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24 May, 2013


Turkey to build fortified wall at Syrian border crossing

Turkey has announced plans to build twin walls running for 1.5 miles at its border crossing with Syria following a bombing in February which left 14 dead and a twin car bomb that killed 51 this month in the nearby town of Reyhanli. According to Reuters, the Turkish Customs Ministry announced via statement that the concrete walls will be built on either side of the road leading to the Turkish side of the border crossing, which fell under the control of Syria's rebels last year. The Cilvegozu gate, which has remained open to allow humanitarian aid into Syria and refugees to flee, has been closed to Turkish vehicles since July. The ministry says that vehicle screening equipment and x-ray machines, as well as wire fencing and extra lighting and security equipment will also be installed. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to visit Reyhanli on Saturday, the first such visit since the bombings.


British ITV latest victim of Syrian Electronic Army hackers

British broadcaster ITV news was the latest mainstream media outlet to have its Twitter feed infiltrated by hackers in the Syrian Electronic Army. The hackers, who are sympathetic to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, have sworn to attack news outlets perceived to be biased against the Syrian leader, who is in the midst of a two-year civil war. Previous victims include the Associated Press, The Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, and the Onion, a parody news site. Twitter recently introduced the Two Step Authentication login method, an update that was designed to thwart security breaches of this sort. 


Three more blasts rock Afghan capital as Taliban attack UN compound

Taliban militants set off bombs and battled security forces in a coordinated attack on a UN compound in the center of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Friday, Reuters reports. Wittnesses speak of at least four large blasts and fire exchanges between the insurgents and Afghan troops, supported by Norwegian Special Forces. According to Al Jazeera, at least six attackers with "heavy machine guns" are currently holed up in the compound, three of them injured, while the police claim they killed two of the militants. A Taliban spokesman said that the group had targeted the UN compound as the CIA trainers were instructing Afghans there.


Osaka mayor apologizes over ‘comfort women’ remarks

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has apologized to women forcibly drafted into military brothels during World War II. Earlier this month he said wartime sex slavery served a "necessary" role. On Friday, Hashimoto said his original remarks were misinterpreted, AFP reported. “I happen to have used the word ‘necessity’ but it doesn’t mean I personally meant it was necessary,” he said. The politician issued the apology hours after he was due to meet two former ‘comfort women,’ but the elderly South Korean women cancelled the meeting.


Austria urges extension of EU arms embargo on Syria

Austria has urged an extension of the EU arms embargo on Syria, saying it may otherwise rethink its UN peacekeeping role in the region. Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said Friday that Austrian soldiers could be targeted by Syrian government forces if an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday decides to allow member-states to ship arms to the rebels. Austria's 377 soldiers make up the largest contingent of the approximately 900 UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights separating Syria and Israel. Lifting the EU embargo “would give us real problems on the Golan Heights,” Spindelegger said.


Lavrov, Kerry to meet in Paris on May 27 – Russian Foreign Ministry

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry will hold bilateral talks in Paris on May 27. “We confirm that Lavrov and Kerry's meeting will take place in Paris on Monday,” a Russian Foreign Ministry source told Interfax. The two are expected to discuss the Syrian crisis and an upcoming international conference on Syria, the source said.


UK response to Iraq abuse claims ‘inadequate’ – High Court

The UK High Court has ruled that the government's response to claims that British troops abused and unlawfully killed civilians in Iraq was inadequate, the BBC reported. The court stopped short of ordering a full public inquiry in Britain, a demand of 180 Iraqi civilians, but said there should be further investigations into the allegations. They include sexual abuse, food, water and sleep deprivation, prolonged solitary confinement, mock executions and being denied clothes. Lawyers for the Iraqis say the Iraq Historic Allegations Team set up by the UK Ministry of Defense to investigate the claims is not independent.


Blast hits downtown Kabul

An explosion struck the heart of Afghanistan's capital on Friday, and was felt several kilometers away. Witnesses said the blast hit near a hospital for the National Security Directorate, the state intelligence service. A building wall collapsed, but it was not clear if there were any casualties, AP reported. The area, which also houses buildings used by international aid agencies, was cordoned off by police. The explosion occurred at about 4:00pm local time (1130 GMT) in the downtown district of Borj-e Sharahah, Reuters reported, citing a Kabul police spokesperson. No casualties have been immediately reported.


French special forces took part in Niger operation – govt

French special forces took part in an operation at an army base in Niger on Friday to flush out Islamist militants suspected of involvement in an attack the previous day, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “The situation has been brought under control in particular in Agadez, where our special forces have intervened to support Nigerien forces at the request of President [Mahamadou] Issoufou,” the minister told BFM television. At least 21 people were killed and dozens wounded on Thursday in attacks in northern Niger.


Pumping stopped at Yemen’s main oil pipeline after blast

Attackers blew up Yemen's main oil export pipeline on Friday, halting the flow of crude. The Defense Ministry said that “subversive elements” in Serwah in central Maarib province had blown up the pipeline, which leads to the Red Sea, at dawn, Reuters reported. The pipeline had been pumping around 125,000 barrels per day, industry sources said.


Germany must spread cost of energy shift fairly – IEA

The International Energy Agency said Friday that Germany must shield its consumers from paying too much of the cost of its ambitious switch away from nuclear power and fossil fuels toward renewable energy, AFP reported. The IEA also said Europe's biggest economy should make greater use of natural gas to smooth the transition and reduce the use of coal to meet its carbon reduction targets.


Al-Qaeda-linked group connected to Algeria gas plant attack claims Niger raids

An Al-Qaeda-linked group that carried out the raid on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January claimed it participated in Thursday attacks in Niger. Khalid Abu al-Abbas – known as Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a leading figure in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – posted a statement on the attacks on the Internet on Friday, Reuters reported. The raid was a response to Niger's participation in operations in neighboring Mali, and claims by Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou that the Islamists had been defeated, the statement said. At least 21 people were killed and dozens wounded in assaults on a uranium mine run by French company Areva at Arlit and the military base in Agadez, Niger.


Russian watchdog corrects error that blacklisted VKontakte social network

Popular Russian social network Vkontakte was blacklisted by mistake, Roskomnadzor, the mass media and communications watchdog said Friday. “It was a mistake resulting from a human error,” a Roskomnadzor representative told Interfax, adding that the problem has already been resolved. Only one page was to be blacklisted, but an employee reportedly included one of the network's IP address by accident. By the time the mistake had been announced, operators had already begun blocking access to Vkontakte's IP addresses, following Roskomnadzor's request.


Russian, US special services destroy 4 Afghan narco-labs

Russian and US special services have destroyed four narcotics laboratories in Afghanistan, Russian Drug Control Service chief Viktor Ivanov said Friday. A special operation was carried out in Kunduz province on Thursday, he told RIA Novosti – the ninth such joint operation in Afghanistan.


Iran denies deploying forces to Syria

Iran denied on Friday it had forces in Syria supporting President Bashar Assad's army. “The true enemies of Syria make up these accusations to provoke the people of this country,” Reuters quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Araqchi as saying. Araqchi said Iranian forces have never been and are not currently in Syria. At a meeting in Jordan on Thursday, the Friends of Syria grouping of Western and Arab governments called on the alleged Iranian fighters and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas to immediately withdraw from Syria.


Turkey bans alcohol advertising

Turkey banned alcohol advertising and increased restrictions on alcohol sales on Friday. The sale of alcohol will be outlawed from 10:00pm to 6:00am, and alcohol producers must place health warning labels on packaging, Reuters reported. The law must be approved by the president before coming into effect. The legislation also bans alcohol-producing companies from sponsoring events and venues where alcohol is sold.


US Boy Scouts to allow gay members

The Boy Scouts of America agreed for the first time to allow openly gay youths to join the organization. Sixty-one percent of the estimated 1,400 delegates of the BSA’s National Council at its annual meeting on Thursday voted to end a ban that barred open homosexuality in the organization, AFP reported. The resolution was passed during the gathering at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. It will go into force on January 1, 2014, though a ban on gay adult leaders will be maintained.


Heathrow Airport runways closed after British Airways plane’s emergency landing

London's Heathrow Airport closed both of its runways after a British Airways plane made an emergency landing due to a fire on Friday morning. Heathrow officials said that all passengers were evacuated safely. The fire on the British Airways plane has now been put out, the London Fire Brigade said. The northern runway remains closed, but the southern runway was reopened following the landing.


Damascus agreed to attend intl conference on Syria – Russia

Syrian authorities have tentatively agreed to attend a proposed international conference on Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich told reporters on Friday. However, a date for the conference in Geneva cannot be set because it is not known who will represent the Syrian opposition at the event, Lukashevich said. Moscow hopes that “constructive approaches will prevail during the opposition’s upcoming contacts… in the spirit of the Russian-American agreement to convene an international conference,” he said.


UN says 300,000 displaced in Sudan's Darfur this year

A resurgence of fighting in Sudan's western Darfur region has driven 300,000 people from their homes so far this year, UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos said. This is more than the total number of people displaced in the last two years, AFP quoted Amos as saying on Thursday at the end of a three-day visit to Sudan. “It is clear that humanitarian aid agencies are struggling to cope,” she added. About 1.4 million people are still living in camps, and a majority of Darfuri still suffer from inadequate access to basic healthcare, education and other services, Amos said.


Tsunami warning issued as 8.2 quake rattles Russia’s Far East

Russian authorities issued a tsunami warning on Friday for the Sakhalin Region and the Kuril Islands after a magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck Russia's Far East in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Kamchatka Peninsula. The epicenter of the quake was located 244 miles west northwest of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy at a depth of 385 miles, the US Geological Survey said.


RIAA executives given big raises despite deep staff cuts as revenues shrink

A recent tax filing for the Recording Industry Association of America indicates that shrinking revenue collection from strapped record labels is threatening to decimate the industry’s largest anti-piracy enforcer. The lobby group, as noted by TorrentFreak, reported a $24.8 million income, ten million dollars less than just two years earlier. Presumably using that excuse, RIAA's number of employees was cut from 107 to 60 while RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman was given a $900,000 raise. Senior Executive Vice President Mitch Glazier also saw his paycheck grow, from $618,946 annually to $642,591. The organization reported that it, not the artists, had received $196,378 in “anti-piracy restitution” awarded in lawsuits against Limewire and similar peer-to-peer download services.