Friday, February 28, 2014

Israel warns Lebanon to halt Hezbollah’s threats

Israeli soldiers stand atop an armored personnel carrier (APC) positioned near the Lebanese border, close to the northern Israeli town of Shlomi February 27, 2014. (Reuters)
Israel warned Lebanon on Friday to quash threats emanating from Hezbollah, after its air force raided a site belonging to the Lebanese Shiite group.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah threatened that it will respond to Israel’s Monday night air strike near the Syrian border that killed two of its members.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the strike, in keeping with its silence on at least three such attacks over the past year targeting suspected Hezbollah-bound convoys of advanced weapons from civil war-torn Syria.

In an unusually forthright public statement about the incident, Hezbollah said on Wednesday it would “choose the time and place and the proper way to respond” against Israel, with which it fought a war in south Lebanon in 2006, Agence France-Presse reported.

Israel has frequently promised to target Lebanon at large in any new conflict, noting that Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militia, had politicians in the Beirut government.

“It is self-evident that we see Lebanon as responsible for any attack on Israel from the territory of Lebanon,” Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Friday.

“It is the duty of the Lebanese government to prevent any terrorist attack - whether a terrorist or missile attack, or any other kind - on the State of Israel,” he told Israel Radio.
Israel is technically at war with Lebanon and Syria.

Israeli analysts have been mostly dismissive of Hezbollah’s threat this week, arguing that its fighters were too busy helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battle a three-year-old rebellion to open up a new front with Israel.

(With AFP)

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Dramatic Video of Iranian's Desperate Struggle At Gallows

Iranian prisoner tries to fight off hangmen at public hanging, after last request to say goodbye to mother in audience denied.

By Dalit Halevi, Ari Yashar -- ArutzSheva 7
First Publish: 2/28/2014, 12:47 PM

Dramatic new footage from Iran highlights the repressive nature of the Islamic regime that is pursuing nuclear power. Video captured the desperate struggle of a prisoner in Karaj, a city north of Tehran, moments before he was hung publicly as is the custom in Iran.

His final request to say goodbye to his mother before being killed was denied by the hangmen, who ignored the mother's heartfelt pleas from the audience to say a last goodbye to her son.

In response to the cruelty, the man kicked out at one of the hangmen, knocking him from the gallows box and overturning the bench he was to stand on for the hanging.

A desperate struggle ensued as the outnumbered condemned man fought against hangmen with his hands tied. It was a struggle fated for a tragic outcome, as the guards overpowered the man and carried out the execution right before the man's mother and the public.

Iran has dramatically escalated the pace of hangings; Amnesty International revealed that in the first 21 days of 2014, a rate of two hangings were carried out every day.

Execution orders are often given in secret trials held by Revolutionary Guard courts, where defendants may have restricted access to legal defense and where sentences are often given in secret, reports Amnesty International.

“In Iran drug-related offenses are tried in Revolutionary Courts which routinely fall far short of international fair trial standards. The reality in Iran is that people are being ruthlessly sentenced to death after unfair trials, and this is unacceptable," remarked Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui, Deputy Program Manager for Amnesty International in the Middle East and North Africa.

United Nations officials spoke out following the January report, denouncing “the inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty.”

Among those killed by hanging was An Arab-Iranian poet and human rights activist, executed in late January for being an "enemy of G-d." The 32-year-old poet had spoken out against the mistreatment of ethnic Arabs in Iran's Khuzestan province, which borders Iraq.

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Ukrainian ex-leader Viktor Yanukovych vows fightback

Key moments from Viktor Yanukovych's news conference
Viktor Yanukovych has vowed to fight for Ukraine, in his first public appearance since being ousted as president last week.

Speaking in Russia, he said he was "not overthrown" but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life.

In the latest flare-up, Ukraine accused Russian troops of seizing two airports in Crimea - charges denied by Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a rapid return to normality in Ukraine.
Mr Putin spoke to Western leaders to emphasise "the extreme importance of not allowing a further escalation of violence", the Kremlin said.


The picture being presented from Moscow is that events in Crimea are spontaneous - the natural response of local Russian speakers who felt threatened by the new Kiev government.
How far the Kremlin is pulling the strings behind the scenes is hard to know. Certainly it is not being admitted openly. But there are signs the Russian government is hardening its stance.
The question for President Putin is how far he can push it without risking a full scale confrontation with the West.
Maybe he thinks he can have it both ways - encourage more Crimean autonomy but stop short of secession; criticise the new Kiev government but avoid a full break in relations; and try to unnerve Ukraine's young government by heavy-handed manoeuvres on the border without actually invading.
But it is a dangerous game. If tensions escalate further, a full scale crisis between East and West may be impossible to avoid.
In other developments:
  • Swiss and Austrian authorities block the assets of Viktor Yanukovych and his associates, and launch a corruption probe
  • Russian MPs propose new laws that would make it easier for Russia to incorporate parts of Ukraine
  • Amid fears of hyperinflation, Ukraine's central bank has put a 15,000 hryvnia (1,000 euro; £820) limit on daily cash withdrawals
  • The UN Security Council is set to hold private discussions on the crisis later on Friday
"I intend to continue to struggle for the future of Ukraine, against terror and fear," Mr Yanukovych told the news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

"What's going on now is lawlessness, lack of authority, and terror. Decisions in parliament were taken under duress."

He apologised to the Ukrainian people for not having "enough strength to keep stability" and described his usurpers as "young, neo-fascists".

He insisted he did not "flee anywhere", explaining that his car was shot at as he left Kiev and he was forced to move around Ukraine amid fears for the safety of himself and his family.

He said he arrived in Russia "thanks to a patriotically-minded young officer" and was given refuge in Rostov by an old friend.

Speaking in Russian, Mr Yanukovych said he would return to Ukraine "as soon as there are guarantees for my security and that of my family".

But he ruled out taking part in elections planned for 25 May, describing them as "illegal".
Later Ukrainian authorities said they had started moves to have him extradited to Kiev where he is wanted on charges of mass murder.

Christian Fraser says barriers and armed men are blocking Sevastopol airport

And he said the only way out of the crisis is to implement an EU-backed compromise agreement he signed with opposition leaders last week before he was deposed.

The current turmoil in Crimea was "an absolutely natural reaction to the bandit coup that occurred in Kiev", he said, adding that he was surprised by the restraint shown by Russian President Vladimir Putin so far.

But he stressed that "military action in this situation is unacceptable" and said he wanted Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.

Armed men took over Sevastopol and Simferopol airports in the early hours of Friday.
Acting national security chief Andriy Parubiy said the airports were back in the control of the Ukrainian authorities, but the men were now manning checkpoints on the surrounding roads.

map of crimea
Armed men patrol at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on 28 February  2014. Armed men carrying Russian navy flags arrived at Simferopol airport in several trucks
Armed man at Simferopol airport They have declined to say who they are, and are wearing no identifying insignia
Unidentified men - whom the Ukrainian interior minister says are Russian Naval troops - block a road to a military airport Belbek not far from Sevastopol Men whom Ukraine says are Russian naval troops have also blocked roads to Sevastopol airport
The protesters' camp at Independence square in central Kiev Meanwhile people are still reeling from the violence in Kiev, which led to the ousting of Mr Yanukovych.
Witnesses also reported seeing Russian army trucks and helicopters in and around the regional capital Simferopol and Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based.

The move on the airports prompted Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov to accuse Russia of carrying out an "armed invasion" of Crimea.

Crimea's airports

  • Simferopol is the main international terminal, serving the regional capital
  • Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, has a Soviet-era military airport (Belbek) which was also used for civilian flights until some years ago. Ukrainian air force jets are stationed there
  • The Russian Black Sea Fleet has aircraft stationed at other air bases in Crimea (Gvardeyskaya and Kacha)
Russia denied any involvement with the takeover at the airport, but confirmed its armoured vehicles had been on the move around Crimea for "security" reasons.

On Thursday, a group of unidentified armed men entered Crimea's parliament building by force, and hoisted a Russian flag on the roof.

They were still in the building when the Crimean parliament later announced it would hold a referendum on expanding the region's autonomy from Ukraine on 25 May.

Crimea is becoming the lynchpin of a struggle between Ukraine's new leaders and those loyal to Russia, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says.

The majority of people in Crimea are ethnic Russians, but ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars - whose animosity towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War Two - have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

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Turkey frees cabinet ministers' sons

BBC News online -- 28 February 2014
Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab, one of those detained - file pic Azeri businessman Reza Zarrab is suspected of murky deals involving Iran
The Turkish authorities have freed the sons of two former cabinet ministers pending trial, the latest twist in a major corruption investigation. 

Baris Guler and Kaan Caglayan, arrested in December, were among dozens of people held in an investigation into bribery relating to public tenders.

The inquiry enraged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who saw it as a "plot" against him.
He responded with a purge of top police and judicial officials.

An Azeri businessman of Iranian origin, Reza Zarrab, was also released on Friday.

The son of a third cabinet minister was also arrested in December, but was soon released.

The three ministers - Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Interior Minister Muammer Guler - resigned in December as the police investigation intensified.
All three denied any wrongdoing.

Police are investigating allegations of illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery for construction projects.

Earlier this month Suleyman Aslan, the former chief executive of Halkbank, was also released.
He is suspected of money-laundering in connection with the alleged bribery. When they searched his home police found $4.5m (£2.7m; 3.2m euros) in cash hidden in shoeboxes.

Mr Erdogan and his supporters in the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party see the investigation as a plot masterminded by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist cleric based in the US.

Mr Gulen denies any such plot. His Hizmet movement is believed to have influential followers in Turkey's judiciary and other state institutions.

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Syria jihadist group ISIS 'retreating after warning'

BBC News online -- 28 February 2014
Undated image posted on a militant website shows rebel fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) marching in Raqqa, Syria Fighting between ISIS and other rebel groups erupted earlier this year
Reports from northern Syria say a rebel jihadist group has been pulling back from positions after being given an ultimatum by a rival. 

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is said to have been retreating towards the city of Raqqa.

The Nusra Front has given ISIS until Saturday to accept mediation or face being expelled from Syria.
Infighting between rival rebel groups has seen more than 3,000 people killed in the past two months.
The main confrontation is between ISIS and other Islamist militant groups.

Abu Mohammed al-Julani of the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, warned ISIS on Tuesday that it would be driven from Syria and "even from Iraq" if it did not accept arbitration within five days.

He demanded that ISIS halt all military operations against other rebels, and allow an Islamic court to rule on its actions.

The threat came after the killing of an al-Qaeda emissary, Abu Khaled al-Suri, in a suicide attack on in the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday. Rebel groups blamed ISIS for the bombing.
The latest reports suggest ISIS is taking the threat from the Nusra Front seriously, the BBC's Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says.

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants patrol the Syrian city of Raqqa (14 January 2014) ISIS's predominantly foreign fighters have been accused of widespread abuses in areas under their control
ISIS appears to have pulled fighters out of positions in Aleppo province, where it may fear it is not strong enough to withstand attack.

Videos posted online appear to show residents celebrating in a town that ISIS fighters have left, our Arab affairs editor reports.

The group seems most concerned with protecting the area around its key stronghold, Raqqa, he adds. It has imposed its severe interpretation of Islamic law, including a tax on Christians, in the city.
ISIS grew out of the former Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a jihadist militant umbrella group that included al-Qaeda in Iraq. It is believed to have helped create the Nusra Front in mid-2011.

In April 2013, ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the merger of his group and the Nusra Front - effectively a takeover - and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
But the move was rejected by Julani and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's overall leader, who recognised the Nusra Front as its sole Syrian offshoot.

Since then, ISIS and the Nusra Front have operated as separate entities, with the latter focusing on toppling President Bashar al-Assad and maintaining better relations with other rebels.

ISIS has seemed to be more concerned by territorial gains and implementing its extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

ISIS strongholds in rebel-held and contested areas
Map showing rebel-held, government held and contested areas

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Friends and Neighbours

"Crimea has ended up in the middle of a quarrel between Ukraine and Russia and we will defend Crimea. Our problems are not with Russians but with Russia's politics and its leader, Putin. He sees the loss of Ukraine as a serious event because it could lead to more trouble between Russia and its neighbours.
Russia did this to us [Soviet deportations; entire Tatar population deported for several decades to Central Asia], so why would we ever want to remain with them?"
Tatar furniture maker, Edem

"We Russians in Crimea love this place and we have been here for decades and centuries. I hate what they did in Kyiv. I want to be part of Russia and I want that today because we are brothers from the same nation."
Pavel Popovich, former Soviet army officer
"Crimea is not Russia" chanted the Tatars before assaulting the parliament building. Those loyal to Moscow screamed "The Crimea is Russian". And never the twain shall meet in sentiment, but most certainly in bitter conflict one against the other. Crimean Tatars loyal to Kyiv, chanting "Allahu akbar" clashed with Russian-Ukrainians in Simferopol.

Crimean Tatars clash with a police officer in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea. (Andrew Lubimov, AP Photo)

A Tatar group shoved past riot police and into the Crimean parliament. There they managed to halt debate on a motion to secede from Ukraine. Russia, according to Putin's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, was "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea"; watching, most carefully, but doing absolutely nothing to instill fear or expectations, depending on which side was watching back.

On Wednesday in Sevastopol there was a decided Russian presence; an armoured personnel carrier sat beside a control-access checkpoint, and other armed vehicles moved into public spaces, guarding Russia's Black Sea fleet in the Crimean port. Russia had placed 150,000 troops close to the Ukrainian border on alert, ordering urgent exercises to test combat readiness. Not interfering, nor inferring, simply watching. Carefully.

This is meant to be a four-day refresher-course in watching, carefully, and grooming the country's military in a preparedness exercise, sending no particular message, just that Russia is ... watching. Also watching were Russians wearing combat gear, ski masks, armed with assault rifles. Russia must protect its interests. And assure that the interests of Ukraine's Russian minority are being looked after in the Crimea.

The Crimea is formally part of Ukraine, but the peninsula has a distinct purpose for Russia; its main port for its Black Sea fleet. Sevastopol hosts a branch of Moscow State University, and Dom Moscow, funded by Moscow. Access to the Mediterranean Sea along with that of Syria's naval facility represent Russia's vital access to vital interests without which Russia cannot see itself achieving its goal of dominance.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Dueling pro and anti-Russian rallies in Simferopol

And so, thousands of Tatars and thousands of Russians jeered, chanted and whistled insults to each other, waving aloft Ukrainian, Tatar, Crimean and Russian flags, standing guard before the autonomous republic's headquarters with a thin line of police keeping them apart. Ukrainians make up about 25% of the Crimean population, Tatars 15% and Russians 60%. Make of that what you will.

"The Russian forces are here in Crimea to protect the Russians, or so they say. They have forgotten that we are the original people here and we must have a say. And what we say is that it is very dangerous for us to have Russian forces here. The real reason a lot of the Russians here support Moscow is because they are dependent on them for jobs associated with the military", said Elzara Abdaramanova, a Tatar.

"That Vladimir Putin is the one to blame for what is happening here today. I would like to say more to you but I can't", divulged 78-year-old Gulsa Mamedovna Samidinova, speaking both Tatar and Russian.

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The Sentence Fitting The Crime

"That's a lie. It's not a betrayal of Islam. You don't know what Islam is."
"I swear by Allah that America and Britain will never have any safety. Allahu akbar (God is great)!"
Michael Adebolajo, London Islamist

"I'm sure this was a murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or racial cause. Your sickening and pitiless conduct was in stark contrast to the compassion and bravery shown by the various women at the scene who tended to Lee Rigby's body and challenged what you had done and said."
Justice Nigel Sweeney
Their trial having found both Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, guilty of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, they were sentenced on Wednesday for life in prison, as Justice Nigel Sweeney stated that their merciless butchery of a young man in uniform represented a "betrayal of Islam".

Fight: After sentencing began the two killers shouted at Mr Justice Sweeney in protest at his remarks and were pinned to the ground by several security guards and taken back to the cells
Fight: After sentencing began the two killers shouted at Mr Justice Sweeney in protest at his remarks and were pinned to the ground by several security guards and taken back to the cells

Which triggered a volcanic response from Adebowale and a violent struggle with guards as he screamed "I swear by Allah that America and Britain will never have any safety. Allahu akbar!"
What, he was so agitated, poor misunderstand man, that he forgot to include Israel?

Not to be outdone, Adebolajo also screeched at the judge while being forced down the dock stairs in the Old Bailey historic Court No. 2. It took eight court officers to handle the two men. Adebowale was brought to the floor and handcuffed, then carried down the stairs head first.

Once the disturbed and court-disturbing convicted had been taken away the judge continued his sentencing pronouncements handing Adebolajo a "whole-life" tariff (incarceration for life), for his part in the hacking death of the 25-year-old Lee Rigby in broad daylight in the middle of a busy London intersection, close to the army installation from which Lee Rigby had exited.

Adebowale was given life as well, a minimum term of 45 years. The judge condemned the two as extremists intending to "murder a soldier in public daylight" for their cause, describing the scene as a "bloodbath", commenting that they had "butchered" Rigby. They had demonstrated no regret for the slaughter of an innocent young man.

Adebolajo had insisted he must be addressed as Mujaahid Abu Hamza, and presented himself dressed in a black Islamic robe. Adebowale was dressed in a black skull cap and black hooded top, and he was to be referred to as Ishmael Abdullah. Adebolajo's lawyer, David Gottliev argued against a whole-life punishment on the grounds that it was not appropriate:
"(Adebolajo) is not so depraved and wicked that he is incapable of redemption in the future", he informed the court. His client was a "sincere but misguided person who has committed a wicked act."
As for Adebowale, his lawyer Abas Lakha had this to say: a whole-life sentence is "inhuman", since it would "extinguish all hope of release."

Would it then? Under the grim circumstances, then, entirely appropriate.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kerry: U.S. must pursue Iran talks before ‘war’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks seemed to indicate that the Obama administration would seriously opt to attack Iran if the diplomatic talks fail. (File photo: Reuters) 
The United States has an obligation to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program before it considers going to war with Tehran to force it to give up its nuclear activities, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

“We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution,” Kerry told a group of reporters, Reuters reported.

In November, Iran and six world powers, including the United States, reached a landmark temporary agreement to halt its nuclear program, gaining limited relief from economic sanctions in return.
However, U.S. President Barack Obama has said that all options are on the table in regard to Tehran’s nuclear activities, in a diplomatic approach for the possibility of military action.

While U.S. officials have long held out that threat, Kerry’s remarks seemed to indicate that the Obama administration would seriously opt to attack Iran if the diplomatic talks fail.

“I happen to believe as a matter of leadership, and I learnt this pretty hard from Vietnam, before you send young people to war you ought to find out if there is a better alternative,” said Kerry, who served in the Vietnam War as a young U.S. naval officer.

“That is an obligation we have as leaders to exhaust all the remedies available to you before you ask people to give up their lives and that is what we are doing” with Iran, he added.

The Obama administration is under pressure from Republican lawmakers threatening to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran, a move the White House is warning could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement. Iran denies allegations by the United States and some of its allies that it is seeking to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

Pressure from lawmakers may increase with signs that easing of sanctions pressure on Tehran has boosted oil export.

Sources who track tanker movements told Reuters that Iran's oil exports rose further in February for a fourth consecutive month. In addition extra cargoes had headed to Syria and South Korea in February, according to a second tracking source.

Kerry said Iran was so far keeping its end of the bargain under the Nov. 24 agreement by, among other things, reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges.

“Generally speaking, they have done I think everything that they were required to do with respect to the reductions,” Kerry told reporters.

“There's no centrifuge challenge. They haven't put any in. They ... have reduced their 5 percent. They have reduced the 20 [percent],” he added. “They are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

(With Reuters)

Last Update: Thursday, 27 February 2014 KSA 07:48 - GMT 04:48

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Pro-Moscow coup in Crimea. Russian fighter jets on W. border on combat alert. Kiev deploys security forces

DEBKAfile Special Report February 27, 2014, 10:41 AM (IST)
Russian fighter jets on combat alert
Russian fighter jets on combat alert
The Russian defense ministry announced Thursday, Feb. 27 that fighter jets stood on combat alert along its western borders with Ukraine. Moscow repeated its commitment to protect Russian-speaking elements in the Crimean Peninsula. Earlier, armed men carried out a pro-Russian coup in the Crimean capital, by seizing government and parliamentary buildings and hoisting Russian flags – in response to the pro-European coup in Kiev. Forces loyal to the provisional government in Kiev meanwhile surround the area which they say was occupied by “criminals in army fatigues.” 

The pro-Russian coup came on the heels of a day of violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-European protesters in the Crimean capital, prompting a Russian military alert. debkafile: Witnesses in Crimea Wednesday night saw Russian military equipment moving into the peninsula. We reported earlier that Vladimir Putin would never relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol.

There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran.

This peril raised its head Wednesday, Feb. 26, when pro-Russian and pro-European protesters clashed violently in the Crimean town of Simferopol, the Peninsula’s financial and highway hub.

Most of the protesters against Moscow were members of the minority Tatar community, who had gathered from around the region to demand that Crimea accept Kiev rule.

The majority population is Russian speaking and fought the Tatar demonstrators. However,  rival historic claims to this strategic peninsula were in full flight, sparking red lights in Moscow to danger.
The Tatars ruled Crimea in the 18th century. If they manage to expel Russian influence from Simferopol and then the rest of the region, it would be the signal for dozens of the small peoples who make up the Russian Federation to go into separatist mode and raise the flags of mutiny. The Kremlin is therefore bound to nip the Tatar outbreak in the bud to save Russia.

And so, Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stage an urgent four-day drill to test the combat readiness of Russian military forces in central and western Russia, starting with a high alert for the military and the deployment of some units to shooting ranges.

The exercise will involve Russia’s Baltic and Northern Fleets and its air force.

In a televised statement after a meeting of top military officials in Moscow, defense minister Gen. Shoigu said the forces “must be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds” and be "ready for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security.”

A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger.

The Russian president’s military move Wednesday signaled his readiness to send his army into Ukraine and divide the country, if Moscow’s national interests and the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine are at stake. Having broadcast that message, Putin will now wait to see if it picked up by Washington and Brussels for action to restrain the new authorities in Kiev.

But it is no longer certain how much control Western powers have over the former protesters of Kiev, who appear to have taken the bit between their teeth.

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UN nuclear agency opted against sensitive Iran report, news report says

Reuters says an IAEA report on Iran's nuclear capabilities would have shown more about the Islamic Republic's nuclear bomb research.

By Fredrik Dahl and Louis CharbonneauReuters / February 27, 2014
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, waits next to Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for the start of a panel discussion at the 50th Security Conference on security policy in Munich, Germany, Feb. 2, 2014.   Frank Augstein/AP

Vienna/United Nations
The United Nations nuclear watchdog planned a major report on Iran that might have revealed more of its suspected atomic bomb research, but held off as Tehran's relations with the outside world thawed, sources familiar with the matter said.
Such a report - to have been prepared last year - would almost certainly have angered Iran and complicated efforts to settle a decade-old dispute over its atomic aspirations, moves which accelerated after pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.

According to the sources, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has apparently dropped the idea of a new report, at least for the time being.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA. The sources said there was no way of knowing what information collected by the agency since it issued a landmark report on Iran in 2011 might have been incorporated in the new document, although one said it could have added to worries about Tehran's activities.

As relations rapidly improved, Iran struck an interim nuclear deal with six world powers in November which Israel denounced as an "historic mistake" as it did not require Tehran to dismantle its uranium enrichment sites.

One source said probably only Israel, which is believed to be the Middle East's sole nuclear-armed state, would criticize the IAEA for not issuing a new report in the present circumstances. Iran and the world powers hope to reach a final settlement by July, when the interim accord expires, although they acknowledge this will be an uphill task.

A decision not to go ahead with the new document may raise questions about information that the United Nations agency has gathered in the last two years on what it calls the "possible military dimensions" (PMD) to Iran's nuclear program. Tehran says the program is peaceful and denies Western allegations that it is seeking to develop the capability to make bombs.

The sources, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, suggested the more recent material concerned extra detail about alleged research and experiments that were covered in the November 2011 report. A new report would probably have included "updated information on PMD" which could have "reinforced the concern" about Iran, one said.

The IAEA's dossier in November 2011 contained a trove of intelligence indicating past activity in Iran which could be used for developing nuclear weapons, some of which it said might still be continuing. Iran rejected the allegations.

It helped Western powers to step up the sanctions pressure on Iran, including a European Union oil embargo imposed in 2012, showing the potential significance of a decision on whether to publish the IAEA's findings.

Since then the agency has said it obtained more information that backs up its analysis in the 2011 document, which detailed allegations ranging from explosives testing to research on what experts describe as an atomic bomb trigger.

Other issues it wants Iran to address are alleged detonator development, computer modelling to calculate nuclear explosive yields, and preparatory experimentation that could be useful for any atomic test.

It says the "overall credible" information in the 2011 dossier - contained in an annex to a wider quarterly report - came from member states, believed to include Western powers and Israel, as well as its own efforts.

One source said it was believed that the Vienna-based IAEA had received more information on suspicions of nuclear yield calculations, but it was not known to what extent this would have made it into a new report on Iran.

"The agency has obtained more information since November 2011 that has further corroborated the analysis contained in that annex," it said on Feb. 20 in a regular quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program.

It has been investigating accusations for several years that Iran may have coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives and revamp a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead. Iran says such claims are baseless and forged.

The sources said that last year's planned report would probably have amounted to a wider review of the Iranian nuclear file, including PMD and other outstanding issues.

They said the idea was raised internally when the IAEA's long-running efforts to get Iran to cooperate with its investigation appeared completely deadlock in mid-2013.

But with a new leadership in Tehran trying to end its international isolation, Iran and the IAEA agreed last November a step-by-step transparency pact to help allay concerns about the atomic activities. This was sealed shortly before the breakthrough deal between Tehran and the six powers - the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and China.

In follow-up talks on Feb 8-9, Iran agreed for the first time to address one of many PMD issues in the 2011 report, regarding so-called exploding bridge wire detonators, which can have both civilian and military applications.

"While other experiments with possible military dimensions must be addressed and soon, progress on the bridge wire detonators issue would be an important first step toward resolving these issues," said the Arms Control Association, a US research and advocacy group, in a Feb. 26 analysis.

But it remains uncertain when and how the IAEA will be able to look into more sensitive areas, including long-sought access to the Parchin military base southeast of Tehran, where it suspects explosives tests that could be used for nuclear bomb development took place a decade ago, a charge Tehran denies.

The IAEA inquiry is separate from, but still closely linked to, the wider diplomacy to end the years of standoff over the nuclear programme that has raised fears of a Middle East war.

The interim agreement focused mainly on preventing Tehran obtaining nuclear fissile material to assemble a future bomb, rather than on whether Iran sought atom weapons technology in the past, which the IAEA is investigating.

The 2011 report portrayed a concerted weapons programme that was halted in 2003 - when Iran came under increased Western pressure - but it also indicated that some activities may later have resumed.
Western diplomats and nuclear experts say the IAEA needs to complete its inquiry to establish what happened and to be able to provide assurances that any "weaponisation" work - expertise to turn fissile material into a functioning bomb - has ceased.

They say clarifying this is also important in being able to quantify the time Iran would need to dash for a nuclear weapon, if it ever decided to do so.

But it is unclear to what extent it will form part of any final settlement between Iran and the powers - which unlike the IAEA can lift crippling sanctions on the major oil producer and therefore have more leverage in dealing with Tehran.

"Some analysts have argued incorrectly that issues like Parchin and alleged military dimensions do not matter. According to their reasoning, these issues are in the past and should be overlooked," the Institute for Science and International Security, a US think-tank, said this week.

However, Peter Jenkins, a former British ambassador to the IAEA, said Iran now appeared to be in full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and had "started to resolve residual ... questions about past nuclear-related activities and to shed light on future intentions."

A senior US official said that clearing up the issue of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program was "in the first instance" the IAEA's task.

"The more that Iran can do to meet their obligations with the IAEA, the better for the nuclear negotiating process around a comprehensive agreement," the US official said on Feb. 17. But, "We don't want to do the job that belongs to the IAEA."

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Ukraine warns Russia against 'aggression' in Crimea

BBC News online -- 27 February 2014
Pro-Russian demonstrators have pushed through police lines in Simferopol, says Mark Lowen
Ukrainian interim President Olexander Turchynov has warned Russia against any "military aggression" in Crimea.

He said Russia's troops from Russia's Black Sea Fleet should not move outside their naval base in Sevastopol.

The warning comes after unknown armed men seized Crimea's regional parliament and the government headquarters of the autonomous Russian-majority region.

Meanwhile, the Crimean parliament has said it wants to hold a referendum on greater self-rule.
Such a vote would be a challenge to the new powers in the Ukraine capital Kiev, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports from the Crimean regional capital Simferopol.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the BBC: "We ask our Russian partners to... stick to their obligations, we believe Russia would never intervene into Ukrainian domestic affairs and will refrain from any steps that would split Ukraine.

"We are committed to having Ukraine as one united country. We will punish anyone for separatism in Ukraine with all legal and constitutional means," he added.

Mr Yatsenyuk was confirmed as prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Thursday afternoon. He is a key ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from detention last week.

The warnings from Ukrainian leaders came as Russia performed a second day of military exercises, saying its fighter jets were on "combat alert".

"Constant air patrols are being carried out by fighter jets in the border regions," Russia's defence ministry told Interfax.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap drill to test the combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia, near the border with Ukraine. Thursday's exercises appear to be part of that drill, analysts say.

The Russian foreign ministry expressed concern over what it termed "massive violations of human rights in Ukraine".

Amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "concerned about developments in Crimea" and urged Russia "not to take any action that can escalate tension".

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a similar warning after Nato talks in Brussels, telling Russia "not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted, or lead to miscalculation, during a very delicate time".

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund says it is sending a fact-finding team to Kiev in the coming days to discuss ways it can help after a request for support from the new government.
People hold flags during a pro-Russian rally outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol A crowd of pro-Russian protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol after it was seized by armed men
Police officers guard the parliament building Police were deployed around the building
A Russian flag (R) is raised next to a Crimean flag on top of the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol The Russian flag has been raised over the building
Ukrainian men help pull one another out of a stampede during clashes on Wednesday On Wednesday there were clashes between pro- and anti-Russian protesters in Simferopol
Also on Thursday, former President Viktor Yanukovych issued his first statement since being voted out of office by MPs last week, telling Russian news agencies he had been "compelled to ask the Russian Federation to ensure my personal security from the actions of extremists" and that he still considered himself the legitimate president of Ukraine.

The state-run Itar-Tass agency quoted an official source as saying Mr Yanukovych would be granted "protection" by Russia, although there was no official confirmation of this.

At the scene

A handful of pro-Russia demonstrators have pushed through the police cordon and are now outside the Crimean parliament.
They're cheering the occupation of the building by unidentified armed men, who entered this morning by force, hoisting a Russian flag from the roof. The protest leader proclaimed: "We've been waiting for this moment for 20 years. We want a united Russia."
This is the first big challenge for the new Ukrainian government. It has a delicate balancing act to perform in a region that straddles ethnic, political and linguistic divisions. Against the pro-Russian majority is a sizeable ethnic Ukrainian and Tatar minority who would firmly resist any attempt at secession.
But the demonstrators outside the parliament, waving Russian flags, say illegitimate protesters seized power in Kiev and that they fully intend to do the same here in Crimea.
The incident in Simferopol is another illustration of tensions in the region, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Crimea.

One eyewitness Leonid Kazanov, who saw the unknown armed men entering the parliament building, told local TV: "I asked one of the guys who they were. The guy, who introduced himself only as Andrey, said: 'We are Russia.'"

Mr Kazanov added the attackers acted quickly and efficiently, and were well armed.
Shortly after, the Russian flag was raised over both parliament buildings.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the area near the government buildings has been cordoned off to prevent "bloodshed". He added that the seizure of the buildings was the work of "provocateurs".

"Measures have been taken to counter extremist actions and not allow the situation to escalate into an armed confrontation in the centre of the city," he said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Regional Prime Minister Anatoliy Mohylyov told a local TV station said he would take part in talks with the gunmen and told government employees who normally worked there not to come in.
The men have not yet made any demands or issued any statements but did put up a sign reading: "Crimea is Russia".

They threw a flash grenade in response to questions from a journalist, AP news agency reported.


  • Autonomous republic within Ukraine
  • Transferred from Russia in 1954
  • Ethnic Russians - 58.5%*
  • Ethnic Ukrainians - 24.4%*
  • Crimean Tatars - 12.1%*
  • Source: Ukraine census 2001
Tensions have been rising in Crimea since Mr Yanukovych was ousted last week.
On Wednesday the city saw clashes erupt between Ukrainians who support the change of government and pro-Russians.

Crimea - where ethnic Russians are in a majority - was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.
Ethnic Ukrainians loyal to Kiev and Muslim Tatars - whose animus towards Russia stretches back to Stalin's deportations during World War II - have formed an alliance to oppose any move back towards Moscow.

Russia, along with the US, UK and France, pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994.

Map of Ukraine

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 Those Incorrect, Ignorant Bastards

"We say to his killers, may your hands and your act be damned. We will wait five days for official response from day of this message and if you refuse then you know we have been patient for over a year.
"A year of infringements, fake accusations, distorting our image, but we ignored this to prevent greater evil and we waived our rights....
"And by God, if you refuse the Law of God again and do not stop your infliction on the nation, the Muslim nation will take on your incorrect, ignorant ideology and banish it, even from Iraq!"
Abu Mohammed Al-Golani, Al Nusra leader
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, January 14, 2014, shows fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) marching in Raqqa, Syria. (AP Photo/militant website, File)

A rupture between the militias of Islamist jihadists, each of whom have committed atrocities in the name of Islam and in service to Allah. This is a riff on that old adage of 'honour between thieves'; in this instance honour can be seen as a truce in their abhorrence of one another. Both are dedicated to a similar goal, to destroy the lives of fellow Muslims who are not adequately dedicated to their version of acutely vicious Islamist fundamentalism.

 Al-Qaeda's head of operations in Syria has warned its Iraq-based offshoot it has five days to agree to his ultimatum or be "banished". Their disagreement has morphed into a violent split with the jihadist movement spiralling into a vortex of uncontrolled rage against one another. What a splendid opportunity for each to contest the other for influence and control of Syria.

Should it turn out that they can not, will not, and do not come to some form of accommodation to restrain themselves from committing further mayhem on one another, it may just be possible that Syrian civilians may be saved from their further predations as they focus on eliminating one another. In a war of savage attrition they could quite conceivably commit dire damage on one another.

To the point where few might be left to tell the tale.

But that, of course, is just malicious thinking on the part of those who would wish these warriors of Islam in their holy war to implement a vast sharia-imposed state for an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Middle East, ill on their way to victory. The Syrian rebels, genuine Syrian Sunni protesters against the continued rabid reign of terror unleashed by Syria's tyrant Bashar al-Assad have also suffered violence from the Islamists.

But it is when they undertake to slaughter one another in a feckless inter-Islamist conflict of power that ferocious verbal aggression leads the way to the kind of bitter animus that has an envoy marked for assassination as Abu Khalid Al-Suri was. From medieval times killing the messenger was recognized as very ill mannered behaviour, condemned by all but the most aggressively oppressive tyrants.

Killed by two Islamists firing shots, one of whom blew himself into martyrdom in Aleppo on Sunday morning. The killing, according to Clint Watts of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, familiar with Al-Qaeda, represents a struggle between Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, which spread its operations from Iraq into Syria, not to miss out on any opportunities.

The purpose of killing Mr. Suri was to send an unmistakable message to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of Al-Qaeda, that ISIS "Is in Syria for the long haul and there will be no remediation", said Mr. Watts, who feels he should know. Though ISIS has been disowned as Al-Qaeda's formal representative in Syria, it remains a powerful threat both in Syria and in Iraq, where it has taken possession of several towns.

If the feverishly imagined scenario of the two opponents fighting it out to the end ever materializes, to the point where there is no looking back and their hatred for one another results in each destroying the other, this might be the point where the West could intercede. To nominate the one Islamist left standing for the Nobel Peace Prize?

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Forbidding Western Taint

"Everybody is living in fear. There is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can't sleep with their eyes closed."
Nigerian local government chairman Maina Ularamu

43 killed in Nigeria in suspected Boko Haram school attack
43 killed in Nigeria in suspected Boko Haram school attack
President Goodluck Jonathan claim his military has enjoyed "some successes", while speaking of Boka Haram attacks against helpless civilians, slaughtering them at will to put the fear of Islamism into them for daring to disobey their injunction not to besmirch themselves with the corrupted ideals of a Western-oriented education. 

The president had declared a state of emergency in May when towns and villages were held captive by Boko Haram. At that time the military forced them out of urban areas. And celebrated a job well done, the problem erased, the country could continue living life without concerns for their return. But members of Boko Haram regrouped in forests and mountain caves, bringing in new conscripts.

And so, fresh atrocities are surging. And those who have managed to survive the deadly assaults now claim there is no protection being offered them by the military. Soldiers who guarded a checkpoint near the Federal Government College, a northeast Nigerian school at Buni Yadi, 70 kilometres from the state capital Damaturu, somehow went astray.

And then a full-scale attack erupted. Certainly an odd coincidence.

Boko Haram terrorists set upon the school in a pre-dawn attack on Tuesday. They locked a school dormitory with male students inside, and set it ablaze. When students attempted their desperate escapes, they were shot, some had their throats slit as they escaped through windows. And many were burned alive in the blaze.

Screengrab of Abubakar Shekau, leader Boko Haram. PHOTO: AFP 

Female students, according to a spokesman for the governor, were spared violence when the attackers ordered them to leave, go back home, get married; abandon Western education forbidden by Islamic values. Governor Ibrahim Gaidam is expected to launch an inquiry to determine why the school was left unprotected, according to Adamu Garba, a teacher who witnessed students being gunned down.

The eight soldiers who are responsible for the checkpoint, and another thirty, based two kilometres distant were away from their posts. They finally arrived, at noon, long after the attackers had gone, according to the community leaders, busy burying 29 male students. Several soldiers have been accused of aiding the extremists, of passing information to them.

Tens of thousands of Nigerians have died, others have had their homes, their businesses, their possessions and livelihoods lost both by the atrocities launched by Boko Haram, and the fallout of a military state of emergency through soldiers accused of human rights violations, setting villages on fire, and committing suspects to summary executions.

And, as President Goodluck Jonathan has said, the ongoing attacks by the Islamist terrorists are "quite worrisome".

43 killed in Nigeria in suspected Boko Haram school attack

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UN Watch BriefingLatest from the United Nations  Vol. 479 |  February 26, 2014         
Blind Chinese Dissident Wins Courage Award
at UN Watch's Geneva Summit for Human Rights
Human Rights Heroes Assemble Ahead of UN Rights Session

GENEVA, Feb. 26 – Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist, received the 2014 Geneva Summit Courage Award yesterday from an international assembly of human rights groups, where dissidents shared harrowing testimonies of human rights abuses ahead of Monday's gathering of foreign ministers at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Hundreds of dissidents, activists, diplomats and journalists gathered from around the world yesterday for the 2014 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, the
annual civil society forum that works to place urgent situations on the UN agenda.
The summit was organized by the Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch, supported by a cross-regional coalition of 20 NGO co-sponsors.
UN Watch chairman Alfred H. Moses presented the award to Chen, a former political prisoner who escaped house arrest in 2012, "for inspiring the world with his extraordinary courage in the defense of truth, justice and human rights."
Media from around the globe have broadcast the speakers' human rights testimonies, including:
Moreover, the Ottawa Citizen has just dedicated a major editorial to the summit here.
Chen, who has been blind since childhood, taught himself law and exposed forced abortions and sterilizations in his native Shandong Province before his imprisonment by local authorities.

In a drama covered on front pages worldwide, Chen escaped house arrest in China in May 2012 and sought refuge at the U.S. embassy in Beijing before moving to the United States.
"People who live in democracy and freedom don't realize how important they are to them, but people who are oppressed understand that democracy and freedom are very important," he said.

Dissidents or members of their families from countries including Syria, Iran and Cuba were present at Tuesday's conference.

With the world's spotlight trained on North Korea following a stinging UN report into the regime's mass atrocities, prison camp guard turned human rights activist Ahn Myong Chul explained that 90 percent of inmates don't even know the reason for their incarceration, punished for "crimes of their grandfathers."
Also in attendance was the aunt of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, arrested by security forces on February 18 after a series of protests brought tens of thousands onto the streets of
Julieta Lopez read out a statement from her from nephew.

"Only dictatorships send dissidents to prison and if the government puts dissidents in prison, they accept openly that Venezuela is a dictatorship. The emperor has no clothes," she said.
Naghmeh Abedini (left)wife of jailed Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, says she believes now is a good time for the United States to pressure Iran to release her husband, who was arrested for teaching Christianity. 
"At present my husband is suffering from internal injuries that resulted from beatings, but the Iranian government is denying him the necessary medical care needed to treat those injuries," Abedini told the conference.
"Freedom of religion, including the right to change one's religion, is a God-given right of all people, including the Iranian people. No human law should infringe upon that right."
"We must make sure China remains accountable for its actions. They sit proudly on the UN Human Rights Council, on the Security Council, and dictate how Syria should deal with its situation," said Tenzin Dhardon Sharling, the youngest member of Tibet’s parliament in exile.
She also criticized the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying, “Navi Pillay ends her second term in September and still has not visited Tibet.”
“During Mubarak’s time women were only mentioned to decorate the regime, said Egyptian women's rights activist Dalia Ziada, who heads Cairo's Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies..
"Under the Muslim Brotherhood, laws were made for early marriage for girls and genital mutilation.”
Conference organizers said that one invited speaker from Cuba, human rights activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as "Antúnez," was brutally arrested after State security forces raided his home on February 5, and barred from leaving Cuba to attend the Geneva event.
“I have devoted these past 25 years to work in common cause with others for the freedom of political prisoners, who represent hope and inspiration for their country, for their people, and for humanity as a whole, said Canadian parliamentarian and human rights advocate Irwin Cotler (above), in his opening address to the conference, offering a model on how to defend dissidents behind bars.

“I’ve learned from these political prisoners… we must speak on behalf of those who cannot be heard; bear witness on behalf of those who cannot testify; act and advocate on behalf of those who have put not only their livelihood, but their very lives on the line."
"We will come out of the shadows of darkness into the light of freedom.”
In the final session, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, who chaired the summit, welcomed the fact that the UN Human Rights Council was expected next month to adopt resolutions on Syria, North Korea and Iran.
However, Neuer regretted that the council was planning to turn a blind eye to most of the country situations addressed at the session.
Despite testimony from activists and victims about abuses by Egypt and Cambodia, and about slavery in Mauritania, none of these countries is yet on the council's agenda, though they should be, he said.
And despite hearing from victims of gross violations of human rights from China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Venezuela—each of these countries is a recently-elected member of the 47-nation council, said Neuer, and the regimes enjoy impunity.
Le Monde's Annick Cojean, author of the book "Gaddafi's Harem," described to the hundreds of Geneva Summit delegates how the Libyan dictator raped thousands of women and girls on a systematic basis over four decades.
Yet across the street today, the UN Human Rights Council was addressed (photo right) by Jean Ziegler, one of its longest-serving officials, who in 1989 created the Moammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize, an award he received himself at a 2002 ceremony in Tripoli, Libya.
Ziegler, who for 11 years denied receiving the award until video proving otherwise was released by UN Watch in September, attacked the United States for human rights abuses, and strongly praised the Cuban government. Cuba created Ziegler's original UN post in the year 2000.

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