And then I guess my final point would be, I think if we're going to control guns, we really have to do it massive.

I think I'm all for getting rid of the assault weapons and machine guns and all that tough, but if we want to prevent something like this, we have to really think seriously about drastically reducing the number of guns in our society, and particularly -- this is an old Patrick Daniel Moynihan idea -- the number of bullets. It is very hard to control 300 million guns. The bullets are a little easier to control.

Real Clear Politics

Russian Volcano

US pulls war fleet from Syrian water and Ahmadinejad cancels Turkey visit

Shortly before the deployment of two American Patriot missiles manned by 400 US servicemen for defending Turkey against Syria was announced Thursday, Dec. 13, Washington quietly recalled from Syrian waters the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready group and the 2,000 Marines on their decks.

This US fleet, now on its way to home base, stayed opposite the Syrian coast from the third week of November ready to take part in direct US intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Now that the American warships are gone, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet task force, which docked at the Syrian port of Tartus on Dec. 5, is the only war fleet remaining around the Syrian coast. According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, the Russian ships came to deliver a large consignment of arms for Bashar Assad’s army, although Russian sources claimed the vessels put into port for minor repairs and refueling.

US naval, air and marine forces pulled back from the eastern Mediterranean, to be replaced American-manned Patriot missile interceptors just as Syria became engulfed in another peak wave of violence. This deeply perturbs Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel. They all fear Assad’s Scud missiles fitted with chemical warheads are pointed at them, no less than rebel forces, and he will have no qualms about shooting or dropping them against any of those neighbors if he becomes desperate. Their intelligence agencies believe the Syrian ruler is just as likely to direct chemical weapons against US military facilities on their soil.
Although the five governments are not openly criticizing the Obama administration, a senior Turkish officer in Ankara said to DEBKAfile’s sources that America’s action in removing its naval forces from the eastern Mediterranean is “hard to understand and unacceptable to Ankara.”

This is especially so, he said, in view of the discovery, reported by US official sources Friday, that the Syrian ruler has a larger chemical arsenal than previously believed – several dozen bombs and shells loaded with the lethal chemical sarin.

To appease the Turks, our sources report that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta paid a short visit Friday, Dec. 14, to the big air base in southern Turkey where US strike aircraft are stationed alongside Turkish warplanes.
Panetta also conferred with Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel and senior US commanders, including NATO chief, Adm. James Stavridis.
The admiral said after the meeting: “Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome.”

In the view of DEBKAfile’s military sources, President Barack Obama decided to pull the formidable warship fleet away from the neighborhood of Syria in an effort to defuse the military tensions rising between Iran, Turkey and Syria.

He also hoped that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s scheduled visit to Turkey Monday, Dec. 17, for talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, would be a useful opportunity to achieve some sort of understanding with Iran over the Syrian crisis.
However, Tehran had other ideas. Saturday, Iran’s chief of staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, raised regional temperatures when he referred to the NATO Patriot missiles posted along Turkey’s border with Syria as “meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself," he said.

Sunday, Ahmadinejad slammed the door on any hoped-for understanding with Ankara by his last-minute cancellation of his trip to Turkey in view of the peril of war – further escalating the stresses radiating from Syria’s 21-month uprising.


'First we take Damascus, then Tel Aviv'

The leader of the radical Salafist movement in Jordan, whose organization actively supports the Syrian rebels' efforts to topple President Bashar Assad's regime warned Sunday that once the Damascus opposition achieves its primary goal, it will set its sights on Israel.

The group's leader, Abed Shihadeh, who is also known as Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi, spoke at the funeral of a Jihadist who committed a suicide attack in Amman last week.

"We tell Benjamin Netanyahu, the (Israeli) prime minister, get ready. The army of the Prophet Mohammad is coming your way."

Shihadeh added: "Those carrying explosives in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will find you, Allah willing," he added. "The next fight is between us and you."

The jihadist leader further pledged to "Take over Damascus and then head to Tel Aviv… As far as we are concerned, Palestine stretches from river to sea, from Rafah to a-Nakura. We will not rest until Palestine is liberated."

Commenting on the United States' decision to add the al Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra to its terror watch list, Shihadeh said that "Allah blesses the heroes of Jabhat al-Nusra.

"America is the mother of all terror in the world," he added, further blaming the US for "standing by Assad and the Jews."


Go to TheyLetYouDown.com to find out how British MEPs vote

Iran will not allow West to overthrow Assad

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran will never allow any Western plots to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to succeed.

Salehi on Sunday stressed that Iran would not allow Western projects to forcibly overthrow Assad -- whether by indirect meddling in the form of arming militants or direct meddling -- to succeed.

He added that the behavior of Western powers and certain regional countries towards Syria is in blatant violation of accepted human regulations and divine laws.

Salehi said such hostile behavior cannot be justified under any circumstances and “such behaviors must be immediately stopped which is exactly what we have proposed in the form of a six-point plan for Syria to the UN, [the UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi, and several regional countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”
The Iranian foreign minister said pressures exerted on an independent country like Syria to change its policies with regards to colonialism and occupation were against international law.

“Efforts are underway to overthrow the ruling system in Syria without regards for the vote of the Syrian nation and this is while only Syrians have the right to choose their political system and leader,” Salehi said.

The top Iranian diplomat emphasized that despite increasing foreign efforts for regime change in Syria, Iran would do everything in its power to prevent this from happening.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of security forces, have been killed in the violence.

The Syrian government says certain Western states especially the United States and its regional allies are fueling the unrest.

Press TV

Syria war fuels Christian flight from Middle East

The Lebanese city of Zahle sits high in the Bekaa valley, on the ancient highway that connects Damascus to Beirut and the world beyond.

To reach it from the coast by road in December you climb sharply through a series of hairpin bends - every few minutes you catch a glimpse of the steep highland scenery as a gap appears in the raw, foggy air.

Zahle - a Christian city - has known dark times.

It became a dangerous frontline as the armed forces of Syria intervened in Lebanon's long, complex and bitter civil war in the 1980s.

In a very similar conflict in the 1860s it was torched by besieging Druze and Turkish fighters after its Christian defenders were defeated. Civilians were massacred in the bloody aftermath.

Return and rebuild
These days, Zahle is a place of safety.

Christian families fleeing the violence and chaos of Syria's civil war just a few kilometres further down that ancient highway are arriving in the city where Christian aid agencies care for them.

The question is - will be they be able to return to their homes once the fighting dies down or will they become the latest chapter in the long story of the how the Christian population of the Middle East is continuing to decline?

For now, the refugees I met in Lebanon were optimistic; the talk is of returning and rebuilding.

Egypt has a sizeable Christian minority

But the omens are not good.

At moments of crisis in the Middle East, Christians have tended to pack and leave to build safer and more peaceful lives for themselves elsewhere - think of Palestine in 1948 or Iraq in our own turbulent times.

The statistics are striking. A hundred years ago it's thought that around a fifth of the population of the Middle East was Christian, although it's hard to be certain. These days the figure is probably closer to 5%.

Christians are no longer a majority in Lebanon, which was once a political and cultural stronghold - and they're even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Christ.

Christian flight
In an age where we tend rather arrogantly to see Christianity as a phenomenon of the developed world - the faith that colonising Europeans took to the territories they conquered - it's worth remembering that the Middle East is the cradle of that faith.

St Paul was travelling to Damascus when he was blinded in a moment of conversion, after all. The street where he stayed as he recovered is still there now.

If current trends continue, then soon Christian influence in the Middle East may dwindle to nothing.

At the moment Egypt is something of a stronghold - about 10% of the population are Copts - descendants of the ancient pre-Muslim inhabitants of the country. But modern Egypt is overwhelmingly Muslim, and many Christians are worried that under an Islamist government, the country will become for them an increasingly cold house.

The new Coptic Pope Tawadros told us that the battle over the nature of the country's new constitution would play an important role in determining how comfortable the new Egypt would be for its original inhabitants.

"We hope that in future there's equality for all Egyptians," he said. "But in the past Christians have not shared completely in social and political life. The constitution has to be under the umbrella of citizenship, not the umbrella of religion."

The fate of the Copts under Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak was interesting.

They weren't persecuted but they lived under heavy restrictions which made it clear the country belonged more to the Muslim majority than it did to them. Building a new church or even repairing an old one required absurdly high levels of official approval (up to the president). Building or repairing a mosque was infinitely easier.

And one of the reasons why the flight of Christians from Middle East in general is a difficult story to tell is that it is in general not a story of persecution but of subtler demographic factors.

There has been anti-Christian violence - most notably in Iraq in recent years.

But the Christian population is falling in statistical terms partly because it has a much lower birth-rate than the Muslim population around it.

And it has a high propensity to emigrate.

Not all Middle Eastern Christians are affluent or well-educated - some of those who fled the violence in Iraq were poor and under-privileged.

But many are well educated, with good language skills learned at religious schools and strong international support networks - many Christian churches are international. So in hard times, it's simply easier for them to leave.

Even in Lebanon, which once had a Christian majority, numbers have dwindled.

In Beirut I met Fadi Halisso, a Roman Catholic former engineer from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo who's now studying for the Jesuit priesthood in the Lebanese capital.
Some Christians support the government of Bashar al-Assad (pictured)

He said Christians tended to want to live peacefully in a turbulent region and were quick to leave as soon as that peace was threatened.

He quoted for me the example of an Armenian Orthodox community in his own home city who had left as soon as the shadow of violence threatened. It's not clear when, if ever, they will return.

"We can't say that Christians are targeted," he told me. " In Iraq they were caught in the middle of war and I don't think they were targeted more than other groups. In general Christians are not numerous, they don't carry weapons and they prefer to retreat."

When I asked Fadi whether Muslim hostility towards Christians, or the rise of political Islam were factors in the declining Christian population, he told me that individual incidents like attacks on churches in Alexandria or Baghdad could have a disproportionate effect.

"We cannot say that Muslims are hostile towards Christians," he told me. "There are some, but of course when you have a few people making troubles, they can affect the whole region. After those church attacks, the Christians of the region felt threatened even though it was in another country or far away. It's an overall impression that we are not welcome anymore even if we have good relationships with our neighbours."

Fear of persecution
Fadi told me he thought it was inevitable that the Christian population of the Middle East would continue to decline because of its own demographic characteristics.

Which leaves the question of what will happen to the Christians who have fled the fighting in Syria so far.

Some of the refugees we met in Lebanon were supporters of the Assad regime - believing in the official line that it has protected religious minorities - and others had worked actively in the opposition movement to bring it down.

Those young activists are optimistic, believing that a new, tolerant Syria can eventually be built on the ruins of civil war, in which Christians and Muslims will be able to live side by side.

The Christian refugees who believe in Assad seem to feel they'll only be able to go back if he somehow eventually prevails over the rebellion, however unlikely that now seems. If he loses, they believe an Islamist state will be created in which minorities will be persecuted and forced out.

An image stays with me of one father living with 25 members of his family in an apartment in Zahle in the Bekaa Valley - their home in Homs was destroyed in the fighting in Syria.

His two-year-old son has sad, wise eyes and soft, long hair.

By local tradition his hair won't be cut until he's baptised and his parents won't have him baptised until they can have it done back home in Syria.

As we sat and chatted, the father absent-mindedly stroked his son's head. You couldn't help but wonder how much more waiting they face before that baptism can eventually take place.