September 12, 2013

Shimkus Still Opposed To Strike In Syria, Doesn't Trust Russia

Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville says he’s still not convinced a military strike against Syria is a good idea.

President Obama has urged Congress to allow him to move forward with an attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he claims has used chemical weapons against his own people.

But the president now says a Russian initiative could remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria without the use of force, and he’s urging Congress to postpone a vote on military action.

Congressman Shimkus said he's skeptical about a possible diplomatic deal.

"I'm not very hopeful that you can trust a dictator who just gassed his people - and a country that intervenes in the internal affairs of other countries, and invaded a sovereign country of Georgia," he said. "We better be careful who we're trusting."

Shimkus said he questions whether rounding up chemical stockpiles will actually happen.

“So, we gather up 99-percent of them," he said.  "Does this become another Iraq where we think they still have small percentages, and they’re hidden and moved around.”

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville says he doesn't think lawmakers should back U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Davis said he thinks President Obama lacks a clear objective for Syria.


Edward Snowden
(AP Photo/Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina)
July 12, 2013

Snowden Wants To Stay In Russia, Says He Will Stop Leaking

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wants asylum in Russia and is willing to stop sharing information as a trade-off for such a deal.

That is according to a parliament member who was among a dozen activists and officials to meet with him Friday.

Snowden appeared nervous, but in apparently good health during the meeting behind closed doors in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport where he's been marooned for weeks, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told reporters.

A photo attributed to a Human Rights Watch representative who attended the meeting was posted on the Guardian and other websites, the first image to appear of Snowden since the newspaper broke the story of widespread U.S. Internet surveillance based on his leaks.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, told Russian news agencies after the announcement Friday that Russia has not yet received a new bid for asylum from Snowden and that Putin would continue with his insistence that Snowden stop leaking information.

Both Nikonov and Genri Reznik, a lawyer who participated in the meeting, said Snowden was willing to stop leaks.

"He said he was informed of this condition and that he can easily accept it. He does not intend to damage the United States' interests given that he is a patriot of his country," Nikonov said.

Snowden is believed to have been stuck in the transit zone since June 23, when he arrived on a flight from Hong Kong, where he had gone before his revelations were made public. He had been expected to transfer in Moscow to a Cuba-bound flight, but did not get on the plane and had not been seen in public since then.

Snowden made an initial bid for Russian asylum, but Putin said he would have to agree to stop leaking before asylum would be considered. Snowden then withdrew his bid.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua recently have offered him asylum, but it is unclear if he could fly to any of those countries from Moscow without passing through airspace of the United States or its allies.

The activists at the meeting included Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International's Russia office, and Tatiana Lokshina, deputy head of the Russian office of Human Rights Watch. Also taken into the meeting room was Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin.

They came after an email in Snowden's name was sent on Thursday. On Facebook, Lokshina posted the text of the email, which says in part that Snowden wants to make "a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation."

Hundreds of journalists flocked to the airport, but were kept in a hallway outside the meeting area which was behind a gray door marked "staff only." It was not clear if Snowden would have to come out that door or if he could exit by another route.

The text of the invitation did not directly address the offers of asylum, though it expressed gratitude for asylum offers and says "I hope to travel to each of them." It accuses the United States of "an unlawful campaign ... to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum."

Russia has said it cannot extradite him because by remaining in the transit zone he is technically outside Russian territory.


Edward Snowden
(The Guardian)
June 23, 2013

Snowden Arrives In Moscow From Hong Kong

The US intelligence fugitive Edward Snowden has arrived in Moscow on a flight from Hong Kong.

But he is only thought to be in transit before leaving for Venezuela or Ecuador, via Cuba.

The US wanted him extradited from Hong Kong but the government said Washington had failed to meet its requirements.

Mr Snowden, an intelligence contractor, fled to Hong Kong in May after revealing extensive internet and phone surveillance by US intelligence.

The Aeroflot Airbus, flight SU213, landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at 17:10 local time (13:10 GMT).

Russian media say he was picked up at the airport by either a Venezuelan or Ecuadorean embassy car.

A source at the airline company was quoted as saying that he would fly on to Cuba, and from there to Venezuela. Both countries are believed unlikely to comply with any US extradition request.

It has been suggested he may travel on from Venezuela to Ecuador.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently sheltering in the Ecuadorean embassy in London after being granted asylum last year.

Wikileaks issued a statement saying that it has helped to find Mr Snowden "political asylum in a democratic country".

No legal basis'

Mr Snowden's departure from Hong Kong casts further uncertainty over the prospect of him facing justice in the US.

On Saturday, the White House contacted Hong Kong to try to arrange his extradition. But the territory's administration, in a statement issued on Sunday, said the documents submitted by Washington did not "fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law".

As a result, Hong Kong says it requested further information from the US government.

However, the statement goes on: "As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong."

The US Justice Department has said it will seek cooperation from whichever country Mr Snowden arrives in.

We will continue to discuss this matter with Hong Kong and pursue relevant law enforcement cooperation with other countries where Mr. Snowden may be attempting to travel," Nanda Chitre, a spokeswoman for the justice department said in a statement.

University of Hong Kong law professor Simon Young expressed surprise at the Hong Kong authorities' decision on extradition.

He said that under local law, a very low threshold is required before a provisional warrant can be put in place.

The US government will wonder why the Hong Kong government feels the surrender paperwork needs to be fully in place before the provisional warrant can be obtained," he said.

Mr Snowden left the US after leaking details of his work as an NSA (National Security Agency) analyst and the extensive US surveillance programme to Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post.

He has been charged in the US with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

Each of the charges carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The complaint is dated 14 June although it was made public only on Friday.

The leaks have led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data under an NSA programme known as Prism.

Mr Snowden said earlier that he had decided to speak out after observing "a continuing litany of lies" from senior officials to Congress.

US officials have since defended the practice of gathering telephone and internet data from private users around the world.

They say Prism cannot be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the US, and that it is supervised by judges.


meteorite damage in Russia
(Oleg Kargapolov/AP)
February 15, 2013

Meteor Strike Injures Hundreds in Russia

A meteor crashing in Russia's Ural mountains has injured at least 950 people, as the shockwave blew out windows and rocked buildings.

Most of those hurt, in the Chelyabinsk region where the meteor fell, suffered cuts and bruises but at least 46 remain in hospital.

A fireball streaked through the clear morning sky, followed by loud bangs.

President Vladimir Putin said he thanked God no big fragments had fallen in populated areas.

A large meteor fragment landed in a lake near Chebarkul, a town in Chelyabinsk region.

The meteor's dramatic passing was witnessed in Yekaterinburg, 200km (125 miles) to the north, and in Kazakhstan, to the south.

"It was quite extraordinary," Chelyabinsk resident Polina Zolotarevskaya told BBC News. "We saw a very bright light and then there was a kind of a track, white and yellow in the sky."

"The explosion was so strong that some windows in our building and in the buildings that are across the road and in the city in general, the windows broke."

Officials say a large meteor partially burned up in the lower atmosphere, resulting in fragments falling earthwards.

Thousands of rescue workers have been dispatched to the area to provide help to the injured, the emergencies ministry said.

The Chelyabinsk region, about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Moscow, is home to many factories, a nuclear power plant and the Mayak atomic waste storage and treatment centre.

'Blinding'

Chelyabinsk's health department said 985 people had sought medical treatment, including 204 children, Russia's Interfax news agency reports. Two people in the town of Kopeysk were in a serious condition, it added.

The governor of Chelyabinsk region, Mikhail Yurevich, was quoted elsewhere as saying 950 people had been hurt, two seriously.

Mr Putin promised "immediate" aid for people affected, saying kindergartens and schools had been damaged, and work disrupted at industrial enterprises.

Many children were at lessons when the meteor fell at around 09:20 (03:20 GMT).

Video posted online showed frightened, screaming youngsters at one Chelyabinsk school, where corridors were littered with broken glass.

Chelyabinsk resident Sergei Serskov told BBC News the city had felt like a "war zone" for 20 to 30 minutes.

"I was in the office when suddenly I saw a really bright flash in the window in front of me," he said.

"Then I smelt fumes. I looked out the window and saw a huge line of smoke, like you get from a plane but many times bigger."

"A few minutes later the window suddenly came open and there was a huge explosion, followed by lots of little explosions."

In Yekaterinburg, 36-year-old resident Viktor Prokofiev was driving to work when he witnessed the event.

"It was quite dark, but it suddenly became as bright as if it was day," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"I felt like I was blinded by headlights."

Debris also reportedly fell on the west Siberian region of Tyumen.

Governor Yurevich reported that the meteor had landed in a lake 1km outside Chebarkul, which has a population of 46,000.

A Russian army spokesman said a crater 6m (20ft) wide had been found on the shore of the lake.

Asteroid coincidence

The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that the meteor weighed about 10 tonnes and entered the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of at least 54,000 km/h (33,000mph).

It would have shattered about 30-50km (18-32 miles) above ground, with most of the meteor burning up.

Scientists have played down suggestions that there is any link between the event in the Urals and 2012 DA14, an asteroid expected to race past the Earth on Friday at a distance of just 27,700km (17,200 miles) - the closest ever predicted for an object of that size.

Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast, said there was "almost definitely" no connection.

"One reason is that 2012 DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, and this object hit in the northern hemisphere," he told BBC News.

"This is literally a cosmic coincidence, although a spectacular one."

Such meteor strikes are rare in Russia but one is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250m) in Siberia in 1908.

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