Daily Archives: March 19, 2014

Egypt : White House Blocking Sale of Apache Helicopters Used in Anti-Terror Operations

Reports in Hebrew- and English-language Israeli media outlets on Tuesday conveyed quotes accusing the White House of blocking the sale of 10 Apache helicopters that Cairo.

An Egypt military source said to the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that the White House is impeding an arms deal between US and Egypt according to which the US is to sell Cairo 10 Apache helicopters to help fight the terror in Sinai Peninsula.

The Pentagon has strong and varied reasons for seeking to bolster bilateral military-to-military ties – preferential overflight rights, privileged access to the Suez Canal, and so on – and is said to be pushing for Washington to restore its security assistance to Egypt. The White House partially froze weapons transfers to Cairo after the Egyptian military last summer removed the country’s Muslim Brotherhood-linked former President Mohammed Morsi from power in the wake of mass demonstrations calling for his resignation.

Apache helicopters, which the Egyptian army has on multiple occasions leveraged in its Sinai counter-terror operations, were among the assets affected by the ban. The White House had committed at the time to sparing aid that the Egyptian army used in its battles against Sinai jihadists, but experts had explicitly expressed doubts regarding the tenability of any distinction between generic military assistance and assets that would be used specifically in the Sinai.

The Tower.

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First passports handed out to new Russian citizens in Crimea

The first passports have been handed out to the new Russian citizens in Crimea on Wednesday, the head of the Federal Migration Service said.

The treaty of Crimea’s accession to Russia “was signed yesterday… And all, who appealed to the Federal Migration Service in the Crimea, will receive their passports. This work has started. Some of the passports were issued today,” said Konstantin Romodanovsky, the head of the Federal Migration Service, as cited by Itar-Tass news agency.

The official did not elaborate on how or on what terms the Crimeans who do not wish to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship will live and work in the peninsula.

However, Romodanovsky said Russia is concerned by symptoms of a growing “humanitarian catastrophe” in Ukraine.

“As a sign, the number of elderly people and children entering Russia has grown twice as big,” he said. He did not give the periods of which he was comparing, or exact figures.

More than that, Russia is worried by the growing number of Ukrainians crossing the Russian border without any clear purpose such as work.

“We shared those concerns with the office management of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. To some extent, our concerns were understood and we began an interaction with the organization,” Romodanovsky stressed.

Also on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin has tasked the Labor Ministry with increasing the pensions of Crimeans to the Russian level as soon as possible, which will see benefits in the peninsula doubling.

All citizens of Russia must be placed in the same conditions. How you do it is your business. Think it over with State Duma deputies and do it. There must be no delays. Do it as soon as possible,” the president told labor minister Maksim Topilin.

According to Topilin, there are currently 677,000 pensioners in Crimea and Sevastopol, who have been receiving around 1,600 hryvnas (around US$160) from the Ukrainian state.

This is significantly lower than the average in Russia,” he stressed, adding that the difference in the level of pensions with Ukraine is about two times in Russia’s favor.

The minister assured Putin that delay-free payment of pensions in Crimea and Sevastopol will be provided.

Bringing Crimean benefits to Russia’s level “will require a special law” which is currently being developed, Topilin said.

The head of the Federal Migration Service expressed hope that Russia and the UN, together, will be able to find a way to minimize the negative consequences of the unstable situation in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, funds from the Russian budget will be used to help Crimea and Sevastopol solve its economic problems, the country’s finance minister, Anton Siluanov, announced.

The total deficit on the budget of Sevastopol and Crimea in 2014 is 55 billion roubles (around $1.5 billion),” Siluanov is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.

The minister specially stressed that the National Welfare Fund won’t be affected as the money for the Crimea will be taken from the unallocated reserve of the Russian budget.

On March 16, Crimea held a referendum, in which over 96 percent of its citizens voted to join Russia. Two days later, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status, became federal objects of the Russian Federation.

RT News.

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Crimea military center shooting resembles sniper fire at Kiev’s Maidan

Special forces banish an unidentified man from the Photogrammtry Center of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Kubanskaya Street in Simferopol. Unidentified people allegedly attempted to seize the center on March 18.

The shooting in the Crimean city of Simferopol bears a strong resemblance to the actions of snipers in central Kiev, as February violent clashes, local prosecution said. Russia considers the shooting that left two killed and two injured a “provocation.”

Speaking at the press-briefing the next day after the gunfire in Simferopol, Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, shed very little light on what exactly happened outside the Ukrainian military topography and navigation center.

Stressing that the investigation is still on-going, she recounted how several unarmed officers of the Ministry of Defense of Russia had come to oversee progress on a joint matter regarding mapping. Their visit was earlier agreed with the commander of the Ukrainian armed forces and with Kiev.

Several of their colleagues, who at the time were outside the building of the compound, were fired upon.

“While cartographers were on the territory of the center, some self-defense unit representatives, protecting the center from the outside, came under fire,” Poklonskaya said.

Bullets came from a similar direction, but with varying trajectories, resulting in the death of two officers on both sides and a further two injuries.

Single shots were fired “simultaneously in the direction of Crimean self-defense units and Ukrainian servicemen.” Investigators have found bullets at the scene, but Poklonskaya was reluctant to reveal what kind of gun was used.

“Experts familiar with the crime scene believe the crimes perpetrated today bear a strong resemblance to the actions of snipers on the Maidan on February 18-21,” she summed up.

If this turns out to be the case, she said, it is possible that the attack was possibly aimed at “provoking clashes between the servicemen of Ukraine and Crimea.”

Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya

Now investigators are working on establishing a number of attackers and their exact location.

Earlier, the local interior ministry said in a press release that the shoots came from a house under construction opposite the center.

There has also been information that a sniper was detained. But later this information appeared to be bogus.

At the briefing, the prosecutor stressed that no one had been detained in connection with the shooting.

Despite very little details immediately available, shortly after news of the shooting broke, Western media was fast to point a finger at Russia, blaming the attack on “pro-Russian forces.” This view was shared in Kiev, which in an immediate reaction authorized Ukrainian troops stationed in Crimea to use firearms to “defend their lives.”

However, in Russia the shooting is widely seen as a provocation after Crimea and Sevastopol were accepted into the Russian Federation and the treaty was signed.

“What happened in Simferopol yesterday was beyond any doubt a provocation and its style suggests that the sniper there acted in the same manner as the ones on Maidan,” Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Aleksandr Vitko. “Two people died as a result,” he added. “Nonetheless, the hotheads in the incumbent Ukrainian leadership said something about permission to shoot. I’d like to warn everyone in this connection and especially the men and officers of the Ukrainian Naval Forces, God forbid you to make a single shot, even from a slingshot. Matches are not toys, and I’d like to ask everyone to understand it in the very literal sense.”

The situation in Crimea was discussed in NATO between Russia’s Ambassador to the Alliance and its military officials.

“We have informed them that we see this incident as a provocation. The Russian troops were not involved in it; there was no storming of the Ukrainian military base as claimed by the authorities in Kiev. The incident is now being investigated, those guilty will not walk away from the responsibility,” Russian Ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, was cited by Interfax as saying.

Crimean authorities have shared this stance, saying that the shooting in Simferopol was indeed a provocation aimed at spreading a “spirit of hatred and fear.”

“Such provocative tactics of putting in confrontation opposing parties was systematically employed at Maidan in Kiev. In a similar way provocateurs are trying to blow up the peace and harmony in our house,” Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian coup-appointed Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a note of protest to Russia following the death of a Ukrainian soldier in Simferopol.

“Today he [the Russian charge d’affaires in Kiev, Andrey Vorobyev] was once again given a note against provoking armed incidents, violence and murder of Ukrainian soldiers,” the Ministry said.

A criminal case has been launched after the shooting and the charges are in line with Article 115 of the Ukrainian criminal code – murder. But there is still a lot that is unclear about the attack. It was even less known on the evening it took place.

This, however, was not an obstacle for a stream of conflicting reports, speculating that Russian forces were “storming the base.”

RT’s team was one of the first to arrive at the scene. As they came to the base, RT producer, Lida Vasilevskaya, reported the center was already surrounded by men in camouflage and the situation was “calm.”

She learned that the majority of the staff working at the military topography research center are women. The center’s area is rather small, and servicemen have only six machine guns and three Makarov guns to provide security.

It was confirmed to RT that the shooting did take place, but by that time it was unclear where the shooting had come from. This is yet to be investigated.

RT News.

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Breaking news – Ukraine wants to quit CIS, impose ‘demilitarized zone’ in Crimea

Members of a "Maidan" self-defense unit stand guard in front of a Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev March 17, 2014.

Members of a “Maidan” self-defense unit stand guard in front of a Ukrainian parliament building in Kiev March 17, 2014.

Ukraine ready to quit CIS, sets visa regime with Russia, asks UN to turn Crimea into DMZ


The interim government in Kiev says Ukraine will leave the commonwealth of post-Soviet states and force Russians to apply for entry visas, and plans to ask the United Nations to make Crimea a demilitarized zone.

The raft of measures – a response to Russia’s incorporation of Crimea into its territory following Sunday’s referendum – was announced by National Security and Defense Council chief Andrey Parubiy during a press briefing in Kiev.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was founded to maintain economic and security links between former Soviet republics when they became independent states in 1991. It initially included the 12 non-Baltic countries, though Georgia quit after the Ossetian conflict in 2008.

This year, Ukraine was assigned the rotating leadership of the CIS – which is more akin to the formal British Commonwealth than the fully-fledged economic partnership of the EU – but now says it will not carry out its duties.

We have decided not only to give up the presidency, but to launch the process of quitting the union altogether,” Parubiy told journalists in Kiev.

Parubiy added that Ukraine would appeal to the UN to turn Crimea into a demilitarized zone.

Similar UN-mandated zones exist between North and South Korea, and Turkish and Greek Cyprus, as well as in several territories adjacent to Israel.

Ukraine will also introduce a visa regime for Russians, who have not only been allowed to move freely between Ukraine and their homeland since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but could do so with only their internal identification documents.

In the coming hours we will introduce a mechanism so that only Russians with travel passports can enter the country, until such a moment when formal visas can be issued,” said Parubiy, who stated that his department had issued the Foreign Ministry with “requests to implement these measures as soon as is feasible.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it will not issue a visa regime of its own until it learns what changes have been proposed by Kiev, sources in the Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti.

Ukrainian border guards have turned back Russian citizens in recent weeks due to ostensible concerns that they will participate in anti-government protests in the east of the country. Parubiy also claimed that Russia was contemplating a “full-scale invasion” of Russian-speaking regions.

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Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 : Investigators trying to restore deleted data from flight simulator in pilot’s home

Experts are trying to restore data that was deleted from the flight simulator found in the home of the pilot of missing Flight MH370, officials have said. They hope that by restoring the information they may obtain something that can help pry open the mystery.

Twelve days after the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew disappeared without a trace, Malaysia’s Transport Minister said additional efforts were being made to search one of two “corridors” possibly flown by the plane after it disappeared from civilian radar.

The minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said it was important that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 57, along with the other members of the crew and the passengers, should be considered innocent until something was found to the contrary. He also stressed that Mr Zaharie’s family were cooperating with the police.

“Local and international expertise has been recruited to examine the pilot’s flight simulator,” Mr Hussein told reporters. “Some data had been deleted from the simulator and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing.”

But other pilots said there was nothing suspicious about deleting data from such a simulator and likened it to getting rid of unwanted files from a computer. Amin Said, who runs a commercial fight simulator in Kuala Lumpur and who recreated Flight MH370’s path for The Independent earlier this week, said such a move was usual. “It takes a bit of memory,” he said. “Sometimes it would just conflict.”

Mr Hussein said that while Malaysia was still coordinating the search for the missing plane, other countries were increasingly taking responsibility in their own territory, and in other sectors. He said that Australia and Indonesia were leading the search of the southern Indian Ocean.

He said some countries, but not all, had provided radar information and that he was hoping other countries would provide the data. He refused to reveal what data had been provided. There has been growing speculation that the search is being undermined to some extent by an unwillingness of some countries to hand over information they believe could be harmful to their national security.

The Independent.

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US warship Truxtun begins naval exercise in Black Sea

The US Navy destroyer “USS Truxtun” enters the Black Sea port

The USS Truxtun destroyer started a one-day military exercise with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies in the Black Sea.

The US military has described the exercise as a “routine” mission scheduled ahead of the Ukraine crisis, which witnessed the Ukrainian opposition forcing the democratically elected president, Victor Yanukovich, to flee the capital Kiev on February 22, a US Naval official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Truxtun last week participated in drills with Romanian and Bulgarian ships a few hundred miles from Russian forces of the Black Sea Fleet.

“There are many reasons for exercises with allies, it allows us an opportunity to assure our NATO allies that we support them,” Shawn Eklund, a public affairs officer for US Naval Forces Europe, told Reuters.

The naval maneuvers follow Russia and Crimea signing treaty of accession of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol in the Russian Federation.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov and Sevastopol mayor, Aleksey Chaly, signed a historic agreement for Crimea and Sevastopol to join the Russian Federation

The Crimean Peninsula juts into the north of the Black Sea, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which was founded by Prince Grigory Potemkin in 1783.

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Al Qaeda calls for car bombs in US cities, other ‘crusader’ countries

The spring 2014 edition of Inspire magazine, seen above, urges jihadists to target specific U.S. locations using car bombs. Detailed instructions and simple diagrams on every step are provided.

Al Qaeda is calling on terrorist affiliates to detonate car bombs in major U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, in the latest edition of its Inspire magazine.

The issue comes nearly a year after the Boston Marathon bombing, and as the city readies new security measures for this year’s race, being held next month. Inspire is the same magazine that included instructions for how to make pressure cooker bombs, which were used in last year’s Boston attack.

The magazine’s Spring 2014 issue urges jihadists to target heavily populated events such as political rallies and sporting events, both in the United States and abroad — including in Great Britain, France and other “crusading” countries.

“Choosing the place and time is a crucial factor to success in any operation,” the magazine reads. “Choose targets in your own country. You know the enemy better, you are within … The important thing is that you target people and not buildings.”

Would-be bombers also are urged to consider launching attacks during “election seasons” and between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Specific targets are also cited, including Chicago’s “Sears Tower” (now called the Willis Tower), military bases in northern Virginia and soccer stadiums in Great Britain, particularly during Premier League matches.

“Disguise yourself during the operation, appear fat (add some clothes on you), change your complexion, be a ‘clone’, use any mask (believe me embarrassment is the last thing you will think about), wear a mask suitable for the festival, white beards on 25th Dec,” it reads. “All in all, be creative brother. The most important part to hide is your eyes and around.”

The issue also contains extremely detailed, “absolutely simple” instructions on how to build such a bomb.

“My Muslim brother, before you start reading the instructions, remember that this type of operation, if prepared well and an appropriate target is chosen, and Allah decrees success for you, history will never forget it,” the magazine reads. “It will be recorded as a crushing defeat on the enemies of Islam.”

via Al Qaeda calls for car bombs in US cities, other ‘crusader’ countries | Fox News.

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‘The US disables diplomacy to escalate Syrian civil war, degrade Assad regime’

The closed Syrian embassy is pictured in Washington on March 18, 2014.

The US could quickly find a path to peace in Syria, but instead it’s prolonging a bloody civil war that is devastating the Syrian people in order to overthrow Assad’s regime, Eugene Puryear, foreign affairs analyst from the ANSWER coalition told RT.

Washington closed the Syrian embassy and two of its consulates on Tuesday, and has told all Syrian diplomats that they must leave the country. Last week Damascus decided to call back its mission.

RT: Do you have any idea why the move comes now and not earlier?

Eugene Puryear: It’s a result of the fact that the war effort, the US attempting to foment civil war and regime change in Syria, has not been going in their favor and that’s what we are seeing. The Syrian government has gained more control, and reconciliation efforts started gaining traction. So this offers an opportunity for the US government to get back in the media; these embassies were only low level consulates and it gave them a chance to justify their failed strategy with the Assad regime in a such way that they will be able to at least gain the support of the American people for continuing to pour in money to keep this civil war going to attempt to overthrow the Assad regime.

RT: Washington has closed the embassy and expelled Syrian diplomats, but it claims that doesn’t mean the suspension of diplomatic relations. Isn’t there a contradiction?

EP: I think it’s an extreme contradiction. If you can’t have any diplomats inside of the country, if your counselor offices around the nation are not allowed to offer the basic consular services, which is one of the most important things that diplomatic officials in other countries do, it’s a de-facto ending of diplomatic relations. But their attempt to not call it that is perhaps to keep the door open for future peace talks and the things of that nature. But I think quite certainly this is in essence an ending or breaking of diplomatic relations, even if they are not calling it that.

People gather around a burning vehicle following reported shelling by government forces on Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood on February 26, 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

RT: The US once again has put the blame for violence on Assad, stating that was one of the reasons behind the move to close embassies – but if that’s the case, why is Washington fine with supporting the rebels, given that there have been many confirmed reports of war crimes carried out by them?

EP: It’s completely hypocritical of the US to put the onus for the violence on the Syrian government. I mean quite certainly the US and its proxies and the Gulf states and the EU, having poured in so many weapons, so much money, logistical, military – all these different efforts – to keep the civil war going , it’s their efforts that have turned this into a bloody stalemate that in fact has empowered forces that are aligned with Al-Qaeda. So quite certainly the US is funding and supporting, in either a direct or indirect way, very violent forces that have had a significant role in this war and have really devastated the nation of Syria. I think it’s absolutely unbelievable and really hypocritical for the US to be going ahead and claiming that all the violence is to blame on the Assad regime. Certainly the rebels have committed their share of war crimes and atrocities and the US is complicit and responsible for that.

RT: The Geneva conference has ended with little results. Does that mean that this conflict may only be ended by military victory?

EP: If the US continues its own orientation, I think that is certainly the case. We know that the Assad regime is pursuing aggressively its own reconciliation attempts and its own attempts to build peace from the ground up. But quite certainly the US, the EU and others have set up red lines in their diplomatic negotiations that make it almost impossible for the Assad regime to agree, since it would really result in their own liquidation in order for there to be a peaceful agreement on terms that the US will allow.

And certainly the Western powers have indicated that they will continue to fund the rebels until the Assad government meets their terms… and so the war continues to grind on. The US are setting up the situation so that diplomacy cannot work in the hopes that by drawing out this desperate bloody civil war devastating the Syrian people they can eventually degrade the Assad regime enough for it to fall. They are willing to have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people die, suffer, and starve in pursuit of their goal, which is overthrowing Bashar Assad and his government.

واشنطن وتل أبيب.. وحجج معاقبة دمشق

فيما كان العالم يحبس أنفاسه وهو يتابع التطورات المتسارعة في القرم، قررت واشنطن فجأة وقف أنشطة السفارة السورية وقنصلياتها على أراضيها، كما طلبت من الدبلوماسيين والعاملين فيها من غير الأمريكيين مغادرة البلاد

تحججت الولايات المتحدة في معرض تبريرها لهذه الخطوة، حسب مبعوثها الخاص إلى سورية، دانييل روبينشتاين بالتأكيد على أنه من غير المقبول، قيام أفراد عيّنهم النظام السوري بأعمال دبلوماسية أو قنصلية داخل الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية.. اللافت في هذا الموقف الأمريكي أنه جاء من دون معطيات جديدة، أو تطورات محددة في العلاقات مع سورية يمكن الاستناد إليها، الأمر الذي جعل المبعوث الأمريكي الخاص إلى سورية الذي لم تمض 24 ساعة على تعيينه في هذا المنصب يسوق تبريرا لا يتوافق مع هذه الخطوة بعد ثلاث سنوات من عمر الأزمة السورية الدامية

هذا التطور الذي يبدو خارج سياق الأحداث، تبعته غارات إسرائيلية على أهداف عسكرية وأمنية في الجزء الذي تسيطر عليه سورية من هضبة الجولان المحتلة، وذلك بعد إصابة 4 جنود إسرائيليين الثلاثاء الماضي بانفجار عبوة ناسفة عند السياج الفاصل في منطقة مجدل شمس؛ ولا توجد، حسب كثير من المحللين العسكريين، أية دلائل تشير إلى علاقة الجيش السوري بها، ما قد يعني أن الدافع وراء طرد الدبلوماسيين السوريين من واشنطن والغارات على أهداف داخل سورية، قد يكون التعبير بشكل غير مباشر عن الغضب من التطورات الجارية في القرم
روسيا اليوم

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Turkish president, at odds with Erdogan, dismisses foreign plot

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

(Reuters) – President Abdullah Gul has dismissed suggestions that outside forces are conspiring against Turkey, openly contradicting Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan‘s assertions that a corruption scandal is part of a foreign-backed plot to undermine him.

The graft inquiry swirling around Erdogan’s government has grown into the biggest challenge of his 11-year-rule. He has repeatedly cast it as a scheme by political enemies at home and abroad to damage him ahead of March 30 local elections.

“I don’t accept allegations about foreign powers and I don’t find them right … I don’t believe in these conspiracy theories as if there are some people trying to destroy Turkey,” the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Gul as telling reporters during a visit to Denmark.

“Of course Turkey has its long-standing opponents in the world. Certain groups have praised our work for the past 10 years… Now that they are criticising us, why is this an issue? These types of comments are for third world countries,” he said.

Turkey’s rapid growth into a major emerging market has largely been based on the stability brought by Erdogan’s firm rule over the last decade. But the past several months of political uncertainty have unnerved investors, helping send the lira currency down sharply.

Gul co-founded the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party with Erdogan and has remained a close ally. But he is viewed as a more conciliatory figure than the combative prime minister and their relations have at times appeared strained.

“The political atmosphere we are in is not making any of us happy. It doesn’t make me happy. I am both troubled and saddened by the things we are going through,” Gul was quoted as saying.

Gul has been under growing pressure from both within and outside Turkey to calm tensions generated by the graft scandal and is seen as a potential successor to Erdogan as prime minister and head of the AK Party, should Erdogan decide to run for the presidency in an August vote.

He and Erdogan had appeared to have closed ranks since the graft scandal erupted in December, with Gul approving controversial laws tightening Internet controls and giving the government greater influence over the judiciary – moves seen by Erdogan’s critics as an authoritarian response to the probe.


The long-running investigation became public on December 17 when police detained the sons of three cabinet ministers and businessmen close to Erdogan. The three ministers resigned a week later, while others were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.

Parliament, currently in recess for the local election campaign period, will reconvene for an extraordinary session on Wednesday, demanded by the opposition, to hear prosecutors’ files on the allegations against four of the former ministers.

Last week, a Twitter account behind a string of leaks in the scandal posted what it presented as prosecutors’ files accusing the former ministers of involvement with an Iranian businessman in a bribery and smuggling racket.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the documents and the former ministers have denied any wrongdoing.

Erdogan says his former ally, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, orchestrated the corruption investigation through a “parallel state” of his supporters in the judiciary and police. Gulen denies the allegations.

Erdogan has responded by reassigning thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors, and driving through the legislation approved by Gul tightening controls of the judiciary and Internet.

Members of parliament have immunity from prosecution, but opposition parties are expected to call on Wednesday for the former ministers to face trial. Rival MPs have previously come to blows over the corruption allegations.

The impact of the graft probe on Turkey’s electorate remains unclear, according to widely diverging opinion polls prepared in the run-up to the March 30 elections.

Analysts say the AK Party’s core support has held up and that it is on course to remain the biggest party, although its predicted share of the vote ranges from 30 to 50 percent.

The latest survey from one pollster, Konsensus, showed the AK Party would narrowly win the mayoral race in Istanbul but cede control of the capital Ankara to the main opposition CHP for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

SONAR, another pollster, forecast the AK Party would keep control of both of Turkey’s largest cities but fail to seize control of the western city of Izmir, a stronghold of the CHP.

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‘DeepFace’ could provide instantaneous facial recognition via Facebook

Along with owning the largest stockpile of photos in the world, Facebook has announced it now plans to unleash facial recognition technology with a new program that promises to identify the subject of an untagged image with nearly unparalleled accuracy.

Researchers at the social media giant claim that humans who look at two faces can identify if they are the same person with a 97.53 percent accuracy. They promise that the company’s new “DeepFace” program will be able to do the same with 97.25 percent accuracy.

Facebook users may have already noticed that the site is able to suggest friends to tag when a new picture is uploaded. It does so by analyzing the distance between an individual’s eyes and nose in both profile pictures and already tagged images.

The new DeepFace program will be much more intensive, using software to correct the angle of a face in an image, then comparing that to a 3D model of an average face. It then simulates what has been called a neural network to find a numerical description of the face. If there are enough similarities, Facebook will know if the faces are in fact the same.

DeepFace was developed by Facebook artificial intelligence (AI) analysts Yaniv Taigman, Ming Yang, and Marc’ Aurelioa Ranzato, along with Lior Wolf, a faculty member at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Their research paper was first published last week in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology‘s Technology Review.

“This deep network involves more than 120 million parameters using several locally connected layers without weight sharing, rather than the standard convolutional layers,” the company announced.

“This we trained it on the largest facial dataset to-date, an identity labeled dataset of four million facial images belonging to more than 4,000 identities, where each identity has over a thousand samples. The learned representations coupling the accurate model-based alignment with the large facial database generalize remarkably well to faces in unconstrained environments, even with a simple classifier.”

DeepFace is still in the research stage and has not been exposed to the 1.23 billion Facebook users.

The team, which plans to announce the program in June at a computer vision conference, said it released the research paper last week to solicit the opinions of other qualified experts and gauge public opinion as a whole. That could perhaps be motivated by the number of questions that were raised when Facebook announced 18 months ago that it had purchased the Israeli startup Face.com for a reported price of approximately US$60 million.

With this announcement, Facebook’s acquisition of Face.com clarifies concerns about an Orwellian future inspired by news of the 2012 deal.

“As Facebook’s database develops, it’s conceivable that within a few years you could see someone on the street, point your iPhone at her, and pull up a list of possible identity matches within seconds,” Slate technology blogger Will Oremus wrote at the time.

“For now, Facebook only auto-suggests the identities of people who are among your friends. Still, the company will possess the information and capacity to identify and track people on a broad scale…Only the company’s concern for your privacy will stand in the way.”

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who phoned US President Obama last week to complain about the National Security Agency surveillance policies, announced earlier this year that the company has been investigating how to best implement AI technology in the future.

“The goal really is just to try to understand how everything on Facebook is connected by understanding what the posts that people write mean and the content that’s in the photos and videos that people are sharing,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with investors earlier this year, as quoted by Bianca Bosker of the Huffington Post. “The real value will be if we can understand the meaning of all the content that people are sharing, we can provide much more relevant experiences in everything we do.”

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