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Vladimir Putin Visits Vienna to Mark 50th Anniversary of Gas Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Austria on Tuesday in his first trip to the West since being re-elected to the Kremlin and was rebuffed when he called for European Union sanctions to be lifted.

The Russian leader was given full military honours as he met with Alexander van der Bellen, the Austrian president, and Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor.

The visit is full of symbolic importance for both sides. Fifty years ago this month, Austria became the first Western European country to sign a natural gas deal with the Soviet Union, a commercial arrangement that survives to this day. Next month, Austria takes over the rotating EU presidency, just as Russia has begun making signals that it wants to engage more with Europe. It sees Vienna as an important ally.

Mr Putin used the opportunity to argue for the lifting of Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, telling a joint press conference it would benefit all sides.

An Austria energy company signed a new deal with Russia’s Gazprom to secure gas supplies until 2040, and Mr Kurz spoke of how the two countries “cooperate well not only in the political but also in the economic sphere”.

Mr Kurz has made no secret of his desire to preserve good relations with Moscow, saying he wants Austria to be a “bridge” between Russia and the West.

“Today we had the opportunity to talk about international issues, that Russia as a superpower has a great significance in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and that Russia has a great responsibility. We hope Russia will contribute to people finally seeing what they are longing for: peace,” he said after meeting with Mr Putin on Tuesday.

In an interview with Austrian television ahead of the talks, Mr Putin insisted he was not trying to split Europe. “We want a united and prosperous Europe,” he said, arguing the EU is Russia’s most important economic partner.

Continue reading: Vladimir Putin Visits Vienna to Mark 50th Anniversary of Gas Deal

RSF Asks ICC to Investigate Israeli Sniper Fire on Palestinian Journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) today formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate what it regards as war crimes by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) against Palestinian journalists covering protests in Gaza since 30 March.

Submitted to ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda a few hours before today’s UN Security Council meeting and based on article 15 of the Rome Statute (which established the ICC), the request concerns the direct shots that IDF snipers have fired at some 20 Palestinian journalists during the “March of Return” protests in Gaza.

In RSF’s view, these are crimes that clearly fall under the ICC’s competence.

“The Israeli authorities could not have been unaware of the presence of journalists among the civilian demonstrators, and therefore failed in the elementary duty of precaution and differentiation when targeting these protected persons with live rounds,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“These deliberate and repeated violations of international humanitarian law constitute war crimes. While referring them to the International Criminal Court, RSF calls on the Israeli authorities to strictly respect international law.”

Various sources have corroborated that the following journalists were hit by shots while covering demonstrations east of Gaza City yesterday: Omar Hamdane, a cameraman working for the Algerian national TV broadcaster ENTV, sustained gunshot injuries to the foot; Al Jazeera reporter Wael Dahdouh was injured in the right hand; Zain Media cameraman Mohammed Abu Dahrouj was hit in the left leg; and Yasser Qudeih, a freelance photographer working for the pro-Hamas daily Palestine, sustained a gunshot injury to the stomach and was taken to the intensive care unit at Gaza’s European Hospital.

Two journalists also sustained gunshot injuries near the city of Khan Younis. Abdullah al-Shorbagi, a reporter for the pro-Hamas Khan Younis Media Network, was shot in the left foot while Nihad Fuad, a reporter for Forsan al-Erada community radio, was hit in the head and was taken to Gaza’s European Hospital. Farhan Hashem Abu Hadayd, a reporter for the Safad Press website, sustained a gunshot injury to the left leg to the east of the city of Rafah.

Two Palestinian journalists have been killed by live rounds fired by Israeli soldiers since 30 March, the date of the start of the “March of Return” protests by Palestinians along the border between Gaza and Israeli.

They are Yaser Murtaja, 30, a photographer for the independent Ain Media agency, and Ahmed Abu Hussein, 27, a reporter for Shaab and Bisann News. Both were clearly identified as journalists, either by a vest or by a helmet bearing the word “Press.” In all, at least 20 other journalists have sustained gunshots injuries, of whom at least three were clearly identified as media personnel.

Global Arms Industry: First Rise In arms Sales Since 2010

Stockholm, 11 December 2017 – Sales of arms and military services by the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies the SIPRI Top 100 totalled $374.8 billion in 2016, according to new international arms industry data released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The total for the SIPRI Top 100 in 2016 is 1.9 per cent higher compared with 2015 and represents an increase of 38 per cent since 2002 (when SIPRI began reporting corporate arms sales). This is the first year of growth in SIPRI Top 100 arms sales after five consecutive years of decline.

US companies increase their share of total arms sales in 2016

At a combined total of $217.2 billion, arms sales of US companies listed in the SIPRI Top 100 grew by 4.0 per cent in 2016. US military operations overseas as well as acquisitions of large weapon systems by other countries have driven this rise. Arms sales by Lockheed Martin the world’s largest arms producer rose by 10.7 per cent in 2016, which was decisive to the increase in the USA’s share of overall SIPRI Top 100 sales to 57.9 per cent. ‘With the acquisition of helicopter producer Sikorsky in late 2015 and higher delivery volumes of the F-35 combat aircraft, Lockheed Martin reported significant growth in its arms sales in 2016,’ says Aude Fleurant, Director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The rise in sales and the number of US military services companies ranked in the SIPRI Top 100 are noticeable trends in 2016. Some of these companies have increased their sales through the acquisition of the military services divisions of larger arms producers. This was the case for Leidos, for example, which acquired Lockheed Martin’s information technology and technical services businesses in 2016.

Continue reading: Global Arms Industry: First Rise In arms Sales Since 2010

Secret Meetings Behind Closed Doors and Sharp Criticism in Public Between US and Russia

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met privately – behind closed doors Vienna to discuss their differences over Ukraine, but their public comments were explosive when they had addressed the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Vienna, they traded allegations about interference in Ukraine and there appeared little room for compromise.

The United States is committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. We call for full implementation of the Minsk agreements. We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea. Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.

Tillerson added: „We should be clear about the source of this violence: Russia is arming, leading, training, and fighting alongside anti-government forces. We call on Russia and its proxies to end its harassment, intimidation, and its attacks on the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.”

Russia’s foreign minister called on Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) countries to strengthen efforts to ensure the safety of the internet on Thursday.

Moscow faces widespread allegations that it interfered in the U.S. presidential election and was behind a wave of destructive global hacking attacks. It has denied any involvement in either. “We urge concentrating on (the) elaboration and implementation of specific additional confidence building measures in order to secure the cyber security and not to waste breath with unfounded accusations without any fact,” Sergei Lavrov told a meeting of foreign ministers from OSCE countries.

Lavrov also urged member states to consolidate efforts in the fight against drugs in sport, two days after Russia was banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had found evidence of “systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system. “We confirm our proposal to establish in the (OSCE) secretariat a separate anti-drug structure,” Lavrov said. The Russian foreign minister also said Russia would continue to implement OSCE projects for the training of counter narcotic police officers.

Austrian Arab Chamber of Commerce Launches its 9th Economic Conference

غرفة التجارة العربية النمساوية تطلق مؤتمرها الاقتصادي التاسع

On November 27, 2017, the Vienna Palace (Rathaus) will witness the launch of the ninth session of the Austrian Arab Economic Forum and Exhibition, in the midst of a high-level Austrian, Arab, prominent political and economic figures presence in the Arab countries and Austria.

The Forum is organized by the Austrian Arab Chamber of Commerce (AACC) in cooperation with the Business Agency in Vienna under the umbrella of the League of Arab States and sponsored by the General Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of the Arab countries.

The forum will highlight on energy, infrastructure, modern technology, food and agriculture.

“The Arab countries and Austria have a long tradition of excellent economic and trade relations, in addition to the important cultural and historical dimension of these relations,” said Secretary General Eng. Mouddar Khouja.

 

Eng. Khouja pointed out that the timing of the forum is very important and aims to inform the Austrian side of the new opportunities in the Arab countries facing great challenges. Stressing the economic forum serves the common economic interests of both sides, and opens the way for the expansion of economic and trade cooperation between Austria and Arab countries.

“The Arab countries and Austria have a long tradition of excellent economic and trade relations, in addition to the important cultural and historical dimension of these relations,” said Eng.

He pointed out that the timing is very important and aims to inform the Austrian side of the new opportunities in the Arab countries that the current changes in some Arab countries and the challenges facing them, in order to serve the common economic interests of both sides, and opens the way for the expansion of economic and trade cooperation between Austria and the Arab States.

“Austria has extensive experience in vital areas such as environmentally friendly technology and planning in the infrastructure sector, as well as in the field of transport, renewable and alternative energy, and in the agro-food industry,” he said. In contrast, the Arab countries have strategic plans that include promising projects in the fields of construction, water, energy, transport, railways, industry, agriculture and food industries, and they look forward to benefiting from technological innovation.

Eng. Khouja noted that Austria has extensive experience in vital areas such as environment-friendly technology and planning in the infrastructure sector, as well as in the field of transport, renewable and alternative energy.

Continue reading: Austrian Arab Chamber of Commerce Launches its 9th Economic Conference

Hollywood stars at VIECC Vienna Comic Con 2017

Vienna, 19 Nov. 2017. For the first time at VIECC Vienna Comic Con 2017, the Vienna Challenger Arena took place at Vienna Messe, a “League of Legends” tournament in which teams from Germany, Austria and Switzerland meet. Over 60 star guests attended VIECC Vienna Comic Con 2017 and the first comic con craft beer among them Hollywood stars Jason Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter), Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange), John Rhys-Davies (Lord Of The Rings), Temuera Morrison (Star Wars) and many others.

Dozens of thousands from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and other Western countries attended the opening of the event. The costumes inspired by Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Super Heroe and Manga comic books and films were seen at the event, which is the largest in terms of the number of the participants and viewers in Vienna Messe.

The line up of comic stars at the VIECC is formidable: Superstar Scott Snyder, the man behind Batman, American Vampire and Superman Unchained is one of the guests, as well as Emanuela Lupacchino and Adi Granov, known as the drawer of Iron Man, X-Men, Spider Man, Captain America and many other Marvel Super Heroes.

Around 30 influencer stars from Austria and Germany show the influencer Video Con, organized by diego5 studios. Among them are the Lochis, Chaosflo44, the comedy-size Kim Lianne, Joanna aka Cute Life Hacks, the gamer Venicraft, DATV, the musician Jannik Brunke, Alina Evita, Sam Mashgati, Beatboxerfii and many more.

Again, the team behind the successfull comic book series „Austrian Super Heroes“ show their work and give autographs. Author Harald Havas gives lectures on this project and the brandnew „League Of German Heroes“ (Liga Deutscher Helden), a spin off for Germany drawn by German artists.

Who Promotes Afghan Farmers' Opium Cultivation and Production?

Kawther Salam: According to UNODC’s Afghan Opium Survey 2017, the disappointing reversal of last year has become a profoundly alarming trend in the cultivation and production of opium in the country. The Survey’s findings show the total area under poppy cultivation has jumped a dizzying 63 per cent or 127,000 hectares compared to 2016. In 2017, the total area of cultivation is 328,000 hectares.

For both Afghanistan, and the world, we are heading towards uncharted territory with a new record high obliterating the previous one in 2014. Perhaps even more disturbing, potential opium production is estimated at 9,000 tons; an 87 per cent increase from the 2016 level of 4,800 tons.

The following discussion took place today Wednesday 15 November 2017 at 12:00 noon at a press conference on Afghanistan Opium Survey, held at Vienna International Centre, on room C0735, Building C, 7th Floor with Angela Me, Chief of the Research and Trend Analysis Branch, and the UN office on drugs and crime (UNODC).

Mr. Brian Hansford, chief advocacy section addressing me: Can you ask your questions at the conference? And please say who are you?

Me: Sorry Mr. Hansford, I just arrived at the conference room, would you please allow me to look at the UNODC report on Afghanistan opium survey 2017 before I ask my questions. Why did the press conference start earlier than 12 o’clock, as it was scheduled?”

Mr. Hansford: Dont worry, we will stay with you as long as you want.

Me: That’s fine Mr. Hansford. I will ask some questions before reading your report.

The UNODC office always talks about the high increase in the production and cultivation of opium despite all the conferences your office holds with Member States and the subsequent decisions. What positive results have your conferences achieved in reducing opium cultivation and production, and what is the use of such conferences if they do not achieve anything?

Ms. Me: Do you mean the conferences held last year? There are binding decisions for UNODC Member States but opium cultivation and production are illegal and take place outside the control of Member States and the implementation of decisions.

Q: Do you think that the powerful countries (without names) in Afghanistan, under security and military pretexts, are behind the increase of the cultivation, production and distribution of opium?

Answer: No, I don’t think so, no state in power is involved.

Continue reading: Who Promotes Afghan Farmers’ Opium Cultivation and Production?

Afghan Opium Production Jumps To Record Level, Up 87 Percent

Opium production in Afghanistan increased by 87 per cent to a record level of 9,000 metric tons in 2017 compared with 2016 levels, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey figures released today by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to a record 328,000 hectares (ha) in 2017, up 63 per cent compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016.

In a statement delivered at the survey’s launch, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said: “It is high time for the international community and Afghanistan to reprioritize drug control, and to acknowledge that every nation has a shared responsibility for this global problem.”

The increase in production is mainly a result of an increase in the area under opium poppy cultivation, while an increase in opium yield per hectare also contributed. The largest increase of yields occurred in the Southern region where the average yield grew by 19 per cent and the north-eastern region, with a 14 per cent rise.

Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of the poppy from which opium and heroin are produced. The 2017 record levels of opium production and poppy cultivation create multiple challenges for the country, its neighbours and the many other countries that are transit for or destination of Afghan opiates. Increased insurgency and funding to terrorist groups is likely within Afghanistan while more high quality, low cost heroin will reach consumer markets across the world leading to increased consumption and related harmful consequences.

The average opium yield is at 27.3 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) – 15 per cent higher than in 2016. A total of 750 ha of poppy eradication was carried out by the provincial Governors in 2017. This represented an increase of 111 per cent from 2016 when 355 hectares were eradicated. In 2017, eradication took place in 14 provinces, compared to 7 provinces in 2016. During the latest eradication campaign, six lives were lost and eight people were injured.

As noted in the survey, opium poppy cultivation has expanded to new regions and strong increases were observed in many provinces.

The number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10. After more than a decade, Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan lost their poppy-free status. The number of provinces affected by cultivation increased accordingly from 21 to 24.

In Hilmand alone, cultivation increased by 63,700 hectares (79 per cent), accounting for about half of the total increase. This was followed by Balkh (+10,000 ha), Kandahar (+7,500 ha), Nimroz (+6,200 ha), and Uruzgan (+6,000 ha).

Continue reading: Afghan Opium Production Jumps To Record Level, Up 87 Percent

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