The EU said it would launch action because of ‘severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights’.
In January, Hun Sen made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid
China has agreed to provide assistance to Cambodia if the European Union implements trade sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation over human rights violations and rule of law issues, according to Cambodia’s prime minister.
Hun Sen announced the assurance on his Facebook page on Monday as he was returning from Beijing, where he attended a forum about China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.
He said China made the pledge during his talks with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, but he did not say what form the assistance would take.
In February, the EU announced it was launching action that could suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to its market because of “severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights”.
The EU grants duty-free and quota-free access for items other than weapons to Cambodia and other developing countries.
At that time, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry called the decision an “extreme injustice” that ignored steps the government has taken to improve civil and political rights.
It said it “is committed to continue enhancing the democratic space, human rights [and] labour rights” and that the European move “takes the risk of negating 20 years’ worth of development efforts” that had helped pull millions of Cambodians out of poverty.
Describing ties between the two counties “as firm as steel”, Hun Sen added that China – Cambodia’s closest ally – pledged a 600 million yuan ($89m) military assistance grant.
During his stay in Beijing, Hun Sen met several Chinese businessmen and many investors agreed to invest in Cambodia soon.
In January, the Cambodian leader made a four-day official visit to China and announced that Beijing had agreed to provide nearly $600m in grant aid as part of a three-year assistance fund and that the two countries also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to $10bn by 2023.
A failed test of the Dragon spacecraft could derail plans to launch NASA astronauts into space.
The smoke was visible for miles.
The day, April 20, was sunny on the Florida coast, with few clouds. The plumes, thick and glowing orange, rose over the horizon and crawled across the sky. Beachgoers stopped to stare. A photographer for Florida Today, on assignment to cover a surf festival, turned the lens away from the waves and snapped some pictures.
The ashy clouds were coming from Cape Canaveral. The only time you want to see smoke wafting from that vicinity, the site of historic space launches, is after a successful liftoff—and there were no rockets in the sky that day.
The smoke turned out to be from a failed test of a SpaceX spacecraft designed to carry humans to orbit. Strapped to a test stand so it couldn’t fly away, the capsule had ignited its engines. “The initial tests completed successfully, but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand,” SpaceX said in a statement at the time.
The smoke suggested an outcome more serious than an “anomaly”—like a full-blown explosion. But SpaceX wouldn’t say anything else.
A day later, a grainy video, which looked like a recording of a screen, appeared on Twitter. The footage showed what appeared to be the SpaceX capsule, known as Dragon, on the test stand.
For about 10 seconds, everything is still. And then, suddenly, there’s an explosion, and the whole thing is engulfed in flames. Off camera, people exclaim in shock and swear. (No one was near the capsule, so there were no injuries.)
SpaceX declined to verify the authenticity of the video. But this week, NASA sent an internal email warning launch-support employees that they can be fired if they share the video. The message, reported by the Orlando Sentinel, confirmed that the footage was real.
More than a week after the explosion, SpaceX remains silent about the incident. At this moment, even an “anomaly” in its test capsule should rattle the engineers, astronauts, and administrators invested in Dragon’s success. SpaceX was well on its way to launching American astronauts into space, a historic first in U.S. spaceflight history.
“Unless something goes wrong, I would think that we’ll be flying hopefully this year, this summer,” Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, said last month.
Barely two months ago, the same capsule was docked to the International Space Station, circling Earth. It arrived without people—this was only its first flight, after all—but plenty of fresh supplies, and the astronauts on the station opened the hatches and floated in. Several days later, the Dragon returned to Earth and parachuted to the Atlantic Ocean, ready for more tests, in preparation for a flight with people on board.
No astronauts have launched from American soil since 2011, in the final flight of the space-shuttle program, an illustrious but expensive 30-year effort. In the years since, the United States has relied on its former space rival, Russia, to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This arrangement was never meant to be NASA’s only option, or to last as long as it has. The George W. Bush administration directed NASA to develop a transportation system to replace the shuttles, but the Obama administration canceled the project, citing ballooning budgets and schedule delays.
So instead of making its own systems, NASA hired someone else to do it. In 2014, the agency awarded billion-dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to build astronaut-transportation systems. NASA would pay to use them, but at a significantly lower rate than the Russians charge.
At the start of this year, SpaceX had made the most progress. Spectators and press flocked to Florida for the Dragon’s first flight in March. A pair of NASA astronauts, already in training for the crewed mission, chatted with reporters, eager to suit up and fly. “I’m a little emotionally exhausted,” Musk told reporters soon after the successful launch. “Because that was super stressful. But it worked—so far.” The company was on a high.
Now it’s investigating a fiery spacecraft failure that could severely set back its efforts. NASA, which is aiding the investigation, says it has “full confidence” in SpaceX, but doesn’t know yet how the incident will affect its schedules.
SpaceX has shown that it can rebound fairly quickly after fiery setbacks. In 2015, a Falcon 9 carrying supplies to the International Space Station exploded minutes after launch; another rocket flew about six months later and executed, for the first time, a maneuver that SpaceX has now perfected, landing a booster vertically on the ground. In 2016, a Falcon 9 went up in flames on the launchpad as it fueled up for an engine test; another rocket launched successfully four months later, and a Falcon 9 hasn’t malfunctioned since.
But the previous failures, while devastating, destroyed only space-station supplies and science experiments. Soon SpaceX is supposed to carry far more precious cargo. The failure occurred during a test of a very important system: the Dragon’s escape system. The capsule is designed to hurl itself from the rocket in the event of a rocket malfunction or another emergency. To push off, the Dragon fires a series of engines called SuperDracos. SpaceX had planned to conduct an in-flight demonstration of this test in June.
It’s not known whether the capsule, itself a test version, is salvageable or completely lost. SpaceX has other capsules “in various stages of production and testing,” according to a spokesperson, but did not say how far along they are.
In a rare moment of reticence, Musk has not yet publicly addressed the incident. It could be that the entrepreneur has enough on his plate; he spent the weekend of the spacecraft failure tweeting about Tesla, and last week reached an agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a legal standoff involving the electric-car company. Federal regulators won’t go after Musk if he tweets something about SpaceX, which is not public, but NASA might, as Musk is likely well aware. He has gotten into some trouble with the agency’s leadership before.
The lack of public details—even any acknowledgment of the smoke—has irked some, including the staff of the editorial board at the Orlando Sentinel, which regularly covers space activities along Florida’s shores, also known as the Space Coast. In a biting editorial published last week, the paper lambasted SpaceX’s response, comparing the company’s relative silence to the days and weeks after the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, when “NASA officials circled the wagons, dispensing little information and giving the appearance the agency had something to hide.”
“The secretive aspects of Elon Musk’s ventures is fine when he’s spending his own money (or investors’ money) to build electric cars or bore tunnels through the ground,” the Sentinel wrote. “It’s not fine when the public is bankrolling his efforts, as it is with SpaceX’s crewed spaceflight program.”
The comparison to Challenger—an explosion that killed five NASA astronauts and two civilians—is certainly extreme, perhaps even inappropriate. But SpaceX should expect to be more transparent about its work for NASA, especially as it nears the finish line. Unlike its other projects, such as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, the astronaut capsule is a taxpayer-funded effort. Yes, investigations take time. No one expects a full-blown explanation a week after the fact. But the public deserves some more openness, such as confirmation of a fire, or even a simple acknowledgment of the smoke over Florida’s coast.
The same standard goes for Boeing (and for all the NASA contractors, for that matter). Boeing discovered a propellant leak in its astronaut capsule, the Starliner, during a test of its escape system last June. Boeing told The Washington Post it was “confident we found the cause,” but disclosed no information beyond that. There were no scathing editorials about that, but the circumstances of the SpaceX incident are different; Starliner has never flown to space, and there was no video footage of the capsule on fire.
The clip of the Dragon spacecraft allegedly blowing up is painful to watch. It is a fiery reminder of the difficulties of engineering and the stakes of exploration. SpaceX understands these well, but this effort is different from the rest of its portfolio. The company has taken on a job historically done by the government, which means absorbing the cultural sentiment that comes with it. The first SpaceX launch of American astronauts will be celebrated not only as a win for the commercial space agency, but also as a national achievement, a dazzling showing of American ability. A lack of transparency, a frequent hallmark of private technology companies, won’t work here.
Board and dice games have been a popular activity across almost all human societies for thousands of years — in fact, they are so ancient that it’s unknown which game is the oldest or the original, if there is one.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting ancient board and dice games, ranging from several centuries to many thousands of years old.
In August 2018, archaeologists with the Book of Deer Project in Scotland unearthed a game board in what they think was a medieval monastery.
The researchers are looking for signs that the buried building was inhabited by monks who wrote the Book of Deer, a 10th-century illuminated manuscript of the Christian gospels in Latin that also contains the oldest surviving examples of Scottish Gaelic writing.
The ancient game board was scratched into a circular stone that was found above buried layers in the building dated to the seventh and eighth Centuries.
Historians think it was used to play hnefatafl, a Norse strategy game sometimes called Viking chess, although it is not actually related to chess. The game pits a king and 12 defenders in the center against 24 attackers arranged around the edges of the board.
Medieval Mill Game
In July 2018, archaeologists found a secret chamber at the bottom of a spiral staircase in Vyborg Castle, near Russia’s border with Finland, which dates from the 13th century.
Among the objects found in the secret chamber was this game board, inscribed into the surface of a clay brick, that researchers think was used to play a medieval version of the board game known as “nine-man morris” or “mill.”
The game dates back at least to the Roman Empire and was popular during the medieval period in Europe. To play, two players set up playing pieces on the intersections of the lines on the board and took turns to move. If a player built a “mill” of three pieces in a row, they were awarded with one of their opponent’s pieces.
The game of chess itself has been played in Europe for many centuries — and the most famous chess set in archaeology may be the Lewis chessmen, which were found buried beside a beach on the island of Lewis in 1831.
It’s not known just how they came to be there, but archaeologists think the game pieces were made in the 12th or 13th centuries, when Lewis was part of the Kingdom of Norway — and that they may have been buried for safekeeping by a traveling merchant.
The 93 playing pieces, thought to come from four complete chess sets, are carved from walrus tusks and whales’ teeth. The largest pieces portray medieval kings, queens, churchmen (bishops), knights and warders (rooks), while the pawns are represented by carved standing stones.
The game of chess is thought to have been introduced to Europe from the Middle East around the 10th century.
Several archaeological finds attest to the popularity of the game in medieval Europe, including this 800-year-old chess piece from Norway, which was found in 2017 during an excavation of a 13th-century house in the town of Tønsberg.
The piece is thought to represent a knight from the game of chess, which was known at the time by its Persian name shatranj. Archaeologists say it is carved from antler in an “Arabic” style, although they think it was probably made somewhere in Europe.
Game of Go
China’s most famous board game is Go, which is now played around the world. It’s thought to have been developed in China between 2,500 and 4,000 years ago, and may be one of the oldest games still played in its original form.
One story says the game was invented by the legendary Emperor Yao, said to rule from 2356 to 2255 B.C., to teach discipline to his son; another theory suggests that the game developed from a type of magical divination, with the black and white pieces representing the spiritual concepts of Yin and Yang.
Go was introduced to Japan in the eighth century A.D. and became the favorite game of aristocrats, who sponsored top players against other noble clans. Professional Go players in Japan today compete in tournaments for prizes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Greek and Roman Dice
The Romans adopted dice games from the Greeks — collections like that of the British Museum contain many ancient dice from both regions and throughout the Roman Empire. A Roman-era “dice tower” for throwing dice was also found in Germany in 1985.
Archaeologists don’t agree that such dice were always used for games — instead, they may have been used for divination, with the characters or words on each face of the die representing an ancient god who might assist the dice-thrower.
Chinese Dice Game
Dice were also used in ancient China — a mysterious game featuring an unusual 14-sided die was found in a 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in 2015.
The die, made from animal tooth, was found with 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them, and a broken tile that was once part of a game board decorated with “two eyes … surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns.”
Archaeologists think the die, pieces and board were used to play an ancient board game named “bo” or “liubo” — but the game was last popular in China around 1,500 years ago, and today nobody knows the rules.
Israel Mancala Boards
In July 2018, archaeologists announced they had found a “games room” in their excavations of a Roman-era pottery workshop from the second century A.D. near the town of Gedera in central Israel.
Among the finds were several boards for the ancient game of mancala, consisting of rows of pits carved into stone benches, and a larger mancala game board carved into a separate stone.
The room seems to have served as a relaxation center for the pottery workers — a “spa” of 20 baths and a set of glass cups and bowls for drinking and eating were also found at the site.
Mancala is still a popular game today, especially in parts of Africa and Asia. It’s played by moving counters, marbles or seeds among the pits of the game board, capturing an opponent’s pieces, and moving pieces off the board to win the game.
Chaturanga is the Indian forerunner of the Persian game shatranj, which became chess in the West. It was invented during the Gupta Empire of northern and eastern India around the sixth century A.D., although what may be “proto-chess” boards have been found in the Indus Valley region and dated to more than 3,000 years ago.
The name chaturanga comes from the ancient language of Sanskrit, meaning “four-armed” — a term used to describe the traditional divisions of an army. The image (shown here) from an Indian manuscript from the Gupta period, shows the Hindu gods Krishna and Radha playing Chaturanga on an 8-by-8 board of squares. The boards were not checkered like chess boards today, but they were marked in the corners and in the center squares — no one knows the reason.
Pachisi and Chaupar
The Indian game of pachisi is still played today, and a version of it is played in the West as the game of ludo. It’s thought to have developed from earlier board games around the fourth century A.D., and is now considered India’s national game.
An illustration (shown) from an 18th Mughal painting shows the wives of the ruler of Lucknow playing chaupar, a game closely related to pachisi that uses the same cross-shaped board.
Traditionally, players in pachisi and chaupar moved their pieces around the board according to a throw of six or seven cowrie shells, which could fall with the opening upward or downward — dice are often used today.
The Indian game of gyan chaupar is the original “snakes and ladders” — versions of it date from the 10th century A.D.
It was supposed to teach morality, with players moving from the lower levels of spiritual bondage to the higher, heavenly levels of enlightenment to win the game.
During the British rule of India, the game was introduced to the West along with other games that had similar moral meanings; eventually, versions of the game were produced without the moral messaging.
A gyan chaupar board and game pieces from the 18th century was on show in the National Museum of India in 2018 (shown).
Versions of the game patole or patolli were played throughout pre-Columbian America by several different cultures at different times, including the ancient Toltecs and Mayans.
This illustration from an Aztec codex of the 16th century shows Macuilxōchitl — the god of art, beauty, dance, flowers and games — watching a game of patole being played. The Spanish conquistadors apparently reported that the last Aztec king Montezuma enjoyed watching the game being played at his court.
Patole players would bet items of great value on the outcomes of their games — the idea was to use throws of beans or dice to move all their game pieces around the cross-shaped board and into specially marked squares to win.
The shape of the board has led some anthropologists to speculate that the Mesoamerican game is related to the Indian game of pachisi, which would imply some sort of pre-Columbian contact between the two regions. But other researchers have dismissed any such likeness.
Hounds and Jackals
Boards and pieces for the game now known as “hounds and jackals” have been found at several ancient Egyptian archeological sites, with the earliest examples dating from around 2000 B.C.
This photograph shows a game set from the 18th century B.C., found in the tomb of the pharaoh Amenemhat IV in Thebes by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1910. The game can now be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The game board has two sets of 29 holes, and each player has 10 sticks that fit in the holes, decorated with either dog heads or jackal heads. The aim of the game is thought to have been to move a player’s pieces from one end of the board to another, while capturing an opponent’s pieces on the way.
The ancient Egyptian game of senet is one of the world’s oldest board games — pieces of boards thought to have been used for senet have been found in tombs of Egypt’s First Dynasty of kings, dating to earlier than 3000 B.C.
A painting (shown) on the wall of the 12th century B.C. tomb of the Egyptian queen Nefertari shows her seated at a table playing the game, which can be recognized by the shape of the pieces.
Senet game sets have also been found at other ancient sites in the Middle East, probably as a result of trade with Egypt.
Although the original rules of senet are not known, some modern reconstructions are based on ancient writings about the game. It’s thought the aim was to move a player’s pieces according to the numbers given by “throw sticks” — a type of dice — while avoiding certain unlucky squares, represented by symbols on the game board.
The word mehen, meaning “the coiled one,” was both the name of an ancient Egyptian snake-god and of a board game played by Egyptians before the Old Kingdom period, before 2150 B.C.
The relationship between the god and the game is unclear, but the game of mehen was very popular and appears on tomb paintings from the time.
The coiled game boards have been found with six carved game pieces shaped like lions, and with six sets of small balls or marbles that may have been the “prey” of the lion pieces. The ancient rules of the game are unknown, although there are several modern reconstructions.
Royal Game of Ur
A single board for what’s now known as the Royal Game of Ur was unearthed early in the 20th century during excavations of a Sumerian tomb in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, in modern-day Iraq — which means it dates from at least 3100 B.C. Other game boards have since been found in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Unusually, at least one version of the ancient rules is well known because they were preserved on a Babylonian clay tablet written by a scribe in the second century A.D.
The object of the game was to move all of a player’s pieces along the board before an opponent could do so. Four-sided pyramid-shaped dice were used to determine how the pieces could move in the game.
HONG KONG, April 28 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people marched on Hong Kong’s parliament on Sunday to demand the scrapping of proposed extradition rules that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial – a move which some fear puts the city’s core freedoms at risk.
Opponents of the proposal fear further erosion of rights and legal protections in the free-wheeling financial hub – freedoms which were guaranteed under the city’s handover from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Ranks of marchers snaked peacefully for more than three hours through the shopping and business districts of Causeway Bay and Wanchai, with thousands staying on into the evening outside the Legislative Council and government headquarters.
Police said 22,800 people marched at the peak of the procession, but organisers estimated 130,000 turned out – making it one of the largest street protests in the city for several years.
Observers said the turnout dwarfed an earlier protest against the plan last month.
Veteran activist and former legislator Leung Kwok-hung said the government’s move risked removing Hong Kongers’ “freedom from fear”.
“Hong Kong people and visitors passing by Hong Kong will lose their right not to be extradited into mainland China,” he said. “They would need to face an unjust legal system on the mainland.”
Some younger marchers said they were worried about travelling to the mainland after the move, which comes just as the government encourages young people to deepen ties with the mainland and promotes Hong Kong’s links with southern China.
Demonstrators hold yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the Occupy Central movement during a protest to demand authorities scrap a proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong, China April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Law clerk Edward Wen, 45, said the difference in human rights standards between Hong Kong and the mainland was too great to bridge.
“You will be screwed as long as they put up a crime on your behalf,” he said.
The marchers’ chanted demands for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down echoed through the high-rise streets, with some protesters saying she had “betrayed” Hong Kong.
Some sported yellow umbrellas – the symbol of the Occupy pro-democracy movement that paralysed parts of Hong Kong for 11 weeks in 2014.
The proposed changes have sparked an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business elites to lawyers and rights’ groups and even some pro-establishment figures.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong who handed the city back to Chinese rule in 1997, on Saturday described the move as “an assault on Hong Kong’s values, stability and security”, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported.
Chief Executive Lam and other government officials are standing fast by their proposals, calling them vital to plug long-standing loopholes.
Under the changes, the Hong Kong leader would have the right to order the extradition of wanted offenders to China, Macau and Taiwan as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.
As a safeguard, such orders, to be issued case-by-case, could be challenged and appealed through the city’s vaunted legal system.
Government officials have said no one at risk of the death penalty or torture or facing a political charge could be sent from Hong Kong. Under pressure from local business groups, they earlier exempted nine commercial crimes from the new provisions.
The proposals could be passed into law later in the year, with the city’s pro-democratic camp no longer holding enough seats to block the move.
The government has justified the swift introduction of the changes by saying they are needed so a young Hong Kong man suspected of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan can be extradited to face charges there.
The government’s assurances are not enough for Lam Wing-kee, a former Hong Kong political bookseller who said in 2016 he was abducted by mainland agents in the city.
Lam left Hong Kong for Taiwan last week, saying he feared being sent back to the mainland under the new laws and his experience showed he could have no trust in China’s legal system.
A group of 33 followers of Falun Gong, a religious sect banned in China, flew from Taiwan to Hong Kong on Saturday to join the march but were refused entry to Hong Kong, RTHK reported.
Sunday’s march comes amid renewed calls for deeper electoral reforms stalled five years ago after Occupy protests.
Four leaders of the movement were last week sentenced to jail terms ranging from eight to 16 months, part of a group of nine activists found guilty after a near month-long trial.
Reporting By Jessie Pang and Greg Torode; Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum and Clare Jim, Editing by Michael Perry, Richard Pullin and Dale Hudson
A video released by Isis after the attacks shows Zahran Hashim, an Islamic preacher and alleged leader of the bombers, pledging allegiance together with six other men – also thought to be bombers – to the self-declared caliph and leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Western leaders, as is usual, are proposing easy or unattainable action that will do little to damage Isis capabilities – such as trying to limit its access to social media – while steering clear of potentially more effective but difficult to implement policies to eradicate Isis that might be contrary to their national interests.
The best way to weaken Isis to the point where it can no longer orchestrate or carry out mass slaughter, like that in Sri Lanka last Sunday, is to bring an end to the wars in the Middle East and North Africa which over the last forty years have produced al-Qaeda and its clones, of which Isis is the most famous and most dangerous.
Governments deny that they are in any way responsible for Isis staying in business and point to the western-backed offensives against it which led to the last piece of the Islamic State being over-run on 23 March.
As a territorial entity Isis has been eliminated, but that does not mean that it cannot carry out guerrilla and terrorist attacks, as has happened in the last few months in Iraq and Syria. These are little reported because they take place in the vast deserts on the Iraq-Syrian border or they target regimes we do not like, such as the Syrian government in Damascus.
Isis was born out of war. In 2001, at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda – out of which Isis was to emerge – consisted of a network of fanatics and a few hundred fighters in camps in Afghanistan. They were so few that they had to hire local Afghan tribesmen to fill out their numbers in propaganda videos.
It was the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 that turned the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into a powerful military movement. When forced out of its strongholds by a reinforced US presence and weakened by opposition from within the Sunni Arab community in 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq retreated to its hideouts, waiting for better times.
These were not long in coming with the advent of the Syrian civil war in 2011 which the movement had the resources in men and weapons, to turn to their advantage. I remember Iraqi leaders in Baghdad telling me in 2012/13 that unless the war in Syria was quickly brought to an end, it would reignite the insurgency in Iraq.
They were soon proved right. Isis, as it was now called, astonished the world by emerging from its fastnesses to capture Mosul in 2014 and sweep through western Iraq and eastern Syria.
Western powers certainly wanted to defeat Isis but also did not want to do anything that would enable rivals and opponents – Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad – to win a clear victory in the Syrian war. They demanded that Assad go long after it was obvious that he was going to win after receiving Russian military support in 2015.
Stirring the pot in Syria in order to thwart Russia, Iran and Assad was much in the interests of Isis which could exploit the fact that opposition to it was fragmented.
Opportunities exist for Isis wherever government authority is weak or non-existent and it can put down roots. When defeat looms in eastern Syria this year, Isis moved thousands of surviving fighters next door into western Iraq. In Mosul and Raqqa, once the de facto Isis capitals in Iraq and Syria, assassinations and suicide bombings have started again. Kurdish-led forces are regularly ambushed. In Syrian government held territory near Palmyra, a series of Isis attacks in April killed 36 and captured ten pro-Assad soldiers.
In Iraq, Isis cells are reactivating in Sunni areas that surround Baghdad which, in the not-so-distant past, were the staging posts for the prolonged and devastating suicide bombing campaign that killed thousands.
It is probably only a matter of time until Isis succeeds in staging a Sri Lanka type multiple bombing once again in the Iraqi capital. The last big bomb in Baghdad was on 3 July 2016, when a refrigerator truck packed with explosives blew up killing 340 civilians and injuring hundreds more. This should be a moment when the US could do all it can to resist the coming onslaught. Instead Washington is giving priority to pressuring the Iraqi government to impose US sanctions on Iran – something that is bound to divide Iraqis and aid Isis.
There is a similar pattern across the wider Middle East and North Africa where no less than seven wars, large and small, are being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and north east Nigeria. These flare up or die down on occasion but they never come to an end.
The reason for these wars – the true breeding ground for Isis and its kin – is that foreign powers have plugged into local civil wars and want to see their proxy either to come out on top or, at worst, avoid defeat. Libya is a good example of this: would be leader of Libya General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, France and Russia are fighting a government in Tripoli supported by Qatar, Turkey, Italy, Tunisia and Algeria.
Such divisions and rivalries are repeated in conflict after conflict and mean that Isis will always be able to lodge itself somewhere in the chaos.
At the same time, one needs to keep a sense of proportion about Isis’s capabilities: the atrocities it carries out in Colombo, Baghdad, Paris, Manchester, Westminster and elsewhere are geared to dominate the news agenda, provoke fear and project strength. But none of these things win wars and the defeat of the caliphate earlier this year was real and irreversible.
This does not mean that Isis will not try to resurrect itself as a guerrilla movement relying heavily on terrorist attacks on soft targets. It is, at bottom, a military machine led by experienced military men who adapt their strategy and tactics according to circumstances. Talk in the west about cutting Isis off from the social media as if that would be a mortal blow misses the point.
Social media may be a powerful tool for Isis but it would survive without it. Savage cult-like movements similar to Isis such as the Nazis in Germany and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia existed long before the internet and were able to spread their toxic message without use of it..
The only effective way to bring an end to Isis is to end the wars that produced it. A large part of the Middle East and North Africa have become a zone of conflict where international and regional rivalries are fought out through local proxies. So long as that goes on Isis will continue to exist.
It is no secret that Reuters acts as an infowar arm of the Pentagon. This was demonstrated time and again in their disgraceful lying about the Ukraine conflict in 2014-15, the 2008 war with Georgia, and much else. Russia caught them red-handed this time, and is putting them in legal jeopardy.
The Reuters news agency has published a retraction of an “exclusive” report on operations between the Venezuelan and Russian state oil companies, PDVSA and Rosneft, after disavowing the US-supplied source. Reuters has also acted after Rosneft applied for a criminal investigation of the media company’s operations in Russia by Moscow prosecutors.
The acknowledgment of misreporting has exposed evidence that Reuters’ reporters and bureaux in Caracas, Venezuela, Mexico City, Houston, London and Washington are routinely relaying disinformation supplied by US Government agents in their attempt to damage Venezuelan, Russian, Indian and Chinese operations in the international oil market.
According to a publication by Reuters issuedon Tuesday, April 23 – but made to appear to have been published on April 18 – the news agency has admitted it “could not determine” its earlier allegation that a “scheme uncovered by Reuters” was true. The new Reuters claim also disavows the charge that Rosneft was acting illegally with Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) to bust US sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan company in January; and on Evrofinance Mosnarbank, a state bank, sanctioned on March 11.
Now, Reuters says, “experts see no violation of sanctions.” The “scheme uncovered by Reuters” reported on April 18 has been reprinted this week as a “new approach described to Reuters.”
The unprecedented retreat by Reuters followed a Rosneft press statement issued on April 19. The company called the Reuters report an “outright lie…purposeful misinformation, legalization of rumours…invent[ed] information fabricated for the purpose of causing damage to the Russian economy, Russian companies, and the Russian state.” Welcoming the correction in Moscow, Rosneft calls it “an unprecedented admission that we were right in our evaluation of Reuters’ article.”
International journalist sources express concern that the reputation and ability of Reuters to report internationally has been damaged by what they call the “Americanization” of the news agency. This is a reference to the editor in chief of Reuters, Stephen Adler, who is based in New York.
Reuters’ spokesmen in New York and in London have yet to clarify the sources of the now repudiated allegation. So far, they also refuse to correct an earlier Reuters “exclusive” with allegations against PDVSA and Rosneft, whose sources were also from Washington, and whose veracity was challenged at the time as propaganda for the US sanctions war against Venezuela and Russia.
According to the byline in print, the reporter responsible for the original and corrected version of the Reuters allegations is Marianna Parraga (right). Educated at a private university in Venezuela, Parraga worked first for Reuters in Caracas. Subsequently based at the same time in Mexico City and in Houston, Texas,she calls herself an energy correspondent for Latin America. Reuters has published several “exclusive” reports with Parraga’s byline, all claiming anonymous sources for evidence that the Venezuelan Government and the state oil company PDVSA are breaking US sanctions; read the list of Parraga’s list of “exclusives” here.
In March, reporting from Houston, Parraga advertised a document she was given by the US-financed opposition to the Venezuelan government. In a pitch for US investor support, Parraga claimed“Venezuela’s interim government led by congress head Juan Guaido is preparing new legislation to reverse late President Hugo Chavez’s energy industry nationalization, allowing private companies a bigger role in its oilfields and shrinking state-run PDVSA, according to sources and a draft seen by Reuters.”
In her Twitter feed Parraga has not made a personal correction of her misreporting. Instead, she continues to promote the April 18 publication.
Although the Reuter management has erased most traces of the original story, they have failed to “correct” the Yahoo internet version. Before it too disappears, here are several screen shots:
Directed from a headquarters in New York, Reuters’ editor-in-chief is a Harvard-educated American, Stephen Adler. Last month Adler issued a statement attacking the Myanmar (Burmese) Government for putting two Reuters reporters on trial, convicting them on criminal charges, and sending them to prison for long sentences. “They are honest, admirable journalists who did not break the law, and they should be freed as a matter of urgency,” Adler claimed.
According to the New York Times version of the Reuters case in Myanmar, the evidence against the two reporters came from local police who caught the journalists with official documents in violation of the local official secrets law. Reuters engaged for their defence Amal Clooney, a member of the London law firm defending Julian Assange against the US Government indictment for conspiracy to violate one of the US official secrets statutes.
Left, Stephen Adler in New York. Centre, Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Right: Julian Assange in London.
Adler, according to two sources briefed on his conversation, has Americanized the global coverage of Reuters. At the same time, the sources comment, Adler has imposed cost and job-cutting which has reduced the number of reporters and flow of news from sources in countries with which the US Government is engaged in information warfare. Editing and rewriting Reuters news flow have increasingly been centralized by Adler in the US.
Last November, in what Parraga and a colleague from the Reuters bureau in Washington called an “exclusive”, Reuters claimed a secret meeting in Caracas between Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was “one of the clearest signs of strain between crisis-stricken Venezuela and its key financier Russia.” Reuters reported its evidence came from “two sources briefed on the [Sechin-Maduro] conversation last Saturday”. Read the Reuters story here.
Doubt that Sechin had been in Caracas when Reuters claimed, and evidence that the reported “crisis” between Rosneft, PDVSA and the Maduro government had been fabricated in Washington, can be followed in detail here.
Yesterday the spokesmen for Reuters, Heather Carpenter (right) in New York, was asked detailed questions about the veracity of both Parraga “exclusives” – the November report and the April 18 report. Concretely, by telephone and email, she was asked to clarify the evidence and the “two sources” on which the November publication was based. She was also invited to explain how Reuters had verified Parraga’s material before publishing it.
Carpenter was also asked to explain why this week’s correction of Parraga’s April 18 report has been published as if on the original date; why the corrected version added reporting from Reuters bureaux in Caracas, New Delhi and London which had not been identified in the original; and whether the published correction is an acknowledgement by Reuters that the origin of the claim, which can no longer be “determined”, is US Government information-war material. Why, the spokesman was questioned, had Parraga and her colleagues cited sources at the US Treasury and the State Department without reporting from Rosneft or the Russian Government?
Carpenter acknowledged receiving the questions. “We will come back to you on this,” she replied. She didn’t. A London spokesman for Adler refused to answer the questions.
As everybody predicted, Poroshenko completely lost the election. As I wrote in my previous column, this is both amazing (considering Poro’s immense and extensive resources and the fact that his opponent was, literally, a clown (ok, a comic if you prefer). His defeat was also so predictable as to be almost inevitable: not only is the man genuinely hated all over the Ukraine (except for the Nazi crackpots of the Lvov region), but he made fatal blunders which made him even more detestable than usual.
First, there was this masterpiece:
Translation: April 21st. A crucial choice!
Now one could sympathize with Poroshenko: not only did this “Putin the boogeyman” appear to work fantastically well with the main sponsors of the Ukronazi coup and with the legacy main stream media, but nobody dared to tell Poroshenko that most Ukrainians were not buying that nonsense at all. The suggestion that all the other candidates are Putin agents is no less ridiculous. The thin veneer of deniability Poroshenko had devised (the poster was not put up by the official Poroshenko campaign but by “volunteers”) failed, everybody immediately saw through it all, and this resulted in Poro’s first big campaign faceplant.
Next came this disaster:
Again, this was not officially Poroshenko’s campaign which made this video, but everybody saw through this one too. The quasi-open threat to murder Zelenskii was received with horror in the Ukraine, and this PR-disaster was Poro’s second faceplant.
Then the poor man “lost it.” I won’t list all the stupid and ridiculous things the man said and did, but I will say that his performance at the much-anticipated debate in the stadium was a disaster too.
The writing had been on the wall for a while now, and this is why the two candidates were summoned to speak to their masters (face to face in Germany and France, by phone with Mr. MAGA) and they were told a few things:
Poroshenko was told in no uncertain terms that he could not trigger a war, organize a last-minute false flag, murder Zelenskii or engage in any other “creative campaign methods.”
Meet the new Ukie President (no, this is not a joke!)
The western calculus is simple: try to keep Poroshenko alive (figuratively and politically) and to see how much of the Rada he can keep. Furthermore, since Zelenskii is extremely weak (he has no personal power base of any kind), Kolomoiskii will have him do exactly as he is told and Kolomoiskii can easily be told to behave by the Empire. Finally, there is Vladimir Groisman, the current prime minister who has kept a very low profile, who does NOT have blood on his hands (at least when compared to thugs like Turchinov or Avakov) and who has not made any move which would blacklist him with the Kremlin.
Groisman is also a Jew (Israel and the Ukraine are now the two countries on the planet in which both the President and the Prime-Minister are Jews; ironic considering the historical lovefest between Jews and Ukrainian nationalists …). He might make a much more effective Ukrainian Gauleiter for the Empire than either Poroshenko or Zelenskii. For the time being, Goisman has already ditched Poroshenko’s party and is creating his own. And let’s not forget Avakov and Parubii, who are both soaked in innocent blood, and who will try to hold on to their considerable power by using the various Nazi death-squads under their control. Finally, there is still the formidable (and relatively popular) Iulia Timoshenko whose political ambitions need to be kept in check.
Thus, Poroshenko with his immense wealth and his connections can still be a useful tool for the Empire’s control of the Ukraine.
The western calculus might also be wrong: for one thing, Zelenskii cannot deliver anything meaningful to the Ukrainian people, most definitely not prosperity or honesty. Pretty soon the Ukrainian people will wake up to realize that when they elected the “new face” of Zelenskii, they ended up with the “not new” face of Kolomoiskii and everything that infamous name entails. Zelenskii might not have another option than to jail Poroshenko, which he semi-promised to do during the stadium debate. Except that now Zelenskii is saying that he will consult with Poroshenko and might even use him in some official capacity. Yes, campaign promises in the Ukraine are never kept for more than the time it takes to make them. Finally, Poroshenko’s power base is very rapidly eroding because nobody wants to go down with him. I tend to believe that Poroshenko has outlived his usefulness for the Western imperialists because he became an overnight political corpse. But this is the Ukraine, so never say never.
Finally, the Empire is also pushing for a reform of the Ukrainian political system to give less powers to the President and more to the Rada. Again, this makes sense considering that Zelenskii is an unknown actor and considering the fact that Rada members are basically on the US payroll (across all parties and factions).
What about Russia in all this?
Well, the Russians have been extremely cautious, and nobody seems to harbor any illusions about Zelenskii. In fact, just a day after his election Zelenskii is already making all sorts of anti-Russian statements. Truly, besides the logical implication of Poroshenko’s poster (that a defeat for him would mean a victory for Putin), nobody in Russia is celebrating. The main feeling about the entire topic of the Ukraine is one of total disgust, a gradual and painful realization of the fact that our so-called “brothers” are brothers only in the sense of the biblical Cain and the acceptance that there is nobody to talk to in Kiev.
Maria Zakharova: only caution and skepticism for now
These could include:
Decide whether to recognize the outcome of the election or not. I think that it is more likely that Russia will recognize the fact that most Ukrainians did vote for Zelenskii, but that recognition will imply nothing more than that: the recognition of a fact.
Accelerate the pace of distribution of Russian passports to citizens of the DNR and LNR republics.
Slap further economic sanctions on the Ukraine (Russia has just banned the export of energy sources to the Ukraine – finally and at last!).
Declare that since millions of Ukrainians did not vote (inside the Ukraine, in the DNR/LNR and in Russia, and since the Minsk Agreements are dead (they are de facto if not de jure yet) Russia does not recognize this election and, instead, recognizes the two people’s republics. I don’t think that the Kremlin will do that short of an Ukronazi attack on Novorussia (in which case the Russians will do what they did following Saakashvili’s attack on South-Ossetia).
So far, Russian spokespeople have just said that they “respected the vote of the Ukrainian people” and that they will judge Zelenskii “on his actions, not his words”. This approach sure seems balanced and reasonable to me.
The truth is that nobody knows what will happen next, not even Kolomoiskii or Zelenskii himself. There are just too many parameters to consider, and the real balance of power following this election has not manifested itself yet. As for the true aspirations and hopes of the people of the Ukraine, they were utterly ignored: Poroshenko will be replaced by Kolomoiskii, wearing the mask of Zelenskii. Hardly a reason to rejoice …
In spite of the large number of electoral candidates, the people of the Ukraine were not given a meaningful choice. So they did the only thing they could do: they voted to kick Poroshenko out. And that sure must have felt great.
But will Zelenskii turn out to be any better? I very much doubt it, even though I also very much hope that I am wrong.