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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Swiss banks could handle a 6 pct leverage ratio

Swiss finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said on Nov. 3 that her country’s banks should be subject to higher leverage ratio requirements of 6-10 percent of equity to assets, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. However, any change would be unlikely to happen before a review of Switzerland’s too-big-to-fail financial reforms, due to be presented before parliament at the start of 2015. Widmer-Schlumpf’s comments about leverage were first reported by Swiss newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag. UBS and Credit Suisse shouldn’t bin their turnaround plans just yet. Switzerland’s finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf managed to wipe 6.5 billion Swiss Francs ($7.1 billion) off the two lenders’ combined market values on Nov. 4, by declaring that they should meet an equity-to-assets “leverage ratio” of at least 6 percent. Although current global rules require only half that, both big Swiss lenders could rise to the challenge.UBS and Credit Suisse can probably manage a 6 percent ratio by 2015 - which is when the leverage ratio requirement can first be reviewed - according to a Breakingviews calculator Credit Suisse will have a leverage ratio of 5.3 percent by 2015 anyway, assuming it can shed an intended 114 billion Swiss francs, retain 7 billion francs of earnings and issue another 7 billion francs of contingent convertible hybrids. To get to 6 percent, it could either lop off (remove by or as if by cutting; "cut off the ear"; "lop off the dead branch") a further 132 billion francs, or raise another 8 billion francs in new capital. If it withheld likely dividend payments, the capital it would need to raise would fall by 5.7 billion francs. But Credit Suisse would have to either raise 50 billion francs in new capital, or achieve 620 billion francs in balance sheet reduction. Widmer-Schlumpf sometimes jumps the gun: last month she said an international probe into foreign exchange manipulation had already uncovered firm evidence of wrongdoing, and then retracted her comments. Banks will be hoping for a similar climb down. UBS looks even better placed. Its restructuring plan implies a 5.6 percent leverage ratio by 2015, assuming 7.2 billion francs of retained earnings, 3.7 billion francs of CoCos and 6 billion francs of capital relief from regulators partly enabled by its restructuring. To get to 6 percent it would need either 4 billion francs of new capital or a further 63 billion francs off the balance sheet. The calculator also doesn’t give either bank credit for additional hybrid instruments that are due to be phased out, or reflect that they would probably be given a more generous deadline than 2015. Yet both UBS and Credit Suisse would struggle if they had to hit a 10 percent leverage ratio. UBS has more capital levers to pull: 23 billion francs in deferred tax-assets would boost the bank’s ratio to 8.2 percent, while paying staff bonuses in contingent capital would get it almost to 9 percent. =========== How it works If every option is left unticked on the calculator, and zero balance sheet reduction is assumed for Credit Suisse and UBS then both banks are left with their Swiss leverage ratios as they were at the end of the third-quarter: 3.5 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.   Under the calculator's base-case scenario for the end of 2015, Credit Suisse can achieve a leverage ratio of 5.3 percent on current plans. The plans include 7 billion Swiss francs of contingent convertible (CoCo) bond issuance, as estimated by Nomura, and 7 billion francs of retained earnings. The calculator also assumes a 114 billion Swiss francs reduction in the bank's balance sheet. Credit Suisse has said it wants to reduce assets by this amount, but has not said by when.   For UBS, the leverage ratio should rise to 5.6 percent by 2015. This would entail UBS getting an equity benefit from buying back assets hived off to the Swiss central bank under its bailout – the so-called stab fund. It would also include a planned 3.7 billion Swiss francs of CoCo issuance as well as 7.2 billion francs in retained earnings. The bank was also effectively forced to hold more capital for operational risk by its regulator last quarter. Removing that requirement would add 3.6 billion francs to its capital. To get to a 6 percent leverage ratio, UBS can also issue CoCos as bonuses and utilise deferred-tax assets. UBS has said it wants to shrink its balance sheet by 195 billion francs, but, like Credit Suisse, has no deadline for the target.   The calculator allows users to adjust up and down the amount of balance sheet reduction for Credit Suisse and UBS, as well as showing capital shortfalls to a 6 percent and 10 percent ratio for each bank. ================== Hived off: To set apart from a group

Oil trucking to Iran at crossroads as pipeline exports loom

Hundreds of tankers wait to cross into Iran in one of several lots near the Parwezkhan border crossing in Diyala province, Nov 6, 2013. (PATRICK OSGOOD/Iraq Oil Report) By Patrick Osgood, Rawaz Tahir and Ben Van Heuvelen of Iraq Oil Report Published Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 In a dirt lot filled with tanker trucks on the outskirts of Penjwin town, near the eastern border of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, Ali shuffled his right foot restlessly and looked east toward Iran."It's taking 12 days to get through the Iranian border this time," he said. "This is my longest delay ever."Ali is among the thousands of tanker drivers in Iraq's Kurdistan region transporting crude oil into Iran, through the Bashmah and Parwezkhan border crossings, to the southwest Ir... If you google the Rubis Terminal, Page 20 http://www.rubis-terminal.com/sites/default/files/documents/rubis_terminal_gb.pdf You can see the size of their Tank capacity and confirmation that one of their services is "Blending in tanks" The 1st contract is for 30 tonnes but how much has already been trucked to port? Have a good one and best wishes STORAGE CAPACITY 650 000 m3, 30 tanks TANK SIZES 2000 to 32500 m3 DRAUGHT 12.25m, 19 m in 2014 NUMBER OF JETTIES 3 positions, 6 positions (2014 on a 2.3 km jetty) TURKEY USEFUL INFORMATION Address: Yesil Mevkii Dörtyol – Iskenderun GPS address: 36.852428,36.160823 www.deltarubis.com CONTACT Tél.: +90 212 311 44 00 Fax: +90 212 253 49 54 CONNECTIONS CERTIFICATIONS ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 18001 PRODUCTS STORED Petroleum products. PRESENTATION: Delta Rubis is a joint-venture between Rubis Terminal and Delta Petrol. The terminal is located in the South East of Turkey, near the city of Ceyhan, close to Iraq, the second largest oil producer in the world. The storage tanks for bunker fuels and import products are on track since March 2013. Beginning 2015, the current capacity of 650 000 m3 will be extended to 987 000 m3 and the 2.3 km jetty, under construction, will be ready to receive Suezmax vessels. The Group is also considering the construction of storage tanks for chemicals. SERVICES: > Blending in tanks, > Additive dedicated process, > Blending of ethanol and biodiesel, > Colouring, > Product circulation in tanks, > Temperature control/heating of products. ==================== I make it about $800k - $900k as net profit (depends on what the applicable transport- storage-, brokerage costs were) PLUS about $3.2M - $3.4M for cost recovery. The numbers are not that important - it's the symbolic nature of the announcement that's important. Iraqi Government approves opening Consulate of #People's Republic of #China in #Kurdistan Region. ============== While we are raising our glasses to this fantastic news today, just stand back a moment and understand how far GKP have come in four odd years, from our first drill success too oil exports to the world markets, now add in the country of Kurdistan, the never ending political fighting, and a small company of GKP, i say it is quite remarkable, and i say well done Todd and the BOD in getting us where we are today. I know the last sentence will not be welcomed by many here on this BB, but give credit where credits due. We have achieved far more than many oil Majors in other parts of the world, and as John Gerstenlauer, said don't listen to all the bull on the bulletin boards, well today news just sums up that comment to a tee. See ya next year CCC =================== Where did this come from, Who expected this. I've been sick of reading this BB as its been full of a Ren post for the last few days. (nothing against Ren) but just utter carp. but hopefully this now should be a real game changer well done all PIs for holding through the Storms we have endured. politics seem to be easing now export is happening from a huge space given to us as the pipe line must be freeing up lots of Tankers that are now laden with Shaikan Heavy sludge. =================== Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz (L) and Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani attend the opening of the CWC Kurdistan-Iraq Oil and Gas conference in Erbil on Dec. 2, 2013. (RAWAZ TAHIR/Iraq Oil Report/Metrography) By Ben Van Heuvelen and Staff of Iraq Oil Report Published Thursday, December 5th, 2013 As Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region continues to pump oil into its new export pipeline to Turkey, leaders in Erbil and Ankara have outlined a revenue-handling mechanism that appears to allow their burgeoning energy cooperation to move forward without Baghdad's approval.The impending exports and sales threaten to undermine Baghdad's top oil policymakers, who have long argued that all exports must be conducted under central government authority – a position they have reiterated forcefully ... ==================== K & M tipped for new Iraq-Turkey Pipeline construction By Ben Lando of Iraq Oil Report Published Monday, December 30th, 2013 Ukrainian firm K & M Ltd.'s $230 million proposal has been selected by the North Oil Company (NOC) as its preferred contractor for building the new leg of the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline (ITP).The proposal for replacing one of the two pipelines of the ITP still needs the endorsement of the Oil Minister and, most likely, the Iraqi Cabinet, which could take place sometime in January.K & M was chosen for the engineering, procurement and construction contract over Anglo-Egyptian Petrojet's $238 mil... ==================== Iraqi Kurds export first heavy oil to global market 31 Dec 2013 - 13:43 * KRG sells first cargo of Shaikan heavy crude * Gulf Keystone operates Shaikan oilfield * Taq Taq oil going into new pipeline for exports By Julia Payne LONDON, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Iraq's Kurdish region has started exports of heavy crude to world markets, traders and industry sources said, a further step to wrestle more control of its lucrative oil sector from the central government in Baghdad. Trucked through Turkey to a waiting tanker, the sale of Shaikan crude comes just ahead of planned exports of light crude Taq Taq via a new pipeline. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) began selling its oil independently of Baghdad in 2012, first with very light oil condensate, followed by Taq Taq, produced by London-listed oil company Genel . These exports enraged Baghdad, which considers them smuggling as selling oil falls is handled by under the purview of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO). Talks are underway between Iraq and the Kurds to find an agreement over oil exports and revenue sharing, after Arbil and Ankara signed a multi-billion dollar energy package at the end of November, including gas pipelines and exploration deals. Iraq's oil minister said Baghdad would retain control over the oil revenues. [ID:nL5N0JI1RA] But despite Baghdad's threats of legal action against potential buyers over the last year, the KRG has moved ahead with exporting Shaikan, the first international exports for AIM-listed Gulf Keystone in Kurdistan. Trading company Powertrans, an intermediary used by the KRG to export its oil from Turkey, has sold a 30,000 tonne cargo of Shaikan loading Jan 6-10, trading sources familiar with the matter said. The cargo will load at the Delta Rubis terminal at Dortyol on Turkey's bay of Iskenderun, one of the sources said. Details of the ultimate buyer were unclear as a trader was re-offering the grade. The Shaikan oilfield is operated by Gulf Keystone, with Hungarian MOL holding a 20 percent interest. Commercial production began in July 2013 with an initial capacity of 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) and output is expected to reach 40,000 bpd in early 2014. Gulf Keystone was not immediately able to provide a comment to Reuters after several enquiries. Taq Taq crude is being tested in a newly completed pipeline that links Kurdish oilfields to the Turkish border and then into an existing pipeline already exporting Kirkuk crude for state marketer SOMO to the port of Ceyhan. The oil successfully reached the Turkish port of Ceyhan for the first time last week. [ID:nL6N0K21BL] (Additional reporting by Peg Mackey, Editing by William Hardy) ((julia.payne@thomsonreuters.com)(+44 207 542 1836) (Reuters Messaging: julia.payne.reuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: KURDISTAN OIL/SHAIKAN =========== Maliki targets protesters as Anbar security crisis deepens Iraqi security guards detain four ISIS members on October 31, 2013 in a desert raid in Anbar province. In total, 24 members of the al-Qaida splinter group were arrested that day. But the campaign ISIS has waged against Iraq continues. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) By Jamal Naji and Staff of Iraq Oil Report Published Saturday, December 28th, 2013 Tensions are rising in Anbar province between Sunni protesters and Iraq's Shia-dominated central government, as pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to push back against a rising tide of violence. Protesters in Anbar have rejected renewed threats from Maliki, who claims the demonstrations have been infiltrated by terrorists and has warned of imminent crackdowns. It has been a full year since protesters in Sunni-majority provinces across Iraq took to the streets to decry the... ===================== Q&A: Basra Governor Majid al-Nasrawi Basra Governor Majid al-Nasrawi addresses the Basra Oil and Gas Conference in December 2013. (ALI ABU IRAQ/Iraq Oil Report/Metrography) By Ali Abu Iraq of Iraq Oil Report Published Thursday, December 19th, 2013 There are two weeks to go until 2014, and Basra Governor Majid al-Nasrawi can't make plans for needed infrastructure projects because the federal budget hasn't been passed and he's gotten no confirmation that a prospective $4 per barrel increase in the petrodollar program will be implemented.The delay is frustrating, though common in Iraq's budgetary approval process. But the possibility that Basra will be short-changed, he said, is unacceptable."We may override all powers to take our ri... ====================== Bombs across Baghdad kill at least 15, clashes continue in Anbar - sources Source: Reuters - Tue, 31 Dec 2013 05:37 PM Author: Reuters A protester stands next to the wreckage of a police vehicle in Ramadi December 30, 2013. Fighting broke out when Iraqi police moved to dismantle a Sunni Muslim protest camp in the western Anbar province on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said. REUTERS/Ali al-Mashhadani BAGHDAD, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Bombs exploded across the Iraqi capital on Tuesday, killing at least 15 people, police and medical sources said, a day after police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp in a western province. No group immediately claimed responsibility for any of Tuesday's attacks but al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate, which was forced underground in 2006-07, has reemerged this year, invigorated by civil war in Syria and Sunni resentment at home. In the deadliest attack in Baghdad, seven people were killed when two car bombs hit the Shi'ite neighbourhood of Zafaraniya. In southeastern Baghdad, three mortar rounds landed near a housing complex, killing four people, medics and police sources said. A bomb attached to a truck killed the driver and one passenger in the mainly Shi'ite district of Basateen in northern Baghdad and gunmen shot dead one policeman and wounded another in southern part of the capital, police said. Police and local officials in western Ramadi in Anbar said clashes between gunmen and security forces are still continuing inside the city on Tuesday. Sunni outrage and the violence across Iraq is likely to deepen already severe sectarian rifts. More than 8,000 people have been killed in such violence this year. After years of reduced bloodshed, the intensity of attacks has dramatically risen since the start of 2013. Bombings have often targeted cafes and other places where families gather, as well as the usual military facilities and checkpoints. (Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Kamal Namaa; Editing by Angus MacSwan) ========= قوات امنية تداهم منزل واثق البطاط 30-12-2013 - 19:17 Alsumaria Mobile Version أمن السومرية نيوز/ بغداد أفاد مصدر امني، الاثنين، بأن قوات امنية داهمت منزل أمين عام حزب الله النهضة الإسلامية وزعيم جيش المختار في العراق واثق البطاط. وقال المصدر في حديث لـ"السومرية نيوز"، إن "قوات أمنية خاصة داهمت، مساء اليوم، منزل أمين عام حزب الله النهضة الإسلامية وزعيم جيش المختار واثق البطاط، لاعتقاله وفق مذكرة القاء قبض". ولم يذكر المصدر الذي طلب عدم الكشف عن اسمه، المزيد من التفاصيل. وكان ائتلاف دولة القانون أكد، اليوم الاثنين، أن البطاط عليه أوامر قبض على الرغم من عدم ثبوت تورطه بجرائم قتل او وجود دعوى قضائية ضده، مؤكداً أن القوات الأمنية داهمت منزل البطاط بين الحين والآخر في محافظة ميسان واعتقلت إخوته وعائلته قبل فترة، وتم إطلاق سراحهم فيما بعد". يذكر أن البطاط يمثل الامين العام لحزب الله ـ النهضة الإسلامية في العراق والذي أعلن، في شباط الماضي، عن تشكيل "جيش شعبي مناطقي يدعم توجهات الحكومة في محاربة الفساد وتنظيم القاعدة"، حيث أكد أن هذا الجيش الذي أطلق عليه اسم "جيش المختار" والذي سيكون على أهبة الاستعداد "إذا ما حاول الجيش العراقي الحرّ أو تنظيم القاعدة استغلال التظاهرات التي تجري في بعض محافظات العراق".

Monday, December 30, 2013

Analysis: After Web stocks boom, investors wary but rout unlikely

Analysis: After Web stocks boom, investors wary but rout unlikely Sun, Dec 29 09:03 AM EST image By Alexei Oreskovic and Rodrigo Campos SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - For investors in internet stocks, it was a banner year: shares of many companies doubled as revenue climbed and on forecasts for rip-roaring growth in earnings. But the gains haven't been anxiety-free, thanks to uncomfortable memories of the 1999 Internet bubble and subsequent bust. Market strategists and tech experts say the comparison is overblown. While there is the potential for a decline in some Web company stock prices that are out of line with their earnings outlook, they say there is little chance of a bloody retreat. Most importantly, this year's stars, such as Facebook and Netflix, actually make money. Many of the web companies that were emblems of the previous era had little prospect of ever being profitable and some hardly had any revenue - basing their boasting on non-financial metrics such as numbers of eyeballs, or page clicks. The Internet and the ways people use and access it have been transformed in the past 14 years. In 1999, it was mainly through slow dial-up services using a desktop computer, now there is faster broadband and mobile access from phones and tablets. Web-based advertising has grown into a mature, viable business, and computing speeds support video and sophisticated gaming. The market is much more rational than it was in 1999, argues Jeff Dachis, who co-founded and was chief executive of Razorfish, an online ad firm that went public in 1999, and is now part of France's Publicis Groupe. "What you had then was 100 times the volume of stock with little to none of the credibility or weight in the marketplace that a Facebook or a Twitter has today," said Dachis. "Nobody denies now the growth of online advertising or digital marketing." WARNING SIGNS Facebook, Google and Netflix are among the internet companies set to finish 2013 at or near record highs. Less-weighty Web companies such as Yelp and Pandora saw their shares triple. That is not to say there aren't warning signs. The 160-percent gain in shares of Twitter since its November initial public offering raises awkward questions about the levels of speculative froth given the company has not yet earned a cent. Also, consumer names like Snapchat and Pinterest are raising eyebrows by garnering millions of dollars in financing at multi-billion dollar valuations - despite being decidedly in the red. According to CB Insights, there are 26 U.S. tech companies that have raised financing at valuations of $1 billion or more and that could go public in 2014, including Uber and Square. Hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who has often taken short positions on richly valued stocks, in October asked in a letter to investors whether history was being repeated. "When ... conventional valuation methods no longer apply for many stocks, we can't help but feel a sense of déjà vu," he said. Still, internet companies are trading at much cheaper valuations than their counterparts in the late 1990s. The stratospheric multiples that defined companies such as Webvan (388 times revenue in 1999) and VerticalNet (268 times sales) are unheard of today. Twitter, which trades at 73 times its past year's revenue, is among the most richly valued Web stocks by that measure. Google, Netflix and Salesforce.com all trade at below 10 times their trailing twelve-months' revenue. "The end markets - internet advertising, online retail, online travel - those markets are just dramatically more developed today than they were in ‘99, 2000," said Mark Mahaney, who began his career covering internet stocks in the 1990s at Morgan Stanley, working with star internet analyst Mary Meeker. TOIL AND TROUBLE The bursting of the dotcom bubble ranks among investment history's greatest debacles. From its peak of 5123.52 on March 10, 2000, the Nasdaq Composite Index lost 78 percent of its value in just over two-and-a-half years. Nearly 14 years later, the Nasdaq has still not regained those lofty levels even as most other major U.S. averages have surpassed previous highs, another indication that the market is far from where it was back then. The turn of the decade came replete with stories about extravagant parties, unabashed flogging of dubious names by investment professionals and startup CEOs, and tales of cash outlays that boggle the mind today, including a Super Bowl 2000 that saw nearly 20 dotcom companies spending about $1.1 million apiece on advertising spots - just before many went under. At the end of 1999, 8 out of 10 of the most highly valued stocks were tech companies, led by Yahoo trading at almost 577 times projected 2000 earnings, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Fellow dotcom-era corporations America Online and Cisco Systems Inc - the latter prized because it dominated the market for networking equipment that enabled internet connections - clocked in at 223 times and 102 times, respectively. Fast-forward to 2013, and just four dotcoms rank among the year's 20 biggest gainers on the S&P 500, led by Netflix's quadrupling. Yahoo is at No. 10 after having doubled. Facebook has more than doubled. Other big gainers include Best Buy and Micron Technology. "The consensus view in the market is that things are bubbly but since the valuations are not as expensive as 1999, there is room to run," said Mike O'Rourke, chief market strategist at Jones Trading. But he said such thinking may be flawed and cautioned that using one of the most expensive periods in stock market history as a comparison is extremely risky, with a limited reward. "When bubbles pop a large portion of the gains are erased very quickly," O'Rourke said. IPOS MUCH FEWER The lack of newly listed internet stocks provides some relief for those concerned about a possible bubble. There were only five U.S. internet IPOs in 2013, including Twitter, compared with 86 in 1999, according to Thomson Reuters data. In fact, the number of IPOs in 1999 is greater than the combined number of public offerings every year since then. Many companies may simply be waiting longer to take the plunge, debuting at a far more advanced stage of development than the wave of 1999 dotcoms. Facebook, an extreme example, went public with a valuation of more than $100 billion. "Anything and everything - regardless of how asinine the business model was - was going public and getting ridiculous valuations" back in 1999, said Ryan Jacob, chief executive of the Jacob Funds. Take eToys, the online toy store whose shares quadrupled on their debut in 1999. It spent tens of millions of dollars on pricey TV ads only to file for bankruptcy in early 2001. With low interest rates and signs that the U.S. economy is strengthening, internet valuations could go higher in 2014 - though nowhere close to 1999 levels, Jacob says. He points to LinkedIn's 14 percent decline since more than doubling in the first nine months of the year, as sign that investors aren't losing their heads. "You did have a part of the market that got ahead of themselves, and then took a breather" in 2013, Jacob said. (Editing by Edwin Chan, David Gaffen and Tim Dobbyn)

Sun ‘flips upside down’ while reversing magnetic poles

Published time: December 31, 2013 00:07 Get short URL AFP Photo / Handout / NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory(SDO) AFP Photo / Handout / NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory(SDO) Share on tumblr Tags NASA, Science, Space The sun has undergone a “complete field reversal,” with its north and south poles changing places as it marks the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. “A reversal of the sun's magnetic field is, literally, a big event,” NASA’s Dr. Tony Phillips said in a statement issued on the space agency’s website. “The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero and then emerge again with the opposite polarity. This is a regular part of the solar cycle,” Stanford solar physicist Phil Scherrer explained. While it may seem like the event could have catastrophic repercussions for the galaxy, its effects are actually more subtle, mostly interfering with space exploration. “Cosmic rays are a danger to astronauts and space probes, and some researchers say they might affect the cloudiness and climate of Earth,” said Phillips. Both the aurora borealis and its southern counterpart - the australis - are set to become broader, more frequent, and more visible now that the event has reached its final stage. The process has been slow and steady, with solar physicist Todd Hoeksama telling Metro: “It’s kind of like a tide coming in or going out. Each little wave brings a little more water in, and eventually you get to the full reversal.” Scherrer explained earlier in December that “the sun's north pole has already changed sign, while the South Pole is racing to catch up.” The impact of the process has been extremely far-reaching. “The domain of the sun's magnetic influence (also known as the 'heliosphere') extends billions of kilometers beyond Pluto. Changes to the field's polarity ripple all the way out to the Voyager probes, on the doorstep of interstellar space,” Phillips explained. NASA has released a visualization of how the switch occurs. Beginning in 1997 and ending in 2013, it shows the green (positive) polarity switching with the purple (negative) polarity. Solar Cycle 24 has been viewed as quite unpredictable. First, it came late by about a year, with extremely low activity recorded throughout 2009. This prompted astronomers to shift a predicted 2012 peak to 2013. Scientists say the cycle is already among the weakest reported and if the trend continues, the Earth might see another Little Ice Age.

Train collision in North Dakota sets oil rail cars ablaze

Mon, Dec 30 19:44 PM EST image 1 of 2 By Alicia Underlee Nelson FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - A BNSF train carrying crude oil in North Dakota collided with another train on Monday, setting off a series of explosions that left at least 10 cars ablaze, the latest in a string of incidents that have raised alarms over growing oil-by-rail traffic. Local residents heard five powerful explosions just a mile outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed, and an eastbound 104-car train hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 p.m. CST (2000 GMT), local officials said. There were no reports of any injuries. City officials said they heard a series of blasts following the collision, including one at 3:40 p.m. Windows shook at the city auditor's office. "Approximately 10 cars are fully engulfed resulting in heavy smoke in the area," the Cass County sheriff said in a statement at 4:36 p.m., adding that local fire and hazardous material teams were battling the blaze. The sheriff said it was not yet clear how the collision had occurred. Residents within 10 miles were asked to remain indoors to avoid contact with the smoke. Casselton City Auditor Sheila Klevgard said crews are pushing snow to contain the oil before it reaches a nearby creek. Half of the oil cars have been separated from the train, but another 56 cars remain in danger, said Cecily Fong, the public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The incident will likely stoke concerns about the safety of shipping increasing volumes of crude oil by rail, a trend that emerged from the unexpected burst of shale oil production out of North Dakota's Bakken fields. Over two-thirds of the state's oil production is currently shipped by rail. Initial reports from the scene of the accident did not point to a malfunction on the oil-carrying train. Still, videos of the exploding railcars are likely to add to the ongoing debate on what fixes are needed as older train cars carry flammable fuels like oil. The derailment occurred about a mile west of Casselton, a small town just west of Fargo, between an ethanol plant and the Casselton Reservoir, Fong said. Casselton is state Governor Jack Dalrymple's hometown. RAIL CROSSROADS North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October. It is also a major grain producer and long accustomed to a high volume of rail traffic. But shipments of oil have surged lately, most of it the light, sweet Bakken variety that experts say is particularly flammable. Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels a day of North Dakota oil to market in October, a 67 percent jump from a year earlier, according to the state Pipeline Authority. This summer, a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. The incident fueled a drive for tougher standards for such shipments, including potentially costly retrofits to improve the safety of tank cars that regulators have cited as prone to puncture. In early November, two dozen cars on another 90-car oil train derailed in rural Alabama, erupting into flames that took several days to fully extinguish. The Association of American Railroads recently proposed costly fixes to older tank cars that do not meet its latest standards but continue to carry hazardous fuels such as oil. The fixes include protective steel jackets, thermal protection and pressure relief valves, which could cost billions of dollars. Oil shippers, likely to be saddled with the costs of retrofits, oppose some of the changes proposed by the association. Following the Canadian rail disaster, the U.S. Department of Transportation began an operation it dubbed "Bakken Blitz," which includes spot inspection of oil shipments aboard trains in North Dakota. (Additional reporting by Jeanine Prezioso and Selam Gebrekidan in New York; Editing by Gary Hill, Jonathan Leff, Bob Burgdorfer, Lisa Shumaker and Phil Berlowitz) ======== Fiery oil train collision forces evacuation of North Dakota town Tue, Dec 31 04:02 AM EST image 1 of 5 By Alicia Underlee Nelson FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - Residents of a small town in North Dakota were urged to evacuate after a BNSF train carrying crude oil collided with another train on Monday, setting off a series of explosions and fires, the latest in a string of incidents that have raised alarms over growing oil-by-rail traffic. Local residents heard five powerful explosions just a mile outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound 112-car train carrying soybeans derailed. An eastbound 106-car train hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 p.m. CST, local officials said. There were no injuries in the collision that left 21 rail cars on fire, according to BNSF. Residents within 5 miles of Casselton were urged to evacuate to avoid contact with the smoke. Residents within 10 miles were asked to remain indoors. Casselton resident Jolie Fiedler and her husband gathered their two dogs and left their home. "It's better safe than sorry - just get out of town and dodge the smoke, I guess," she said. "I'm hoping that I can go home tomorrow, but who knows." Casselton City Auditor Sheila Klevgard said crews are pushing snow to contain the oil before it reaches a nearby creek. Half of the oil cars have been separated from the train, but another 56 cars remain in danger, said Cecily Fong, the public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The incident will likely stoke concerns about the safety of shipping increasing volumes of crude oil by rail, a trend that emerged from the unexpected burst of shale oil production out of North Dakota's Bakken fields. Over two-thirds of the state's oil production is currently shipped by rail. Initial reports from the scene of the accident did not point to a malfunction on the oil-carrying train. Still, videos of the exploding rail cars are likely to add to the ongoing debate on what fixes are needed as older train cars carry flammable fuels such as oil. The derailment occurred about a mile west of Casselton, a town of about 2,300 just west of Fargo, between an ethanol plant and the Casselton Reservoir, Fong said. Casselton is state Governor Jack Dalrymple's hometown. RAIL CROSSROADS North Dakota is home to a raging shale oil boom that produced nearly 950,000 barrels of oil a day in October. It is also a major grain producer and long accustomed to a high volume of rail traffic. But shipments of oil have surged lately, most of it the light, sweet Bakken variety that experts say is particularly flammable. Trains carried nearly 700,000 barrels a day of North Dakota oil to market in October, a 67 percent jump from a year earlier, according to the state Pipeline Authority. This summer, a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. The incident fueled a drive for tougher standards for such shipments, including potentially costly retrofits to improve the safety of tank cars that regulators have cited as prone to puncture. In early November, two dozen cars on another 90-car oil train derailed in rural Alabama, erupting into flames that took several days to fully extinguish. The Association of American Railroads recently proposed costly fixes to older tank cars that do not meet its latest standards but continue to carry hazardous fuels such as oil. The fixes include protective steel jackets, thermal protection and pressure relief valves, which could cost billions of dollars. Oil shippers, likely to be saddled with the costs of retrofits, oppose some of the changes proposed by the association. Following the Canadian rail disaster, the U.S. Department of Transportation began an operation it dubbed "Bakken Blitz," which includes spot inspection of oil shipments aboard trains in North Dakota. (Additional reporting by Jeanine Prezioso and Selam Gebrekidan in New York; Editing by Gary Hill, Jonathan Leff, Bob Burgdorfer, Lisa Shumaker and Phil Berlowitz) train explosion  Reply · knoose42 minutes ago Minnesotans and North Dakota's are some of the best educated and toughest people in the entire country. I wouldn't worry. Reply · Light_Rider54 minutes ago Poor people. Reply · 1 YokubouTenshi 52 minutes ago Read description, no reports of injuries. Reply · GamePart.ru 26 minutes ago +YokubouTenshi they might appear later. But not insures but deaths Reply · TheStuffz13 minutes ago A train of grain cars ran into a train of crude oil tankers. BNSF said they have to let it burn itself out. Reply · VancouverViewTV25 minutes ago Stay indoors? Why? What was it's cargo? Reply · helmsplitter0233 21 minutes ago looked like a nuke XD(epic conspiracy face)  Reply · Hans Bayer1 minute ago Marsh mallows anyone ? Reply · TrickShot11001 hour ago More than likely a oil shipment train from the Williston area, near Montana. Yes, Cassleton is close to Fargo. (near Minnesota)

Situationer: Why Musharraf’s ‘collective sin’ argument is weak

< > Situationer: Why Musharraf’s ‘collective sin’ argument is weak By Gibran Peshimam Published: December 31, 2013 Share this article Print this page Email . The former PM Shaukat Azizletter is addressed to “Mr. President” and not the Chief of Army Staff – the office that ultimately imposed the emergency on November 3, 2007. PHOTO: FILE KARACHI: There has been plenty of speculation about how former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf will approach the historic treason trial he is faced with on the first day of the new year for subverting the Constitution. One view, possibly the most has it that the former military dictator can take the line that he imposed emergency on November 3, 2007, acting on the advice of the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz and other senior civilian and military leaders of the country. However, there seems to be no official documentation of this advice. The only document available is the oft-referred-to letter by Shaukat Aziz to Musharraf in the lead-up to the imposition of emergency. However, that letter is now on public record following a famous ruling pertaining to the emergency and the actions taken as a result. In 2009’s famous “July 31” judgment, the letter in question has been reproduced – and, though it is suggestive, nowhere does it suggest that Gen (retd) Musharraf impose emergency or take any action, which would have been the legal requirement (the chief executive asking the military to come in aid to the civilian government). In fact, the letter is addressed to “Mr. President” and not the Chief of Army Staff – the office that ultimately imposed the emergency on November 3, 2007. The detailed judgment comments on Aziz’s letter in detail, but most important is the passage where it states: “From the contents of the letter of the Prime Minister, it cannot be said that he issued any direction to the Armed Forces in terms of Article 245 of the Constitution to act in aid of the civil power, nor the actions of General Pervez Musharraf of 3rd November, 2007 could be said to have been taken or done while acting in aid of the civil power. Even otherwise, the letter was addressed to the President of Pakistan and not to the Chief of Army Staff. But for the sake of argument, it may be stated that even if the letter was addressed to the COAS, it could not be construed to give to the latter any power to take the kind of steps that he took in pursuance of the aforesaid letter.” The rationale behind the review being filed after over 4 years is two-fold: firstly, that Musharraf wanted to wait for Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to retire because he ostensibly had an ‘enmity’ with the former president. Secondly, the legal team points to the hijacking case against Mian Nawaz Sharif that was allowed a review, and subsequently overturned, some ten years later. Of the July 31 verdict, the paragraphs that are being challenged in particular are 56 and 76. That is because Para 56 will be the smoking gun for the prosecution in the treason trial. It concludes ominously for Musharraf: “It is hereby firmly laid down that the holding in abeyance of the Constitution or any other act having the effect of discontinuing the operation and the enforceability of the Constitution for a single moment in a manner not authorised under the Constitution is nothing but an overthrowing of the Constitution, so to say, the subversion of the Constitution and thus constitutes the offence of high treason.” Shaukat Aziz’s ltter: ‘Subject: national security situation’ Dear Mr. President, I am writing to you to share my thoughts on the current national security situation and the risks that it represents for the future of Pakistan. 2. The Government has made serious and sincere efforts to revive the economy, maintain law and order and to curb extremism and terrorism in the country. In the last few months, however, militancy, extremism and terrorist activities have been in ascendance, particularly in some districts of NWFP where the writ of the government is being eroded and non-State militants are apparently gaining control. There have been a number of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in other parts of the country including the recent suicide attack on a political rally in Karachi on 18th October, 2007. During the last ten months, 1322 precious lives have been lost and 3183 persons have been injured. Details of such incidents between April – October, 2007 are enclosed. The executive measures taken against extremist elements to contain militancy and terrorist activities have, on a number of occasions, been called into question by some members of the judiciary making effective action impossible. 3. There has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular. The cornerstone of the economic policies of the government is privatization, liberalization and deregulation which create economic growth and investment. Both local and foreign investment has been negatively affected. 4. It cannot be disputed that the legality of executive measures is open to judicial scrutiny. The wisdom or necessity of a policy or a measure is an executive function and not open to judicial review, however, in the recent past, some members of the judiciary have, nevertheless, departed from these norms. While we all are committed to the independency of the judiciary and the rule of law and hold the superior judiciary in high esteem, it is nonetheless of paramount importance that the Honourable Judges confine the scope of their activity to the judicial function. While judges must adjudicate they must neither legislate nor assume the charge of administration. 5. Most importantly, constant interference in executive functions, including but not limited to the control of terrorist activity, economic policy, price controls, downsizing of corporations and urban planning, has weakened the writ of the government. This has increased the incidents of terrorist attacks thereby posing grave threat to the life and property of the citizens of Pakistan and negatively impacting the economy. Wide-ranging suo motu actions of the courts negate the fundamentals of an adversarial system of justice. The police force has been completely demoralized and is fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism. Intelligence Agencies have been thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists. 6. A large number of hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated have been released. The persons so released are reported to be involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies subdued. 7. There is a widespread perception of overstepping the limits of judicial authority and taking over of executive functions. Privatization is at a standstill while domestic and foreign investors are being compelled to reconsider investment plans thus adversely affecting the economy. 8. On the other hand, an important constitutional institution, the Supreme Judicial Council, has been made entirely irrelevant by a recent order. Detailed reasons for this order are still awaited despite a lapse of three months. Judges have, thus, made themselves immune from inquiry into their conduct and are now beyond accountability. 9. The law and order condition in the country as well as the economy have been adversely affected and trichotomy of powers eroded. A situation has thus arisen where the routine and smooth functioning of government machinery is becoming increasingly difficult and causing grave concern among ordinary citizens about their security. As evident from the attached list, there has been an unusual increase in security related incidents highlighting the gravity of the situation. 10. Mr. President, the contents of this letter reflect my views and public opinion about the current scenario. For any State to function, all the three pillars of State must act in harmony in the best national interest. Pakistan is a country that achieved independence after immense sacrifices and has tremendous potential to develop. Prosper and be recognized among the comity of nations as a country with an exciting future. Yours sincerely, Sd/- (Shaukat Aziz) Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2013.

Is Iran surrendering to the United States?

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a sociologist, award-winning author and geopolitical analyst. Published time: December 30, 2013 08:46 Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl Is the interim nuclear deal signed at the end of 2013 a signal of Tehran’s surrender, or is it the opening of a new chapter in American-Iranian relations that could see the normalization of ties? If history is to be learned from, normalization with Washington will also come with risks for Iran. Rouhani won the 2013 Iranian presidential elections by gaining the support of the overwhelming majority of Iranians with approximately 51 percent of the popular vote. His main opponent and the candidate with the second highest number of votes was the mayor of Tehran. Mayor Qalibaf only received about 16.5 percent of the popular vote. The other four candidates (Jalili, Rezai, Velayati, and Gharazi) respectively earned 11.31 percent, 10.55 percent, 6.16 percent, and 1.22 percent of the vote. Many Iranian voters saw these candidates as virtual clones of one another and distinguished Rouhani as the one that offered an alternative program. The consensus president In Washington there has been a tug-o’-war between the neo-con and realist camps about how to deal with Iran. The realists have now come out on top. In Tehran there has also been a parallel tug-o’-war over Iranian foreign policy. The political tug-o’-war in Tehran has seen the reformists and pragmatists contesting the principalist and conservative camp about how to deal with the United States. With the election of Hassan Rouhani the balance in Tehran has changed and loosened the dominant hold of the principalists and conservatives in the Iranian political arena. Despite the fact that he received the endorsement of the reformist camp and all its supporters, Hassan Rouhani is not the Iranian reformist that some have portrayed him as being. His supporters said that Rouhani would undo the damage that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government had caused. Skeptics, however, phrase it like this: “Rouhani was the least bad candidate.” The fact that he was the only presidential candidate that had ties to all the different political groupings in Iran was what set Rouhani apart from the other candidates. His career as a security guru in Tehran, with deep connections to the national security and military structures of Iran, and his history of working with pragmatists and reformers made him acceptable or, at a very minimum, bearable for all the different political cliques in Tehran. In the sense that he has not excessively embraced reformist or conservative tendencies, he has been a genuine moderate so far. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (Reuters/Adrees Latif) Iran's President Hassan Rouhani (Reuters/Adrees Latif) Rouhani made it clear that his administration would work for consensus among all of Iran’s political factions through a centrist political program. Since the 2009 protests over the re-election of Ahmadinejad the political divisions and polarization in Iran were sharpened. This is why Rouhani’s messages to the Iranian political establishment, as well as all of Iranian society, were ones calling for political unity and consensus politics. In his first speech as the president of Iran, Rouhani would highlight his platform of reconciliation and diplomatic recalibration: “Let our hearts be cleansed of resentment. Let conciliation replace estrangement and let friendship take the place of animosity. Let this take place. Let Islam’s compassionate face, Iran with its reasonable face, the Revolution with its human face, and the political system with its kind face continue to create epics.” Making sure not to aggravate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters, he would also thank them during his speech: “At this point I must thank and express my appreciation to the previous administrations, especially the Tenth Administration and its honorable former president, and for all of them I have the desire of success day by day.” Iran’s “Yes, We Can” man and grand negotiator President Rouhani presented himself as a negotiator par excellence during the election campaign in 2013. His promise to negotiate with the US and to lift the economic sanctions by changing the dynamics of Iranian diplomacy proved to be very popular with the business class and most of the middle class. “Moderation in foreign policy is neither surrender nor conflict, neither passivity nor confrontation. Moderation is effective and constructive interaction with the world,” he announced as president-elect. Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony on August 3, 2013 even marked the first time that foreign dignatories were formally invited to an Iranian presidential inauguration ceremony, which signaled Rouhani’s intentions to launch his diplomatic charm offensive. Using a spiritual tone, Rouhani let it be known during his first speech as president that he intended to get results, would not let partisan politics get the better of him, and would not silence his political critics: “I feel the heavy weight of these votes and this endorsement. And I seek refuge in God and God alone. I sincerely and humbly ask the compassionate Lord: O Lord, save Thy weak servant from the ills of arrogance and conceit, greed, avarice and envy. O Lord I take refuge in Thee from autocracy in opinion, haste in decision making, putting personal or group interests ahead of those of the public, and from the silencing of the mouths of rivals and critics. O Lord, help me so that I can be Your sincere server and a competent servant of the people and not to forget what happened to those who came before me. There is much to say, but time is short. It is best to cut the talk short and to walk the path. For the path to our goal is long and I am a new traveler.” In many ways, the fanfare and popularity that Rouhani has received and enjoyed in Iran can be compared to that which Barak Obama received in the US when he was elected. Rouhani carried a message of hope for many Iranians. The closing words in his inauguration speech were even turned into a song with a black and white video by Iranian artists just as how Obama’s speech at the 2008 New Hampshire primary was turned into a hit song by artists in the US. The video dedicated to President Rouhani was a copycat version of the Obama video that was produced by Hussein Dehbashi, who produced Rouhani’s election video ads. The Office of the Iranian President would later post the Iranian “Yes, We Can” video on Rouhani’s YouTube page. Tehran does business with Washington Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd L) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry (AFP Photo) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd L) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry (AFP Photo) As soon as Rouhani became president, he selected Mohammad Javad Zarif to become Iran’s foreign minister. Jalili was replaced as the secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 were taken over from the Supreme National Security Council by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Zarif was selected as foreign minister not only because he was an excellent diplomat; Rouhani shrewdly selected Zarif for his experience as Iran’s interlocutor with the United States. Before his appointment as Tehran’s foreign minister, Zarif had served as the permanent representative of Iran to the UN in New York City, from where he served as Tehran’s contact man with the US government and US officials. Foreign Minister Zarif himself has stated that he and US Vice-President Joe Biden share a friendship. As one of the pillars of the Iranian national security establishment, Rouhani himself also has had a long history of dealing with US officials. In the past it was Rouhani that held secret talks with US President Ronald Reagan’s government on behalf of Iran. In this regard, he was one of the Iranian officials who negotiated the arms transfer agreement with Washington during the Iran-Iraq War that led to the Iran-Contra scandal. More recently, Rouhani dealt with the US as the secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami. It is no coincidence that US backtracking on attacking Syria led to talks with Iran and a warming of relations. In actuality the talks with Iran had started before the US backed down from bombing Syria. Rouhani’s government had begun dialogue with the US from the moment its mandate commenced. There are enough grounds to suspect that the threats to attack Syria also had the aim of working to gain traction in the secret talks that President Obama was having with Iran via the Sultanate of Oman. The political taboo of dealing with the US publicly has been broken by President Rouhani. Since the start of his term, Rouhani authorized Zarif to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Rouhani himself held a brief, but historic, phone conversation with President Obama. Finally, an interim nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1, more specifically the United States. Iranian-American rapprochement In 1993, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the realist par excellence who served as US President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, announced that “Iran is clearly an aspirant to regional hegemony and it is prepared to outwait the United States.” Brzezinski explained that the Iranians had an imperial tradition as a great power and possessed both the religious and nationalist motivation to contest the US and Russia, and that Iran could count on the sympathies of its neighbors in such a rivalry. Because of Iran, in his own words, “the current American supremacy in the Middle East is built, quite literally, on sand.” Yet, that is not all Brzezinski has said about Iran. He stated that “it is not in America’s interest to perpetuate American-Iranian hostility.” He even went out of his way to warn US policy makers that Iran should not be antagonized by the US government to the point where Tehran would ally itself with Russia and China. Instead Brzezinski pushed for reconciliation as an aim of realist-driven US foreign policy. “Any eventual reconciliation [between the US and Iranian governments] should be based on the recognition of a mutual strategic interest in stabilizing what currently is a very volatile regional environment for Iran,” he explained. The “volatile regional environment” that Brzezinski mentions is formed by the three regions that are linked to Iran: the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. What he really meant was that Tehran and Washington should work together to influence these regions. Although it is unstated, what Brzezinski has in mind is a plan to get Iran to realign with the US in these regions against Russia and China. The possible negative ramifications of US-Iran rapprochement Critics of Rouhani see him and Zarif as surrendering to US demands as part of some type of internal regime change in Tehran. Such critics have argued that Iran has surrendered to Washington, whereas others have seen the interim nuclear agreement as a victory for Iran. Since Rouhani started negotiating with the US, Supreme Leader Khamenei has been forced to defend Rouhani and Zarif. Khamenei has warned the principalists and conservatives in Iran not to interfere in Rouhani’s negotiation efforts or to portray Rouhani and Zarif as traitors. “They are our own children and children of the Revolution,” Khamenei publicly declared on November 3, 2011. Among the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the political hardliners in Tehran, there are fears that the interim nuclear deal will lead to an even broader agreement and a normalization of relations with the United States that could potentially open the door for alterations in the political structure of Iran and give the reformists the upper hand. There were reserved statements released in November 2013 by Revolutionary Guard leaders, days before the interim nuclear agreement was reached, which assured the public that Iran’s ideology would not change, and that Iran would not bow down to any foreign powers. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (AFP Photo) Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (AFP Photo) As mentioned earlier, Rouhani’s government has pro-business characteristics. In this regard, there are legitimate concerns that go beyond politics which fear that restored relations with the US could see an opening up of the Iranian economy based on the neoliberal economic policies that many of the reformists—and pro-business conservatives—had embraced and favor that will see the state infrastructure and the public sector in Iran privatized further. If business ties are restored between the US and Iran, and there is a lot of talk about it, the Iranian government could entrench the Iranian economy on a path of neoliberal reforms and privatization. These would be similar to those that marked the Yeltsin years in Russia, which made an elite few rich and let foreign corporations plunder the Russian economy. Then there is the worst case scenario of Iran being used against its Eurasian partners. The insulation of Eurasia is incomplete without Iran. The Russian and Chinese need for a strategic Iranian partner is a component of any defensive strategy or viable alternative against US and EU encroachment into their geopolitical spheres of interest. The US may attempt to use its rapprochement with Iran to manipulate Tehran into hurting Russia and China. Iran’s ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and historic links with the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia could be used to launch an offensive against Moscow in the post-Soviet space, whereas Chinese energy security would be jeopardized if Iran agreed to collaborate with the US in any strategy against the Chinese. Eurasia or nothing! Although the Iranian political establishment is immensely more sophisticated than Libya, Tehran should not ignore how American-Libyan rapprochement ended and at what expense. Colonel Qaddafi even predicted it when he told the Arab League many years ago that the US had no loyalty to any of its Arab clients or friends, and that one day it could execute him. The mere fact that the US government and its allies have a different interpretation of the interim nuclear deal from Iran, China, and Russia is reason to pause with caution too. Of course this could be posturing to appease certain segments of public opinion, lobby groups, and US allies (e.g., Israel and Saudi Arabia) that are threatened by any rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. Yet, the fact that the EU has also refused to lift certain unilateral sanctions is reason enough for Tehran to be cynical. Iran’s place is in Eurasia. It would be a disaster if any rapprochement between the US and Iran came at the expense of Iranian-Russian ties or Chinese-Iranian ties. To his credit, Rouhani’s first foreign trip as president of Iran was to Kyrgyzstan in September 2013 for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is spearheaded by Russia and China. While being realistic, one should always hold onto hope. Iran’s “Yes, We Can” Man and his endeavors will hopefully not end up being the epic disappointment that his American counterpart, President Obama, has been for the people of the United States. The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Consecutive Volgograd suicide bombing kills at least 30

Top News Woman suicide bomber kills at least 13 at Russian station Sun, Dec 29 06:27 AM EST image By Alissa de Carbonnel MOSCOW (Reuters) - A female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a Russian train station on Sunday, killing at least 13 people in the second deadly attack in the space of three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics. The state Investigative Committee said the bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just inside the main entrance of Volgograd station. Footage shown on TV showed a massive orange fireball filling the hall and smoke billowing out through shattered windows. "People were lying on the ground, screaming and asking for help," a witness, Alexander Koblyakov, told Rossiya-24 TV. A spokesman for Russian investigators said at least 13 people died, although the regional governor put the toll at 15. President Vladimir Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures to ensure security, RIA news agency quoted his spokesman as saying. A federal police spokesman, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said security would be stepped up at train stations and airports. Russian Heath Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai said 42 people were wounded and that some would be flown to Moscow for treatment. Volgograd is a city of around 1 million people, about 430 miles northeast of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics - a major prestige project for Putin - will open on February 7. Formerly known as Stalingrad, it lies close to Russia's North Caucasus, a strip of mostly Muslim provinces plagued by near-daily violence in a long-running Islamist insurgency. Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen warlord, urged militants in a video posted online in July to use "maximum force" to prevent Putin staging the Olympics. An attack by a female suicide bomber killed seven people in Volgograd on October 21. On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 270 km (170 miles) east of Sochi. The station was busier than usual, with people travelling home for the New Year holidays. TV footage showed emergency services carrying out victims, with at least one body lying motionless on the ground. Another witness, Vladimir, said: "I saw melted, twisted bits of metal, broken glass and bodies lying on the street." Sunday's attack was the deadliest to strike Russia's heartland since January 2011, when Islamist insurgents killed 37 people at a Moscow airport. (Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Steve Gutterman,; Editing by Mark Trevelyan) ============ Consecutive Volgograd suicide bombing kills at least 14 Published time: December 30, 2013 04:51 Edited time: December 30, 2013 14:52 Get short URL Crime, Russia, Terrorism, Transport A terrorist attack in the Russian city of Volgograd has killed at least 14 passengers on a trolley bus. The explosion comes a day after a suicide bombing in the city which killed 17 people and injured scores of others. Read RT's live updates on the terrorist attacks in Volgograd. Health officials reported 14 fatalities in Monday morning’s blast, two of whom died in hospital from the wounds they sustained. 41 survived the blast, with 27 being treated in hospital, according to the latest update. It is feared that the death toll will rise. An infant aged around five to seven months is among the survivors. Doctors are fighting to save the baby’s life, who is in a coma. The identity of the baby has not been established yet. It is feared that its parents were killed in the explosion. There is also a pregnant woman and two 16-year-olds among the survivors. The woman’s life is not in danger. She has been transferred to a prenatal center in Volgograd. Agents of law enforcement and operative services work at the site of an explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Kirill Braga) Agents of law enforcement and operative services work at the site of an explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Kirill Braga) The Russia's Foreign Ministry likened the Volgograd bombing to “terrorist attacks” in the US, Syria or elsewhere, organized by groups with the “same motivator”, and vowed not to retreat.
“Cynically planned on the eve of New Year celebrations, this strike is another attempt by terrorists to open an internal front, spread panic and chaos, cause inter-religious hatred and conflict in Russian society,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its website.
The explosion was set off by a suicide bomber and not triggered remotely, spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, confirmed. “The investigation believes that the timing and place of the terrorist attack was selected because the trolley bus line is used by many people, including students from nearby colleges,” Markin said. Investigators believe that Monday’s blast and the previous day’s terrorist attack are connected. Both bombs were coated with identical metal fragments, which made the devices more deadly. Investigators said they are questioning blast witnesses and collecting footage from CCTV cameras around the scene. The trolley bus itself was not equipped with a camera, they said. Police are offering witness protection to anyone if needed when offering information on the perpetrators of the terrorist attack. Members of the emergency services work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolleybus in Volgograd December 30, 2013. (Reuters / Sergei Karpov) Members of the emergency services work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolleybus in Volgograd December 30, 2013. (Reuters / Sergei Karpov) The blast wave was powerful enough to shatter some windows in nearby buildings. The Investigative Committee estimated that the power of the blast was equal to ate least 4 kg of TNT. “I woke up because of an enormous blast I heard. I heard the glass shattering in the first two stories of the building. I looked out of the window, it was still dark, and I saw a bus that was ripped by a blast and people were running away from it screaming,” Alina Averyasova, an eyewitness, told RT. The bus was near one of the city markets when the explosion happened. The site has been cordoned off, with traffic diverted to other streets. Soldiers from a nearby military base and local residents were among the first responders to the disaster, a Volgograd resident told RT. “Young men from our entrance who were at home rushed out. There was much shouting as they and the soldiers were helping,” she said. In a sign of grim irony, the location of the bombing is not far from a hospital, where the victims of Sunday’s attack had been taken. This was fortunate for the survivors of the latest attack, who were able to receive medical attention very quickly. First images from the scene showed a damaged vehicle partially reduced to its metal carcass and dead bodies scattered around. All the people injured by the blast are in serious condition, Health Minister, Veronika Skvortsova, said. “They have burns, multiple traumas, blast-injuries. If needed, they will be airlifted to Moscow,” she told Rossiya24 TV. Overall the survivors of Monday’s blast are in worse condition that those, who survived Sunday’s bombing. The Emergencies Ministry has sent a plane equipped with five medical transportation units. Each of them has four beds and relevant medical equipment needed to fly a patient. The aircraft is also carrying two special ambulances and medical personnel, which will assist with the relief effort in Volgograd. Earlier on Sunday, a similar plane flew seven survivors of the railway station bombing to Moscow. An explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Alexey Ulianov) An explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Alexey Ulianov) Morale in Volgograd appears to be badly damaged by the terrorism spree the city has experienced. “It’s scary. Everybody left buses and trams and are walking. People won’t use public transport,” a resident told Ria Novosti. Less than an hour after the news of the blast broke, Russian twitter post started spreading reports of a new explosion at a tram station. The rumor was not confirmed. Journalists called on social media to stop spreading panic. The tension is affecting not only common people by also professionals, whose duty is to respond to emergencies. “It’s difficult psychologically. People have been on overdrive since yesterday. There is much grief among the people, among the victims, their families. This takes its toll,” Andrey Akramovsky, chief of an emergency crew involved in the rescue operations told RT. The government of the Volgograd region canceled an all-state-sponsored New Year mass celebration for children on Tuesday, citing security concerns and the lack of appropriateness such rejoicing may have. Many private companies organizing similar events followed the lead. The Volgograd region has declared a period of mourning, starting on Monday for the victims of the two latest bombings. This is a 48 hour extension of the commemoration, which was originally intended to run from Wednesday to Friday. Moscow is beefing up security in the wake of the Volgograd bombings, head of the regional security department of the mayor’s office, Aleksey Mayorov, reported. This comes in addition to increased police presence ahead of the planned New Year celebrations in the city. “We will recheck our focus on the approaches to the sites of mass gatherings, both for pedestrians and for surface and underground transport,” he said. A similar security ramp-up was ordered by the Antiterrorist Committee all across Russia. The new deaths in Volgograd come just a day after a suicide bomber targeted the city’s railway station, killing 14 people on the spot and injuring more than 30 others. Three of those injured succumbed to their wounds in hospital. And in October the city witnessed yet another terrorist attack, when a suicide bomber set off an explosion in a bus heading to Moscow, killing 6 people and injuring almost 40. Despite the terrorist attacks, the Sochi Olympic Games will not require any extra security measures to be taken, the president of Russia’s National Olympic Committee stated. “Everything needed has already been done,” he said. Volgograd was chosen as the target for the series of bombings due to its proximity to the troubled region of North Caucasus, believes Gordon Hahn from the Center of International Strategy. “Suicide bomb attacks are carried out in Russia by mujahidin. It’s very likely that a group affiliated with the ‘Caucasus Emirate’ could be involved and we talked about ethnic Russian suicide bombers, which these organizations try to recruit,” he told RT. The attacks in Volgograd are part of a terrorist campaign to derail the Olympic Games in Sochi, believes Aleksey Popov, former member of the Alpha special forces unit. “Terrorists are trying to spread fear ahead of the Winter Olympics so that people become scared to go to Sochi. No wonder they have chosen the holiday season to make it even more painful for the people and to draw plenty of world attention,” he told RT. He added: “I believe it won’t have any effect on the Olympics and the people who were planning to come will still do it. They are safe because almost $2 billion was allocated to security measures; that’s even more than the sum for the London Olympics.” Law enforcement agents at the site of an explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Kirill Braga) Law enforcement agents at the site of an explosion on a trolleybus near Kachinsky Market in Volgograd. (RIA Novosti / Kirill Braga) =================

Sunday, December 29, 2013

4 MWM Contestant of Local Bodies Election Martyred by the Target Killing of Takfiri Terrorist

S K [Official] کراچی اپڈیٹ : ڈالمیا میں ٹیکسی پر سپاہ صحابہ طالبان کی فائرنگ سے شہید ہونے والے مومنین کی تعداد تین ہوگئی ، اب کچھ دیر پہلے زخمی ہونے والے علی شاہ زخموں کی تاب نا لاتے ہوئے شہید ہوگئے ۔ علی شاہ کا جسد خاکی جناح ہسپتال جبکہ شہید عالم اور شہید صفدر کا جسد خاکی آغان میں ہے اور اس فائرنگ میں ایک مومینہ سکینہ بھی زخمی ہوئی ہیں جن کی حالت خطر سے باہر بتائی جاتے ہے۔ خاموشی جرم ہے! 4 MWM Contestant of Local Bodies Election Martyred by the Target Killing of Takfiri Terrorist December 30, 2013 Rate This Quantcast Shuhuda MWM and SACP KHIJNN 30 Dec 2013 KARACHI: In a yet another incident of Target Killing Four Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) Activist were Martyred by the Takfiri Terrorist, while the Fourth one was a woman who also embraced Martyrdom in the same shooting here on Sunday night, Staff reported. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) East, Pir Mohammad Shah confirmed the victims’ association with the Majlis e Wahdat e Muslimeen ( MWM ) . According to Staff Reporter The Takfiri Terrorist Targeted the MWM activists on Dalmia Road while they were on their way back home after submitting nomination papers for local government polls at the office of Election Commission of Pakistan on Civic Center . “The unfortunate targets were traveling in a taxi when they succumbed to this suspected drive-by shooting”, said a police official. Two of the victims were killed on the spot while othter two breathed their last in a private hospital where the casualties were rushed after the shooting. All the Victims of the Target Killing were Shia , and were Residents of Hussain Hazara Goth , and they have filed their Nomination Papers even from the Same area , which is a Shia Majority Area , and the area resident have told that due to the Shia Majority in the said Union Council , the Takfiris and the ethnic Political Parties of Karachi , were even afraid of their assumed victory from the said Union Council . The dead were identified as Safdar Abbas s/o Ghulam Abbas , Mohd Aleem Aka Alam Bhai s/o Ali Panah, Syed Ali Shah , while the Third Victim was a female named Sakina , who is reported to be the Niece of Mohd Aleem . Meanwhile, MWM reacted to this tragedy with a Urgently Called Press Conference demanding the government to bring the killers to the task immediately. Addressing the Press Conference Raja Nasir Abbas , Secretary General of MWM , Nominated Directly and pointed out that the Target Killers of Shia Community are Two Groups , the First is the Takfiri Terrorists , Under the Umbrella of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan , whether they are working as Jundullah , Lashkar e Jhangvi or any other banned Organisation, while the Second are the Takfiris working Under the Ethnic & Lingustic Political Party of Karachi , which are mainly responsible for the Target Killing of the Shia Community Members in Karachi. “The victims were MWM candidates for the local bodies election from Hussain Hazara Goth. Their murder is awfully reprehensible. This sectarian savagery must be stopped before it is too late”, as he further said that , we are not afraid of the Martyrdom , But at the same time we will not let the Yazidi forces carry on their Injustices , as we will raise our voice against this Genocide , Not just on the Local front , but also on the International Level , and are ready to teach them a lesson ” the statement further added. This is the Second attempt on the Residents of the same area , as a day earlier even another attack was carried out on the Escort of Well known Shia Cleric Molana Mirza Yousuf Hussain , Chairman of Shia Action Committee, who was also attacked in the same area , when he was visiting the residence of Molana Qambar Abbas Naqvi , when the terrorist of The same Takfiri Outfit , attacked the Police Escort of Mirza Yousuf Hussain , which resulted in the Martyrdom of one of his close associate Mazhar Ali Rizvi , and the Police Guard Iqbal Hussain. ڈالمیا پر سپاہ صحابہ طالبان کی فائرنگ سے دو شیعہ مومن عالم اور صفدر عباس شہید. زخمی خاتون اور شیعہ مومن کو آغا خان ہسپتال منتقل کیا جارہا ہے. کفر کی حکومت چل سکتی ہے مگر ظلم کی نہیں. (حضرت علی ع)

Woman suicide bomber kills at least 13 at Russian station

Top News Woman suicide bomber kills at least 13 at Russian station Sun, Dec 29 06:27 AM EST image By Alissa de Carbonnel MOSCOW (Reuters) - A female suicide bomber blew herself up in the entrance hall of a Russian train station on Sunday, killing at least 13 people in the second deadly attack in the space of three days as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics. The state Investigative Committee said the bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just inside the main entrance of Volgograd station. Footage shown on TV showed a massive orange fireball filling the hall and smoke billowing out through shattered windows. "People were lying on the ground, screaming and asking for help," a witness, Alexander Koblyakov, told Rossiya-24 TV. A spokesman for Russian investigators said at least 13 people died, although the regional governor put the toll at 15. President Vladimir Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures to ensure security, RIA news agency quoted his spokesman as saying. A federal police spokesman, Vladimir Kolesnikov, said security would be stepped up at train stations and airports. Russian Heath Ministry spokesman Oleg Salagai said 42 people were wounded and that some would be flown to Moscow for treatment. Volgograd is a city of around 1 million people, about 430 miles northeast of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics - a major prestige project for Putin - will open on February 7. Formerly known as Stalingrad, it lies close to Russia's North Caucasus, a strip of mostly Muslim provinces plagued by near-daily violence in a long-running Islamist insurgency. Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen warlord, urged militants in a video posted online in July to use "maximum force" to prevent Putin staging the Olympics. An attack by a female suicide bomber killed seven people in Volgograd on October 21. On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in the southern Russian city of Pyatigorsk, 270 km (170 miles) east of Sochi. The station was busier than usual, with people travelling home for the New Year holidays. TV footage showed emergency services carrying out victims, with at least one body lying motionless on the ground. Another witness, Vladimir, said: "I saw melted, twisted bits of metal, broken glass and bodies lying on the street." Sunday's attack was the deadliest to strike Russia's heartland since January 2011, when Islamist insurgents killed 37 people at a Moscow airport. (Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Steve Gutterman,; Editing by Mark Trevelyan) ======================= Dec. 30, 2013 5:33 AM ET Successive suicide bombings in Russia kill over 30 By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES AIM Share An ambulance leaves the site of a trolleybus explosion in Volgograd, Russia, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. The explosion left 10 people dead Monday, a day after a suicide bombing that killed at least 17 at the city's main railway. The explosions put the city on edge and highlighted the terrorist threat that Russia is facing as it prepares to host the Winter Games in February. Volgograd is about 650 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, where the Olympics are to be held. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin) 1 of 5 More News Video North Sea crossing aborted after suspected arson Dec. 29, 2013 7:08 AM ET Suicide bomber kills 13 in Russia's south Dec. 29, 2013 6:19 AM ET Fire on express train in India kills at least 26 Dec. 28, 2013 10:58 AM ET Fire on express train in India kills at least 23 Dec. 27, 2013 9:45 PM ET Winter storm delays flights, kills 5 in UK, France Dec. 24, 2013 11:57 AM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints MOSCOW (AP) — A blast that tore through an electric bus in the southern Russian city of Volgograd during Monday's morning rush hour, killing 14, was probably carried out by suicide bombers from the same organization behind a railway explosion a day earlier, officials said. Together more than 30 people were killed in the explosions, putting the city of one million on edge and highlighting the terrorist threat Russia is facing as it prepares to host February's Winter Games in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin's pet project. While terrorists may find it hard to get to the tightly guarded Olympic facilities, the bombings have shown they can hit civilian targets elsewhere in Russia with shocking ease. Volgograd, located about 650 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Sochi, serves as a key transport hub for southern Russia, with numerous bus routes linking it to volatile provinces in Russia's North Caucasus, where insurgents have been seeking an Islamic state. Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for Russia's main investigative agency said Monday's explosion involved a bomb similar to the one used in Sunday's bombing at the city's main railway station. "That confirms the investigators' version that the two terror attacks were linked," Markin said in a statement. "They could have been prepared in one place." Markin said that a suicide attacker was responsible for the bus explosion, reversing an earlier official statement saying that the blast was caused by a bomb that had been left in the vehicle's passenger area. At least 14 people were killed and nearly 30 were wounded, according to public health officials. Officials did not name names and no one has claimed responsibility for either bombing, but they came several months after Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov threatened new attacks against civilian targets in Russia, including the Olympics in Sochi. Suicide bombings and other terror attacks have rocked Russia for years, but most recently have been confined to the North Caucasus region. The successive attacks in Volgograd signaled that militants may be using the transportation hub as a renewed way of showing their reach outside their restive region. The city, formerly called Stalingrad, also serves as an important symbol of Russian pride because of a historic World War II battle in which the Soviets turned the tide against the Nazis. "Volgograd, a symbol of Russia's suffering and victory in World War II, has been singled out by the terrorist leaders precisely because of its status in people's minds," Dmitry Trenin, the head of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, said in a commentary. Monday's explosion ripped away much of the bus's exterior and shattered windows in nearby buildings. It virtually paralyzed public transport in the city, forcing many residents to walk long distances to get to work. Russian authorities have been slow to introduce stringent security checks on bus routes, making them the transport of choice for terrorists in the region. A few months ago authorities introduced a requirement for intercity bus passengers to produce ID when buying tickets, like rail or air passengers, but procedures have remained lax and some of the routes aren't controlled. Even tight railway security is sometimes not enough. In Sunday's suicide bombing the attacker detonated in the crowd in front of the station's metal detectors. A suicide bus bombing in Volgograd in October killed six people. On Friday, three people were killed when an explosives-rigged car blew up in the city of Pyatigorsk, the center of a federal administrative district created to oversee Kremlin efforts to stabilize the North Caucasus region. In Sunday's railroad station blast, the bomber detonated explosives just beyond the station's main entrance when a police sergeant became suspicious and rushed forward to check ID, officials said. The officer was killed by the blast, and several other policemen were among some 40 people wounded. The Interior Ministry ordered police to beef up patrols at railway stations and other transport facilities across Russia. Putin on Monday summoned the chief of the main KGB successor agency and the interior minister to discuss the situation, and sent the former to Volgograd to oversee the probe. Russia in past years has seen a series of terror attacks on buses, trains and airplanes, some carried out by suicide bombers. Twin bombings on the Moscow subway in March 2010 by female suicide bombers killed 40 people and wounded more than 120. In January 2011, a male suicide bomber struck Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, killing 37 people and injuring more than 180. Umarov, who had claimed responsibility for the 2010 and 2011 bombings, ordered a halt to attacks on civilian targets during the mass street protests against Putin in the winter of 2011-12. He reversed that order in July, urging his men to "do their utmost to derail" the Sochi Olympics which he described as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors." The International Olympics Committee expressed its condolences over Sunday's bombing in Volgograd, but said it was confident of Russia's ability to protect the Games. Russian Olympic Committee chief Alexander Zhukov said Monday there was no need to take any extra steps to secure Sochi in the wake of the Volgograd bombings, as "everything necessary already has been done." Russian authorities have introduced some of the most extensive identity checks and sweeping security measures ever seen at an international sports event. Anyone wanting to attend the games that open on Feb. 7 will have to buy a ticket online from the organizers and obtain a "spectator pass" for access. Doing so will require providing passport details and contacts that will allow the authorities to screen all visitors and check their identities upon arrival. The security zone created around Sochi stretches approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) along the Black Sea coast and up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland. Russian forces include special troops to patrol the forested mountains flanking the resort, drones to keep constant watch over Olympic facilities and speed boats to patrol the coast. The security plan includes a ban on cars from outside the zone from a month before the games begin until a month after they end. _____ Associated Press writer Jim Heintz contributed to this report.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fire on Indian train kills at least 23 people

Fire on Indian train kills at least 23 people Sat, Dec 28 01:35 AM EST NEW DELHI (Reuters) - At least 23 people were killed on Saturday in a fire on a train in southern India, authorities said. The train was on its way from the city of Bangalore to Nanded in the western state of Maharashtra. The driver stopped the train when he saw flames coming out of an air-conditioned coach, media reports said. "The fire has now been brought under control but there are casualties ... the authorities have gone inside the coach," Arunendra Kumar, the chairman of India's Railway Board, told Reuters Television. He said 23 bodies had been found. The cause was not immediately known. Trains are the main means of travel for most people making long journeys in India and the system carries 18 million people a day. However, the railways have been plagued for decades by low investment, a patchy safety record and frequent delays. Several were injured in the fire, media said. The Hindu newspaper said 40 people managed to escape the coach that caught fire in the early hours. (Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Robert Birsel)

The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies

Two US embassy staff reportedly arrested in Libya near the Tunisian border, Pic of their IDs. pic.twitter.com/pQdnKVWW4B Apparently a car belongs to US embassy been burned while capturing the 2 Americans in #Ajaylaat #Libya pic.twitter.com/DHv59j0OGl The Arab Sunset The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies By Christopher Davidson October 10, 2013 Low level clouds float over Dubai's Marina area as the sun sets on Dubai, December 31, 2008 Low level clouds float over Dubai's Marina area as the sun sets on Dubai, December 31, 2008 (Steve Crisp / Courtesy Reuters) Since their modern formation in the mid-twentieth century, Saudi Arabia and the five smaller Gulf monarchies -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- have been governed by highly autocratic and seemingly anachronistic regimes. Nevertheless, their rulers have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of bloody conflicts on their doorsteps, fast-growing populations at home, and modernizing forces from abroad. One of the monarchies’ most visible survival strategies has been to strengthen security ties with Western powers, in part by allowing the United States, France, and Britain to build massive bases on their soil and by spending lavishly on Western arms. In turn, this expensive militarization has aided a new generation of rulers that appears more prone than ever to antagonizing Iran and even other Gulf states. In some cases, grievances among them have grown strong enough to cause diplomatic crises, incite violence, or prompt one monarchy to interfere in the domestic politics of another. It would thus be a mistake to think that the Gulf monarchies are somehow invincible. Notwithstanding existing internal threats, these regimes are also facing mounting external ones -- from Western governments, from Iran, and each other. And these are only exacerbating their longstanding conflicts and inherent contradictions. HOME BASES As a proportion of GDP, the Gulf monarchies’ purchases make them the biggest arms buyers in the world. The existence of substantial Western military bases on the Arabian Peninsula has always been problematic for the Gulf monarchies. To their critics, the hosting of non-Arab, non-Muslim armies is an affront to Islam and to national sovereignty. Their proliferation will likely draw further criticism, and perhaps serve as yet another flashpoint for the region’s opposition movements. Among the largest Western installations in the Gulf is al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which owes its existence to the country’s former ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. In 1999, al-Thani told the United States that he would like to see 10,000 American servicemen permanently based in the emirate, and over the next few years, the United States duly began shifting personnel there from Saudi Arabia. Today, al-Udeid houses several thousand U.S. servicemen at a time and has also served as a forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), a U.S. Air Force expeditionary air wing, a CIA base, and an array of U.S. Special Forces teams. Nearby Bahrain hosts the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the entire U.S. Fifth Fleet, which includes some 6,000 U.S. personnel. The United States recently downsized its force in Kuwait, but four U.S. infantry bases remain, including Camp Patriot, which is believed to house about 3,000 U.S. soldiers and two air bases. The United States plans to further expand its regional military presence in the near future. As CENTCOM recently announced, the country will be sending the latest U.S. antimissile systems to at least four Gulf states. These are new versions of the Patriot anti-missile batteries that the United States already sent to the region and are meant to assuage the Gulf rulers’ fears of Iranian missile attacks. Tellingly, the announcement did not reveal exactly which states had agreed to take the U.S. weapons. Yet analysts widely assume that the unnamed states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. Equally, if not more, problematic than hosting so many foreign military bases has been the Gulf monarchies’ ever-rising spending on Western arms. Although much of the equipment is inappropriate for bolstering defensive capabilities or is superfluous to peacekeeping operations -- the kinds of missions Gulf soldiers are likely to find themselves undertaking -- Gulf leaders regarded the trade as necessary for their protection. By most measures, such spending has gotten out of hand. As a proportion of GDP, the Gulf monarchies’ purchases make them the biggest arms buyers in the world. Even the poorer Gulf states, which are grappling with declining resources and serious socioeconomic pressures, spend far beyond their means. Of all of the monarchies’ purchases, Saudi and UAE procurements have attracted the most attention. In 2009 alone, the UAE purchased nearly $8 billion in U.S. military equipment, making it the United States’ biggest arms customer that year. Saudi Arabia, for its part, purchased about $3.3 billion in hardware. In December 2011, the United States announced that it had finalized a $30 billion sale of Boeing-manufactured F-15 fighter jets to the Saudi Royal Air Force. And a UAE firm has reportedly partnered with a U.S. company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, to bring predator drones to the UAE. This venture makes the UAE the first foreign buyer to acquire U.S. drone technology. In the West, the sales have not been without criticism. The pro-Israel lobby, for example, has repeatedly argued that the sale of such high-grade equipment to the Gulf monarchies will erode Israel’s “qualitative edge” in the region. The programs will also prove troublesome inside the Arab kingdoms, as the region’s ruling families will find it increasingly difficult to justify such massive transactions to their beleaguered national populations. Given existing regional tensions, they are likely to continue increasing spending anyway -- be it on tanks, warplanes, or naval vessels. COMMON CAUSE Concerns over Iran have further thawed relations between some of the Gulf monarchies and Israel. An open channel of communication now exists between Qatar and the Israeli security services. The monarchies are also under pressure to deal with Iran, and some of them see posturing against Tehran as a convenient mechanism for containing domestic opposition, distracting from growing socio-economic pressures, and manipulating sectarian tensions. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Gulf monarchs have gone to great lengths to highlight Shia membership in opposition movements, a tactic that has allowed them to delegitimize critics -- falsely -- as Iranian agents. Thus far, the strategy has enjoyed some limited success; members of the Gulf's Sunni populations have been quick to accuse Shia activists of being traitors. Many Western authorities continue to lend support to the monarchies on the grounds that the alternative would be Iran-style theocratic, revolutionary, and anti-Western governments. Still, the risks of such rabid anti-Iran sentiments are serious and possibly existential. By acting on such attitudes, Gulf monarchs have undermined their longstanding position as neutral peace brokers and distributors of regional development aid, and made themselves into legitimate targets in any conflict in the Persian Gulf. It is unlikely that the fathers of today’s Gulf rulers would have allowed that to happen, no matter how deeply they distrusted their neighbor across the Gulf. This previous generation sidelined most confrontations with Iran -- including even the 1971 seizure of three UAE islands by the Shah -- in recognition of shared economic interests and the substantial Iranian expatriate populations that reside in many of the monarchies. All that is now ancient history in states like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Saudi officials have taken a particularly aggressive stance. According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008, the Saudi king has “repeatedly exhorted the United States to cut off the head of the snake” -- Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Another cable from the same year quoted a veteran Saudi minister for foreign affairs suggesting a U.S. or NATO offensive in southern Lebanon to end Iran-backed Hezbollah’s grip on power there. And a former Saudi intelligence chief has said publicly that Saudi Arabia should “consider acquiring nuclear weapons to counter Iran.” In early 2011, Bahrain’s rulers took full advantage of anti-Iranian sentiments to act against domestic opponents, announcing that they would deport all Shia residents who had “links to Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.” In practice, that meant expelling hundreds of Bahrain's Lebanese residents, suspending all flights between the capital Manama and Beirut, and warning Bahraini nationals not to travel to Lebanon due to “threats and interference by terrorists.” Abu Dhabi’s attitude toward Iran originally appeared to have been more hesitant, perhaps because of its previous ruler’s more moderate policies. According to a 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the UAE government told U.S. officials that “the threat from al-Qaeda would be minor compared to if Iran had nukes…but that it was reluctant to take any action that might provoke its neighbor.” Nevertheless, as Abu Dhabi’s forceful Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan and his five full brothers gained control over most of the country’s foreign policy, the emirate’s views have fallen in line with those of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Since 2007, the crown prince’s circle has pushed Western officials to put more troops in the region to counter Iranian hegemony. In 2009, the crown prince forcefully warned the United States of appeasing Iran, reportedly saying that “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” Qatar, which has sought a role as regional peace broker, has been more careful with its public statements on Iran. Even so, in a private meeting in 2009, Qatar’s then prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, characterized Qatar’s relationship with Iran as one in which “they lie to us and we lie to them.” Qatar’s calculated diplomacy perhaps owes to its precarious balancing act: the country hosts major U.S. military facilities while sharing its largest gas resource -- the offshore North Field -- with Iran. THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY Perhaps even riskier than their hawkishness toward Iran is the Gulf monarchies’ dovishness toward Israel. Since independence, the Gulf monarchies have upheld laws requiring government personnel, businesses, and even individual residents to boycott Israel. In the UAE, the federal government has always housed an Israel boycott office. One federal law, passed in 1971, stipulates that “any natural or legal person shall be prohibited from directly or indirectly concluding an agreement with organizations or persons either resident in Israel, connected therewith by virtue of their nationality of working on its behalf.” For many years, however, the boycott extended well beyond such restrictions. The state-owned telecommunications company has barred telephone calls to Israel and blocked Web sites with an Israeli suffix. The government has not permitted Israeli nationals to enter the UAE, nor -- in theory -- any visitors that possess Israeli visa stamps in their passports. Yet trade opportunities have occasionally prompted the UAE to ignore its own boycott. After joining the World Trade Organization in 1996, UAE authorities were clearly under pressure to drop or at least relax their stance. When Dubai agreed to host the WTO's annual meeting in 2003, delegations from all of the organization's member states had to be invited; there was no way to prevent the arrival of an Israeli delegation or the flying of an Israeli flag on top of the Dubai World Trade Centre tower. Quarrels between the Gulf states have at times grown so bitter that they have even led to attempts by one monarchy to alter the course of dynastic succession in another. Concerns over Iran have further thawed relations between some of the Gulf monarchies and Israel. An open channel of communication now exists between Qatar and the Israeli security services. In late 2010, Qatar hosted a large delegation of senior Israeli policemen, among them the head of the Israeli police’s investigations and intelligence branch, ostensibly as part of an Interpol meeting. Thus far, there is little firm evidence of growing security ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or at least there have been no blatant admissions of them (as has been the case with Bahrain and Qatar). Nevertheless, rumors of significant Saudi-Israeli cooperation, prompted by the existence of a mutual enemy, have circulated in diplomatic circles for years. The monarchies’ new policies toward Israel are particularly dangerous given domestic political realities. The Gulf’s national populations are, for the most part, anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. Gulf nationals grew up watching the Palestinian intifada on television, and the liberation of Palestine remains a shared ideal among the region’s youth. There are also substantial communities of Palestinians in every monarchy; naturalized Gulf nationals who were born in Palestinian refugee camps are even known to hold powerful official posts in some rulers’ courts. SUCCESSION STRUGGLES The pressures facing the Gulf states make for a very tense region, one in which disagreements over the United States, Iran, and Israel threaten to boil over. Quarrels between the kingdoms have at times grown so bitter that one monarchy has tried to alter the course of dynastic succession in another. Following the death of a ruler or a petty internal dispute in one monarchy, it is now commonplace for neighboring monarchs to interfere, either by discreetly backing a preferred candidate, or, in the more extreme cases, by sponsoring a coup d’état. The resulting power vacuums have often allowed foreign powers to interfere as well. The best example of a modern-day coup and subsequent foreign interference took place in the UAE’s northernmost emirate of Ras al-Khaimah. In 2003, after allegedly burning an American flag at an anti-Iraq war demonstration, Prince Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, the emirate’s long-serving crown prince, was replaced in the order of succession by a younger half-brother, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi. Their very elderly father, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed al-Qasimi, later signed a decree in support of this change, but many analysts questioned the ruler’s decision-making abilities, given his advanced age and poor health. The new crown prince had the apparent backing of Abu Dhabi, which sent military tanks to take positions on the streets of Ras al-Khaimah. The ousted crown prince’s supporters still took the streets to show their support; security forces with water cannons disbursed them. The crown prince was then duly exiled, crossing the border to Oman before leaving for the United States. As the emirate’s Dubai-like development program began to flounder in 2008, the new crown prince Saud became increasingly vulnerable to criticism, including widespread allegations that he accepted kickbacks from the construction industry. The deposed prince, who was still in exile, enlisted a U.S. public relations firm and a British lawyer to conduct an international media campaign to persuade Abu Dhabi and the international community that the incumbent crown prince was a liability. The campaign focused on Saud’s apparent connections to Tehran, claiming that his effective deputy -- a Shia Lebanese businessman -- had major commercial interests, including factories, in the Islamic Republic. In 2009, the campaign even claimed that Iranian customs officers had been visiting Ras al-Khaimah’s port and that the emirate was serving as a conduit for nuclear materials destined for Iran. Local media alleged that recent terror plots there, including a 2009 attempt to blow up Dubai’s incomplete Burj Khalifa skyscraper, had originated in Ras al-Khaimah. The exiled crown prince even courted Israeli support, reportedly meeting with Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, who said that he was “working with certain people from his side” and “promised that the matter will be solved in his [the former crown prince’s] favor.” In late 2010, the campaign appeared to be gaining traction. Abu Dhabi’s ruling family allowed Khalid to return from exile to visit his father Sheikh Saqr, who still held the throne but was undergoing treatment in an Abu Dhabi hospital. When Saqr died in October, Khalid quickly returned to Ras al-Khaimah and installed himself in his former palace with some 150 heavily armed guards and even more loyal tribesmen. He seemed confident that, having received Abu Dhabi’s blessing to attend his father’s funeral, he would be officially installed as ruler of Ras Khaimah later that day. But in the early evening, the UAE Ministry for Presidential Affairs in Abu Dhabi announced that his younger brother Saud had been named the new ruler of Ras al-Khaimah. Abu Dhabi, which holds the presidency of the Emirates, deployed UAE tanks on the outskirts of the emirate and all of the deposed crown prince’s retainers -- including two of his cousins, several Omani citizens, and a Canadian military adviser -- were arrested and detained for questioning. Two months later, the emirate’s new ruler was invited to a banquet in Abu Dhabi held in his honor, where the ruler of Abu Dhabi congratulated him on his success. The Gulf’s immediate future is likely to be marked by many more such coup and countercoup attempts. Several current monarchs are very old, and powerful factions in growing royal families have coalesced around rival successors. In each of these cases, internecine contests will develop and, given the high stakes involved, the involvement of foreign powers is all but inevitable. In the end, however, the monarchies may all suffer from such meddling, for these regimes are only as strong as the weakest links in their chain. An especially brittle monarchy succumbing to pressure over Western involvement, Iran, or Israel could easily be the first domino to fall, undoing the illusion of invincibility that the Gulf monarchies have so painstakingly built to distinguish themselves from the floundering Arab republics next door. Reprinted from After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, by Christopher M. Davidson, with the permission of Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press 2013.