Archive for the ‘Far East’ Category

Several news articles caught my eye today, especially in light of Russia’s recently re-opened military base in the far north — the Artic Circle north.

NorthEast Passage tumblr_mtxud0Ed0h1qgpcs1o1_500

Arctic Assembly meets to set rules for exploration, Mineral wealth, shipping lanes coveted as icecap melts
The Washington Times
October 10, 2013

“The Arctic is America’s backyard. It is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. American companies and the [its] economy need to have a strong Arctic” plan, says Iceland President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, co-founder of the Arctic Circle Assembly.

Seeking to avoid a polar free-for-all in one of the planet’s last untapped economic frontiers, representatives from more than three dozen nations will gather in Reykjavik, Iceland, starting Saturday to try to set some rules for tapping the natural resources and navigating new shipping lanes opening in the Arctic.

Reflecting the intense interest in the frozen north’s economic potential, the inaugural gathering of the Arctic Council Assembly has attracted delegates not only from the United States, Canada, Russia and other border nations, but from countries as far as way as China, Brazil and Pakistan.

Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch and a member of the new assembly’s advisory panel, said she expects the Arctic to become an economic powerhouse in the coming years, comparing its potential to China’s economic growth since 1980.

The Arctic is “going from very little, virtually nothing in terms of the world’s large capital flows, to what will become the dominant region of the Earth within 50 years,” she said. “The U.S. could be more engaged and could be more involved,” Mr. Grimsson said. “The Arctic is America’s backyard. It is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. If America wants to continue to be a big economy in the 21st century, American companies and the American economy need to have a strong Arctic” plan.

In 2012, the Arctic lost more sea ice than had ever been recorded. Since 1980, the Arctic has lost approximately 40 percent of its sea ice cover, according to NASA glaciologist Walt Meier. One upshot from the receding ice is the opening of the Northeast Passage, a shipping lane connecting South Korea to northwest Russia. With up to four ice-reduced months during summer, shipping companies hope more cargo that once had to navigate the Suez Canal can be shipped along this route.

Polar scientists believe 20 percent to 25 percent of the undiscovered oil and natural gas in the world is in the Arctic region. In addition to the oil, natural gas and rare minerals, the Arctic holds rich fishing regions and potential new clean-energy sources.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/10/arctic-assembly-meets-to-set-rules-for-exploration/?page=2#ixzz2hPdhbjqV

northwest-passage-mapNorthwest Passage crossed by first cargo ship, the Nordic Orion
Reuters 27/09/13

LONDON — An ice-strengthened sea freighter has become the first bulk carrier to traverse the Northwest Passage through Canada’s Arctic waters, heralding a new era of commercial activity in the Arctic. Traveling with a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, the 75,000 deadweight-tonne Nordic Orion left Vancouver on Sept. 17 carrying 15,000 metric tons of coal.

Canada’s enthusiasm for developing a time-saving route in global trade through the Northwest Passage arises from a rivalry with Russia, which has developed at least 10 ports on the competing Northern Sea Route, or Northeast Passage.

“The Northwest Passage is more than 1,000 nautical miles shorter than the traditional shipping route through the Panama Canal and will save time, fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish owner of the ship. The Nordic Orion’s route will shave an estimated four days of travel time.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/27/northwest-passage-crossed-by-first-cargo-ship-the-nordic-orion-heralding-new-era-of-arctic-commercial-activity/

nordicorionCommercial Arctic shipping a long way off, Maersk boss says
NUNATSIAQ NEWS / News Around the Arctic
October 11, 2013

Head of global shipping firm not keen on Northern Sea Route, Northwest Passage. Despite all the hype that attended the recent voyage of the Nordic Orion through the Northwest Passage last month, the chief executive officer of Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping line, says Arctic sea routes won’t carry large volumes of commercial shipping any time soon.

“We will see some single ships sailing through the Arctic… But the reality is, for commercial shipping such as container shipping, this is not something that will happen within the next 10 to 20 years,” Nils Andersen, the head of the huge Moller-Maersk shipping conglomerate, told the London-based Financial Times Oct. 6.

The Nordic Orion, a 225-metre vessel owned by Nordic Bulk Carriers of Denmark, generated many headlines across Canada recently when it carried 15,000 tonnes of coal from Vancouver through the Northwest Passage to a steel plant in Finland.

Because the Nordic Orion’s owners sought and received Canadian permission, the voyage did not affect Canada’s legal position that the Northwest Passage is an internal Canadian waterway.

But the head of Maersk, which carries about 15 per cent of the world’s marine cargo, said he doesn’t expect to see much commercial shipping through routes like or Northern Sea Route north of Russia or the Northwest Passage. “The way global warming is going, of course there is the opportunity in a very far, very distant future that the northern sea route will open up and it will be a major shipping route. But it will definitely not be within the next 15 to 20 years in our opinion so it’s far too early to start constructing vessels for it,” Andersen told the Financial Times.

http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article_print/35582/

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Rosneft gets access to $100bn gas and oil field in Alaska
15 Feb 2013

exxonmobil-rosneft-company-president.nImage: Russian President Vladimir Putin and ExxonMobil Exploration Company President Stephen Greenlee.

Rosneft has reached an agreement with Exxon Mobil to acquire a 25% stake in the Point Thompson Alaska oil and natural gas field. The deal is part of the larger cooperation on exploring the Russian Arctic shelf.

­The head of Rosneft Igor Sechin and the President of ExxonMobil Stephen Greenlee have signed an agreement on joint exploration of new sectors of the Russian Arctic shelf, expanding the 2011 strategic partnership agreement.

Under the deal Rosneft gets access to one of the largest fields in Alaska which is currently operated by ExxonMobil. Participation in the project will let Rosneft develop up to a quarter of the proved gas resources of the Alaska North Slope, as well as get the latest technology for exploiting liquid gas fields in bad weather conditions, according to Igor Sechin.

In return, ExxonMobil gets the rights to explore 600,000 acres of land in the Russian Arctic, including the Severo-Karsky block in the Kara Sea, three blocks in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Laptev Sea, all of which are “among the most promising and least explored offshore blocks in the world.

According to Sechin, the agreements “take the unprecedented Rosneft and ExxonMobil partnership to a completely new level.” “The acreage in the Russian Arctic subject to geological exploration and subsequent development increased nearly six-fold,” Sechin added.

Point Thompson is a large oil and gas field in the Northern part of Alaska, which was discovered in the 1960s, which has been recently cleared for development after a legal battle between ExxonMobil and the State of Alaska. In 2012 the State, Exxon Mobil and other Point Thomson stakeholders agreed that natural gas production can begin by spring 2016, or the State could begin to take back leases.

The field is estimated to hold a potential 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is a quarter of the known reserves in the region, and also hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. If the estimates are correct the area could be worth more than $100 billion.

http://rt.com/business/news/rosneft-exxonmobil-field-alaska-322/

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Russia plans $25-$30 billion oil-for-loans deal with China
14 Feb 2013

Rosneft2_1804180bAn oil production platform at the Sakhalin-I field in Russia, partly owned by ONGC Videsh Ltd., Rosneft Oil Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Japan’s Sakhalin Oil and Gas Development Co.

Rosneft is seeking to borrow up to $30 billion from China in exchange for possibly doubling oil supplies, making Beijing the largest consumer of Russian oil and further diverting supplies away from Europe.

Four industry sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that Rosneft was in talks with Chinese state firm CNPC about the borrowing, which would echo a $25 billion deal the two companies clinched last decade.

Rosneft said it was not currently in talks about obtaining a loan from China but declined to comment when asked whether it may enter in negotiations at a later date.

In the previous deal, Rosneft and Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft borrowed money to help Rosneft acquire the assets of nationalized oil producer YUKOS while agreeing to build a pipeline to supply China with 300,000 barrels per day for 15 years.

This time, Rosneft wants to borrow money as it is close to completing a $55 billion acquisition of rival TNK-BP to become the world’s largest listed oil producer.

Entire article: http://chinadailymail.com/2013/02/14/russia-plans-25-30-billion-oil-for-loans-deal-with-china/

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BP-Rosneft deal: Who are Rosneft?
16 Feb 2013

RosneftOilBack in 2003 few people had ever heard of Rosneft. A state-owned (Russia), relatively minor player in Russia’s oil industry, the 10 year old company was dwarfed by its privately owned rival Yukos, which was controlled by the country’s then richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

That all changed in December of that year. A $27bn tax claim against Yukos set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to the bankruptcy of the company and the jailing of Mr Khodorkovsky, who was last month sentenced to a further eight years in prison for tax evasion.

But, it was 12 months later with the auction of Yuganskneftegaz, the main production facility of Yukos’s empire, that Rosneft was propelled into the big time as the business was sold off to help settle the Yukos tax debt.

Despite Yuganskneftegaz being one of the most attractive oil assets put up for sale in Russia, bidders proved elusive and in the end only two offers were made for the business; one from Gazpromneft, the oil business of state gas company Gazprom, the other from Baikalfinansgrup.

If the second name is not familiar this is no surprise – the company was only set up two weeks before the date of the auction. Even more bizarrely, the company was registered in the Russian city of Tver in a building that otherwise housed a vodka bar, a mobile phone retailer, a travel agent and a handful of other small local companies.

Yet this improbable bidder won the day, offering $9.3bn after securing a multi-billion dollar letter of credit from Sberbank, a state-owned bank. Four days later Baikalfinansgrup was bought by Rosneft.

Entire article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/8261264/BP-Rosneft-deal-Who-are-Rosneft.html

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Maybe related, maybe not… hmmm.

More noise from China: Submarines
16 Feb 2013

chinese-submarinesOver the last five years, Chinese submarines have been going to sea a lot more, at least the diesel-electric boats have been.

This is worrying to other nations in the region, and the U.S. Navy, because it means China is training its submarine crews for war.

Previously the Chinese kept their fleet in port most of the time. This was cheaper, although in wartime it meant that Chinese warships would not last long in combat against a better trained fleet (like the Americans, Japanese, South Koreans, or Taiwanese). Now the Chinese are building better quality subs and feel they may have a fighting chance, if they have better prepared crews as well.

Pretty noisy and easy to find

For China one downside of all this training is that the U.S. Navy has more opportunity to practice hunting Chinese subs. This is particularly true for American subs, which are well equipped with passive (listen only) sonar and are even more effective if they have a lot of sound samples for enemy subs operating underwater or on the surface.

The U.S. has discovered that Chinese diesel-electric boats are rapidly getting quieter, apparently because the Chinese have learned more about advanced techniques for “silencing” subs. Still, most of the 60 Chinese subs in service are pretty noisy and easy to find.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy has been designing and building a rapidly evolving collection of “Song” (Type 39) class diesel-electric submarines that emphasize quietness. The changes have been so great that the latest four Songs have been called Yuan class (Type 39A or Type 41). The original design (Type 39) first appeared in 2001, and 13 have been built.

Entire article: http://chinadailymail.com/2013/02/16/more-noise-from-china-submarines/

What am I doing now? Hmmm.

Posted: January 29, 2013 in Egypt, Far East, Middle East, Syria
Tags:

29 January 2013

Being told I had retired a few years ago, a fellow asked me yesterday, “So, what are you doing now?” I said, “Nothing.” I knew he didn’t really want an answer and explaining would have taken me a while…

Watching and praying are what I spend a lot of time doing these days. (See Mark 13:37, but read the whole chapter to understand that verse.) Watching what is happening around the world, in a wide variety of aspects and praying about the various situations.

Here’s what I have done so far today:

Read the Morning News on paper
Worked the puzzles
Read a week’s worth of Jesus Calling devotions
Drank two cups of coffee, made a “grilled” cheese sandwich (in the microwave) for breakfast
Watched a few minutes of CNN / Fox News news on TV
To the computer, checked emails (mostly subscription news items)
Checked Facebook (which I use mostly for news articles)
Watched part of old Matlock and Burn Notice episodes while preparing and eating spaghetti for lunch

Back to the computer, read the following RSS feeds (I subscribe to others, but these I actually read.)

trifid_gendler_960Image actually from yesterday’s APOD article, beautiful.

Today: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html What would it be like to drive on the Moon? You don’t have to guess — humans have actually done it. Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke recorded video during one such drive in 1972, with a digital version now available on the web.

http://www.newsmaxworld.com/GlobalTalk/egypt-collapse-state-military/2013/01/29/id/487799 CAIRO — The head of the Egyptian military warned political conflict could lead to the collapse of the state and said protecting the Suez Canal was one of the main objectives of the army deployment to nearby cities shaken by violence.

http://www.space.com/19510-nasa-communications-satellite-network-tdrs-k.html A NASA communications network used to track satellites and spacecraft orbiting the Earth is about to get an upgrade with the launch of a new satellite on Wednesday (Jan. 30).

http://www.rferl.org/content/eu-ashton-iran-ahwazi-activists/24887263.html EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says she is greatly concerned that the Iranian High Court has upheld the sentences of five Ahwazi Arab activists who could face imminent execution.

http://www.voanews.com/content/rebels-torch-mali-library-of-historic-manuscripts/1592945.html Mayor Halley Ousmane of Mali’s fabled city of Timbuktu says Islamist militants torched a library containing thousands of ancient Arab manuscripts, as they retreated from the city this week.

http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/new-details-surface-on-iran-nuclear-explosion/ Sixteen North Koreans, including 14 technicians and two top military officers, are among those trapped after a Jan. 21 explosion destroyed much of Iran’s Fordow nuclear site, a source reveals. A senior researcher and director of the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London, Ali Reza Nourizadeh, who has many contacts in Iran, confirmed that the explosion had trapped many inside.

http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/grand-mufti-approves-death-penalty-innocence-muslims-producers Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa has approved a death sentence delivered in absentia for seven Coptic Egyptian expats accused of producing and acting a movie deemed insulting to Islam. The amateur, 13-minute movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked an uproar in several Islamic states.

http://chinadailymail.com/2013/01/28/china-carries-out-anti-missile-test/ Self-explanatory headline.

http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/28/yemen-u-s-intercept-ship-with-large-cache-of-illegal-arms/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/01/2013129133917989266.html The bodies of at least 65 persons have been found along a river bank in Aleppo with single gunshot wounds to the head.

http://www.shabablibya.org/news/gunfire-blends-with-coffee-as-libya-seeks-tripoli-control

http://www.timesofisrael.com/stanley-fischer-resigns-as-bank-of-israel-head/

http://news.sky.com/story/1044320/mali-conflict-british-troops-to-train-forces

http://rt.com/news/israel-iron-dome-syria-929/ Israel deploys Iron Dome batteries amid Syrian weapons fears

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/01/29/aide-to-egyptian-president-morsi-claims-holocaust-us-hoax/ He claimed the 6 million Jews who were killed by Nazis simply moved to the U.S.

http://www.solarham.net/ Low solar activity today.

http://spaceweather.com/ A record-setting asteroid fly-by coming up.

Twitter: Feeds from news organizations mostly, listed are only the last hour’s worth. Those I wanted to know more about, I clicked on and read the article.

National Review
Washington Post
Politico
Associated Press
GlobalPost
Jerusalem Post News
Guardian World
New York Times
Al Jazeera English
AJELive re N. Korea
Reuters Top News
CNN Live
Talking Points Memo
TIME Ideas
The Hill
Roll Call Politics
Townhall.com
RedState
The Daily Caller
BBC News
BBC Africa
Capital Weather Gang
WSJ Washington Wire
WSJ Greater New York
BBC Breaking News
Middle East Voices
The Revolting Syrian (Syrian national tweeting about conditions on the ground)
NMSyria (ditto)
Omar (Syrian businessman who lives in Damascus – ditto)
Assia Amry (Libyan – ditto)
Sky News Newsdesk
WIRED Science
Erik K / Eruptions (volcanoes)
NASA Kennedy
Johnson Space Center
Space.com
Daily Galaxy
CERN re Aegis experiment installation
Live Science
DebkaFileNews (intelligence gathering, Middle East mostly)
TIME.com
Adam Beam (The State newspaper)
WPDE NewsChannel 15
CNN Politics
WORLD Magazine
Nicholas Kristof (NY Times columnist)
PostPolitics

There are quite a few others I get who don’t tweet as often as these.

So, that’s what I’m doing these days, among Bible study, writing blogs, doing housework, hosting / attending prayer groups, plus rehearsing new music and playing piano for church. And reading murder mysteries, spy novels, Smithsonian magazine, Charisma magazine, going out to lunch or dinner with friends occasionally. Movies, now and then.

From Time U.S.
12 October 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued what he said is a “clarion call” Thursday for Americans to wake up to the growing threat posed by cyber war.

“The whole point of this is that we simply don’t just sit back and wait for a goddamn crisis to happen,” Panetta told Time. “In this country we tend to do that, and that’s a concern.”

Panetta came to the nation’s financial hub – New York City – to issue his battle cry. The city is the brightest bulls-eye on the American target for foes wishing to cripple the U.S. economy with computerized “worms” and “malware” that can infect computer networks via the Internet or insider sabotage.

“It is the kind of capability that can basically take down a power grid, take down a water system, take down a transportation system, take down a financial system,” he told Time editors. “We are now in a world in which countries are developing the capability to engage in the kind of attacks that can virtually paralyze a country.”

Aware his alarm might be drowned out by Thursday night’s vice presidential debate, Panetta stopped by the magazine’s midtown offices Thursday afternoon to detail his concerns to a Time editorial board gathering.

“Everybody knows what their iPhone can do, everybody knows what their computer can do, but I think there are too few people out there who understand the potential for the kind of attack that could cripple this country,” Panetta said. “The American people just have to be made aware of that.”

Panetta cited a series of “disruptive” attacks against U.S. companies, and detailed the far more serious so-called “Shamoon” virus attack on the Saudi Arabian state oil company, Aramco. That August strike wiped out 30,000 of the companies computers. It created the image of a U.S. flag in flames on the infected computers and “it basically burned [the computers] up,” Panetta said. It marked, he said, a significant escalation in cyber warfare.

In the hour-long session with the magazine’s editors, he also said:

— “We are facing the threat of a new arena in warfare that could be every bit as destructive as 9/11 — the American people need to know that. We can’t hide this from the American people any more than we should have hidden the terrorism-attack threat from the American people.”

— “The three potential adversaries out there that are developing the greatest capabilities are Russia, China, Iran.

— “Out of a scale of 10, we’re probably 8 [in cyber-war skills. But potential foes] are moving up on the scale – probably the others are about a 3, somewhere in that vicinity, but they’re beginning to move up.”

— He also said the U.S. military is stepping up its offensive cyber war capability: “I think we have to develop the ability to conduct counter-operations against a country we know, or anticipate, that they’re going to launch that kind of attack. So we have to have both defensive and offensive capabilities.”

Beyond merely shutting down enemy systems, the U.S. military is crafting a witch’s brew of stealth, manipulation and falsehoods designed to lure the enemy into believing he is in charge of his forces when, in fact, they have been secretly enlisted as allies of the U.S. military. The U.S. already has deployed a cyber-war offensive technology against Iran’s nuclear program, the New York Times has reported.

But the U.S. is also a target. Panetta said “potential aggressors” are probing for weaknesses in the nation’s cyber defenses. “They’re beginning to exploit transportation systems, power systems, energy systems,” he said. “Our concern is that in doing that kind of exploration, they’re doing it for purposes of determining how could they attack.”

The defense chief added that the Pentagon’s still-fuzzy rules of engagement for waging war in cyber space are being tightened, and will allow the Pentagon to defend other U.S. networks, in and out of government. But such technology isn’t cheap: major defense contractors see cyber defense as the next post-9/11 money pot – annual cyber spending is about $12 billion.

In his speech Thursday night before Business Executives for National Security from the hangar deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Panetta warned of cyber terrorists derailing U.S. passenger trains – as well as trains laden with lethal chemicals. He told Time’s editors that both Congress and U.S. businesses have been hesitant to pass legislation – and make the investments necessary – to defend the nation’s critical cyber infrastructure from attack. Part of the reason for speaking out, he said, is to generate public pressure on lawmakers to act.

That’s one reason President Obama designated October as National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Private-sector companies wonder if the government is exaggerating the threat. They seem willing to wait for an “electronic Pearl Harbor” to justify the investments they would need to make to protect their info-infrastructure. But Panetta and others fear that could be too late.

“Government depends on these networks to defend this country,” Army General Keith Alexander, chief of U.S. Cyber Command , told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Oct. 4. “And it depends on the power grid to operate. So we have a vested interest in making sure that that works.”

Panetta said his prior job – running the CIA – gave him a close-up look at the damage a cagey cyber-warrior could do to the U.S. “I can tell you from my old job, the level of expertise that I saw – and I don’t consider myself to be schooled in the art of knowing what the hell cyber systems [do] and how it all works –- I’m not close to being there — but I saw people that are extremely bright, extremely able,” he said

“They can develop the kind of malware that has tremendous potential to bring down systems very effectively,” Panetta continued, making clear the U.S. is exploring offensive cyber weapons. ”Frankly, in my past capacity, having seen that potential — and now, as secretary of defense, I’m now beginning to see how that is beginning to get in to the arena of other countries that are saying: `Whoa, this has got some great potential.’”

http://nation.time.com/2012/10/12/panetta-sounds-alarm-on-cyber-war-threat/

A view of the routes from the north pole, showing the importance of the Bering Strait crossing.

Main routes of the World Land-Bridge. Existing routes are green, proposed routes are red, but the existing routes need improvement.

Project of the rail link between Eurasia and North America. View from the North Pole.

http://www.interbering.com/Bering-railroad-maps.html

Timely articles from the Voice of America online.

Clinton: US Increasing Help for Syrian Rebels
July 24, 2012

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton 24July2012Image: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton 24 July 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is increasing its efforts to help Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton gave no details, but she said Tuesday that the U.S. is giving such non-lethal aid as medical and communications support. She said Washington is working outside of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions that would have taken strong action against the Assad government.

The secretary said the Syrian opposition is seizing control of more and more territory, which she says will eventually become a safe haven and a base for more operations.

She said the opposition must be ready to start work on an interim government that protects the rights of all Syrians and safeguards the stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

Opposition Demands Assad Step Down

The spokesman for the Syrian National Council says the main opposition grouping is still demanding President Bashar al-Assad leave power, denying that the coalition would consider having someone from the current government temporarily lead a political transition.

Syrian National Council spokesman George Sabra told VOA by phone from Paris Tuesday that he had been misquoted in an earlier news report in which he was reported to have said the SNC would agree to the departure of President Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would temporarily lead a transitional period.

“There is not any change with the position and opinion of SNC about the regime and the transition period,” he said. “The transition period should start after leaving Bashar al-Assad and his regime the power.

“And the principle of this transition period has been announced in a document issued by the most parties of the opposition in that meeting which has been held two weeks ago in Cairo,” Sabra said. “So nothing new about this thing.”

Opposition Squabbling

The opposition meeting earlier this month in Cairo was marked by squabbling among delegates. But ultimately a plan emerged for a framework for a post-Assad political transition period that includes an interim government and parliament. SNC spokesman Sabra indicated that talks continue within the opposition about the way forward if and when President Assad leaves power.

“We are discussing now between us in the council, and also with the Free Syrian Army, about the idea of the transition document,” he said.

Fierce Fighting

Meanwhile, Syrian jets flew overhead while helicopters fired missiles Tuesday in a new government push to put down the rebellion in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

The exact situation on the ground is not clear. But witnesses report heavy fighting in the streets. Opposition reports say thousands of Syrian troops are heading toward Aleppo from their positions near the Turkish border.

Aleppo was relatively calm until late last week when the rebels launched their operation to take the city.

The opposition-run Local Coordination Committees also reported Tuesday that government forces were shelling areas outside Damascus, as well as in Homs, and in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

Chemical Weapons

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama joined other world figures in warning Syria against using chemical weapons.

Obama’s comments came after a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the government would never use chemical weapons against its own people, but would unleash them against what he called foreign invaders. He said the military is securely guarding the nation’s weapons stockpile.

Syrian activists say more than 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March of last year.

http://www.voanews.com/content/syrian-activists-report-continued-aleppo-clashes/1444072.html

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Top US Security Envoy Holds Talks in Beijing
July 24, 2012

Image: U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon (L) and China’s President Hu Jintao during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, July 24, 2012.

The U.S. National Security Advisor is in Beijing to meet with China’s top leaders and to discuss military and security issues as well as the China’s position on the Syrian conflict and Iran.

Thomas Donilon held talks on Tuesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. Donilon told Hu that President Barack Obama is “fully committed to building a cooperative partnership with China” on issues in the region and the globe.

China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Dai Bingguo as saying that the U.S. envoy’s visit is “important considering the timing, the background and the mission.”

Jin Canrong, associate dean of the school of International Relations at Renmin University, says that although the U.S.-China relations are generally stable, the two countries have to work out conflicting opinions on a range of matters.

“The two sides do not trust each other. Donilon’s role as a national security advisor is important in defusing doubts between the two countries,” Jin said.

Syria, Iran diplomatic issues

Last week China again joined Russia in vetoing a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions on Syria. China perceives such a move as an interference in Syria’s internal affairs. Western countries, including the United States, strongly criticized China’s decision, calling the vote “deplorable”.

Jin Canrong says officials are likely to discuss Syria, but Chinese authorities are unlikely to be persuaded to adopt a more interventionist stance.

The two sides are also expected to discuss Iran, which is now subjected to tough economic sanctions that deter third countries’ imports of Iran’s crude oil. Last month, and in a surprising move, the Obama administration added China, Iran’s top customer of oil, to a list of exempted countries allowed to purchase oil from Iran for 180 days without incurring economic repercussions from the United States.

“But the exemption is of only 6 months, after that what will they do?” Jin said, suggesting that Donilon’s visit could help define what the two countries’ will do next.

On Tuesday, Chinese media widely reported on Japanese protests against a U.S. military aircraft, the Osprey V-22, that had just arrived in Japan where it will be deployed to the American military base of Okinawa. Japanese opposition came from local officials and citizens concerned about the plane’s safety record.

China did not release any official statement on the matter and Jin Canrong thinks that Donilon’s visit will not prompt China’s leaders to express their view on the subject. “It’s a tactics’ weapon that does not change the strategic balance,” he said adding that China still views it as a U.S-Japan issue.

North Korea, China Sea issues

Other areas of discussion might include North Korea and conflicts over disputed territory in the East and South China Sea.

Donilon is scheduled to meet other Chinese senior military and state officials on Wednesday, including Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, foreign minister Yang Jiechi, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Xi Jinping, the current vice president and Hu Jintao’s most likely successor after the next Party Congress scheduled for this fall.

After China, the U.S. envoy will fly to Japan to consult with senior Japanese officials on U.S.-Japan security cooperation and other bilateral issues.

http://www.voanews.com/content/top-us-security-envoy-holds-talks-in-beijing/1444109.html

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Fighting Rages in Syria, Turkey Closes Key Crossings
ONCUPINAR, Turkey, July 25, 2012

Image: A Syrian rebel takes position as a helicopter hovers over the northern city of Aleppo, July 23, 2012.

Fierce fighting continued in Syria on Wednesday. Rebels sent reinforcements to the battered historic city of Aleppo as government forces stepped up attacks with helicopters and machine guns.

Activists say rebels set fire to a police station near Aleppo. They also say clashes and heavy shelling have continued in regions including Homs, Hama, Deir el-Zour and the Damascus suburbs as President Bashar al-Assad tries to maintain his grip on power.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 40 people have been killed across Syria on Wednesday.

Turkey Closes Border

Neighboring Turkey has closed key border crossings to commercial traffic from Syria but says they remain open for refugees.

Ankara says it is taking the measure due to security concerns. Last week, Turkish drivers said their trucks were looted and burned as rebels captured the Syrian side of the Cilvegozu crossing from government forces. Analysts say the closures will affect Syria’s economy by hitting cross-border trade.

At the Kilis refugee camp near Oncupinar, Syrian refugee Abu Hasan expressed support for Turkey’s policy. “I think this is an appropriate decision,” he said. “Turkey is making the decision to protect its border as well as to protect us.” The Killis camp houses more than 11,000 Syrians.

Refugees Increasing

The number of refugees is increasing, with most using clandestine smuggling routes over the border. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay says more than 44,000 refugees are now sheltered in Turkey.

“There is an expectation that more people may come in,” he said. “Therefore, today we have decided to build new camps in several locations including Osmaniye, Kahramanmaras and Nizip.”

The Arab League has pledged $100 million to help the Syrian refugees. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal says Turkey welcomes donations of equipment, but does not need personnel.

“Some of this assistance has arrived, in the sense of material assistance, and we are ready to receive more of the selected items that we have announced,” he said. “And our open door policy will continue.”

Reducing the U.N. Mission

Meanwhile, U.N. observers in Syria say their mission is dwindling. Herve Ladsous, the head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, said the Syrian operation continues on a “reduced basis.” He told reporters in Damascus on Wednesday that the security situation in many parts of the country is “extremely delicate.”

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution renewing the observer mission for up to 30 days. The resolution allows for a pullout if the violence does not stop.

Earlier this week, the European Union decided to strengthen its arms embargo against the Syrian regime, blacklist nearly 30 government-associated people and companies, and ban the Syrian national airline from landing in EU countries.

On Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry expressed opposition to the EU sanctions, saying they could be seen as a “blockade” of the country.

http://www.voanews.com/content/syria-adds-troops-to-aleppo-fight/1444737.html

China flood toll reaches 1072
Sify News online
5 Aug 2010

The toll in floods triggered by torrential rains in China this year has reached 1,072, while 619 people are still missing. The floods have affected over 140 million people in 28 provinces and caused economic losses estimated at almost 210 billion yuan, said Shu Qingpeng, deputy director of the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief.

Floods also destroyed over 1.1 million homes and damaged 9.72 million hectares of farmland, Xinhua reported. Rivers like the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Songhua were all swollen to danger levels after heavy rains. Authorities have evacuated 10.42 million people this year from areas at risk of flooding, he said.

President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu were concerned about the relief and rescue work, he said, adding that the central government has allocated more than 2.1 billion yuan for the purpose.

http://sify.com/news/china-flood-toll-reaches-1-072-news-international-kifgafgdjad.html

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Severe floods in China threaten to block Three Gorges Dam with waste
Recycle news online
August 4th, 2010 by Sarah Flanagan

Intense flooding from the Yangtze River in China is threatening the Three Gorges Dam as thick layers of waste are brought down the river. According to the state media in a report on Monday, the rubbish could pose a threat to the gates of the dam by blocking them. Dam official Chen Lei said that the large mass of waste accumulating in the area could cause the miter gate to jam. Although it was not detailed what the effects of a jam would be for the dam operations.

Mr Chen has said that unusually large amounts of waste are being pushed downstream by the heavy rain such as branches, domestic waste, and plastic bottles. So far, almost 3,000 tonnes of rubbish has been pooling at the base of the dam per day. The heart of the issue, according to Chen, is that there is a lack of resources in manpower and equipment to clear enough of the waste in time.

Currently, the layer of refuse covers more than 50,000 square meters and is almost 60 centimeters deep. The pile, according to the government, first began to form in early July, the start of China’s rainy season. So far, 150,000 to 200,000 cubic meters have been cleared costing nearly 10 million yuan ($1.5 million dollars). Over 150 million people live close to the dam, but cities are unprepared to handle the sheer amount of waste accumulating at its base.

The dam is the world’s biggest hydropower project and was touted as an ideal solution to ending centuries of flooding at the basin of the Yangtze River. Environmental groups have previously protested against the dam’s environmental impact, which displaced over 1.4 million people to be constructed.

http://www.recycle.co.uk/news/2482000.html