Monday, March 31, 2014

Thailand: Update--PM Defends Herself Before NACC, Decision Could be Weeks Away

According to Reuters, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, on Monday (March 31) defended herself against negligence charges linked to a ruinous government rice pledging scheme that could lead to her removal from office, the latest development in a political crisis that has gripped the country for months.

The Central Bank said Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, heavily reliant on tourism, was expected to contract in the first quarter after consumption and investment fell.

Yingluck has been charged with dereliction of duty for overseeing the rice-buying scheme, a policy that brought her to power in the 2011 election with the help of the rural poor, yet that has since run up huge losses and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid.

The charges were brought against her by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) which, should it forward the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, would mean Yingluck being suspended from official duties. 

It is unclear as to when such a decision will be made, but it could take weeks. 

COMMENT: First of all, my apologies to our readers. My forecast that the PM would not appear before the Commission was incorrect. 

Yingluck spent only 30 minutes at the commission's headquarters. Her legal team carried three cardboard boxes filled with documents to present to anti-graft officials. Her main defense document was 150-pages long.

Yingluck asked for more time to call on 10 witnesses and to submit further documents to support her defense, NACC member Prasart Pongsivapai told reporters following the meeting.

The Commission will decide on Tuesday whether to extend the deadline.

"The PM submitted documents in her defense and gave a short statement," said Prasart. "We have to consider whether (those) witnesses and documents relate to this scheme. The commission will act with justice toward the PM and in a straight-forward manner."

The Bank of Thailand's private consumption index dropped 1.2% in February from January and 2.5% from a year earlier. Its private investment index was 1.9% lower on the month and was down 7.7% on the year.

A news conference released information that growth could contract in the first quarter. 

"Overall economic activities in February 2014 softened further from the previous month owing to prolonged political protests. Households and businesses continued to hold back spending, while imports and manufacturing production contracted," the Bank of Thailand said in a statement.

Kasikorn Research cut its full-year growth forecast to 1.8% on Monday, down from 3% in January. It also predicted an economic contraction of about 2% in the first quarter of 2014 from the previous three months.

Thailand has essentially been in crisis since Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Yingluck criticized the NACC last week for not giving her enough time to gather evidence and for fast-tracking the investigation.

Her allegations prompted the NACC to issue a statement defending the way it has handled Yingluck's case.

"Yingluck has received just and fair treatment (by the NACC) under the framework of the Constitution."

Thais voted on Sunday (March 30) for half of the country's 150-seat Senate in a key test of Yingluck's government. A Senate dominated by anti-government politicians could expedite her departure, but any decision to remove Yingluck would require the votes of three-fifths of the Senate. 

The results of the Senate elections are expected next week.

Bolivia: Spain's Tecnicas Reunidas Approaching Completion of Gran Chaco Natural Gas Plant

According to The Latin American Tribune, the Spanish firm Tecnicas Reunidas (TR) has completed 74% of the Gran Chaco plant for the separation of liquids from natural gas in southern Bolivia, the state-owned oil company YPFB announced.

“The plant, one of the biggest in Latin America, is 74.25% complete. We’re going to extract liquids for the internal market and we’re going to export liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),” the president of YPFB, Carlos Villegas, said, according to a company communique.

Villegas added that they will also obtain raw material like ethane and propane for the petrochemical complex being built under a government contract by the South Korean firm Samsung in the central region of Cochabamba.

COMMENT: The overall percent completed of the Gran Chaco plant is calculated as an average of the percent completed of engineering works (99.66%), of procurement (92.61%) and of construction and fitting out the plant (39.93%), the note from the state oil company said.

Almost 2,500 people have been involved in the construction of the plant, whose budget is in the vicinity of $600 million and which is located in the southern province of Tarija, which borders on both Argentina and Paraguay.

The plant, scheduled to be finished by next September, will be six times bigger than a similar one that began operations last August in Rio Grande, in the rural area of Santa Cruz province, and will be one of the three biggest in the region in terms of capacity, YPFB says.

The project will have a processing capacity of 32 million cubic meters per day of natural gas to produce 3,144 metric tons per day of ethane, 2,247 tons of LPG, 1,044 standard barrels per day of isopentane and 1,658 barrels of natural gas.

Some 82% of LPG will be go to external markets and the remaining 18% for domestic consumption.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Egypt: Update--Second Presidential Election in Two Years Scheduled for May 26-27, Future Very Uncertain

According to Reuters, Egyptians will vote on May 26-27, 2014 in a presidential election that former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win easily, meaning the former army chief who deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi could be sworn in as head of state by early June.

Although al-Sisi is viewed by many Egyptians as the country's de facto leader since he deposed Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the former Field Marshal is viewed by the Islamist opposition as the mastermind of a coup that ignited Egypt's worst internal strife in modern history.

It will be the second time Egyptians have voted in a presidential election in less than two years, yet this election follows a fierce government crackdown on dissent that has included both Islamists and secular-minded democracy proponents.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organized political party until last year, has been banned and driven underground.

So far, the only other candidate is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the 2012 election that was contested by more than a dozen politicians from across the political spectrum.

With al-Sisi expected to win comfortably, the vote is unlikely to go to a second round.

COMMENT: The result of the first round will be announced no later than June 5, the organizing committee said at a news conference to outline the timeline for the voting.

Al-Sisi stepped down as defense minister and army chief in order to announce his candidacy last Wednesday (March 19). He has been lionized by state- and privately-run media that are overwhelmingly loyal to the army-backed government.

Also, an al-Sisi victory will mark the return to the days when Egypt's presidency was held by men from the military - a pattern briefly interrupted during Morsi's one year in office.

A new figure released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Saturday (March 29) said that 496 people, 439 of them soldiers and policemen, had been killed in what it described as terrorist attacks since last summer.

The 439 soldiers and police officers who have been killed in terrorist attacks are not expected to throw "soft-balls" upon encumbering the President's office.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it remains committed to peaceful activism, though the interim government has declared it a terrorist group.
Most of the Brotherhood's top leadership, Morsi included, have been jailed since last July. Khaled al-Azhari, a minister in the Morsi government, was on Sunday (March 30) sentenced to two years in prison for sheltering another Brotherhood politician.

Morsi faces charges that include conspiring with foreign militant groups and governments against Egypt. Since Morsi was overthrown, Egypt's relations have soured with Islamist states, including Turkey and Qatar, both of which supported his administration.

Three Al-Jazeera's journalists, one being an Australian, are facing trial on charges of aiding and abetting members of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Human rights groups have criticized the case as a violation of freedom of expression.

As a devoted Egypt-watcher since I first visited the country as a US diplomat in 1973, my forecast is that al-Sisi will be unable to control his temptation to vigorously crack down on Hamas, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week three members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested for plotting to assassinate al-Sisi even before he even becomes president.

One can only begin to forecast the former Field Marshal's mindset when he gets into office and will be able to run things with very few controls.

It is very unlikely that al-Sisi will resort to a kinder and gentler approach with any of the usual suspects including Hamas, the Brotherhood and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

The tourism sector is also not expected to see "soft-ball" treatment by the government after the Tourism Ministry's recent cancellation of two Sharm el-Shiekh licenses as a result of sexual attacks occurring on their premises. I remain to protest such dictatorial action as penalizing everyone for the actions of a miniscule minority without the benefit of an appellate process.

I again echo my strongest recommendation against tourists returning to Egypt until after the new president is in place for at least two months, which would bring us to September 2014.

At the moment, it is impossible to assess the turmoil; potential demonstrations, often marred by violence; political unrest and terrorist attacks that we may see in the months ahead, both during the campaign and until the newly elected president is in place at least for a couple of months. 

Hypothetically, let's fast-forward a couple of months and conceptualize that al-Sisi is successfully assassinated. Then what? Would you be content in being a foreign tourist in Egypt under such circumstances?

government after the Tourism Ministry's recent cancellation of two Sharm el-Shiekh licenses as a result of sexual attacks occurring on their premises. I remain to protest such dictatorial action as penalizing everyone for the actions of a miniscule minority without the benefit of an appellate process.

I again echo my strongest recommendation against tourists returning to Egypt, not knowing the turmoil, potential demonstrations often marred by violence, political unrest and terror attacks that we may see in the months ahead

Kenya: Bomber Kills Self While Assembling IED, Gov't to Make Major Investment in Anti-Terror Deterrents

According to The Associated Press, a bomb-maker accidentally blew himself up while assembling an IED in a residential area in Nairobi this week.

The detonation just one day after the Australian government advised its citizens against traveling to Nairobi and the coastal town of Mombasa due to the high threat of a terrorist attack and violent crime.

Police are also looking for three other co-conspirators who were seen running from the apartment after the blast in the three-story building, Barasa Wabomba the police chief of the Starehe area in the capital said. 

The blast rocked the building causing cracks in walls and shattering windows. Wabomba could not immediately say who was responsible for the explosion though he said initial suspicion fell on sympathizers of Somalian Islamic extremists.

The unsuccessful bomb-maker was reportedly dismembered from the detonation in thew kitchen.  Police said the four suspects moved into the two-bedroom home, although the landlord became suspicious of their movements and had given them notice to vacate the house at the end of this month.

COMMENT: Kenya has experienced scores of small IED detonations and small arms attacks since al-Qaeda-linked Somalian militants known as al-Shabaab vowed to avenge Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in October 2011 to fight the militants.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Sept 21 attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi in which at least 67 people were killed by four Somali gunmen, including the nephew of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Earlier Sunday (March 30) police in the coastal city of Lamu found a grenade at the African Independent Pentecostal Church of East Africa, said Lamu west police chief Joseph Sigei.

The incident came a week after gunmen killed six worshippers in a church in the Likoni area of Mombasa. Police Friday (March 28) said they killed two suspects believed to have carried out the attack.

On March 17, Kenyan authorities said anti-terror police foiled a planned terrorist attack in the coastal city of Mombasa after they intercepted a car packed with explosives. Two suspects have been charged in court with terror related offenses.

The Australian government's warning issued Saturday (March 29) said: "We continue to receive regular reports that terrorists are planning a range of attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa ... We now advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Nairobi and Mombasa due to the high threat of terrorist attack and the high level of crime....The attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013 and a series of incidents and attacks in 2014 underscore that there is a serious and ongoing risk of large-scale acts of terrorism in these locations."

The below Australian travel warning should be sufficient for all foreign travelers: 

President Kenyatta said last week that his government will endeavor to neutralize terrorist efforts in Kenya by making the largest single investment in counter-terrorism deterrents since independence in 1964.

For those readers who don't believe the Australian travel warning and those of other developed nations, please consider the following:

The US Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) has carried the threat level for both violent crime and transnational terrorism at "Critical" threat since 1998 on its four-tier categorization system of "Critical, High, Medium and Low."

Having worked in Kenya for over a period of 30 years it is NOT a nation for those who don't have a high level of security vigilance 24/7. Transnational terrorism and violent crime are both formidable threats.

On September 21, 2013, unidentified gunmen attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. The assault, which lasted until September 24, resulted in at least 67 deaths, including four attackers. Over 175 people were reportedly wounded in the mass-casualty shooting, with all of the gunmen reported killed.

The Islamist group, al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the incident, which it characterized as retribution for the Kenyan military's cross-border invasion of Somalia.

Kenyan authorities arrested dozens of people in the aftermath of the attack, but had not announced any suspects directly related to the siege. On  November 4, 2013, a Kenyan court charged four Somali nationals with harboring the slain gunmen in their homes, with each pleading not guilty.

For an in-depth analysis of the al-Shabaab attack conducted by the University of Maryland, see below:

Also, please the below link of the American Society for Industrial Security's report on the Westgate Mall Assault in Nairobi:

New York: NYPD Unamused by Tourists Who File a False Police Report, Three Arrested in Central Park

According to The Gothamist, the roughly 54 million who visit The Big Apple annually know all too well that some folks are often up to no good.

Two Finnish visitors and an Australian tourist, in separate incidents, decided that a great way of underwriting their trip was through the filing of false police reports with an intent to engage in insurance fraud.

One Central Park NYPD officer commented that this is a common tactic seen by far too many tourists, most of whom get caught up in their lies to deceive police officers. 

COMMENT: According to "A Walk in The Park," three tourists—two from Finland and one from Australia—made up false armed robbery reports in two separate incidents just in the past two weeks. 

Cops say Finnish tourists Pinja Pesonen, 27, and Antti Vuorisalo, 34, walked into the Central Park precinct a little before 1300 hours on Tuesday (March 25) and claimed that two white men had grabbed one of their handbags while they walked along East Drive near East 74th Street inside Central Park.

The women filed a written report and drove around the area with cops looking for the suspects. When cops couldn't find any witnesses or surveillance camera footage, they pressed the couple for more details at which point the two recanted their statements and admitted they had lied. The result: They were both arrested and charged with filing a false police report. 

Please note: In New York State offenders can face either a misdemeanor which include up to a year in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. The statutory citations include New York Penal Code Sections 240.50, 240.55 and 240.60.

Moreover, offenders can also be charged with a felony in cases where the defendant has been convicted previously for filing a false police report. 

Finally, depending on the circumstances, persons falsely accused may have a cause of action against the person for defamation (libel and/or slander) and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

In the second case, on March 16th, Australian tourist Larisa Ryan, 41, told cops she had been robbed of her iPad and iPhone at 72nd Street and West Drive. When officers again couldn't find any evidence to support her claim she admitted as having lied about the robbery with the plan to collect an insurance payment. 

As I have said so often in the past, if it is your intention to break the law in a foreign country...don't!

Thailand: Update--Thais Vote for 50% of Senate That Will Test PM's Endurance, Future

According to Reuters, Thais voted on Sunday (March 31) for roughly 50% of the country's 150-seat Senate in a key test for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's troubled government, a day before the prime minister is scheduled to defend herself against negligence charges over a disastrous rice subsidy scheme, that is gaining political steam.

Anti-government protesters are in their fifth month of a campaign to force Yingluck out and set in motion political and electoral reforms before a new general election takes place.

Yingluck's opponents want impeachment charges brought against Yingluck, 46, over the government's financially ruinous rice scheme. A Senate dominated by anti-government politicians could hasten her exit.

Thailand's 150-seat Senate is made up of 77 elected senators. The other 73 seats are appointed and are seen as allied to the anti-Thaksin establishment.

Anti-government forces want to ensure a conservative, pro-establishment, majority to influence any decision to remove Yingluck which would require the votes of three-fifths of the senators.

Yingluck is due to appear before the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Monday (March 31) to defend herself against charges of dereliction of duty for her role in overseeing the botched rice scheme.

COMMENT: Having lived in Bangkok for a number of years and followed politics in the country to the very present, it is very unlikely that the PM will actually appear at the proceedings and defend herself against the disasterous rice subsidy scheme which was actually Thaksin's idea.

Largely because Yingluck has served as PM in name only, it is predictable that Yingluck does not have the details to defend the rice subsidy successfully.

While party affiliation is prohibited in the non-partisan Senate, the majority of the 77 elected seats will be decided on the basis of endorsements from powerful, party-affiliated, local institutions, particularly in rural areas, meaning that the result could potentially deliver a pro-Yingluck majority, which is likely to catapult the country into further turmoil.

Appointed senators are chosen by a committee that includes the heads of the National Anti-Corruption Commission, Constitutional Court, Election Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

Thailand has been locked in a seemingly intractable political stalemate since Thaksin, 64, was ousted in a 2006 coup. The conflict broadly pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.

Protesters disrupted a February 2 general election which was nullified by a court on March 21, leaving Thailand in political limbo and Yingluck at the head of a caretaker government with limited powers.

Election officials have said it will take at least three months to organize a new vote but that election going smoothly looks unlikely. Protesters have vowed to disrupt any general election held before their political changes are enacted.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the streets of Bangkok on Saturday (March 29) to drum up support to oust Yingluck and rid the country of the influence of her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

In the meantime, the massive street protests, uncertainty and unpredictable future for the country is adversely impacting on tourism, productivity, the declining stock market and the country's increasing reputation as being unstable.

Considering that chaos in the capital is approaching its fifth month, the prognosis is not positive.

The results of the PM's response to the National Anti-Corruption Commission will reported on tomorrow (March 31).

Egypt: Three Brotherhood-Hamas Militants Arrested in Plot to Assassinate Former Field Marshal

According to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Rai, three Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood militants who infiltrated into the Sinai from Gaza were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate former Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is running for president in the upcoming April 2014 election.

The three carried a coded letter with instructions to execute the assassination, passed by a senior Muslim Brotherhood official who escaped to Gaza. 

The former Field Marshal deposed the US-supported presidency of Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The military has since been fighting the Brotherhood and Islamic extremist groups operating in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt and Hamas have been on such bad terms that Hamas this week called an Egyptian move to shut Gaza crossings a “crime against humanity.” Egypt said it closes the pathways out of fear that terrorists have been smuggling weapons into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of foreign jihadists were attempting to infiltrate Egypt, stoking fears of a coming destabilization campaign akin to the insurgency in Syria, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.

The officials warned of a troubling development taking place among the al-Qaeda-linked organizations already inside Egypt. They said there is information the militant groups are forming a de facto chain of command, with alarming coordination between the various jihadist factions embedded around the country. 

COMMENT: Hopefully the Hamas militants who were arrested in the latest plot may shed some light on multilateral information-sharing between Hamas and Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. 

Some Internet al-Qaeda forums have even been discussing the possibility of declaring the Sinai an Islamic emirate.

According to the BBC, the Sinai-based, al-Qaeda-linked terror group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the January 24, 2014 bombing on the police headquarters in Cairo.

Initially, the group was known for launching attacks on Israeli targets and interests, but after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, it began targeting Egyptian security forces with considerable success.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis actually began operations immediately after the January 2011 Revolution that led to the fall of the country's 30-year-long ruler, former President Hosni Mubarak.

In July 2012 claimed responsibility for the blowing up of a pipeline that exports gas to Israel and Jordan. 

A month later, the group took credit for rockets fired from the Sinai into the southern Israeli resort of Eilat. In September 2012 Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for attacking an Israeli border patrol.

In one of its most high-profile attacks, the group failed to assassinate Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim in September 2013, when his motorcade in Cairo was targeted by a car-bomb attack.

Others include an assault on South Sinai's Security Directorate in October 2013, and an attack the same month on the military intelligence building in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

Brotherhood Without Violence, a movement which includes alleged Muslim Brotherhood dissidents, claims Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is the Brotherhood's "military wing,” although such allegations have yet to be confirmed. 

Militants have declared war on Egypt’s military-backed government in the eight months since former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown.

Moreover, the shooting down of a military helicopter in the Sinai and an IED attack in February 2014 on a tour bus in the Sinai transporting some 30+ South Korean tourists, two of whom were killed and nine other injured. 

The confrontation and the rare deaths of two senior officers in a military raid, is likely to spur an even harsher crackdown by the government.

Security officials said last month that militants killed in a recent Egyptian military operation targeting the terrorist infrastructure in the Sinai included jihadists from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, suggesting a transnational destabilization effort.

Last month, Germany joined a growing list of countries strongly advising against tourist travel to all regions of the Sinai.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis said that it would specifically target tourists throughout Egypt and actually delivered on its promise when it used an IED to attack a tour bus transporting some 30+ South Koreans, killing two and injuring nine others. An Egyptian driver was also killed in the attack.

I continue to discourage all but ESSENTIAL travel to Egypt, as it is unknown as to where terrorists will strike next or the tactics they will use, as eventually the luck of foreign tourists will run out.

The fact that tourists continue to flock to Egypt, despite travel warnings, continues to give them a wide choice of targets, as even a drive-by shooting against a handful of foreigners will push every other story off the front pages. 

México: Local Unit of Spanish-Owned Obrascon Huarte Lain Awarded Toll Highway Construction

According to The Latin American Tribune, the Mexican unit of Spanish construction and civil engineering group Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL) has been awarded a contract to build and operate a toll highway in Central México.

The $449 million construction project known as the Atizapan-Atlacomulco Highway which is to be built and maintained between Mexico City and Guadalajara.

“A decision was made (Friday) on the concession to build and operate what will be the Atizapan-Atlacomulco Highway. OHL is the winner,” the secretariat’s deputy director of infrastructure, Raul Murrieta, announced on Twitter.

The concession grants OHL México the rights to build, operate and maintain the 74-kilometer (45-mile) highway for a period of 30 years.

COMMENT: OHL México has until April 30 to start building the project, which is to be completed on that same date in 2016, according to the tender dossier. The deadline for the highway to begin operating is May 15 of that year.

OHL México beat out an infrastructure-development company owned by Mexican multi-billionaire Carlos Slim, Impulsora del Desarrollo y el Empleo en America Latina, by offering to build the highway at a cost of 5.86 billion pesos ($449 million) and to charge a standard toll per vehicle of 148 pesos ($11.30) for the entire route.

IDEAL offered to build the road for 6.7 billion pesos ($512.2 million) and charge a toll of 140.60 pesos ($10.70) per vehicle.

Venezuela: Update--Two More Protesters Killed, Bringing Those Killed to 39

According to The Latin American Tribune, Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres confirmed the deaths of two opposition activists protesting against President Nicolas Maduro on barricades in the cities of San Cristobal and Maracaibo, raising to 39 the number of victims in anti-government demonstrations that began February 12.

The first fatality, a 44-year-old company manager in San Cristobal identified as Franklin Romero, was electrocuted when, together with another two people who were injured, he tried to mount, on top of a barricade, a billboard that made contact with an electric wire, the minister said.

The other victim was Roberto Annese, 33, a university student who died Saturday (March 29) in Maracaibo, capital of the northwestern Venezuelan state of Zulía, and whose death  was attributed by Zulia’s Bolivarian Police Force (CPBEZ) to an IED that he was allegedly handling while manning a street barricade on the state capital’s north side.

COMMENT: According to the Maracaibo daily LA VERDAD, Annese, a political science student, was killed by bullets allegedly fired by CPBEZ police agents that soon after dawn arrived at the scene to remove the barricade.
Six people have been arrested in Maracaibo for attempting to blame Roberto Annese’s death on a police attack.

Maracaibo Mayor Eveling Trejo, a regional leader of the opposition had previously confirmed the death of Annese, said “we don’t want to cry anymore for the blood of Venezuela’s sons and daughters being spilled. How long will the country shed the blood of our young? Enough!”

Tragically, US President Barack Obama has missed out on so many opportunities to support those living under dictatorships begging for come to their aid in their demand for freedom (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Venezuela, Ukraine, etc.).

Where...President Obama are you? Do you intentionally want to deny freedom to others that don't have the resources to combat dictatorships around the world?

Do you, Mr. President, embrace the oath of office you swore allegiance to?

How can you honestly push for the stripping of the US military budget to pre-World War II levels at a time when tyrants are challenging freedom on a global level?


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Mozambique: Belgian Expat Building a Home in Pemba Has Her Hand Nearly Severed During Burglary

According to AFP, a Belgian woman, age unknown, was wounded in a machete attack in a Mozambican region which is being transformed by a rush of foreign investment in newly found natural gas, police said on Saturday (March 29).

The woman nearly had her hand chopped off in the overnight attack at a house in a village near Pemba, a city in north Mozambique, according to Capo Delgado provincial police. 

COMMENT: The Belgian woman was injured so severely that she had to be medically evacuated to South Africa as her had was nearly severed from her body.

Three assailants broke into the remote coastal property in Ngoma village just before midnight on Friday (March 28) attacked the woman and fled with two cellphones. 

A friend and neighbor of the victim said the assailants entered her bedroom through a roof entrance.

When she saw them "she screamed, lifted her hands to protect herself and they cut off her hand - almost. It was hanging by a string," said the friend asking not be named.

The woman, according to the friend, is building a house in the same compound where a wealthy old Franco-Belgian aristocratic family also has properties.

"In the seven years we have been living here we have never had an incident of this kind," the owner of the tourist Ilala Lodge, George Korb, told AFP.

The country is changing very quickly as a result of billions of dollars pouring into the country to process recently discovered natural gas.

Once fully operational, natural gas will account for more than 10% of gdp.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.


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Brazil: Airline Business Travel Forecasted to Decline During World Cup

According to The Latin American Tribune, regional airlines expect this year’s World Cup during June 12 through July 13 to be bad for business travel.

“The world will win with the World Cup – I don’t know who will win the matches – but the airlines will lose,” said Enrique Cueto, executive vice president of LATAM Airlines Group, the result of the merger between Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM.

Also taking part in the meeting were German Efromovich, chairman of Synergy Group, the holding company that controls Colombia's Avianca and Aerolineas Argentinas.
COMMENT: This will not translate into greater revenue for airlines, Cueto said, predicting that business travel--an essential money maker for airlines-- will be reduced substantially and that many routes will have fewer passengers than usual.

Another concern, Efromovich said, is that Brazil’s airports will not be able to accommodate the higher volume of flights.

Kenya: Kenyatta Worries That He Could be Unseated in March 2014 Re-Election Bid

According to, Kenya’s vital tourism sector is “on its knees” after attacks by al-Qaeda-linked militants carried out in retaliation for the country's intervention in neighboring Somalia, President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Friday (March 28).

Kenyatta met with ethnic Somali leaders and asked for their help in identifying people they thought may be behind attacks that have dented the president’s plans to boost the tourism sector in east Africa’s biggest economy.

Kenya has large Somali communities in parts of the country near the frontier with Somalia and in Eastleigh, a part of the capital Nairobi known as “Little Mogadishu” for its large Somali population.

“We all have a responsibility to bring this to an end. Tourism has been greatly affected by these terror activities. The industry which contributes 10% to the gdp is virtually on its knees,” Kenyatta said.

Tourist arrivals in Kenya in the first five months of 2013 declined by 15% compared to the the previous year as visitors avoided the country, worried by attacks blamed on Somalia’s al- Shabaab and by fears of trouble around the elections in March 2014.

COMMENT: Tourism statistics for 2013 have not as yet been released, but they are expected to not be encouraging. 

The tourism sector employs 150,000 people in a country desperate for jobs. Underemployment in Kenya is estimated to approach 40%.

Kenyatta’s own family owns the Heritage Group of hotels that range from a beach resort in Mombasa to an Indian Ocean island hideaway in Lamu, and others in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in the great Rift Valley.

President Kenyatta ordered police to stop taking bribes from suspects arrested on suspicion of being linked to attacks. He said action would be taken against “the fools who take bribes and allow criminals to commit crimes.”

On Tuesday, Kenya ordered all Somali refugees living in towns to return to their camps in a bid to end the attacks.

In the latest incident, gunmen killed six worshippers in a church near the port city of Mombasa, the heart of the country’s coastal strip and a tourist magnet. Police said they shot dead two suspects in that attack on Friday, but a third escaped with gunshot wounds.

Last week, police arrested two men found with two large IEDs in a car that they intended to use in Mombasa.

In the worst attack so far by al-Shabaab, which wants Kenyan troops out of Somalia, at least 67 people including one of Kenyatta’s nephews were killed at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013.

Appeasing terrorists for economic concessions has never worked in the past and is unlikely to be effective in the future.

In the end, President Kenyatta is far more worried in hanging on to power in Nairobi at a time when it is entirely possible that he potentially could be unseated.

Friday, March 28, 2014

India: Polish Tourist, 25, Assaulted, Robbed of Nearly US$3,000+ at Ahmedabad Railway Station

Female Polish tourist Patrycya Barba Korzen, 25, employed as a nurse in the UK, was reportedly robbed of collective cash and valuables at the Ahmedabad Railway Station amounting to Rs. 1.72 lakh at 0645 hours on Thursday (March 27).

For clarification, Rs. 1.72 lakh is roughly Rs. 175,000 (US$2,905.74).

The crime victim was robbed of three cameras, 100 British pounds, an iPad and Indian currency collectively valued at Rs 1.72 lakh at the railway station, the police said Friday (March 28).

Exclusive of 100 British pounds ($165) and three cameras that would have to be appraised in terms of replacement value.

COMMENT: If our readers ever become a crime victim while abroad ALWAYS report the crime to the NEAREST police station, otherwise there could be jurisdictional challenges that will only further complicate complaints.

The assault and robbery occurred while the victim and a female Polish friend were scheduled to board the Gujarat Express at Ahmedabad railway station, which is the connecting train to Mumbai on their way from Jodhpur.

After the victims resisted the assault and robbery, the assailants attacked Korzen with a sharp object, injuring her head. 

Instead of reporting the matter to the local police in Gujarat, the victims reached Mumbai on the Gujarat Express and checked into a South Mumbai hotel, where the hotel staff asked her to file a complaint.

Documents of the case has been sent to a police station in Gujarat for further investigation, since the incident occurred there.

I strongly encourage crime victims to not resist a violent crime, particularly when there are multiple assailants, as serious injury and even death can result from altercations with armed assailants.

Although it is understandable why crime victims instinctively resist an armed robbery, no amount of material goods is worth risking serious injury or death over.

Unless you have evidence that reincarnation is certain upon death, it is prudent to accept the fact that most of us only get one chance at life.

If you are carrying high-value electronics, I strongly suggest that you contact so as to obtain international insurance for such items as laptops, iPads, digital cameras, MP-3,4-players, etc. Such coverage can often be obtained for under $300.

Another reason to declare a list of all of your high-value electronics upon departure from home is to obtain a copy that you originally possessed such property. This can be invaluable to you in clearing customs while traveling abroad. 

India is hardly a low-risk destination which is why I encourage all travelers to prepare for their trip abroad very carefully.


Sri Lanka: Update--Murdered British Aid Worker Khuram Shaikh's Russian Girlfriend Cross-Examined

According to the UK's Daily Mirror, during the second day of cross examination, murdered British aid worker Khuram Shaikh Zaman's girlfriend, Victoria Alexandrovna, now 25, requested the Court consider her frame of mind at the time of the crime, which occurred on Christmas Eve 2011.

Victoria Alexandrovna said this when the defense counsel was repeatedly referred to her previous statement on December 24, 2011 when Shaikh was murdered and she was gang-raped by the defendants.

The trial into the killing of British tourist Khuram Shaikh at a Tangalle resort was taken up before High Court Judge Rohini Walgama.

Ms. Alexandrovna told the Court that though she has now identified the suspect, who assaulted her at the poolside, she had not pointed him out during the "line-up" at the time out of fear for her life, considering that the defendants were at the time very well-connected politically.

Responding to questions asked by defense counsel for the third defendant, former Tangalle PS Chairman Kalinga Indratissa, she said she was gang-raped by those who killed her boyfriend Khuram, stating that she had bruises following the attack. 

COMMENT: It needs to emphasized that justice delayed from the time Khuram was murdered and Ms. Alexandrovna gang-raped on December 24, 2011 to March 28, 2014, occurred largely because the defendants had political influenced that rendered them "untouchable."

As Ms. Alexandrovna testified, the victim emphasized that she no longer feared for her life given the fact that all defendants have been remanded into custody and that she has been afforded 24/7 security protection. 

Kuram Shaikah Zaman, a British national, and his companion, Russian national Victoria Alexandrovna, 23 (at the time of the attack), reportedly was sexually harassed by at least three Sri Lankans at a resort in Tangalle (about 100 miles south of Colombo), resulting in the death of Zaman and the gang-rape of Alexandrovna. 

The actual attacks on Zaman and Alexandrovna occurred during the early morning hours of December 25, 2011.

An autopsy revealed that Zaman had been attacked by a sharp weapon and shot and killed by a firearm as well. Alexandrovna was gang-raped and treated at Karapitiya Hospital in Galle.

Hoteliers in Tangalle reported that following the incident, a number of foreign tourists vacated the resort where Zaman was killed and Ms. Alexandrovna gang-raped.

Egypt: Update--Morsi Supporters Protest Against Field Marshal el-Sissi Running for President

According to The Associated Press, hundreds of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi took to the streets on Friday (March 28) to protest the decision by the country's former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run for President in the upcoming April 2014 election, sparking scattered clashes that claimed the lives of a journalist and two other people.

The former Field Marshal led the ouster of Morsi in July 2013 after millions joined demonstrations demanding he step down. El-Sissi resigned from the military on Wednesday (March 26), the same day he made his much-anticipated announcement launching his presidential campaign. He is expected to win.

Friday's rallies took place in several cities, including areas in and around the capital of Cairo and in the northern city of Alexandria. 

Demonstrators attempted to block a main road with burning tires in Cairo that leads to the famed Giza pyramids, but security officials said they were able to bring the situation under control.

COMMENT: In the eastern Cairo district of Ain Shams, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters. Three people were killed, including a female journalist named Mayada Ashraf who died while covering the clashes.

A protester, 39, named who was at the site of the clashes said that Ashraf was steps away from him which she was shot in the head by security forces using live ammunition. 

Ashraf worked for the privately owned daily EL-DUSTOR. It reported online that it had urged authorities to halt gunfire in the area to give ambulances an opportunity to retrieve the body of the slain journalist.

Authorities arrested 38 supporters of the former Muslim Brotherhood president at protests in the cities of Giza, Mansoura and Minya, according to a security official. The officials said students from the Islamic University of Al-Azhar threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah, 90, Appoints Half-Brother Moqren, 69 as Successor

According to AFP, Saudi Arabia's 90-year-old King Abdullah on Thursday (March 27) appointed his half-brother Moqren, 69, as the next heir to the throne of the world's largest exporter of crude oil.

The decision, announced in a royal decree, comes as a source close to the circle of power told AFP that current Crown Prince Salman, 79, was sick and "may decide not to claim the throne" because of his ill health.

Under the rules of succession in Saudi Arabia, power passes from brother to brother under the right of primogeniture among the sons of Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the kingdom's founder.

The King made public his decision on the eve of a visit by US President Barack Obama, who is expected in Riyadh late on Friday afternoon (March 28).

Under Thursday's decree, Prince Moqren, currently second deputy prime minister, is named as the next crown prince.

COMMENT: The act is irrevocable, the decree said, stipulating that "nobody can change this decision," which takes effect from Thursday.

"King Abdullah wants to assure a smooth succession by this internal reorganization of power" within the family, adding that the decision had been "taken in agreement with Crown Prince Salman."

"It was passed by 27 of the 34 members. Others had reservations or abstained in the vote."

The son of a Yemeni mother, and the father of thirteen children including six sons, Prince Moqren is the youngest of the 35 sons of the country's founder.

Prince Moqren joined the air force in 1968 before becoming governor of Hael in the north and later the holy city of Medina in the west.

From 2006 until July 2012 he headed the intelligence services before being named counsellor to and special envoy to King Abdullah.

The source said the King also informed the board of his intention to appoint his son Mitab as second deputy premier.

He added that Prince Salman asked that support be given to his son, Prince Mohammed, to be appointed to the defense portfolio.

Qatar: Update--Murderer of British School Teacher, 24, Sentenced to Death, Accomplice Gets Measley 3 Yrs

According to The Huffington Post, the assailant convicted of the murder of a British primary school teacher Lauren Patterson, 24, has been sentenced to death in Qatar, after a court found Badr Hashim Khamis Abdullah Al-Jabar.

Badr Hashim Khamis Abdullah Al-Jabar was found guilty by a court in Doha of killing Patterson in the Gulf state in October 2013. 

Worse, after degrading Lauren by assaulting her, Al-Jabar displayed further disrespect by stabbing her to death and burning her body.

Al-Jabar's accomplice, Muhammad Abdullah Hassan Abdul Aziz was jailed for three years for reportedly helping burn the body of the young woman, who was originally from Chislehurst in south-east London.

COMMENT: The lesson-learned from this tragic and brutal homicide is that with few exceptions the majority of nations that make up the Middle East have little to no respect for women.  Period.

Hence, foreign women contemplating seeking employment in the Middle East should contemplate relocation very carefully.

In a statement issued by the British Foreign Office, Ms. Patterson's Mom, Alison, described the young woman as "my closest friend and confidant," who helped raise her siblings after the sudden death of her father.

“Badr Hashim Khamis Abdullah Al-Jabar not only killed my beautiful daughter, he has also ruined so many lives, including that of his own family who will have to live with the horrendous and despicable crime he committed on a young, kind woman who had her whole life ahead of her," Mrs. Patterson said.

Alison added: "Nothing will ever bring my daughter back," she continued. "As a family we will never be able to replace the times we were looking forward to: Lauren getting married, having children--all of those things and more have been taken away from us by these two individuals.

Mrs. Patterson had very harsh words for the three-year sentence for the accomplice, Abdul Aziz, who she called an "accomplice to Lauren's murder and he was aware of what had happened. At no time did he choose to help my daughter or report the murder."

Patterson, originally from Chislehurst in south east London, was working at the Newton British School in the Qatari capital.

Up to 500 British expats are thought to be arriving in Doha every day as the city expands into a global hub built on the back of Qatar's enormous oil and natural gas wealth.

On March 28, 2014, the following link was released by the below link:

Please note that the above link may well be disturbing to some readers.

Given the preference accorded to Qataris who are sentenced to death, my advice to the Patterson family is to follow post-sentencing proceedings very carefully as the certainty of Badr Hashim Khamis Abdullah Al-Jabar's actual execution is by no means "a done deal."