Saturday, December 31, 2016

What a US-Russia Detente Means for China
By Cui Heng
Global Times
2016/12/29 15:13:39

Less than a month before US President-elect Donald Trump takes office, his foreign policy has attracted immense attention since it has much bearing on other countries. In Trump's new lineup of foreign policy advisers, pro-Russian members account for a majority and Rex Tillerson, an oil tycoon who has long been friendly toward Russia, was appointed as secretary of state. Usually, the change of US presidents opens a window for improving the country's relations with Russia. Given Trump's election manifesto and diplomacy team, the US-Russian relationship, which has dropped to its lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War, is very likely to see notable improvements after Trump is sworn in.

Under the current circumstances, many worry that the improvements will raise China's external pressure and break the joint efforts of China and Russia to counterbalance the West. But this is a false presumption since it's highly questionable whether Trump will indeed boost US-Russia relations.

There will be some improvements. After all, a standoff benefits neither the US nor Russia, and both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have the will to mend bilateral ties. But as noted by many observers, Trump's personal appreciation of Putin can hardly be translated into motivation for making significant diplomatic improvements.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, said that there may be more détente than notable improvement in US-Russia relations after Trump takes office. Trump relies heavily on the most conservative faction of Republicans that has little affection for Russia. For instance, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made harsh comments against Russia and Putin.

The trajectory of US-Russia relations is shaped by three major issues: hotspot affairs in which the two have conflicting views, like Syria and Ukraine, the establishment of a post-Cold War security order in Europe and the understanding of the international order.

Over international affairs, the confrontation between the US and Russia over Syria may be alleviated as Trump and Putin both want to combat the Islamic State, but they are unlikely to compromise when it comes to power distribution within Syria. The biggest obstacle regarding the Ukrainian crisis is the future status of Crimea, over which Trump can hardly make concessions.

In terms of European security, the US won't concede to Russia over the prominent issue of NATO's eastern expansion and anti-missile system deployment. In particular, Trump has derailed from his campaign promises and made clear that he won't reduce support for NATO. Besides, Trump will put national interests above abstract values. His political philosophy combines realism and pragmatism in the US political culture, but doesn't go as far as isolationism. He demanded US allies to pay their fair share of spending, but he won't give up the US role in stabilizing the world order.

Any change in the US-Russia relations will exert certain influences on China given their triangular relationship. China has been promoting independent bilateral relations with other countries, but undeniably its enhanced ties with Russia come as a result of mounting pressure from the outside. Hence, they came up with a slew of initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and the Silk Road Economic Belt connecting the Eurasia Economic Union to strive for a bigger say when the agenda-setting is dominated by Western countries.

As the gap between China and the US narrows in overall national strength, the two countries will see fiercer strategic confrontation and growing frictions. During the campaign, Trump didn't label Russia as the No.1 threat to the US, but repeatedly noted the necessity to counterbalance China's rise.

Under his presidency, China may need more strategic support from Russia and the strategic pressure that the US has put on Russia regarding Europe and Near East won't diminish. Against this backdrop, common strategic interests that prompt China and Russia to jointly fight against external pressure will drive the two countries' interactions with the US.

Whatever change takes place between the US and Russia, China has to maintain strategic focus and stick to its primary goals at this stage. Meanwhile, China needs to take the initiative in influencing or even leading the international agenda-setting, and present its conception of the international order.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.
US Brinksmanship Will Turn SCS Into a Powder Keg Again
By Li Kaisheng
Global Times
2016/12/29 18:18:39

Whether the South China Sea (SCS) disputes will remain on the front burner after Donald Trump takes office does not only depend on what he wants to do, but also what he can do. The evolution of international relations, after all, is a combination of power and realism, thus, what Trump can do with the perpetual issue matters the most.

If Trump intends to provoke China in the SCS, he can make a list of options and tick off the ones that suit him the best. His cognitive ability, personality and operating style can also make a difference.

There are discussions about whether Trump will bring international arbitration back on the table. But, there is little chance because even the Philippines, a once fervent advocate under former president Benigno Aquino III, is now barely committed to it anymore under President Rodrigo Duterte. Trump, a naysayer of many international norms, is also unlikely to stir up trouble in this way.

It is possible that Washington will continue instigating antagonism by the agency of countries that have conflicts with China. There is no doubt that Trump would like to see the US have more followers, but currently many ASEAN members, which are also claimants in the SCS, want to improve relationships with China. It will take time for the US to reverse the current, which is not a favored option for Trump as he is eager to "make America great again" and prefers short-term bargaining than far-sighted planning.

The US is most likely to provoke China by intensifying warship cruises and surveillance activities in the SCS, because the Pentagon is able to make these moves without support from its allies. While it can impose pressures on China, it is also in line with the demands of the Trump government to enhance US Navy for a show of strength.

Thus, the US might turn the SCS into a platform for China-bashing and muscle-flexing. But, for China, the SCS disputes are not a chink in the armor as the Taiwan question. Trump disregards protocols and conventions, so he might prefer challenging China over the Taiwan question, and the recent phone call incident is a prelude.

Although the SCS might not be the first choice for Trump, the region is still a powder keg. But China's recent moves in and around the waters, such as the aircraft carrier training sessions, are indicative of Beijing's determination to guard its doorstep, remind the US that the SCS is not its playground, and warn the Pentagon that China will take countermeasures if necessary.

China might take more assertive actions against US reconnaissance and its breach into Chinese waters by deploying more mobile military capabilities in the SCS and equipping relevant islands with defensive weapons. If the US goes too far, China will consider setting up offensive weaponry on these islands.

Brinksmanship, if handled without caution, is very likely to lead to combat. In that scenario, Trump will have to decide if he wants to escalate tensions and destroy Chinese vessels, warplanes or island facilities. Without any doubt, that will result in a destructive war between the two major powers, in which there will not be a winner.

Given the fact that China prioritizes territorial issues as part of its "core interests," and Trump's uncompromising personality, if there is not an effective mechanism of risk control between both sides, a dangerous regional conflict is breeding.

To avoid the worst situation, the most important step both governments must take after Trump takes office is to establish a communication channel to find a common ground on global issues such as counterterrorism and the North Korean nuclear crisis. Once both sides can nurture consensus over these terms, they will ramp down the significance of Taiwan and the SCS on their agendas.

As for trade and currency issues that Trump has constantly brought up during his campaign, China should deal with them by following the "business is business" principle. China should stick to the belief that cooperation is still the mainstream of the Sino-US relationship, and the US should not arbitrarily play the Taiwan and SCS cards. Only in this way can either country avoid toeing the bottom lines of both sides and make sure their long-term interests are guaranteed.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Beijing Not Ready to Fill Vacuum Left by Washington
By Wang Yiwei
Global Times
2016/12/29 18:23:39

Discussions are heating up on global governance recently. Some believe that China, as a rising power, may replace the US to lead the world especially after US President-elect Donald Trump promised to quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership and withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. It has a good ground, but it may take a long time to be realized.

With the slogan of "America First," the US is unwilling to offer public goods or bear more responsibilities for its allies.

Even if Trump, known for his isolationist tendency, was not elected, US cutback in its global strategy is unavoidable.

American citizens are increasingly disappointed by and suspicious of their government's capability, and want domestic problems to be prioritized over foreign issues.

In the meantime, US allies are not as satisfied with its leadership as before.

Many countries are pinning their hopes on China as they respond actively to the China-proposed One Belt and One Road initiative. They are eager to hitch a ride on China's rise, and expect Beijing to take on more international responsibilities.

China playing a more important role in the international arena is an irrefutable fact, but it is unlikely for China to replace the US as a global leader now.

To begin with, it is impossible for the US to reverse to the isolationist road. While Trump always attributes problems that his country is facing to globalization, the US is one of the largest beneficiaries of global activities.

Trump's isolationist tendency is, in nature, withdrawing the country from whatever is to the US' disadvantage. Washington will definitely not pull out of blocs or deals favorable to itself.

In addition, in comparison to Washington, which consolidated its status as the world leader since WWII, Beijing has not truly led the world in the industrialized era and has no capability to dominate the world in an overall sense at the current stage.

It takes time for China to learn and play a dominant role in the international arena.

Beijing is now taking on more responsibilities and has made tremendous contributions to the global community.

For instance, the One Belt and One Road initiative will aid connectivity, enhance infrastructure and improve people-to-people exchanges among countries located along the route, and thus, it has been warmly welcomed.

A number of cooperative mechanisms have been proposed by China for mutually beneficial results.

China's cultural and conceptual contributions to global governance are prominent as well, for example, the concept of the community with a common destiny.

China is increasingly valued in areas such as economy, politics and culture, but it's unrealistic for China to replace the US to lead the world. For instance, in terms of defense and security, China has no alliance system or military bases overseas, and thus, it is difficult for Beijing to provide efficient security support for its partners.

There are different voices in China arguing that Beijing should focus more on domestic affairs than getting involved in international affairs. However, globalization is an irreversible trend.

The earlier China goes global, the lower the risks China will face in the long term. Going global will give China more opportunities for development.

It has to be admitted that China has to overcome a number of difficulties to go global. First and foremost, sound domestic development is prerequisite for Beijing to enhance its global leadership.

China should put more efforts toward improving domestic economy, politics and culture. Innovation is of vital importance for China's core competitiveness, and technological breakthroughs are the basis for a country's hard power. Initiatives and ideas for inclusive development that can reflect universal human values are also essential.

There is still a long way for China to go.

The author is director of the Center for International Studies at Renmin University of China.
China's Manufacturing Expands for 5th Consecutive Month
Activity at China's factories slowed in December but still represented the fifth consecutive month of expansion in the latest sign that the world's No. 2 economy is stabilizing

Dec. 31, 2016, at 9:56 p.m.

BEIJING (AP) — Activity at China's factories slowed in December but still represented the fifth consecutive month of expansion in the latest sign that the world's No. 2 economy is stabilizing.

The monthly purchasing managers' index by the Chinese Federation of Logistics and Purchasing was 51.4 in December, the second highest level of 2016. The highest reading was November's 51.7 — the first time the index had hit that level since July 2014.

December's figure climbed from 49.7 a year earlier.

The index is based on a 100-point scale with the 50-point mark separating expansion from contraction.

China's manufacturing sector picked up throughout the year following an uneasy start in an upbeat sign for the wider Chinese economy, which posted steady growth of 6.7 percent in the third quarter.

China's economy has cooled gradually over the past six years as Beijing tries to pivot away from heavy reliance on export-based manufacturing and investment toward consumer spending.

However, the government has supported the manufacturing sector with stimulus measures aimed at shoring up growth, including heavier spending on public infrastructure projects.
Milwaukee Cops Confront Black Panthers at Food Giveaway Event
by thegrio
December 31, 2016 at 10:29 AM

Milwaukee Black Panther group claims that it was harassed by police while running a food giveaway event.

The group, which is associated with the Revolutionary Black Panther Party, claimed that in the altercation with police, one person was arrested and a 10-year-old was elbowed in the mouth.

“Our mission with the Revolutionary Black Panther Party is simple. It’s to help feed, clothe, train, shelter and defend our people,” General Jamal Canon explained. “And we have the right to do that without any interruption, without any harassment, without any terrorism.”

“Because we open carry, it does not mean we are looking for a fight. We are peaceful unless we need to be otherwise,” member Vaun Mayes added. “Weapons were taken illegally. One was returned. The other was held, along with our comrade who was taken on a petty warrant.”

However, Milwaukee police claim that they were responding to someone mishandling a weapon, saying in a statement, “Milwaukee police responded to a subject with a gun call. Officers monitored a group of armed demonstrators and encountered a subject who was unsafely handling a firearm.”

Party members claimed on Wednesday that this was just the “latest act of harassment” by Milwaukee police, but, Canon said, “Our mission will not be deterred by these tactics.”
Federal Judge Issues Injunction Against Obama Administration Abortion, Transgender Regulations
By David Weigel
Washington Post
December 31 at 6:03 PM

The Texas State Capitol building in Austin, (Matthew Busch/Bloomberg News)

A federal judge in Texas handed a victory to conservatives Saturday, issuing a temporary injunction to stop an Obama administration regulation that would prevent discrimination in health care on the basis of “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy.”

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas by President George W. Bush, sided with conservative plaintiffs who argued that the administration's rule violated religious freedom. In his opinion, first published by BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner, O'Connor argued that the conservatives had shown that the ruling would harm them, and that the administration lacked a basis for its definition of gender identity.

“The government's usage of the term sex in the years since Title IX's enactment bolsters the conclusion that its common meaning in 1972 and 2010 referred to the binary, biological differences between males and females,” O'Connor wrote. “Prior to the passage of the ACA in 2010 and for more than forty years after the passage of Title IX in 1972, no federal court or agency had concluded sex should be defined to include gender identity.”

As they prepare for a busy 2017 legislative push, congressional Republicans have criticized the Obama administration's flurry of final-year regulations and drafted legislation to undo some of it. It was unclear on Saturday evening how the Obama administration would respond to the injunction, which was O'Connor's second ruling against the administration on gender identity.

While the Affordable Care Act did not include expansive language about gender identity, the administration has, since 2013, issued a series of rulings making it easier for transgender Americans to use government services in accordance with that identity.

David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 election and ideological movements.  Follow @daveweigel
Colin Kaepernick Voted Recipient of 49ers’ Len Eshmont Award
By Eric Branch
SF Gate
Friday, December 30, 2016

Colin Kaepernick hugs punter Bradley Pinion before a loss in Chicago on Dec. 4.
Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

It’s official: Colin Kaepernick’s controversial decision to kneel during the national anthem this season didn’t create a fractured locker room.

If there was any remaining doubt, it was erased when the 49ers announced Friday that Kaepernick received the Len Eshmont Award, their most prestigious honor, which is given to their most courageous and inspirational player.

The award is voted on by players and had been given to wide receiver Anquan Boldin, running back Frank Gore, inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman and defensive tackle Justin Smith the previous four seasons.

After Kaepernick’s national anthem stance became public in the preseason, he swayed skeptical teammates by passionately explaining in a players-only meeting that his decision was inspired by his disgust with racial inequality. In September, CEO Jed York matched Kaepernick’s $1 million pledge to community organizations, and head coach Chip Kelly strongly supported his quarterback.

“He’s shedding light on a situation that is heinous,” Kelly said of Kaepernick’s outspokenness on the killing of black men by police officers.

In other team honors, left tackle Joe Staley was given the Bill Walsh Award, which goes to the team MVP and is voted on by coaches. Staley, 32, was on pace to be voted to his sixth straight Pro Bowl before a hamstring injury caused him to miss the past three games.

Left guard Zane Beadles received the Bobb McKittrick Award (best offensive lineman), safety Antoine Bethea received the Hazeltine Iron Man Award (most courageous and inspirational defensive player) and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner received the Thomas Herrion Award, which is given to rookies or first-year players who take advantage of their opportunities. Bethea also received the Perry/Yonamine Unity Award, and nose guard Glenn Dorsey received the Ed Block Courage Award.

Injury report: Center Marcus Martin (ankle) and guard Andrew Tiller (ankle) were ruled out of Sunday’s season finale against the Seahawks, which means more shuffling along the offensive line.
Beadles is expected to make his second career start at center, and undrafted rookie Alex Balducci or Andrew Gardner will probably start at left guard. Staley is questionable and rookie John Theus will make his second career start if he can’t play.

Cornerbacks Rashard Robinson (hamstring) and Dontae Johnson (groin) are also questionable.
Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
35 Killed in Terror Attack on Famous Night Club in Central Istanbul
Hurriyet Daily News

An attacker killed at least 35 people, including a police officer, in a gun attack held on Reina, a popular night club in Istanbul, Governor Vasip Şahin said early on Jan. 1 live.

Dozens of people were also wounded in the attack that was carried out before 1:30 a.m., local broadcasters have reported.

Şahin said the attacker killed a police officer and a civilian at the gate of Reina by the Bosphorus, before entering inside and raving through the crowd celebrating the new year.

A reporter at the crime scene said live on CNNTurk that some 50 to 60 ambulances have been dispatched to the scene.

"The inglorious (attacker) raved through the place with Kalashnikovs. The U.S. intelligence warned over such an attack about one week or 10 days ago and measures have been taken, including the sea front. And look what has happened then," Mehmet Koçarslan told Hürriyet reporter Toygun Atilla adding that such an attack was coming, but could not be prevented.

Unconfirmed initial reports speculated that the attack was held by a person wearing Santa Claus costume.

Broadcasters also speculated that one attacker is still inside the club.

The governor did not respond to a question on whether the attacker was still inside or not.

Reina is one of the international night clubs in Istanbul frequented by the high-society, celebs, artists and football stars.

Some revelers had jumped into the water to escape the gunfire and were being rescued by police, NTV said.

According to a witness, there were up to 600 people in the night club.

Some 25,000 police officers have been on duty against a possible terror attack in Istanbul during the New Year's Day celebrations in the wake of consecutive bomb attacks across the country in 2016, which claimed hundreds of lives.

Meanwhile, Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) also announced a gag order regarding the attack.

At least 275 people have been killed and thousands wounded in major bomb attacks across Turkey staged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) over the course of 2016.

At least 41 people, seven of them civilians and 30 police officers, were killed, while 166 others were wounded when twin bombings struck outside Beşiktaş football club’s stadium in Istanbul.

In the bloodiest single attack in Turkey’s history, at least 109 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded in twin suicide bombings targeting a peace rally in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015. The prime minister said ISIL was the suspect.

Turkey has been carrying out the Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria, backing the Syrian rebels against ISIL and the People’s Democratic Union (PYD), which Ankara says is linked to the PKK, for months.

Some 1,600 militants have been “neutralized” in the operation since its launch in August, the Turkish Armed Forces announced on Dec. 30.

The military uses the term “neutralized” referring to the killed, injured or captured militants.

Istanbul Reina Nightclub Attack 'Leaves 35 Dead'
BBC World Service

At least 35 people have lost their lives in an attack on a nightclub in Istanbul, the city's governor has said.

Among the dead is one police officer, Vasip Sahin stated, adding that it was a terror attack.
At least another 40 were injured in the attack which took place in the Reina nightclub, in the Ortakoy area, at about 01:30 local time (23:30 GMT).

One attacker was involved, the governor said, while CNN Turk reported he was dressed in a Santa Claus costume.

"A terrorist with a long-range weapon ... brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets on innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun," Mr Sahin told reporters at the scene of the upmarket Reina nightclub, which sits on the banks of Bosphorus in the city's European side.

At least 40 people were injured in the attack

There were reportedly as many as 700 people in the nightclub at the time of the attack, some of whom are believed to have jumped into the river to escape.

Dogan news agency reported that some witnesses claimed the attackers were "speaking Arabic" while Turkish television channel NTV said special force police officers were searching the nightclub.

Istanbul was already on high alert with some 17,000 police officers on duty in the city, following a string of terror attacks in recent months.

Many were carried out by so-called Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish rebels.

Less than a fortnight ago, the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead by off-duty Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas as he gave a speech in the capital Ankara in December.

After the shooting, the killer shouted the murder was in revenge for Russian involvement in the conflict in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Deadly attacks in Turkey in 2016

10 December: Twin bomb attack outside a football stadium in Istanbul kills 44 people, Kurdish militant group claims responsibility
20 August: Bomb attack on wedding party in Gaziantep kills at least 30 people, IS suspected
30 July: 35 Kurdish fighters who try to storm a military base are killed by the Turkish army
28 June: A gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul kills 41 people, in an attack blamed on IS militants
13 March: 37 people are killed by Kurdish militants in a suicide car bombing in Ankara
17 February: 28 people die in an attack on a military convoy in Ankara
Effects of Tension Between Washington, Moscow on SADC
December 31, 2016
Udo W. Froese Correspondent
Zimbabwe Herald

US President Barak Obama made it clear that his administration, in its final three weeks before it hands over to Donald Trump, has increased its sanctions on President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation.Reason given for Obama’s attack on Putin is the repeated, but unproven accusation of Hilary Clinton and her Democratic Party’s loss in the presidential elections from a few weeks ago.

Together, they accuse Vladimir Putin of having supported president-elect Donald Trump and hacked into the voting system and e-mails of former hopeful-president-elect Hilary Clinton.

In other words and according to the White House, Putin and Russia’s secret services are America’s kingmakers.

“How flattering”, were the words of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in a CNN interview with Christiane Amampour.

Moscow’s Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov announced: “In our point of view recent actions of the White House are manifestation of an unpredictable, even aggressive foreign policy.”

The global US CNN television news network made the announcement that the Kremlin reacted by closing the American school in Moscow, which teaches children of US diplomats in Russia.

In the current war of words between Washington and Moscow, Russia’s global RT television news network rebuked CNN’s “news statement” that the above-mentioned school was shut down.

RT news commentators pointed out, that the school remains open. Close observers vented their anger, saying, “CNN has been proven to be a deliberate and intentional peddler of lies.”

“To date, neither the White House, nor the Pentagon, nor the CIA, nor the NSA, nor any of the US, nor its allied secret intelligence services and the supportive corporate media cartels were able to deliver any concrete proof of Moscow’s interference in the American elections. But, Clinton’s loss remains to be blamed on Putin.”

The National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Centre of the United States (NCCIC-US) serves as a central location, where a diverse set of partners involved in Cybersecurity and communications protection coordinate and synchronise their efforts. It is a group of public and private sector interests. According to this organisation’s report, “The White House’s accusation against Moscow, of having hacked into the US’s electoral systems is pure propaganda. They are well aware of it.”

In fact, a number of years ago, the then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, admitted, “we are living in an Information War.”

US President Obama further added more sanctions to the already existing sanctions-package against the Russian Federation, pointing at alleged “cyber aggressions”. This was described as “Rich from a nation, which ahs spied on 193 countries throughout the world. However, no one dared to call for sanctions against bullying Washington.”

Both sides have threatened to and have partially executed the expelling of diplomatic staff in both, Moscow and Washington.

What pushes Obama and his backers to throw their toys of the cot? Where lies the reason behind all that?

Observers highlight, “The current administration tries to force the president elect Donald Trump to make a U-turn on his legacy and to make his entrance into the White House as difficult as possible. It would in fact, make it much harder for Trump to reconcile with Putin and to build a working relationship.

Obama absurdly causes as much damage as possible in his last three weeks in the White House. A White House insider cautioned, saying, “It seems that Obama and his backers, including the Clinton-camp need some serious guidance in their crazy talk and unreasonable gobbledygook. So far, no facts in the long line of allegations and accusations.”

The international West’s corporate media cartels efforts to justify Washington’s increasing attacks on Moscow, merely heats the hardening of fronts between the two superpowers up. For example, the British magazine, ‘The Economist’, emotionally commented in its October edition, “How to contain Vladimir Putin’s deadly, dysfunctional empire”.

Most, if not all corporate Western media cartels showered the President Putin and the Russian Federation with misinformation. In the words of one of the editors, who by now has retired, “This is absolutely crazy and recklessly irresponsible.”

He raises reports, according to which “Much weaponry has been found in Aleppo, Syria, that originates from the US, worth USD-billions. Rebels also left behind huge tonnages of sophisticated weaponry from the US, Germany and Bulgaria, viewed as NATO complicity par excellence.”

All of the above rings familiar. It has been since 1998 that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF have been bullied into bankruptcy by illegal Western sanctions. In addition, President Robert Mugabe, like his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as well as Brazil’s former President Dilma Rousseff and also South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, all have been undermined and character assassinated and their economies have been spiralled into collapse.

National destabilisation programmes cause immense strives and fear. At the same time, both state and national voters are being misled and hammered for it.

BRICS, a new alternative economic structure, which followed President Mugabe’s call to form new alliance partners with the East, has been US President Obama and the West’s target to destroy, in order to protect the paper-US-Dollar.

Udo W. Froese is a non-institutionalised, independent political — and socio-economic analyst and published columnist, based in Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa.
Dos Santos Daughter to Head Angola Oil Giant
December 31, 2016

LUANDA. – Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s daughter, reportedly Africa’s richest woman, has been cleared to head the national oil company Sonangol, after a court rejected a legal challenge.

Isabel dos Santos was put in charge of Sonangol in June in a move some analysts said was the first sign of succession plans for the country’s long-time ruler.

The president, in power since 1979, later announced that he would stand down in 2017, though no successor has officially been named.

His daughter’s appointment was disputed by 12 lawyers who said the law did not allow public officials to nominate family members, but the Supreme Court ruled in her favour on December 22, an official said on Thursday.

“According to the decision. . .the appointment of Isabel dos Santos by her father does not violate the law on public probity or the Angolan Constitution,” said David Mendes, a spokesperson for the lawyers.

The country’s opposition had equated her Sonangol appointment with nepotism, prompting the legal challenge.

Mendes said the lawyers would appeal the decision at the country’s Constitutional Court.

“The judgement of the Supreme Court has many shortcomings and does not satisfactorily answer the questions we asked,” he said.

Nicknamed the “Princess”, the president’s 43-year-old daughter has been ranked by Forbes magazine as the richest woman on the continent with a fortune of around $3 billion .

She owns stakes in several companies in Angola and former colonial power Portugal, notably in the banking and telecommunications sectors.

Three years ago the president appointed his son Jose Filomeno dos Santos to chair the country’s $5 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund.

- AFP.
Economy Strained for OPEC-member Angola
Angola relies on crude oil for about 45 percent of its economy.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Dec. 30, 2016 at 6:13 AM

The International Monetary Fund finds the economy in OPEC-member Angola is under severe stress. File Photo by Ami Cohen/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- The steady decline in crude oil prices from 2014 peaks above $100 per barrel has left lasting impacts on the economy of OPEC-member Angola, the International Monetary Fund said.

Angola is one of the lesser producers in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, accounting for less than 1 percent of the total output from the group. Oil supports about 45 percent of the nation's economy and nearly all of its exports.

An assessment from the IMF found the decline in crude oil prices since 2014 caused severe damage to the Angolan economy.

"Fiscal revenue and exports fell substantially, economic growth came to a halt, and inflation accelerated sharply to levels not seen in over a decade," Ricardo Velloso, the IMF division chief for Angola, said in a statement.

Angola, under the terms of a managed decline agreement from OPEC, committed to cut about 78,000 barrels per day from production starting next week. That would put the country's production level at about 1.67 million barrels per day based on the agreement. Angola reported total crude oil production to OPEC for November was 12 percent higher than the previous month.

Velloso said Angolan financiers needed to put more emphasis on non-oil revenue in an effort to diversify an economy that's highly exposed to shocks that accompany volatility in the crude oil market. According to the IMF, authorities in Angola have taken steps to offset the risks from lower oil prices, though additional efforts are necessary.

Economic growth for Angola is expected at 1.25 percent next year, compared with no growth this year. That shows economic planners have made progress on the non-oil front, though inflation is projected at around 45 percent.

"Over the medium term, the outlook is for a gradual recovery in economic activity, but there are risks, including a further decline in oil prices and delays in implementing the needed structural reforms to promote economic diversification," the IMF reported.
Israel Cuts All Development Aid to Angola in Retaliation for UNSC Vote
Israel has cut its assistance to Angola in retaliation for that country's vote in favor of the anti-Israel resolution at the UNSC.

By Hana Levi Julian
Jewish Press
December 27th, 2016

The African nation of Angola has just lost its hard-earned Israeli development assistance, in the wake of its vote last week supporting the anti-Israel United Nations Security Council resolution 2334(2016).

Angola has long been known internationally for its own occupation of the province of Cabinda, an area of Africa whose people have been fighting for independence since 1960.

On Tuesday, the African nation was cut off from Israeli assistance for condemning the Jewish State in a resolution that punishes Israel for its so-called “occupation” of land it fairly won — including some land and part of its eternal capital — that was previously occupied by Jordan and restored to the nation, in a defensive war imposed upon its people by surrounding nations in 1967.

Israel’s Ambassador to Angola, Oren Rosenblatt, was ordered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inform the Luanda government that Israel plans to shut down the international aid organization it has operated in Angola.

Under the auspices of that agency, citizens from Angola were being brought to Israel to learn advanced techniques for working in agriculture, water and manufacturing technology.

About the Author: Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
SEC Scrutinizes the Sale of Mozambique ‘Tuna Bond’
US joins UK and Switzerland in looking into role of banks involved in the 2013 issue

DECEMBER 29, 2016
Financial Times
by Elaine Moore

US authorities have joined the UK and Switzerland in scrutinising “tuna bonds” issued by Mozambique via sales arranged by Credit Suisse, Russian bank VTB and BNP Paribas.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission wrote to bondholders earlier this year requesting information about the $850m bonds sold in 2013, according to investors who were contacted.

Mozambique is facing its worst economic crisis since a civil war ended in 1992, and has requested debt relief from bondholders for the second time in a year amid a currency plunge that has pushed the country’s external debt burden to 130 per cent of GDP.

The southern African country first sold bonds to international investors three years ago to finance a new state-owned fishing company, Ematum, but was later found to have spent the bulk of the funds on naval vessels and other security equipment.

Under pressure from donors, Mozambique swapped the Ematum debt for a longer-dated government bond earlier this year, but the relationship between creditors and the country quickly soured when the government revealed more than $1bn of undisclosed debt linked to state-affiliated companies.

The International Monetary Fund and other donors suspended aid programmes in the wake of the revelation, while multibillion-dollar gas projects have been delayed and the metical has fallen sharply against the dollar, raising the cost of servicing the state’s debt. Mozambique has agreed to an independent audit of the loans in the hope of sealing a new deal with its donors, and the audit is expected to be completed in the first three months of 2017.

In June, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and Switzerland’s Finma confirmed they had launched early-stage inquiries into alleged irregularities around the loans — focusing on the role of the banks. Credit Suisse declined to comment at the time on the FCA/Finma inquiries, while VTB said it was not aware of any investigations.

The SEC on Thursday declined to comment on the letters, which were first reported in the Wall Street Journal, and has not announced a formal investigation into the bonds which were issued under English law.

Investors in Mozambique have yet to agree to a second debt restructuring and a bondholder committee has formed to negotiate with the government that includes AllianceBernstein, Franklin Templeton and hedge fund Greylock Capital Management.

Meanwhile, prices for the restructured “tuna bond” that matures in 2023 have fallen from almost 90 cents on the dollar in April to 60 cents, equivalent to an annual yield of 23 per cent — one of the highest in the world.

VTB said in a statement on Thursday that it was not aware of any investigation by the SEC in relation to the bank.

“VTB executed the transactions with Mozambique state-owned companies in compliance with appropriate policies — the government of Mozambique confirmed to us that they were following the necessary internal and external legislation and that comprehensive information on the transactions was disclosed to creditors and investors,” the statement said.

Credit Suisse and BNP declined to comment.
Mozambique Christmas Truce Fuels Hopes of Peace
By Christina Okello
30-12-2016 to 09:12

Cristiana Soares for RFI

The people of Mozambique has welcomed a seven day ceasefire to end hostilities between Renamo opposition fighters and the ruling Frelimo government. Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, declared the truce on Tuesday to allow the public to enjoy the New Year festivities. It comes after an upsurge in fighting that has displaced thousands.

The truce comes at the end of a gruelling year, with rights groups reporting that more than 15,000 people have been forced to flee the fighting between Renamo opposition fighters and the ruling Frelimo government this year alone.

"The truce is obviously a first start," Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics told RFI on Thursday.

"But what is missing at the moment is any sense of the two sides feeling that they actually have to live together, that there has to be some kind of agreement between them which would allow the country to move forward. Neither side seems to accept that yet."

The gulf between Renamo and Frelimo sent international mediators away disappointed at the start of the Christmas break, as mediation efforts once again broke down.

"So far negotiations have stalled because neither side feels that it's important enough to make concessions, so we keep ending up with a stalemate," continues Hanlon.

What's been poisoning peace talks is the issue of decentralization.

Face-saving opportunity

Renamo's Afonso Dhlakama wants the right to nominate governors in six provinces where the opposition won the most number of votes in the disputed 2014 elections.

He also wants Renamo fighters to be brought into the military and the police.

The Frelimo government says that they must first disarm.

"Renamo is trying to call attention and send out a message that it still exists," Philippe Gagnaux, a Swiss doctor and independent politician living on the outskirts of the Maputo capital, said

So far, much of its publicity has been negative, with Renamo gunmen being blamed for an upsurge in attacks on government convoys and civilian vehicles on Mozambique's roads.

Gagnaux however contests the claim that Renamo is primarily responsible for the unrest.

"The attacks are often carried out by government soldiers, without their superiors knowing. They may lack supplies, and so attack convoys to make up their shortfall," he told RFI.

Resource curse fueling unrest

Another factor behind the unrest is the battle to control the country's new-found gas reserves.

Mozambique is ready to develop huge offshore find, which the government hopes will help transform the country into a middle-income state.

 "The gas is partly the reason for the war," Hanlon adds.

"We have in a sense an advance resource curse, because the previous government of Armando Guebuza borrowed in secret two billion  euros--a huge amount of money for Mozambique--on the expectation that it would be paid for by gas revenues."

The move led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to suspend aid to the country in April this year.

"The worst thing is that some 1,200 million euros are still missing," claims Philippe Gagnaux, who argues that the government's inability to tackle corruption has strengthened Renamo.

"In my opinion Renamo should have gone to a second round," he says in reference to the 2014 presidential poll, which saw the opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama obtain 30% of the vote behind president Filipe Nyusi at 63%.

"At least a second round should have happened because there was so much fraud. Since then, Renamo has remained quiet and accepted the result, but it wants something in return."

Yearning for peace

In the meantime, the people are still waiting for peace.

Mozambique is still recovering from its bloody 1976-1992 civil war during which one million people died.

With more people fleeing the fighting this year alone because of increased violence, the hope is that the truce and its promise of peace, will remain, beyond the Christmas break.
Burundi Says Will Pull 5,500 Troops From Somalia Over Money
DEC. 30, 2016, 11:57 A.M. E.S.T.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi — Burundi's president on Friday threatened to pull out almost 5,500 troops contributing to the African Union mission in Somalia over nearly a year of unpaid allowances, in another sign of tensions with the force's largest donor, the European Union.

If there is no payment by January, Burundi will recall the more than 5,400 troops from the 22,000-strong regional force protecting Somalia's weak government from al-Shabab extremist attacks, President Pierre Nkurunziza said.

Burundi's troops have not been paid allowances for 11 months amid a standoff between Burundi's government and the EU after the EU accused Burundian authorities of human rights abuses.

Burundi has faced widespread international criticism over the deadly political turmoil that followed Nkurunziza's pursuit of a third term last year, which many in the country called unconstitutional. Hundreds of been killed.

Burundi is scheduled to rotate three battalions of soldiers into Somalia in January, military spokesman Col. Gaspard Baratuza said in a statement earlier this week.
Six Killed in Attack on Somalia Town
December 30, 2016 1:54 AM
Mohamed Olad Hassan

At least six people were killed and seven others injured when militants attacked Afgoye town, southwest of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday night.

Residents say they saw heavily armed militants take up positions before storming a government checkpoint in the town.

“They were around 100 heavily armed militants. They took up positions and ordered residents to take cover in their homes before storming on a security checkpoint manned by government forces,” Mohamed Hirey, one of the residents said.

“The militants used RPGs and heavy machine guns and were shouting with 'Allahu Akbar' or 'God is greatest' as they battled with the government forces,” said another resident, Nur Yusuf Kabale.

Ibrahim Aden Ali, governor of lower Shabelle, told the VOA Somali Service government troops came under a surprise attack by militants around Maghrib (Sunset Prayer) and that the government troops managed to repel them.

“The militants have again attacked us attempting to run over a government security checkpoint, but this time we taught them a lesson,” Ali said. "Our forces briefly retreated from our post but finally managed to repulse the attackers.”

He claimed that two militants were killed and six others injured during the attack. On the government side, he said three soldiers were injured.

But multiple sources in the town have confirmed that two government soldiers, three militants and a civilian were killed, and seven others injured.

The radical Islamist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack - on Radio Andalus, its mouthpiece in Somalia. It said ‘the group’s guerrilla fighters had killed six government soldiers and had temporarily seized the town.

“Member of our jihadists have hit on an enemy checkpoint. They killed six soldiers and briefly seized the town before voluntarily withdrawing,” a statement released on the radio said.

Afgoye is an agricultural and strategic town in the Lower - Shabelle region, located 30km (18 miles) from Mogadishu.

In 2012, government soldiers and AMISOM troops drove al-Shabab out of the town following a major offensive. But in October this year, al-Shabaab attacked and seized the entire town. At least 12 people were killed in that attack.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Detroit Demolition Subpoenas Target Dozens of Officials
Ian Thibodeau,
The Detroit News 12:56 p.m. EST
December 30, 2016

Detroit — The scope of a criminal probe by federal investigators into the city’s demolition program covers text messages, voicemails, emails, phone records, meeting notes and schedules of city officials and targets more than two dozen employees, according to subpoena documents released Friday.

In two subpoenas issued in May, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program demanded the Detroit Land Bank Authority and Detroit Building Authority, which oversee the city’s blight reduction program, hand over information on federally funded contracts and several demolition contractors.

One federal subpoena requested all voicemail messages, telephone records meeting notes and schedules from 14 Detroit Land Bank employees — including Detroit Land Bank Executive Director Carrie Lewand-Monroe — that involve Detroit-based Adamo Demolition Co. and West Bloomfield Township contractor Barry Ellentuck, who was acquitted of attempted fraud charges involving Detroit demolition inspections. Ellentuck is also suing city officials for malicious prosecution and defamation.

The other subpoena requested from 18 Detroit Building Authority employees emails and text messages pertaining the similar topics, in addition to voicemail messages, telephone records meeting notes and schedules. Brian Farkas, building authority director of special projects compliance, is named in that subpoena.

Farkas declined to comment on the subpoena when reached by phone Friday.

The document requests covered demolition contracts for the federal Hardest Hit Fund, which has provided more than $258 million to help the city of Detroit tear down abandoned houses and buildings in the past three years. The city has taken down 10,704 structures since 2014.

Earlier in December, a Wayne County Circuit judge ordered the subpoenas be released after a months-long legal battle. The federal government did not want to release the records because, officials argued, it would interfere with an ongoing investigation into the city’s demolition program.

The battle stems from the efforts of a government watchdog group headed by Robert Davis. The group asked the court to compel the release of the document after the land bank this summer rejected a Freedom of Information Act request Davis filed to obtain copies of subpoenas received by the land bank, its attorneys, contractors and others from the FBI and the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program about Detroit demolition contracts or its program.

SIGTARP had no comment Friday on the release of the subpoena.

Reached by phone Friday, Davis said the subpoenas show the federal government is “truly launching an investigation that is truly a very far-reaching investigation.”

Craig Fahle, spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank, said in a statement that the land bank “withheld the subpoena based on the ongoing nature of the investigation,” but released the subpoenas following the court’s December ruling.

According to documents released Friday by the Detroit Land Bank, investigators subpoenaed the Detroit Building Authority for emails sent or received from January 2014 to the present by those within the department pertaining to demolition contracts, Adamo Demolition Co., Ellentuck, and other companies and entities associated with Detroit’s demolition program.

An attorney for Adamo could not be immediately reached on Friday, but has previously confirmed the company had received and fully complied with a subpoena it received from SIGTARP related to its contract with the land bank for the federal hardest hit program.

The building authority was also subpoenaed for text messages, voicemails and phone records to or from employees with the building authority and demolition contractors and consulting companies. The federal government demanded meeting minutes and notes related to the demolition contracts, and calendars and appointment logs involving employees and contractors.

The feds did not subpoena emails from the Detroit Land Bank Authority, only telephone calls and messages, meetings minutes and notes and calendars and appointment logs.

Ellentuck is mentioned several times in both subpoenas. He went on trial earlier this year for attempted fraud between $1,000 and $20,000 involving demolition inspection billings. After a week of testimony — including hearing Ellentuck’s secretly taped conversations with his accuser — a jury acquitted Ellentuck.

In September, he sued nine people — including Mayor Mike Duggan’s Chief Of Staff Alexis Wiley — for malicious prosecution and defamation. Ellentuck’s company, ADR Consultants, was contracted by the state of Michigan to provide blight demolition management, oversight and inspections around Michigan, primarily in the Detroit area.

Paul Sugameli, a Troy-based attorney representing Ellentuck, had no comment on the subpoenas released Friday.

The Duggan administration’s program came under scrutiny last fall amid concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices. Detroit officials have defended the program, and say they are cooperating fully with all investigations.

Detroit’s auditor general and one of the city’s largest demolition contractors, Adamo Group, also have confirmed they received subpoenas from the special inspector general related to the demolition program.

In May, the FBI’s Detroit office acknowledged it’s investigating the program.

Duggan also revealed this fall that the U.S. Treasury Department had prohibited the use of federal Hardest Hit Funds for demolitions for two months beginning in August after a probe conducted by the Michigan Homeowner Assistance Nonprofit Housing Corp., in conjunction with Michigan State Housing Development Authority, turned up questions over “certain prior transactions” and indicated specific controls needed to be strengthened.

A separate independent audit commissioned this summer by the land bank found excessive demolition costs were hidden by spreading them over hundreds of properties so it appeared no demolition exceeded cost limits set by the state.

The audit turned up mistakes over a nine-month period between June 2015 and February, including inadequate record keeping, bid mistakes and about $1 million improperly billed to the state.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Staff writer Christine Ferretti contributed.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Zimbabwe Command Agriculture Locally Funded — Mnangagwa
December 30, 2016
Elita Chikwati and Julia Mugadzaweta
Zimbabwe Herald

Zimbabwean firms, which have become part of the solutions to the country’s challenges, are behind funding for Command Agriculture, Acting President Mnangagwa said yesterday during a tour of some farms in Mashonaland Central Province.

The programme required $515 million to enable farmers to grow 400 000 hectares of maize and produce two million tonnes to ensure adequate food supply and replenish the Strategic Grain Reserves.

However, Government ended up receiving offers of nearly $1 billion. Briefing farmers on the progress made to date, Cde Mnangagwa said Command Agriculture was a success because of the support it received from both local input suppliers and local funders.

“After making plans for Command Agriculture, we realised we required $515 million. We had nowhere to get the money as we only had a plan. We had two options, to look for a loan from our friends outside the country and from within. Our first priority was to appeal to our people in Zimbabwe and we received an overwhelming response. We received offers of more than the required amount.

“The banking sector immediately offered $300 million, but wanted a 12 percent interest and National Social Security Authority brought $20 million and a good interest, Sakunda $264 million and good interest and others from within Zimbabwe brought forward their offers but with abnormal interest rates. We received nearly $1 billion wholly from within Zimbabwe only,” he said.

Acting President Mnangagwa said Government considered funders whose interest rates were low and viable for the agriculture sector.

“When we sat down, we first accepted Sakunda’s offer followed by NSSA. Those from the financial services sector split, with others clinging to high interest rates while others reduced them. We only accepted the banks whose interest charges were viable,” he said.

The Acting President applauded all stakeholders in the agriculture industry, including millers, seed houses, fertiliser companies, chemical suppliers, farmers unions and ministries for working together towards the successful implementation of Command Agriculture.

“We were not aware that all these companies; seed houses, fertiliser companies, banks and others were very cooperative. These stakeholders were willing to work with Government for the success of the programme.

“Seed and fertiliser companies agreed to give us the required amounts of inputs as they were guaranteed of getting their money. Now the companies are working 24 hours to ensure adequate supplies,” he said.

Acting President Mnangagwa said inputs suppliers used to demand cash upfront for them to release inputs but this time they agreed to supply despite the money they were owed by Government.

He said the support received from stakeholders saw the area being put under maize doubling and this explained the increase in demand for fertiliser.

“Millers have already indicated that they are willing to buy 800 000 tonnes from the two million tonnes projected under command farming.

“Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe has promised to buy the maize and pay timely using internal funds.

“All these things require dialogue and networking; our people want our nation to develop and be successful. Imi mukasada kusimuka nyika ichasimuka ichikusiyai. Kuti muibate munotozobhadhara, ” he said.
President al-Assad’s Statement to Italian (TG5) Channel
29 December، 2016

Damascus, SANA-President Bashar al-Assad gave a statement to the Italian TG5 channel.

Following is the full context of the statement;

Question 1: President Assad, a few days ago, the Syrian Army, with the help of the Russian force, took the control of most of Aleppo. We can say that the war is almost over?

President Assad: No, not yet, you cannot talk about the war is over until you get rid of the terrorists in Syria, and those terrorists unfortunately still have formal support from many countries including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and many Western countries. So, this hasn’t changed, and this kind of support will make the war drag on. But the defeat of the terrorists in Aleppo is an important step toward ending the war. If you don’t have that external support to those terrorists, it won’t be difficult at all to get rid from the terrorists everywhere in Syria, and at that time we can talk about the end of war.

Question 2: But what can you say on the huge number of victims among the civilians, and this is a big problem.

President Assad: In Syria in general?

Journalist: Yeah, yeah.

President Assad: Of course, it is a big problem; the most important thing than the infrastructure and the buildings are the people who’s been killed, the families that lost their dear ones, children, their sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, and so on. This is the suffering, they’re going to live with this pain forever. But at the end, the only way to solve the problem in Syria is for everyone to forgive every other one. So, I think we have this feeling, that this is the main orientation, on the public level.

Question 3: And the role of Daesh here in Syria…. You defeat Daesh, because we have problem in Europe too with Daesh, you know, the Berlin attack. What can we do with Daesh?

President Assad: As Europeans?

Journalists: As Europeans and…

President Assad: Yeah. The problem is not only ISIS. ISIS is the product, one of the products of extremism. When you talk about Daesh, you can talk about al-Nusra, you can talk about many other different organizations, they have the same mentality and the same dark ideology. The core problem of those organizations, first of all, is the ideology, the Wahabi ideology.. If you don’t deal with it in Europe and in our region and in the world in general, we cannot deal with the extremism and its product, the terrorism, anywhere in the world. I mean, in that regard; if you don’t deal with the ideology, you are dealing only temporarily with the problem. If you want to deal with the issue of terrorism permanently, you have to deal with the pillar of that terrorism, which is the Wahabi ideology.

This is first. But currently you have another pillar of the problem; it’s the Western support of those terrorists, maybe not ISIS in general, but they give different labels: “moderates, white helmets,” they give all these humanitarian – sometimes – and moderate labels just to give them the cover in order to achieve their political goals. So, their priority in Europe – I’m talking about the European governments – their priority is not fighting terrorism; their priority is using those cards in order to change governments, and to get rid of presidents, and so on. So, with this policy, you cannot defeat terrorism in around the world, and that’s why, as you see, during the last few years, there’s nothing happening regarding terrorism in Europe; the terrorists are still attacking freely, with no change in the situation, because the Western officials are not serious in dealing with this problem.

Question 4: And the last question: so, do you think that the election of Donald Trump could change something here in the role of the United States in this area?

President Assad: Let’s say we are more optimistic with caution, because we don’t know what is the policy that he’s going to adopt regarding our region in general, how can he deal with the different lobbies in the United States that oppose any solution in Syria and any good relations with Russia. But we can say part of the optimism could be related to better relation between the United States and Russia, not the West and Russia; because Europe doesn’t exist on the political map. I’m talking about only the United States. If there’s good relation between these two great powers, most of the world, including small countries like Syria, will be the beneficiary of this relation. In that regard, we can say there will be a solution in Syria. At the same time, he said – Mr. Trump, during his campaign – that his priority is fighting terrorism, and we believe that this is the beginning of the solution, if he can implement what he announced.

Journalist: Okay, thank you.

President Assad: Thank you.
President al-Assad: EU Officials Have to Recognize That Solution in Syria Would Be Only Through Syrian People
29 December، 2016

Damascus, SANA-President Bashar al-Assad received on Thursday a joint delegation comprising MPs from the European Parliament and the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia.

Members of the delegation affirmed the importance of this visit to get acquainted with the reality of situation in Syria and to show support to the Syrian people in the war against terrorism as well as to congratulate Syrians on the victory achieved in the city of Aleppo, stressing their rejection of any foreign interference in the Syrian internal affairs.

During the meeting, President al-Assad briefed members of the delegation on the developments in Syria, answering their questions in this regard. The President considered that as this delegation includes MPs from a number of European parties and from Russia, it is an important signal that Russia and the European countries have common interests, stressing the important role played by parliamentarians to express the interests of their people.

As for the role that could be played by the European countries to reach a solution in Syria, President al-Assad considered that if the European countries want to help Syrian people, they must first stop supporting terrorists and lift the unjust blockade which affects the basics of Syrians’ life, affirming that the European officials have to recognize that the solution in Syria would be through the Syrian people only.

President al-Assad stressed that the Western officials must admit that the terrorist attacks taking place in their countries are a result of their wrong policies, therefore, they have to ask themselves if their policies, they adopt, were in the interest of their own people or against it.

On the fight against terrorism, President al-Assad considered that this operation is carried out through the military track which is progressing well because of the Russian support and drying the financial resources through which terrorists can recruit people, most importantly, is how to deal with terrorism as an ideology, adding that the Wahhabi mentality should be eliminated for the success in any operation of the fight against terrorism.

President al-Assad also considered that while Russia supports Syria, it is not only defending the Syrians’ security, but it also defends the security of its people and the European peoples too.

Syrian Army Kills Tens of Terrorists in Homs and Daraa
29 December، 2016

Provinces, SANA – An army unit destroyed a vehicle of ISIS terrorists in Tallet al-Awameed area in the countryside of al-Qariatain in Homs Province, killing six of the terrorists.

Another army unit clashed with terrorist groups affiliated to ISIS within a military operation that is carried out on al-Mesherfeh village in al-Teefour area, achieving a remarkable advance where many terrorists were killed, others got injured and their vehicles were destroyed.
Moreover, an army unit directed artillery and air blows on Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Jabal al-Ken in al-Rastan area, destroying a number of vehicles and killing many of the terrorists.

More than 126 terrorists of ISIS were killed in fires of the Syrian Arab Army in the framework of its continuous war against terrorism in Tadmur area in the eastern countryside of Homs.

A military source told SANA that the army units established control over the surrounding hills of Sharifa village to the south of the T4 airport in the western countryside of Tadmur after eliminating the last gatherings of ISIS there.

The source said that the army units thwarted an attack launched by terrorist groups affiliated to ISIS on a number of military points in the northeast direction of the T4 airport, killing 70 terrorists and destroying 7 tanks, BMB vehicle and 12 vehicles equipped with machineguns.

The source added that more than 50 ISIS terrorists were also killed and 3 tanks, an armored vehicle, 2 cannons and 5 pick-up cars were destroyed in the area surrounding the T4 airport in the eastern countryside of Homs.

Army units killed a number of the terrorists’ leaders and destroyed one of Jabhat al-Nusra’s radio-controlled airplanes in Daraa southern province.

A military source told SANA that an army unit on Thursday morning carried out a special operation in Tafas City in the northwestern countryside of the province.

The source added that a number of the terrorists’ leaders from the so-called “Jaish al-Mu’ataz” terrorist organization were killed in the operation, in addition to destroying one of their positions and a number of their machinegun-equipped vehicles.

In Daraa al-Bald area, an army unit downed a radio-controlled airplane belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists and destroyed it in the surroundings of the Post Building without any human casualties.
Catholics in China Should Integrate Into Socialist Society - Senior Party Official
Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) gives a speech during the opening session of the CPPCC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/China Daily

Chinese Catholics must run their church independently, implying at arms length from the Vatican, and guide believers on a "Sinicisation path", said a senior Communist Party official, as China and the Vatican seek to improve relations.

Pope Francis is trying to heal a decades-old rift with China where Catholics are divided between those loyal to the Vatican and members of a Chinese government-controlled official church.

One of the obstacles to improving relations is the question of who should be able to appoint senior clergy.

China says bishops must be named by the local Chinese Catholic community and refuses to accept the authority of the pope, whom it sees as the head of a foreign state that has no right to meddle in Beijing's affairs.

Prospects for a deal were set back this month after Lei Shiyin, a government-backed bishop excommunicated by the Vatican, participated in the ordination of new bishops..

Catholics should "run their church independently and better integrate it into society", senior Communist party leader Yu Zhengsheng told the government-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and Bishops Conference of Catholic Church of China.

"The church should adhere to the principles of self-administration, run religious affairs independently and guide believers to adhere to the Sinicisation path of the religion," said Yu, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Thursday.

The Sinicisation of religion is likely a reference to bringing religion under Chinese influence.

Chinese Catholics must "unify patriotism with affection for the Church" and "unite all believers to contribute to construction of the socialism with Chinese characteristics", said Yu, who heads a largely ceremonial body to parliament, one of whose aims is to represent religious believers.

The Vatican should take steps to improve relations with China, the Chinese head of religious affairs said on Tuesday. The Vatican in turn said last week that Catholics in China were waiting for positive signals they could trust in a dialogue between China and the Holy See.

The two sides have been at loggerheads since the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China after the Communists took power in 1949, and the Vatican's continued maintenance of official ties with self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its own.

There are as many as 10 million Chinese Catholics in what is an officially atheist country, though the government technically guarantees freedom of religion for recognized groups, which also include Buddhists and Muslims.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)
Trump Will Continue Putting Pressure on Russia With NATO's Help

The Pentagon has started deploying military hardware in European countries to "calm allies down should Russia manifest aggression." According to Il Giornale, it has become the largest military fortification of the alliance since the Cold War.

The concept envisages the distribution of military reserves in strategic locations around the world to reduce the rate of response during possible emergencies at a global level. The storage facilities ensure quick access to 6,000 units of heavy equipment for the United States.

Pravda.Ru requested an opinion from leading expert of the Center for Military-Political Studies at MGIMO, doctor of political science, Mikhail Alexandrov.

"Why is the North Atlantic Alliance taking such measures?"

"It is connected with the policy of the USA and NATO to put military and political pressure on Russia. This policy was framed at the Warsaw Summit of the alliance, where it was decided to create two attack groups near Russian borders. The most powerful group will be created in the north-west in Poland and in the Baltic countries. Another base will be in Romania.

"In Poland, there will be four tactical groups created that can be rapidly deployed in brigades, plus there is the Polish army. These forces should be enough to capture the Kaliningrad region, so NATO strategists consider. Yet, there is not enough military hardware for the purpose. They are moving heavy equipment to Belgium and the Netherlands, and then some of those forces will move to Poland.

"Russia needs to think seriously how to create counterweight to these changes in the alliance. One does not have to pack the Kaliningrad region with all sorts of troops, yet, the troops that Russia has in the region at the moment should be able to show adequate resistance to NATO's possible aggression until main forces arrive from the Pskov region. In the Pskov region, one can deploy two tank armies, so that they could march across the Baltic States and enter the Kaliningrad enclave."

"What guarantees can the USA obtain with the help of those storage facilities?"

"They will make it possible to quickly deploy forces. They will be able to deploy personnel by air to equip their troops with everything that they need on site."

"This is a decision of the outgoing US administration. Can Donald Trump revise it?"

"We do not know. It is possible that the USA will continue putting military and political pressure on Russia. This pressure can also be used as a bargaining element on other issues in relations with Russia, for example, on the issue of Iran. Trump wants to crush Iran, but Russia will not let it happen. Trump will continue putting pressure on Russia in Eastern Europe.

"The West is not changing its stance on Russia, there is no progress in this. The work of the Russia-NATO Council has not resumed. Our views and positions differ completely. The concept of the European security is NATO-centric: it does not take Russia's interests into consideration at all - the concept ignores Russia's interests," the expert said.

- See more at:
Russia to Adequately Respond to ‘Aggressive’ US Sanctions - Kremlin
December 30, 1:49 UTC+3

Peskov added that such moves are intended to deal a blow to both Russian-US relations and the future administration’s foreign policy

MOSCOW, December 30. /TASS/. Russia will give an adequate response to the fresh US sanctions that demonstrate the outgoing administration’s unpredictable aggression, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters late Thursday.

On many occasions, Russia has strongly denied any role in the attacks, including leaks of sensitive information that marred the electoral campaign of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, the outgoing Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia’s military intelligence and security officers and expelled 35 Russian diplomats over Moscow’s alleged role.

The Kremlin also hopes that the new US leadership will fix the outcome of Obama team’s "clumsy moves" and bilateral ties will improve when Donald Trump takes office.

Inconsistency and aggression by the White House

"From our point of view, such moves by Washington, by the incumbent US administration are regretfully a display of unpredictable and, arguably, aggressive foreign policy," the presidential spokesman said, adding that such moves are intended to deal a blow to both Russian-US relations and the future administration’s foreign policy.

"Even more perplexing is the fact that the decision on moves with such a devastating and destructive effect on bilateral relations are made by the (Obama) administration whose time in power is about to run out. This, undoubtedly, looks like an absolutely unexpected display of aggression," the Kremlin spokesman said.

He added that the type of aggression that President Vladimir Putin spoke of during his latest question-and-answer session earlier this month.

"Although he did not mention the United States of America among those potential aggressors, he did not pronounce this country’s name, but now we can witness practical manifestation of this," he said.

The Kremlin spokesman said the US side did not contact Moscow before imposing the sanctions, but made public statements that were "unprecedented in their aggressiveness at the current stage of international relations."

When asked whether the Russian leader will contact his US counterpart on the matter, Peskov said he was not aware of such plans. "I don’t think that we need to hurry," he added.

"As we have already said before, we believe such decisions, such sanctions to be groundless and illegal from the point of view of international law," Peskov said. "We reject such unfounded allegations and accusations against Russia."

Peskov commented on US President Barack Obama’s statements and the US administration’s decision to impose new sanctions on Russia. "We regret that president Obama and the US administration have made such a decision," Peskov noted. According to him, the Kremlin has been assessing these statements. "We are analyzing the details," he added.

Blow to Trump’s plans

Moscow believes that by imposing the sanctions in the waning days of his presidency, Obama is trying to disrupt his successor’s plans, Peskov said.

"We are convinced that such decisions by the incumbent administration, which by the way has only three weeks of work remaining, pursue two goals: first is to further spoil the Russian-US relations, which are already at their lowest, and, apparently, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the future administration of the US president-elect," he said.

"However, the second matter is absolutely a domestic one and the Americans will have to sort out themselves how lawful this line of conduct is," the spokesman added. "A model of conduct is being forced on the future (White House) administration and president-elect (Donald Trump)."

US declares 35 Russian diplomats persona non grata

Peskov added that he has no information on whether Trump shares the anti-Russian vision of the outgoing administration, because the Russian and US leaders are yet to begin a substantial and serious dialogue.

‘What we do know is that there are attempts to impose a certain foreign policy direction on the new administration, to limit its freedom to make decisions and to somehow deprive it of its right to follow the path endorsed by the new president," he said.

Adequate response

The spokesman did not say what Russia’s response to sanctions will be, but, due to the principle of reciprocity, it will be "adequate."

"No doubt, the reaction based on the principle of reciprocity and will cause significant discomfort to the US side in the same areas. Anyway, the decision on such moves will be made by the president of Russia," he said.

Peskov said the Russian president would "to a certain extent take into account" the fact that the incumbent administration will resign in three weeks while deciding on Russia’s response.

"With regard to the transitional period now in Washington we still expect that we would be able to deal with the fallout from such clumsy moves, such clumsy steps, from behaving like a bull in a china shop and that sooner or later, through joint steps, we will take the path of normalizing our bilateral relations," he said.

According to Peskov, the Kremlin is "indisposed to exaggerate" the effect of Washington’s move.

Diplomatic story

Commenting on the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the United States, which the White House claimed came in response to alleged harassment of US diplomats in Moscow, Peskov said he could "only express total bewilderment over the situation."

He added that he could easily cite several examples of direct pressure on Russian diplomats in the United States.