Serbia Prepares Grand Military Parade for Putin

After Vladimir Putin of Russia confirmed his forthcoming visit to Serbia, marking the liberation of Belgrade in 1944, Serbia’s leader said the country would welcome him with a military parade ‘such as the country has not seen in years’.

Russia confirmed on Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin will visit Belgrade on October 16 at the invitation of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic.

“The President of Russia will take part in celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade from Nazi occupation.

“Talks with Tomislav Nikolic and conversations with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic are to focus on key issues of bilateral cooperation, primarily in trade and the economy,” Putin’s office said.

Vucic and the Russian Ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Chepurin, previously met to discuss the programme of the visit.

Following the meeting, Vucic announced that Serbia will prepare a grand military parade to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade at the end of World War II.

“President Putin will also attend a military parade such we haven’t prepared in 40 years, as I believe this date and the occasion deserve it,” Vucic said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The Serbian Prime Minister stated that during Putin’s visit, the two sides will discuss future relations between the two historic allies.

“I am convinced that in future we can do many things together which would be in the interest of both countries,” Vucic said.

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Police investigate withdrawal of $18 billion from Russia via Moldova to Latvia

MOSCOW, September 22 (RAPSI) – Russia’s law enforcement agencies are investigating the withdrawal of nearly 700 billion rubles (over $18 billion) from Russia via 21 banks, Vedomosti newspaper writes on Monday.

The newspaper sites letters that Moldova’s financial monitoring service and the anti-money laundering service of Moldova’s National Anticorruption Center to Russia’s Interior Ministry, according to which false injunctions were issued by Moldovan district courts to withdraw massive funds from Russia.

“Foreign companies have signed loan contracts under which Russian firms allegedly took out loans worth between $100 million and $875 million or acted as loan guarantors. When obligations under these fictitious debts were not satisfied, creditors filed suits with Moldovan courts, because certain Moldovan citizens also acted as loan guarantors.These guarantors came from socially disadvantaged families who claimed to have known nothing about these loan contracts and insist that their signatures were falsified,”

 

Vedomosti writes, citing a letter to Sergei Solopov, deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Department for Economic Security and Corruption Prevention.

From March 2011 to April 2014, the fraudsters have withdrawn nearly 700 billion rubles (over $18 billion), the Moldovan financial intelligence service writes in its letter.

 

The funds were removed from the accounts of about a hundred Russian companies with 21 Russian banks that have correspondent accounts with Moldova’s BC Moldindconbank S.A.

The money was then transferred to 19 firms that were registered in the UK, New Zealand and Belize and had accounts with Moldindconbank and Latvia’s Trasta Komercbanka, the newspaper writes.

Iraq Crisis: Kurdish Troops Launch Attack on Isis on Three Fronts

kurdish fighter

Kurdish troops have launched three separate offensives on Isis (now known as the Islamic State) positions in Northern Iraq, according to senior military officers.

The attacks took place before dawn north of Iraq’s second city Mosul, south of oil town Kirkuk and on a town situated on the Syrian border.

Graphic showing areas in Iraq and Syria targeted by airstrikes

A Kurdish source confirmed that troops had entered the town of Rabia after capturing the villages of As-Saudiyah and Mahmudiyah.

“Ground troops are now fighting in the centre of Rabia,” the senior source in the Kurdish Peshmerga, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Kurdish troops in Rabia. File photo

He revealed that Peshmerga forces, with artillery and air support, had launched an attack on Zumar, a city 40 miles northwest of Mosul and near Iraq’s largest reservoir, which IS captured in June following a large-scale offensive.

To the south of Kirkuk, Kurdish forces recaptured villages in close proximity to the town of Daquq, which has also been under the control of IS since June, and were now attempting to reclaim the village of Al-Wahda.

“They have liberated the villages of Saad and Khaled. The Peshmerga have taken full control of the area, following fierce fighting,” Kurdish General Westa Rasul said.

The Kurdish attacks come after reports that IS militants are now less than 10km (6.3 miles) from Baghdad as clashes with the Iraqi army continue.

Fighting with the terror group is taking place on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital with Iraqi forces attempting to halt their advance on the city.

The battle for Hong Kong’s future: there’s no going back

A pro-democracy demonstrator in Hong Kong

Regardless of what the end game is, Beijing cannot ignore the pro-democracy protests that have given the people of Hong Kong their voice. 

The fast moving events over the past week in Hong Kong have taken even the most astute political observers of the city by surprise.

The week started with class boycotts by hundreds of university students, followed by the unexpected launch of the long-awaited Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement.

Image: Riot police fire tear gas on student protesters occupying streets surrounding the government headquarters in Hong Kong

 

For a week, the Hong Kong public was treated to street theatre and passionate speeches pushing for a seemingly impossible dream: Beijing’s blessing for universal suffrage that would give citizens of the autonomous region a fair chance to elect its chief executive, the head of the city’s government.

The movement received a boost on Saturday afternoon when police shot tear gas into the crowd engaging in peaceful protests. The unprecedented attack touched a raw nerve in the city, provoking even the apathetic to take to the streets.

 

In 2005, tear gas was directed at South Korean farmers at World Trade Organisation protests. It hadn’t been used by the city police on citizens since the communist-backed riots in 1967 (under British rule).

On Monday, the second day of the massive street protests, an estimated 150,000 people were blocking major commercial districts and commuter hubs. The government was forced to pull back the riot police.

 

Officials also announced a delay in implementing Beijing’s restricted form of universal suffrage, denounced as a sham by its detractors.

The modest concessions have not appeased the masses who are now calling for the head of Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive. They also want to dump Beijing’s plans for political reform in Hong Kong.

So what is the end game? The Leung government has effectively lost control of the streets as the police force is outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. In many neighbourhoods, groups of young men and women have built makeshift barricades at key intersections and entrances to the subway. There were no police in sight to stop them.

Riot police in Hong Kong

Riot police stand on guard outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters.Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images AsiaPac

For the past two days, the “occupiers”, mostly young men and women, planted themselves on city streets, sharing water and war stories under the umbrellas that have become symbols of the peaceful urban uprising.

People were extraordinarily cordial and inclusive. On one street corner, a group of deaf people offering support in sign languages received a warm round of applause. Yet amid the sense of excitement and liberation, the threat of tear gas was never far away.

Nevertheless, on Sunday, Benny Tai, one of the three key leaders of the Occupy Central movement, admitted that the group had lost control of the movement, at least for now.

 

For the first time in Hong Kong’s history, hundreds of thousands of people are coordinating themselves with little direction from government or institutions. It is a classic case of the unorganised coming together with the help of technology, as described by Clay Shirky in his book Here Comes Everybody.

Protesters have been using social media to share information and developments about the protest and, most importantly, to coordinate action, such as mobilising supplies of water and umbrellas. Beijing now needs to understand the aspirations of a new generation and the way they work.

Yet the Chinese government still has a few options. It could send in the army, the PLA, in the name of restoring public order and retaking the city’s streets.

President Xi Jinping’s tough stance towards political reform in Hong Kong is consistent with his record of tightening up ideological control on the mainland.

Under Xi, China has developed a master narrative that frames the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong as the work of evil “foreign forces” trying to undermine the sovereignty of China.

Chinese national flaghoisted upside down

The Chinese national flag (with the Hong Kong flag on the left), seen after it was hoisted upside-down by protesters. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Or Beijing could offer the protesters a truce by ordering Leung to step down. Regardless of his politics leanings, Leung must go for having mismanaged the response to the protests and allowing the confrontation to escalate.

But such a concession will only give Beijing a reprieve. The people of Hong Kong have asked for greater freedom. Beijing is understandably worried about the spill-over effect of the democratisation of Hong Kong. Since the massive protests began,

Beijing has blocked Instagram, the social media app for sharing pictures. It has also stepped up censoring pictures on WeChat, a popular home-grown app (instead demonstrators are using an app called FireChat).

For Hong Kong, there’s no going back. The struggle for democracy has restored the city to international consciousness, reminding the world that Hong Kong is not just a city of high finance and outrageous real estate prices.

It is also a city with dreams, for which its people are willing to take risks and make sacrifices.

Spain blocks Catalonia referendum on independence

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to defend the 'sovereignty' of his country

Constitutional Court suspends Catalonia’s Scottish-style referendum planned for November 7 following appeal by Spanish prime minister

Spain’s Constitutional Court on Monday blocked a Scottish-style referendum called by Catalonia, after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to defend the “sovereignty” of his country.

The court said it would suspend the region’s planned independence vote while it considered a request from Mr Rajoy’s conservative government that the vote be declared unconstitutional.

That process is likely to take up to five months, meaning the referendum, due to take place on November 7, seems certain to be declared illegal if it goes ahead.

Rather than follow the lead of David Cameron and allow a vote on independence, Mariano Rajoy said on Monday that legal action would be taken by his government to block the regional plebiscite.

“It’s false that the right to vote can be assigned unilaterally to one region about a matter that affects all Spaniards,” Mr Rajoy said in a statement following an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday morning. “It’s profoundly anti-democratic.”

The decision puts Madrid on a collision course with Catalonia following the signing on Saturday by Artur Mas, the president of the Catalan government, of a decree to allow the “consultation” on breaking away from Spain.

Mr Mas had said the vote was legal because the result was non-binding.

“Catalonia wants to express itself, it wants to be heard and it wants to vote,” he said after approving the law passed by Catalan’s parliament in Barcelona on Saturday.

But Mr Rajoy insisted the vote would not take place.


President of Catalonia’s regional government Artur Mas (AFP/Getty)

“There is nothing and no one, no power nor institution, that can break this principle of sole sovereignty,” he told reporters at the palace in Moncloa.

Catalonia’s nationalists have urged the Spanish government to take inspiration from David Cameron’s decision to recognise the Scottish referendum.

With the Catalan referendum now suspended by the Constitutional Court, an action that gives no recourse to appeal, Mr Mas will come under pressure from nationalists to defy Madrid and go ahead with the vote anyway.

Or he may decide to call early elections in the region and make them a plebiscite on independence.

Recent polls show an overwhelming majority in the northeastern region of 7.5 million want the right to vote on sovereignty but that support for an independent state wavers around 50 per cent.

7 Ukrainian soldiers killed in attack by pro-russian insurgents on Donetsk airport; at least 12 people killed in last day

The cease-fire looked ever more tenuous on Sept. 29, as Kremlin-backed insurgents tried to take over Donetsk airport on the night of Sept. 28. Seven Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the attack.

Overall, the Ukrainian army lost nine soldiers in the last 24 hours, according to government spokesman Andriy Lysenko, while 27 soldiers have been wounded.

Nine of the injured came when the separatists attacked a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier, according to Yuri Biriukov, one of President Petro Poroshenko’s advisers.

Meanwhile, at least three civilians were killed in Donetsk overnight, bringing the death toll to at least 12 in the last day.

Despite the casualities, the ruined and closed Donetsk airport remains under control of the Ukrainian army, who repelled the attack and destroyed three tanks and killed 50 insurgents, Lysenko, the spokesman for National Defence and Security Council said.

After Ukraine’s military forces blew up the runway of Luhansk airport and left it in September, making its use impossible, they have been defending the Donetsk airport, which is located just 9.4 kilometers from the city center.

Unlike the airport in Luhansk, the Ukrainian army has is better positioned to retain control over Donetsk — the provincial capital with a pre-war population of more than 1 million people — because it controls many nearby neighborhoods, Vyacheslav Tseluiko, an expert of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarment Studies told the Kyiv Post.

Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, the Dnipropertrovsk Oblast governor, thinks that the Ukrainian army might give up the aiport soon and settle for territory south of Donetsk in return.

According to his Sept. 28 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Kolomoisky said: “The airport is more important to them than it is to us,” he said.

But if the Ukrainian army pulls back and leaves the airport, it remains unusable, Tseluiko said. “It will take a lot of time and resources to rebuild the airport.

But the main thing is that there is no point of restoring the airport, which is located on the front line. It will be under fire anyway, so using it for its intended purpose will be problematic,” Tseluiko said.

The once-new and fancy airport cost $750 million, most of which came from the state budget as part of the preparations for the Euro 2012 football tournament. It was severely damaged on May 26, when it was seized by illegal armed insurgents.

A Ukrainian soldier stands guard on a road during a prisoners-of-war (POWs) exchange, north of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Ukrainian authorities regained control, but it has remained under the constant threat of takeover. There were several attempts to attack Ukrainian soldiers and retake the airport in July, August and September, but Ukrainian servicemen fended off the attacks.

Overall, Ukraine is seeking more than $100 billion from Russia in various international courts for compensation to losses suffered in the Kremlin-backed war in eastern Ukraine and the theft of the Crimean peninsula.

Isis ‘Less Than 10km from the Gates of Baghdad’ Despite Coalition Air Strikes

ISIS

Isis (now known as the Islamic State) are now less than 10km (6.3 miles) from Baghdad as clashes with the Iraqi army continue, according to the vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq.

Fighting with the terror group is taking place on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital with Iraqi forces attempting to halt their advance on the city.

Conflicting reports have emerged of the proximity of the radical Islamist group to Iraq’s economic and political centre. 

Fighting has taken place in the key strategic town of Amariya al-Falluja, 40km (25 miles) west of Baghdad but Canon Andrew White, the vicar of Iraq’s only Anglican church, has claimed that the militants are now less than 10km (6.3 miles) from the capital.

“The Islamic State are on the verge of entering Baghdad. The Islamic State are now within 10km of entering Baghdad. Over a 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed by them yesterday, things are so bad.

“As I said all the military air strikes are doing nothing. If we ever needed your prayer it is now,” he said.

“President Obama is saying that he overestimated the ability of the Iraqi Army. It is so clear they have no ability. A hard thing to say but it’s true.”

An organisation supporting the work of White, the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, has claimed that the group are even closer to Baghdad – less than 2km away.

On a mission: The RAF jets seek out their terror targets in Iraq - which they failed to find and bomb, again

“The Islamic State are now less than 2km away from entering Baghdad. They said it could never happen and now it almost has. Obama says he overestimated what the Iraqi Army could do. Well you only need to be hear [sic] a very short while to know they can do very very little,” the statement read.

The IS advance on the city comes despite the US-led coalition’s air strike campaign on the group’s positions across Iraq, most recently in Anbar province 80km from Baghdad. 

US President Barack Obama has conceded that American intelligence did not take the growing threat from the group seriously enough.

“Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” he said in a televised interview.

Strong presence: Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 Islamic State militants were in Syria. But ISIS have held a number of towns and villages close to the Iraqi capital since earlier in the year, when government troops melted away following a lightning advance in the west of the country

The United States has conducted over 200 air strikes on the group’s positions in Iraq since August 2014, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar have joined or supported the strikes in Syria.

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