Thursday, March 31, 2016

Autonomous drone makes first urban delivery in Nevada town

An autonomous drone brought bottled water, emergency food and a first aid kit to an uninhabited house in the small town of Hawthorne in western Nevada.

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The drone is operated by the Australian drone-maker Flirtey. Flirtey already made a successful delivery of medical supplies to a rural clinic last July in Virginia. The Nevada delivery is the first in an urban setting. The CEO of Flirtey, Matthew Sweeney said that in the future the company plans to do deliveries over an urban-populated area in the type of environment that people live on a daily basis.
Amazon and others are also working on technology to enable urban delivers but regulations are slowing development. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims that the number of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones, is expected to increase four fold over the next four years to reach 2.7 million. Drone sightings in the U.S. are increasing and more drone traffic is causing serious risks to both private and commercial air traffic. Just recently a Lufthansa flight had a close call over California. Pilot sightings of drones has increased from 238 in 2014 to more than 650 in 2015, according to the FAA. One out of five incidents happens in California. A comprehensive study released last year by the Center for the Study of the Drone found 241 near collisions with manned aircraft from December 2013 to September 2015. Twenty of the incidents involved commercial air liners.
The Nevada demonstration was only about half a mile along a pre-programmed route to the vacant Hawthorne residence. The town is southwest of Reno. The University of Nevada at Reno helped with the demonstration. A Flirtey pilot was on hand, along with several observers but were not needed. Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval, said: “I am thrilled that Flirtey is not only testing its cutting-edge technology in Nevada, but also creating jobs through its headquarters’ relocation to Reno,” Nevada is one of six states authorized by the FAA to hold trials of the drone deliveries. Flirtey appears to have an edge over Amazon that started promoting the idea of drone delivery two years ago. It has promised to begin delivering packages soon by Prime Air drone. See the appended video, Executives at Google Wing claim they will launch drone service by 2017. Not to be left behind, Walmart has asked the FAA for permission to test drone deliveries.
In order to be prepared for the increased traffic NASA and the FAA are working on a low-altitude air traffic control system designed to prevent crashes between drones and aircraft. With a few exceptions all commercial use of drones in the U.S. is banned by the FAA. The present exception is that the drone has to have an operator with a pilot's licence and must keep the drone within line of sight while making the delivery. The cost of obeying such a regulation is prohibitive. The technology may still be of use in delivering emergency medical supplies or reaching hard to access places. Drones delivered supplies in Haiti after the earthquake there. Drones also helped deliver blood samples to hospitals in Maseru Lesotho to be analyzed for AIDS.
The Russian "smart pizza restaurant' Dodo Pizza used a tiny helicopter in June 2014 in the city of Syktyvkar where the company opened its first store in 2011. The company boasts:“Everybody who previously announced about pizza delivery by copters was just shooting advertisement videos. We did business from it. We overcame technical difficulties and created an operating business model where pizza delivery is interconnected with the show and active sales,”

Erik Prince, ex-Blackwater head, had dealings in Libya

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Erick Prince over evidence he used Frontier Services Group, of which he is chair, to sell defense services in Libya. He is also suspected of being involved in a money-laundering deal using the Bank of China.

Erik Prince is perhaps best known as founder and former head of Blackwater Inc., a government services and security company. He was CEO until 2009. Blackwater was sold in 2010. He is currently head of Frontier Resource Group, and chair of Frontier Services Group based in Hong Kong. He lives in Dubai and also Virginia,
From 1997 until 2010 Blackwater won $2 billion in government security contracts. From 2001 to 2010 the CIA awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and affiliates. It was the largest of the U.S. State Departments' three private security companies and provided 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad. In September of 2007, a convoy of Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounded 20 more. Eventually three guards were convicted of 14 manslaughter charges and one of murder in a U.S. court. When Obama took office in 2008 criticism continued. Prince told Vanity Fair in January 2010: "I put myself and my company at the CIA's disposal for some very risky missions. But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus."
Prince has denied any knowledge of a federal investigation. There are accusations that Prince used Chinese intelligence connections to open up an account in the Bank of China to finance the sale of self defense services in city which would in effect be used for money laundering on behalf of Libyans.
In January of 2014, Prince went into business with China's largest state-owned investment firm the Citic Group and he founded the Frontier Services Group(FSG) based in Hong Kong. Citic is the largest investor and two board members are Chinese citizens.
The FSG is staffed by many well-qualified U.S. personnel in spite of its ties to China. The firm has strict restrictions upon what sort of services it can offer. FSG is a publicly traded aviation and logistics firm that specializes in shipping in Africa and other places. It also provides high-risk evacuations from conflict zones. Prince himself describes his work with the FSG as "on the side of peace and economic development" and helping Chinese businesses to work safely in Africa. What seems to have happened is that Prince is using his connection with FSG to secretly rebuild his own private CIA and special operations by setting up foreign shell companies that offer paramilitary services. Documents reviewed by the Intercept and interviews with several people familiar with Prince's operations show that he pitched a plan to deploy paramilitary assets to Libya. Currently Libya is under many US and UN restrictions as far as providing such assets are concerned.
When the firm's leadership got wind of what was happening there were objections to his plan: Several FSG colleagues accused him of using his role as chairman to offer Blackwater-like services to foreign governments that could not have been provided by the company, which lacks the capacity, expertise, or even the legal authority to do so.The CEO of FSG is, Gregg Smith, a decorated former U.S. marine. He vehemently denies that the firm has any involvement at all in Prince's projects saying: “FSG has no involvement whatsoever with the provision of — or even offering to provide — defense services in Libya. To the extent that anyone has proposed such services and purported that they were representing FSG, that activity is unauthorized and is not accepted or agreed to by the company.”
One of Prince's close associates described his activity in the most unflattering terms: “He’s a rogue chairman.Erik wants to be a real, no-shit mercenary. He’s off the rails exposing many U.S. citizens to criminal liabilities. Erik hides in the shadows … and uses [FSG] for legitimacy.”FSG's board is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their chairman and passed a series of resolution restricting his power.
Prince's Libyan operation was code-named Lima. It offered the Libyans a large array of military equipment and services. The vehicles included helicopters, boats and surveillance airplanes and was designed to help stabilize eastern Libya. One person familiar with the plan said it would involve former Australian special operations commandos. However, Prince was unable to find the right power brokers to sell his plans.
By May of 2015, Prince had managed to rebrand himself as chair of a legitimate company the FSG. Without approval from his board, Prince returned to Libya with a repackaged proposal. Rather than a counter-insurgency force, the same group and equipment would serve to reinforce border security. In particular he would take advantage of the concern in Europe of the flow of migrants from Libya. His armed vehicles, helicopters, boats and surveillance planes would be used to stop the flow of refugees from Libya to Europe. Prince told colleagues that he had support from a senior Libyan official. Prince hoped to get support from European officials and pitched the plan in Italy but got only a lukewarm response. He also went to Germany. He then tried to set up a bank account in Macau to launder money from Libya sources. Prince was unable to do so on his own but apparently through connections with Chinese intelligence authorities was able to open an account at the Bank of Canada.
The U.S. authorities are not only concerned about the money-laundering scheme but also U.S. citizens offering military service or technology to Libya must have a license that the services or articles are approved under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation or ITAR. John Baker, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for export controls said “Many of these services and articles are designed to kill people or defend against killing people. To protect U.S. national security and foreign policy as well as that of its allies, the U.S. requires prior authorization.”
The U.S. may decide to clamp down on Prince but then again he no doubt has connections with the CIA. However, so far it looks as if he has not enough important power brokers to enable him to be successful in his plans. He may even find himself losing the chairmanship of the FSG.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

UK and Jordanian special forces working together in Libya

The Guardian reports that British special forces (SAS) have been deployed in Libya alongside Jordanian special forces since the beginning of this year.

The Guardian claim is based on a leaked memo in which U.S. lawmakers were briefed by Jordan's King Abdullah on plans for Jordan's own special forces to operate in Libya alongside those of the UK. The meeting was in the week of January 11. The memo said that the king met with congressional leaders including John McCain, Bob Corker, and Paul Ryan speaker of the House of Representatives. The king remarked that the Jordanian forces could be useful for the U.S. in that Jordanian slang is quite similar to Libyan slang.
The UK Ministry of Defence did not comment on the operations of the UK special forces and none of the high-ranking US senators contacted would grant an interview. One senate source did admit that the U.S. legislators met with the king in January but did not comment on what was discussed. Jordan is a key ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, having provided it with over $15 billion in military aid over a number of years.
Angus Robertson of the Scottish National party asked that UK special forces (SAS) be subject to parliamentary oversight but PM David Cameron rejected the demand. Crispin Blunt, the foreign affairs select committee chair, said:“King Abdullah gives a level of insight that we don’t get from our own governments. He has given presentations to parliamentarians behind closed doors in the past. We don’t get that from our own ministers. When [the foreign office minister] Tobias Ellwood told us about RAF flights over Libya these were plainly in support of special forces missions. But when we asked for details we were told the government doesn’t comment on special forces...There is a tendency for the British establishment to work out everything very carefully and then present it to parliament as ‘a take it or leave it’ choice. And then ministers wonder why they have difficulties in parliament.”In an interview with Atlantic magazine recently, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized Cameron for not following through to ensure a smooth transition to democracy in Libya after Gadaffi was overthrown.
The UK and Jordanians probably have the support of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives (HoR), as well as the commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army, General Khalifa Haftar. In July of last year, Haftar was threatened with sanctions and named to be sanctioned by the EU. The next month he travelled to Jordan and signed a military agreement with the country. Nothing more was heard about any sanctions against him and he obviously has the support of Jordan.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Much of present chaos in Libya can be traced to UN sidelining HoR and GNC in signing Skhirat LPA

Much of the responsibility for the present chaos in Libya can be traced back to the actions of the UN, the UN Security Council and the many countries who strongly support the UN-brokered Libya Political Agreement (LPA).

The hubris, arrogance, and bad faith of the actions of the former Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon and his successor, Special Representative to the Secretary-General Martin Kobler, are astonishing but everyone applauds them and their efforts.
The Libya Dialogue was a UN-brokered attempt to have the two main rival governments, the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and the rival General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli along with other stakeholders come to a political agreement which would result in peace and a unity government that both parliaments would accept. The two rival governments would voluntarily hand over power to the unity government. The aim was to have a government that will request foreign military intervention to fight against the Islamic State. The intervention could also deal with the huge flow of immigrants from Libya to Europe.
Bernardino Leon tried for over a year to come up with a draft agreement that both parliaments were expected to sign. Leon himself was discovered to have accepted a high-paying job in the UAE. He also communicated with officials in the UAE, in effect taking orders from them. He was attempting to weaken the GNC and empower the HoR. The UN said there was no conflict of interest involved even though the conflict was perfectly clear. Leon's final draft of a Libya Political Agreement (LPA) was accepted by Leon's successor Martin Kobler who claimed it could not be amended. He then tried, without success, to have the LPA adopted by the two parliaments.
Instead of reviving the Dialogue, Kobler gathered together members of the Dialogue who approved the LPA and its associated Government of National Accord (GNA) in Skhirat, Morocco. There were members from both parliaments present but none had signing authority. The Skhirat LPA was signed on December 17. There was no Libyan Political Agreement as intended by the original dialogue but a scheme for forced regime change imposed upon the two rival governments. This is obvious, but the media ignore this background. Even this LPA has been violated numerous times. The LPA has also been amended, for example by changing the number of deputy ministers from three to nine. Yet the Skihirat agreement is praised by numerous governments and is supported by a resolution in the UN Security Council which threatens those who block its implementation with sanctions.
The UN still faced the unfortunate fact that even the Skhirat LPA required the HoR to vote confidence in the GNA. A formal vote has never happened. Instead a statement by an alleged majority of the HoR that supports the GNA was used as an equivalent. There still has to be an amendment by the HoR to the constitutional declaration of 2011 to incorporate the GNA into the constitution. As with so much else, this is mostly ignored. The last four meetings of the HoR have not had a quorum. The GNA went ahead and declared itself up and running and the UN and associated international cheerleaders urged it to move to Tripoli. Not the slightest hint that the UN or GNA has done anything wrong even though they have been violating their own rules,
It should come as no surprise that since neither government agreed to the LPA or GNA that they have not ceded power, in spite of threats from the UN and the promise of good jobs in the new government. The HoR is actually the legislature of the GNA and the State Council is composed of GNC members. As Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council in Washington put it: "The birth of this government in this way has done nothing but worsen the political crisis... create new conflicts and further destabilise."
The GNC has not given Kobler permission to land at the Mitiga airport in Tripoli. Kobler tweeted: "Again had to cancel flight to Tripoli... UN must have the right to fly (to) Tripoli," Kobler has the force of a UN Security Council resolution behind him, the same resolution that has been used to threaten sanctions against two officials of the UN. The result seems to have been to harden positions.
The same has happened in the HoR with the parliament refusing to hand over power and objecting to the move to Tripoli before a formal vote is held. The international community and the UN refuse to recognize that any of this is due to them. It is all a result of a handful of "spoilers". Among the spoilers, is Khalifa Haftar whose Operation Dignity was in large part responsible for the present civil war. He was once to be sanctioned but that is ancient history and his name no longer comes up just Ageela Salah, head of the HoR.
Michael Nayebi-Oskui, a Middle East and North Africa analyst said: "Unless the international community can give the GNA control over Libyan finances, a powerful national army, and somehow make it legitimate in the eyes of the Libyan people, the GNA is poised to become the weakest of Libya's three competing national authorities." There do seem to be attempts to cause financial difficulties for the GNC government to turn people against it. The most powerful army is no doubt that of the HoR, the Libyan National Army(LNA) mostly composed of former militia of the commander in chief Khalifa Haftar. The UN will not take him on and sideline him since he has the support of Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and the Arab League. If he remains head of the LNA then the GNA is doomed for all the Islamists in the GNA will revolt.
While the divisions within Libya itself are an important factor creating problems and conflict within Libya, even those divisions are exacerbated by foreign intervention in support of one group or another. However, UN intervention with the support of numerous foreign governments, often former colonial powers, has exacerbated the situation through gross violation of its own rules in order to achieve a compliant government to legitimize foreign intervention.

Study shows moderate drinking fails to produce any net health benefits

A review of 87 long term studies on alcohol and mortality, involving nearly four million people and 367,000 deaths, concludes that health benefits from moderate consumption are probably overstated.

Tim Stockwell of the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research in British Columbia has taken another look at published studies on alcohol and mortality on nearly four million people, including more than 367,000 deaths:"We should drink alcohol for pleasure. But if you think it's for your health, you're deluding yourself."
The new review is in the March issue of the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs. The review notes that there is a problem in classifying abstainers. If these include former drinkers who quit especially if it was a result of worsening health, moderate drinkers health and life expectancy look better. The review concludes that one should be skeptical of the net benefits of moderate drinking of alcohol to health even though some studies suggest that those who are moderate drinkers have healthier hearts and longer life expectancy.
Jurgem Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Health in Toronto said that there was a great deal of interest in studying whether light drinking is healthy or harmful. He notes that results of such studies have commercial implications. He made his remarks in a personal commentary on the review. He claims that the benefits of light alcohol consumption are exaggerated. He concludes: "In my view, nobody has to start drinking for health reasons. Those who drink lightly, if they stick almost religiously to one drink per day, no real problem. I would not advise them to stop."
While the benefits in general of light alcohol consumption has some importance, the harm or benefits to alcohol consumption in moderate amounts may depend upon who you are and your situation and even what sort of alcohol is involved. For example a study has shown that moderate consumption of red wine and even white wine is helpful for many diabetics in controlling their blood sugar levels along with other benefits as well. On the other hand, drinking is not advised for pregnant women as it can have detrimental effects on the fetus. A CBC article sums up some of the benefits and risks of alcohol consumption. The article notes: A dizzying array of research suggests alcohol can have both good and bad effects, but making sense of such studies all comes down to who you are and how much you drink.

GNA facing problems as it attempts to move to Tripoli

March 23--The UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) has still not moved to Tripoli due to continuing problems with security arrangements. The Tripoli-based General National Council (GNC) opposes the move and refuses to relinquish power.

The Prime Minister of the GNC, Khalifa Al-Ghwell, was outspoken in his criticism of the role of Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) who has been urging that the GNA relocate to Tripoli from Tunis. He said that Kobler behaved more like a destructive godfather than the head of the United Nations Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL). Kobler was to meet with officials of the GNC today but the meeting was postponed until next Monday according to Ali Abu Zabouk the Foreign Minister of the GNC. Even then, he can only come if he does not meet with any other parties during his visit. The Libya Herald reported:
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler was prevented from flying to Tripoli today by the "government" there despite a statement the day before yesterday by Nuri Abu Sahmain, head of the continuing General National Congress (GNC), that Kobler would arrive in the Libyan capital today for talks . . .It may be that Kobler was not allowed to land when the GNC discovered that he was going to meet with other parties.
Zabouk criticized the efforts being made to impose what he calls a non-accord government by taking advantage of Libyans' needs. He is no doubt referring to the liquidity problem with the banks and the humanitarian needs that await the establishment of the GNA before they will be met. Zabouk said: "We understand that some parties want to create a real stability in Libya, but such stability cannot be achieved through reliance on foreigners or at the expense of Libya's sovereignty.." He also criticized the threat of sanctions claiming that they did not create a good environment for negotiations with international stakeholders.
The Libya Herald also reported on Ghwell's criticism of Kobler and other statements he has made. Ghwell has made it clear that he will not hand over power to the GNA headed by Faiez Serraj. In a statement the GNC said it would only relinquish office if "a national government that came from the hearts of Libyans was appointed. It would not stand aside for what it said was government imposed against the will of the Libyan people." Kobler has demanded that power be handed over to the GNA immediately. The internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk also rejects the demand that the GNA takeover power and continues to operate. Both governments reject the GNA takeover as it is happening.
The Libya Herald is usually anti-GNC and some of its reporting reflects this. It points out that in the east Tripoli suburb of Suq al_Juma that has up to now been a stronghold of the Libya Dawn militia that supports the GNC, there were protesters demanding that Ghwell resign, and described him as head of a gang. One of the protesters told the Libya Herald: “ We supported them before to protect the revolution and provide services to people. But we’ve found out that they’re just thieves and they never stop trying to prevent national reconciliation because it means the end of their power.” The Herald claims that Aref Khoja is in Tripoli. He is appointed interior minister in the GNA. He is said to be holding meetings with sympathizers and militia leaders about providing security for Serraj when he arrives.
There is a concerted propaganda attempt to show growing support for the GNA. There are even reports that the GNC was intending to start procedures to turn over power to the GNA. The GNC issued a statement on Tuesday saying that this was false. There have been other rumors as well. One was to the effect that the president of the GNC, Nuri Sahmain, had fled the capital and that the Grand Mufti and radical Islamist Belhaj were supporting the GNA. All of this appears to be false.
Sahmain agreed to meet with Kobler March 23rd but as noted above it did not happen. Kobler could come to Tripoli next Monday. Sahmain confirmed that the GNC is still operating from Tripoli and that the rumors that he left the capital are completely false.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Propaganda and rumors abound as Tripoli situation is unclear

March 22 --The Libya Observer, which supports the Tripoli-based General National Congress, notes that the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has so far failed to enter Tripoli as it claims it will do.

The Observer also claims that some activists are spreading rumors designed to influence public opinion and gain support for the GNA. A recent rumor was that the Grand Mufit Sheikh Sadiq Al-Gharyani is now a strong supporter of the Serraj GNA government and that he asked both the GNC and revolutionary fighters to allow it in to Tripoli. The Mufti has so far been strongly opposed to the GNA. The rumour quickly spread on Twitter:
 Libya Al Hurra ‏@LibyaAlHurraTV 33m33 minutes ago
Libya Al Hurra Retweeted francesco strazzari
#Libya: Widely panned Italian news report saying Gharyiani and Belhaj to clear the road for the GNA in #Tripoli.
Belhaj is a prominent Islamist. At one time he was rendered to Gadaffi's Libya by the CIA. He is an opponent of the GNA. It is quite unlikely that the reports about him supporting the GNA are true but then groups do switch sides. The rumor was picked up and then published by an Italian news agency.
The Observer also notes that there were reports that a pro-GNA group had attacked the GNC and the head of the GNC Nuri Abu Sahmain, members and guards had fled. There was an actual skirmish outside the Jamhouria Bank that is in a district close to the GNC. The Libya Herald that is usually opposed to the GNC nevertheless confirmed the Observer account of what actually happened:The Abu Sleem unit of the Rada (“Deterrance” Forces) have claimed that today’s fighting in central Tripoli’s Bab Ben Ghashir district was the result of an attempt by a militia to take over the branch of the Jumhouriya Bank in the district. It says it has now secured the area.
The Observer also claims that clashes in Camp 77 on Saturday were deliberately misinterpreted:The propaganda machine of UN-imposed government was quick to claim that pro-Sirraj government armed groups were attacking pro-GNC Sumood Force in the camp. In fact, the clashes were between the 6th Force of the Central Security and an armed brigade affiliated with Al-Burki brigade over a wanted killer and had nothing to do with the ongoing political crisis in Libya.One wonders what the purpose would be in the rumor since it would show that the situation in Tripoli is not secure. It is more likely just someone thinking that it must have something to do with the GNA moving to Tripoli. It does nothing to make the public favor the move that I can see.
The Observer also remarks on the ongoing liquidity crisis that has resulted in limiting withdrawals from banks that are open. Many are closed. One of the reasons that the GNA is moving to Tripoli is that it is the headquarters of the Libyan Central Bank. The GNA hopes to gain control of the bank and starve rival governments of funds. It appears that Central Bank head may be cooperating with the GNA. The Observer quotes an anonymous source as claiming that the liquidity crisis is deliberate and is being carried out under instructions from the GNA:"CBL governor Sadiq Al-Kabri is a supporter of the government of national accord and he gave his instructions to limit cash delivery to the banks to provoke a liquidity crisis.This crisis was suddenly provoked when the government of national accord declared its intention to move to Tripoli, and the aim is to make people reject Tripoli government and GNC and demand quick access of GNA to Tripoli to solve this crisis, which actually would be solved quickly if GNA succeed to do so."
The Central Bank of Libya (CBL) had earlier agreed to open $2 billion in letters of credit to import basic goods and medicines and alleviate the shortage of cash. However, this apparently has not happened. The Central Bank governor Sabri is apparently a member of a party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood supports the GNA although the membership is apparently divided on the issue. It appears that the GNA may be able to turn public opinion against the GNC. There have already been demonstrations against the cash shortage.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Canadian-Libyan on trial in UAE has terror charges dropped against him

At a court hearing on Monday March 21 in Abu Dhabi UAE, Salim Alaradi, a Canadian-Libyan businessman, unexpectedly had terrorism charges against him replaced with lesser charges.

Alaradi was arrested in 2014. He claims he was tortured during interrogation. The original charges had to do with alleged links he had to the February 17th Brigade and the Libya Dawn. The latter is now the main militia group supporting the General National Council (GNC) in Tripoli the rival government to the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. The UAE is a strong supporter of the HoR and Khalifa Haftar commander in chief of the Libyan National Army of the HoR. Alaradi was one of 10 men of Libyan ancestry who were arrested August and September of 2014. The arrests were probably related to the conflict between the HoR and GNC. Alaradi did business with groups associated with the GNC. However the events took place between 2011 and 2013. This was before the anti-terrorism laws under which Alaradi was charged had even been passed. They were passed only in 2014. He is now charged with one count of collecting donations without proper permission, and another account of taking actions hostile to a foreign government by sending supplies to the two militias.
At the time, that Alaradi sent the supplies there was just the one transitional government. Alaradi had notified the UAE authorities that he was sending supplies to help the government after the fall of the Gadaffi regime. He denies supporting the militias. Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ who was hired by Alaradi's family was pleased that the terrorist charges had been replaced by lesser charges. The change was made without any notice and Champ was trying to find out the penalties associated with the new charges.
The court received a medical forensic report from a court-appointed doctor who claimed that there was no sign that Alaradi was tortured. However, it has been some time since Alaradi claimed he was tortured. Camp was not surprised at the report in that the the doctor asked Alaradi few questions and took less than 10 minutes to examine him. Champ said: "Given that cursory examination we didn't place a lot of confidence in the independence of this doctor."
A report by Canadian consular officers who had visited Alaradi said he was very distraught and had visible bruises when they met him. The report was obtained through a Freedom of Information request. When the officers visited Alaradi on December 31, 2014 in prison in Abu Dhabi.there were two-inch wide bruises on his left arm and leg.The report said: "As soon as consular officials asked the subject how he was, he became visibly upset. Twice during the interview, it was necessary for the subject to stop speaking in order to hold back tears," Albaradi claimed he had been hung upside-down and beaten and punched. His head and the soles of his feet were struck with batons. He said he had lost feeling in the toes of his left foot and in his right leg. Another Canadian with dual Libyan citizenship had also been arrested but was released without any explanation. He claimed he was arbitrarily detained and also tortured.
Three others had their charges changed as well at the same time as Alaradi. They all have been held now for a total of 550 days in custody. The four will be back in court on April 11. Two are Americans. The daughter of one of the Americans Amal Eldarat said:“Today’s change of course is deeply concerning. For more than a year and a half, the UAE government has had time to investigate the alleged charges against my brother and father and proceed with presenting their case. Now, after more than 550 days, they have been forced to recognize what my family and I have said along – Kamal and Mohamed are innocent of all terrorism charges.”Amal called on US officials to pressure the UAE to release both her father and her brother. If found guilty of the new charges the four could face up to 15 years in prison. The family of Albaradi who live in Windsor have constantly been urging the Canadian government to press for the release of Albaradi as show on the appended video.

City of Misrata split on supporting UN-brokered Government of National Accord

- Support among western Libya militias is divided but with many supporting the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The municipal council of Misrata has also expressed support for the GNA and approves its intention to move to Tripoli.

The Libya Herald, a news source that often opposes the General National Council (GNC) government, based in Tripoli, claims that according to local officials, support for the GNA is strong and continuing to grow in Misrata. On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators in Misrata called on GNC head Khalifa Gwel, to resign and hand over power to Serraj, prime minister-designate of the GNA
The Misratan Council of Elders rejected the municipal council's position. The council is headed by Ibrahim ben Ghashir, a close friend of Misratan militia commander Salah Badi, a strong opponent of the GNA. Badi and the council support the GNC and its associated Libya Dawn militia which rejects the GNA. They support the Libya-Libya dialogue that involves negotiations between representatives of the two rival governments but without the UN being involved. A senior Misratan official told the Libya Herald that Gashir has no power or influence and he and the council of elders were losing support all the time. There appears to be a propaganda war with the Herald taking the side of the GNA. The pro-GNC Libya Observer gives a rather different account.
The Observer calls the political division in the city as "knife edged" but gives a reasonably objective description of what the municipal council said: In a statement Thursday, the Municipality of Misrata applauded what it described as "the unlimited international support for the Government of National Accord (GNA)", pronouncing its complete support for the government after it had gained the approval of the majority of Tobruk MPs. It also called on Al-Sirraj and his group to enter Tripoli and start working from the capital.However, the paper then mentions opposition by a group that the Herald does not even mention, the Misrata military council. The council expressed its surprise at the hastiness of the decision by the municipality. Members of the council were concerned that they were not consulted as was agreed to by the municipality at a meeting on February 23. The military council, the municipality and the council of elders all agreed they would make no decisive decisions without consultation among the three groups. Nothing is mentioned about this by the Herald. The Misrata Elders and Notables Council also criticized the decision, claiming it violated the February accord saying: “The Misrata Municipality statement does not represent all of Misrata, so we reject any attempts to move the GNA to Tripoli because this could plunge the capital into a series of fight (sic), havoc, and lack of security.” The February 23 meeting was meant to ensure a unified stance on issues and the parties agreed to set up a common committee to carry out security tasks and coordinate pivotal decisions within the city. No doubt there was pressure on the municipality to support the GNA. Now there is more likely to be open conflict.
In a recent article, Jason Pack claims that the GNC, which rejects the handover of power to the GNA, has ministers who are defecting in droves according to reports. No doubt some are attracted by the prospect of jobs with the GNA as part of the State Council. However, many have been replaced already. Pack says government employees are also shifting allegiance as well as militias. It is hard to know the degree to which this is happening. No doubt working for the GNA may seem better than staying with a government that may lose financing. There are still militia who side with the GNC and there is no sign of the Serraj government yet. At first, there will be probably just be a few members of the GNA. The legislature of the GNA is the HoR and as Pack points out, the HoR is opposed to the GNA going to Tripoli without a formal HoR vote. There is no sign of that happening or even of preparations for such a vote. The HoR has to approve certain actions of the Presidency Council. It is hard to see how the GNA can get such approval when it has not received a vote of confidence from the HoR. Perhaps the GNA will just ignore the requirement as the UN and GNA have ignored so many other requirements, such as that the Presidency Council now has the function of commander in chief of the Libyan National Army.
According to Pack, the GNA is to be housed in the Tripoli Naval Base under the protection of Tripolitanian militia. He thinks that Haftar is likely to see this as an endorsement of Tripoli militias whom Haftar strongly opposes. The plan could see the GNA not only subject to attacks by the Islamic State but by militias who support the GNC and oppose the GNA. Even worse Haftar-allied militias could attack the GNA as well. While Pack thinks that placing the GNA in the heart of Tripoli under protection of local militias may safeguard them against kidnapping, it may not secure them from violent attacks from those opposed to the GNA. So far there is no sign of the GNA in Tripoli. Perhaps they cannot get permission to land at Mitiga airport in Tripoli.

Libya's Constitutional Drafting Assembly holding meetings in Oman

The Libyan Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDA) has already held two meetings in the city of Salalah, Oman. The most recent meeting concentrated on efforts to end the boycott of the CDA by members from the Tebu and Tuareg tribes.

The two Tebu and two Tuareg members walked out of the CDA last August after complaining that the Committee refused to take into account rights of Libyan minorities. However, they attended the most recent meeting. The Special Representative of the Secretary General, Martin Kobler, also attended the meeting. No one attended from Oman as officials did not want to interfere in Libyan affairs. Kobler tweeted:“Listening to Tebu and Twareg @CDALibya. Protection of rights is absolute must. Constitution must satisfy all.” Kobler said he was also encouraged by the spirit of compromise among those at the meeting. Kobler said that the mission of the UN in Libya is not to intervene in the political issues but to support by providing technical advice.
Kobler thought the meeting important enough to issue a short press release on the UNSMIL site. The meeting was designed to discuss constitutional issues that had yet to be solved. As usual any negative aspects of what has been happening with the CDA are completely ignored. For example, the head of the CDA, Ali Al-Tourani, who has dual American and Libyan citizenship,was disqualified from his position after some members of the CDA brought a suit against him resulting in a court decision that he did not qualify for the position.
There are also 11 members, mostly from western areas of Libya, who were not present at meetings. They are boycotting the meetings because they object to the manner in which jobs and positions are being divided on the basis of a third each to the three traditional divisions,Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. Tripolitania in the west contains two-thirds of Libya's population and the boycotters think this should be reflected in the division of jobs. The boycotting members have other objections as well. Members of the judiciary have protested against the draft constitution, complaining that the group refused to enshrine independence of the judiciary in the draft as they recommended.
Articles to be included in the draft constitution must be approved by a vote of two-thirds plus one or 41 votes. There are only 33 members in the sessions in Oman according to the Libya Herald. There are not enough to pass any articles. There are only 41 members altogether taking part in CDA proceedings. In other words they need all to be present and all vote in favor of any article for it to be adopted. A number of members of the CDA refused to travel to Oman. They said the discussions could have taken place in Libya just as easily. None of this is mentioned in Kobler's press release. The Gulf News claims that 56 of 60 members of the CDA attended the first meeting on Saturday. This conflicts with other sources and makes no sense when there are 11 boycotters plus a number of members who objected to meeting in Oman and refused to go.

Khalifa Haftar's forces claimed to have been responsible for some kidnappings and torture in eastern Libya

General Khalifa Haftar's forces are claimed to be behind some kidnappings and torture in eastern Libya. Haftar is commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR).

The Libya Observer, a source often favorable to the rival General National Congress (GNC), reports that rescued prisoner Othman Bu Khattabia, an elder from the Obidat tribe, claimed:
"They mistreated me and beaten me up, I was psychologically destroyed...They are militias from the so-called the General Command in Al-Marij and the so-called Haftar..All the abducted citizens in Tobruk are in so-called Haftar's prisons, the so-called army prisons."
Khattabia was abducted from central Tobruk two weeks ago by an armed group loyal to Haftar. Khattabia opposes Haftar's Operation Dignity launched in May of 2014 to rid Libya of all Islamists, including those associated with the GNA and allied militias.The ongoing operation to a considerable degree started the ongoing conflict between rival governments, and included burning the parliament in Tripoli. Obidat's armed tribesmen managed to find out that Khattabia was detained in Suluq, about 53 kilometers southeast of Benghazi, and were able to set him free. Khattabia said his captors said they were from the Libyan Army and accused him of collaborating with Ibrahim Jodran, the head of the militia guarding petroleum facilities. Jodran is a supporter of the GNA and a foe of Haftar. Khattabia said his tribe would take action against Haftar's militias. He also claimed Haftar was behind the disappearance of citizens and activists in Benghazi.
Others have complained of the actions of Haftar's forces. Elders and notables in the city of Tobruk where the HoR is located, have also accused Haftar of being responsible for the disappearance of activists and citizens in that city. The group claimed that the kidnappers were receiving support from officials and granted immunity by claiming to be from the army. The kidnappers use false accusations, that victims are sleeper cells, as justification for kidnapping them. In a statement, the elders claim that the kidnappers are under the command of the army and from Al Marj city. Al Marj is where Haftar has his headquarters. The group claimed that those kidnapped are there in illegal detention centers. The group called on Haftar to intervene immediately and release those kidnapped. If this were not done, the group would re-consider recognition of the Libyan National Army (LNA). A number of activists have been abducted for anti-Dignity Operation views. Ahmed Fayad was abducted in the city center early in the week. His fate is not known. Four other activists have been abducted recently.
These events provide some confirmation of the charges of former spokesperson of Operation Dignity, Mohammed Al-Hijazi who defected from the organization in January. Al-Hijazi claimed Operation Dignity had veered off course and the Haftar was a narcissistic dictator who was guilty of corruption and bloodshed: "We cannot be silent any more about his killings, kidnappings, destruction, and forced disappearance." He also accused him of plotting with Kobler, the head of the UNSMIL and of being a foreign agent. He claimed that Kobler was transferring military funds to his sons in Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan.
Haftar seems still to enjoy considerable popularity especially since recent military advances in Benghazi. He has the support of Egypt, the UAE, and the Arab League. Recently, President El-Sisi of Egypt said that now was not the time for foreign intervention in Libya: “If we give arms and support to the Libyan National Army, it could do a much better job than anyone else, better than any external intervention which could risk putting us in a situation that could get out of hand and provoke uncontrollable developments. "To arm Haftar would be simply to support Operation Dignity and the continuation of the civil war in Libya. It would ensure the breakdown of the GNA as GNC members would revolt. According to one section 8 in additional provisions of the Libyan Political Agreement, the Presidency Council of the GNA took on the role of commander-in-chief of the Libyan Army when the LPA was signed on December 17th. Another section 8 in the main text claims that the Council takes on this role when the GNA is activated upon a vote of confidence in the HoR. The GNA has been activated anyway. A letter signed by an alleged majority of the GNA supporting the GNA was regarded as a green light to activate and move to Tripoli. Almost everyone ignores the issue of section 8 and Haftar's continuation of his role in violation of two sections of the LPA.
Haftar appears not to want the GNA active in case Section 8 is enforced. The EU is sanctioning the president of the HoR's Ageela Salah for not achieving a vote of confidence in the GNA. The HoR is the legislative body of the GNA. Will the HoR move to Tripoli along with its sanctioned president Salah?

Rival Libyan governments both reject UN-brokered Government of National Accord

The internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and the rival General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli agree on one important issue — they both reject the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).

The HoR government of PM Abdullah Al-Thinni said that untll the HoR gives a vote of confidence in the GNA it remains in office. He warned that any attempt to impose the GNA on Libya without the formal vote of confidence risks aggravating the already-chaotic political and economic situation while provoking further splits in the country.
Al Thinni is a bit behind the times, since the GNA has in effect accepted a statement allegedly signed by a majority of the HoR as equivalent to a vote of confidence. The GNA declares it is now the sole legitimate government in Libya and is moving to Tripoli to start operating there.
The threat of divisions was evident at a demonstration in Benghazi in Kish Square. The demonstrators demanded that the HoR reject the GNA of PM-designate Faiez Serraj. They want the HoR to appoint a military council headed by Khalifa Haftar to govern Libya. A government headed by Haftar would be anathema to most in the GNC. Haftar started the military Operation Dignity back in May of 2014 to rid Libya of Islamists, including those in the rival GNC and the militia supporting it. The demonstration was organized by Pro-Haftar supporters and announced on Rasmiya TV which also supports him. Army and police units guarded the demonstrators and air force helicopters flew overhead.
The HoR also condemned the call of the GNA presidency for Libyan state institutions to deal with the GNA directly. The HoR claimed that this is a violation of Libya's legal and constitutional norms. According to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) there must be an amendment to the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 to incorporate the GNA into the constitution. This would be done through the HoR. While saying that the HoR supports the Libya Dialogue, the HoR claims the GNA has no legal status at present. A key provision of the LPA is that there be a formal vote of approval in the HoR as well as the constitutional amendment.
According to Reuters, the HoR said that without the formal vote for the GNA to take power would be "an abuse of Libyan sovereignty and a lack of respect for the democratic process." The statement went on: "It will deepen the Libyan crisis and the economic situation, increase division, and shatter the political accord built on consensus," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that he told PM-designate Fayez Serraj on Friday that France was willing to provide help to secure the GNA.
The GNA claims it has made security arrangements in Tripoli and will move there within days. However at least one collection of militia groups, The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, has threatened any attempt of the GNA to come to Tripoli with a "long war." The GNC as well has warned the GNA that it is not recognized in Tripoli and warned it against trying to enter Tripoli. Khalifa Ghwell, PM of the GNC said: "We say it has no place among us." He claims the GNA was imposed from the outside and that the GNC would never let in a leadership installed by the UN

Domino's to launch robot pizza delivery service in New Zealand

Adding to other innovations using new technology, Domino's Pizza is launching a new robotic delivery service using DRU or Domino's Robotic Unit built in Australia with the help of Marathon Robotics.

Pizza places have long used new technology to help pizza delivery by using apps such as Kinect. This allows hungry x-Box gamers to order and build a pizza through "hand motions or voice commands" to build their pizzas. However, Domino's added a voice ordering tool for its mobile app. The voice assistant is named Dom. Dom is able to recognize natural speech patterns. You can tell it you want to order a pizza and it will ask what kind: "Domino's says that the service "delivers a human-like, conversational customer service experience," that should speed up the ordering process compared to dealing with an actual human." Now Domino's has gone a giant step further by possibly eliminating the pizza delivery person as well.
The DRU was developed by Domino's Australia from a military robot. The DRU contains Domino's own GPS tracking data. It has a sensory system that uses lasers to avoid running into obstacles in its path on the way to the customer's address. The unit has four wheels and travels up to 20 kilometers per hour and is designed to cruise on footpaths, trails, and bike paths. When it reaches the proper address, the customer enters a security code through their phone that gets the robot to open a locked compartment to retrieve the pizza. The project began in 2015.
The battery-powered DRU will be undergoing trials in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It is billed as "the world's first autonomous delivery vehicle." The DRU can complete deliveries within a 20 mile radius on a single charge. It is just under 3 feet tall and can deliver up to 10 pizza's in its heated compartment. The start date for the trial has yet to be announced. Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for New Zealand... over the last 12 months I’ve been actively and aggressively promoting New Zealand as a test bed for new transport technology trials."

Critics claim state of Georgia Religious Liberty Bill is discriminatory

The Georgia State legislature has passed what is called the Religious Liberty Bill on Wednesday. Critics claim the bill is discriminatory against same-sex couples.

The bill still needs to be signed by Nathan Deal, the Republican Governor. He claims he will not sign the bill if it allows discrimination although his office declined comment on the bill on Wednesday. Last year, in Indiana and Arkansas, similar types of bill brought strong criticism that forced many legislators to retreat from the provisions.
Some corporate officials and companies have criticized similar bills. In Arizona, after such criticism, a similar bill was vetoed by the Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2014. Corporate executives also spoke out against an Indiana bill last year that the group thought would allow business owners to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds. The willingness of corporate executives and corporations to speak out on the issue may be partly because a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage:Data from the Pew Research Center last year found that 55 percent of Americans, and 70 percent of millennials, support same-sex marriage.
In the case of Georgia's Religious Liberty Bill, more than 300 large corporations and small businesses, including Delta Airlines and Coca Cola, signed a pledge condemning the Georgia bill and recommending the bill be dropped. Even the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the bill.The bill has been reworked several times to meet criticism that it went too far. A late amendment was made that would not allow the bill to permit any discrimination prohibited by federal law.
As well as some companies, organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign which represents the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community condemned the bill: "The decision by the legislature today was to make an egregious and discriminatory bill even worse. It's appalling that anti-equality extremists in the legislature are trying to ignore the will of the people of Georgia."
The bill has its supporters as well. Mike Griffin, a spokesperson for the Georgia Baptist Convention applauded the bill although he said it did not contain all the group wanted: "We feel we’ve advanced our protection of our First Amendment Right to religious freedom. Our rights of religious liberty don't end inside the four walls of a church."
The bill would allow faith-based groups such as churches, religious associations or schools, the right to reject holding events for any person or group to whom they object. Such groups could not be forced to hire or even retain any employee whose beliefs were counter to those of the faith-based organization.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Diverse sources are critical of Kurdish declaration of autonomy in Syria

The Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria have voted to seek autonomy. The vote was to unite three Kurdish-controlled provinces into a federal system. The move could complicate UN-backed peace talks, in which Kurds are not included.

The Kurds in Syria have had an autonomous area in northern Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The vote has brought criticism from diverse sources including the Assad regime, Turkey, and the United States.
US State Department spokesperson, John Kirby, said: "We don't support self-ruled, semi-autonomous zones inside Syria. We just don't. What we want to see is a unified, whole Syria that has in place a government that is not led by (President) Bashar al-Assad that is responsive to the Syrian people. Whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, that's the goal."While the U.S. has given strong support to the Kurdish PYD party they nevertheless hope for a unified Syria. Turkey considers the PYD terrorists and is angry at American support for them. The Kurds, with American help, have wrested considerable territory from the control of the Islamic State. The Kurds seem less concerned with replacing Assad than with consolidating power over areas they control.
The Kurds will establish what they call the "federal democratic system of Rojava- Northern Syria." Rojava is the Kurdish name for northern Syria. Officials said preparations were being made to elect a joint leadership and a 21 member committee which would prepare a "legal and political vision" for Rojava within the span of six months.
A document at a recent meeting detailed the areas of autonomy: "... the aim was to "establish democratic self-administered regions which run and organize themselves ... in the fields of economy, society, security, healthcare, education, defense and culture." The Kurds insist that the federation is not an attempt to secede from Syria but simply to gain autonomy.
Syrian rebels also criticized the Kurdish move, insisting they oppose all forms of federalism and want a powerful national government. Russia may not oppose the move — Russia has suggested that a federal system is one possible way of resolving the civil war.
The Syria state news agency, SANA, reported that a foreign ministry source said: "Any such announcement has no legal value and will not have any legal, political, social or economic impact as long as it does not reflect the will of the entire Syrian people."
Turkey worries that an autonomous Kurdish zone in neighboring Syria could fuel separatist sentiments among its own Kurdish minority. It considers the PYD to be an ally of the PKK which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey. A Turkish official said: : "Syria must remain as one without being weakened and the Syrian people must decide on its future in agreement and with a constitution. Every unilateral initiative will harm Syria's unity." The UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said:"All Syrians have rejected division (of Syria) and federalism can be discussed at the negotiations,"
The Kurds control an area stretching about 400 km or 250 miles along the northern Syrian-Turkish border. However, they also control a separate area that is separated from the main territories by about 100 kilometres or 60 miles most of it controlled by the Islamic State.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....