‘Nothing unusual’ in Trump’s nuclear comments, Putin says

Author: 
VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV | AP
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482508548900563900

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised US President-elect Donald Trump for “keenly” feeling public sentiment to win the election and denied the White House’s claims of Russia’s meddling in the vote.
Speaking during a marathon end-of-year news conference that was televised live, Putin said he sees “nothing unusual” in Trump’s pledge to strengthen the US nuclear forces, calling the statement in line with the president-elect’s campaign promises.
In his wide-ranging remarks, the Russian leader claimed that his country’s military is stronger than any potential aggressor, but acknowledged that the US military is bigger. He also cast the modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenals as a necessary response to the US missile defense system.
“It’s not us who have been speeding up the arms race,” Putin said, claiming that the Russian military’s nuclear missiles can penetrate any missile defense.
On the US election, Putin described President Barack Obama’s accusations of Russian hacking into Democratic leaders’ e-mails as an attempt to shift the blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
Asked how he responded to Obama’s accusations when he brought them up in their conversation, Putin said he wouldn’t divulge details of a confidential discussion.
He shrugged off Washington’s claims of the hackers’ Russian affiliation, saying they could be based elsewhere.
“The most important thing is the substance of the information the hackers have uncovered,” Putin said, adding that the Democrats should have apologized to Americans over the “manipulations” the e-mails revealed.
In response to Obama’s comment that “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave” upon seeing recent poll results showing that more than one-third of Republicans view Putin favorably, Putin said Reagan would be happy to see his party win.
“It shows that a significant part of the American people have a similar view about the situation in the world and what we need to do, what the common dangers and problems are,” he said.
The two countries’ relations have plummeted to their lowest level since the Cold War. Putin said he agrees with Trump’s assessment of poor US-Russian relations, adding that they “can’t be worse.”
Noting this week’s attack in Berlin, Putin called for better cooperation in fighting terrorism, saying such efforts between Russia and the West have been effectively paralyzed by Western sanctions against Russia.
Putin expressed hope that he would meet soon with Trump to discuss how to improve the two countries’ relations — and would “definitely” visit the United States if Trump invites him.
The Russian leader added with a smile that “no one but us expected him to win.”

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Libyan plane hijack ends in surrender at Maltese airport

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482505850610356700

VALLETTA: Hijackers claiming to have a grenade took over a Libyan plane Friday and diverted it to Malta before releasing everyone onboard and surrendering to authorities, officials said.
“Final crew members leaving aircraft with hijackers,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter.
Minutes later he added: “Hijackers surrendered, searched and taken in custody.”
Libyan Foreign Minister Taher Siala said the two hijackers were supporters of slain dictator Muammar Qaddafi and had requested political asylum in Malta.
Siala, from Libya’s internationally backed Government of National Accord, said the hijackers have also said they want to set up a pro-Qaddafi political party.
The plane landed at 11:32 am (1032 GMT) in Malta.
After more than an hour on the tarmac, the door of the Airbus A320 opened and a first group of women and children were seen descending a mobile staircase.
Dozens more passengers were released minutes later following negotiations that Maltese government sources said were led by the head of Malta’s military.
In all there were 111 passengers, including 28 women and a baby, on board, as well as seven crew members.
Maltese government sources had earlier said only a single hijacker was believed to be on the plane.
The aircraft had been on a domestic Libyan route operated by Afriqiyah Airways from Sabha in southern Libya to the capital Tripoli but was re-routed.
“The Afriqiyah flight from Sabha to Tripoli has been diverted and has landed in Malta. Security services coordinating operations,” Muscat tweeted earlier.
Muscat later spoke to Libya’s prime minister-designate Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the north African country’s fledgling unity government, the Maltese prime minister’s office said.
The plane could be seen on the tarmac of a secondary runway surrounded by military vehicles.
All flights in and out of the airport were initially either delayed or diverted to destinations in Italy, though some later took off and landed.
Malta International Airport said there had been “an unlawful interference” but operations had now resumed.
An Afriqiyah Airways source said the two hijackers had threatened the pilots with an explosive device, probably a grenade, forcing them to continue to Malta instead of landing at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi left warring militias battling for control of different parts of the country.
Forces loyal to a national unity government recently took control of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bastion for the Daesh group since June 2015.
Western powers have pinned their hopes of containing jihadism in the energy-rich North African state on the government but it has failed to establish its authority over all of the country.
A rival authority rules the country’s far east, backed by the forces under military strongman Marshal Khalifa Haftar who have been battling jihadists in second city Benghazi. Only local airlines — banned from European airspace — operate in Libya, with flights to Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul and Khartoum.

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Berlin attack suspect pledged allegiance to Daesh in video

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482505758650346300

CAIRO: The main suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack was shown pledging allegiance to the Daesh group in a video released on Friday.
The video, released by Daesh-linked agency Amaq, showed Tunisian Anis Amri, who was killed when he opened fire on Italian police on Friday, pledging allegiance to Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The two-minute, 42-second video showed Amri speaking directly to a camera while standing outdoors wearing a winter coat and earphones.
It was unclear exactly where or when the video was filmed.
As well as his pledge of allegiance, Amri declared his desire to avenge Muslims killed in air strikes and called for attacks against “Crusaders.”
Amaq had earlier said the man shot dead by Italian police near Milan on Friday carried out the Berlin attack.

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Huge crowds cheer Japan emperor on 83rd birthday

Author: 
AFP
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482495484819532000

TOKYO The biggest crowds of his nearly three-decade reign thronged Japan’s Imperial Palace on Friday to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 83rd birthday on what could be his last such appearance after expressing his desire to abdicate.
It was his first birthday since he announced in August that his advancing age and weakening health mean he may no longer be able to carry out his duties, setting the stage for Japan to prepare for an historic abdication.
The Imperial Palace said some 33,300 people — the biggest crowd since Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989 — attended his birthday address, waving small Japanese flags as crowds shouted “Banzai” or “Long live.”
“If this is going to be his last time, I’m glad I got to see him,” said Reiko Takahashi.
Also attending the emperor’s address, Takako Miyazaki expressed the view of many Japanese.
“The emperor is quite old and if he says he wants to abdicate I think he should be allowed to,” she said.
Flanked by Empress Michiko and other members of the royal household, the soft-spoken monarch greeted well-wishers from a glass-covered balcony at the palace, surrounded by stone walls and mossy moats.
“I wish you all health and happiness, and I pray the next year will be cheerful and peaceful,” the emperor said in his address.
Ahead of his birthday, Akihito thanked the country for considering his message indicating his desire to abdicate, telling reporters: “I am profoundly grateful that many people have lent an ear to my words and are giving sincere thought to the matter in their respective positions.”

Deliberations over his retirement wish are under way in an advisory panel set up by Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in September to study a possible legal mechanism for a royal departure, which currently does not exist.
Any eventual move by Akihito to step down, which would see him replaced by his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito, appears to have wide support, according to recent opinion polls.
TV Asahi, quoting a key member of the panel, reported it may propose special legislation allowing the current monarch to retire to reduce his mounting duties.
The six-member panel is expected to compile a summary on the issue in January.
Akihito has had surgery for prostate cancer and heart problems, both of which he alluded to in his address, though he stressed that he currently enjoys good health.
Speculation about Akihito’s future emerged earlier this year with reports he had told confidantes that he would like to step down in a few years, in what would be the first abdication from the Chrysanthemum Throne in two centuries.
Japan’s imperial house is said to be the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, and according to legend stretches back some 2,600 years in an unbroken line. It is deeply ingrained in the nation’s native Shinto religion.
Akihito has keenly embraced the role of symbol of the state imposed after World War II ended. Previous emperors including his father, Hirohito, had been treated as semi-divine.
Akihito is credited with seeking reconciliation both at home and abroad over the legacy of the war fought in his father’s name, venturing to a number of locales that saw intense fighting, including Okinawa in Japan and Saipan, Palau and the Philippines overseas, offering prayers for the souls of all the dead.

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‘We’re not at war’, stoic Germans say after Berlin attack

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482492812819404100

BERLIN: The Berlin attack may have rattled nerves but, mindful of their own dark history, Germans are resisting calls for a security overhaul and reject any talk of being at war — setting the country apart from other jihadist-hit nations.
Long-held fears of a major attack on German soil became reality on Monday when an extremist rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring dozens. The suspected attacker, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri, was shot dead by police in Italy early Friday.
The attack, claimed by the Daesh group, horrified Germany, which had until now escaped the type of jihadist carnage seen in neighboring France and Belgium.
But while the shock and grief are the same, there are no cries for a state of emergency and there is no question of flooding the streets with armed soldiers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel herself on Thursday said she was “very proud of how calmly most people reacted to the situation.”
Experts attribute the sang-froid in part to Germany’s past as an instigator of two world wars, making its citizens today deeply suspicious of any kind of heavy-handed security response.
And whereas the US declared a “war on terror” after the September 11, 2001 attacks and President Francois Hollande said France was at war following last year’s Paris assaults that killed 130 people, such talk is quickly shut down in Germany.
Klaus Bouillon, the interior minister of Saarland state, found out as much when in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin attack he said Germany was “in a state of war,” sparking outrage that forced him to backtrack on the comments.
“Terrorists are evil criminals, but the country is not at war,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s co-editor in chief Kurt Kister hit back in an editorial.
Christian Tuschhoff, an expert on international terrorism at Berlin’s Free University, said Germans are particularly sensitive to the word.
“Here, we associate war with a form of organized violence between states, and in several historic cases Germany was the aggressor. That’s why we are very reluctant” to use war rhetoric, he told AFP.
While German authorities came under fire for letting the prime suspect in the Berlin attack — a known jihadist who was supposed to have been deported — slip through the net, there has been no major clamour for a security revamp.
Before the truck rampage, the government had already moved to strengthen security in response to earlier, smaller IS attacks, including by tightening asylum laws.
Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday also approved a wider use of CCTV and more bodycams for federal police officers.
Here too officials have to walk a fine line between security needs and the much-cherished right to privacy, in a country still haunted by the surveillance carried out by the Nazis and the communist-era Stasi secret police.
But there is no question of armed soldiers patrolling the streets to reassure nervous citizens, as has happened in France, and in Belgium after the Brussels airport and metro suicide bombings in March.
For now, Germans seem content with their country’s balance between having freedom and feeling safe.
“If we were to secure everything, control all the entrances to public spaces, that would no longer correspond with our culture of openness,” said Berlin mayor Michael Mueller.
On the streets of the German capital, where the reopening of the Christmas market on Thursday marked a defiant return to normal life, locals were equally stoic.
“Sadly, it will probably not be the last attack that we experience here,” one resident told AFP, declining to be named.
“And anyway, there is no such thing as 100 percent security. No one can guarantee that, no police, no state can achieve it,” he said.

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Philippine critics alarmed by Duterte’s martial law talk

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482492658769383000

MANILA: Critics and victims of military abuses expressed alarm on Friday after President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted Philippine leaders to be able to wield martial law powers without judicial and congressional approval.
Duterte, a fiery populist politician who was elected by a landslide earlier this year largely on a vow to kill 100,000 criminals, has cultivated an image as a no-nonsense leader.
He has made reviving the death penalty in the mainly Catholic nation his top legislative priority as part of his war on crime, and has likened himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as he said he was “happy to slaughter” three million drug users.
Speaking during a visit to the northern Philippines on Thursday, the 71-year-old lamented how the constitution tied the president’s hands in dealing with security crises including war.
“If you have martial law, only one person should be in control,” Duterte said.
“If there’s invasion or war and I declare martial law, I cannot proceed on and on to deal with the trouble as I still have to go to Congress, go to the Supreme Court,” he added.
“That’s why that needs to be replaced.”
The Philippines adopted a new constitution in 1987 to curtail presidential powers after millions of Filipinos took to the streets the year earlier in a famous “People Power” revolution, to oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos and end his 20-year rule.
Under the former leader, who imposed martial rule from 1972-1981 to fight crime and a communist insurgency, thousands were killed and tortured to suppress dissent, previous Philippine governments have said.
Today the president can impose martial rule for up to 60 days to stop invasion or rebellion, but parliament can revoke it within 48 hours, while the Supreme Court can also review its legality.
Bonifacio Ilagan, imprisoned and tortured under Marcos’ martial law reign, said Duterte could be floating a “trial balloon” to gauge public opinion before taking actual steps to amend the constitution.
“I honestly believe that the people will resist,” said Ilagan.
Asked to explain Duterte’s intentions, spokesman Martin Andanar told AFP on Friday: “I will ask the president.”
Duterte has spent his first six months in office waging a brutal campaign against drugs that has left more than 5,300 people dead and raised concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings.
The president has previously declared he does not need martial law, but has also threatened to impose it during a row in August with the chief justice of the Supreme Court who had criticized his drug war.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who ministers to the Tondo slum district where many drug suspects have been killed by police, told AFP the country was now under virtual martial rule due to the crackdown.
“It is not necessary that you have a declaration of martial law to have martial law,” the bishop said.
Another prominent critic, Senator Francis Pangilinan, said Duterte’s shifting position on martial rule was not reassuring.
“He said a few days ago that martial law was stupid and didn’t work, and yet now he says something else. His lack of clarity is a serious cause for concern.”
Duterte’s allies who control parliament have backed his proposal for it to convene as a “constituent assembly” before he leaves office in 2022 to change the centralized government to a federal system.
Ilagan said the constituent assembly would also be able to amend the president’s martial law powers.

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Putin says killing of Russian Ankara envoy won’t hurt Turkey ties

Author: 
Reuters
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482492544469371000

MOSCOW: The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey won’t hurt Russia’s relations with Ankara, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.
Speaking at an annual news conference, Putin said the murder of Andrei Karlov was an attempt to spoil relations between Moscow and Ankara.
Karlov was shot in the back and killed as he gave a speech at an Ankara art gallery on Dec. 20.

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Trump: US must ‘greatly strengthen’ nuclear capability

Author: 
JULIE PACE | AP
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482491948969320500

WASHINGTON: President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly called for the United States to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons.
His comments on Twitter came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said strengthening his country’s nuclear capabilities should be a chief military objective in the coming year. The president-elect’s statement also followed his meetings a day earlier with top Pentagon officials and defense contractors.
Trump, who is spending the holidays at his palatial private club in Florida, did not expand on the actions he wants the US to take or say why he raised the issue Thursday.
Spokesman Jason Miller said the president-elect was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation “particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes.” Miller said Trump sees modernizing the nation’s deterrent capability “as a vital way to pursue peace through strength.”
If Trump were to seek an expansion of the nuclear stockpiles, it would mark a sharp shift in US national security policy. President Barack Obama has made nuclear non-proliferation a centerpiece of his agenda, calling in 2009 for the US to lead efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons — a goal he acknowledged would not be accomplished quickly or easily.
Still, the US has been moving forward on plans to upgrade its aging nuclear arsenal. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon planned to spend $108 billion over the next five years to sustain and improve its nuclear force.
The US and Russia hold the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. In 2010, the two countries signed the New START treaty capping the number of nuclear warheads and missile launchers each country can possess. The agreement is in effect until 2021 and can be extended for another five years.
Thomas Karako, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the last comprehensive review of the US nuclear force — which was conducted during Obama’s first term — occurred against the backdrop of efforts to reset relations between Washington and Moscow. The relationship has since deteriorated, with Obama and Putin clashing over Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We need to candidly assess what the environment is and what the prospects are for Russian compliance with current treaties,” Karako said.
Trump has repeatedly called for closer relations with Russia and has spoken favorably about Putin. Democrats have questioned his ties to the Kremlin, particularly after US intelligence officials assessed that Russia had interfered in the US election on Trump’s behalf.
Putin addressed his country’s nuclear capabilities during an annual year-end meeting of the Russian defense ministry. He said Russia should enhance missile complexes that can “penetrate existing and future missile defense systems.”
A US-backed missile shield in Eastern Europe has been another source of tension between Washington and Moscow. Russia argues the system is a threat, while US and NATO officials say it’s meant to deter Iran from targeting Europe.
The state of the US nuclear arsenal was rarely addressed during the presidential campaign. To the extent it was, Trump showed faint understanding of its details. During a Republican primary debate, he appeared unfamiliar with the concept of a nuclear triad, the Cold War-era combination of submarines, land-based missiles and strategic bombers for launching nuclear attacks.
Trump’s vanquished campaign rival Hillary Clinton repeatedly cast the Republican as too erratic and unpredictable to have control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The president-elect’s transition website says he “recognizes the uniquely catastrophic threats posed by nuclear weapons and cyberattacks,” adding that he will modernize the nuclear arsenal “to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent.”
Trump has spent the week at Mar-a-Lago, his South Florida estate, meeting advisers and interviewing candidates for a handful of Cabinet positions that remain unfilled. On Wednesday, he met with Pentagon officials and the CEOs of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, companies with lucrative government contracts.
Since winning the election, Trump has complained about the cost of Boeing’s work on two new Air Force One planes and Lockheed’s contract for F-35 fighter jets. Following the meetings, both CEOs said they had discussed lowering costs of the projects with the president-elect.
On Thursday, Trump pitted the two companies against each other on Twitter. “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” he tweeted.
Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said Thursday, “We have committed to working with the president-elect and his administration to provide the best capability, deliverability and affordability.” Lockheed declined to comment.
Trump’s tweet came after the close of trading on Wall Street. But in after-hours dealings, shares of Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. fell 2 percent, while Chicago-based Boeing Co.’s stock rose 1 percent.
Boeing and Lockheed are also among the companies pursuing a contract for replacing Minuteman missiles in the US nuclear arsenal. Spokespeople for the two companies declined to comment on whether that contract came up during Trump’s meetings with their CEOs.
The president-elect was also building up his White House staff, announcing Thursday that campaign manager Kellyanne Conway would serve as a counselor. The move will put Conway in close proximity to the president, though she is also expected to remain a visible presence promoting Trump’s agenda in the media.
Trump also announced veteran Republican operatives Sean Spicer as his press secretary and Jason Miller as communications director. Hope Hicks, Trump’s long-serving campaign spokeswoman, is also joining the White House in a senior communications position.

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Australia arrests 7 over ‘imminent threat’ of Christmas Day attacks

Author: 
Tom Westbrook | Reuters
Fri, 2016-12-23
ID: 
1482467158918726100

SYDNEY: Australian police said on Friday they had foiled a plot to attack prominent sites in the city of Melbourne with a series of bombs on Christmas Day that authorities described as “an imminent terrorist event” inspired by Daesh.
Six men and a woman, all in their twenties, were arrested in overnight raids across Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, involving counter-terrorism police and Australia’s domestic spy agency, Victoria state police said in a statement.
“This is a significant disruption of what we would describe as an imminent terrorist event in Melbourne,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told reporters in Sydney.
He said the threat had been “removed … in its entirety,” however security in Melbourne was boosted on Friday.
Acting Victorian police commissioner Graham Ashton said extra police would be on patrol on Christmas Day and at the annual Boxing Day cricket test, which attracts tens of thousands of fans every year, in Melbourne the following day.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters that the planned attack was an “Islamist terrorist plot” and “one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted over the last several years.”
The plot targeted high-profile locations in Melbourne, including Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and St. Paul’s Cathedral “possibly on Christmas Day,” Ashton said.
It was inspired by the Daesh militant group and the suspects had been under close surveillance for a fortnight, he said. One of the suspected planners in custody was an Egyptian-born Australian and the others were all Australian-born of Lebanese descent, Ashton told reporters.
Two of those arrested, including the woman, were released without charge but at least four of the five men still in custody would likely face court on Friday, a police statement said.
Police are able to hold terror suspects without charge for four hours but they can also apply to a court to detain them without charge for as long as two weeks.
Few details were released about what evidence was collected by police during the raids in suburbs in Melbourne’s northwest but Ashton said the attacks would likely have involved explosives and either guns or knives.
Australia, a staunch US ally which sent troops to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown radicals since 2014.
Authorities have said they have thwarted a number of plots, particularly involving radicalized teenagers, in recent years.
There have also been several “lone wolf” assaults, including a 2014 cafe siege in Sydney in which two hostages and a gunman were killed, and the killing of a police accountant in 2015.

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Creating a revenue stream from your data

Foursquare is a well-known and successful social networking platform. The app helps users discover, rate and share nearby restaurants and other popular retail establishments. But after its recent addition of location insights, the company has become more than just a city guide app. For the data-driven investor, Foursquare is a harbinger of market dynamics — […]

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