Archive | March 31st, 2014

California anti-gun senator charged with corruption and trafficking firearms

California State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) (Reuters)California State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) (Reuters)

A California state senator known for his outspoken views in support of gun control was arrested on Wednesday and charged with illegally trafficking in firearms alongside multiple counts of public corruption.

In a federal corruption investigation that nabbed 26 people on charges ranging from drug smuggling to murder-for-hire, Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee was indicted on conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearm, and six counts of corruption, which included handing out favors in exchange for substantial campaign contributions.

If convicted, Yee could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each corruption charge, while the gun trafficking count could result in five years in prison and a similar fine.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the FBI affidavit claims Yee offered to negotiate illegal firearms sales on multiple occasions in exchange for financial donations towards his campaign. He allegedly told an undercover FBI agent of his connections to firearms dealers in Asia and Russia, with CBS San Francisco reporting he knew an arms dealer who’d been shipping “cargo containers” of weapons to Muslim rebels in the Philippines.

The meeting between Yee and the undercover agent was brokered by Keith Jackson, a political consultant with ties to Raymond Chow, whom the FBI identified as the ringleader of a Chinatown gang. Chow introduced an FBI agent who’d made his way into the group to Jackson, who was the first to tell of Yee’s connections to arms dealers.

“During a meeting with the undercover agent, Yee and Jackson allegedly discussed details of the specific types of weapons the undercover agent was interested in buying and importing,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said to Reuters.

Although the arms deal was never concluded, several meetings were conducted to discuss the arrangement and the FBI asserts it did give Yee cash as part of the process.

As noted by CBS, Yee was an outspoken advocate for gun control, sponsoring legislation that would have closed a loophole in California’s ban on assault weapons – ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. In an interview with the station, Yee said that despite vocal opposition by gun rights supporters, he felt strongly about limiting access to guns by criminals.

“This is not an easy issue,” Yee told CBS in 2012. “But I am a father, and I want our communities to be safe, and god forbid if one of these weapons fell into the wrong hands.”

In addition to the gun trafficking allegation, the LA Times reports that Yee allegedly accepted a cash donation far beyond the limits of the law – and paid for by the FBI – in return for setting up a meeting between a campaign donor and state lawmakers capable of influencing medical marijuana legislation.

In another instance, Yee pursued a Senate proclamation praising the Ghee Kung Tong Freemason lodge in San Francisco, also in exchange for thousands of dollars towards his campaign, and also paid for by the FBI.

Yee was released on a $500,000 bond on Wednesday after giving up his passport. He is currently running to be the next Secretary of State, but news of his arrest has triggered calls for his resignation from the Senate by his colleagues. The Democrats have already been hit with corruption charges against two other lawmakers.

“Senator Yee should leave the Senate and leave it now,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) told the Mercury News.

One of Yee’s rivals in the Secretary of State race, Democrat Derek Cressman, also criticized Yee.

“We are clearly beyond the point of looking at one bad apple and instead looking at a corrupt institution in the California Senate,” Cressman told the LA Times. “The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person’s soul and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all.”

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Lavrov: Russia has no intention to send troops into Ukraine


There is no intention in Moscow to send its troops into eastern Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. Hopefully, the growing understanding in the West of Russia’s position will allow for a de-escalation of the tension, he added.

In an interview with Rossiya 24 TV channel, Lavrov spoke on the futile western attempts to isolate Russia diplomatically, the growing acceptance of the need for constitutional reform, which Moscow proposes, the prospects of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine and the potential for global presence of the Russian Navy.

‘No isolation of Russia in UN Assembly vote on Crimea’

Question: After the G7 countries announced their decision to withdraw from the G8, it was said that now Russia is isolated in the international arena. In the UN General Assembly 100 countries voted against Russia. The claim of Russia being isolated is true, then?

Sergey Lavrov: “Isolation” is a term invented by our Western partners who act with nostalgic neo-imperial ambitions in mind. The instant something isn’t to their liking they draw out this sanctions stick. The times when such strategy could be employed are long gone. They should think about getting everyone, with no exceptions, to work together, not about isolating their partners.

I’m surprised at how obsessively they’re trying to – create rather than find – proof of Russia’s isolation. I’ve seen a lot in my time, but for major countries to use all their diplomatic resources to twist the arms of the entire world, including our closest partners, in order for them to agree with the argument about Ukraine’s territorial integrity while ignoring the rest of the principles outlined in the UN Charter? I was astonished with the alacrity. Key government institutions expend so much effort on this.

It’s the case with the UN General Assembly vote. Such results are achieved by a combination of several means. First, our Ukrainian neighbors were advised to keep the tone of their draft resolution non-confrontational and level-headed, to send a positive message of the need to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Who would oppose that? But that’s not even half of the truth, it’s just a sliver of it. You and our viewers understand what I’m talking about.

Diplomats watch electronic monitors showing a vote count, as the U.N. General Assembly voted and approved a draft resolution on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine at the U.N. headquarters in New York March 27, 2014. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz)

Diplomats watch electronic monitors showing a vote count, as the U.N. General Assembly voted and approved a draft resolution on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine at the U.N. headquarters in New York March 27, 2014. (Reuters / Eduardo Munoz).

Then, some countries that are naïve enough for it are told, “Look, it’s such a great resolution, why don’t you sign it and become a co-sponsor.” The more experienced ones who realize what’s really going on are approached with, “If you don’t support this resolution, there will be consequences.” And then they describe these consequences. We know about that. Our colleagues come to us and confide why this or that relatively small country has to cave in. For example, they were told contracts would not be signed or political dividends would be withheld. If we take into consideration that the West in the broad sense, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan etc., amounts to about 40-something countries, basically 50 states were forced or somehow persuaded to do it.

We hold no grudge against these delegations. It will not affect our relations with them. I can’t but point out another number: about 70 countries refused to support this resolution.

Q: And if we count the countries who didn’t cast a vote that would make it 93.

SL: So basically it’s a tie. The Western propaganda machine – there’s really no other way to call it – will hail it as a great victory in the media, but we know the value of this victory.

Q: 100 countries voted against Russia. The number of countries that voted for Russia abstained or didn’t cast a vote comes up to 93. This includes the brave countries that, despite the pressure, made this choice.

SL: This is no doubt a brave thing to do. It’s not anti-Western or anti-Ukrainian. It reflects a deep understanding of what’s going on the part of the countries who didn’t vote in favor and especially those who voted against. This wasn’t about territorial integrity or Ukraine at all.

‘China understands legitimate Russian interests and concerns in Ukraine’

Q: Three weeks ago, on our program, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that Russia expects to see moral support from China. China abstained from voting on the resolution. After that President Obama and President of China Xi Jinping held a meeting, during which, as my Western colleagues told me, the Americans were trying to persuade China to scrap gas supply contracts with Russia. And then you met with Xi Jinping. So what is China to Russia?

SL: China is a very close partner of Russia. In our joint documents our relations are defined as comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation. All of China’s actions reaffirm its commitment to the principles we agreed on. If, as you say, the Americans did try to convince China to review its economic agreements with Russia on the highest level, it’s an off-the-scale naïve or brazen attitude. I would even say that not understanding the essence of Chinese politics and mentality is just inexcusable for the officials in charge of such negotiations.

At the very beginning China said that it takes into consideration the combination of historical and political factors. China strongly opposed using non-diplomatic measures and threats of sanctions to resolve this problem. Our contacts with our Chinese partners show that they not only understand Russia’s rightful interests in this case, but are also hand-in-hand with us in the understanding of the initial causes of the current crisis in Ukraine. There is no doubt about it. President Putin and President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone. On March 24, I met with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. BRICS foreign ministers held talks as well.

Q: Did BRICS work out the joint statement in The Hague?

SL: It’s the chairperson’s statement, which the Foreign Minister of South Africa delivered after our meeting.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shakes hands with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter (R), whose country currently holds the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) rotating presidency, prior to their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council session on March 3, 2014 at the UN headquarters in Geneva. (AFP Photo / Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) shakes hands with Swiss President Didier Burkhalter (R), whose country currently holds the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) rotating presidency, prior to their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council session on March 3, 2014 at the UN headquarters in Geneva. (AFP Photo / Salvatore Di Nolfi).

‘Ukraine, not Russia hampered OSCE mission deployment’

Q: Last Saturday we informed our viewers that the OSCE agreed on the mandate of a mission to be sent to Ukraine. Why did Russia object to it initially? What’s the mission going to work on?

SL: I would say that it was our Western and Ukrainian partners that initially objected to this mission.

Q: But as usual it was presented the other way around – Russia against the rest of Europe.

SL: We’re used to that. Orwellian talents are still widely used. Russia was willing to send the OSCE mission a week before the decision was finally made. Even though everything was clear by then, our partners demanded with inexplicable determination for Crimea to be included in the mandate as part of Ukraine.

One can completely disagree with our take on the situation, one can refuse to recognize the decisions made by Russia based on the will of the Crimean people and supported by an overwhelming majority. We understand that, it happens. But it’s just diplomatic impudence or complete diplomatic incompetence to fail to comprehend the real political situation and the utter uselessness of their demands after we said we would recognize any outcome of the referendum in Crimea, telling us that despite what the President said the mandate of the mission should include Crimea as part of Ukraine.

Q: Moscow was insisting that the mission should go to western regions of Ukraine as well as eastern. Was that achieved?

SL: Taking into consideration our Western colleagues’ well-proven talents to twist words and interpret provisions, we were insisting that cities and regions be listed in the mandate instead of it just saying “mission to Ukraine.” Of course the list includes cities situated both in western and eastern parts of Ukraine, but none situated on the territory of the Republic of Crimea of the Russian Federation.

‘Denunciations of Right Sector were long overdue’

Q: Maybe then what we see is some progress not only in terms of sending an OSCE mission to Ukraine, but also new Ukrainian authorities, their legitimacy aside, dealing with the Right Sector problem, as evidenced by the last 36-48 hours.

SL: It’s taken them too long, though it’s true that [it’s] better late than never. Over a month ago I raised the issue of the Right Sector and the necessity to dissociate from the radical forces with our Western partners. I asked them a very simple question: “If you agree that we need to defuse the situation, why won’t you publicly say what the Right Sector really is?” Same to a degree goes for the Svoboda party, whose platform references The Declaration of June 30, 1941, which expressed support of Nazi Germany and its efforts to establish a new world order. According to the party’s charter, it’s still committed to this principle.

Our colleagues reacted quite strangely to our requests to at least publicly express their opinion on these forces and exert their influence on the people in Kiev who claim they’re the new authorities so that they do the same. At first they avoided the issue, and then at one of the recent meetings, I think it was in London, US Secretary of State John Kerry told me that after close scrutiny they concluded that the Right Sector was trying to become a political movement. The subtext was that it’s a good thing, and Svoboda is moving towards [the] mainstream. That’s a quote. A lot of people were present at the meeting, so I’m not revealing a secret here. I was giving examples of the opposite trend concerning these groups, starting with their urging the public to shoot Russians in the head and kill them, calling Russians names, and all the way up to the beatings that take place even in the eastern parts of Ukraine where the members of these groups consider themselves at home.

Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector stand outside the parliament in Kiev March 28, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko)

Members of the Ukrainian far-right radical group Right Sector stand outside the parliament in Kiev March 28, 2014. (Reuters / Valentyn Ogirenko).

As for what’s been happening in the last few days, let’s hope that the Ukrainian government’s statements and steps are the result of some awareness campaign conducted by our Western partners. Like I said, better late than never.

Let’s see what comes out of it and whether those in power manage to bring to heel the people they relied on to get their current positions. The recent events, that is, when the Right Sector surrounded the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] building again and demanded for the Interior Minister to be sacked because of [Right Sector leader] Sashko Bilyi’s death, are very telling. Whatever one might think about the circumstances of his death, which, like in any such case, should be investigated thoroughly, one can’t fail to notice the moral boost his death gave to the people wearing Right Sector colors who follow the principles we all know about. It’s a very alarming signal.

It surprised me that while Russian television, including your channel, showed the siege of the Verkhovna Rada and commented comprehensively on the events unfolding between the Right Sector and the members of parliament, on their possible ramifications, Euronews hasn’t said a word about it, with Ukraine mentioned in the context of the IMF deal in the third or fourth news piece.

Sadly, this kind of coverage is also telling. We’ll try to establish the truth through channels alternative to mainstream Western media. I hope that your alternative channels become the mainstream.

‘Sad to see OSCE justify censorship of media in Ukraine’

Q: Alternative channels – that’s another matter, since Ukrainian cable providers were banned from transmitting Russian TV channels. At first, the OSCE condemned it. As far as I understand, this issue was raised even at your talks with the Western partners. Then it was slowly moved towards the bottom of the priorities list. As the OSCE representative said, there are national interests that allow for TV censorship.

SL: Yes, Dunja Mijatović said that. Let’s just say that being the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, she should show more freedom in her judgments. It’s lamentable that excuses are made for banning Russian channels. Who could imagine that channels can be banned if it’s done for protecting fundamental values? However, Ms. Mijatović dismissed in the past our numerous appeals that demonstrations with fascist and neo-Nazi slogans held in a number of the OSCE countries were unacceptable, citing freedom of speech. So in Ms. Mijatović’s opinion four channels are more dangerous than neo-Nazi demonstrations in the Baltic states and a number of other countries, including Germany.

‘Idea of Ukrainian Federation no longer taboo for western diplomats’

Q: What kind of a compromise with the West is possible? Russia is on one side of the line, and the US and the West are on the other, so which points can you agree on with your colleagues?

SL: I don’t believe we’re divided by that strict a line. We’re working on aligning our positions. Based on my latest meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in The Hague and my contacts with Germany, France and a number of other countries, I can say that there’s a possibility of drafting a joint initiative that we could offer to our Ukrainian colleagues.

It’s a very important consideration, because up until now our partners have been offering to set up a contact group within the framework of which Russia and the people who seized power in Kiev would negotiate under their supervision. Such a platform is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s not even the issue. What’s happening in Ukraine now is the result of the deep crisis in the political system, triggered by the inability – I wouldn’t want to accuse anyone of deliberately avoiding it – of each successive leader to reconcile the interests of the western and southeastern regions of Ukraine. It can’t go on like this.

We are convinced that Ukraine needs a fundamental constitutional reform. To be honest, we see no other way that would ensure Ukraine’s sustainable development except becoming a federation. Maybe someone knows better, and there’s a magic formula that would make a unitary system of government work in a state where in western, eastern and southern regions people celebrate different holidays, honor different heroes, have economic structure, speak different languages and think differently and gravitate towards different European cultures. It’s tough to live in a unitary state like that.

That’s why on March 10 we gave an unofficial document outlining our vision to our American, European and Chinese partners and other colleagues, including BRICS countries.

Q: So, a constitutional reform, elections…

SL: No. First of all, it states that the most urgent task is to stop the violence of armed groups, disarm militants and free all illegally seized buildings – which hasn’t been done yet – as well as squares, streets, cities, towns and villages.

First and foremost we mean Maidan. It’s just a disgrace for a European country and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe to have this kind of thing for half a year, and in front of Western visitors besides. We’re told Maidan will stay until presidential election take place, with the outcome that satisfies Maidan. It’s a disgrace for all who put up with it.

We proposed to start with sorting out these issues, especially since it was a responsibility Mr Klichko, Mr Yatsenyuk, and Mr Tyagnibok assumed when they signed the document along with the German, French and Polish foreign ministers.

Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (R) and Ukraine's opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk (L) prepare to sign an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich, aiming to end a violent standoff that has left dozens dead and opening the way for a early presidential election this year, at the presidential headquarters in Kiev February 21, 2014. (Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin)

Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (R) and Ukraine’s opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk (L) prepare to sign an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich, aiming to end a violent standoff that has left dozens dead and opening the way for a early presidential election this year, at the presidential headquarters in Kiev February 21, 2014. (Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin).

Another thing we proposed was to begin a comprehensive constitutional reform right away, with all political forces and regions having an equal say in it, to discuss establishing a federation, which would grant every region wide powers in the spheres of economy, culture, language, education, economic and cultural ties with neighboring countries or regions and guarantee minority rights.

Taking into consideration the number of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, we propose and we’re convinced that there’s no other option – and a few presidential candidates said so on numerous occasions – but to make Russian language the second official language of Ukraine, and ensure the rights of minorities in every constituent entity in accordance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Q: There are Hungarians and Romanians living there as well.

SL: Hungarians, Czechs, Germans – they are all complaining to the governments of their countries that they are no longer comfortable living in Ukraine. Czechs even wanted to go back home but the Czech government said, “No, we looked at the conditions you live in and we think you are fine.” This indicates that they care more about geopolitical matters and political expediency than about human rights.

A constitutional reform should be approved by a referendum. It should take into account the interests of all the regions. And once this constitution is approved by a nationwide vote, there should be a presidential and parliamentary election; new legislative assemblies should be elected in all the regions; and there should be new governors. Governors should be elected, not appointed. Eastern and southern regions insist on that.

We strongly believe this is the right way to go. In response, we are told through the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry that Russian proposals are a provocation and that we are meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs, because our ideas are inconsistent with the foundations of the Ukrainian state. Which ideas? First, federalization, and, second, Russian as the second official language. I don’t see how this is inconsistent with the foundations of the Ukrainian state.

Q: Do Western partners hear these proposals?

SL: They do. I can tell you that “federalization” is definitely no longer a taboo word in our talks. I really believe we should insist on it – not because it is our whim but because southern and eastern regions want that.

Q: Do you expect that these ideas will eventually reach Kiev, at least through Western capitals?

SL: That’s what I count on, because the current Ukrainian government can hardly be suspected of being independent.

‘Ukraine’s military neutrality must be stated unambiguously’

Q: Do Moscow and, say, Washington talk about Ukraine’s non-bloc status?

SL: This idea is present in our proposals. We definitely think that the new constitution should clearly say that Ukraine cannot be part of any bloc.

Q: Do Americans hear that?

SL: They hear that and you can tell whether they understand it or not by listening to their public statements. Speaking in Brussels last week, President Obama said that neither Ukraine nor NATO were ready and that there was no point talking about that.

Q: By the way, Yatsenyuk says he is not considering this option at this point.

SL: “At this point.” We are convinced there can be no ambiguity on this issue. There are too many of those caveats – “at this point” and “no intention.” Intentions can change, and you end up facing new facts on the ground.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L) holds a new conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels March 6, 2014. (Reuters / Laurent Dubrule)

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (L) holds a new conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels March 6, 2014. (Reuters / Laurent Dubrule).

Q: Especially in the last couple of months.

SL: Not just in the last couple of months – in the last 25 years. We are told that the West keeps extending a hand of friendship, and Russia keeps choosing a zero-sum game. A few days ago, my colleague, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, published an article, in which he writes that Russia faces global isolation again, because, he says, you come to Russia with open arms and it turns away and pursues zero-sum mentality. But that’s totally unfair. On the contrary, we are always eager to engage in fair partnership. This is reflected in our proposals on indivisible security, which should be the same for everybody. It is wrong for NATO members to be protected with indivisible security and for everybody else to be treated as second-rate nations, so NATO can act as a magnet to attract new members and keep pushing the dividing line further to the east.

We were promised that this would not happen – and we were cheated. We were promised that NATO would not bring its military infrastructure closer to our borders – and we were cheated. We were promised there would be no military installations on the territory of the new NATO members. At first, we just listened to those promises and believed them. Then we started putting them on paper as political obligations, and serious people, Western leaders, signed those documents. But when we asked them how come those political obligations were ignored and whether we can make them legally binding, they told us, “No, political obligations are enough, and anyway, don’t worry, whatever we do is not against you.”

‘West plays ‘either-or’ game with Eastern Partnership’

SL: Speaking of zero-sum games we are being accused of, the EU Eastern Partnership project from the very beginning was based on the “either-or” concept: either you’re with us or you’re against us. Actually, our Western partners have been talking about this since the 2004 election in Ukraine. Back then, there was no Customs Union and no Eastern Partnership; there was an unconstitutional, artificially invented third round of the presidential election. Karel de Gucht, who then was the foreign minister of Belgium and who is now, by the way, the EU Trade Commissioner, publicly demanded that Ukrainians should vote and decide whether they want to be with Europe or with Russia. This is where such mentality comes from.

Eastern Partnership – as well as NATO expansion – was simply an instrument used to quickly take control over geopolitical territory. The EU was ready to push this project through at any cost. It completely ignored legitimate economic interests of both Ukraine’s neighbors, like Russia and other countries, and even the nations that were part of this program. There have been many studies on this issue. No wonder even Yatsenyuk says that Ukraine needs to take a closer look at the economic section of this agreement.

The same will happen with Moldova. They are doing their best to sign a similar agreement with Moldova this summer, before the upcoming election. And this agreement they intend to sign with Moldova – it completely ignores the issue of Transnistria. It ignores the 1997 agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol which entitled Transnistria to international trade. It ignores what is happening with Transnistria today: Chisinau and the new Ukrainian authorities have basically blockaded the territory. But our European partners keep mum about that. In fact, the European Union and, I think, the United States approve of this policy.

We want to talk to them very seriously about that, because they are escalating tensions over Transnistria, almost claiming that it will be next. This is outrageous, provocative rhetoric. Actually, they want to create unbearable conditions for Tiraspol in violation, I repeat, of the agreements which entitled Transnistrians to certain travel, transit and trade rights. This is outrageous. They never learn. Once again, they seek to create a sore point in our relations.

‘Russia has no intention to send troops across Ukrainian border’

Q: Almost all the statements regarding sanctions, including those made by the EU and the US official political institutions, contain the phrase “further escalation.” By “further escalation” my Western colleagues mean that Russian military forces may cross the borders of the mainland Ukraine and move toward Kharkov, for example. Will this happen or not?

SL: President of Russia Vladimir Putin in his address given on March 18 in the Georgievsky Hall said clearly that we are very concerned with the situation with Russians and Russian speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine, especially after various Right Sector groups, a certain Beletsky and the Eastern Front rushed there. Those are absolutely odious people. You don’t need to be a physiognomist to be able to tell what their intentions are. They speak openly about that. Many leaked phone calls indicate how Russians will be treated in Ukraine not just by the Right Sector members.

The Russian president demanded that Ukrainian authorities and their Western patrons take immediate action to stop the violence. He said we are going to protect the rights of Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine using all the political, diplomatic and legal methods. I have nothing to add to that.

Soldiers of the separate tank battalion of the Baltic Fleet motorized infantry brigade, during loading of tanks on flatcars, for dislocation to the district selected for military exercises, in the city of Gusev, Kaliningrad Region on February 28, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Igor Zarembo)

Soldiers of the separate tank battalion of the Baltic Fleet motorized infantry brigade, during loading of tanks on flatcars, for dislocation to the district selected for military exercises, in the city of Gusev, Kaliningrad Region on February 28, 2014. (RIA Novosti / Igor Zarembo).

We need to be honest. You cannot just say like many times before – regarding Syria, Iran, etc. – that we have come to a crisis and that we just need to accept the reality. Russia is to settle the Syrian crisis, to solve the Iranian problem and to resolve the situation in Ukraine through direct talks with the Ukrainian authorities. The West is consistently trying to avoid the responsibility of dealing with those whom they nurtured and continue to support for their geopolitical purposes.

We have absolutely no intentions of crossing Ukrainian borders. This is not in our interests. We simply want everybody to work together; we want the violence to stop and we want the Western countries who are trying to sweep under the rug those cases of violence and to portray the situation in Ukraine in a positive light to realize they need to bear the responsibility.

According to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian authorities lately have been trying to disarm all those who possess firearms illegally – that is, the criminals. If this is the result of our Western partners’ efforts, then, I repeat, we are satisfied with that. We are ready to continue to work out joint recommendations for the Ukrainians to stop all the lawlessness and to start a deep constitutional process to reform their country.

‘No US-style naval bases build-up planned’

Q: There are speculations that Russia may respond to all these events by setting up its military bases in the Seychelles, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cuba and even in Argentina.

SL: This is a complete lie. We have no plans whatsoever to build naval and military bases abroad in the sense which you put into the term. The Russian Navy is now much stronger than before. I believe after Crimea joined Russia, it will have much more opportunities for development. Along with the Black Sea Fleet, we also have the Pacific, the Northern Fleet, etc.

It’s very important for a country to have highly trained Navy, especially because today the Navy has not just to plough the ocean for training purposes but also to complete specific tasks like counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere. Ships have to travel to remote places. We have agreements with some countries allowing our vessels and warships to use their existing infrastructure for servicing, minor repairs, water and food replenishments and for the crew to rest.

We are absolutely not considering building bases similar to how America does it. And of course, unlike the US, we will not have any agreements, which would make our personnel immune to criminal prosecution in the countries where they are deployed.

By the way, I recently saw an interesting picture on the Internet: a map of the Russian Federation and US military bases around it. It looks very impressive. There are over a hundred of them. And there is a quote from a US soldier: “How dare Russians be so close to our bases?”

Q: Are you talking to the countries I mentioned about the possibility of our warships entering their seaports?

SL: There are a few countries we are talking to but these issues are handled by defense ministries.

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EU has ‘blood on its hands’ over Ukraine – UKIP leader

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage speaks during a debate over Britain’s future in the European Union with British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London on March 26, 2014. (AFP Photo / Pool / Ian West)

The EU has blood on its hands after meddling in the Ukrainian crisis, once again revealing its imperial ambitions, Nigel Farage, leader of the euroskeptic UK Independence Party, said in a TV debate with Britain’s deputy PM, Nick Clegg.

With EU parliamentary elections scheduled for May, Farage and Clegg clashed over the UK’s membership in the European Union in a live televised debate Wednesday night on LBC Radio.

When the debate touched upon events in Ukraine, Clegg said that he was proud of the EU for reaching out to ex-Communist states in Eastern Europe and former “fascist dictatorships” on the Mediterranean.

Those states only managed to turn into “democracies because they became part of the family of nations within the EU,” Clegg said.

But Farage responded with a completely opposite stance toward the armed coup that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in late February.

“We should hang our heads in shame,” Farage said, adding that it was the British government that had encouraged the EU to pursue “imperialist, expansionist” ambitions in Ukraine.

“We’ve given a false series of hopes to a group of people in western Ukraine and so geed up were they that they, actually, toppled their own elected leader,” he said.

With over 100 people killed during the Maidan standoff in Kiev, the European Union “does have blood on its hands” over Ukraine, Farage said.

“I don’t want a European army, navy, air force or a European foreign policy. It has not been a thing for good in the Ukraine,” he said.

A YouGov poll carried out immediately after the debate gave Farage a landslide victory with 57 percent, while just 36 per cent of respondents supported Clegg’s position.

Kiev on February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)Kiev on February 18, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky).

The deputy PM accepted defeat as he appeared on LBC’s weekly phone-in Friday morning, but hurried to make up for it by attacking Farage over his remarks on Ukraine.

Clegg said he was “extraordinarily surprised, if not shocked” to hear the claim that the EU was responsible for the bloodshed in Ukraine.

“To suggest that somehow it is the EU’s fault that the Ukrainian people rose up, as many did on the streets of Kiev, against their government seeking to claim greater democracy, greater freedom, is such a perverse way of looking at things,” he said.

Clegg said the UKIP leader’s words showed “quite how extreme people can be… when their loathing of the EU becomes so all-consuming that they even end up siding with Vladimir Putin in order to make their point.”

Clegg promised that he would raise Ukraine again in his second televised debate with Farage, due to take place next week.

The ultranationalist coup in Kiev led to the Crimean peninsula – home to an ethnic Russian majority – holding a referendum on its future within Ukraine.

On March 16, over 96 percent of Crimean voters decided to cut ties with Kiev and rejoin Russia.

Crimea and the city of Sevastopol were officially accepted into the Russian Federation on March 21, with President Vladimir Putin signing a decree confirming the territories as part of Russia.

The EU and the US rejected the Crimeans’ right to self-determination, criticizing the move and retaliated by imposing travel bans and asset freezes on individual Russian politicians and businessmen.

Clegg once again repeated the Western stance on the events in the Crimea on LBC, saying that “what Vladimir Putin has done, what the Russians have done – in effect annexing a part of another country in the heart of Europe – is simply unacceptable in this day and age.”

The popularity of UKIP, which stands for stricter immigration policies and demands UK withdrawal from the EU, has been on the rise in Britain in recent months.

The right-wing party produced the biggest surge for a fourth party in British politics since the Second World War after coming fourth in the number of council seats won and third in the nationwide vote in the 2013 local elections.

Posted in Europe, UkraineComments Off on EU has ‘blood on its hands’ over Ukraine – UKIP leader

Exposed: Obama states Kosovo left Serbia only after referendum, but there was NO referendum


US President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts – BOZAR) in Brussels on March 26, 2014. (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb).

Barack Obama’s speech on Ukrainian crisis seems to have left the public confused as he claimed that Kosovo broke away from Serbia “after a referendum”. But attentive listeners quickly pointed Obama’s gaps in history – there was no referendum in Kosovo.

President Obama was speaking Wednesday at The Center for Fine Arts in the heart of Brussels, Belgium, and was telling the youth crowd mostly about Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the strategic Crimean Peninsula.

He lashed out at Russia for “violation of international law, its assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Obama recalled the conflict around Kosovo and NATO’s involvement, making a counter-argument to Russia officials’ statements, in which they cited Kosovo independence from Serbia in 2008 as theprecedent.

He said: “And Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.”

In fact, “none of that even came close to happening” in Kosovo either.

What DID happen in Kosovo

Following a three-month NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia in June, 1999, Kosovo was placed under administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and a NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR, were authorized to enter the province.

Kosovars hold Albanian flags as they take part in celebrations marking the 6th anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, in Pristina on February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)

Kosovars hold Albanian flags as they take part in celebrations marking the 6th anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, in Pristina on February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani).

Two years after UNMIK and KFOR arrived there, in May, 14, 2001, the UN approved a “constitutional framework for a provisional Self-Government in Kosovo.”

It called for a 120-seat Parliament, which would elect a president and a prime minister.

In November that year Kosovo held its first parliamentary elections that the UN hailed as a huge“success”.

The year of 2005 also became no less significant for Kosovo as the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Martti Ahtisaari to lead the Kosovo status process, thus, giving the province “a green light”to fight for its independence.

After numerous talks with both Serbia and Kosovo officials, in 2007 Ahtisaari came up with the plan that included “ten guiding principles,” which outlined the broad governing authority and structure of the Kosovo government.

The so-called “Ahtisaari plan” represented a compromise between both sides. It gave broad provisions for Kosovo autonomy, including the ability to enter into international agreements and become a member of international organizations.

Kosovo children wave Kosovo and British flags during celebrations marking the 6th anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, in Pristina on February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)

Kosovo children wave Kosovo and British flags during celebrations marking the 6th anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, in Pristina on February 17, 2014. (AFP Photo / Armend Nimani)


Backed by the Contact Group (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia) and by Kosovo, the plan still lacked Serbian agreement. Russia eventually rejected the plan along with Serbia and, as a result, negotiations reached a deadlock.

However, despite the stalemate within the Contact Group, Kosovo’s authorities still decided to declare independence in February, 2008.

On February 17, 2008, the Kosovo assembly adopted a declaration of independence “in full accordance with the recommendations of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari.” On the same day, the US and four European states recognized Kosovo as an independent country.

‘You can’t just make up facts’

“I honestly don’t know what President Obama is talking about,” Serbian historian Nebojsa Malic told RT.“There was never such a referendum. It never took place. It did not exist. I am completely baffled.”

Meanwhile, on Twitter Obama’s faux-pas also did not pass unnoticed.

People accused the US President of “lying about the referendum”.

Some have pointed out that the US media chose just to “ignore” Obama’s mistake.

Speaking to RT, Nebojsa Malic suggested that it could be the case that Obama’s speechwriter just“mistook the non-existent referendum in Kosovo with the referendum in Montenegro that took place in 2006.”

“If that is the referendum they were referring to, first of all, it is just baffling that they can’t tell apart Kosovo and Montenegro. Secondly, that is not exactly a paragon of democracy in international laws either,” Malic said, stressing that that referendum was held under “very murky circumstances when people were being bought openly.”

“I am really not sure what sort of point they were trying to make, but you can’t just make up your own facts to boost your own argument. That is ridiculous,” he concluded.

Were there absolutely no independence referendums in Kosovo? Well, there was one in 1991 – its results were recognized by just one UN member, Albania.

Posted in USA, RussiaComments Off on Exposed: Obama states Kosovo left Serbia only after referendum, but there was NO referendum

80% increase in US rejections of I$raHell visa requests


2 faced2

US and I$raHell are at odds at over Visa Waiver Program, but American officials deny they’re making it harder to gain entry

Times of Israel

With the United States irked at Israel over its settlement policies and the lack of progress in peace talks, an obscure diplomatic classification has emerged as a new sticking point between the two close allies.

To ease the travel of its citizens, Israel is pressing to join 38 other countries in the US Visa Waiver Program — a prestigious club of nations whose citizens don’t need a preapproved visa to visit America. So far, their efforts have not only been rebuffed, but Israel has seen a spike in the number of young people and military officers rejected entry to the US.

Washington says Israel has not been let into the program simply because it has not met the requirements — and has pointed in part to Israel’s treatment of Arab-American travelers, drawing sharp denials by Israeli officials of any discrimination. US officials say there is no policy in place to make it more difficult for Israelis to get “B” visas, which allow a 90-day stay in the United States for business or travel purposes.

Figures show that the percentage of Israelis whose visa requests are rejected is lower than that of many other countries, and other countries’ rejection rates have grown as well amid an overall stricter approach taken by American Homeland Security officials. For example, in 2013 Belarus had a rejected rate of 20.7 percent, Bulgaria’s was 19.9 percent and Ireland’s was 16.9 percent.

Even so, Israel saw its visa rejection rate jump to 9.7 percent last year, up from 5.4 percent the year before — a startling 80 percent increase.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, has called on the State Department to “end its widespread, arbitrary practice of denying young Israelis tourist visas.” Other pro-Israel members of Congress have also pressed for answers. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said some Congress members are pushing for legislation that would exempt Israel from the requirements to qualify for the waiver program altogether.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded this week by saying that Israelis are still overwhelmingly granted entry.

“Over 90 percent of Israeli applicants for tourist visas to the United States are approved. For young Israelis, over 80 percent of visa applicants are approved for a visa,” she said at a briefing.

The 90-day visas are either approved or rejected after a brief interview with a US embassy official in the applicant’s country of origin. Americans do not need a visa to enter Israel, though Americans of Palestinian origin often face problems and cannot enter through Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, instead entering either through Jordan or Egypt.

The visa issue brings another irritant in US-Israeli ties at a time of strains over Secretary of State John Kerry’s stagnating peace efforts. The Obama administration has been critical of Israel for continuing to press forward with Jewish settlements in the West Bank while Kerry has been brokering peace talks over a future Palestinian state.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently called Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic” over making peace between Israelis and Palestinians and dismissed a US security plan for the region as worthless. He also called the US weak when it comes to its stance on Iran’s nuclear program and questioned Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security.

During the same briefing last week, Psaki said the US was disappointed that Ya’alon has yet to apologize for his “offensive” remarks.

Among younger Israelis, the visa issue has put a damper on plans for a post-army trip to America, a common rite of passage after completing three or more years of compulsory military service. For this demographic, the American concern appears to be less a matter of security and rather a fear that they will abuse their tourist visas to work illegally and peddle products at malls.

Yoav Rosenbaum, 23, said he had no such intention. He and three friends just wanted to go on a 10-day trip to the New York area to see a comedy festival. But even though he holds down a hi-tech job, rents an apartment in Tel Aviv and lived in the US for the three years when he was younger, he was immediately rejected at the American embassy.

“I brought documents, showed my return flight and the tickets to the festival, paid the fee and the guy just looked at me and said ‘it’s not going to happen,’” he recalled, saying the official told him he didn’t have enough ties to Israel to be trusted to return. “I wasn’t that shocked because I knew that they give a hard time to people of my age group.”

It hasn’t stopped dozens of others from lining up outside the American embassy in Tel Aviv to seek visas on a daily basis.

For the Israeli government, the larger issue is membership in the Visa Waiver Program.

As one of America’s closest allies, Israel wonders why countries like Slovakia, Iceland and Latvia qualify while they are left out.

US diplomats say it is merely a matter of countries meeting stringent conditions, such as issuing biometric passports, properly reporting lost or stolen documents and allowing the free access of Americans into their country.

Psaki said American authorities “remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program.”

Elkin, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, rejected long-standing accusations that Arabs were unnecessarily targeted with aggressive questioning, long luggage examinations and strip searches, saying that US Homeland Security had just as tough techniques for people — including Israelis — of Middle Eastern descent.

He told The Associated Press that Israel had addressed all matters under its control to be able to qualify for the program. He said it will now allow Palestinian-Americans to begin entering the country through the airport.

The only obstacle remaining was the rate of Israelis rejected for US visas, which needs to drop below 3 percent before Israel can be considered for the program.

“That depends on the Americans. If they wanted, a creative solution could be found,” Elkin said. “Israel is among the friendliest countries to the US and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be part of the program.”

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‘US desperate to isolate Russia on all fronts’

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.

A G7 summit at the official residence of the Dutch prime minister in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). (AFP Photo / Jerry Lampen)A G7 summit at the official residence of the Dutch prime minister in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). (AFP Photo / Jerry Lampen).

The Obama administration is taking no prisoners trying to “isolate” Russia on all possible fronts – with negligible results so far.

Here I outlined some reasons why Asia won’t isolate Russia. And here some reasons why the EU cannot afford to isolate Russia. Yet the Obama administration is relentless, and bound to keep attacking on three major fronts – the G20, Iran and Syria.

First, the G20. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop threw a balloon, speculating that Russia and President Vladimir Putin could be barred from the G20 summit in Brisbane in November.

The reaction of the other four BRICS member-nations was swift: “The custodianship of the G20 belongs to all member-states equally and no one member-state can unilaterally determine its nature and character.”

US-subservient Australia had to shut up. For now.

The BRICS, not by accident, are the key developing world alliance inside the G20, which actually discusses what matters in international relations. The G7 – which ‘expelled’ Russia from its upcoming meeting in Sochi, transferred to Brussels – is just a self-important talk shop.

Sanction to sanction

Then there’s Iran. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov made it very clear that if the US and selected European minions would slap economic sanctions over the Crimea referendum, “we will take retaliatory measures as well.” And he meant it in relation to the P5+1 negotiations over the Iranian nuclear dossier.

Here’s a fairly accurate depiction of the US establishment’s view on the Russian role in the negotiations.

It’s true that the 2009 revelation of a secret, underground Iranian uranium enrichment facility did not sit well with Moscow – which in response cancelled the sale of the S-300 air defense system to Tehran.

But more crucial is the fact Moscow wants the Iranian nuclear dossier to be kept under UN Security Council umbrella – where it can exercise a veto; any solution must be multilateral, and not concocted by psychotic neo-cons.

Conflicting political factions in Iran may harbor doubts about Moscow’s commitment to a just solution – considering Moscow has not done much to alleviate the harsh sanctions package. And yes, both Russia and Iran are in competition as energy exporters – and sanctions do punish Iran and reward Russia (50 percent less Iranian oil exports since 2011, and not even qualifying as a major exporter of natural gas).

But if the American sanction obsession engulfs Russia as well, expect fireworks; as in Moscow accelerating a swap of up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude in exchange for Russia building another nuclear power plant; extra Russian moves busting the Western sanctions wall; and even Moscow deciding to sell not only the S-300 but the S-400 or the ultra-sophisticated, upcoming S-500 air defense system to Tehran.

It’s false flag time

Finally there’s Syria. Once again, the BRICS are at the forefront. Russian Ambassador-at-Large Vadim Lukov nailed it when he stressed“Frankly speaking, without the BRICS position, Syria would have long ago turned into Libya.”

The BRICS learned their lesson for Syria when they let their abstentions at a UN vote open the way for NATO’s humanitarian bombing of Libya into a failed state. Subsequently, Russian diplomacy intervened to save the Obama administration from bombing Syria over a senseless, self-inflicted ‘red line’ – with potentially cataclysmic consequences.

Now the plot is thickening again. UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has spun that the resumption of the Geneva II peace talks is “out of the question” for the moment. In a briefing to the UN Security Council in early March, he blamed the Syrian government for this.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (C) opens the so-called Geneva II peace talks next to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (L) on January 22, 2014 in Montreux. (AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (C) opens the so-called Geneva II peace talks next to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (L) on January 22, 2014 in Montreux. (AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini).

That’s absurd. The myriad, bickering, opportunistic opposition factions never wanted a negotiation in the first place; only regime change. Not to mention the jihadi nebulae – whic until recently has been imposing facts on the ground fully weaponized by Gulf petrodollar funds.

Now rumors abound of the Obama administration getting ready to ‘isolate’ Russia – and by extension the BRICS – on Syria.

The Obama administration, via proverbial unnamed ‘officials’, has been positioning disinformation ‘reports’ about jihadists attacking Western interests, based out of north and northeast Syria. That could be the prelude for a perfect false flag, then used to justify a Western intervention – obviously bypassing the UN. Those warmongering dreamers of a no-fly zone over Syria have never stopped dreaming.

This scenario also neatly dovetails with the current Erdogan administration scandal in Turkey – as what was unveiled on YouTube is exactly a national security conversation on how a NATO member, Turkey, could set up a false flag and blame Syria.

The bottom line is that NATO has far from given up on regime change in Syria. There are enticing symmetries at play. A putsch in Ukraine. A false flag in Syria. A NATO push in Syria? A Russian push in eastern Ukraine. It may not sound as far-fetched as it seems. And then, all bets are off.

The whole New Great Game in Eurasia is getting so warped that now we have constitutional law expert Obama legitimizing the invasion and occupation of Iraq (“America sought to work within the international system, we did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory”) and wacko warmongers in Think Tankland preaching an oil embargo against Russia, Iran-style, with Washington using their minions Saudi Arabia to make up for the shortfall.

After lecturing Europeans in The Hague and Brussels over ‘evil’ Russian designs, and parading in Rome like a New Caesar, Obama finishes his triumphal tour exactly at his Saudi satrapy. We should all get ready for a nasty box of chocolates ahead.

Posted in USA, RussiaComments Off on ‘US desperate to isolate Russia on all fronts’

UK: Migrant Domestic Workers Face Serious Abuse

UK Government Should Abolish ‘Tied Visa’ to Protect Workers, Prevent Forced Labor.
  • A domestic worker holds up her UK Overseas Domestic Worker visa. Following changesto the immigration rules in April 2012, workers entering the  UK on this visa are not permitted to change employer, making them more vulnerable to abuse.
The UK government is failing in its duty to protect migrant domestic workers, who all too often are victims of horrific hidden abuse. If it’s serious about ending what it calls modern day slavery, the government should recognize just how vulnerable these workers are and give them the protection they deserve.
Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher

(London) – Migrant domestic workers accompanying their employers to the United Kingdom are being subjected to serious abuses including forced labor, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The UK government is doing far too little to protect vulnerable workers, and recent changes to UK immigration rules make it harder for workers to flee abuse, the report found.

“It’s scandalous that in modern Britain migrant domestic workers are subject to such appalling abuses,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But instead of protecting these workers, the system makes it harder for them escape.”

The 58-page report, Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK,” documents the confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days, and very low wages or non-payment of wages. The report also shows the UK government has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to protect migrant domestic workers and enable them to access justice if they are mistreated.

In April 2012, the UK abolished the right of migrant domestic workers to change employer once they are in the UK, against the recommendations of parliament, nongovernmental organizations, and UN experts. Under the terms of the new ‘tied visa,’ overseas domestic workers cannot legally leave their employer and find new work, meaning those abused can become trapped.

“Workers who are mistreated now face a horrendous choice: either endure the terrible abuse, or escape and become undocumented migrants, where of course they are much more vulnerable to further abuse and exploitation,” said Leghtas. “It’s abhorrent that anyone should be tied into abuse in this way.”

Because domestic helpers work in private households, much of the abuse takes place behind closed doors. Workers told Human Rights Watch of working up to 18 hours per day for weeks on end without breaks, not being fed properly and surviving off leftovers, being forbidden from possessing a mobile phone or contacting their own families, and being unable to ever leave their employers’ homes unaccompanied. Some were paid wages as little as £100 (US$160) per month and sometimes even these meagre salaries were withheld.

The British Home Secretary Theresa May is bringing forward a modern slavery bill to tackle serious labor abuses in the UK. In December 2013, May presented a draft bill that would increase penalties for slavery, servitude, forced labor, and human trafficking from 14 years to life imprisonment. But the bill makes no reference at all to the plight of domestic workers. A parliamentary committee is reviewing the draft bill and is due to publish a report in early April.

Human Rights Watch is urging the government to broaden the scope of the bill to ensure appropriate protections for migrant domestic workers, including the right to change employer. Restoring this right is vital to help combat abuse against this very vulnerable group of workers, Human Rights Watch said.

Every year, some 15,000 migrant domestic workers arrive in the UK. Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were women from Asia or Africa who previously worked for their employers in the Gulf, and had already experienced abuse there at the hands of their employers.

Human Rights Watch has documented serious and widespread abuses against migrant domestic workers in the Gulf where gaps in labor laws and the restrictive sponsorship (kafala) system contribute to exploitation. The kafala system ties a domestic worker’s visa to her employer, and gives employers control over whether the worker can change jobs and, in some places, exit the country. The UK’s abolition of the right to change employer risks sending a signal to employers from the Gulf that they can continue to treat their workers as they did under the kafala system, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also found that the measures the UK government has in place to prevent abuse are inadequate. The government requires workers to have been employed for at least a year by their employer before coming to the UK. However, many migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in London said their employers had subjected them to abuse in the Gulf and treated them the same, or sometimes even worse, in the UK. Migrant domestic workers are often unable to access redress mechanisms in the Gulf – because their employers confiscate their passports and heavily restrict their movements – so prior employment with a family overseas is not a reliable indicator that no abuse has occurred.

The UK government also requires written terms and conditions of employment to be signed by both the employer and the employee, including the obligation to pay UK minimum wage. But there is no mechanism to monitor whether those terms are respected.

Under domestic, European, and international human rights law, the UK must protect migrant domestic workers from abuse, both from government officials and from private individuals. But recent cuts to legal aid deny victims who have not been recognized as possible victims of trafficking free legal assistance, even if they are victims of forced labor.

The UK government has also refused to ratify a groundbreaking international treaty which affords the same rights to domestic workers as other workers. In June 2011, the UK was one of only nine countries that did not vote in favor of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention. Human Rights Watch is also recommending that the UK ensure that domestic workers are made fully aware of their rights in the UK when they apply for visas, and that employers understand their duty to treat employees in accordance with UK law.

“The UK government is failing in its duty to protect migrant domestic workers, who all too often are victims of horrific hidden abuse,” Leghtas said. “If it’s serious about ending what it calls modern day slavery, the government should recognize just how vulnerable these workers are and give them the protection they deserve.”

Posted in Human Rights, UKComments Off on UK: Migrant Domestic Workers Face Serious Abuse

“Humanitarian War” on Syria: Al-Qaeda Flag Now Flies on the Mediterranean, Courtesy of NATO


Dr. Joshua Landis, internationally recognized Syria expert and founder of Syria Comment, linked to this photo on his Twitter account today (3/29). Landis commented: “Al-Qaida’s flag now flies on the Mediterranean Sea” -presumably in acknowledgement of the historic precedent this sets.

Global Research

The Syrian rebels are in the midst of a new coastal offensive in Northwest Syria – a region that has historically been a stronghold of government support. This offensive has the full backing of Turkey and other NATO countries, including the United States.

The Kassab border crossing with Turkey, recently under rebel control, has become an open access point for Al-Nusra and other terrorists. Video footage has recently emerged, confirmed as authentic by multiple Syria experts, of Al-Qaida affiliate terrorists flowing freely into Syria from the Turkish side of the border.

It is not merely that the Turkish authorities have failed to seal off the border, but that Turkey is actively engaged in a rear support capacity for Al-Qaida operations in Syria. Last week, Dr. Landis also pointed to the following on his Twitter account: the below photo posted by Turkish journalist Ali Ornek with the caption, “Injured militants cross the border & taken to hospital with cars allegedly belongs to Turkish intelligence.”

According to last week’s leak of Turkish officials discussing Syria war plans, Turkey was set to potentially invade Syrian territory based on the pretext of fighting ISIS and other Al-Qaida groups. In short, Turkey would lay blame for a terrorist attack launched from Northern Syria on the very rebels it is currently letting flood through border crossings such as Kassab.

While the leaked discussion was acknowledged as authentic by the Erdogan government, and this open admission of a false flag planned attack is everywhere in Turkish and Middle East press, it got buried with remote reference at the end of a news week in the U.S. – most articles merely emphasized the YouTube ban enacted by Turkey a result of the leak.

The below photo is the beautiful Armenian Christian town of Kassab, recently “liberated” by Al-Qaida affiliated forces, with the backing NATO countries.

Embedded image permalink

Multiple reports and photos are circulating of beheadings, church desecrations, and the raising of Al-Qaida flags over churches and public buildings. Kassab residents are telling international reporters that initial heavy shelling, which kicked off the rebel operation, came from the Turkish side of the border.

The Armenian Christian residents also accuse Turkey of full collaboration with the rebels. The town has now been completely liquidated of its Christian inhabitants. MSN UK reports:

The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church.

This is textbook genocide. The Armenian inhabitants of this region are not politically active – they are in a sense long-term refugees settled in Northern Syria as a result of the infamous 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks. Are we witnessing a renewed Armenian Genocide by proxy?

At the very least, this day, March 29, 2014, will go down in history as the day Al-Qaida waved its flag victorious on the Mediterranean Sea under NATO’s watch.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on “Humanitarian War” on Syria: Al-Qaeda Flag Now Flies on the Mediterranean, Courtesy of NATO

NATO’s Secret Drone War in Syria – Turkish Drone Allegedly Downed by Syrian Army



While Turkish and Western – backed Jihadists in the region around Kassab are on the run from the Syrian armed forces, an MP for Turkey’s largest opposition party CHP alleged that the Syrian Army has drowned a Turkish drone over Kassab.

The Turkish Aydinlik Dayly (AD) cites Mehmed Ali Ediboglu, an MP for Turkey’s largest opposition party CHP, as saying that the Syrian armed forces have shot down a Turkish drone over the Syrian city of Kassab.

The downing of a Turkish drone has international implications, considering that Turkey is a core NATO member state.

Last week, a Syrian fighter jet was shot down over Kassab while pursuing Turkish backed insurgents. Eyewitnesses reported to nsnbc international that the Turkish military is targeting Syrian army positions with artillery and tank shells and that Turkish special forces had been observed in the area.

Yesterday it transpired that members of Turkey’s governing AKP and Turkey’s P.M. R.T. Erdogan may have been giving the order to shoot down a Syrian jet, three days before the incident happened.

The Syrian Arab Army and Turkish/Western – backed insurgents have been involved in heavy clashes in and around the city of Kassab in Syria’s Lattakia region. The Jihadist have been suffering heavy casualties. The fighting erupted on 21 March and continues.

Aydinlik Daily quotes local sources as saying that the Syrian Army also succeeded in neutralizing the commander of the so-called Kastal Maaf front, Mohammad al-Abdallah, and the leader of the Mostapha brigades in northern Lattakia.

Syrian armed forces have, reportedly, pursued terrorists who had infiltrated into the region via Turkey. The insurgents fled after suffering a defeat in in the Samra Mountains and in Kassab.

CHP Member of Parliament, Mehmed Ali Ediboglu, visited the Turkish – Syrian border area in Yayladagi after heavy clashes erupted in the region. Ediboglu stated that the Turkish military allows and controls insurgents moves while they are crossing the border to and from Syria.

Aydinlik Daily cites the Turkish MP as saying that social media report, that a Turkish drone had been shot down with a surface to air missile by the Syrian Army on March 22. Ediboglu added that Turkish jets also had crossed the border at several occasions, in order to gather data for the armed insurgents.

The Turkish MP said that the drone was shot down about 1.5 kilometers from the Syrian town of Kassab, over Syrian territory, and that the fact has been covered-up in Turkey because it could cause problems in terms of international law. Ediboglu called for an urgent investigation into the downing of a Syrian jet by Turkish F-16s last weekend as well as into the Turkish drone that was downed by the Syrian army. NATO could, arguably, be held accountable for the use of Turkish drones over Syrian territory because Turkey is a core member of the alliance.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on NATO’s Secret Drone War in Syria – Turkish Drone Allegedly Downed by Syrian Army

Syrian-Armenian town’s fate murky after rebel grab




When hundreds of residents of the postcard-pretty coastal Syrian village of Kassab fled this week, it bore historic weight: it was the third time since 1900 that ethnic Armenians there felt compelled to run for their lives.They left once at the hands of vengeful Turkish neighbors, and later because of Ottoman forces. This time it was Syrian rebels storming into town. It was a heavy blow for the minority community that sees the town as key to preserving the Armenians’ identity in Syria.

Kassab “is a symbol of Armenian history, language and continuity. It’s very symbolic,” said Ohannes Geukjian, a political science professor who writes on contemporary Armenian history and politics. “And so the fall of Kassab, I consider it the defeat of Armenian identity in that area.”

Rebels seized control of Kassab on Sunday after launching an attack two days earlier in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia. The fighters were from an array of conservative and Islamic groups, including the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

The province has an ancient Armenian presence, but is better known as a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad. It is his ancestral home and that of followers of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, that he belongs to.

The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles (57 kilometers) to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church.

“We had to flee only with our clothes. We couldn’t take anything, not even the most precious thing — a handful of soil from Kassab. We couldn’t take our memories,” said a woman to Syrian state television. She identified herself as Kassab resident, but didn’t give her name.

Kassab is surrounded by the villas of middle-class Syrians who built their homes amid green wooded hills overlooking the sea. The area got a boost from a popular 2008 Syrian telenovela, “Daya, Daya,” which was filmed in nearby village of Samra. Tourists flock to the area in the summer.

Kassab residents, speaking to Syrian television, said mortar shells and gunfire came from the Turkish border toward their village. A Syrian field commander on a government-organized trip told journalists in the nearby town of Badrousieh that gunmen began their attack “with clear support from the Turks.”

Turkish officials refuted the claims.

“The allegations by some circles that Turkey is providing support to the opposition forces by letting them use its territory or through some other ways during the conflict … are totally unfounded,” the Turkish government said in a media statement on Wednesday.

The Turkish government was prepared to admit Syrian Armenian refugees and “protection could be provided to them,” the statement said.

Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian said Kassab was attacked by Turkish militants in 1909, forcing local Armenians to flee for their lives. In 1915, as the 600-year-old Ottoman empire violently unraveled, the Armenian population was deported by the Turks, and thousands died as they marched across the desert.

A website created by Kassab descendants, “Kessabtsiner,” confirmed those events.

“This is the third expulsion of Armenians from Kassab and it represents a major challenge to modern mechanisms for the protection of ethnic minorities,” Sarkisian said in a statement this week.

In Washington, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the fighting that is “endangering the Armenian community in Kassab.” The U.S. has repeatedly expressed concerns over the growing influence of Islamic radicals in the rebel ranks, and Harf on Friday called on all groups involved in the fighting to protect civilians, religious minorities and their places of worship.

“We have long had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists, and this latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this further,” Harf said.

Syria’s main opposition bloc said in a statement the rebel units belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army have been fighting against government forces in and around, but adamantly denied that any of the FSA fighters are behind the violence against the Armenians. The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition blamed Assad’s military for the bloodshed, saying they have “deliberately bombed these areas and accused the rebels of it.”

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The forced flight from Kassab has deep meaning for many Armenians, because it is one of the last areas tracing back to the eleventh-century from the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, said professor Geukjian.

Other areas in modern-day Syria once had ancient Armenian villages, but residents left to join larger communities in cities like Aleppo, or assimilated into the wider Christian minority, or emigrated, said Geuikjian. Only Kassab “kept its identity and language,” he said.

“When you say Kassab, you understand you are referring to the Armenians,” said Arpi Mangassarian of Badguer, a Beirut-based Armenian cultural organization. “It symbolizes Armenian culture.”

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said ethnic Armenians accounted for about 70 percent of Kassab’s population.

Before the Syrian uprising, there were some 70,000 ethnic Armenians in Syria, particularly concentrated in the northern city of Aleppo and the area around Kassab. They were already a tiny minority among 23 million citizens, but part of Syria’s rich mosaic of tiny, ancient Christian and Muslim sects.

As the war grinds on, Armenians have been leaving to Lebanon, Armenia, Canada and the U.S.

The war has grown increasingly sectarian, as hardline Sunni rebel groups play a prominent role in the uprising, and Syrian minorities huddle behind Assad, fearing for their fate should extremists come to power.

There are no statistics of how many Armenians remain, but Geukjian estimated some 15,000 Armenians remained of a pre-war population of 40,000 in Aleppo. Others had drifted toward Latakia and yet others had remained in Kassab, he said.

“What will happen to us? We don’t know,” said the woman from Kassab, speaking to Syrian television.

The ancient area’s loss to ultra-conservative Muslim rebels suggests an uncertain future.

“We are afraid, if you want the truth. Of what is happening now, the future. The future is not clear,” Geukjian said.

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