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  1. Tim Cook publicly attacks the US government for asking Apple to take an ‘unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers’ Stuart Dredge and Danny Yadron Wednesday 17 February 2016 09.17 GMT Apple has hit back after a US federal magistrate ordered the company to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, with chief executive Tim Cook describing the demand as “chilling”. The court order focuses on Apple’s security feature that slows down anyone trying to use “brute force” to gain access to an iPhone by guessing its passcode. In a letter published on the company’s website, Cook responded saying Apple would oppose the order and calling for public debate. “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand,” he wrote. While Cook took pains to stress that Apple was “shocked and outraged” by the San Bernardino shooting last December – “we have no sympathy for terrorists” – he said company is determined to push back against the court order. Cook wrote that opposing the order “is not something we take lightly”. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the US government,” he added. “Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone,” he wrote. “Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation.” Cook claimed that “in the wrong hands” this software could be used to unlock “any iPhone in someone’s physical possession”, and warned that Apple would not be able to guarantee that the software would only be used by the FBI in this case. “The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” he wrote. “The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe. We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack.” FBI director James Comey has said that his agents are searching for evidence about the mass shooting on 2 December 2015 which killed 14, but have been locked out of one of the killers’ phone. The investigators are trying to determine to what extent married couple Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik were influenced by radical Islamic terrorist groups, as well as who they had been communicating with before the shootings. Investigators have been unable to access Farook’s iPhone 5C. Sheri Pym, the federal judge, has ordered Apple not to turn off its encryption but to make it easier for federal agents to randomly guess the iPhone’s passcode. Apple has built a security feature into iPhones so that a phone slows down anyone trying to “brute force” his way into a phone by guessing passcode after passcode. The built-in delay is so substantial that Apple said it would take someone 5 1/2 years to guess every possible code for a single device. The court order requires Apple to circumvent that delay. “[Apple] will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred Apple hardware,” it reads. The magistrate also wants Apple to turn off any “auto-erase” functions on the phone, if enabled. This will be done with a program Apple is ordered to write and will allow FBI agents to install it on the suspect’s phone at a federal or Apple facility, according to the order. Apple is allowed to provide a cost estimate and rebuttal if it “believes that compliance with the Order would be unreasonably burdensome”. It also allowed Apple the option of coming up with another way to achieve the same result. Some security experts believe it would be technically possible for Apple to comply with the court order because the phone in question is an older model, while it probably wouldn’t be possible on a newer iPhone due to improvements in security. In his letter, Cook claimed that the FBI’s use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify its request also could have a knock-on effect. The 225-year-old law gives courts broad authority to ensure their orders are fulfilled. “The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data,” he wrote. “The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.” Cook concludes: “We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications. “While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.” Digital-rights body the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has thrown its weight behind Apple’s stance, in a blog post written by its deputy executive director and general counsel, Kurt Opsahl. “Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security,” wrote Opsahl. “The US government wants us to trust that it won’t misuse this power. But we can all imagine the myriad ways this new authority could be abused. Even if you trust the US government, once this master key is created, governments around the world will surely demand that Apple undermine the security of their citizens as well.”
  2. Local politicians criticise actions of 100-strong group, who chanted ‘We are the people’ and ‘Go home’ at bus carrying refugees to accommodation Philip Oltermann in Berlin Friday 19 February 2016 18.12 GMT German politicians say they are ashamed after a video emerged of an angry mob harassing a bus carrying refugees as it arrived in the eastern state of Saxony. The clip, which has been circulating on social media, shows a group of protesters blocking the path of a coach carrying visibly distressed asylum seekers, while chanting “We are the people” and “Go home”. The coach carries a sign saying Reisegenuss, meaning “travel in comfort”. Saxony’s interior minister Markus Ulbig, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, said: “As much need for a discussion there may be over the refugee question: I find it deeply shameful to see how people are being treated here.” The mayor of Rechenberg-Bienenmühle, the municipality where the video was recorded, said he too felt ashamed by the incident, while claiming that the protests were not directed at the refugees themselves. “This was about politics, not the people themselves,” said Michael Funke. According to police reports, 100 anti-refugee protesters gathered on Thursday evening at about 7.20pm outside the asylum seekers’ accommodation in the village of Clausnitz, 19 miles south of Dresden. Vehicles were used to block access to the building. One of the protesters threatened the group inside the bus with a cut-throat gesture, a witness told Freie Presse newspaper. “It’s a disgrace, this hatred people feel towards people they know nothing about,” an anonymous witness said. Saxony police spokesman Rafael Scholz said police are investigating verbal threats of violence but that there were no arrests. The coach passengers visible in the video, which include women, a boy and an elderly man, were eventually able to move into their accommodation at about 10pm. Another video of the scene shows police manhandling one of the children inside the bus to drag him from the coach into the building. The group are the first asylum seekers to be allocated to Clausnitz, a town of about 800 residents. Germany has seen an increase in attacks on refugee camps last year. A total of 924 criminal acts directed at asylum seekers’ centres were recorded by the federal crime office in 2015, up from 199 in 2014.
  3. European parliament president sounds optimistic note François Hollande ‘more work’ to do on financial regulation Sticking points centre on emergency brake and treaty changes Angela Merkel says migration crisis is ‘priority’ as Turkey summit agreed Briefing: what you need to know about overnight Brussels talks Claire Phipps , Matthew Weaver and Ben Quinn Friday 19 February 2016 17.13 GMT Live feed
  4. Some see Bernie Sanders’ relative unpopularity as ‘purely recognition’ but he will have to overcome the Bill effect to win in South Carolina and beyond Lauren Gambino in New York and Adam Gabbatt in Sumter, South Carolina Wednesday 17 February 2016 12.59 GMT On Sunday, Hillar-y Clinton and Bernie Sanders sat in front row pews opposite each other for Sunday service at Victory Missionary Baptist church in Las Vegas. Last week, Sanders met the Rev Al Sharpton in New York. On Tuesday, Clinton arrived in New York to meet Sharpton and a group of prominent civil rights leaders, many of whom Sanders will meet later this week. And for much of the day, the candidates held duelling events. While Clinton delivered a major speech on race in Harlem, Sanders headed to Georgia where he will continue his tour of historically black colleges and universities. In the final days before a run of crucial contests, the Democratic hopefuls are crisscrossing the country – and each other – in a race to court black voters who may play a decisive role in the increasingly competitive battle for the party’s nomination. “We aren’t a single-issue country,” Clinton said, repeating a criticism she’s levelled at her opponent for his relentless focus on Wall Street greed and income inequality. “We face a complex set of economic, social and political challenges. They are intersectional, they are reinforcing, and we have got to take them all on. So it’s not enough for your economic plan to be: break up the banks.” In her speech, Clinton also implied that she, unlike her opponent, had forged lasting relationships with the African American community – a point several of the black leaders and politicians supporting her, including congressman John Lewis, who is campaigning for Clinton, and former NAACP president Hazel Dukes have hammered. “You can’t just show up at election time and say the right things and think that’s enough. We can’t start building relationships a few weeks before a vote,” she said to applause. Several states south, Sanders was working on building those relationships. He held multiple events in South Carolina, beginning his day with a prayer breakfast at Allen University, a small historically black college in Columbia. He spoke next at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he was introduced by Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer placed him a chokehold. “I’m tired of seeing videos, videos of Erica’s dad and other videos of unarmed people being killed by police officers,” Sanders said. “What is going on now, especially with regard to African Americans – this is not new … Clearly as a nation we need criminal justice reform.” Speaking before a largely white crowd in Columbia, Sanders railed against the “welfare queen” – Walmart – and pledged to overhaul the criminal justice system by holding law enforcement officers who break the law accountable and police departments more reflective of the communities they serve. “Count me in as somebody who if elected president will help lead the country in the fight against institutional racism and a broken criminal justice system,” he said. Kendall Bellard, a 22-year-old biology student, was among the crowd of people who waited in line to see Sanders speak at the University of South Carolina in Columbia on Tuesday. “He believes healthcare is a right for all people,” Bellard said. “That’s my main issue I’m concentrating on. Most Americans are either underinsured or not insured at all.” Bellard, who plans to vote for Sanders, said Clinton’s enduring support among black voters is due largely to her husband’s legacy. “She is definitely getting the minority of our parents because of Bill,” Bellard said of former president, Bill Clinton. “A lot of older African Americans say he was actually the first African American president.” “I think a lot will be hoping Hillar-y will be like Bill. So they’ve not really given Bernie Sanders a chance even though he’s talking about the issues important to us.” Though Sanders has kept pace with Clinton so far – forcing her to a near-draw in Iowa and trouncing her in New Hampshire – he must make inroads with communities of color to remain competitive as the race moves toward more diverse states. In recent weeks, Sanders has moved to strengthen his support among black voters, whose support Clinton is counting on to power her to victory in southern states. A CNN survey published on Tuesday found that Clinton holds a commanding lead over Sanders in South Carolina ahead of the state’s 27 February primary. Clinton led Sanders by 18 percentage points, the poll found. It also highlighted Clinton’s deep support among black voters, who favored her by a margin of 60% to 33%. But in a sign that the dynamics could still shift, roughly a third of likely black voters said they had not yet committed to a candidate, compared with six in 10 whites who said they had. Sanders’ message of income inequality and political revolution appears to be gaining some traction among black voters in South Carolina. About 40 miles east of Charleston in the city of Sumter, whose population is 49% African American, Vincent Spann echoed the notion of the Bill effect. “If you go into black households in the south you’ll see a picture on the wall,” said Spann, 38, the owner of Ice clothing store. “You’ll see three people in the picture. One, John F Kennedy. The other is Martin Luther King. The third is Malcolm X.” Spann said that African Americans of a certain age “will always have an affinity towards the Kennedys”, and that Bill Clinton was the first candidate in modern times to tap into that legacy. “They fought for causes that people of African American race definitely think were important,” Spann said. “In the next generation Clinton represented the white guy who cared about the black problem.” As for Sanders, Spann said the Vermont senator’s relative unpopularity among African Americans was “purely recognition”. “They don’t even know the politics of Bernie Sanders,” he said. A few doors down is the Bell Package store, which sells predominantly liquor. The owner, Leon, asked to use his first name only. He planned to vote for Sanders. “I like Bernie Sanders. He tells you how the inside works and how the big boys on top get there and stay there.” Leon, 60, was baffled by Bill Clinton’s enduring popularity. “You got a man from Arkansas, he ran for president, been up there eight years,” he said. “And I can’t name two things he did for African Americans. But people bought into it.” As for Hillar-y, Leon said: “I don’t know how she got to be popular among African Americans.” “I can’t name one thing she did for the African American race. She was New York senator and she never did anything for the African American people there.”
  5. The working girls at a Nevada brothel launched a campaign to elect the first female president. ‘We’re helping Hillar-y and we’re helping ourselves. Women should help other women, right?’ Maria L La Ganga in Mound House, Nevada Monday 15 February 2016 06.00 GMT Just days after Hillar-y Clinton launched her 2016 presidential campaign via online video – Everyday Americans want a champion, and I want to be that champion – some not-so-everyday Americans kicked off their own campaign in similar style. Hookers for Hillar-y was the brainchild of brothel owner Dennis Hof and the working girls at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, and it marked a hard left turn after Pimpin’ for Paul, the group’s 2008 and 2012 efforts to propel libertarian Ron Paul into the White House. It is hard to argue with the attention-getting power of sex workers in stilettos, plunging red-white-and-blue necklines, noms d’amour such as Entice Love, Air Force Amy and Caressa Kisses. But behind Hof’s publicity stunt turned political action is a sobering reality. The women who ply their trade in Hof’s legal brothels know first hand the deep scars that crisscross the American landscape. Until recently, many were uninsured. Others say prostitution allowed them to escape the paycheck-to-paycheck life of the working poor. Some are survivors of violence, incest, addiction. “I’m for Hillar-y because she’s cracking down on domestic violence,” said Entice Love, a 26-year-old mother of two from Sacramento. “I’ve been in a relationship for a long time where I’d been thrown down stairs, black eyes, fractured ribs … When I’m looking at who I want to pick for the presidency, I look at what are they doing that I can relate to that will be of benefit for me. That’s why I was for Obama, now I’m for Hillar-y.” Hof, who owns the Bunny Ranch and six other legal brothels in Nevada, is blunt about the kinds of things that help an age-old business under pressure from high-tech rivals: Pimpin’ for Paul. Hookers for Hillar-y. A memoir from the self-proclaimed PT Barnum of Booty called The Art of the Pimp: A Love Story. And the exploits of Lamar Odom, the NBA star found unconscious in October at a Hof hotspot in southern Nevada. “It was terrible for him,” the stocky star of the HBO reality show Cathouse said, “but it put me on media worldwide. It happened nine-and-a-half months into the year, but it was still the No 1 Google-searched item of the year. Even more than Caitlyn Jenner.” Politics, Hof says, have been just as beneficial for the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. Hollywood, 31, agrees. She has spent the past two years commuting between her Sacramento home and this rural brothel spread across 46 sagebrush-filled acres just outside Carson City. Hookers for Hillar-y is “a great way to get, not only the Bunny Ranch’s name out there, but to get more support for Hillar-y … Hopefully maybe people who were not really [political] followers before kind of looked into it and went, ‘Wow, this is big! What’s going on?’ “And perhaps,” said the chatty registered Democrat in skin-tight lavender, “they researched Hillar-y a little more, and perhaps they researched us as well. So it was kind of beneficial on both sides.” On a Wednesday before the Nevada caucuses, the Bunny Ranch was quiet in the bright morning light. A stretch limousine gathered dust in the parking lot. The compound’s main building looked like something out of an antebellum trailer park, flesh-tone clapboard siding, pink and white trim, white wrought-iron fencing and faux second-story balcony. Inside, a Three Stooges episode played on the television above banquettes of plush red and black. There’s a brass pole, a full bar, cases filled with sex toys, an ATM and a computer room for the working girls who don’t have laptops. Taylor Lee, a 26-year-old from Houston, used to be a cake decorator before arriving at the brothel. It was hard work, she said, at low pay. She also waited tables, but her wages could barely keep up with the epilepsy medication that keeps her seizures at bay. “Being a server, helping out my family, and my epilepsy medication, which I had to have, was $10 a pill,” Lee said. “That’s a lot for a 20-year-old to pay. I have seizures in my sleep. If I don’t take my medicine for one night, I will begin a seizure. And that’s a lot of recovery time. I sleep for a day or two afterwards and feel bad.” Lee is sitting on a zebra-striped bench in one of the ranch’s six VIP rooms. She is slender and tan, with stick-straight blond hair and a cobalt blue dress that struggles to contain her. She has been at the ranch for six months and registered to vote when she got her medical marijuana card. Politics, she says, is her favorite subject. She is a deep believer in Obamacare and its ability to change lives by allowing people with pre-existing conditions to be covered by health insurance. She plans to vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana when it’s on the ballot this November. Lee said she feels a little pushed to support Clinton – but not so much that she will change the way she plans to caucus later this month. “I do think the Hookers for Hillar-y campaign is huge here,” Lee said. “I was told today that this interview was going to be about my support for Hillar-y, which is amazing. I think she would be an excellent candidate … But I will be caucusing for Bernie Sanders.” Entice Love, who is more enthusiastic about Clinton than Lee is, is equally interested in the political process. She remembers sitting with her family in the living room in 2009 and watching Beyoncé serenade Barack and Michelle Obama at the inaugural ball with the Etta James standard At Last. And she knows income inequality – a major campaign issue for Sanders and Obama – first hand. “Before coming to the Bunny Ranch I’ve always had a regular job but my job was never enough to make complete ends meet for me and my children,” said the former retail worker. “So I have always been on welfare, public assistance, and I had Medical. I’m no longer on Medical. I have Kaiser. I have private Kaiser that I just pay.” Tall, willowy and scantily clad, Love counts off the months on her fingers: September, October, November, December, January, February, the time she has worked as a prostitute. To anyone who would tell her that her career is degrading, she’ll tell them what she found really degrading – having a man in her pre-Bunny Ranch life offer to buy her a $200 dinner when what she really wanted was a $200 trip to the grocery store so she could feed her kids. Today, she says, she can buy gifts for her family. She can pay for health insurance. And she can support her candidate of choice. “Dennis talks about it, ‘We’re doing the voting for Hillar-y.’ But I already had it in my mind that I’m going to vote for her, so I’m all for it,” Love said. “We’re helping Hillar-y and we’re helping ourselves. Women should help other women, right?”
  6. Vocalist-guitarist Jesse Hughes, a long-time advocate for access to gun ownership, says he is more convinced than ever after Bataclan attack Elle Hunt Tuesday 16 February 2016 04.45 GMT The frontman of the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was performing at the Bataclan theatre in Paris when 90 people were murdered by terrorists last year, has remembered his terror at encountering a gunman backstage – and argued for universal access to guns. The Californian rock band was performing in front of a crowd of around 1,500 on the night of 13 November when three terrorists armed with assault rifles entered the room and began shooting and throwing hand grenades. It was part of a series of terrorist attacks in Paris that night, that Islamic State later claimed responsibility for. Vocalist-guitarist Jesse Hughes, who is a long-time advocate for access to gun ownership, told the French television station iTélé in a 19-minute, at times tearful interview on Monday that restrictions on guns in France had helped to enable the terrorists. Asked if his views on gun control had changed after the terror attacks, he said gun control “doesn’t have anything to do with it”. “Did your French gun control stop a single ******* person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms. “I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal,” he said. “And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them. “Because I’ve never seen anyone that’s ever had one dead, and I want everyone to have access to them, and I saw people die that maybe could have lived, I don’t know.” The Eagles of Death Metal will perform at Paris’ Olympia concert hall on Tuesday night, with soldiers and armed police standing guards and psychologists on hand to support traumatised fans. Survivors of the Bataclan massacre were given free invitations. The Bataclan has not yet reopened, but its owners are hopeful it will host events “before the end of 2016”. Hughes told iTélé that he felt he had “a sacred responsibility to finish this show”. In an interview with Sweden’s TV4 on Sunday, Hughes remembered hearing gunfire coincide with “the very last note of the song – almost a diabolical synchronicity”. “I knew exactly what was going on. I think I might have been the only person in the theatre who knew instantly.” He went backstage to look for his partner Tuesday Cross, and saw a terrorist at the end of the hallway, holding a gun. “He didn’t see me. The door shut behind me and I was trying to back up, very sneaky – but he noticed me. And I thought I was dead. “I waited for the shot to hit me. When he went to pull his rifle down, the barrel of his gun hit the doorframe, thank god. And when it hit the doorframe ... I opened the door, and he started firing and his rounds shut the door behind me.” Almost overcome by emotion, Hughes remembered the “beautiful” scenes he saw as people took care of one another in the Bataclan theatre. “I know this sounds terrible, but ... I didn’t see anyone do anything cowardly. I just saw people doing some of the most beautiful things that a person could do, and for lack of a better word to describe it, my friends died very beautifully. “They died very well, with great courage.” The Eagles of Death Metal are currently on tour, and will perform in Melbourne, Byron Bay, Sydney and Fremantle in March before heading to Europe via Canada.
  7. Turkey is enraged as one of the war’s least visible players takes on an ever more important role in the conflict Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent Monday 15 February 2016 18.41 GMT Amid the chaos in northern Syria in recent months, several themes have emerged. The first is that Islamic State has been spared from intensified Russian airstrikes and advances by pro-regime forces. The second, and potentially more important development, is that one of the war’s least visible players – the Kurds – have done more than anyone else to carve out a new reality. As Lebanese Hezbollah, militias from Iraq, and Syrian troops – all led by Iran – have inched their way around the top of Aleppo, the Kurdish YPG, supported by Russian air cover, has been making strident moves towards areas they have avoided throughout the conflict. Over the weekend, the YPG moved towards two Syrian towns between the Turkish border and the almost besieged Aleppo, after earlier seizing an airbase that had been held by the opposition. Throughout the war, the YPG had been viewed warily by the opposition, and given a wide berth by the regime. Now, though, its moves have sharply expanded a footprint in the north, alarming rebels who have been distracted by other foes, and Turkey, which had vowed never to let the Kurds dominate its border with Syria. The Kurds are ascendant, and the Turks are enraged. Ankara sees YPG militants, who are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), as vying to own areas they have never before controlled, to establish a foothold from Irfin in Syria’s north-west to the Iraqi border, a frontier dominated for decades by Arabs. Helping the YPG do that are the same Russian jets that are steadily destroying Turkish-supported rebel groups, whose three-year push to oust Bashar al-Assad increasingly looks lost. Turkey insists that an emboldened YPG also boosts the PKK, against whose insurgency it has been fighting for more than 40 years. It rejects both groups’ insistence that they want more autonomy, not independence. Instead, Ankara views Kurdish aspirations as a graver subversive threat than Isis. Over the past six months, the number of airstrikes it has launched against the Kurds has dwarfed those it has aimed at a terror group that its allies see as the most formidable threat to global security. Further complicating things is that the US, which has largely confined its role in Syria to fighting Isis, has used the YPG as a proxy ground force to push the terror group from part of the north-west and edge towards its stronghold of Raqqa. US jets had in late 2014 defended the Kurdish city of Kobane from an extensive assault by Isis. Ever since, a relationship has firmed between both sides, much to the chagrin of Turkey, a US ally and Nato member. Of all the mini-wars being fought in the muddy mess of the north, none is more likely to transform a series of proxy conflicts into a hot war than Turkey’s stance towards Syria’s manoeuvring Kurds and the Russians expediently backing them. Moscow has shown it knows how to needle Ankara. It knows the Kurds are Turkey’s weak spot. However, the dangers of missteps in the small pocket of the Syrian border that remains out of Kurdish control are very real. The same strip is the last remaining supply line to battered rebel groups and lifeline to refugees fleeing the fighting. What becomes of Turkey’s war will be determined here. So far, it has watched on angrily as its support for the opposition is whittled away by Russian jets flying high above the echo chamber of global diplomacy that has collectively failed to stop the war. Turkish shelling of YPG positions over the past three days has signalled that worse will follow if its advances continue. Russian airstrikes on the border town of Azaz – the main gateway for refugees and Turkish supplies – also up the ante. All sides sense that the war may be entering a decisive phase – possibly a miscalculation in a conflict that now has so many feed points. The temptation to force rivals’ hands has never been greater. Nor have the risks. Over the weekend, the YPG moved towards two Syrian towns between the Turkish border and Aleppo, after earlier seizing an airbase. Photograph: Reuters
  8. MSF says eight staff missing after hit on makeshift clinic in Idlib province, while activists say 10 have died in strike in Azaz Kareem Shaheen in Beirut Monday 15 February 2016 11.47 GMT Airstrikes have hit hospitals in two locations in northern Syria – marking the latest in a series of attacks on medical facilities and workers in the five-year civil war. Médecins Sans Frontières said eight staff members were missing after a facility it supports in Maaret al-Numan, Idlib province, was hit four times in two separate raids. MSF did not blame any side for the bombing, but there has been an unrelenting aerial bombardment by Russian warplanes and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Idlib. “This appears to be a deliberate attack on a health structure, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s head of mission in Syria. “The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of about 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict.” In separate incident, Syrian opposition activists said a missile struck a children’s hospital in the rebel-held town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, killing 10 and wounding more than 30. The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said a Russian ballistic missile had hit the town. Ankara shelled Kurdish positions near Azaz over the weekend. Medical facilities hit in northern Syria (see map in link) Moscow’s intense airstrike campaign has helped Assad score his most significant advances since the beginning of the war, threatening to upend a “cessation of hostilities” deal agreed by major powers in Munich last week. The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, issued a blanket denial over the weekend that his country was targeting civilians and civilian facilities in Syria, but several attacks on health centres have been documented since Russia’s intervention. In the first month of the campaign launched last October, NGO Physicians for Human Rights documented seven Russian attacks on medical facilities in Syria. On Sunday, Riad Hijab, the head of the opposition’s high negotiations committee and a former Syrian prime minister, reiterated the opposition’s demand that airstrikes are halted and sieges around the country lifted, adding that Assad must leave for peace in Syria to take hold. “Every day, hundreds of Syrians die from airstrikes and artillery bombardment, poison gas, cluster bombs, torture, starvation, cold and drowning,” said Hijab, speaking in Munich. “The Syrian people continue to live in terror and in utter despair after the international community failed to prevent even the gravest violations committed against them. “The best approach to put an end to Daesh [isis] and other extremist groups must start with the removal of the Assad regime.” Russia resumed airstrikes on Monday in northern Latakia province near the Turkish border, bombing rebel positions to pave the way for a regime advance. The US president, Barack Obama, had urged Russia on Sunday to halt airstrikes against mainstream rebels. Turkey, which strongly backs anti-Assad rebels, is fighting an insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) on its own territory, and has viewed with growing alarm what it sees as Kurdish expansionism in Syria. Ankara says the YPG is simply the Syrian affiliate of the PKK. Turkey’s defence minister denied that Turkey had sent troops into northern Syria and said it had no intention of doing so, as speculation grows of a possible ground intervention by opponents of the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said last week that they were ready to send small numbers of ground forces into the embattled country as part of the US-led coalition against Isis. People gather around the rubble of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders near Maaret al-Numan, in Syria’s northern province of Idlib after the building was hit by suspected Russian air strikes. Photograph: Ghaith Omran/AFP/Getty Images
  9. Republican debate united in opposing potential Obama nominee Democrats warn GOP faces punishment by voters if they delay Edward Helmore in New York Sunday 14 February 2016 21.57 GMT Presidential candidates and congressional leaders wasted no time on Sunday in seeking to establish the contours of the coming battle over the replacement of the supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Saturday at the age of 79. The contest over Scalia’s replacement to some extent eclipsed tributes to the conservative justice, who served on the court for 29 years, and the fallout from an acrimonious Republican debate in South Carolina on Saturday night. The Senate judiciary committee’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was first out, to call for a rapid hearing and vote on President Obama’s as yet unnamed nominee. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, however, had already ruled out the approval of a replacement until after the presidential election. A White House spokesman said later on Sunday Obama would wait to nominate a candidate until the Senate is back in session. Scalia’s replacement stands to tip the balance of the court, which with his death is left divided between liberal and conservative justices. Republicans, seeing the danger of a new and comparatively young liberal being appointed, are seeking to stymie Obama and in the words of candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz, make the presidential election a “referendum on the court”. On the Democratic side, the policy is to appeal to voters on the grounds of President Obama’s constitutional rights and to warn of elective disaster if the party’s wishes are ignored. Leahy said that if the Republican leadership refused to hold a hearing, the GOP would be punished by voters in November. “If the Republican leadership refuses to even hold a hearing, I think that is going to guarantee they lose control of the Senate,” he said. Leahy’s forecast was in keeping with the developing Democratic party line: to appeal to US voters’ sense of political decency and force Republicans to grant Obama what they consider his constitutional right – to nominate and confirm a new justice before the end of his time in office. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said on Sunday it was “beyond comprehension” that Republicans were threatening to deny Obama this right. “The issue must be taken to the people,” he said, on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Fair-minded Americans, no matter what their political point of view, will say this is absurd, this is obstructionism and not what democracy, or Congress, is supposed to be about.” Sanders – who followed his Democratic opponent, Hillar-y Clinton, in condemning what they saw as Republican obstructionism – vowed to do everything he could to make the legislative body go through with speeding confirmation hearings. Asked what leverage Democrats would have if the Republican majority in Congress decided to “slow-walk” the process, he said such tactics would serve only to illustrate “the level of Republican obstructionism against Obama from day one”. “This is not something in debate,” he said. “The constitution provides for a president to nominate a supreme court justice and the Senate hold hearings to approve that nomination. The idea that Republicans want to deny the president his basic constitutional right is beyond my comprehension.” Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, warned that the addition of a liberal-leaning justice could lead to the undoing of recent conservative rulings, including limitations on voting rights and campaign finance reform. Cruz maintained the Senate should not even attempt to go through the process of confirming a new justice during the term of this administration. “The Senate’s duty is to advise and consent,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week, “and we’re advising the president now.” In the same vein, Senator Marco Rubio warned that legislators would not move forward to confirm any nominee President Obama puts forward. He dismissed the precedent of Ronald Reagan, who nominated and won the confirmation of Justice Ann Kennedy during his final months in office. “The president can nominate any candidate he likes, and we can debate, but the Senate will not move forward on it. Period,” Rubio said, on NBC’s Meet the Press. He argued that the nomination of a new justice, of left or right, should be part of voters’ deliberations on November. The president, he said, “should allow the next president to appoint a justice”. With opposing positions essentially laid out, the political landscape gives Obama one further option: to make a (highly controversial, and unlikely) interim appointment while the Senate is in recess. Leahy said the process had not yet arrived at that point, though he did not take it out of the equation. “I think what we ought to do is nominate somebody,” he said. Eric Schultz, the White House spokesman, later counted the option out as an immediate ploy. He said: “Given that the Senate is currently in recess, we don’t expect the president to rush this through this week. “We expect the Senate to consider that nominee, consistent with their responsibilities laid out in the United States Constitution.” Obama is traveling in California and returns to Washington on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Scalia’s body lay in a Texas funeral home on Sunday as officials awaited word about whether they would need to perform an autopsy before the late supreme court justice could return home to Virginia. In the nation’s capital, flags flew at half-staff at the White House and supreme court. The Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz said the Senate should not even consider a potential supreme court nomination by President Obama. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters
  10. Scandinavia’s first female-led mosque will also be open to men except for Friday prayers, but all imams will be female Agence France-Presse in Copenhagen Friday 12 February 2016 20.02 GMT Scandinavia’s first female-led mosque has opened in Copenhagen in a bid to challenge “patriarchal structures” and create debate and dialogue, its founder has said. Sherin Khankan, born in Denmark to a Syrian father and a Finnish mother, said that while all activities at the Mariam mosque except Friday prayers would be open to both men and women, all imams would be female. “We have normalised patriarchal structures in our religious institutions. Not just in Islam, but also within Judaism and Christianity and other religions. And we would like to challenge that,” she said. Reactions from the city’s Muslim community have mostly been positive, with negative feedback “moderate”, she said. Khankan, a well-known commentator and author in Denmark, said there was “an Islamic tradition allowing women to be imams” and that most of the criticism was based on ignorance. Similar projects by Muslim women exist in several other countries, including the US, Canada and Germany. Imam Waseem Hussein, the chairman of one of Copenhagen’s biggest mosques, questioned whether there was a need for the project. “Should we also make a mosque only for men? Then there would certainly be an outcry among the Danish population,” he told the daily Politiken. A Danish newspaper report wrongly claimed that the location of the mosque was to be kept secret due to security concerns. “We haven’t received any threats whatsoever,” Khankan said, adding that she wanted to collaborate “with everyone” within the Muslim community, and that the project was not about judging or excluding anybody. The first Friday prayer has yet to be held as another eight female imams, in addition to the two currently involved, have to be found. “It’s a big responsibility and we all work as volunteers,” she said. The longstanding political influence of the anti-immigration Danish People’s party (DPP), as well as the row over prophet Muhammad cartoons that led to deadly protests in Muslim countries, have strained relations between Denmark’s largest religious minority and the majority population. Denmark’s largest purpose-built mosque, including the country’s first minaret, opened in 2014 in a district of north-western Copenhagen after receiving a 150m kroner (£16m...$18M) endowment from Qatar. Sherin Khankan, a well-known commentator and author in Denmark, said there was “an Islamic tradition allowing women to be imams”. Photograph: Jacob Holdt
  11. Suggestion that Ankara could take part in ground assault comes as Turkish strikes hit Kurdish positions and responded to regime fire Agence-France Presse Sunday 14 February 2016 08.05 GMT The Turkish military has hit Kurdish and Syrian regime targets as Ankara considered a ground assault with Saudi troops, further complicating efforts to end the war just days after the US and Russia agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria within a week. State-run news agency Anatolia said the armed forces shelled Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) targets around the town of Azaz, and also responded to regime fire on a Turkish military guard post in Turkey’s southern Hatay region. There were no further details on the nature of the Turkish strikes, which triggered alarm in Washington, but they probably involved artillery fire from tanks. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Minnigh airbase, recently taken by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia from Islamist rebels, was hit in the Turkish shelling. Ankara considers the PYD and its YPG militia to be branches of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Saturday’s shelling came shortly after the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Ankara would, if necessary, take military action against the PYD. “We can if necessary take the same measures in Syria as we took in Iraq and Qandil,” he said in a televised speech, referring to Turkey’s bombing campaign last year against PKK targets in their Qandil mountain stronghold in northern Iraq. Also in the Aleppo region, which has taken centre stage in the conflict, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched a two-pronged attack on Tal Rifaat, one of the remaining rebel bastions north of Aleppo city, the Observatory said. It said Tal Rifaat also came under attack in at least 20 Russian air strikes on Saturday. The US State Department said it was concerned about the situation north of Aleppo, was working to “de-escalate tensions on all sides” and urged Turkey to halt its strikes. “We have urged Syrian Kurdish and other forces affiliated with the YPG not to take advantage of a confused situation by seizing new territory,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “We have also seen reports of artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border and urged Turkey to cease such fires.” With the conflict directly drawing in more international players, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, quoted in Turkish newspapers, said Riyadh and Ankara were coordinating plans to intervene in Syria, where Russia has been backing a successful regime offensive against rebels. “If there is a strategy (against the Islamic State jihadist group), then Turkey and Saudi Arabia could enter into a ground operation,” he said. Cavusoglu said Saudi Arabia is also sending planes to the Turkish base of Incirlik, a key hub for US-led coalition operations against IS already used by Britain, France and the United States for cross-border air raids. Turkish media later quoted military sources as saying between eight and 10 Saudi jets would be deployed in Incirlik within the coming weeks, with four F-16 fighters to arrive in a first wave. Asked if Saudi Arabia could send troops to the Turkish border to enter Syria, Cavusoglu said: “This is something that could be desired but there is no plan. Saudi Arabia is sending planes and they said ’If the necessary time comes for a ground operation then we could send soldiers’.” Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, meanwhile, said in a German newspaper interview: “There is discussion on whether ground troops are needed against IS. “If a decision is taken to send in special units against Isis, Saudi Arabia is ready to take part.” In an interview with AFP released on Friday, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said he “doesn’t rule out” that Turkey and Saudi Arabia would intervene militarily in Syria, but said his armed forces “will certainly confront it”. Saudi Arabia and Turkey both staunchly support rebels seeking to oust Assad, and see his overthrow as essential for ending Syria’s five-year civil war that has cost more than 260,000 lives. They fear the west is losing its appetite to overthrow him on the assumption he is “the lesser of two evils” compared with Isis. Both are outraged by Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which analysts believe has given Assad a new lease of life and has also deeply alarmed the West. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday strains with the west over the Syrian and Ukraine conflicts had plunged the world into a “new Cold War”. US secretary of state John Kerry complained that the vast majority of Russia’s attacks in Syria were against “legitimate opposition groups” rather than Isis jihadists. An ambush by rebels on pro-regime forces near Damascus this week killed 76 fighters, the Syrian Observatory said on Saturday. World powers on Friday announced an ambitious plan to stop fighting in Syria within a week. But doubts have emerged over its viability, especially because it did not include Isis or al-Qaeda’s local branch, which is fighting alongside other rebel groups in several areas.
  12. By MIKE McPHATE FEB. 12, 2016 Two female students were fatally shot at Independence High School in Glendale, Ariz., early Friday, the authorities said. The bodies of the students, both 15, were found near an administration building at the high school, the police said. They were declared dead at the scene. “It’s a tragic incident,” said Officer Tracey J. Breeden, a spokeswoman for the Glendale Police Department, who suggested that the killings did not occur at the hands of a third person. “We don’t believe there are any outstanding suspects,” she said. “These two young women were found next to each other. There was a weapon found beside them.” The relationship between the two girls was not immediately available. Lanie Walter, a senior at the school, said the shootings were heartbreaking because “everyone is so loving” there, according to The Associated Press. School and police officials sought early on to reassure the community that the shooting was isolated. “The school and neighborhood are safe,” the department said in a Twitter post. The shootings, nevertheless, shook the community in Glendale, a city of about 200,000 people just northwest of Phoenix, as worried parents scrambled to find their children and make sure they were safe. School officials asked parents to avoid the campus and to pick up their children at a nearby Walmart. “Parents will be notified by email when students are released,” the district said in a Facebook post. In a statement, Gov. Doug Ducey said, “As details of this morning’s tragic shooting continue to be released, our hearts remain with the students, educators and families of Independence High School and the entire Glendale community.”
  13. Scientist Moshe Vardi tells colleagues that change could come within 30 years, with few professions immune to effect of advanced artificial intelligence Alan Yuhas in Washington DC Saturday 13 February 2016 15.00 GMT Machines could put more than half the world’s population out of a job in the next 30 years, according to a computer scientist who said on Saturday that artificial intelligence’s threat to the economy should not be understated. Expert Moshe Vardi told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): “We are approaching a time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. “I believe that society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?” Physicist Stephen Hawking and the tech billionaires Bill Gates and Elon Musk issued a similar warning last year. Hawking warned that AI “could spell the end of the human race” and Musk said it represents “our biggest existential threat”. The fear of artificial intelligence has even reached the UN, where a group billing itself the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots met with diplomats last year. Vardi, a professor at Rice University and Guggenheim fellow, said that technology presents a more subtle threat than the masterless drones that some activists fear. He suggested AI could drive global unemployment to 50%, wiping out middle-class jobs and exacerbating inequality. Unlike the industrial revolution, Vardi said, “the AI revolution” will not be a matter of physically powerful machines that outperform human laborers, but rather a contest between human wit and mechanical intelligence and strength. In China the question has already affected thousands of jobs, as electronics manufacturers, Foxconn and Samsung among them, develop precision robots to replace human workers. In his talk, the computer scientist alluded to economist John Maynard Keynes’ rosy vision of a future in which billions worked only a few hours a week, with intelligent machines to support their easy lifestyles – a prediction embraced wholesale by Google head of engineering Ray Kurzweil, who believes “the singularity” of super-AI could bring about utopia for a future hybrid of mankind. Vardi insisted that even if machines make life easier, humanity will face an existential challenge. “I do not find this a promising future, as I do not find the prospect of leisure-only life appealing,” he said. “I believe that work is essential to human wellbeing.” Computer scientist Bart Selman told reporters at the conference that as self-driving cars, “household robots, service robots” and other intelligent systems become more common, humans will “sort of be in a symbiosis with those machines, and we’ll start to trust them and start to work with them”. Selman, a professor at Cornell University, said: “Computers are basically starting to hear and see the way humans do,” thanks to advances in big data and “deep learning”. Vardi predicted that driving will be almost fully automated in the next 25 years, and asked, for all the benefits of technology, “what can humans do when machines can do almost everything?” He said that technology has already massively changed the US economy in the last 50 years. “We were all delighted to hear that unemployment went down to 4.8%” this month, he said, “but focusing on the monthly job report hides the fact that for the last 35 years the country has been in economic crisis.” Citing research from MIT, he noted that although Americans continue to drive GDP with increasing productivity, employment peaked around 1980 and average wages for families have gone down. “It’s automation,” Vardi said. He also predicted that automation’s effect on unemployment would have huge political consequences, and lamented that leaders have largely ignored it. “We are in a presidential election year and this issue is just nowhere on the radar screen.” He said that virtually no human profession is totally immune: “Are you going to bet against ? I would not.” Last year, the consultant company McKinsey published research about which jobs are at risk thanks to intelligent machines, and found that some jobs – or at least well-paid careers like doctors and hedge fund managers – are better protected than others. Less intuitively, the researchers also concluded that some low-paying jobs, including landscapers and health aides, are also less likely to be changed than others. In contrast, they concluded that 20% of a CEO’s working time could be automated with existing technologies, and nearly 80% of a file clerk’s job could be automated. Their research dovetails with Vardi’s worst-case scenario predictions, however; they argued that as much as 45% of the work people are paid to do could be automated by existing technology. Vardi said he wanted the gathering of scientists to consider: “Does the technology we are developing ultimately benefit mankind? “Humanity is about to face perhaps its greatest challenge ever, which is finding meaning in life after the end of ‘in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’,” he said. “We need to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge.” In the US, the labor secretary, Thomas Perez, has told American seaports that they should consider robotic cranes and automatic vehicles in order to compete with docks around the world, despite the resistance of unions. In 2013, two Oxford professors predicted that as much as 47% of the US workforce, from telemarketers to legal secretaries and cooks, were vulnerable to automation. Dire forecasts such as Vardi’s are not without their critics, including Pulitzer-winning author Nicholas Carr and Stanford scientist Edward Geist. Carr has argued that human creativity and intuition in the face of complex problems is essentially irreplaceable, and an advantage over computers and their overly accurate reputation. Walking the line between the pessimists and optimists, Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, has suggested that automation will come down to politics today, telling National Geographic that if scientists and governments don’t address the issue “for lots of people who are not economically at the top, it’s going to be pretty dystopian”. Artificial intelligence could put more than half the planet’s population out of a job, a computer scientist says. Photograph: Science Picture Co./Corbis
  14. The Vermont senator has never hidden his views but his proposed policies to overhaul tuition fees and healthcare have branded him a dangerous extremist Dan Roberts and Adam Gabbatt in Manchester, New Hampshire Saturday 6 February 2016 13.33 GMT Dr Krissy Haglund does not care if she is labeled a socialist. Or an ideological purist. Or, indeed, any of the other epithets thrown at Americans who are flocking to support Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. She knows what she is: fed up. “I have patients who are deciding not to have children or are unable to buy a house because of their student loans,” says the family physician from Minneapolis, who this week drove four hours with her two children to see the senator speak in Iowa. “My loan is now $283,000,” she says. “It’s gone up $60,000 in the six years since I graduated from medical school. This is a national crisis that needs deep, immediate attention.” As the only candidate proposing to abolish tuition fees at public universities, Sanders frequently takes on the role of a reverse auctioneer, asking members of the audience at his rallies to shout out how much student debt they have. For a while, the record was $300,000. Then he met a dentist who graduated with loans of $400,000. But paying for college by taxing Wall Street speculation is not the only policy that has seen the senator from Vermont branded a dangerous extremist – by his own party. Despite the limited health insurance reforms passed by Barack Obama, 29 million Americans remain without any coverage and many more are underinsured to the point where they cannot afford to see a doctor. So Sanders does the same thing with healthcare, asking audiences to compete to reveal the size of their deductible – the fixed amount per treatment that must be paid by patients before their insurer will contribute anything. At almost every rally someone gets up to $5,000, sometimes in tears. His plan to replace this bureaucratic and expensive system by expanding the public Medicare program emulates a “single payer” insurance model used in Canada, rather than the direct state provision of Britain’s National Health Service. It aims to reduce overall costs caused by hospitals and drug companies charging the weak US consumer many times the equivalent in other countries that benefit from pooled purchasing power. Nevertheless, when inevitably someone asks if the US can afford to follow other rich countries down the road of universal healthcare and access to tertiary education, Sanders likes to remind them of the trillions of dollars of income redistribution that has already taken place in the opposite direction: a trend that has left median wages slumping, but 58% of all new income since the banking crash going to the top 1%. “Enough is enough,” audience members typically roar by the time he reaches this point in the well-worn speech. “A few years ago you could graduate high school and get a job and just work hard, put on those work boots, and you’d be able to achieve whatever you wanted,” agrees Anna Mead, 22, a student from Long Beach, New Jersey, outside a rally in New Hampshire. “Now, it’s just not the case anymore. We’ve seen vast amounts of inequality just building and building throughout the decades to the extent that the 1% has accumulated such a vast amount of wealth that exceeds 40% of the population. I feel like the United States has always been strengthened whenever we had a president take any kind of policy for the middle class to build them up. When you build everyone up, everyone does better.” The notion, proposed by Sanders, that a corrupt campaign finance system is the only thing standing between voters and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change this might seem simplistic. But it is proving wildly popular. From a standing start, he has closed the gap in the Democratic primary race between himself and a once unassailable Hillar-y Clinton, from 36% to just 2%, according to one national poll this week. Though few believe this one poll to be indicative of the true national picture just yet, real-life voting in the Iowa caucus last week brought Sanders to within 0.3% of Clinton. In New Hampshire, which votes for a Democratic nominee on Tuesday, Sanders is so far ahead of the former secretary of state in the polls that her advisers would be delighted if they could contain his win to single digits. Many are already dismissing the result as a home turf blip and encouraging Clinton to leave the state on Sunday to focus her time elsewhere. Locals in New Hampshire bristle, though, at the notion they would be swayed simply because someone is from next-door Vermont, a liberal bastion that the more libertarian iconoclasts in the Granite State regard with suspicion. This argument also ignores the fact that the state Hillar-y Clinton represented in Congress is only 50 miles from the New Hampshire border, although New York reportedly has such ambiguous feelings about its former senator that the Sanders camp claims she refused their requests to hold a debate there. Yet much as it pains his supporters to acknowledge any frailty, Sanders is under growing pressure from Clinton during their debates. The attack strategy varies. Sometimes she argues they are dancing on the head of a pin by debating who is a true progressive, but when the policy gulf is illuminated the attack switches to what she claims are his wildly unrealistic proposals. Privately, Clinton’s attack machine has gone further, claiming deep-seated communist sympathies. That serves as a likely prelude to what Sanders might face from Republicans in the still somewhat unlikely event that he wins the Democratic primary. Sanders has never hidden his political background and has left much for critics to pick over. But it is his steadfast determination not to hide from the label “democratic socialist” that causes most confusion. In a lengthy speech at Georgetown University last November, he argued that his political philosophy was most in keeping with that of Franklin D Roosevelt, who similarly proposed a mix of public works, help for the poor and banking reform to lift America out of the Great Depression. “I don’t know what we mean when we say he is a socialist because my idea of Bernie Sanders is that he’s an FDR liberal,” agrees Sharon Ranzavage, 69, an attorney from Flemington, New Jersey, speaking outside an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday. “He’s back to the future, if you will, and that’s why I’m excited about him. I think the Democratic party in this country has veered very far to the right. We have to get back to who we are, which is taking care of each other. We’re a capitalist country but we need to modify the extremes of capitalism.” Confusion also stems from the fact that Sanders uses the phrase “democratic socialist” partly to stress his belief that change must come through the ballot box, but also because, in continental Europe at least, he would probably be known as a social democrat, a label that does not easily translate to the US. A “Democrat” in US parlance is something the independent senator from Vermont only became when he decided to seek the party’s presidential nomination in May. Anyone using the word “social” in American politics might as well go the whole hog and add the “ist” before somewhere else does. In a British context, Sanders would be hard to place too. Many of his core proposals – universal access to healthcare, paid maternity leave and a more generous minimum wage – are accepted, in principle at least, by all the main UK parties including the Conservatives, who recently put up the British minimum wage as a centerpiece of their budget. In relative terms, Sanders represents a swing to the left for the Democratic party that is analogous to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent victory in the Labour leadership campaign. But on foreign policy and absolute comparisons of domestic policies he would probably be closer to pre-Blairite Labour reformers of the 1980s and 90s such as Neil Kinnock or John Smith. Back in New Hampshire this week, a radical mood is conjured up at rallies calling for a “political revolution” and blasting out John Lennon’s Power to the People. But when Sanders punches his hand into the air, he quickly unclenches the fist, to avoid imagery that is too strident. We will have to wait for several more primary results to know whether American politics could possibly be ready for a self-avowed socialist. Already, the response from supporters to seem to be a shrug that suggests this is the wrong question. “I feel like I finally have a politician who will match my true feelings and hopes for this country,” says Haglund. Is America ready for socialism? Probably not. But it might be ready for Sanders. Sanders fans on socialism What is wrong with being a socialist? Dwayne Hamm, 23, from New Brunswick, New Jersey: I believe what people think is a socialist is: they get confused and think we’re heading towards the dreaded communism. But I think people confuse themselves about what it is Sanders is trying to do and what it is a socialist believes in. You’ll see that there’s nothing wrong. All we’re asking for is equality across the board. And to those who have privilege it may seem oppressive. And I feel that’s what people think the problem is. Can you be a democratic socialist? Anna Mead, 22, from Long Beach, New Jersey: I don’t think socialism can exist properly without democracy. Socialism is community regulation of the means of production and distribution. How do you feel about Hillar-y Clinton trying to woo young people? Fiona Boomer, 19, from Salt Lake City, Utah: I do have to give credit where credit’s due but as a young person Bernie’s stance on free education would be amazing. I’m deeply in debt as it is. It would be great if that was free. Hillar-y is debt free and Bernie is tuition free. That’s a big deciding factor for me. I do think Hillarious is doing a good job. She claims she’s being more realistic but I think Bernie is realistic. How likely is it that Clinton will win you over? Rene Casiano, 41, from the Bronx, New York: Honestly if Bernie doesn’t make it I will support her because she’s still better than everyone else on the other side of the spectrum. 1 6 Bernie Sanders speaks at the 2016 McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Celebration in Manchester, New Hampshire on Friday. Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters
  15. Exclusive Syrian Centre for Policy Research says 470,000 deaths is twice UN’s figure with ‘human development ruined’ after 45% of population is displaced Ian Black Middle East editor Thursday 11 February 2016 00.01 GMT Syria’s national wealth, infrastructure and institutions have been “almost obliterated” by the “catastrophic impact” of nearly five years of conflict, a new report has found. Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) – a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago. In all, 11.5% of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million. Life expectancy has dropped from 70 in 2010 to 55.4 in 2015. Overall economic losses are estimated at $255bn (£175bn). The stark account of the war’s toll came as warnings multiplied about Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, which is in danger of being cut off by a government advance aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian militiamen. The Syrian opposition is demanding urgent action to relieve the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians. The International Red Cross said on Wednesday that 50,000 people had fled the upsurge in fighting in the north, requiring urgent deliveries of food and water. Talks in Munich on Thursday between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, will be closely watched for any sign of an end to the deadly impasse. UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva are scheduled to resume in two weeks but are unlikely to do so without a significant shift of policy. Speaking in London on Wednesday, an opposition spokesman, Salim al-Muslet, said President Barack Obama could stop the Russian attacks. “If he is willing to save our children it is really the time now to say ‘no’ to these strikes in Syria,” he said. The Washington Post reported that Moscow had sent a letter to Washington proposing to stop bombing on 1 March. Of the 470,000 war dead counted by the SCPR, about 400,000 were directly due to violence, while the remaining 70,000 fell victim to lack of adequate health services, medicine, especially for chronic diseases, lack of food, clean water, sanitation and proper housing, especially for those displaced within conflict zones. “We use very rigorous research methods and we are sure of this figure,” Rabie Nasser, the report’s author, told the Guardian. “Indirect deaths will be greater in the future, though most NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and the UN ignore them. “We think that the UN documentation and informal estimation underestimated the casualties due to lack of access to information during the crisis,” he said. In statistical terms, Syria’s mortality rate increase from 4.4 per thousand in 2010 to 10.9 per thousand in 2015. The UN high commissioner for human rights – which manages conflict death tolls – stopped counting Syria’s dead in mid-2014, citing lack of access and diminishing confidence in data sources. The SCPR was based until recently in Damascus and research for this and previous reports was carried out on the ground across Syria. It is careful not to criticise the Syrian government or its allies – Iran, Hezbollah, Russia. And with the exception of Islamic State, it refers only to “armed groups” seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. But despite the neutral tone the findings are shocking. In an atmosphere of “coercion, fear and fanaticism”, blackmail, theft and smuggling have supported the continuation of armed conflict so that the Syrian economy has become “a black hole” absorbing “domestic and external resources”.Oil production continues to be an “important financial resource” for Isis and other armed groups, it says. Consumer prices rose 53% last year. But suffering is unevenly spread. “Prices in conflict zones and besieged areas are much higher than elsewhere in the country and this boosts profit margins for war traders who monopolise the markets of these regions,” it says. Employment conditions and pay have deteriorated and women work less because of security concerns. About 13.8 million Syrians have lost their source of livelihood. “The common characteristics across all regions are lack of security, the allocation of all resources to the fighting, the creation of violence-related job opportunities and imposition of authority by force.” The shrinking of the population by 21% helps explain the waves of refugees reaching Turkey and Europe. In all, 45% of the population have been displaced, 6.36 million internally and more than 4 million abroad. Health, education and income standards have all deteriorated sharply. Poverty increased by 85% in 2015 alone. The report notes that the rest of the world has been slow to wake up to the dimensions of the crisis. “Despite the fact that Syrians have been suffering for … five years, global attention to human rights and dignity for them only intensified when the crisis had a direct impact on the societies of developed countries.” The conflict “continues to destroy the social and economic fabric of the country with the intensification of international interventions that deepen polarisation among Syrians. Human development, rights and dignity have been comprehensively ruined.” The report is entitled Confronting Fragmentation. Previous titles in the series track the unfolding of the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster: Syrian Catastrophe, War on Development, Squandering Humanity, and Alienation and Violence. A man carries a child from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on Aleppo. Some 50,000 people have fled the recent upsurge in fighting there. Photograph: Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty
  16. Aid organisation says a million Syrian civilians are living in besieged towns, with 300,000 more under threat in Aleppo Emma Graham-Harrison in London and Kareem Shaheen in Dubai Tuesday 9 February 2016 18.43 GMT The besieged Syrian town of Madaya is facing starvation again because meagre supplies delivered last month are already running out, residents have said, as the United Nations was accused of severely underestimating the number of people suffering under blockades around the country. More than a million Syrian civilians are living in besieged towns and villages, according to the aid organisation Siege Watch, more than double the number listed in UN data. That number could rise sharply if the government troops advancing on Aleppo cut off the city’s last supply line, with the UN warning on Tuesday that up to 300,000 civilians could be stranded in the city that was once Syria’s biggest urban centre. “If the government of Syria and allies sever the last remaining flight route out of eastern Aleppo city, it would leave up to 300,000 people still residing in the city cut off from humanitarian aid unless cross-line access could be negotiated,” the UN said in an emergency bulletin on the situation. A major aid group working in the area told the Guardian that an even greater number of people – about 400,000 – were at risk. The UN warned that up to 150,000 refugees may also flee from Aleppo towards the border with Turkey, joining tens of thousands already living there in squalid camps. The use of “starve or surrender” tactics by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad came under increased scrutiny after photos and videos emerged last month of the emaciated, desperate children of Madaya, where dozens of people are thought to have starved to death before an aid convoy was allowed through. Now those limited supplies are almost gone. “Today I ate grass, to make the aid last longer,” said a young teacher and activist in Madaya, who was one of the first to alert the world to the extreme deprivation in the former resort town. “Some families have already run out. In 10 days most of us will have nothing to eat.” The January shipment came too late to help some of the weakest people, and now the town is bracing for more losses. It is surrounded by minefields and snipers who are said to have killed several of the most desperate inhabitants as they tried to slip away. “Since the aid entered Madaya, 16 men and women have died, and four children,” said the teacher, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against family members in government-controlled areas. The suffering is being mirrored across Syria, Siege Watch warned, saying the UN was failing to register more than half of the blockades and citing Madaya as one of the forgotten sieges. “The scale of the crisis of besieged areas in Syria is far worse than the UN … has acknowledged,” said the report by Siege Watch, an initiative organised by the Dutch charity Pax and the Syria Institute, a US non-profit research group. “New data gathered by Siege Watch shows that there are well over a million Syrians under siege … The scope and severity of sieges across Syria continues to grow.” The report added that the deliberate starvation of civilians was a war crime. The majority of people were under siege from government forces, with many also blockaded by Islamic State (Isis) fighters, the report said. In the city of Deir ez-Zor, Isis has more than 200,000 people under siege, but government forces are complicit in the suffering because they control the city’s airport and have refused to allow aid flights to bring supplies for civilians, Siege Watch said. “While the UN reporting describes Deir ez-Zor as being besieged by Isis, residents living there feel that they are besieged by both Isis and the Syrian military,” the group said. “The Syrian government’s actions towards the besieged neighbourhoods support this claim.” Madaya was not listed as under a blockade in a year-end UN report on the situation in Syria, even though UN officials had known about the extent of suffering there for months. The UN now considers Madaya besieged and helped to organise the aid convoy in January. The Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, where Siege Watch estimates that about 44,000 people are under siege, did not appear on the UN list in December either. A residents’ committee earlier this month demanded UN help and accused it of “ignoring the suffering of the civilians ... until [they] are at the brink of death”. The International Committee of the Red Cross considers the suburb besieged and delivered aid for thousands of people in recent days, Reuters reported. Not all the sieges are as severe as the blockade on Madaya. The Siege Watch report designates three tiers of intensity, as well as areas on a watch list of potential siege situations. It warns that the UN is overlooking some of the looser blockades, where black market traders and those with government links can smuggle food in to sell at “extortive and predatory prices”. These systems drain money from the area and ultimately lead to starvation, the report said. “While these practices may prolong the decline of the humanitarian situation in the besieged areas, they do not change the end result,” the report said. The group says its information comes from contacts on the ground. It plans to publish an estimate of the siege situation every three months. Speaking on the sidelines of a government summit in Dubai, the UN’s deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, acknowledged that lack of progress on breaking the sieges had contributed to the suspension of peace talks in Geneva. “You have starvation and sieges … We have a lack of access to up to 400,000 people and we need to have movement on those areas very soon,” he told the Guardian. “In my negotiations I’ve expected the level of violence to go down when the talks start. In this case, we had an escalation, and this is one of the reasons why we took a pause. We expected progress on the sieges and the humanitarian access to that big group of people, and nothing came out of that.” The peace talks coincided with an escalation of violence in Syria and an intense aerial campaign by Russia, which intervened on the side of Assad. Eliasson said he had proposed lifting the sieges as a confidence-building measure ahead of the talks but had only managed to achieve “limited progress”. He reacted angrily to accusations that the UN was not doing enough to end starvation sieges in Syria. “We are fighting like hell,” he said. “We lost a hundred people there, so when I hear this, I lose my cool. Because we are doing everything. [uN special envoy] Staffan [de Mistura] is working day and night. I am giving instructions; I am on it every day. “Don’t shoot the messenger; we have no army, we depend on others, we are as strong as member states want us to be, and we pay the price all the time,” he said. Syrians in the besieged town of Madaya waiting for an aid convoy in January. Photograph: AFP/Getty
  17. Leo De Watts is thought to have made thousands of pounds in just a few weeks by shipping air to China from the UK Harriet Sinclair Saturday 6 February 2016 A businessman is raking in thousands of pounds selling jars of ‘fresh air’ to people in China for £80 each. Leo De Watts, 27, sells air collected in the British countryside and ships it over to polluted cities Shanghai and Beijing, where the wealthy elite pay a hefty sum for a few seconds of inhalation. The Aethaer products include air from Somerset, Wales and Dorset, with each area said to create air with different qualities. Watts’ website boasts: “Aethaer is filtered organically by nature as it flows between the leaves of woodland trees, absorbs pristine water as it passes over babbling brooks and forest streams, and is lovingly caressed as it rolls over and between mineral rich rock formations, after which it is blown up over vistas of untouched beauty to where the Aethaer is collected and bottled.” The bottles have already made Watts a hefty sum, with the Dorset Echo reporting that 180 have been sold since the buisness' inception just a few weeks ago. As well as those buying the product to inhale, it is reportedly also being purchased by people who will never open it, but instead keep the jar for its novelty value. The air is collected using jars held in makeshift nets, which are held into the air and walked around in areas far removed from anywhere polluted – a process Watts describes as ‘air farming’. In addition to selling regular bottles of air, Watts – who lines in Hong Kong – is also doing a ‘Chinese New Year special’ which includes 15 jars of fresh air for £888 ($1,280.76). A company is selling British-bottled air in China Aethaer (You Tube) I know...We're in the wrong business! Darn.
  18. Oncupinar border remained closed despite an estimated 70,000 people expected to head there in coming days Chris Johnston and agencies Saturday 6 February 2016 17.15 GMT The European Union has urged Turkey to open its borders to thousands of Syrians fleeing an onslaught by government forces and intense Russian airstrikes. Turkey kept its Oncupinar border crossing closed on Saturday despite a significant increase in the number of arrivals to the European gateway in the past 48 hours. As many as 70,000 people are expected to head for the border in the coming days, said Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of Turkey’s Kilis border province. There are already between 30,000 and 35,000 displaced Syrians on the Syrian side of the border being cared for by Turkey. Aid workers said the refugees were being directed to nearby camps. Fifteen Syrians injured in bombings near Aleppo were allowed into Turkey through the crossing late on Friday night, but the Turkish government had not directly responded to the EU’s comments on Saturday evening. “Our doors are not closed, but at the moment there is no need to host such people inside our borders,” Tapsiz said. Although the Oncupinar crossing remained closed, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said after a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam that his country would maintain its open border policy. Approximately 2.5 million Syrians are now living in Turkey. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the support being provided by the union to Turkey was aimed at guaranteeing that Ankara could protect and host all Syrians fleeing the war-torn country. On Thursday, the EU approved €3bn (£2.3bn...$3.34B) to help Turkey cope with the number of people. EU foreign ministers have discussed with their counterparts from Balkan states possible ways of stemming the flow of people through the region. More than one million refugees, mostly Syrian, have arrived in the EU in the past 12 months. Most have crossed into Greece from Turkey before making their way through the Balkans to Germany and other countries such as Sweden. Earlier this week, the EU said Greece had to re-establish full control over its border with Turkey to preserve the Schengen zone. If Greece failed to do so, Brussels could allow other member states to extend border controls for up to two years – an option officials say they want to avoid at all costs. An estimated 850,000 people arrived in Greece last year, overwhelming its coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say the country is able to provide shelter for just 10,000 people – just over 1% of the total. With Greece unable to control the influx, some EU nations are now looking to help Macedonia – which is not in the EU – stop them at its southern border before they reach the Schengen zone of border-free travel. The Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said: “If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn’t accept any assistance from the EU then we need another defence line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria.” Hungary’s right-wing government has taken one of the hardest lines against the refugee crisis and closed the main land route for arrivals into the EU last September. The country has led calls to build a fence along Greece’s northern border in the same way it built a razor-wire barrier along its own southern frontier last year. Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, said the EU did not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation. “I say this very clearly – if we do not manage to control the situation ... our only option will be to cooperate with Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia,” he said after the Amsterdam meeting. Nikola Poposki, the Macedonian foreign minister who was also in Amsterdam on Saturday, said its army had been deployed to bolster border security. “They’re making sure that we have decreased the illegal crossings through our border and we’re going to continue to make these efforts,” he said. Syrians gather at the Bab al-Salam border gate with Turkey. Photograph: Bunyamin Aygun/AP
  19. Shkreli invokes fifth amendment right not to answer questions about HIV drug So-called ‘most hated man in America’ hiked price of Daraprim 5,000% Joanna Walters in New York Thursday 4 February 2016 16.42 GMT Pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli threw insults at the US Congress on Thursday, less than an hour after refusing to testify at a hearing investigating accusations of profiteering on life-saving drugs sold by his and other drug companies. Twenty-four hours after facing fraud charges in a federal court in Brooklyn, Shkreli, 32, turned up in Washington after being subpoenaed by the House of Representatives oversight committee. The controversial entrepreneur was accused of taking “blood money” from Americans and refused to answer questions. Minutes after being released from the hearing, Shkreli posted on Twitter: “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.” The firm Shkreli created and ran until his arrest in December, Turing Pharmaceuticals, is under fire for hiking the price of the drug Daraprim by more than 5,000% overnight, from $13.50 to $750 a pill, after acquiring it from another company. Shkreli had already warned that he intended to invoke the fifth amendment and decline to answer questions in order to avoid the risk of incriminating himself. Nonetheless, Shkreli’s short appearance in Washington became explosive when committee members were infuriated by his discourteous facial expressions as the event unfolded. One member begged him to examine his conscience. Earlier, Shkreli and Turing’s chief commercial officer, Nancy Retzlaff, were criticized for hiking the price of Daraprim despite the fact it is the only government-approved treatment for the rare infection toxoplasmosis, which can be fatal for some Aids and cancer patients and endangers babies in-utero. Lawmakers released excerpts from 250,000 documents showing how Shkreli sought to make $1bn from buying up the 62-year-old anti-parasite drug. “Very good. Nice work as usual. $1bn here we come,” he said in an email to the company’s chairman as he worked to buy Daraprim for $55m in 2015. Shkreli said hiking the price of the drug would bring in an extra sales of $375m, “almost all of it profits”. “Should be a very handsome investment for all of us,” he said. “Let’s all cross our fingers that the estimates are accurate.” The committee’s ranking Democrat member, Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings, called the revenue made from selling Daraprim “blood money”. Cummings said that since acquiring Daraprim last August, Turing took in $98m in revenue from the drug, while its manufacture cost only $1m. He said Turing cited $22m spent on research and development but that documents acquired by the committee showed those outgoings were “as much about public relations as about research”. “It’s not funny, Mr Shkreli. People are dying,” Cummings said, as Shkreli shot him a smirk. Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, then asked Shkreli: “What do you say to a single, pregnant women on low income who might have Aids and she needs Daraprim to survive?” Shkreli, 32, solemnly leaned into the microphone. “On the advice of counsel, I invoke my fifth amendment privilege against self incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question,” he said. Sitting directly behind Shkreli was his new counsel, Ben Brafman, the high-profile New York lawyer Shkreli recently picked to represent him in his fraud case. Shkreli repeated his response to the next two questions from Chaffetz. Republican committee member Trey Gowdy, of South Carolina,asked the witness about his name. “Is it pronounced Sh-kr-ellie?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” replied Shkreli. Gowdy pounced. “See, you can answer some questions. That one did not incriminate you. I just want to make sure you understand you are welcome to answer questions where the answers will not incriminate you, not every disclosure can be subject to the fifth, only those you reasonably believe can be used in criminal prosecution,” he said. The FBI is investigating financial transactions at a pharmaceutical company and a hedge fund Shkreli ran prior to starting Turing. He is accused in the federal criminal case also of running a Ponzi scheme at a prior pharmaceutical firm, Retrophin, and at a hedge fund he ran. Democratic presidential candidates Hillarious Clinton and Bernie Sanders have accused Turing of price-gouging. Sanders posted on Twitter on Thursday that America is fed up with “blatant profiteering” by the likes of Shkreli. Cummings in his opening address had referred to Shkreli’s purchase at auction in December of a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album for $2m and contrasted it with his constituents who live “paycheck to paycheck, or even no check to no check”. Cummings and other committee members pointed out that even with discounts on the price of Daraprim offered to some patients and hospitals following the uproar about Turing’s pricing last fall, that slack has to be picked up by taxpayers via Medicare and Medicaid, state governments or higher premiums for health insurance customers. As Gowdy continued his attack, Brafman jumped to his feet from the public seating, where he was positioned directly behind Shkreli, and called out: “Mr chairman, may I be recognized for a moment?” Brafman attempted to add something barely audible about being Shkreli’s attorney, but was cut off by Chaffetz, who said, sharply: “You are not recognized and you will be seated.” Brafman sat down. Cummings then expressly pleaded with Shkreli to reflect on his company’s strategy and instead of being “the bad boy of pharma” who could go down in history as “the poster boy for greedy drug companies”, he could help reform the system with fairer pricing. Shkreli laughed. He did not answer any more questions and shortly after was allowed to leave the hearing. After leaving the hearing with his client, Brafman said: “Mr Shkreli’s not a villain – he is not a bad boy. He is a hero… dedicated to saving lives. “Mr Shkreli did not intend to show any disrespect ... what you saw was nervous energy.”
  20. How the tattered remnants of an Islamist sect transformed into a relentless terrorist army that Nigeria cannot defeat Andrew Walker Thursday 4 February 2016 06.00 GMT Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of Boko Haram, is arrested in 2009. A few hours later he was dead. Photograph: HO/AFP Weapons seized from Boko Haram by the Nigerian military. Photograph: STR/EPA Long article More pics in link
  21. London conference is aimed at getting aid for work and education opportunities to cut risk of people falling prey to extremism Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor Wednesday 3 February 2016 12.04 GMT World leaders are gathering in London for a conference aimed at raising $9bn for Syrian refugees and preventing the creation of a permanent underclass of uneducated, restless and jobless Syrians living in countries’ bordering their homeland. Organisers want the aid to be diverted from food handouts towards work and education opportunities for Syrians in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. British officials acknowledge that unless refugees are offered the possibility of a better life both in and outside the camps, there is an increased risk that they will fall prey to extremism or give up waiting to return to their homeland, instead making the perilous journey to Europe. There is also a growing acceptance that host countries neighbouring Syria cannot carry the burden without substantially more help. David Cameron, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Norway and Kuwait have jointly convened the conference to be held on Thursday. They have pointed out that the 2015 appeal for Syrian refugees failed to meet half its targets or pledges, and say that in 2016 the goal must be to get 1 million more Syrians into education and tens of thousands into jobs by offering them work permits. Syria’s neighbours, who have hosted 4.6 million refugees between them, have seen their labour markets badly disrupted and have been reluctant to offer permits. The UN children’s agency has said that $1.4bn will be needed to rescue what could become a lost generation both in Syria and in exile. Delegates at a European Bank of Reconstruction Development conference on Wednesday will discuss how the private sector can boost investment in Lebanon and Turkey. The voices of refugees will be heard at a civil society conference attended by the UK’s international development secretary, Justine Greening. The London conference is expected to discuss the lack of humanitarian access inside Syria and will spill over into discussions of domestic Syrian politics and how to end the nearly five-year war there. The official opposition delegation – in Geneva for stuttering peace talks – is insisting it will not participate until sieges and an increasingly intensive Russian bombing campaign come to a halt. The delegation says Russia is using the cover of the talks to buy time to strengthen the position of the Syrian government on the battlefield. The UN Syrian envoy overseeing the talks, Staffan de Mistura, has warned that the talks may collapse. He said on Tuesday: “If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope.” Rebel supply lines into the northern city of Aleppo are being targeted by Russia in what looks like an attempt to encircle the city and close the narrow corridors that provide supplies from Turkey. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has repeatedly attacked the Russian bombing campaign, saying the strikes are aimed at Syrian rebels and not Islamic State positions. Ahead of Thursday’s conference, the Norwegian Refugee Council published new data showing how Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are coming under pressure from host governments that are in turn running out of resources to help. The council said: • In Lebanon, an estimated 70% of the refugee population, that is more than 700,000 people, has lost the legal right to stay, making it more difficult to access schooling or work permits. • In Jordan, some 250,000 Syrian refugees are still estimated to be without an updated government registration. • About 70% of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon live in poverty – that is more than 1 million people. In Lebanon, more than 200,000 registered school-age refugee children are not in school; in Jordan it is four in 10. • In Jordan, 50% of Syrian refugeessaid they intended to leave because they saw no future in the country. “What we are witnessing now is a collective failure to deliver the necessary support to the region,” said Jan Egeland, who heads the NRC and is a former Norwegian diplomat. “We are witnessing a total collapse of international solidarity with millions of war victims.” Meanwhile, Merkel has been pressing Turkey to do more to prevent the flow of refugees from Syria into Europe. If the numbers have been reduced by March, Merkel has promised to take a quota of Turkish refugees. 1 2 Syrian refugees walk at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters 2 2 Syrian refugee children leave a makeshift school in a displacement camp in Lebanon. Photograph: Bilal Hussein/AP
  22. Billionaire and former secretary of state lead final poll Sanders campaign: ‘It’s not bad to be just a little bit behind’ Lessons from history: real caucus victory lies in beating expectations Rand Paul hope students will give him surprise Iowa win Alan Yuhas Sunday 31 January 2016 17.41 GMT
  23. Sculptures in Capitoline Museum obscured by large white panels for Hassan Rouhani’s meeting with Italian PM Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome Tuesday 26 January 2016 12.15 GMT Italian officials keen to spare the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, any possible offence on his visit to Rome covered up nude statues at the city’s Capitoline Museum, where Rouhani met Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister. Photographs of Monday’s visit show both men standing near a grand equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. Nude statues in the vicinity were covered by large white panels. A spokesman for Renzi did not immediately return a request for comment. A spokesman for the city of Rome, which manages the museum, said any decision regarding the ceremony with Rouhani and display of artwork had been made by the prime minister’s office. The decision to cover the artwork was seen as a sign of respect for the Iranian president, according to the Italian news agency Ansa. In another placatory gesture by Italian officials, alcohol was not served at an official dinner held in Rouhani’s honour, abiding by a standard diplomatic gesture for visiting Muslim dignitaries. Rouhani’s visit to Europe – his first since sanctions were lifted in Iran – was supposed to take place in November but was delayed following the Paris terror attacks. On Tuesday, he had a private meeting with Pope Francis and other top church officials where the two leaders held “cordial” talks, the Vatican said, adding that the two men shared “common spiritual values”. While the meeting was rare, it was not unprecedented. The last meeting between a pope and Iranian head of state took place in 1999 and the Vatican has long maintained diplomatic relations with Iran even as the republic was shunned by much of the western world. The two leaders discussed the conclusion and implementation of the nuclear deal - which Pope Francis strongly endorsed - and the important role Iran and other countries in the Middle East play in seeking “political solutions” to the problems that plague the region, as well as stopping the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking. The meeting lasted about 40 minutes and included an exchange of gifts. The pope received a hand-made carpet from the city of Qom and a book of reproductions by painter Mahmoud Farshchian, while Rouhani was given a medallion of St Martin and copies of the pope’s encyclical on the environment, in English and Arabic. “I thank you very much for the visit. I have high hopes in peace,” the pope told Rouhani, according to the Catholic News Service. Rouhani responded by asking the pope to pray for him. Rouhani is set to visit Rome’s other big attraction on Wednesday with a planned trip to the Coliseum, which he will visit with Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini. Europe was Iran’s largest trading partner before the imposition of sanctions. More than 100 Italian executives met top Iranian officials during the Rome visit, and Italian infrastructure companies agreed to at least €17bn of deals and investments. It was not the first time that Renzi – a Florentine who is usually a proud advocate for Italy’s rich cultural heritage – has sought to be culturally sensitive in a high-stakes meeting. In October, a cordon was placed around a nude statue by the American artist Jeff Koons during a visit to Florence by Renzi and Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. It was noted at the time that another sculpture – Michelangelo’s David – remained uncovered throughout. 1 2 A sculpture in the Capitoline Museum seen hidden behind white panels. Photograph: Giuseppe Lami/EPA 2 2 Rouhani exchanges gifts with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Photograph: Reuters
  24. Prime minister’s PMQs attempt to criticise Jeremy Corbyn sparks accusations of inflammatory language Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin Wednesday 27 January 2016 13.11 GMT David Cameron has been accused of using inflammatory language about refugees after referring to people in camps at Calais as a “bunch of migrants”. The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps. Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week. “They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.” Cameron made the remarks as Corbyn tackled him about the £130m ($185.6M) tax deal struck between Revenue & Customs and Google. A spokesman for the Labour leader said the prime minister’s comments were evidence of a “wholly contemptible” attitude to refugees. “The people that we saw in Calais and Dunkirk at the weekend – families, kids, babies – I don’t think it’s right to refer to them as a ‘bunch of migrants’,” he said. Cameron’s language also drew criticism from backbench Labour MPs, including Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary, who said it was inflammatory and unbecoming of the prime minister’s office, and Mary Creagh, a former Labour leadership hopeful, who said it was “dehumanising language”. Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, said the comments were “callous”. Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, said: “Once again, Cameron’s mask slips. He just dismissed desperate people fleeing conflict as a ‘bunch of migrants’ – on Holocaust Memorial Day.” Cameron has so far only allowed about 1,000 refugees from Syrian camps to come to the UK, promising that Britain would take in up to 20,000 people by 2020. He is considering whether to admit some unaccompanied migrant children from Calais but defended the current strategy when asked on Wednesday by Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, to do more. Yvette Cooper, who leads Labour’s taskforce on refugees, also highlighted the fact that it is Holocaust Memorial Day and raised a point of order with the Speaker, asking whether he agreed Cameron’s phrase was inappropriate. John Bercow said he empathised with Cooper but Cameron’s use of language was neither disorderly nor unparliamentary. A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “The point the PM was making was that he very strongly disagrees with the approach that Labour are now taking, which is to allow people from Calais into Britain, to open the doors to migrants. That will only make the situation in Calais much worse. It will produce a huge draw to Calais. “No country in Europe has done more to help migrants affected by the conflict in Syria. We’ve given nearly £1.2bn ($1.71B) [to agencies dealing with the crisis] and that is going to food, shelter and education for hundreds of thousands of people in refugee camps.” Asked whether the prime minister thought he had used appropriate language, his spokesperson said: “The prime minister thinks that the key thing here is to get the policies right. That’s what the people of Britain are really concerned about.” Two migrants watch the clearing of dismantled shelters at the Calais camp. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
  25. Fifteen-year-old boy arrested after woman killed at home for young asylum seekers in Molndal Agence France-Presse in Stockholm Tuesday 26 January 2016 08.33 GMT An employee at a refugee centre in Sweden has been stabbed to death. Police spokesman Thomas Fuxborg said the alleged assailant was a young man living at the centre for unaccompanied asylum seekers aged between 14 and 17 in Molndal, near Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast. He did not give details about the suspect’s age or nationality but said the man had been arrested for murder. Swedish news agency TT said he was 15 years old. The victim was a 22-year-old woman, and the motive was not immediately clear. “These kinds of calls are becoming more and more common. We’re dealing with more incidents like these since the arrival of so many more refugees from abroad,” said Fuxborg. The Swedish prime minister, Stefan Lofven, visited the area in the aftermath of the death. The attack came as the national police commissioner, Dan Eliasson, requested 4,100 additional officers and support staff to help fight terrorism, carry out migrant deportations and police asylum facilities. “We are forced to respond to many disturbances in asylum reception centres. In some places, this takes significant police resources. This was not the case six months ago and it means that we won’t be able to respond as effectively in other areas,” Eliasson told TT. According to the Swedish Migration Agency, the number of threats and violent incidents at asylum facilities more than doubled from 2014 to 2015 as Sweden witnessed a record number of migrant arrivals. In 2014, there were 148 incidents and in 2015 that number jumped to 322. The number of arson attacks targeting asylum shelters have also surged, with at least two dozen centres destroyed or damaged by fire last year. Also weighing on police resources are border controls introduced on 4 January and the higher national terrorist threat level introduced after the Paris attacks in November. “Many of the problems we are now facing help to prove the point that Swedish police have long been underfunded and under-staffed,” Lena Nitz, the director of the police union, told TT. “It is obvious that the migrant situation is a great strain. It has become clear that the situation is completely unsustainable.” Like the rest of Europe, Sweden has been struggling with the continent’s biggest migration crisis since the second world war. The country, which has a population of 9.8 million, took in more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, putting it among the EU states with the highest proportion of refugees per capita. It has since tightened its asylum rules.
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