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Friday, January 31, 2014

Baghdads empty legal threats reflect weakness

Over and out for me. This is my last post on this board. Best wishes to all in GKP. I hope that everyone gets £8-£22 / share and that there is then the mother of all takeover parties. s_k Some interesting pictures of Erbil in this article: http://en.chessbase.com/post/boringly-safe-in-kurdistani-iraq-part-1 ================== Author Elikkos Georghiades View Profile Add to favourites Ignore Date posted Thursday 23:45 Subject Votes for this Posting Voted UP 87 times. Message Lets be clear about this so called threat from Baghdad. First, this is a threat directed at Majors who might be interested in buying the exported pipeline oil. It most certainly is not a threat directed at any company selling the oil. Indeed, as others have pointed out, the oil is not theirs to sell and in any event it would only be exported via the pipeline on direction of the lawful owners, namely the KRG. Interestingly, for all the constant and persistent accusations of "illegality" from Baghdad since Maliki came to power, Baghdad have never taken any steps to obtain a legal ruling from any European or for that matter, any court, upon the validity of their claims. "The central government threatened to sue over the shipments in a long-running dispute.... but it took no legal action". And its even more interesting now that this matter has escalated and come to a head, that they direct what they claim are legal threats, at Major buyers of oil and not the KRG sellers, with whom the real issue of legality exists. "Interesting" is perhaps the wrong word....."hardly surprising", would be more appropriate. Would /could Baghdad institute legal proceedings against the KRG in any other foreign jurisdiction and run the risk of losing their longstanding claims against the KRG. ? They undoubtedly have their own lawyers to advise them and (from my own legal research into the issue) they would doubtless have advised, that their claim is anything BUT strong. From my own research into the Iraqi constitution, I understand that, in essence the KRG contends that Baghdads claims to sole rights of export covered only existing discovered fields at the time of the constitution, and not the new oilfields like Shaikan that were discovered subsequently. Moreover, there is a constitutional basis for the KRG's contention. Secondly one might well ask if this is in reality a "LEGAL" threat? I categorically and unequivocally say NO. REASONS 1) There is no such thing as hiring a law firm to "TARGET" a buyer of such illegal oil export. What exactly is meant by "target"? Moreover, what does the anonymous Iraqi official mean by "Iraq's oil ministry instructed legal firm Vinson and Elkins about two months ago to pursue anyone who buys oil" ? A threat is only legal, if one intends to use a court of proper jurisdiction to enforce ones claim. For Baghdad to legally enforce a claim that the buyer has bought illegal oil belonging to Iraq, it needs a court to enforce its claim that the purchase was illegal.. Indeed, a defendant buyer of such oil would, contend in that same court that it bought the oil from the legitimate owners, namely the KRG. There would then have to be a ruling on Baghdads prnicipal claim that PSC contracts are illegal......which is most certainly NOT what the Iraqi goverment wants. So I am not in the least bit surprised to read that "Vinson and Elkins, which has represented the Iraqi government in the past, declined to comment." There is of course the other small matter, that any legal action instituted by Baghdad would take a very long time before it was heard by which time Maliki and his band of not so merry men could have long gone So what is Baghdad really trying to do with these threats. In short they are picking on what they consider to be the weakest link in this dispute and trying to frighten them into believing that Baghdad will take legal action if they buy the said oil. " "Instead of going after the KRG, they are going after people who will lift oil from them" However, the real threat is one of blackmail rather than "legal" and will only work if the oil major has other oil interests in Baghdad which it does not wish to risk losing. That is indeed why, " Executives from oil majors have said they won't touch KRG crude before the Kurds and Baghdad reach an agreement for fear of losing larger contracts with the central government. However, I entirely agree with other lawyers when they say that " Baghdad would struggle to make a case stick and any litigation would be complicated by questions of jurisdiction, but the threat could deter companies reluctant to deal with the negative headlines." It is indeed just the threat which is intended to deter companies from buying the said oil. But the threat is empty for it is devoid of sanction and is therefore toothless. If for the purposes of argument, a company like Exon or Chevron were to buy that oil, it would be interesting to see how Baghdad would respond. In my opinion it would NOT. Assuming the accuracy of these reports |I think its a great pity that the KRG have promised not to go ahead with exports until agreement with Baghdad is reached. By building the pipeline, they have skilfully and successfully brought this whole thorny problem to a head and now of all time, when the opposition are at their weakest (with the pending Iraqi elections), is the best time to force them to come to a resolution. Now is most certainly not the time, to make promises not to export the oil until its resolved. Equally, its very unfortunate that Turkey, deems it fit to couch its response / position in ambiguous terms, i.e. " to seek the central government's permission, but not its blessing, in exporting KRG oil." If the KRG, Turkey, and any potential Major buyer of the oil, remained resolute against Baghdad's empty threats, what on earth could Maliki's government do ?.....Absolutely nothing!!. And that is exactly what would guarantee that Maliki is not re elected, for he will be humiliated in the eyes of the sufferring Iraqi electorate. And this is also precisely why Maliki would (in that event climb down), even before the April elections and be forced into arriving at an agreement which by implication recognises the legality of the KRG's position. Then and only then could he if needs be, count on the KRG's support to return him to power. Elikkos ========================== "Boringly Safe" in Kurdistani Iraq! Part 1 by Alina L'Ami 12/25/2013 – The ever adventurous and fearless globetrotter Alina l'Ami has recently finished a tournament in... Kurdistani Iraq! Specifically the tournament was the second Kurdistan Chess Festival held in Erbil, Iraq. Several strong players were not put off by rumors of danger zones or by the unusual location and enjoyed a magnificent and unique experience. Alina brings us a beautiful report. “So what is your next tournament on the agenda, Alina?” “2nd Kurdistan Chess Festival, in Erbil”, I reply with enthusiasm. “And where exactly is that?” “Well, in Iraqi Kurdistan.” “Iraq??? Are you completely out of your mind?” Years of experience have taught me that being a true globe-trotter requires a multi-faceted preparation before any new trip. In the beginning I thought things were simple: you step into the airplane and after arriving at your destination, you let the place unfold its own and unique story. This approach was not out of laziness; I was convinced this is the best way of perceiving the reality without being influenced by the others’ (travellers, friends, columnists) opinions. My flight to Irbil is ready for boarding...so many emotions I had, what should I expect, will it be safe, will it be as nice as I imagined?! For now, it seems I did my homework well enough: 2 degrees at destination, so my warm coat will be of good use:) Gradually, I understood that so many times I didn’t get any wiser by using this kind of “system”. It is advisable to do some preliminary research before departing to a remote and unknown place; otherwise you might just look at things without really seeing or hearing anything important. You will not get the story the place is telling you without a bit of earing in and a gram of loving... And to get ready for it, you definitely need to know a bit of what you should expect and what to be focused on when looking around. My recent travelling to Irbil, in the Iraqi Kurdistan, is an excellent proof that doing your homework before departure actually helps you avoiding prejudices! The process started somewhat under the pressure of my self-preservation instinct, which proved a fair counter-weight to my usual pleasant creeps whenever I feel there is some challenge involved. But maybe my adventurous spirit would have prevailed had it not been for the members of my family, who under no circumstances would have let me go without proving them I was going to be safe... The view from my room - typical for such destinations: endless number of antennas! The entire region is developing very fast and in fact, we were not really in Erbil but in Ankawa, in the outskirts of Arbil . You will see in the upcoming photos the contrasts - fascinating life style! More carpets displayed in a rather unorthodox manner but much easier to decide: you can touch, you can look, you can easily find what you want to bring back home. Kurdistan enjoys a certain degree of autonomy. For instance, I would have needed a Visa for Iraq, but I was not required one for the Kurdistan region! Still, it is not a country of its own, being part of Iraq; moreover, it is placed not really far from the border with Syria and rather close to the area of conflict between Turks and Kurds, not to mention several other issues within the neighbourhood... From far, it sounds like trouble! Wholesale district All these determined me making a more thorough research than ever before stepping into this new adventure. I checked and double-checked every detail and the result was simply astonishing! I was and still am amazed by the beauty of the Kurdish culture! Kurdistan enjoys enviable safety; over the last ten years there was almost no terrorist attempt, no bomb exploding or suspicious cars... This is quite different in Baghdad especially or Mosul and Kirkuk, where dozens of bombs fall daily… In some parts of Iraq it is customary that people go to work in the morning without knowing whether they will return home safely in the evening, but although Kurdistan belongs to the same country, what Kurds have accomplished here is a model worth following. Alina l'Ami in an outdoor exchange office... would anyone leave their money unattended in any European City, or displayed like that? At first, I was a bit confused about the numerous spellings of the name of Kurdistan’s capital: Erbil, Irbil, Arbil, Hawler. But later, this became a revealing detail: the former three are explained by the different Arabic languages, while the latter, used by the Kurds, speaks about the individuality of the place and its people. Indeed, there are millions of Kurds of Turkish, Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian provenience, who don’t have a proper state of their own; Iraq is the only country where there is a clearly defined, although not completely independent, Kurdish territory. Tobacco sellers were abundant in the streets Street food: delicious! Not to mention that if I was looking at it just for one second, I was inevitably invited to taste...such several stops in the market and soon I would get myself into trouble! This one is some sort of vegetable which is eaten with salt; and the juice is very good for your throat, which was more than welcome in my case, since I got a terrible cold. Some of the most delicious recipes one can find not in the fancy restaurants but...right on the streets! This is called "Kuba" and it has meat inside; but to be honest, I was more interested in the warm hearted locals, who were rewarding me with their contagious smile Erbil/Hawler is reported to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with more than 6000 years of existence. In 2014, it will be the capital of tourism in the Arab World, overtaking such popular destinations as Dubai! I only wonder if the European tourists will manage to win the inner psychological battle with their stereotypes and fears... I know this is not simple and I confess that convincing my family about the safety of my endeavour was easier than... getting peace of mind for myself! Even after collecting all the encouraging information, I spent two sleepless nights (or maybe more): could I be sure I was not heading straight for trouble? the heart of Erbil: very modern, isn't it?! Certainly not what I expected Souvenirs, it is hard to come back empty handed from this place Soon after making up my mind, I discovered how tiring it was explaining again and again to my friends how safe it was going to be. I could feel the disbelief and well-intended worry in their eyes and voices, as well as the conviction that I was the same irresponsible girl hunting dangerous adventures! Therefore, I started avoiding getting into detail; words like Iraq or Syria became taboo and I was just telling to my friends that Kurdistan is somewhere near Turkey! Later I found out that some of the participants of the Second International Kurdistan Chess Festival went even further. They told their families that they were going to play a tournament in…Istanbul Well, I am sorry if this article will spoil their under-cover strategy! The Kurdish flag's day: I was very very lucky to get this photo and the previous ones as well, with the overview of the center. Normally, because of the restoration works, this part of the citadel is closed to the public. But the guards simply allowed me to enter! Can you guess what is the white stuff the man is selling? I bet you won't... It is Kurdish chewing gum! A group walk in the parks of Erbil, which are surely better in summer time. There was another, not essential, but still important, prejudgement which I felt sorry to dismantle. I was hoping to trick the European winter once again, but I found out that the temperature in Erbil was lower than in many parts of the old Continent! But, as I mentioned before, I did my homework: I knew it was going to be cold, so I was ready;) The Kasparov family: "you are my queen" - say the eyes of Sergey! My first morning walk on the local streets was enough to make all the fears vanish and prove in the most concrete and suggestive way that within the clearly marked territory controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government and guarded by the Kurdish Security Forces life was absolutely safe. Well, it would be better not to say 100% safe, things might happen to you, such as a slip on the stairs, but you are not safe from it in day by day European life, either; at least here you would get a multilingual warning, including highly non-conformist English! Adriana Nikolova and Sarunas Sulskis A meal for...one! Kind of intimidating if you ask me! Good luck Georgi Zhivkov (our International Arbiter from Bulgaria), in finishing that! Everyone was surprised by the quality and the size of the plates...here he is with Adriana Nikolova and one of the organizers from the Khanzad Chess Club - Bakhtyar. To some visitors the numerous police patrols, military uniforms, safety control points at the entrance in the very modern shopping malls and other buildings or simply on the streets, would create an undefined feeling of danger. Security measures are necessary, though, in the surrounding generalized tragedy. And the result is outstanding! As a European woman I didn’t feel any shadow of danger, harassing or insecurity! On the contrary, I would define the place as...‘boringly’ safe!! We have been spoiled in Kurdistan... For the first time in my life I felt that I didn’t need to worry whether I forgot my purse open. The species of pick-pockets and thieves seem to have been exterminated here. Big bulks of money (summing up to the equivalent of more 100.000 Euros) can be seen on tables placed in the bazaars or straight on the street. It is also quite common that the owner of these improvised exchange offices leaves the money unguarded while taking a tea break in the neighbourhood. Would you try such an experiment in any of the European capitals?! Fellow globetrotter Sergey Tiviakov is not shy to get what is his My scarf didn't serve any religious purposes, it was simply very cold, despite the delusive sun. Interesting architecture for a church, Babylonian style. In the foreground Dutch players Sergey Tiviakov and Alina l'Ami A beautiful mosque, which I didn't have time to visit. But I promised to return! The next part of the report will focus on the tournament and will include many more experiences by this globetrotter in Iraq! Official website Results Alina L'Ami Feedback and mail to our news service Please use this account if you want to contribute to or comment on our news page service ==================== LBO, allow me to take the opportunity whilst you are here to refocus on matters more to hand: 1. Do you know if TK reviewed the Edison note before it was published? 2. Do you conisder the Edison note to broadly be in line with GKP's current outlook, as to plateau targets, likely oil price for sales, the amount of and source of funds required for 2014 etc? 3. Why was the Edison note timed for release just before the High Court judgment? s_k =========== miny, You are right in saying that Todd's first priority is to make himself richer. But, what if he realises that £8 / share is fantasy-land for current (rather than future) valuation purposes. After all, that is the message coming out through Edison. And what if he realises that he is fairly close to the door. Remember, shareholders managed to secure the exit of under-performing directors in the run up to / at the last two agms. No guesses as to whose head is on the block next as some have suggested; whether you believe such an act to be just is irrelevant, the issue is whether such a move is likely. What options does Todd then have? The long term one of awaiting SH7, pipeline etc. is just a pipe dream for him at the moment, is it not? This is just too far away and current funding will not stretch long enough to get there. The short term options are to secure a deal that shareholders will accept, very soon. But is such a deal, one acceptable to shareholders, likely to come to fruition in the next very few weeks? Possible, but I am doubtful and would not rely upon such a possibility. Absent this, I suspect that Hub is right, namely that funding may come with the price tag of Todd's head if dilutative (whether immediately or by conversion), as an egm will be required. What then for Todd? Go quickly / quietly, or draw things out / go noisily? And what are the consequences thereafter of Todd going? These are to me the questions that I am asking. ============== I have just re-watched Ewen’s presentation from the Investor day and especially the section from about 2 mins 55 seconds in for the following 2 minutes or so. In it, EA actually refers to his projection of an “annualised average of 8500 barrels per day from Shaikan” explaining that this would be the average figure taken across the whole year. He then proceeds to describe how this will be achieved, citing 5000 bpd in July, 10000 bpd in August and increasing to the targeted 20000 bpd for PF-1 in October, in effect increasing production by 5000 bpd every month… and then carrying on the same way with PF-2. While his commentary is slightly inaccurate in places, for example in that he then anticipates 40000 bpd at the start of 2014 (should be 35000), it is very clear to me that GKP’s target is to add 5000 bpd of production each month until they to get to the proposed 40000 bpd for PF-1 and PF-2, and use the constantly increasing revenue stream to then continue to grow production at much the same rate thereafter. In essence, he was saying that production in H2 2013 was projected to be:- July: 5,000 bpd (ie 150,000 barrels produced) August: 10,000 bpd (i.e 300,000 barrels produced) September: 15,000 bpd (i.e 450,000 barrels produced October: 20,000 bpd (i.e. 600,000 barrels produced) November: 25,000 bpd (i.e 750,000 barrels produced) December: 30,000 bpd (i.e 900,000 barrels produced) The projected total for H2 2013 was therefore 3,150,000 barrels = 525,000 barrels per month = or about 17,000 barrels bpd… or, on an annualised basis, 8500 bpd. As Finance Director, EA would simply have provided ‘projected’ figures based on the information available to him at the time, and no doubt assuming the anticipated levels of production contained in the Shaikan FDP. Whether those projections have actually been met or there have been any operational delays or restrictions caused by the ongoing political saga, I have no idea. But I see absolutely no reason for anyone to doubt that the ‘plan’ was very reasonable, and clearly outlined by EA at the Investor day. To me, his figures make total sense. And yes, it would have been good from the point of view of investor reassurance for us to have seen an RNS by now detailing exactly how GKP is doing in respect of those projections. But it is perhaps worth noting that the Investor Day was on 4 July 2013 and we should be receiving the latest operational update together with the interim results on Thursday 19th September, not much more than 2 months later. Not really all that long to wait, I reckon, especially when you think how long it took to finally get rid of Excalibur! While I understand that DNO provide MONTHLY updates on their levels of production in Kurdistan, I am not so sure that the same applies across the board of Kurdish operators. So, I would be inclined to give GKP the benefit of the doubt, especially as they now have a large quota of NEDs to ensure that they adhere fully to industry standards, whatever they might be! How frequently, for example, does Genel update their shareholders on their production levels in Kurdistan? My impression is that their operational updates have never been particularly frequent, and I don’t believe there are too many people complaining. Anyway, Thursday’s update should certainly be very interesting in many ways, and I rather wonder if today’s rise was partly in anticipation of positive news. We will see. AIMHO and please DYOR GLA, scaramouche ==========

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Suicide bombers storm Iraq ministry building, 24 killed

Suicide bombers storm Iraq ministry building, 24 killed Thu, Jan 30 10:16 AM EST image By Suadad al-Salhy BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Six suicide bombers burst into an Iraqi ministry building, took hostages and killed at least 24 people including themselves on Thursday before security forces regained control, security officials said. The brazen attack on the building belonging to the Ministry of Transportation in northeast Baghdad coincided with a month-long standoff between the Iraqi army and anti-government fighters in the western province of Anbar. No group claimed responsibility but suicide bombings in Iraq are the trademark of al-Qaeda linked groups. State buildings are a target for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its allies that have been regaining momentum in a campaign to destabilize the Shi'ite Muslim-led government. A senior security source said the six militants took a number of hostages, most of them members of the Facilities Protection Service, and killed nine of them inside the building, which was used to receive visiting delegations. Four bombers detonated their explosives vests during the assault, a fifth was shot dead by security forces and the last died shortly after being shot, according to security officials. "The level of security measures in the building was less than normal because it is a service building and not a sensitive site," another senior security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. A further 50 people were wounded in the attack. An Interior Ministry statement gave out a lower death toll - eight, including the six suicide bombers. Security officials blamed ISIL for the attack and said they expected more in Baghdad in the coming days to distract the security forces and reduce pressure on their militants in the Anbar cities of Falluja and eastern Ramadi. The Sunni Muslim ISIL, backed by tribal fighters who resent the government, seized control of the two cities in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, bordering Syria, on January 1. Iraqi government forces have since surrounded Falluja. It is the first time Sunni militants have exercised such open control in Iraqi cities since the height of the insurgency that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Dictator Saddam Hussein. Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has asked for international support and arms to help combat al Qaeda, which has been invigorated by the civil war in neighboring Syria, where it is also active. The U.N. refugee agency said the standoff in Fallujah has driven more than 140,000 people from their homes, describing it as the largest displacement in Iraq since the sectarian slaughter that climaxed in 2006-07. (Additional reporting by Kareem Raheem; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

​Fukushima ice wall: TEPCO drills freeze wells to stop contaminated groundwater

Fukushima ice wall: TEPCO drills freeze wells to stop contaminated groundwater Published time: January 29, 2014 08:25 A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee wearing a protective suit and mask uses a survey meter near the spent fuel pool inside the No. 4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture (Reuters/Kimimasa Mayama) Fukushima nuclear disaster Tags Ecology, Japan, Natural disasters, Nuclear The operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant is erecting an underground wall of frozen soil, which would hopefully stop radioactive water from running into the sea. However, doubts remain over whether it will fix the leak problem. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) pours tons of water into damaged reactors to keep the melted fuel from overheating. But the buildings, which were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and the consequent disaster at the plant, are allowing radioactive material to seep into groundwater and pollute the nearby sea. In September 2013, the Japanese government announced a plan to drill a row of wells around the area. A liquid coolant running through the wells will cool the soil around them and form a frozen wall in an attempt to prevent contaminated groundwater from getting into the environment. The work on the wall due to start Wednesday at the Number 2 and Number 3 reactors, Japanese TV station NHK reported. The program to isolate groundwater is to cost some $320 million in construction plus run costs and is scheduled to be complete by March 2015. The wall, maintained by rows of wells drilled at 1–meter intervals, is to run 500 meters north to south and 200 meters east to west. The Japanese government chose the approach over more permanent solutions like erecting concrete underground barriers, which do not require a constant operation of freezers and coolant pumps. They said it allows for a quick rebuilding of the wall in case it is damaged by a new quake. The plan is not guaranteed to work, with some experts fearing the groundwater may end up seeping even deeper once the frozen wall is in place. The soil-freezing technology has long been used for civil construction in areas of abundant groundwater, for example for building subway lines. But it is usually done temporarily, and there is no record to indicate how reliable the solution would be in the long run. Fukushima nuclear power plant was crippled in March 2011 by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami, becoming one of worst nuclear disasters in history. TEPCO has been struggling to contain the fallout from the incident, but radiation leakages continue at the facility. The disaster triggered a massive public outcry against nuclear energy, with several countries going completely rejecting it.

Tower Power: Replica Eiffels pop up around the world

Tower Power: Replica Eiffels pop up around the world Eye witness A replica Eiffel Tower at a the Tianducheng development in Hangshou, China. (AFP Photo) A replica Eiffel Tower at a the Tianducheng development in Hangshou, China. (AFP Photo) french-button.jpg By Roland de Courson What do Tokyo, Las Vegas, Hangzhou and Tegucigalpa have in common? All boast a replica – more or less true to the original – of the Eiffel Tower, Paris's landmark building that has long been a symbol of the city and of France itself. The imposing iron tower is probably the most copied monument in the world, but even the company that runs the structure says it is impossible to know exactly how many other versions there are across the world. Some of these faux-Eiffels have become famous in their own right, like the Tokyo tower and the huge replica on the Las Vegas Strip. Tokyo's tower, inspired by the Paris structure. (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno) Tokyo's tower, inspired by the Paris structure. (AFP Photo/Yoshikazu Tsuno) Others are more modest or kitsch, and can be found in some rather surprising places, such as the Bolivian capital, a public garden by the Black Sea in Bulgaria, or even a UN peacekeeping base in Lebanon. Paris's "Old Iron Lady" is a huge seller. AFP has great demand for photos of the 125-year-old lattice structure, and replicas pop up in dozens of theme parks and in advertising campaigns the world over for just about any business imaginable. French soldiers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon look at smoke coming from an explosion outside their compound in the southern Lebanese town of Naqura, July 26, 2006, (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg) French soldiers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon look at smoke coming from an explosion outside their compound in the southern Lebanese town of Naqura, July 26, 2006, (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg) Inaugurated in 1999, the replica Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas was initially supposed to be even taller than the original, which soars 324 metres (1,063 feet) into the sky – including the antenna at the top. But architects had to trim their ambitions in half because of its proximity to the city's airport. The Vegas tower is 165 metres tall and sits alongside a replica Arc de Triomphe and other famous Paris structures. "At Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, you are transported to the City of Lights with all the same passion, excitement and ambiance of Europe's most romantic city," the hotel’s website states. The Las Vegas tower. (AFP Photo/John Gurzinski) The Las Vegas tower. (AFP Photo/John Gurzinski) Tokyo's tower, built in 1958 and painted red and white, is one of the few copies to exceed the original in height, reaching 333 metres, though this was temporarily reduced to 312 metres in 2011 after the antenna was damaged in an earthquake and taken down for repair. This television tower remains a symbol of the Japanese capital, even though the Tokyo Sky Tree tower, which was completed in 2012, is nearly twice as tall. Although they are not as big as the original, some of the other copies are no less grandiose, such as the tower in Hangzhou, China. It rises to 108 metres in the heart of the city's plush Tianducheng development. A replica Eiffel Tower at a the Tianducheng development in Hangshou, China. (AFP Photo) A replica Eiffel Tower at a the Tianducheng development in Hangshou, China. (AFP Photo) There are other towns named Paris, and some of these have their own towers. Parizh, at the foot of the Urals in southern Russia, was founded in 1842 to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon's army 30 years earlier. Today it has a mobile phone mast, built in 2005, that looks like the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower of Parizh, Russia. (AFP Photo/Yuri Tutov) The Eiffel Tower of Parizh, Russia. (AFP Photo/Yuri Tutov) The quirky tower in Sucre, the Bolivian capital. (AFP photo) The quirky tower in Sucre, the Bolivian capital. (AFP photo) 'The price of success' There have never been copyright restrictions on the original structure built in 1889. From the street hawker selling trinkets to tourists in Paris, to chocolate makers and megalomaniac real-estate developers – anyone is free to copy the tower. But, the name "Eiffel Tower" is a registered trademark. Anyone who wants to, say, name a perfume or a restaurant after the structure must pay royalties – how much depends on the size of the venture. Calcutta's Eiffel Tower. (AFP Photo/Deshakalyan Chowdhury) Calcutta's Eiffel Tower. (AFP Photo/Deshakalyan Chowdhury) Similarly, the tower's dazzling golden lighting, designed by the engineer Pierre Bideau and inaugurated on New Year’s Eve 1985, is seen as an "oeuvre de l’esprit" – or an intellectual work – and so reproduction is not allowed. What do those who run the Eiffel Tower think of all these imitations? "We're delighted," says Jean-Bernard Bros, the president of the SETE company in charge. "That's just the price you pay for success," he tells us. "The Eiffel Tower is imitated, copied, reproduced but never equalled. The replicas make people want to come to Paris to see the original. Our Eiffel Tower is something no one else can ever take from us, it is Paris." The real deal, Paris. (AFP Photo/Franck Fife) The real deal, Paris. (AFP Photo/Franck Fife)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wealth gap: A guide to what it is, why it matters

Jan. 27, 2014 11:01 AM ET Wealth gap: A guide to what it is, why it matters By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER and JOSH BOAK, AP Economics Writers THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES Despite market unrest, Fed likely to pare stimulus Jan. 27, 2014 12:18 PM ET The new face of food stamps: working-age Americans Jan. 27, 2014 4:42 AM ET The new face of food stamps: working-age Americans Jan. 26, 2014 4:28 PM ET Global markets hit by fears of growth slowdown Jan. 25, 2014 12:01 AM ET Fear of slowing growth pushes down global markets Jan. 24, 2014 3:40 PM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints WASHINGTON (AP) — From the White House to the Vatican to the business elite in Davos, Switzerland, one issue keeps seizing the agenda: the growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else. It's "the defining challenge of our time," says President Barack Obama, who will spotlight the issue in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. A Gallup poll finds two-thirds of Americans are unhappy with the nation's distribution of wealth. Experts say it may be slowing the economy. Why has the issue suddenly galvanized attention? Here are questions and answers about the wealth gap — what it is and why it matters. Q. Hasn't there always been a wide gulf between the richest people and the poorest? A. Yes. What's new is the widening gap between the wealthiest and everyone else. Three decades ago, Americans' income tended to grow at roughly similar rates, no matter how much you made. But since roughly 1980, income has grown most for the top earners. For the poorest 20 percent of families, it's dropped. Incomes for the highest-earning 1 percent of Americans soared 31 percent from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation, according to data compiled by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at University of California, Berkeley. For the rest of us, it inched up an average of 0.4 percent. In 17 of 22 developed countries, income disparity widened in the past two decades, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Q. So who are the top 1 percent in income? A. They're bankers, lawyers, hedge fund managers, founders of successful companies, entertainers, senior managers and others. One trend: Corporate executives, doctors, and farmers made up smaller shares of the top 1 percent in 2005 than in 1979. By contrast, the proportion of the wealthiest who work in the financial and real estate industries has doubled. The top 1 percent earned at least $394,000 in 2012. Through most of the post-World War II era, the top 1 percent earned about 10 percent of all income. By 2007, that figure had jumped to 23.5 percent, the most since 1928. As of 2012, it was 22.5 percent. Q. How has the middle class fared? A. Not well. Median household income peaked in 1999 at $56,080, adjusted for inflation. It fell to $51,017 by 2012. The percentage of American households with income within 50 percent of the median — one way of measuring the middle class — fell from 50 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010. Q. Does it matter if some people are much richer than others? A. Most economists say some inequality is needed to reward hard work, talent and innovation. But a wealth gap that's too wide is usually unhealthy. It can slow economic growth, in part because richer Americans save more of their income than do others. Pay concentrated at the top is less likely to be spent. It can also trigger reckless borrowing. Before the 2008 financial crisis, middle class households struggled to keep up their spending even as their pay stagnated. To do so, they piled up debt. Swelling debt helped inflate the housing bubble and ignite the financial crisis. Experts note that the Great Depression and the Great Recession were both preceded by surging income gaps and heedless borrowing by middle class Americans. Q. Has it become harder for someone born poor to become rich? A. The evidence is mixed. Countries that have more equal income distributions, such as Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, tend to enjoy more social mobility. But a study released last week found that the United States isn't any less mobile than it was in the 1970s. A child born in the poorest 20 percent of families in 1986 had a 9 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent as an adult, the study found — roughly the same odds as in 1971. Other research has shown that the United States isn't as socially mobile as once thought. In a study of 22 countries, economist Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa found that the United States ranked 15th in social mobility. Only Italy and the Britain among wealthy countries ranked lower. By some measures, children in the United States are as likely to inherit their parents' economic status as their height. Q. So why has income inequality worsened? A. There's no simple answer. Globalization has created "superstars" and concentrated pay among corporate executives, Wall Street traders, popular entertainers and other financial elite. At the same time, factory workers now compete with 3 billion people in China, India, eastern Europe and elsewhere who weren't working for multinational corporations 20 years ago. Many now make products for Apple, Intel, General Motors and others at low wages. This has depressed middle-class pay. And pay has risen much faster for college graduates than for high-school graduates. These trends have contributed to a "hollowed out" labor market, with more jobs at the higher and lower ends of the pay scale and fewer in the middle. Social factors contribute, too. Single-parent families are more likely to be poor than other families and less likely to ascend the income ladder. Finally, men and women with college degrees and high pay are more likely to marry each other and amplify income gaps. Q. Does wealth distribution follow a similar pattern? A. It's even more pronounced. A Pew Research Center study found that the wealthiest 7 percent of households grew 28 percent richer from 2009 through 2011. For the bottom 93 percent, collective wealth fell 4 percent. That's largely because wealthy households own far more stocks and other financial assets than others. By contrast, whatever wealth middle-class Americans have is mainly in their home equity. Since the Great Recession ended, stock-market averages have soared, setting records in 2013. Home values, though, remain far below their peaks reached in 2006. That divergence has benefited the richest and left others struggling. Q. Where do the 1 percent live? A. Investor Warren Buffett famously lives in Omaha, Neb. Les Wexner, whose fashion empire includes Victoria's Secret, is an Ohioan. But the wealthy mainly cluster around the largest cities. Of the 515 U.S. billionaires, 96 live around New York City, according to the intelligence firm Wealth-X. Los Angeles is home to 22, Chicago 21, San Francisco 20, Houston 14. Millionaires are more widely dispersed. Maryland has the highest concentration. Of all its households, 7.7 percent have $1 million or more in financial assets. New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii and Alaska have the next-highest concentrations, according to a report from Phoenix Marketing International. Q. Is anything being done to narrow the wealth gap? A. President Barack Obama has made the issue a priority and wants the government to act to reduce the disparities. The president managed to restore higher tax rates on incomes above $398,350 last year. And he's pushed other steps that might narrow the gap slightly, such as a higher minimum wage. But congressional Republicans say those steps could hurt economic growth and have resisted most such measures. Q. Is everyone concerned about the wealth gap? A. Some conservative economists question much of the data. They note, for example, that Saez's figures don't include government benefits, such as Social Security or food stamps, or employer payments for health insurance, that benefit the less-than-rich. Yet the Congressional Budget Office did include government benefits and the effect of taxes in its own study and still found a sizable gap: For the top 1 percent, income jumped 275 percent, adjusted for inflation, from 1979 to 2007. For the middle 60 percent of Americans, it grew less than 40 percent. Q. So what do experts say is the best way to shrink the wealth gap? A. Most ideas break down along political lines. Liberal economists tend to support a higher minimum wage, greater access to pre-school and college education and more spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure to help generate good-paying jobs. Most favor higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for such programs. Conservatives tend to back tax cuts, government deregulation and other steps they say will accelerate hiring and growth and raise living standards for everyone. They tend to focus on the need to advance income mobility. In a speech this month, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged the enormous pay disparity between a fast food company's cashier and its CEO. "The problem we face is not simply the gap in pay between them, but rather that too many of those cashiers are stuck in the same job for years on end," Rubio said. ___ AP Business Writers Paul Wiseman in Washington and Bernard Condon in New York contributed to this report. ___ Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber Associated Press ====================== . Emerging currencies hit as time runs out for US easy-money AFPAFP – 11 hours ago.. . . Email Recommend 1 Tweet Print ... . . .Latest News ». .. Water wastage during festive season can diminish reserve – Bernama Water wastage during festive season can diminish reserve – Bernama . At DAP forum, Malaysians voice their thoughts on racial, religious tensions in the country . Savvy Kajang folks know they are the Kingmakers . PKR must give ‘overwhelmingly good reason’ for Kajang by-election, says Ambiga PKR must give ‘overwhelmingly good reason’ for Kajang by-election, says Ambiga . Despite MB post fiasco, analysts see PKR keeping Kajang Despite MB post fiasco, analysts see PKR keeping Kajang . Putrajaya condoning racial and religious tension, says Ambiga Putrajaya condoning racial and religious tension, says Ambiga . .. . More .. . . Emerging economies scrambled to prop up their currencies on Tuesday as time runs out for US Federal Reserve stimulus, exposing them to capital outflows. The prospect of a further tightening of US monetary policy on Wednesday brings closer the risk that stimulus tapering would vacuum more cash from emerging economies, slow global growth and dent the eurozone's recovery. Several top emerging markets have already suffered from capital outflows as the US central bank curbs its so-called quantitative easing (QE) bond-buying stimulus. That policy had fed flows of US money abroad in search of high returns. The currency turmoil is hurting emerging economies in Asia, Latin America, Russia and South Africa as investors pull out funds out of riskier investments, analysts said. India's central bank announced a surprise quarter-point increase in its key rate to 8.0 percent on Tuesday The worries over markets such as Argentina, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine come as the eurozone is emerging from the worst of its sovereign debt crisis. In addition, Turkey, Thailand and Ukraine have all faced political unrest in recent weeks. The Fed has already cut its stimulus this month by $10 billion (7.3 billion euros) to $75 billion a month on signs of a pick-up in the US economy, the world's biggest. Traders are now on tenterhooks to see whether the Fed will announce further stimulus cuts at the conclusion of its two-day monetary policy meeting on Wednesday. Economists are also pricing in tighter monetary policy from the Bank of England (BoE), with Britain's economic recovery expected to pick up more speed this year.
"Quantitative easing can be likening to a tide of cheap money across risky assets. So, when the tide goes out we can see who is swimming naked," Rabobank analyst Jane Foley told AFP. "If cheap money is being wound down, emerging market counties will be more exposed." She added: "These countries rely on foreign savings to finance their deficits and when foreigners lose their nerve and pull their money out, the currencies adjust lower."
Argentina adds to pressures The turmoil intensified last week when Argentina implemented a sharp devaluation in an attempt to stabilise its peso currency, which held steady on Tuesday. However, the fallout of Argentina's problems and global monetary tightening continued to hit other emerging markets this week, most notably neighbour Brazil where the real currency hit a five-month trough. South Africa's rand hit a five-year low point on Monday, while Turkey's central bank called a crisis meeting after its heavy intervention failed to halt a run on the lira. "The Fed's decision to taper QE, combined with the increasing likelihood that the BoE is moving closer to tightening monetary policy, is serving to further reinforce investor concerns over external financing for countries such as Turkey and South Africa with elevated current account deficits," said economist Lee Hardman at The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in London. All eyes on Turkey rate decision The beleaguered Turkish lira recovered from all-time lows on Tuesday amid expectations that the nation's central bank will raise interest rates at midnight, a move that could support the lira. The Turkish lira has plunged further in recent weeks, pressured also by the political crisis rocking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. "Emerging markets continue to be the economic front line in the current market,"said Alistair Cotton, analyst at traders Currencies Direct. "Fed tapering is driving capital flight and putting downward pressure on many emerging market currencies." However, despite growing emerging markets turmoil, eurozone nations are not worried about contagion, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem insisted this week. "Of course we are worried about this from the perspective of the emerging countries," said Dijsselbloem, whose Eurogroup comprises the finance ministers of countries that use the single currency. "I am not particularly worried about the risk of contagion. I think the position of the eurozone is different and that we have to maintain our progress." He added that recent tapering of the US stimulus programme was partly responsible, but that emerging economies also had to tackle "structural imbalances". Analysts expressed caution over the eurozone outlook. "Dijsselbloem and other politicians probably feel obliged to give reassuring messages to investors," said Foley. "Although it can not be said with complete certainty that there will be no contagion into the eurozone, the region's large current account surplus, the fact that there has been little sign of systematic risk on the eurozone for a while, and the improving economic data are reassuring." ================ Factbox: Highlights of Obama's State of the Union address Tue, Jan 28 23:18 PM EST (Reuters) - The following are highlights from U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in Washington on Tuesday. JOBS AND THE ECONOMY To help Americans prepare for retirement, Obama will use executive authority to create a "starter" retirement savings account available through employers for workers who can afford to save only small amounts at a time. He also wants to drop retirement tax breaks that apply to wealthy Americans already well positioned for retirement and increase the earned income tax credit for people without children. Through an executive order, Obama said he would raise the minimum wage for workers holding federal contract jobs to $10.10 and will continue pressing Congress to make that rate the prevailing federal minimum wage nationally. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. To strengthen the long-term U.S. fiscal position, Obama committed to paying for new initiatives and supporting more budget deficit reduction. Using his executive authority, Obama will start four more manufacturing innovation institutes this year and wants Congress to create up to 45 more. He also will pursue a trans-Pacific partnership and an agreement with the European Union to boost U.S. exports. Obama urged Congress to pass an extension of emergency unemployment insurance. His efforts to get the long-term unemployed back to work will include a meeting this week with leading chief executive, and federal job-training programs will be reviewed to bring them in line with market demands. He also called for bringing outsourced work back to the United States and advocated discrimination protection for women and gays in the workplace. EDUCATION Obama said a further 15,000 schools and 20 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade would have access to high-speed internet service in the next two years as part of his plan to have 99 percent of American students on next-generation connectivity. Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon will be part of the education-tech push and more partnerships will be announced in coming weeks. He also renewed his call for pre-kindergarten schooling for all 4-year-olds, as well as innovation in preparing students for college and making college more affordable for them. CLIMATE AND ENERGY Obama proposed incentives for medium- and heavy-duty trucks that run on alternative fuels and he will continue his broader campaign to move America toward clean energy sources. He also called for safe natural gas production. IMMIGRATION Obama renewed his call for securing U.S. borders, cracking down on those who hire illegal immigrants and offering a path to citizenship, saying such reforms would create thousands of jobs and boost the economy by $1 trillion over two decades. GUANTANAMO AND FOREIGN POLICY Obama said the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed this year. He did not mention plans for troop levels in Afghanistan, but said America must move off permanent war footing. He stood by an international interim agreement to get Iran to curb its nuclear program and vowed to veto anything from Congress that would impose more sanctions on Tehran while the United States and other Western powers are in diplomatic talks with Iran. DOMESTIC POLICY He defended his healthcare reform and said he would continue working for voters' rights and against gun violence. Obama renewed his call to wind down mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, urging Congress to pass legislation that rebuilds the mortgage market to rely more on private capital. (Compiled by Bill Trott; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney) ============ ==========

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Syeda Amber Naqvi Noha Khuan (Hyd Sindh)

Benefit From Over 70 Years of Global Investing Experience

A Pioneer in Global Investing Founded in 1940, the Templeton Global Equity Group has one of the longest global investment track records in the world. The depth, experience and analytical capabilities of our research teams located in offices around the world provide on-the-ground insights through a consistent cross-border application of our philosophy. The Templeton way of investing is based on Sir John Templeton’s investment philosophy of finding value wherever it resides. He did not believe that investors should be constrained by geography or industry, and instead sought out the most undervalued stocks around the world. More than 70 years later, Templeton still holds true to this investment philosophy. "If you buy the same securities as other people, you will have the same results as other people. It is impossible to produce superior performance unless you do something different from the majority" – Sir John Templeton, Templeton Funds Founder http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1555961291001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAuuIiYUk~,qPWDGbccYuKswbnPr4IPsCZWtVYLcdze&bctid=2712645495001 Templeton Global Equity Fund The Templeton Global Equity Fund seeks to invest in undervalued companies offering good long- term prospects, regardless of industry or country. Templeton Global Equity Group analysts are located around the world, providing on-the-ground, in-depth research insights, enabling the Fund’s managers to use this research to search worldwide for investment ideas and compare companies on a global basis. The Fund takes a steady approach to long-term, global investing to generate returns over time. Fund Facts Fund Overview The Fund invests in equity securities considered undervalued based on fundamental company analysis using a global industry focus and a long-term investment horizon. Investment Objective To outperform the MSCI All Country World Free ex Australia Index, in Australian dollar terms, over the medium to long-term after fees and taxes. Inception Date 10 March 2005 Suggested Time Horizon Minimum five years Indirect Cost Ratio (ICR) 1.13% p.a. (W Class) Buy/Sell Spread 0.40% / 0.40% Distribution Frequency Quarterly Templeton’s time-tested investment approach is based on our philosophy of value, patience and bottom-up stock selection. We focus on the rigorous analysis of individual stocks across geographic borders and seek to identify companies trading at significant discounts to our estimates of future earnings power, cash flow generation and/or asset value. As independent thinkers with strong conviction in our investment ideas, we take an unconstrained approach to finding value. Templeton’s Stock Selection Process Templetons Stock Selection The Proof is in the Performance View our performance track record here View current fund performance here Positive Ratings from Researchers* The Templeton Global Equity Fund has achieved positive research house recommendations from leading researchers Lonsec and Zenith. Lonsec Zenith .. Important Legal Information Franklin Templeton Investments Australia Limited (FTIAust) (ABN 87 006 972 247) is the responsible entity for the Australian registered schemes referred to in this website. FTIAust is the holder an Australian Financial Services ("AFS") Licence, number 225328, issued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. This website is intended for Australian investors only. Your use of this website means you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The information in this website does not constitute the distribution of any information or the making of any offer or solicitation by anyone in any jurisdiction in which such distribution or offer is not authorized or to any person to whom it is unlawful to distribute such information or make such an offer or solicitation. The information is current as at the date of publication but is subject to change without notice.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Trend-starting Texas drops algebra II mandate

Trend-starting Texas drops algebra II mandate By WILL WEISSERT — Jan. 25, 2014 4:24 PM EST You are here Home » Texas » Trend-starting Texas drops algebra II mandate Don't miss Norway mass killer wants to go back to school Hawaii schools struggle to keep new teachers Tracy Popescu, Carter Buono In a Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 photo, math teacher Tracy Popescu, right, helps high school junior Carter Buono, 17, with a problem in an algebra II class at Flower Mound High School in Flower Mound, Texas. Texas became the first state to require its high school students to take algebra II, betting tougher graduation standards would better prepare its youngsters for college and life beyond it. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, and two more will by 2020. But Texas is now bucking the trend it began, abandoning advanced-math mandates to give high school students more flexibility to focus on vocational training for jobs that pay top dollar but don’t necessarily require a college degree. (AP Photo/LM Otero) No More Algebra In a Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 photo, a high school student adjusts a tablet device in an algebra II class at Flower Mound High School in Flower Mound, Texas. Texas became the first state to require its high school students to take algebra II, betting tougher graduation standards would better prepare its youngsters for college and life beyond it. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, and two more will by 2020. But Texas is now bucking the trend it began, abandoning advanced-math mandates to give high school students more flexibility to focus on vocational training for jobs that pay top dollar but don’t necessarily require a college degree. (AP Photo/LM Otero) No More Algebra II Algebra II books sit lined up in a high school math class at Flower Mound High School in Flower Mound, Texas, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. Texas became the first state to require its high school students to take algebra II, betting tougher graduation standards would better prepare its youngsters for college and life beyond it. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, and two more will by 2020. But Texas is now bucking the trend it began, abandoning advanced-math mandates to give high school students more flexibility to focus on vocational training for jobs that pay top dollar but don’t necessarily require a college degree. (AP Photo/LM Otero) .. Prev 1 of 3 Next . AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Policy pop quiz: Does Texas - algebra II = success? The state that started a trend by making high school students tackle algebra II is now abandoning the policy in a move praise by school districts for affording more flexibility. But some policy experts are nervous because nearly 20 states have followed Texas' lead in requiring the vigorous course. Supporters say fewer course mandates give students more time to focus on vocational training for high-paying jobs that don't necessarily require a college degree, such as at Toyota's factory in San Antonio or oil and chemical giant BASF's facilities on the Gulf Coast. But critics say Texas — often watched for education policy — is watering down its standards. They note that test scores and graduation rates have improved since the tougher curriculum was adopted in 2006. "Algebra II is a really, really powerful predictive value on whether kids go to college, but it goes on and on after that: more likely to have a full-time job, have a job with benefits, be healthier," said Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education, a policy group affiliated with the National School Boards Association. "It's not just for the college bound." Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia now require algebra II for most students, while Minnesota and Connecticut will do so soon. But Texas will join Florida — two of the country's most populous states — in dropping the requirement when its Board of Education gives final approval to a curriculum overhaul next week. That's prompting some education groups to keep close tabs on other states because Texas' classroom policy can have national implications. The state's heavy reliance on tougher standardized testing under then-Gov. George W. Bush became the model for the federal No Child Left Behind law. Texas' textbook market is so large that edits made for its classrooms can affect books sold nationwide. "It's funny that the banner-turning state would be backing off not so many years later," said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a policy analyst at Education Commission of the States. She said her group is watching but hasn't seen similar moves in other algebra II-requiring states so far. Legislators overwhelmingly approved the change in May, even though Texas' higher education commissioner, Raymond Paredes, said removing mandates for advanced math and science would leave more students ill-prepared for college and technical careers. Florida scrapped a similar policy in April. But unlike Texas, Florida is among 45 states embracing national Common Core standards, meaning its students are expected to master some skills taught in algebra II. Texas' about-face came after strong pressure from Jobs for Texas, a coalition of 22 industry trade groups that argued the state's curriculum was too rigid and no longer met the needs of the modern workforce. Coalition spokesman Mike Meroney said that with fewer state-mandated courses, school districts can better work with local employers to build curriculums that prepare high school graduates to move directly into high-paying jobs. "A lot of experts believe that problem solving is not exclusively learned in algebra II," Meroney said. "It's a good healthy debate, but it shouldn't be a panacea." The state had allowed students to avoid taking algebra II under the stricter rules by earning a "minimum diploma," and about 20 percent of students did so. But lawmakers said it wasn't enough. The new changes still require algebra II for honors diplomas, which can ensure automatic admission to Texas public universities, or for diploma plans focusing on science, technology, engineering and math courses, or STEM. Vocal critics include powerful lobbying group Texas Association of Business, which accused Texas of dumbing-down curriculum. The Texas Latino Education Coalition said the change could allow students from low-income backgrounds to skate through high school despite having college potential. But parent and teacher groups supported the change, saying it afforded flexibility to school districts, which can still require algebra II. Stephen Waddell, superintendent in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, said mandating algebra II was unnecessary because most high schoolers take it anyway. "The only way you are going to get flexibility is not requiring every single thing a student has to take," Waddell said. Isabel Hutt credits algebra II for dramatically raising her SAT scores, but the 16-year-old admits she wouldn't be in the class if it weren't required. She plans to study Spanish and social work in college. "That would have been a dream come true, if I had stopped after geometry," said Hutt, an 11th grader at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio. Chris Witte, who oversees chemical giant BASF's production facility in Freeport, Texas, said his company offers lucrative jobs for individuals with two-year degrees or focused high school career training. "Is algebra II required for every job out at our site? The answer is no," Witte said. Witte said the course is beneficial, but he and Texas lawmakers argued the vigorous math course was pushing some students to drop out. But the Texas Education Agency reported last summer that an all-time high — nearly 88 percent of students from the Class of 2012 — graduated on time. It was the fifth consecutive year of improvement. Students' scores on college entrance exams also improved. According to data released in March, Texas students' ACT scores matched the national average of 20.9. And 48 percent, compared to 44 percent nationally, met math benchmarks that included being ready for college-level algebra. Officials in Washington state recently compared school districts with and without more strenuous requirements and found no correlation between graduation rates and higher standards, said Dounay Zinth, the education policy analyst. Graduation rates in Indiana also didn't dip with increased standards, she said. Both states require algebra II, as do Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. "There's a fear that if we set higher standards for all students, more students will drop out," Dounay Zinth said. "And the data do not bear that out at all."

Friday, January 24, 2014

'Mac' turns 30 in changing computer world

'Mac' turns 30 in changing computer world By Glenn Chapman (AFP) – 1 day ago San Francisco — Decades before changing the world with iPhones and iPads, Apple transformed home computing with the Macintosh. The friendly desktop machine referred to as the "Mac" and, importantly, the ability to control it by clicking on icons with a "mouse," opened computing to non-geeks in much the way that touchscreens later allowed almost anyone get instantly comfortable with smartphones or tablets. The Macintosh computer, introduced 30 years ago Friday, was at the core of a legendary rivalry between late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft mastermind Bill Gates. Thousands of Apple faithful are expected for a birthday party this weekend in a performing arts center in Silicon Valley, not far from the company's headquarters in the city of Cupertino. "The Mac was a quantum leap forward," early Apple employee Randy Wigginton told AFP. "We didn't invent everything, but we did make everything very accessible and smooth," he continued. "It was the first computer people would play with and say: 'That's cool.'" Prior to the January 24, 1984 unveiling of the Mac with its "graphical user interface," computers were workplace machines commanded with text typed in what seemed like a foreign language to those were not software programmers. Credit for inventing the computer mouse in the 1960s went to Stanford Research Institute's Doug Engelbart, who died last year at 88. "The Mac's impact was to bring the graphical user interface to 'the rest of us,' as Apple used to say," Dag Spicer, chief content officer of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, told AFP. "The Mac GUI was picked up by Microsoft, who named it Windows." The man remembered today as a marketing magician was a terrified 27-year-old when he stepped on stage to unveil the Mac, then-chief executive John Sculley said of Jobs in a post at the tech news website CNET. "He rehearsed over and over every gesture, word, and facial expression," Sculley said. "Yet, when he was out there on stage, he made it all look so spontaneous." Apple spotlighted the arrival of the Mac with a television commercial portraying a bold blow struck against an Orwellian computer culture. The "1984" commercial directed by Ridley Scott aired in an expensive time slot during a US Super Bowl football championship in a "huge shot" at IBM, Daniel Kottke of the original Mac team told AFP. "In the Apple board room, there were strong feelings that it was not appropriate; there was a big battle," Kottke said. "Fortunately, Steve Jobs and his reality distortion field won the day and it left a strong memory for everyone who saw it." There was a drive to keep the Mac price within reach of consumers in a market where computers costing $10,000 or more were typical. While clicking an on-screen icon to open a file appeared simple, memory and processing demands were huge for the computing power of that time. "Every time you move that mouse, you are re-drawing the screen," Kottke said. "It is almost like video." The original vision of launching a Macintosh with 64 kilobytes of RAM and a $1,000 price gave way to introducing one with 128 kilobytes of RAM at $2,500. "Steve really was crazy about details," Wigginton said. "He wanted everything to be just right. Compared to the IBM PC of those days, it is just gorgeous." Macintosh also arrived with a new feature called "drop-down menus." "The Macintosh brought a new level of accessibility for personal computing to a much wider market in the same way the iPad did 25 years later," Kottke said. Mac prowess at page layouts and photo editing won the devotion of artistic types.The release of "hypercard" is credited with inspiring fanatical loyalty to Macs. "It was the idea that you could create a page on your screen and create links to other pages," Kottke said. "You could have all your computers networked to share data; it was like a private Internet." Macs sold decently out of the gate, but Windows machines hit with a low-price advantage for budget-minded buyers. Microsoft released the first version of Windows in late 1985. The ensuing rivalry is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend and coffee shop smack talk. "I think Steve Jobs cultivated a sense of Windows versus Mac," Kottke said. "Steve Jobs was always taking swipes at Microsoft, but it really heated up when Microsoft released Windows. He would say they copied us." Microsoft took the lead in the home computer market by concentrating on software while partners cranked out Windows-powered machines at prices that undercut the Mac. "Really, Apple could well have gone out of business in the late 1990s," Kottke said. "That would not have surprised people." The rivalry between Microsoft and Apple has yielded to the mobile age, with Google and its Android operating system targeted as the new nemesis as lifestyles center on smartphones and tablet computers. The original boxy Macintosh with a mouth-like slit below the screen for "floppy" data disks has evolved into a line that boasts slim, powerful laptops and a cylindrical Mac Pro desktop model. "I am thankful to have been a part of it," Wigginton said. "Once you go through an experience like that, and it was extremely painful, you look back and every sacrifice is absolutely worth it. It is when Apple leapfrogs in technology that they succeed." Copyright © 2014 AFP. All rights reserved

Rafsanjani: How long will we fight over the first Caliph?

Rafsanjani: How long will we fight over the first caliph? Posted on January 23, 2014 by Arash Karami Share n2625993-3727610 At the 27th conference of Islamic Unity, former Iranian president and current head of the Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani spoke against many of the ideological differences separating Muslims and warned about the dangers facing the Middle East. While Rafsanjani acknowledged the theological and historical differences, he has been campaigning for a softer foreign policy, as sectarian tension in the Middle East is at a historical high given the Syrian civil war. Most notably, his speech contrasted with that of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who, while preaching unity, also warned about the dangers of “takfiri” Sunni jihadist groups. “Who was the first caliph or wasn’t is a historical issue that doesn’t have any benefit for us and is without any results,” Rafsanjani said on a issue that is divisive theologically for Sunnis and Shiites. Shiites believe that Ali ibn Abi Taleb was supposed to be the first caliph after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe he was chosen as the fourth caliph. On technical issues and how the faith is practiced, Rafsanjani said, “There is no rational logic for how they do ablutions and how they pray to be turned into a dispute, and there is no document in the Quran or the traditions for us to have differences with each other.” “Unfortunately, the situation in the Islamic world is in a dangerous condition and exactly against unity … and the message of the Prophet,” he continued. Rafsanjani said that it is natural for there be differences, but that there needs to be an “easier way to address differences and prevent disputes and quarrels.” He suggested that governments support clerics settling disputes through presenting their ideas over shared media. On the Arab Spring, which Iran calls the “Islamic Awakening,” Rafsanjani said that two years ago he was hopeful, but now the movement has turned into “domestic quarrels, and people have turned on one another.” According to the transcript provided by his website, Rafsanjani did not mention any specific circumstances or countries other than a case in Afghanistan in which an 8-year-old girl was convinced by her brother to strap a bomb vest to herself. In the last several years he has campaigned for a soften foreign policy and has deviated from the positions of the hard-liners, especially on Syria and relations with the United States. In September 2013, Rafsanjani contrasted with official Iranian government positions by saying that Syrians were bombed with chemical weapons by their own government. In August 2013, he suggested that peace with a “peaceful enemy,” meaning the United States, was possible. He was immediately attacked by hard-line media for both statements. Even before the June 2013 election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, Rafsanjani was one of the few figures with the ability to warn publicly that Iran was headed toward a possible confrontation with the West and criticize that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had taken over a large segment of government projects. Image by Arash Karami

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Swiss tighten controls on lenders to cool real estate market

Swiss tighten controls on lenders to cool real estate market Thu, Jan 23 01:28 AM EST ZURICH, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The Swiss government is raising the level of capital banks must hold against their mortgage activity, tightening controls on lenders after the previous requirement failed to dampen Switzerland's housing market boom. Real estate prices and mortgage lending have risen strongly in Switzerland in recent years, a by-product of the ultra-low interest rates set by the central bank to lessen the appeal of the safe-haven Swiss franc and prevent a recession. Swiss banks will have to hold 2 percent extra capital against mortgage risk-weighted assets from June 30, 2014, up from the 1 percent they were required to hold by the end of September last year. The government action comes as the result of a request from the Swiss National Bank, which has repeatedly expressed concern about overheating house prices. (Reporting by Caroline Copley) Exclusive: Khamenei's business empire gains from Iran sanctions relief Wed, Jan 22 10:36 AM EST image By Steve Stecklow and Babak Dehghanpisheh (Reuters) - One of the chief beneficiaries of this week's easing of Iranian sanctions is the country's ruler - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei controls a massive business empire known as Setad that has invested in Iran's petrochemical industry, which is now permitted to resume exports. Under a six-month deal between Iran and world powers, Tehran has promised to scale back its nuclear development program in exchange for the suspension of certain economic sanctions, including curbs on the export of petrochemicals. On Monday, the day the suspension of the restrictions took effect, the U.S. Treasury Department published a list of 14 Iranian petrochemical companies that previously had been sanctioned but are now permitted to do business abroad. The list includes three firms that the department said last year are controlled by Setad - Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical Products Co, Marjan Petrochemical Co and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh Co. In an emailed statement to Reuters, a spokesman for Setad said it only held shares in Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical. "Our investment ... in the petrochemical sector is minimal," the spokesman said. The easing of sanctions comes less than seven months after the Treasury Department added Setad and 37 companies the department said Setad oversees - including the three petrochemical firms - to a lengthy list of sanctioned Iranian entities. The Treasury described the action last June as an effort to target Iran's leadership, and it accused Setad of being part of a scheme to circumvent U.S. and international sanctions. In November, Reuters published a three-part series (www.reuters.com/investigates/iran/) that detailed for the first time how Setad had become one of Iran's richest and most powerful institutions, largely through the systematic seizure and sale of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians. By the time Washington sanctioned Setad, it had morphed into a multi-billion-dollar business conglomerate that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil and telecommunications. Iran's state news agency denounced the Reuters reports as "disinformation" intended to undermine public trust in the Islamic Republic's institutions. The conglomerate's full name in Persian is Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam. Khamenei, who appoints its board of directors, is Iran's top cleric and has final say on all governmental matters, including the preliminary nuclear accord. Iran and six powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - will try to reach a final agreement over the next six months. The West believes Iran wants to build atomic weapons. Iran has long said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy development. Setad stands to profit from the preliminary agreement in ways besides the export of petrochemicals. The agreement makes it easier for Iran to import humanitarian goods, including medicine. Setad controls numerous Iranian pharmaceutical companies. Washington targeted Iran's petrochemical industry last year, with an Obama administration official saying the sector had become a significant source of Iran's foreign earnings. In an interview with Reuters this week, a Treasury Department official estimated that Iran would generate at most $1 billion in revenue from petrochemical exports over the next six months, and possibly much less, since it would not be in a position to sign any long-term contracts. Dozens of petrochemical products are no longer under sanctions, including ammonia, methanol and chlorine. The suspension does not include finished products, such as plastic bags or tires. U.S. citizens and American-owned companies are still prohibited from doing most business with Iran. The website of Ghaed Bassir Petrochemical, which makes plastic products, states that it has exported material to numerous countries, including South Africa, Italy, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, South Korea and China. A Setad subsidiary, Tadbir Energy Development Group, states on its website that it owns 80 percent of Ghaed Bassir. An employee at Ghaed Bassir said company officials were not immediately available for comment. Last June, the Treasury Department said Setad also controls Marjan Petrochemical, which is investing in methanol production, and Sadaf Petrochemical Assaluyeh, which makes rubber. An official with Marjan told Reuters that "the sanctions didn't hurt us very much." He said the company plans to continue discussions it has had in the past with companies in Italy and Denmark. "We're still in the planning phase," he said. (Reporting by Steve Stecklow in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut. Edited by Simon Robinson)

UPDATE 1-Japan, Saudi to sign emergency oil supply pact -paper

UPDATE 1-Japan, Saudi to sign emergency oil supply pact -paper Thu, Feb 07 15:03 PM EST * Tokyo seeks agreement amid Middle East tensions * Japan seeks deal as Saudi exports due to fall-Nikkei * Terms of proposed agreement unclear (Adds detail, analyst quote) Feb 7 (Reuters) - Japan and Saudi Arabia will sign an agreement this weekend that will allow Tokyo to make emergency requests for additional supplies of crude oil, Japan's Nikkei newspaper reported in its Friday edition. The agreement would set up a telephone hotline between the two governments to allow Japan to quickly seek additional oil supplies in the event of extraordinary circumstances such as terrorist attacks, unrest in the Middle East or a spike in the price of oil. Japan opted to seek the supply deal because Saudi Arabia's crude oil exports are set to decline, the Nikkei report said. Although the kingdom retains significant spare crude oil production capacity, its crude oil exports are falling due to growing domestic oil demand and plans to expand Saudi oil refineries to export more refined products. "If true, it shows how nervous importers are due to the fragility in the Middle Eastern situation, particularly Asian buyers," said Amrita Sen of oil consultancy Energy Aspects. Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi will travel to Saudi Arabia on Saturday to sign the pact, Nikkei said. He will later visit other Middle Eastern oil exporters, including the United Arab Emirates. The deal, as described, would represent a significant increase in cooperation between one of the world's largest oil importers and the top producer in OPEC. Japan has relied on cooperation with Western oil importing countries through the International Energy Agency to ensure oil supply security since the 1970s. As one of the most oil import-dependent countries in the industrialized world, analysts say it has always been acutely vulnerable to the prospect of a sudden halt to crude shipments. Any move by a major oil importer to be first in line to tap Saudi Arabia's spare oil production capacity in the event of a crisis may further stoke global oil supply security concerns. Japan is not the only large Asian country at risk in the event of an oil supply shock. China and India are both increasingly reliant on imported oil to fuel their economies and both have far less access to emergency stockpiles than Western importers. Oil markets have been on edge for months about the security of Middle Eastern oil supplies amid mounting tensions between the West and Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Iranian oil exports fell by 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2012 due to Western sanctions aimed at forcing oil importers, like Japan, to reduce their purchases of Iranian crude. In retaliation, Iran has at times threatened to cut off shipments of oil or block major shipping routes. Additional restrictions imposed by the United States took effect this week and there are few signs that a negotiated settlement to the dispute is at hand. Iran's Supreme Leder Ayatollah Ali Khameni dismissed an offer of direct talks made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week. TERMS UNCLEAR The Nikkei report did not specify how much oil Japan might be able to request from Saudi Arabia in the event of an emergency under the proposed emergency oil supply agreement. Nor did it specify on what terms Japan would be able to secure more oil nor whether a request for emergency supplies would be binding on Riyadh. OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia has repeatedly pledged to supply global markets with enough oil to meet demand. But the kingdom has traditionally guarded its sovereignty over its energy resources and has often rebuffed calls from oil consuming nations to produce more oil to depress high prices. Saudi Arabia, which currently pumps approximately 9.05 million bpd, maintains the ability to produce up to 12.5 million bpd if needed, the only significant amount of spare oil production capacity worldwide. Japan has grown increasingly reliant on fossil fuels since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which has led to the shutdown of most of the resource-poor country's nuclear power plants. Saudi Arabia signed a deal with Japan in June to store 3.8 million barrels of crude in the Asian nation's Okinawa Oil Base. (Editing by Peter Galloway and Marguerita Choy)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Syria peace talks: Hyped as crucial, downplayed

Jan. 21, 2014 5:09 PM ET By ZEINA KARAM and LORI HINNANT, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES Ibraheem Qaddah, 33, a former Free Syian Army fighter from Daraa, speaks with with The Associated Press at Zaatari refugee camp near the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. For some of the more than 2 million Syrian refugees scattered around the region, there is little hope that the peace conference in Geneva can deliver a solution to the conflict, and scant interest in a settlement with Assad’s government. “We lost our faith in the international community. We don’t care about the Geneva conference and whether it takes place or not,” said Qaddah, whose arm was amputated after an injury by the Syrian government forces' shelling and was smuggled with his family to Jordan two months ago. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon) Syria talks set to open amid low expectations Jan. 20, 2014 4:22 AM ET Syrian opposition to attend peace conference Jan. 18, 2014 4:07 PM ET Warring South Sudanese close to signing cease-fire Jan. 18, 2014 11:49 AM ET Syria proposes Aleppo cease-fire, prisoner swap Jan. 17, 2014 3:17 PM ET Syria FM: Damascus prepared for prisoner exchange Jan. 17, 2014 5:18 AM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — In nearly the same breath, the world's most powerful diplomats have talked about the importance of this week's peace conference on Syria and downplayed expectations for a breakthrough. The timeframe for the talks is a week to 10 days, and then a break — but for what, and for how long? Syria's Western-backed opposition and President Bashar Assad's handpicked representatives have never spoken face-to-face and it's not at all clear how much either side — or their proxy powerbrokers — really want an end to the war. A look at the goals of the participants and how the conference, which opens Wednesday, could unfold. WHAT'S AT STAKE Fighting in Syria has killed more than 130,000 people and left millions of refugees, either in camps or squats in neighboring countries or within Syria's borders. The economy has been devastated, and bombs and gunfire have ruined once-thriving cities. The rebellion started in March 2011, and Syria has seen little but violence ever since. The contrast for the peace conference in the Alps town of Montreux could hardly be more stark — Switzerland has stayed out of international conflict since 1815, when it was declared neutral at the end of the Napoleonic wars. The dichotomy isn't lost on Syrians suffering from the war. The government carried out airstrikes across the country on Tuesday, including in Daraa province in the south, outside the capital, Damascus, in Homs province in central Syria and in Aleppo in the north. The deadliest of the attacks hit opposition-held areas of Aleppo, killing at least 10 people. For some of the more than 2 million Syrian refugees scattered around the region, there was scant interest in a settlement with Assad's government. "We lost our faith in the international community. We don't care about the Geneva conference and whether it takes place or not," said Ibraheem Qaddah, a former rebel fighter with an amputated arm, now holed up in Jordan's sprawling Zaatari refugee camp. "We have lost a lot of relatives and friends and family members in the fighting, and we've lost Syria." NEW LEADERSHIP? UNLIKELY THIS TIME AROUND Syria's Western-backed Syrian National Coalition wants a transitional government to replace Assad, reiterating Tuesday that it finally decided to attend the peace conference in order to establish a transitional government with full executive powers "in which killers and criminals do not participate." That's the stated goal of the peace conference, agreed upon by international powers in preliminary talks in June. But Assad, whose soldiers have notched up recent military victories, points to the ascendance of Islamic militants to temper Western enthusiasm for the rebels. He has said he has no intention of stepping down and, on the contrary, may run again as president later this year. Still, by agreeing to meet them, Assad for the first time has acknowledged an opposition that he has long derided and dismissed as "terrorists" and "mercenaries." CEASE-FIRES, HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS, PRISONER EXCHANGES "We must take small steps," Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said in Paris on Tuesday. A comprehensive end to the war in Syria is probably not possible, but smaller goals may be achievable. Syria's government last week proposed a cease-fire in the embattled city of Aleppo and a prisoner exchange with the opposition, but left the terms vague. The opposition has accused the government of reneging on promises before and declaring cease-fires in order to buy time. There are also questions as to whether a truce is remotely possible in a devastated city where scattered rebel groups have been locked for months in a stalemate with government troops. Prisoner exchanges pose similar problems: With no unified command, the prospect of pulling together a rebel database of those detained seems impossibly remote. And Assad's government operated secret prisons for years, if not decades, before the fighting started. That doesn't preclude small exchanges and — as Steinmeier said — small steps are the first goal. Humanitarian corridors would seem a likely starting point, but as one rebel brigade after another has fallen away from the Syrian National Council, it's unclear how the shrinking umbrella group could enforce any agreement it reaches. The rebels could benefit — if they can be persuaded not to seize the supplies for their own forces, and resolve with the government who polices the routes and guarantees the safety of the police. HOW IT COULD UNFOLD The first direct talks between the opposition and the government are scheduled to start in Geneva on Friday. News agencies in Russia, which is spearheading the talks along with the United States, said those discussions are expected to last seven to 10 days, then break for a short time. The reports did not specify the purpose of the break, its duration or how talks could resume. But any agreements reached between the two sides would have to be thoroughly vetted. In the case of the Syrian opposition, that will be complicated by defections and its total inability to influence fighters within Syria. For a recent comparison, the Dayton peace talks that ended the Bosnian war in 1995 took place over 21 days under far more auspicious circumstances, where the leaders were looking for political cover for a war they wanted to end. In Syria, neither side is looking for — or expecting — a quick end to the fighting. And the fighting has evolved into a proxy war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, as well as touching on post-Cold War tensions between Russia and the United States. ___ Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Beirut, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Omar Akour in Zaatari Camp, Jordan, Elena Becatoros in Athens, and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report. ___ Follow Zeina Karam at : https://twitter.com/zkaram Follow Lori Hinnant at: https://twitter.com/lhinnant ============= please take the matter in your own hands and talk to the Government ,Demand only complete military operation until all terrorists are killed in Mastung,Akhtar abad,Sariab,Dasht.Asim Kurd Gilu is also the leader of the terrorists.But please BEAWARE last year The ukjahati council team played very dangerous game including,asadi,s hashim ,qayyum,s saddat etc,as they worked their best for agencies to bulldoze the dharna,and at the end s,saadat deleted the demand of military operation,which if carried out all the tragedies from Hazara town till today would have been avoided.So Please do not allow these agents of agencies to talk with the government,they will AGAIN sell the BLOOD of Martyrs. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=526736754108178&l=529192407b dear Brothers, Its the request of the european hazaras from hdp to take this protest in their Hands and ask the Army chief of Pakistan to come to alamdar road and make sure us that he will protect us and start target operations, nawaz Sharif and others cant do anything, when u give responsibility to army chief he will do it because, the Moral of army will be down if they do not fulfill their objectives, so Abdul khaliq must =================== Geneva II – Syrian Foreign Minister: “The West Publicly Claims to Be Fighting Terrorism, Whilst It Is Covertly Nourishing It.” By: on: 22.01.2014 [19:55 ] (69 reads) Montreux, (SANA) - The international conference on Syria, Geneva2, kicked off on Wednesday morning with the participation of Syria’s official delegation, headed by Deputy Premier, Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Walid al-Moallem. (25384 bytes) [c] Print Minister al-Moallem said at the opening session of the conference: Ladies and Gentlemen, On behalf of the Syrian Arab Republic, SYRIAN – steeped in history for seven thousand years. ARAB – proud of its steadfast pan-Arab heritage despite the deliberate acts of aggression of supposed brotherly Arabs. REPUBLIC – a civil state that some, sitting in this room, have tried to return to medieval times. Never have I been in a more difficult position; my delegation and I carry the weight of three years of hardship endured by my fellow countrymen – the blood of our martyrs, the tears of our bereaved, the anguish of families waiting for news of a loved one – kidnapped or missing, the cries of our children whose tender fingers were the targets of mortar shelling into their classrooms, the hopes of an entire generation destroyed before their very eyes, the courage of mothers and fathers who have sent all their sons to defend our country, the heartbreak of families whose homes have been destroyed and are now displaced or refugees. My delegation and I also carry the hope of a nation for the years to come – the right of every child to safely go to school again, the right of women to leave their homes without fear of being kidnapped, killed or raped; the dream of our youth to fulfill their vast potential; the return of security so that every man can leave his family safe in the knowledge that he will return. Finally, today, the moment of truth; the truth that many have systematically tried to bury in a series of campaigns of misinformation, deception and fabrication leading to killing and terror. A truth that refused to be buried, a truth clear for all to see – the delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic representing the Syrian people, the government, the state, the Army and the President – Bashar al-Assad. It is regrettable, Ladies and Gentlemen, that seated amongst us today in this room, are representatives of countries that have the blood of Syrians on their hands, countries that have exported terrorism along with clemency for the perpetrators, as if it was their God given right to determine who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Countries that have prevented believers from visiting holy places of worship whilst abetting, financing and supporting terrorists. Countries that gave themselves the authority to grant and deny legitimacy to others as they saw fit, never looking at their own archaic glasshouses before throwing stones at acclaimed fortified towers. Countries that shamelessly lecture us in democracy, in development and in progress whilst drowning in their own ignorance and medieval norms. Countries that have become accustomed to being entirely owned by kings and princes who have the sole right to distribute their national wealth granting their associates whilst denying those who fall out of favor. They lectured Syria – a distinguished, virtuous, sovereign state, they lectured her on honour whilst they themselves were immersed in the mud of enslavement, infanticide and other medieval practices. After all their efforts and subsequent failures, their masks fell from their quivering faces, to reveal their perverse ambitions. A desire to destabilize and destroy Syria by exporting their national product: terrorism. They used their petrodollars to buy weapons, recruit mercenaries and saturate airtime covering up their mindless brutality with lies under the guise of the so-called “ Syrian revolution that will fulfill the aspirations of the Syrian people.” Ladies and Gentlemen, how is what has happened and continues to plague Syria, meeting these aspirations? How can a Chechen, Afghani, Saudi, Turkish or even French and English terrorists deliver on the aspirations of the Syrian people, and with what? An Islamic state that knows nothing of Islam except perverse Wahhabism? Who declared anyway that the Syrian people aspire to live thousands of years in the past? In Syria, Ladies and Gentlemen, the wombs of pregnant women are butchered and their foetuses killed; women are raped, dead or alive, in practices so heinous, so vile and repulsive that they can only be attributed to their perverse doctrine. In Syria, Ladies and Gentlemen, men are slaughtered in front of their children in the name of this revolution; worse still, this is done whilst the children of these foreign perpetrators sing and dance. In Syria, how can so-called revolutionaries cannibalize a man’s heart and claim to promote freedom, democracy and a better life? Under the pretext of the “Great Syrian Revolution,” civilians, clergymen, women and children are killed, victims are indiscriminately blown up in streets and buildings regardless of their political views or ideologies; books and libraries are burned, graves are dug up and artifacts stolen. In the name of the revolution, children are killed in their schools and students in their universities, women are extorted in the name of jihad al-nikah and other forms, mosques are shelled whilst worshipers kneel at prayer, heads are severed and hung in the streets, people are burned alive in a true holocaust that history and many countries will deny without being accused of anti-Semitism. In the name of a revolution, “to free the oppressed Syrian people from the regime and to spread democracy,” does a father blow himself up with his wife and children to prevent foreign intruders from entering his home? Most of us in this room are fathers – I ask you then, what would compel a man to kill his own family to protect them from freedom fighting monsters. This is what happened in Adra, a place that most of you have not heard of but where the same alien monsters attacked: killing, looting, beheading, slaughtering, raping and burning people alive. You have heard nothing of this brutality for sure, yet you have heard of other places where the same heinous crimes were committed and where the same blood soaked finger was pointed at the Syrian Army and government. And when these flagrant lies were no longer credible, they stopped spinning their web of deceit. This is what their masters ordered them to do, these countries that spearheaded the war against Syria, trying to increase their influence in the region with bribes and money, exporting human monsters fully soaked in abhorrent Wahabi ideology, all at the expense of Syrian blood. From this stage, loud and clear, you know as well as I do that they will not stop in Syria, even if some sitting in this room refuse to acknowledge or consider themselves immune. Ladies and Gentlemen, everything you have heard would not have been possible, had our border sharing countries been good neighbours during these challenging years. Unfortunately they were far from it; with backstabbers to the North, silent bystanders to the truth in the West, a weak South accustomed to doing the bidding of others, or the tired and exhausted East still reeling from the plots to destroy it along with Syria. Indeed, this misery and destruction, which has engulfed Syria, has been made possible by the decision of Erdogan’s government to invite and host these criminal terrorists before they entered into Syria. Clearly, oblivious to the fact that magic eventually turns on the magician, it is now beginning to taste the sour seed it has sown. For terrorism knows no religion, and is loyal only unto itself. Erdogan’s government has recklessly morphed from a zero problems with its neighbours policy to zero foreign policy and international diplomacy altogether, crucially leaving it with zero credibility. Nevertheless, it continued on the same atrocious path falsely believing that the dream of Sayyid Qutb and Mohammad Abdel Wahab before him was finally being realized. They wreaked havoc from Tunisia, to Libya, to Egypt and then to Syria, determined to achieve an illusion that only exists in their sick minds. Despite the fact that it has proven to be a failure, they nevertheless are still determined to pursue it. Logically speaking, this can only be described as stupidity, because if you don’t learn from history, you will lose sight of the present; and history tells us: if your neighbor’s house is on fire, it is impossible for you to remain safe. Some neighbours started fires within Syria whilst others recruited terrorists from around the globe – and here we are confronted with shockingly farcical double standards: 83 nationalities are fighting in Syria – nobody denounces this, nobody condemns it, nobody reconsiders their position – and they impertinently continue to call it a glorious SYRIAN Revolution! While when a few scores of young resistant fighters supported the Syrian Army in a few places, all hell broke loose and it suddenly became foreign intervention! Demands were made for the departure of foreign troops and the protection of Syrian sovereignty and for it not to be violated. Here I affirm, Syria – the sovereign and independent state, will continue to do whatever it takes to defend herself with whatever means it deems necessary, without paying the least bit of attention to any uproar, denunciations, statements or positions expressed by others. These have been and always will be Syria’s sovereign decisions. Despite all of this, the Syrian people remained steadfast; and the response was to impose sanctions on our food, our bread and our children’s milk. To starve the population, pushing them into sickness and death under the injustice of these sanctions. At the same time, factories were looted and burned, crippling our food and pharmaceutical industries; hospitals and healthcare centers were destroyed; our railroads and electricity lines sabotaged, and even our places of worship – Christian and Muslim – were not spared their terrorism. When all of this failed, America threatened to strike Syria, fabricating with her allies, Western and Arab, the story about the use of chemical weapons, which failed to convince even their own public, let alone ours. Countries that celebrate democracy, freedom and human rights regrettably only choose to speak the language of blood, war, colonialism and hegemony. Democracy is imposed with fire, freedom with warplanes and human rights by human killing, because they have become accustomed to the world doing their bidding: if they want something, it will happen; if they don’t, it won’t. They have heedlessly forgotten that the perpetrators who blew themselves up in New York follow the same doctrine and come from the same source as those blowing themselves up in Syria. They have heedlessly forgotten that the terrorist that was in America yesterday is in Syria today, and who knows where he will be tomorrow. What is certain, however, is that he will not stop here. Afghanistan is an ideal lesson for anyone who wants to learn – anyone! Unfortunately, most do not want to learn; neither America nor some of the ‘civilized’ western countries that follow its lead, starting from the city of lights to the kingdom over which “the sun never set,” in the past; despite the fact that they have all felt the bitter taste of terrorism in the past. And then suddenly they became “Friends of Syria.” Four of these ‘friends’ are autocratic, oppressive monarchies that know nothing of a civil state or democracy, whilst others are the same colonial powers which occupied, pillaged and partitioned Syria less than one hundred years ago. These so called ‘friends’ are now convening conferences to publicly declare their friendship with the Syrian people, whilst covertly facilitating their hardship and destroying their livelihoods. They openly express their outrage over the humanitarian plight of Syrians whilst deceiving the international community of their complicity. If you were truly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria, you would remove your strangle hold on her economy by lifting the sanctions and the embargo, and by partnering with her government in tightening security by fighting the influx of weapons and terrorists. Only then can we assure you that we will be well as we once were, without your deep concern for our wellbeing. Some of you may be asking yourselves: Are foreigners the sole manufacturers of the happenings in Syria? No Ladies and Gentlemen, Syrians amongst us here, having been legitimized by foreign agendas, have played a contributing role as facilitators and implementers. They did this at the expense of Syrian blood and the people whose aspirations they claim to represent, whilst they themselves were divided hundreds of times and their leaders on the ground were fleeing far and wide. They sold themselves to Israel becoming her eyes on the ground, and her fingers on the trigger for Syria’s destruction; and when they failed, Israel intervened directly to reduce the capabilities of the Syrian Army and thus ensuring the continued implementation of her decades old plan for Syria. Our people were being slaughtered while they were living in five star hotels; they opposed from abroad, met abroad betraying Syria and selling themselves to the highest foreign bidder. And yet, they still claim to speak in the name of the Syrian people! No, Ladies and Gentlemen, anyone wishing to speak on behalf of the Syrian people cannot be a traitor to their cause and an agent for their enemies. Those wishing to speak on behalf of the people of Syria should do so from within her borders: living in her destroyed houses, sending their children to her schools in the morning not knowing if they will return safe from mortar shelling, tolerating the freezing cold winters because of the shortage in heating oil and queuing for hours to buy bread for their families because sanctions have prevented us from importing wheat when we were once exporters. Anyone wanting to speak in the name of the Syrian people should first endure three years of terrorism, confronting it head on, and then come here and speak on behalf of the Syrian people. Ladies and gentlemen, the Syrian Arab Republic – people and state, has fulfilled its duties. It has welcomed hundreds of international journalists and facilitated their mobility, security and access; and they in turn have reflected the stark and horrific realities they witnessed to their audiences, realities that have perplexed many Western media organisations who couldn’t bear their propaganda and narrative being exposed and contradicted. The examples are too many to count. We allowed international aid and relief organizations into the country, but the clandestine agents of certain parties sitting here, obstructed them from reaching those in dire need of aid. They came under terrorist attack several times, whilst we, as a state, did our duty in protecting them and facilitating their work. We issued numerous amnesties and released thousands of prisoners, some even members of armed groups, at the anger and dismay of their victim’s families; these families though, like the rest of us, ultimately accepted that Syria’s interests come before anything else, and hence we must conceal our wounds and rise above hatred and rancor. What have you done, you who claim to speak on behalf of the Syrian people. Where is your vision for this great country? Where are your ideas or your political manifesto? Who are your agents of change on the ground other than your armed criminal gangs? I am certain that you have nothing and this is only too apparent in the areas that your mercenaries have occupied or to use your words “liberated.” In these areas, have you freed the population or have you hijacked their moderate culture to enforce your radical and oppressive practices? Have you implemented your development agenda by building schools and health centres? No, you have destroyed them and allowed polio to return after it had previously been eradicated in Syria. Have you protected Syria’s artifacts and museums? No, you have looted our national sites for your personal profit. Have you demonstrated your commitment to justice and human rights? No, you have enforced public executions and beheadings. In short, you have done nothing at all except muster the disgrace and shame of begging America to strike Syria. Even the opposition, over which you are the self-appointed masters and guardians, do not acknowledge you or the methods in which you manage your own affairs, let alone the affairs of a country. A country they want to homogenize; not in the sectarian, ethnic or religious sense, but rather in a warped ideological sense. Anyone against them, whether Christian or Muslim, is an infidel; they killed Muslims of all sects and targeted Syrian Christians with severity. Even nuns and bishops were targeted, kidnapping them after they attacked Ma’loula, the last community that still speaks the language of Jesus Christ. They did all this to force Syrian Christians to flee their country. But little did they know, that in Syria we are one. When Christianity is attacked all Syrians are Christians, when mosques are targeted all Syrians are Muslims. Every Syrian is from Raqqa, Lattakia, Sweida, Homs or the bleeding Aleppo when any one of these places is targeted. Their abhorrent attempts to sow sectarian and religious sedition will never be embraced by any levelheaded Syrian. In short, Ladies and Gentlemen, your “glorious Syrian revolution” has left no mortal sin uncommitted. There is another side to this dark gloomy picture. A light at the end of the tunnel shinning through the Syrian people’s determination and steadfastness, the Syrian Army’s courage in protecting our citizens and the Syrian state’s resilience and perseverance. During everything that has happened, there are states that have shown us true friendship, honest states that stood on the side of right against wrong, even when the wrong was clear for all to see. On behalf of the Syrian people and state, I would like to thank Russia and China for respecting Syria’s sovereignty and independence. Russia has been a true champion on the international stage strongly defending, not only with words but also with deeds, the founding principles of the United Nations of respecting the sovereignty of states. Similarly China, the BRICS countries, Iran, Iraq and other Arab and Muslim countries, in addition to African and Latin American countries, have also genuinely safeguarded the aspirations of the Syrian people and not the ambitions of other governments for Syria. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Syrian people, like other people of the region, aspire to more freedom, justice and human rights; they aspire to more plurality and democracy, to a better Syria, a safe, prosperous and healthy Syria. They aspire to building strong institutions not destroying them, to safeguarding our national artifacts and heritage sites not looting and demolishing them. They aspire to a strong national army, which protects our honour, our people and our national wealth, an army that defends Syria’s borders, her sovereignty and independence. They do not, Ladies and Gentlemen, aspire to a mercenary army ‘Free’ to kidnap civilians for ransom or to use them as human shields, ‘Free’ to steal humanitarian aid, extort the poor and illegally trade in the organs of living women and children, ‘Free’ to canibalise human hearts and livers, barbequing heads, recruiting child soldiers and raping women. All of this is done with the might of arms; arms provided by countries, represented here, who claim to be championing “moderate groups”. Tell us, for God’s sake, where is the moderation in everything I have described? Where are these vague moderate groups that you are hiding behind? Are they the same old groups that continue to be supported militarily and publicly by the West, that have undergone an even uglier face-lift in the hope of convincing us that they are fighting terrorism? We all know that no matter how hard their propaganda machine tries to polish their image under the name of moderation, their extremism and terrorism is one and the same. They know, as we all do, that under the pretext of supporting these groups, al-Qaeda and its affiliates are being armed in Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region. This is the reality, Ladies and Gentlemen, so wake up to the undeniable reality that the West is supporting some Arab countries to supply lethal weapons to al-Qaeda. The West publically claims to be fighting terrorism, whilst in fact it is covertly nourishing it. Anyone who cannot see this truth is either ignorantly blind or willfully so in order to finish what they have begun. Is this the Syria that you want? The loss of thousands of martyrs and our once cherished safety and national security replaced with apocalyptic devastation. Are these the aspirations of the Syrian people that you wanted to fulfill? No, Ladies and Gentlemen, Syria will not remain so, and that is why we are here. Despite all that has been done by some, we have come to save Syria: to stop the beheadings, to stop the cannibalizing and the butchering. We have come to help mothers and children return to the homes they were driven out of by terrorists. We have come to protect the civil and open-minded nature of the state, to stop the march of the Tatars and the Mongols across our region. We have come to prevent the collapse of the entire Middle East, to protect civilization, culture and diversity, and to preserve the dialogue of civilizations in the birthplace of religions. We have come to protect tolerant Islam that has been distorted, and to protect the Christians of the Levant. We are here to tell our Syrian expatriates, to return to their home country because they will always be foreigners anywhere else, and regardless of our differences we are all still brothers and sisters. We have come to stop terrorism as other countries that have experienced its bitter taste have done, whilst affirming loudly and consistently that a dialogue between Syrians is the only solution; but as with other countries that have been struck by terrorism, we have a constitutional duty to defend our citizens and we shall continue to strike terrorism that attacks Syrians regardless of their political affiliations. We have come to hold those accountable, for as long as particular countries continue to support terrorism, this conference will bear no fruit. Political pluralism and terrorism cannot coexist in the same landscape. Politics can only prosper by fighting terrorism; it cannot grow in its shadow. We are here as representatives of the Syrian people and the state; but let it be clear to all, – and experience is the best proof – that nobody has the authority to grant or withdraw legitimacy from a president, a government, a constitution, a law or anything else in Syria except Syrians themselves; this is their constitutional right and duty. Therefore, whatever agreement is reached here will be subject to a national referendum. We are tasked with conveying our people’s desires, not with determining their destiny; those who want to listen to the will of the Syrian people should not appoint themselves as their spokesperson. Syrians alone have the right to choose their government, their parliament and their constitution; everything else is just talk and has no significance. Finally, to all those here and everyone watching around the world: in Syria we are fighting terrorism, terrorism which has destroyed and continues to destroy; terrorism which since the 1980’s Syria has been calling, on deaf ears, for a unified front to defeat it. Terrorism has struck in America, France, Britain, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan; the list goes on and it continues to spread. Let us all cooperate to fight it, let’s work hand in hand to stop its black, horrifying and obscurantist ideology. Then, let us as Syrians stand united to focus on Syria and start rebuilding its social fabric and material structures. As I said, dialogue is the foundation to this process, and despite our gratitude to the host country, we affirm that the real dialogue between Syrians should in fact be on Syrian soil and under Syrian skies. Exactly one year ago, the Syrian government put forward its vision for a political solution; think of how much innocent blood we would have saved had some countries resorted to reason instead of terrorism and destruction. For a whole year, we have been calling for dialogue, but terrorism continued to strike at the Syrian state, her people and institutions. Today, in this gathering of Arab and Western powers, we are presented with a simple choice: we can choose to fight terrorism and extremism together and to start a new political process, or you can continue to support terrorism in Syria. Let us reject and isolate the black hands and the false faces, which publicly smile but covertly feed terrorist ideology, striking Syria today, but ultimately spreading to infect us all. This is the moment of truth and destiny; let us rise to the challenge. Thank you . http://www.globalresearch.ca/geneva-ii-syrian-foreign-minister-the-west-publicly-claims-to-be-fighting-terrorism-whilst-it-is-covertly-nourishing-it/5365833 ============ Jan. 24, 2014 4:26 PM ET Both sides in Syrian talks to meet in 'same room' By ZEINA KARAM and LORI HINNANT, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES AIM Share U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. After three days of escalating rhetoric _ and a day spent assiduously avoiding contact within the United Nations _ the two sides will meet “in the same room,” said the U.N. mediator trying to forge an end to the civil war _ or at least a measure of common ground to stem a civil war that has left 130,000 people dead. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) 1 of 5 More News Video S. Sudan rebels say gov't violating new cease-fire Jan. 24, 2014 2:53 PM ET Syrian govt says terrorism, not talks is priority Jan. 23, 2014 9:39 AM ET Syrian peace talks stuck over Assad's future Jan. 22, 2014 1:01 PM ET Syria peace talks: Hyped as crucial, downplayed Jan. 21, 2014 5:09 PM ET Syria talks set to open amid low expectations Jan. 20, 2014 2:24 AM ET Buy AP Photo Reprints GENEVA (AP) — Bending to intense international pressure, Syria's government and the Western-backed opposition agreed Friday to face each other for the first time since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad. After three days of hostile rhetoric and five hours spent assiduously avoiding contact within the United Nations, the two sides will meet "in the same room," said the U.N. mediator trying to forge an end to the civil war that has left 130,000 people dead since 2011. Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met separately with Assad's delegation and representatives with the Syrian National Coalition, who arrived at the U.N. European headquarters five hours apart to ensure their paths would not cross. "We never expected it to be easy and I'm sure it's not going to be, but I think the two parties understand what's at stake," Brahimi said. "Their country is in very, very bad shape." Brahimi, a famously patient mediator, is credited with efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan after the U.S. ousted their governments. But he faces a formidable task to build peace in Syria, which has been flooded with al-Qaida-inspired militants. The conflict has become a proxy war between regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia. Syria's government has made military gains and has capitalized on the influx of foreign militants, while the coalition nearly collapsed as it wavered on whether to attend the talks at all. After Brahimi spoke, a member of the group said it still wasn't clear what would happen Saturday. "Everybody will be in the same room, but everybody will address Mr. Brahimi. He will be the one who is going to conduct the negotiations," said Louay Safi, who is taking part in the talks. "We will be addressing him. There will be no direct negotiation with the regime." The coalition, which has the support of the U.S. and other Western powers, is largely made up of exiles and lacks any real influence on the opposition now riven by infighting among factions ranging from moderates to hard-line Islamic groups. Nearly 1,400 fighters have been killed in the last three weeks as the rebel groups grapple for dominance, according to activists. Omran al-Zoubi, Syria's information minister, said Assad's delegation was committed. "We will stay here until we do the job. We will not be provoked. We will not retreat and we will be wise and flexible," he said. Underscoring the foreign involvement in the conflict, Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah fighters fought alongside forces loyal to Assad around the area of eastern Ghouta, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Among those arrayed against them were extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a hard-line group dominated by foreign jihadis, the Observatory reported. Syria's economy, once among the region's strongest, has been ruined. A quarter of its population has fled to camps in neighboring countries or within Syria. The front lines have been largely frozen for months, although Assad's forces — more cohesive than the rebellion and supported by Russia as well as Iran — have recently made inroads into territory captured by the opposition. Russia and the United States, which have backed opposite sides in the fight, have raised the pressure for the peace conference, seeing it as the only hope to end a civil war that has destabilized the region and threatens to turn into a long stalemate. The talks, first conceived in 2012, were repeatedly postponed by the government and the coalition as both jockeyed for advantage. The opposition confirmed it would attend only on Monday — less than 48 hours before the peace conference began — after the U.N. secretary-general rescinded his last-minute invitation to Iran. Lina Khatib, Middle East director for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said both sides had a lot to gain by staying, and predicted the talks would at least lead to some sort of limited deal. "Gaining legitimacy is a primary motive for both sides," she said. "Ultimately this is an opportunity that is too important for them to lose by withdrawing." Pressure from the U.S. and Russia played a crucial role, as their positions converged, Khatib said. "It's become very clear that a military solution to the conflict in Syria is not possible," she said. At the heart of the talks is Assad's future. The U.S. and opposition want him out, saying a leader who unleashed his military on a peaceful protest had forfeited legitimacy. But Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1970, has insisted he's going nowhere. Hasni Abidi, director of the Geneva-based Arab and Mediterranean Studies Center, said the talks have gotten off to a predictably rocky start but represent a strategic opportunity for both the government and the opposition. "It's the beginning of the talks, and each side wants to place the bar very high," he said. "For the Syrian regime, it is a chance to gain time," he said, while for the opposition, it is a chance for a political solution knowing that the West is not going to intervene militarily. Protesters in several Syrian towns demonstrated against the peace talks, saying Assad had shown by years of military strikes against his people that he favors violence over negotiations. "We are bombed and nobody cares," said one demonstrator in the town of Sabqa. "The Assad regime doesn't understand the language of dialogue. We will remove this criminal regime by force," according to one sign held by protesters. The two sides' willingness to meet with Brahimi — even separately — gave some hope the negotiations might bear fruit. Brahimi himself has said both sides may bend on humanitarian corridors, prisoner exchanges and local cease-fires. ___ Associated Press reporters Desmond Butler in Istanbul, Turkey; Bassem Mroue and Diaa Hadid in Beirut, Lebanon; and Matthew Lee in Davos, Switzerland, contributed. ___ Follow Zeina Karam at: https://twitter.com/zkaram Follow Lori Hinnant at: https://twitter.com/lhinnant Associated Press ======================