Daily Archives: May 20, 2014

Libya evacuation decision ‘minute by minute,’ U.S. official says

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Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — The U.S. military has doubled the number of aircraft standing by in Italy if needed to evacuate Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, CNN has learned.

A decision to evacuate as violence in the Libyan capital grows is “minute by minute, hour by hour,” a defense official told CNN on Monday.

Fierce fighting swept across the city Sunday after armed men stormed the country’s interim Parliament. Sporadic bursts of gunfire and blasts could still be heard on the outskirts of the capital Monday evening.

The violence appeared to be some of the worst since the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

In a move that could further inflame an already tense situation, the speaker of the interim parliament, Nuri Abu Sahmain, who is backed by Islamist forces, ordered troops known as the “Central Libya Shield Forces” to deploy to the capital Monday, the Libyan state news agency LANA reported.

The forces, mostly from the city of Misrata, east of Tripoli, are considered to be among the most powerful Islamist-affiliated militias. They have had long-running rivalries with the heavily armed Zintan militias when both groups were based in the capital.

Meanwhile, the Saudi ambassador to Libya announced that his country’s embassy and consulate in Tripoli closed Monday because of the violence, and the staff has left Tripoli, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The sites will reopen when the situation stabilizes, Ambassador Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Ali said, according to the report.

Turkey took similar measures, shutting down its consulate in Benghazi, Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency reported.

U.S. aircraft arrive in Italy

Four additional U.S. V-22 Osprey aircraft “arrived overnight” at the naval base in Sigonella, Italy, to join four V-22s and 200 Marines that had been moved there last week, a U.S. defense source said.

The V-22 Ospreys, which can take off and land vertically with at least two dozen passengers, are ready to be in the air on six hours notice, the official said. The additional aircraft should give the military the capability to evacuate more than 200 people from the embassy.

The aircraft and Marines are part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response team, stationed in Moron, Spain. The force was formed after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 to provide closer standby military capability in a crisis.

4 killed, dozens more injured in violence

At least four people were killed and 90 injured Sunday in Tripoli, according to the Health Ministry.

Fighters armed with heavy weapons moved in on the General National Congress as Sunday’s session was adjourned. The attackers stormed the building as members were evacuated. Fighting then spread to other parts of the city.

Libya’s main political forces have been slowly dividing along Islamist and liberal lines.

The more liberal parties, backed by the heavily armed militias from the western mountain city of Zintan, have accused the Islamists of hijacking power and controlling the government and parliament.

The GNC attack involved the al-Qaaqaa brigade, a Zintan militia based in Tripoli, which said in a statement that it had “heeded the call of the homeland to save it from the abusing politicians.”

Libya’s political process has stalled as a result of infighting among the Islamist and liberal forces in the GNC, and elections for a new parliament to replace it have not yet taken place. Many Libyans view the GNC as having lost legitimacy.

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Russian, Chinese leaders to open joint naval drills off China’s coast

Joint Sea 2014 drills are regular exercises held by the Chinese and Russian navies, which are aimed at enhancing practical cooperation between the two militaries

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping

SHANGHAI, May 20. ITAR-TASS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met on Tuesday at a naval port in Shanghai to officially open joint Russia-China naval drills.

Six warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led by a missile cruiser, the Varyag, entered Shanghai’s port of Wusong on Sunday for the joint naval drills with China code-named Joint Sea 2014 and running on May 20-26 in the northern waters of the East China Sea.

President Putin, who is on an official visit to China on May 20-21, was greeted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping as he had arrived at the port.

The Russian delegation to China, led by Putin, includes Deputy Prime Ministers Arkady Dvorkovich and Dmitry Rogozin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chief of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Alexander Fomin and Navy chief Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov.

The Chinese delegation represented at the port of Wusong includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng and other high-ranking officials.

Besides the Varyag, a Slava-class missile cruiser with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine striking capabilities, the grouping of Russian warships includes the destroyer Bystry, the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleyev, the large amphibious ship Admiral Nevelskoy, the tanker Ilim and the sea-going tugboat Kalar.

The Russian side also brought two Su-30MK2 fighter jets, combat helicopters and special task marine forces as the Chinese Navy added six of its warships for the drills, which enter the active phase on May 23-24.

China’s CCTV.com cited on Sunday Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Navy Tian Zhong as saying that the exercise would be “different from previous China-Russia joint sea drills.”

“The two sides will mix all the warships together for the first time, and the ships will carry out battle exercises beyond visibility for the first time,” Tian Zhong was quoted as saying.

Chinese Defense Ministry earlier reported that the Joint Sea 2014 drills are regular exercises held by the Chinese and Russian navies, and are aimed to enhance practical cooperation between the two militaries and to strengthen their capabilities to jointly deal with maritime security threats.

The two nations held naval drills off Russia’s Far East coast in the Sea of Japan last July. Exercises assembling some 20 warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet and China’s North and South Sea Fleets were described by China as the largest the country had undertaken with a foreign force.

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Turkish PM’s aide granted sick leave for ‘trauma’ after kicking mine tragedy mourner

Photo taken on May 14, 2014shows a person identified by Turkish media as Yusuf Yerkel, advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, kicking a protester already held by special forces police members during Erdogan’s visit to Soma, Turkey.

A top aide to the Turkish PM, Ysuf Yerkel, has been given a week’s sick leave for “leg trauma” he sustained after kicking a mourner following Turkey’s worst mining disaster in history.

A picture of Yerkel kicking a protester who was being restrained by two security force members emerged last week following the official visit of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to the town of Soma in the wake of the mining disaster on May 13.

The image caused furor on the internet from an enraged public many of whom believed the government has dealt with the tragedy in an insensitive way.

On the same day as the incident, Yerkel saw a doctor at the Anakara Ataturk Training and Research Hospital, reported Turkish news agency Hurriyet, citing a medical report. Yerkel complained of a pain in his right knee, but told Dr. Servan Gokhan that it had come about after a fall. The aide was subsequently diagnosed with soft tissue trauma and granted a week of medical leave.

“There are 10×10 cm edema, bruises and soft tissue panicula on the right knee, and bruises and soft tissue swelling on the left shoulder and front of the chest. The patient has been diagnosed with soft tissue trauma as there is sensitivity with leg and arm movements and difficulty with walking,” the medical report said.

Yerkel claims that he was acting in self-defense, and that the man whom he kicked had attacked him. He also denounced the “provocations and insults” he had received and refused to apologize to his victim.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (C) walks during his visit to Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa, after a coal mine explosion May 14, 2014.

“I have been deeply saddened by the incident that occurred in Soma on May 14. I am sorry for being unable to keep calm despite all of the provocations, insults and attacks I faced on that day,” said Yerkel, according to Anadolu Agency.

Witness accounts paint a different picture of the event. Hurriyet reports that Special Forces were interrogating the man after he kicked a vehicle in the prime minister’s convoy. When Yerkel saw the scene he reportedly ran over to the man and kicked him three or four times.

An explosion caused carbon monoxide to inundate a mine in the Western town of Soma, killing at least 302 people on May 13. In the wake of the tragedy Prime Minister Erdogan promised “no stone would be left unturned” in the investigation to ascertain what caused the disaster.

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” Erdogan told mourners in Soma last week.

His words were met by public anger and mass protests across Turkey.

Allegations of negligence have been leveled at the owners of the mine who claimed that they had adhered to safety protocol. On Monday a Turkish court arrested eight people in connection with the incident, including Ramazan Dogru, general manager of Soma Coal Mining Company, and Chief Executive Can Gurkan, the son of company owner Alp Gurkan.

The last mining accident on this scale in Turkey was recorded in 1992 when a firedamp blast killed 263 in Zonguldak.

General view of a coal mine site after an explosion in Soma, a district in Turkey’s western province of Manisa May 14, 2014.

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China summons US envoy over cyber-spying charges, vows retaliation

China has dismissed all US accusations of industrial cyber-espionage against five of its military officials and published proof that Washington is actually stealing data from China. Beijing also summoned the US ambassador for an explanation.

Beijing reacted to Washington’s recent round of industrial espionage accusations by publishing its latest data on US cyber-attacks against China.

China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (NCNERTTCC) reported that during just two months, from March 19 to May 18, the US directly controlled 1.18 million host computers in China using 2,077 Trojan horse networks or botnet servers.

According to the NCNERTTCC, over the last two months 135 host computers stationed in the US conducted 14,000 phishing operations against Chinese websites using for the attacks 563 phishing pages. The other hacking activities through the same period of time included 57,000 backdoor attacks, performed from 2,016 IP addresses in the US through backdoors implanted on 1,754 Chinese websites.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador to China for an explanation, urging him to drop all charges against China’s military officers. The meeting between Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang and US Ambassador Max Baucus took place on Monday night, reported Xinhua.

Depending on further developments, China “will take further action on the so-called charges by the United States,” Zheng told Baucus.

“The Chinese government and military and its associated personnel have never conducted or participated in the theft of trade secrets over the internet,” Zheng reportedly told Baucus as quoted by Xinhua.

America’s attitude to internet security is “overbearing and hypocritical,” Zheng told Baucus, urging the US to finally give a clear explanation on multiple reports that America’s National Security Agency is spying after Chinese government, businesses, universities and individuals.

On the other side of the Pacific, China’s Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai “made solemn representations” to the US State Department, China News Service reported on Tuesday.

Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan (R) shakes hands with US Ambassador to China Max Baucus (L)

“The accusations that the United States have made against these Chinese officials are purely fictitious and extremely absurd,” Chinese ambassador to the US is quoted as saying.

Geng Yansheng, spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, accused Washington of hypocrisy and damaging bilateral military ties.

“From ‘WikiLeaks’ to the ‘Snowden’ affairs, the hypocrisy and double standards of the US side on the issue of internet security has been clear for a long time,” said the spokesman as cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Beijing insists that while the US accused China of industrial cyber-spying on multiple occasions, America itself is waging unprecedented cyber warfare against China, infiltrating all kinds of the country’s networks – government and business alike – also targeting both civilians and officials through mobile phones.

After the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden the US has been criticized by most of the world powers, as it turned out that America is spying after literally every state and every person found necessary.

For example back in 2012 Washington accused Chinese telecom giants, including the world’s second-largest global supplier of telecommunications equipment, Huawei, of posing a threat to America’s national security through ‘tapping’ their routers, switches and other telecoms equipment.

Two years later it turned out that the US was not only spying on Huawei, but America’s NSA has been actually embedding surveillance tools within computer hardware exported from the US.

On Monday, the US personalized accusations of industrial cyber-espionage against China, charging five military officials with hacking attacks against American companies.

Beijing dismissed all the accusations as groundless and based on fabricated facts, blaming Washington of imperiling China-US “cooperation and mutual trust” in a released statement.

“China is steadfast in upholding cyber-security,” the statement maintains. “The Chinese government, the Chinese military and their relevant personnel have never engaged or participated in cyber-theft of trade secrets. The US accusation against Chinese personnel is purely ungrounded and absurd,” the document said.

US attorney General Eric Holder leveled charges against China of stealing confidential data and business secrets in order to give Chinese companies competitive advantage over American corporations in the nuclear and solar technology sectors.

According to the Justice Department, the grand jury’s indictment must become a “wake-up call” for the American nation to realize the scale of cyber intrusions.

The companies that allegedly suffered from espionage are such industrial giants as Alcoa World Alumina, Allegheny Technologies, SolarWorld, US Steel Corporation, the United Steelworkers Union and Westinghouse Electric.

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Thailand army declares martial law, insists move ‘is not a coup’

Thai soldiers take their positions in the middle of a main intersection in Bangkok‘s shopping district May 20, 2014.

Thailand’s military leaders declared martial law Tuesday in a surprise move which they say aims to restore peace and order after months of anti-government demonstrations and unrest have left the nation teetering.

Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement on military television at 3:00 a.m. local time and assured the public that even though soldiers will now be in command of public security, order will rule the day. Dozens of people have been killed as a result of the protests since the demonstrations began in November 2013.

“We are concerned this violence could harm the country’s security in general. Then, in order to restore law and order to the country, we have declared martial law,” Prayuth said, as quoted by Reuters. “I’m asking all those activist groups to stop all activities and cooperate with us in seeking a way out of this crisis.”

A decades-long dispute over power has culminated within the past six months with large demonstrations and unrest. The situation escalated earlier in May, when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was forced from office. Her ouster made way for sitting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, who said Monday that his administration would not step down.

The opposition demands that the government give way to an unelected administration that would then rewrite the constitution.

Thai soldiers take up a position on a main road in Bangkok May 20, 2014.

An army official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that “this is definitely not a coup. This is only to provide safety to the people and the people can still carry on their lives as normal.”

A decree put out by the country’s armed forces has enacted media censorship that “prohibits all media outlets from reporting or distribution of any news or still photographs detrimental to national security,” said a statement by General Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

Almost immediately following that declaration, satellite stations went off-air. AFP reported that broadcasts by television channels have been suspended, while an army statement read that the stations were taken off the air “in order that people will get the correct information and not distort information to deepen the conflict.”

Thailand’s armed forces have either launched or attempted 18 coups in the country’s 81 years of parliamentary democracy.

Despite the army’s claims, many analysts remain unconvinced that the action is not a move towards a full-blown coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, told AFP that he believes martial law was simply a prelude to the military taking full control.

I think what we are looking at is a prelude to a coup,” he said. “It is all part of a plot to create a situation of ungovernability to legitimise this move by the army. I would not be surprised if the next step is a military coup or the military taking charge with the advice of the senate and leading to the appointment of a new prime minister. But certainly the military is trying to take power from the government.”

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Libyan special forces commander says his forces join renegade general

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(Reuters) – The commander of Libyan army special forces said on Monday he had allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar in his campaign against militant Islamists, highlighting the failure of central government in Tripoli to assert its authority.

The announcement gives a major boost to a campaign by Haftar, who has been denounced by the Tripoli government as attempting to stage a coup in the oil producer.

It remains unclear how many troops support Haftar, whose forces launched an attack on Islamist militants in Benghazi on Friday in which more than 70 people died. Militiamen apparently allied to Haftar also stormed parliament in Tripoli on Sunday.

The violence has compounded government’s apparent weakness in combating militias which helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority.

“We are with Haftar,” Special Forces Commander Wanis Bukhamada told Reuters in the eastern city of Benghazi. On live television he had earlier announced his forces would join “Operation Dignity”, as Haftar calls his campaign.

The special forces are the best trained troops of Libya‘s nascent army. They have been deployed since last year in Benghazi to help stem a wave of car bombs and assassinations, but struggled to curb the activities of heavily-armed Islamist militias roaming the city.

An air base in Tobruk in Libya’s far east also declared alliance with Haftar’s force to fight “extremists”.

“The Tobruk air force base will join … the army under the command of General Khalifa Qassim Haftar,” the statement said.

Staff at the air base confirmed its authenticity.

UNCERTAINTY OVER PRIME MINISTER

Since the end of Gaddafi’s one-man rule, the main rival militias of ex-rebels have become powerbrokers in Libya’s political vacuum, carving out fiefdoms.

Compounding the anarchy, Libya’s outgoing government demanded parliament to go into recess after the forthcoming vote on the 2014 budget until the next election later this year, according to a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.

Haftar and other militias have demanded that a parliament, paralyzed by infighting step down.

The government demanded that parliament repeat a vote on a new prime minister. Business Ahmed Maiteeq was named as new premier two weeks ago in a chaotic vote disputed by many lawmakers.

“This government submits a national initiative to the General National Congress (GNC) to reach a national consensus during this decisive phase,” the statement of the cabinet of outgoing premier Abdullah al-Thinni said.

Should the GNC fail to agree on a new premier then Thinni’s cabinet should stay, it said. There was no immediate reaction from the GNC which is unlikely to give up power without a fight.

Haftar, once a Gaddafi ally who turned against him over a 1980s war in Chad, fueled rumors of a coup in February when he appeared on television in uniform calling for a caretaker government to end the crisis in Libya.

 

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