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  • Information warfare: Is Russia really interfering in European states?

    Russia has been accused of trying to interfere in the US presidential election, through hacked Democrat emails and social media.

    And in a big year of European elections, political leaders in France, Germany and elsewhere are looking over their shoulders too.

    Across the continent the hand of the Russian state has been perceived in an array of cyber attacks on government and state institutions, in the phenomenon of "fake news" and disinformation, and in the targeted funding of opposition groups.

    So how real is the threat and what form does it take? And is an explanation to be found in the words of Russia's chief of the general staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov, who wrote in a military newspaper in 2013 that "the very rules of war have changed"?

     
     

    The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness"

    Gen Valery Gerasimov, 27 Feb 2013
    Getty Images

    What's so new about information warfare?

    Attempting to control information has long been part of the weaponry of many powerful states.

    But Russia's concerted effort to cultivate techniques of information warfare and non-military intervention over recent years is something new, says Keir Giles of the Conflict Studies Research Centre.

    "At various stages in the first and second Chechen wars, the war with Georgia in 2008, Russia found it was not able to influence global opinion or the opinion of its adversaries at an operational or strategic level, and made significant changes to its information warfare apparatus as a result," he says.

    A Georgian woman carries humanitarian relief bread past a Russian checkpoint on 17 August 2008 in Gori, GeorgiaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionRussia learned lessons from its 2008 campaign in Georgia

    "In the Georgia war, they found that to influence world public opinion and to properly exploit the connectivity of the internet they needed to start a massive recruitment campaign to bring in linguists, journalists, anybody who could talk directly to populations in foreign countries en masse".

    What techniques are available?

    HACKING

    Numerous cyber attacks in Europe have been blamed on Russian-linked groups - many of them spectacular.

    In 2015 France's TV5Monde broadcaster was taken off air and its systems nearly entirely destroyed.

    The same year Russia's APT28 hacking group was accused of a massive data hack of deputies in Germany's lower house of parliament involving the loss of 16 gigabytes of data. Germany's head of domestic intelligence has since spoken of a "hybrid" Russian threat to the September 2017 elections in which Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term in office.

    TV5 Monde logoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionTV5Monde was taken off air in April 2015

    Another cyber attack, on Bulgaria in October 2016, was described by its president as the heaviest and most intense to be conducted in south-eastern Europe.

    These types of attack date back 10 years, when Estonia, a cyber pioneer and former Soviet state, was hit by a massive denial-of-service attack rendering websites inaccessible with a barrage of requests.

    The potential power of attacking a country's internet infrastructure suddenly became clear, with an Estonian defence spokesman comparing the attacks to those launched against the US on 11 September 2001.

    Hacking is not just an issue in cyber-space, it can have enormous consequences far beyond. An attack on a Ukrainian power plant in 2015 led to days of blackout.

    Read moreBears with keyboards - Russian hackers snoop on West

    BOOSTING OPPOSITION PARTIES

    Senior Russian political figures have long cultivated relationships with nationalist and often anti-EU parties in Europe.

    French presidential candidate and far-right Front National political partys leader Marine Le Pen (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R)Image copyrightEPAImage captionPresident Putin denied trying to influence events in other countries' elections

    In France, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front received a €9m loan from a Russian bank in 2014 (then £7m; $11m). On 24 March, with the French election only a month away and a chance of victory in the race, she met President Putinduring a trip to Moscow.

    In February, the leader of right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), Frauke Petry, held talks in Moscow with MPs close to President Putin and with Russian ultranationalists.

    And in Austria, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria denied claims it had received money from Moscow after signing a co-operation agreement with Mr Putin's United Russia party.

    Apparently it is not just the right. In France and Germany, leading far-left groups also have key links to the Russian state, according to this study by the Atlantic Council.

    FAKE NEWS AND DISINFORMATION

    There is nothing new about disinformation - intentionally spreading false facts.

    Now there is "fake news" too - false or misleading reporting often originating from little-known fringe websites that claim they are providing an alternative to the "lying" mainstream media.

    The US presidential election was notoriously hit by it and many European countries have been too.

    When Russian forces invaded Crimea in 2014, the leaders that took over from Ukraine's deposed leader were painted as fascists, justifying their intervention. The story contained enough of a kernel of truth to be persuasive. The leadership was neither a "fascist junta" nor "completely fascist-free", as the BBC's David Stern said at the time.

    Weeks before an Italian referendum that brought down Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in December 2016, Kremlin-funded TV Russia Today broadcast a rally on Facebook Live from Rome's Piazza del Populo.

    "Protests against Italian PM hit Rome," it announced to hundreds of thousands of viewers. In reality, it was a rally backing Mr Renzi.

    Merchandise with the inscription 'I say No' before the last campaign meeting of the Five Star Movement (M5S) upon a referendum on constitutional reforms, on 2 December 2016 in Piazza San Carlo in Turin, ItalyImage copyrightAFPImage captionDid disinformation help the No vote win in Italy's referendum?

    In Germany, a 13-year-old girl, "Lisa", told police she had been raped by people of "Mediterranean appearance" in January 2016. Russian state TV seized on the story, reporting it intensively and triggering anti-migrant protests against Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    It was later established the story was false, and Berlin hit out at Moscow for making political capital out of the case.

    Pressing Moscow's case are Russian-backed news organisations such as RT and Sputnik. and, on social media, an army of "internet trolls".

    The EU is so worried that it has established a unit of experts explicitly tasked with tackling "Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns".

    Can we be sure Russia is behind all this?

    Russia denies it. President Vladimir Putin says US intelligence claims of interference are absurd and irresponsible. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has even accused the CIA of masquerading as Russian hackers.

    But, according to Keir Giles, Russia "is becoming less and less interested in covering its tracks". Its interference in the US election was more or less overt, he argues, and it was happy to permit dozens of Western journalists to visit a notorious St Petersburg troll farm.

    That is, he says, "partly because of a sense of urgency that the next conflict is coming".

    An EU official told the BBC that disinformation campaigns were not always top-down. "It's not like every single piece of it is orchestrated by the Kremlin," the official said.

    "It's about creating this ecosystem that works in significant parts almost independently", with actors working for financial motives such as clicks or funding from Russian organisations.

    Demonstrators outside the German chancellery in Berlin (23 January 2016)Image copyrightEPAImage captionThousands of Russian-speakers in Germany took to the streets in response to false Russian TV reports of a rape

    In the case of the "Lisa" rape case in Germany, the story originated on a small blog, not in Moscow.

    But it is telling, says the official, that journalists behind the propaganda are decorated with state medals - including 300 journalists covering Russia's annexation of Crimea and 60 pushing a pro-Kremlin narrative on Syria.

    What is Russia trying to achieve?

    For some critics, the answer is simply power.

    President Putin and his allies have created "an image of the external enemy from the West… this demand was dormant, Putin awakened it," says Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

    "His goal is to be a world leader, but on his own terms."

    Others are more nuanced.

    For Maria Lipman, while anti-Western sentiment in Russia has been nurtured by the state, the mindset of a fortress under siege "is not necessarily unfounded". She points to the sanctions imposed by the US and EU "couched in the language of punishing Russia to hurt its economy".

    Many chart the decline of Russian relations with Europe from Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004-5, seen in Moscow as "regime change", through Russia's gas wars with Ukraine, its 2008 conflict with Georgia to the crisis and conflict in Ukraine. It was the 2014 annexation of Crimea that led to the sanctions.

    For Gonzalo Pozo Martin of Stockholm University, the pain of those sanctions has been felt most intensely in Russia and has coincided with falling oil prices.

    He argues that Russia's "cosying up" to the hard right in Europe is a form of leverage over the sanctions and deadlock in eastern Ukraine. But he also believes the Kremlin is investing long term in a more amenable, less Atlanticist EU.

    Not only would that boost Russian influence, it "might afford Russia a freer hand over its former-Soviet neighbours", he suggests.

    Read more »
  • Brexit: EU's Tusk to issue negotiation guidelines

    European Council President Donald Tusk is due to issue draft guidelines on how the EU intends to negotiate the UK's departure from the bloc.

    The proposals will be sent to the governments of 27 EU members.

    They will help set the tone for two years of tough negotiations and efforts to finalise a deal.

    EU leaders say the UK must first agree its exit terms before talks can move on to future ties. London is calling for simultaneous talks.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the Brexit process on Wednesday, by sending the Article 50 notification to Mr Tusk.

    Mr Tusk - who is currently in Malta at a meeting of EU centre-right leaders - is expected to send the draft guidelines to the 27 EU members on Friday morning.

    The European Council had intended to publish the guidelines on its website straight away, but the BBC understands that two EU member states objected.


    Analysis: BBC's Chris Morris in Malta

    The draft negotiating guidelines will set the tone for two years of tough talks to come.

    My understanding is that Donald Tusk was still working on the final details of the document late into Thursday evening here in Malta - but it is expected to be six or seven pages long and will focus in particular on the sequence of negotiations.

    The terms of transition will be difficult to agree because they will involve topics of huge controversy in the UK - including freedom of movement of people and the role of the European Court of Justice.


    The guidelines will contain a general statement of principles, and go into some detail about how the EU intends the negotiations to be structured.

    That means:

    • Initial talks for several months on the divorce - a broad agreement on the terms of separation
    • Then several months of negotiation on the shape of a future trade partnership
    • Finally - possibly the toughest phase of all - talks about the transition between full membership now and a totally new relationship in the future.

    €60bn 'divorce' bill

    On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande told Mrs May the withdrawal agreement should come first, a common line among European leaders who say they will not allow "cherry-picking".

     

    Media captionGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in Malta

    Meeting in Malta, members of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the European parliament, said they would focus on:

    • Ensuring that the rights of EU citizens in the UK continue
    • Avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
    • Settling the UK financial bills with the bloc, estimated to be as much as €60bn (£51bn; $64bn)

    Speaking at the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not mention Brexit directly, but said the EU must guarantee the prosperity and security of its citizens or risk them turning away.

    More European reaction

    Read more »
  • Risky surgery separates 10-month-old from parasitic twin

    (CNN)It was late January when Nancy Swabb found herself wanting to help a family across the Atlantic Ocean, in Cote d'Ivoire -- all because of a photo.

    A friend had shared a post on Facebook about the need for a host family for a 9-month-old girl for two months while she received medical care in Park Ridge, Illinois. The post came from Children's Medical Mission West, a nonprofit that helps transport children around the world to receive free medical care for rare conditions and issues.
    Swabb saw a photo of baby Dominique on her mother's lap. "That photo really captured my heart," Swabb said. "She looked so sweet."
     
     
    The nonprofit has asked CNN not to include Dominique's last name for privacy reasons.
    Dominique and her birth mother.
     
    Dominique had a twin, but she never fully developed, instead fusing with her in the womb. She was born with what is known as a parasitic twin, where the underdeveloped twin formed incompletely and was entirely dependent on Dominique's body.
    She was born with her parasitic twin's waist, legs and feet growing out of her back. Dominique was also born with two spines that were closely connected. Cases of parasitic twins are so rare that most of them are known by the names of the patients.
    Dr. John Ruge examines Dominique's extra limbs.
     
    Without surgery to remove the parasitic twin, Dominique's life would not be a very long one. Her tiny heart and lungs were working to support the equivalent of two bodies. The mass of kicking legs attached to her neck and back would continue to grow, causing deformity, abnormal forces on the spine and a life of pain, doctors said.
    But the complicated surgery would have to be done at a hospital equipped to handle the risks, and Dominique would need a foster family to help her get through it.

    A part of the family

    Swabb, a native Chicagoan, realized that the Park Ridge, Illinois address belonged to Advocate Children's Hospital, only about 7 miles from her family's home. She and her husband, Tim, knew they could help and reached out.
    They went through a vetting process and confirmed that they would be able to take Dominique to all of her appointments at the hospital, which had been scheduled through the organization.
    Children's Medical Mission West had raised funds for Dominique's flight, in which she would be escorted by a flight attendant who donated her time.
    But the family, which has two adopted daughters -- Lena, 15, and Mara, 9 -- realized they still needed to make ready for Dominique's arrival.
    Swabb, a special events coordinator, asked her neighbors in the family-filled Edgebrook community whether they could borrow anything for the baby they would be fostering. Within two days, a pile taller than Swabb herself filled the house. Neighbors eagerly donated packages of diapers, formula, wipes, clothes, a stroller, a car seat and a playpen. Mara and her friends organized all of the items in the family's basement to make them easily accessible.
    Nancy's 9-year-old daughter, Mara, bonded with Dominique almost instantly.
     
    Baby Dominique arrived to a warm reception three days later, on February 5.
    Swabb's daughters were thrilled to have a new baby in the house. Mara seemed to bond with Dominique almost instantly, and they enjoyed making each other laugh.
    "Baby Dominique is so affectionate and receives love so well, so we knew right away that she comes from a loving family," Swabb said. "She's bubbly, funny, spirited, full of smiles, and has the brightest, happy eyes."
    Swabb's daily walks with Dominique in the stroller stretched to an hour as neighbors stopped to greet the baby they had helped welcome.
    The neighbors offered to watch her so Swabb could get things done around the house. Their home became open to visitors. Even her cousin's teenage sons enjoyed playing peekaboo and making silly faces just to make Dominique laugh.
    "She has become the community baby, and everyone has been really interested in her story," Swabb said.
    Baby Dominique in the hospital.
     

    A complex surgery

    Even before her surgery on March 8, baby Dominique spent hours in the hospital, undergoing tests and preparation. Doctors at Advocate Children's Hospital ordered an MRI, an MRA, a CAT scan, X-rays and a CT myelogram to analyze the anatomy of the the parasitic twin and how it connected.
    Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. John Ruge examines Baby Dominique prior to surgery
     
    They used the scans and imaging to create a 3-D model of Dominique's two spines. They also discovered a second bladder behind the extra limbs that would need to be removed.
    Dr. John Ruge, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Advocate, had worked with Children's Medical Missions West before. He constructed a team of five surgeons and more than 50 physicians spanning specialties across the hospital to remove the excess limbs.
    Pediatric plastic/reconstructive surgeon Dr. Frank Vicari shows the operating room team the model of Dominque's spine created for this complicated procedure.
     
    "It allowed us to come up with a plan of attack how we could safely and effectively remove this very complex part attached to this little baby's spine and end up with a healthy and happy child at the end of the day," said Dr. Frank Vicari, a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Adovcate who has operated with Ruge for years.
    The team staged a mock operation to figure out who would be doing what at specific parts of the procedure.
    On March 8, the team worked for six hours to remove the entirety of the parasitic twin. They had to be careful to disconnect any nerves and blood vessels so that Dominique wouldn't sustain damage, numbness or paralysis.
    Through extensive planning, they were even able to remove it all in one piece. She is now 2 pounds lighter.
    Post-surgery, Dominique experiences swelling that will dissipate over time. She was discharged from the hospital only five days after surgery.
     
    All that remains is part of an abnormal bone that stabilizes Dominique's spinal column. They used soft tissue from the twin's thigh to cover the area.
    Baby Dominique exceeded their expectations at every turn. She recovered so well that she was sitting up the next day and sticking her tongue out. She went home in five days, and the doctors do not foresee any complications or need for followup surgery.
    Dominique still has two spines. They are hers alone. They are so intertwined that the doctors aren't entirely sure which spine her structural support and bodily functions rely on. To look at an X-ray, Dominique has one brain connected to one spinal cord that diverges into two, each going into a spinal column.
    The doctors were not able to find a comparable case to Dominique. She is unique, they said.
    They don't anticipate that having the two spines will affect her.
    "Like any child, she needs to be cared for and watched for developmental issues," Ruge said. "She has slightly more risk because she is built slightly more different than other children. But she looks great. We had 100 worries before surgery, and risks were high, so we're pleased with how she's doing."
    The team at Advocate Children's Hospital combined neurosurgeons, plastic and craniofacial surgeons, pediatric orthopedics, anesthesiologists, nephrologists, radiologists, the Pediatic Intensive Care Unit, physician assistants, nursing staff, therapists and many others to make baby Dominique's surgery a success -- with no surprises.
    Foster mom Nancy Swabb, visits with Dominique after her surgery.
     
    "One of the joys of being a physicians is taking a challenging case, working with a team of talented people where each of us contributes something and having that be better than any one individual can do," Ruge said. "Everyone had their whole heart in this."
    Swabb's family will continue to foster Dominique until mid-April, when she can be medically cleared to reunite with her birth family in Cote d'Ivoire. In the meantime, Swabb has been sharing photos and updates with Children's Medical Missions West, which translates them into French to communicate with her family across the ocean.
    Swabb hopes the two families can meet one day. She already feels a bond with Dominique's birth mother, created by the trust she was willing to place in a stranger to care for her baby.
    In the time Dominique has been with the Swabbs, her first two teeth have come in, she saw snow for the first time, and she started eating solid food and sleeps through the night. Swabb can't wait for her to experience more firsts with her family in Cote d'Ivoire.
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    "I can't wait for her parents to see her," Swabb said. "To give love for a certain amount of time and have a connection with a family you've never met is so amazing. You have that trust in each other and do the best you can to give love and care and bring her back healthy and ready for a new life."
    Five days after surgery, Dominique smiles as she prepares to leave the hospital.
     
    Read more »
  • US and UK laptop bans on some Middle East flights come into effect

    A ban on laptops and tablets in cabin baggage on flights from Turkey and some countries in the Middle East and North Africa to the US and UK has come into effect.

    Officials say devices "larger than a smartphone" must travel in the hold because of an increased risk that they could contain explosives.

    At least one airline is allowing devices to be used up until boarding.

    The US ban covers eight countries, while the UK restrictions apply to six.

    Nine airlines from eight countries - Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - are affected by the US ban. They operate about 50 flights a day to the US.

    Laptop ban: What about the parents?

    Will new US and UK flight rules affect me?

    Somali plane bomb: What happened?

    UAE airline Emirates is offering complimentary packing and shipping services at gates to enable passengers to use their electronic devices after check-in and until boarding.

    That also means passengers flying on two-leg trips from other countries to the US through Dubai can use their laptops on the first leg of their flights.

    Map of affected countriesImage captionThe UK ban applies to direct inbound flights from six countries; the US ban lists eight countries

    The UK ban meanwhile affects all flights out of Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon.

    The British ban applies to any device, including smartphones, larger than 16cm (6.3in) long, 9.3cm (3.7in) wide or 1.5cm (0.6in) deep. However, most phones will be smaller than the limit.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged the US and UK to lift the bans as soon as possible.

    The US Department for Homeland Security has cited attacks on planes and airports over the past two years as the reason for the ban,

    Bombs, it said, had been hidden in such items as a soft drink can, used in the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt in October 2015 with the loss of 224 lives, and the laptop used in the unsuccessful Somali attack last year.

    European security experts are to meet next week to discuss the US and UK bans, the Guardian newspaper reported.

    Royal Jordanian Airlines has tweeted suggestions of things to do during a long flight instead of using an electronic device.

    tweetImage copyright@ROYALJORDANIAN

    It followed up with another tweet suggesting that passengers "do what we Jordanians do best - stare at each other!"

    Aviation experts say the ban could hit airline profits as risks include a fall in passenger numbers, decreasing customer satisfaction and higher costs linked to screening baggage.

    Read more »
  • Ukraine munitions blasts prompt mass evacuations

    Some 20,000 people are being evacuated after a series of explosions at a massive arms depot in eastern Ukraine described by officials as sabotage.

    The base in Balakliya, near Kharkiv, is around 100km (60 miles) from fighting against Russian-backed separatists.

    The dump is used to store thousands of tonnes of ammunition including missiles and artillery weapons.

    Rescue teams are overseeing a huge evacuation effort for people living in the city and nearby villages.

    The total area of the dump spans more than 350 hectares, the military says.

    Everyone within a 10km (6 miles) radius of the dump is being evacuated, the Interfax news agency quoted an aide to President Petro Poroshenko as saying.

    Munitions from the depot are used to supply military units in the conflict zone in nearby Luhansk and Donetsk, reports say.

    A huge cloud of smoke billows above the ammunition depot of the Ukrainian armed forces, near the city of Balakliya, (23 March 2017)Image copyrightEPAImage captionA huge cloud of smoke could be seen billowing above the ammunition depot of the Ukrainian armed forces on ThursdaySmoke from munitions dump in BalakliyaImage copyrightDSNSImage captionBy daylight smoke billowed across the sky in Balakliya

    The authorities are investigating various ways the explosions may have been caused, Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said, including the possibility of an explosive device being dropped from a drone.

    A new, bloody chapter

    Russia accused of terrorism and discrimination at ICJ

    Nationalist blockade threatens economy and severs ties with east

    Light shone on Ukrainian tragedy

    A drone was reported to have been used an earlier attempt to set the facility on fire in December 2015.

    Mr Poltorak said that there were no reports that civilians or serviceman had been killed or injured in the latest incident and that airspace had been closed within a 50km (31 miles) radius of Balakliya.

    More than 9,700 people have died in the conflict which erupted in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian rebels later launched an insurgency in the east.

    Map

    Read more »
  • London attack: American Kurt Cochran, from Utah, killed

    An American man has been named as one of the victims of Wednesday's deadly attack in London,

    Kurt Cochran, from Utah, died in the attack and his wife Melissa was seriously hurt, their family has said.

    They were celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary and also visiting Melissa's parents, who work on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission.

    They were struck when the attacker drove a car over Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament.

    So-called Islamic State has said it was behind the attack, which left four people dead, including the attacker.

    Eight people have so far been arrested.

    Read more »
  • Electronics banned on some US flights from Middle East

    The US has announced a ban on large electronic devices from cabin baggage on passenger flights from eight Muslim majority countries.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said extremists were seeking "innovative methods" to bring down jets.

    Bombs could be hidden in laptops, tablets, cameras, DVD players and electronic games, it said.

    The measure will affect nine airlines operating out of 10 airports.

    Large electronic devices will only be allowed on board in checked baggage. Phones are exempt from the new rules.

    Will the new US travel rules affect me?

    The nine airlines affected are:

    • Royal Jordanian
    • Egypt Air
    • Turkish Airlines
    • Saudi Arabian Airlines
    • Kuwait Airways
    • Royal Air Maroc
    • Qatar Airways
    • Emirates
    • Etihad Airways

    US officials said the airlines had been given 96 hours, beginning at 07:00 GMT on Tuesday, to ban devices bigger than a mobile phone or smartphone from cabins. They said the ban had no end date.

    Affected airports

    AFP news agency said passengers on some 50 flights a day from some of the busiest hubs in the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa would be required to follow the new rules.


    Why now? - Analysis from Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

    The restriction is based, we are told, on "evaluated intelligence". That means that US intelligence has either intercepted discussion of a possible extremist plot or has been passed word of one by a human informant.

    The Middle Eastern and North African airports affected are nearly all ones with close, friendly relations with Washington, so this will be seen by some as a drastic and unpopular measure. Wealthy Gulf Arab business leaders flying to the US, for example, will no longer be able to work on their laptops mid-flight.

    But aviation security experts were alarmed by an incident in Somalia last year when the insurgent group al-Shabaab smuggled an explosive-filled laptop on a flight out of Mogadishu, blowing a hole in the side of the plane. The aircraft was still low enough that the pilot was able to land the plane safely.


    In a statement, the DHS said: "The US government is concerned about terrorists' ongoing interest in targeting commercial aviation, including transportation hubs over the past two years, as evidenced by the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt; the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia; and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul.

    "Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items."

    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called members of Congress over the weekend to explain the security issues behind the ban, congressional aides said.

    The restrictions are said to have been under consideration for several weeks.

    Read more »
  • Happiness report: Norway is the happiest place on Earth

    .

    The World Happiness Report measures "subjective well-being" - how happy the people are, and why.

    Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and and Finland round out the top five, while the Central African Republic came last.

    Western Europe and North America dominated the top of table, with the US and UK at 14th and 19th, respectively.

    Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and those hit by conflict have predictably low scores. Syria placed 152 of 155 countries - Yemen and South Sudan, which are facing impending famine, came in at 146 and 147.

    The World Happiness Report was released to coincide with the United Nations' International Day of Happiness on 20 March.

    The world's happiest - and saddest - countries
    HappiestLeast happy
    1. Norway 146. Yemen
    2. Denmark 147. South Sudan
    3. Iceland 148. Liberia
    4. Switzerland 149. Guinea
    5. Finland 150. Togo
    6. Netherlands 151. Rwanda
    7. Canada 152. Syria
    8. New Zealand 153. Tanzania
    9. Australia 154. Burundi
    10. Sweden 155. Central African Republic

    It mainly relies on asking a simple, subjective question of more than 1,000 people every year in more than 150 countries.

    "Imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top," the question asks.

    "The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"

    The average result is the country's score - ranging from Norway's 7.54 to the Central African Republic's 2.69. But the report also tries to analyse statistics to explain why one country is happier than another.

    It looks at factors including economic strength (measured in GDP per capita), social support, life expectancy, freedom of choice, generosity, and perceived corruption.

    'America's crisis'

    This year's report also contains a chapter titled "restoring American happiness", which examines why happiness levels in the United States are falling, despite constantly-increasing economic improvement.

    "The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America's multi-faceted social crisis - rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust - rather than focusing exclusively or even mainly on economic growth," the authors said.

    "America's crisis is, in short, a social crisis, not an economic crisis."

    Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which published the report, said President Donald Trump's policies were likely to make things worse.

    "They are all aimed at increasing inequality - tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the healthcare rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction," he told Reuters.

    The report also suggests that professional "white collar" jobs are associated with improved happiness over "blue collar" roles - but that having a job at all is one of the biggest factors.

    And while "those in well-paying jobs are happier and more satisfied with their lives", that effect has diminishing returns - "an extra $100 of salary is worth much more to someone at the lower end of the income distribution than someone already earning much more."

    Read more »
  • China, Saudi Arabia agree to deepen cooperation

     

     

    BEIJING, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday that China is ready to work with Saudi Arabia on development strategies and production capacity.

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 17, 2017. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 17, 2017. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

    Li made the remarks when meeting with Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Beijing.

    China respects the right of all countries to choose their own development path according to their national conditions, he said.

    He said China is willing to work with Saudi Arabia to cement political mutual trust, explore new space for energy and high-tech cooperation, enhance coordination in international and regional affairs, so as to make new progress in the development of bilateral ties.

    Against the background of uncertainty and instability in the world political and economic situation, China will deepen cooperation with countries including Saudi Arabia to cope with all kinds of risks and challenges, safeguard world peace and security and promote development and cooperation, said the premier.

    King Salman lauded the long-term friendship and extensive consensus on practical cooperation between the two countries.

    Saudi Arabia is confident about future cooperation with China and will continue to give full play to the role of the high-level joint committee to enhance bilateral cooperation, said the king.

    He also called on the two sides to deal with the threats of terrorism and extremist forces, to safeguard regional and world peace and stability.

    Earlier Friday, Chinese top legislator Zhang Dejiang also met with King Salman at the Great Hall of the People.

    Zhang Dejiang (R), chairman of the Standing Committee of China

    Zhang Dejiang (R), chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, meets with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 17, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhang Duo)

     

     

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  • Car and bomb claim at White House sets off security alert

                                                                                                                                                                                   The Secret Service detained a man who drove up to a White House checkpoint late Saturday night and claimed to have a bomb in his vehicle, two law enforcement officials told CNN

    There was no confirmation on whether there was any device in the vehicle, but security at the White House was immediately upgraded. The vehicle is being checked, the officials said.
    The incident occurred at 11:05 p.m. at a security checkpoint, the Secret Service said. Four hours later, the checkpoint in question remained blocked, but streets re-opened, and bomb technicians and other additional security personnel left the area.
    The Secret Service described it as an "ongoing criminal investigation."
    At the time of the incident, President Donald Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he spends most of his weekends.
    Earlier Saturday, another person was arrested after jumping over a bicycle rack in front of the White House. The man, who never made it to the White House fence, was carrying a document he wanted to deliver to the White House and did not have a weapon, a law enforcement official said.
    The incidents come a week after a man breached the White House grounds — and was on the grounds for more than 15 minutes.
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