Thursday, 16 October 2014
Assad's troops defend last military base in eastern province
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters continued to advance in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor on Wednesday following “rare” clashes with government forces.
The director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, told Asharq Al-Awsat that clashes between ISIS fighters and Syrian government forces erupted in Deir Ezzor after Damascus resumed attempts to cut the terrorist group’s supply lines.
“The ISIS-backed wali [Governor] of Deir Ezzor led the clashes [on Tuesday] which resulted in the death of 10 Syrian soldiers,” Abdulrahman said.
The clashes broke out close to the Syrian army’s last remaining base in the province, which has now almost completely fallen under ISIS control. US airstrikes have continued to pound ISIS positions in Deir Ezzor and beyond this week, although the Islamist militants continue to advance on the ground.
Renewed clashes were reported in the area of Huwayja Saqer in Deir Ezzor on Wednesday resulting in the death of five ISIS fighters and five government soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory. Damascus authorized air raids against ISIS positions in Huwayja Saqer, with observers reporting that at least three government air raids had taken place there over the past two days. They said barrel bombs were dropped during some of these raids.
At least 17 government soldiers have been killed in the clashes with the Islamist group in Deir Ezzor over the past few days.
ISIS advanced into the town of Hatla in eastern Deir Ezzor on Tuesday evening, the Syrian Observatory reported, arresting at least 11 people—including the town’s mayor—and imposing a curfew.
Elsewhere in Syria, Damascus removed two senior Homs security officials from their posts in response to popular demands. The head of the Homs Security Committee, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Jamil, and the head of Homs Military Intelligence, Abdulkarim Saloum, were sacked on Tuesday following protests by government loyalists over the death of 41 children in a bombing in Homs city.
Abdulrahman told Asharq Al-Awsat “the departure of these two figures could be a sign of other impending changes among senior Syrian officials.”
Houthis continue to spread throughout provinces in northern, central Yemen
Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Southern secessionists in Yemen are demanding that all “Northerners” leave southern Yemen by November 30, a move which follows massive rallies and sit-ins in the country’s south calling for the restoration of South Yemen and its independence, as Houthi rebels continue to spread throughout the north and central areas.
The secessionist Al-Hirak movement, the most prominent pro-secessionist party, also issued a statement addressing employees of oil and gas, steel, and fishing companies operating in the south, instructing them to halt all operations and export activities, and warning them against carrying out any work without the supervision of “experts” assigned by members of the “Southern Independence Revolution Force.”
Thousands of members of Al-Hirak poured onto the streets of Yemen’s main port city Aden, located on the southern coast, on Tuesday, vowing to stay there in an “open sit-in” until the government agreed to restore the former independent state of South Yemen, which merged with North Yemen in 1990.
This comes as the Houthi movement continued to strengthen its stronghold on the country’s central and northern provinces, following its takeover of the country’s capital Sana’a on September 20.
On Tuesday, the group entered the Al-Hudaydah governorate, seizing its port—Yemen’s second-largest—and main airports.
The province is one of the country’s main economic and commercial centers, lying west of the strategic Bab El-Mandeb strait through which most Yemeni oil headed for global markets, as well as oil shipments from Gulf countries, passes.
Hassan Harad, a senior figure in the Nasserist Unionist People’s Organization party, told Asharq Al-Awsat there was coordination between the group and local government representatives to allow it to enter the Al-Hudaydah governorate without any resistance.
“The entry of the Houthis into Al-Hudaydah and their takeover of the governorate came about through an understanding between representatives from the [Houthi-affiliated] Ansar Allah group and local authorities and the security apparatus. There was also an understanding that the handover be carried out without any resistance [from the security forces],” he said.
Harad added that “there were directives received from up on high to not allow the Houthi militias to protest on the streets, and for them to dress in official military and security uniforms.”
After taking over Al-Hudaydah city, the capital of the province, the Houthis then headed to the city of Bajil where they raided a barracks belonging to the Yemeni army, seized weaponry and ammunition, then “headed to Sana’a dressed in military uniforms,” Harad said.
In addition to Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah—and the Houthi strongholds of Saada and Amran—the Houthis have also spread throughout a number of governorates in the country, including the oil-rich provinces of Al-Jawf and Ma’rib.
In contrast to other reports, local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat the army is resisting the Houthi advance in a number of areas, launching a number of raids on Houthi positions in the Ma’rib, Hadhramaut and Al-Bayda governorates.
However, a local government source from the Al-Bayda governorate told Asharq Al-Awsat the army and security personnel stationed in the province’s capital, Al-Bayda city, had been “neutral” throughout ongoing clashes between the Houthis and local tribesmen, not getting involved in the fighting due to orders they had been given by superiors.
The source said the provincial capital was the scene of clashes between armed members of the Shi’ite group and members of the local Qifa tribe allied to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) on Wednesday.
“The fighting broke out on Wednesday evening after the Houthis blew up the home of a member of the Qifa tribe. Local tribes allied to AQAP retaliated, launching a massive attack on the Houthis in the city of Rada’ . . . The fighting lasted 10 hours,” and 15 people have died as a result so far, said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The source also said local tribesmen refused to meet with Minister of Defense Ahmed Khalil during his last visit to the governorate on Tuesday. They accused him of “fragmenting the army and handing over the [Al-Bayda] governorate to the Houthis.”
Al-Bayda is home to the Qifa tribe, who are headed by the Al Al-Dhahab family. The family announced weeks ago they would be resisting the Houthis should they attempt to enter the province.
The Al Al-Dhahab are part of a tribal alliance in the governorate which has carried out a number of attacks on army and security installations in recent years, succeeding in 2012 in briefly taking over the city of Rada’ before being forced out by security forces.
Meanwhile, unknown assailants gunned down an army officer, Col. Ali Zayd Al-Thari, in Sana’a on Wednesday. Eyewitnesses told Asharq Al-Awsat that “armed men on a motorcycle used a Kalashnikov rifle to assassinate Col. Thari,” adding that he “died instantly.”
Colonel Thari’s death is the latest in a string of killings of army and police officers across Yemen in recent years, many of which have been blamed on AQAP.
Hamdan Al-Rahbi contributed additional reporting from Sana’a.
A man who was jailed for raping a 13-month-old baby is back behind bars after he was caught with thousands of indecent images of children.
James Taylor was first jailed in 2003 for sexually assaulting a baby girl, but was released early in 2008.
His son and daughter alerted police after discovering indecent images of children on the 53-year-old's laptop.
Taylor, from Falkirk, was sentenced to a year in prison, along with a further year from his original rape sentence.
There was outcry when Taylor was originally jailed for five years after photographing himself raping the 13-month-old while living in Grangemouth in 2003.
The sentence was later increased to eight years on appeal, along with a five-year supervision order after his release.Guilty plea
However, when Taylor's son visited him in June 2013 he saw him using a laptop and realised his father was barred from using the internet as a registered sex offender.
The son and one of his sisters discussed the matter, and when they checked back in August they found the laptop in their father's bedroom.
When they discovered it contained a large number of indecent images of children, they removed it and contacted police.
Officers found 5,240 still indecent images, along with 464 film clips on the laptop, which a computer expert said dated back to the 2003 case.
The court heard that the same images were found in 2003, and Taylor had hidden a copy of them before transferring them on to his laptop after his release.
Having earlier pleaded guilty to possessing indecent images, Taylor was last week ordered to serve a further 12 months of the rape sentence.
The High Court in Glasgow has now added a one-year term for possessing the abuse images, which will start from the end of that period.
US shares crept lower on Thursday, tracking big losses on European and Asian stock markets.
Wall Street's Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes declined but recovered some ground after falling almost 1% on continuing concerns about global economic growth and the Ebola crisis.
The sell-off follows heavy losses in the US, Europe and Asia on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the borrowing costs for Greece and Italy rose, and investors looking for a haven pushed gold higher.
In Europe, London's FTSE 100 closed down 0.25% and the Cac 40 in Paris finished down 0.54%. Frankfurt's Dax index bucked the trend to edge up 0.13%.
On Wednesday, the FTSE saw its heaviest one-day fall in 16 months. The S&P is down about 8% from a record closing high on 18 September.
Analysts said that a raft of disappointing economic and corporate news had panicked investors.
Recent poor data from China, Germany and the US have heightened worries that the global economic recovery could go into reverse.Continue reading the main story
Concerns about the spread of Ebola and its impact on emerging markets have added to worries. Companies linked to travel and tourism have seen their share prices fall in the past couple of weeks, offsetting hopes that the recent falls in the price of oil would lower their long-term fuel costs.
"It's beginning to feel a bit like a perfect storm," said Joe Rundle, head of trading at ETX Capital Markets.
"You have the US Federal Reserve stopping printing money this month, deflation all over the place, oil coming down [which is] causing more deflation.
"Everyone is panicking to a certain extent and everything is on the downside, there is real momentum here and there's a lot of money changing hands," he said.
Capital Spreads dealer Jonathan Sudaria said the global economic situation did not warrant such a heavy share sell-off. But he said: "Add a potentially disastrous [Ebola] virus into the mix and the result is what we have here - pandemonium in the market place."Analysis: Andrew Walker, World Service economics correspondent
Is the eurozone crisis back? That would be putting it too strongly, but there are reasons to be uneasy.
In part, the turbulence in European markets is about a weakening global economic outlook. But then the eurozone is one of the principal causes of that.
There have also been some striking moves in eurozone bonds markets. There were sharp rises in the yields - in effect the interest rates - on government debts for the countries at the centre of the crisis.
For most of them there's no cause for panic. Those yields are still affordable - below 2% for ten year bonds in the case of Ireland. But not for Greece, whose government bond yields have climbed three percentage points in a month to a level above 8%.
Can Greece support itself without further financial help? The bond yields mean it will be very difficult.Bond market moves
Financial shares were among some of the biggest fallers across Europe.Royal Bank of Scotland was down another 1.3% after falling heavily on Wednesday.
Meanwhile in France, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas fell 2.2% each amid worries about their exposure to a slowdown in southern European economies.
Greece's borrowing costs rose on Thursday on fears about the country's exit from the bailout it received during the financial crisis.
The yield on Greek 10-year bonds rose to 8.82% - its highest rate since January. Investors are worried that the country could struggle to borrow money once it is weaned off bailout money.
In Spain, Madrid's benchmark IBEX 35 index fell 1.7% after a bond issue failed to raise as much as the government hoped.'Monetary morphine'
Meanwhile, gold traded at a one-month high, while the price of copper and some other metals fell to multi-month lows amid concern that demand would fall because of an economic slowdown.
Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said that one of the big concerns among investors was the ending of the Fed's monetary stimulus in the US.
"As the monetary morphine has started to wear off, the patient has come to realise that a lot of the old problems still remain, and yesterday's poor US data helped trigger a rather extreme reaction in not only the stock markets but bond markets too, as complacent investors rushed to hedge themselves.
"In essence, investors are asking the question with respect to the recent recovery about whether this is as good as it gets, which rather explains the slump in the oil price, bond yields and stock markets," Mr Hewson said.
A woman was horrified to receive a text message from her grandmother's phone number - three years after her death.
When Lesley Emerson died in 2011 some of her favourite things were buried with her, including her mobile phone.
Sheri Emerson, of South Shields, said she found comfort in texting her but was stunned to get a reply, saying: "I'm watching over you."
It emerged her grandmother's number had been given to another user who replied, thinking friends were playing pranks.
The network in question, O2, said it had spoken to the family and apologised for any distress caused.
Ms Emerson said that following her grandmother's death, rather than visit her grave at Harton Cemetery in South Shields, she would text small, personal messages as a "way of being close to her".
"I know she's not alive, but it's still going to her," she said.'Horrible things'
However, she was "upset and distressed" to receive a reply saying: "I'm watching over you and its all going to get better. Just push through."
Ms Emerson said: "Loads of horrible things were running through my head.
"How did somebody get her telephone? Had they been getting all the texts?"
When a family member rang the number the man who answered explained he had recently acquired the number and thought the text messages from Ms Emerson had been from prankster friends.
Ms Emerson said: "I took it out on him, but it wasn't his fault at all.
"It makes me feel sick, there's not a word to describe it."
O2 said numbers disconnected and not reconnected within a short period of time were placed in a general pool for reassignment.
A spokesman said O2 had been in touch with the family and apologised "for any distress this is causing"
Apple has announced a new version of its tablet, the iPad Air 2, which it said was the thinnest device of its kind on the market.
It is 6.1mm (0.24in) thick, and also gains a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
It has an anti-reflective coating on the screen for the first time, and the A8X - a faster version of the processor featured in the firm's latest iPhones.
However, some analysts have questioned whether the upgrade will be enough to turn around iPad sales.
An upgraded version of the firm's smaller tablet - called the iPad Mini 3 - was also announced.
Like its bigger sibling, it gets the company's fingerprint recognition component. But it uses the older A7 processor and has a lower-resolution rear camera.
Some of the details were published by Apple, reportedly by mistake, on Wednesday.
Apple's last earnings release revealed that it had sold 13.3 million iPads in the April-to-June quarter. That marked a 9% fall on its tally for the same period in 2013, despite the fact the company saw sales of iPhones and Mac computers rise.
It also contrasted with an 11% rise in the number of tablet shipments across the market as a whole - with Lenovo and Asus making some of the biggest gains - according to data from IDC.
The market research firm said that the iPad remained the bestselling tablet brand, but that its market share had dropped over the year from 33% to 26.9%.Cannibalised sales?
One expert suggested that the recent launch of the 5.5in (14cm)-screened iPhone 6 Plus, which shares most of the new iPads' features, could further temper demand.
"Given that Apple's launched larger iPhones, it needs to find a market that the iPad Mini fits into," said Jitash Ubrani from IDC.
"It was a response to the market as a whole moving to smaller tablets. And now that phablets are growing in not just screen size but also in market size, unless Apple carves out a special place for it, we expect sales of the Mini in particular to be cannibalised quite a bit."
Apple's chief executive Tim Cook has told investors he still believes that the tablet market will eventually surpass that of PCs, and has pointed to a recent deal with IBM - involving the two firms co-developing business-centric apps - as a way to get iPad sales on "a faster trajectory".
Mr Ubrani agreed that targeting businesses had huge potential, but warned that sales to consumers would remain a challenge.
"People who have the old iPad 2 or more recent versions are still happy with these devices - they are still functioning perfectly fine," he said.
"There's really no reason to upgrade."
Other new features of the iPad Air 2 include an eight megapixel rear camera that can now capture slow-mo videos at 120 frames per second. The front camera has also been upgraded to allow in more light and take a rapid succession of selfies.
In addition, the machine includes a new type of wi-fi chip that supports faster data speeds, including downloads at up to 866 megabits per second (Mbps).
"It is disappointing - particularly to enterprise buyers - that there wasn't a 12.9in [32.8cm] iPad model," said JP Gownder from research firm Forrester, who otherwise praised the update.
"In order to return iPad to high growth, form factor innovation will be required."
The new tablets will become available to buy next week at similar prices to before.New iMacs
Apple also introduced a new model of its all-in-one iMac computer featuring what it said was the highest resolution display on the market.
The computer has a 27in (68.6cm) screen that has a resolution of 5K - 5210 by 2880 pixels - offering about five times the detail of a "full HD" 1080p television.
That represents four times the number of pixels found in the standard iMac of the same size.
The basic model will cost $2,499 (£1,555) and is already available for sale.
Lenovo already sells the N308 - an all-in-one Android-powered desktop PC with a 19.5in (49.5cm) screen offering slightly lower 4K resolution, while Panasonic has the Toughpad MB5025 - a 20in (50.8cm) 4K computer that runs Windows 8.
Intel and Samsung have also announced plans to manufacture 4K screens for other all-in-one PCs.
Otherwise, large ultra-high definition display are still a rarity in the computing sector beyond the use of separate monitors, which may aid demand for the new computer.
"There is a huge difference in quality once you start moving through the different sets of screens," remarked Ranjit Atwal, research director at the tech consultancy Gartner.
"Given the amount of consumption people are doing of online video, and the quality of what they can get from services like YouTube and Netflix on 4K TVs, they want to see that replicated on a PC as well."
Apple suggested that people doing visual productivity tasks, such as photo editing, would also benefit from the innovation.
Apple also announced an upgraded version of its screenless computer, the Mac Mini, but there was no mention of an update to its Apple TV set top box, which last received a hardware refresh in March 2012.
The company also said that the latest version of its operating system for Mac computers - OS X Yosemite - was being made available for download this Thursday.
The software allows data to be swapped back and forth with iOS-powered iPhones and iPads more easily than before. Its user interface has also been designed with higher resolution screens in mind.
The company added that Version 8.1 of iOS, which introduces support for its near field communication (NFC)-powered payment service Apple Pay, would be released on Monday
A radio presenter undergoing a sex change was told by her employer it was in her best interests to come off air as she went through the transition, according to a letter seen by the BBC.
Simon Hirst, now Stephanie, hosted a breakfast show on Capital FM Yorkshire and Vinyl Heaven on Gold.
But after 11 years she came off air in June without any prior notice.
Global Radio, which owns the commercial stations, said the DJ had decided to leave "to focus on the process".
The letter has been seen by BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
The document, which is addressed to Simon Hirst and signed by the executive director of Global Radio Richard Park, states both stations "did not think gender reassignment was suitable or commercially viable content" for shows.
It goes on to say: "We have a responsibility for your well-being, and having considered the matter we are not satisfied that going through this process 'on air' is in your best interests."
The company writes it will continue to provide the DJ with support throughout the process "in any way we can".'Feel alive'
Ms Hirst, 39, announced on Saturday on BBC Radio 5 live that she was half way through gender reassignment treatment, and that she is now living her life as a woman, and is changing her name to Stephanie. Her nickname continues to be Hirsty.
In her latest interview with the BBC she said: "I genuinely feel alive. I wake up in the morning now and I want to get up because there's stuff to do and I didn't want to get up as a man."
She said she knew early on that she wanted to be a female.
"My first recollections are when I was about eight years old, I wore a girl's roller skates who lived round the corner and it just felt right. Something immediately clicked and I don't know what it was," she said.
Numerous sources have told the BBC that Ms Hirst was suspended by bosses at Global Radio when she disclosed that she wanted to be a woman.
It is claimed she was not given the opportunity to have a final show to say goodbye to her fans.'Supportive'
But in a statement in response to these allegations, the media company said: "Hirsty made the decision to take time out to focus on the process he was going through.
"We were sad to see Hirsty leave but we were happy to offer him our full support.
"We wish Stephanie all the best in the future. It's standard practice in radio for presenters to come off air once they've made a decision to leave."
Ms Hirst claims the two parties have come to a suitable agreement. It is believed that she has signed a non-disclosure agreement.
When asked about claims that she was treated wrongly by her former employer, she said: "Everyone was supportive. There is nothing more I can add that can be of use to you."
Global Radio has several stations within its portfolio including Heart, Capital, Classic FM, Smooth, LBC, and Gold.
It broadcasts to more than 20 million people each week, and is part of the This is Global Ltd British media company.
Ms Hirst gained much popularity after presenting the national commercial Top 40 chart show between 2003 and 2006.
Recently she was hosting Hirsty's Daily Dose breakfast show on Capital FM Yorkshire.