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French MPs recognise Palestine as state

AL Jazeera

French lawmakers have voted 339 to 151 in favour of a symbolic motion to recognise Palestine as a state.

The National Assembly’s vote on Tuesday is likely to raise domestic political pressure on the French government to be more active on the issue.

We wish to express our gratitude to the members of the French parliament for adopting a resolution on the side of justice and human dignity

Hanan Ashrawi, senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organisation

While the vote is non-binding, Paris has in the past already made known that it plans to recognise a Palestinian nation “when the time comes”, arguing that a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict logically implies recognition of Palestine.

The text introduced by the ruling Socialists “invites the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to gain a definitive resolution of the conflict”.

The vote will likely anger Israel further after similar resolutions were approved by British MPs on October 13 and Spanish MPs on November 18. Sweden also voted to recognise  Palestine as a state on October 30.

“Israel believes that the vote in the National Assembly ... will reduce the possibility of achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israeli embassy in Paris said in a statement less than an hour after the motion was passed.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Jerusalem, said: “When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about the motion, he said it would be a ‘grave mistake’.” 

“Subdued anger is likely to be their response.”

Palestinian call

The Palestinian leadership urged France to act on the parliamentary vote.

“We call on the French government to translate its parliament’s vote into action,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in a statement.

“We wish to express our gratitude to the members of the French parliament for adopting a resolution on the side of justice and human dignity,” she said.

“For peace to prevail, support for the two-state solution must be more than lip service.

“If members of the international community are serious about the creation of the independent Palestinian state... they must undertake serious and concrete measures to end the occupation and to recognise the State of Palestine.”

Last week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told MPs the UN Security Council was working on a resolution to relaunch and conclude peace talks.

“A deadline of two years is the one most often mentioned and the French government can agree with this figure,” he said.

Fabius also said France was prepared to host international talks to drive the peace bid forward.

“An international conference could be organised. France is prepared to take the initiative on this. And in these talks, recognition [of the Palestinian state] would be an instrument... for the definitive resolution of the conflict,” he said.

“If these efforts fail, if this last attempt at a negotiated settlement does not work, then France will have to do its duty and recognise the state of Palestine without delay and we are ready to do that,” stressed Fabius, without fixing a deadline for such recognition.

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Mexico protesters torch state assembly

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Syria rebels in south emerge as West’s last hope as moderates crushed elsewhere

(Reuters) - With moderate rebels facing defeat by al Qaeda in Syria’s north, groups holding a corner of the south are seeking a higher profile and more help, as the last Western-backed forces holding out against both President Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists.

The southern rebels, described by Western officials as the best organized of the mainstream opposition, say they are the last hope for a revolution hijacked by jihadists. In recent days they have laid out a transition plan for a Syria without Assad, taking on a political role that in the past they left to others.

Washington says backing “moderate” rebels is central to its new strategy to defeat the jihadists without helping Assad, put in place since the United States began bombing Sunni Islamist fighters from Islamic State in Syria in September.

But since the U.S. bombing began, many Western-backed rebel groups have been hammered by both the government and jihadists. Last week, al Qaeda’s Syria branch, the Nusra Front, routed pro-Western rebels in one of their final strongholds in the north.

Assad’s forces control Damascus, the Mediterranean coast and much of the area in between. Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, controls the east, while Nusra controls much of the northwest and is expanding at the expense of moderates.

The southern provinces near the Jordanian border are an exception, where rebels calling themselves the “Southern Front” still control territory and have managed to resist Assad while avoiding direct clashes with the Nusra Front.

Last week, 15 groups in the Southern Front drew up a political program, a step which separates them from the exile-led opposition widely seen across Syria as a failure.

As the rare non-jihadist movement which still controls territory, they hope to receive more aid from the West to avoid suffering the same fate as Western allies who have been crushed by jihadists and government forces elsewhere.

NOW IS THE TIME

In the past, rebels on the ground have mainly steered clear of politics, a subject left to umbrella groups like the largely exile-based National Coalition, which meets in Turkey. But leaders of the Southern Front say they have decided to take political issues into their own hands.

“We did not get involved in these matters before. We left them to others. But now it is time. We can no longer risk squandering Syria,” defected army officer Abu Osama al-Jolani, 37, southern commander of the Syria Revolutionaries’ Front, told Reuters in an interview over the Internet.

Their plan, still unpublished but disclosed to Reuters, calls for turning the Southern Front rebels into a civilian security force. National institutions including the military would be safeguarded, and a technocratic interim authority would be set up to be followed by elections.

The plan emphasizes protection for all Syrians regardless of religious, cultural or ethnic affiliations - language apparently aimed at reassuring Assad’s Alawite sect and Christians who fear the alternative to him is a radical Islamist government.

It could be in line with thinking in Washington, where CNN reported Obama wants a policy review, realizing Islamic State may not be defeated without a transition and Assad’s removal.

Abu Hamza al-Qabouni, a rebel leader from Damascus and part of the Southern Front, said the group had decided to move ahead with a political plan because there was no longer any point waiting for the war to be resolved countrywide.

“The problem of the north is very complicated. If we wait for a solution to it, years could go by without us solving the Syrian crisis.”

The movement could later grow to include other groups that also hold real power on the ground, said Bashar al-Zoubi, whose Yarmouk Army is one of the strongest groups in the south.

“The factions mentioned are some of the biggest, and this alliance will expand. Any transition or political process needs people on the ground to safeguard it.”

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Tainted drugs suspected in Indian sterilization surgery deaths

 

(Reuters) - Tainted or sub-standard drugs probably led to the deaths of 13 Indian women after sterilization surgery at a family-planning “camp”, and owners of the factories that produced them have been summoned for questioning, a senior official said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the doctor who carried out the sterilization of 83 women in less than three hours at a hospital in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh denied reports the equipment he used was rusty or dirty and blamed adulterated medicines for the tragedy.

“I am not the culprit. I have been made (a) scapegoat. It is the administration which is responsible for this incident,” Dr. R.K. Gupta told Reuters in a dimly lit police hostel room after being taken into custody on Wednesday night.

Gupta said health workers gave the women ciprofloxacin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, and the painkiller ibuprofen after their operations, which were conducted in a grimy room of an unused private hospital in a village called Pandari.

Thirteen have died and scores are in hospital. Some of the sick women were operated on by another doctor at a second camp, which Gupta said was evidence he was not to blame.

The government of Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest states, banned medicines used at Gupta’s sterilization camp, including Indian-made brands of ciprofloxacin and ibuprofen.

“We have stopped the sale and distribution of all the medicines that were used in the camp,” state Chief Minister Raman Singh said, adding that preliminary investigations indicated that sub-standard drugs had been administered.

“Owners of the companies that were responsible for the sale of drugs have been summoned. They will all be questioned and we have sealed their factories,” he told reporters.

“GOD’S WORK”

India is the world’s top sterilizer of women, and efforts to rein in population growth have been described as the most draconian after China. Indian birth rates fell in recent decades, but population growth is among the world’s fastest.

With more than four million Indians sterilized every year, a system of quotas encourages officials and doctors to cut corners, activists say.

Rights groups say India’s sterilization program is coercive because ill-educated women are often offered money to accept surgery without knowing the full risks. State government officials who run the program are pressed to meet quotas.

“Access to information, informed consent, and quality of services are often sacrificed by this target-driven approach,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Lalit Mohan Pant, a surgeon who claims to have carried out the highest number of sterilizations in the world, defended the use of quotas as necessary to motivate government employees.

Pant, who lives and works in central India, holds the record for sterilizing 816 people in one day and says he has sterilized more than 330,000 patients during his career, helping prevent, by his estimate, the births of almost one million Indians.

“I am doing god’s work,” Pant told Reuters.

NINETY OPERATIONS A DAY

Gupta, who says he has conducted more than 50,000 female sterilizations, faces charges of causing death by negligence.

Visibly upset, he said it was the government’s duty to control the numbers turning up at the family-planning camp.

“If they kept in that place 83 women, it is my moral responsibility to operate on all the women,” said Gupta, who was awarded a state honor 10 years ago for his sterilization work.

Gupta said he generally took between two and five minutes on each operation, but gave his assistants time to clean scalpels.

“They are dipped in spirit after an operation and then re-used. If I feel it is not working, well, I change it. I do about 10 operations with the same knife,” he said.

Protocols state doctors should spend at least 15 minutes on each operation and perform a maximum of 30 in a day. Several doctors told Reuters it was common to perform up to 90 sterilizations a day, leaving little time to maintain hygiene.

Gupta said it was the responsibility of the government to clean the operating room, which police say was filthy, hung with cobwebs and littered with bloodied sheets after last Saturday’s operations.

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Japanese woman abducted by North Korea died of drug overdose: report

(Reuters) - Megumi Yokota, a Japanese national abducted by North Korean agents decades ago as a schoolgirl, died from an overdose of medication in 1994 and was buried in a pit with other corpses, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.

Yokota, who has been an iconic symbol of Japanese nationals abducted by the North and Tokyo’s efforts to ascertain their fate, died of an overdose of sedatives and sleeping pills in a psychiatric ward, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration eased some sanctions on North Korea in July in return for Pyongyang’s reopening of a probe into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dong-a Ilbo said the finding was included in a report by Japanese officials who had interviewed North Korean witnesses who were on the staff of the hospital where Yokota died, and Abe’s administration had been briefed about the fresh details.

Abe, whose government is under fire for fund-related scandals in his cabinet, has made resolving the abductee issue a priority. Last week, he said the North had told Japan it intended to deepen its probe into their fate.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens to help train spies, and five abductees and their families later returned to Japan.

Japan wants to know about the fate of the remaining eight, who Pyongyang has said have died, and others that Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.

Yokota was snatched off a beach in northern Japan on her way home from school in 1977 at the age of 13. Pyongyang has said she had committed suicide after suffering from mental diseases.

Japan has never accepted North Korea’s explanation of Yokota’s death, after bones North Korea said were hers were shown by DNA testing to be those of a man.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said two North Koreans who were on the staff of the hospital gave testimony that Yokota was given sedatives and sleeping pills that exceeded safe doses.

“At the time of the patient’s death, there were blue marks all over her body,” one of them was quoted as saying. That was an indication that poison or excessive medication was taken or injected, the person was quoted as saying.

Her body was dumped in a pit to be buried without a coffin, the report said.

While in the North, she married a South Korean abductee named Kim Young-nam in 1986, and they had a daughter. Yokota died in 1994, said Kim, who was one of more than 500 South Korean civilians thought to have been abducted by the North and who was briefly reunited with his South Korean family in 2006.

At the rare family reunion event held by the two Koreas, he said Yokota had suffered from depression and schizophrenia and repeatedly attempted suicide.

 

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

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U.S. launches fresh strikes on Khorasan group in Syria

(Reuters) - The United States said it conducted air strikes on Wednesday night against the so-called Khorasan group, an al Qaeda-linked militant faction based in Syria, and said the group was plotting to attack Europe or the United States.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a target of the strike was David Drugeon, a French-born militant and convert to Islam who some U.S. officials say is a bomb maker for the group.

General Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said Drugeon was one of the group’s “leadership elements and one of the most dangerous elements in that organization.”

He declined to say whether Drugeon was killed, telling a forum in Washington the military was assessing the results of the strikes. Asked whether Drugeon was a target, he said, “Any time we can take their leadership out is a good thing.”

The officials said they believed a leader of the Khorasan group, Muhsin al-Fadhli, who had been targeted in U.S. strikes in Syria in September, was still alive. It was unclear whether al-Fadhli was a target of the latest U.S. raid.

In a statement on Thursday, U.S. Central Command said the latest strikes were carried out by the U.S. military against five Khorasan targets near Sarmada in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border and west of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“We took decisive action to protect our interests and remove their capability to act,” it said, adding that al Qaeda militants “are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”

 

“SKILLED AL QAEDA VETERANS”

 

U.S. officials have described Khorasan as a grouping of skilled al Qaeda veterans who moved to Syria from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and set up operations under the protection of Nusra Front, the main Syrian al Qaeda affiliate.

From strongholds in northwestern Syria, Nusra Front has fought militants in the Islamic State, another spin-off of al Qaeda which holds territory in Syria and Iraq and is considered a major threat in the area by Washington.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said a series of U.S. air strikes targeted Nusra Front in Idlib province, where last week the group pushed back Western-backed Syrian rebels. The Observatory said at least six Nusra militants had been killed.

There was no independent confirmation that this was an account of the same attack described by CENTCOM.

The U.S. military made clear the attacks were specifically aimed at Khorasan and not more broadly at Nusra Front. “There were no strikes conducted against al Nusra,” Austin said.

U.S. officials have described Khorasan as a particularly menacing faction of militants who have been using their sanctuary in Syria to try to organize plots to attack U.S. and other Western targets, possibly including airliners.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Editing by David Storey, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

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Osama Bin Laden killing: US Navy Seals row over shooting

BBC

A public row has arisen over which US commando fired the shot that killed Osama Bin Laden, more than three years after the al-Qaeda leader’s death.

Ex-Navy Seal Robert O’Neill, 38, has told the Washington Post in an interview that he fired the fatal shot.

This contradicts the account of Matt Bissonnette, another former Seal involved in the raid, in a 2012 book.

The al-Qaeda leader was killed in a 2011 Navy Seal raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Navy Seals usually abide by a code of silence that forbids them from publicly taking credit for their actions.

Mr O’Neill, who retired in 2012, had previously told his story anonymously to Esquire magazine.

He was scheduled to reveal his identity in a television interview later this month, but news of the interview angered other former Seals.

A website run by ex-special forces personnel published his name pre-emptively, apparently in protest at his decision to claim credit for the shooting.

Mr O’Neill said he and another member of the team - whose identity remains secret - climbed the stairs to the third floor of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and saw Bin Laden poke his head outside the door of one of the rooms.

President Obama and his national security team monitored the raid on Bin Laden’s compound

Compound where Osama bin Laden was hiding on the outskirts of the town of Abbottabad. 3 May 2011

US Navy Seals killed Bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan in May 2011

The unnamed commando, at the “point position” leading the column, fired at him but missed, according to Mr O’Neill.

An instant later, Mr O’Neill went into the room and killed the al-Qaeda leader with shots to the head, he says.

Grey line

Seal Team 6 (ST6)

Elite group of US Navy’s Sea, Air, Land (Seal) Teams trained to carry out top secret operations

Part of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DevGru) based in Virginia

Led the 2009 rescue of US Captain Richard Phillips, kidnapped by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean

In 2012, several ST6 members were disciplined for working as paid consultants on a video game

Grey line

However, in the book No Easy Day, Mr Bissonnette claimed it was the point man who killed Bin Laden.

On Thursday, Mr Bissonnette did not directly dispute Mr O’Neill’s claim, in an interview with NBC News.

“Two different people telling two different stories for two different reasons,” Mr Bissonnette told the broadcaster.

“Whatever he says, he says. I don’t want to touch that.”

Mr Bissonnette is scheduled to appear on the CBS news magazine programme 60 Minutes ahead of the publication of his second book, No Hero, about his service with the Seals.

Osama bin-Laden addresses a news conference in Afghanistan in this May 26, 1998 file photo.

In 2004, Bin Laden took credit for the al-Qaeda attacks on the US

Meanwhile, he is under investigation for potentially disclosing classified information in his first book, which is about the Bin Laden raid.

The official account of what happened is unlikely to be disclosed by the US government for many years.

Pentagon officials have neither confirmed nor denied Mr O’Neill’s account, but senior special operations leaders sent a letter last week to all Navy Seals urging them to comply with their code of silence about operational details, including avoiding taking “public credit”.

“We do not abide wilful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain,” they wrote.

Bin Laden was confirmed killed in the raid and his body was buried at sea.

Darkness and close quarters inside the compound have made some Navy Seals question whether it is possible to determine whose bullets killed the al-Qaeda leader.

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Anti-ISIL coalition told to help Syria rebels

Al Jazeera

F

rance’s foreign minister has called for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to help rebels in Syria’s second city Aleppo hold out against the Damascus regime.

Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that the coalition should not battle ISIL to the exclusion of supporting rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which he said had deliberately fuelled the jihadists’ rise.

“After Kobane, we must save Aleppo,” Fabius said, referring to a Syrian border town where the US has carried out dozens of air strikes with the support of Arab allies to help Kurdish forces ward off a weeks-long ISIL assault.

France is involved in strikes against ISIL fighters in Iraq but has so far kept out of the air campaign in neighbouring Syria, where it has hoped to support moderate rebels without resorting to military action that could help the Assad regime.

 

“The city is almost entirely encircled,” Fabius wrote of the rebels in Aleppo. 

“The regime is seeking to destroy the resistance through cold and hunger,” he said in an article published by The Washington Post, France’s Le Figaro and pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. 

“Some 300,000 Aleppans are holding on, threatened with the same death and destruction that the regime has inflicted on Homs and the suburbs of Damascus.”

Renewed assault

Rebels seized most of the east of Aleppo in July 2012, confining government forces to the west, but they have come under renewed assault in recent months.

 

“Assad and Daesh are two sides of the same barbaric coin,” Fabius said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL. 

 

“Assad largely created this monster by deliberately setting free the jihadists who fuelled this terrorist movement. This was part of his underhanded effort to appear, in the eyes of the world, as the sole bulwark against terrorism in Syria.”

Pinpointing military and humanitarian aid from nations in the international struggle against the armed group.

Fabius said France would not resign itself to the breakup of Syria and would work towards supporting moderate rebels in Aleppo and protecting its civilian population, without detailing how. 

“Abandoning Aleppo would mean condemning Syria to years of violence. It would mean the death of any political future,” he wrote.

His article echoed the words of French President Francois Hollande on Friday, who described Aleppo as “key” to the conflict.

It also comes after sustained criticism of the coalition campaign in Syria from NATO ally Turkey, which has refused to take part in action in its southern neighbour until Washington draws up a broad strategy to deal with both ISIL and the Assad regime.

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US mid-terms: Battle for the Senate as the US votes

BBC

Americans are preparing to vote in mid-term elections which will decide who controls the Senate and pave the way for the 2016 race for the White House.

Polling booths open on Tuesday beginning 07:00 Eastern (12:00 GMT).

The Republicans, who already control the House of Representatives, need to win just six seats to take the Senate.

Meanwhile the Democrats are battling to stay ahead as President Barack Obama’s approval ratings fall to the lowest they have been since he was elected.

Many analysts predict a Republican victory as Mr Obama’s popularity rate fails to climb much above 40%, despite recent improvements in the economy.

“This is a referendum on the president,” Republican senator and potential 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul told NBC’s Meet the Press at the weekend.

But Democrats say their proven ability to rally their supporters ahead of elections could still give them the advantage.

President Barack Obama appeared in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 2 November 2014 

President Barack Obama’s unpopularity is seen as a drag on the Democrats

“Grab everybody you know, get them out to vote, don’t stay home, don’t let somebody else choose your future for you,” Mr Obama said during a campaign rally on Sunday.

Without the focus of a presidential campaign, the mid-terms - which are named because they fall in the middle of a presidential term - typically see a low voter turnout.

They also typically favour the party that is not in power.

This year, a little over a third of the 100-seat Senate, all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 36 out of 50 state governors, and countless state and local offices are up for election.

The most closely watched action will be the races that will determine control of the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate.

The Democrats currently hold a five-seat majority in the Senate, meaning the Republicans need only to win six seats to take control.

As the Republicans already have a convincing hold over the lower House of Representatives, a win in the Senate would give them the power to shut down Mr Obama’s policies in the last two years of his term.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) appeared in Lexington, Kentucky, on 3 November 2014 

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) stands to become Senate majority leader

Aside from Mr Obama’s unpopularity, there is no single issue that dominates this mid-term poll.

Instead voters will be swayed by a broad variety of concerns including the economy, the environment, immigration, foreign policy, abortion and healthcare.

The most competitive Senate races are expected to take place in the states of North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and Kansas.

Across the board, voters have expressed their dissatisfaction with both parties’ inability to co-operate in Congress and the resulting gridlock this has caused.

If the Republicans do win control of the Senate, the day-to-day running of the chamber will become the responsibility of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, should he win his own tough campaign for re-election.

As the country then shifts its focus to the 2016 presidential election, Mr Obama is likely to find it increasingly hard to operate as his term draws to a close, analysts say.

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Ukraine crisis: Poroshenko in talks over rebel polls

BBC

Ukraine’s president is to chair a crisis meeting of his security chiefs, following elections in rebel-held areas which Kiev describes as a “farce”.

In a TV address, Petro Poroshenko said Sunday’s polls in parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions could derail the “entire peace process”.

Two pro-Russian leaders were declared the winners of the polls and are expected to be sworn on Tuesday.

The West says the elections were illegal, but Russia is backing them.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since April.

Ukraine accuses Russia of arming the rebels and sending Russian regular troops across the border - a claim denied by Moscow.

A nominal ceasefire has been in place in eastern Ukraine since 5 September, but there have been repeated violations by both sides.

The clashes in the east began a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula.

‘Sham elections’

Addressing the nation on Monday, President Poroshenko said the 2 November elections in Donetsk and Luhansk were “a farce at gunpoint”, which had nothing to do with the expression of the voters’ will.

An elderly woman pulls a cart with firewood near the Donetsk airport. Photo: 3 November 2014

Months of fighting have devastated the Donetsk and Luhansk regions

Alexander Zakharchenko (centre) and his bodyguards in Donetsk. Photo: 2 November 2014

Alexander Zakharchenko (C) is set to be sworn in as the head of the Donetsk self-proclaimed republic

He stressed that Ukraine would never recognise the vote in the two self-proclaimed rebel republics.

Mr Poroshenko said the polls were “a gross violation” of September’s Minsk agreement - a roadmap to a peaceful settlement agreed by Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and also rebel delegations.

He added that he would hold a meeting of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council on Tuesday to propose abolishing a law granting special self-government to rebel-held areas, something which had been approved by Kiev as part of the peace process.

Ukraine and the West had always insisted that the rebel territories must abide by the Minsk deal and hold local elections under Ukrainian law in December.

Late on Monday, the US said it “condemns the illegitimate, so-called ‘elections’ held on Sunday by Russia-backed separatists in parts of Donetsk and Lugansk”.

In a statement, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan added that Washington was “concerned by a Russian Foreign Ministry statement that seeks to legitimise these sham ‘elections’”.

Sanctions warning

Russia earlier said it “respects the will of the people of the south-east”. It also called for a “sustainable dialogue” between the authorities in Kiev and the rebels.

 

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the polls were “a new obstacle on the path towards peace”, while Germany said Russia’s backing of the vote was “incomprehensible”.

Germany has described as “incomprehensible” Russia’s backing of controversial Sunday’s elections in rebel-held eastern areas of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, warned that Russia could face further sanctions as a result of its position.

The US and EU have already targeted key sectors of the Russian economy with sanctions.

Russia has responded with a ban on food imports from some Western countries.

Results released on Monday showed Alexander Zakharchenko, the self-declared prime minister in Donetsk, had won the poll to become the head of the region. His party also came first in the parliamentary election.

In Luhansk, current PM Igor Plotnitsky was declared the winner.

They are both expected to be officially sworn in later on Tuesday.

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No hope for survivors in Sri Lanka landslide, over 100 dead

(Reuters) - Hopes of finding survivors under the mud and rubble of a landslide in south-central Sri Lanka had run out by first light on Thursday, though a government minister cut the estimated death toll to more than 100 from 300 the previous night.

“I don’t think there could be any survivors,” Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told Reuters, after visiting the disaster site in the tea-plantation village of Haldummulla, 190 km (120 miles) from the capital, Colombo.

“It is about 100 people who have been buried as there were some children and some estate workers who were not at their houses at the time of the disaster,” he added, explaining why the death toll could be lower than feared the day before.

The Disaster Management Centre revised down its estimate for the number of people missing in Wednesday’s disaster to 192 from 300. Amaraweera said it was difficult to be sure of the number because population data was lost in the landslip.

The centre said 150 houses were buried in the landslide, which stretched 3 km (2 miles) and engulfed the village after days of heavy monsoon rains.

Children who left for school before the earthfall returned to find their clay and cement houses had been buried. Nearly 500 people, most of them children, spent the night at a nearby school after warnings of further landslide.

At the disaster site, hundreds of soldiers and government officials resumed search and clearing operations, using three earth-moving machines that rumbled amid broken trees, blocks of concrete, tin roofing and muddied clothes.

Residents, many of them tea plantation workers, said as well as their homes, the area included a playground, a small shopping complex and a Hindu temple.

Many people in the hilly area are of Indian Tamil origin, descendants of workers brought to Sri Lanka under British rule as cheap labour to work on tea, rubber and coffee plantations.

 

‘STILL WAITING’

In a nearby school, stunned survivors wept.

“I am still waiting for my daughter and her husband,” Ramalingam, 60, said, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“They were at their house in the 10th line and all the houses in that line are buried. Their son is alive because we took him to pre-school yesterday.”

Vansanthi Kumari, a mother of three, lost her six-year-old daughter.

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UN rebukes Israel over Jerusalem settlements

BBC

Israel has faced strong criticism at the UN Security Council over plans to build homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman said that the settlements would raise “grave doubts” about Israel’s plans for durable peace with Palestinians.

The meeting was called after the Israeli PM’s office ordered plans for over 1,000 new units to be advanced.

Jewish settlements and Jerusalem are among the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

‘Cycle of violence’

Mr Feltman said Israel was “in violation of international law” when moving settlers into Palestinian territories.

The US, Israel’s strongest ally, said it was “deeply concerned” at what it called provocative actions by Israel on the issue.

The BBC’s Nick Bryant in New York says the US made it clear that the settlements would escalate tensions at a time when the situation was already tense enough.

Settlement in Har Homa, Oct 2014

Israel said criticism of its settlements was “hypocrisy”

Britain said that illegal settlement activity made it much more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against accusations that it was not serious about making peace.

Palestinian UN envoy Dr Riyad Mansour said the settlements were eroding a future Palestinian state and that Israel’s actions were “threatening to incite yet another cycle of violence”.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor accused the Palestinians of “half truths, myths and outright lies”.

He said: “I’m here to convey one simple truth: the people of Israel are not occupiers and we’re not settlers. Israel is our home and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of our sovereign state.”

Mr Prosor said: “It says a great deal that the international community is outraged when Jews build homes in Jerusalem but doesn’t say a word when Jews are murdered for living in Jerusalem. The hypocrisy is appalling.”

There were no plans, however, for a resolution at the 15-member council on the matter and even a statement criticising Israel was improbable given general US backing for Israel.

US ‘red-hot anger’

The settlements issue put the White House on the defensive on Wednesday, after an unnamed US official reportedly used a profanity in describing Mr Netanyahu.

An article on The Atlantic magazine website quoted an unidentified member of the Obama administration who said there was “red-hot anger” over the settlements.

Using strong language, he said the Israeli leader had no guts because he was more interested in political survival than compromising with the Palestinians.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the comments were counterproductive and did not reflect the administration’s view. But he added that the “close relationship” between the two countries should not “paper over” differences.

“The fact is the United States has repeatedly made clear our view that settlement activity is illegitimate, and only serves to complicate efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the region,” he said.

Another White House official told the BBC “there’s great frustration with Netanyahu - that’s not new - and it’s intense”.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - sought by the Palestinians for a future state - are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The plans for the new homes include some 400 in Har Homa and about 600 in Ramat Shlomo.

According to Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, the plans have been on hold for several years.

Mr Mansour said the latest Israeli move was a “blatant act of reprisal” for an attack by a Palestinian last week in which a Jewish baby girl and a woman were killed at a tram station in Jerusalem.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1980 in a move not recognised internationally. It says the city is its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

The Palestinians insist Israel must withdraw from East Jerusalem as part of a final peace deal.

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Sweden recognises state of Palestine

Al Jazeera

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, Stockholm’s foreign minister has said, less than a month after the government announced its intention to make the unprecedented move.

The Palestinians cheered on Thursday’s move, while Israel summoned Sweden’s ambassador to protest and express disappointment.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement that the recognition was “an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination”.

“We hope that this will show the way for others,” she said in remarks published in the Dagens Nyheter daily.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the “brave and historic” move to officially recognise the state of Palestine, his spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Sweden is the first EU member state in Western Europe to recognise the Palestinian state.

Seven EU members in eastern European and the Mediterranean have already recognised a Palestinian state - Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania.

Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.

Israel has long insisted that the Palestinians can only receive their promised state through direct negotiations and not through other diplomatic channels.

The United States cautioned Sweden against recognition, calling it “premature” and saying the Palestinian state could only come through a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

In Thursday’s announcement, Sweden’s foreign minister said that “the government considers that international law criteria for recognition of a Palestinian state have been fulfilled”.

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Multiple car bombings rock Baghdad

Al Jazeera

Series of bombs targeting restaurants in the Iraqi capital kills 18, police and medical sources say.

Three car bombs have exploded in a Shia area of the capital, Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50 others, Iraqi security and medical officials have said.

Two blasts hit the car park of a large restaurant in the Talbiyah area of the capital, while a third exploded near a police patrol on Tuesday.

The blasts smashed the front of the restaurant, ripping through an outdoor seating area and leaving behind pools of blood on the ground.

One of the weeping relatives of the victims at the scene blamed the government and politicians, shouting: “Where is the government, where is the transparency and democracy?”

“They are killing civilians in cold blood and we are still talking about democracy -- we elected them, but today we regret it.”

The attacks were the latest in a series of bombings targeting members of Iraq’s Shia majority in the capital that have left more than 50 dead in three days.

There was no immediate claim for the bombings.

Suicide bombers struck Shia mosques in Baghdad on Sunday and Monday, killing at least 33 people in total.

The latest attack comes as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has overrun large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

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Four dead babies found in storage locker

Mirror-Uk

Police in Canada say the babies were probably newborns, but they are still investigating whether ‘foul play’ was involved

 The scene where the remains of infants were found in various states of decomposition is pictured in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Four dead babies have been found in a storage locker in Canada.

Police in Winnipeg said the corpses of the infants were so decomposed they “believed” but could not confirm they were dealing with four bodies.

Spokesman Eric Hofley said: “Autopsies are pending, but my understanding is we are discussing very young infants, certainly not children. Newborns.

 

“The remains were in a state such that it is not obvious yet whether we are dealing with four separate remains. That will be done at autopsy.”

It was unclear if “foul play” was involved but there were no known reports of missing infants.

The bodies were discovered in a “U-Haul” storage locker on Monday.

There are no suspects in custody, although Mr Hofley said investigators have spoken with people of interest.

Even if it wasn’t a case of foul play, “You’re not allowed to store human remains in a storage locker,” he said.

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Islamic State: US probes ‘stray Syria air drop’ in IS video

BBC

The Pentagon said it was checking the authenticity of the video

The US defence department has said it is examining an Islamic State video appearing to show militants in control of US weapons intended for Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Some 27 bundles containing small arms, ammunition and other weaponry were dropped on Monday for militias defending the town of Kobane from IS.

A Pentagon spokesman said the vast majority ended up in the right hands.

Kurdish forces control most of the town but IS remains a threat, he said.

Militants launched a fierce attack “on all fronts” in Kobane on Monday after two days of relative calm when the town’s defenders appeared to have pushed them back.

But Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm John Kirby said IS had been kept at bay by a combination of US-led air strikes and the efforts of the Kurdish forces.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 30 IS fighters and 11 Kurdish defenders were killed on Tuesday, adding that the Islamists were bringing reinforcements.

Kobane, on the Turkish border, has been been under assault from IS for weeks, with most civilians forced to leave.

 

The new fighting came as Turkey said it would allow Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria to fight IS.

However, a local Kurdish official, Idris Nassen, said he did not have “any idea” when this might happen, the AFP news agency reported.

Explosion from apparent US air strike in Kobane - 21 October

The US has kept up air strikes on IS positions since their offensive on Monday

Funeral of Kurdish fighter in Turkish town of Suruc - 21 October

Kurds have been holding funerals for some of their fallen fighters across the border in Turkey

Kurds watch fighting in Kobane from across the Turkish border - 20 October

Many have been watching the fighting from across the Turkish border

Kobane, 20 Oct 2014

Cache ‘seized’

On Monday, the US military said it had carried out air drops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters.

It said that 27 bundles had been dropped. A later statement said one bundle went astray but was destroyed to prevent it falling into enemy hands, and that all the others were safely delivered.

But a video uploaded to the internet by a media group loyal to IS showed a cache of weapons, apparently dropped by the US, in militant hands.

 

Activists from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said militants had seized one cache.

Rear Adm Kirby said he could not confirm that the video was authentic.

“They are certainly of the kinds of material that was dropped... so it’s not out of the realm of the possible in that regard,” he said.

“When we have something definitive that we can provide in terms of an assessment on that we’ll do that,” he said.

Kasra Naji reports on the air drops from the Turkey-Syria border

The IS advance in Syria takes place against the backdrop of the civil war. US-led air strikes are being conducted there without the permission of President Bashar al-Assad, who the West wants to relinquish power.

In Iraq, the air campaign is taking place with the co-operation of the government. The advance of IS there earlier this year has taken it to close to the capital, Baghdad.

It still threatens the city, having taken over most of the western Anbar province in recent weeks.

IS is thought to be responsible for a series of bombings in Baghdad over the past few days which have left dozens of people dead.

On Tuesday at least 12 were killed in a double car bomb attack in the mainly Shia Talibiya district of eastern Baghdad.

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Total’s CEO Christophe de Margerie dies in Moscow plane crash

BBC

 

Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of French oil company Total, has died in an air crash in Moscow.

His corporate jet collided with a snow plough and then was engulfed in flames. All four people on board were killed.

The driver of the snow plough was drunk, according to Russian investigators.

Mr de Margerie, 63, had been chief executive of Europe’s third largest oil company since 2007. He was highly regarded within the oil industry.

‘Huge loss’

“France is losing an extraordinary business leader who turned Total into a world giant,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement.

“France is losing a great industry captain and a patriot.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences.

News agency Tass quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying: “The President highly appreciated de Mergerie’s business skills, his continued commitment to the development of not only bilateral Russian-French relations, but also on multi-faceted levels.”

Mr de Margerie joined Total Group after graduating from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Paris in 1974.

At the company, where he had spent his entire career, he was nicknamed “Big Moustache”.

John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, told the BBC: “It’s a huge loss to the industry and its future focus.

“What he has done for Total in repositioning the company to return to integrity and sound operations is deeply respected and highly regarded.”

According to Russia’s Vedomosti newspaper, Mr de Margerie had met Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at his country residence outside Moscow to discuss foreign investment in Russia.

Russian investments

Total is an important player in the Russian energy market and Mr de Margerie was a staunch defender of maintaining ties, despite Western sanctions against Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

Total is one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia and is planning to double its output from the country by 2020.

It is working on the Yamal project, a $27bn joint venture to extract natural gas in northwest Siberia.

During his time at the helm of Total Mr de Margerie successfully defended the company against allegations of corruption around the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

He maintained the company’s investments in Burma and Iran despite US sanctions against those countries.

Shares in Total were down sharply at the open, but have since recovered.

Vnukovo-3 Business Aviation Center at Moscow”s Vnukovo airport 

Mr de Margerie was flying from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, southwest of Moscow

Mr de Margerie’s jet had been due to fly to Paris from Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport.

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Woman gets stuck inside online date’s chimney ‘following split’ - and then is arrested by police

Independent

A criminal investigation is underway after a woman became stuck in the chimney of a man she reportedly met online.

Genoveva Nunez-Figueroa, 28, had to be extracted by the Ventura County Fire Department, California, after allegedly trying to break into the Thousand Oaks home yesterday at roughly 5.45am.

The chimney had to be broken apart and soapy water used to lubricate Nunez-Figueroa free from its confines after she became trapped.

According to ABC7, the male resident had been on a few dates with Nunez-Figueroa but had recently ended the fling.

“I’m going to be a little more cautious of who I invite into my house now,” he said, revealing that she was seen on his roof two weeks prior, too. He had called police after that incident but she fled.

He was not at home during her second attempt.

Nunez-Figueroa had reportedly got stuck about 8ft down the chimney, when the resident’s neighbour heard noises and texted him to let him know.

He added to KNBC-TV: “We hung out a couple of times and you never know how crazy somebody is until they do crazy things, and this is a pretty crazy thing.”

Pictures from the two-hour operation were uploaded to social media by Captain Mike Lindbery from the fire department, showing Nunez-Figueroa covered in soot and her being “hoisted from roof using ladder truck and stokes basket” he said.

She was transported to hospital for treatment before being charged with illegal entry and providing a police officer with false information.

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Hurricane Gonzalo: Disruption as remnants of storm hit UK

Independent-Uk

Rain and high winds are causing travel disruption, as the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo hit the UK.

Gusts of up to 70mph have been recorded in north Wales and the Isle of Wight, and a Met Office wind warning is in place for much of the UK. Some flights have been cancelled at Heathrow, but other airports are reporting no major problems.

Forecasters said gales would move east across the UK, with heavy rain in some areas and snow on some Scottish hills.

BBC Weather’s Carol Kirkwood said the wind could be strong enough to do “slight structural damage” to properties, as well as uprooting small trees and causing branches to fall.

She said the strongest winds on Tuesday morning would be in western Scotland, the north and east of Northern Ireland, north-west England and north Wales.

Some drivers are facing disruption on the roads due to fallen trees and high winds, and there are delays and cancellations on many ferry services.

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Latest local information

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Large waves hit the seafront at Blackpool

Large waves hit the seafront at Blackpool, where gusts of 60-70mph were recorded

Storm clouds over a field and a row of houses

Forecasters said there would be some sunshine as well as storm clouds, seen here over Bolton

Heathrow says 110 flights have been cancelled so far and that figure includes Lufthansa flights disrupted by a pilots’ strike. This is less than 10% of its usual daily total of about 1,286 flights.

Among other UK airports, Gatwick said it did not “anticipate any disruption”, Stansted said it was “operating normally” and Manchester said its only cancellations by 09:00 BST had been due to issues at other airports, mostly Heathrow.

Edinburgh Airport said its only cancellations by 09:00 BST were flights to Heathrow.

There have not been reports of widespread train delays, but South West Trains tweeted that it was “experiencing poor rail adhesion” - meaning “trains have had trouble accelerating as the wheels slip when applying power”.

A check-in queue at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport said less than 10% of its flights had been cancelled

In other developments:

Two lorries - including one carrying wine and spirits - overturned on major routes in Cambridgeshire

Skye Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge have been closed to high-sided vehicles

Several roads are blocked in Wales, where there are speed restrictions on parts of the M4 and several bridges

Roads around Yorkshire’s tallest building could close for safety reasons

Many ferries have been cancelled, including some services in western Scotland and across the Irish Sea

Gusts of 60-70mph have been reported on Blackpool Promenade

The Environment Agency has issued a flood warning and several flood alerts

Lorry overturned on A1(M)

A lorry overturned on the A1(M) south of Peterborough at about 05:30 BST, blocking all southbound lanes

Speaking from County Down, BBC Ireland correspondent Chris Buckler said the storm had been “rough enough” but had not hit “quite as hard as many had feared”.

There had been high winds but not much disruption in Northern Ireland, he said.

Gonzalo caused widespread damage and a power blackout when it hit the island of Bermuda last week, with winds of up to 110mph.

Hits: 385

BBC’s website is being blocked across China

 

BBC

Access to the BBC’s English-language website has been blocked across China, the corporation has said.

BBC Global News director Peter Horrocks said it appeared to be “deliberate censorship”, adding that the BBC was complaining to the authorities.

Other major news websites were functioning as usual, and the reason for the blackout remained unclear.

Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the BBC’s English-language site has been generally available.

However, other BBC services including its Chinese-language news website has been blocked largely since it was launched.

BBC World TV - as with all overseas broadcasters - suffers intermittent blackouts particularly when reporting China stories.

Mr Horrocks said: “The BBC provides impartial, trusted news to millions of people around the world, and attempts to censor our news services show just how important it is to get our accurate information to them.”

The last time the BBC’s English-language website was disrupted was during the corporation’s coverage of activist Chen Guangcheng’s escape from house arrest in April 2012.

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4 reportedly killed in Nepal avalanche, blizzard

Global News

Nepal – An avalanche and a blizzard in Nepal’s mountainous north have killed 12 people, including four Canadians, officials said Wednesday.

They said an avalanche on Wednesday buried four Canadians and one Indian trekker in Phu.

Devendra Lamichane, chief administrator of Manang district, said the snow buried the trekkers’ bodies and digging them out would take days.

 In this May 18, 2013 file photo released by mountain guide Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions, climbers make their way to the summit of Mount Everest, in the Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalayas. Most Sherpa guides decide to leave Everest in walkout following deadly avalanche

13 bodies recovered on Mount Everest after avalanche

 The southern face of Mount Everest, known locally as Sagarmatha, soars above the monsoon clouds Saturday, August 26, 2000 at the border of Nepal and Tibet. Avalanche sweeps Mount Everest; 12 dead, 4 missing

Three villagers were killed Monday in the same district, about 160 kilometres northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, and their bodies were recovered on Wednesday.

In the neighbouring Mustang district, four trekkers caught in a blizzard died Tuesday.

Rescuers recovered the bodies of the two Poles, one Israeli and one Nepali trekker from the Thorong La pass area.

It was initially thought that group had been caught in an avalanche, but government official Yam Bahadur Chokyal said that the four trekkers instead had been caught in the blizzard and died.

He said another 14 foreign trekkers have been rescued so far, and two army helicopters were picking up injured trekkers and flying them to Jomsom town.

Chokyal said it was not possible to say how many trekkers were still on the route stranded by the deep snow but several of them have reached safe ground on Wednesday because of improved weather.

The rain and snow in Nepal were caused by a cyclone that hit neighbouring India several days ago.

October is the most popular trekking season in Nepal, with thousands of foreigners hiking around Nepal’s Himalayan mountains.

The Thorong La pass is also on the route that circles Mount Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest peak.

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