Daily Archives: April 21, 2014

Syria Will Hold Presidential Elections on June 3

Members of the Syrian parliament attend a session to set a date for voting for the presidential election,in Damascus April 21, 2014,

Members of the Syrian parliament attend a session to set a date for voting for the presidential election,in Damascus April 21, 2014,

People’s Assembly of Syria has called on candidates to register for the country’s upcoming presidential elections.

According to the speaker of the assembly, Mohammad Jihad Lahham, the presidential vote for Syrians inside the country will be held on June 3, the official SANA news agency reported on Monday.

Voting for Syrians living outside the Arab country will take place on May 28, he added, noting that candidates seeking to run for president could register their candidacy from April 22 to May 1.

Damascus has insisted that it will hold the elections despite the foreign-backed militancy that has plagued the country for more than three years.

Based on Syrian law, the vote must take place between 60 and 90 days before President Bashar al-Assad’s seven-year term comes to an end on July 17.

Earlier this month, the assembly approved a law which says any candidate running for president must have lived in Syria for the past 10 years and cannot have any other citizenship.

President Assad is expected to run for a third term in office.

Syria has been experiencing unrelenting militancy since March 2011. The Western powers and their regional allies — especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — are said to be supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

Reports say that more than 150,000 people have so far been killed and millions of others displaced because of the ongoing violence.

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Teen survives flight to Hawaii in jet’s landing gear

(CNN) — The first sign something was off was when the ground crew at Kahului Airport in Maui noticed a boy wandering the tarmac, dazed and confused. The story he told officials was even more incredible.

He told authorities he was from Santa Clara, California, and ran away from home Sunday morning, said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon. He didn’t have an ID and was carrying only a comb.

The 16-year-old apparently hitched a ride from San Jose, California, to Maui, Hawaii, in the landing-gear wheel well of a Boeing 767, Hawaiian Airlines said.

He hopped an airport fence, ran to the plane and climbed onto Hawaii Airlines Flight 45, the FBI said. Once confident that the teen did not present a threat, the FBI dropped out of the investigation.

“It appears that this teenager scaled a section of our perimeter,” Mineta San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes told CNN. The boy “was able to proceed onto our ramp under cover of darkness and enter the wheel well of an aircraft.”

Officials for the city of San Jose, California, which operates the airport, are not planning any legal action, a spokeswoman for the city, Rosemary Barnes, said Monday.

Hawaiian Airlines said, “Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived.”

He certainly is. As unlikely as it sounds, officials believe the boy rode in the tiny, cramped compartment for almost five hours, at altitudes that reached 38,000 feet, without oxygen and under subzero temperatures.

“It sounds really incredible,” said aviation expert Jeff Wise. “Being in a wheel well is like all of a sudden being on top of Mount Everest.”

Between the oxygen depletion and the cold, life expectancy “is measured in minutes,” Wise said.

The boy is in the custody of child welfare services workers in Hawaii, said Kayla Rosenfeld, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Human Services. She said Monday afternoon that officials have notified the boy’s family that he is safe.

A rare club of survivors

But some people have survived. Since 1947, 105 people are known to have attempted to fly inside wheel wells on 94 flights worldwide, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute says. Of those, 25 made it through, including a 9-year-old child — a survival rate of 24%. One of the flights went as high as 39,000 feet.

The conditions can put stowaways in a virtual “hibernative” state, the FAA says.

Someone could slip into unconsciousness so that the body cools and “the central nervous system is preserved,” said CNN aviation expert Michael Kay. Also, he said, “there could be a situation where inside the bay is warmer than the external air temperature and you wouldn’t get the instantaneous freezing of the skin.”

Still, “for somebody to survive multiple hours with that lack of oxygen and that cold is just miraculous,” airline analyst Peter Forman told CNN affiliate KHON in Honolulu.

The boy’s survival is “dumb luck mostly,” says Dr. Kenneth Stahl, trauma surgeon at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. The temperature outside the airplane could have been as low as 75 or 80 degrees below zero, said Stahl, who is also a pilot. “Those are astronomically low temperatures to survive.”

The boy was likely so cold that “he was essentially in a state of suspended animation,” Stahl said. Being young likely worked in his favor, too. “No adult would have survived that,” Stahl added.

The boy could face permanent brain damage from the experience — in fact, it’s “more likely than not,” Stahl said. He could face neurological issues, memory problems or a lower IQ.

The teen also could have a kidney injury because when the body freezes, particles of muscle enter the blood stream and damage the kidneys, Stahl said. He could also lose tissue due to frostbite.

Videos bear out events

Surveillance camera footage shows the boy hopping the fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport, the FBI said.. There’s also camera footage of him walking across the ramp in San Jose toward the Hawaiian aircraft, the airport said.

Video “is under review by federal and local law enforcement officials here,” said airport spokeswoman Barnes. “And we’ll continue to review that to determine where, in fact, the teenager was able to scale the fence line.”

The boy told investigators he crawled into the wheel well of the plane and lost consciousness when the plane took off.

An hour after the plane landed at Kahului Airport, the boy regained consciousness and emerged to a “dumbfounded” ground crew, the FBI’s Tom Simon said.

The Maui airport has video of him crawling out of the left main gear area.

“It makes no sense to me,” Simon said.

Mavin Moniz, the Maui District airport manager, added that a worker saw the boy come out of the wheel well and walk toward the front of the aircraft.

The teen hasn’t been charged with a federal crime and was placed with child protective services.

“Clearly there’s a big security breach here, which in the post 9/11 world order is a concern,” said Kay, the aviation expert. To get past all sorts of people apparently unnoticed is “a physical feat,” he said.

Also, the wheel well is filled with equipment and technology that, “if removed or dislodged in some way, could present an air safety risk,” said Kay, a former assault helicopter pilot in the British military.

The FAA and Transportation Security Administration have studied stowaway incidents to augment security. Many incidents involve people desperately trying to escape their countries.

“No system is 100%,” said airport spokeswoman Barnes.

Getting in a wheel well? ‘Not hard at all’

“It’s not hard at all” to climb inside the wheel well, said Jose Wolfman Guillen, a ground operations coordinator at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. “You can grab onto the struts and landing gear assembly kind of like a ladder, and you just jump on the tire and climb into the wheel well.”

Inside, there’s not much room — even less than in the trunk of a car, Guillen said. A stowaway would need to guess “where the tire is going to fold in when it closes after takeoff. There’s a high risk of getting crushed once the gear starts going in.”

During the flight, “the interior guts of the aircraft, they’re pretty exposed inside the wheel well, so there’s a lot of stuff you can hold on to,” Guillen adds. “It’s just a matter of holding on to it for the duration of the flight and maintaining your grip when the gear opens up and not falling out. If you fell out, you could get horribly mangled or dragged on the runway.”

It’s possible for a stowaway to enter other parts of the plane through a wheel well, though complicated, Guillen said. It would require know-how.

“On a 767 and other wide bodies, there are small latched doors that a very small and fit person can (use to) access the wheel wells for maintenance. You could access the passenger cabin from the wheel wells, but again, some knowledge of the anatomy of the aircraft is required. I wouldn’t know how to do it.”

In February, crews at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington found the body of a man inside the landing-gear wheel well of an Airbus A340 operated by South African Airways.

In 2010, a 16-year-old boy died after he fell out of the wheel well of a US Airways flight that was landing at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

The most recent known case of someone surviving was on a short domestic flight in Nigeria. A 15-year-old boy snuck into the wheel well of a flight from Benin City to Lagos — thinking it was a flight to the United States, according to an FAA report. The ride lasted only 35 minutes, and the plane likely went no higher than 25,000 feet.

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Obama Should Act Like M.L. King, Not Khrushchev

By Sergei Markov

After CIA director John Brennan’s recent visit to Kiev and his talks with Ukrainian intelligence officers, it is clear that the Ukrainian crisis has ushered in a new cold war in which the U.S. and Russia are battling each other on the territory of a third country. In the previous Cold War, that struggle took place in African and Asian countries, but now, with Russia weaker than before, the battle has come to Moscow’s backyard — Ukraine. What began as a disagreement with Europe over Ukraine’s future has now become an open conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

This is the probably the worst conflict between the two countries since the Cuban missile crisis, but in the Ukrainian crisis the two sides have switched roles. This time, U.S. President Barack Obama is not taking President John F. Kennedy‘s role in the standoff, but that of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. In 1962, Khrushchev thought the U.S. was weak and that he could therefore place Soviet missiles in Cuba. But in placing nuclear missiles so close to U.S. territory, he had crossed a red line that provoked a tough U.S. response.

Now Obama, like Khrushchev, has crossed a red line by helping a Russophobic government to seize power by force in Kiev. Obama’s main mistake was that he failed to understand that Moscow would view U.S. support for the new anti-Russian government in Kiev as both an act of aggression and an existential threat to Russia — and that Moscow would be prepared to resist U.S. blatant meddling in Ukraine at all costs. Just as Khrushchev became emboldened by the Soviet Union’s emergence as a superpower and overestimated Washington’s weakness, Obama, it would seem, is emboldened with the U.S.’ status as the only remaining superpower, while overestimating Moscow’s weakness. Russia might not be a strong global superpower, but it has great strength in its own region.

At its core, the likelihood that Ukraine will become a U.S. satellite is no less of a threat to Russia’s national security as Soviet missiles in Cuba were to the U.S.

Ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in Ukraine are not opposed to each other. In fact, the two even blend together in some places. For example, 75 percent of the population in the rebellious cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk speak Russian as their primary language, according to recent polls. Meanwhile, 65 percent of all Ukrainians speak Russian as their primary language, even though they are able to speak Ukrainian.

Russian speakers want to be equal citizens, and they want the Russian language to have equal government status with Ukrainian. It is strange that Obama, as a member of the African-American community that suffered from inequality for centuries, does not see that Russian speakers in Ukraine also suffer discrimination.

There is another way in which the U.S. and Russia have traded places from their original positions in the Cuban missile crisis. Putin is advocating such democratic principles as federalism, the rule of law and compromise, whereas Obama supports an illegal government of ultranationalists and usurpers who violate the law and discriminate against the Russia-speaking minority every day. This is not because Putin is more of a democrat than Obama. But he knows that the country’s Russian-speaking majority will always vote for a pro-Russian candidate in free elections. Obama’s advisers are also well aware of that fact, and that is why Washington is trying to install its own protege through a rigged presidential election, which is slated for May 25. The election will be held under the threats of ultranationalist militants who physically attack their opponents and amid a backdrop of war propaganda fanned by the government.

Washington’s puppet government in Kiev is taking several chapters from the Soviet playbook. Just as the Soviet Union blocked Western radio stations from reaching Soviet citizens, the authorities in Kiev have banned Russian television channels.

Many are accusing Obama of weakness, but I think just the opposite is the case. Under the influence of hawks in his administration, he has chosen the radical option of installing an illegal puppet government in Kiev. What’s more, Obama has imposed sanctions that go beyond any imposed against the Soviet Union. And still the U.S. hawks demand more, as they always do, attempting to escalate the confrontation to dangerous levels.

The Ukrainian crisis has become not just a U.S.-Russian conflict but a personal test of wills between Putin and Obama. Putin is fighting for Russia’s survival, while Kennedy did the same thing in 1962, protecting the U.S. against a potential Soviet missile attack. For his part, Obama has become too personally involved in the crisis, trying to look strong to counter Republicans’ accusations of weakness. At the same time, however, Obama is falling into a trap, allowing his opponents to force him into a no-win situation with Russia.

Obama could de-escalate this crisis if he stops acting recklessly and aggressively like Khrushchev and if he takes a lesson from Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy. Like King, Obama should recognize that Russian speakers in Ukraine deserve equal rights. Like Kennedy, Obama should acknowledge that Russia, no less than the U.S., has a right to national security in its backyard. And like U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson, Obama must recognize that limiting the Ukrainian federal government’s power by strengthening the regions with federalism is not a path toward destroying the country. Rather, federalism is inherently democratic; it strengthens the country, not weakens it. If Obama follows the advice of the Republican hawks and continues down the path of Khrushchev and former U.S. President George W. Bush, he will wind up in a dead end.

In the end, Obama’s meddling in Ukraine and his support of the extremist “junta” in Kiev will damage his historical legacy no less than Bush’s debacle in Iraq damaged his.

The Moscow Times

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S. Korea president condemns ‘murderous’ actions of ferry crew as four more held

April 21, 2014: A relative of a passenger aboard the sunken ferry Sewol shouts the name of her missing family member as she waits for their return at a port in Jindo, South Korea.

South Korea’s president described the actions of a sunken ferry’s crew as “unforgivable” and “murderous” Monday as a prosecutor said that four more crew members had been detained on charges that they had allegedly failed to protect the stricken vessel’s passengers.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye made the comments Monday at a Cabinet briefing, saying that the captain and crew “told the passengers to stay put but they themselves became the first to escape, after deserting the passengers.” Park added that “legally and ethically, this is an unimaginable act.”

Senior prosecutor Ahn Sang-don told reporters Monday that two first mates, one second mate and a chief engineer had been accused of abandoning the ship. Ahn says prosecutors are considering whether to ask a court for a formal arrest warrant that would allow for a longer period of investigation. South Koreans can only be detained for 48 hours without a court-issued formal arrest warrant. The ferry’s captain and two other crewmembers were previously formally arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need.

The announcement came as the confirmed death toll from Wednesday’s sinking reached 64, with approximately 240 of the ship’s 476 passengers, many of them high school students on a holiday trip, still missing. Divers gained access to the ship over the weekend and are expected to find more bodies trapped below decks, where passengers had remained, obeying the captain’s initial order not to evacuate the vessel. Efforts to reach the capsized vessel had been thwarted for three days by bad weather and strong currents.

The discovery of bodies has dashed the faint hopes of some families who have gathered on the island of Jindo, near the site of the wreck. Relatives have been asked to identify their loved ones using the slimmest of clues. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

Meanwhile, a newly released transcript shows the ship was crippled by confusion and indecision well after it began listing Wednesday. The transcript suggests that the chaos may have added to a death toll that could eventually exceed 300.

According to the transcript released by South Korea’s coast guard, about 30 minutes after the Sewol began tilting a crew member asked a marine traffic controller whether passengers would be rescued if they abandoned ship off South Korea’s southern coast. The crew member posed the question three times in succession.

That followed several statements from the ship that people aboard could not move and another in which someone said that it was “impossible to broadcast” instructions.

An unidentified official at Jindo Vessel Traffic Services Center told the crew that they should “go out and let the passengers wear life jackets and put on more clothing.”

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will you be able to rescue them?” the unidentified crew member asked.

“At least make them wear life rings and make them escape!” the traffic-center official responded.

“If this ferry evacuates passengers, will they be rescued right away?” the crew member asked again.

“Don’t let them go bare — at least make them wear life rings and make them escape,” the traffic official repeated. “The rescue of human lives from the Sewol ferry … the captain should make his own decision and evacuate them. We don’t know the situation very well. The captain should make the final decision and decide whether you’re going to evacuate passengers or not.”

“I’m not talking about that,” the crew member said. “I asked — if they evacuate now, can they be rescued right away?”

The traffic official then said patrol boats would arrive in 10 minutes, though another civilian ship was already nearby and had told controllers that it would rescue anyone who went overboard.

The cause of the disaster is not yet known, but prosecutors have said the ship made a sharp turn before it began to list.

More than 170 people survived the sinking of the Sewol, which had been on its way from the South Korean port city of Incheon to the southern tourist island of Jeju. The captain took more than half an hour to issue an evacuation order, which several passengers have said they never heard.

Dozens of relatives have started camping out at the port in Jindo to be closer to where the search was taking place, sleeping in tents in the open. Volunteers provided food and drinks and ran cellphone charging stations. A Buddhist monk in white robes stood facing the water and chanted in a calm monotone as several relatives stood behind him, their hands pressed together and heads bowed in prayer.

Anguished families, fearful they might be left without even their loved ones’ bodies, vented rage Sunday over the government’s handling of the crisis.

About 100 relatives attempted a long protest march to the presidential Blue House in Seoul, about 250 miles to the north, saying they wanted to voice their complaints to President Park Geun-hye. They walked for about six hours before police officers in neon jackets blocked a main road.

“The government is the killer,” they shouted as they pushed against a police barricade.

“We want an answer from the person in charge about why orders are not going through and nothing is being done,” said Lee Woon-geun, father of 17-year-old missing passenger Lee Jung-in. “They are clearly lying and kicking the responsibility to others.”

He said relatives are desperate to retrieve bodies before they decompose beyond recognition.

“After four or five days, the body starts to decay. When it’s decayed, if you try to hold a hand, it might fall off,” he said. “I miss my son. I’m really afraid I might not get to find his body.”

The Sewol’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, was arrested Saturday, along with one of the ship’s three helmsmen and the 25-year-old third mate. The third mate was steering at the time of the accident, in a challenging area where she had not steered before, and the captain said he was not on the bridge at the time.

Senior prosecutor Yang Jung-jin said the third mate has refused to tell investigators why she made the sharp turn. Prosecutors have not named the third mate, but a fellow crew member identified her as Park Han-kyul.

As he was taken from court in Mokpo on Saturday, the captain explained his decision to wait before ordering an evacuation.

“At the time, the current was very strong, the temperature of the ocean water was cold,” Lee told reporters, describing his fear that passengers, even if they were wearing life jackets, could drift away “and face many other difficulties.”

He said rescue boats had not yet arrived, and there were no civilian vessels nearby.

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MH370 : Drone finds nothing after scouring two thirds of search area

(CNN) — The underwater drone scanning the ocean for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 ended its eighth mission Monday, having covered about two thirds of its intended territory without finding any sign of the missing plane.

This has been the case for 45 days now, which seems like an eternity for the relatives of the 239 passengers and crew on board, still hoping for a miracle or, at least, closure.

“Emotionally, it’s up and down. You know? Sometimes, I’m OK. Sometimes, so-so. Sometimes — always — very sad,” said Nur Laila Ngah, whose husband worked on the flight’s cabin crew.

The couple had been planning to celebrate their 13th anniversary this year. They have three children, ages 12, 10 and 8.

Recalling a conversation she had with her husband before he left, Laila said: “I was asking him, ‘are we going to have the next 13 years together?’ Of course.”

About their children, she said: “They have faith that their father will be coming back.”

The Bluefin-21 is expected to began its ninth mission sometime Monday, surveying the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean for traces of the Boeing 777.

These efforts may be a main focus of the search, but they aren’t the only part.

Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre announced Monday morning that up to 10 military aircraft and 11 ships would participate in the day’s search.

Previously, acting Malaysian Transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that “experts have narrowed down the search area.”

But are they actually closer to finding anything? “It’s difficult to say,” Hishammuddin conceded, adding the search “is at a critical juncture.”

“I appeal to everybody around the world,” he said, “to pray and pray hard that we find something to work on over the next couple of days.”

The failure to find clues to the plane’s disappearance does not mean that the operation will stop, only that other approaches — such as a wider scope or the use of other assets — may be considered, Hishammuddin told reporters. “The search will always continue.”

Still, he said, “With every passing day, the search has become more and more difficult.”

Mother Nature isn’t making this task much easier.

Tropical Cyclone Jack is circulating northwest of the search area. And while it won’t hit directly, this system should increase winds and rains.

Malaysian authorities briefed families of people aboard Flight 370 behind closed doors Sunday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Selamat Bin Omar, whose 29-year-old son was a passenger, told CNN that officials dealt with practical matters, such as how the families could make bank transactions.

Hamid Ramlan, whose daughter and son-in-law were on the plane, said he learned nothing new at the briefing.

“I believe that the government didn’t try to hide something, or hide any information from us. They are telling the truth. But then, mostly the members of victims, the families, they do not want to believe,” he said.

His wife falls into that category.

“My wife cannot accept that. She still believes that the airplane was hijacked. She believes that my daughter is still alive.”

Passengers’ relatives list questions

It was early on March 8 when Flight 370 set off from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, destined for Beijing.

The plane never made it.

What happened has been a confounding mystery, with the frustration of passengers’ family members compounded by a scarcity of details from authorities.

New bits of information that have come out six weeks later may help round out the picture but don’t answer the main question: Why did the plane go off course, and where is it now?

These recent developments include a senior Malaysian aviation source’s assertion that the jetliner deviated from its flight path while inside Vietnamese airspace.

It turned left, then climbed to 39,000 feet — below its maximum safe limit of 43,100 feet — and maintained that altitude for about 20 minutes over the Malay Peninsula before beginning to descend, the source said.

Malaysia Airlines has declined to answer CNN’s questions on various matters — including the fact that, according to the source, the missing jet was equipped with four emergency locator transmitters. When triggered by a crash, ELTs are designed to transmit their location to a satellite.

Relatives of people aboard the jetliner have drawn up 26 questions that they want addressed by Malaysian officials, who are to meet with them next week in Beijing. Most of the Flight 370 passengers were Chinese.

Among them: What’s in the flight’s log book? Can they review the jet’s maintenance records? Can they listen to recordings of the Boeing 777 pilot’s conversations with air traffic controllers just before contact was lost?

Hishammuddin has defended his government’s handling of the operation and accused members of the media of focusing on the Chinese families. He said relatives of passengers and crew from other nations represented have not had problems.

“The most difficult part of any investigation of this nature is having to deal with the families,” he said.

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Military dolphins from US to take part in NATO summer exercises in the Black Sea

MOSCOW, April 21, ITAR-TASS

American military dolphins will take part in NATO’s forthcoming summer exercises in the Black Sea, Tom LaPuzza, spokesman for the US Navy’s marine mammals program, told the newspaper Izvestia. He said those would be NATO’s first exercises involving military dolphins.

“It may so happen that American and Russian military dolphins will meet in the open sea for the first time: it is known that such dolphins are trained only in Russia and the USA,” the newspaper writes.

LaPuzza says the exercises involving 20 dolphins and 10 sea lions will continue for about one to two weeks (the maximum permissible period for the stay of (naval craft of) countries which have no outlet to the Black Sea is 21 days).

LaPuzza said that when in the Blacks Sea the American dolphins would test a new anti-radar which is designed to “disorientate enemy sonars while sea lions would look for mines and naval divers”.

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