Tuesday, February 28, 2012

S&P downgrades Greece's sovereign credit rating to selective default


Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/229011.html

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has downgraded Greece’s sovereign credit rating to 'selective default' in response to the country’s decision to involve the private sector in its comprehensive debt restructuring.

Greece’s move “constitutes the launch of what we consider to be a distressed debt restructuring,” the US ratings agency said on Monday.

Greece has become the first eurozone member in its 13-year history to be officially rated in default, down from its previous rating of ‘CC’.

However, S&P said that once the debt swap is concluded, it will likely raise Greece's sovereign credit rating to the 'CCC' category.

Greece has negotiated the biggest debt restructuring in history as it seeks to reduce national debt to 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020, from 160 percent last year, and to meet the terms of a 130-billion-euro ($170 billion) international bailout.

The private sector involvement entails a “debt swap” which aims to slice 100 billion euros off more than 200 billion euros of privately held debt if all investors participate.

The Greek government said the move was expected and would not hurt the banking industry.

"This rating does not have any impact on the Greek banking system since any likely effect on liquidity has already been dealt with by the Bank of Greece," the Greek Finance Ministry said in a statement issued on Monday.

Greece has the highest debt burden in proportion to the size of its economy in the 17-nation eurozone. Despite austerity measures and the bailout funds, the country has been in recession since 2009.

German parliament approves second Greek bailout


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) casts her ballot during a session at the Bundestag in Berlin on February 27, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228993.html

The German parliament has overwhelmingly approved the second bailout package for Greece to help the heavily indebted country stabilize and avert bankruptcy.

On Monday, German MPs voted 496 to 90, with five abstentions, to approve the 130-billion-euro (174.4-billion-dollar) rescue package.

Just before the vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, warning the lawmakers of the consequences of not coming to Greece's aid.

"The risks of turning away from Greece now are incalculable," Merkel told the 591 MPs of the Bundestag.

"No one can assess what consequences would arise for the German economy, on Italy, Spain, the eurozone as a whole and finally for the whole world,” she added.

The parliament was certain to back the motion after two opposition parties -- the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens -- said they would support the plan.

Despite the motion's approval, German skepticism about Greece remains.

"The Bundestag will in the foreseeable future be dealing with a third (rescue) package for Greece," said SPD member Peer Steinbrueck, a former finance minister, adding that only strong economic growth would stabilize Greece.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has openly called for Greece to leave the eurozone, saying it would have a better chance to make its economy competitive if it was outside the monetary union.

According to an opinion poll released on Sunday, 62 percent of Germans opposed the new rescue package for Greece.

The poll was conducted by the Emnid institute for the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Most Syrians voted for new constitution: Minister



Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, cast their ballot in the capital, February 26, 2012.

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228914.html

Almost 90 percent of Syrian voters have said 'yes' to the country’s new constitution, says Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar.

According to the Syrian minister, nearly 60 percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum on Sunday, with 7,490,319 (89.4 percent) supporting it and 753,208 (9 percent) saying "No."

The new constitution will end five decades of Ba'ath party rule by allowing political pluralism, it will also enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms.

Article 23 of the new constitution guarantees the women’s rights to participate in the social, economic, and political activities, while Article 42 states that citizens have the right to express their thoughts freely and to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Damascus has pledged multi-party parliamentary elections within three months.

The new constitution is part of the reforms plans promised by President Bashar al-Assad.

The referendum came after a year of deadly violence in the country.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. The violence has claimed the lives of hundreds, reportedly including over 2,000 security forces.

Damascus blames ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups’ for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

British Chancellor begs private sector for money


Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228926.html

Britain’s Chancellor George Osborne acknowledges that the country has run out of the much-needed money and cannot afford debt-fuelled tax cuts or extra spending.

The Chancellor made the stark warning ahead of next month’s budget, noting that “there was little the coalition government could do to stimulate the economy”, British media reported.

“The British government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said adding “the money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”

Osborne’s bleak assessment echoes that of Liam Byrne, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, who bluntly joked that Labour had left Britain broke when he exited the government in 2010.

Osborne is under severe pressure to boost growth, amid signs the economy is slipping back into a recession.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has urged him to consider emergency tax cuts in the budget to reduce the risk of a prolonged economic slump.

But, the Chancellor has said he would stand firm on his effort to balance the books by refusing to borrow money.

“Any tax cut would have to be paid for,” Osborne said. “In other words there would have to be a tax rise somewhere else or a spending reduction.

“In other words what we are not going to do in this Budget is borrow more money to either increase spending or cut taxes”, added Osborne.

The Chancellor’s tough words were echoed by Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, the foreign minister, who warned that Britain faced “accelerated decline” without measures to tackle its debt and increase competitiveness.

“Britain’s market share in the world used to be dominant but was now in freefall compared with the soaring economies of Asia and South America. This situation has been becoming more acute for years.

It is now staring us in the face. So we need to take action”, he wrote in an article published by The Daily Telegraph.

More former Dimona employees with cancer sue for neglect


A view of Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228936.html

The number of workers suffering from cancer who have filed lawsuits against the Dimona nuclear plant over the lack of proper safety measures is on the rise.

Victims say the high level of radioactive radiation that they were exposed to at Dimona is the main cause of the cancer that they are suffering from.

So far, over 60 people working at Dimona have filled lawsuit against the site's officials. The victims say officials had assured them that they were protected properly and that the level of harmful radiation was being monitored carefully, but now the opposite has been proven.

The victims are demanding 120,860,000 Shekel (about 32 million dollars) in compensation.

On Monday, 24 more people, diagnosed with cancer, filled lawsuits against the Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, accusing Dimona officials of deceiving them about their safety and protection.

Earlier this months, a lawsuit by 44 former Dimona workers told an Israeli court that they were sent to search for uranium ore across Israel without the necessary protection and that they were equipped only with goggles and masks that did not protect them from radiation.

The National Insurance, however, refused to recognize their cancer as work-related, claiming that the levels of radiation to which they were exposed were not the cause of their illness.

Dramatic increases in cancer cases, sterility and abnormal births south of the West Bank is said to be linked to a uranium leak at the Dimona nuclear power plant.

The nuclear reactor has become very old after 48 years, with experts warning of that the leakage could reach Jordan, Syria, Egypt and even Libya.

Putin puts words of caution against strike on Iran


Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228864.html

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has expressed concern over the growing threat of a military strike on Iran, saying such an attack will have catastrophic repercussions.

“Russia is alarmed by the growing threat of a military strike” against Iran, Putin wrote in article in the daily Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper on Monday.

“If this happens, the consequences will be truly catastrophic, their real scope impossible to imagine,” he added.

“We propose to recognize Iran’s right to develop a civilian nuclear program, including the right to enrich uranium” in exchange for placing the country’s nuclear activities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Russian premier further said.

Putin added that in this case, all unilateral and international sanctions imposed against Iran need to be lifted.

In 2011, Russia proposed a “step-by-step” approach that would enable Iran to adopt measures to address IAEA questions on Tehran's nuclear program.

According to the plan, Iran can revive negotiations to alleviate individual concerns of the IAEA about its nuclear activities and be rewarded along the way by a partial removal of sanctions.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program, using the pretext to impose sanctions against Iran and threaten the country with a military attack.

Iran has denied the allegations and promised a crushing response to any military strike against the country, warning that any such measure could result in a war that would spread beyond the Middle East.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Price of Iran war will be disastrous for US: Brzezinksi


Zbigniew Brzezinksi

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228584.html

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi has warned Washington not to attack Iran and even prevent Israel from launching a military strike against the country.

"We don’t need to go to war. And we have to make that very clear to our Israeli friends," he said in an interview with CNN on Friday.

"We’re not going to go to war. They’re [Israelis] not going to go to war by flying over our airspace over Iraq. We’re not going to support them," Brzezinksi added.

The political analyst also pointed to the repercussions of such an attack for the United States and the Middle East in general.

"If they [Israelis] do it, they will be on their own. The consequences will be theirs, because the price we’ll all pay, based on a massive war, which the Iranians interpret as being done with our connivance, will be disastrous for us in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the terms of oil, but also in the Middle East more generally," Brzezinksi explained.

The US and Israel have intensified the anti-Iran war rhetoric during the past weeks to put more pressure on Tehran to stop its peaceful nuclear energy program.

The war threats came after the Washington-backed sanctions against Iran failed to stop the country.

The US and Israel have repeatedly threatened Tehran with the "option" of a military strike, saying Iran's nuclear program may include a covert military aspect, a claim strongly rejected by Tehran.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards nuclear weapons production.

Iran sanctions will cause many problems for Italy: Monti



Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228589.html

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti says complying with the European Union sanctions against Iran will cause many problems for the country’s ailing economy.

Speaking to reporters in a joint press conference with the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, in Rome, Monti noted that Italy is grappling with serious economic recession and crisis and cutting Iran oil imports will cause the country to suffer more than other EU members.

The Italian premier added that due to heavy dependence on energy, Italy feels the pinch of Iran oil sanctions more than other European countries, but Rome is unable to disobey certain decisions.

Meanwhile, the Italian official news agency, ANSA, published a report quoting energy experts as saying that sanctions against Iran are useless and will only harm Italian and other European companies.

Referring to high trade volume between Tehran and Rome, the report added that given the existing economic crisis in Europe, compliance with sanctions may be an end to the longstanding presence of Italian companies in Iran, which will be replaced with Turkish and Chinese companies.

ANSA further stated that complying with Iran sanctions will also cost Italians 30,000 jobs.

On January 23, EU Foreign Ministers met in Belgium to approve new sanctions against Iran aimed at banning member countries from importing Iranian crude oil and carrying out transactions with its central bank.

The EU has considered a period of six months before sanctions are fully enforced in order to allow member states to adapt to new conditions and find new sources of crude oil.

EU decision followed imposition of similar sanctions by Washington on Iranian energy and financial sectors on the New Year’s Eve which seek to penalize other countries for buying Iran oil or dealing with the its central bank.

After approving new sanctions, EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, told reporters that the sanctions aim to persuade Tehran to suspend its peaceful nuclear activities and get back to negotiating table with P5+1 -- comprising US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program, using this pretext to impose sanctions against Iran and threaten the country with military attack.

Iran has refuted the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and member of IAEA, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful use.

The IAEA has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards nuclear weapons production.

Arming Syrian rebels 'excellent idea: Saudi Arabia



United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) meets with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Tunis, February 24, 2012.

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228494.html

Saudi Arabia has said that arming the Syrian rebels is “an excellent idea,” following remarks by US President Barack Obama vowing to use every tool available against Damascus.

"I think it's an excellent idea... because they have to protect themselves," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said before a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of a conference on Syria in Tunisia.

The pro-opposition so-called Friends of Syria conference organized by a number of Western countries and the Arab League kicked off in Tunisia on Friday to discuss the Syrian unrest.

Faisal’s remarks could yet be seen as another signal of Riyadh's intervention in a foreign country after it sent hundreds of troops to neighboring Bahrain to crush peaceful protests there.

Clinton also threatened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with a "heavy cost" if he refuses to resign.

Meanwhile, Obama has threatened to mount pressure on the Syrian government.

"We're going to continue to keep the pressure up and look for every tool available” to put pressure on Syrian government, Obama told reporters in Washington.

Pro-Israeli US Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have also called for arming the Syrian opposition with the help of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Damascus blames ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups’ for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad. The West and the Syrian opposition, however, accuse the Syrian government of killing the protesters.

Dozens killed in car bomb attack in Yemen


Scene of an explosion in Yemen (file photo).

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228564.html

As Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi the winner of the country's single-candidate presidential vote takes office, a bomb attack in southern Yemen has killed at least 32 people.

The causalities come after a car bomb exploded outside the presidential palace in al-Mukalla located in Hadramawt Province, where Hadi was sworn in on Saturday.

Members of the elite Republican Guard are thought to be among the dead.

Al-Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

The violence comes hours after the new president replaced Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to resign after months of protest against his rule.

Hadi, Saleh’s ex-deputy, was the single candidate in the presidential vote that took place on Tuesday, which was described by pundits as a mockery of democracy. He will lead Yemen for a two-year interim period.

Saleh, who returned home from a “medical visit” to the United States late on Friday, is set to formally hand over power to Hadi in a ceremony at the presidential palace on Monday.

Hadi pledged to continue the fight against al-Qaeda, which he called a "national and religious duty" in a live broadcast speech on television. "If we don't restore security, the only outcome will be chaos," he said.

Meanwhile, people took to the streets in the city of Taizz once again to renew their demand for a free Yemen and the prosecution of the 69-year-old Saleh and his aides.

In the southern Yemeni port city of Aden regime forces reportedly used live bullets against protesters.

Saleh's deputy takes oath of office after sham election



Yemen's new President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi arrives to take the oath of office during a ceremony at the parliament, Sana’a, February 25, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228516.html

The former deputy of Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh has been sworn in as the country’s new president after winning a US-backed one-man vote.

Saleh’s ex-deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi was the single candidate in the presidential vote that took place on Tuesday, which was described by pundits as a mockery of democracy. He will lead Yemen for a two-year interim period.

"It is a patriotic and religious duty to continue the battle against Al-Qaeda," claimed the new Yemeni president.

"If we don't restore security, the only outcome will be chaos," Hadi said.

Saleh, who returned home from a “medical visit” to the United States late on Friday, is set to formally hand over power to Hadi in a ceremony at the presidential palace on Monday.

Saleh traveled to New York in late January allegedly to receive treatment for wounds sustained in an attack on his palace last year. The Yemeni people have slammed the US government for sheltering a man whom they blame for the deaths of a large number of protesters since a revolution began in January 2011.

The protesters now want the prosecution of the 69-year-old Saleh and his aides over the regime's deadly crackdown on peaceful demonstrators during the past year.

NATO withdraws Afghanistan staff after US advisers killed



Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/228625.html

NATO on Saturday pulled all its staff out of Afghan government ministries after two U.S. military advisers were shot dead in the interior ministry, as anti-U.S. protests raged for a fifth day.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying it was in revenge for the burning of Qur'ans at a U.S.-run military base - an incident that forced U.S. President Barack Obama to apologize to the Afghan people. Thejakartaglobe

HIGHLIGHTS

"For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul," said U.S. General John Allen, commander of NATO's international security assistance force. news24.co

The two advisers, including a lieutenant colonel and a major, were shot in the back of the head, according to Western officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information. Huffington Post

U.S. officials said the assailant - who has not been identified by name or nationality - remained at large and a manhunt was underway. Huffington Post

Britain said its embassy was also temporarily withdrawing all civilian mentors and advisers from Afghan government institutions in Kabul. Thejakartaglobe

The latest deaths come hard on the heels of the killing of two American troops on Thursday when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them at their base in eastern Nangarhar province as demonstrators approached. Thejakartaglobe

Friday, February 24, 2012

Obama keeps Libya sanctions in place for another year



US President Barack Obama

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228305.html

US President Barack Obama has told Congress that the sanctions his administration imposed on Libya last year will be extended for another year, White House officials said.

Obama informed Congress on Thursday that the national emergency order allowing sanctions against Libya will continue, noting that Washington was concerned by ongoing threats posed to US interests by the family of Libya's slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

“The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders.

“We need to protect against this threat and the diversion of assets or other abuse by certain members of Gaddafi’s family and other former regime officials," he said.

"Therefore, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Libya," he wrote.

Obama declared the national emergency over Libya on February 25, 2011, citing threats to US national security and foreign policy posed by Gaddafi and his government in their "extreme measures" against the people of Libya.

National emergency regulations authorize the US president to impose sanctions on foreign countries.

Sanctions imposed on overseas Libyan assets by the United Nations, the United States, and other nations have unwound slowly since Gaddafi’s death last year. However, releasing the assets is both politically and legally complicated, because the frozen funds include investments and property owned by private individuals.

Obama blames rising gas prices on West’s tension with Iran


US President Barack Obama speaks on energy and the economy following a tour of the Industrial Assessment Center at the University of Miami, Florida, on February 23, 2012.

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228343.html

US President Barack Obama has defended his energy policies, blaming rising gas prices on a mix of factors, mainly the Western rows over Iran’s nuclear program.

Obama hit back at Republican attacks on his energy policies and blamed tensions with Iran as the main reason behind rising gas prices.

“Just like last year, the biggest thing that's causing the price of oil to rise right now is instability in the Middle East -- this time in Iran,” Obama said Thursday in a visit to the University of Miami.

He also said that other factors including Wall Street speculations as well as hot demand from China, India and other emerging economies have also contributed to mounting gas prices.

"When uncertainty increases, speculative trading on Wall Street can drive up prices even more. So there are short-term factors at work here," Obama said.

"Over the long term, the biggest reason oil prices will rise is growing demand in countries like China, India, and Brazil," he added.

Republicans have made rising gas prices one of their main attack lines against Obama as there is less than nine months before the presidential election.

The US gasoline prices have jumped nearly 9 cents in the past week to an average of USD 3.61 a gallon and are expected to go even higher.

US crude prices have also jumped 9 percent this year, nearing USD 108 a barrel on Thursday, the highest level since May, 2011.

This comes after Iran’s Oil Ministry has announced that it had cut oil exports to British and French firms.

Iran also hinted at the possibility of a halt in oil exports to certain other European countries.

The move came in retaliation for a decision by EU foreign ministers on January 23 to stop oil imports from Iran, freeze the assets of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) within EU states and ban selling diamonds, gold, and other precious metals to Tehran.

The United States, Israel and their European allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to push for international and unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Iran has rejected the Western publicity that Tehran’s nuclear program may be diverted to military objectives and insisted that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA, it is entitled to pursue nuclear technology for its numerous civilian uses and benefits.

Oil prices in euro soar over Iran’s sales cut to EU



On February 19, Iran’s Oil Ministry announced it had cut oil exports to British and French firms

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228341.html

In the wake of Iran’s decision to halt oil exports to some European countries, oil prices, valued in euros, have hit a record high, dealing a severe blow to the eurozone’s debt-ridden countries.

Brent oil jumped to 93.60 euros per barrel on Thursday, beating the 2008's pre-financial crisis price of 93.46 euros.

Europe plunged into financial crisis in early 2008. Insolvency now threatens heavily-indebted countries such as Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain.

In New York on Thursday, light sweet crude for delivery in April, rose 64 cents to more than USD 108 per barrel, while the North Sea Brent crude for April delivery gained 60 cents to over USD 124 in morning trade.

The hike in oil prices comes on the heels of a report by Press TV last week that Iran would cut its oil exports to six European Union states, if they fail to sign long-term deals with Tehran.

Later on Sunday, Iran’s Oil Ministry announced that it had cut oil exports to British and French firms in line with the decision to stop the crude sales to six European states.

The move comes as Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi had earlier hinted at the possibility of Iran’s halting oil exports to certain European countries.

Meanwhile, the world's largest oil trader, Vitol, has warned that crude prices could spike above USD 150 per barrel if tensions with Iran escalate further.

EU foreign ministers agreed to ban oil imports from Iran on January 23 and to freeze the assets of the Iranian Central Bank across the EU in a bid to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

Despite the widely publicized claims by the US, Israel and some of their European allies that Iran's nuclear program may include a military aspect, Tehran insists its nuclear work is civilian in nature.

Iran argues that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards nuclear weapons production.

US Scoffs at Russia and China over Syria



US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Lancaster House in London on February 23, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228338.html

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Russia and China of supporting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for commercial reasons.

"The pressure will build on countries like Russia and China because world opinion is not going to stand idly by," Clinton told reporters in London on Thursday.

Referring directly to Moscow and Beijing, she added, "Arab opinion is not going to be satisfied watching two nations, one for commercial reasons one for commercial and ideological reasons, bolstering a regime that is defying every rule of modern international norms."

Earlier in February, the two countries vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria, which called on Assad to resign and hand over the power to opposition leaders.

The two had also vetoed a similar resolution against Syria in October.

"There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures," Clinton said.

She also said confidently that she would bet against the Syrian president. "If I were a betting person for the medium term and certainly the long term, I would be betting against Assad."

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Hundreds of people, including many Syrian security forces, have been killed in the course of the turmoil.

Damascus blames ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups’ for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

The West and the Syrian opposition, however, accuse the government of killing protesters.

Moscow has asserted that the unrest should be resolved through negotiation between Damascus and the Syrian opposition. Beijing has also declared that it maintains an unbiased position on the situation in Syria and is trying to resolve the issue through dialog with all the involved parties.

However, more than 70 nations and international groups are expected to gather in the Tunisian capital Tunis on Friday to discuss arming the opposition in the Arab state.

Turkey will buy 100 F-35 from the United States



File photo of an F-35 jet fighter

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228299.html

Turkey has announced that it will purchase 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 jet fighters from the United States at a cost of $16 billion while two of the planes have been initially ordered for delivery in 2015.

In a written statement in response to a parliamentary question from a member of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz announced that the ministry is not currently considering cancellation of the purchase, Today’s Zaman reported on Thursday.

Turkey announced in March 2011 that the planned purchase of jet fighters from the US was suspended as the Pentagon refused to share the source code used in the aircraft software, and codes for external activation of planes.

The 16-billion-dollar purchase is part of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program (JSF), an international development and acquisition program intended to replace a wide range of existing fighter, strike, and ground attack aircraft in the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and their allies.

The hi-tech jet fighters, manufactured by the US Lockheed Martin Company, are reportedly the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program ever.

China boycotts Syria meeting in new snub to West


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228275.html

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says his country will not participate in so-called 'Friends of Syria' conference, which is expected to gather several western nations and international groups in Tunisia.

Hong said China is not prepared to attend the conference as it needs to further study the aim, effect and mechanism of the conference, and has no idea of the preparations of the meeting.

He added that China is a friend of the Syrian and Arab nations.

“China supports all efforts that are conducive to peacefully and properly resolving the Syrian issue," Hong said.

The senior Chinese official pointed out that China hopes to work with all concerned parties to play a positive and constructive role in the process of settling the Syrian crisis.

China believes that any action taken by the international community should help end tensions, boost political dialogues, resolve differences and maintain peace and stability in the Middle East, Hong said.

'Friends of Syria' conference is to be held in the Tunisian capital Tunis on Friday.

Meanwhile, Russia has announced that it would not take part in the conference.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on February 22 described the absence of Syrian officials at the 'Friends of Syria' conference as a big blunder by its organizers.

“Concerning the meeting, we have several questions, especially the composition of invitees. We paid the attention to the fact that there are no representatives of the Syrian government among them. In short, the organizers are planning to discuss issues related to Syria’s serious crisis without the involvement of one of its main players, the Syrian authorities,” Gatilov said.

“Secondly, on the eve of the meeting, the Western and Arab countries are supposed to meet separately. Supposedly, they will determine the character of discussion at the meeting in Tunisia and even will draft a final document. Russia believes that such an approach is completely unacceptable," he noted.

“We consider it is incorrect to adopt or draft documents on such an important issue without the involvement of key players of the Syrian crisis. Consequently, we consider that it’s impossible for Russia to take part in the meeting in Tunisia. We have informed our decision to its organizers,” Gatilov concluded.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March last year.

While the West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of the killings, Damascus blames ''outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups'' for the unrest that erupted in mid-March, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

In interviews with Israeli news outlets over the past few months, the Syrian armed rebels have clearly expressed their vision for the future of Syria and their interest in establishing relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

However, Syrian people have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the government.

Anglo-French drone files stolen


Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228282.html

Highly secret documents related to the Anglo-French project aimed at building Europe’s assassination drones have been stolen at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

A briefcase containing highly confidential documents relating to the Anglo-French assassination drone project has been stolen from a senior French executive.

The senior executive from Dassault Aviation, a French manufacturer of military jets, was on his way to London when two people, possibly linked to “a highly-sophisticated operation by a spy agency” as described by the French police, stole the documents.

Britain and France agreed to carry out a joint project aimed at building a new generation of assassination drones, known as Male (medium altitude long endurance) drones, by 2020.

British arms giant BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation are to launch the joint venture so that the new assassination drones will fly over Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the US and Britain’s so-called “War on Terror.”

British anti-arms campaigners have severely criticized the Anglo-French project as they describe the assassination drones as “the latest ‘must have’ weapon system” that Britain is “desperate” to build.

“Drones are the latest ‘must have’ weapon system and it is important they say, that the UK keeps up with the US and Israel in this key market,” said Drone Wars UK in a statement.

Russia's Putin pledges to block foreign interference



A man holds a sign with a picture of Russian presidential candidate Vladimr Putin during a rally of his supporters in Saint Petersburg on February 18, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228184.html

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has pledged not to allow any country to interfere in Russia's internal affairs before a mass rally in support of his Kremlin bid.

"We will not allow anyone interfere in our internal affairs," Putin said in an address to more than 100,000 people packed into a Moscow stadium and its grounds on Thursday.

Addressing his supporters ahead of March 4 presidential elections, the Russian prime minister also vowed to win the ongoing battle for Kremlin’s top job.

“The battle for Russia continues, victory will be ours,” said Putin, who is widely expected to win the presidential race.

Russians are taking to the streets with increasing regularity ahead of the March 4 election as the opposition and pro-Putin camp seek to outdo each other with competing rallies.

The opposition, however, has accused authorities of using state resources to encourage people to show up at Putin rallies.

The opposition has also planned a rival rally set on February 26 in the Capital Moscow, hoping for a turnout of tens of thousands to form a human chain around the capital's inner ring road.

Polls suggest that Putin will easily win the presidential elections as his four registered opponents have failed in staging a significant challenge.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is reportedly due to become prime minister under a prospective Putin presidency in March 2012 -- a job swap bitterly criticized by the opposition.

Putin's presidency ended in 2008 after two consecutive terms because the Russian constitution banned him from running for a third consecutive term.

US postal service to cut 35,000 jobs as mail plants close


Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/228318.html

The U.S. Postal Service, which predicts an annual loss of $18.2 billion by 2015, plans to eliminate 5.4 percent of its workforce by closing almost half its mail-processing facilities to decrease costs.

The service plans to shut 223 of its 461 mail-processing plants by February 2013, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a telephone interview on Thursday. The closings will cut about 35,000 jobs, said David Partenheimer, a spokesman.

The service is shutting post offices and seeking congressional approval to end Saturday mail delivery as more people use the Internet to correspond and pay bills. Mail volume fell 6 percent in the quarter ended Dec. 31 and may drop 14 percent by 2016, led by declines in first-class mail, the most profitable, the Washington-based service said this month. Bloomberg

HIGHLIGHTS

The labor cuts will occur through attrition, said David Partenheimer, a spokesman. The service will eliminate about 30,000 full-time jobs with benefits. It will cut about 5,000 temporary positions, which include contract and part-time work and don't carry full benefits. sfgate.com

The Postal Service is in debt due to declining first-class mail volumes and a congressional mandate to prefund retirement healthcare benefits. moneycnn.com

Nearly every state is impacted and would lose a mail processing plant, according to the Postal Service list, which includes 14 in California, 12 in New York and 9 in Illinois. moneycnn.com

Mail processing plants closures can yield a particularly devastating toll on communities. A plant in Tulsa, Okla., slated to be consolidated, employs nearly 600 employees. moneycnn.com

The consolidations will affect four processing centers in Maryland: Cumberland, Easton, Gaithersburg and Waldorf. The Virginia sites are Lynchburg, Norfolk and Roanoke. washingtonpost.com

The cutbacks also mean the Postal Service would no longer be able to guarantee overnight delivery of some first-class mail. washingtonpost.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Israel to receive 4th German-made dolphin class submarine


An Israeli Dolphin class submarine docks in Haifa (File Photo).

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228034.html

The fourth dolphin-class submarine constructed by Germany will be delivered to the Israeli Navy in the near future, reports say.

According to an Israeli security official, the construction of the submarine is almost over and it will be transferred to Israel after undergoing deep sea tests.

Germany has already provided Israel with three Dolphin submarines, two of which were donated by Berlin and the third half-funded. Two more Dolphin-class submarines are expected to be delivered to Israel by 2013 as part of Tel Aviv plans to transform its navy into a deep-water navy.

The diesel-electric submarine built by Germany's HDW shipyard, which is a division of ThyssenKrupp AG., is reportedly capable of carrying nuclear missiles.

The 68-meter long boat is believed to be the longest German-made submarine after World War II.

Russia warns Israel: Attacking Iran catastrophic for Middle East


Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228019.html

Russia has once again warned Israel of the “catastrophic consequences” of a military attack against Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

"The scenario of military action against Iran would be catastrophic for the region and possibly the whole system of international relations," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Wednesday.

“Therefore I hope Israel understands all these consequences ... and they should also consider the consequences of such action for themselves," the Russian official added.

Gatilov’s remarks came as Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said on Sunday that attacking Iran is “not prudent at this point” as it "would be destabilizing."

"I'm confident that they (Israel) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives," Dempsey added.

Israeli officials have recently ramped up their war rhetoric, threatening Iran with military strikes in case the US-engineered sanctions against the country fail to force Tehran into abandoning its civilian nuclear program.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program, using this pretext to impose sanctions against Iran and threaten the country with military attack.

Iran has refuted the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful use.

The IAEA has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards nuclear weapons production.

Russia's Putin vows to strengthen army in response to NATO system


Russian Presidential candidate and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227984.html

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has once again censured the establishment of a NATO missile system in Europe, pledging to counter the measure by strengthening the Russian army.

Russia must have a powerful army to counter the foreign powers’ efforts in creating tension near Russian borders, Putin wrote in an article in the Russian Rusiskaja newspaper.

He also said that Russia will spend $770 billion in the next decade to upgrade its weapons and military equipment. He added that Russia must counter the system by expanding its airspace defense systems in addition to developing the country’s strategic nuclear weapons.

Turkey has accepted to host the US-made radar system in the Kurecik district of the southeastern province of Malatya.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that the system is aimed at protecting Europe from “threats” emanating from outside the continent.

In late November, 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that a new missile early warning system be activated in Kaliningrad, a Baltic region bordering EU countries, in response to US plans for a missile shield in Europe.

"I expect that this step will be seen by our partners as the first signal of the readiness of our country to make an adequate response to the threats which the missile shield poses for our strategic nuclear forces," Medvedev said.

The US wants to have the system ready by 2020. Under President George W Bush, Washington was planning to set up the major parts of the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, but faced Russia’s serious objection.

US again voices support to arm Syrian opposition


US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227967.html

The United States has once again said it will consider military assistance to armed groups fighting the Syrian government in an effort to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.

US officials say “additional measures” might have to be considered if the Syrian president does not step down.

“If we can't get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures,” said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, but she declined to elaborate on what those measures might be.

In recent days, US officials have increasingly spoken out against Damascus and some US politicians have called for arming the Syrian opposition.

On Monday, senior US Senator John McCain said it is time for the international community to provide increased assistance to the Syrian opposition.

"There are ways to get weapons to people who are fighting against this kind of oppression, we showed that in Libya," McCain told reporters on a visit to al-Qods (Jerusalem).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also pledged to talk Russia and China into changing their positions on Syria.

President Assad said on Monday that some foreign countries are fueling unrest in Syria by supporting and funding armed terrorist groups fighting against the government. He said that they are blocking attempts to end months of unrest in the country and preventing it from treading the path of reforms.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including security forces, have been killed in the unrest. Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

UK MPs endorse warmongering policies


Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227943.html

British lawmakers have overwhelmingly rejected a motion at the House of Commons to rule out an invasion of Iran in line with their government’s warmongering policies.

The back-bench motion was initiated by Conservative MP John Baron and urged the British government to rule out the use of force against Iran.

In line with their government’s warmongering approach, members of parliament (MPs) voted down the motion with 285 ‘no’ votes, 6 ‘yeses’ and two abstentions.

The new sabre-rattling comes as the UK government is grappling with an economic crisis not seen since after the World War II with a ballooning budget deficit.

Earlier this month, a report questioned the UK’s capability to get involve in another adventurism like the one it carried out in Libya or elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Britain would struggle to conduct another invasion like the one carried out in Libya and still sustain its other military commitments because of the impact of sweeping defence cuts”, said the report.

The report came as the UK government was preparing the ground along with its warmonger allies to wage another war against Syria or Iran.

Furthermore, the report said that there is a multibillion-pound black hole in the government’s defence budget as stipulated by the shadow defence secretary.

Jim Murphy, Labour's shadow defence secretary, said the cuts had downgraded Britain's military flexibility.

Meanwhile, Stop the War convener Lindsey German lashed out at lawmakers and pledged an intensive campaign by activists to convince MPs to end their "shocking" refusal to learn from the slaughter they helped to unleash in Iraq and Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago.

German’s approach was endorsed by Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn, who said that he would continue to oppose a war against Iran "at every opportunity."

“It would not be the first time in history that the minority had been proved right”, he said, adding that the Commons debate had been an opportunity to "look into the abyss of the unimaginable hell of a war with Iran."

Fitch drops Greek rating by two notches


People pass a begging man holding a cardboard reding' I'm hungry' in central Athens on February 21, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/228015.html

Fitch credit rating agency has further downgraded Greece from ‘CCC’ to ‘C,’ after the country said it may force losses on private creditors who do not voluntarily sign up to a debt deal.

The international agency said Wednesday that Greece's rating would drop further to 'restricted default' after the bond swap plan is completed and will be re-rated again "at a level consistent with the agency's assessment of its post-default structure and credit profile."

"The exchange, if completed, would constitute a 'distressed debt exchange'," Fitch said.

The bond swap deal with private creditors will see EUR 107 billion of Greece's debt held by banks and other private holders of government bonds written off.

According to Fitch, private bondholders will see a 53.5 percent cut in the nominal value of their credits, thus some creditors may not accept the deal voluntarily, meaning that Greece would adopt the collective action clauses (CAC).

CAC allows a supermajority of bondholders to agree to a debt restructuring that is legally binding on all holders of the bond, including those who vote against it.

On Tuesday, Eurozone finance ministers agreed to provide Greece with a new EUR 130 billion loan to help the heavily indebted country stabilize its debt-to-GDP ratio and avert looming bankruptcy.

Greece had earlier in the month approved the austerity cuts demanded by the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which was required in order to unlock the new bailout package.

The announcement of the austerity measures caused days of violent demonstrations in Athens that led to tens of people being injured, more than 100 shops being looted and a number of buildings set on fire.

Greece has the highest debt burden in proportion to the size of its economy in the 17-nation eurozone. Despite austerity cuts and the bailout funds, the country has been in recession since 2009.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Israel irked by top US officials' opposition to Iran attack


US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227843.html

The Israeli regime has condemned recent remarks made by senior US officials critical of Tel Aviv’s threats of attacking Iran, claiming that they "served Iran's interests."

In a meeting with US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed their displeasure to the high-ranking American official.

According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu and Barak were bitterly irked by the interview given by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey on Sunday, during which he emphasized that attacking Iran is “not prudent at this point” as it "would be destabilizing," Ha’aretz reported on Tuesday.

"I'm confident that they (Israel) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives," Dempsey said.

"We made it clear to Donilon that all those statements and briefings only served the Iranians… The Iranians see there's controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them,” the Israeli official said.

Israeli officials have recently ramped up their war rhetoric threatening Iran with military strikes in case the US-engineered sanctions against the country fail to force Tehran into abandoning its civilian nuclear program.

The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program, using this pretext to impose sanctions against Iran and threaten the country with military attack.

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never found any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted towards nuclear weapons production.

Lebanon, Russia boycott ‘Friends of Syria’ meet


Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227845.html

Russia and Lebanon have announced they will boycott a meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” group in Tunisia scheduled to be held on February 24, Press TV reports.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said on Tuesday the decision not to participate in the meeting was in line with the decision to “dissociate Lebanon from the developments in Syria,” a Press TV correspondent reported.

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday saying the meeting in Tunis followed the “purpose of supporting one side against another in an internal conflict.”

“We cannot accept the offer to attend this meeting,” the Russian statement added.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Ben Abdessalam said on February 12 that Tunis would host the meeting, which was proposed by France and the United States.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011, with demonstrations being held both against and in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian president accused certain states of blocking attempts to end the unrest in Syria during a meeting with Russian Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Alexei Pushkov on February 20. Assad said “some foreign countries” are fueling the turmoil in Syria by supporting and funding “armed terrorist groups fighting against the government.”

On February 16, the United Nations General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution, introduced by Egypt, which supports an Arab League plan concerning the unrest in Syria.

Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar Jaafari said after the UN vote that the resolution “would only lead to a tightening of the crisis and more violence in the region as a whole.”

Jaafari added that the United Nations was in danger of being used by “some member states” as a means of providing cover for “armed terrorist groups” in Syria.

US presses Pakistan to allow intelligence bases near Iran


Satellite photo of Iran-Pakistan border

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227892.html

An Indian newspaper says the United States is putting pressure on Pakistan to allow Washington to establish espionage bases in the country’s Balochistan province to gather intelligence on Iran.

According to a report published by The Times of India on Monday, the US Congress has been discussing a resolution to recognize the right of Baloch people to self-determination as a means of putting pressure on Islamabad to give in to the US demands.

The move elicited angry reactions from Pakistan’s top leaders including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who described it as an attack on the country's sovereignty.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, also said though the resolution was an isolated move by a few individuals, it "is contrary to the principles of the UN Charter and international law.”

“The outburst in America for Balochistan…is part of the move [by the US] to set up intelligence bases close to the Iranian border,” an unnamed Pakistani official was quoted by the paper as saying.

The official indicated that the Congressional hearing and resolution were nothing but "pressure tactics."

"They [Americans] want to use our soil against Iran, which we can never allow," he added.

Meanwhile, two officials from Pakistan’s security agencies and one from diplomatic circles confirmed to the daily that the American diplomats and military leaders had requested permission for their agents to operate near the Iranian border in Balochistan.

The revelation came a few days after the US House of Representatives blamed Pakistani security agencies for the abductions and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan.

This is not the first time that the United States has made efforts to spy on Iran.

On May 30, 2011, the members of a CIA espionage and sabotage network were arrested by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.

On November 24, Iran announced the arrest of a dozen other CIA spies, who were found to have been on a mission to sabotage the country's nuclear facilities and other important compounds.

Another CIA espionage network with 12 members was busted in Iran and Lebanon in cooperation with the Lebanese resistance movement of Hezbollah.

On December 4, Iranian Army's electronic warfare unit downed a US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft when flying over the northeastern Iran city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border.

Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the drone had been part of a CIA reconnaissance mission, involving the United State's intelligence community stationed in Afghanistan.

EU oil flow conditional on payment guarantee, long-term deals: Iran


Tehran says it will cut oil exports to six European countries in reaction to EU oil ban on Iran.

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227886.html

Foreign Ministry spokesman says Iran will only continue exporting oil to the European Union if the member states give a guarantee to pay the price and sign medium- and long-term oil purchase contracts.

After EU foreign ministers decided to ban the import of Iran's oil by member states in their January 23 meeting, Iran said it would cut oil exports to six European countries, including the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

The country officially announced on February 19 that it would sell no more oil to the British and French companies.

Speaking in his weekly briefing on Tuesday, Ramin Mehmanparast said although Iran intends to continue oil trade with the EU states, it now requires those countries to provide guarantee for the payment of the oil price.

“They [EU members] must also sign medium- or long-term contracts covering periods of three to five years [for importing Iran oil] and ban our country's oil customers from unilaterally canceling their contracts,” he added.

The official added that these conditions will guarantee 3-5-year oil cooperation between Iran and Europe and ensure both sides’ interests.

Mehmanparast stated that the EU’s decision to ban Iran oil imports has been illogical and against the mutual interests of Iran and the European Union.

“It seems that the European countries have been forced to make this option [banning Iran oil imports] under political pressures from the US and the Zionist regime [of Israel], but this pressure will actually affect the European people and companies, putting them in dire conditions,” he said.

The spokesman said the approach taken by the UK and France toward Iran has been more hostile than that of other EU members and this is why Iran has started with London and Paris when cutting oil imports to Europe.

“They must know that our country is in a position which must be talked to and treated on equal standing and through mutual respect, and they must forget about their past empires and exploiting other countries,” he said.

Eurozone ministers agree on 2nd bailout package for Greece


Eurozone finance ministers talk while attending a Eurogroup meeting at the European Union council headquarters, Brussels, February 20, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227785.html

Eurozone finance ministers have agreed to provide Greece with a new bailout package to help the heavily indebted country stabilize its debt-to-GDP ratio and avert looming bankruptcy.

The long-awaited package worth 130 billion euros was sealed in Brussels on Tuesday morning after more than 12 hours of intensive negotiations.

The rescue loan is meant to bring down Greece’s debt to 120.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020.

Eurozone officials had on Monday expressed concerns over how Athens could manage to reduce its debt, while imposing harsher austerity measures.

The deal, however, was vital for Greece’s coalition government to pay off a 14.5-billion-euro bond redemption payment on March 20. Athens risked going bankrupt without the rescue package as it did not have the necessary funds to make the payment.

Greece had earlier in the month approved the austerity cuts demanded by the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which was required in order to unlock the new bailout package.

The cuts include a 22-percent reduction in the minimum wage, 150,000 civil service layoffs, and a 15-percent cut in supplementary pensions.

The announcement of the austerity measures caused days of violent demonstrations in Athens that led to tens of people being injured, more than 100 shops being looted and a number of buildings being set on fire.

Greece also implemented harsh austerity measures in return for a first 110-billion-euro bailout package received in 2010. Greeks have been turning up on the streets for anti-government demonstrations on numerous occasions since the austerity cuts were first implemented in early 2011.

The country has been in recession since 2009, despite the austerity cuts and the bailout funds, which are meant to stimulate growth for its troubled economy.

Greece’s debt stood at 161.7 percent of the GDP in 2011, which is the highest debt ratio in the eurozone. Moreover, the country witnessed its economy contracting by 7.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. Unemployment currently stands at 20.9 percent in the European state. The Standard & Poor's credit rating agency rates Greece at CC, which is almost comparable to a default.

18 statistics that prove that the economy has not improved since Barack Obama became president

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/227771.html

Has the economy improved since Barack Obama became the president of the United States? Of course not. Despite what you may be hearing in the mainstream media, the truth is that when you compare the U.S. economy on the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated to the U.S. economy today, there is really no comparison. The unemployment crisis is worse than it was then, home values have fallen, the cost of health insurance is up, the cost of gas is way up, the number of Americans living in poverty has soared and the size of our national debt has absolutely exploded. Anyone that believes that things are better than they were when Barack Obama was elected is simply being delusional. Yes, things have stabilized somewhat and our economy is not in free fall mode at this point. But don't be fooled. This bubble of false hope will be short-lived. The problems we are seeing develop in Europe will erupt into another full-fledged global financial crisis and economic conditions in the United States will get even worse. When that happens, what possible "economic solutions" will Barack Obama have for us? We never even came close to recovering from the last great financial crisis, and now something potentially even worse is staring us in the face. This is not a great time to have a total lack of leadership in Washington.

The following are 18 statistics that prove that the economy has not improved since Barack Obama became the president of the United States....

1] Today there are 88 million working age Americans that are not employed and that are not looking for employment. That is an all-time record high.

2] When Barack Obama was elected, the percentage of unemployed Americans that had been out of work for more than 52 weeks was less than 15%. Today, it is above 30%.

3] There are 1.2 million fewer jobs in America today than there were when Barack Obama was inaugurated.

4] When Barack Obama first took office, the number of "long-term unemployed workers" in the United States was approximately 2.6 million. Today, that number is sitting at 5.6 million.

5] The average duration of unemployment in the United States is hovering close to an all-time record high.

6] During the Obama administration, worker health insurance costs have risen by 23 percent.

7] Since Barack Obama has been president, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States has increased by 90 percent.

8] Since Barack Obama has been president, home values in the United States have declined by another 13 percent.

9] Under Barack Obama, new home sales in the U.S. set a brand new all-time record low in 2009, they set a brand new all-time record low again in 2010, and they set a brand new all-time record low once again during 2011.

10] Since Barack Obama took office, the number of Americans living in poverty has risen by more than 6 million.

11] Since Barack Obama entered the White House, the number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million.

12] The amount of money that the federal government gives directly to Americans has increased by 32 percent since Barack Obama entered the White House.

13] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in "extreme poverty" is now sitting at an all-time high.

14] When Barack Obama first took office, an ounce of gold was going for about $850. Today an ounce of gold costs more than $1700 an ounce.

15] Since Barack Obama became president, the size of the U.S. national debt has increased by 44 percent.

16] During Barack Obama's first two years in office, the U.S. government added more to the U.S. national debt than the first 100 U.S. Congresses combined.

17] During the Obama administration, the U.S. government has accumulated more debt than it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that Bill Clinton took office.

18] The U.S. national debt has been increasing by an average of more than 4 billion dollars per day since the beginning of the Obama administration.

Oh, but Barack Obama is promising that things will be much better very soon. Barack Obama is pledging that 2 million more jobs will be added to the economy in 2012.

Do you believe him?

Congress certainly seems to think that things will be getting better. Congress has reduced the maximum amount of time that the unemployed can receive unemployment benefits to 73 weeks. That change will go into effect later this year.

But there are still millions of very talented Americans that cannot find work after years of looking.

So what are they supposed to do?

A recent Business Insider article featured the story of Helen Hatat, a woman from southern California that has been unemployed since 2009....

She lost her job in public relationships in 2009 after more than 20 years of working in the entertainment industry, the Southern California resident said.

"When you don't have a job, you don't find a job, and when you don't have a job, you don't find a home," she said.

At first she tried moving into a homeless shelter, but left because they treated her "like garbage." Eventually she found a friend she could stay with, but this arrangement won't last forever.

"I've found you lose most of your friends, you know. If you have money people love you. If you don't have any money people hate you. They treat you like you are contagious."

As government finances get tight, things are going to get really tough for women like her.

When evaluating the health of the American economy, the key is not to focus on the short-term economic numbers. Sometimes they go up and sometimes they do down.

Instead, the key is to look at the long-term balance sheet numbers. When you do that, it quickly becomes apparent how appalling our economic decline has been.

The size of federal government debt is exploding, state and local governments all over the country are drowning in debt, our collective national wealth is decreasing and our ability to produce new wealth is also being reduced as our economic infrastructure is systematically gutted.

Of course all of the blame should not go to Obama. The truth is that the Federal Reserve has much more power over the economy than Obama does. But the American people are constantly told that the Federal Reserve is "not political" and that we should not criticize the Fed.

So it is kind of ridiculous that presidents are judged by the performance of the economy. Yes, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all greatly contributed to the mess that we are in, but they are not solely responsible for it.

In the end, however, the outcome of the next presidential election will probably be very heavily influenced by how the U.S. economy performs during the rest of 2012.

Sadly, as our economy declines it is bringing out the worst in many Americans. For example, "sugar daddy" websites are absolutely exploding in popularity. Young women that are hungry for cash are selling their "services" to sick older men who are willing to finance the lifestyles of these desperate young women in exchange for "companionship".

The following comes from a recent article in The Independent ....

In America's booming online dating market, few sectors are hotter than so-called "sugar daddy" sites, which help rich men to make "arrangements" with attractive and financially needy younger women. Between them, these specialist sites now account for 10 percent of the entire industry. That's no small beans, given that in the US the online dating business now generates profits estimated at $700m ($442m) per year and, according to the polling firm GlobeSpan, has helped just over one in five Americans to find their life partner.

As the economy gets even worse, millions upon millions of Americans are going to become extremely desperate and will do things for money that they never dreamed that they would do.

That is a very frightening thing.

America is changing, and not for the better.

You better get ready for what is ahead, because Barack Obama is not going to save you.

Polls open in Yemen with sole US-backed pres. candidate


Members of the Yemeni election committee prepare ballot boxes on the eve of Yemen’s presidential election at a polling station, Sana’a, February 20, 2012

Source: Press TV
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/227790.html

Voting has begun in Yemen’s presidential election with only one candidate on the ballot amid the opposition’s call for the downfall of the entire regime.

The polls opened Tuesday, with 12 million eligible voters, and the sole candidate Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The election is to put an end to Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule and formally transfer power to his assistant, Hadi.

However, the country’s major opposition groups, including the Southern Movement and the Southern Shia group have boycotted the election, demanding the removal of the regime that abounds with Saleh-era officials.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has thrown Washington’s weight behind Yemen’s election, offering his support to Hadi.

In a letter to the Yemeni vice president, Obama said Yemen could be an example of the peaceful transition of power in the Middle East.

This is while demonstrations are expected to continue in Yemen as protesters say their revolution will not end until Saleh and all corrupt government officials are put behind bars.

On Monday, several polling stations were the target of bomb attacks prior to the beginning of the polls in the southern province of Aden and the southern port city of al-Makla, with no reports of casualties. The protesters also blocked roads leading to five villages in Daleh province, making it impossible for poll organizers to send ballot boxes there.

Saleh is currently in the US for medical treatment. He left Yemen in mid-January, shortly after the country’s parliament passed a law which grants him full immunity from prosecution.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Saudi Arabia and the Rise of the Wahhabi Threat


The Al-Saud Kings
Source: Middle East Forum
http://www.meforum.org/535/saudi-arabia-and-the-rise-of-the-wahhabi-threat

A briefing by Stephen Schwartz

February 27, 2003

Stephen Schwartz is a senior policy analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies based in Washington, DC. As a journalist, he covered the Balkans in the 1990s for the San Francisco Chronicle. His latest book is The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror (Doubleday, 2002). He spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York on February 27, 2003.


Al-Qaeda represents Wahhabism in its purest form – a violent fundamentalist doctrine that rejects all non-Wahhabi Islam, especially the spiritual forms of Islam. Wahhabism is an expansionist sect intolerant of Shi‘ite Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism; in fact, Wahhabists seek to challenge and destroy these faiths. The Saudi-Wahhabi threat must not be underestimated; it requires our grave attention.

A History of Violence

Contrary to prevalent Western beliefs, Wahhabism is not an old Islamic tradition and the House of Saud does not enjoy a credible historic claim to rule over Arabia. Indeed, Wahhabism emerged only 250 years ago under the guidance of an obscure fanatic known as Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab who later formed an alliance with a group of desert bandits, the Sauds. From the time they established their covenant to the creation of the modern Saudi state, the Saudi-Wahhabi movement spread across the peninsula brutally defeating and enslaving non-Wahhabi elements.

A substantial body of nineteenth century scholarship does exist to confirm the bloody rise of the Saudi-Wahhabi state. Thomas Hope, a British author, wrote extensively about the Wahhabi spread from his travels throughout the Middle East. In his novel Anastasius, he described Wahhabi agents in words that will be strikingly familiar to modern readers: as extremist puritans bent on dominating the Muslim world by adopting tactics reminiscent of Al-Qaeda's calculated savagery.

The theological and political pact between the Saud clan and the Wahhabists resulted in the fall of Mecca for the second and last time in 1924, solidifying their grip on power. After the conquest of Mecca, the vast oil wealth of the kingdom would be used to export a radical Wahhabist ideology across the globe.

Nerve Center of Islamic Extremism

Even after September 11, the Wahhabi bureaucracy in Saudi Arabia continues to foster religious extremism. When bombs go off in Israel, Kenya, Indonesia, and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia is still the main source of the terrorist money. The kingdom is an unwavering nerve center of ideological indoctrination, incitement, and terrorist financing.

From time to time, the Saudi elite attempts to confuse Western opinion by claiming that it too is the target of Islamic terror, a rather hollow gesture to hide its complicity in terrorism. Saudi Arabia, being a police state, the monarchy long ago could have ridded itself of extremist elements. But the sobering reality is that international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda are directly impelled by Saudi clerics. To recover their credibility in the eyes of more reactionary factions after years of excess, the Saudi family has embarked on an ambitious global campaign to support incubators of violence and extremism from Algeria to the Philippines. In sum, Al-Qaeda would not exist absent Saudi money and membership.

False Arguments

Washington needs to end its delusion that the Saudi royal family is a moderating force within Saudi politics when the realty is that it has produced a well-funded launch pad for a fascist ideology. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of Saudi apologists. The so-called specialists and academics continue to argue that Islamic terror is the consequence of Islam enduring Western humiliation. But in fact, Saudi Arabia has never been subjugated by the West, instead it has only been cuddled and bribed to ridiculous extremes. And in turn the West has received a torrent of violence and hateful venom.

Equally as erroneous is the contention that an accommodation of non-Wahhabi religions is somehow a break with traditional Islam. This absurd notion is blatantly untrue. Qatar, another Wahhabi state, has actually authorized the establishment of churches. Also, neighboring Bahrain contains thriving Christian, Jewish, and Hindu communities. One can even find a Hindu temple in Oman.

The Future

After decades of theocratic oppression, the vast majority of the Saudi people are restive for the following reasons: 1.) The Shiite minority in the southern and eastern provinces are tired of the violent persecution they have suffered at the hands of the Wahhabist clergy. 2.) The young people of Saudi Arabia want to live in a modern society where they can utilize their enterprising talents and energies to build a prosperous future. 3.) Lastly, non-Wahhabi scholars are already calling on the royal family to reject the officially sanctioned intolerant state religion and replace it with pluralistic Ottoman-Islamic traditions. Remarkably, thousands of young people are turning to Sufism as an expression of protest against the entrenched religious establishment.

The transition to a reasonably open Malaysian parliamentary model from its current medieval state need not be catastrophic. The Saudi monarchy could remain as a symbolic body with power concentrated in a representative legislature. Indeed, the position that a more strict Islamic system might emerge if the House of Saud is brushed aside is ludicrous. Proponents of this view often cite the emergence of an Iranian-style regime as a possible consequence. However, this is a specious historical analogy since the Iranian people never experienced the harsh strictures of Islamic law prior to the ascension of the Islamic Republic. The people of Saudi Arabia know this repression all too well and they are dead tired of it.

Conclusion

Saudi Arabia and its militant Islamic doctrines constitute a clear and present danger to the United States and the international community. The U.S. should demand a full accounting of Saudi complicity in the September 11th terrorist attacks. We should no longer accept the status quo and forcefully pressure the kingdom to cut its ties to terrorism.

* This summary account was written by Zachary Constantino, a research assistant at the Middle East Forum.

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