Armed US Drones to Start Flying Over Niger

The United States and Niger have reached an agreement permitting armed American military drones for use against jihadist terror groups in the African nation, a U.S. official told VOA.

The agreement, finalized this week, is a major expansion of U.S. military’s efforts to counter terrorism in Africa. It is unclear whether the drones will be used to carry out targeted strikes or solely as a defensive measure.

Until now, the U.S. has only been conducting airstrikes against terrorists on the continent operating inside Libya and Somalia. Officials say that arming drones based in Niger would expand the military’s ability to go after extremists in West Africa, where Nigeria-based Boko Haram, Algeria-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Islamic State fighters operate.

Pentagon spokeswoman Army Major Audricia Harris would not comment on the new permissions.

“The government of Niger and the U.S. stand firm in working together to prevent terrorist organizations from using the region as a safe haven. For operational security reasons, I will not comment on specific military authorities,” Harris told VOA.

The Pentagon has been trying to get the permission from the Nigerien government to arm drones long before a militant attack near the village of Tongo Tongo on October 4 killed four American soldiers, four Nigerien soldiers and a Nigerien interpreter.

A formal investigation into the deadly ambush in Niger is not expected to be completed until January, according to the U.S. military.

The military’s investigation team, led by Army Major Gen. Roger Cloutier, will travel to the U.S., Africa and Europe to collect information needed to determine what happened during the October 4 attack.

A group of 12 members of a U.S. Special Operations Task Force accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a reconnaissance mission from the capital, Niamey, to an area near Tongo Tongo.

Members of the team had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their vehicles when they were attacked, U.S. officials told VOA.

your ad here

Photo Exhibit Recaptures Bhutanese-Nepali Lost History

As refugees resettle in a new country, their identities are often lost in the transition. A photo exhibit in the U.S. Midwestern city of Columbus, Ohio, offers a small window into one local refugee community. VOA’s June Soh explored the exhibit that sheds light on the refugees’ brave journeys from Bhutan through refugee camps in Nepal before finally settling in central Ohio.

your ad here

House Panel Offers Overhaul to NSA Spy Program

The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said it had introduced a bill Wednesday to overhaul a National Security Agency surveillance program to better protect Americans’ privacy.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the NSA to collect vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States. The program incidentally gathers communications with Americans and the government can search them without a warrant.

Section 702

U.S. intelligence officials consider Section 702 among the most vital of tools at their disposal to thwart national security threats.

“This bill updates the rules on Section 702 and other collection by strengthening privacy protections and transparency without hindering the ability of our intelligence professionals to monitor terror suspects, analyze collected data and keep us safe,” the committee’s Republican chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, said in a statement introducing the bill.

The top Democrat on the panel, Representative Adam Schiff, said earlier Wednesday he had proposed a compromise that would let intelligence agencies query a database of information on Americans in national security cases without a warrant, but would require a warrant to use the information in other cases, such as those involving serious violent crime.

“This would prevent law enforcement from simply using the database as a vehicle to go fishing, but at the same time it would preserve the operational capabilities of the program,” Schiff told reporters.

Classified details of the program were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Congress must renew Section 702 in some form by Dec. 31 or the program will expire.

Deep divides

Schiff said he believed the compromise would be acceptable to many lawmakers, as well as the intelligence community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is similar to legislation backed by the House Judiciary Committee.

However, there are still deep divides in both the Senate and the House over what to do about Section 702, as lawmakers balance demands for privacy protections with spy agencies’ desire to preserve what they see as a valuable tool. There are different renewal proposals in the House and Senate.

It was unclear whether lawmakers will vote on a standalone 702 bill or whether it would be part of a broader bill, such as a spending measure Congress must pass next month to keep the government open.

your ad here

Wall of Love Urges Breaking Down Barriers

A “Wall of Love” composed of hundreds of handmade flower bouquets was outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. Floral gifting service Teleflora, which placed the wall, invited people to take and share the bouquets with family, friends or strangers. Once all the flowers are removed, the wall — which symbolizes barriers — will “disappear,” leaving behind the message: LOVE OUT LOUD. The company says the wall serves as a call to action for all Americans to forge meaningful connections while tearing down the walls that stand between us.

your ad here

Chicago Congressman Hints He’ll Run for President

U.S. Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, who has announced he will not seek re-election to Congress in 2018, said Wednesday he wanted to concentrate his energies “on the national level” and indicated he might be interested in a presidential run in 2020.

Fox News reported earlier Wednesday that Gutierrez was weighing such a bid. When asked by Reuters if he planned to run, Gutierrez, who has represented Chicago in the U.S. House of Representatives for the past quarter century, said he wanted to spend the first six months of 2018 touring the country “talking with as many people as possible.”

“Does it mean going to Iowa? I certainly hope so,” Gutierrez said in an interview.

Iowa traditionally holds the first Democratic and Republican party nominating contests for president. Candidates weighing presidential candidacies typically pay visits to the state well before they formally enter the race.

“But it also means going to California and visiting farm workers there and visiting with farm workers in Florida … and in Oregon and in Washington (state) and visiting with immigrant communities,” Gutierrez said.

“I’m not retiring. I want to change my focus. I want to take my energy on a national level,” he said. “I can tell you that very, very clearly.”

Republican President Donald Trump has expressed his intention to seek re-election in 2020. While incumbent presidents often are favored to win, Democrats see Trump as particularly vulnerable given his low approval ratings in opinion polls. That has spurred speculation that many candidates could weigh challenging him.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, for example, has signaled he may run.

Gutierrez, a 63-year-old lawmaker of Puerto Rican descent, has made immigration reform a signature issue. In August, he was arrested outside the White House while taking part in a protest against Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that protects young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

Gutierrez has sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

‘Not talking to DNC’

Gutierrez said he would explore possible campaign fundraising efforts. Although he would run as a Democrat, he would not seek the blessing of the Democratic Party establishment.

“I’m not talking to DNC (Democratic National Committee) officials. I’m not going to talk to anybody within the Democratic Party structures because what I want to do is create a party structure independent of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Regardless of whether he seeks the White House, Gutierrez said he wanted to play a big role in 2020 helping to encourage voting and political activism among Hispanics, a growing demographic group that leans strongly Democratic.

When it became known that he was retiring from Congress, there was speculation Gutierrez might be planning a run for governor of Puerto Rico.

On Wednesday, Gutierrez rejected the idea. 

“If it was president of the Republic of Puerto Rico, it would certainly be different,” said Gutierrez, who favors independence for the U.S. territory.

your ad here

France’s Macron to Give Saudi Arabia Extremist List

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would draw up a list of extremist organizations to convey to Saudi Arabia after its crown prince pledged to cut their funding.

Saudi Arabia finances groups overseen by the Mecca-based Muslim World League, which for decades was charged with spreading the strict Wahhabi school of Islam around the world.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to modernize the kingdom and cleave to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

“He never did it publicly, but when I went to Riyadh (this  month), he made a commitment, such that we could give him a list and he would cut the financing,” Macron said during an interview with France 24 television.

“I believe him, but I will follow up. Trust is built on results,” Macron added.

The crown prince has already taken some steps to loosen Saudi Arabia’s ultra-strict social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious morality police, permitting public concerts and announcing plans to allow women to drive next year.

The head of the Muslim World League told Reuters last week that his focus now was aimed at annihilating extremist ideology.

“We must wipe out this extremist thinking through the work we do. We need to annihilate religious severity and extremism which is the entry point to terrorism,” Mohammed al-Issa said in an interview.

Macron, speaking from Abidjan, said he had also sought commitments to cut financing of extremist groups from Qatar, Iran and Turkey.

The French leader will make a quick trip to Doha on Dec. 7, where he will discuss regional ties and could sign military and transport deals, including the sale of 12 more Rafale fighter jets.

Qatar has improved its ties with Iran since Saudi Arabia and other Arab states boycotted it over alleged ties to Islamist groups and its relations with Tehran.

Macron said he still intended to travel to Iran next year, but wanted to ensure there was a discussion and strategic accord over its ballistic missile program and its destabilization activities in several regional countries.


your ad here

Opposition Leader to Become Iceland’s Prime Minister

Iceland’s opposition leader Katrin Jakobsdóttir will become the country’s new prime minister, after her Left-Green Movement on Wednesday agreed to form a coalition government, state broadcaster RUV reported.

Her party, which emerged as the second biggest party in snap parliamentary elections Oct. 28, entered coalition talks with the Independence Party, the main partner in the current government coalition, and the Progressive Party two weeks ago.

Current Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson of the right-wing Independence Party called the snap election in September, after less than a year in government, as a scandal involving his father prompted a government ally to drop out of his ruling coalition.

Economic rebound

The Nordic island of 340,000 people, one of the countries hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis, has staged a remarkable economic rebound spurred by a tourism boom.

The formation of a broad coalition government could bring an end to political instability triggered by a string of scandals.

The previous snap election took place late in 2016, after the Panama Papers revelations showed several government figures involved in an offshore tax haven scandal.

Coalition criticized

Still, some Left-Green members and voters have criticized the party’s plan to enter a coalition with Benediktsson and his Independence Party.

Two of Left-Green’s mandates did not support the new coalition, giving the three parties a total of 33 of parliament’s 63 seats.

Jakobsdóttir, 41, campaigned on a platform of restoring trust in government and leveraging an economic boom to increase public spending.

She failed to form a left-leaning government earlier this month, but said on election night she was open to forming a broad-based government.

While both the Left-Greens and the Independence Party parties agree that investment is needed in areas like welfare, infrastructure and tourism, they disagree over how it should be financed.

The Left-Greens want to finance spending by raising taxes on the wealthy, real estate and the powerful fishing industry, while the Independence Party has said it wants to fund infrastructure spending by taking money out of the banking sector.

Benediktsson will become finance minister in the new government.

your ad here

Turkish Businessman Describes $50M Bribe at Sanctions Trial

A Turkish-Iranian gold trader testified at a New York trial Wednesday that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s economy minister in 2012 to overcome a banker’s fears he was too well-known in Turkey to launder Iranian money in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Reza Zarrab calmly described his arrangement with one of Turkey’s most important public officials as he began what will be several days on the witness stand at the trial of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged in a conspiracy that involved bribes and kickbacks to high-level officials.

In a conversation about shady transactions involving suitcases stuffed with gold, the economy minister, Zafer Caglayan, “asked about the profit margin,” Zarrab testified. “And he said, ‘I can broker this.’ ”

Zarrab’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate with U.S. investigators — revealed Tuesday on the trial’s first day — was a surprise twist in the trial. The prosecution seemed in jeopardy just months earlier after Zarrab tried to free himself by hiring prominent and politically connected American attorneys to try to arrange a prisoner transfer between Turkey and the United States. The effort by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey failed.

Prisoner’s outfit

The government’s star witness appeared before jurors Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan wearing tan prisoner scrubs, even though he testified he was released from jail two weeks ago and into FBI custody. At the end of the day with the jury gone, the judge asked Zarrab why he was wearing the outfit, telling prosecutors he would sign an order allowing him to wear civilian clothes if he wanted.

Once Zarrab, 34, was on the stand, prosecutors wasted no time in getting him to name names and muddy reputations in the banking industry and in government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju elicited details of what the United States has said was a well-orchestrated conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and enable $1 billion in Iranian oil proceeds to move through international banking markets.

Zarrab said he ran into resistance from a Halkbank executive when he approached the Turkish government-owned bank in late 2011 or early 2012 to try to gain access to Iranian money through trades in gold. The executive, he said, feared that Zarrab’s marriage to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes made him “too popular” to make the trades.

“I was a person who was in the public eye all of the time,” he said.

Undeterred, Zarrab said he met with Caglayan, who was economy minister when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister. Caglayan told him he would smooth the way for gold trades, but only if he got half the profits, which he said ended up totaling more than $50 million.

Diagrams drawn

At one point, Zarrab drew diagrams for the jury to illustrate the elaborate web of transactions used to beat the economic sanctions and make him a fortune as the middleman.

The tactics included using Iranian proceeds from gas and oil sales to Turkey to buy gold, having couriers carry the gold in suitcases to Dubai, converting it back into cash that was deposited in a front company account, and laundering the money with multiple bank transfers, including some through the United States.

Zarrab testified that the sanction-evasion scheme was done in consultation with Atilla, a 47-year-old former deputy CEO of Halkbank who has pleaded not guilty. A lawyer for Atilla attacked Zarrab’s credibility Tuesday during opening statements, saying the trial is about Zarrab’s crimes.

Caglayan is indicted in the U.S. case. The indictment describes his alleged role in the gold-transfer scheme and in another scheme in which he and other Turkish government officials supposedly approved of and directed the movement of Iranian oil proceeds by claiming they were connected to the sale of food and medicine to Iran from Dubai.

Erdogan has called on American authorities to “review” the decision to indict Caglayan, saying the former minister had not engaged in any wrongdoing because Turkey had not imposed sanctions on Iran, an important trade partner.

The prosecution of Zarrab has been major news in Turkey, where Erdogan has repeatedly asked the U.S. to release him and more recently portrayed the U.S. case as a sham.

your ad here

Russian Network RT Loses US Capitol Hill Credentials

Broadcast reporters for Russian state-funded TV channel RT will no longer be able to report daily from the U.S. Capitol.

A committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists has withdrawn credentials for RT after the company complied earlier this month with a U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law applies to people or companies disseminating information in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, political parties and other “foreign principals.”

The action also comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents, an act seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation for the Trump administration decision on RT. The new rules require disclosures to the Russian government and are seen as stigmatizing the news outlets as promoters of American propaganda.


In Washington, C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan informed RT that its credentials were being withdrawn after a unanimous vote of the executive committee of the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.

Caplan, the chairman of that committee, wrote that gallery rules “state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed by ‘any foreign government or representative thereof.’ ” He said the FARA registration made the network ineligible to hold news credentials, and their withdrawal is effective immediately.

Many news outlets with ties to foreign governments are required to similarly register. English-language newspaper China Daily is registered due to its affiliation with the Chinese government, for example. But the pressure on RT has angered Russian officials, who have said they will retaliate with restrictions on U.S. news outlets.

The letter was sent to Mikhail Solodovnikov of RT’s U.S.-based production company, T & R Productions. RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged RT served as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin as part of a multi-pronged effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering.


your ad here

Togo Opposition Parties Vow to Keep Up Pressure on President

Togo’s opposition parties pledged Wednesday to maintain the momentum of anti-government protests, as thousands took to the streets once more ahead of promised talks with the president.

The leader of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), Jean-Pierre Fabre, led the crowds in the capital but similar protests were banned on security grounds in the north.

“Mobilization will continue, even during talks. We are not going to give up the fight,” Fabre told AFP.

A source in Togo’s second-largest city of Sokode — the stronghold of Tikpi Atchadam, the Panafrican National Party leader behind the demonstrations — said the streets were calm.

Many young people who had fled into the countryside fearing repercussions have not yet returned home, the source said, adding that sporadic arrests were still occurring.

Wednesday’s march was the first of three planned for this week to put pressure on Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe to resign.

Gnassingbe has been president of the West African nation since 2005, taking over after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years.

Fourteen opposition parties want two-term limits for presidents which would be applied retroactively to prevent Gnassingbe from contesting the 2020 and 2025 elections.

At least 16 people have been killed in three months of protests after opposition supporters clashed with police and security forces, especially in the north.

Gnassingbe — who left for an Africa-Europe summit in Ivory Coast on Wednesday morning — said last week that preparations were being made for talks with the opposition in the coming weeks.

But demonstrators said they wanted the issue addressed at the summit.

“I would like the heads of state and France in particular to get involved personally and speak face-to-face with Faure Gnassingbe,” said Abla, a student in Lome.

No meeting has been scheduled so far between Gnassingbe and President Emmanuel Macron, from Togo’s former colonial power, France.

Franck Paris, a spokesman for Macron’s office, said last week that “Togo will be an important subject of talks on the ground.”

Macron, in an interview Wednesday with France 24 television and Radio France Internationale (RFI), said he hoped Togo’s citizens “could express themselves freely.”

“I hope there can be an electoral process … which allows either a democratic confirmation or transition of power,” Macron said.

“Keeping power for a long period of time without any electoral processes, without a framework of pluralism, is not a good thing.”

your ad here

US, Britain, France Accused of Snubbing Anti-nuclear Nobel Prize

The anti-nuclear group which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize accused the United States, Britain and France on Wednesday of snubbing its disarmament work by

planning to send only second-rank diplomats to the award ceremony next month.

“It’s some kind of protest against the Nobel Peace Prize,” Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told Reuters of a plan by the three nations to send only deputy chiefs of mission.

“They like their nuclear weapons very much and don’t like it when we try to ban them,” she said, accusing the three of wrongly opposing ICAN’s work “when North Korea and the United States are exchanging threats to use nuclear weapons”.

The annual December 10 Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo, attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, is the highlight of the diplomatic calendar in Norway. The prize comprises a diploma, a gold medal and a check for $1.1 million.

Olav Njoelstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, confirmed the three nations would send only deputies. He said the awards committee always preferred to see chiefs of mission.

“That being said, we are neither surprised nor offended by the fact that sometime foreign governments prefer to stay away from the ceremony in protest or, as in this case, because they prefer to be represented by their deputy chiefs of mission,” he told Reuters.

“The Nobel Peace Prize is, after all, a political prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee takes notice of the joint decision of the British, French and U.S. embassies,” he said.

The British embassy confirmed it was sending a deputy ambassador and said in a statement “the U.K. is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We share this goal with our partners across the international community including U.S. and France.”

The U.S. and French embassies were not immediately available for comment. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Kenneth Braithwaite to the post of ambassador in Oslo, currently held by an acting ambassador.

ICAN, a coalition of grassroots non-government organizations in more than 100 nations, campaigned successfully for a U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 nations in July this year.

But the agreement is not signed by – and would not apply to – any of the states that already have nuclear arms, which include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.

It was not clear whether other nuclear powers would send Oslo ambassadors to the Nobel ceremony.

The absence of ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France “is disappointing but at the same time we are focused on getting a majority of states in the world to join this treaty,” Fihn said.

She said the three nuclear states were exerting pressure on other nations “not to engage in this treaty.”


your ad here

EU’s Tusk: Africa, EU Must Cooperate to End ‘Horrifying’ Migrant Abuses

Europe and Africa have joint responsibility for making migration more humane and orderly so they can end horrifying abuses being committed against African migrants by people smugglers, European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at a two-day Africa-European Union summit that was meant to focus on development and investment in youth, but had inevitably been overshadowed by the migrant crisis.

Reports this month of white Libyan slave traders selling black African migrants at markets in Libya – a grim echo of the trans-Saharan slave trade in centuries past – have drawn worldwide horror.

The outcry threatened to put migration to the top of the summit agenda and shine a light on a thorny issue for European leaders faced with a surge in far-right, anti-immigration parties at home.

“It is clear that migration is a joint responsibility. It is in all our interests to have orderly migration that is more controlled, more humane and sustainable,” Tusk said in his opening remarks.

“The recent reports about the treatment of Africans – especially young people – by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying,” he said, adding that 5,000 migrants had drowned in the Mediterranean last year.

Soon after CNN aired grainy images from Libya this month appearing to show migrants being sold as slaves, African governments began recalling diplomats from Tripoli.

Protests erupted in France, Senegal and Benin. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called for Libyan slave traders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

“Let’s work together to bring more humane solutions to this migration crisis that taints relations between the North and the South,” said Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, the chairman of the African Union.

Libya has promised to investigate the reports, but many African citizens also blame European policies for abuses along the migrant trail.

“The worst we can do is to start the blame game. What we need now are common solutions and stronger cooperation to save lives, protect people,” Tusk said. “Our common duty is to step up the fight against these unscrupulous criminals.”

But European leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who head the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU – are hamstrung by electorates that are increasingly anti-immigration.

Despite pressure at home, Merkel on Wednesday highlighted the need to create legal avenues for migration.

However, Gunter Nooke, her special envoy for Africa, later  told Reuters that alone would not solve the problem. “There wetalk about thousands, tens of thousands. But with (illegal) migration we talk about millions.”

He added that no country is going to allow hundreds of thousands of students in from developing nations unless they can be sure most will go back within four years, which he said rarely happened.

In a joint statement, the United Nations, African Union and European Union announced the creation of a joint task force “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya,” and to speed up returning migrants to countries of origin.

European and African leaders met late on Wednesday to discuss the reports of slavery in Libya and the migrant crisis.

“We must not only denounce it, we must act, by collectively attacking these smuggling networks,” Macron, who has called the abuses in Libya a crime against humanity, said at the meeting.  “We are going to … to carry out targeted sanctions.”

your ad here

US Trial Threatens Funding for Turkey’s Dollar-dependent Banks

Turkey’s deteriorating finances are hurting the country’s banks whose reliance on dollar funding makes them vulnerable to the worst-case scenario: a sudden halt or reversal of foreign investment flows.

International investors are growing nervous about Turkey for a variety of reasons. But U.S. legal action against a number of Turkish individuals over alleged Iran sanctions busting – and the risk that some of the country’s banks might be sucked into the case – lies at the heart of the latest concerns.

Since Turkey’s financial crisis in 2000, its banks have earned a reputation as being among the best-run in emerging markets, holding capital reserves far above those required by global rules.

They are still borrowing funds on international markets for lending on to domestic clients, and executives say they do not expect any significant future difficulties.

Nevertheless, borrowing costs are rising for the banks, which have accumulated dollar debt piles equal to a third of Turkey’s total foreign debt. Bank shares are down 20 percent since mid-August, outstripping a 5 percent fall on the broader Istanbul index in this period.

The lira has fallen more than 10 percent against the dollar and euro in the past three months alone, clocking losses of over 50 percent since the end of 2012 .

Several factors are at work, including fears that Turkey’s credit rating might be downgraded, government resistance to higher interest rates despite double-digit inflation, and tensions between Ankara and NATO ally Washington.

Now a Turkish-Iranian gold trader on trial in New York has pleaded guilty to conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and will testify against a Turkish bank official charged with arranging illegal transactions involving American lenders.

Any possibility that Turkish banks themselves might become involved, landing the kind of huge fines slapped on others for sanctions-busting, would have severe consequences for the lenders and the wider economy.

“If [fines] do materialize, I would assume that all lending would stop until it becomes clear if institutions around the world can lend to Turkish banks or not,” said Alaa Bushehri, an emerging debt portfolio manager at BNP Paribas Asset Management.

Turkey’s bank regulator and government officials have denied reports in Haberturk newspaper that six unnamed Turkish banks could face fines worth billions of dollars.

But Turkish banks’ dollar bonds generally reflect investors’ nervousness, Bushehri said. On average, yields are 100 basis points above sovereign debt, whereas most big Turkish non-bank firms have lower funding costs than the government, she noted.

Turkish banks also trade with higher yields than similarly-or worse-rated banks in Russia, an emerging market peer which is directly subject to Western sanctions.

Adverse implications

U.S. prosecutors have charged nine people in the case, including the deputy general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank, who is also on trial in New York. He denies all charges.

A former Turkish economy minister is among the defendants, although he is not currently on trial and likewise denies all charges. Ankara says the case is politically motivated, while Halkbank has said all of its transactions have fully complied with national and international regulations.

“If the trial were to end with fines on Turkish lenders, economic implications for Turkey could be highly adverse,” TD Securities said in a note to clients.

Inflation hit a 9-year high of 11.9 percent in October, while Turkish bond yields have reached record levels above 13 percent. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said on Wednesday an insufficient response by the central bank would be an immediate concern for Turkey’s sovereign debt rating.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek has promised the government will do whatever is necessary if its banks are hit by the U.S. trial but Mehmet Emin Ozcan, CEO of state-owned Vakifbank, expects no negative impact.

“We didn’t face any problem with borrowing from international markets and I don’t think we’ll have a problem in the future,” he said this week.

Still, investors’ fears persist. While international sanctions on Iran were eased last year, U.S. measures remain and penalties for any infringements can be devastating – as a $9 billion fine on French bank BNP Paribas last year attests.

The potential damage of any fines on Turkish bank reserves has exaggerated the lira’s weakness, compounding the problems of the banks which have about $172 billion in external debt, according to Fitch ratings agency. Of this, $96 billion is due within the next year, the data showed at the end of September.

Health and growth

The issue is central to Turkey’s economic health and growth.

As in other countries with low domestic savings, it relies on foreign borrowing, with banks acting as the conduit for a major part of the flows. Any stop in the financing could wreak havoc.

Turkish banks have average capital ratios that are double the 8 percent minimum stipulated by Basel 3 global banking rules. Also, the lira’s depreciation should not compromise their ability to repay dollar debt as the regulator does not permit lenders to hold open, or unhedged, hard currency liabilities.

Fitch reckons banks can, if needed, access up to $90 billion over 12 months by tapping reserves they hold at the central bank and by unwinding currency derivatives positions. But a prolonged funding crunch will be a different story.

That would risk “pressures on foreign currency reserves, the exchange rate, interest rates and economic growth”, Fitch warns.

That’s because the lenders’ capital buffers held with the central bank – totaling just over $60 billion – are a major part of authorities’ $117 billion reserve war chest, and any depletion of this would leave the lira dangerously exposed.

“Usable” reserves – excluding gold and bank reserves – are around $35 billion, analysts estimate. That means the central bank will have no option but to raise interest rates sharply to counter any lira selloff, with damaging consequences for economic growth.

So far, the banks have avoided refinancing stress; Turkish lending is lucrative for European banks which may be unwilling to risk those long-standing ties.

Indeed, external debt rose around $9 billion in the first half of 2017, Fitch data showed, while Garanti Bank last week announced a $1.35 billion syndicated loan, with 38 banks participating.

But costs are rising – Garanti paid 1.25 percent above LIBOR on a one-year loan, while in 2016 and 2015 it paid 1.10 percent and 0.75 percent above LIBOR respectively.

Huseyin Aydin, chairman of the Banks Association of Turkey, told Reuters he had not observed any low appetite for taking Turkish risk. However, he added: “Foreign borrowing interest rates increased around 50-60 basis points in a tough year like 2017. It is possible that a limited increase will continue in

rates in 2018.”

Paul McNamara, investment director at GAM, has been among those who have warned for some time of trouble. He said he has sold all his Turkish debt because of the banks’ vulnerability.

“Local banks have borrowed an immense amount – north of $100 billion – abroad and lent that money on locally,” he said. “Any stress on Turkish bank syndications and this goes bad very fast.”


your ad here

Burning Chilies Drive Elephants Away from African Farmers’ Crops

Burning bricks made of dry chili, dung and water could stop endangered elephants raiding crops in Africa and Asia, reducing conflicts with farmers trying to secure harvests to feed their families, experts said Wednesday.

Resin from crushed dry chilies irritates elephants’ trunks, acting as a repellent, said a study in northern Botswana, published in the journal Oryx.

“This is an excellent non-lethal and low-cost opportunity for local farmers to keep elephants away from their crops,” Rocio Pozo, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.

The findings could help to protect elephants, whose population in Africa has plummeted in the last decade due to ivory poaching.

Lines of chilies could be used to separate farms from elephant paths, teaching the animals which routes were safe to use, said Anna Songhurst, director of the Botswana-based Ecoexist and co-author of the study.

Botswana has the largest population of African elephants, and in the eastern Okavango Panhandle, where Ecoexist works, an equal number of animals and humans — 15,000 of each — compete over water, food and land.

“For an individual farmer, their whole year’s supply of food for the whole family could be destroyed in just one night,” Songhurst told Reuters by phone.

The study is part of a wider strategy to reduce human-elephant conflicts, including providing food security for the animals as well as humans, she added.

your ad here

Insecticide Resistance Spreads in Africa, Threatens Malaria Progress

The largest genetic study of mosquitoes has found their ability to resist insecticides is evolving rapidly and spreading across Africa, putting millions of people at higher risk of contracting malaria.

British scientists who led the work said mosquitoes’ growing resistance to control tools such as insecticide-treated bed nets and insecticide spraying, which have helped cut malaria cases since 2000, now threatens “to derail malaria control” in Africa.

“Our study highlights the severe challenges facing public efforts to control mosquitoes and to manage and limit insecticide resistance,” said Martin Donnelly of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who worked on the study with a team from Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Latest World Health Organization (WHO) data show that 216 million people were infected last year with the malaria parasite, which is transmitted by blood-sucking Anopheles mosquitoes.

The disease killed 445,000 people in 2016, the majority of them children in sub-Saharan Africa.

To understand how mosquitoes are evolving, the researchers sequenced the DNA of 765 wild Anopheles mosquitoes taken from 15 locations across eight African countries. Their work, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, created the largest data resource on natural genetic variation for any species of insect.

Analyzing the data, the scientists found that the Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes were extremely genetically diverse compared with most other animal species. This high genetic diversity enables rapid evolution, they said, and helps to explain how mosquitoes develop insecticide resistance so quickly.

The genome data also showed the rapid evolution insecticide resistance appeared to be due to many previously unknown genetic variants within certain genes. The scientists said these genetic variants for insecticide resistance were not only emerging independently in different parts of Africa, but were also being spread across the continent by mosquito migration.

Michael Chew, an infection and immunobiology expert at Britain’s Wellcome Trust global health charity which helped fund the research, said the findings underlined the importance of pushing scientific research ahead to tackle malaria.

“This species is a major transmitter of malaria and the unexpectedly high genetic diversity found by scientists poses fresh questions for those in malaria research and control programs,” he said in a statement.

“Global efforts to tackle malaria through effective vaccines, insecticides and the best drug combinations require urgent, united action by scientists, drug companies, governments and the WHO.”

your ad here

Trump Retweets Videos Critical of Muslims

President Donald Trump is retweeting a series of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British politician.


Trump sent the Twitter messages Wednesday morning. The videos were first posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First.


The descriptions read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”




Trump has sought to ban immigrants from certain Muslim-majority nations.


your ad here