Thursday, December 25, 2008

Russia may cut off Ukraine's gas

A Ukrainian gas holding station in Mryn, 130km from Kiev, 16 December
Much of the EU's gas from Russia arrives via Ukraine

Russian gas giant Gazprom has renewed its threat to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on 1 January, saying a contract dispute has reached a "critical" stage.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Ukraine faced Russian "sanctions and demands" if it did not pay off its gas debt "to the last rouble".

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov stressed that the dispute would not disrupt gas deliveries to Europe.

Ukraine owes $1.67bn (£1.1bn) for gas and $450m in fines, Gazprom says.

Gazprom denied that any agreement had been reached with Kiev on postponing the repayment, contradicting an announcement by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

On Tuesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that the era of cheap gas was coming to an end.

Earlier, Gazprom said it had warned European customers about possible disruption linked to the Ukraine dispute.

The EU gets 42% of its gas imports from Russia, mostly via pipelines across Ukraine. A similar row in 2006 led to gas shortages in several EU countries.

'Pay up'

"If a contract for 2009 is not signed [with Ukraine] then we are not going to deliver gas without a contract," Mr Kupriyanov told reporters in Kiev.

"When there is no contract we cannot realise deliveries. The situation is not simple. It is even critical."

But Gazprom, he added, would "deliver the full volume of gas destined for transit and... fulfil all [its] obligations towards European consumers".

Speaking to Russian TV channels in Moscow, President Medvedev said the non-payment situation could not be allowed to continue.

"They should pay the money to the last rouble if they don't want their economy eventually running up against sanctions and demands from the Russian Federation," he said.

"It is impossible to go on like this. Let them pay the money."

Economic woes

Ukraine's President Yushchenko said earlier on Wednesday that an agreement had been reached with Gazprom to reschedule repayment.

"A portion of the debt will be restructured" over several months, he said, adding that Kiev might return some gas held in storage to Gazprom as reimbursement.

"The question has not been solved as was announced in Kiev," Gazprom's Sergei Kupriyanov said in response, in televised comments.

Analysts say Kiev will struggle to find the money to pay for the gas.

Shaken by the global financial crisis, Ukraine is relying on a $16.4bn emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to see it through a halving of exports and a sharp devaluation of the national currency.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin told a meeting of major gas-exporting countries in Moscow that because of extraction costs, "the era... of cheap gas... [was] coming to an end".

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) meeting in Moscow agreed a charter and plans for a permanent base.

Some observers say the GECF may develop into an Opec-style producers' cartel.

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What Christmas truce? Carol service for our troops on the Afghan frontline ends with a blast of reality from the Taliban

By David Williams

It was dusk in Helmand. And as the sun set over the baked earth, commandos wearing Santa hats gathered round the war memorial and began a simple chorus of carols.

Then the Taliban attacked.

There was no time for the troops to think or even to take off their festive hats.

Any hopes of a Christmas truce, when hostilities cease and foes become friends for a few precious hours, were dashed in an instant.

British troops in Helmand Province get into the Christmas spirit with some carols last year - but the peace was quickly shattered by a Taliban attack

It is a tradition that stretches back to the trenches of the First World War, when British and German soldiers shared drinks, sang carols, exchanged gifts and even enjoyed an impromptu game of football in no-man's-land.

But things are different in Afghanistan. At the first sound of enemy fire the Royal Marines of 40 Commando threw down their hymn sheets and sprinted to the mortar lines 200 yards away. Within a minute, they were returning fire.

For three-quarters of an hour, they battled with the insurgents, ear defenders over their festive headgear - the only reminder of the peace the evening had promised.


The soldiers had no time to change their festive headgear - be it Santa or Christmas tree hat - and began firing at enemy positions

Then, as the skirmish ended and darkness fell, the servicemen and women returned to the memorial at Forward Operating Base Inkerman, and resumed the carol service, thankful there had been no British casualties.

The attack, on Christmas Day last year, illustrates the relentless call of duty faced by our troops on the front line. In Afghanistan, 8,000 will celebrate the season this way. A further 4,100 will spend the military's final Christmas Day in Iraq.

Recalling the skirmish, Captain Euan Goodman, of The Rifles regiment, who took the photographs, said: 'We were with the Royal Marines at their camp, which is surrounded by mountains and desert. We were experiencing Afghanistan's coldest winter for 20 years but the lads were in really high spirits.


A commando celebrates last year's Christmas at the Inkerman base

'They were in the middle of a traditional carol service, complete with Santa hats and song sheets, when they came under attack from the Taliban, who had targeted one of the checkpoints.

'There was the sound of machine gun fire and an explosion. They dropped their hymn sheets and literally ran 200 metres to the mortar lines.

'A few Santa hats were thrown on the ground, but for others there was no time to remove them. They were still wearing their hats when they fired their mortar rounds.

'It went on for about 45 minutes and by then it was pretty much dark. But they went back to the war memorial and continued their service. I think that later they had their Christmas meal.

'It's supposed to be a special time of year no matter where you are. But at the end of the day it's the nature of the job that we have to keep working. The show must go on.'

Earlier in the day, Captain Goodman, 28, had helped deliver a goat for Gurkhas to curry for their own Christmas meal.

Regardless of the difficult conditions, soldiers try to retain a touch of festive spirit, he explained.

Traditionally, officers wake their men with 'gunfire', a mug of tea containing a shot of rum or whisky - and then serve them their meal.

Captain Goodman, who joined the Army in 2001, added: 'We try to ensure everyone either gets a slap-up breakfast or a traditional Christmas lunch.

The Royal Marines put the festivities on hold at their base in Inkerman as they dash to return fire - still wearing their Christmas hats

'All the food is prepared at the main base at Camp Bastion and then flown out by helicopters to each camp to heat up in the oven. We also get inundated with presents from the general public, which are a huge morale boost.

'Thousands of parcels are donated every year and split evenly among the units who then share them out. You get everything from toothpaste to woolly scarfs.

'It's much like the traditional present opening you get on Christmas morning - except servicemen tend to have the wrapping off as soon as they get the parcel, whether it's two weeks before Christmas or sometimes long after it's finished.'

This year there will also be additional free telephone time made available to call loved ones.

The skirmish lasted 45 minutes before troops could resume the carol service - with no British casualties

On Christmas Day, soldiers at Bastion will tuck into the 700lb of replacement turkey, flown in by the RAF after insurgents attacked a convoy carrying the original consignment - topped off with 200 jars of cranberry sauce - along with 300lb of roast pork, 1,000lb of gammon and 150lb of beef. The team of chefs will also prepare 350lb of sprouts, 700lb of roast potatoes and 270lb of carrots.

To complete the feast there will be 222 Christmas puddings, 37 Christmas cakes and a ration of one mince pie and one After Eight mint for each serviceman and woman.

In addition, there will be 3,000 crackers - complete with bad jokes - 2,880 party poppers, 3,600 assorted balloons, 2,880 party hats, and 3,000 streamers.

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Iraqis hope to sue U.S. troops under new accord

BAGHDAD — The families of three men who were killed last week during a search of a grain warehouse want to press charges against American soldiers under the terms of a new security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

The security document protects American soldiers so long as they're on U.S. bases or on missions, so it's unlikely that the families can base their claims on it, though they plan to press their case with the help of international lawyers.

Nonetheless, their charges are a preview of some of the nettlesome questions that are likely to arise as the U.S. yields more authority to Iraq under the terms of the pact, which takes effect Jan. 1.

Iraqis will lead operations, but U.S. forces will continue to have a high profile with their more advanced armor and weapons.

Iraq's parliament approved the deal last month, and President George W. Bush visited Iraq last week to spotlight an agreement that allows U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for another three years.

"Where is Iraq's sovereignty, even if it is to go in effect Jan. 1?" asked Ahmed Cheloob Sabor, 48, whose brother was one of the three security guards who died in the incident last Wednesday at a Ministry of Trade grain-storage site. "Why did this incident take place so close to that date?"

Two different descriptions of the raid are circulating in Baghdad, both from official sources.

The Trade Ministry furnished gory pictures to two Iraqi newspapers showing blood smeared along walls in a bedroom at the storage site. Ministry officials and victims' families were quoted in the newspaper accounts as saying that the men were killed while they were asleep at about 5:10 a.m. One of the photos shows bloody sleeping bags.

"The Ministry of Trade denounces this despicable act that targeted one of its sites," the ministry says in a statement on its Web site. The ministry "demands that the American forces halt these attempts and submit a formal apology in addition to compensating the victims of the incident, who were security guards tasked with guarding the site."

The U.S. military, however, says Iraqi special forces led the search. Military spokesman Capt. Charles Calio said U.S. soldiers were at the scene only as advisers. He stressed that the men who were killed had fired their weapons at the soldiers.

"The targeted individuals were not sleeping at the time of the attack; they were killed in an exchange of gunfire," Calio said.

A week ago, the U.S. touted the raid in a news release that praised the Iraqi forces for their professionalism. It said the joint operation had netted four arrests of suspected criminals and the seizure of weapons, homemade explosives and bulletproof vests.

The Iraqi National Police and the Iraqi army refused to explain their roles in the raid.

The search took place in Atafiyah, a north Baghdad neighborhood where U.S. and Iraqi security forces are sharing quarters on joint bases and coordinating missions.

That partnership, once an exception in most of Iraq, is now the norm. After Jan. 1, all offensive military operations must be coordinated through the Iraqi government, though U.S. forces will be allowed to defend themselves on those missions under the security agreement.

The U.S. military didn't say what prompted the joint raid, but it's common for security forces to search large government facilities such as warehouses and rail yards for hidden weapons.

The Trade Ministry controls Iraq's monthly ration program, which provides residents with basic necessities such as tea, sugar and rice. The ministry has been the focus of several corruption probes, and several high-ranking officials were ousted in September because of allegations that they'd misused their positions.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed Hanoon said U.S. officials had assured him that the Iraqi forces led the raid and fired at the site. He still faulted the Americans, however, saying that as advisers they should have crafted a safer strategy to take control of the facility without harming the guards.

"Even if they were wanted men, there are procedures to get them without killing them," he said.

American officers are said to be preparing to meet neighborhood officials and families of the men who died. Iraqis are portraying that meeting as a time for the Americans to apologize.

"In two days we'll have a kind of meeting between the families of the victims with the Americans to talk about the incident," said Khalid Mawood, a member of a district council in northern Baghdad.

The men killed in the raid were Assad Cheloob Sabor, Heider Sattar Manshad and Hussein Hashim, according to the Ministry of Trade.

Ministry spokesman Hanoon said it was possible that the security guards were sleeping because the neighborhood is generally safe.

"It is their job to provide safety and security, and in this way they were killed," Hanoon said.

Ahmed Cheloob Sabor said that the death of his brother, Assad, had rocked his family. The 29-year-old guard had a wife and baby son.

"All the Iraqis have become used to being killed in many ways," Ahmed Cheloob Sabor said. "But this way, in their beds, is too much."

The security agreement replaces a U.N. mandate that has allowed U.S. forces to operate in Iraq since 2003. The U.N. voted Monday to let the mandate expire Dec. 31.

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Why Is The U.S. Military Preparing For Massive Civil Unrest?

A new report from the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute says that the U.S. military must quickly prepare for massive civil unrest that could be precipitated by an “unforeseen economic collapse”.

The following is a quote from this stunning report: “DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States."

This comes on the heels of a recent report that the Department of Defense plans to deploy 20,000 uniformed troops for operations inside the United States by 2011.

The purpose of the 130 year old Posse Comitatus Act was to prevent the military from being used in domestic law enforcement.

But who cares about the law anymore, eh?

But apparently 20,000 uniformed soldiers will not be enough to control Americans. Barack Obama is calling for a "civilian national security force" that is as strong and is as well funded as the U.S. military. Just check out this short video clip:

Now there is news that Homeland Security plans to start monitoring blogs and message boards all over the United States for any signs of suspicious activity.

Does that include criticizing the government?

But even with all of these measures there are some in the government who think that even more military resources will be required to prevent civil unrest.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has ordered defense officials to do a full review to determine whether the U.S. military could respond adequately to a domestic crisis.

We have never had civil disorder of the magnitude that these authorities are speculating about in the history of the United States.

Do these officials know something that we don't?

Are things going to get even worse in the years ahead for our economy and our nation?

Original here

Woman who disguised herself in burka jailed for murdering husband

By Chris Irvine

Woman who disguised herself in burka jailed for murdering husband
Mohammed Amin Miah was killed in August last year Photo: PA

Mahmuda Khatun, 28, stabbed Mohammed Amin Miah through the heart on his 28th birthday in August last year.

Opticians assistant Khatun, who regularly wore Western clothes, wanted to hide her identity from neighbours and CCTV cameras.

Old Bailey judge Brian Barker jailed her for life and told her: "In my view, it was wicked."

He rejected claims that Khatun had been put under pressure to marry Mr Miah.

Judge Barker told Khatun: "You went into this with your eyes open."

Khatun, an optician's shop assistant, of Bow, east London, was found guilty of murder.

The judge said her first arranged marriage had failed and she enjoyed a freer life in her own flat before returning to her family.

"It may be that Amin turned out to be a disappointment to you," he said.

Kim Hollis, QC, defending, said: "She was caught between two worlds with tragic consequences.

"She wanted the type of life which other women can have in the United Kingdom."

Khatun had been born in Bangladesh and came to Britain with her family when she was six.

Crispin Aylett QC, prosecuting, said she had hidden a knife in her burka disguise when she arrived at the marital home in Bethnal Green, east London.

He said: "As he opened the door to her, he must have seen his bride in a burka, not clothing she usually wore, before she plunged the knife into his heart.

"Thereafter, the defendant set about creating a smokescreen that was designed to put her beyond suspicion."

Khatun initially said that on the night of the murder she had been locked out of the flat and looked through the letterbox to see blood on the walls in the hallway.

But mobile phone records proved her wrong.

When aged 20 Khatun had undergone an arranged marriage in 2002 but this lasted only eight months.

In the fortnight before her marriage to Mr Miah detectives discovered there were 166 calls, texts or missed calls - an average of ten a day between Khatun and her lover Hussain.

These were often late at night as they worked together during the day and they were even calling each other on her wedding day and honeymoon.

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