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Russia Accuses Washington of Leaking Diplomats’ Bank Details

Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday accused U.S. officials of leaking to the media confidential financial details of Russian diplomats working in the United States, and demanded that those responsible be punished.

U.S. media outlet Buzzfeed reported this week that U.S. officials investigating allegations of Kremlin interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election were studying records of financial transactions involving Russian diplomats. Buzzfeed cited details of several bank transfers.

“It’s obvious that this could not have happened without the knowledge of the authorities of that country (the United States),” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“In other words, this intrusion on the sanctity of the accounts of the embassy and its staff, who have diplomatic immunity, is the work of Washington officialdom.”

The statement said that the transactions that were leaked contained nothing except routine payments, but that these were being twisted to make them appear suspicious.

“Once again we have to note that Washington is not ensuring the appropriate conditions for the functioning of Russia’s diplomatic missions. The pressure on them continues and is growing,” said the ministry.

“We demand that the American authorities, at last, start implementing their own national laws and international obligations, immediately stop the unlawful distribution of confidential information …. and hold responsible those who are to blame, including those who hold relevant posts in the American state administration.”

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Down to Business: Drought-hit Kenyan Women Trade Their Way Out of Poverty

Widow Ahatho Turuga lost 20 of her goats to drought early last year, but the shopkeeper is planning to reinvest in her herd once she has saved enough money.

“I think I will start with four goats and see how it goes,” she said, rearranging soap on the upper shelf of her shop in Loglogo, a few kilometers from Marsabit town.

She recalled how frequent droughts had left her on the edge of desperation, struggling to care for six of her own children and four others she adopted after their mother died.

But Turuga is finding it easier to cope since taking part in a rural entrepreneurship program run by The BOMA Project, a nonprofit helping women in Kenya’s dry northern areas beat extreme poverty and adapt to climate change.

The U.S. and Kenya-based organization provides two years of business and life-skills training, as well as mentorship.

Groups of three women are each given a startup grant of 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($194.55) and a progress grant of 10,000 shillings to set up a business.

After graduating, they carry on operating their businesses — mainly small shops selling groceries and household goods — either together or on their own.

The women also club together in savings groups of at least 15 people, who put away anything from 400 shillings a month each, and make loans to members at an interest rate of 5 to 10 percent.

Habibo Osman, a mother of five who was in the same group as Turuga, has been able to support her family even after divorcing her husband.

The 1,200 shillings she earns each week from the shop she established as a BOMA business has enabled her to enroll her eldest child, aged five, in nursery school. She is now hoping to save enough to buy her own land.

No more aid

Ahmed “Kura” Omar, BOMA’s co-founder and deputy country director, said his native Marsabit is one of Kenya’s driest counties. It is often hit by prolonged drought, with many families losing livestock in its mainly pastoralist economy, he added.

“Given that there is no foreseeable end to these drought patterns, we need to stop relying on food distribution and aid money, and create more sustainable, life-long solutions,” Kura told Reuters.

BOMA CEO Kathleen Colson said the program aimed to help break the cycle of dependency on aid, giving women power over their lives and the means to move out of extreme poverty.

“People need to be treated with dignity and be empowered to achieve self-sufficiency and effect change on a community level,” she said.

BOMA asks villagers to help identify the poorest women among them to participate in the training. After completing the program, they help other women, a process that raises income levels across the entire area.

Bakayo Nahiro, a widow and mother of six, belongs to the Namayana women’s saving group in Kargi in Marsabit. She has amassed 25,000 shillings in savings, but said profit margins go down in drought periods as people take shop goods on credit when they have no livestock to sell.

Money is power

Jane Naimirdik, a BOMA trainer and mentor, said communities in Marsabit are highly patriarchal, but the program helps women gain a voice in society.

The practice of grouping women in threes creates mutual accountability but also offers protection from husbands who may want to take money from them, she added.

“We once handled a case where the husband tried to take the wife’s savings by force, but we approached [him] and told him the money did not belong to his wife but to the women’s savings group and he understood,” said Naimirdik.

Moses Galore, Kargi’s village chief, said no such incidents had been reported to him, and men appreciated their wives’ financial contribution to the household.

Magatho Mifo, a BOMA business owner, said her husband was happy about her commercial activities as she could now provide for her family while he travels for days in search of pasture for his herd.

Her neighbors’ wives and children buy goods on credit when the men are away looking for grazing, and repay her when they return. This helps the community during lean times and generates more income for her business, she said.

“My husband sometimes gets angry when I attend the women’s group meetings, because they can last a long time, but once I arrive home with a bag of food or something else, all is forgotten,” said Khobobo Gurleyo, another entrepreneurship program member.

Business partnerships

BOMA mentor Naimirdik said the women are also trained in conflict management to strengthen their business partnerships.

Ideally, each group includes women of different ages so as to benefit from the experience of older members and to make the program sustainable as it passes to subsequent generations, she said.

In addition, the women receive information about family planning and the importance of having small families, as well as child and maternal health and hygiene, she added.

The BOMA Project has reported positive results in the communities where it works in Marsabit County and Samburu East, with about 15,700 women enrolled in its program since 2008.

Data collected during a 2016 exit survey of participants found that after two years, 99 percent of BOMA businesses were still open.

Members experienced a 147 percent increase in their income, and a 1,400 percent increase in their savings, alongside a 63 percent drop in children going to bed hungry.

The BOMA Project plans to expand its program across East Africa’s drylands by partnering with governments and other development agencies.

In Kenya, it is undertaking a pilot program with the government involving 1,600 women in Samburu, in addition to its existing work.

The project aims to reach 1 million women and children by 2022, said CEO Colson.

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Turkey Ratchets Up Pressure on Syrian Kurds

Turkey is stepping up its military and diplomatic preparations for a threatened offensive into Syria against a Syrian Kurdish militia. The escalation comes as Turkish ministers dismissed efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to calm tensions.

Turkey’s threat to intervene in Syria’s Afrin enclave controlled by the Kurdish militia, the YPG, was triggered by a U.S.-led coalition announcement of the creation of a 30,000-member border security force. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dubbed the force a “terror army” and vowed to destroy it, because a large part of it would consist of YPG fighters considered by Ankara to be terrorists linked to the outlawed PKK, which is waging a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

Afrin is one several Kurdish-controlled cantons that are under the authority of the YPG militia, a key ally in the U.S.-led war against Islamic State.

Tillerson reached out to Ankara Wednesday, saying it deserved an explanation and that the “entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described; some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.” The secretary of state maintained that the U.S. just planned to continue its training of people freed from Islamic State control.

“Not enough” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as Turkish forces Thursday resumed their bombardment of Afrin and reinforcements continued to the Syrian enclave frontier.

Veiled message?

The ongoing escalation saw Damascus push back. “We warn the Turkish leadership that if they initiate combat operations in the Afrin area, that will be considered an act of aggression by the Turkish army,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad.

“Part of the game in [the] Middle East is that countries can say something directly or have others say it for them, “suggested political columnist Semih Idiz. “I think the statement by Damascus by Meqdad is significant as it is probably Moscow saying it indirectly.”

Russia finds itself performing a delicate balancing act. Russia supports the Kurds but at the same time is courting Turkey in a bid to weaken ties between Turkey and its NATO allies.

On Thursday, the head of Turkey’s armed forces, Hulusi Akar, and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, visited Moscow for talks about Ankara’s plans for a military operation. Turkish Foreign Minster Cavusoglu said Moscow’s cooperation is vital for any military operation against the YPG. Russian soldiers are deployed in the Afrin enclave as a measure to prevent the risk of confrontation between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish militia forces. Turkish air support in any Syrian incursion, considered vital by experts, would depend on Moscow’s permission, given its deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries in Syria.

Russia better positioned

“I don’t think it’s in the cards. I don’t think there is much hope of Russia giving up on the Kurds. Russia has this relationship with the Kurds going back 70 to 80 years and they have always maintained these ties, even though the PKK always had a presence in Moscow, said columnist Idiz. “But Russia does not have that much of an interest in severing ties with Turkey at the moment. So they will try and find some solution. Moscow is in a much better situation than Washington to do this, because Moscow has dialogue with all sides at the moment. So Moscow seems to be again the winner in this situation,” added Idiz.

Ankara’s threat to intervene into Afrin is seen as a sign of wider concerns that it will face being isolated in any final deliberations over the future of Syria.

“The U.S. will arrive there (talks on Syria) with the east of the Euphrates River (in Syria) under their control and more or less the Russians will arrive there with the (Syrian) regime in control of the rest of the country,” said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served widely in the region.

Ankara is facing growing pressure by both Moscow and Washington to allow Syrian Kurds linked to the YPG to participate in peace talks over Syria. Turkey steadfastly opposes the move, claiming “terrorists” have no place at the talks. “The president’s brinkmanship with regard to Afrin could be an attempt to change the game or concentrate minds to remind the powers that Turkey is here and it can always be a spoiler if it wishes,” columnist Idiz said.

Analysts suggest such brinkmanship carries serious risks.

“Failure (of the military operation) would significantly rattle the AKP government, while success could infuriate the U.S. and/or Russia, triggering talk of economic sanctions once again,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada, of Global Source Partners, referring to Turkey’s ruling party.

 

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Turkey Business Lobby Calls for End to Emergency Rule

Turkey’s main business lobby on Thursday called on the government to end the state of emergency as parliament extended it for a sixth time since it was imposed after an attempted coup in 2016.

Emergency rule allows President Tayyip Erdogan and the government to bypass parliament in passing new laws and allows them to suspend rights and freedoms. More than 50,000 people have been arrested since its introduction and 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday voted to extend the state of emergency, with the ruling AK Party and the nationalist opposition voting in favor.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies fear Erdogan is using the crackdown to stifle dissent and crush his opponents. Freedom House, a Washington-based watchdog, downgraded Turkey to “not free” from “partly free” in an annual report this week.

In order to preserve its international reputation, Turkey needs to start normalizing rapidly, Erol Bilecik, the head of the TUSIAD business lobby said.

“The first step in that regard is bringing an end to the state of emergency,” he told a meeting in Istanbul.

Parliament was due to extend emergency rule after the national security council on Wednesday recommended it do so.

The state of emergency has negatively impacted foreign investors’ decisions, another senior TUSIAD executive said.

“As Turkey takes steps towards becoming a state of law, direct investments will increase, growth will accelerate, more jobs will be created,” Tuncay Ozilhan said, adding that he hoped this would be the last extension of emergency rule.

The government says its measures are necessary to confront multiple security challenges and root out supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom it blames for the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

But critics fear Erdogan is pushing the NATO member towards greater authoritarianism.

Some 30 emergency decrees have been published since the failed coup. They contain 1,194 articles and cover defense, security, the judiciary, education and health, widely restructuring the relationship between the state and the citizen.

A total of 2,271 private educational institutions have been shut down in the crackdown, as well as 19 labor unions, 15 universities, 49 hospitals and 148 media outlets.

The two co-heads of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party, parliament’s third-largest, are in jail on terrorism charges, as are several of the parties deputies.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association says about 160 journalists are in jail, most held since the failed coup. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Turkey the world’s top jailer of journalists.

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Nigeria Moves Closer to Turning Long-awaited Oil Bill Into Law

Nigeria moved closer to turning the first part of a long-awaited oil industry bill into law after the lower house passed the same version of the legislation approved by the Senate last year, a lawmaker in the House of Representatives said on Thursday.

It is the first time both houses have approved the same version of the bill. It still needs the president’s signature to become law.

The legislation, which Nigeria has been trying to pass for more than a decade, aims to increase transparency and stimulate growth in the country’s oil industry.

Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the Petroleum Industry Bill was broken up into sections to ease passage.

The House of Representatives passed the first part called the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) on Wednesday.

“The PIGB, as passed yesterday, is the same as passed by the Senate. We have harmonized everything and formed the National Assembly Joint Committee on PIB,” Alhassan Ado Doguwa, a lawmaker in the House of Representatives, told reporters in the capital Abuja.

“Every consideration of the bills is now under the joint committee. We have broken the jinx after 17 years. We are working on the other accompanying bills.”

Doguwa is the chairman of the lower house’s Ad-hoc Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as well as of the National Assembly Joint Committee on PIB.

The joint committee is working on two more bills as part of the PIB.

The governance section deals with management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Uncertainty over terms affecting taxation of upstream oil development has been the main sticking point holding back billions of dollars of investment for the oil industry. This will be addressed later in an accompanying bill.

Shell, Chevron, Total, ExxonMobil and Italy’s Eni are major producers in Nigeria through joint ventures with the state oil firm NNPC.

The PIGB would create four new entities whose powers would include the ability to conduct bid rounds, award exploration licenses and make recommendations to the oil minister on upstream licenses.

“It’s an unprecedented step forward. The PIB is something that has defied the last two governments,” Antony Goldman of PM Consulting said.

“The detail of what is agreed will determine the extreme to which the bill takes politics out of the sector and tackles systemic corruption.”

 

 

 

 

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Леся Цуренко програла на Australian Open

Українська тенісистка Леся Цуренко 18 січня поступилася в другому колі відкритого чемпіонату Австралії польській суперниці, 26-й сіяній Агнешці Радванській. Поєдинок, який тривав 2 години 17 хвилин, був дуже напруженим, про що свідчить і рахунок – 6:2, 5:7, 3:6.

В основній сітці першого в сезоні змагання найпрестижнішої серії Grand Slam залишилося четверо українців, але вже в п’ятницю, 19 січня, їхня кількість точно зменшиться, оскільки між собою в третьому раунді зіграють перша ракетка України Еліна Світоліна та авторка гучних сенсацій на кортах Мельбурна, 15-річна Марта Костюк.

Ще одна українка Катерина Бондаренко позмагається з 19-ю сіяною словачкою Магдаленою Рибариковою. Єдиний представник України серед чоловіків Олександр Долгополов зустрінеться з 24-м сіяним аргентинцем Дієго Шварцманом.

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US Seeks Extradition of al-Qaida Suspect Jailed in France

The United States is seeking to extradite a suspected al-Qaida terrorist imprisoned in France.

The Justice Department on Wednesday unsealed its indictment on federal terrorism charges of German citizen Christian Ganczarski, who also goes by several Arabic aliases.

The charges include conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and providing material support to al-Qaida.

Tunisia attack

Ganczarski is in prison in France for his part in a 2002 al-Qaida attack on a synagogue in Tunisia.

U.S. authorities say Ganczarski’s association with al-Qaida goes back to 1999 and that he was close to senior al-Qaida leaders. He allegedly provided them with expert guidance on computers, radio communications and weapon systems maintenance. He is said to have lived in al-Qaida camps and guest houses.

“He rubbed shoulders with Osama bin Laden and the men who planned and executed plots from the bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 225 people to the 9/11 attacks that cost 3,000 lives,” New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

9/11 attack

Ganczarski was in Germany on September 11, 2001. But according to U.S. authorities, he had been aware that a “significant event” would happen.

Ganczarski faces life in prison if extradited and tried and convicted in the United States.

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Dow Closes Above 26,000, Just 8 Sessions After Earlier Milestone

Wall Street roared upward Wednesday, with investor enthusiasm sending all three major stock indices to record finishes, and the Dow to its first close above 26,000 points.

The blue-chip Dow gained 1.3 percent to close at 26,115.65 — just eight trading sessions after breaking the 25,000 mark — with strong showings from Boeing, IBM and Intel. 

The broader S&P 500 added 0.9 percent to close at 2,802.56, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained a full percentage point to settle at 7,298.28.

With just 11 trading days so far in 2018, Wednesday’s session marked the seventh time this year all three major indices closed at all-time highs.

Maris Ogg of Tower Bridge Associates told AFP the sustained rally was boosted by a “confluence of good news,” including strong company earnings, slashed corporate tax rates, higher worker compensation and new investment.

“This is a boost for productivity” and gave market players greater confidence, she said.

IBM gained 2.9 percent after analysts upgraded their price target for the company’s stock, and chipmaker Intel rose a similar amount, while aviation giant Boeing jumped 4.7 percent after announcing a joint venture to make aircraft seats.

Buoyant markets were comforted in midafternoon as a Federal Reserve survey portrayed the national economy growing at a “modest to moderate” pace.

Persistent cold weather in the United States helped oil prices shrug off weakness early in the weak, helping oil stocks nudge markets higher.

Exxon Mobil rose 1.2 percent, and ConocoPhillips increased 1.7 percent, while Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron each rose 0.3 percent.

The jubilant performance came despite continued pain at General Electric, which sank 4.7 percent as investors worked to evaluate component businesses within the company ahead of a possible breakup.

Goldman Sachs fell 1.8 percent after reporting a steep quarterly drop in trading income.

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Britain Appoints Minister of Loneliness

Britain has appointed a minister of loneliness to combat social isolation experienced by one in 10 Britons. 

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch will add the job to her existing portfolio to advance the work of slain lawmaker Jo Cox, who set up the Commission on Loneliness in 2016.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday. “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

The British Red Cross says more than 9 million Britons describe themselves as being always or often lonely, out of a population of 65.6 million.

Most people over age 75 in Britain live alone, and about 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, government data show.

“We know that there is a real impact of social isolation and loneliness on people, on their physical and mental well-being but also on other aspects in society, and we want to tackle this challenge,” Crouch told the BBC. 

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Syrian Kurds Appeal to UN as Turkey Prepares to Attack

Syria’s dominant Kurdish party on Wednesday called on the U.N. Security Council to act quickly to ensure the safety of Kurdish-controlled territories in the country’s north, including an enclave that Turkey has threatened to attack.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will launch a military offensive in the coming days against territories controlled by the dominant Syrian Kurdish militia in northwestern and eastern Syria, and in particular the enclave of Afrin, where an estimated 1 million people live. 

Turkey views the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces as terrorists, and an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in its southeast. It has criticized the U.S. for extending support and arming the Kurdish forces as part of the campaign that drove the Islamic State group from large parts of Syria. 

Coalition upsets Turkey

The Kurdish militia, which forms the backbone of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, now controls nearly 25 percent of Syrian territory. It is the U.S.-led coalition’s chief ally in the campaign against IS in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition recently said it is planning a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force, further angering Turkey. 

“Turkey has reached the end of its patience,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. “No one should expect it to show more patience. Turkey is determined to take whatever steps are necessary.”

Turkey’s National Security Council also met Wednesday and vowed to take steps to “eliminate” threats from western Syria — in an apparent reference to Afrin.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting also criticized the United States, saying Turkey was saddened by the fact an ally has “declared terrorists as partners”  and “armed them without taking our security into consideration.” It called on the U.S. to reclaim all arms supplied to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

In reference to the planned Kurdish-led border force, the statement added: “Turkey will not allow the creation of a terror corridor or an army of terror near its border.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that those plans were a “perilous” step that would “seriously endanger ties.” The two met in Vancouver Tuesday. 

“Such a development would damage Turkish-American ties in an irreversible manner,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying on Wednesday.

Operation set to ‘purge terror’

Erdogan said the imminent military operation is to “purge terror” from near its borders. Along with Afrin, Erdogan has also threatened Manbij, a town the Kurdish-led SDF seized from IS in 2016.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, the political arm of the main Kurdish militia, said that if Turkey launches an operation against Afrin, the world will bear responsibility for the lives of people residing there. The PYD called on the Security Council to “move immediately” to ensure the security of Kurdish-controlled areas in Syria. 

“Such a responsible behavior will lead to the desired result in finding a resolution for the Syrian crisis,” the PYD said in a statement. 

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad has meanwhile accused the SDF of being “traitors” for cooperating with the United States. 

On Monday, Erdogan vowed to crush the border force and called on NATO to take a stand against the United States, a fellow ally.

Shelling continues near Afrin

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said Turkish military activities near the borders with Afrin have continued, as well as shelling of the outskirts of the town. Tanks amassed near the border with Syria, while Turkish media reported that medical personnel in Kilis, a Turkish town across the border from Afrin, were asked not to take leave, apparently in anticipation of military operations. 

Turkey’s private Dogan news agency quotes Turkey-backed Syrian rebels as saying they are awaiting Turkish orders to launch the Afrin operations. It says some 3,000 fighters are ready to participate in operations against Afrin and Manbij.