Prosecutor, 2 Kidnappers Dead in Turkish Hostage Drama

By webdesk@voanews.com (VOA News) A day-long hostage drama in Turkey ended Tuesday with two kidnappers and their hostage dead.

Turkish prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz died during surgery for gunshot wounds.

Two members of a banned leftist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, seized Kiraz in his Istanbul courthouse office early Tuesday.

They demanded police and others they hold responsible for the death of a 15-year-old protester confess and be put on trial.

Police stormed the prosecutor’s office after hearing gunshots. They had been trying for about six hours to negotiate Kiraz’s freedom.

Turkey, the European Union, and United States regard the leftist group as a terrorist organization.

Via:: Voice of America

Saudi Arabia prepares for possible ground offensive in Yemen, Iran calls for ‘dialogue’

By RT

Saudi authorities say they have gathered troops along the border with Yemen in preparation for any possible ground offensive, Reuters reported on Tuesday, adding that no exact time to send the troops in has yet been stipulated. Pakistan, which has previously supported Riyadh by deploying troops to Saudi Arabia to provide extra regional security, also said that it is sending troops to support Saudi Arabia in the context of the current Yemeni conflict, the agency reported.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen, launches coalition op against Houthi rebels

Despite airstrikes delivered by Saudi air forces and their Gulf allies, the Houthis are continuing their offensive against the dwindling loyalists of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi was ousted by the rebels and fled to Saudi Arabia, requesting military intervention from the Arab states.

The heaviest exchange of cross-border fire since the start of air offensive was reported on Tuesday, with Saudi troops clashing with Yemeni Houthi fighters. Hadi-allied officials have remained hopeful that Riyadh would send ground troops to turn the tide for the ousted official.

We are asking for that [Saudi ground operation in Yemen], and as soon as possible, in order to save our infrastructure and save Yemenis under siege in many cities,” the president’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yasseen said an interview with al-Arabiya Hadath TV channel.

BREAKING: Heavy blasts outside Yemeni capital, attack on missile storage feared http://t.co/CDo2dmgUeZ @metesohtaoglu pic.twitter.com/GImbWcyoAd

— RT (@RT_com) March 30, 2015

Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian labeled the Saudi strikes a “strategic mistake” and called for a dialogue to help solve the crisis in Yemen. “Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate to solve the Yemeni crisis,” the official said in Kuwait, as cited by Reuters, adding that Iran “recommends all parties in Yemen return to calm and dialogue.”

This war is not about Yemen or the Houthis, it’s about what used to be a cold war between the Persians and the rest of the Islamic world, especially the Arab Gulf. Today the cold war became a real one,” political analyst Roula Taj told RT.

Will #Yemen kick-off the ‘War of the two Blocs?’ (Op-Edge by @snarwani) http://t.co/tnJxWxBCTO pic.twitter.com/WpOMelWrPH

— RT (@RT_com) March 31, 2015

More casualties have been reported in the escalating conflict, with overnight street clashes in Hadi’s stronghold Aden claiming at least 26 lives, Reuters reported, citing a health ministry official. Ten others died during the Tuesday shelling of a residential building close to the residence once used by the president, the agency reported referring to witnesses accounts. In the central town of Yarim, an air strike hit a fuel tanker, killing at least 10 people, residents said.

Coalition bombers targeted rebel positions near the airport of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, while fighters from the Houthi militia entered a coastal military base overlooking the Red Sea’s strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Heavy fighting between Hadi loyalists and opponents was also reported in southern province of Dhalea.

On Monday, 45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration (IMO).

Saudi Arabia airstrikes pave way for ground invasion of Yemen (Op-Edge) http://t.co/ndCeCN3COP pic.twitter.com/DRsXhLEf6u

— RT (@RT_com) March 30, 2015

The airstrikes have also affected the Red Cross medical supplies deliveries to the area, with the planes which are carrying the necessities unable to fly to Yemen.

In Yemen today we have a very serious humanitarian situation. Hospitals are running at a low capacity… We need to bring in urgent medical supplies to sustain our stocks,” spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Near and Middle East Sitara Jabeen told RT.

She added that the organization was expecting to bring in a plane carrying medical supplies for up to 1,000 patients to Sanaa, “but so far have not been able to get the permission we need to move this plane from Jordan to Yemen.”

So far, the airstrikes have failed to change the military balance in Yemen. While Houthis reportedly found an ally in Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned in 2012 amid mass public protests, some Western officials have alleged that Iran financially supports the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast.

Voicing support for the Saudi bombing campaign, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week accused Iran of seeking regional dominance in the Middle East. Tehran officials said Erdogan’s visit to Iran, which is scheduled for next week, may now be scrapped. The warning came from Iranian MP Esmayeel Kosari in his Sunday interview with the semi-official Fars news agency. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Ankara to act responsibly in the conflict.

Russia has also warned against reducing the complex Yemeni conflict to a simplified stand-off narrative, whether national or sectarian in nature. “We cannot allow it to degrade into a Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Neither can we allow the situation to turn into an open conflict between the Arabs and Iran. We will do everything to prevent it,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.

READ MORE: 5 facts you need to know about Yemen and its conflicts

The intensified fighting in the country provides a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism, with Yemen having already having been an operational base of Al-Qaeda militants for years. After the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group became one of the world’s biggest exporters of terrorism, with the US considering it the most dangerous branch of Al-Qaeda.

AQAP claims to be behind January attack on Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, with terrorists saying the main enemy of Islam is now France rather than the United States. The latter has already scaled down its operations against AQAP in the region, undermining an effort dating back to 2002.

READ MORE: ‘Compromised & gone’: Pentagon lost $500mn of weapons, equipment in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen may also hamper the campaigns against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where US and its Arab allies found themselves on the same side as Iran. Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) now operate in Yemen, with its militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on mosques in the country’s capital Sanaa, in which over 100 people have been killed and hundreds injured.

Via:: RT.com

Collective self-defense law to open door for closer Japan, US military ties

By RT

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has announced that in the coming months he plans to ask parliament to ratify his cabinet decision from July 2014 to allow the country to exercise its right of collective self-defense.

The proposed bills are likely to pass as Abe’s coalition enjoys a vast majority in the Japanese National Diet.

The lifting of the restrictions will allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to provide military assistance to an ally state under attack if the situation “threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn (Japanese) people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Abe’s plans have been praised by Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, which has its headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.

READ MORE: Japanese Navy gets biggest warship since World War II

“CSD (collective self-defense) makes it easier for the Seventh Fleet and JMSDF (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) to exercise and operate across the Indo Asia Pacific,” Thomas is cited as saying by Reuters.

JMSDF commander, Admiral Eiichi Funada, has insisted that the Japanese forces “have the capacity and capability for operations in international waters and international airspace anywhere on the globe.”

The drills and joint missions by US and Japanese naval forces may extend from Japanese territorial waters through to the disputed South China Sea into the Indian Ocean.

Tokyo and Washington have no territorial claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing may find the US and Japanese presence in the area worrying.

The South China Sea is contested by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations in the region.

Beijing has refrained from harsh comments on the issue, expressing “hope that relevant Japan-US cooperation and the development of their relations can play a proactive and constructive role for regional peace, development and stability.”

However, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, added the alliance between Japan and the US “should not exceed its bilateral scope and nor should it harm the security of interests of countries in the region.”

Washington is actively supporting Japan’s increasing military role in Asia as a counterbalance to China’s growing naval power in the region; Beijing is taking an increasingly assertive stance in territorial disputes.

On Tuesday, US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris Jr. has accused Beijing of “unprecedented land reclamation,” claiming China is “creating a great wall of sand” over four square kilometers.

READ MORE: China building a ‘great wall of sand’ in South China Sea – US Navy

The People’s Liberation Army Navy of China consists of 495 vessels, including 26 destroyers and 67 submarines, and keeps growing.

The US Seventh Fleet is centered on a carrier battle group and has 80 vessels and 140 aircraft in its possession.

Japan’s navy also represents a significant power as it can rely on 120 vessels, including more than 40 destroyers and around 20 submarines.

As the losing side in World War II, Japan was deprived of a military capability, with the country’s constitution outlawing war as a means to settle international disputes in 1947.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces were created in 1954 to maintain order in Japan and repel any possible invasion from outside, following the pull out of US troops out of the country due to the Korean War.

Via:: RT.com

Greece Fails to Reach Initial Deal on Reforms With Lenders

By webdesk@voanews.com (Reuters) Greece failed to reach an initial deal with the European Union and the IMF to unlock aid after the creditors dismissed a package of reforms from Athens as ideas rather than a concrete plan, officials said on Tuesday.

The lack of a deal further raises pressure on Athens, which faces the prospect of running out of money in a few weeks unless it can convince lenders to dole out more financial help.

Athens put a brave face on the failure to reach an agreement with the “Brussels Group” of representatives from the EU and the IMF, saying it remained keen for a deal on the basis of its long-held demand that the measures it is asked to implement do not hurt economic growth. Lenders will intensify efforts to collect data in Athens, it said.

One source close to the talks said the halt in negotiations was not a sign of a rupture but an indication of slow-moving progress in the discussions.

Mistrust and acrimony have characterised much of Greece’s talks with lenders since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stormed to power in January pledging to end austerity and a bailout program that has kept Greece afloat for over four years.

Greece and its European partners have sought to show publicly that relations have improved in recent weeks after Tsipras held a series of talks with EU leaders, but both sides remain far apart on issues ranging from pension reform to debt relief.

At issue now is a list of reforms that Greece presented to the Brussels Group representatives last week, in an effort to show lenders that it is committed to living up to pledges of financial discipline and is worthy of aid.

But eurozone officials panned the list as inadequate. One EU official said the lenders had yet to receive the list they had been waiting for.

A conference call of the Euro Working Group – eurozone deputy finance ministers – remains scheduled for Wednesday and will allow the bloc to take stock of developments so far, an official said.

“We obviously look forward to receiving a list as soon as possible,” the official said. “That’s the aim of the ongoing discussions: to exchange information on detailed reform measures and intentions.”

The Brussels Groups makes recommendations to the Euro Working Group which in turn informs the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers who make decisions to disburse aid.

Tsipras appealed on Monday for an “honest compromise” with lenders but warned it would not be won at any cost.

Calling for support from opposition parties, Tsipras reiterated that his government would implement a Feb. 20 deal struck with the eurozone.

But he also stressed that the government had non-negotiable “red lines” such as avoiding wage and pension cuts and mass layoffs, and avoiding a fire sale of asset sales in favor of concessions that allows the state to retain control.

Separately, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met on Tuesday with officials from major bond fund manager Pimco, which has large investments in eurozone peripheral debt. Pimco officials expressed interest in Greek Treasury bill auctions and bonds, a finance ministry official said.

Via:: Voice of America

Greece Fails to Reach Initial Deal on Reforms With Lenders

By webdesk@voanews.com (Reuters) Greece failed to reach an initial deal with the European Union and the IMF to unlock aid after the creditors dismissed a package of reforms from Athens as ideas rather than a concrete plan, officials said on Tuesday.

The lack of a deal further raises pressure on Athens, which faces the prospect of running out of money in a few weeks unless it can convince lenders to dole out more financial help.

Athens put a brave face on the failure to reach an agreement with the “Brussels Group” of representatives from the EU and the IMF, saying it remained keen for a deal on the basis of its long-held demand that the measures it is asked to implement do not hurt economic growth. Lenders will intensify efforts to collect data in Athens, it said.

One source close to the talks said the halt in negotiations was not a sign of a rupture but an indication of slow-moving progress in the discussions.

Mistrust and acrimony have characterised much of Greece’s talks with lenders since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stormed to power in January pledging to end austerity and a bailout program that has kept Greece afloat for over four years.

Greece and its European partners have sought to show publicly that relations have improved in recent weeks after Tsipras held a series of talks with EU leaders, but both sides remain far apart on issues ranging from pension reform to debt relief.

At issue now is a list of reforms that Greece presented to the Brussels Group representatives last week, in an effort to show lenders that it is committed to living up to pledges of financial discipline and is worthy of aid.

But eurozone officials panned the list as inadequate. One EU official said the lenders had yet to receive the list they had been waiting for.

A conference call of the Euro Working Group – eurozone deputy finance ministers – remains scheduled for Wednesday and will allow the bloc to take stock of developments so far, an official said.

“We obviously look forward to receiving a list as soon as possible,” the official said. “That’s the aim of the ongoing discussions: to exchange information on detailed reform measures and intentions.”

The Brussels Groups makes recommendations to the Euro Working Group which in turn informs the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers who make decisions to disburse aid.

Tsipras appealed on Monday for an “honest compromise” with lenders but warned it would not be won at any cost.

Calling for support from opposition parties, Tsipras reiterated that his government would implement a Feb. 20 deal struck with the eurozone.

But he also stressed that the government had non-negotiable “red lines” such as avoiding wage and pension cuts and mass layoffs, and avoiding a fire sale of asset sales in favor of concessions that allows the state to retain control.

Separately, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis met on Tuesday with officials from major bond fund manager Pimco, which has large investments in eurozone peripheral debt. Pimco officials expressed interest in Greek Treasury bill auctions and bonds, a finance ministry official said.

Via:: Voice of America