Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/14/2014

The big news tonight is of course the culturally enriched hostage situation in Sydney (where it is now late afternoon). But that story isn’t in the news feed; scroll down for the Sydney posts. After I go to bed, check with Vlad — he may have more recent updates. The latest word: “The cops have just confirmed that they are talking to the hostage taker.”

Meanwhile, China’s foreign minister has offered to help Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State. Also, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Serbian home in the city of Gnjilane in southwest Kosovo.

To see the headlines and the articles, click “Continue reading” below.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Gaia, GMcD, Insubria, TW, and all the other tipsters who sent these in.

Notice to tipsters: Please don’t submit extensive excerpts from articles that have been posted behind a subscription firewall, or are otherwise under copyright protection.

Caveat: Articles in the news feed are posted “as is”. Gates of Vienna cannot vouch for the authenticity or accuracy of the contents of any individual item posted here. We check each entry to make sure it is relatively interesting, not patently offensive, and at least superficially plausible. The link to the original is included with each item’s title. Further research and verification are left to the reader.

Financial Crisis
» Turkish Economy Grows at Slowest Pace in Three Years
» Chomsky on US: ‘This is a Very Racist Society’
Europe and the EU
» Belgium Made 60 Secret Tax Deals With Multinationals
» Britain and the EU: A Solution
» Controversial Teens Drug-Test Stirs Debate in Hungary
» Corruption: Slovenia (39th) Best in the Balkans
» First Direct China-Spain Train Reaches Madrid
» Italy: Budget Law Says FS Assets Should be Sold to Terna
» Italy: More Operations to Come in Rome Mafia Probe
» Italy Has 5th Highest Tax Burden in OECD
» New EU Rules for Food Labelling Come Into Effect on Dec. 13
» Ride-Sharing Uber Taxi App Takes Off in Greece
» Sicilian Police Trace Counterfeit Euro Coins to Shanghai
» Skoda: Almost One Million Cars Sold in 2014
» Kosovo: Molotov Cocktails Thrown at Serb Home in Gnjilane
Israel and the Palestinians
» EU Project to Help Match Skills With Labour Market
Middle East
» China Offers Military Help to Iraq to Defeat ISIS
» Syria: Stylianides: Concern for Suspension WFP’s Assistance
» Syrian Rebel ‘Hell Cannons’ Kill 300 Civilians: Monitoring Group
» Turkey: Report: “Planned Istanbul Airport Not Feasible”
» Turkey’s Arms Exports Up 20% Hitting USD 1.5 Billion
» Turkey: Key Regulations Become Battleground as Gov’t Moves to Control Judiciary
» Turkish Police Raid Media Offices of Backers of Erdogan Rival
» U. S. To Deliver First F-16 to Baghdad With 3-Month Delay
» Food Prices in Russia Rise Considerably
» Putin Ready to Lease Nuclear Submarines to India, Minister Says
Far East
» Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections
» Police Start Clearance in Hong Kong’s Last Protest Zone
» US Man Illegally in N Korea Says He’s Not Detained
Sub-Saharan Africa
» Sudan’s Bashir Claims Victory as ICC Shelves War Crimes Inquiry
» Germany: Merkel’s Bloc Accused of ‘Anti-Immigrant’ Sentiments

Turkish Economy Grows at Slowest Pace in Three Years

Many economists have criticized Turkey’s growth policy based heavily on consumer spending and construction, while the contribution of agriculture and industry has gradually declined over the years.

Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown 1.7 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, according to official data released Dec. 10, sharply below forecasts that had predicted an increase of around 3 percent.

The economic administration slashed its growth forecast for 2014 from 4 percent to 3.3 percent in October, citing external factors including the chaos in neighboring Syria and Iraq and the increased uncertainty in the global economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also recently slashed its 2014 growth forecast for Turkey to 2.3 percent…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Chomsky on US: ‘This is a Very Racist Society’

Professor Noam Chomsky said it would be “no small trick” for the Ferguson protests to turn into an anti-racism and social justice movement, considering America’s founding principles are slavery and the extermination of the indigenous population.

In a sweeping interview covering everything from Iraq and Syria to China, capitalism, and the protests in Ferguson, MIT linguistics professor Chomsky told GRITtv’s Laura Flanders that events in Ferguson and the protests that have followed show how little race relations in the United States have advanced since the end of the Civil War.

“This is a very racist society,” Chomsky said. “It’s pretty shocking. What’s happened to African-Americans in the last 30 years is similar to what Baptist (Edward E. Baptist in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and The Making of American Capitalism) describes happening in the late 19th Century.”…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Belgium Made 60 Secret Tax Deals With Multinationals

Thu 11/12/2014 — 12:29 Michaël Torfs The Belgian authorities made 60 deals involving tax benefits for big multinational companies. The content of those deals is a big secret, De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad report, although it is a public secret that brewers AB InBev are one of them.

Belgium is offering multinationals the opportunity to negotiate the profit rates on which they are being taxed. In practise, these so-called “excess profit rulings” allow international players to be exempted from paying taxes on a major part of their profits.

Francis Adyns, spokesman for the federal Finance Department ‘FOD Financiën’ admits that the “rulings commission made 60 of those deals since 2005”. It’s the first time a specific number is being mentioned, but the content remains a secret. The rulings commission refuses to give any comment about the companies involved and how much tax they were allowed to evade, citing professional confidentiality.

It is not easy to put a figure on these “fiscal presents” as they are called. The government issued a video to promote the system though, giving the example of exempting profits from taxes for 60 per cent. Sources within the Finance Department are even talking of 90 per cent. One of the companies known to enjoy the tax benefits is Leuven-based AB InBev.

The rulings are not illegal. However, if a company is being granted a tax benefit, it should pay these taxes elsewhere. Belgium is said not to pass on enough information to other governments to allow this. Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt (N-VA) has promised that this will change.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Britain and the EU: A Solution

Pointing to Switzerland the MEP explains that despite the country not being a member, Swiss exports to the EU in 2013 were 450 per cent per capita what Britain’s were.

Dan Hannan explains:

“There is no reason that the British couldn’t do even better than the Swiss. Britain is 63 million people to Norway’s 5 million and Switzerland’s 8 million. Britain runs a massive trade deficit with the EU (but a surplus with the rest of the world). On the day Britain left, the country would become the EU’s single biggest market, accounting for 21 per cent of its exports — more than its second and third largest markets (the US and Japan) combined.”

With UK opinion polls increasingly favouring a free trade relationship with the EU that does not involve political amalgamation, the author sets out nine objectives for the Government:…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Controversial Teens Drug-Test Stirs Debate in Hungary

Kocsis: test should be extended to politicians and journalists

(by Stefano Giantin) (ANSA) — BELGRADE — In Hungary there is a growing debate over the controversial proposal recently made by Mate Kocsis, mayor of the eighth district of Budapest (Jozsefvaros) and member of Fidesz, the absolute majority party led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Kocsis said that it would be in the country’s interest to introduce an annual, nationwide and mandatory drug testing of all teenagers (age 12-18), but also of journalists, MPs and politicians elected to regional assemblies. According to local media, the idea was endorsed by the parliamentary group of Fidesz, although some representatives raised strong doubts about the legal basis of this initiative.

Fidesz’s leader Antal Rogan made it clear that introducing mandatory drug testing of teens may protect children from drug problems and help fighting drug-trafficking.

After consultations with experts, the proposal made by Kocsis — who had highlighted in a post on his Facebook last Friday that drug-addiction “threatens our life”, and “our teens’ future” — could turn into a legislative proposal by February. Meanwhile, the opposition has already expressed strong criticism and the Socialists said that this proposal is “completely absurd”, and some members of the youth organization within the Democratic Coalition (Dk), in protest over the proposal, delivered today some test tubes containing urine to the city district ruled by Kocsis.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Corruption: Slovenia (39th) Best in the Balkans

Transparency International, Kosovo & Albania the worst

(ANSA) — LJUBLJANA — Slovenia remains the best country in the Balkans, and is in 39th place (out of 175 countries) in the Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International. Compared to 2013, Slovenia has gained four places. In a ranking from zero (very high corruption) to 100 (no corruption) Ljubljana stood at 58 points (57 last year) . But compared to 2012, when the points gained were 61, the country seems to have worsened.

Transparency International believes that Slovenia should tackle corruption more effectively , especially in the field of public tenders, and in the management of state-owned companies. More transparency is needed even in the legislative process, in particular with respect to those who work on legislative proposals. According to Transparency International, there is a lack of political will to ensure more transparency. The countries with the highest corruption levels in eastern and southeastern Europe are Kosovo and Albania (both in 110th place), whereas Serbia is in 78th place, but has lost six places compared with 2013.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

First Direct China-Spain Train Reaches Madrid

Longest rail connection in the world

(ANSAmed) — MADRID — The first direct China-Spain freight train, the 70-container Yixinou, arrived in the Spanish capital’s Abronigal station on Tuesday. The train had covered 13,000 km in 21 days through six countries, and the test run paved the way for a new trade route connecting Asia with the Iberian peninsula. The route is the longest one by rail in the world, crossing China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belorussia, Poland, Germany, France and Spain, racking up more kilometers than those covered by the Transsiberian and the Orient Express. The 1,400-ton convoy made use of a change in locomotive every 800 km and containers were transferred due to different gauges at the Dotyk (Kazakhstan), Brest (Belorussia) and Irun (Spain) border crossings. The opening up of the new rail route “aims to drastically reduce import and export time and costs, and to improve transport efficacy,” said the director of the Xinjiang province trade department, Zhang Shuming, on arriving in Madrid. Spain is China’s seventh largest trade partner in the EU and the Asian nation is Spain’s largest non-EU trade partner. The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries was at 20.102 billion euros in 2013, a 1.3% drop on the previous year.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Budget Law Says FS Assets Should be Sold to Terna

Conditions set out for selling railway electrical grid

(ANSA) — Rome, December 12 — The 2015 Italian budget includes conditions for the partial sale of power-grid assets owned by State railway company Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) to national electricity grid operator Terna, documents showed Friday. The conditions also say that FS must provide all relevant information to Terna within 30 days of the budget becoming law. The government plans to sell as much as 40% of the railway assets in a privatization plan. Some proceeds may be ploughed back into the national railway system under the plan.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: More Operations to Come in Rome Mafia Probe

Chief prosecutor describes the workings of the mob ring

(ANSA) — Rome, December 11 — Rome Chief Prosector Giuseppe Pignatone told the parliamentary anti-mafia commission Thursday that more operations are in the works in his Rome mob probe, which has led to dozens of arrests.

“More operations will follow shortly,” he told MPs, adding that the city has frozen a 25-million-euro public housing tender offer “because it may have gone to firms owned by (jailed suspect Salvatore) Buzzi”. A former manslaughter convict, Buzzi headed several cooperatives implicated in the probe.

The syndicate does not have a rigid structure, Pignatone said. Ex rightwing terrorist and gangster Massimo Carminati is the leader, Riccardo Brugia was in charge of what he called the “military” aspects and Salvatore Buzzi managed the civil service contacts, Pignatone explained. The organization used mafia methods including “violence to reach licit and illicit goals, and intimidation of its interlocutors,” the prosecutor said. The Rome mob cut across party lines, he added. For example, “Carminati comes from the extreme right, Buzzi from the opposite extreme. Asked how he can bear to associate with the likes of Carminati, Buzzi replied ‘politics is one thing, business is another’,” Pignatone said. The prosector went on to say that the mob is not Rome’s only problem. “It may not even be the main problem,” Pignatone said. “Rome is not being controlled by one single mafia organization… it’s too big for that”. However, the mob he has uncovered in his two-year investigation “is original and native” to the city. “In Rome a series of mafia investments have been made, and there are also mafia-type organizations in the surrounding territory,” Pignatone said. “But today we took a step forward. There is no connection to the classic mafia… (the Rome mob) mirrors Roman society in some way”. Pignatone’s hearing came after Carabinieri earlier on Thursday arrested two more people as part of his massive probe. Rocco Rotolo and Salvatore Ruggiero were nabbed on charges of mafia association and are suspected of linking cooperatives controlled by Roman mobsters with the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta syndicate. Ruggiero, whom investigators say has ties with the Mancuso clan of the Calabrian mob, has been employed since 2009 in a company called Roma Multiservizi SpA, which is partially owned by the city of Rome. Its president since 2013 was Franco Panzironi, who has been arrested on charges of mafia association, corruption and bid-rigging. Panzironi is thought to be the right-hand man of Massimo Carminati, the alleged leader of the Rome mob who is now also behind bars. As well, investigators said Panzironi was an employee in 1998-1999 of the June 29 Cooperative led by fellow jailed suspect Salvatore Buzzi, a former manslaughter convict who was wiretapped apparently boasting about his ill-gotten gains. “Do you have any idea how much I make on these immigrants?” Buzzi allegedly said in a wiretap from early 2013 contained in prosecution documents. “Drug trafficking is not as profitable”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy Has 5th Highest Tax Burden in OECD

Report ranks member countries on 2012 data

(ANSA) — Paris, December 10 — Italy’s tax-to-GDP ratio declined by 0.1% in 2013, to 42.6%, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released on Wednesday.

In 2012, the latest year for which tax revenue data was available for all 34 member countries, Italy ranked 5th with a tax-to-GDP ratio of 42.7%, against that year’s OECD member average of 33.7%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

New EU Rules for Food Labelling Come Into Effect on Dec. 13

The new EU rules for food labelling come into effect on December 13, reports

The goal is to give more and clearer information on the food contents.

According to the new rules, restaurants and cafeterias must inform the consumers on the presence of 14 allergens in the food they serve. Among them are nuts, gluten, lactose, soy and milk.

The fonts of the new labels must be larger and legible, with the allergens marked in a visible manner — by font, style and background colour.

The new labels must also include information on the origin of the meats, the nutritional value of the foods and additives.

The requirements for “misleading information” also become stricter.

The same label rules will apply for online and sales from a distance.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Ride-Sharing Uber Taxi App Takes Off in Greece

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, DECEMBER 4 — An innovative peer-to-peer application that gives smartphone owners the chance to hire a taxi through their phones has made its way to Greece as Greek Travel Pages (GTP) website reports. Uber Taxi is connecting riders to drivers through apps and providing more business for drivers and more accessibility and information for riders.

Through the app the rider can pick a location, see the route and know the cost of the trip before the request. Founded in 2009, Uber is active today in 200 cities, rapidly expanding their global presence. In Attica, Uber Taxi will join Taxibeat and Taxiplon, two Greek ride-sharing services. “Despite being two very good service providers, we believe Uber Taxi has certain offerings that will make it stand out. For example, it does not support transactions in cash. What’s more, we believe that the competition will benefit both drivers, who don’t only have to use our service, but also customers, who have an additional option,” Alexandre Droulers, head of Western Europe expansion for Uber, told Kathimerini daily. Droulers, according to the newspaper, did not reveal the number of Greek drivers signed up for the service. “Our aim is for the user to find a taxi within 2-3 minutes of the request,” he added. The launch of Uber Taxi and Uber X has created controversy in several cities worldwide, where the service has been found to be illegal, creating unfair competition and lacking regulation and licensing.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sicilian Police Trace Counterfeit Euro Coins to Shanghai

Chinese police urged to collaborate with Italian probe

(ANSA) — Palermo, December 12 — Sicilian investigators who seized counterfeit euro coins with a face value of 600,000 euros urged Chinese counterparts Friday to help close down a criminal ‘mint’ producing the coins in Shanghai.

“The good quality of the coins allows the fake euros to be accepted by machines,” Palermo deputy prosecutor Dino Petralia told a press conference.

“This was a well-conceived fraud, given that nobody checks the validity of coins”.

The flow of fake two-euro coins was “one of the biggest carried out in Europe,” said Giuseppe De Riggi, commanding officer of the Carabinieri for the province of Palermo.

Francesco Ferace, head of the Carabinieri’s anti-counterfeit department, said “now it is up to the Chinese government to lend us a hand”.

“The operation should continue in China to block the clandestine ‘mint’ discovered in Shanghai,” he added.

The racket came to light when police probing the murder of a Sicilian businessman involved in a juvenile prostitution racket discovered that the youngsters were being paid with fake euro coins, police sources said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Skoda: Almost One Million Cars Sold in 2014

China stimulates increasing Czech carmaker

(ANSA) — TRIESTE — Å KODA is steaming ahead in 2014. Between January and November 2014, the Czech carmaker delivered 955,300 vehicles around the world — 34,500 more vehicles than in the whole of 2013, and 16,100 more deliveries than the previous record year — 2012. Å KODA deliveries in November increased 10.1% to 90,200 units. This was the best November so far in corporate history, and the Chinese market has been a strong driver of growth. Å KODA’s sales in China increased 46.9% this November over November 2013.

SKODA will set a new sales record this year. Following the positive results in November, the milestone of one million vehicles produced and sold in one calendar year is certain”, says Å KODA CEO Prof. Dr. h.c. Winfried Vahland. “Producing and selling one million Å KODA cars for the first time in one year is a milestone for our brand, and has made the whole team very proud.” The backbone of this sales success has been the brand’s ongoing model campaign, through which the company is also winning over new consumer groups. The new Å KODA Fabia has been on the first European markets since mid-November, and the new Å KODA Fabia Combi (estate) will be heading to the dealerships in early 2015.

In Western Europe, Å KODA achieved 33,000 deliveries this November (November 2013: 34,000). After eleven months Å KODA’s market share rose to 3.4% (January to November 2014: 3.2%). In Å KODA’s strongest European market, Germany, the brand delivered 12,100 vehicles this November (November 2013: 12,300). In the UK, Å KODA sold 5600 vehicles, representing an increase of 0.3% over November last year. The manufacturer recorded double-digit growth in November in Spain (1400 vehicles; up 12.1%), Belgium (1500 vehicles; up 17.5%), Italy (1300 vehicles; up 30.4%) and Portugal (200 vehicles; up 37.5%).

In Eastern Europe, including Russia, Å KODA’s deliveries to customers stood at 10,600 vehicles (November 2013: 11,300).

After eleven months, Å KODA’s market share had increased to 4.4% (January to November 2013: 3.9%). In Russia, the brand sold 7600 vehicles, representing an increase of 2.9% over November 2013.

The market share in Russia rose to 3.8% this November (January to November 2013: 3.4%). Å KODA recorded double-digit growth in Romania (800 vehicles; up 37.0%), as well as in Bulgaria (200 vehicles; up 10.7%).

In Central Europe Å KODA delivered 12,800 vehicles in November, representing an increase of 1.6% over November 2013. After the first eleven months, the market share had risen to over 20% (20.2%), after 19.1% by the end of November 2013. In the Czech home market, the brand’s sales had increased 10% to 6500 vehicles by the end of November (November 2013: 5900). In Slovenia, Å KODA’s sales increased 3.1%.

Å KODA is in excellent shape in China — the brand’s strongest sales market in the world. In November, the company’s sales increased 46.9% to 26,800 vehicles (November 2013: 18,200). So far this year, Å KODA has sold 250,600 vehicles on the Chinese market — more than ever before in one calendar year. The model most in demand this November, introduced in China in the summer, was the new Å KODA Octavia, with sales increasing 112.4%.

Å KODA sold more models in Turkey this November than ever before in a single month: 1800 units (up 21.6%). The brand achieved their third-best monthly sales result in Israel, with deliveries increasing 23.3% to 1600 vehicles (November 2013: 1,300). In India, Å KODA achieved 1200 deliveries to customers this November.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kosovo: Molotov Cocktails Thrown at Serb Home in Gnjilane

GNJILANE — Unknown attackers threw two Molotov cocktails at the house of the Serb family Nojic in the city of Gnjilane, southwest Kosovo-Metohija (KiM), during the night between Friday and Saturday.

Nobody was injured but damage was caused to the house in the attack, according to reports by local TV Plus from Silovo near Gnjilane.

“I could see fire at the entrance to the house and thank God I was awake to put out the fire in time,” said Srdjan Nojic, who lives in the family house with his 70-year-old mother Bosiljka.

He said that it was the tenth attack on their house and he was no longer reporting the incidents as he could not trust the Kosovo police anymore.

The Nojics moved from Gnjilane in 2000, but returned to the region in 2009, and now they are the only remaining Serbs in the Gnjilane neighborhood of Kamnik.

The family are often a target of attacks by ethnic Albanians, who are provoking and denigrating them in various ways, and their house has been stoned several times.

The latest attack on the Nojics is the second incident occurring in the Gnjilane area this week.

Two Serbian boys from the village of Prekovce sustained injuries to their arms and hands when a 17-year-old Albanian from Gnjilane attacked them for no apparent reason in the village of Gornje Kusce, Novo Brdo municipality, on Thursday.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

EU Project to Help Match Skills With Labour Market

Five vocation schools in the southern region involved

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 10 — Five vocational schools in the southern region of Israel will take part in a pilot project under the EU-funded programme Governance for Employability in the Mediterranean (GEMM), in response to a request from the Israel’s National Committee for Vocational Education and Training.

According to the Enpi website (, the EU project aims to improve the matching of skills demanded on the labour market with those supplied by the schools. More young people should have the option to find a desirable job in their hometown or nearby. The project will establish the state of play of multi-actor and multi-level governance of vocational education and training in the region, identify areas where change would be beneficial, and take action on the local, national and international levels.

Vocational education and training in Israel is being reformed with a vision for a system based on innovation and technology.

However, the policies are often disconnected from the local socio-economic needs. According to research, the southern region lacks sufficient mid-level professionals to meet the demands of the industry. This has been strongly voiced by the Manufacturers’ Association too, in all their policy platforms with government.

The European Training Foundation is an agency of the European Union established to contribute to the development of the education and training systems of the EU partner countries.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

China Offers Military Help to Iraq to Defeat ISIS

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari says that his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, has made an offer to help Iraq fight Islamic State militants. Beijing has volunteered to assist with airstrikes, though it will not join the US-led coalition against ISIS.

The conversation between the ministers took place during a UN anti-terrorism meeting in New York back in September, the Financial Times reports.

China’s offer is a step away from its official policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, although it does sell weapons to many other nations.

“[Mr Wang] said, our policy does not allow us to get involved in the international coalition. I welcomed this initiative. I told him…we are ready to deal with the coalition and also co-operate with other countries outside this coalition,” Jafari told the Financial Times.

China’s Defense Ministry declined to comment. However, Hong Lei — a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry — did say that Wang had told Jafari during their meeting that China backed Iraq’s efforts to strengthen its ability to fight terror via intelligence exchange and personnel training. He refused to comment on whether China was supplying air support or missiles to Iraq.

“China has been fighting terrorism and has been providing support and assistance to Iraq, including the Kurdish region, in our own way, and will continue to do so within the best of our capabilities,” Hong told the newspaper.

China is the biggest foreign investor in Iraq’s oil industry, and will lose billions if the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) manages to take over the country’s oil fields. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has already had to abandon its oilfields in Syria.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Syria: Stylianides: Concern for Suspension WFP’s Assistance

additional 5.5 million euros in humanitarian funding from the EU

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 08 — The EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides expressed his “deep concern” at the suspension of food assistance for more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by the World Food Program’s (WFP) due to a dramatic shortage of funding.

“The EU is deeply committed to this constructive partnership and is appalled by the sudden break in the WFP’s pipeline of food and subsistence items especially at the onset of winter. We are pursuing all avenues to increase the mobilisation of resources” said the EU Commissioner in a statement, announcing an additional amount of 5.5 million euros in humanitarian funding to WFP, bringing the EU’s overall funding of WFP for Syria to 18 million euros in 2014.

Together with funding for other partners in the region such as UNICEF, the International Red Cross, the UNHCR and numerous NGOs, the EU will disburse more than 155 million euros this year. “But clearly it is not sufficient,” said the EU Commissioner. “I am convinced — he added — that the international donor community including the EU member states will step up to the challenge and mobilise funds for the victims of conflict and disasters”. “I moreover invite all donors and UN agencies to sit together for the 2015 planning to prevent such a shortfall happening again” Stylianides concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Syrian Rebel ‘Hell Cannons’ Kill 300 Civilians: Monitoring Group

Syrian rebels using improvised mortar bombs made of cooking gas canisters killed 311 civilians between July and December this year, a monitoring group said on Dec. 12, condemning the use of the wildly inaccurate weapons.

Two-thirds of the deaths, or 203 people, were in the northern city of Aleppo where the so-called “hell cannons” have been fired on government-held districts of Syria’s second city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the violence using sources on both sides, said that 42 children and 25 women were among the dead in Aleppo. It said more than 700 people had also been wounded during that time.

Syria’s official news agency SANA said on Thursday that “terrorists” fired 11 of the improvised bombs in the southern city of Deraa, wounding several civilians…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Report: “Planned Istanbul Airport Not Feasible”

Takeoffs and landings are impossible according to experts

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, DECEMBER 10 — The lowering of the ground level of Istanbul’s third airport from 105 to 70 meters has rendered takeoffs and landings impossible, dail Today’s Zaman writes quoting a recent report from the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chamber (TMMOB). The ground level for the airport was initially set at 105 meters, however it was lowered to 70 after construction had begun. “If the airport’s runways are built according to a 70 meter ground level, it will be theoretically impossible for plans to land and take off, according to the evaluations based on simulations by flight engineers and specialists,” said TMMOB spokesperson Suleyman Solmaz. Land Survey Engineers’ Chamber (HKMO) member Selin Bostan said that the lowered ground level would result in planes running into the Northern Marmara highway while taking off.

Underlining that another crucial problem is the strong winds coming from the Black Sea side of the planned airport, Bostan said the Turkish Aviation Board (THK) has already declared that it cannot confirm the feasibility of the airport project.

The 22 million euro tender for the third Istanbul airport was won by the Limak-Cengiz-Kolin-Mapa-Kalyon joint partnership in 2013. Mehmet Cengiz, owner of Cengiz Holding, is known to be close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Cengiz was among the suspects in the corruption investigation that went public on December 25, 2013. The project has been criticized as being environmentally harmful because the construction site is in a forested area and hundreds of thousands of trees are expected to be cut down to make way for the new airport. Environmentalists are also concerned about the impact that the construction will have on the area’s diverse population of various species of birds and wild animals.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey’s Arms Exports Up 20% Hitting USD 1.5 Billion

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 12 — Turkey’s defense exports for the first 11 months of 2014 increased by 20% compared to the same period last year, hitting USD 1.5 billion, Anadolu Agency reports quoting figures from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly released yesterday. The U.S. was the largest purchaser of Turkish defense hardware at a total of USD 508 million. Other major markets were Malaysia at USD 109 million and the United Arab Emirates at around USD 87 million. Items exported by Turkey include aircraft, helicopter parts, engines, armored land vehicles, speed boats, missiles, rockets, launching platforms, light weaponry and electronic systems, including transmitters, simulators, sensors and military software. The defense industry products make up slightly over 1% of Turkey’s total exports, which were valued at USD 144 billion for the January to November period. Turkish exports in the defense and aviation industries reached USD 1.39 billion in 2013. Local defense producers aim to boost exports to USD 25 billion by 2023, Turkey’s undersecretary for defense industries Ismail Demir said in late November.

Turkish officials have often said that boosting the country’s defense industry exports was one of the government’s strategic goals. Ankara spent over USD 1 billion on defense, research and development in 2013. The country’s overall defense spending was 29.4 billion Turkish Liras, or USD 13.2 billion, this year, according to the Defense Ministry.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Key Regulations Become Battleground as Gov’t Moves to Control Judiciary

A new regulation has dramatically increased the power of justice minister over Turkey’s top judicial body, while a top court has overturned a previous change to another key regulation that the Turkish government passed to counter the massive graft probe late last year.

The new regulation in the working of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) was published in the Official Gazette on Dec. 12. The amendments grant the justice minister the authority to preside over the HSYK and set the agenda, date and location of its annual General Assembly.

One of the key functions of the HSYK’s General Assembly is to elect members of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State. According to the new regulation, all nominated judges and prosecutors will have to be approved by the justice minister.

Another of the amendments ensures that the justice minister will be the sole authority who can release statements to the media regarding HSYK meetings…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Turkish Police Raid Media Offices of Backers of Erdogan Rival

Turkish police on Sunday launched a sweeping operation to arrest supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rival, US-exiled imam Fethullah Gulen, including a raid on the offices of the Zaman daily, which is close to the cleric.

Anti-terrorism police conducted early morning raids in 13 cities across Turkey, including Istanbul, and detained at least 14 people including a top executive, producers and directors of a television channel close to Gulen, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

A huge crowd however gathered outside the offices of Zaman on the outskirts of Istanbul, creating a small stampede and forcing the police to leave the building without detaining any newspaper employees…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

U. S. To Deliver First F-16 to Baghdad With 3-Month Delay

(AGI) Baghdad, Dec. 13 — The U.S. will deliver the first F-16 fighter aircraft to the Iraqi Air Force by the end of December, with a three-month delay. The end of December is also the deadline for bringing home the first group of Iraqi pilots trained to use the fighters in the United States. The announcement was made on Saturday by Saad Hadithi, the spokesman of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, specifying that the U.S. announced the upcoming delivery during Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Baghdad. Iraq has purchased a total of 36 F-16 fighter aircraft from the United States, as part of a broad defence agreement worth over 10 billion dollars. While waiting for the U.S. aircraft, in the face of the full-blown threat of the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, Russia sent its own Sukhoi Su-24 fighter aircraft to Iraq at the end of June, thus compensating for Washington’s delay.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Food Prices in Russia Rise Considerably

The food prices in Russia have risen significantly, reports the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, quoting data of the Russian Statistics Service.

Inflation is also rising — the data as of the beginning of December shows that the annual inflation has reached 9.4%.

In one year the average price of pork and sugar rose by 25%, while prices of buckwheat — one of Russians’ staple foods — soared by 65%. Fish and seafood prices rose by more than 15%.

The daily calculated that between October and November the average price of the market basket of basic foodstuffs rose by 3% and since the beginning of the year — by 9.8%, based on the official statistical data.

Novaya Gazeta, however, notes that in reality the prices in some regions of Russia soared even higher, quoting data from the Nizhegorod region. There prices of potatoes rose by 40%, of cabbage — by 32%, of fish — by 42% and of buckwheat — by 74%, compared to November 2013.

According to the publication, the producers of meat and meat products expect a further price hike of around 20-30%, while the traders of coffee and tea expect the prices of tea to rise by 20% in 2015.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Putin Ready to Lease Nuclear Submarines to India, Minister Says

Russia said it’s ready to lease India more nuclear-powered submarines a day after President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to deepen defense ties.

“If India decides to have more contracts to lease nuclear submarines, we are ready to supply,” Russian trade minister Denis Manturov said in an interview in New Delhi today.

The vessels would bolster India’s ability to patrol its waters as it seeks to thwart China’s efforts to extend influence in the Indian Ocean. Russia, whose economy is being pushed toward a recession by sanctions over Ukraine, aims to boost defense sales and deepen its ties to friendlier nations in Asia.

“Russia will remain our most important defense partner,” Modi said yesterday after welcoming Putin to the capital. They discussed a “broad range of new defense projects,” including plans to make one of Russia’s most advanced helicopters in India, he said.

India inducted its first nuclear attack submarine from Russia for $1 billion in 2012 under a 10-year contract, which can carry out longer missions and respond faster to threats. It’s fleet of 14 diesel-power submarines are more than a decade old, with half of them commissioned in the 1980s.

“Nuclear-powered submarines have assumed far greater significance and changed the complexion of maritime warfare,” then-Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the induction ceremony.

China Fleet

India is seeking to build up its naval defenses amid growing maritime tensions with China. It sent a nuclear submarine to the Indian Ocean in December for a two-month anti-piracy patrol. The waters are home to shipping lanes carrying about 80 percent of the world’s seaborne oil.

China has at least 52 submarines in its fleet, including three nuclear-missile vessels and three operating on nuclear power, the U.S. Congressional Research Service said in July, citing Jane’s Fighting Ships 2013-2014 and previous editions.

India has also yet to build a single submarine of the 24 it’d planned starting in 1999, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told parliament today. Mishaps are also common: an explosion in August 2013 on a diesel-powered submarine, just months after the vessel returned from a $133 million refit at a Russian shipyard, was the worst-ever disaster for India’s submarine program…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces strong resistance to a promised economic and political overhaul despite a weekend election victory that gives him up to four more years in power.

In Sunday’s snap election, the conservative Liberal Democrats who have ruled for most of the post-World War II era locked up a solid majority of at least 291 seats. About 35 seats were claimed by the LDP’s coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei party, giving the ruling bloc more than two-thirds of the 475-seat House of Representatives.

That majority will enable the coalition to override resistance in the upper house, but not necessarily the powerful vested interests and bureaucrats opposed to major reforms many economists say are needed to revitalize Japan’s economy.

           — Hat tip: GMcD [Return to headlines]

Police Start Clearance in Hong Kong’s Last Protest Zone

HONG KONG, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) — Hong Kong police began clearing barriers blocking the main street in commercial district of Causeway Bay on Monday morning.

The site in Yee Wo Street has been occupied for two and a half months and was the last of the three Occupy camps cleared by police.

Ahead of the operation, police offered protesters 30 minutes to clear out, urging demonstrators to leave immediately from the short stretch of road in Causeway Bay.

Most protesters left before the clearance operation started at around 10:20 a.m. local time.

Police warned to arrest those who obstructed the clearance.

Authorities dismantled the largest protest camp on Thursday, which was located close to the government headquarters in Admiralty.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

US Man Illegally in N Korea Says He’s Not Detained

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea on Sunday presented to the media an American man who says he illegally crossed into the country but has not been put into custody and is seeking asylum in Venezuela.

Arturo Pierre Martinez, 29, of El Paso, Texas, said he entered North Korea by crossing the river border with China. Details of how and when he got into the country were not immediately clear.

In his comments to reporters, Martinez strongly criticized the U.S. for alleged human rights violations.

Martinez’s mother, Patricia Eugenia Martinez of El Paso, told CNN that her son was bipolar and earlier had tried to enter North Korea by swimming across a river, but was stopped and shipped back to the United States, where he was placed in a California psychiatric hospital.

“Then he got out,” she told the network. “He is very smart and he got the court to let him out, and instead of coming home to us he bought a ticket and left for China. He took out a payday loan online and left for China.”

She said the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was looking for him.

           — Hat tip: TW [Return to headlines]

Sudan’s Bashir Claims Victory as ICC Shelves War Crimes Inquiry

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir claimed victory over the International Criminal Court on Saturday after the body announced it was shelving investigations into suspected war crimes in Darfur to shift resources to other “urgent cases.”

Bashir was indicted by the ICC in 2009 over alleged war crimes in the arid western region, but he has so far avoided arrest by limiting his travels to countries where he knows he will not be detained by authorities.

The ICC’s prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said on Friday she was halting war crime probes in Darfur, blaming the UN Security Council for failing to push for Bashir’s arrest.

Bashir reacted defiantly to the news. “They wanted us to kneel before the International Criminal Court but the ICC raised its hands and admitted that it had failed,” he said in a speech in the capital of Khartoum on Saturday…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

Germany: Merkel’s Bloc Accused of ‘Anti-Immigrant’ Sentiments

German opposition parties have accused Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat bloc of creating an anti-immigrant political climate that has resulted in a growing number of attacks on buildings housing refugees.

“As mainstream political parties start to make racism socially acceptable, violent right-wing gangs feel encouraged,” Bernd Riexinger, chairman of the Left Party told daily Leipziger Volkszeitung on Dec. 13.

Three buildings, which were to host refugees in the southeastern German town of Vorra, were burned down on the night of Dec. 11 in what police suspect was an arson attack by neo-Nazis. The perpetrators painted swastikas on the wall of a nearby building. The Bavarian police tasked a special team on Dec. 13 to identify the perpetrators…

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni [Return to headlines]

2 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/14/2014

  1. I hate to say it, but I’m beginning to think we should stop thinking about racism as a bad thing. I am not talking about black-and-white in America, I am talking about the invasion of Europe by what used to be called Turks and Ottomans — an alien culture which Europe has been struggling to accommodate with decreasing success (if there ever was succes, which I doubt).

    So maybe it’s time for people (other than Muslims) to take a certain pride in their own heritage, race, and culture and quit kow-towing to an inferior civilization.

    • Viable. What other options are there? No wait…let me rephrase that. What other option is there? Muslims are begging serious inferiority and running for a certain last in first out kick up the posterior.

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