Turkish leader says flight to Syria carried ammunition

Turkish leader says flight to Syria carried ammunitionBEIRUT -- A Syrian plane intercepted and forced to land in Turkey was carrying Russian ammunition as well as previously reported military communications equipment, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Thursday.

The passenger plane, which was coming from Moscow, was held on the ground for several hours Wednesday as Turkish authorities searched the plane and seized 10 boxes before allowing the flight to continue to Damascus, the Syrian capital. Its cargo apparently was destined for Syria as well.

Erdogan said Turkey was still examining the equipment, the Associated Press reported.

Syria has denied the plane, a Syrian Air Airbus A320, was carrying any weapons or prohibited goods.

Turkey said it had intercepted the plane based on national and international rules and regulations.

"The cargo was not suitable for a civil plane under international rules and regulations,” said Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, the official Anadolu news agency reported. "An air space must be utilized for peaceful purposes. Otherwise, we will use our rights stemming from national and international laws. We used the rights on Wednesday and will use them in the future whenever necessary.”

The incident comes amid increasing tension between the two countries as Turkey has traded mortar fire with Syria in recent days, a week after a Syrian shell killed five people across the border. Turkey’s top military commander warned Wednesday that his country would respond forcefully to any further shelling of its territory.


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Turkish media: Syria-bound jet had military communications gear

--Times staff writer

Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press

Turkish media: Syria-bound jet had military communications gear


BEIRUT -- Turkish state media reported Thursday that a Syrian passenger plane intercepted and forced to land in Turkey was carrying military communications equipment.

The plane, en route from Moscow to Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday night, was searched for five hours at the airport in the Turkish capital of Ankara and officials found 10 sealed boxes addressed to the Syrian Defense Ministry, Turkish television TRT reported. After confiscating the boxes, the plane and its 37 passengers and crew were allowed to continue on to Damascus.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the plane’s cargo did not include any weapons or prohibited goods, Syrian state media reported. It added that all of the cargo had been registered on the flight manifest.

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Syrian Arab Airlines director Ghaida Abdullatif told Syrian state media that Turkish authorities assaulted the plane’s crew members when they refused to sign a document saying that the plane made an emergency landing.

The incident comes amid increasing tension between the two countries as Turkey has traded mortar and artillery fire with Syria in recent days, a week after a Syrian shell killed five people across the border. Turkey’s top military commander warned Wednesday that his country would respond forcefully to any further shelling of its territory.

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Russian court frees one member of punk band on appeal

MOSCOW — A Russian court on Wednesday unexpectedly freed one of three female punk rockers imprisoned for their protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule, but left her companions behind bars.

The women had been sentenced in August to two years in prison for an act defined as hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing an anti-Putin “punk prayer” at Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. The verdict has drawn criticism from human rights groups and others in Russia and abroad.

Hearing their appeal on Wednesday, the Moscow City Court suspended the sentence of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, the oldest of the group, who had changed her legal team and line of defense and argued that she should be treated differently than her fellow defendants.

During the protest, Samutsevich had been stopped by a guard before she could join the other women near the altar and did not take part in the song and dance there. While expressing solidarity with the other defendants, she told the court: “I think that if I am to be held responsible, it should be only for the actions I committed.” 

Her colleagues, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, continued to defy the authorities and refused to repent, a demand of Orthodox Christian leaders who said they were otherwise willing to forgive the performance.

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Georgia President Saakashvili concedes election defeat

Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister
TBILISI, Georgia -- Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western president of Georgia faced with increasing protests among his people, conceded defeat Tuesday after preliminary election returns showed the opposition had won control of parliament and the right to name a powerful new prime minister.

In a televised address, the 44-year-old leader acknowledged that the Georgian Dream coalition led by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili had won, and said his own United National Movement would become the opposition.

"You know well that the views of this coalition were and still remain fundamentally unacceptable for me," he said, "but democracy works in a way that allows the Georgian people to make a decision by a majority."

With nearly half the ballots counted by Tuesday afternoon, the Central Election Commission reported that Georgian Dream had 54.1% of the vote to 41% for Saakashvili's movement.

Ivanishvili said Tuesday in televised remarks that after all the votes are counted, his coalition would most likely control at least 100 of the 150 seats in parliament. The tycoon said he would seek the post of prime minister and that the entire Cabinet would be replaced.

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Russia court bans anti-Islam film 'Innocence of Muslims'

MOSCOW -- A Moscow district court on Monday found a film that has triggered sometimes violent protests throughout the Muslim world to be offensive and banned its broadcast in Russia.

After viewing "Innocence of Muslims," Judge Yevgeny Komissarov agreed with prosecutor Viktoria Maslova, who told the court that “the movie negatively depicts the Muslim religion and assists the growth of religious intolerance in the Russian Federation."

The ban, which goes into effect Nov. 6, would require Internet servers featuring the film to block its viewing by Russian audiences or risk having their sites blocked and potentially face charges of violating a Russian law against extremist activities.

Clerics and activists from Russia's large Muslim community welcomed the ruling on the film, which was made in California.

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World of woe, little hope of relief, await U.N. General Assembly

General Assembly session on Syria in August
When 120 world leaders and their entourages gather at the United Nations this week, the woes of the world will be onstage in all their tragic detail: a civil war in Syria, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, reignited ethnic conflicts in Africa and uphill battles against poverty and global warming.

GlobalFocusWhat is likely to be in short supply at the General Assembly are fresh ideas for resolving the kaleidoscope of crises afflicting the planet. The U.N. Security Council has been hamstrung by internal conflicts among its permanent members in devising effective intervention in the Syrian bloodletting, and a colossal conference on sustainable development hosted by the world body three months ago was widely viewed as unproductive.

The Middle East and its myriad security challenges are expected to dominate the marathon of speeches beginning Tuesday, especially against the backdrop of worldwide Muslim outrage over an amateur video made by U.S.-based Christian zealots depicting the Prophet Muhammad as vile and sadistic.

Violent protests over the 14-minute film clip flared earlier this month after a version of "The Innocence of Muslims" was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube. Conservative Islamists, some backed by Al Qaeda-aligned holy warriors, have attacked U.S. and other Western embassies and businesses across the Islamic crescent spanning the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. In the worst of the violence on Sept. 11, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi. On Friday, the Muslim sabbath, enraged demonstrators clashed with police in Pakistan, killing at least 18 people.

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Russia puts an end to USAID activities in the country

Russia is putting a stop to the United States aid agency operating in the country after a two-decade presence in Moscow, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday, a decision seen by critics as a swipe at American support for Russian civil society groups that have criticized the government.

Though State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday shied away from speaking for the Russians, she said the reasons seemed to be tied to “their sense that they don’t need this anymore.”

The United States has spent about $2.7 billion on its U.S. Agency for International Development program in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, with about $50 million budgeted for this fiscal year, Nuland said.

Its programs have included tackling tuberculosis, helping disadvantaged youths and aiding election watchdogs and human rights groups,  work that has been viewed with suspicion by President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. got an official notice of the Russian decision last week, Nuland told reporters.

“While USAID’s physical presence in Russia will come to an end, we remain committed to supporting democracy, human rights and the development of a more robust civil society in Russia and look forward to continuing our cooperation with Russian non-governmental organizations,” Nuland said Tuesday.

The decision to halt USAID activities in Russia comes at a time when the Russian government has stoked suspicion of foreign groups. In July, Russian lawmakers passed a bill that requires groups that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” a step critics said was meant to tar activists so they wouldn’t accept foreign money. The free-speech group Freedom House, headquartered in the U.S., said the Russian move could be “a demoralizing and devastating blow to an increasingly embattled Russian civil society.”

“This decision sets a dangerous precedent and suggests that U.S. support for civil society ends when repressive governments apply pressure,” Freedom House President David J. Kramer said in a statement.

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More countries push to block YouTube over anti-Islam video


This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

As protests over an online video mocking the Islamic prophet continue to simmer in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere, more countries are trying to keep it from being seen around the world.

Google has already stopped the film trailer from being viewed on YouTube in Egypt and Libya “given the very difficult situation” and has restricted it in Indonesia and India over concerns that it violates local laws. Malaysian news media reported that the video was also inaccessible there late Monday after  government officials lodged similar complaints with the company about the amateurish video.

However, the company has turned down requests to pull down the video entirely so as to stop it from being viewed anywhere, saying it was “clearly within our guidelines” and widely available online.

That has failed to appease some of those disgusted by the “Innocence of Muslims” trailer, even in countries where the video has been blocked. In Egypt, attorney Mohamed Hamed Salem filed a lawsuit aimed at completely blocking the website, the Al Ahram state newspaper reported Tuesday.

"Not only has YouTube insisted on showing the original movie, but now there are at least 50 different videos showing various clips of the film," Salem told Al Ahram. "We need to block YouTube in Egypt because this would be a robust response, and we need a robust response so that what happened is not repeated again."

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World powers to meet with Iran on gridlocked nuclear talks


The six world powers that have been trying to come to an agreement with Iran over its disputed nuclear program are having a face-to-face meeting Tuesday with Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator -- but not because there’s been any progress toward a deal.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and the point person for the six powers group, will meet Tuesday in Istanbul, Turkey, with Iran's Saeed Jalili to discuss the status of their gridlocked talks, diplomats said.

More specifically, Ashton will ask Jalili whether Iran is ready to replace its earlier proposal -- termed a “nonstarter” by the United States -- with an offer that might finally get talks moving.

“This is a chance for Lady Ashton … to see what the Iranians are thinking,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters. “We’re going the extra mile to offer them a face-to-face meeting to see what’s up.”

In discussions last spring, Iran said it would agree to halt production of its medium-enriched uranium if the six countries would recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium to a low level, and would grant the Islamic Republic relief from sanctions. But the offer fell far short of the demands of the six countries -- Britain, France, Germany, United States, Russia and China.

The group’s political directors made no progress with Iran at their last meeting, held in Moscow in June. Since then, the two sides have held lower-level technical meetings. But diplomats said the lower-level meetings haven’t brought the two sides closer together.

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'March of Millions'? Not quite as Moscow crowd denounces Putin


MOSCOW –- The opposition had trumpeted the protest Saturday as the “March of Millions,” and the authorities were ready, deploying thousands of riot police in full gear all around the center of Moscow, blocking key streets with heavy trucks and sending police helicopters hovering back and forth.

But as night fell, only 20,000 people at most had shown up for a litany of somewhat listless chants, speeches and songs against President Vladimir Putin before going home past endless lines of riot police visibly bored for lack of action.

After a long summer break from massive protests that had galvanized the opposition, the anti-Putin movement was eager to demonstrate a powerful comeback in the eyes of the Kremlin and the nation. Just a day before the rally, a key member of the opposition had been stripped of his post in parliament, and leaders were hoping that protesters would be fired up over that move to choke off dissent and the imprisoning of more than a dozen activists.

Instead, a smallish crowd marched a few miles across downtown Moscow displaying the requisite white flags of the liberals, the yellow-white-and-black flags of the nationalists and the red banners of the communists under gray skies.

“It is the same old tune and the same old song, which changes nothing, but the crowd grows thinner and thinner,” said Tatiana Smirnova, a 47-year-old homemaker who has been a regular attendee since last winter’s protests, which drew more than 100,000 people infuriated over alleged cheating in December parliamentary elections.

“I didn’t hear any new slogans or ideas today,” she said, “and I don’t see much point in coming here again unless they find a way to change something.”

Smirnova recalled coming to one of the rallies in the same spot last year when the whole stretch of the wide avenue was thick with people.

“Today you can see that it is full only to its quarter or so,” she said with a disappointing sigh as a cold wind started to blow the yellow and brown foliage underfoot and she turned to go home.


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-- Sergei L. Loiko

Photo: Opposition protesters gather under gray Moscow skies Saturday to voice their anger with President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times


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