HOLLYWOOD, February 27 -- US actor Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock in the cult sci-fi series Star Trek, has died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, his family has said. His son, Adam, said he died of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Friday morning.
Nimoy had a long career as both an actor and director. However he was best known for his portrayal of the half-human, half-Vulcan character in both the TV franchise and series of films.
Last year, the actor revealed he was suffering from chronic lung disease, despite stopping smoking more than 20 years ago. It was reported earlier this week he had been taken to hospital on 19 February after suffering from chest pains.
He later tweeted: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory." He signed off with "LLAP" - a reference to his character's famous catchphrase, "Live long and prosper". It was to be his final tweet.
EYL, February 26 -- Hawa Mohamed Saeed recites a prayer in a barely audible voice as she waits for the phone to ring with news of her imprisoned son. This has been her daily routine for the past five years.
Dressed in red flowing garment from top-to-toe, Hawa, 80, paces gingerly back and forth in front of a white-washed stone house with a corrugated tin roof perched on top of a mountain in the picturesque town of Eyl, in Somalia's northeast.
Colourful prayer beads play in one hand, an old battered mobile phone in the other. The elderly woman is awaiting news of her son who is jailed in Yemen. Farhan Mohamed Jaama - a convicted Somali pirate serving life behind bars - hasn't called in months.
Once in a while when the waiting gets unbearable, Hawa finds the courage to call him on the smuggled phone he hides, taking a chance the no-nonsense Yemeni prison guards won't find him answering her call.
"He was a seaman just like most people in this town, he used to go out to sea and sell the catch," Hawa says. "Our life was good. He did not only provide for us, but also for his relatives who live in towns and villages far from here. He used to pay for their rent and school fees."
Farhan is one of more than 200 men from this town who have been hauled off to prisons far from this Horn of Africa country. More than 1,300 young Somali men have been jailed in prisons abroad for piracy since 2005. Most have been sentenced to life in jail.
Eyl - an ancient town sandwiched between the blue warm waters of the Indian Ocean on one side, and the rolling Nugaal mountains on the other - was until recently known as Somalia's piracy capital. This once well-to-do town has fallen on hard times. Eyl has paid the heaviest price, and continues to do so.
With the seas empty of fish because of toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing by foreign trawlers - and the soil too rocky and barren to support farming - residents have run out of ideas on how to support themselves.
They have exhausted all options. Prayers at the local mosque are all that is left in their armour. The abandoned crumbling homes are a clear sign that many have given up and left.
"Life has turned for the worst, first our central government collapsed, then the sea got polluted by foreigners using it as dump site that killed most of the fish," Hawa says. "Life became tough not only for us but most of the people in this town. Then the little fish that was left was swept clean by the trawlers - illegal trawlers."
TIKRIT, February 25 -- More than 100 Iraqi men, including nine boys, have been kidnapped by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters near Tikrit, an influential sheikh says.
Sheikh Anwar Assi al-Obeidi said on Wednesday that 118 men and nine boys were originally captured three days ago from Rubaidha village, east of Tikrit, but that 21 men have since been released.
The boys, aged nine and 10, are still being held along with the remaining men at an unknown location, Sheikh Anwar said.
He said that most of those captured have relatives fighting against ISIS and that 600 members of the al-Obeid tribe, where he is the paramount sheikh, have been killed by ISIS fighters since June.
"ISIS have taken our men in retaliation for their support to the security forces and being part of the Sunni tribes that oppose ISIS’s ideology," the sheik said. "This is an attempt by ISIS to mount pressure on their relatives and family members whom have took up arms against ISIS."
He said news of the kidnapping had not been reported earlier because phone services had been cut off in the area. The news came a day after ISIS fighters reportedly captured at least 70 Assyrian Christians in Hassakeh province in northeast Syria. A new UN report released this week documented widespread human rights violations committed by ISIS in Iraq between September and December last year.
“Members of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, including Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yezidi, Sabaeans, Kaka’e, Faili Kurds, Arab Shia, and others have been intentionally and systematically targeted by ISIS and associated armed groups and subjected to gross human rights abuses," the report said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Iraqi security forces evacuated 300 families from the town of al-Baghdadi.
KOLN, February 22 -- Better a miserable end than an endless misery. Despite requesting further assistance, the Syriza government in Greece should compromise soon or step down to avert a Greek euro exit, DW's Bernd Riegert says.
Germany's rejection of Greece's request to extend its current aid program has surprised and even worried many in Brussels. The radical left-right coalition in Athens had finally deigned to lodge its vital application to request the extension - and thus ensured there would be some hope for an agreement with its creditors. But conservative German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble immediately pounded the table with his fist. He exposed the application as sham: Greece said it was committed, at least in principle, to meeting many demands of the Eurogroup, but Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remained too vague about the details. Too many loopholes. Rejected!
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who had mediated over the past few days and helped the Greeks to formulate the application, are somewhat perplexed about Berlin's harsh No, which Helsinki has since come out in favor of. It would have been better to consult only once within the Eurogroup and then ask Greece for improvements. Even within the German government coalition in Berlin, Schäuble's negotiation tactics have faced criticism. However, Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel says Schäuble is right: Athens' application will be rejected in its present form. Ahead of what will now be the third meeting of the Eurogroup on the latest Greek drama, the mood is as bad as can be imagined.
Last Friday is probably the last chance for the radical coalition led by Alexis Tsipras to come to its senses. And it's probably the last chance for the tough guys in the Eurogroup to find common ground with the Greeks and do something to protect the cohesion of the euro, which is still the heart of European integration. The fact that the Greek side has ruled out making changes to its application suggests that negotiations will be protracted and difficult. Results are by no means guaranteed. Greek insolvency is moving inexorably closer.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has lost patience with Varoufakis' wild financial ideas. Greeks are putting their money into safe havens, tax revenues are plummeting and economic development is paralyzed. But the Greeks seem to have their pride back. That was a bad swap. Greece already totally depends on life support from the ECB. Without emergency aid for Greek banks, Greece's exit from the euro area and all existing sources of finance is only a matter of days.
The application to continue the ongoing aid program, the object of so much conflict, really only addresses one minor problem. Extending the program only ensures that the last installment, amounting to nearly 7 billion of the total 240 billion euros in loans, can be paid in accordance with long-agreed terms over the next six months. First, the troika - which isn't supposed to be called that any more - must examine the books.
The application was therefore not about the great new restructuring, reform and welfare program the Greek government promised its constituents without any idea how it could be financed. It didn't address the larger issues of debt restructuring and debt relief. That discussion is yet to come!
After six months, a new deal with the Eurogroup and the International Monetary Fund would have to be negotiated. From today's perspective, that seems almost impossible. It is more likely that Greece would finally go bankrupt in the interim. The Syriza-Anel team should fail as soon as possible on the basis of their own campaign promises. Their magic should disappear and they should be voted out democratically. That too would be hard for Greece, but still better than being ruled by a left-wing radical bigmouth, an economic dilettante and a nationalist switch-hitter and being ejected from the EU.
KIEV, February 22 -- The pullout of heavy armaments from the line of contact in Donbass (the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in east Ukraine) should start today, the Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper reported citing Pyotr Kanonik, the head of the Ukrainian group of military in the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC) of ceasefire issues and situation stabilization.
"An hour ago, Russia’s representative in the joint center [Col. Gen.] Alexander Lentsov signed [with self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic leader Alexander] Zakharchenko, and before that, with [head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic Igor] Plotnitsky documents to pull out heavy armaments," Kanonik said. "The H-hour is on February 22," he said.
Earlier, Lentsov said that in line with the Package of Measures on implementation of the Minsk agreements signed February 12 by the Contact Group on Ukraine, Ukrainian army units will be withdrawn from the actual contact line, while DPR and LPR formations from the line defined by the Minsk Memorandum of September 19.
Clashes between Ukrainian troops and local militias in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions during Kiev’s military operation, conducted since mid-April 2014, to regain control over parts of the breakaway territories, which call themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), have left thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee Ukraine’s embattled east.
The parties to the Ukrainian conflict mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreed on a ceasefire at talks on September 5, 2014 in Belarusian capital Minsk two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed his plan to settle the situation in the east of Ukraine. The ceasefire has reportedly been numerously violated since.
Ukraine’s parliament on September 16, 2014 adopted the law on a special self-rule status for certain districts in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions for three years. The law took effect October 18, 2014 but was then repealed by Kiev.
The Trilateral Contact Group on settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine comprising representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE adopted a memorandum on September 19, 2014 in Minsk. The document outlined the parameters for the implementation of commitments on the ceasefire in Ukraine laid down in the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.
The nine-point memorandum in particular envisioned a ban on the use of all armaments and withdrawal of weapons with the calibers of over 100 millimeters to a distance of 15 kilometers from the contact line from each side. The OSCE was tasked with controlling the implementation of memorandum provisions.
The Contact Group held meetings in late December 2014 and on January 31, 2015. They did not bring major results.
Regular talks of the participants of the Trilateral Contact Group were held in Minsk on February 10-12. At that meeting of the Contact Group, a 13-point Package of Measures on implementation of the Minsk agreements was adopted.
The package in particular included an agreement on cessation of fire from February 15, withdrawal of heavy armaments, as well as measures on long-term political settlement of the situation in Ukraine, including enforcement of the special self-rule status for certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The document was signed by OSCE Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, ex-Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Russian Ambassador in Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, as well as self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's republics' leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky.
Talks of the Normandy Four leaders (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) on the Ukrainian issue also ended February 12 in Minsk.
RAQQA, February 22 -- The 21 Kurdish fighters captured by the Islamic State (ISIS) group have been featured in a new video released by the group.
The video is the second installment of ISIS footage to feature the captured Kurdish fighters. In the new video, the Kurds, dressed in orange jumpsuits, their heads bowed, are paraded through an enclosed area and then seen in individual steel cages. It comes just days after a first video showed 17 Kurdish fighters been taken on a procession through the streets of Iraqi town of Kirkuk.
ISIS fighters spoke to the camera in Kurdish, reiterating "our war is not with the Kurdish Muslim people but with the infidels and their treacherous agents". On Tuesday, Kurdish President Masoud Barzan visited Kirkuk for the first time since ISIS's assault on the town.
Barzan said the Kurdistan Regional Government will spare no effort to free Peshmerga hostages from ISIS.
"If ISIS decides to kill them, they will pay a heavy price," Barzani said.
TEL AVIV, Februari 15 -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for "massive immigration" of European Jews to Israel following the shooting attack outside a Copenhagen synagogue that killed a Danish Jew.
Netanyahu said the government on Sunday will discuss a $46M plan to encourage Jewish immigration from France, Belgium and Ukraine.
Denmark's Jewish Community identified the victim at the synagogue as 37-year-old Jewish man Dan Uzan, who was guarding a building during a bar mitzvah when he was shot dead at about 1am local time on Sunday morning.
Jair Melchior, Denmark's chief rabbi, said he was "disappointed" by Netanyahu's call for immigration following the attack.
COPENHAGEN, February 14 --- Several shots have been fired at a cafe in Denmark's capital, where a meeting about freedom of speech was being held, organised by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous threats for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad in 2007.
The TV2 channel reported on Saturday that there were some 30 bullet holes in the window of the Krudttoenden cafe in Copenhagen and said at least two people were taken away on stretchers, including a uniformed police officer.
Helle Merete Brix, one of the organisers of the event, told the AP news agency that Vilks was present at the event but not injured. When the artist is in Denmark, he receives police protection.
The cafe in northern Copenhagen, known for its jazz concerts, was hosting an event titled "Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression" when the shots were fired.
Niels Ivar Larsen, one of the speakers at the event, told the TV2 channel that he saw two wounded people.