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#Kazakhstan Joins #Antarctic Treaty

A tidewater glacier on the Antarctic coast. WikicommonsA tidewater glacier on the Antarctic coast. Wikicommons.

The Moscow Times.

The world’s largest landlocked country, Kazakhstan, has joined the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement on the southern continent’s neutrality, Interfax reported Friday.

The decree by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, available online, provides no reason for the move.

But the Central Asian country has shown an interest in the Antarctic before, with officials even identifying it as a potential source of drinking water for the arid steppe nation.

The ex-Soviet country staged its first expedition to the South Pole in 2011, tasked with bringing back a “sample of clear air,” Mir24.tv reported at the time.

Local media also reported in 2012 plans for a Kazakh station in the Antarctic, though online reports have since been deleted.

Nazarbayev gave the order to join the treaty earlier this month, but the move had gone under the public radar until this week.

The Antarctic Treaty, which entered into force in 1961, formed the basis of the modern approach to the Antarctic: that it should be used only for peaceful research and tourism purposes.

Contrary to popular belief, the treaty — which Kazakhstan was the 51st country to ratify — does not explicitly prohibit territorial claims or economic activity in the Antarctic.

Limited economic activity is ongoing in the Antarctic region, most notably in the ocean around the continent, a territory popular with fishermen. Last month, Russia and China blocked an EU-Australian plan to create a marine reserve covering at least one million square kilometers in the eastern Antarctic.

There are currently about 70 research stations on the continent devoted to a range of topics, ranging from the unique subglacial Lake Vostok to the odd recent behavior of seals, who are increasingly attempting to mate with penguins before, in some cases, devouring them.

The Moscow Times.

#Russia: Images of Giant #Sinkhole Linked to #Uralkali Mining Accident

An aerial view shows a sinkhole 3.5 km (2 miles) to the east of Solikamsk-2 mine in Perm region on Nov. 20, 2014. Press service of Uralkali company / Reuters.An aerial view shows a sinkhole 3.5 km (2 miles) to the east of Solikamsk-2 mine in Perm region on Nov. 20, 2014. Press service of Uralkali company / Reuters.

Jennifer Monaghan, The Moscow Times.

Photos of a sinkhole that appeared in the Perm region after a mining accident this week have been published online, as local emergency services strive to contain the expansion of a giant crater that is threatening global supplies of the crop nutrient potash.

The sinkhole, which initially measured 20 by 30 meters, appeared after high levels of brine inflow forced the closure of the Solikamsk-2 mine on Tuesday. The mine is operated by Uralkali, the world’s largest potash company, whose shares dipped on news of the closure.

Shares in Uralkali have fallen 28 percent since Tuesday amid fears the mining accident could reduce global potash supplies and inflate prices of the nutrient worldwide.

While some fear the mining accident could deal yet another blow to Russia’s economy — already under duress due to Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine and a struggling ruble — Uralkali’s CEO downplayed the fears.

“The accident is not catastrophic for the company’s operations or people living in the area,” Chief Executive Dmitry Osipov said, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Since its discovery, the sinkhole has stretched from about 30 meters to 40 meters, local news site V Kurse reported Friday, posting images of the hole taken by an emergency services’ drone.

The hole is located on the site of an abandoned mine, 3,5 kilometers away from the nearest settlement, the regional emergency services said Wednesday in an online statement.

The site also once housed a cooperative of summer residences, or dachas, which was abandoned in 2005 following concerns that the ground was sinking, V Kurse reported. According to local residents, one of the dachas was swallowed up by the hole, the report said.

Aerial photos of the giant sinkhole taken by the emergency services show the crater surrounded by properties.

The images recall photographs of a giant crater that appeared in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district in mid-July, before a second hole was discovered several days later.

Scientists later tied the appearance of the hole to a discharge of gas hydrates deep beneath the surface of the Yamal Peninsula, resulting in an underground explosion that formed the crater.

Emergency Ministry researchers are carrying out tests around the sinkhole in Solikamsk to determine whether any gas is being released at the site. Seismic sensors have also been placed near the crater, V Kurse reported.

About 1,300 miners working at the Solikamsk-2 mine have been sent home on two-thirds of their pay until January following the mine’s closure, the report said.

It remains to be seen whether the situation at Solikamsk will be as serious as that experienced at Uralkali’s Berezniki-1 site, also located in the Perm region, which was closed in 2006 after becoming completely flooded following a brine inflow.

The Solikamsk-2 mine accounts for a fifth of  Uralkali’s output and 3.5 percent of global capacity.

This article has been corrected to state that about 1,300 miners have been sent home. An earlier version incorrectly put that figure at 3,500.

The Moscow Times.

#Tunisia closes border ahead of presidential election as fear of #ISIS attack mounts

Tunisia closes border ahead of presidential election as fear of ISIS attack mounts

Source: al-akhbar

In addition to securing the Tunisian presidential election three days before its scheduled date, Tunisian security agencies are trying to follow-up on the serious security development with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declaring the establishment of “Wilayat Tripoli” in Libya. This development prompted the Tunisian government to close its borders with Libya fearing that ISIS might target the elections after warning the country that it is not going to be isolated from what is happening in the region.

In an expected move, ISIS declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate called Wilayat Tripoli (the Libyan capital) and its online media site published pictures of its fighters in a military parade carrying the group’s flag and four-wheel drive vehicles carrying the group’s insignia. The new “Wilayat Tripoli” includes the cities of Sirte, Subrata, Khums, Zliten, Misrata, al-Zawiya in addition to Jabal al-Gharbi cities such as Byda and some areas in western Libya. This development came after the group seized complete control of the city of Derna which had been declared a few weeks ago as one of ISIS’ cities.

This major development put Tunisian security and military agencies on high alert. The Libyan capital is no more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) away from the Tunisian border city of Ben Gardane in the Medenine governorate, so one can understand Tunisia’s quick response. The crisis cell, headed by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, decided to close the border crossing of Ras Jdir in Ben Gardane and the border crossing of Zahabiya in the Tataouine governorate from yesterday until Sunday, the date of the presidential election. The border will be reopened on Monday.

This is the first time that the Tunisian-Libyan border will be closed for this long since the toppling of the previous regime. It confirms the gravity of the threats the Tunisian government believes it faces, based on Tunisian, Algerian and French intelligence information about the presence of a real plan threatening Tunisia’s stability. Information indicates that ISIS proclaimed through a statement by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the need to target Tunisia and secular forces and march toward south Tunisia on election day. The Tunisian authorities dealt with this information very seriously on the security and military levels.

After Baghdadi’s announcement, the Tunisian Interior Ministry published in most Tunisian newspapers and satellite TV stations pictures of more than 30 terrorists from Algeria, Libya, Mali and Nigeria wanted for their involvement in terrorist activities. The ministry also issued an official statement asking citizens to come forward with any information on these terrorists because they pose a threat to national security. The statement of the Interior Ministry came after successful preemptive operations were carried out by national security forces and the army thwarting a large number of terrorist operations aimed at public facilities in addition to intellectuals, political figures and ministers.

A senior security official told Al-Akhbar that security forces have regained their state of readiness after a period of decline in 2011 and 2012. That is why they, along with the army, succeeded in dismantling terrorist sleeper cells. The source expects security forces to completely eliminate terrorist cells concentrated in the mountain range along the Tunisian-Algerian border between the governorates of Kef, Kasserine, Jendouba, Gafsa and the desert border area between the governorates of Tozeur and Kebili that were used by terrorist groups as routes to smuggle weapons.

In a related matter, security forces fought a new terrorist cell the day before yesterday in the Sidi Bouzid governorate that was trying to target presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, killing one of its members and arresting the rest.

AhlulBayt News Agency – ABNA – Shia News.

#ISIS Has A Major Iraqi City Surrounded

An Iraqi soldier guards a checkpoint on the main highway near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province which links Baghdad to Syria and JordanAn Iraqi soldier guards a checkpoint on the main highway near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province which links Baghdad to Syria and Jordan. © AFP Azhar Shallal.

Salam Faraj, AFP

Baghdad (AFP) – The Islamic State group launched a major attack on the Iraqi city of Ramadi Friday, attempting to seize one of the last urban pockets under government control in troubled Anbar province.

Parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, and all of Fallujah to its east, fell to anti-government forces in January.

In June, IS-led militants began overrunning more of Anbar and have gained further ground in recent weeks, raising fears that the province, which stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to Baghdad, could fall completely.

“IS launched a surprise attack from four directions — north, west, east and south of Ramadi,” a police first lieutenant in the city told AFP by telephone Friday.

“A series of mortar attacks have targeted areas inside the city, including provincial council buildings and a police post,” the officer added.

Police Captain Qusay al-Dulaimi said “the mortar fire has been continuous since midnight.”

Unlike in the past, mosque loudspeakers called on people to fight IS rather than resist government forces.

Soldiers, police and tribal fighters were able to retake one area the militants had seized and hold off attacks on others, deputy provincial council chief Faleh al-Essawi and tribal leader Sheikh Rafa Abdulkarim said.

But the sound of gunfire could still be heard in the city early Friday evening, indicating that fighting in the area was not over.

The attacks killed at least six people, including police Colonel Majid al-Fahdawi, security and medical sources said.

Essawi said 12 militants died in the fighting.

A fresh spate of attacks in recent weeks has seen the jihadists extend their grip over the province, where only a handful of pockets remain under the control of Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias and Sunni tribal fighters.

But there is still little threat of a direct assault on Baghdad, as militants would have to gain much more ground for one to be viable.

- Public executions -

Meanwhile, in the northern town of Zab, IS gunmen publicly executed two young men Friday for allegedly cooperating with security forces.

The killings are just the latest in a long series of atrocities, including hundreds of executions, carried out by IS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Iraqi security forces performed poorly when faced with the initial jihadist-led onslaught in June, with several divisions collapsing in the north.

But with support from a US-led campaign of air strikes and foreign military advisors, they have retaken some areas. Even so, three key cities and large chunks of other territory remain in jihadist hands.

The US Central Command announced Wednesday that coalition forces carried out 30 air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria from Tuesday to Thursday, 23 of them in Iraq.

IS has attracted thousands of foreign fighters from various western nations, raising fears that they may return home to carry out attacks.

A Dutch 19-year-old who converted to Islam, traveled to Syria and married an IS fighter before being rescued by her mother was on Friday ordered to be detained pending possible terrorism charges in the Netherlands.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meanwhile travelled to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, whose forces have played a major role in the fight against IS, for talks with its leadership.

That came a day after he was in Baghdad for security talks with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, and offered military assistance.

Since the beginning of the year, violence in Iraq has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, and they now face a harsh winter in makeshift shelters or camps.

The United Nations said Friday it had begun airlifting tent insulation kits into Iraq to help some of the around two million displaced people deal with the winter cold.

Business Insider.

#Russia’s Igor #Strelkov: I Am Responsible for War in Eastern #Ukraine

Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine.Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters.

Anna Dolgov, The Moscow Times.

Russian national Igor Strelkov, a former commander of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, has claimed “personal responsibility” for unleashing the conflict across the border, in which 4,300 people have been killed since April.

“I was the one who pulled the firing trigger of this war,” Strelkov said in an interview published Thursday with Russia’s Zavtra newspaper, which espouses imperialist views.

“If our unit hadn’t crossed the border, in the end everything would have fizzled out, like in [the Ukrainian city of] Kharkiv, like in Odessa,” Strelkov, also known as Girkin, was quoted as saying.

“There would have been several dozen killed, burned, detained. And that would have been the end of it. But the flywheel of the war, which is continuing to this day, was spun by our unit. We mixed up all the cards on the table,” he said.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea this spring, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Moscow activists broke out in the cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, with more than 40 people killed in a fire in Odessa in early May.

Since then, the two cities have remained largely peaceful, and most of the fighting between rebels and government forces has been limited to the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Strelkov’s interview was published the same day the UN released a report highlighting the involvement of Russian fighters in the eastern Ukraine conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,300 people since mid-April.

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report said.


Strelkov also told Zavtra that at the beginning of the conflict, Ukrainian separatists and government forces were reluctant to start fighting one another and that the main opposition to the rebels came from Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist militants such as the Right Sector.

“At first, nobody wanted to fight,” he was quoted as saying. “The first two weeks went on under the auspices of the sides trying to convince each other to engage.”

But Strelkov claimed Kiev became emboldened after seeing that Russia was refraining from openly interfering in eastern Ukraine, as it did in Crimea, or from sending in large-scale forces.

He added that the lack of large-scale support from Russia was a major disappointment for the separatists, which lacked the manpower or weapons to combat government forces.

“Initially I assumed that the Crimea scenario would be repeated: Russia would enter,” he told Zavtra. “That was the best scenario. And the population wanted that. Nobody intended to fight for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. Initially everybody was for Russia.”

Russian Involvement

Strelkov also gave an account of the degree of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

At the start of this summer, 90 percent of rebel forces were made up of local residents, Strelkov was quoted as saying. However, by early August, Russian servicemen supposedly on “vacation” from the army had begun to arrive, he said.

According to Strelkov, the assault on the Black Sea town of Mariupol in September, which prompted concerns in Ukraine and the West that Russia has entered the conflict on a large scale, was conducted mostly by the Russian military “vacationers.”

The rebel forces advancing on Mariupol at that time met with little resistance from government troops and “could have been taken without a fight, “but there was an order not to take it,” he was quoted as saying.

While Moscow has repeatedly denied supplying the rebels with weaponry and manpower, Strelkov said the assistance offered to rebels remains significant: “I can’t say that we fully provide for them. But we are really helping them,” he said, noting that half of the rebel army was kitted out with winter clothes sent from Russia.

Shock Decision

After Donetsk and Luhansk held “referendums” on their independence from Ukraine in May, separatist leaders appealed to Moscow to accept the territories as Russian regions but Moscow responded with vague statements calling for “dialog” between rebels and Kiev.

Separatist had not contemplated building functional states and had pinned their hopes on being absorbed by Russia, Strelkov said, reasoning that Moscow needed a land connection to Crimea, which it had annexed in March.

“And then, when I understood that Russia was not going to take us in — I associated myself with the resistance — for us that decision was a shock,” Strelkov was quoted as saying.

Strelkov has been living in Russia since early this fall, when he said he was moving to Moscow to protect President Vladimir Putin from enemies and traitors.

While he seems to have fallen out of favor with Russia’s state-run media, having disappeared from their newscasts, he has taken to YouTube and fringe publication to issue an occasional appeal for increased Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“From the very beginning we started to fight for real — destroying raiding parties of the Right Sector,” Strelkov told Zavtra. “And I take personal responsibility for what is happening there.”

According to a UN report released Thursday, at least 4,317 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine by mid-November, and 9,921 have been wounded. The casualties include nearly 1,000 who have perished since “a tenuous cease-fire” was established earlier this fall.

The Moscow Times.


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