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National Guard heads to #Hawaii town threatened by river of #lava as villagers prepare to evacuate


YOUTUBE: Lava from Kilauea volcano is advancing slowly.

A contingent of National Guard troops was dispatched to a Hawaii town on Thursday (US time) to provide security to the Big Island community threatened by a river of molten lava that is slowly creeping toward the town’s main road, an emergency official says.

The lava flow from the Kilauea volcano has been sliding towards the village of Pahoa for weeks and at last watch was advancing at less than five metres an hour, said Darryl Oliveira, director of Hawaii County Civil Defence.

The lava threatens to destroy homes and cut off a road and a highway through Pahoa.

Officials have yet to offer predictions of when exactly the molten flow could bisect the town which is at the site of an old sugar plantation with a population of 800.

The glowing leading edge of the lava flow is now about 145 metres from Pahoa Village Road, the main street through the town, officials said in a statement.Lava engulfing carsResidents in the village of Pahoa are being asked to evacuate their homes as lava approaches.

Residents of about 50 dwellings in what civil defence officials called a “corridor of risk” have been asked to be ready to leave.

Some residents have expressed concern about the possibility of looters targeting evacuated homes.

“These are local troops, people from the community. They’ll be here working to take care of their family and friends,” Mr Oliveira told a news conference.

No homes have yet been destroyed while a finger of lava threatening one house on the edge of town has not advanced since Wednesday night, Mr Oliveira said.

The contingent of 83 National Guard troops was travelling in a road convoy and expected to arrive in the community later on Thursday (US time).

Kilauea has erupted continuously from its Pu’u O’o vent since 1983, with its latest lava flow beginning on June 27.

The last home destroyed by lava on the Big Island was at the Royal Gardens subdivision in Kalapana in 2012.


ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

North Korea cracking down on a distant threat: #Ebola


This Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 photo shows medical personnel in protective suits standing by an ambulance, at the Sunan International Airport, in Pyongyang, North Korea.This Monday, Oct. 27, 2014 photo shows medical personnel in protective suits standing by an ambulance, at the Sunan International Airport, in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea would seem like the last place on Earth that has anything to worry about from Ebola. But it’s virtually gone on DefCon 1 over what it sees as a looming invasion from the outside world that threatens to infiltrate its borders and relentlessly attack its people unless dramatic measures are taken immediately. It has banned tourists, put business groups on hold and is looking even more suspiciously than usual at every foreign face coming across its borders. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Eric Talmadge, Associated Press.

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea announced Thursday it will quarantine foreigners entering the country for 21 days over fears of the spread of the Ebola virus, even though no cases of the disease have been reported anywhere in Asia, and very few foreigners are allowed to enter.

North Korea is always on guard against outside influences, but now that it perceives the deadly disease to be a threat, its anxiety has reached a new level. It has banned tourists, put business groups on hold and is looking even more suspiciously than usual at every foreign face coming across its borders.

Case in point: when a high-level delegation from Japan arrived in Pyongyang this week, two of the first people they met were dressed in full hazmat gear.

The steps also send a message to the North Korean people to be very afraid of the outside world and of outside influences.

An announcement distributed Thursday to diplomatic missions in Pyongyang said that, regardless of country or region of origin, all foreigners will be quarantined under medical observation for 21 days.

Foreigners from affected areas will be quarantined at one set of locations, while those from unaffected areas will be sent to other locations, including hotels. The staff of diplomatic missions and international organizations will be allowed to stay in their residences.

Tourist visits to North Korea were halted last week, so few were likely to still be in the country.

Most tourists do not stay for 21 days. It was unclear if they or others already in North Korea on shorter stays, for example on business, would have to remain for the quarantine period.

North Korea’s frantic response to the Ebola outbreak, including the broad but so far poorly defined ban on foreign tourism, is also surprising because it admits so few foreigners at all. Other than diplomatic and government missions, it has virtually no contact with any of the countries that have been most affected in west Africa, though Africa is one of the places it has tried to develop good relations.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s parliament, is now touring the continent, though not Ebola-impacted areas.

The strict measures shed some light on how the bureaucracy in North Korea tends to work, and on the isolated country’s often-fearful views of the outside world in general.

Last week, after rumors began to circulate among the small foreign community in Pyongyang that draconian measures were in the offing, North Korea’s state media announced that travelers and cargo would be subject to stricter monitoring at airports, seaports and railway border crossings.

Daily reports are being broadcast on television news and during evening programming to increase public awareness of the disease and its symptoms. North Korea’s Korean Central Television aired a news story on Sunday that showed quarantine officials strengthening inspections of people and boats moving in and out of the port city of Nampo.

“Our army, which protects our borders, has a high responsibility to block the disease,” Han Yong Sik, director of the Nampo inspection center, told the network. “We are strengthening quarantine education and thoroughly inspecting boats and planes to ensure that not even a single person carrying the disease enters our country.”

So far, there has been no official statement in North Korea’s English-language media outlining the tourism ban or other restrictions on travel. There was, and remains, little information about what groups are affected, whether travel out of North Korea will be stopped and under what conditions the restrictions would be lifted.

That, of course, has left potential travelers scratching their heads — and businesses bleeding money.

“It was poorly communicated,” said a post Monday on the website of the Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based organization that specializes in promoting business and educational exchange with North Korea. “This didn’t allow stakeholders time to prepare for it. For Choson Exchange, we could be seeing potentially tens of thousands of dollars of losses as we delay training programs, and possibly even more as this drags on.

“For businesspeople, a shutdown will likely hurt their investment plans or transactions.”

Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that specializes in tours to North Korea, already had informed potential customers that tours have been halted, and that anyone coming to North Korea from certain areas may be quarantined.

The new quarantine announcement — though slim on details — suggests a much broader response. A copy of the document, dated Wednesday and issued by North Korea’s Non-Standing National Emergency Prevention Committee, was obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 13,700 people have been sickened in the Ebola outbreak, and nearly 5,000 of them have died. Nearly all the cases are in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, though there were 20 in Nigeria, four in the U.S. and one each in Mali, Senegal and Spain.

Uri Tours says it believes the ban on tourists is just temporary — and is holding out hope that they may be able to return in December.

North Korea’s reaction isn’t unprecedented. It closed its borders for several months in 2003 during the scare over SARS.

But that was a much more obvious threat. SARS affected China, and Beijing is where most flights into Pyongyang originate. In the case of Ebola, North Korea’s efforts to defend itself from what appears to be a tiny risk may end up alienating it from foreigners who have been willing to invest here.

“Overall, this episode seems to reflect two things. First, a callous attitude toward stakeholders in the country’s development stemming from poor communications or the lack of will to communicate,” said the Choson Exchange blog. “Second, that North Korea’s ‘fear of the foreign’ outweighs their interest in whatever benefits foreign investment brings.”

(Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report).


The Associated Press.

Vigilantes Plot Rescue Mission to Save #Russian Captive From #Syria


A shot of Konstantin Zhuravlyov from footage released by his captors on Youtube.A shot of Konstantin Zhuravlyov from footage released by his captors on Youtube.

Allison Quinn reporting,

In the wake of U.S. media reports on Sunday that the Islamic State militant group has claimed their first Russian victim in Syria, a campaign to rescue another Russian who has been held there by al-Qaida-affiliated extremists for a year has kicked into overdrive.

Two separate campaigns are under way to save 33-year-old Konstantin Zhuravlyov, a Siberian traveler and photographer who was snatched up by members of the al-Tawhid Brigade last October after crossing the Turkish border into conflict-riddled Syria. Zhuravlyov — currently the only known Russian captive still in Syria — has appeared in a series of videos since that time, appealing to the Russian government to help secure his release in the most recent video, uploaded to YouTube in April.

“We’ve turned to the Foreign Ministry, to the embassy in Damascus, to the president. They are carrying out work [to save Konstantin], but we don’t know the details because they can’t inform us of these things or they’d be putting him in danger,” the captive’s mother, Nadezhda Zhuravlyova, told The Moscow Times on Thursday.

“We don’t even know where exactly he’s located right now. We just know it’s not far from the border with Turkey,” she said.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in late August saying that they were working to free Zhuravlyov, but that they could say nothing more about the situation for fear of compromising his safety.

Now, however, as the Islamic State gains more ground in the war-torn country, several Russian activists have jumped in to prevent Zhuravlyov from suffering the same fate as American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Fearing for Zhuravlyov’s safety, family friend and well-known Siberian adventurer Yevgeny Kovalevsky has positioned himself front and center, having offered to travel to Syria as part of a rescue operation.

First, however, Kovalevsky is set to meet with the Syrian ambassador in Moscow to discuss what can be done on the ground in Syria to assist in freeing Zhuravlyov.

“There is a possibility for a prisoner exchange. … There are rumors that the group holding him is ready for an exchange — these are just rumors, but still,” Kovalevsky said, noting that he had met with the Syrian ambassador previously to discuss the matter.

“I want to meet with him again because word is — and again, these are just rumors — word is that Konstantin was transferred from al-Tawhid to the Islamic Front. And I want to find out if they have different conditions for his release, if an exchange is possible,” Kovalevsky said.

Kovalevsky claimed that discussions have already been held about Zhuravlyov’s release at the highest level, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin having met with State Duma Deputy Yelena Ushakova and several representatives of the Foreign Ministry earlier this month. Ushakova represents Zhuravlyov’s native Tomsk region in the Duma.

Meanwhile, grassroots organization Alternative, which focuses on helping victims of trafficking and labor exploitation, has renewed its own campaign to save Zhuravlyov after having previously conducted several rounds of negotiations with members of al-Tawhid.

Throughout the spring, Oleg Melnikov, head of Alternative’s Moscow branch, said he was involved in negotiations with a commander of al-Tawhid in Syria.

In mid-April, Melnikov said his negotiations had yielded a result: Zhuravlyov’s captors demanded that the Syrian government release three of the rebels’ wives from prison in exchange for Zhuravlyov’s release.

The agreement, corroborated by Zhuravlyov’s mother, was the first glimmer of hope for Zhuravlyov and his family, though it fell apart when the commander whom Melnikov had been in touch with was killed that same month in an airstrike, Melnikov said.

On Wednesday, the group sent one of its volunteers, Artemy Rostov, to Turkey to try again, as al-Tawhid has since undergone drastic changes in its leadership after merging with the Islamic Front.

Having formed in late November to fight the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Islamic Front is a relatively new force in a civil war that has been raging since early 2011. The umbrella group consists of seven separate military factions, including al-Tawhid, with an estimated 45,000 members.

Rostov was set to meet with representatives of the Islamic Front in Turkey to discuss Zhuravlyov’s condition and possible negotiations for his release.

Claiming to have contacts among the militants holding Zhuravlyov, another member of Alternative said Thursday that the group had credible information that Zhuravlyov was still alive and well.

“We’ve been told by people on the ground [that he's still alive]. There’s no point in killing him. They want an exchange instead,” said Zakir Ismailov, the coordinator for Alternative in Dagestan.

“Within 10-15 days there should be results from our negotiations,” Ismailov said.

“The situation there is extremely complicated. The Islamic State is attacking on all fronts, and the group holding [Zhuravlyov] is not on good terms with IS,” Ismailov said.

Melnikov said in a message on Facebook that information on Zhuravlyov had come from someone from the Islamic Front “who has been with him for the past six months.”

A meeting with a Syrian opposition politician was scheduled in the next few days to discuss what the Syrian opposition could offer al-Tawhid to have Zhuravlyov freed, he said, without offering further details on the location of the meeting.

Zhuravlyov’s mother said the most important thing was to secure written demands from Zhuravlyov’s captors, because only then could the negotiations begin at the government level.

“Once they do that, once they write up their demands, then we can do something,” she said.

She said the last time she spoke directly to her son was in February, when he was allowed to call her via Skype. At that time, she said, her son said his captors would soon kill him if the Russian government didn’t intervene. He also said he was being treated well, she said, but “he was clearly monitored [by guards] during the phone call.”

Zhuravlyova said she could not be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that her son was still alive, as the last time she’d spoken to him was in the spring. But she has received information through people on the ground in Syria that he is still alive and well.

“I know there is a person [on the ground there] taking part in negotiations. But I have never seen this person, I am just told about him from others involved in the process. … This person hasn’t even seen Kostya himself, not once; that’s what we are told. So we have no trustworthy information on Konstantin’s condition,” she said.

“We can’t be sure that this information that he is alive is true, but we believe it. We believe it because … because we have to,” she said, her voice breaking. “We have to keep hoping.”

She conceded that the ongoing attempts to rescue her son may very well not work out, and that the situation on the ground in Syria is beyond anyone’s control at this point.

But the willingness and eagerness with which people like Kovalevsky and Rostov have come forward to help provides some comfort, she said.

“So many people have been kind — not just Russian people, people from all over the world. There are so many people hoping for the best for Kostya — hundreds upon hundreds of people,” she said.

In his most recent video, Zhuravlyov explained that he was motivated to travel through Syria as part of a larger expedition partly because he was moved by the country’s strife.

“When I saw these news reports about Syria, about what was happening here, I wanted to take on that pain, the pain people experience during war,” he said, adding that he never expected to end up a hostage.

“I’m not a thief, I’m not a killer, I’m not a soldier. But I’ve been held here for six months. I’d like my freedom back now,” he said.

The Russian Embassy in Damascus declined to comment on the matter on Thursday.


The Moscow Times.

#France Suggests No #Mistral Delivery to #Russia – Yet


The signing of the $1.7 billion contract for the delivery of two Mistral ships in June 2011 has placed France in a conundrum since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine.The signing of the $1.7 billion contract for the delivery of two Mistral ships in June 2011 has placed France in a conundrum since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine. Photo: Wikicommons

Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber reporting,

France’s Finance Minister cast doubt Thursday on what Russia had said was the imminent delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers, feeding uncertainty that French political analysts view as authorities’ reluctance to be seen as caving in to Russian pressure.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Thursday that the conditions set by French President Francois Hollande last month for delivering the first Mistral — i.e., upholding the tenuous cease-fire and reaching a political settlement in Ukraine — “had not been met at this time.”

“What are the conditions? The conditions are to have a basis for normalization in Ukraine that contributes to de-escalating the situation, and that Russia play a positive role in this process,” Sapin said in an interview with France’s RTL radio station. “Things have been going better, but some issues remain.”

The announcement runs contrary to the statements of Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister in charge of military issues, who tweeted Wednesday that the Vladivostok, the first French-made Mistral ship, would be handed over to Russia on Nov. 14. Rogozin published a photograph of a letter from DCNS, the French industrial group in charge of constructing the ships, inviting Anatoly Isaikin, head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, to the French port city of Saint-Nazaire to attend a ceremony in honor of the ship’s delivery.

Dated Oct. 8, the letter is signed by Pierre Legros, a senior vice president in DCNS’s surface ships and naval systems division. DCNS has not confirmed the letter’s authenticity and said that no delivery date had been confirmed at this time, French media reported Thursday.

The signing of the $1.7 billion contract for the delivery of two Mistral ships in June 2011 has placed France in a conundrum since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, where the West accuses Moscow of fomenting unrest.

France’s European and other Western partners have urged it to cancel the deliveries on the basis that they would bolster Russia’s military arsenal. Meanwhile, the economic-minded factions of French politics and business circles — including the late CEO of French energy giant Total, Christophe de Margerie, who was killed at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport last week when a snowplow struck his private jet on the runway — have lobbied their government for pragmatism to prevail over politics.

Saving Face

Hollande said in September that the Vladivostok would be delivered by Oct. 31, before postponing his deadline for a decision to November. Observers thought Euronaval, a large exhibition specialized in naval defense held in Paris through Friday, would serve as the stage for Hollande’s announcement.

Philippe Migault, a senior research fellow at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said Hollande’s postponement of making a decision — hesitation that some observers have said is simply France waiting for tensions in Ukraine to subside — was connected to Russian authorities’ attitudes toward the delivery of the ships.

“The timeline for their delivery depends on the discretion of Russian authorities,” Migault said. “If Russia is discreet, France will likely make a quick decision and deliver the first ship. But France cannot be viewed as having made its decision under Russian pressure.”

Rogozin’s tweet was a deliberate attempt to force Paris’ hand, according to Tatiana KatsouОva-Jean, head of the Russia Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. The French government was coerced to confirm, deny or clarify the nature of the document published by Russia.

“Rogozin’s tweet is not a coincidence,” KatsouОva-Jean told The Moscow Times.

“This is Russia’s way of forcing the French government to admit that the Mistral will in fact be delivered [on Nov. 14], or to deny it, which is much more difficult to do when a letter of invitation is published. France’s perpetual postponing of the decision has only made the issue more complicated.”

Rock and a Hard Place

“France’s two options — to deliver or not to deliver the Mistral ship to Russia — are both bad solutions to the problem,” KatsouОva-Jean said. “There are so many factors to weigh up here — public opinion, France’s bilateral relations with different partners, its role in multilateral forums, the military industry — that greatly muddle the issue.”

French political analysts concurred that France would not change its overall stance on the delivery of the Vladivostok. Sapin’s concession that the situation in Ukraine has improved attests to France’s eagerness to deliver the Mistral while respecting the conditions it outlined with Ukraine and the West in mind. But the country’s desire to deliver the Vladivostok without sparking the ire of its European and North American partners is likely unattainable, regardless of Russia’s position on Ukraine, according to French pundits.

“Some of France’s various partners will be displeased no matter what happens,” Migault told The Moscow Times.

“In a situation in which more than 5 million people are unemployed, one in eight children live in poverty and the country’s economy is on the verge of recession, it is clear that France will not want to pay a 1 billion euro fine [for not delivering the ships] and risk losing other military contracts just to please Poland and the Baltic States.”

French military experts have said that the cancellation of the Mistral deliveries for the sake of politics could jeopardize other military deals, including ongoing negotiations for a multibillion-dollar contract for 126 Rafale combat aircraft to India.


The Moscow Times.

#ISIS Militants Plant #Bombs Inside Villagers’ Homes to Explode When They Return


Iraqi families sit after surrendering to Shi'ite fighters and Iraqi Army after they took control of Jurf al-Sakhar from Islamist State militants, October 27, 2014.Iraqi families sit after surrendering to Shi’ite fighters and Iraqi Army after they took control of Jurf al-Sakhar from Islamist State militants, October 27, 2014. The families, who were in militant-held areas, surrendered to the army to be transported to safe areas and escape clashes between militants and Iraqi security forces, according to the Iraqi Army and the fighters. (PHOTO: REUTERS/MAHMOUD RAOUF MAHMOUD)

Samuel Smith, CP Reporter.

A Christian who was one of the last to flee his village in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq before Islamic State jihadists captured it in August claims that ISIS militants are setting up explosives inside of homes so that if residents are ever to return to the village, their houses will explode upon entering.

The testimony of a Christian native named Ayad from Tel Keppe, a village just outside of the city of Mosul, was featured in a recent video interview conducted by the World Council of Churches. Ayad’s testimony highlighted the timeline and details the of events that took place as the Islamic State militants captured his town on Aug. 6.

Ayad, who claims to be the last capable person to flee the village, said he eventually fled the town with no shoes on his feet, but emphasized that Christians are eager to return to their homes, as day by day, the Kurdish forces tell refugees what villages they have liberated and are safe to return to.

He shared that one man from his village was so eager to return, he went back to his house in Tel Keppe only to die at the hands of an ISIS explosive that was planted inside his home.

A woman and a soldier loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad stand beside a damaged church in Maaloula, Syria, August 21, 2014.A woman and a soldier loyal to Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad stand beside a damaged church in Maaloula, Syria, August 21, 2014. Residents of Maaloula, a Christian town in Syria, call on other Christian groups and minorities to stand up to the radicalism that is sweeping across Syria and Iraq. The town was regained by Syrian Army forces in April from Islamic militants, and several months later life is slowly returning to the town. (PHOTO: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)

“Some of the houses in the village are burnt. Some are bombed and destroyed. Some are robbed. We heard of one man who tried to enter his house and as soon as he opened the door, the house exploded,” Ayad said. “As ISIS forces leave, they are planting explosions inside the houses so that if people return they will be victims of blasts.”

Ayad further explained that although he and other Christians can’t wait to hear the news that their villages have been liberated by Peshmerga fighters, they are skeptical to return until they have a guarantee for safety.

He also said ISIS has planted explosives along the road from Tel Esqof to Tel Keppe, making the 10-kilometer journey back to his village almost impossible.

“As for the road to Tel Esqof to Tel Keppe, it is not safe,” Ayad said. “We want to go back to our homes before winter. Where will we go when winter arrives?”

Ayad added that even before ISIS’ emergence, Christians in the region have long been mistreated by Muslims. He stated emphatically that he and other Christians will not return to the region unless they are guaranteed “international protection” in their villages.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pose near a wall on which the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants has been painted over, in the northern Iraqi town of Zumar, October 26, 2014.Kurdish Peshmerga fighters pose near a wall on which the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants has been painted over, in the northern Iraqi town of Zumar, October 26, 2014, after having taken it from Islamic State. Kurdish forces retook Zumar and several nearby villages from Islamic State early on Saturday after heavy coalition air strikes against the Islamist insurgents, security sources said. (PHOTO: REUTERS/AZAD LASHKARI)

“We, all Christians, we miss our homes and villages but we can’t go back without guarantees for security. We want international protection,” he said. “Every time Muslims come they attack the Christians. What is [this] our fault? They rob Christians. They kill the Christians. They disrespect the Christians.”

In recounting the seizure of his village, Ayad said that before ISIS entered the town, many of his Muslim neighbors “betrayed” the Christians in the town. He said his Arab neighbors took control of the town so that when ISIS arrived, they were able to completely seiz Tel Keppe in just over an hour. He added that there was no previous pressure on his neighbors to join ISIS, but they knew ISIS was coming because of the rocket attacks the town suffered the days before the seizure.

“The incidents can be described as betrayal,” Ayad said. “The Arabs who were living in the province are the ones who took over the village at 9 p.m., then ISIS forces entered the province and occupied it at 10:30 p.m. When the local Arabs took over the city, they put the black ribbons around their heads and started shouting slogans supporting ISIS.”

Ayad said even his own next-door neighbor turned on him.

“We lived for many years with our neighbors. My own neighbor was next to me for 16 years. We’ve shared weddings, condolences, food and drink together,” Ayad said. “In the lapse of half an hour, he turned against me saying that I am a Nazarene (derogatory Arabic term for Christian), a non-believer. These are our neighbors who lived with us, and in half an hour they turned against us [Christians].”

In discussing the missile attacks that ISIS forces launched on the village the days before the village’s seizure, Ayad said that one of the rockets landed right in between his house and the nuns’ housing unit. He added that as the town’s archdeacon tried to rescue the nuns from the building, a second blast in the area killed him.

When ISIS finally came into town with their “four military cars,” Ayad said that the first thing they did was rip the crosses off of the village’s church and replaced them with ISIS’ black flags. He then explained that ISIS militants turned the church into the town’s ISIS headquarters and the nuns’ housing unit into the Islamic State community center.

Among the few villagers that remained after ISIS took control of the village was a 70-year-old man, who he claims ISIS militants beat and tortured because he refused to convert to Islam.


The Christian Post.

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