Saturday, January 31, 2015

Greece Seeks to Reassure Europe as Tensions Rise
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras with EU Parliament
President Martin Schulz at press conference.
Sat, Jan 31 2015
By James Mackenzie and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, striking a conciliatory note on debt talks after a turbulent start to office, has called the European Central Bank chief to assure him that Athens was seeking an agreement.

The new government in Athens made clear from its first day in power that it would not back down on its election pledges to abandon the austerity policies imposed under the bailout agreement sealed by the last government.

But facing growing disquiet from partners led by Germany, Tsipras rang European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Friday night to assure him that Athens was seeking an accord, a government official said.

"The discussion was conducted in a good spirit and it was confirmed that there's a willingness to find a mutually beneficial solution for Greece and for Europe," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He also spoke to Jeroen Disselbloem, head of the euro zone finance ministers' group who ended a visit to Athens on Friday with a thunderous expression after an apparently scratchy exchange with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

The official said Dijsselbloem had called Tsipras to reassure him that despite minor signs of tension, the negotiations would continue.

After halting some privatisations and announcing plans to reinstate thousands of public sector workers laid off under the bailout, the government confirmed on Friday it was not interested in renewing the bailout deal when it expires on Feb. 28.

With German politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel down repeating daily that Athens must respect the bailout accord with the European Union and International Monetary Fund "troika", Tsipras and his finance minister begin lobbying for support in other European capitals on Sunday.

Varoufakis meets his French counterpart Michel Sapin in Paris before travelling to London the next day. Tsipras, whose first foreign visit will be to Cyprus, will join him on Tuesday in Rome before meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday.

France and Italy, the two governments that have pushed hardest to loosen the strict budget austerity imposed at the start of the euro zone crisis, may offer Varoufakis and Tsipras a sympathetic ear when they visit.

But they have both said they would not accept the new leftwing government's call for a "haircut", writing down part of Greece's 320 billion euro debt and potentially exposing their own Treasuries to billions of euros of losses.

Varoufakis told Dijsselbloem on Friday that Athens did not want an extension to the bailout but a new accord and would not deal with the troika mission overseeing the bailout.

On Saturday, he told the weekly Agora newspaper that Greece needs "fiscal breathing space" with a bridging deal of a few weeks while a new agreement with creditors is worked out and economic reforms including a crack down on tax evasion begin.

With both sides keen to prevent tensions during the first few days of the Tsipras government slipping out of control, he warned against "verbal fetishism" and said the differences could be overcome.

While there was resistance in Europe to a straight haircut on the face value of the debt, there was more willingness to explore other options including extending maturities or cutting interest payments that could have the same effect.

In an interview with German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, Greek Economy Minister Georgios Stathakis said it would be better to link the country's debt repayments to its economic growth rate as it needs a feasible solution to bring its sovereign debt under control.

Athens faces about 10 billion euros (7.5 billion pounds) in repayments this summer and is shut out of international bond markets while it waits for a final bailout tranche from international lenders of 7.2 billion.


Highlighting the risks Athens faces if no deal is reached by the Feb. 28 deadline, European Central Bank Governing Council member Erkki Liikanen said Greek banks, already facing serious deposit outflows, would be cut off from ECB lending.

As well as ensuring continued ECB support for the banks, agreement is needed for some 7 billion euros in funds to be released. Without the funds, Greece would probably be unable to meet 10 billion euros in debt repayments that fall due between June and September.

However, Merkel repeated that further debt cancellations were unacceptable and Athens would have to respect its obligations.

Varoufakis said Greece would continue to issue new short-term T-Bills while talks proceed, even though Athens has already reached a 15 billion euro issuance limit agreed with the troika.

But that would do little to prevent the crisis that could ensue if the banks lost support from the ECB and the issue is likely to feature heavily in discussions next week. With financial markets on edge, Greek banking stocks have fallen by nearly 40 percent since Sunday's elections.

Following his finance minister's visit to Paris on Sunday and to London on Monday, Tsipras himself will visit Rome on Tuesday to meet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Paris on Wednesday, where he will meet President Francois Hollande.

Notably absent from the list of destinations was Berlin or Frankfurt.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Dominic Evans and Stephen Powell)
Greece Will Repay ECB, IMF, Reach Deal With EU, Tsipras Says
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
by Nikolaos ChrysolorasCorina Ruhe
8:40 AM EST
January 31, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to repair relations with Greece’s creditors ahead of a diplomatic push to win support for his economic program, as euro area officials said they’re looking for concessions from the new government.

Greece will repay its debts to the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund and reach a deal “soon” with the euro-area nations that funded most of the country’s financial rescue, Tsipras said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg News on Saturday.

“The deliberation with our European partners has just begun,” Tsipras said. “Despite the fact that there are differences in perspective, I am absolutely confident that we will soon manage to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, both for Greece and for Europe as a whole.”

Bond yields surged on Friday after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the new government will turn its back on the rescue program that allowed Greece to pay pensions and public wages for the past five years in exchange for a punishing regime of spending cuts that wiped out 25 percent of its economy.

Liquidity Squeeze

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the euro area finance ministers’ group, said he welcomed the prime minister’s comments. Their divisions had been laid bare during a meeting in Athens on Friday.

“It is now up to the Greek government to determine its position on how to move forward,” Dijsselbloem said in a text message. “Further decisions will be taken jointly in the Eurogroup in the coming weeks.”

The danger for Tsipras, who took won power in a Jan. 25 election, is that both the country’s banks and the government could be left without funding. Ending the bailout program could see Greek banks effectively excluded from ECB liquidity operations and the government is still shut out of international markets. Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said last month the government may run short of financing as early as March.

“Europe will continue to show solidarity with Greece, as well as other countries particularly affected by the crisis, if these countries undertake their own reforms and savings efforts,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with Hamburger Abendblatt.

Damage Control

At the moment, Greece has a special dispensation from the ECB because it’s considered to be complying with the bailout program. That means its debt can be used in central bank refinancing operations even though it is rated junk.

“There will be no surprises if we find out that a country is below that rating and there’s no longer a program that that waiver disappears,” ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio said at an event in Cambridge, England, on Saturday.

Greek bonds tumbled on Friday, with the yield on three-year government debt rising 187 basis points to 19.15 percent, the highest level since the 2012 debt restructuring. Ten-year yields posted their biggest weekly increase since May that year and bank stocks have dropped 38 percent since the election, their biggest weekly decline in almost two years.

Tsipras’s Plan

While euro area officials want Greece to stick to the austerity set out in its bailout agreement, Tsipras is asking governments in the rest of the bloc to accept a writedown on Greece’s debt to allow him to pursue an alternative program with more public spending to revive the economy.

“We need time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery program, which amongst other things will incorporate the targets of primary balanced budgets and radical reforms to address the issues of tax evasion, corruption and clientelistic policies,” he said.

The government started to roll back the austerity program last week. Tsipras asked for the resignation of Emmanuel Kondylis, chairman of the fund overseeing the country’s privatization program, and Paschalis Bouhoris, the chief executive officer, a spokeswoman for the fund said late Friday.

A press officer for the Spanish government said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s position that Greece must honor its commitments remains unchanged. The Italian government welcomed Tsipras’s conciliatory tone.

“This statement is not just important per se, but especially because it is complemented by the renewed assurance that a specific effort to address structural problems by the new Greek government is undertaken,” Filippo Taddei, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s economic adviser, said in an e-mail.

European Tour

Tsipras’s diplomatic effort continues next week when he travels to Cyprus on Monday to meet President Nicos Anastasiades before talks with Renzi and France’s Francois Hollande on the following days. He’s so far not scheduled to meet Merkel, the biggest contributor to Greece’s bailout, until the European Union summit in Brussels on Feb. 12.

Dijsselbloem said that his meetings with Tsipras and Varoufakis in Athens on Friday had been “constructive.”

“In diplomatic parlance, they say that talks were constructive and honest when they have ended in disagreement,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said after his own meeting with Tsipras the day before.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nikos Chrysoloras in Athens at; Corina Ruhe in Amsterdam at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Vidya Root at Ben Sills, Heather Harris
Central African Republic Government Says Rejects Ceasefire Deal
CAR President Catherine Samba-Panza.
Thu Jan 29, 2015 10:07am GMT

BANGUI (Reuters) - The government of Central African Republic said on Thursday it rejected a ceasefire deal made in Kenya between two militia groups aimed at ending more than a year of clashes and attacks in which thousands have died.

Few details have emerged about the talks between the mainly Muslim Seleka alliance and the 'anti-balaka' militia who oppose them, though the two sides conducted low-level and sporadic peace negotiations for much of last year.

"The government categorically rejects the Nairobi accord because it was not associated with the discussions in any way. It is not a real accord, rather it's a series of grievances from the two armed groups which hold the country hostage," Communications Minister Georges Adrien Poussou told Reuters.

Central African Republic has been gripped by violence since the Seleka rebelled and seized power in March 2013. The group was forced to stand aside last year having failed to contain clashes with the 'anti-Balaka' and other violence.

The Seleka occupies much of the north and an interim government is struggling to assert its authority. France has started withdrawing some of its troops from the country, as a U.N. force, due to reach 10,000 by the end of April, deploys ahead of elections due later this year.
Book Review: Historian Eric Foner Explores New York’s Role in Underground Railroad
Detroit Underground Railroad marker. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe)
By John David Smith
Posted: Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
Eric Foner
W.W. Norton, 301 pages

Historian R.J.M. Blackett recently noted the renewed interest in the underground railroad, which he considers “the most clandestine aspect of the antebellum abolitionist movement.”

Whereas early historians glorified the role of white humanitarian abolitionists in spiriting helpless runaway slaves to freedom in organized networks, modern studies emphasize the role of the slaves and of Northern free blacks in aiding the bondsmen to escape in more ad hoc ways.

Eric Foner’s “Gateway to Freedom” examines New York City’s role as a “crucial hub” in the underground railroad. Foner, who teaches at Columbia, is one of America’s foremost historians.

He establishes New York’s importance as a way station for hundreds of fugitive slaves from the Upper South and the interracial, interclass coalition of local activists who transported them from one safe house to another. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, those who aided escaped slaves risked federal prosecution. Foner insists, however, that “by far the greatest credit for successful escapes goes to the fugitives themselves.”

Historians estimate that in the years 1830-1860 between 1,000 and 5,000 slaves escaped per year to freedom, only minimally reducing the South’s 1860 population of 4 million slaves. But runaway slaves outraged slaveholders who insisted on their rendition. During the 1850s the courts returned more than 300 fugitive slaves to their owners. Ongoing tensions over runaway slaves inflamed sectional tensions and precipitated the Civil War.

Foner hypothesizes that underground railroad operatives helped between 3,000 and 4,000 slave runaways traveling through New York. He acknowledges that although these numbers “may well be exaggerated,” in New York and other northern communities “little-known men and women, operating against formidable odds,” ferried runaways to freedom. Indeed, some of America’s most famous fugitive slaves, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman and Henry “Box” Brown, passed through the city.

Foner is no naïve popularizer of the underground railroad. Aware of the filiopietism of early writers on the subject, he recognizes the difficulties in writing a definitive history of a movement shrouded in secrecy and prone to romanticizing. “The story of the underground railroad in New York is like a jigsaw puzzle,” he writes, “many of whose pieces have been irretrievably lost, or a gripping detective story where the evidence is murky and incomplete.”

Nonetheless, Foner writes convincingly that by the 1850s New York occupied a central place in an interregional system that assisted runaway slaves in reaching freedom. More than 1,000 fugitive slaves passed through the city during that decade alone. Abolitionists like Sydney Howard Gay, the white editor of the “National Anti-Slavery Standard,” aided hundreds of fugitives from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and elsewhere who made their way to New York. With the help of other operatives, Gay dispatched the runaways northward to Albany, Syracuse, Boston, and to freedom in Canada.

Foner also chronicles the activism of David Ruggles, the African-American secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance, founded in 1835 to combat the kidnapping of New York free blacks. The committee worked to protect children from abduction and sale into slavery and sheltered, transported and provided legal representation for fugitive slaves. It reportedly assisted more than 800 runaways.

Readers will welcome Foner’s account of underground railroad activities in New York City, but his bigger contribution lies in demythologizing and explaining the workings of the underground railroad itself. Never an organized system, it constituted “an interlocking series of local networks, each of whose fortunes rose and fell over time.” And significantly, the networks were less clandestine than historians have assumed. In short, the underground railroad was “an umbrella term for local groups that employed numerous methods” to aid fugitives on their journey to freedom.

John David Smith is the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at UNC Charlotte. He recently published “We Ask Only for Even-Handed Justice: Black Voices from Reconstruction, 1865-1877.”

Read more here:
Museum Exhibitions Look Back At 1965 Civil Rights March From Selma to Montgomery, Alabama
Museums in New York and Washington are now showcasing mid-1960’s photographs and other objects related to the height of the civil rights movement in the South, an era somewhat fictionalized in the new film, Selma.

The New-York Historical Society’s show, “Freedom Journey 1965:  Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March”, features work by Stephen Somerstein, a then 24-year-old City College student, who felt, he said recently, he had to document “what was going to be a historic event.”

The managing editor and picture editor of the newspaper at City College, Somerstein said that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “called on Americans to join him in a massive protest march to Montgomery, I knew that important, nation-changing history was unfolding and I wanted to capture its power and meaning with my camera.”

Thus, he accompanied the civil rights marchers on their three week (the actual completed march was from March 21-25), 54-mile journey from Selma to Montgomery, gaining unfettered access not only to King, but also to his wife, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Joan Baez and Bayard Rustin.  As the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they were attacked by state troopers and deputies on a day known as “Bloody Sunday”; when these actions were shown on television, they sparked protests that won support for the marchers’ fight.  In the summer of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Somerstein, who said he had “five cameras slung around my neck,” took some 400 photos on the march, of which 55 black and white and color images are on display at the museum.  Although he sold a few to The New York Times Magazine, public television and photography collectors, none were exhibited until 2010, when he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange.

Among the images being shown at the museum are those of Dr. King addressing a crowd of 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery; of folk singer Joan Baez, standing before a line of state troopers blocking the entrance to the state capitol; of white hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers; and of families watching the march from their porches.

Somerstein later became a physicist, building space satellites at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lockheed Martin; he revisted the Selma photos after his retirement in 2008, noting that he wanted “to have exhibitions of my work and . . . realized that I had numerous iconic as well as historical photographs.”

Somerstein’s exhibition will be on display through April 19.

Washington’s Newseum has a related exhibition, on display through January 4, 2016, called “1965:  Civil Rights at 50”, the final installment of a three-year, changing exhibition chronicling milestones in the civil rights movement from 1963, 1964 and 1965.

Shown here are the March 8, 1965 Dallas Morning News, with a front-page photo of civil rights leader John Lewis being beaten by a state trooper on Bloody Sunday; now a congressman from Georgia, Lewis retold this experience in his novel, March, also on display here.

Featured, too, are a March 1965 issue of Life magazine with photos of a bandaged protester, and other images of protesters marching to the state capitol in Montgomery for the then-largest civil rights rally ever held in the South.
Thousands March Against Austerity In Spain
Crowds are packing into Madrid's Puerta del Sol in support of Podemos, the year-old political party compared to Greece's Syriza.

14:25, UK,
Saturday 31 January 2015

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Spain in the biggest show of support yet for anti-austerity party Podemos.

Crowds chanted "yes we can" and "tic tac tic tac," suggesting the clock was ticking for the country's political elite, before packing into Madrid's Puerta del Sol.

Many waved Greek and Republican flags and banners reading "the change is now" in support of the party formed just a year ago, whose surging popularity and policies have drawn comparisons with Greece's new governing party Syriza.

State broadcaster TVE said that hundreds of thousands were at the march, but no official attendance figures were provided.

The rise of Podemos has been largely attributed to the charisma of its leader Pablo Iglesias, who joined Greek PM Alexis Tsipras at a huge rally in Athens on the eve of his election victory last week.

The 36-year-old political science professor told the crowd: "We want change. I know that governing is difficult but those who have serious dreams can change things."

Podemos caused a shock by winning five European Parliament seats last May and is currently topping opinion polls in the run up to local, regional and national elections this year.

"People are fed up with the political class," said Antonia Fernandez, a 69-year-old pensioner from Madrid who had come to the demonstration with her family.

Fernandez, who lives with her husband on a €700-a-month combined pension cheque said she used to vote for the socialist party but had lost faith in it because of its handling of the economic crisis and its austerity policies.

"If we want to have a future, we need jobs," she said.

Spain is emerging from a seven-year economic slump as one of the eurozone's fastest growing countries, but the exit from recession has yet to ease the hardship for thousands of households, in a country where nearly one in four of the workforce is out of a job.

Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras promised that five years of austerity, "humiliation and suffering" imposed by international creditors were over after his Syriza party swept to victory.

Friday, January 30, 2015

President Mugabe's Acceptance Speech to the African Union: ‘Let’s Fully Harness Resources’
January 31, 2015
Features, Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Herald

Full text of the Acceptance Speech by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Chairman of Sadc, Cde R. G. Mugabe, on being confirmed as the Chairman of the African Union at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 30, 2015

Outgoing chairperson of the African Union, President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz,

Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,

Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma,

Honourable Ministers and Commissioners,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Comrades and Friends.

Let me, at the outset, express my deep appreciation and gratitude to Your Excellencies, Heads of State and Government, for the honour and trust you have bestowed on the Government and people of Zimbabwe, and on me personally, by electing me to preside over this august body.

With the full knowledge of the onerous responsibility that lies ahead, I humbly accept your collective decision. I do so confident that I can always count on your full support and co-operation in the execution of the important mandate you have given me.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

Allow me also to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Government and people of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia for, once again, extending to us the usual generous and exceptionally warm hospitality that we have become so accustomed to during our visits to this great country.

I also wish to take this opportunity to thank and commend Your Excellency, President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, for the able and professional manner that you steered our deliberations in the past year. I will certainly draw on Your Excellency’s experience and advice in the year ahead.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

More than five decades ago, I had the unique privilege, as a representative of ZANU, a liberation movement then, to attend the historic occasion of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963, here in Addis Ababa.

It was indeed a momentous occasion at which Africa decisively took destiny into its own hands.

I still recall, quite vividly, the palpable collective resolve, dedication and commitment of our forebears, to unite and free our continent from the twin scourges of colonialism and poverty. Our freedom and the socio-economic progress, we have thus far attained, are ample testimonies of the correctness of our forebears’ vision.


Africa has come a long way since then. In 1999, at Sirte, Libya, we transformed the OAU structures into the African Union, this in order to take into account the current realities on the Continent.

We have also taken steps to strengthen the essential building blocks for greater African Unity.

Along the way, we have fashioned, for ourselves, very comprehensive and timeless programmes, among which are the Lagos Plan of Action, the Abuja Treaty, and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Furthermore, we are now at the threshold of launching, for ourselves and future generations, yet another framework in the form of the 50-year Agenda 2063.

As we move forward with this noble agenda, we must emulate and draw inspiration from the principled stand and selfless sacrifices that our forebears made to bring us a strong and united Africa that we are so proud of today.

We call for renewed boundless zeal, commitment and dedication, in implementing programmes and projects that we have set for ourselves in the various political, social, economic and security sectors.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

During my tenure as Chair, I will deliberately provoke your thoughts to pay special attention to issues of infrastructure, value-addition and beneficiation, agriculture and climate change in the context of Africa’s development. Numerous studies have pointed out that the lack of physical infrastructure and interconnectedness in Africa has hampered economic development.

Our roads, rail, air and sea route networks are not sufficiently developed to stimulate intra-African trade, investment and tourism.

We need to continue, and perhaps redouble, our current collective efforts in this sector. The road and power projects that we are developing are a positive step in our quest to improve Africa infrastructure. We, therefore, need to work and co-ordinate closely with those partners who are committed to developing our infrastructure as envisaged in our Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA).

Given that the continent is rich in mineral resources, such resources should be seen to contribute more meaningfully to Africa’s development. While we continue to exploit the mineral resources, we seem not to have paid sufficient attention to their value-addition and beneficiation. If the present practice of exporting our minerals in their semi or raw form continues, Africa will continue to have people without employment, who languish in extreme poverty.

Since the majority of our people depend on the land for sustenance and livelihood, we need to ensure they have access to the land, and that Africa’s vast agricultural potential is fully harnessed. The Land Reform Programme, that my Government embarked upon since the year 2000, was precisely meant to achieve this, notwithstanding the political demonisation that my country has endured from those who had selfish and vested interests in our land.

The positive impact the programme is having on some sections of our farmers has vindicated us. Our production in the tobacco sector, for example, has by far surpassed levels attained by white former farmers.

Sadly, climate change continues to threaten agriculture on the Continent. Since we are the most vulnerable as a continent, it is imperative that we actively champion our interests within the framework of the United Nations climate change negotiations. In addition, we need to continuously take the necessary mitigation measures as advised by our own experts.

Your Excellencies,

I am alive to the urgency with which we should together continue to strive to confront the ills that beset our continent.

As we look ahead, the African Union should continue to endeavour and double its efforts in bringing about sustainable peace and security on the continent. We are disheartened by the turmoil in Libya, a key member of this august body. Violence in that country has reached unacceptable levels. In the Central African Republic and the Republic of South Sudan, communities that have lived peacefully together for centuries, are now torn apart.

Add to this, the, recurrent disturbances in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo which have taken a heavy toll on human, national and regional resources.

But, on a positive note we highly commend the AU and ECOWAS for handling, in a peaceful manner, the transition in the Republic of Burkina Faso. We also commend the Southern African Development Community for the expeditious and successful manner in which it handled the recent disturbances in the Kingdom of Lesotho.

May I, at this juncture, observe that the continent is not completely free, for as long as our brothers and sisters in Western Sahara remain under Moroccan occupation. We call on the UN to implement all relevant resolutions requiring the holding of a referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people.

Our failure to complete the decolonisation process in Western Sahara would be a serious negation of the ideals that our founding fathers fought for and bequeathed to us.

The scourge of terrorism and all its attendant evils, threatens all our gains achieved since 1963. In the coming year we, therefore, should deliberate and find lasting solutions to the scourge of terrorism.

The loss of innocent lives and the destruction of property, inflicted by terrorists in Cameroon and Nigeria, is intolerable. I, therefore, advocate that ways and means of containing and eventually eradicating terrorism, be found soonest.

Your Excellences,

As we meet here, Africa is in the throes of another scourge in the form of the Ebola virus. I am, however, heartened to observe that a lot of ground has already been covered in combating the epidemic.

We stand firm with our brothers and sisters, who are directly affected, as we fight to contain and finally eradicate the Ebola scourge. I also take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the Member States, co-operating partners, corporate bodies, civil society organisations and individuals, who have joined efforts in battling with Ebola.

Esteemed colleagues,

It would be remiss on my part not to reflect on some perspectives on developments, on the global stage, which have a bearing in Africa. Our continent is not immune to the most debilitating conflicts in the Middle East. We urge our international partners of goodwill to bring about sanity and end the senseless loss of lives and the immense suffering of innocent women and children.

The people of Palestine have suffered callous murder and territorial displacement, and yet the so-called champions of human rights in the international community continue to block every effort towards the creation of a viable Palestinian State, existing side by side with the State of Israel.

The AU should fully support the Palestinian God-given quest for statehood, based on the pre-1967 boarders, and membership of international organisations, including the International Criminal Court.

Your Excellences,

As SADC Chairman, allow me to take this opportunity to share with you our efforts towards meeting the goals of our regional organisation.

In SADC, we have adopted several economic strategies to propel the sub-region to greater heights, mindful of our role as a building block towards the African Union. The economic transformation strategy we have crafted, is anchored on leveraging the region’s diverse resources to attain sustainable economic development.

The strategy, encapsulated in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, (SIPO), entails adding value to commodities and the beneficiation of minerals. This should bring about industrialisation which, as a result, should catapult the region to a high level of development.

We have agreed, at Summit level, to dedicate an extraordinary Summit to deliberate on this important strategy. We will be meeting in Harare in April this year to deliberate on these issues.

Your Excellencies,

As you may recall, during the 23rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, held in June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, we made a landmark decision to declare 2015 as the “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.”

The theme offers us a great opportunity, as Africa, to strengthen our initiatives and to consolidate the gains we have made in the area of gender equality and women empowerment. It also strengthens our resolve to ensure that our commitments to gender equality, as enshrined in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality are effectively implemented.

Cognisant of the importance of this theme, we have set aside the 2015 African Union Session to fully deliberate and develop this theme. It is now my singular honour to declare the theme.

‘‘An Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth,” officially launched.

I thank you.
Zimbabwe Herald Editorial: President Mugabe, the Ultimate Hero
President Mugabe takes charge of the African Union in Ethiopia.
John Mukumbo Correspondent
Zimbabwe Herald

The private media does not cease to amaze with their obsession of reporting negative things about President Mugabe, ignoring to tell their readers that the President is a respected statesman who commands respect in Africa and the world over.

It is a fact that President Mugabe has been receiving a hero’s welcome and standing ovations in various gatherings, summits and meetings that he attended in respected international organisations like African Union (AU), United Nations (UN), SADC and everywhere across the globe because of his principled pan-Africanist stance.

He always gets respect from the downtrodden people as they are aware that in him they see the voice of the voiceless. His stance on the economic empowerment of the black indigenous people is not questionable.

For that reason, since the turn of the 21st century, President Mugabe has been called names and demonised by the international community just because of his stance that political independence is nothing without economic independence. He has stood firm on that ideology, a fact which has endeared him to the less privileged of society who clamour to be owners of their indigenous resources and economic independence.

Surprisingly, the private media who are funded by the country’s enemies would like to discredit President Mugabe at every turn. Often-times they will distort the truth will be overstretched to suit their regime change agenda.

The private media has nothing constructive that they see in the President, though he is one of the forefathers of total emancipation of African people in the mould of Kwame Nkrumah.

The private media has abandoned one pillar of their journalism ethics that calls for objectivity when it comes to President Mugabe yet he is a hero to some in the world hence, the hero’s welcome he has received in different parts of the world. The private media is quick to report about some pockets of demonstrations against President Mugabe that could have occurred rarely in comparison to his good work.

The problem is that some opposition political parties in the world in general and Africa in particular have a tendency of rejecting results of election that they would have lost and in such situations they plan demonstrations against leaders supporting the ruling parties that could have won elections.

So, the recent demonstrations by disgruntled and losing supporters of the Zambian Unity Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hakainde Hichilema should not be drawn out of proportion as the people who gathered outside Raddison Blu Hotel were just a minuscule and a tiny fraction of those who welcomed President Mugabe at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on Sunday 25 January 2015 during the inauguration of that country’s new President Edgar Lungu.

It was surprising that the same private media chose to ignore the hero’s welcome that was bestowed on President Mugabe on that day but chose to dwell more on the demonstration by few losing supporters of Hichilema. Anyway, it is expected the world over that those who lose elections refuse to join the victors in celebrations hence the demonstrations by Hichilema’s supporters was not surprising.

Just some few days ago during the inauguration of the new Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi in Maputo, supporters of the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) and its leader Alfonso Dlakama boycotted the inauguration but that did not stop the event. The Mozambican government was not disturbed by such a boycott when the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) knew quite well that it has overwhelmingly won elections.

As such the demonstration by Hichilema’s supporters on January 24 2015 against President Mugabe’s arrival in Zambia for that country’s inauguration of her new President Edgar Lungu has no significance in the body politic.

President Mugabe rightly received a standing ovation when he delivered his speech on Sunday, during the inauguration of President Lungu where more than 40 000 people thronged the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, dispelling the notions that those who demonstrated against him represented the thinking of all Zambians.

It is surprising that the private media chose to ignore such an important occasion only to dwell more on the wayward demonstration by a handful of losers.

The UPND supporters who demonstrated against President Mugabe were so few and for the private media to qualify them as representing Zambians is surprising if not confusing.

In actual fact their demonstrations did not stop President Mugabe from doing what he was sent by the SADC bloc to do as the current chairman of the regional organ.

The people who gathered outside that Raddison Blu Hotel were outnumbered by those who cheered and welcomed President Mugabe during the inauguration thereby putting to rest the malicious reports by the private press that those people represented all the Zambians.

It is naive and confusing for the private media to dwell on non-productive stories when it is necessary for the same media to write factual stories that can build the nation.

Churning out unproductive stories to the public by the private media is a cause for concern at a time when the public is expecting informative and constructive stories from the media.

For that reason those who thrive on writing and sensationalising stories to just sell their newspapers should be ashamed as false stories are not only malicious but inhibit nation building.

At any rate, shorn of the politicking, true African patriots know that President Mugabe is a hero for what he has done to locals and the image he presents for Africa that continues to fight oppression and imperialism.

Here is what Phathekile Holomisa South Africa’s ANC MP wrote in 2013:

“I have always been interested in the socio-political economic developments in Zimbabwe.

“The land reform and economic indigenisation policies of the country fascinate me. My fascination is shared by other Africans. There is secretive, envious admiration for those policies. It is secretive because indigenisation is frowned upon by owners of foreign capital. The admiration is envious because Mugabe has the courage to assert the truth that the land and natural resources belong to Zimbabwe — a conviction in dire need of courage in the rest of the African continent. This is the explanation for the resounding applause which Mugabe’s appearance evokes from both fellow heads of state and ordinary Africans at public gatherings.”

He further stated that the anti-colonial and liberation struggles in Zimbabwe, as in other countries, were waged in order to recover land and natural resources which had been stolen by colonial settlers.

“The conclusion of such struggles was the attainment of freedom and the restoration of the land and natural resources to their owners. The attainment of freedom without the restoration of land and natural resources is not enough. Any liberation movement that decides to rest on its laurels before the achievement of the second goal of the struggle betrays the spirit of its founders.”

The admiration by African patriots of President Mugabe is unshaken and it is only quislings and their sponsors who seek to try to deny that heroism.
Zimbabwe Herald Editorial Comment: Kudos to Africa for Returning to Source
Zimbabwe President Mugabe leads African Union procession.
January 31, 2015
Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Herald

THE African Union yesterday came of age in refusing to kowtow to Westerners who thought they were best placed to decide what is best for the continent.

Some Western countries were busy lobbying against President Mugabe’s elevation to the helm of the continental body as they sought to portray him as a pariah who should not even be leading Zimbabwe, but yesterday Africans sent a clear message to Western capitals that Africa can make its own decisions.

We applaud them for this.

It is not a secret that the African Union, as currently constituted, is a pale shadow of what the founding fathers who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 25 1963 envisioned it would be as the bloc is not self-reliant as it has to rely on Westerners for sustenance.

It is quite regrettable that a continent that is home to almost three-quarters of the world’s resources is also home to depressing tales of penury, yet those who are resource-poor continue feeding off what should rightfully accrue to Africans.

This penury is the reason why many African countries fail to pay up their membership subscriptions leaving donors, whom they subsidise through their resources, to account for over 60 percent of the AU budget, and in so doing end up influencing the continent’s trajectory.

This explains why today the AU is home to many institutions that are African in name only, and that end up serving the interests of those from whom Africa should wrest both the crown and the crown jewels.

It is precisely President Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s decision to go beyond flag independence that so angered the Western rabble-rousers who have since confessed that the actions and policies of the Government of Zimbabwe pose an unusual and extra-ordinary threat to their foreign policy.

This is why Africa, in rejecting Western overtures and endorsing President Mugabe, the only African statesman alive today who was there in Addis Ababa on that historic day, May 25 1963 when the Organisation of African Unity was formed, has returned to the source.

It is a fact that President Mugabe is not only an elder statesman but, as was pointed out by his spokesperson Mr George Charamba, is the remaining link between politics of liberation and post-colonial politics.

He is the only African leader today cut from the cloth that gave Africa Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Samora Moises Machel and Sekou Toure, to mention but just a few liberation icons.

This is why Western capitals were jittery, they would rather have Zimbabwe’s brand of politics either quashed and buried or confined between the Zambezi and the Limpopo, which explains the ruinous economic sanctions regime and retrogressive travel bans on Zimbabwe and President Mugabe and the first family.

And Africa would do well to tap from this fountain of knowledge if Agenda 2063, which envisages an Africa that claims its stake in the world, is not to remain a pipe dream.

The founding fathers who met in Addis Ababa in 1963 did not have much on their plate but through principle and building the right synergies they managed to decolonise the entire continent.

And many African states today should build on that flag independence and transform their freedom from the political to the economic dimension by taking stock of their resources and making sure that they work to improve the livelihoods of their people.

This is the only way Africa can become completely free and be able to fund its own development projects.

As it is the alms that the Westerners are doling out, and through which they seek to continue influencing events on the continent, are not even enough to drive African programmes as the bulk of the donor-driven budget is going towards operational costs.

As President Mugabe rightly pointed out, Africa needs a paradigm shift that can see it prosper from its resources, fund the Union and influence its development trajectory.

It is providential that for the next year, Africa has the right man at the top.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Assumes African Union Chairmanship
January 31, 2015
From Caesar Zvayi in ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Zimbabwe Herald

PRESIDENT Mugabe yesterday assumed the chairmanship of the African Union when the 24th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly opened here, despite spirited opposition from his and Zimbabwe’s traditional detractors.

Western countries — led by the United States — who account for over 60 percent of the AU budget and sought to use that as leverage, were issuing veiled threats against the AU saying the continental body should refuse to be led by a man and country under sanctions.

This is despite the fact that the West’s illegal sanctions regime imposed at the turn of the millennium has been condemned, not only by the AU, but by other progressive bodies the world over.

The opening ceremony began with a declaration of the opening of the session by AU chairman Mr Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

This was followed by the singing of the AU Anthem by the African Union Commission Choir; after which a minute of silence was observed in memory of Zambian president Michael Chilufya Sata who died on October 29 last year.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma then delivered her opening remarks followed by UN secretary-general Mr Ban Ki Moon, AU chair Mr Abdelaziz, and then came the presentation of Heads of State and Government who assumed office since the last session among them the presidents of Tunisia, Malawi, and Zambia, and a farewell address by Namibian leader Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Then came the moment many were waiting for, the announcement of the election of the Chairperson of the African Union and members of the Bureau and members of the drafting Committee.

Just before 1pm, 12:40pm to be precise, the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps took to the podium to announce the election results amid applause and ululation as he announced that the chairmanship was going to Zimbabwe, deputised by first vice chairman the DRC (representing central Africa), second vice chair Niger (representing West Africa), third vice chair Kenya (representing East Africa) with the special rapporteur, as per tradition, going to immediate past chair Mauritania.

President Mugabe was then invited to the podium for the ceremonial handover of the instruments of office, the AU Flag, gavel and charter, and the podium broke into applause with President Mugabe pumping his right fist into the air in response to chants of ‘‘comrade’’ from some delegates.

The significance of the moment lay not only in the fact that Zimbabwe had completed its transmission from an agenda item to leadership at that proud hour, but in that Africa thumped its nose at westerners who have long portrayed Zimbabwe and President Mugabe as pariahs on the continent.

The election was also a virtual vindication of Zimbabwe’s trajectory which is today mirrored in the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, the continental development plan for the next 50 years that reflects many of the tenets of Zim-Asset, Zimbabwe’s economic blue-print for the five-year period, 2013 to 2018.

And in his acceptance speech President Mugabe promised to intentionally provoke the continent to think development.

‘’During my tenure as Chair, I will deliberately provoke your thoughts to pay special attention to issues of infrastructure, value-addition and beneficiation, agriculture and climate change in the context of Africa’s development,’’ he said.

‘‘Numerous studies have pointed out that the lack of physical infrastructure and interconnectedness in Africa has hampered economic development. Our roads, rail, air and sea route networks are not sufficiently developed to stimulate intra-African trade, investment and tourism. We need to continue, and perhaps redouble, our current collective efforts in this sector,’’ President Mugabe said.

To this day, Africa’s transport and communication infrastructure mirrors the travails of the colonial era, leading either to the sea or erstwhile colonial capitals. For instance there are no direct flights between many of Africa’s regions as these have to be routed through European capitals.

President Mugabe who has for long complained about the AU’s trajectory, urged the continent to harness its resources for national development.

‘’Given that the continent is rich in mineral resources, such resources should be seen to contribute more meaningfully to Africa’s development. While we continue to exploit the mineral resources, we seem not to have paid sufficient attention to their value-addition and beneficiation. If the present practice of exporting our minerals in their semi or raw form continues, Africa will continue to have people without employment, who languish in extreme poverty,’’ he said.

Afer delivering his acceptance speech, the new AU chair then launched 2015 as the “Year of women empowerment and development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 “ in line with the theme of the 24th Summit.

After that the Summit, which enters its second and final day today, went into plenary as the leaders tackled this year’s broad agenda.
Greece’s Finance Minister Vows to Shun Officials From Troika
Newly-elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Yanis Varoufakis says new government will refuse to engage with auditors from the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund

Helena Smith in Athens
Guardian, UK
Friday 30 January 2015 13.21 EST

The battle lines between Greece and its creditors were drawn in Athens as the Greek finance minister announced that the new government would refuse to engage with representatives of the country’s hated troika of lenders.

Standing his ground after talks in the capital with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurogroup of EU finance ministers, Yanis Varoufakis said Greece would not pursue further negotiations with the body of technocrats that has regularly descended on the country to monitor its economy. Nor would it be rowing back on election-winning pledges by asking for an extension to its €240bn (£180bn) bailout programme. “This platform enabled us to win the confidence of the Greek people,” Varoufakis said, insisting that the logic of austerity had been repudiated by voters when the far-left Syriza party stormed to victory in Sunday’s election.

Greece has lost more than a quarter of its GDP, the worst slump in modern times, as a result of consecutive waves of budget cuts and tax rises enforced at the behest of creditors. Varoufakis and the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who also met Dijsselbloem on Friday, are adamant that the government will deal only with individual institutions and on a minister-to-minister basis within the EU. They have vowed to shun auditors appointed by the troika of the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“Our first action as a government will not be to reject the rationale of questioning this programme through a request to extend it,” quipped Varoufakis. “We respect institutions but we don’t plan to cooperate with that committee,” he said, referring to auditors who run the rule over Greece’s books on behalf of the three lenders.

An internationally renowned economist, Varoufakis has been an outspoken critic of the austerity measures demanded in exchange for the aid that has bolstered Greece since its economic meltdown.

But on Friday the eurogroup president also held his ground. Visibly tense, Dijsselbloem – the Dutch finance minister – said it was imperative that Athens did not lose the headway that had been achieved. He reiterated that the creditor group expected Greece to honour the terms of its existing bailout accords. “I realise the Greek people have gone through a lot. However, a lot of progress has been made and it is important not to lose that progress,” he said. “We both want Greece to regain its economic independence as soon as possible. It is of utmost importance that Greece remains on the path of economic recovery. Taking unilateral steps or ignoring previous agreements is not the way forward.”

Syriza, which having fallen short of an overall majority has formed a coalition government with rightwing populists also opposed to austerity, has made debt reduction and renegotiation of the bailout agreement a priority.

Dijsselbloem ruled out an international conference being held to discuss ways of reducting Greece’s €320bn euro debt pile, saying the Eurogroup of euro area finance ministers “is that conference”.
Greece Says Will Not Cooperate With "Troika" or Seek Aid Extension
4:23pm EST
By Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's new leftist government opened talks on its bailout with European partners on Friday by flatly refusing to extend the program or to cooperate with the international inspectors overseeing it.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' government also sacked the heads of the state privatization agency after halting a series of state asset sales.

The politically unpopular policy of privatization to help cut debt is one of the conditions of Greece's 240-billion-euro bailout that has imposed years of harsh austerity on Greece.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the euro zone finance ministers' group, for what both men described as "constructive" talks. But Greek media seized on signs of frosty body language between them and the hour-long meeting appeared to do nothing to bridge the gap between them.

The meeting marks the start of Athens' drive to persuade its creditors to ease the strict terms of the bailout. It precedes planned visits by Tsipras and Varoufakis to London, Paris and Rome next week.

Although neither France nor Italy has shown any sign of accepting the new Greek government's demand to write off part of its 320 billion-euro debt, they have both previously called for a change of course from German-style budget austerity.

Tsipras has repeatedly said he wants to keep Greece in the euro but he has also made clear he will not back away from election campaign pledges to roll back the terms of the bailout.

His government, winner of last Sunday's election, has raced ahead with a series of anti-bailout moves including reinstating thousands of public servants laid off by the previous government as well as cancelling privatizations.

But Germany, Europe's paymaster, is also digging in.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Berlin was open for talks with the new government about its debt, but he also made clear that Athens had to do its part.

"We need solidarity in Europe, and besides we cannot be blackmailed," Schaeuble said.

After a volatile week in which banking stocks fell by as much as 40 percent, financial markets fell back after recouping some ground on Thursday. The main Athens stock market index was down 1.6 percent. Greek 10-year yields were down 22 basis points at 10.37 percent but still well above levels seen before Sunday's election.


Varoufakis said Greece had no intention of cooperating with a mission from the lending "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which had been due to return to Athens. He said Greece would not seek an extension to a Feb. 28 deadline with euro zone lenders.

"This platform enabled us to win the confidence of the Greek people," he told reporters after meeting Dijsselbloem. "Our first action as a government will not be to reject the rationale of questioning this program through a request to extend it."

He gave no indication of what Greece would do if it cannot reach an agreement by the deadline. The center-right New Democracy party, which lost power in Sunday's election, said the new government "does not understand what it is about to do."

Without the EU/IMF bailout program, Greece's banks would lose their access to ECB funding.

Dijsselbloem said a decision on the bailout deadline would be reached before the end of February but he rejected Greece's push for a special conference on debt, saying such a forum already existed in the shape of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers.

Athens is waiting on a final bailout tranche of 7.2 billion euros ($8.13 billion) and has been shut out of international bond markets. It faces around 10 billion euros in debt repayments this summer.

Like Germany, France has rejected suggestions that part of the Greek debt could be written off, but Paris has been more open to the possibility of offering other forms of relief such as pushing back debt maturity or cutting interest rates.

Varoufakis said he had assured Dijsselbloem that Athens planned to implement reforms to make the economy more competitive and stick to balanced budgets, but it would not accept a "self-fed crisis" of deflation and non-viable debt.

In turn, Dijsselbloem said he had told the new government to respect the terms of the existing agreement between Greece and the euro zone and warned against taking unilateral steps, saying it was important not to reverse progress made so far.

He said euro zone partners were ready to continue supporting Athens until it can begin borrowing on the markets again "provided that Greece fully complies with the requirements and objectives of the program".

Earlier on Friday Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said the government was examining its options on a Canadian-run gold mine, one of the biggest foreign investment projects in Greece.

Privatization had been meant to raise billions for Greece's depleted state coffers but proceeds have been disappointing so far, amounting to no more than around 3 billion euros, a fraction of an initially targeted 22 billion euros. ($1 = 0.8858 euros)

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and George Georgiopoulos; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones)
ISIS Launches Attack on Oil-rich Northern Iraqi City of Kirkuk
By Yousuf Basil, Jomana Karadsheh and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Updated 5:55 PM ET, Fri January 30, 2015

Amman, Jordan--ISIS militants have attacked Kirkuk in northern Iraq, an effort that might be an earnest attempt to capture the key oil-rich city or perhaps to divert Kurdish troops fighting to capture the Islamist extremist group's stronghold of Mosul.

For months, ISIS has been facing off with the Peshmerga -- armed fighters who protect Iraqi Kurdistan -- to the west of Kirkuk. It had gone into areas on Kirkuk's outskirts, but not the central city.

Until now, apparently.

Heavily armed militants attacked an abandoned hotel in central Kirkuk that local police had used as their headquarters.

Peshmerga and Kurdish anti-terror units later raided the hotel, wresting control of it from the militants and killing three of them, according to Peshmerga sources. In addition, two suicide bombers detonated themselves in an attempt to keep the Kurdish forces out.

Also Friday, ISIS militants took over Maktab Khalid, an area about 12 miles southwest of Kirkuk, after heavy clashes with the Peshmerga.

Among those killed was Brig. Gen. Shirko Fateh, the highest-ranking operational commander of the Peshmerga brigade located in Kirkuk.

Photos posted by ISIS purportedly show the group's militants in control of parts of south and southwest Kirkuk, burning tents that had been used by Peshmerga troops.

Oil reserves make Kirkuk a big prize

Kirkuk is a strategically important city in the months-long fight, one that has pitted ISIS against the Peshmerga, Iraqi government troops and an international coalition that has carried out airstrikes against the terrorist group.

It is one of the few notable cities -- apart from the region of Kurdistan and its capital, Irbil -- in northern Iraq that haven't fallen to ISIS. Part of its significance stems from the fact its oil reserves are almost as much as those in southern Iraq.

The Kurds and the central Iraqi government in Baghdad have long wrangled over control of those reserves, with each side wanting to keep hold of them. ISIS, which relies heavily on revenue from oil smuggling to fund its operations, has been coveting them, too.

Peshmerga forces took over the Kirkuk area in June when the Iraqi army crumbled in the face of ISIS' advances and have played a vital role in defending it from ISIS since.

In December, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack there that killed at least 17 people and injured more than 20. The attack, according to ISIS, was meant to send a message to the Kurdish people and Peshmerga fighters.

Peshmerga progress

Still, Kirkuk is hardly the only place that has seen recent fighting -- which may be part of ISIS' rationale for Friday's attack there.

The group has been fending off an offensive from Peshmerga fighters around Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and a focal point for all sides in the conflict, that has left the Sunni extremist group on its heels.

The city of 1.5 million people on the Tigris River has been held by ISIS since June. ISIS has invested heavily in governing the city. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, pronounced his leadership of the caliphate at the Grand Mosque there in July.

Kurdish officials say that as long as ISIS holds Mosul, it threatens Kurdistan. Likewise, neither the government in Baghdad nor its coalition partners can rest while terrorists occupy Iraq's second-largest city.

Peshmerga forces have made steady progress against ISIS north and west of Mosul over the past two months.

They have taken some 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles) of the Sinjar area, as well as the area around the Mosul Dam, choking off access routes and threatening ISIS' main resupply routes.

The U.S. military said Friday that an ISIS chemical weapons expert was killed during a coalition strike late last week.

Abu Malik worked in Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program before joining al Qaeda in 2005, U.S. Central Command said.

He was killed January 24 near Mosul.

"His death is expected to temporarily degrade and disrupt the terrorist network and diminish (ISIS') ability to potentially produce and use chemical weapons against innocent people," the military said.

Officials: Iraqi forces fend off Ramadi attack

There's little doubt, though, that ISIS remains a very real force, and threat, in much of Iraq.

The group, which calls itself the Islamic State, still controls a vast swath of that Middle Eastern nation and neighboring Syria. Its goal is to have a vast caliphate under its strict version of Sharia law, with its followers proving they will stop at nothing -- having been blamed for the large-scale killings of civilians, mass kidnappings and forcing women and girls to become sex slaves -- during its quest.

That violent campaign continued Friday, and not just in Kirkuk.

Dozens of gunmen believed to be from ISIS faced off Friday morning about 175 miles (285 kilometers) away in central Ramadi, police and health officials in that city said.

Several hours later, that onslaught had been foiled and 20 gunmen were dead, according to the officials.

Elsewhere in Ramadi, a suicide car bomb explosion at an Iraqi army checkpoint killed one soldier and wounded six others.

Violence flared in other parts of Iraq as well that, while it hasn't been tied to ISIS, is further proof of the country's unsettled state.

Six explosions went off Friday around Baghdad, leaving at least seven dead and 23 wounded, according to police officials.

The deadliest such blast was in Bab Al Sharji, a busy commercial area in central Baghdad, leaving three dead and 10 hurt.
How Hostage Pilot Drama is Feeding an Antiwar Movement in Jordan
Jordan has refused to pull the trigger on a prisoner swap, saying it lacked proof the pilot held by Islamic State jihadists was still alive. Jordan says its role in the US-led coalition has not diminished.

By Taylor Luck, Correspondent
Christian Science Monitor
JANUARY 30, 2015

The ongoing drama of a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the Islamic State has escalated into a political crisis for King Abdullah II, threatening the position of a stalwart US ally and leading player in the coalition against the jihadist group.

Jordanians have been gripped by the detention of Lt. Muath Kassasbeh, whose fighter jet crashed near Raqqa, Syria on Dec. 24.

A sunset deadline passed Thursday with the government refusing to pull the trigger on a prisoner swap with the jihadist movement, saying IS had failed to provide proof Lt. Kassasbeh was still alive and well.

Rather than blame IS for the protracted hostage crisis, the public at large and members of the pilot’s family have turned on the government. They are hitting the streets and faulting Amman for putting Jordanians into harm’s way in a war they say is not their own.

The finger-pointing has given rise to something even stronger: a full-throated antiwar movement.

Rallies in solidarity with Kassasbeh have quickly turned into anti-coalition protests, with participants denouncing the US and its allies as “cowards” who are “using Jordanian blood” to fuel their war against the Islamic State.

Protesters have even gone as far as challenging King Abdullah himself – rallying outside the gates of the Royal Palace and demanding “Abdullah, why are we fighting?” or resorting to more personal jabs such as “Abdullah II, where are you?”

The anti-coalition movement has also flourished online. Activists have gathered under an Arabic hashtag on Twitter that translates as #NotOurWar, organizing protests, calling on Jordanian authorities to withdraw from the war against IS, and detailing the civilian deaths caused by coalition bombing runs.

“The hostage crisis has turned public opinion against the war, which was already unpopular to begin with,” says Oraib Rintawi, political analyst and director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center of Political Studies.

Yet perhaps the biggest threat to Jordan’s role in the coalition is posed by Kassasbeh’s family itself.

The pilot’s father, Safi Kassasbeh, has emerged as a sympathetic figure and victim of the conflict. The family has called on Jordan to withdraw from the coalition and has openly questioned coalition leadership over the details surrounding Kassasbeh’s crash-landing.

Tribal support for monarchy

Kassasbeh hails from the East Bank Bararsheh tribe in the southern province of Karak, the backbone of the Hashemite monarchy’s tribal support, whose members fill the ranks of the military and security services.

Should the Karak tribes move to withdraw their sons from military service or boycott the coalition in protest – as some have threatened in private – the move would cripple the Jordanian Armed Forces and its military and logistical support for the coalition.

In addition to pledging its air force, Jordan has allowed American warplanes to use its airstrips and military bases near its eastern borders as launching pads for strikes in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The US and its allies have relied heavily on Jordanian intelligence and Amman’s ability to extract information from returning Islamic State fighters, which according to security officials have become a “huge source” of intelligence for coalition operations.

Despite the growing public dissent, Jordan shows little sign of backing down from its war against the Islamic State. According to government sources, Jordanian jets have continued to participate in bombing runs.

King vows to stay the course

Abdullah has pledged Jordan’s commitment to fighting religious extremism in public speeches both within Jordan and abroad. In two separate summits with Jordan’s central and southern tribes last month, the monarch sought to convince Jordan’s tribes that the US-led campaign against IS was indeed “our war.”

The king has intervened personally in the Kassasbeh hostage crisis, reassuring the pilot’s family while following up on government’s efforts to release him.

Yet as the pilot hostage crisis drags on, anti-war activists say they will not stop until they force the king’s hand.

“We won’t stop at saving Muath, we will continue until we get all the sons of Jordan out of harm’s way,” said Mohammed Abdullah, one of several dozen protesters outside the Royal Palace late Wednesday.

“Jordan will never again spend its blood for the wars of the West.”
NYPD Unveils Anti-Terrorism Unit To Deal With Protesters
The Huffington Post
By Hilary Hanson
01/30/2015 3:30 pm EST

The New York Police Department is developing a new anti-terrorism unit that will be deployed, in part, to contend with protestors.

The “Strategic Response Group,” a unit of approximately 350 officers, will handle “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Thursday, according to CBS New York.

The NYPD plans for the SRF to be outfitted with “the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and the machine guns that are unfortunately sometimes necessary in these ­instances,” Bratton said, according to the New York Post.

He also noted that the unit “is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

New York’s “recent protests,” include demonstrations in response to a grand jury’s decision to not bring charges in the death of Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. The same month, thousands of people marched through New York City to honor Garner and others who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers nationwide.

Civil rights activists were outraged by Bratton lumping in these kinds of demonstrations with terrorist attacks.

“Thousands have marched in a massive civil rights movement demanding police reform, and the NYPD has decided to respond to the community instead by arming the police with machine guns,” Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said in a statement.

In a statement by Communities United for Police Reform, organizing director Priscilla Gonzalez said that Bratton’s plan for a “more militarized police force” is “the opposite of progress.”

The NYPD plans for the unit to be up and running by the summer.

The department did not immediately responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
Flint Resident Passes Out Cases of Water to Those in Need
Flint residents demonstrate against polluted drinking water.
Jan 28, 2015 5:48 PM EST
By Alana Holland, TV5 Reporter

FLINT, MI (WNEM) -A Flint man is on a mission to help members of the community get clean water.

"I think you get a lot more by giving than you do by getting," said Mike Sargent with Flint Strong.

That's the motto Sargent lives by and that's reflected in what he does for Flint.

On Wednesday he passed out hundreds of cases of water bottles for free.

"I can't think of anything more important than quality water to drink and bathe in. So it was a real important issue personally to me, and I wanted to do my part for those in need," Sargent said.

Sargent is a fan of Flint. He was born and raised in the city.

He sees the value of Flint and does what he can to make it better for its residents.

"I just feel Flint really needs someone to stand up for it and be positive," he said.

He's the founder of Flint Strong, a group with the goal of bettering the city.

"We donated coats to those in need last year, coats, gloves, hats. We've done park cleanups. The nice thing with Flint Strong is we're just a group that does whatever we can do to those in need," Sargent said.

What's needed right now is water.

"I think he's doing a big contribution to Flint and to everybody else that's going through hard times right now. We really need this and I really thank him," said Marvin Mays, a water bottle recipient.

Sargent said he hopes the water crisis doesn't give Flint a bad name because there are so many great things about his city.

"I think people need to get involved and be positive in Flint. We're heading in a very positive direction here in Flint, you know. Yeah we have a road bump to deal with, but this water crisis will be a thing of the past, hopefully soon. And I think we just have to stay positive," he said.

Sargent knows he can't fix the water problem, but he can bring some relief to those who need it.

"Hopefully, soon our water quality will be where it needs to be. But right now, we need to help those in need," he said.

Read more:

Flint protesters take to City Hall before water meeting

By Kurt Nagl |
January 21, 2015 at 8:31 PM

FLINT, MI - Protesters' cries of "water is a human right" were interrupted only by passing motorists beeping horns in support.

About 25 community members braved the snow flurries and cold to protest Flint's tap water outside of Flint City Hall Wednesday, Jan. 21.

Last month, the state Department of Environmental Quality found the city in violation of federal standards for excess trihalomethane, which is a byproduct of the disinfectant used to treat water from the Flint River. The city issued a warning to residents that the water could be harmful for the elderly, infants and those with compromised immune systems.

The protest was a prelude to the city council meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. Readers can follow live updates of the water meeting that begins at 7 p.m.

Florlisa Fowler, a Flint resident who organized the protest via Facebook, said she is tired of the city not dealing with the water issue.

"No wonder people are moving out of Flint," she said, waving a protest sign at passing vehicles.
Councilman Eric Mays, First Ward, came out to protest, sticking by the solution he said he has suggested all along: returning to Detroit water.

"Every day we serve this water, somebody could be affected," Mays said. "We are a diligent group, and we want resolve."

Mays said he doubts the council meeting will yield any solution and that he intends to catch experts off guard by asking educated questions.

"They've lost public confidence, but they can restore it by returning to Detroit water," Mays said.

Many protesters complained about health issues related to the city's water.

Cindy Marshall, of Flint, said all she wants is "clean, safe water."

"I am paying over $130 in water bills, plus $150 in store-bought water," she said. "I won't let my dog drink it or my fish swim in it.

"I wish Flint officials would give us our Detroit water back," she added.
Flint Democracy Defense League Plans Four Meetings on City's Water Problems
Ron Fonger |
By Ron Fonger |
January 29, 2015 at 9:04 AM

Members of the Democracy Defense League announced plans for a series of meetings about Flint water during this news conference Jan. 5.

Erin Kirkland
The Flint Journal

FLINT, MI -- A task force that formed earlier this month in response to water issues in the city has announced the times and dates of four February meetings.

Flint Democracy Defense League Water Task Force members have said they are meeting to develop a game plan for fighting "plummeting water quality, soaring water rates" and the use of police to make arrests for water theft."

"I've attended a series of meetings where the discussion was what was wrong with the water," said organizer Nayyirah Shariff. "We've never really got to (discussing the) solutions."

"I hope everyone who is concerned about the water will attend," Shariff said.

The scheduled meetings are:

Feb. 2 at Bethel United Methodist Church, 1309 N. Ballenger Hwy., from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, 424 Kennelworth St., from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Feb. 16 at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1401 E. Stewart St., from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Feb. 23 at Woodside Church, 1509 Court St., from 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The Democracy Defense League's Water Task Force announced plans for the meetings in the days following the city's announcement that it was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act because of elevated levels of total trihalomethanes (TTHM) in water samples last year.

Although city officials have told residents the water is safe to drink, notices mailed to customers have warned those with a compromised immune system, who have an infant or who are elderly that they should seek advice from their health care provider before continuing to use Flint water.

The Democracy Defense League is a relatively new group that has been involved in bottled water giveaways since the city switched the source of its drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River.

Although the city and Genesee County are partners in the Karegnondi Water Authority, which is building a new water pipeline to Lake Huron, the project isn't expected to be completed until sometime in 2016.

The county has continued to buy Lake Huron water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in the meantime, while the city tapped into the river.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Yemen: Is Southern Secession Possible?
Ahmed Eleiba,
Thursday 29 Jan 2015

Between alarm and opportunity, southern movements in Yemen are unifying in the face of government collapse in Sanaa, with secession in the wings as a credible option

The southern Yemeni secession movement has received fresh impetus recently as a consequence of the upheaval in the capital caused by a train of political and constitutional crises and the opening of a power vacuum. The southern drive so far has been peaceful. Its leaders have underlined that they had no intention to take recourse to violence although they may be forced to defend themselves at some point in the future if Houthi extremism in the north threatens to spread to the south or if conditions caused by ongoing pressures on the part of the Houthi movement to alter the results of the national dialogue and influence the terms for a national constitution become unsustainable.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Aden, the south Yemeni activist Abdel Hakim Al-Mayouni said that a National Organisation to Liberate the South was created Monday. It is headed by Abdel Rahman Al-Jafri, the leader of the Arab South project, and Mohammed Ali Ahmed, the first interior minister in the era of unification. “There are a large number of colours of the spectrum of the movement and representatives of all political projects regarding the south [present in the organisation],” Al-Mayouni said, adding: “It is a balanced leadership. This is the first time in which all the brigades of the movement have been unified and begun to coordinate so closely.”

The south Yemeni activist stressed that all participants were of one mind on the need to accelerate the process of activating the organisation and the need to act quickly at both the local and international levels. One step that has been agreed upon is to organise a form of civil disobedience every Monday. That measure was set into motion this week. In addition, the southern bloc in the Yemeni parliament was due to hold a meeting in Aden this week. However, by the time of going to press, the members of that bloc were not yet able to reach the southern capital due to security circumstances.

Al-Mayouni relates that considerable commotion has been stirred by rumours that Iranian aircraft filled with arms have arrived in Sanaa in order to equip the Houthis. He added that there are fears that such rumours might be believed in Yemen in general, especially in light of clashes that have already begun to erupt between the Houthis and some of their adversaries, such as the Rejectionists movement in the North. On top of this there are numerous other problems, he said. Not least US intervention in the country against the backdrop of the political vacuum in the north. Al-Mayouni pointed to President Barack Obama’s remarks to the effect that he would fight Al-Qaeda in Yemen whether or not there was a central government.

Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a key member of the recently formed Southern Yemeni Liberation Organisation, said last month in interview with the Weekly in Aden that there were as yet undeclared moves on the part of regional and international powers to pave the way for southern independence in the framework of a five-year transitional project that would continue to bring to bear the federal system. “The north controls the management of all the affairs of the south and it is difficult to separate the two from one day to the next,” he said.

From Taizz, at the juncture between the north and south, political activist Abdel Aziz Al-Majidi, one of the founders of the Madd movement, maintains that Yemen is being propelled towards total chaos in many of the provinces in accordance with a Houthi plan to sow anarchy in the country. Nevertheless, he reports that demonstrations have been staged in the mountain city demanding the return of President Hadi who resigned last week. Al-Majidi adds that there is even support for Hadi’s return among the southerners because of the grave implications of the current situation for everyone in Yemen, both in the north and the south. On the other hand, according to Al-Majidi, there is a growing tide in Taizz, as well, in favour of moving toward independence from Sanaa. “We will not remain with our hands behind our backs, especially as the army here in Taizz, as is the case in many provinces, moves at the command of the [former President Saleh-Houthi] alliance. On top of this there are the tribal mobilisations and mounting sectarianism that threaten to revive the history of the conflict in Yemen in the 1960s.”

Al-Majidi, a political affairs specialist, held that reports of direct Iranian intervention were true. He said that more contingents of Iranian Revolutionary Guards had arrived at the air base in Yemen. This is why that base was surrounded last week by forces from the “coup-making” Houthi movement, he said.

General Nasser Al-Tawil, a prominent figure in the movement of retired servicemen in the south, underscored the importance of the creation of the new liberation organisation there. Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Aden he said, “The governmental vacuum in Sanaa did not influence us, as effectively such a vacuum has existed since 2011. All the talk about ‘institutions’ is baseless from the aspect of legitimacy. Even the governments that were formed, the latest being the Bahah government, had no representatives from the south. Therefore, we are totally aligned with the current drive and the step it took to create the liberation organisation. We, as military men, came from that drive. In 2007, we forged a powerful kernel of the movement from retired servicemen. It was peaceful. We did not carry arms. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to carry arms. In fact, we will when necessary.”

Al-Tawil stressed that the retired officers were well organised and could form a military force at any moment the south came under threat from any enemy. On developments involving the Houthis in Sanaa, he said: “What did we expect? Some of the Houthis are Iranian. So what’s the problem with there being Iranian Revolutionary Guards or planes carrying arms? On the opposite side we have seen a similar Saudi position in support of the Salafists.” He added: “The Houthis are a contingent of Yemeni society. They do not represent a threat to us at all. They have been the victims of injustice and we deal with them now on that basis. However, if they move in the direction of a project to occupy the south, then we certainly will turn to arms and confront them at the time. We have taken heed of what is taking place in Syria and Iraq. We do not want the situation to deteriorate any more than it already has in Yemen.”

In sum, southern Yemen appears to be moving steadily toward the independence option. It is utilising the current anarchy in the north to advance this project by means of unifying ranks among diverse components of civil society, including retired military servicemen who could form a major military force for the drive if need be. If, indeed, the situation evolves in the form of an extended project that results in secession, as occurred with South Sudan for example, the world will be looking at a north Yemen in the grips of a shift from the conflict of the tribal state to an internationalised militia-based conflict, and at a south Yemen that has resolved to modernise but that will still have to contend with identity issues.

Above all, will south be an Arab Gulf project, as was proposed before during the unification era, or will it attempt to revive the leftist project that ground to a halt three decades ago when unity was settled militarily in 1994? In either case, both models are riddled with potential problems.

*This story was first published by Al-Ahram Weekly