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Edward Snowden: Why Barack Obama Should Grant Me A Pardon


 The Guardian


Edward Snowden has set out the case for Barack Obama granting him a pardon before the US president leaves office in January, arguing that the disclosure of the scale of surveillance by US and British intelligence agencies was not only morally right but had left citizens better off.

The US whistleblower’s comments, made in an interview with the Guardian, came as supporters, including his US lawyer, stepped up a campaign for a presidential pardon. Snowden is wanted in the US, where he is accused of violating the Espionage Act and faces at least 30 years in jail.

Speaking on Monday via a video link from Moscow, where he is in exile, Snowden said any evaluation of the consequences of his leak of tens of thousands of National Security Agency and GCHQ documents in 2013 would show clearly that people had benefited. “Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things,” he said.

“I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result.”



Although US presidents have granted some surprising pardons when leaving office, the chances of Obama doing so seem remote, even though before he entered the White House he was a constitutional lawyer who often made the case for privacy and had warned about the dangers of mass surveillance.


Obama’s former attorney general Eric Holder, however, gave an unexpected boost to the campaign for a pardon in May when he said Snowden had performed a public service.


The campaign could receive a further lift from Oliver Stone’s film, Snowden, scheduled for release in the US on Friday. Over the weekend the director said he hoped the film would help shift opinion behind the whistleblower, and added his voice to the plea for a pardon.



Ahead of general release, the film will be shown in 700 cinemas across the US on Wednesday, with plans for Stone and Snowden to join in a discussion afterwards via a video link.


In his wide-ranging interview, Snowden insisted the net public benefit of the NSA leak was clear. “If not for these disclosures, if not for these revelations, we would be worse off,” he said.


In Hong Kong in June 2013, when he had passed his documents to journalists, Snowden displayed an almost unnatural calm, as if resigned to his fate. On Monday he said that at that time he expected a “dark end” in which he was either killed or jailed in the US.


More than three years on, he appears cheerful and relaxed. He has avoided the fate of fellow whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is in solitary confinement in the US. Snowden is free to communicate with supporters and chats online late into the night.


His 2.3 million followers on Twitter give him a huge platform to express his views. He works on tools to try to help journalists. He is not restricted to Moscow and has travelled around Russia, and his family in the US have been to visit him.


But Snowden still wants to return to the US and seems confident, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that it will happen. “In the fullness of time, I think I will end up back home,” he said.


“Once the officials, who felt like they had to protect the programmes, their positions, their careers, have left government and we start looking at things from a more historical perspective, it will be pretty clear that this war on whistleblowers does not serve the interests of the United States; rather it harms them.”


Snowden attracts lots of conspiracy theories. Early on, he was accused of being a spy for China and then a Russian spy. In August a cryptic tweet followed by an unusual absence prompted speculation that he was dead. He said he had simply gone on holiday.



There had also been rumours that his partner, Lindsay Mills, had left him, which would have been embarrassing as their romance occupies a large part of the Stone film. Snowden said “she is with me and we are very happy”.


His revelations resulted in a global debate and modest legislative changes. More significant, perhaps, is that surveillance and the impact of technological change has seeped into popular culture, in films such as the latest Jason Bourne and television series’, such as the Good Wife.


Snowden also welcomed “a renaissance of scepticism” on the part of at least some journalists when confronted by anonymous briefings by officials not backed by evidence.


He warned three years ago of the danger that one day there might be a president who abused the system. The warning failed to gain much traction, given that Obama’s presidency seemed relatively benign. But it resonates more today, in the wake of Donald Trump’s response to the Russian hacking of the Democratic party: that he wished he had the power to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.


If Obama, as seems likely, declines to pardon Snowden, his chances under either Clinton or Trump would seem to be even slimmer. He described the 2016 presidential race as unprecedented “in terms of the sort of authoritarian policies that are being put forward”.


“Unfortunately, many candidates in the political mainstream today, even pundits and commentators who aren’t running for office, believe we have to be able to do anything, no matter what, as long as there is some benefit to be had in doing so. But that is the logic of a police state.”


He is even less impressed by the British prime minister, referring to Theresa May as a “a sort of Darth Vader in the United Kingdom”, whose surveillance bill is “an egregious violation of human rights, that goes far further than any law proposed in the western world”.


Snowden was initially berated by opponents for failing to criticise the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, but he has become increasingly vocal. It is a potentially risky move, given his application for an extension of asylum is up for renewal next year, so why do it?


“Well, it would not be the first time I have taken a risk for something I believe in,” he said. “This is a complex situation. Russia is not my area of focus. It is not my area of expertise. I don’t speak Russian in a fluent manner that I could really participate in and influence policy. But when something happens that I believe is clearly a violation of the right thing, I believe we should stand up and say something about it.


“My priority always has to be my own country rather than Russia. I would like to help reform the human rights situation in Russia but I will never be well placed to do so relative to actual Russian activists themselves.”


Might he end up as part of a US-Russian prisoner exchange, with Putin possibly more amenable to the idea if Trump was in power? “There has always been the possibility that any government could say, ‘Well, it does not really matter whether it is a violation of human rights, it does not really matter whether it is a violation of law, it will be beneficial to use this individual as a bargaining chip’. This is not exclusive to me. This happens to activists around the world every day.”


He said he saw the Stone film as a mechanism for getting people to talk about surveillance, though he felt uncomfortable with other people telling his story.




Snowden has toyed with writing his memoirs but has not made much progress. There are at least three books about him on the way; an extensively researched one by the Washington Post’s Bart Gellman and two others thought to be hostile.


Asked if he was the source for the Panama Papers – the comments by the source sound like Snowden – he laughed. He praised the biggest data leak in history, adding that he would normally be happy to cloak other whistleblowers by neither denying nor confirming he was a source. But he would make an exception in the case of the Panama Papers. “I would not claim any credit for that.”


For someone who has spent his life trying to keep out of the public eye, he has now appeared in a Hollywood movie and an Oscar-winning documentary, and several plays, including Privacy, which just ended a run in New York and in which he has a part alongside Daniel Radcliffe.


“It was an alarming experience for me. I am not an actor. I have been told I am not very good at it. But you know if I can, I can try and maybe it will help, I will give it my best shot.”


For Snowden, his campaign for a pardon, even if forlorn, offers a chance to highlight his plight, and he expressed thanks to all those who were backing it. He also said he hoped that after the fuss of the movie he could finally fade into the background. “I really hope it is over,” he said. “That would be the greatest gift anyone could give me.”


“How can you impose restrictions on people gathering together when you know they’re going to gather together and offer prayers?” he said.


He said the fact separatists had been able to announce a protest during Eid, without a backlash from religious and community leaders, “shows how strong the sentiment is in the valley right now”.


Other than its sustained intensity – stretching 66 days and counting – the summer’s unrest is unusual for its focus on Kashmir’s southern valley, deeper inside Indian territory than the traditional rebel heartland along the northern ceasefire line with Pakistan. Its character is also more virulently pro-militant than in the past.



On Sunday, in the southern district, police investigating reports of anti-India fighters in Karimabad village were pelted with stones by villagers. They responded with teargas and pellet guns until being forced to retreat.



“We have a confirmation about 35 [villagers] injured in the clashes,” Rayees Bhat, the police chief for the district, said. “Some reports say up to 100 have been injured, but we don’t have confirmation on that.”


Similar hostility, alongside regular protests and marches, has turned many villages into no-go zones and blunted counter-insurgency efforts against separatist fighters, whose scattered forces are thought to number fewer than 200.


At least seven militants and one police officer were killed in two separate clashes on Sunday, the Indian army said, with one of the gunfights, around a government secretariat in the Poonch district of Jammu, still raging on Monday.


The trigger for the unrest was the death in July of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the most prominent of a new breed of homegrown, millennial militants, whose brand-building on social media, and demands for a caliphate, owe more to groups such as Islamic State than the masked Kashmiri insurgents of the 1990s.


Wani, thought to be 21, was shot dead by Indian police. The next day his funeral attracted tens of thousands of mourners and ignited demonstrations across the former princedom, which was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 and is still claimed by both.


In the first two days after Wani’s death, according to police records, at least 26 protesters were killed as mobs attacked police stations and camps.


 Kashmir Muslims shout anti-Indian slogans after weeks of violence that have left scores dead and thousands injured

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 Kashmir Muslims shout anti-Indian slogans after weeks of violence that have left scores dead and thousands injured. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Injuries, especially to the eyes, have also mounted in violent demonstrations that pit young rock-throwing protesters against Indian police and paramilitary forces armed with assault rifles and non-lethal riot control weapons.


One of the latest casualties was Farah, a teenager from central Kashmir’s Budgam district, who was rushed to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital on Saturday morning. Three pieces of metal shrapnel fired from “non-lethal” pellet guns had lodged in the 18-year-old’s chin, neck and the corner of her right eye.


“There was a rally in our village when they [security forces] came and started tear-smoke shelling. We tried to run and she got hit by the pellets,” Farah’s cousin, Bashir Ahmad, told the Guardian, as she was taken to an operating theatre.


Nearby, another young protester – his face, neck, chest and legs pockmarked by pellet wounds – waited his turn. He gave the false name Burhan, after the militant whose death had inspired him to take to the streets.


“He fought for a noble cause,” the 16-year-old, from Pulwama district, said of Wani. “He wanted to establish Allah’s law, the law of Qur’an in this land. The protests should continue till we get freedom, the freedom for the sake of Islam,” he said


He was accompanied by another young man, Jehangir Pandit, who said the peaceful passage of Eid this week depended on the government. “If they allow the prayers to happen then things will be fine, but if they stop people from offering prayers, the situation will become very bad. It will lead to battles,” he said.


In any case, it would be a sombre affair. “No one will celebrate it because so many people have died and so many have been injured,” he said.


The hospital in Srinagar was crowded with volunteers, providing medicine, meals and tea to patients and their friends and families in the halls.


Farooq Ahmad, a trader in his mid-40s, attended to a stall set up by a local business group, dispensing up to 1,000 cups of tea each day for the entire nine weeks of conflict, he said.


He planned to spend this week’s festival at the hospital. “This is going to be a tough Eid,” he added.

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How To Get Sick On The U.S. Campaign Trail: Little Sleep, Bad Food, Germs Everywhere




Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia has shed light on a problem seldom seen by American voters: The long days, little sleep, cross-country travel, bad food and kissing babies add up to a recipe for illness for presidential candidates and aides.

Avoiding viruses and other ailments can be next to impossible for people who spend months in the close confines of campaign planes and buses.

Brooke Buchanan, former press secretary to 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, remembers leaving the campaign trail in Beaufort, South Carolina to visit an emergency room. She had a respiratory ailment and two ear infections.

“You have to soldier on during certain things, but there’s a point when you become a liability,” Buchanan said. “I was back on the road the next day, full of antibiotics.” Supporters of Clinton, who will face Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 election, worried on Monday that the Democratic presidential nominee’s medical scare would fuel conspiracy theories about her health. But Republican and Democratic political veterans alike say illnesses are an unwelcome but standard part of life on the campaign trail. Alice Stewart, who was a senior adviser to former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz during the Republican primary earlier this year, remembers coughing her way through some of his news conferences while she was recording them for the campaign. She called the Cruz plane a “flying petri dish.” “You just kind of power through it. When you’re on the road, you can’t drive home,” Stewart said.

In recent weeks, several staff at Clinton’s campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters have fallen ill and required medical treatment, a campaign aide said. Steven Simpson, a pulmonary specialist at the University of Kansas, said candidates were particularly vulnerable to illness. “The average patient, if you have the luxury of it, takes the week off before you go back to your full duties,” Simpson said. “But how do you say that to a presidential candidate?”

Obama’s Handkerchief

President Barack Obama caught a cold in August 2008, shortly before the Democratic Party’s convention. A video posted on YouTube shows him sneezing at a rally. “That’s why I’ve got my handkerchief,” he said.

“Every candidate and campaign aide gets sick, but they just never get to take days off,” said former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer. “You take vitamin C and try to get sleep, but it’s a losing battle.”

Obama’s 2008 opponent, John McCain, traveled at times with a friend who was a doctor, said Steve Schmidt, the Republican candidate’s campaign manager.

“I think one of the secrets of working in a White House or on a presidential campaign is it’s the closest you can ever get to traveling with Elvis (Presley) when it comes to the number of pills that are floating around,” Schmidt said. “There was always a big bag of every conceivable type of antibiotic and cold medicine, and you name it - we had it.”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney developed a respiratory illness days before delivering his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012.

“I was scared to death that he wouldn’t really be able to speak,” said Stuart Stevens, who was Romney’s senior adviser. 

“Doctors tell you to rest. But there’s no time for that.”


The grueling schedule led Stevens himself to develop pneumonia right after the 2012 campaign ended.



Unhealthy food is another hazard of the campaign trail. Junk food is ubiquitous on campaign planes, and candidates flock to gatherings such as the Iowa State Fair that serve up fried candy bars, sausages and other high-calorie fare.


Romney, who also ran for president in 2008, would sometimes pick the cheese off his pizza and the skin off fried chicken to limit the fat content, said former spokesman Ryan Williams.


“It’s not healthy food, it’s campaign food,” said Williams. “And most operatives see themselves put on 10 or 20 pounds by the end of the campaign.”


Trump is a noted germophobe, and there has been little evidence of him having gotten ill. He is a proud consumer of fast food, once tweeting a photo of himself on his plane with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken nearby.


That was also the chicken of choice for 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole, who managed to avoid getting sick throughout his campaign, said his then-traveling press secretary, Nelson Warfield.


“Much of the campaign staff that was half his age were hobbled at some point or another during the campaign, but Dole was resilient,” he said.


Still, Dole had one nasty stumble. He fell off a stage in Chico, California, at campaign rally on Oct. 18, 1996. He got up smiling and soldiered on.

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Kashmir Braces For Eid Bloodshed Amid Summer Of Violent Protests

kashmir M

The Guardian


Authorities in Kashmir are bracing for the start of the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha, fearing mass religious gatherings and scheduled protests could become another flashpoint in the region’s bloodiest summer in five years.

Livestock bazaars, markets and bakeries, ordinarily bustling in the run-up to Islam’s festival of sacrifice, were virtually deserted across the Himalayan valley after more than two months of violent protests and the deaths of 80 civilians. Past outbreaks of sustained unrest in the Muslim-majority state have tended to recede during the three days of Eid-ul-Adha, when thousands traditionally gather to pray and sacrifice animals in honour of the prophet Abraham. This year, despite a continued ban on public assembly, leaders of anti-India groups have called for a march on Tuesday to a UN office in the summer capital, Srinagar, setting up a potential showdown with security forces. Muzaffar Baig, a senior figure in the ruling Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic party, said it was unlikely the march would be allowed to take place. “There would be a lot of people and some may not be disciplined, some may start throwing stones, and it could turn ugly and result in deaths,” he said.

Outside the capital, police sources said Indian troops could be deployed in restive districts to keep any large Eid congregations under control. But Omar Abdullah, who was chief minister of the region during the last significant outbreak of violence in 2010, said the ban on public gatherings would be impossible to enforce during the feast.


“How can you impose restrictions on people gathering together when you know they’re going to gather together and offer prayers?” he said.


He said the fact separatists had been able to announce a protest during Eid, without a backlash from religious and community leaders, “shows how strong the sentiment is in the valley right now”.


Other than its sustained intensity – stretching 66 days and counting – the summer’s unrest is unusual for its focus on Kashmir’s southern valley, deeper inside Indian territory than the traditional rebel heartland along the northern ceasefire line with Pakistan. Its character is also more virulently pro-militant than in the past.


 An Indian paramilitary soldier walks past graffiti on a wall in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir

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On Sunday, in the southern district, police investigating reports of anti-India fighters in Karimabad village were pelted with stones by villagers. They responded with teargas and pellet guns until being forced to retreat.



“We have a confirmation about 35 [villagers] injured in the clashes,” Rayees Bhat, the police chief for the district, said. “Some reports say up to 100 have been injured, but we don’t have confirmation on that.”


Similar hostility, alongside regular protests and marches, has turned many villages into no-go zones and blunted counter-insurgency efforts against separatist fighters, whose scattered forces are thought to number fewer than 200.


At least seven militants and one police officer were killed in two separate clashes on Sunday, the Indian army said, with one of the gunfights, around a government secretariat in the Poonch district of Jammu, still raging on Monday.


The trigger for the unrest was the death in July of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the most prominent of a new breed of homegrown, millennial militants, whose brand-building on social media, and demands for a caliphate, owe more to groups such as Islamic State than the masked Kashmiri insurgents of the 1990s.


Wani, thought to be 21, was shot dead by Indian police. The next day his funeral attracted tens of thousands of mourners and ignited demonstrations across the former princedom, which was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 and is still claimed by both.


In the first two days after Wani’s death, according to police records, at least 26 protesters were killed as mobs attacked police stations and camps.


Injuries, especially to the eyes, have also mounted in violent demonstrations that pit young rock-throwing protesters against Indian police and paramilitary forces armed with assault rifles and non-lethal riot control weapons.


One of the latest casualties was Farah, a teenager from central Kashmir’s Budgam district, who was rushed to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital on Saturday morning. Three pieces of metal shrapnel fired from “non-lethal” pellet guns had lodged in the 18-year-old’s chin, neck and the corner of her right eye.


“There was a rally in our village when they [security forces] came and started tear-smoke shelling. We tried to run and she got hit by the pellets,” Farah’s cousin, Bashir Ahmad, told the Guardian, as she was taken to an operating theatre.


Nearby, another young protester – his face, neck, chest and legs pockmarked by pellet wounds – waited his turn. He gave the false name Burhan, after the militant whose death had inspired him to take to the streets.


“He fought for a noble cause,” the 16-year-old, from Pulwama district, said of Wani. “He wanted to establish Allah’s law, the law of Qur’an in this land. The protests should continue till we get freedom, the freedom for the sake of Islam,” he said


He was accompanied by another young man, Jehangir Pandit, who said the peaceful passage of Eid this week depended on the government. “If they allow the prayers to happen then things will be fine, but if they stop people from offering prayers, the situation will become very bad. It will lead to battles,” he said.


In any case, it would be a sombre affair. “No one will celebrate it because so many people have died and so many have been injured,” he said.


The hospital in Srinagar was crowded with volunteers, providing medicine, meals and tea to patients and their friends and families in the halls.


Farooq Ahmad, a trader in his mid-40s, attended to a stall set up by a local business group, dispensing up to 1,000 cups of tea each day for the entire nine weeks of conflict, he said.


He planned to spend this week’s festival at the hospital. “This is going to be a tough Eid,” he added.

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Trump Says Health Is An ‘Issue’ After Clinton’s Pneumonia Disclosure



Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Monday that health is an issue in the election campaign after his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, revealed she had pneumonia, and he said he would soon release detailed health information.

“I just hope she gets well and gets back on the trail, and we’ll be seeing her at the debate,” Trump said in a phone interview with Fox News. Asked if the health of the candidates was an issue, Trump said: “I think it’s an issue. In fact ... this last week I took a physical and .... when the numbers come in I’ll be releasing very, very specific numbers.”

Clinton’s bout of pneumonia, kept secret until she nearly collapsed on Sunday, has raised uncertainty about her health going into the final weeks of presidential campaigning.

The Clinton campaign finally disclosed on Sunday that the 68-year-old Democratic presidential nominee had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday after she complained of allergies and was seen coughing repeatedly in recent days. The disclosure was made public hours after her campaign said she had become “overheated” to explain why, knees buckling and unsteady, she was rushed from a ceremony marking the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment. Trump, 70, has been suggesting for weeks that Clinton lacks the energy needed to be president. During the Republican primary campaign, Trump dispatched rival Jeb Bush by deriding him as a “low energy” candidate. His efforts to raise questions about Clinton’s stamina mirror that strategy. The pneumonia incident brought up some familiar concerns about Clinton’s penchant for secrecy which has fueled a debate about her use of a private email server while she was President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. “You’ve got Donald Trump promoting health conspiracy theories to begin with, so any time something even lends an air of credence to that conspiracy, it needs to be debunked right away,” Democratic strategist Bud Jackson said. Clinton’s campaign canceled a two-day trip by the former first lady to California which was scheduled to begin Monday morning. Democratic donor and fundraiser Bill Bartmann fielded calls from about half a dozen Democrats worried about how Clinton’s health episode would look.

The callers, he said, decided to wait and see how everything plays out. The health problem was the latest blow for Clinton at a time when Trump has erased most of her lead in national opinion polls and is competitive again in many battleground states where the Nov. 8 election is likely to be decided. Her dismissal of half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” of racist, homophobic people on Friday triggered a firestorm of criticism and prompted her to roll back the comment. The issue also put pressure on both Clinton and Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, to reassure American voters about their health, given the rigors of the presidential campaign, in which the food is often unhealthy, sleep is elusive and the packed schedule and extensive travel is stressful.

“The short-term turbulence will be more about the handling of this than the substance, though I’m sure both candidates will be pressed for greater disclosure of health records,” said David Axelrod, a former adviser to Obama.


Trump told CNBC on Monday he would probably release information about his own health this week.




Trump is expected to discuss his own health regimen in an interview to air on Thursday with celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz.


Trump, a New York businessman, has made no secret of his affinity for fast food, sometimes sharing photos of himself on his campaign jet or at Trump Tower enjoying fried chicken, hamburgers and a taco bowl.


But he has made less information available about his health than Clinton has. Last December, he released a statement from his doctor, Harold Bornstein, that described him in excellent health with “extraordinary” strength and stamina.


The statement did not mention what medicine Trump might be taking or other details typically included in such disclosures. It was dramatically different from the hundreds of pages of medical records released by Republican nominee John McCain in 2008 to reassure Americans about his bouts of skin cancer.


“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” Bornstein wrote. The Manhattan physician said in August he wrote the letter in five minutes as a Trump limo waited to pick it up.


Clinton released a two-page letter outlining her medical condition in July 2015 that sought to reassure Americans about her health after she fell and suffered a concussion at home in 2012 near the end of her tenure at the State Department.




Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Pittsburgh who is not treating Clinton, said recovery from pneumonia can vary from about a week to longer, depending on the severity.


“Some patients have very little difficulties with activities of daily living and are only mildly hampered by it while others may require hospitalization and have to reduce their activities,” he said, adding that pneumonia was the 8th leading cause of death in the United States.


Clinton’s campaign is likely to be pressed on why she did not make her pneumonia diagnosis public until late Sunday afternoon despite receiving it two days earlier.


“I think it’s exceedingly important that Hillary Clinton be transparent about what’s going on,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “If she gets a report of pneumonia on Friday, they should try to tell the public in real time. The danger for a candidate is if they seem to be hiding their health history.”

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Aid Agencies On Standby With Syria Ceasefire Due To Start At Sunset

The Guardian


Aid agencies are preparing to send food and medical supplies to the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, with a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US due to begin at sunset on Monday. Turkey said more than 30 aid trucks, under UN supervision, were ready to deliver humanitarian supplies to the city, amid hopes that the proposed truce will secure a rare lull in a war that has killed almost 300,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.

“Today after sunset, whether it is the UN or our Red Crescent, they will send food, toys and clothing to the people, mainly in Aleppo, through the predetermined corridors,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told reporters.

Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, now chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, said the deal offered the best chance of a ceasefire since the five-year civil war began. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “The indications are certainly that there is a better short-term chance of a decent lull in the fighting than has ever happened before. The degree of Russian engagement seems to be of a much greater order than of any of the previous ceasefire attempts.” He said aid agencies had been given assurances at the highest level that they would be able to deliver aid over the next week if all sides complied with the agreement.

Miliband said: “If there are enough short-term interests that join the Americans and the Russians, then those of us on the humanitarian side have got a chance to try and make a difference for 17 million benighted people within the Syrian territory.” But he warned that the medium-term prospects for Syria still looked bleak because of differences between Russia and the US over the future of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Miliband said: “The great difficulty is going to come down to the future of President Assad, because obviously in the west he is perceived as someone who has not just murdered many of his own citizens but has radicalised those who are still there. On the Russia side they see him as the great hope. And there is nothing in this agreement that gets over that fundamental division.”


The proposed truce was announced on Saturday after marathon talks by the Russian and US foreign ministers.


Under the terms of the agreement, the rebels and the Syrian government are expected to stop attacking one another, though the regime can continue to strike at Islamic State and other jihadi groups. Theoretically, Russia and the US will then establish a joint centre to combat jihadi groups.


One rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, an influential Islamist force with links to al-Qaida, has already rejected the deal, saying it would only serve to strengthen Assad’s regime.


Two other rebel groups have written to the US saying they would cooperate, but voiced reservations. They said excluding the former al-Qaida affiliate group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, from the deal, but not foreign militias backed by Iran, showed double standards. They said the exclusion would be used by Russia and the Assad regime as a pretext to attack other rebel groups.



Airstrikes on Aleppo and Idlib have killed at least 74 people since the deal was announced, according to the monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Syria’s state news agency Sana said the Assad government “approved the agreement” for a truce. Speaking during a tour of the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Monday, Assad said: “The Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists, and to rebuild.”


Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, which has intervened militarily on behalf of Assad, also announced its support.


Iran too welcomed the deal, but foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi cautioned that its success relied on creating “a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, in particular control of borders in order to stop the dispatch of fresh terrorists” to Syria.


Residents of eastern Aleppo are sceptical that aid will be delivered. “You cannot be happy when you’re living in terror,” Abo Aljood told the Guardian.


Previous attempts to stop the fighting and deliver humanitarian aid to Syria failed within weeks, with the United States accusing Assad’s forces of attacking opposition groups and civilians.


The UN said on Friday the Syrian government had effectively stopped aid convoys this month and Aleppo was close to running out of fuel, making a successful truce even more urgent.

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Apple Sets Stage For Iphone 7, Many Already Waiting For 8




The iPhone 7 is expected to make its global debut on Wednesday, but many consumers and investors are already setting their sights on Apple Inc’s 2017 version of the popular gadget, hoping for more significant advances.

At its annual product launch in San Francisco on Wednesday, the world’s most valuable publicly traded company is expected by blogs and analysts to reveal an iPhone without a headphone jack, paving the way for wireless headphones, a touch-sensitive home button that vibrates, double-lens cameras for the larger ‘Plus’ edition and other incremental improvements. Apple typically gives its main product, which accounts for more than half of its revenue, a big makeover every other year and the last major redesign was the iPhone 6, in 2014. 

The modest updates suggest that this cycle will be three years. “It looks like part of the reason they are keeping the design the same this year is there are bigger changes they are working on for next year,” said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. Sales of the iPhone dropped two quarters in a row this year, the first declines in the history of the device. With many consumers who purchased the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus due for an upgrade, Apple may eke out single-digit gains in sales for the 7, Dawson said.

But some consumer technology sites are advising users to hold off on upgrading until the next year’s version, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone.

Analysts say the iPhone 8 may feature a wider display that reaches from one edge of the device to the other and a home button integrated into the screen.


Wall Street is impatient for growth, and Apple will be hard-pressed to reverse the downward trend this year, said Colin Gillis, an analyst with BGC Partners.


“The iPhone 7 runs the risk of disappointing investors,” he said.




VIDEOiPhone 7 launch lacks the usual buzz in China

VIDEOiPhone 7 launch lacks the usual buzz in China

VIDEOApple launch event missing big buzz

Consumers are waiting longer before replacing their phones, a shift that Apple must address in its product roadmap, said analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies.


Analysts predict the Apple Watch will be the second closely watched feature of the event. Apple is expected to revamp the wearable, released last year, with a faster processor and a GPS chip, enabling users to track runs and other workouts without their phones. Most analysts believe sales of Apple’s watch - which the company has not disclosed - have not yet justified the fanfare.


Starting at $299, well above many other wearables on the market, the most meaningful change Apple can make is a price cut, Bajarin said.


“This category is very price sensitive,” he said. Apple is “not there yet.”

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Trump And Clinton Look To Pass U.S. Commander-In-Chief Test




Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, pledging a major new military buildup, and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton get a chance on Wednesday to show how they would lead the U.S. armed forces as commander-in-chief.

The two Nov. 8 election opponents are to make back-to-back appearances at an NBC “commander-in-chief” forum in New York, Clinton first, followed by Trump. It will offer a prelude of what to expect from them when national security issues come up in their three presidential debates.

Trump is to lay out a major military rebuilding proposal at an 11 a.m. EDT address in Philadelphia. A senior aide said he would outline a plan for new ships, planes, submarines, combat troops and missile defense systems.

It would be paid for by lifting congressionally mandated spending caps and launching a new round of budget reforms to save money. The Trump campaign did not immediately provide an estimate of how much the buildup might cost.

The forum in New York will allow both campaigns to shift their messages to national security, a major topic for voters given the threat of Islamist militants, China’s military activities in the South China Sea, and nuclear-armed North Korea’s ballistic missile tests.

Clinton is trying to raise questions about Trump’s temperament and fitness for office given his history of incendiary rhetoric, such as declaring President Barack Obama “the founder of ISIS,” an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

On Tuesday in Tampa, Florida, Clinton seized on Trump’s statement the previous day that if he had been treated like Obama had been on arrival in China last week, he would have ordered the plane to return him home. Obama was made to disembark from Air Force One on a secondary set of stairs and reporters who traveled with him were hectored by Chinese officials for trying to watch him get off the aircraft. “Apparently Trump said if there had been the kerfuffle about the stairs and the press, he would have just stayed on the plane and gone home. I think that’s yet another very strong piece of evidence as to why he should never be anywhere near the White House,” Clinton said.


No Advantage

Neither candidate had an advantage when it came to national security, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling in August. Respondents were evenly split between Clinton and Trump when asked “which presidential candidate do you believe will be better at keeping us safe?”. Some 38 percent of likely voters picked Clinton, while 39 percent picked Trump.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said Clinton and Trump both face tests in convincing voters that they are up to the task. “As the first woman to be a major party nominee, Clinton is forging new ground. A lot of voters will be asking themselves: Is she tough enough? And Trump’s excited a lot of people and he scares a lot of others who’ll be asking ‘is this the guy I want protecting me and my family?

Can he handle having his finger on the big red button?’,” Yepsen said. Trump is to use his Philadelphia speech to accuse Clinton of backing “military adventurism” for her handling of conflicts in Libya and the Middle East while she was Obama’s secretary of state from 2009-13. Trump’s engagement with the Middle East, by contrast, would be to work with governments even if they were not necessarily strong on democracy, his senior aide said. Trump has some convincing to do on foreign policy. Many national security experts from past Republican administrations have declared him unfit for the Oval Office.


Presidential scholar Thomas Alan Schwartz of Vanderbilt University said Trump was likely to cite then-U.S. senator Clinton’s vote in favor of the much-criticized 2003 Iraq war as evidence of why he is more suited for commander-in-chief.


“I think one thing you’ll see at the debates is him suggesting that he’ll be a careful commander-in-chief and that it’s Hillary more likely to get us into war,” he said.


“We have, despite resistance from some countries, secured some language on the importance of doing that,” the official said.


Asked if China was one of those resisting, she just repeated “in the face of some resistance”.


Another shadow over the G20 has been the rise of popular opposition to free trade and globalization, embodied by phenomenon like Britain’s summer vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump becoming the Republican presidential candidate in the United States.


“We agree with the G20’s analysis that the benefits of trade and open markets must be communicated to the wider public more effectively,” said John Danilovich, Secretary General of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce.


“It’s vital that business and governments work together to explain how and why trade matters for all.”


($1 = 1.3110 Australian dollars)

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Panama Papers: Denmark Buys Leaked Data To Use In Tax Evasion Inquiries

The Guardian


Denmark has become the first country in the world to buy data from the Panama Papers leak, and now plans to investigate whether 500-600 Danes who feature in the leaked offshore archive may have evaded tax.

Denmark’s tax minister, Karsten Lauritzen, said he has paid DKK9m (£1m) for the information, which comes from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. He said an anonymous source approached the Danish government over the summer.

The source sent over an initial sample of documents and the government reviewed them. After concluding they were genuine, it secretly negotiated support for the controversial deal from political parties in parliament, the minister said. 

“Everything suggests that it is useful information. We owe it to all Danish taxpayers who faithfully pay their taxes,” Lauritzen said, admitting that he had originally been “very wary”. He added: “The material contains relevant and valid information about several hundred Danish taxpayers.” The Panama Papers, published in April, were the biggest leak in history. The archive includes 12.7m documents. There are details of offshore companies – half of them incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, a UK tax haven – as well as of secret “beneficial owners”. An anonymous source, “John Doe”, gave the archive to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. An international consortium of journalists from 180 media organisations including the Guardian examined the leaked files, which featured several heads of state and politicians. It is unclear if John Doe is the same source who sold information to the Danes. Lauritzen said he did not know who the source was. The government communicated with him – or her – via encrypted channels, he said, after being put in touch by a tax authority in another country.

This raises the prospect that other European countries may discreetly be buying data on their own citizens. In 2014, German tax officials paid about €1m (£850,000) for files from a much smaller Mossack Fonseca leak. They carried out raids on customers of Commerzbank, suspected of evading tax.

Tax authorities from around the world including HM Revenue and Customs asked journalists earlier this year to give them access to the Panama Papers archive. All approaches were declined. DR, Denmark’s state broadcasting corporation, refused a request from the country’s rightwing liberal government.

The government had already started an investigation into eight Danish banks. A preliminary report said the banks had not done enough to ensure offshore accounts weren’t used for money laundering or tax evasion. The authorities also asked police to investigate whether Nordea Bank, with 11 million customers, had complied with anti-money laundering directives.

This is the first time Denmark has chosen to buy information on suspected tax evaders. Dennis Flydtkjær, an MP with the Danish People’s party and a tax rapporteur, said that he was sceptical about the deal but that “in this case we can be prepared to bend our principles”.

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EU Demands Apple Pay Ireland Up To 13 Billion Euros In Tax




EU antitrust regulators ordered Apple (AAPL.O) on Tuesday to pay up to 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) in taxes plus interest to the Irish government after ruling that a special scheme to route profits through Ireland was illegal state aid.

The massive sum, 40 times bigger than the previous known demand by the European Commission to a company in such a case, could be reduced, the EU executive said in a statement, if other countries sought more tax themselves from the U.S. tech giant. Apple, which with Ireland said it will appeal the decision, paid tax rates on European profits on sales of its iPhone and other devices and services of between just 0.005 percent in 2014 and 1 percent in 2003, the Commission said.

“Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years,” said Competition Commission Margrethe Vestager, whose crackdown on mainly U.S. multinationals has angered Washington which accuses Brussels of protectionism.

Online retailer Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and hamburger group McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) face probes over taxes in Luxembourg, while coffee chain Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) has been ordered to pay up to 30 million euros ($33 million) to the Dutch state.

A bill of 300 million euros this year for Swedish engineer Atlas Copco AB (ATCOa.ST) to pay Belgian tax is the current known record. Other companies ordered to pay back taxes in Belgium, many of them European, have not disclosed figures.

For Apple, whose earnings of $18 billion last year were the biggest ever reported by a corporation, finding several billion dollars should not be an insurmountable problem. The 13 billion euros represents about 6 percent of the firm’s cash pile.

As of June, Apple reported it had cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities of $231.5 billion, of which 92.8 percent, or $214.9 billion, were held in foreign subsidiaries. It paid $2.67 billion in taxes during its latest quarter at an effective tax rate of 25.5 percent, leaving it with net income of $7.8 billion according to company filings.

The European Commission in 2014 accused Ireland of dodging international tax rules by letting Apple shelter profits worth tens of billions of dollars from tax collectors in return for maintaining jobs. Apple and Ireland rejected the accusation.

“I disagree profoundly with the Commission,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a statement. “The decision leaves me with no choice but to seek cabinet approval to appeal.

“This is necessary to defend the integrity of our tax system; to provide tax certainty to business; and to challenge the encroachment of EU state aid rules into the sovereign member state competence of taxation.”

Ireland also said the disputed tax system used in the Apple case no longer applied and that the decision had no effect on Ireland’s 12.5 percent corporate tax rate or on any other company with operations in the country.

Apple said in a statement it was confident of winning an appeal. “The European Commission has launched an effort to rewrite Apple’s history in Europe, ignore Ireland’s tax laws and upend the international tax system in the process. The Commission’s case is not about how much Apple pays in taxes, it’s about which government collects the money. 


It will have a profound and harmful effect on investment and job creation in Europe.”




When it opened the Apple investigation in 2014, the Commission told the Irish government that tax rulings it agreed in 1991 and 2007 with the company amounted to state aid and might have broken EU laws.


The Commission said the rulings were “reverse engineered” to ensure Apple had a minimal Irish bill and that minutes of meetings between Apple representatives and Irish tax officials showed the company’s tax treatment had been “motivated by employment considerations.”


Apple employs 5,500, or about a quarter of its Europe-based staff, in the Irish city of Cork, where it is the largest private sector employer. It has said it paid Ireland’s 12.5 percent rate on all the income that it generates in the country.


Ireland’s low corporate tax rate has been a cornerstone of economic policy for 20 years, drawing investors from multinational companies whose staff account for almost one in 10 workers in Ireland.


Some opposition Irish lawmakers have urged Dublin to collect whatever tax the Commission orders it to. But the main opposition party Fianna Fail, whose support the minority administration relies on to pass laws, said it would support an appeal based on reassurances it had been given by the government.


The U.S. Treasury Department published a white paper last week that said the EU executive’s tax investigations departed from international taxation norms and would have an outsized impact on U.S. companies. The Commission said it treated all companies equally.

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UN Under Pressure To Set Up Inquiry Into Syria Aid Programme


The Guardian


The United Nations is under increasing pressure to set up an independent inquiry into its Syria aid programme after a Guardian investigation found contracts worth tens of millions of dollars have been awarded to people closely associated with the president, Bashar al-Assad.

Former UN officials, diplomats, lawyers, and the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW) are among those who have raised serious concerns about the way Damascus appears to be directing the aid effort and benefiting from some of these deals.

Salman Shaikh, a Middle East specialist who has worked for the UN, said it was time for the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to intervene. “It’s as serious as that,” he added. The UN says its work has saved millions of lives. But it concedes it can only stay in Syria with the approval of Assad, who has restricted which partners its agencies are able to work with.

“Our choices in Syria are limited by a highly insecure context where finding companies and partners who operate in besieged and hard to reach areas is extremely challenging,” a UN spokesman said.

Analysis by the Guardian revealed UN agencies have been awarding substantial contracts to Syrian government departments and Syrian businessmen whose companies are under US and EU sanctions.

Documents show the World Health Organisation has spent more than $5m (£3.3m) to support Syria’s national blood bank, which is being controlled by Assad’s defence department, raising questions about whether blood supplies are reaching those in need or are being directed to the military first. The UN’s own procurement documents show its agencies have done business with at least another 258 Syrian companies, paying sums as high as $54m and £36m. Many are likely to have links to Assad, or those close to him.

“In the name of delivering aid to some needy people in opposition-held areas, the UN is subsidising the Syrian government’s war-crimes strategy of targeting those same people,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW. “That’s hardly the tough-minded pragmatism that the UN claims is informing its aid efforts.”

Antonia Mulvey, the founder and executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, said the UN’s conduct was an example of “pragmatism versus principles playing out in a conflict. Upholding fundamental human rights loses nearly every time.”

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which runs more than 100 clinics in Syria, mostly in areas outside government control, told the Guardian that the Syrian defence ministry had tight control of kits at the country’s blood banks. “Activists and medical workers started to smuggle [supplies] to areas under siege and field hospitals,” said Dr Zaher Sahloul.

“It is shocking to find out the UN, through funding from the US and UK, have supported the regime’s blood banks while the same regime targeted, tortured and killed medics and activists who were trying to smuggle supplies to save the lives of the victims of regime atrocities.”

Shaikh, a former director of the Brookings Institution thinktank, said he had worked for the UN when its former secretary general, Kofi Annan, had set up inquiries into Rwanda and the “oil for food” allegations.

“Ban Ki-moon now needs to do something similar here. Talking to Syrians, the mistrust and the lack of confidence regarding the UN’s efforts and particularly those inside the country is something that’s going to bedevil the whole international community for a very long time.


“We can’t condemn the UN totally – it is a complicated situation in Syria, which is why he needs to move fast to restore trust in the organisation. He needs to establish an inquiry with a mandate to investigate the facts of the system’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and it should cover the period March 2011 to December 2016.”


UN’s $4bn aid effort in Syria is morally bankrupt | Reinoud Leenders

 Read more

A senior European diplomat, who asked not to be named, said those countries with influence on Damascus had to put Assad under considerable political pressure to make it easier for the UN to operate in Syria. “It remains a reality that the UN can never be better than its member states, particularly the permanent members of the security council.”


The UN aid operation in Syria is the most expensive and complex it has ever undertaken. It argues it has already saved millions of lives during the brutal five year conflict. Privately, officials fear if they over-challenge Assad the UN will be thrown out of the country.


“Operating in Syria, with the conflict now entering its sixth year, forces humanitarians to make difficult choices,” a UN spokesman said.


“When faced with having to decide whether to procure goods or services from businesses that may be affiliated with the government or let civilians go without life-saving assistance, the choice is clear: our duty is to the civilians in need.”


The UN also points out it does not have to abide by EU or US sanctions. It only needs to abide by UN sanctions.


The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) said it had little choice but to work with the Syrian regime. “The alternative is stark: many more children dying or suffering. This is the dilemma that Unicef and humanitarian agencies face on a daily basis.


“Children in Syria are hurting because of the failure of politicians to reach a peaceful solution to the war. We cannot let them down. We must do everything to alleviate the suffering of children.”



Sharma has previously been criticised over his views on nights out for women. “It may be alright elsewhere, but it is not part of Indian culture,” he said last year.

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Female Tourists Should Not Wear Skirts In India, Says Tourism Minister


The Guardian


India’s tourism minister has said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”.

Discussing tourist security in the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Mahesh Sharma said foreign arrivals to India were issued a welcome kit that included safety advice for women.

“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said on Sunday. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.”Women walk alone to reclaim India’s streets from fear and harassment.

He added: “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts ... Indian culture is different from the western.”

The welcome kit, geared at female travellers and introduced last year, is one of a suite of measures introduced to address declining rates of female tourism after the high-profile gang-rape and murder of a Delhi medical student in 2012, and a number of subsequent attacks on female tourists. The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”

It mirrors the UK Foreign Office advice to women travelling in India, which suggests they “respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day”. Sharma clarified his remarks later on Sunday, denying they amounted to a dress code for foreign women. ”We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear. We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference,” he said. “It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, a thinktank focusing on gender equality in India. “The minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements.” Kumari said the remarks reflected “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wore and where they were. She said: “But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important for [Sharma] to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them. Why should any girls come to India when it is becoming famous for not being safe to girls?” India toughened sentences for rape and introduced fast-track courts for sexual assault trials after the fatal 2012 gang-rape focused world attention on violence against women in the country.

National crime statistics show 92 women are raped each day in India, mostly in rural areas, though the figure is widely believed to be an underestimate. Street harassment and violence, sometimes called “eve-teasing”, is even more common, experienced by 79% of Indian women according to a recent survey.

Tourists can be subjected to the same harassment and worse, most recently in July 2016 when an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a gang of men in the Himalayan resort town of Manali. A Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in 2014 in Bihar and a Russian assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi in 2015, among other cases. Sharma’s remarks trended on Indian social media on Monday and earned rebukes from political rivals.


— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) August 29, 2016

France shd send all burkinis it confiscates to our Tourism Minister who’ll turn India into a Hindu Saudi Barbaria https://t.co/o5XudSXzh3


— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) August 29, 2016

Women had greater freedom to wear clothes of their choice in Vedic times than they have in Modi times




— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishraAAP) August 29, 2016

I will be writing a letter to Mahesh Sharma ji today requesting him not to insult nation by such advisories. https://t.co/JnoteVLeqD


Sharma has previously been criticised over his views on nights out for women. “It may be alright elsewhere, but it is not part of Indian culture,” he said last year.

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Iran Deploys Russian-Made S-300 Missiles At Its Fordow Nuclear Site: Tv




Iran has deployed the Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile defence system around its Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility, Iranian state media reported on Monday.

Iranian state TV on Sunday aired footage of deployment of the recently delivered missile system to the nuclear site in the central Iran.

“Our main priority is to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities under any circumstances,” Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) air defense force told state TV.

Iran and the six major powers reached a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Tehran over its disputed nuclear work.

Enrichment of uranium at the Fordow facility, around 100 km (60 miles) south of Tehran, has stopped since the implementation of the nuclear deal in January.

Russia, under pressure from the West, in 2010 canceled a contract to deliver S-300s to Iran. But Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted that self-imposed ban in April 2015, after an interim deal was reached between Iran and the six powers. In August, Iran said that Russia had delivered main parts of the system to the country, adding that the missile system would be completely delivered by the end of 2016.

The IRGC’s Esmaili did not say whether the system was operational, but added: “Today, Iran’s sky is one of the most secure in the Middle East”.

Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that the country’s military power was for defensive purposes.

“The S-300 system is a defence system not an assault one, but the Americans did their utmost to prevent Iran from getting it,” Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. Outside the emergency room where Aldridge was pronounced dead, Jolinda Wade clutched her sister and spoke for the family as mourners stood in a circle holding hands and praying. She said she had participated in the town hall meeting “never knowing that the next day we would be the ones that would actually be living and experiencing it”. “We’re still going to try to help and empower people like the one who senselessly shot my niece in the head,” Jolinda Wade said. “We’re going to try to help these people to transform their minds and give them a different direction.”


It is not the first time Dwyane Wade’s family in Chicago has been affected by gun violence. His nephew, Darin Johnson, was shot twice in the leg on the south side in 2012; he recovered.


Family members are caring for Aldridge’s baby, who was not hurt.


Chicago recorded 381 homicides by the end of July, up 30% from the same period in 2015. Its murder rate is higher than that of the more populous cities of New York and Los Angeles.


Trump has recently made a succession of appeals to African American voters, among whom polls have given him as little as 0% support. On 22 August, in a speech in Akron, Ohio, he said: “You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats.


“And I ask you this, I ask you this – crime, all of the problems – to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: what the hell do you have to lose?”

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Turkish Forces Deepen Push Into Syria, Draw U.s. Rebuke Over Targets



Turkish-backed forces pushed deeper into northern Syria on Monday and drew a rebuke from NATO ally the United States, which said it was concerned the battle for territory had shifted away from targeting Islamic State. At the start of Turkey’s now almost week-long cross-border offensive, Turkish tanks, artillery and warplanes provided Syrian rebel allies the firepower to capture swiftly the Syrian frontier town of Jarablus from Islamic State militants. Since then, Turkish forces have mainly pushed into areas controlled by forces aligned to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition that encompasses the Kurdish YPG militia and which has been backed by Washington to fight the jihadists.

A group monitoring the tangled, five-year-old conflict in Syria said 41 people were killed by Turkish air strikes as Turkish forces pushed south on Sunday. Turkey denied there were any civilian deaths, saying 25 Kurdish militants were killed. “We want to make clear that we find these clashes - in areas where ISIL is not located - unacceptable and a source of deep concern,” said Brett McGurk, U.S special envoy for the fight against Islamic State, using an acronym for the jihadists. “We call on all armed actors to stand down,” he wrote on his official Twitter account, citing a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Turkey, which is battling a Kurdish insurgency on its soil, has said its campaign has a dual goal of “cleansing” the region of Islamic State and stopping Kurdish forces filling the void and extending the area they control near Turkey’s border.

That puts Ankara at odds with Washington and adds to tensions when Turkey’s government is still reeling from last month’s failed coup, which it says Washington was too slow to condemn. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden sought to patch up ties in a visit last week, just as Turkish forces entered Syria. On Monday, Turkish-backed forces advanced on Manbij, a city about 30 km (20 miles) south of Turkey’s border captured this month by the SDF, in which Kurdish fighters play a major part, with U.S. help.

The thud of artillery was heard in the Turkish border town of Karkamis. SDF-aligned militia said they were reinforcing Manbij but insisted none of the troops in the region or the extra fighters heading to the city were from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Turkey has said its warplanes and artillery have bombarded positions held by the Kurdish YPG militia in recent days. It accuses the YPG of seeking to take territory where there has not traditionally been a strong Kurdish ethnic contingent.  Islamic State The YPG, a powerful Syrian Kurdish militia in the SDF that Washington sees as a reliable ally against jihadists in the Syrian conflict, have dismissed the Turkish allegation and say any forces west of the Euphrates have long since left.



“Turkey’s claims that it is fighting the YPG west of the Euphrates have no basis in truth and are merely flimsy pretexts to widen its occupation of Syrian land,” Redur Xelil, chief spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, told Reuters.


U.S. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the U.S. “reiterated our view that the YPG must cross back to the eastern side of the Euphrates and understand that has largely occurred.”


Turkish-backed forces say they have seized a string of villages south of Jarablus in a region controlled by groups aligned to the U.S.- and Kurdish-backed SDF. They also say they have taken a few places to the west in Islamic State areas.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors Syria’s conflict, said Turkey-backed rebels had managed to seize at least 11 villages in 48 hours, bringing the total to at least 21 villages in the south and west Jarablus countryside captured since 25 August.


Syria’s conflict began in 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Since then it has drawn in regional states and world powers, with a proliferation of rival rebel groups, militias and jihadists adding to the complexity.

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Bomb Attacks Kill Seven, Wound 224 In Southeast Turkey




Two bomb attacks blamed on Kurdish militants killed seven members of the security forces and wounded 224 people in southeast Turkey on Thursday, officials and security sources said, in a renewed escalation of violence across the region.

A car bomb ripped through a police station in the city of Elazig at 9:20 a.m. (0620 GMT) as officers arrived for work. Three police officers were killed and 217 people were wounded, 85 of them police officers, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

Offices in the police station were left in ruins and filled with smoke after the bomb exploded in front of the complex, destroying part of the facade, CNN Turk footage showed.

Less than four hours later, a roadside bomb believed to have been planted by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants tore through a military vehicle in the Hizan district of Bitlis province, security sources said.

They said the blast killed three soldiers and a member of the state-sponsored village guard militia and wounded another seven soldiers.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, but Yildirim said there was no doubt they were carried out by the PKK, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

“The (PKK) terror group has lost its chain of command. Its elements inside (Turkey) are carrying out suicide attacks randomly wherever they get the opportunity,” Yildirim told reporters in Elazig. “We have raised the state of alarm to a higher level,” he said at the scene of the attack, where a crowd chanted “Damn the PKK!” The PKK has carried out dozens of attacks on police and military posts since 2015 in the largely Kurdish southeast in its fight for greater autonomy for Turkey’s 15 million Kurds. Elazig, a conservative province that votes in large numbers for the ruling AK Party, had been spared violence until now.

Video footage showed a plume of black smoke rising above the city after the blast, which uprooted trees and gouged a large crater outside the police complex, which is situated on a busy thoroughfare in the city of 420,000 people. In Van province, further east, two police officers and one civilian were killed and 73 people were wounded late on Wednesday when a car bomb exploded near a police station, the local governor’s office said in a statement.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Van, a largely Kurdish province on the Iranian border. The Van governor’s office said the PKK was responsible. The southeast has been scorched by violence since a 2 1/2-year ceasefire with the PKK collapsed in July last year. Thousands of militants and hundreds of soldiers and police officers have been killed, according to official figures. Rights groups say about 400 civilians have also been killed.

On Thursday, PKK militants also attacked a police checkpoint in the southeastern town of Semdinli, near the Iraqi and Iranian borders, wounding two police officers, Dogan news agency said.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in violence since the PKK first took up arms in 1984.

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Russia Uses Iran As Base To Bomb Syrian Militants For First Time




Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

In a move underscoring Moscow’s increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran’s Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year. It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian deployment will boost Russia’s image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads. The head of Iran’s National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic. Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria’s civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East. Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions. President Vladimir Putin visited in November and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power. The Russian Defence Ministry said its bombers had taken off on Tuesday from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran. To reach Syria, they would have had to use the air space of another neighboring country, probably Iraq.

The ministry said Tuesday’s strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province.

“As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed ... a militant training camp ... three command and control points ... and a significant number of militants,” the ministry said in a statement. The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said heavy air strikes on Tuesday had hit many targets in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing dozens.

Strikes in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhour districts of northeast Aleppo had killed around 20 people, while air raids in a corridor rebels opened this month into opposition-held eastern parts of the city had killed another nine, the observatory said.


The Russian Defence Ministry says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes.




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Zakaria Malahifi, political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, said he could not confirm if the newly deployed Russian bombers were in use, but said air strikes on Aleppo had intensified in recent days.


“It is much heavier,” he told Reuters. “There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo – cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on.”


Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.


Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in rebel areas, facing potential siege if the government closes off the corridor linking it with the outside.


Russian media reported on Tuesday that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past.


Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.


Russia’s state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and a Russian military transport plane inside Iran.


The channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before Tuesday had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia’s own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

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July 2016 Was World’s Hottest Month Since Records Began, Says Nasa


The Guardian


Last month was the hottest month in recorded history, beating the record set just 12 months before and continuing the long string of monthly records, according to the latest Nasa data.

The past nine months have set temperature records for their respective months and the trend continued this month to make 10 in a row, according to Nasa. July broke the absolute record for hottest month since records began in 1880. Similar data from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said the past 14 months have broken the temperature record for each month, but it hasn’t released its figures for July yet.

The new results were published on the Nasa database and tweeted by climatologist Gavin Schmidt, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Nasa’s results, which combine sea surface temperature and air temperature on land, showed July 2016 was 0.84C hotter than the 1951 to 1980 average for July, and 0.11C hotter than the previous record set in July 2015.

As the string of hottest months continues, 2016 is “virtually certain” to be the hottest year on record, said David Karoly, a climate scientist from the University of Melbourne. 

That string was caused by a combination of global warming and El Niño, which spreads warm water across the Pacific, giving a boost to global temperatures.

Karoly pointed out that Nasa’s baseline temperatures, which new measurements are compared against, already included about 0.5C of warming in global temperatures. That meant July was about 1.3C warmer than the pre-industrial average.

Karoly said about 0.2C of that anomaly was likely due to the El Niño, leaving about 1.1C mostly due to human-induced climate change.

The El Niño itself has dissipated, but the effects on global air temperatures lag for between three and six months, Karoly said. As the El Niño declines, the size of the monthly anomalies has been decreasing, with February 2016 showing the biggest anomaly since records began, being an extraordinary 1.32C hotter than the average February between 1951 and 1980.

Eventually, the monthly temperature records will stop, Karoly said. “We are still seeing the tail end of the El Niño warming in global temperatures,” he said. “We’re not going to set any records later this year.”

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Burkini Ban Defended As French Mayors Urged To Cool Local Tensions

The Guardian


The French government has defended municipal bans on body-covering burkini swimwear designed for Muslim women but called on mayors to try to cool tensions between communities.

Three Mediterranean towns – Cannes, Villeneuve-Loubet and Sisco on the island of Corsica – have banned the burkini, and Le Touquet on the Atlantic coast plans to do the same. The mainly conservative mayors who have imposed the ban say the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies French laws on secularism. The burkini debate is particularly sensitive in France given the number of deadly attacks by Islamic extremist militants, including bombings and shootings in Paris where 130 people were killed last November, which have raised tensions between communities and made people wary of public places. The socialist government’s minister for women’s rights, Laurence Rossignol, said municipal bans on the burkini should not be seen in the context of terrorism but that she supported the bans.

“The burkini is not some new line of swimwear; it is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them,” Rossignol told French daily Le Parisien.

France, which has the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated at 5 million, in 2010 introduced a ban on full-face niqab and burqa veils in public. Rossignol said the burkini had led to tensions on French beaches because of its political dimension. “It is not just the business of those women who wear it, because it is the symbol of a political project that is hostile to diversity and women’s emancipation,” she said.

On Saturday, a brawl broke out between Muslim families and a group of young Corsicans on a beach in Sisco. There has been no confirmation from police or the local prosecutor’s office as to whether anyone on the beach was wearing a burkini at the time, but the mayor banned burkinis on Monday. In other recent attacks in France, a Tunisian man deliberately drove a truck into crowds in Nice on 14 July, killing 85 people, and a Roman Catholic priest had his throat cut in church by two French Muslims.

The attacks have made many people anxious. On Sunday, 41 people were injured in a stampede in the Riviera town of Juan-les-Pins when holidaymakers mistook the sound of firecrackers for gunfire. Villeneuve-Loubet’s mayor, Lionnel Luca, who is a member of the hardline Droite populaire faction of the conservative Les Républicains party, said the burkini was an ideological provocation. “Since the Nice attack, the population is particularly sensitive,” he told Le Parisien. He said the burkini raised hygiene issues and could make rescue at sea more difficult. On Tuesday the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) filed a complaint about the bans with the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, which is expected to hand down a ruling in the coming days.


CCIF’s spokesman, Marwan Muhammad, said the bans restricted fundamental liberties and discriminated against Muslim women. “This summer we are witnessing a hysterical political Islamophobia that pits citizens against one another,” he said.

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Pressure Mounts On Portugal Rating, Says DBRS



Pressures are building on Portugal’s creditworthiness as its low-growth economy battles to contain high levels of government and corporate debt and amid banking sector strains, the head of sovereign ratings at credit agency DBRS said. DBRS’s BBB (low) rating has been a vital prop for Portugal, allowing its bonds to remain part of the European Central Bank’s 1.7 trillion euro buying program and as eligible collateral for the Bank’s unlimited and now free bank funding.

The rating, next due for review on October 21, carries a ‘stable’ outlook, giving Lisbon some breathing space, but Fergus McCormick told Reuters that the picture was deteriorating.

“Friday’s Q2 GDP release (which showed growth at just 0.2 percent) raised our concerns about growth prospects, which appear to be slowing into the third quarter,” he told Reuters in an interview. “Therefore, the outlook remains stable, but pressures appear to be mounting from these various fronts,” he added, also citing European Commission demands that an unwilling Lisbon implement more spending cuts.

DBRS’s October review will come just a week after Portugal is scheduled to provide the Commission with a list of those new cuts to get its budget deficit back under 3 percent of GDP. Uncertainties over the make-up of those measures and their impact on the delicate political balance were a concern McCormick said, as was the possibility that more taxpayer money may be needed to prop up banks including Caixa Geral de Depositos and BCP. “Will the far-left parties support these two initiatives? This is unclear.” DBRS’s view is closely watched because it is the only one of the four ratings agencies recognized by the ECB to have an investment grade rank for Portugal. It needs a rating of that category to qualify for the central bank’s quantitative easing program and for the ECB to accept Portugal’s bonds as loan collateral. A downgrade could therefore cause havoc for Portugal’s borrowing costs and its banks which rely heavily on the ECB’s funding, and analysts warn it would almost inevitably trigger a significant market selloff. For Europe as a whole the next crucial test after the Brexit vote will be an upcoming constitutional referendum in Italy, McCormick said. DBRS put Italy’s A (low) rating on downgrade warning earlier this month, and if the agency pulls the trigger that would also have major ramifications.

Italian government bonds would be hit with as much as an 8 percent bigger ‘haircut’ in ECB lending operations, meaning they would have to find other ways to get the money that some need to stay afloat. While Italy faces similar problems to Portugal in terms of meager growth, high debt and problem banks, McCormick said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s decision to call a public referendum on political reform plans was a key trigger for the review.


With the vote set to determine Renzi’s political future, it represents “the next big test for the euro zone”.


“It is also the next test, following the UK referendum, of popular support for the EU,” McCormick said, referring to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June.


It was likely to result in either greater political stability and better governance, or more uncertainty and lower growth, he added.


And like in Portugal, low growth is already making it harder for Italy’s banks to deal with bad loans on their books.


S&P’s head of sovereign ratings told Reuters last week its BBB- rating on Italy could handle the potential costs of a government bailout but for DBRS’s A (low) grade it may not be so digestible.


“If in the future an injection of public money is necessary to support bank balance sheets, this would translate into an increase in government debt. This contingent liability risk is a cause for concern,” McCormick said.

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Accepting The Nomination, Clinton Casts Herself As Clear-Eyed Leader



U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cast herself as the steady leader at a “moment of reckoning” for America, contrasting her character with what she described as a dangerous and volatile Donald Trump. In the biggest speech of her quarter century in politics, Clinton on Thursday accepted the Democratic presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election with a promise to make the United States a country that worked for everyone. “We are clear-eyed about what our country is up against. But we are not afraid,” she said.

She presented a sharply more upbeat view of the country than her rival Trump offered when Republicans nominated him last week, and even turned one of Republican hero Ronald Reagan’s signature phrases against the New York real-estate developer.

“He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America,’” Clinton said.  “He wants to divide us - from the rest of the world, and from each other.” Clinton portrayed Trump as a threat to the country, saying “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”  Vying to be the first woman elected U.S. president, Clinton called her nomination “a milestone.”  “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone.  That’s why when there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” the 68-year-old Clinton said. While her speech was not as electrifying as those given by President Barack Obama and some other prominent Democrats at the Philadelphia convention, Clinton was authoritative and self-assured in her pitch to the American public. She acknowledged some people still do not know her well. “I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me. So let me tell you. The family I’m from, well no one had their name on big buildings,” Clinton said in a reference to Trump, whose name is plastered across his properties.

She said her family built a better life and a better future for their children, using whatever tools they had and “whatever God gave them.” The speech capped a four-day nominating convention that opened in discord after a leak of hacked Democratic National Committee emails showed party officials favored Clinton over primary rival Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.

Even though DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Clinton ally, resigned on Sunday, angry Sanders supporters throughout the week disrupted the convention and undermined efforts by Clinton and Sanders to present a united front. 

On Thursday, people familiar with the matter said the FBI is investigating a cyber attack against another Democratic Party group, which may be related to the earlier hack against the DNC.

The incident at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its potential ties to Russian hackers are likely to heighten accusations, so far unproven, that Moscow is trying to meddle in the U.S. election to help Trump. Sanders supporters on Thursday wore fluorescent green T-shirts that said “Enough is Enough.” Their occasional chants of protest were drowned out by Clinton supporters chanting, “Hillary!” Clinton acknowledged Sanders and his supporters.

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Putin wins parliamentary backing for air strikes in Syria


President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday secured parliament's unanimous backing to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, paving the way for imminent Russian military intervention in its closest Middle East ally.


Russia has already sent military experts to a recently established center in Baghdad that is coordinating air strikes and ground troops in Syria, a Russian official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the center is used to share information on possible air strikes in Syria.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, declined to say when Russian air strikes would begin or whether they had already occurred. But Russia has been steadily building up its forces in Syria and U.S. officials say such strikes could start any time.

A U.S.-led coalition has already been bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. France announced at the weekend that it had launched its first air strikes in Syria.

Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin's chief-of-staff, said parliament had backed military action by 162 votes to zero after President Bashar al-Assad asked for Russian military assistance to help fight Islamic State and other rebel groups.

"We're talking specifically about Syria and we are not talking about achieving foreign policy goals or about satisfying our ambitions ... but exclusively about the national interests of the Russian Federation," said Ivanov.


Russian military action would not be open-ended, he added.

"The operations of the Russian air force can not of course go on indefinitely and will be subject to clearly prescribed time frames."

He declined to say which aircraft would be used and when.

Approval to use force from the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, did not mean Russian ground forces would be engaged in conflict, he said.

"As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out. The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS (Islamic State)."

Putin's spokesman, Peskov, said the decision meant Russia would be practically the only country in Syria to be conducting operations "on a legitimate basis" and at the request of "the legitimate president of Syria".

The last time the Russian parliament granted Putin the right to deploy troops abroad, a technical requirement under Russian law, Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine last year.

Analysts said Putin needed to get parliament's backing to ensure that any military operation was legal under the terms of the Russian constitution.

"If there will be a united coalition which I doubt, or in the end two coalitions -- one American and one Russian -- they will have to coordinate their actions," Ivan Konovalov, a military expert, told Reuters.

"For Russian forces to operate there legitimately ... a law was needed."

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning, Gabriela Baczynska, Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Pope secretly met Kentucky clerk in gay marriage row: lawyer


Pope Francis secretly met a Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and gave her words of encouragement, her attorney said.


Mat Staver, attorney and founder of the Liberty Counsel, told CBS News on Tuesday night that the pope met Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband at the Vatican embassy in Washington last Thursday during his visit to the United States.

Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said he would neither confirm nor deny the report and that there would be no further statement. This was unusual for the Vatican, which normally issues either denials or confirmations.

The report of the meeting came after Francis largely avoided the contentious issue of same-sex marriage during his historic visit to the United States, where he addressed Congress, met with the homeless and urged the country to welcome immigrants.

The pope, speaking to reporters as he returned home from his 10-day trip to the U.S. and Cuba on Monday, said government officials had a "human right" to refuse to discharge a duty if they felt it violated their conscience.

Staver, whose client was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with a judge's order to issue the licenses in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, told CBS his team did not want to disclose the meeting until now to avoid interfering with the pope's broader message during his visit.

"Because we didn't want the pope's visit to be overshadowed with Kim Davis," Staver said in an interview on the network.

During the meeting, the pope told Davis to "stay strong", Staver said.

Davis, whose parents are Catholic, has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her church belongs to a Protestant movement known as Apostolic Pentecostalism.

To keep a low profile, Davis went to the Vatican embassy in a sports utility vehicle with her hair in a different style than her normal look, Staver told CBS, adding he was not present.

Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses, regardless of her views.

The ACL, in papers filed on Sept. 21 with the judge hearing the case, asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk's office.


(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Philip Pullella in Rome; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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