Archive for December, 2015

Huge fire erupts at Dubai hotel ahead of New Year celebrations

December 31, 2015

DUBAI (AFP) – A huge fire ripped through a luxury Dubai hotel on Thursday near the world’s tallest tower, where people were gathering to watch New Year’s Eve celebrations, police said.

The Dubai government media office tweeted that a “fire has been reported in the Address Downtown hotel. Authorities are currently on-site to address the incident swiftly and safely.”

Witnesses near the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, said huge flames were seen billowing from the hotel.

The Address Downtown is on fire, with the flames reaching from the ground floor up another 40 storeys 

The Address Downtown is on fire, with the flames reaching from the ground floor up another 40 storeys

Emergency services were quickly on the scene of the fire, which is said to be confined to the outside 
Emergency services were quickly on the scene of the fire, which is said to be confined to the outside
The hotel is very close to the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper, and where the city were about to celebrate the New Year

The hotel is very close to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, and where the city were about to celebrate the New Year

It is unclear whether anyone has been injured in the fire, which can be seen across the city

It is unclear whether anyone has been injured in the fire, which can be seen across the city

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Fire at 63-story luxury hotel in Dubai

December 31, 2015


31 Dec, 2015

Pictures emerge on Twitter showing The Address Downtown Dubai hotel engulfed in flames. The building that hosts the 5-star hotel is 302 meters tall and is located not far from the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

WATCH LIVE: Fire at skyscraper in Dubai amid New Year festivities

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which covered at least 20 stories of the building near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, AP reports.

Burning debris rained down from the building as firetrucks raced to the scene.

No injuries have yet been reported.


Ukraine Accuses Russia of Hacking Electric Grid, Power Companies

December 31, 2015

Russia has been accused by Ukrainian authorities of launching cyber attacks against power companies.

According to a statement posted this week on the official website of the Ukrainian security service SBU, Russian special services allegedly planted malware on the networks of several regional power companies. The malicious software is said to have been discovered by employees of the SBU.

The SBU said the attackers also flooded the targeted companies’ technical support phone lines. The agency removed the malware and launched an investigation.

Just before Christmas, power outages were reported in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast region of Ukraine. The outages were blamed on outsiders who remotely tampered with automatic control systems. The power company responsible for the region also reported that its call center suffered a technical failure caused by a barrage of calls.

In April, threat intelligence firm LookingGlass released a report detailing Operation Armageddon, a campaign conducted by a Russia-linked threat group against Ukrainian military and government officials. While the Ukrainian government doesn’t seem to have invested much in its cyberwarfare capabilities, the country has a cyber army of volunteers that launches hacker attacks against Russian targets.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of launching cyberattacks against the energy sector. Security companies reported last year that a threat group known as Dragonfly and Energetic Bear, believed to be operating out of Russia, had been targeting energy firms in the United States and Europe since early 2013.

In its report on the Dragonfly group, Symantec noted that the attackers apparently compromised the systems of strategically important organizations for espionage purposes, but they could have caused damage or disruption to energy supplies in affected countries.

Earlier this year, Symantec reported observing a reconnaissance campaign focusing on theenergy sector in the Middle East, but it’s unclear who is behind the attacks.

Authorities and experts in the United States have also warned about the consequences of cyberattacks on the energy sector. ICS-CERT revealed in March that more than a quarter of the incidents reported to the agency in 2014 affected the energy sector.

A report published in July by insurance company Lloyd’s and the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies at University of Cambridge estimated that an attack where adversaries damaged 50 generators supplying power to the electrical grid could result in between $243 billion and $1 trillion in economic damage.


Ukraine to investigate suspected cyber attack on energy grid

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine will investigate a suspected cyber attack on its power grid, the energy ministry said on Thursday, an incident the country’s secret service has blamed on Russia.

A power company in western Ukraine, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, said on Dec. 23 that a swath of the area it serves had been left without energy, including the regional capital Ivano-Frankivsk, due to “interference” in the work of the system.

The Ukrainian Security Service SBU later blamed Russia, which has not so far commented on the allegation. The energy ministry in Kiev said on Thursday that it had set up a special commission to investigate what happened.

While cyber attacks are commonplace, few successful assaults on industrial targets have been documented. However, in 2010 the Stuxnet campaign, believed to be the work of the United States and Israel, damaged Iran’s nuclear programme while a 2014 attack shut down operations at a German steel mill.

The SBU said in a statement on Monday that it had managed to thwart the malware, which was launched by “Russian security services”.

“It was an attempt to interfere in the system, but it was discovered and prevented,” an SBU spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday, adding that the region would have faced a much longer blackout if the malware had executed as the attackers had intended.

The Kremlin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Computer security experts consider Russia as one of the world’s most advanced cyber powers, along with the United States, China, Israel, France and Britain.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have sharply deteriorated since Moscow annexed Crimea last year and supported pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has complained that it itself has become a target. In 2014, President Vladimir Putin said Russian security services had detected a sharp rise in cyber attacks, particularly after the Ukraine crisis worsened and ties with the West deteriorated.

Crimea has lost at least one quarter of its power after Ukraine switched off supplies to the contested peninsula on Wednesday, a situation that Ukrainian police blamed on unidentified saboteurs blowing up an electricity pylon.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Jim Finkle in Boston; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Stamp)

South China Sea: Chinese navy now constantly challenges Philippine military planes

December 31, 2015
China’s continuing aggressive behavior in the disputed region fell short of an official declaration that Beijing has established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, similar to what it did over the East China Sea in November of 2013. STAR/File photo

MANILA, Philippines – China has imposed a security zone over its occupied areas in the disputed Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea, challenging a Philippine military plane flying a doctor and chaplain to Kalayaan town on Pag-asa Island last Sunday.

Filipino pilots, however, ignored the threats and maintained their course to land their Islander plane on the island town, according to Fr. Joey Sepe, military chaplain of the Palawan-based Western Command (Wescom).

“This is for God and country despite the repeated radio threats and challenges from the Chinese navy on our plane to go away,” Sepe posted on his Facebook account.

Sepe and a military doctor were among military officials dispatched by Wescom to Pag-asa Island to attend to the spiritual and medical needs of the islanders as well as the 46 student volunteers who sailed and landed in the island town last Dec. 26.

The student group Kalayaan Atin Ito pitched camp in Pag-asa in a symbolic stand against China’s claims to most of the region.

China’s continuing aggressive behavior in the disputed region fell short of an official declaration that Beijing has established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, similar to what it did over the East China Sea in November of 2013.

According to a senior military official, the Chinese navy has constantly challenged Philippine military planes patroling the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, a large part of which is being claimed by Beijing as an integral part of its maritime domain.

Recently, the Chinese navy also warned and tried to drive away an Australian military plane while on freedom of navigation patrol over the contested region but was ignored, just like what the US planes and warship did while sailing or flying over the area.

Military sources said China’s active air and maritime monitoring in the disputed region are no longer ship- based but through radar domes installed in most of the man-made islands.

China maintained it has no intention of militarizing the region, saying the artificial islands it built on former obscure maritime features in the region are all for civilian and peaceful purposes.

Sepe stressed the islanders in Kalayaan are Filipinos and the island belongs only to God and the Philippines and if there’s one who should leave the area, it must be the Chinese.

“This is our land, these are our Filipino people. They belong to God and they belong to the Philippines. So, China you go away, not us,” he said.

While in the island, Sepe held religious services among the islanders as well as the 46 student volunteers of the KAI movement.

After officiating the delayed mass for Christmas at the island’s rundown chapel for civilian residents, military and Coast Guard personnel, Sepe also baptized five children born in the island, with the Wescom officials, including him, acting as godfathers.

The military, on the other hand, defended the KAI in its visit to the island town.

Taiwan recently opposed the group’s visit, calling it “illegal” and which could impair the peace and stability in the region and infringe on what it called sovereignty.





Vietnam Still Fears Chinese Domination as South China Sea Tensions Remain High

December 31, 2015

The relationship between Vietnam and China is strained over Beijing’s aggressive assertion of its maritime territorial claims, pushing Vietnam’s Communist Party toward an old enemy, the United States, The Washington Post (WaPo) reports.

U.S. officials have warned China against its territorial claims and the militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“To win friends and open new markets for Chinese companies, Beijing is offering its Asian neighbors tens of billions of dollars in loans and investment. But in Vietnam, the effort is falling flat,” reports the Post.

“China’s aggressive assertion of its maritime territorial claims has alienated many here, and President Xi Jinping’s grand vision of a new Silk Road with China at its center is greeted with scorn and suspicion rather than excitement,” it adds. “The relationship has turned so bad that Vietnam’s Communist Party is tilting more and more toward an old enemy, the United States. And when Xi paid a state visit to Vietnam last month, you could almost feel the chill.”

Under the idea of re-creating ancient Silk Road trade routes financed by a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China reportedly wants to assist its fellow Asian countries in building the infrastructure they desperately need to grown their economies.

However, although Vietnam could benefit from China’s financial assistance, it fears a hidden agenda.

“We are quite suspicious because we don’t know the real objective,” Tran Truong Thuy, an expert at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, a Foreign Ministry think tank, told the Post.“Behind its Maritime Silk Road, China can advance its sovereignty propaganda.”

Vietnam has joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but has kept away from the Silk Road plan.

“The most dramatic recent break in the relationship between Beijing and Hanoi came in May 2014, when China towed a $1 billion oil rig close to the Paracel Islands, in South China Sea waters that Vietnam considers part of its exclusive economic zone,” notesWaPo.

Deadly riots broke out in Vietnam in which Chinese and Taiwanese factories were attacked. There was a call for an emergency meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee to discuss forming an alliance with the United States — a radical strategic change for a country whose disdain for military partnerships is a central foreign policy tenet, said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales,” it adds. “President Obama’s top adviser for Asia, Evan Medeiros, was even invited to Vietnam that July to discuss deepening ties.”

China ended up removing the oil rig in July 2014 and the emergency meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee never came to fruition.

“Nevertheless, an improving relationship with the United States received further impetus,” reports the Post.

“In the past 12 months, eight of Vietnam’s 16 Politburo members have visited Washington, while half a dozen Cabinet-level U.S. officials have traveled the other way,” it adds.

In July, President Obama, who is expected to visit Vietnam in 2016, received Vietnamese Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong in the Oval Office.

“In October 2014, the United States partially relaxed an arms embargo on Vietnam and is helping Hanoi improve its coast guard capabilities to counter China’s growing presence in the South China Sea,” points out the Post.

“But the clearest indication of rapprochement between Hanoi and Washington has been Vietnam’s inclusion in the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led 12-nation regional trade deal that excludes China,” it adds. “That deal, Vietnam hopes, will help reduce its economic dependence on China, with which it runs a large and growing trade deficit.”

Wounds of the intense border war in 1979 that left tens of thousands dead are reportedly freshers than the much deadlier “American war.”

The strategic shift towards the United States is “grounded in public opinion, where fears of Chinese domination are deeply ingrained and are traced back to occupation by imperial China in ancient times,” reports the Post.

The people of Vietnam are considered to be among America’s greatest fans and China’s foremost skeptics, according to Pew Research surveys.

According to the surveys, 78 percent of the Vietnamese hold a favorable view the United States, compared with only 19 percent for China.

However, the Post does acknowledge that “Vietnam knows it needs good relations with China: History and geography dictate that it cannot afford to make Beijing an enemy. Vietnam will not turn its back on Chinese investment, but it will pick and choose carefully, and it certainly does not trust China’s intentions.”






On human rights, no new progress to report from China

December 31, 2015

By Frank Ching
Korea TImes

China has in recent years sought to depict itself as not a violator but a champion of human rights. Thus, in September, President Xi Jinping co-hosted a United Nations meeting on women’s empowerment and said, “All Chinese women have the opportunity to excel in life and make their dreams come true,” apparently oblivious of China’s imprisonment of five feminists months previously.

This month, a different picture of human rights in China was painted as the United Nations Committee Against Torture held hearings.

China’s chief representative, Ambassador Wu Hailong, acknowledged that it was still “facing challenges in the prevention and prohibition of torture,” but said that “anti-torture training was mandatory for all staff of detention facilities and prisons.” China insisted it does not torture.

Officials were equally categorical in denying the existence of political prisoners. “The allegation of cruel treatment of suspects from ethnic minority groups is groundless,” said Jin Chunzi, a deputy director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.

Some time was spent discussing iron chairs into which prisoners are strapped for interrogation. A public security official said the metal chairs were needed “to guarantee the safety of the detainee, to prevent the detainee from escaping, from self-harm or attacking other people.”

The New York Times reported that Golog Jigme, a Tibetan monk, said subsequently, “I really had to laugh.” The monk said he had spent months in such chairs and, “for my safety, they even hung me from the chair.”


Tibetan monk Golog Jigme stands in front of a banner outside the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Candidate City presentation at the Palace hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland in this June 10, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich/Files


In its concluding observations, the committee acknowledged some progress, such as amendments to the law in 2012 that prohibited the use of confessions obtained under torture.

However, it also presented a long list of things that China had failed to do since its previous report in 2009, despite the Committee’s recommendations. They dealt with legal safeguards to prevent torture, the State Secrets Law, reported harassment of lawyers, human rights defenders and petitioners and events in Tibet and other minority areas.

Despite Chinese assurances, the committee said it “remains seriously concerned over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system.


The committee’s skepticism of Chinese assertions was obvious. It said: “While noting the delegation’s statement that ‘Government acts of intimidation and reprisals against citizens do not exist in China,’ the committee remains concerned at consistent reports that human rights defenders and lawyers, petitioners, political dissidents and members of religious or ethnic minorities continue to be charged, or threatened to be charged, with broadly defined offences as a form of intimidation.”

It also said: “Notwithstanding the denial of the existence of unofficial places of detention, the Committee remains seriously concerned at consistent reports … about illegal detention in unrecognized and unofficial detention places: the so-called black jails.”

Harking back to the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, the committee referred to persons who have allegedly been detained for organizing activities or expressing views to memorialize the event on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2014.

China labour camp in Kunming, Yunnan province, November 22, 2013. REUTERS by John Ruwitch
One such person was the rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who was tried weeks after the committee gave its concluding observations. Pu was convicted of posting online comments critical of the Communist Party and was forbidden to practice law for the rest of his life in addition to a three-year suspended prison term.


In its final paragraph, the Committee called on China to invite the UN’s independent expert on torture to visit. The last such visit was 10 years ago, after China issued an invitation for a “friendly visit” and took a decade to bring about. At the end of that visit, the expert, Manfred Nowak – known as a “special rapporteur” – concluded that “the practice of torture, though on the decline – particularly in urban areas – remains widespread in China.”

He also reported encountering, in interviews with detainees, “a palpable level of fear and self-censorship.”

China should seriously consider another visit by a special rapporteur on torture. Since Nowak reported that torture was on the decline and the committee acknowledged progress had been made by China, it would be interesting to see what another visit by an independent expert will uncover. Unfortunately, China is unlikely to allow another such visit, since the last one caused it great embarrassment.

Last month [November], after a European Union special representative for human rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, visited China, a press release was issued expressing concern over the detention of lawyers, among other issues. China was outraged and called on the EU to “do more things that are conducive to China-EU relations.”

A candid report on human rights, evidently, is considered an unfriendly act.

Frank Ching is a freelance writer and can be reached at


China Confirms Testing DF-41 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Including Launch From Railroad Car

December 31, 2015


China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that it was carrying out routine tests of a new long-range missile, after a US-based website said China had tested it from a railroad car, which would be difficult to locate in a conflict.

The Washington Free Beacon said last week US intelligence agencies had recently monitored a test of the DF-41 on the train, a missile that could hit US targets.

READ MORE: China’s DF-41 long-range nuclear missile ‘closer to operational’

The report said the test was a “significant milestone”, and would add to an existing capability to move the missile on road-mobile launchers.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, asked about the report, would not comment on the specifics.

“The scientific research tests carried out domestically are done in accordance with plans,” he told a monthly news briefing, without elaborating.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernisation programme, including developing stealth fighters and building its own aircraft carriers.

READ MORE: It’s official: China building second aircraft carrier as concern mounts over claims to South China Sea

That has rattled Beijing’s neighbours, several of whom are engaged in territorial disputes with China, as well as Washington.

China says it has no hostile intent and that it needs a modern military to protect its legitimate security needs as the world’s second-largest economy.


Washington Free Beacon
December 21, 2015 5:01 am

U.S. intelligence agencies recently monitored a Chinese test of a new rail car-based long-range missile capable of hitting targets throughout the United States.

The canister ejection test of a DF-41 missile from a rail-mobile launcher was detected on Dec. 5 in western China, said defense officials familiar with reports of the test.

Few details were available on the DF-41 launcher ejection test.

However, Chinese rail-based missile development has been carried out in the past at the Wuzhai missile test center, also known as the Taiyuan satellite launch center since 1982, according to declassified CIA documents. The launch site is located in China’s central Shanxi Province.

The test this month marks a significant milestone for Chinese strategic weapons developers and demonstrates that Beijing is moving ahead with building and deploying the DF-41 on difficult-to-locate rail cars, in addition to previously-known road-mobile launchers, the officials said.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban declined to comment. “We do not comment on PRC weapons tests, but we do monitor Chinese military modernization carefully,” he said.

DF41-railcar Asian Arms Control Project

DF41-railcar / Asian Arms Control Project

Previous disclosures from China on the DF-41, including Internet photographs, all showed the heavy missile deployed on a wheeled transporter erector launcher that is moved on roads.

The DF-41, with a range of more than 7,500 miles, is China’s most potent ICBM and wasflight tested a day before the rail car ejection test with two multiple-independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), officials said.

Military analysts say the mobile basing of missiles is designed to complicate preemptive attacks on nuclear forces, such as those envisioned under the Pentagon’s Prompt Global Strike program, which will use precision-guided conventional weapons capable of striking targets at any location on earth within minutes of their discovery.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate the DF-41 when deployed will carry up to 10 MIRVs—vastly increasing Beijing’s current warhead stockpile, which is based on single-warhead missiles, and currently estimated to include around 300 warheads.

SS24-canister Asian Arms Control ProjectSS24-canister Asian Arms Control Project

SS24-canister / Asian Arms Control Project

Details of the Chinese rail-based missile system were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon in 2013.

China is believed to have obtained rail-mobile missile technology from Ukraine, which during the Soviet period built the SS-24 rail-based ICBM, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Asian Arms Control Project.

China state television in 2006 released the first details of the train basing for missiles in video footage showing missile launch cars, command cars, and other missile system railcars—all disguised as passenger train cars.

The Georgetown report said the Chinese rail-mobile ICBM system is modeled on the Ukrainian-designed SS-24, and is known as a “land nuclear submarine”—an indication the rail launcher uses an ejection tube to boost the missile from the train car shortly before ignition of its engine.

China also is developing an extensive rail and tunnel system devoted to the missile train in central China, according to the report.

Phillip A. Karber, a defense expert who heads the Potomac Foundation, said his organization recently identified a DF-41 at a special launch site at Taiyuan. The missile was revealed in commercial satellite photos.

DF41-railcartroops Asian Arms Control Project

DF41-railcar troops / Asian Arms Control Project

“If that missile train hosts the DF-41 ICBM it means it will also have a MIRV potential,” Karber said. “The combination of high-speed mobility, launch cars disguised as civilian passenger trains, tunnel protection and secure reloading of missiles, coupled with multiple warheads, makes the system extremely hard to regulate or verify the number of systems.”

Karber, who also is affiliated with the Georgetown arms control project, said the project first identified the rail-based ICBM system four years ago. However, the arms control community dismissed reports about the basing mode, he said.

“Since then there have been reports that China’s 2nd Artillery Corps, the force that operates the missiles, had built 2,000 kilometers [1,243 miles] of heavy gauge rail for this system,” Karber said.

The dedicated missile rail and tunnel system will significantly expand China’s ability to target ICBMs in the United States by avoiding missile overflight of Alaska, where U.S. anti-missile interceptors are based.

“We have also seen imagery of huge tunnel complexes capable of hosting three missile trains side by side,” Karber said.

China’s first public disclosure of the DF-41 occurred in August 2014 when details about the missile program were published on a regional Chinese government web site.

After the disclosure, Chinese military spokesman Geng Yansheng told state media that “research and development [of missiles] is normal for the military without any specific enemy in mind.”

“Because of the missile’s mobility, it is extremely difficult to be tracked by satellite,” Geng said.

China’s military doctrine in a 2013 study stated that U.S. prompt global strike weapons posed a threat to China’s nuclear forces.

A congressional China commission stated in its annual report published earlier this year that China is deploying multiple-warhead missiles to increase China’s “ability to penetrate adversary missile defenses and enhancing the credibility of its nuclear forces as a deterrent.”

The Pentagon is also studying a road- and rail-mobile ICBM system for future nuclear forces, according to Air Force contracting documents.

Rick Fisher, an expert on Chinese military programs, said China has been interested in rail basing for missiles for some time.

“The Soviet SS-24 used a rail car launcher, could carry up to 10 warheads and had a range of 10,000 kilometers,” Fisher said. “This is close to the capabilities of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation DF-41 ICBM.”

China also has decades of experience in perfecting rail cars for transport of easily damaged large missiles and payloads.

“Like the versions developed for the Soviets, the Chinese system likely uses a cold-launch tube fitted to a covered rail car,” Fisher said.

The recent rail ejection test likely is for “verifying the ability of the tube to eject the heavy DF-41 ICBM,” he added.

After ejection from the tube, the DF-41 engine ignites microseconds after the missile clears the end of the canister.

Cold launch tubes are preferred for missile systems because the materials cost less and require less strength than missiles launched “hot” from within a tube.

“This vastly increases the challenge of tracking China’s ICBM force, as China today has 74,565 miles of rail lines, including 9,942 miles of high speed rail,” Fisher said, adding that by 2050 China could have up to 170,000 miles of rail lines.

High-speed rail lines would allow the DF-41 to reach deployment location rapidly and would complicate efforts to monitor, track, and counter the missiles.

Road-mobile and rail-mobile DF-41s will double China’s warheads in China’s arsenal and give China the capability of targeting the United States with nuclear strikes from most locations in China, Fisher said.

The Chinese nuclear buildup should prompt the United States to re-evaluate its arms control constraints on its nuclear forces, Fisher said.

“Given the growing degree of military technical cooperation and military-political coordination between Beijing and Moscow, we have to consider that eventually Russia and China could combine their nuclear weapons in a ‘tilt’ to coerce the United States, lets say in a military crisis over the future of democratic Taiwan,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia also disclosed recently that it is developing a new rail basing system for ICBMs.

Col. Gen. Sergei Karakayev, commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Russian’s nuclear missile and bomber forces, said a report on the rail basing would be presented to the Kremlin in 2017.

“Now the initial design is ready and we are preparing working design documentation for aggregates and systems within the weapon,” Karakayev said, according to state-run Interfax on Dec. 17.

The new system will be based on the SS-24 that was dismantled after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russia is seeking rail basing for missiles in response to the U.S. Prompt Global Strike system, according to Russian press reports.

French journalist leaving China after being forced out

December 31, 2015

A French journalist is leaving China after being denied press credentials and facing heavy criticism from the Foreign Ministry and state media over her reporting.

Ursula Gauthier, a longtime journalist for the French news magazine L’Obs, planned to board a flight out of Beijing shortly after midnight Friday.

She would be the first foreign journalist forced to leave China since 2012, when American Melissa Chan, then working for Al Jazeera in Beijing, was expelled.

The Chinese government refused to renew Gauthier’s press credentials, without which she could not obtain a new visa. It demanded that she apologize and express contrition over what it said was anti-Chinese bias.

Foreign Ministry spokesmen Lu Kang said Monday that Gauthier was no longer “suitable” to be allowed to work in China because she had supported “terrorism and cruel acts” that killed civilians and refused to apologize for her words.

Gauthier said Thursday that she would never apologize for what she wrote, even if it meant not returning to China. She earlier called the accusations absurd and said China should prosecute her if it truly believed she supported terrorism.

The French foreign ministry issued a statement of regret over China’s refusal to renew her visa, while the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said it was “appalled” by the decision and expressed concern that the government was using the accreditation and visa process to threaten foreign journalists.

Gauthier was also subject to a harsh media campaign for writing in a Nov. 18 article, shortly after the attacks in Paris, that Beijing’s expression of solidarity with Paris was partially a bid to gain international support for its contention that ethnic violence in China’s northwestern Muslim region of Xinjiang is linked to global terrorism.

Gauthier wrote that some violent attacks in Xinjiang involving members of the minority Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) community showed no evidence of foreign links — an observation that has been made by other many China-based journalists, along with numerous foreign experts on security and on Xinjiang’s ethnic policies and practices.

Advocacy groups have argued that the violence is more likely to be a response to Beijing’s heavy-handed rule, mass migration by Chinese from other parts of the country to the region, and restrictions on Uighur religious and cultural life.

A Xinjiang court last year sentenced a Uighur scholar critical of China’s ethnic policies in Xinjiang to life in prison. In December, a Beijing court convicted a prominent lawyer of fanning ethnic hatred based on his comments that Beijing should rethink its Xinjiang policies.

In her article, Gauthier focused on a recent deadly attack in a mine in Xinjiang portrayed by China as an act of terrorism committed with the collusion of overseas groups.

She described it as more likely an act by Uighurs against mine workers from China’s majority Han ethnic group over what the Uighurs perceived as mistreatment, injustice and exploitation.

“I don’t believe it yet, there is something in me which says no, it can’t be true,” she said about her departure. “It can’t be true, all this because of one stupid article which isn’t even my best article. So there’s something really ridiculous, crazy, silly. I just cannot understand it.”


Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.

EU slams Poland for media ‘crackdown’ after new law gives state more control

December 31, 2015

Russia Today

The EU, European journalists organizations and the OSCE media rep have slammed Poland’s new media law, which gives government more control over public TV and radio and the right to appoint officials to top broadcast posts “to shield national interests.”

In another step by the newly-elected Law and Justice party (PiS) government to gain a firmer grip on state institutions, a “national media” law was passed in Warsaw on Wednesday.

The new law will come into effect immediately after President Andrzej Duda signs it. The bill would give the powers to the treasury minister to replace current senior public broadcasting officials at Polskie Radio and Telewizja Polska (TVP) with any other candidates.

It also terminates the terms of the current management of the national broadcasters.

READ MORE: ‘Coup’ against EU? Poland accused of trampling democracy after new law on top court

“The public media are ignoring their mission towards the nation,” Elzbieta Kruk, a PiS MP, said in parliament. “Instead of creating a media shield for the Polish national interest, journalists often sympathize with negative opinions about Poland.”

An OSCE media freedom representative spoke out, criticizing Poland’s moves to control its public broadcaster and asking Poland to withdraw the new law.

“It is vital that public service broadcasters are guarded against any attempts of political or commercial influence. I fear the hastily introduced changes will endanger the basic conditions of independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said.

READ MORE: Anti-govt rallies draw thousands across Poland (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Currently, all candidates are selected by the National Broadcasting Council.

“I have noted the sharp criticism from civil society to these plans, including from the Helsinki Foundation and, most recently, in a joint statement from European Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Association of European Journalists and Reporters Without Borders,” Mijatovic said. “I urge the Polish government to withdraw the proposal.”

However, the PiS has an absolute majority in parliament and all of its newly-proposed laws have been passed fairly quickly.

The latest PiS moves have sparked international criticism. First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans sent a letter to Poland’s foreign and justice ministers Wednesday, arguing that media freedom is a key element in the EU.

Groups such as Reporters Without Borders and the Association of European Journalists have also joined the debate, criticizing the Polish government.

The new media law also comes as the ruling Law and Justice party has moved to curb the powers of the Constitutional Court to challenge government decisions.

Earlier this week, Polish President Duda signed into law a controversial amendment to the legislation of the Constitutional Court. Opposition members have insisted that the new legislation could paralyze Poland’s top judicial body and encroach on the separation of powers.

The amendment was drafted by the PiS party. It requires the 15-member Constitutional Court to pass most of its rulings with two-thirds of votes rather than the current simple majority, and sets a minimal quorum at 13 judges, as opposed to the nine needed previously.

Under the new ruling, the body would find it difficult to rule on controversial issues, according to critics, allowing the majority in the legislature much more leverage in running the country.

The bill has caused public outrage with thousands of people joining demonstrations in cities across Poland a week ago to protest against the new law.

The legislation was also opposed by senior EU officials, with European Parliament chairman Martin Schulz comparing the developments in Poland to a “coup d’etat” and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister saying developments in Poland are“reminiscent of the course taken by dictatorial regimes.”

Bahrain sentences Shiite to death, jails 22 from ‘terror group’

December 31, 2015


A protest in Karzakan on January 9, 2015. AFP photo

DUBAI (AFP) – A Bahraini court Thursday sentenced a Shiite citizen to death and jailed 22 others for life for forming a “terrorist group” that killed two people, including a policeman.It is the second such ruling this week in the tiny Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom, where members of the Shiite majority population have led an uprising.

The court also revoked the citizenships of the 23 convicts and fined two of them 200,000 dinars ($530,000/480,000 euros), terror crime prosecution chief Ahmed al-Hammadi said in a statement.

Judicial sources said that all the defendants were Shiite and that 16 were tried in absentia, without giving further details.

Hammadi said members of the group were convicted of carrying out bombings in two Shiite villages in early December last year.

One of the bombings in Damistan village killed a Jordanian policeman who was working in the Gulf kingdom under a security and training exchange agreement.

The second bombing took place the next day in the nearby village of Karzakan, killing an elderly Bahraini man.

Both bombings were carried out by the same “terrorist group” formed by the defendants and “specialised in making explosives to target policemen,” Hammadi said.

On Tuesday, Bahrain handed down sentences ranging from five years to life in prison to 29 people convicted of attempting to murder policemen in a bomb attack later in December last year.

Attacks against police are common in Bahrain, a Western ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet that lies across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

The kingdom has been rocked by the Shiite-led uprising since February 2011, with demands ranging from a constitutional monarchy to overthrowing the ruling Sunni dynasty altogether.

Scores of opponents have been detained, with many facing trial, while others convicted of involvement in violence have been handed heavy sentences, including loss of citizenship and life in prison.