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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Privatisation: PC appoints financial advisers for seven power firms

TribunePrivatisation: PC appoints financial advisers for seven power firms Share Tweet Privatisation: PC appoints financial advisers for seven power firms By Shahbaz Rana / Creative: Talha Khan Published: May 30, 2015 87 SHARES Share Tweet Email Rs580.3m is the fee JS Global consortium will receive for advisory services for four power companies. PHOTO: AFP Rs580.3m is the fee JS Global consortium will receive for advisory services for four power companies. PHOTO: AFP ISLAMABAD: As power sector’s privatisation programme moves ahead painstakingly, the Privatisation Commission (PC) board on Friday approved the award of seven contracts for financial advisory services for selling five power distribution and two power generation companies. A consortium led by Jehangir Siddiqui (JS) Global bagged four contracts, outbidding its competitor – AKD Securities’ consortium. The PC board approved financial advisers for the privatisation of Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Peshawar and Multan power distribution companies. It also awarded advisory contracts for the privatisation of Lakhra Power Generation Company and Central Power Generation Company. In October 2013, the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation had approved an early implementation of the privatisation programme designed for 39 public sector enterprises (PSEs). These included nine power distribution companies and four power generation companies. The privatisation of power companies is said to be more complex and faces almost similar issues. The government wanted to first privatise Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco) by August this year, but the timeframe has now been pushed to the end of December. There were delays in seeking the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority’s (Nepra) approval for multi-year tariffs and conducting technical due diligence of Fesco, said PC Chairman Mohammad Zubair while talking to The Express Tribune. He said the issues had been resolved and the company would be sold by December. In order to make it attractive for prospective buyers, Nepra would approve a five-year tariff plan, he said. “To address employee concerns, a ministerial committee is also negotiating with the labour union.” After Fesco, the Lahore Electric Supply Company and Islamabad Electric Supply Company are the next in line. The PC board on Friday approved the appointment of a top-ranked consortium of JS Global as financial adviser for the Hyderabad, Sukkur and Quetta power distribution companies. JS Global, with Fieldstone and Burj Bank as partners, also grabbed the contract for advisory services for the sale of Lakhra Power Generation Company. It will get Rs580.3 million in consultancy fee for the four companies. The government will pay a fee of Rs141.3 million to JS Global, much lower than Rs365.5 million quoted by the consortium of Guernsey, which included AKD Securities, for Hesco. JS Global will receive approximately Rs123.4 million for advisory services for the Sukkur power distribution company, much lower than Rs362.7 million quoted by the consortium of Guernsey. The government will pay about Rs211.5 million to JS Global against Rs453.8 million quoted by the consortium of Guernsey for the Quetta power distribution company. For the privatisation of Lakhra Power Generation Company, four parties had submitted technical and financial bids. These included the consortium of JS Global, consortium of Bridge Factor, consortium of Guernsey and consortium of UBL and Ernst and Young (EY). However, the consortium of JS Global scored the highest with 95.9 points, followed by UBL-EY consortium with 90.9 points. The government will pay Rs104.1 million in consultancy fee to the top-ranked consortium. The PC board approved the consortium of National Bank of Pakistan, MAS Clear Sight, Bridge Factor and Topline Securities for the privatisation of Peshawar Electricity Supply Company. The government will pay Rs150.8 million in consultancy fee to Bridge Factor. Six consortia had submitted technical and financial bids for financial advisory services for the privatisation of Central Power Generation Company. The PC board approved the consortium of United Bank Limited, Ernst and Young, Lahmeyer Group, Pakistan Engineering Services (Private) Limited, Haider Mota BNR and Excelerate with a score of 91.72. It will charge a fee of Rs226.6 million. The second-ranked consortium of JSGCL, FieldStone and Burj Capital had quoted Rs132.7 million in fee but lost to the top-ranked consortium with a thin margin. Its cumulative score was 90.29, just 1.43 points less than that got by the UBL-EY consortium. Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2015.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes hit bases in Yemeni capital Sanaa

Arab war planes bomb Yemen; exiles report U.S.-Houthi talks Sun, May 31 18:17 PM EDT image By Sami Aboudi and Noah Browning DUBAI (Reuters) - Aircraft from a Saudi-led coalition bombed Yemen's Houthi outposts throughout the country on Sunday, residents said, while Yemen's government in exile said the militia was in talks with the United States in Oman. The raids hit an air base near Sanaa airport and a military installation aligned with the Houthis overlooking the presidential palace compound in the capital Sanaa. The Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen in March in a campaign to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. He fled in March, after Iranian-backed Houthis seized Sanaa in September and then thrust into central and south Yemen. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed and over 8,000 wounded in the conflict since March 19, according to the United Nations. The Houthis' TV channel al-Masira said the coalition had launched 25 air strikes on the main Houthi provinces of Saada and Hajja along the kingdom's border, without giving details, and said Saudi ground forces were also shelling the areas. Residents in Saada confirmed to Reuters by telephone that Houthi positions were heavily bombed by war planes, but there was no immediate confirmation by Saudi authorities. In the central city of Taiz, also a main battleground between armed Hadi loyalists and Houthi militiamen, residents reported Arab air strikes on Houthi forces gathered in a historic mountaintop fortress and a nearby special forces base. OMAN TALKS Yemen's exiled government in Saudi Arabia told Reuters on Sunday that senior Houthi officials are holding talks with the United States in neighboring Oman to help end the nine-week conflict, in a sign that diplomacy may be advancing. "We have been informed that there are meetings, at American request, and that a private American plane carried the Houthis to Muscat," Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for the Hadi government told Reuters by telephone from the Saudi capital Riyadh. The Yemeni government was not party to the talks, Badi said. There was no immediate comment from Houthi or U.S. officials. If confirmed, the Oman meeting would be the first between the Houthis and the United States, Saudi Arabia's main foreign ally, since the start of the war. The United States has said it was providing arms and intelligence to Saudi Arabia during its campaign in Yemen and has historically been its most powerful ally. "We hope that these talks are being held in the context of international efforts to implement U.N. Security Council resolution 2216," Badi said. The resolution, adopted in April, recognized Hadi as Yemen's legitimate authority and called on the Houthis to quit the main cities. U.N. Special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has renewed efforts to set another date for Yemeni political factions to meet in Geneva for peace talks, which were postponed indefinitely after Hadi demanded delays. Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam announced on May 23 that he had departed with an official delegation from the group to neighboring Oman to discuss the conflict with the Omani government, a frequent peacebroker in the region. Yemeni politicians who met Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Sanaa on Saturday said he had informed them that "indirect talks" were underway in Muscat between the Houthi delegation and U.S. officials through Omani mediation. Officials from the U.N. envoy's team were not immediately available to comment. CLUSTER BOMBS Heavy artillery clashes along Yemen's border with the kingdom have increased as the war enters its ninth week. Houthi TV reported that the rebels fired 20 rockets at Saudi Arabia's southwestern border city of Najran on Saturday, and broadcast a video it said showed Houthi forces shelling a Saudi border post. A Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said a border guard was killed and seven others were wounded on Saturday in the Najran region by rocket attacks from inside Yemen. The coalition's campaign aimed to neutralize "the threats posed by heavy weapons in the hands of elements not backing the legitimate authority in Yemen," Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri of Egypt, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, told reporters alongside his Saudi counterpart in the capital Cairo on Sunday. Saudi Arabia had claimed success last month in removing the threat of heavy weapons to the kingdom and its neighbors, but the air war and border clashes have persisted. Human Rights Watch said in a report on Sunday that three bombings it had investigated in the northern province of Saada used cluster bombs, which are banned by most countries, adding that it suspected the munitions were fired by Saudi-led forces. Two of the alleged attacks in April wounded at least six Yemenis, including a 10-year old boy, but another incident on May 23 did not cause any casualties, it said. "These weapons can't distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded submunitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting," said Ole Solvang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Saudi officials did not provide an immediate response to the report. (Writing by Noah Browning and Amena Bakr; Editing by Greg Mahlich/Ruth Pitchford) ================================ Haykal Bafana ‏@BaFana3 · 44m44 minutes ago Sudden & drastic realignment of tribal forces in Shabwah to the Saleh/Houthi axis has caused wide loss of life in pro-Hadi ranks. # Shabwa, #Yemen : With Ataq city & critical Mafrag al Saeed crossroad under Saleh control, fighting will move situth to Yemen LNG at Balhaf. And certainly, we'll see Saleh/Houthi forces slso go north of Ataq & try to enter Wadi Hadhramaut via ancient Shabwah city. #Yemen Saudi-led coalition warplanes hit bases in Yemeni capital Sanaa Sun, May 31 03:12 AM EDT image SANAA (Reuters) - Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition struck military bases aligned with Yemen's Houthi rebels in the capital Sanaa overnight and early Sunday morning, residents said. The raid hit an air base near Sanaa airport and a military installation overlooking the presidential palace compound. The Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in Yemen in March in a campaign to restore Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. He fled in March, after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in September and then thrust into central and south Yemen. Houthi television reported that the rebels fired 20 rockets at Saudi Arabia's southwestern border city of Najran on Saturday. A Saudi Ministry of Interior spokesman said a border guard was killed and seven others were wounded on Saturday in the Najran region due to rocket attacks from inside Yemen. "At 18:30 on Saturday as a border guard patrol was on duty at Al-Harth sector in Jazan region, it was hit by military shells launched from Yemeni territory," the spokesman said. The United Nations has said that more than 1,870 people have been killed and more than 7,000 wounded in the conflict since March 19. (Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Amena Bakr; Editing by Noah Browning and Jane Merriman)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gunmen kill 22 bus passengers in Pakistan attack

Sat, May 30 07:19 AM EDT image By Gul Yousufzai QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Gunmen disguised as members of the Pakistani security forces killed at least 22 passengers on Friday night after forcing them off buses traveling from the western city of Quetta to Karachi on the southern coast, officials said. The assault in the province of Baluchistan occurred in the town of Mastung, around 40 km (25 miles) south of Quetta. "Fifteen to 20 armed men in three pickup trucks and wearing security uniforms kidnapped around 35 passengers," Sarfaraz Bugti, Baluchistan's home minister, told Reuters. He said the bodies of 22 passengers were later found around two km away from the main Quetta-Karachi highway in foothills. Seven of the assailants have been killed in an operation involving hundreds of soldiers and police, he added. The circumstances of the passengers' deaths could not immediately be established and the motives of the assailants were unclear. The attack will be a concern for the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because it raises further questions about the feasibility of a new economic corridor Pakistan wants to build with billions of dollars of Chinese investment. The much-vaunted project, announced when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in April, envisages an eastern and western route, with the latter passing from Gwadar port in the south through Quetta and beyond. RELATIVES PROTEST Separatists have been waging an insurgency in Baluchistan, of which Quetta is the capital, for more than a decade. They are demanding an end to what they see as the exploitation of their resources by people from other parts of Pakistan. Islamist militants also regularly target civilians and the security forces, and earlier this month at least 43 commuters were killed on a bus in Karachi by a group that has declared allegiance to Islamic State. All of the victims in that attack were Ismailis from Pakistan's minority Shi'ite community, but one security official said the Mastung attack did not appear to be sectarian. Officials in Mastung said a major operation involving four helicopter gunships and around 500 security personnel on the ground was underway to hunt down the remaining assailants believed to be hiding in mountainous terrain. "The kidnappers and terrorists are surrounded by security forces," Bugti said. In Quetta, where the bodies of the slain passengers were taken, hundreds of people gathered outside the governor's house and staged a protest over the lack of security in Baluchistan. Among the demonstrators were relatives of 16 of the victims, whose bodies were laid out in a line wrapped in cloth. (Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Mastung tragedy: Death toll rises to 22 as relatives end sit-in

By Mohammad Zafar Published: May 30, 2015 QUETTA: The death toll of the horrific Mastung massacre that took place in late Friday night has risen to 22, after Balochistan Levies found another body this morning. A large number of people including relatives of the victims of the Mastung tragedy staged a sit-in in front of the Governor House to protest the brutal kidnapping and butchering of the bus passengers. According to reports, the protesters also laid down dead bodies of 16 people in front of the governor’s residence. The protesters also tried to enter the CM house but were pushed back by the police when they started shelling. The protesters later agreed to bury their relatives after they spoke with Chief Minister Balochistan Abdul Malik Baloch. “Security forces are taking action against the culprits,” he told protesters. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also telephoned CM Balochistan and told him that an All Parties Conference will be held in Quetta some time next week to discuss how to promote peace in the region. In the wee hours of Saturday, Frontier Corps (FC) officials carried out a search operation in the mountainous regions of Khad Khocha and the adjoining areas of Mastung. According to a press release issued by the FC, 200 FC officials are taking part in the search operation and are being provided with helicopters along with help from the special op wing. Read: Militants kill 19 passengers in Mastung after forcing them off bus During the operation, two miscreants were killed and ammunition was recovered from them. “Every aspect of terrorism will be eliminated from the area,” an FC spokesperson said. In a grisly execution-style attack, twenty passengers were lined up and shot dead by unidentified gunmen after being pulled off two buses in Balochistan’s Mastung district. Coming from the Pashtun-dominated area of Pishin, the two Karachi-bound buses were intercepted and stopped in Gidrang near Mastung district’s Kadocha area by as many as 40 gunmen around 9:00pm, according to security forces and Balochistan home department officials. “At least 25 passengers were forced off the buses at gunpoint,” a senior home department official said. Read: FC kill 5 suspected militants in Mastung search operation “The gunmen killed at least 19 passengers and wounded one,” Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told reporters after the grisly incident. The sole injured passenger later died of his wounds. “None of them [the victims] were settlers or Shia,” Durrani said. His statement was confirmed later by Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti who said all of the victims were ‘Pashtun’. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but Baluch separatists demanding greater autonomy have been waging an insurgency for years and the province is also riven by sectarian strife and violence.

To beat ISIS, kick out US-led coalition: No will to fight

Islamic State claims responsibility for Baghdad hotel bombs Fri, May 29 09:49 AM EDT image BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State claimed responsibility on Friday for bombings outside two heavily fortified five-star hotels in the Iraqi capital that killed 10 people. In a statement, Islamic State said a suicide bomber called Abu Qutaiba had parked a car outside the Ishtar hotel in central Baghdad late on Thursday before driving another vehicle laden with 230 kg of explosives to the nearby Babylon hotel. The bomber detonated himself and the vehicle he was driving there around the same time the first car bomb exploded, "killing and wounding dozens of infidels", according to the statement. Iraqi authorities lifted a decade-old night-time curfew on Baghdad early this year, seeking to restore a sense of normality to the capital as security forces battle Islamic State insurgents who have overrun large parts of the country. But the rate of bombings in Baghdad has increased since then. Militants seized Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital west of Baghdad, on May 17 in the most significant military setback to the government since a U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State last August. (Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Saif Hameed; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Heinrich) Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She tweets @snarwani Get short URL Published time: May 27, 2015 13:06 A car is engulfed by flames during clashes in the city of Ramadi (Reuters / Stringer) A car is engulfed by flames during clashes in the city of Ramadi (Reuters / Stringer) Trends Islamic State Tags Air Force, Arms, Army, Conflict, Drones, History, Human rights, Iran, Iraq, Israel, John Kerry, Lebanon, Mass media, Military, Opposition, Politics, Religion, Russia, Security, Syria, Terrorism, USA, Violence, War It’s been a bad time for foes of ISIS. Islamic State scored a neat hat-trick by invading strategic Ramadi in Iraq’s mainly Sunni Anbar province, occupying Syria’s historic gem Palmyra, and taking over Al-Tanf, the last remaining border crossing with Iraq. The multinational, American-led ‘Coalition’ launched last August to thwart Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS) march across Syria and Iraq…did nothing. And so Baghdad and Washington are pointing fingers, each accusing the other of being asleep on the job. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter struck a low blow on Sunday in a CNN interview: “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me… that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight and defend themselves.” Carter must have forgotten that Iraqis staved off an ISIS occupation of Ramadi for almost 18 months. He also forgot that it was Iraqis who defended and/or recovered Amerli, Suleiman Beg, Tuz Khurmatu, Jurf al-Sakhar, Jalula, Saadiyah, Khanaqin, Muqdadiyah, Baquba, Udhaim Dam, Tharthar Dam, Habbaniyah, Haditha, Al-Baghdadi, Mosul Dam, Mount Sinjar, Zumar, Erbil, Gwer, Makhmur, dozens of Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains, Tikrit, Samarra, Balad, Dhuluiya, Dujail, Ishaqi, Al-Alam, Al-Dour, Albu Ajil, Awja, Al-Mutassim, Mukayshifa, Ajil and Alas oilfields, Hamrin mountains, Baiji oil refinery, scores of villages in the provinces of Salaheddine, Diyala, Kirkuk, Anbar, and Babil – and the capital city, Baghdad. The Iraqis have shot back. Key MP Hakim al-Zamili blames Ramadi’s collapse on the US’s failure to provide “good equipment, weapons and aerial support” to troops. Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, himself a Sunni from Anbar Province, concluded that the Americans were coming up short in all areas. "The Coalition airstrikes are not enough to eliminate IS." Furthermore, the US policy of recruiting Sunni tribes for the fight, he added, was “too late” – it is "important but not enough." If ever there was an understatement, this is it. Washington’s long-stated objective of rallying together a vetted Sunni fighting force - or its equivalent in the form of a National Guard – has always served as a placeholder to avoid facing realities. One thing we have learned from IS gains in small and large Sunni towns alike, is that the extremist group prides itself on sleeper cells and alliances inside of these areas. Sunni tribes and families, both, are divided on their support of IS. And the militants ensure that everyone else falls in line through a brutal campaign of inflicting fear and pain indiscriminately. So the likelihood of a significant, anti-IS, well-trained and equipped Sunni fighting force emerging anytime soon is just about nil. So too is the idea of a US-led Coalition air force that can cripple Islamic State. Washington has run fewer sorties over Syria and Iraq in the nine months since inception of its air campaign, than Israel ran in its entire three-week Gaza blitz in 2008-09. Where were the American bombers when Ramadi and Palmyra were being taken? And why does the US Air Force only seem to engage in earnest when their Kurdish allies are being threatened – as in Kobani (Ain al-Arab), Syria, and Erbil in Iraq? Reuters Reuters US calculations for Syria & Iraq If actions speak louder than words, then Washington’s moves in the Mideast have been deafening. Forget talk of a ‘unified Iraq’ with a ‘strong central government’. And definitely forget loudly-proclaimed objectives of ‘training moderate forces’ to ‘fight off IS’ across the Jordanian and Turkish borders in Syria. That’s just talk. An objective look at US interests in the region paint an entirely different picture. The Americans seek to maintain absolute hegemony in the Mideast, even as they exit costly military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their primary interests are 1) access to low cost oil and gas, 2) propping up Israel, and more recently, 3) undermining Russian (and Chinese) influence in the region. Clinging on to hegemony would be a whole lot easier without the presence of a powerful, independent Islamic Republic of Iran, which continues to throw a wrench in many of Washington’s regional projects. So hegemony is somewhat dependent on weakening Iran – and its supportive alliances. With the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the US inadvertently extended Iran’s arc of influence in a direct geographic line to Palestine, leaving the Israeli colonial project vulnerable. Former President George W. Bush immediately took on the task of destroying this Resistance Axis by attempting to neuter Iranian allies Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas – and failed. The Arab Spring presented a fresh opportunity to regroup: the US and its Turkish and Persian Gulf allies swung into action to create conditions for regime-change in Syria. The goal? To break this geographic line from Iran - through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - to Palestine. When regime-change failed, the goalpost moved to the next best plan: dividing Syria into several competing chunks, which would weaken the central state and create a pro-US ‘buffer’ along the border with Israel. Weakening the central government in Iraq by dividing the state along Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite lines has also been a priority for the Americans. You only have to look at recent US actions in Iraq to see this unspoken plan in action. Washington’s most intensive airstrikes to date were when Kurdish Erbil and its environs came under threat by ISIS. Congress has breached all international norms by ushering through legislation to directly arm Sunni and Kurdish militias and bypass the central government in Baghdad. And despite endless promises and commitments, the Americans have failed at every hurdle to train and equip the Iraqi Army and security forces to do anything useful. A weak, divided Iraq can never become a regional powerhouse allied with Iran and the Resistance Axis. Likewise a weak, divided Syria. But without US control over these central governments, the only way to achieve this is 1) through the creation of sectarian and ethnic strife that could carve out pro-US buffers inside the ‘Resistance states’ and/or 2) through the creation of a hostile ‘Sunni buffer’ to break this line from Iran to Palestine. A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard during a patrol in the city of Ramadi (Reuters / Stringer) Today, America’s ‘Sunni buffer’ is Islamic State General Walid Sukariyya, a Sunni, pro-resistance member of Lebanon’s parliament, agrees. “ISIS will be better for the US and Israel than having a strong Iran, Iraq and Syria…If they succeed at this, the Sunni state in Iraq will split the resistance from Palestine.” While Washington has long sought to create a buffer in Iraq on the Syrian border, it has literally spent years trying – and failing – to find, then mold, representative Sunni Iraqi leaders who will comfortably toe a pro-American line. An example of this is the Anbar delegation US General John Allen handpicked last December for a DC tour, which excluded representatives of the two most prominent Sunni tribes fighting IS in Iraq – the Albu Alwan and Albu Nimr. A spokesman for the tribes, speaking to Al-Jarida newspaper, objected at the time: "We are fighting ISIL and getting slaughtered, while suffering from a shortage of weapons. In the meantime, others are going to Washington to get funds and will later be assigned as our leaders." But why ignore Sunni groups who are unreservedly opposed to IS? Aren’t they America’s natural constituents inside Iraq? The Takfiri extremist groups serve a purpose for Washington. IS has had the ability - where competing Sunni factions, with their ever-growing lists of demands from Baghdad, have not – to transform the US’ ‘buffer’ project into a physical reality. And Washington has not needed to expend blood, treasure or manpower to get the job done. Last week, the government watchdog group Judicial Watch published a secret (now declassified) 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document that sheds light on American calculations in Syria. Written just 16 months into the 50-month-long Syrian conflict, the highly-redacted DIA document discloses the following key revelations: "The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria." "The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition." The Syrian government has focused its priorities on securing pro-government areas and major transportation routes, which means "the regime decreased its concentration in areas adjacent to the Iraqi borders (al Hasaka and Der Zor).” "Opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor) adjacent to the western Iraqi borders (Mosul and Anbar)…Western countries, the Gulf and Turkey are supporting these efforts." "The deterioration of the situation…creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi…" "If the situation unravels there is the opportunity of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria, and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)." The DIA brief makes clear that the escalation of conflict in Syria will create further sectarianism and radicalization, which will increase the likelihood of an ‘Islamic State’ on the Syrian-Iraqi border, one that would likely be manned by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). So what did Washington do when it received this information? It lied. Less than one month after the DIA report was published, US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this about the Syrian opposition: "I just don't agree that a majority are Al-Qaeda and the bad guys. That's not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists ... Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys…There is a real moderate opposition that exists.” Using the fabricated storyline of ‘moderate rebels’ who need assistance to fight a ‘criminal Syrian regime’, the US government kept the Syrian conflict buzzing, knowing full well the outcome would mean the establishment of a Sunni extremist entity spanning the Syrian-Iraqi border…which could cripple, what the Americans call, “the strategic depth of the Shia expansion.” As US Council on Foreign Relations member and terrorism analyst Max Abrahms conceded on Twitter: "The August 5, 2012 DIA report confirms much of what Assad has been saying all along about his opponents both inside & outside Syria." Fakhreddin's Castle (top), is pictured in the historical city of Palmyra, Syria (Reuters / Nour Fourat) How to fight this American “Frankenstein” Since last year, numerous Iraqi officials have complained about the US airdropping weapons to IS - whether deliberately or inadvertently remains disputed. Military sources, on the other hand, have made clear that the US-led Coalition ignores many of the Iraqi requests for air cover during ground operations. If the US isn't willing to play ball in Iraq's existential fight against IS, then why bother with the Americans at all? Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is viewed as a ‘weak’ head of state - a relatively pro-American official who will work diligently to keep a balance between US interests and those of Iraq's powerful neighbor, Iran. But after the disastrous fall of Ramadi, and more bad news from inside Syria, Abadi has little choice but to mitigate these losses, and rapidly. The prime minister has now ordered the engagement of thousands of Hashd al-Shaabi (Shiite paramilitary groups, commonly known as the Popular Mobilization Forces) troops in the Anbar to wrest back control of Ramadi. And this - unusually - comes with the blessings of Anbar's Sunni tribes who voted overwhelmingly to appeal to the Hashd for military assistance. Joining the Hashd are a few thousand Sunni fighters, making this a politically palatable response. If the Ramadi operation goes well, this joint Sunni-Shiite effort (which also proved successful in Tikrit) could provide Iraq with a model to emulate far and wide. The recent losses in Syria and Iraq have galvanized IS' opponents from Lebanon to Iran to Russia, with commitments pouring in for weapons, manpower and funds. If Ramadi is recovered, this grouping is unlikely to halt its march, and will make a push to the Syrian border through IS-heavy territory. There is good reason for this: the militants who took Ramadi came across the Syrian border - in full sight of US reconnaissance capabilities. A senior resistance state official told me earlier this year: “We will not allow the establishment of a big (extremist) demographic and geographic area between Syria and Iraq. We will work to push Syrian ISIS inside Syria and Iraqi ISIS inside Iraq.” Right now, the key to pushing back Takfiri gains inside Syria's eastern and northwestern theaters lies in the strengthening of the Iraqi military landscape. And an absolute priority will be in clearing the IS ‘buffer’ between the two states. Eighteen months ago, in an analysis about how to fight jihadist militants from the Levant to the Persian Gulf, I wrote that the solution for this battle will be found only within the region, specifically from within those states whose security is most compromised or under threat: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. I argued that these four states would be forced to increase their military cooperation as the battles intensified, and that they would provide the only 'boots on the ground' in this fight. And they will. But air cover is a necessary component of successful offensive operations, even in situations of unconventional warfare. If the US and its flimsy Coalition are unable or unwilling to provide the required reconnaissance assistance and the desired aerial coverage, as guided by a central Iraqi military command, then Iraq should look elsewhere for help. Iran and Russia come to mind - and we may yet get there. Iraq and Syria need to merge their military strategies more effectively - again, an area where the Iranians and Russians can provide valuable expertise. Both states have hit a dangerous wall in the past few weeks, and the motivation for immediate and decisive action is high today. Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah is coming into play increasingly as well - its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has recently promised that Hezbollah will no longer limit itself geographically, and will go where necessary to thwart this Takfiri enemy. The non-state actors that make up the jihadist and Takfiri core cannot be beaten by conventional armies, which is why local militias accustomed to asymmetric warfare are best suited for these battles. Criticizing the US's utterly nonexistent response to the Ramadi debacle yesterday, Iran's elite Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani points out: "Today, there is nobody in confrontation with [IS] except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran.” The Iranians have become central figures in the fight against terror, and are right next door to it - as opposed to Washington, over 6,000 miles away. If the US has any real commitment to the War on Terror, it should focus on non-combat priorities that are also essential to undermine extremism: 1) securing the Turkish and Jordanian borders to prevent any further infiltration of jihadists into Syria and Iraq, 2) sanctioning countries and individuals who fund and weaponize the Takfiris, most of whom are staunch US allies, now ironically part of the ‘Coalition’ to fight IS, and 3) sharing critical intelligence about jihadist movements with those countries engaged in the battle. It is time to cut these losses and bring some heavyweights into this battle against extremism. If the US-directed Coalition will not deliver airstrikes under the explicit command of sovereign states engaged at great risk in this fight, it may be time to clear Iraqi and Syrian airspace of coalition jets, and fill those skies with committed partners instead. MORE: The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT. Agencies BAGHDAD: A senior ISIS figure known as “the blind judge” has made an appearance in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, asserting the militant group’s dominion over it as security forces and Shiite militias prepare a counterattack. Residents of Ramadi said that a blind man with one hand and his head shrouded had delivered a speech in the Anbar provincial capital’s main mosque after evening prayers Wednesday. They did not know who he was but recognized him to be a senior figure because he was flanked by a large number of guards and said his accent indicated he was Iraqi. Iraqi security expert Hisham al-Hashimi identified the man as Ali Attiya al-Jubouri, who is also known as Abu Asim, or “the blind judge” of ISIS. “This cleric who appeared in Ramadi yesterday is very famous,” Hashimi said. “He is the second highest religious authority after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the fifth man in the organization of ISIS.” Hashimi said the appearance of the blind judge was designed to win over residents of Ramadi, many of whom sided with the government and fended off the militants until they were finally overcome on May 17. Iraqi forces thwarted an attack by ISIS militants on their front line position east of Ramadi Thursday. Police and pro-government tribal fighters on the frontline in Husaiba al-Sharqiya, around 7 km east of Ramadi, said the militants had tried to cut them off from behind by crossing the Euphrates River at dawn. “They started the attack under cover of mortars and sniper shots, but we managed to abort it,” Sunni tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi said. “We have enough troops deployed and a couple of tanks positioned near the bridge.” South of Ramadi, Shiite militia fighters along with police pressed an advance in al-Tash area late Wednesday but came under attack from an ISIS suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle packed with explosives. Police sources said seven militiamen had been killed and the forces, mainly Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization militia force, were forced to retreat. Iraq announced an operation this week aimed at driving the militants out of their remaining strongholds in Salahuddin province as well as Anbar, most of which is under ISIS control. Separately, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Pentagon officials have begun to examine how the U.S. military could better equip and train Iraqi troops after the fall of Ramadi. Carter told reporters on his plane to Asia that he had convened a group of defense policy officials and military officers from U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon’s Joint Staff to look at how “we can enhance, hasten” the mission to train and equip Iraqi forces. The initial meeting took place Tuesday before Carter departed on a trip to Asia. “The events of recent weeks there [in Iraq] have highlighted the central importance of having a capable ground partner and that’s what the purpose of our train-and-equip program is. So we are looking,” Carter said. Also, the government has exhumed the remains of 470 people believed to have been executed by ISIS near Tikrit last year in what is known as the Speicher massacre, the health minister said. “We have exhumed the bodies of 470 Speicher martyrs from burial sites in Tikrit,” Adila Hammoud told a news conference in Baghdad, adding that the number was not final. In June 2014, armed men belonging or allied to ISIS abducted hundreds of young, mostly Shiite recruits from Speicher military base, just outside the city of Tikrit. They were then lined up in several locations and executed one by one, as shown in pictures and footage later released by ISIS. The highest estimate for the number of people killed stands at 1,700. A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 29, 2015, on page 10.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

All at sea: Australia's search for MH370 under scrutiny

All at sea: Australia's search for MH370 under scrutiny Wed, May 27 17:04 PM EDT image By Swati Pandey and Jane Wardell SYDNEY (Reuters) - Nearly a year after embarking on a multi-million dollar quest to solve one of aviation's greatest unsolved mysteries, authorities and search teams are being criticised over their approach to finding Flight MH370 in the remote southern Indian Ocean. The Australian-led search, already the most expensive in aviation history, has found no trace of the Malaysia Airlines jet or its 239 passengers and crew, prompting calls for a rethink into the way the mission is conducted. Experts involved in past deep water searches say the search to find MH370 could easily miss the plane as Dutch company Fugro NV, the firm at the forefront of the mission, is using inappropriate technology for some terrain and inexperienced personnel for the highly specialized task of hunting man-made objects. Heightening concerns, Australian authorities said on Wednesday that another search vessel, the Go Phoenix, which is using the world's best deep sea search equipment and crew provided by U.S. firm Phoenix International Holdings Inc, would pull out within weeks. No reason was given for withdrawing the vessel from the quest. "Fugro is a big company but they don't have any experience in this kind of search and it's really a very specialized job," said Paul-Henry Nargeolet, a former French naval officer who was hired by France's air accident investigation agency BEA to co-ordinate the search and recovery of Air France Flight AF447 in 2009. "This is a big job," Nargeolet told Reuters. "I'm not an Australian taxpayer, but if I was, I would be very mad to see money being spent like that." Fugro, which was contracted by the Australian government to operate three ships pulling sonar across the vast 60,000-km search zone, has rejected claims it is using the wrong equipment, saying its gear is rigorously tested. Still, Nargeolet's concerns are echoed by others in the tightly held deepsea search and rescue industry, who are worried that unless the search ships pass right over any wreckage the sonar scanning either side of the vessels won't pick it up. Experts also question the lack of data released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the activities of the Fugro ships. Three of the bidders rejected for the MH370 contract, U.S. firm Williamson & Associates, France's ixBlue SAS and Mauritius-based Deep Ocean Search Ltd, have taken the unusual step of detailing their concerns - months down the track - directly to Australian authorities in correspondence viewed by Reuters. Several other experts are also critical, including some who requested anonymity, citing the close knit nature of the industry which has just a few companies and militaries capable of conducting deepwater searches. "I have serious concerns that the MH370 search operation may not be able to convincingly demonstrate that 100 percent sea floor coverage is being achieved," Mike Williamson, founder and president of Williamson & Associates told Reuters. DIVING INTO THE UNKNOWN Australia took over the search for the missing plane from Malaysia in late March last year, three weeks after MH370 disappeared off the radar during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The search area was determined by satellite data that revealed the plane turned back sharply over the Malaysian Peninsula and flew undetected for another six hours before crashing into the inhospitable southern Indian Ocean. The unchartered waters, buffeted by the Roaring Forties winds, stretch as deep as 6 km, hiding old volcanoes and cliffs in their depths. Australia, Malaysia and China earlier this month agreed to double the search area to 120,000 sq km. Whether Phoenix International, which has U.S. navy contracts and found AF447, will be part of that extended search area is unclear after the ATSB said that Go Phoenix, owned by Australian firm Go Marine, will cease operating on June 19. Phoenix International, which was contracted separately by the Malaysian government, did not immediately return calls about its position. The Malaysian government also did not reply to requests for comment. Two of the Fugro ships traverse up and down 2.4 km-wide strips of the sea floor, pulling via a cable a "towfish" that contains sonar equipment, in a technique often called "mowing the lawn". The towfish coasts around 100 meters above the sea floor, sending out sound waves diagonally across a swath, or broad strip, to produce a flattened image of the seabed. The Fugro ships are using sonar provided by EdgeTech, the same U.S. company whose sonar was used successfully to find Air France AF447 after it crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. However, experts say while the type of sonar equipment being used by Fugro gives good results in flat surfaces, it is less well-suited to rugged underwater terrain, a world of confusing shadows. The ATSB has routinely released detailed data from Go Phoenix, but has not done so for the Fugro ships. Experts have cobbled together an analysis from glimpses of the sonar use and data in videos and images posted to the ATSB website. From that, they've gauged the EdgeTech sonars are operating at swathes beyond their optimum capabilities, resulting in poor quality images and leaving side gaps in coverage. "It makes no sense to be using fine scale tools to cover a massive area; it is like mowing an entire wheat field with a household lawnmower," said Rob McCallum, a vice-president at Williamson & Associates. Fugro deputy managing director Paul Kennedy said the sonar is running within its capabilities, noting the system identified five "debris-like" objects in 700-metre deep water at a test range off the West Australian coast. "The test range gives us full confidence the sonars will see the debris field when we cross it," he said. WILD WEATHER Fugro is known for its expertise in high-quality low-resolution mapping of sea floors but has far less experience than some of the rejected bidders in deepwater aircraft searches. It has been involved in 17 search and recovery efforts for aircraft or ships over 15 years, compared with some of the bidders who search for 4-5 aircraft every year. Kennedy pointed to the find earlier this month of a previously uncharted shipwreck as evidence Fugro was capable of finding the plane. Concerning experts further is the fact that the third Fugro vessel, which was being used to scan the gaps between the other two ships with an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), was this month taken out of action because of encroaching wild winter weather. That leaves the daily search without an AUV, a much more nimble piece of equipment that was vital in successful search for AF447. "We are continuously reviewing the search data as it comes in and we are satisfied that the coverage and detection standards we have specified are being met or exceeded," ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said in an email. (Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in PARIS; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wings clipped: airfield in question

GAWLER Aerodrome is in danger of being closed down in the long-term future, with a report prepared for Light Regional Council floating the option of rezoning the land for commercial or residential purposes. The Nexy Residual Land Study report, compiled by developer Connor Holmes, makes a number of recommendations regarding three parcels of land owned by Light Council in close proximity to the Northern Expressway. While it states the short-term future of the airfield is safe, the site “does not have a long-term future as an aviation facility”. “It has no strategic role in the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s aerodrome hierarchy and is unsuitable in location and size to play a role of significance in terms of regional economic infrastructure,” the report states. “DPTI has advised that it sees no opportunity for development of the aerodrome other than for its existing gliding-centred, recreational use, together with occasional use by CFS aircraft. “DPTI also recognises that relocation of the aerodrome may provide the best outcome.” Gawler Aerodrome manager Tom Leech said the recommendations in the report were “concerning”. “Certainly, it would be horrendous to us if we lost the airfield, it would be terrible for the community as well,” he said. “It would be pretty short-sighted of the council if that’s the path they chose to take. “They would certainly have quite a fight on their hands.” The airfield has already been relocated once in 2009 when the Northern Expressway was constructed and Mr Leech said it was “one of the busiest airfields around as far as movements are concerned”. “We have a letter from the head of the Gawler CFS stating the Gawler Aerodrome is critical to CFS operations in the northern areas of South Australia…we are the only airport north of town where the air bombers can take off with a full load,” he said. “We also have air force cadets who regularly train here.” Light Council economic development manager James Miller said the idea to close down the airfield was one of a “myriad of options put up in that report”. “There would be a lot of consultation leading up to that point, before any decision is made,” he said. “What council’s aspirations for that land are…that will have to be a discussion at some point in the coming years.” Mr Leech said plans were being put in place for when the current lease runs out on the airfield in 2018. “We’re starting to try and develop a plan B if something does happen and are certainly developing a strategy on how to approach this,” he said. “If they want to move us, they would have to relocate us again.” The other two parcels of land in the study, located in between the Northern Expressway and Two Wells Road, are vacant rural paddocks, which are also being considered for residential and commercial development. At a meeting earlier this year, Light Council noted “the raft of suggested short-, medium- and long-term options for the three land parcels are the subject of the study”. It will now begin consultation with key stakeholder representatives, including DPTI, the Adelaide Soaring Club, Gawler Harness Racing Club and Gawler Council RDA Barossa. The results of the consultation will be reported back to council at a later date. Gawler aerodrome, light regional council Carl Pfeiffer Carl Pfeiffer @CarlPfeiffer9 Carl Pfeiffer has been a reporter for seven years and joined The Bunyip in February, 2014, as a senior journalist. Originally from Murray Bridge, Carl worked at the Murray Valley Standard as a journalist, sports editor and deputy editor and then was editor of The Eyre Peninsula Tribune and the West Coast Sentinel for two years. Carl then jumped at the chance to become part of The Bunyip's team. He is looking forward to embracing the Gawler community and reporting on the many happenings of the area. Carl's interests include cricket and football and he also plays drums in a band.

Axact and diploma mills: The Article Nobody Will Publish

Nobody Will Publish – by Wajahat S Khan The Article Nobody Will Publish – by Wajahat S Khan May 26th, 2015 | 69 Comments Editors Note: Wajahat S. Khan sent me an email with this heartfelt piece on his recent experience with the ” the all-consuming, thankless revolving door that is Pakistani broadcast media”. He rightly complains about his seniors and colleagues in the industry. I am reproducing his email that was sent with the article: “Hey, Champ: Wrote this three days ago. Soon after my resignation. “They” won’t publish it. They don’t want to. They say it’s good, but now won’t return my calls now. Can you read it? And run it on Pak Tea House? And help me get the word out?” Many other media workers have been let down by the leading lights in the recent saga of BOL TV’s meltdown after the expose in New York Times. I support my friend Wajahat – at least he has the courage to admit his oversight, the candour to say it all. This too shall pass Waj. Raza Rumi The Article Nobody Will Publish: “We should have known, but we didn’t want to” By Wajahat S Khan wajahat3 I should have known. When Declan Walsh called me the Wednesday before the story broke, I should have known. When he questioned me and had the distinct privilege of making me feel awkward about my own institution, I should have known. When I called up one of my bosses and told him what the New York Times was working on, and heard a pause, and then a diffident “who cares, we will sue them”, I should’ve known. I should have known when I saw the flash, the cars, the protocol officers, the waiters and the chauffers. I should’ve known when I heard the carefully crafted, contrived American accents and emphasis everywhere: in the recording in the elevator that told me I was joining a global elite, in the human resource officers who were designated to provide me with a restaurant-level chef, in the photographer who would conduct my “branding photo shoot”, in the gym-instructor who would chisel me into shape for the big screen. Obviously, I misread the vulgar as the virtuous. I should have known better. When the hype of organizational self-belief became religious, then invective (Denunciatory or abusive language; vituperation: an orator known for his abundant use of invective.), then zealous, I should have known. But the confidence, pouring from the Axact gurus to the Bol executives to me to a thousand other colleagues, was contagious. This was an organization that had grown out of a back office in northern Karachi to cover a few blocks of DHA, I was told. This was an organization that represented the true potential of a modern, connected, online and tech-savvy Pakistan, I was told. This was an organization that I – a nobody kid from a middle-income broken home who was lucky and loud enough to attend a couple of good schools and persistent enough to ride the wave of broadcast journalism in Pakistan as it unleashed upon the national polity – would actually own, not just work for. I was stunned by the possibilities. But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages ( 1. An optical phenomenon that creates the illusion of water, often with inverted reflections of distant objects, and results from distortion of light by alternate layers of hot and cool air. Also called fata morgana. 2. Something illusory or insubstantial.) are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant. First, denial: In an industry, which is in the business of compounding transparency, I am not the only one who has put on blinders while running the course over the years. Simply, denial is the price of survival in Pakistani media, nothing else. It’s not an excuse when I admit that like many other colleagues of my broadcast generation, I’ve had it pretty rough. Bol was my seventh channel in 12 years of broadcasting in Pakistan: Indus, Geo, Dawn (the last two I helped launch), Samaa, PTV Sports, Aaj and then Geo again (where I saw the post-Hamid Mir ‘ban’ take effect) had taken me, consumed me, and let me out on the streets like an angry, orphaned, urchin, toughening me up every time with a deep, hateful skepticism of the “private/electronic media” regime. Sometimes, I got fired. Other times, I left on principle or got recruited by a bigger gun. But every time, there was a toxic cocktail of the same-old-same-old – office politics, curbed editorial freedom, delayed pay-cheques, pandering to sponsors, corporate, political and security bosses who made their presence felt but weren’t technically in control, not enough re-investment in our internal systems and structures to sustain the counter-culture and public service ethos of what journalism must strive to become instead of the ratings-driven, family-owned, suits-and-boots dominated chop shop, a mogul-military mouthpiece, that it is in most newsrooms today around the country. But like an abused, dependent spouse, I kept coming back to my tormentor. I was in denial. Sometimes, I led myself into believing I didn’t have a choice, and carried on. Other times, I tried to break loose with a fellowship, or a foreign gig, or print work, but those got old, fast. With all due self-respect, as the “revolving door” of the media industry is a scary machine, you learnt to take on the world, except your own, because of that dependency. It was like a good, consistent drug deal: There was nowhere else to go, and I was hooked on the product. We all work like that. We all do. Personally, where else would I go? Print? Been there, done that, and still do. It’s static, if not deteriorating. Regional? International? Done those, too. They are limiting: CNN and NBC are relevant, but not locally inspiring. Twitter? A blog. No way. This is Pakistan, said the ego to the id. This is TV Land. And in TV Land we live, but by a simple rule: The story – except your own – must get out, at whatever cost. That was the oath impinged on our psyches. It was the modern Pakistani broadcaster’s dilemma: Do Tell Upon Others, Do Not Tell Upon Yourself. Thus, the “this is my job, this is my industry, this is what we do” instinct ruled, though only on the surface. So I learnt the hard way – and never shared openly, till today, though it’s no secret – that in Pakistan, you take the media’s fallibilities like a family disease: as a given, with resignation, never personally, rather only as destiny, but also never to be shared with outsiders. After all, we’re a family: a spiteful one with a fondness for fratricide, but we are one. Tell On Us And Be Banished, said the other rule. And so the backroom chatter remained in the backroom, even as we changed bosses and companies and editors round about the ever revolving door. From a boss who makes toothpastes and records sex-tapes on yachts, to a boss too closely tied to the judiciary, to a boss who cleaned the books for Arab sheikhs, to a boss who let editorial be underwritten by USAID and DFID programming, we tolerated – no embraced – that crucial, critical breach: the death of the Church Versus State / Management Versus Editorial divide. And then came Bol, red and white and glossy and gold. Even in its virtual reality, which we purchased almost like a fake degree because we were – are – so desperate, we saw a chance. Here was an opportunity that was presented by the best and brightest in the industry: Men I’ve known for over a decade, men I’ve wanted to emulate, mimic, sound like; my self-inflicted role models, gods of the newsroom, leaders of the field my generation has followed blindly into emergencies and clampdowns and gag orders and tear gassing and PEMRA wars and taken late night calls from GHQ and the PM Secretariat for. Men who inspire such confidence that when you’re “called” into Aabpara, you arrive, and not just show up, because you believe. Men who teach you, and remind the country through you, that truth prevails, and that it’s still worth something in Pakistan. Yet, these men let themselves down. They let me down. They let 2000 of my colleagues down. And they let down the country, too. Very honestly, I may have possibly helped them, and not only because I had my blinders on. There was ambition, too. The case being presented was as powerful as its famous presenters, the pioneers of Pakistani broadcast: That we will break the machine. That we will never take directives or late night calls from the overbearing father-and-son combines, from the vested patrons and the imperious security regime, but from our own kind: editors and reporters, producers and camera persons, leaders and best. There was promise, of course. That we will be paid on time, for a change. That we will go public, and have joint-ownership, and life insurance, and medical coverage, and a rainy-day fund, and a coffee machine that worked. That we won’t have to beg our flagrant and private jetting seths for a cheque that was due three months ago, because we are the bosses, now. We are the possessors, the creators, the true masters of an industry that runs on our risk, yet never rewards us. It was a big idea. Of course it was good to believe that Bol’s would be the generation that was going to conduct that modern, necessary triage upon that hemorrhaging, convulsing, cannibalistic Pakistani media. But our self-righteous ambition, our greater goal, made us self-destructive. We tried to conduct surgery on our self to cut away the unwanted bit. But we were one. And we remain one, faults and all. Yet we thought we were different. We were told we are different, by snake-oil salesmen we desperately tried to ape in their quick success, because we were determined, and hungry, and yes, inspired by the most righteous of our very own kind. It was a compelling sell, made by the time-tested warriors of the spoken and written word that I, for one, had sworn to believe in (and no, I’m not implying the military here, though I was never overtly encouraged or discouraged, by any martial quarters, who I tend to report on, in this regard). I was sold the mission by men who the industry, nay, the country was sold on for decades. And yes, the money wasn’t bad, either, though for the record, Bol was/is deeply, maybe even ineptly, top heavy. My books speaks for themselves. Thus, my follies: My due diligence was overshadowed by the bright promises made by my leaders, the best in the business, who were, perhaps, blinded by their own ambition as well as their well-intentioned drive to change the great game. And although my loyalty wasn’t worth my network’s master’s retirement plans or their armoured vehicles, my fellow Bol colleagues and I willfully carried on, through the taunts of even family and friends – that we were alleged “fronts”, or “projects”, or a “scheme” of underworld bosses, of military spooks, of property tycoons – because we wanted to believe that success, slick and polished and well heeled and hip, is possible, even for journalists. Soldiers tell me that being shot is a strange feeling. Even in a firefight, when you’re expecting it, there is a sting, then a burn, then a weakness, then a slowing down of speech and senses, then a general disillusionment, and then darkness. That’s about what’s happened since I read Walsh’s piece one week ago. As I read it again and again over the week, for its solid craft and its savage logic, along with the bevy of filth cum lucidity that it birthed on social and national media, I found the hyper-organized Axact and then the Bol configurations disintegrate. I sensed hesitation in the tones of my gods; I sensed their self-assuredness wilt away as their stubbles grew, heard their perfect oratory devolve into delusional harangues (1. A long pompous speech, especially one delivered before a gathering. 2. A speech or piece of writing characterized by strong feeling or expression; a tirade.). I sensed my once-aggressive reporters break eye contact, their backs hunched. I felt the five-star cafeteria food taste bland, and saw my fuel card stop working. Even the janitors seemed to go missing. As the structure crumbled and the conversations got more cynical, I sensed the machine – which was going to break all machines – breakdown itself. Communication, consolidation, camaraderie – buzzwords that were our core considerations– morphed into an each-man-for-himself scrimmage. I honestly can’t believe it, but resigning on Twitter, probably not technically legal, became a necessity, as our basic function – being public servants – was suspended by our disbelief in ourselves, even each other. In the end, our detractors were not our real or imagined partners or benefactors, nor frivolous colleagues or jealous critics, but our own bosses and creators and, yes, undoubtedly, even ourselves. We were naive, of course, but also motivated and thick-skinned, engaged in a tight, eyeless defensive crouch in fear of the all-consuming, thankless revolving door that is Pakistani broadcast media. And so, battle-hardened hacks but still pawns, self-declared false prophets of all that is wrong and unjust in this wasted land, we are on the street again. Yet, we will walk back through that door, as we still believe. But this time, it’s not our silence, but our embarrassment, that will lead us back in. Wajahat S. Khan is a former Executive Vice President for Bol TV who resigned his position on principle last weekend. He continues as the Pakistan Correspondent for NBC News. -------------------------------------- UAE residents caught in Axact fake degree scam Pakistani media company says claims are baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations. Construction News . UAE residents caught in Axact fake degree scam University degree scam has netted company millions globally, says the New York Times. . Published: 20 May 2015 - 6 a.m. . By: Courtney Trenwith UAE residents have allegedly bought fake university certificates from a Pakistani media company accused of a global fake degrees scam that has netted it tens of millions of dollars. The New York Times has claimed in an expose this week that the company Axact, based in Karachi with 2,000 employees, has run a fake education empire that involved paid actors promoting fictitious universities and fake US State Department authentication certifications with the signature of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The company created a series of websites involving “professors” and students who were in fact paid actors and employees who would plant fictitious reports about Axact “universities” on CNN iReport, a website for citizen journalism, the New York Times said. Clients from the US, UK and the UAE were cited as having had paid sums ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees, believing the universities were real and they would soon receive coursework. The NYT quoted former Axact employees and more than 370 websites of fake universities, accreditation bodies and other purported institutions. . Axact which is planning this year to launch a news channel named Bol and has already hired many of Pakistan’s top TV anchors and journalists, with reportedly the highest salaries in the market, used social media and its own website to deny any wrongdoing. A message on its website declared the story “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations” and added it would sue the New York Times. It accused domestic media rivals of colluding with the New York Times to plant a slanderous story in order to harm its business interests. =========================== KARACHI: A senior level former employee of Axact revealed on Monday that he worked from Axact’s Karachi office and was involved in luring in customers into buying degrees. Speaking exclusively during an interview in "Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath", former Axact employee Taha Jatoi went on to say that the biggest priority on Axact’s agenda was to rake in as many students as possible to sell online degrees to. He further revealed that all universities including Belford University existed only online and were operated from Axact’s Karachi office. Taha said that candidates had to give an exam before applying but this was only a formality. He went on to say that fake degrees were issued, stamped and attested by Axact Karachi office, and fake names were used. He said each agent had a university assigned to him or her, while he was responsible for the portfolio of Must University. Online education, online research and online design are three major departments of Axact, claimed Taha. He added that Axact provided thesis and essay papers to students abroad through the 'online research' section and this department mostly had young girls as employees. I Hussain Tuesday, May 26, 2015 The New York Times expose earlier in the week showing that Axact Technologies’ is not the ‘World’s Leading IT Company’ but allegedly a front for a massive fake degree scam was nothing short of sensational. If the NYT’s allegations are proven, then how Axact was able to operate its ‘business model’ in the fashion it did for more than a decade below the radar of Pakistani officialdom beggars belief. The company’s ascent seemed plausible enough as computer software and the business possibilities of the online world have created billionaires not only in Silicon Valley but also in India and China; Axact tapped into this meme by projecting itself not only as riding the new wave of technology but being at the very forefront of innovation. In other words, a Pakistani success story at the global level. The presence of an ambitious CEO only added to the halo around Axact since no one gets to be richer than Bill Gates (the Axact CEO’s professed aim) by being shy and humble. The naysayers who murmured their misgivings about all not being quite right with Axact were dismissed as conspiracy theorists driven by envy, who didn’t get how the world had changed for ambitious entrepreneurs willing to harness technology to achieve their globe spanning aims. In their follow-up editorial, ‘A rising tide of bogus degrees’, the NYT cites a source indicating that there are 3300 “unrecognized” universities worldwide. They also say that Axact is connected to about 370 education websites of which around 100 have been identified by the NYT as providing post-secondary school educational “certificates”. It would appear that Axact accounts for around three percent of the worldwide population of universities existing in name only – a significant if not overwhelming percentage. In revenue terms if we use the figure given by the NYT of over 50,000 PhDs being ‘awarded’ each year by these online ‘universities’ and if each PhD given costs on average $4,000 to the recipient then total revenues generated annually in this ‘segment’ are around $200 million of which Axact’s share could be around $6-$10 million if we assume it has a 3-5 percent market share based on the NYT numbers. How much revenue Axact generated from its online diploma platforms is of course moot but the NYT article cites a former employee claiming that Axact was generating at least $120,000 a day – or over $35 million annually (assuming weekends off for employees). If true, this is greater than the combined current annual revenues of two leading Pakistan based IT companies, Systems Ltd and Netsol Technologies as indicated by their financial statements. The profit margins must be staggeringly high since there are no expensive faculty on the payroll, no buildings and stadia to maintain and no direct or indirect taxes to pay since revenues are booked in tax-free locations such as the British Virgin Islands, Belize and Dubai where the majority shareholder (s) is based. Given that revenues are earned in dollars while expenses are incurred for the most part in rupees there is the strong likelihood that profit margins and overall profits have been swelling by substantial amounts since the rupee has been depreciating consistently against the dollar over the past several years. Aside from reports of boiler-room sales tactics, the issue now is whether what Axact is alleged to have done breached any criminal laws in Pakistan or in the jurisdictions where its servers are being hosted (if proved, the forgery of John Kerry’s signature and the US State Department seal constitutes a serious criminal offence anywhere). The matter, however, is not as clear cut as many may believe since what is unethical is not necessarily illegal. Thus if there were no boundaries between ethics and legality then we would undoubtedly find a large number of, say, used car dealers in jail. As far as university education is concerned some countries have strict guidelines. For instance in Australia it is a criminal offence to use the word university and claim to offer degree and diploma courses without governmental authorisation. Similar prohibitions apply in countries as diverse as India, South Korea, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Pakistan, however, does not categorically make the use of the word ‘university’ by an online provider a criminal offence. What the HEC does do is publish a list of accredited universities and degree awarding institutions on its website. It is for employers whether in the public or private sectors to determine whether the degree-holder has a genuine diploma from a recognised institution of higher learning. The US position is somewhat ambivalent and is more or less a ‘caveat emptor’ attitude. Given that the provision of education there falls within the purview of state governments it is not surprising that there is no uniformity of approach as far as the requirements for accreditation are concerned. Some states such as New York clamp down hard on unaccredited universities whereas others such as California are fairly lenient letting the market decide the fate of myriad educational institutions. One can infer that the clients and patrons of shell universities are to a large extent willing to go along with the purveyors of fraudulent degrees and therefore cannot be entirely absolved of blame. Surely if there is no coursework, no home assignments, and no tests or exams to take then the person is only deluding himself or herself if they believe that they have achieved an educational milestone by purchasing a certificate. Most likely, the buyers in turn are motivated by rational considerations such as getting a better job or meeting some residency or citizenship requirement and try and achieve their goals by taking the quickest and, to their minds, cheapest route possible. The intriguing case in the NYT story is that of the Saudi man who reportedly spent over $400,000 (about Rs41 million) to get fake degrees. What did he aim to achieve in exchange for the substantial amount of money spent on worthless pieces of paper? A cabinet position? One doubts that it was on account of a sense of personal fulfilment since he could have gone to the Coursera or EdX websites to achieve his moment of bliss and that too at no financial cost since most of the large number of excellent courses offered by these two Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers involving the world’s leading universities are offered for free. Notwithstanding the question marks over Axact’s future prospects, the issue is whether we as a nation are going to do something about the rash of fake degrees in our midst – whether in politics, academia or the professions. This is where the government has to take the lead in legislation. However, given the number of parliamentarians who have dubious educational credentials this is about as likely as turkeys voting for Christmas. The writer is Group Director for Business Development at the Jang Group. Email: iqbal.hussain@janggroup.com.pk

Monday, May 25, 2015

‘No will’ to fight ISIS? US Defense Sec blasts Iraqi troops

Published time: May 25, 2015 00:48 Edited time: May 25, 2015 12:20 Get short URL Displaced Sunni people fleeing the violence in Ramadi, cross a bridge on the outskirts of Baghdad, May 24, 2015.( Reuters / Stringer) Download video (40.62 MB) 2.9K182 Trends Iraq carnage, Islamic State Tags Arms, Conflict, Corruption, Iraq, Military, Politics, Religion, USA, Vehicles, War US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has lashed out at the Iraqi army, which last week abandoned the major central city of Ramadi, as well as millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, to the Islamic State, despite reportedly outnumbering the jihadists 10-to-1. “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site,” Carter, who was appointed earlier this year, told CNN in scathing commentary. READ MORE: ISIS kills 400, mostly women & children, in Palmyra – Syrian state TV “We can give them training, we can give them equipment – we obviously can’t give them the will to fight,” Carter said, adding that he still hopes that US training and support will bear some fruit over time, as “only if they fight” can Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL) be defeated. However, Hakim Al-Zamili, the head of Iraq’s parliamentary defense and security committee, dismissed Carter’s claims as “unrealistic and baseless.” “The US failed to provide good equipment, weapons and aerial support,” Al-Zamili told AP. “The US is trying to deflect the blame.” Read more ISIS claims full control of Ramadi after Iraqi troops abandon positions (VIDEO) Details from last Sunday’s withdrawal have trickled out during the past week, with Pentagon officials admitting that when the Iraqi army fled, they left behind half a dozen US-made tanks, the same number of artillery pieces, even more armored carriers, and over 100 wheeled vehicles, mostly Humvees. With unnamed US sources telling the media that the government troops enjoyed a superiority of 10-to-1 over the Islamists, various narratives have been brewing about the causes of the defeat. An initial slate of media reports blamed a sandstorm, which purportedly prevented the US from providing air support, and forced the Iraqis to re-locate to a safer position. However, logs showed that American planes, which have carried out close to 200 air strikes against IS in Iraq in the past month, continued to bomb enemy positions throughout last weekend’s battle, and the Pentagon denies that it was impeded by the weather. More alarming analyses emerged later, suggesting that deep-lying sectarian divides could be behind the lack of desire to fight. Read more Moscow ready to supply weapons to Iraq to help fight ISIS “The Iraqi army is dominated by Shia, and they were fighting in a Sunni area – and they don’t want to get killed fighting to defend Sunnis,” Ivan Eland, a military analyst, told RT. Notably, Sunni tribesmen, on whom the US is increasingly relying to fend off IS, are also said to have refused to take up positions next to Shia fighters. Despite US officials insisting that IS militants in Iraq are strategically in retreat, and emphasizing that the forces near Ramadi had never been directly trained by US instructors, Eland believes that little faith should be placed in pro-government forces. “The root of the problem goes back to the US invasion, which dismembered the Iraqi army, which has never been the same since. Despite 8 years of US training, there is a lot of sectarianism and corruption.” Meanwhile, other options remain off the table for US President Barack Obama, much to the chagrin of hawks, including current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain, who have criticized the White House for its “constrained” intervention policy. Read more ‘Surge’ architects want US ground troops in Iraq to wash out ISIS McCain has recently mocked Obama for “saying that the biggest problem we have is climate change,” while there is “no strategy” in Washington to fight IS. The Republican Senator has even called for American boots to hit Iraqi ground while speaking on Memorial Day. According to Eland, choices in Iraq are now “poor.” “You need ground forces, and you need military advisers on the ground to launch the airstrikes. But the US doesn’t want to get involved. Meanwhile, bombing without forces on the ground is not that effective, and can even be counter-productive,” Eland stressed. He also argued that given the current state of affairs in the region, even professional Iraqi troops could end up engaging in sectarian warfare when they were not fighting IS. Yet even in the face of what US officials have conceded is an “undeniable setback,” Carter tried to strike a positive note. “We can’t make this [victory over IS] happen by ourselves, but we can assist it to happen, and we are counting on the Iraqi people to come behind a multi-sectarian government in Baghdad.” =============== Disturbing picture emerges of siege gunman Updated: 3:58 am, Tuesday, 26 May 2015 Please upgrade your Flash Plugin Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis had failed to make his mark in the world and was 'a man spiralling downwards' when he took 18 people hostage at gunpoint, an inquest has heard.The self-styled Islamic sheik was broke, had few friends, was facing a possible jail term, and had failed in his ongoing quest to achieve 'significance', the opening day of the inquest into the Lindt cafe siege has revealed. And the head of the siege investigation, experienced homicide Detective Inspector Angelo Memmolo, has revealed the sheer complexity of the job, describing the Lindt cafe as 'probably the most complicated crime scene that I have seen'.The picture emerging of Monis is one of an erratic, volatile but intelligent outsider with a frightening capacity for organisation.When Monis - then called Mohammed Manteghi - arrived in Australia in 1996 he expected somehow to make a mark, counsel assisting Jeremy Gormly SC told the court.But by December 2014, Monis apparently had no money, had failed to gain a following as an Islamic sheik and was on sexual assault charges that could put him in jail.'It's not difficult to develop a summary of Mr Monis's life in Australia that makes him look like a man spiralling downwards,' Mr Gormly told the inquest.Extensive evidence about Monis's life, tracing back to his schooling and studies in Islam in Iran, is being presented as authorities try to understand the circumstances around the siege.'Was Monis a so-called lone wolf prosecuting an ISIS-inspired terrorist act or was he a deranged individual pursuing some personal, private grievance?' Coroner Michael Barnes asked.Cafe manager Tori Johnson, 34, and lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38, were killed in the siege that shut down central Sydney on December 15, 2014.Monis was killed when police stormed the cafe in the early hours of December 16.The inquest heard that:- Monis tried to join the Rebels bikie gang in 2012, but bikies rejected him as 'weird' and took his motorbike.- Monis was attracted to the Rebels as a source of power and influence: 'His constant goal in life appears to have been achieving significance,' junior counsel assisting Sophie Callan said.- No legal importation record can be found for the French-made Manufrance La Salle 12-gauge, pump-action sawn-off shotgun used by Monis.- Monis enrolled in, but did not complete many courses including fitness instructing, lifesaving and criminology.- He was convicted for writing offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers.- He had treatment for mental health problems, including depression in 2005, a form of schizophrenia in 2010, and was treated for mental health issues in 2011.- Monis ran a 'spiritual healing' and clairvoyance business between 2002 and 2007 with 500 clients, making up to $125,000 a year.- In 2014, he was charged with 43 counts of aggravated or indecent sexual assault relating to clients of his healing business.- In 2006, he set up a website featuring abusive messages about Australian soldiers killed in action and letters complaining to Queen Elizabeth about racism.Security is extremely tight at the inquest, the largest to be held in NSW.Family members of the victims and hostages of the siege are attending the hearing.Mr Barnes said while revisiting details of the siege could be painful, a speedy investigation was critical.'It would be unforgivable if we delayed and another similar incident were to occur before we had learned the lessons of the last,' he said.The inquest will probe Monis's employment history, and his dealings with immigration and customs officials when it continues on Tuesday. - See more at: http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2015/05/26/disturbing-picture-emerges-of-siege-gunman.html#sthash.6nvRWhoT.awffqSoP.dpuf =========

Houthis suffer first serious setback in south Yemen fighting: residents

Mon, May 25 11:23 AM EDT By Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohammed Ghobari ADEN/CAIRO (Reuters) - Local Sunni Muslim militia ejected Shi'ite Houthi rebels from much of the southern Yemeni city of Dalea on Monday, residents and combatants said, inflicting the first significant setback on the Iranian-backed rebels in two months of civil war. Dalea had been a bastion of southern secessionists in Yemen before the Houthis took widespread control of the city in arch, after having seized the capital Sanaa in the north in September, toppling President Abd-Rabbu Mansour, and then thrust into the center and south of the Arabian Peninsula country. After two months of fighting in which much of Dalea has been destroyed, Sunni fighters on Monday turned the tide by seizing a key military base and the main security directorate in the city, militia sources and local residents said. Twelve Sunni fighters and 40 Houthi rebels were killed, they said. "In intense fighting lasting from dawn until this afternoon, the southern resistance succeeded in cleansing our city of Houthi elements," a front-line militiaman told Reuters. Eyewitnesses said local forces in Dalea, which has an estimated population of 90,000, were backed by weeks of air strikes on Houthi positions as well as weapons drops which intensified in recent days. A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the Houthis and allied loyalists of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh for two months while backing Sunni combatants along a jumbled series of battlefronts. The Houthis, however, appear to remain the strongest faction in the civil war, retaining the edge in the main contested regions of central and south Yemen. The Houthis say they are fighting to root out corrupt officials and Sunni militants. Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter bordering Yemen to the north, and fellow Gulf Arabs worry that the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi movement's allegiance to Iran will give the Islamic Republic a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula. In the southern city of Taiz, residents said Houthi fighters pushed back Sunni tribal and Islamist militiamen in heavy street combat, and that shelling hit a fuel storage tank which set off an explosion, killing 10 people. With ground combat worsening, a Yemeni official said U.N.-sponsored peace talks set to be held in Geneva on May 28 had been postponed. Yemen's exiled government in Saudi Arabia led by Hadi has demanded the Houthis recognize its authority and withdraw from Yemen's main cities -- two points demanded by a U.N. Security Council resolution last month. "The Geneva meeting has been indefinitely postponed because the Houthis did not indicate their commitment to implement the Security Council resolution," Sultan al-Atwani, an aide to Hadi, told Reuters by telephone from Riyadh. "Also, what is happening on ground -- the attacks on Aden, Taiz, Dalea and Shabwa makes it difficult to go to Geneva," he added, naming southern provinces that have become war zones. Ahmad Fawzi, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, said he could not confirm the reports of a delay to talks, saying that plans were still under way for negotiations to start on Thursday. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

SHC rejects Axact CEO’s protective bail plea

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Eurozone Financial Crisis

Greece financial crisis  8h Greece won't meet IMF repayments in June, interior minister says - @MarketWatch Read more on marketwatch.com  Greece financial crisis  15h Greece will not make a debt repayment to the IMF due next month as it does not have the money, interior minister says - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  1d European Central Bank President Mario Draghi tells Rome conference that indebted countries must act quickly on recommended reforms, as, 'The current situation in the euro area demonstrates that this delay could be dangerous' - @ReutersBiz Read more on reuters.com Get the app Like BreakingNews.com? Download our free app and get faster updates, create custom news alerts and see breaking news near your location, wherever you go. Read more on apps.fm  Greece financial crisis  3d Greece, creditors not in talks on extending bailout, European Commission says - @ReutersBiz Read more on reuters.com  Greece financial crisis  4d Germany's finance minister says he can't repeat 2012 assurance Greece won't default - @WSJbreakingnews Read more on www.wsj.com  Greece financial crisis  5d Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem says deal not likely on Greece to be reached this week - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  9d Greek prime minister says wants to ensure there is no threat to paying wages and pensions, will reach deal with lenders - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  9d Greece pays 500 million euros-worth of public sector wages to avert fresh economic crisis - @guardian Read more on theguardian.com  Greece financial crisis  10d IMF repeats it is flexible in Greece talks as long as program objectives met; working intensely to get deal soon, spokesman says - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  10d Bundesbank chief criticizes emergency loans for Greece - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  10d Greek investment deal from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development worth up to 500 million euros a year, Greek Finance Ministry says - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  10d Greece unblocks Piraeus port sale, invites binding bids - @Reuters Piraeus Port Authority SA - Greece unblocks Piraeus port sale, invites binding bids (Thu, May 14) - Greece considers selling ports to reach deal with EU/IMF: government source (Wed, Apr 29) - UPDATE 1-Greece considers selling ports to reach deal with EU/IMF - government source (Wed, Apr 29) - UPDATE 4-Greece sends updated reforms, pledges to pay IMF on time (Wed, Apr 1) - UPDATE 1-Templeton's Mobius says Greece to stay in euro, shares are cheap (Tue, Mar 31) - In u-turn, Greece will sell Piraeus Port stake in weeks - Xinhua (Sat, Mar 28) - Greece will not cancel completed privatisations: government source (Thu, Feb 5) - Greece will not cancel completed privatisations- govt source (Thu, Feb 5) - Exclusive: Greece opposes Canadian gold mine, to scrap gas utility sale (Fri, Jan 30) - Greek PM Tsipras freezes privatisations, markets tumble (Wed, Jan 28) - UPDATE 5-Greek PM Tsipras freezes privatisations, markets tumble (Wed, Jan 28) - Renewed plunge in Greek banks hits European shares (Wed, Jan 28) - Factbox: Greece's privatization deals in doubt after leftist victory (Wed, Jan 28) - Another slump in Greek stocks holds back European shares (Wed, Jan 28) - Greek banks extend slide to peg back European shares (Wed, Jan 28) - Europe stocks dip; Greek shares extend retreat (Wed, Jan 28) - Greek shares hit by privatisation freeze (Wed, Jan 28) - Greek PM Tsipras names anti-austerity cabinet, port sale halted (Tue, Jan 27) - UPDATE 3-Greek PM Tsipras names anti-austerity cabinet, port sale halted (Tue, Jan 27) ============ Greece unblocks Piraeus port sale, invites binding bids Thu, May 14 09:49 AM EDT ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has asked three firms to submit binding bids by September for a majority stake in the country's biggest port, Piraeus (OLPr.AT), a senior privatization official told Reuters on Thursday, unblocking a major asset sale. Greece had shorlisted China's Cosco Group [COSCO.UL] and four other groups for a 67 percent stake in Piraeus Port (OLPr.AT) last year but the sale was halted after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftist government came to power this year. Pressing ahead on the sale is expected to be one of the major concessions offered by Tsipras to EU and IMF lenders during ongoing talks to secure aid. Athens late on Wednesday wrote to investors with an amended invitation to bid for 51 percent rather than the previous 67 percent stake, the official said. Only three of the five initial bidders - Cosco, Dutch container terminal operator APM Terminals (MAERSKb.CO), and Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services (ICT.PS) - are still interested in the port, the official said. "It will be for 51 percent with an option to reach 67 percent in five years if they invest 300 million euros," he said. "We want to name the winner at the end of September or early October." The new leftist-led government is trying to renegotiate a 240-billion-euro bailout and has said it will review asset sales, but wants the state to remain involved in any privatizations. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, editing by Deepa Babington/Jeremy Gaunt) ================ Exclusive: Greece opposes Canadian gold mine, to scrap gas utility sale Fri, Jan 30 15:16 PM EST By Angeliki Koutantou ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's new left-wing government will cancel plans to sell the state natural gas utility and is firmly opposed to a Canadian-run gold mine that is among the biggest foreign investment projects in the country, the energy minister told Reuters. The comments on Friday by Panagiotis Lafazanis, who represents the more radical wing of the ruling Syriza party, further reinforces early signs that the government is sticking to campaign pledges that have chilled investment and unnerved financial markets. The Skouries gold mine operated by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold Corp. (ELD.TO) in northern Greece was the flagship project of the last government's foreign investment drive and considered a test case that would reveal whether Greece could protect foreign investors despite local opposition. "We are absolutely against it and we will examine our next moves on it," Lafazanis, a 63-year-old former Communist, told Reuters at his new ministerial office. He declined to say if the government would try to block the project from going ahead. Shares of Eldorado Gold tumbled to a six-year low on Friday and were trading down 18.5 percent on Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The company owns 95 percent of the Greek venture. “We have our permits, so we’re legally entitled to continue our operations and development projects there. So for us, it’s business as usual at this point,” said Krista Muhr, vice president of Eldorado's investor relations, in response to the report. “I don’t think we would continue investing money into Greece if we weren’t confident,” she added. The firm said last week that it would spend about $200 million this year to develop Skouries mine, and expected to complete construction in late 2016. The project is among the biggest foreign investments in Greece since the country sank into a debt crisis in 2010, with Eldorado taking over the mine in 2012 and promising to invest $1 billion over five years. But it has been beset by controversy and violent local protests for years and Syriza had criticized the environment impact of the project on the pristine Halkidiki peninsula landscape of beaches and forest surrounding it. The new minister was even more categorical on gas utility DEPA, saying the planned sale of a 65 percent stake would be scrapped. The previous government had planned to accelerate the privatization as part of commitments under Greece's 240-billion-euro ($271 billion) bailout from international lenders, after an initial attempt to sell to Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM) in 2013 failed. "In no way will we privatize gas utility DEPA and sell it to anyone, no matter who the interested party is," Lafazanis said. The latest comments add to plans already outlined by the new government to freeze sales of stakes held by the state in the country's biggest port Piraeus Port (OLPr.AT), its main power utility Public Power Corporation (PPC) (DEHr.AT), oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum (HEPr.AT) and power grid operator ADMIE. POWER Greece has raised 3.1 billion euros ($3.5 billion) from privatizations since it was first bailed out five years ago by the EU and International Monetary Fund, far short of an original target of about 22 billion euros by 2013. Lafazanis also said his government would move fast to revoke a law that allowed the state to spin off power utility PPC and which opened the way for the sale of 30 percent of its production capacity to investors. Under the previous government, Greece - which holds a 51 percent stake in PPC - had also planned to sell a further 17 percent stake in PPC in 2016. "Once parliament resumes, we will table the relevant bill and the spin-off will be canceled. We will not proceed with any further privatization," he said. Greek businesses and households have been hit by four years of austerity and Lafazanis said the new government would seek to relieve them by cutting their electricity bills. "Our concern is how PPC can operate more effectively so that power prices paid by businesses and households are reduced," he said. But Lafazanis struck a more moderate tone on the 400-million-euro sale of Greek natural gas grid operator DESFA to Azerbaijan's state oil firm SOCAR, a deal agreed in 2013. He said the government would act on the project only after the European Commission, which is investigating whether the deal violated competition rule, makes it decision later this year. "We will wait for the EU Competition Commission's decision and then we will decide our own moves," he said. (Writing by Deepa Babington; Additional reporting by Susan Taylor and John Tilak in Toronto; Editing by Pravin Char, Bernard Orr) =====  Greece financial crisis  12d IMF says Greece made principal payment to funds, declines to provide details of transaction - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  13d Eurozone countries: progress made with Greece over bailout but more time and effort needed - @AP End of alert  Greece financial crisis  13d Eurogroup to issue statement encouraging Greece to accelerate debt talks - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  13d German Finance Minister Schaeuble says it could be helpful for Greek government to hold referendum on debt deal - @Reuters End of alert  Greece financial crisis  19d German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble 'skeptical' of deal with Greece by Monday - @ekathimerini Read more on ekathimerini.com  Greece financial crisis  19d Greece steps up diplomacy with eurozone partners to avert cash crunch - @Reuters Read more on reuters.com  European Union  19d European Commission predicting 1.5% growth for the eurozone in 2015, up 0.2% from the previous forecast in February - @AP End of alert  Greece financial crisis  19d European Commission slashes Greek 2015 GDP forecasts from 2.5% to 0.5% - @CNBCWorld