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Sieren’s China: Terrorism is the ‘enemy of humanity’

"Islamic State" militants have killed a Chinese national for the first time. Beijing has reacted - but not with military force in Syria, writes DW's Frank Sieren. On Thursday, the noon edition of China's state CCTV channel announced the death of Chinese national Fan Jinghui and Norway's Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad. Both fell into the hands of "Islamic State" (IS) terrorists in as-yet unknown circumstances and were killed with shots to the head. In the latest issue of the English-language online propaganda magazine "Dabiq," IS published images of the two hostages and said they had been killed "after being abandoned by kafir [infidel] nations and organizations." The messages of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang were as clear as those of French President Francois Hollande: "Terrorism is the public enemy of humanity" and "We must bring these criminals to justice." Held hostage for several months Fan, a 50-year-old resident of Beijing, was taken hostage by IS extremists at the beginning of September. The terrorists demanded ransom money for him and his 48-year-old Norwegian co-hostage. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Beijing had done everything to rescue them. Prime Minister Li has said that Beijing wants to boost protection of Chinese nationals and organizations abroad, as the terror threat continues to mount. Even though no Chinese citizen died in Paris last week, the latest issue of "Dabiq" legitimized the attacks with the headline "Just terror." Anyone who happened to be in Paris could have died. The murder of Fan Jinghui, however, must be seen as a clear, specific message. The government in Beijing is aware that Chinese citizens are increasingly likely to fall victim to terrorism in crisis-ridden regions. In 2013, 18 Chinese citizens were taken hostage. The figure rose to at least 47 last year, and there could well be more as-yet unknown cases. The Chinese government has denounced the attacks in Paris just like other states in the world, but it does not want to use military force in Syria, as opposed to Russia, France and the US. Instead, like Germany, it favors negotiations in the UN. Beijing has always been in favor of involving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the talks. Berlin has now come around on this point: When she was in Beijing earlier this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel did not contradict Prime Minister when he said it was important to "seize the opportunity to implement a political resolution and to set up an equal, inclusive and open political dialogue." On the other hand, since 2011 China and Russia have vetoed a resolution against Syria four times in the UN Security Council on the grounds that the West was interfering too much. As opposed to Moscow, Beijing has stopped providing arms to Syria. China supplied anti-aircraft systems and missile technology until 2011, but since then no arms deliveries can be proven. It must be said, however, that Tehran has supplied arms developed in China but produced in Iran. Focus on Uighur minority Now that a Chinese national has been murdered, Beijing is calling for attacks by Muslim Uighurs in China's conflict-ridden northwestern province of Xinjiang to be categorized as international terrorism. For years, the Chinese government has been fighting against radical elements of the Muslim Uighur minority, who train as terrorists in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan and also cooperate with the "Islamic State." Last year, China's state media announced that more than 300 Chinese nationals had travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of IS. On the other hand, exiled Uighurs have complained that their freedom of religion is becoming more and more restricted and that suspects are not given adequate means of legal defense. One thing is certain: The life of Uighurs in China will get tougher because of IS terrorism. Frank Sieren is considered to be one of Germany's leading experts on China. He has lived in Beijing for 20 years.

“Islamic State” militants have killed a Chinese national for the first time. Beijing has reacted – but not with military force in Syria, writes DW’s Frank Sieren. On Thursday, the noon edition of China’s state CCTV channel announced the death of Chinese national Fan Jinghui and Norway’s Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad. Both fell into the hands of “Islamic State” (IS) terrorists ... Read More »

No such thing as absolute security, says head of German concert arena

Concert halls, wedding receptions and clubs: Closed spaces are a preferred target for terrorists. The director of one of Germany's biggest concert venues tells DW what safety measures can be taken. The Lanxess arena in Cologne is one of the biggest of its kind in Germany and can hold up to 20,000 people. It hosts major sports events like ice hockey games, as well as world-class concerts by the likes of Britney Spears, Madonna and U2. Stefan Löcher is the managing director of the arena and responsible for the safety of about 1.4 million visitors each year. DW: What went through your mind when you heard about the attacks in Paris - and particularly the hostage situation in the Bataclan? I thought that these attacks have reached a new dimension. It's something that we've gone over in our heads theoretically of course. But attacks like these pose challenges that are almost impossible to overcome. The reality of it is that I could post 400 security guards in front of our arena - if people attack with Kalashnikov rifles, the guards will either manage to escape or be shot themselves. We're talking about a situation in which you really need involvement by police or other authorities. Do you feel powerless in the face of events like that? Let me put it this way: It doesn't matter if it's a concert hall, a cinema, a stadium or a train station. If a group of armed attackers storm a public place, the only way to counteract that attack is to make sure these people are neutralized as a threat. To really prevent this from happening you would have to station heavily armed police or soldiers everywhere. Suicide bombers are a different matter. You can check if someone is carrying explosive material. Training and alertness can help lower the risk of a bomb going off to a minimum. What safety measures are you routinely taking at your arena? Our safety standard is very high: We search visitors and their bags. For some events, we even use detectors and scans. We employ very experienced security staff and make sure unauthorized people can't access backstage areas. We have a detailed safety plan and work closely with police. We have an evacuation plan and the nearest police station is only 200 meters away. These things help, of course. But it would be presumptuous to say that we have a plan for that kind of shooting spree. If the last 10 or 20 years haven proven anything, it's that there is no such thing as absolute security. Are there any specific measures that you are taking after the events in Paris? As I said, our safety standards are already very high. The realization that something like this could happen is not new, so high-profile venues like ours are prepared. However, I assume that there will be an increase in body searches at the entrance. Will any of your concerts or events be canceled? Nothing has been canceled so far and I don't expect anything will be. The German folk band Santiano is giving a concert at the Lanxess arena in two weeks. They have often played gigs at high-profile rock events. Is this event at risk of becoming a target more than other concerts in your view? Absolutely not. I think it was pure coincidence that the attacks in Paris happened at a rock concert. It wasn't about this specific type of music. Presumably, the attackers chose this day because of the friendly between Germany and France. It could have been any band playing there on stage.

Concert halls, wedding receptions and clubs: Closed spaces are a preferred target for terrorists. The director of one of Germany’s biggest concert venues tells DW what safety measures can be taken. The Lanxess arena in Cologne is one of the biggest of its kind in Germany and can hold up to 20,000 people. It hosts major sports events like ice ... Read More »

France’s Hollande: We’re at war

President Hollande has vowed to destroy IS, which means beefing up security forces and creating a broader international coalition against it. He spoke to a rare joint session of parliament following the Paris attacks. French President Francois Hollande had some decisive words on Monday as he detailed the country's new counterterrorism strategy in the wake of Friday's deadly attacks in Paris. Speaking to a joint session of parliament, the first such speech since former leader Nicolas Sarkozy addressed lawmakers on the financial crisis in 2009, Hollande declared that "France is at war," and would rise to meet the challenge. Hollande told "Islamic State" (IS) terrorists, who claimed responsibility for the violence that left 129 people dead in the French capital, that "the French republic has overcome other obstacles…those who attempted anything against us in history have lost." After commending the response of security forces and offering some words in honor of the victims, the president announced that France would "intensify operations on Syria," and would create 5,000 new jobs in the police and security forces in the next two years. A bill that would extend the state of emergency for three months will be presented to parliament on Wednesday, Hollande said, while also calling for a new law that would strip dual citizens caught with ties to terrorism of their French nationality. While many allies attending the G20 summit in Turkey offered their solidarity and support, including a promise from US President Barack Obama to step up efforts against IS, Hollande asked for more: a "unique" international coalition of all countries who stand against IS, and a special UN resolution against the militant group. Hollande to meet Obama, Putin To advance this goal, Hollande said he would visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week and then Obama in Washington. While both countries have long been engaged in the fight against IS, their differences over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has prevented a coordinated response. Earlier on Monday, Obama, after vowing to bolster the US airstrikes against IS while eschewing the idea of sending ground troops, was among a number of politicians who warned against conflating the attackers with the influx of refugees now arriving in Europe, reminding the public that many of them are also fleeing IS violence. "Slamming the doors in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," Obama said at the same time that several Republican governors vowed to keep Syrian refugees out of their states. Manhunt expands in Belgium The manhunt for individuals connected to the tragedy continued throughout Monday, focused mainly on Belgium, where the attacks were allegedly prepared. Belgian officials said that two people they arrested over the weekend have been charged with engaging in terrorism-related activities. France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that within French borders 23 individuals have been arrested since Friday, with 104 under house arrest pending investigation. France also began to release the details about some of the attackers, including their connection to IS militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who led a terrorist cell from the Belgian city of Verviers.

President Hollande has vowed to destroy IS, which means beefing up security forces and creating a broader international coalition against it. He spoke to a rare joint session of parliament following the Paris attacks. French President Francois Hollande had some decisive words on Monday as he detailed the country’s new counterterrorism strategy in the wake of Friday’s deadly attacks in ... Read More »

Mixed response from Africa to Paris terror

Europe is reeling from its worst terrorist attack in more than 10 years. Comments on social media in Africa - in languages apart from English or French - range from sympathy to barely concealed hostility. "Our condolences go to the people of France" wrote one Facebook user, Usman, in the Hausa language, in Abuja, Nigeria over the weekend. Hausa is spoken in Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad. DW journalists monitoring social media in Hausa said users were showing much more sympathy for the victims of the Paris raids than they did after January's attacks on "Charlie Hebdo" and a kosher supermarket in the French capital. Many users also spoke of the need to intensify the battle against terrorism. Murtala, writing in Hausa from the northern Nigerian city of Kano, often the target of killings blamed on militant group Boko Haram, said the Paris attacks "showed that terrorism has spread all the over the world and the time has come for all nations to combat it effectively." Comr from Kontagora wrote "I condemn the terror attacks in Paris, but the French have themselves to blame. They are involved in almost all crises in Africa and the Arabian countries. I pray for the end to terror across the whole world." Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said his country "stood in full solidarity with the people of France" and called intensified multilateral cooperation to bring "the scourge of international terrorism" to a speedy end. Surprise over Paris attacks DW's correspondent in northern Nigeria, Mohammad Al-Amin, said most Nigerians condemn the attacks and "some are even surprised that they could happen in a country like France, in Paris with all the security, Grade A security, that is considered to be there." Facebook is allowing users to show their solidarity with the French by including the colors of the French flag on their profiles. Godwill, a Facebook user writing in Kiswahili, said this was discrimination in favor of big countries, especially by Germany, which was flying its flags at half mast in mourning for the Paris dead. "Syria has suffered attacks which killed thousands, go to Gaza, thousands of people have been killed there. Look at al Shabaab in Somalia, they are killing thousands there. Why didn't Germany have the flag at half mast in favor of Syria, Somalia or Gaza?" Kiswahili is spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries. Mohammed, a Kenyan Somali told Alfred Kiti, a DW correspondent in Nairobi, said the attacks in Paris were "cowardly." Referring to the attackers, he said "we are not in agreement with those guys and who ever is claiming that is just a hooligan." Salum said "my worry is the lives of Muslims in France after these attacks." "Strong security measures need to be put in place. "Islamic State" is destroying innocent lives," wrote Kulwa in Kiwahili. Samia Othman, Yusra Buwayhid and Mohammad Awal contributed to this report.

Europe is reeling from its worst terrorist attack in more than 10 years. Comments on social media in Africa – in languages apart from English or French – range from sympathy to barely concealed hostility. “Our condolences go to the people of France” wrote one Facebook user, Usman, in the Hausa language, in Abuja, Nigeria over the weekend. Hausa is ... Read More »

More ‘Islamic State’ attacks in the ‘pipeline,’ says CIA chief

Intel agencies are working "feverishly" to uncover the militant group's attack plans, CIA Director John Brennan says. The intel chief's statement comes as several states suspend resettlement programs for Syrian refugees. Speaking at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, said Monday that "Islamic State" plans for operations similar to Friday's attacks in Paris were "inevitable." "I would anticipate that this is not the only operation ISIL has in the pipeline," Brennan said, referring to the Islamic State militant group by an alternate acronym to "IS." "This was not something done in a matter of days. This is something that was carefully and deliberately planned over the course of several months in terms of whether they had the operatives, the weapons, explosives, suicide belts." The CIA chief added that since the Paris attacks, intelligence agencies have exerted significant efforts to curb the militant group's ability to conduct another attack. "Security and intelligence services right now are working feverishly to see what else they can do in terms of uncovering," Brennan added. Closing the door? Friday's attacks have raised fears among Europeans and Americans that a wave of migrants and refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa may have provided Islamic State militants an opportunity to enter the US and EU. Two US states have announced that they will be suspending a federal resettlement program of Syrian refugees following Friday's attacks. "After full consideration of this weekend's attacks of terror on innocent citizens in Paris, I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the US Refugee Admissions Program," said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder echoed Bentley's sentiments, saying that the northern state would not accept "new refugees until the US Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearance and procedures." Republican Senator Rand Paul said he would introduce a bill to Congress that would enact an immediate moratorium on US visas for refugees fleeing violence in about 30 countries affected by militant groups. 'Cannot close our doors to these people' However, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the US will continue with its plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming months, as experts said states lack the legal authority to curb the resettlement program. "These refugees are subject to the highest level security checks of any category of traveler to the United States," Toner told a press briefing. "We think we can do this safely and in a way that reflects American values," Toner added. In Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry said America will continue to accept those fleeing militant violence. US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said that there is little risk for states resettling Syrian refugees due to the country's "robust" vetting process. "We cannot close our doors to these people," Rhodes told the Fox News Sunday program, AFP news agency reported.

Intel agencies are working “feverishly” to uncover the militant group’s attack plans, CIA Director John Brennan says. The intel chief’s statement comes as several states suspend resettlement programs for Syrian refugees. Speaking at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), John Brennan, said Monday that “Islamic State” plans ... Read More »

‘France to mull invoking NATO collective defense’

France will consider invoking NATO's collective defense clause, according to security expert Bruno Tertrais. Speaking with DW, he also said that Paris-style attacks could happen in every major Western city. DW: What is your assessment of the Paris attacks, the worst terror attacks in French history? Bruno Tertrais: It does not really come as a surprise. All the intelligence services and police knew that a major attack of the kind we had yesterday was not only possible, but almost likely. It is the kind of attack that police has tried to prevent for several years now, but it was absolutely not a surprise. Of course, it was a huge shock, especially because of the simultaneous nature of the attacks and the fact that for the first time ever, we had suicide bombers operating on the national territory. "Islamic State" (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks. This has been confirmed by French President Francois Hollande. Do you hold that claim for credible? I hold it for perfectly credible for several reasons. First of all, the speed at which French authorities blamed the so-called "Islamic State." They would not have done so if they did not have clear elements pointing to the responsibility of IS. Moreover there were signs yesterday night that there was a connection with Syria, as one of the perpetrators did mention Syria during an attack. The only remaining question is whether these were foreigners, French nationals or a combination of both. This will become known in the coming days. You mentioned that it was the first time that suicide attacks had occurred in France. What does the way the attacks were carried out tell you? It's the combination of a new modus operandi, the suicide attack, with the number and coordination of the attacks which is particularly troubling and shocking. But that is not even the worst thing. The worst thing is that they could be testing us for an even bigger attack; at least that is a hypothesis that some of the intelligence services are working on right now. This tells me that there is both the intent and the capability to try to do serious harm to the French republic. And if they were able to do that yesterday night, they unfortunately are able and likely to do it again. And I am certain that the French government is also working on that hypothesis. This is the second major terrorist incident in Paris this year, after the magazine "Charlie Hebdo" was attacked in January. How will France cope and react to the second bout of carnage in its capital? It's a bit early to say. I would say that the French reacted admirably well to the January events. I don't know how they will react to the second series of attacks, which is in a sense much, much more horrifying because of the targets. The targets were, for the most part, just people who were going on with their everyday life. Young people sitting in cafes or eating in restaurants. For the moment the French population is reacting fairly well. There are no spontaneous demonstrations or bursts of outrage. The big question is of course whether the National Front and Marine Le Pen will be able to capitalize politically on these events, which they were not able to do in January. At this point in time, this remains an open question. Is there a special reason why France is being attacked, or could this happen anywhere? That is a very good question. I would say that the sort of attacks that happened yesterday night could happen in every major Western city. However, "Islamic State" claims that it has particular reasons to attack France, which was allegedly one of its first priorities, if not the first in terms of targets. There is the fact that we are seen as a secular country that has biases against Muslims. I am not saying that this is a correct perception, but it does exist, especially because of our laws against ostentatious and visible religious signs in the public space. And there is also the fact that France is playing a leading role in the coalition against "Islamic State" in Syria in particular. These are key reasons, or at least key rationales. But I am not persuaded that we wouldn't have been a target even if we were not present in Syria. How should the West, should Europe, now confront the terrorist threat? We are talking about a multi-pronged response which will not only be military, or perhaps not even primarily military. But I believe it is now time for a united front in Europe and along with our NATO allies to see whether we can coordinate better and act more vigorously against the jihadi terrorist threat in all its components. One of the things that will be discussed in the coming hours and days is whether or not the clauses of solidarity which exist in EU treaties and in the NATO treaty's Article 5 should be called upon and put into effect. Certainly on the French side, there is a hope that our European friends and allies will also contribute to the military action against "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria in a more proactive way. Bruno Tertrais is a senior research fellow with the Paris-based Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (FRS), a French think tank on international security issues. Previously, he served in several roles in the French government, including as head of the Defense Policy Planning Unit in the French Ministry of Defense.

France will consider invoking NATO’s collective defense clause, according to security expert Bruno Tertrais. Speaking with DW, he also said that Paris-style attacks could happen in every major Western city. DW: What is your assessment of the Paris attacks, the worst terror attacks in French history? Bruno Tertrais: It does not really come as a surprise. All the intelligence services ... Read More »

Can Bavaria really close its borders and build fences?

لکسمبرگ ميں ہونے والے اجلاس ميں يورپی يونين نے اپنی بيرونی سرحدوں پر نگرانی بڑھانے اور مہاجرين سے متعلق پاليسی سخت تر بنانے کے حوالے سے تازہ اقدامات پر اتفاق کر ليا ہے۔ لکسمبرگ ميں آٹھ اکتوبر کو ہونے والے اجلاس ميں اٹھائيس رکنی يورپی بلاک کے وزراء نے ايسے مہاجرين کو جلد از جلد اُن کے آبائی ممالک واپس بھيجنے کا فيصلہ کيا ہے، جن کو سياسی پناہ کے ليے نا اہل قرار دے ديا جائے گا يا جن کی سياسی پناہ کی درخواست نامنظور ہو جائے گی۔ اِس سلسلے ميں خصوصی پروازيں چلائی جائيں گی اور اُن مہاجرين کو اضافی طور پر حراست ميں رکھا جائے گا، جن پر شبہ ہو کہ وہ يورپ ميں غير قانونی رہائش کے خواہاں ہيں۔ نيوز ايجنسی ايسوسی ايٹڈ پريس کی لکسمبرگ سے موصولہ رپورٹوں کے مطابق وزارتی سطح کے اجلاس ميں يہ پيغام واضح تھا کہ ’معاشی مقاصد‘ کے ليے يورپ کا رُخ کرنے والے مہاجرين کی جلد از جلد ملک بدری کو يقينی بنانے کے ليے ٹھوس اقدامات کی ضرورت ہے۔ يورپ ميں ’مستحق مہاجرين‘ کی آمد کے سلسلے کو جاری رکھنے اور شہريوں کے تحفظات دور کرنے کے ليے ايسے اقدامات ناگزير ہيں۔ رواں برس يورپ پہنچنے والے مہاجرين کی تعداد پانچ لاکھ سے زائد ہے۔ يہ امر اہم ہے کہ جن افراد کی سياسی پناہ کی درخواست مسترد ہو جاتی ہے، اُن ميں سے صرف 40 فيصد ہی يورپی سرزمين چھوڑتے ہيں۔ يورپی وزراء نے اتفاق کيا کہ اِس صورتحال ميں تبديلی لازمی ہے۔ برطانوی وزير داخلہ تھيريسا مے کا کہنا تھا کہ يورپ کو اِس معاملے ميں زيادہ کارآمد ہونا چاہيے۔ اجلاس ميں فرانسيسی وزير داخلہ نے يورپی يونين کی بيرونی سرحدوں پر نگرانی بڑھانے کے ليے ايک منصوبہ تجويز کيا۔ منصوبے کے تحت رکن ممالک کو اُن کی آبادی، معيشت اور ديگر چيزوں کی بنياد پر يونين کی بارڈر ايجنسی کو اضافی اہلکار فراہم کرنا ہوں گے۔ طويل المدتی بنيادوں پر بھی فرانسيسی حکومت نے کثير القومی يورپی بارڈر گارڈ کور کا قيام تجويز کيا ہے، جس کے پاس ہنگامی صورتحالوں سے نمٹنے کے ليے اختيارات ہوں گے۔ بعد ازاں مہاجرين کے بحران سے نمٹنے کے لیے يورپی يونين نے 400 ملين يورو کی اضافی امداد کا اعلان کيا۔ ان ميں سے 300 ملين يورو ترکی، لبنان اور اردن ميں مقيم شامی مہاجرين پر خرچ کيے جائیں گے۔ اس کے علاوہ مہاجرين سے منسلک تين اہم ايجنسيوں ميں 120 اضافی ملازمتوں کی منظوری بھی دے دی گئی ہے۔ بلقان رياستوں کے ذريعے مہاجرين کی مغربی يورپ آمد کو روکنے کے ليے يورپی يونين کے وزرائے داخلہ اور وزرائے خارجہ نے بلقان رياستوں کے اپنے ہم منصبوں کے ساتھ بات چيت کے دوران اضافی تعاون کی ضرورت پر زور ديا۔ اجلاس ميں يورپی يونين کے رکن ممالک کے وزراء کے علاوہ بلقان رياستوں جبکہ ترکی، لبنان اور اردن کے وزراء نے بھی شرکت کی۔

Bavaria’s state government has threatened “self-defense” if the federal government does not curb the number of refugees arriving. But can Bavaria even do that? European law expert Walther Michl gave DW some answers. DW: Dr. Michl, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann has threatened to send refugees arriving from Austria straight back there because he says the country is disregarding European ... Read More »

What does Putin get from meeting Obama?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet US President Barack Obama in New York next week. But it's not clear whether Ukraine or Syria will be at the top of the agenda, Emma Burrows writes. The Kremlin and White House have confirmed that Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama will meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week in New York. It will be the first time the two leaders have met face to face since last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit when they only "exchanged a few words" according to the Kremlin. There appear to be divisions, however, about the key content of next week's meeting. White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that when President Obama speaks to Putin "the top item on his agenda will be Ukraine." He said Obama was going to focus the meeting on making sure Russia complies with its obligations under the Minsk agreements, which are aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin, on the other hand, has said the focus of the meeting will be the situation in Syria. In comments repeated in Russian state media, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "Quite naturally, Syria is problem number one." Asked whether Ukraine would be discussed, he said: "Well, if time allows." There is also disagreement over who appears to have pushed for the meeting. The Kremlin has suggested it was arranged by mutual agreement, whereas the White House said it was being held at Russia's behest. Washington said the Russians had made "repeated requests" for a meeting and were "more desperate" to talk, suggesting this was because economic sanctions were having an impact on the country. In the second quarter of this year the Russian economy shrank by 4.6 percent, according to the country's national statistics agency. Russia not isolated At a time when Russia is under international sanctions from the West over its role in the Ukraine crisis, Vladimir Putin will be using his meeting with the US president to demonstrate to the world that he is not isolated. This, according to Andrew Weiss, head of the Russia-Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment think-tank in Washington, will "make the White House very uncomfortable." Distancing the United States from attempts to bring Russia back into the international fold, a senior US official stressed that the meeting had been agreed to because it would be "irresponsible" not to. Putin is also arriving in New York at a time when the West has been criticized for a lack of a coherent approach to the crisis in Syria. The Kremlin has repeatedly stated the need to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power to stem the flow of refugees and defeat the terrorist threat from Islamic State (IS). Western nations have maintained he must be removed in order to destroy IS and build a stable Syria. However, yesterday German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to move closer to Moscow's position by saying the West will have to "talk to many players and Assad is one of them" to end the conflict in the country. Putin, therefore, is "coming to New York in a very different guise to a couple of weeks ago when people were portraying him as an isolated and pariah figure," Weiss said. "He'll be in the spotlight, overshadowing many other world leaders who are going to be in New York." Russia key to solving Syria crisis Both Russia and the United States share particular concerns about the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Vladimir Putin will use his appearance at the UN General Assembly next week to push Russia as being key to solving the conflict there. "Vladimir Putin," Weiss said, is trying "to demonstrate that he is a force to be reckoned with on the international stage and he wants the opportunity to look like he is important on the top table of international dealings." In recent weeks the US has expressed concern about Russia's military buildup in Syria in support of al-Assad. This is reported to include a new air base and fighter jets. In an interview with CBS News, to be broadcast this Sunday, Putin said "there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism." Popularity boost in Russia Putin will use his meeting with Obama and his speech at the UN General Assembly to re-shape the international community's approach to the crisis in Syria and to show he is not an international pariah, analysts say. The Russian leader also hopes to bolster his standing at home ahead of parliamentary elections next year. Andrei Kolesnikov, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Russian president will use his time in New York to "send a clear signal to his domestic audience that 'we are defending our country' when our western partners are not trustworthy." This, he said, will be the key theme of Putin's speech at the UN. The speech and meeting with Obama, however, could be frosty given the White House's recent comments about the Russian president. A domestic audience In the announcement about the meeting, and in an attempt to apparently avoid being too deferential to the Russian leader, the White House suggested Putin was image-conscious. Earnest said that, during his recent meeting with Israel's prime minister, Putin was "striking a now-familiar pose of less-than-perfect posture and unbuttoned jacket and, you know, knees spread far apart to convey a particular image." There is no doubt that Putin's image in Russia is heavily controlled, and that the Kremlin could present his appearance and meeting with the US president next week in New York as a propaganda victory at home. "The Soviet Union was mighty and solved problems in its zone of influence, including in the Middle East," Kolesnikov said. "Putin's Russia is, in that sense, its successor and is ready to dictate the new rules of the new world order and to manage a situation one thousand kilometers from its borders. Therefore Putin is strong. Not weak."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet US President Barack Obama in New York next week. But it’s not clear whether Ukraine or Syria will be at the top of the agenda, Emma Burrows writes. The Kremlin and White House have confirmed that Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama will meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next ... Read More »

Ten years after Katrina, New Orleans is still a ticking time bomb

Some refered to it as a celebration, others rather thought of the day as a commemoration. But the tenth anniversary of Katrina proved to be an opportunity to reflect on the past and look at what dangers lie ahead. More than 1,800 people lost their lives on account of Hurricane Katrina and in the flooding that followed, which submerged 80 percent of New Orleans. But traces of the tragedy can still be seen all over the city, adding a morbid fascination to what already is one of the most peculiar cities in the United States. But according to the New York Times, most New Orleanians appeared to feel confident in their city's eventual recovery, which many said took long and seemed to be an insurmountable task at times. The report also highlighted that ten years after the hurricane there were differences along racial lines in how locals viewed the success of the city's renaissance and whether it would be a lasting achievement. Poor black families, in particular, said they still felt the burden of the disaster ten years on. While the city's population numbers have gradually been rising, many of those, who were forced to leave New Orleans, have not been able to come back. Meghan Sullivan, an ultrasound technician, who now lives in Houston, Texas, said her family could not afford to start their lives over again in New Orleans. "We had to evacuate quite suddenly and leave everything behind that didn't fit in the car. We didn't realize it was going to be this bad, but we lost everything in the storm." Sullivan explained. "A year later, we decided to move to Houston. We were pretty much priced out of buying a new home in New Orleans at that point already. There simply weren't enough properties around. And now, people, who have never lived in New Orleans before, are spending insane amounts of money to buy tiny condos and miserable plots of land, while no one knows how long it will take until the next natural disaster hits the city." Gentrified and fortified - to what end? This gentrified and glorified version of New Orleans has become a relocation magnet in recent years, largely due to new infrastructure opening up the market to outsiders. But the fear of another Katrina being just around the corner remains a preoccupation for many New Orleanians, who - if they can afford it - try to protect their properties with various insurance policies, while adding structural changes to fortify their houses. But Sullivan says that all these efforts almost seem futile when looking at the way New Orleans is surrounded by water: "There's Lake Pontchartrain to the north, Lake Borgne to the East, there are swamplands in all directions, especially the south, and then you've still got the great Mississippi River – not to mention all the manmade canals that run through the city. If there was any more water surrounding New Orleans it would be an island. With the city also being below sea level you're really looking at a ticking time bomb," she told DW. This abundance of water is what caused Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in US history, in the first place, and it also appears to be a menace on the minds of many people in New Orleans, especially those, who have spent all their lives living in the city. A new direction in government assistance Eric Iglesias, an urban strategist who specializes in identifying distressed areas in need of economic development, worked closely with the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) to attract investment to New Orleans. He fears that these victories might be short-lived if the government doesn't take the right kind of action going forward. "We have a lot to celebrate. The government did a really great job in helping to reconstruct a place that now has all the makings of becoming a world-class city in years to come. Our population still isn't back to its old numbers, but maybe in another ten years' time we might get close to that half-a-million mark again," Iglesias told DW. "However, what I'm most concerned about is what happens after that. In fifty years from now I hope that we're still even here. This city is sinking. We're losing the wetlands around New Orleans at an astonishing rate. We're losing a football field of marshlands every 45 minutes. That's where the money has to be invested now. We rebuilt our city, but we are far from having saved it." According to Iglesias, the rising water level might lead New Orleans, which is currently located 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of the Gulf of Mexico, to become part of the coastline of the state of Louisiana in a matter of decades. "No matter how much you throw the word 'gentrification' around, the city still has some serious challenges to address," Iglesias said. History to repeat itself Tourism expert Etienne Skrabo focused post-Katrina on attracting economic development in Gentilly, historically a middle-class neighborhood in New Orleans, which was flooded severely in the aftermath of the hurricane. He says that this changing face of the city bore all the hallmarks of a shortsighted vision. "New Orleans has been rampantly gentrified, and in a bad way. People are moving here from all over the country like there's no tomorrow, but the reality is that there is a tomorrow, and it's actually a pretty scary scenario," Skrabo said. "Outside speculators and businessmen are buying up houses and flipping them in a matter of weeks now, but all the while no one is doing anything substantial to ensure that this city will still be here in the future. We didn't rebuild a city that can, literally, weather the weather. As far as I'm concerned we're all just living off borrowed time here. "We have more than 90 miles of levees, but only ten percent of those levees have been repaired. We have the largest pumping station system in the world, but it failed during Katrina. The question is when it's going to happen again." Skrabo's worries are echoed by Meghan Sullivan, who says that she tries to visit her hometown at least once a year before it's gone. "Maybe I should be happy for New Orleans for having accomplished the unthinkable. But in actual fact, I just can't help feeling bitter about not being able to afford being able to return to my hometown - while it's still there," Sullivan said. "People seem to be oblivious to the fact that Katrina was not the first hurricane to hit the city and it certainly won't be the last." Man-made disasters and unlearned lessons Etienne Skrabo, meanwhile, highlights another, even greater threat to New Orleans than the next big hurricane: "Salt water is increasingly intruding into the marshes because of the ever-growing oil exploration and related construction in the bayou. So, in addition to already-rising sea levels around the world we are proactively adding to this problem ourselves by digging for natural resources. "This is killing all the trees, which actually hold our fragile soil together. So what happens is that there are places now where you cannot rebuild anymore. The Lower 9th Ward, one of the worst-hit areas by Katrina, is a complete write-off. And the people there are among the most impoverished and vulnerable victims." Eric Iglesias agrees with that assessment and says that he fully expects parts of the city to be submerged in the future: "When I bought my house I deliberately chose to not live near a levee wall or an area that flooded during the hurricane. I wouldn't feel secure there despite the repairs to the levee system. There's the very real risk of another hurricane, and that's just a short-term issue. In the long run, no one knows how much of this city will effectively be underwater one day." "Katrina was a man-made disaster. We simply failed to protect our city. But I don't know if we really ever learn from our man-made disasters. Less than five years after Katrina we had the Deepwater Horizon oil spill not far off in the Gulf of Mexico, like we needed any more damage done to our already fragile ecosystem here. Without this ecosystem, we won't be able to remain here." The new Venice: sink or swim Skrabo compared New Orleans to Venice, saying that instead of gondolas people used their SUVs to move around town. "But other than that, this is the new Venice. And no one is reporting on it." "It sometimes makes me wonder why we would rebuild a lost cause like this. But it's our culture, it's where we live. I love this city and so do many, many other people. So as long as we don't sink we'll have to swim. "We're pretty resilient. Hell, we even named our cocktails after hurricanes, so what does that say about New Orleans?"

Some refered to it as a celebration, others rather thought of the day as a commemoration. But the tenth anniversary of Katrina proved to be an opportunity to reflect on the past and look at what dangers lie ahead. More than 1,800 people lost their lives on account of Hurricane Katrina and in the flooding that followed, which submerged 80 ... Read More »

Chibok: 500 days in Boko Haram captivity

Relatives of the missing Chibok schoolgirls will hold a youth march and candle-lit vigil in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday, seeking to keep alive hopes of being reunited with their loved ones. Aisha Yesufu is the chairwoman of the strategic committee of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in Abuja. "We keep on hoping that the girls will be found. We will keep up the fight, there will be no retreat, no surrender on the Chibok girls until each one of them is accounted for," she told DW. Activists have organized numerous events this week to mark the 500 days of the disappearance of the more than 200 girls. They included Muslim and Christian prayer services, a tree planting ceremony and a march through Abuja. The ordeal began when Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok in Borno State on April 14, 2014. The insurgents seized 276 girls who were preparing for exams. 57 escaped but nothing has been heard of the remaining 219 since May 2014 when about 100 of them appeared in a Boko Haram video dressed in Muslim attire and reciting the Koran. The mass abduction brought the brutality of the Islamist insurgency unprecedented global attention. #BringBackOurGirls demanded their release and went viral on social media, attracting support from US First Lady Michelle Obama and many others. The Nigerian military has said it knows where the girls are but has ruled out a rescue effort because it would put the girls' lives in jeopardy. Wolfgang Bauer, investigative reporter with the German weekly Die Zeit, interviewed a number of women who said they had met some of the Chibok girls in Borno State's Sambisa forest. Bauer told DW he had the impression that some of the captive Chibok girls were now being forced to serve the Boko Haram leadership as a sort of 'palace guard.' Several of them served one of the wives - probably the favorite wife - of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Bauer also said he had heard that the girls were charged with the indoctrination of new kidnap victims into Islam and that they physically abused the new arrivals, but were themselves under surveillance and were hardly acting out of their volition. "A Chibok girl seems to have become status symbol for Boko Haram commanders who own one because the kidnapping of the girls generated so much global publicity," Bauer said. The girls' kidnapping continues to draw condemnation from world leaders. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said during a visit to Nigeria earlier this week that the abductions were "intolerable" and made a renewed call for their release. Activists campaigning for the girls' release are pinning their hopes on newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari who said in May that Nigeria "could not have claimed to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by the insurgents." Nigerians DW spoke to on the streets of Abuja were mixed in their reactions to the unresolved abduction crisis. "It is too early to judge whether the present administration is working on this," one said. "I believe Buhari can do something if he wants, but since he is new, he can do something, so let him help us," said another. Obi Ezekwesili, leader of Bring Back Our Girls campaign, believes more effort needs to go into the search for the girls. "These girls must be found, these girls are somewhere on this planet, they didn't become vapor and disappear" she said.

Relatives of the missing Chibok schoolgirls will hold a youth march and candle-lit vigil in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Thursday, seeking to keep alive hopes of being reunited with their loved ones. Aisha Yesufu is the chairwoman of the strategic committee of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in Abuja. “We keep on hoping that the girls will be ... Read More »

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