Thursday, April 28, 2016

Siemens wants in on Russian high-speed railway project

Photo Credit: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik
Germany’s Siemens has expressed an interest in cooperating with Russia and China to produce rolling stock for the high-speed rail route from Moscow to Kazan. "We may consider a trilateral partnership. We have a joint venture with the Russian Sinara group and excellent relations with China in the area of train production. We have also provided both countries with our Velaro technology,” Siemens Russia and CIS chief Dietrich Meller told Russian business daily Vedomosti. According to Meller, the three sides are discussing cooperation though no concrete talks have been held on contract with Siemens. The German company is ready to offer an enhanced version of its high-speed Sapsan trains. "The second generation Sapsan train is an absolutely new model of 2016,” Meller said, giving as an example the difference between mobile phones of 2000 and the latest smartphones. Siemens’ Sapsan trains currently operate on the Moscow to St. Petersburg line. In December, the Vice President of Russian Railways (RZD) Aleksandr Misharin said Germany’s Initiative Group wanted to provide up to ‎€2 billion to finance the Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway. The new link is planned as part of a network of high-speed lines to be built by the time Russia hosts the football World Cup in 2018. Beijing has already expressed an interest in funding the ambitious project, saying it will put up $6 billion. China considers the Moscow-Kazan project not only as an investment, but also as a way to boost communication and trade with Russia and Europe. The joint Russia-China investment in the railway is about $15 billion. The total cost of the 770-kilometer track which will stretch through seven regions of Russia, is estimated at $21.4 billion. The current journey time from Moscow to Kazan of 12 hours will be reduced to three and a half. The trains will be able to reach speeds of 400 kilometers per hour. Siemens is the largest engineering company in Europe, and specializes in manufacturing and maintenance of electronics, power engineering equipment, transportation, light engineering as well as communications services. Headquartered in Berlin and Munich the concern employs over 400,000 people. RT

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Prince's band The Revolution to reunite in his honour

Members of Prince's former band The Revolution have announced they will reunite for a series of concerts. The announcement was made in a video on bass player Brown Mark's Facebook page. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin said "after spending days together grieving", they had decided to "do some shows". The band, who disbanded in 1986, had several line-ups, but the concerts are likely to feature Mark, Melvoin, keyboard players Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink and drummer Bobby Z. While no dates have been announced, Melvoin added: "We'll be there soon." The Revolution served as Prince's backing band at the launch of his career, although they did not officially receive their name until their appearance in Prince's 1984 film, Purple Rain. They appeared with Prince on four albums - the Purple Rain soundtrack, Parade, 1999 and Around The World In A Day - and played on some of the star's biggest hits, including When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy and Kiss. The group split in 1986 after the singer's Parade tour. Prince was found dead in his Paisley Park recording studio last Thursday. A private memorial service was held for the rock star on Saturday, attended by about 20 of his closest friends and family. BBC Photo

Interview with Jadranka Joksimovic, Serbia’s minister responsible for EU integration By Theodoros Benakis

As the clock ticks closer to the end-of-2018 deadline for Serbia to harmonise national legislation with European Union standards, the country’s minister responsible for integration, Jadranka Joksimovic, considers the EU-Serbia accession negotiations as an incentive to meet the internal reform goals. Joksimovic notes progress in terms of human rights, media freedom and judicial reforms. On the topic of migration, Joksimovic notes a systemic and institutional solution within the framework of the EU laws and standards that is accompanied by the strategic partnership with Turkey.
Is Serbia ready to join the EU?
Serbia has clearly expressed its strategic preferences. The membership in the European Union is one of the primary foreign policy goals, but also the goal of a significant number of sectors in Serbia. For us in the Government, it is important for the industrial branches and sectors to see the membership in the EU as an instrument used to meet the sectorial goals. That is the only way for the membership in the EU to represent an added value to each of these sectors. The energy sector would develop more if we are integrated and if we invest in joint projects. Agriculture, as a strategic branch for Serbia, has yet to gain momentum by joining the EU. Transport would become meaningful and would develop only if we plan to connect all major routes at the European level and as part of a unique European transport network. Even the challenges we are faced with, like migrations, are easier to solve if we act together. Serbia would continue to build its corridors, solve numerous challenges, but also develop its agriculture; the only question is whether it is better for such corridors, agricultural products and Serbian solutions to the challenges to have a prefix “European”. I am convinced that it is in everybody’s best interest. .... continued. New Europe Photo

EU leaders agree to uphold Russia sanctions, US says By Andrew Rettman

Photo Credit:
Western European and US leaders have agreed to keep economic sanctions on Russia unless it stops the war in Ukraine, the US says, as French MPs prepare to debate lifting the measures. Leaders met in Hannover on Monday afternoon, prior to Obama's return to the US. EUobserver

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nepal earthquake: How is country faring one year on? By Surendra Phuyal

As Nepal marks the first anniversary of its devastating earthquake, the BBC Nepal's Surendra Phuyal assesses how the country has been coping.

What has Nepal done since the quake?

The government has provided 25,000 rupees ($250, £164) to families to buy corrugated sheets and warm clothes and paid out 40,000 rupees ($400) for the death of each family member.
Most affected families have received this money. The Himalayan nation has also assessed the loss and damage caused by the quake, but has yet to officially kick start its much-delayed reconstruction mission. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was only set up in December 2015. It will officially announce the start of the reconstruction campaign in the coming week. The authority is seeking 811 billion rupees ($8bn) to implement its reconstruction programme for the next five years. NRA spokesperson Ram Thapaliya told BBC Nepali that international donors are being asked to extend their commitment for reconstruction programmes. "The donors have already pledged half of the amount ($4bn) and we are in the process of seeking commitment for the rest," he said.

What was the scale of the destruction?

Nearly 9,000 people died and 22,309 were injured in the two earthquakes that struck Nepal last year. The first was on 25 April 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake which caused most of the damage and loss of life. A large number of aftershocks followed, including one that measured 7.3 on 12 May 2015. The quakes destroyed or damaged more than 800,000 houses mainly in the western and central districts, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Government buildings, some stretches of roads and Kathmandu Valley's famous historic monuments - Unesco world heritage properties - were destroyed or damaged with many villages north of Kathmandu flattened. In the famous trekking destination of Langtang, which lies about 100km (62 miles) north of Kathmandu, an entire settlement was buried and washed away by a massive landslide, killing more than 100 people, including international trekkers and local villagers.

How many people are still homeless? 

Nepali government figures show that about 500,000 families were made homeless by the quakes. But aid agencies say the true figure is much higher, with millions homeless. The IFRC says "an estimated four million people are still living in sub-standard temporary shelters" where they're exposed to weather and health hazards. "Despite achievements in many areas of earthquake recovery efforts, little progress has so far been made in helping survivors to rebuild permanent homes," it said. BBC Photo

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Omaha celebrates the Irish who built their city at 1916 commemorations By Michael Kelly

Each year, folks celebrate the coming of spring with a festive, beer-drinking, green-wearing day in which “everyone is Irish.” This weekend, though, the actual Irish of Omaha — some of whose ancestors helped build the city from its start — commemorate a more somber event. It’s the centennial of the 1916 “Easter Rising” insurrection that was crushed at first but eventually led to the Republic of Ireland’s independence from British rule. Rather than another St. Patrick’s Day, said Douglas County Commissioner James Cavanaugh, it will be more like an Irish “Fourth of July.” “No fireworks,” he said, “but lots of music, poetry and drama, and a great movie.” Ceremony, too. After a noon Mass on Saturday at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, 19th and Dodge Streets, celebrated by Monsignor James Gilg, attendees will walk three blocks to the Douglas County Courthouse Plaza. Among the speakers will be Larry Bradley, president of the local Father Flanagan Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Last month he attended the centennial celebration in Dublin. “That was historic, magical and exciting,” said Bradley, an adjunct professor of geography and geology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “It sent chills down my spine.” Ireland decided to mark the centennial on Easter because the “rising” happened on that holiday. But the actual date was April 24, 1916, and in many U.S. cities, people of Irish ancestry will celebrate this weekend. In the American melting pot, Bradley is like a lot of us — a mixture. He carries an Irish surname, but his ancestry is half-Mexican. Cavanaugh, of full-blooded Irish ancestry, said the Irish diaspora in America had a huge impact on the Republic of Ireland’s independence, which was won in 1922. “The war of independence,” he said, “was largely aided, abetted, supported and financed by the Irish in America.” Omaha developed through the efforts of many ethnicities and nationalities. As the 2000 book “E Pluribus Omaha” says, new arrivals enriched the city as a whole. Says the book by Harry Otis and Donald Erickson: “The newcomer, usually with nothing other than his language, religion, physical brawn and a desire to be free somehow adds a new tint to the social fabric — an indefinable hue that enhances, however slightly, the portrait of the city.” For immigrants from the Emerald Isle, the hue was green — and that included the ability to make money and prosper. After the ceremony in the plaza Saturday between the courthouse and the City-County Building, the public is invited to Castle Barrett at 43rd and Leavenworth Street with “traditional Irish music” by the group Dicey Riley until 5 p.m. At 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Joslyn Art Museum, a centennial program will be presented by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the Omaha Irish Cultural Center, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Brigit St. Brigit Theater. The program will include the theater’s one-act presentation of “Rising” and a reading of the proclamation of independence at four minutes past noon, matching the time it occurred in Dublin a century earlier. That will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Lisabeth Buchelt, associate professor of medieval British and Irish literature and culture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Barry Murphy, professor emeritus at Creighton University; and Cavanaugh. Five years ago, Queen Elizabeth was welcomed to the Republic of Ireland, where she spoke about improved relations. It was the first time a British monarch had visited in 100 years. This weekend, Omahans and other Americans of Irish descent will observe another centennial. Said the Hibernians’ Bradley: “It’s a time of solemnity, commemoration and celebration.” Irish Central

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Everything You Need to Know About Sending Your Child to Boarding School By Eleanor Sheehan

Photo Credit: baldwinpictures
I was "sent" to boarding school at 14 — not because I was a disruptive child, remarkably misbehaved, or spoiled. I wanted to go, and my parents wanted me to experience life outside of my Southern suburban bubble. As it turns out, our instincts were right: attending boarding school was liberating and allowed me to think for myself. There's a liminal space at age 14 wherein you feel like an adult, but in reality you're barely beyond childhood. For parents, the idea of sending their kids to boarding school at such a transitional age can be both appealing and terrifying, since it catapults them into making decisions for themselves. But parents can still parent without being present; I talked to my parents nightly and saw them almost once a month. While not all schools are the same, my experience attending a coeducational boarding school was ideal. Of course, there are disadvantages to boarding school, but for me the benefits outweighed its potential pitfalls. Here's why boarding school was such a positive choice for me.

There are a lot of rules

When parents entrust their teenagers to the supervision of other adults, the rules are often strict. At my school:
  • My freshman year, our internet shut off between 8 and 11 p.m. so we could focus on our homework. While I hated it at the time, hindsight demonstrates the benefits.
  • Curfews were stratified by age: the older you got, the later you could report to your dorm at night. We had half days of school on Wednesday and Saturday, so our only real night off was Saturday, and we had to sign in with a professor on duty when we returned home at 11 p.m. Seniors could check in at 12 a.m. but only on special occasions.
  • Until senior year, lights out was enforced at 11:15 p.m.
  • There were a few shops and restaurants across the street from campus, which we didn't need permission to visit. If we were going off campus, we were required to get permission from our house master. If we wanted to leave for the weekend, we needed signoff from our parents and the house master.
  • Boys and girls could visit each other's rooms when a house master was on duty, if "three feet were on the floor" between the both of you. The door had to remain open, and whoever was on duty during these visiting hours periodically stopped by to check on you.
  • Senior boys were strictly forbidden from dating freshman girls (obviously, it was illegal). But it still happened — which is gross to me, now that I am older and can reflect.
Most of the restrictions align with the rules parents set for their high schoolers already. Because teenagers understandably have lapses in judgment — how else would we learn? — we were allowed two strikes of breaking major school rules before expulsion. I had friends who attended other boarding schools that only permitted one strike.

Academics are rigorous

I remember my professors preparing us for college by warning, "Freshman year might seem like a breeze, but remember to go to class." I wrote my first 10-page paper as a freshman in high school, and by senior year, 15-page papers were the norm. But while the courses were challenging, we could always get one-on-one help from our professors, and our daily schedule had a built-in period to meet with them. I remember being tortured by chemistry, which at the time felt like a failure. While failing genuinely meant getting a D or below, being surrounded by so many smart students made a B feel like failing at times. This was tough. But my parents helped remind me that I wasn't going to be the best at everything.

Discussions in class are encouraged

Most high schools are taught in classrooms with desks, with a teacher at the front and a whiteboard (though now most are "smart boards"). This was not the case at my boarding school. For every class but math, we sat around "harkness tables" — best described as huge dining tables — and our teachers led class from the table as well. We were encouraged (well, really required if you wanted a better grade) to discuss our assignments. Sometimes we would get into such heated debates that the teacher's lesson plan for the day was completely thrown out the window. While they weren't forcing their opinions on students, I knew my professors' perspectives on most issues, which made me feel more like an adult. This style of teaching taught me that it was OK to challenge people, to have my own opinions. I remember learning that I didn't have to agree with everyone, but I could still respect their beliefs.

Team sports are highly valued

Unlike your average high school, my boarding school required us to partake in an organized athletic activity. That could mean junior varsity or varsity sports, but even the less-skilled athletes among us had to do something: Ultimate Frisbee, freshman sports, senior fitness, and intramural sports between houses. Playing on a team allowed you to meet and bond with all of your classmates. We also didn't have gym class, so it required us to be active.

Relationships are more intense

When you live with your best friends and are with them nearly 24/7, you understandably grow more attached, faster. I'm 23, and I still talk to my best friend from high school daily. We're like sisters. We lived across the hall from each other freshman year, and we admittedly broke the rules (as did other girls) by sneaking into each other's rooms after lights out. Looking back, I'm sure our house mothers knew what was happening but understood that nurturing those relationships was more important than enforcing our "bedtime." We were never going to listen anyway. At boarding school, not only are your bonds tighter, but you mature together and learn from each other. When I got dumped for the first time, my mom wasn't there to stroke my hair, but my best friend was. Which brings me to boyfriends. Dating in high school is weird for anyone: you're not an adult, but you mimic the way you see adults date. At boarding school, where you also live with your boyfriend, it's much weirder. I would see my boyfriend every night and every day; we would eat almost every meal together. When I broke up with someone, I had no way to avoid him. These relationships were obviously more intense, but when they ended, I learned how to handle them in a more mature way.

Expulsions are common

If you break a rule at a typical school, you might get reprimanded, but you're not likely to be expelled unless you do something particularly outrageous. When teens live at home, parents discipline them; if you get caught drinking, your school might not even know. But at boarding school, it's all interwoven. At my school, if you got caught misbehaving twice, you were sent home. Of course, all kids make kid mistakes, but when parents are entrusting their kids to a boarding school, the consequences have to be harsher. Expulsions were traumatic, especially when I lost a friend in the process. That said, we did have a "Sanctuary" program, wherein if you or a friend was ill from drinking, you could go to the infirmary and declare you needed help without reprimand.

It's rich in tradition

The school I attended is more than 200 years old — women were only allowed in 25 years ago! — and my dad and all of his brothers went there. In addition to the school's history, each residential house has rich traditions. After freshman year, you're assigned a house to live in for the next two years, and yes, I'd describe it as akin to Harry Potter. We had prefects, House Olympics, and so many competitions, like a tricycle relay. If you were selected to compete in this race, it was a huge honor. So in addition to the massive pride we had for varsity sports, we also loved our houses.

The food is good

I was lucky that my school was dedicated to serving organic, sustainable food. At each dining hall (stratified by age), we had access to stir-fry stations, salad bars, and whatever else was offered that day. We also had a farm on campus that students could work on. Deciding to eat a salad instead of pasta every night was difficult at first, but I ultimately learned to eat healthier. Along with all the sports I played, I established healthy habits early on. While I missed home more times than I can count my freshman year, I would never take back my experience at boarding school. Lots of people ask me if I would want my children to have a similar experience, and I wholeheartedly answer "yes" each time. Sure, calling your parents each night to tell them about your day is a difficult adjustment, but you get used to it. We went home between every trimester for at least 10 days, and during the Summer we were home for three months. Parents would visit often as well, and I found myself with proxy parents who lived closer to the school. I learned self-sufficiency but also when to ask for help when I needed it. The friendships I formed, the lessons I learned, and the mistakes I made were invaluable to my maturation. POPSUGAR Moms

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Peter Balakian Wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

NEW YORK—Author Peter Balakian won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Ozone Journal. The winners and finalists were revealed Monday at 3 p.m. during a live-streamed broadcast from Columbia University in New York. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzers. “In poetry, for a collection of poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that lie beneath a global age of danger and uncertainty, the prize goes to Ozone Journal by Peter Balakian,” announced Mike Pride, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. Balakian’s Ozone Journal (poems) was published by the University of Chicago Press. The long poem in Balakian’s new book is a sequel to his acclaimed “A-Train/Ziggurat/Elegy” (2010). While excavating the remains of Armenian Genocide survivors in the Syrian desert with a TV crew, the persona navigates his own memory of New York City in a decade (the 1980’s) of crisis—as AIDS and climate change make a context for his personal struggles and his pursuit of meaning in the face of loss and catastrophe. Whether his poems explore Native American villages of New Mexico, the slums of Nairobi, or the Armenian-Turkish borderland, Balakian’s poems continue to engage the harshness and beauty of contemporary life in a language that is layered, sensual, elliptical, and defined by wired phrases and shifting tempos. Ozone Journal creates inventive lyrical insight in a global age of danger and uncertainty. Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University. He is the author of seven books of poems and four prose works, including The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, a New York Times best seller, and Black Dog of Fate, a memoir, winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize. Asbarez Photo

The full list of 2016 winners is below:
Public Service: Associated Press
Breaking News Reporting: Los Angeles Times staff
Investigative Reporting: The Tampa Bay Times‘ Leonora LaPeter Anton and Anthony Cormier and The Sarasota Herald-Tribune‘s Michael Braga
Explanatory Reporting: ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller and The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong
Local Reporting: The Tampa Bay Times‘ Michael LaForgia, Cara Fitzpatrick, and Lisa Gartner
National Reporting: The Washington Post staff
International Reporting: The New York Times’ Alyssa Rubin
Feature Writing: Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker
Commentary: Farah Stockman of The Boston Globe
Criticism: Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker
Editorial Writing: John Hackworth of Sun Newspapers
Editorial Cartooning: Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee
Breaking News Photography: The New York Times and Thomson Reuters
Feature Photography: The Boston Globe‘s Jessica Rinaldi
Arts and Letters:
Fiction: Viet Thanh Nguyen for The Sympathizer
Drama: Lin-Manuel Miranda for Hamilton
History: T.J. Stiles for Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
Biography or Autobiography: William Finnegan for Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Poetry: Peter Balakian for Ozone Journal
General Non-Fiction: Joby Warrick for Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Music: Henry Threadgill for In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Monday, April 18, 2016

How IMF head Christine Lagarde convinces powerful men to make gender equality a priority By Emma-Kate Symons

Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
International New York Times/Women in the World

France’s Hollande pledges military, financial support to Lebanon

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday pledged financial and military support for Lebanon and urged politicians to end the political crisis by electing a president as soon as possible, at the start of a regional tour.

The Socialist president vowed to step up assistance for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, pledging 50 million euros this year and 100 million euros over the next three years to cope with the humanitarian crisis. Lebanon hosts more than 1 million registered Syrian refugees, a quarter of its population. It has the highest refugee-to-resident population in the world. Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri told Hollande that it was necessary "to find a political solution to lift the burden" created by the refugee population on the country. The French leader on Sunday travelled to a refugee camp for Syrians in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley to speak with families who will be resettled in France. "I just visited a camp the likes of which are all over Lebanon," Hollande told reporters after spending nearly an hour in the camp. "They (Syrian children) don't want violence. They want to learn and go home, join their families, their country," he said. Hollande's Beirut visit, the first stop on a high-profile four day Middle East tour, came just weeks after Saudi Arabia cut $3 billion in military aid to Lebanon, where violence has repeatedly spilled over the border from the brutal Syrian civil war since it began in 2011. Hollande promised, "immediate aid to strengthen Lebanon's military capacity" to protect its people. High-profile tour It is Hollande's second visit to Lebanon since 2012. He will travel on to Egypt on Sunday afternoon and then Jordan after his two-day visit to Lebanon. France 24 Photo

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ford considering new investment in Russia after 93% sales increase

American multinational automaker Ford is planning to invest in its Russian business. Despite the general decline of the country’s auto market, Ford's sales in Russia from January to March are up 93 percent. Ford has invested more than $1.5 billion in Russia since 2011, when the car manufacturer established a joint venture with the Russian Sollers group.“We will continue to invest, and we are thinking now about what our next investment cycle in Russia will be,” Ford Sollers CEO Mark Ovenden told Bloomberg. The Russian car market might still grow into the biggest in Europe, and the company should be ready for demand to recover, said the CEO. “Russian consumers may be more resilient than their Western counterparts,” he said, pointing out that the country was seen as a long-term play. Last year, the car market in Russia shrank nearly 40 percent due to the economic recession. Ford sales jumped 93 percent in the first quarter of the current year, after the company continued investing in plant and new models in 2015. Ford doesn’t expect the annual sales gain to be as big as the first-quarter results, according to Ovenden. The Association of European Businesses in Moscow expects the market to decline another 5 percent this year. Ford Sollers might start exporting cars manufactured in Russia due to the weakness of the ruble compared to other currencies. “There may be export opportunities, driven by the shortage of capacity in Western Europe, should the European market keep growing,” said the company CEO. RT Photo

Friday, April 15, 2016

Leading investor calls Russia ‘the bargain of the century’

Despite a double whammy from international sanctions and the oil price crash, the Russian stock market now offers “the bargain of the century,” Templeton Emerging Markets' executive chairman Mark Mobius told CNBC. "Russia is very cheap," said Mobius. "The problem is the sanctions. Many of us cannot invest because of the sanctions. Once sanctions are released, then the market is going to do very well." In 2014, one of the world's most experienced emerging markets fund managers, Mobius said investors were wrong to flee from Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis.  The slump in Russian share prices since the start of the crisis represented a buying opportunity, according to the financial guru. Mobius was echoed by chief executive of East Capital Karine Hirn who told CNBC "If you look at the Russian economy, the worst is behind us.” She said Russian consumers had been resilient and kept spending money. “Less than before, but they still keep spending," Hirn said, adding that East Capital had invested in consumer plays. This week Credit Suisse raised its outlook on Russia, citing the market valuation, and advised investors to switch into Russian equities. “Undervalued equities are like having money in the pocket,” Anna Vaananen, a money manager at Credit Suisse Asset Management in Zurich told Bloomberg. Russian stock markets have rebounded in the past few months on the back of higher oil prices and a strengthening Russian currency. That is encouraging investor interest. The ruble-traded MICEX index climbed above 1,900 points this week, close to its 2008 record before the global financial crisis. The index has gained more than 40 percent since January 2015. The dollar-denominated RTS index is trading at over 900 points for the first time since November last year. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that the Russian economy and the financial sector are stable and are attracting foreign investors. RT

France to close down Amsterdam’s Institut Français

Photo Credit: J.W. Boudewijn
France is closing down its cultural institute in Amsterdam and is looking to sell its listed building on the Vijzelgracht, the Parool says, quoting teachers who work there. The Institut Français will close on July 1 after 83 years in the city, and most of the 25 members of staff will be out of a job, the paper says. The institute, which used to be known as the Maison Descartes, was set up in 1933 and has been located in a former orphanage on the Vijzelgracht since 1971. The institute focuses on increasing awareness of the French language and culture. It gives language lessons to some 4,000 people a year and has a library of some 35,000 books and films. So far, 2,000 people have signed a petition against the closure, set up by staff. A spokesman for the French embassy in The Hague told the Parool the sale of the building is part of a package of ‘reforms’. The Dutch cultural institute in Paris, the Institut Neerlandais closed at the end of 2013 because its budget was withdrawn. DutchNews

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bono addresses US Senate on refugee and violent extremism crises

U2 frontman Bono brought his star power to Capitol Hill as he called on members of Congress to take swift action to deal with the global refugee crisis and violent extremism. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Bono drew a bleak picture as he described the flood of people fleeing their homes in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The human torrent threatens the very idea of European unity, he said, as he urged lawmakers to think of foreign aid as national security instead of charity. “When aid is structured properly, with a focus on fighting poverty and improving governance, it could be the best bulwark we have against the extremism of our age,” Bono said. Bono said members of Congress need to confront an “existential threat” to Europe that hasn’t been seen since the 1940s. Countries such as Poland and Hungary are moving to the right politically, a shift he described as a “hyper nationalism.” The United Kingdom is even considering leaving the European Union. “This is unthinkable stuff,” he said. “And you should be very nervous in America about it.” Africa is grappling with what Bono called a phenomenon of three extremes — ideology, poverty, and climate. “Those three extremes make one unholy trinity of an enemy and our foreign policy needs to face in that direction,” he said. “It’s even bigger than you think.” Bono said he understood the financial stress the US and other nations are under as they debate how much foreign aid to allot. But he warned bills will only get bigger without action. “If you don’t do it now, it’s going to cost a lot more later,” he said. Bono also suggested using comedy to fight extremist groups. “It’s like, you speak violence, you speak their language. But you laugh at them when they are goose-stepping down the street and it takes away their power,” he said. “So I am suggesting that the Senate send in Amy Schumer and Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen.” Before sitting at the witness table, Bono posed for photos with three members of Code Pink, who wore pink tiaras and held cardboard torches and signs reading “Refugees Welcome”. Bono co-founded the One Campaign, an advocacy group that works to end poverty and preventable disease. Irish Examiner Photo

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - French

Le Lion est Mort ce Soir - PowWow

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

EU wants Europol HQ to set sights on terrorism fight By Janene Pieters

A growing number of European Parliamentarians want to focus the Europol headquarters in The Hague by turning it into a European FBI. According to them, despite mountains of anti-terrorism measures taken since 9/11, things still go wrong in Europe because the security forces continue to refuse to share information, AD reports. In a terrorism debate, held three weeks after the attacks in Brussels, almost the entire Parliament concluded that in every European terrorist attack in recent years, the perpetrators were known suspects in other countries. That’s why former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is proposing that Europe gets its own FBI – to make sure that terrorist suspect in country X does not travel to country Y and blow up a group of people there. Verhofstadt believes that turning Europol into a European FBI will be relatively easy to arrange. New rules to add an anti-terrorist unit to the service this year are already on the table. He has three more suggestions for the service. Firstly make it responsible for European intelligence.  Give it the power to start its own investigations and compel national authorities to cooperate. And forbid national Europol cells from filtering information to headquarters. NL Times

Dublin Airport announces €10m upgrade for Terminal 1 Arrivals Hall

Dublin Airport is spending €10 million on a transformation of the Arrivals Hall and façade of Terminal 1, it has announced. Passengers that have passed through Dublin Airport's 44-year-old Terminal 1 in recent months could be forgiven a bit of confusion. Depending on when you last flew into or out of the terminal, you might have encountered the Departures road closed for essential maintenance, the phased redevelopment of its Loop shopping area, or new ATRS machines in the security lanes. It has very much been a terminal in transition. Now comes the announcement that the tiring Terminal 1 Arrivals Hall is to get a €10 million boost, with new flooring, a replacement ceiling and the removal of desks in some window areas to create a brighter, more spacious arrivals concourse. Once complete, all restaurants will be located in one area while the Tourist Information Office, Bus, Travel and Information Desk will be grouped together to make the floor layout more user friendly and intuitive, the airport says. “Almost 400 million passengers have used Terminal 1 since it first opened for airport operations 44 years ago,” said Dublin Airport MD, Vincent Harrison. “The building has endured much wear and tear over that time and we are renovating it on a phased basis," he has said. "Our goal is to greatly improve the overall look and feel for our customers." Screens currently positioned in front of the Arrivals Hall exit doors will be removed so that customers meeting and greeting friends and family will have an unobstructed view as they come through from the baggage hall. More than 5.5 million passengers have travelled through Dublin Airport in the first three months of this year, a 17pc increase on the same period in 2015. The biggest construction of all is yet to come, of course, following last week's announcement that the Airport is to proceed with plans for a new parallel runway estimated to cost as much as €320m. It's set for completion by 2020. The Irish Independent Photo

Fifteen busses with refugees leave Idomeni in last 24 hours for accomodation centers

Fifteen busses with refugees and migrants have left Idomeni’s makeshift camp in the last 24 hours for open organized accommodation centers in northern Greece, it was announced on Tuesday. “After the events last Sunday we realized there’s no other way out and I will not allow myself to relive this kind of situation,” a Yezidi Kurd told ANA-MPA. “My kids were terrified and they couldn’t breathe from the teargas.” Others present in the boarding of the busses said they were tired from the situation at the camp and hoped the living conditions at the centers would be better. ANAmpa

Sensata Opens Plant in Bulgaria's Plovdiv

The US company Sensata Technologies, a leading supplier of components for the car industry and innovator in sensor technology, electronic protection and control, opened its third plant in Bulgaria on Friday. The plant, which is located in the Maritsa industrial zone of Plovdiv, has an area of 68 000 square metres and will produce pressure sensors. The investment amounts to around BGN 80 M and the plant is expected to provide employment to 1200 people in the next two years. Sensata entered the Bulgarian market with the purchase of the Belgian company Sensor-Nite in 2011. Its plant in Botevgrad produces temperature sensors for Volkswagen, Daimler, Volvo, Fiat and General Motors. The plant in Botevgrad and the business centre in Sofia employ a total of 1850 people. The centre in Sofia has a crew of engineers and serves as customer service point for Europe. Nearly USD 15 M were invested in Botevgrad where millions of sensors are produced annually, daily Dnevnik informs. Sensata invested USD 40 M in the purchase of land and the construction of its plant in Plovdiv, which was unveiled by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.  Novinite Photo

Friday, April 8, 2016

Austrian President wants EU to examine ending anti-Russia sanctions

Austrian President Heinz Fischer
Photo Credit: Vladimir Fedorenko/Sputnik
The Austrian President Heinz Fischer says the EU has to find a way to lift sanctions against Russia. "I always say that sanctions are disadvantageous for both sides," Fischer said at Wednesday’s meeting with Russia's State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin. "It is important to find a way to lift them in the near future." He also said Austria is actively participating in EU’s discussions on the issue. "Our position is that it’s necessary to consider all the opportunities to develop cooperation between Russia and the EU," he added. A few days ago Austrian business leader Christoph Leitl criticized anti-Russian sanctions, saying they had proved unsuccessful. Leitl said Russia with its raw materials and Europe with its expertise would complement each other perfectly. At the moment, there’s no unity among the European Union for automatically prolonging the economic sanctions against Russia which are due to expire on July 31. The Italian and Hungarian foreign ministers said last month that things can’t be taken for granted at this stage; the question of sanctions should be decided at the highest level and cannot be automatic. Meanwhile, the Baltic republics and Poland are demanding sanctions should continue as a response to what they describe as expansionist Russia. EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in March 2014 after Crimea voted to separate from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. RT

Monday, April 4, 2016

Eggplant Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

I'm so moved today. I prepared an ethnic Middle Eastern dish by Yotam Ottolenghi - Chermoula aubergine with bulgar and yogurt. A lil on the spicy side but with the depth of the sweet eggplant and Greek yogurt turned out perfect. Will continue to try new recipes, probably using half the spices required. But today worked out just fine. A short summary. Fresh eggplant halved.  A paste is made of olive oil, fresh garlic, cumin, coriander, chili sauce, paprika, lemon rind and salt. The aubergine is scored and the paste spread over, baked at 200 C/380 F for 35 minutes, approximately. Bulgar prepared and then mixed with lemon juice, toasted flaked almonds, chopped chives, soaked raisins, and salt (you could also add olives). When done, dress the eggplant with the bulgar till overflowing, add Greek yogurt and sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander or fresh parsley.  Keeps its shape very well and the flavors are great even at room temperature. Cut in thirds and serve for a party. Recipe at International New York Times

Sunday, April 3, 2016

US support for Caspian gas to Europe project crucial – Azerbaijan

The Southern Gas Corridor project aimed at delivering Azerbaijan’s natural gas to Europe wouldn’t have advanced without strong US backing, according to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. “We are very grateful to the government of United States for its strong support in implementing this project,” said Aliyev during a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the White House. Aliyev added that it would have needed more time and effort to get the project going without US support. Azerbaijan is rich in natural gas and is seen as an alternative European supplier in an energy sector dominated by Russia. It could boost energy efficiency and security. Several arteries dubbed the Southern Gas Corridor aim to deliver Azeri natural gas from the Shah Deniz basin in the Caspian Sea. Last month US Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein discussed the project with regional energy ministers and representatives from the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan during a visit to Baku. Hochstein stressed that the project is a “long-standing” priority for the US government. “This is a very important step with respect to Europe's long-term strategic interests, and frankly, to try to diversify the sourcing of energy, which is important,” confirmed the US Secretary of State. The Southern Gas Corridor to enable Central Asian countries to export gas to Europe was proposed in 2008. The pipelines intend to connect southeastern Europe with the Caspian region and potentially the Middle East. The cost of the project is estimated at $45 billion with Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Iran attracted as partners. The first gas supplies are expected to reach Turkey next year with gas delivered to Europe in 2019. Europe renewed its interest in the project to reduce dependence on Russia as its key gas supplier and Ukraine as the main transit country after Russia suspended the $50 billion South Stream gas pipeline. RT Photo

Grybauskaite to meet with Obama in Washington

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and other heads of state at the White House on March 31, 2016. They will attend a working dinner and discuss methods of preventing nuclear terrorism. According to Grybauskaite’s press service, the dinner will take place on the evening of March 31, (Lithuanian time). Grybauskaite will also have an interview with U.S. news channel, CNN. During her visit, the Lithuanian president will also take part in a discussion on ensuring the protection and safety of nuclear material and facilities, promoting nuclear safety culture and reinforcing the commitments to global nuclear security. Washington is hosting the fourth Nuclear Security Summit which will bring together delegations from 52 countries. During her visit to Washington, Grybauskaite will meet with the Lithuanian American community at a Sunday-after-Easter festival. The Baltic Times