Hundreds have gone missing in eastern Ukraine’s dirty war

 June 26
 On a warm afternoon in Ukraine’s breakaway east, as the front line rumbled with only occasional shellfire, Stanislav Aseev, a 27-year-old undercover journalist, was heading home to Donetsk.

Many of his colleagues had long since fled the battle-scarred industrial city — a separatist stronghold where freedom of ­expression is harshly repressed. Despite this, during three years of war, Aseev remained, publishing stories under a pseudonym to avoid repercussions from the city’s new masters. Outside working hours, jazz, jogging and philosophy offered him relief from the conflict.

On June 2, as he approached Donetsk, Aseev contacted his mother and promised to visit the next day. He never arrived.

After repeated phone calls went unanswered, worried friends and relatives headed to Aseev’s apartment. His front door had been smashed open, and his possessions — including a work laptop — had been seized. Authorities in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) would give them no information.

It has since emerged that DNR security agents are holding Aseev incommunicado in an ­unspecified facility. His friends worry that he has been subjected to beatings and torture. That is not an unreasonable concern — according to human rights investigators, it has become standard practice for anyone in detention in Donetsk.

A Ukrainian serviceman investigates a damaged building near the front line in the Ukrainian village of Olginka earlier this month. (Sergey Vaganov/European Pressphoto Agency)

“No one can guarantee that he will survive,” said Egor Firsov, a former member of parliament and a university friend of Aseev’s who is campaigning for the journalist’s release.

Aseev has joined the hundreds of people — or possibly 1,000 or more — who are missing or held as prisoners of war
in eastern Ukraine. Although front-line hostilities have reached a simmering deadlock, a dirty war persists in the wider, lawless region. Civilians attempt to survive on contested ground, pinned between marauding forces accused of pillage, violent intimidation, sexual abuse, torture and even summary execution.

The United Nations has documented accounts of such war crimes, recording arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances across the conflict zone, particularly in territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Denied access to relatives or legal counsel, captives are kept in secret prisons, basements and other dire, improvised detention areas. The exact number of missing people is unknown, but the International Committee of the Red Cross says it could be up to 2,000.

“There are many sick people walking around with guns these days,” one resident of a front-line village told U.N. investigators. “If they want to kill us, they will just come. Who can protect us from this?”

A new report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights suggests both forces are carrying out extrajudicial executions. In March, the body of a missing man was found near a government-held front-line town. An officer from the SBU — Ukraine’s successor agency to the KGB — was subsequently arrested and released on bail.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian soldiers allegedly looted a house, set it on fire, shot the occupant and buried the body in a nearby forest.

Last October, in rebel-held Horlivka, two civilians were shot dead, allegedly by pro-Russian gunmen. When the corpses were found, separatist authorities are said to have prevented relatives from seeing and identifying the bodies.

One of the most high-profile victims of the wave of clandestine, wartime detentions is Igor Kozlovsky, an authoritative theologian with expertise in world faiths, martial arts and yoga. He is the former regional head of religious affairs and co-founder of an academy and spiritual center. As a university professor, he taught philosophy to Aseev — the now-imprisoned journalist — and held this gifted student in high regard.

“When he lectured, it was like watching Elvis,” said his 39-year-old nephew, Denis Kozlovsky. “He was so charismatic, so exciting — an international man but also a patriot with a deep love of Ukrainian traditions.”

When separatists moved to take power in Donetsk in 2014, Igor Kozlovsky’s wife and younger son fled while he stayed behind to care for their older, disabled son, who could not be moved without special equipment. He settled into an isolated life, rising at dawn to practice yoga, write poetry and care for his son, even as the fighting intensified.

In January 2016, a gang grabbed him off the street. Later, in custody, he called his nephew to say he had been held in a basement and tortured. A military tribunal later found this confirmed pacifist guilty of “illegal possession of weapons” and threw him into one of Donetsk’s notorious prisons — hotbeds for tuberculosis. His health deteriorating, Kozlovsky was held for about a year in a damp, dark cell, then transferred to another prison in Horlivka.

Relatives have desperately tried to secure the 63-year-old’s release by engaging the few lawyers accredited to work in the DNR. Invariably, they have been cheated. Middlemen have offered to arrange his freedom for $100,000, but Denis Kozlovsky said he believes they are charlatans.

“If he was a guerrilla, then his arrest would be easier to accept. But he was man of peace, ­dedicated to finding common ground between religions,” he said. “Prisons in Donetsk are bad places, but my uncle is strong. Spiritually and psychologically, he is more prepared than most to survive.”

But the odds are stacked against prisoners such as Koz­lovsky; the process of swapping POWs is haphazard and poorly coordinated. The warring parties have failed to exchange data regarding detainees’ DNA, which would help establish the whereabouts of many missing people and relieve “the uncertainty and despair borne by their relatives,” the United Nations said.

Beyond these black sites, front-line communities face the threat of pillage. Troops have looted and commandeered homes of displaced residents, so some civilians endure the risk of shelling to protect their properties.

Troops on both sides of the line impose such harsh restrictions that those remaining in front-line areas are “isolated and fully dependent” on soldiers for water, food and fuel, the investigators say.

Brutal and vile treatment of prisoners, indefinite detention and the use of solitary confinement are common to both sides. But abuses occur on a greater scale in breakaway territory, where even the young are vulnerable. (Last August, five teenagers were detained by DNR security agents and have been held since.)

Investigators accuse Ukrainian law enforcement officers of systematically using torture and ill treatment to extract confessions from suspected separatists. These methods include extreme beatings, waterboarding, suffocation and electric shocks. Detainees are typically forced to sign a “testimony” that they have neither read nor written.

As one torture victim later explained, “Thinking about my finger being cut off was too much for me, so I told them what they wanted to hear.”

Investigations into complaints of torture are often corrupt and ineffectual, fueling a culture of impunity as perpetrators walk free.

“You need to be a kamikaze if you register your injuries,” one detainee, who had been tortured, told investigators. “If they learn about it, they will make you disabled and will deal with your family.”

For now, the fate of Aseev, the undercover journalist, is unknown. His last story — titled “Between Heaven and Hell” — was published from the eastern war zone on the same day as his disappearance. The young reporter knew the dangers but did the job regardless.

“Many will say it’s an unjustified risk. But, above all, I do this for myself,” Aseev said in an earlier interview with the Ukrainian newsweekly and website Zerkalo Nedeli. “This is my education, which cannot be purchased with any amount of ­money. . . . The old, timeworn notion that in war there are no winners is becoming a kind of mantra here.”

Venice, Italy is trying to find ways to deal with a flood of tourists

VENICE, Italy (CNN) — Can Venice save itself? Locals say it’s drowning — not under the rising waters of the Adriatic, but under a flood of tourism.

The 20th century brought the world’s most famous archipelago a new airport, a new cruise terminal and even new railway lines across the old bridge connecting Venice to the Italian mainland. The city now receives 30 million tourists a year; however, many residents claim this is more than it can cope with.

Back in 2015, the head of the Italian Environment Fund, Andrea Carandini, warned that Venice was being crushed by mass tourism.

“Venice now has 50,000 inhabitants — a third of what it did in the 18th century — and yet it receives 30 million tourists a year,” Carandini said.

Venice is working hard to cope with its runaway popularity.

A better time to visit Venice?

In 2015, the islands voted to ban cruise ships sailing along Venice’s picturesque Giudecca Canal. The arrival of these massive tourist boats doesn’t just damage canals and their quaysides. Two or three cruise ships moored at any one time can mean in excess of 10,000 passengers disgorged into the narrow and squares of Venice.

However, just three months after it came into law, this move was overturned by the Regional Administrative Court on the mainland.

“A large number of people and politicians have tried to demand a ban on the passage of ships through the Giudecca Canal but it has never been accepted by the Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale,” says Elena Scarpa, who runs Hotel Sant’Antonin in one of the quieter sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice.

Earlier this year Venice’s Mayor Luigi Brugnaro proposed a ticketing system for access to the area around Piazza San Marco. This, the main square of Venice, was dubbed by Napoleon “the drawing room of Europe” and contains many of its most famous sights.

While the city council approved the measure in May 2017, it’s not proved popular with locals. Cristiano Fortuna, general manager of L’Orologio Hotel on the Grand Canal, thinks ticketing is impractical.

“It’s not a good idea for either visitors or residents,” she says. “Perhaps more effective than a restriction plan would be encouraging visitors to come to Venice on weekdays. And in the period from October to April.

“Overcrowding is particularly bad on weekends from May to September. And we should come to an agreement with the cruise companies to bring ships in on all days of the week, not just weekends.”

Queues of visitors

Mayor Brugnaro has also proposed luring tourists away from specific areas that get too many visitors.

An example is Riva degli Schiavoni, the historic quayside on which foreign travelers to Venice arrived before the railway bridge was built in 1846. It can be solid with visitors in the summer with long queues of people waiting to cross its bridges.

There are six sestieri in Venice, but most tourists never see Castello and Cannareggio, which contain some of the most beautiful churches in the archipelago.

In another move, proposed this June, Councillor Massimiliano De Martin, assessor of the commune of Venice, has suggested a ban on any new hotels being created out of Venice’s dwindling housing stock. Islanders have become used to seeing their homes being sold off to be converted into restaurants and hotels.

In recent years JW Marriott turned the whole of Isola delle Rose into a resort hotel, the Bauer group has converted a convent into the new Bauer Palladio Hotel and Spa and Aman Resorts took over Palazzo Papadopoli to make a new hotel (where George Clooney held his wedding reception) on the Grand Canal.

“Living in Venice is becoming more and more difficult,” says Scarpa. “Shops such as grocery stores, butchers, bakeries and book shops are closing to leave space for souvenir shops, and for this reason Venice is becoming more and more expensive.”

Part of the problem is that maintaining one of the most beautiful historic cities in the world is a very expensive business.

A section of the Doge’s Palace was covered with a large Bulgari hoarding for several years to raise money for the restoration. This year, the romantic Rialto Bridge is obscured by adverts for Diesel because Renzo Rosso, the man behind the clothing empire, is financing its repair.

Preserving the real Venice

Venice needs its tourist income if it’s to survive and those visitors don’t want the city falling apart in front of them.

For Jonathan Keates, chairman of the British charity Venice in Peril, the aim must be to preserve Venice as a place of great beauty where real people still live.

“The plan should be to manage tourism, impose higher tourist taxes, introduce tax breaks for small businesses and favor affordable housing,” says Keates. “Venice needs the feet of residents on the ground, children playing in the campi, old codgers on benches — a proper Italian city as we know it.”

How best to preserve Venice will be discussed in July by the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. Nonetheless, the city will vote to stop the mainland having a say in what happens on the islands in October 2017.

So it may be Venetians who end up saving the Floating City in the long run.

Romania is home to around 6,000 brown bears

While Dracula’s legend usually fails to scare tourists away from the blood-sucking vampire’s 15th century castle, a large, furry and protective mother bear has had more success.

Romanian authorities have declared Poenari castle off limits after visitors climbing the 1,480 steps up to the ruins had close shaves with the animal and her three cubs.

“The environment ministry has given us the green light for the four bears to be captured and moved elsewhere,” local official Emilian Dragnea said in a statement.

“But we still have to decide where to remove them to,” he said.

Police blamed tourists for leaving food which attracts the animals.

Poenari Castle was used by Prince Vlad the Impaler Tepes, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel “Dracula”. The bigger tourist attraction however is Bran Castle in Transylvania, which has tangential associations with Vlad the Impaler.

In 2014 a senior politician from the Transylvanian region called for the army to be bought in to deal with the growing number of bears, following a string of cases involving damage to private property.

“The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army,” Csaba Borboly said.

Roumania is home to around 6,000 brown bears, up from around 1,000 bears 50 years ago. They represent 60% of the European bear population.

Brown bears are amongst the largest living carnivores and can grow to an enormous size, males up to 350kg, and females to 200kg. The largest brown bear on record was caught in Romania and weighed 480kg.

 

Guardian

U.S. Pacific Fleet commander: I’d launch nuclear strike against China if Trump ordered it

A senior U.S. military official said Thursday that he would launch a nuclear strike against China next week if President Trump ordered it.

“The answer would be: yes,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in response to a hypothetical question from an academic at an Australian National University security conference in Canberra.

He also warned against the military ever shifting its allegiance from Trump, its commander in chief.

“Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” Swift said.

“This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem,” he added.

His remarks came after a joint U.S.- Australian military exercise off the Australian coast, and after Trump tweeted that the U.S. military wouldn’t allow transgender “in any capacity.” The tweet is an apparent rejection of about 6,000 trans troops and the Obama-era policy that embraced them.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown later said that Swift’s answer reaffirmed the principle of civilian control over the military.

“The admiral was not addressing the premise of the question, he was addressing the principle of civilian authority of the military,” Brown said. “The premise of the question was ridiculous.”

READ MORE:

The statements came amid tensions between the United States and China over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump suggested earlier this month that the U.S. might not work with Beijing, an ally of Pyongyang, to curb escalating nuclear tensions with the North.

It came after North Korea tested its first ICBM missile marking a breakthrough in its mission to develop a weapon that could reach the United States.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter,” Trump tweeted on July 5. “So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!”

Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!

The U.S. Pacific Fleet consists of about 200 ships and submarines, almost 1,100 aircraft, and over 130,000 sailors and civilian staff.

The biennial Talisman Saber exercise involved 36 warships including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 220 aircraft and 33,000 military personnel.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Russia raises the stakes in Syria, warning U.S. after downing of Syrian jet

Russia’s Defense Ministry warned sternly Monday that it would target U.S. warplanes flying in a conflict zone of Syria, raising the stakes in a war that now involves more than a dozen countries and has long held the potential for a superpower confrontation.

Russia was responding to the U.S. downing of a Syrian jet on Sunday, an act it called “military aggression.” It said it was withdrawing from a Syrian airspace agreement with the United States, and would view any U.S.-led coalition planes flying west of the Euphrates River as “air targets.”

U.S. officials and analysts downplayed the warning, noting that Russia has suspended the airspace agreement before, and suggesting that the Kremlin’s rhetoric was probably more hostile than its intentions.

“We’ve certainly seen this kind of language before,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Russian pilots are fully aware of where U.S. warplanes operate and have often shadowed them in the skies since Moscow entered Syria’s multi-sided civil war in 2015, propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The U.S.-led coalition said it shot down the Syrian SU-22, a Russian-made fighter-bomber jet, late on Sunday afternoon. The U.S. Combined Joint Task force said it acted after the Syrian government plane bombed fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. The SDF is a multiethnic alliance made up of Kurds and Syrian Arab groups. The U.S. has supported the group in its fight against Islamic State.

SDF is also fighting Assad’s government.

The Syrian army said in a statement that the SU-22 crashed, and its pilot probably is missing in Islamic State-held territories of Syria.

Russia said the Syrian plane was supporting Syrian government units advancing on Islamic State fighters when it was hit. Moscow called for U.S. officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the plane’s downing.

“The shooting down of a Syrian air force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The U.S.’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a U.N. member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

This is the second time Russia has said it would cancel the airspace agreement with the U.S. In April, Russia said it was disconnecting what has been called the “de-conflicting memorandum” after President Trump ordered an airstrike on a Syrian airbase in response to accusations that Assad used sarin gas against civilians in Syria. The White House said it targeted a base believed to have been used by the Assad government to launch the attack.

At the time, Moscow called the U.S. airstrike a violation of international law and an “act of aggression against a sovereign nation.”

The “de-conflicting” agreement was created between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry in October 2015, just weeks after Russia’s first involvement in the Syrian war. The agreement created a 24-hour communication line between the two military coalitions intended to help both countries’ militaries avoid collisions or accidents during bombing campaigns in Syria against Islamic State.

There have been numerous reports of Baghdadi’s death in the past, all unproven.

U.S. officials said it is not clear what Russia’s threat to track U.S. aircraft as targets means tactically, but that American pilots would be vigilant while flying over Syria.

Col. Ryan Dillon, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the campaign against Islamic State, said the U.S. military continues to conduct bombing and reconnaissance flights against the militant group. But additional fighter aircraft have been scrambled as a defensive measure.

“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrew,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

The “de-confliction” line has proved crucial in staving off an international incident in which warplanes might inadvertently fire upon one another or hit each other’s ground forces deployed alongside warring Syrian partners.

The Pentagon said it hopes the practice continues.

“The coalition is always available to de-conflict with the Russians to ensure the safety of coalition aircrews and operations,” Dillon said.

Over the six years of the crisis ravaging Syria, the country’s skies have been crowded with warplanes from no fewer than 14 countries, including Israel, which has regularly conducted strikes targeting both the Syrian government and its ally, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The U.S. and Russia have conducted the majority of strikes over Syria, but had largely focused on different parts of the country.

That changed in recent months when two groups of U.S.-supported rebels launched separate campaigns for control of Raqqah and Dair Alzour, eastern provinces in which the jihadists still hold significant territory. Their advance prompted Damascus and its battlefield allies to do the same.

The confrontations between the competing forces have seen the U.S. act to protect what it has called its “partner forces.”

This month, a U.S. warplane shot down an Iranian drone that had attacked rebels operating near Tanf, a military garrison in southern Syria. That prompted concerns that the U.S. and Iran could wind up in a direct confrontation.

Iran added to the volatility when it launched its first missile strikes on Syria on Sunday. The attack, it said, was in retaliation for twin Islamic State bombings that killed Iranians recently

“This is all part of a scramble for eastern Syria,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, in a phone interview on Monday.

Syria’s eastern provinces hold much of the country’s oil and gas wealth. The Euphrates River Valley is also an important prize that has pushed all sides to probe “who will get what” once Islamic State is defeated, Landis said.

Assad’s forces have been pushing east under Russia and Iran’s encouragement.

“Part of the reason for what’s happening is that we are increasingly looking at what is going to happen in Syria after the Islamic State, and Putin wants to make sure his side wins,” said Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute.

“There is a lot of talk that Russia and Iran have divergent long-term goals in Syria, and that is certainly true,” Borshchevskaya said. “What unites them is the opposition to the United States in the region. And [if] they are able to put their differences aside and together, they can deter the U.S. or reduce American influence more effectively than if they did it on their own.”

Still unclear is what effect this escalation will have on ties between the U.S. and Turkey. Ankara insists the SDF is a front for a Syrian Kurdish militia with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party, with which it has fought for decades.

Turkey has rejected any possibility of a Kurdish state on Syrian soil, and has launched airstrikes against SDF positions while supporting Syrian rebel factions to take back areas in Syria’s north from Islamic State.

“The question then is where is America’s limit? Where will it draw the line for the new Kurdish state?” Landis said. “That’s really what’s being negotiated here. What is America willing to do?”

 

 

The air war in the skies above Syria

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The complexity of air war in Syria

(American viewpoint)

The U.S. pilot who shot down a Syrian regime attack jet earlier in June apparently  attempted a series of aerial maneuvers to warn the Syrian pilot away from attacking a U.S.-backed ground force.

It was only after the Syrian ignored the warnings, which also included dropping flares and efforts to talk over an open radio frequency, that the U.S. pilot decided to fire upon him said  in an interview from his headquarters in Qatar.

“He even watched him deliver weapons in that area before he made the decision,” Harrigian said. It was the first time a U.S. plane downed a Syrian jet and the first air-to-air kill by an American plane since 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.

The downing of the SU-22 by a Navy F/A-18 was one of a series of clashes in recent weeks as U.S. aircraft attempt to defend U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces from attacks by forces aligned with Bashar Assad’s regime.

The incidents have added to the complexity of the fight in Syria and placed new demands on coalition pilots flying in the skies over the country.

In recent weeks, U.S. warplanes have also shot down two Iranian-built drones operated by forces aligned with Assad. The Pentagon has said the aircraft were shot down as defensive measures to protect allies on the ground and their coalition advisers.

The recent series of clashes with Syrian-linked forces started June 8 when an Iranian-built drone was shot down by an American warplane after it attacked a U.S.-backed ground force that was patrolling with coalition advisers in southern Syria.

After that incident Harrigian met with pilots to discuss the shifting threat. The attack by the drone “changed the environment that we were operating in,” Harrigian said. “We had not seen that type of unprovoked attack previously.”

Harrigian said pilots generally are required to make critical decisions in the cockpit, since events move too quickly to seek guidance from headquarters thousands of miles away. They are also deeply aware of the strategic consequences of those decisions.

When you’re doing 400 knots and the adversary is coming at you at 400 knots there is no time for someone from the (operations center in Qatar) to tell you what to do,” Harrigian said. “They were going to be the ones that needed to make that self-defense decision.”

The attacks from forces aligned with Assad have raised concerns that the United States could get drawn into a broader conflict in Syria.

The Russians and Iranians are backing Assad. The U.S. says it is not at war with Russia or Syria and wants to focus on defeating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which established a presence in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. officials have said the communications hotline between the U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces has remained open despite the heightened tensions.

The “deconfliction” hotline is designed to avoid mishaps between Russian, Syrian and coalition aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.

“It is working quite effectively,” Harrigian said.

 “We’re not here to fight the Syrians or the Iranians,” he said. “The intent is to try and de-escalate the situation and work towards ensuring we prosecute the defeat ISIS campaign.”

The communications are particularly critical as ISIS is pushed out of its territory and an array of forces are increasingly converging in a shrinking battlespace in Syria. Recently Russia fired cruise missiles on ISIS positions from ships and a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.

After the shootdown of the Syrian plane, the Russian Defense Ministry said it would suspend the communications hotline and would begin tracking coalition aircraft on its ground-based radar system.

It is not clear if the Russians did begin actively tracking coalition aircraft, but the U.S. military in the past has repositioned aircraft to strengthen defenses against surface or air-to-air threats.

“We took it quite seriously and postured our forces appropriately,” Harrigian said. “It’s contested airspace out there and our job is to maintain air superiority over our folks to protect them.”

USA Today

Spanish Government Files Legal Bid to Halt Catalan Referendum

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s government has lodged a legal bid to stop Catalonia holding an independence referendum, asking the Constitutional Court to veto moves by the regional assembly, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday.

 

“There will not be any referendum on Oct. 1,” Rajoy told a news conference in Madrid after his weekly cabinet meeting.

 

The stand-off between Madrid and Barcelona is likely to intensify in the coming weeks as Catalonia’s separatist government moves ahead with the vote on breaking with the rest of Spain.

 

On Wednesday, Catalan lawmakers gave themselves powers to fast-track some laws and preparations for the referendum.

Rajoy said his government had filed a legal bid to block to those reforms with the Constitutional Court, which has previously ruled against secessionist challenges.

Catalonia, a wealthy, populous region in the northeast with its own language and distinct culture, has long harbored an independence movement which grew in intensity during an economic crisis. Pro-secession parties now control its assembly.

 

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Last week the Spanish government told Catalonia it would lose access to some public funds if it uses state money to organize the referendum, and vowed to increase controls on spending.

 

It is unclear exactly how the vote will happen if, as expected, Spain’s Constitutional Court keeps striking down attempts to organize it.

Civil servants such as police officers face a dilemma if the referendum does go ahead, as they risk sanctions from authorities in both Barcelona and in Madrid for not following their commands.

 

Rajoy, who has been criticized for his inflexible stance on the issue, said he was ready to talk with Barcelona.

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“I’ve always been prepared to have a dialogue over the best way to work with Catalonia’s institutions to everyone’s benefit,” Rajoy said. “I’ve always been prepared to do that and I am today.”

EU announces new emergency support for Greek refugee crisis

July 27, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country.

The €209 million-euro ($243 million) package includes a 151 million-euro program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens.

The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of 401 million euros. The rental project is in cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands.

A parallel scheme worth 57.6 million euros will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication.

“The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around 1.3 billion euros of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

Associated Press

Dunkirk (2017 Film Review)

Things We Can Tell You About Christopher Nolan’s Film (Without Totally Spoiling It)

© Warner BrosChristopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is easily one of 2017’s most hotly-anticipated films and finallythe day of its UK cinema debut is almost here.

It stars Tom Hardy, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Sir Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy alongside a host of breakthrough actors – yes, including Harry Styles – and tells the true story of the World War II evacuation, which saw over 330,000 British soldiers rescued from the beaches in 1940.

So… is it any good? In short: Yes. But we’re not here to spoil it for you.

Before booking tickets, check out our list of 11 things we can reveal – without totally ruining the plot…

1. Harry Styles doesn’t stand out (in the best way possible). A lot of fuss has been made ahead of the former One Direction star’s feature film debut and we can confirm that he doesn’t disappoint. The cast can pretty much be divided into two groups – Hollywood heavyweights and relative newcomers – and of the latter, Harry has a sizeable amount of work to do. Film fans who were worried that it might be jarring to see the camera pan across to a 1D star among the soldiers on the beach can rest assured, Harry fits right in with his co-stars.

2. Where do you know Aneurin Barnard, who plays Gibson, from? The actor previously played Bobby in ITV’s miniseries about the life of Cilla Black.

© Provided by Huffington Post

3. The cast are hoping that the 12A rating will mean younger audiences can see the film and learn about the story of ‘Dunkirk’. Newcomer Barry Keoghan, who plays George, told HuffPost UK: “They’re [audiences] going to go away and maybe look up Dunkirk and and hopefully appreciate the bravery and courage, the legends.”

4. In his previous films ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar’, Nolan’s focus on time and space drove his stories forward. In ‘Dunkirk’, he uses non-chronological storytelling to heighten the intensity of the story being told.

5. A number of the characters have no names, including Cillian Murphy’s “Shivering Soldier”. With barely any dialogue and no moniker to go by, the audience have nothing to focus on but the obvious shellshock and trauma the soldier has suffered.

6. Without giving too much away, Sir Mark Rylance plays a civilian who sails to Dunkirk to help with the rescue effort and has every right to be proud of his character’s story. The actor previously told HuffPost UK that it “ was just an honour to be connected with those brave people who did these things” .

© Provided by Huffington Post

7. We’re glad it the film is no longer than two hours. Trust us when we say: It is intense. Nolan previously addressed Dunkirk’s relative brevity, stating: ”You can only sustain the degree of suspense and tension that we wanted from the film for so long before you exhaust the audience.” Obviously, he is correct. It’s harrowing, suspenseful and, at times, almost overwhelming – three hours would have been basically soul-destroying.

8. On that note: The soundtrack. Nolan has once again enlisted Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer to create the score, which at time becomes a bigger character than the soldiers on screen. Nolan recorded the sound of his own pocket watch ticking and sent it to the composer, who integrated it into the score.

© Provided by Huffington Post

9. To ensure historical accuracy, Nolan enlisted Joshua Levine, author of the book ‘Forgotten Voices Of Dunkirk’ to act as a consultant.

10. Fionn Whitehead’s star turn as British Army private Tommy sees him take the lead and it won’t be long before you see his name in lights again, thanks to ‘The Children Act’, in which he stars alongside Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci.

11. You need to see it at an IMAX cinema. We’re not usually sticklers for rules but in this case, trust us when we say Warner Bros are right to have every confidence that the 70mm screenings will pull in huge audiences.

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Fantastically exciting aerial scenes

 

‘Dunkirk’ is in UK cinemas from Friday 21 July.

Flydubai FZ981 flight deck co-pilot was fatigued, but under ‘tremendous pressure’ to go to work

Flydubai has  pushed the boundaries of sensible operating policy, a pilot purporting to work for the airline told RT. He says it encourages not reporting illness or fatigue, as was allegedly also the case with the crashed flight’s pilot Alejandro Alava.
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After the crash of low-cost carrier Flydubai’s flight FZ981 in Rostov-on-Don last year, a former pilot blew the whistle in an interview with RT on how the company allegedly pushes its employees to work hectic and long rosters, ignoring complaints that this puts lives in danger. That report has now been corroborated by a person who claims to be a current Flydubai pilot.

“If anything, since [the original whistleblower to RT] left, things got worse,” the pilot, who asked not to be named because he fears reprisals from his current employer, told RT. “The pressure applied to pilots by the management is tremendous.”

‘I’ll fly because we need the money’
The pilot, who says he has been with the company for years, said the payment scheme that Flydubai uses puts pressure on crew members not to call in sick. A pilot who chooses not to fly because of sickness or fatigue, which is a sensible thing to do, would lose a lot of money and may get into a really tight spot in Dubai, where the cost of living is very high, he explained.

“People fly when they are unfit because of sickness, sadly. And they also fly with the fatigue,” he said. “Everyone has a family, everyone has children and wife and mortgages they have to pay. So financial pressure is personal pressure.”

Pressure was allegedly in place when FZ981 First Officer Alejandro Alava decided that he would be on the ill-fated flight.

“I know for a fact from a close friend of [Alava’s] wife that he didn’t want to go to work because he was tired. But he said ‘I have to go to work because we are having twins, we are going to need the money,’” the pilot said.

Pilot fatigue may be a contributing factor in a serious incident. This is especially true for flights to destinations, where ground services are not up to high standards in place in North America or Europe, the claimed pilot noticed, adding that Flydubai flies to such destinations.

‘Punitive culture’

The company not only turns a blind eye when a pilot gets into the cockpit in not-too-good shape, it actually encourages non-reporting of minor incidents caused by fatigue and puts pressure on those who do, the pilot claimed.

“They say there is no punitive culture and if you report nothing would happen, but many pilots had been leaned on quite firmly, and pilots that had spoken out had been fired because of it,” he said.

They were not fired actually,” he corrected himself. “They were leaned on to resign and told that they would get end-of-service benefits if they resigned, or otherwise they would be fired.

These commentators don’t seem to expect Flydubai to take measures to correct its policies after the fatal crash in Russia, which claimed 62 lives, including seven of their colleagues.

“Apart from the bad PR it’s probably not thought of as anything worse than a few laborers killed on a building site,” one comment said.

“Baghdad, Kabul, Baghram, Abha… everything ended in Rostov,” another one replies.

Flydubai is a low-cost airline owned by the United Arab Emirates. It was established in 2008 with Emirates Airlines helping it to take off. The two companies have no management ties other than being both owned by the UAE government.

When required to comment on the allegations, Flydubai denied any negligence and said it strictly followed all rules applying to duty time regulations in compiling duty rosters.

“For Flydubai the safety and welfare of our flight crew and cabin crew is of primary importance,” the airline told RT in an email. “If a member of flight crew feels that, for whatever reason, they have not been able to get enough rest before starting a shift, our Safety Management Systems (SMS), encourages pilots to declare themselves unfit to fly.”

The UAE aviation regulator, the General Civil Aviation Authority, said it is prohibited by the law from providing comments on the allegations.

article is by Russia Today

The flight path this unfortunate airliner took after arrival at Rostov trying to wait out the storm (after 2 hours of circling)

RT

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