Texas on edge over package bombs

A package bomb blew up at a FedEx facility near San Antonio and the FBI is investigating whether it was linked to a series of four homemade bombs that hit Austin this month.








Buses leave Russian embassy in London

Three buses with diplomatic number plates leave the Russian embassy in London as 23 diplomats who were expelled head back to Moscow. Twenty-three Russian diplomats have left the UK for Moscow less than a week after being expelled over the poisoning of a former spy in Britain. Around 80 people, including the diplomats’ families, flew out of Stansted Airport near London on Tuesday to the Russian capital. Reuters video showed a small crowd gathered outside the Russian embassy, hugging and waving goodbye to others boarding vehicles with diplomatic plates. They were later filmed boarding a Russian Air Force plane, bid farewell by Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko. “Unfortunately it is very sad that the British government decided to behave like that, to treat us like that,” Yakovenko said from the tarmac, adding that it was a “violation of international law.”





Iraq War : Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country

The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict that began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. An estimated 151,000 to 600,000 or more Iraqis were killed in the first 3–4 years of conflict. The U.S. became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the civil armed conflict continue. The invasion occurred as part of a declared war against international terrorism and its sponsors under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The invasion began on 20 March 2003, with the U.S., joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launching a “shock and awe” bombing campaign. Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed as U.S. forces swept through the country. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba’athist government; Saddam was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December of that same year and executed by a military court three years later. However, the power vacuum following Saddam’s demise and the mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, as well as a lengthy insurgency against U.S. and coalition forces. Many violent insurgent groups were supported by Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq. The United States responded with a troop surge in 2007. The winding down of U.S. involvement in Iraq accelerated under President Barack Obama. The U.S. formally withdrew all combat troops from Iraq by December 2011.
The Bush administration based its rationale for the war principally on the assertion that Iraq, which had been viewed by the U.S. as a rogue state since the Persian Gulf War, possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that the Iraqi government posed an immediate threat to the United States and its coalition allies. Select U.S. officials accused Saddam of harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda,  while others cited the desire to end a repressive dictatorship and bring democracy to the people of Iraq. After the invasion, no substantial evidence was found to verify the initial claims about WMDs, while claims of Iraqi officials collaborating with al-Qaeda were proven false. The rationale and misrepresentation of U.S. prewar intelligence faced heavy criticism both domestically and internationally, with President Bush declining from his record-high approval ratings following 9/11 to become one of the most unpopular presidents in U.S. history.
In the aftermath of the invasion, Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. The al-Maliki government enacted policies that were widely seen as having the effect of alienating the country’s Sunni minority and worsening sectarian tensions. In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared a worldwide Islamic caliphate, eliciting another military response from the United States and its allies. The Iraq War caused over a hundred thousand civilian deaths and tens of thousands of military deaths (see estimates below). The majority of deaths occurred as a result of the insurgency and civil conflicts between 2004 and 2007.









Turkish forces drive Kurds from Afrin

Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies swept into the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin, raising their flags in the town centre and declaring full control after an eight-week campaign to drive out Kurdish YPG forces.










Putin wins landslide re-election in Russia

 Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory, extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory. Vladimir Putin rolled to a crushing re-election victory Sunday for six more years as Russia’s president, and he told cheering supporters in a triumphant but brief speech that “we are bound for success.”  There had been no doubt that Putin would win in his fourth electoral contest; he faced seven minor candidates and his most prominent foe was blocked from the ballot. His only real challenge was to run up the tally so high that he could claim an indisputable mandate. With ballots from 80 percent of Russia’s precincts counted by early Monday, Putin had amassed 76 percent of the vote. Early results and an exit poll showed that Vladimir Putin handily won a fourth term as Russia’s president Sunday, adding six years in the Kremlin for the man who has led the world’s largest country for all of the 21st century.







Pedestrian bridge collapses in Miami

 The remains of five people have been recovered from the rubble of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed in South Florida, bringing to six the number of people killed in the collapse, Miami-Dade County Police Director Juan Perez said late Saturday. In another development, Florida International University revealed that engineers talked about the structural integrity of the span hours before its collapse and deemed it safe. Perez said authorities don’t expect to find additional victims but will go through the rubble once more as a precaution. Miami-Dade police have identified four of the people killed. The bodies of Rolando Fraga Hernandez; Oswald Gonzalez, 57; and Alberto Arias, 53, were pulled from the rubble on Saturday, authorities said. Navarro Brown was taken to a hospital earlier and died there. The family of FIU student Alexa Duran has said that she was killed in the collapse, but police have not named her as being among the dead. Perez said 950 tons of rubble were moved in the search for the victims.








Russia prepares for presidential vote

The 2018 Russian presidential election is taking place on 18 March 2018. If in the first round no candidate attains an absolute majority of the votes (more than half), then according to the law a second round will take place exactly three weeks later on 8 April 2018. On 6 December 2017, incumbent President Vladimir Putin announced that he would seek reelection for a second consecutive term and fourth term overall. Putin is widely expected to win as he has consistently scored higher than 40%—and often much higher—in opinion polls since the last presidential election.
The President of Russia is directly elected for a term of six years, since being extended from four years in 2008 during Dmitry Medvedev’s administration. According to Article 81 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, a candidate for president must be at least 35 years old and has to have permanently resided in Russia for the past 10 years, and cannot serve more than two terms consecutively. Parties with representation in the State Duma are able to nominate a candidate to run for the office while candidates from officially registered parties that are not in parliament have to collect at least 100,000 signatures. Independent candidates have to collect at least 300,000 signatures with no more than 7,500 from each federal subject of Russia and also from action groups made up of at least 500 people. The nomination process took place during Russia’s winter holiday period, and 31 January 2018 was the last day for submitting signatures in support of contested access candidates.


On 3 March 2017, deputies Andrey Klishas and Anatoly Shirokov submitted to the State Duma draft amendments to the electoral legislation. One of the amendments involves the transfer of elections from the second to the third Sunday in March, i.e. from 11 to 18 March 2018. According to article 5, paragraph 7 of Russian Federal law No. 19-FZ, “If the Sunday on which presidential elections are to be held coincides with the day preceding a public holiday, or this Sunday falls on week including a public holiday or this Sunday in is declared to be a working day, elections are appointed on the following Sunday”. The second week of March includes International Women’s Day (8 March), which is an official holiday in Russia. The bill passed through the State Duma and Federation Council without delay in May 2017 and was signed into law by Vladimir Putin on 1 June 2017. On 15 December, the upper house of the Federal Assembly, the Federation Council, officially confirmed that 18 March 2018 will be the date of the election, officially beginning the process of campaigning and registration for candidates. This date is significant in the country as it is the fourth anniversary of Russian annexation of Crimea.
On 14 February 2018, the CEC set the schedule for the distribution of airtime for presidential candidates. Debates will take place on five federal TV channels: Russia 1, Russia 24, Channel One, TV Center and PTR, as well as on three radio stations: Radio Rossii, Radio Mayak and Vesti FM. As in previous election campaigns, incumbent President Vladimir Putin refused to participate in the debates. Debates will also take place on regional TV channels and radio stations, which will be attended by representatives of all candidates, including Putin. Debates will take place from 26 February to 15 March. Vladimir Zhirinovsky was the only candidate to attend the first debate, with the other three candidates sending representatives. The second debate, which didn’t actually involve any candidate-to-candidate discussion, was attended by six candidates and Boris Titov’s representative.







Turkish forces reach outskirts of Afrin

Turkish forces have reached the outskirts of the town of Afrin after a weeks-long campaign against a Kurdish militia in northwest Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said on Saturday, Reuters reports. Turkey and allied Syrian rebel groups it supports are advancing on the town from the east under intense bombardment, the Britain-based Observatory said. Ankara launched its offensive in the Afrin region on its border in January, aiming to drive out the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as an extension of the PKK group that has fought a three-decade insurgency inside Turkey. On Friday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish army would soon enter Afrin. He also vowed to sweep Kurdish fighters from the length of the border.









7,000 pairs of shoes cover the Capitol grounds to memorialize kids killed by gun violence

Activists install 7,000 shoes on Capitol Hill, saying the installation represents the number of lives lost since the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown. Demonstrators placed 7,000 pairs of shoes on the lawn outside the U.S. Capitol as a monument to the 7,000 children killed due to gun violence, including school shootings, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012. Monument for Our Kids was created by Avaaz, an international group that organizes demonstrations for progressive causes. The group set out the thousands of shoes on the southeast lawn of the Capitol grounds around 8 a.m. Tuesday.






Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fired

President Trump ousted on Tuesday his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, the most dramatic in a cascade of personnel moves that suggest Trump is determined to surround himself with loyalists more willing to reflect his “America First” views. Trump announced that he would replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the CIA director and former Tea Party movement congressman, who has cultivated a close relationship with the president and has taken a harder line than Tillerson on critical issues like Iran and North Korea.

Tillerson’s dismissal, on the heels of Gary D. Cohn’s resignation as Trump’s chief economic adviser after a dispute over steel tariffs, pulls the Trump administration further out of the economic and foreign policy mainstream and closer to the nationalist ideas that animated Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.