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Websites allowing illegal activity 'complicit in crime'

Websites allowing illegal activity

Websites which do not prevent the sale of illegal goods are complicit in cyber-crime, a crime chief has said.

Class A drugs, counterfeit cigarettes and stolen passports are among a host of illicit items and services that can be bought through online listing sites.

Clive Grunshaw, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners' cyber-crime lead, said tougher laws were needed.

The illegal services were all found on classified ads website Craigslist.

In secret filming I carried out for BBC Inside Out, the availability of illegal goods on the site was laid bare.

I was able to obtain cocaine from a dealer in Derby, which testing found had high purity levels.

"I'm shocked what's there because it's not difficult for the internet companies to put elements on to their websites to police this sort of stuff," said intelligence and security expert Philip Ingram after viewing the footage.

"They should be policing it and taking it down."

Stolen passports were also available for sale for £550.

We filmed one seller saying he uses them to help others commit bank fraud.

He says: "I do them bank fraud things and we take the holders' IDs off them and if they mess about with me I just sell their IDs," he said.

Our investigation also found evidence of people advertising money laundering services on the site.

A woman named Stacey, from Ashton-under-Lyme, Greater Manchester, offers her bank account on Craigslist to anyone who wants to use it.

Criminals are often prepared to pay someone to hide money made illegally, so it cannot be traced back to them.

We asked a number of organisations what is being done to tackle crime on sites like Craigslist.

However, no single agency took responsibility for the full range of criminal activity on those types of sites.

For example, City of London Police said it is the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre.

However, Mr Grunshaw said legislation should be in place to ensure websites "get their house in order".

"If there are people that are using their sites for criminal activity then they are allowing that, they are complicit in that by allowing that to happen," he said.

"Websites like this that allow criminal activity to occur, they have got their responsibility and I think that they should be held accountable themselves."

As part of our investigation, one man from Slough advertised for people to take his driving theory test for him.

But when we turned up, there was a snag - he was black, and I was white. Despite this, he insisted I go ahead with the test.

When told the photograph will be checked against a database, he replied: "Well just try and if not you can just leave it."

I did not take the test.

The latest investigation comes after the BBC found people being offered accommodation in exchange for sex on the site.

The Home Office said it was "determined" to get ahead of "new and emerging threats to the safety and security of our families and communities".

In a statement it added: "What is illegal online is illegal offline and we cannot allow online platforms to be looked upon as a safe space for those that would harm and exploit the most vulnerable in our society or engage in criminal activity.

"We are working to ensure technology companies live up to their responsibilities of preventing their services from being used for criminal activity and are further exploring how classified advertisements websites are being used to facilitate crime."

The BBC has contacted Craigslist for comment but it has not responded.

See this story in full on BBC Inside Out West Midlands at 19:30 BST on BBC One on Monday 23 October, or via iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.

Source: BBC  

Benjamin Moorcroft, 15 from Shrewsbury, missing in London

Benjamin Moorcroft missing in London

Police are growing increasingly worried about a vulnerable 15-year-old boy who has gone missing in London.

Benjamin Moorcroft, from Shrewsbury, was last seen by his family at 20:00 BST on Saturday in the Floral Street area of Covent Garden.

Police say Benjamin suffers from severe epilepsy and has a mental age of between five and 10 years old.

They have released a CCTV image of him walking along The Strand just after 04:35 BST on Sunday.

He was near The Savoy Hotel and the junction with Carting Lane at the time of the sighting.

Benjamin is white, about 5ft 7in tall, and of slim build with light brown hair.

The family, who were on a visit to London and staying in the Blackfriars area, had been at a restaurant before he went missing.

At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing a light pink jumper, red shirt, blue jeans and trainers. He was not wearing his glasses.

Det Insp William Hodgkinson said: "Benjamin's disappearance is very out of character.

"He is alone in London, a place unfamiliar to him, and particularly vulnerable due to his epilepsy. Benjamin's family and my officers are concerned for his well-being. Efforts to locate him are ongoing, but we need the public's help.

"We would urge anyone who believes they may have seen Benjamin in central London or further afield since his disappearance on Saturday night to get in touch as soon as possible."

Anyone with information can call police on 101 or Missing People on 116000, quoting reference 17MIS046199.

Source: BBC   

Sunderland businessman's second wife website 'benefits women'

Sunderland businessman's second wife website

A man who is running a website helping men find "second wives" claims it benefits women as well.

In the UK, polygamous marriages - where a person has more than one spouse - are only recognised if they took place in countries where they are legal.

However, no UK laws stop unregistered religious ceremonies taking place.

Azad Chaiwala told BBC Inside Out: "The second wife website came about from my need, and thinking there'll be other people in my situation."

Most Muslims in the UK do not practise polygamy, but some interpretations of the Koran say that a man may marry two, three or four women, so long as he can deal justly and fairly with each of them.

Mr Chaiwala, from Sunderland, said: "There are other deceiving ways of doing it - affairs, prostitution etc. - those are not necessarily good for relationships.

"Here it's more honourable."

He said 100,000 people had signed up - with men outnumbering women three to one - but denied it was something just for men.

"It takes two hands to clap; a guy can't do it on his own," he said.

"We've got so many successful marriages and so many women signed up themselves…they are opting to enter this kind of relationship."

Mr Chaiwala said the whole idea was to build "bigger and better families" - but not everyone agrees.

Prof Thom Brooks, dean of Durham Law School, said polygamy typically involved a husband choosing multiple wives, giving him "full control over who every single member of that family is".

He said: "I think that as the country's trying to get a greater sense of equality, certainly trying to make steps towards gender equality, I think this is something which would be a stumbling block - this would be a setback."

Tarek, a doctor from South Yorkshire, who does not wish to give his second name, signed up to the website.

He said: "I found there were a lot of ladies who are growing old, or divorced, or single mothers, and nobody's really interested in them.

"I thought 'well if I have the ability to manage more than one wife then I would like to have this opportunity'.

"I'm not just doing it to have, I'm doing it to give."
Image caption Tracy says Tarek is "physically a part-time husband, emotionally a full-time one"

Tracy, his "second wife", said: "I thought long and hard about polygamy and I thought 'well, OK, this could actually work out to my advantage'.

"I want to be married to somebody but I still want to be able to travel and have my independence."

However, she admitted it was not always easy and has asked to renegotiate the written marriage contract from one day a week to two.

"I do think about my co-wife, they've got another child coming along, she does need more support," she said.

"I've found myself being more insecure... it's really affecting me.

"As much as I really love Tarek, I wouldn't do it again, because it's not easy emotionally, it really isn't."

Tarek said: "It's up to the man, as wise as he could be, to treat them fairly and kindly and caringly.

"The woman has the choice. She can walk away from the 'marriage' at any point."

The full report is on BBC Inside Out in the North East & Cumbria and Yorkshire & Humberside at 19:30 BST on Monday 23 October and afterwards on the iPlayer.

Source: BBC   

Home 'failed to prevent sexual exploitation'

Home 'failed to prevent sexual exploitation'

A woman who was cared for at a children's home claims staff failed to protect her from sexual exploitation.

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, claims she was regularly raped by several men, after being picked up from a home in Gloucestershire.

The BBC understands staff were aware she was being picked up.

Marlowe Child and Family Services, which runs the home, has refuted the allegations.

The woman said she approached while standing outside the home when she was "14 or 15" years old.

"This van pulled over - [a man inside] told me I was pretty, asked me if I lived there," she said.
"Thought I was special"

"It started like that. I would be getting picked up. I was groomed.

"I thought he was my boyfriend. I thought he loved me. I thought I was special.
"The staff would know that I was going out and having sex with him because I would tell them."

The woman said she was raped in a van and on other occasions raped by a "multiple" number of men.

She added that at the time she thought it was "normal for groups of males to have sex with one girl", and "only realised last year" it was not.

The woman said the experience led her to become a drug addict and resulted in her losing a child.

'Currently closed'

Marlowe Child and Family Services runs five children's homes in Gloucestershire, each housing four or five young people.

The BBC understands four of the homes, including the one where the woman lived, are currently closed following critical Ofsted inspection reports.

In a statement the company said it did not accept the allegations.

"At no time have any investigations found any of our staff were indifferent to the systematic grooming and/or abuse of young people.

"We are certain that all safeguarding events… have been reported to the relevant external bodies."

The BBC has seen a social worker's case notes, which suggest staff were aware the woman regularly left the home and met the men.

The BBC understands the woman was later moved to a different home outside Gloucestershire.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Police said there were currently no criminal investigations "in relation to any incidents at Marlowe care homes or involving the Marlowe care homes".

"Should we receive any complaints of criminal activity then of course we would investigate those."

The allegations will be investigated on Inside Out West on BBC One at 19:30 BST on Monday 23 October.

Source: BBC      

England's Big Picture: 16 - 22 October, 2017

England's Big Picture a cow

Each day we feature an interesting photograph shared with us from across England.

Next week England's Big Picture and BBC Local Radio are joining forces with BBC Radio 2 to explore the theme of "my neighbourhood" for the network's annual Faith in the World Week.

Find out how you can join in and submit your images and videos below.

If you are looking for inspiration, view some top tips from three of England's Big Picture photographers.

How to submit a picture

Email us at england@bbc.co.uk, post it on Facebook or tweet it to @BBCEngland. You can also find us on Instagram - use #englandsbigpicture to share an image there. There is a recent archive of pictures on our England's Big Picture board on Pinterest.

When emailing pictures, please make sure you include the following information:

Please note that whilst we welcome all your pictures, we are more likely to use those which have been taken in the past week.

Terms and conditions

If you submit a picture, you do so in accordance with the BBC's Terms and Conditions.

In contributing to England's Big Picture you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide.

It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to England's Big Picture, and that if your image is accepted, we will publish your name alongside.

The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures will be used and we reserve the right to edit your comments.

At no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws while collecting any kind of media.

Source: BBC   

Nuneaton bowling alley siege: Man arrested

Nuneaton bowling alley siege in England Man arrested

A suspected gunman was arrested after police ended a four-hour siege at a bowling alley in Nuneaton.

Officers were called to MFA Bowl, in Bermuda Park, at around 14:30 BST on Sunday after reports a man with a shotgun had taken two hostages.

A man was arrested after police stormed the building amid a series of flash bangs at about 18:30 BST.

The suspect was treated at the scene, while two other men escaped uninjured, West Midlands Ambulance Service said.

Ch Supt Alex Franklin-Smith, from Warwickshire Police, said officers brought the incident to "a peaceful resolution".

The siege was "unconnected" to terrorism, he added.

The gunman reportedly walked into MFA Bowl and yelled "game over" before ordering people to get out.

About 40 or 50 people were said to be inside the complex at the time.
Media captionEyewitness: "The guy ran up to the door with a gun"

Both of the hostages - a duty manager and a bowling lane host - were unharmed but treated for shock.

Chris Clegg, operations director of MFA Bowl, said: "It's obviously not an everyday situation. The ambulance, police were checking them and making sure they were OK."

The firm's chief executive Mehdi Amshar said he understood the man was known to a member of staff at the bowling alley.

Specialist firearms officers and police negotiators were sent to the scene, and used flash bangs - which create a loud noise and bright light - to enter the premises.

Warwickshire Police said officers were called to reports of a man - described by eyewitnesses as "in his 40s" with a gun "slung" over his shoulder - with a firearm at 14:30 BST.

One witness, Chris Turner, told the BBC he was walking past the front entrance to the bowling alley when the man "ran up to the door".

He had "a gun in his hand" and told him to "get out of the area", he said.

Mr Turner said the man shouted at a crowd of people outside to leave, saying: "I've already told you once."
Media caption'We were trying to keep all the kids together'

Eyewitnesses also spoke about how they fled the bowling alley, while others hid in toilets, as the gunman brandished a weapon above his head.

Alex Mulholland said he was bowling when he looked up to see a man holding a gun over his head.

"He was saying 'game over, game over', everyone was shouting, screaming, panicking, trying to get out and I didn't know what to make of it, really," he said. "I ran, got my things as quickly as I could and got out of there."

Other businesses in the leisure park, including a children's soft play centre and restaurants, were put into lockdown.

Families inside the soft play centre told the BBC they barricaded the front door with tables and chairs.

Kelly Perrett, who was at the Frankie and Benny's restaurant, told the BBC she was "hiding in the toilet with about 20 people".

"It looks like police have got the bowling alley surrounded. The police told me that the gunman is near the door with a hostage," she said as the incident unfolded.
Media captionFootage posted on social media showed police officers at the scene in Bermuda Park

Megan Westward said she was about to leave a children's soft play centre when staff told her to move away from the windows.

"There are quite a few bullet proof vans," she said. "We've just seen an air ambulance take off, there are ambulances and there are police in full body suits with guns."

Following the conclusion of the siege, forensics officers were examining the scene and a red Peugeot 307 car was removed by police on the back of a vehicle transporter.

Bermuda Park includes a Holiday Inn Express hotel, a gym, a DIY store, a soft play centre and several restaurants.

Source: BBC   

US-backed forces take Syria’s largest oil field from IS

US-backed forces take Syria’s largest oil

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed fighters captured Syria’s largest oil field from the Islamic State group Sunday, marking a major advance against the extremists in an area coveted by pro-government forces.

With IS in retreat, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government have been in a race to secure parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province along the border with Iraq.

The Al-Omar oil field was a major source of income for the militant group and is considered one Syria’s most productive. The condition of the field, which has been controlled by IS for three years, was not clear following intense coalition and Russian airstrikes.

The SDF, with air support from the U.S.-led coalition, said it captured the field in a “swift and wide military operation.” It said some militants have taken cover in oil company houses nearby, where clashes are underway. The U.S.-led coalition confirmed the SDF had retaken the oil field.

After coming under heavy fire from IS, pro-government forces retreated from the area around Al-Omar field, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The SDF said government forces were 3 kilometers (2 miles) away from the fields.

Syrian troops, backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-sponsored militias, have retaken nearly all of the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, as well as the town of Mayadeen, another IS stronghold, which is across the Euphrates River from the Al-Omar field.

The SDF focused their operations in rural Deir el-Zour on the eastern side of the river, and have already seized a major natural gas field and other smaller oil fields.

IS captured Al-Omar in 2014, when the group swept across large areas in Syria and neighboring Iraq. At the time, the field was estimated to produce around 9,000 barrels a day. Its current potential is unknown.

Syria had proven oil reserves of 2.5 billion barrels as of 2015, giving it the largest supply among its neighbors after Iraq. The oil industry was a pillar of the Syrian economy before the conflict in 2011.

As IS advanced in Syria, it seized control of most of Syria’s oil fields and made petroleum a major earner for the militant group, which sold it on the black market to other insurgents and the Syrian government.

Since the coalition began operations against IS in 2014, the militants’ oil production has been reduced from a peak of approximately $50 million per month to currently less than $4 million, the coalition said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The government lost the al-Omar field to other insurgents in 2013.

Al-Manar TV, operated by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, said the fight for Al-Omar was still underway and denied the SDF’s claim to have captured it. The militant group fights alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The official Syrian news agency said troops regained full control of Khosham, a town on the eastern side of the Euphrates River that they lost a day earlier to IS. The Observatory for Human Rights said parts of the town remain contested.

It’s not clear how Syrian troops will respond to the SDF’s seizure of Al-Omar. Assad has vowed to eventually bring all of Syria back under government control.

The two sides have accused each other of firing on their forces in Deir el-Zour province, but a rare face-to-face meeting of senior U.S. and Russian military officers last month appeared to have calmed tensions.

Syria observers have said the race between the US-backed fighters and the Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian government forces is likely to be a source of direct confrontation in the absence of a political agreement.

IS has suffered a series of major setbacks in recent months, including the loss of the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the extremists’ self-styled capital, and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Most of the territory the group once held has been seized by an array of Syrian and Iraqi forces.

An estimated 6,500 IS fighters remain in eastern Syria and western Iraq, many concentrated along the Euphrates River valley straddling the border, the U.S. military said last week.

Source: AP

Dramatic sentencing hearing expected in Bergdahl case

sentencing hearing expected in Bergdahl case

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The fate of Bowe Bergdahl — the Army sergeant who pleaded guilty to endangering his comrades by leaving his post in 2009 in Afghanistan — now rests in the hands of a judge.

A sentencing hearing for Bergdahl starts Monday at Fort Bragg and is expected to feature dramatic testimony about soldiers and a Navy SEAL badly hurt while they searched for the missing Bergdahl, who was held captive for five years by Taliban allies after leaving his post. Bergdahl faces up to life in prison on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after pleading guilty to the charges last week.

Bergdahl made his plea without striking a deal with prosecutors for a lesser punishment, opting instead for a move known as a “naked plea,” in hopes of leniency from the judge. The plea, legal experts say, may be a sign that the evidence against Bergdahl was strong.

Eric Carpenter, a former Army lawyer who teaches law at Florida International University, said a naked plea can be advantageous by allowing the defense to refrain from agreeing to certain facts that it might otherwise have to concede to under a plea agreement.

Greg Rinckey, a former Army prosecutor and defense attorney now in private practice, said such a plea is risky.

“You don’t plead someone out naked without weighing those risks,” Rinckey said.

The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, will also have to resolve last-minute arguments by defense attorneys that President Donald Trump has unfairly swayed the court-martial with new comments about the highly politicized case. During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “traitor.” The defense argues that remarks made by Trump as late as last week show that he harbors the same view now that he is commander in chief. A White House statement on Friday said, while not mentioning Bergdahl by name, that all military personnel in the justice process should use their independent judgment and that any case should be “resolved on its own facts.”

Bergdahl’s lawyers are hoping that the five years that he spent as a Taliban captive will win him some leniency from the judge. Bergdahl, 31, has said he was caged, kept in darkness and beaten. He said he tried to escape more than a dozen times.

The plea came after several pretrial rulings against the defense. Perhaps most significant was the judge’s decision in June to allow evidence of the searchers’ wounds at sentencing. The judge ruled that a Navy SEAL and an Army National Guard sergeant wouldn’t have wound up in separate firefights that left them wounded if they hadn’t been searching for Bergdahl.

While calling the wounded men “heroes,” Bergdahl’s lawyers have argued their client can’t be blamed for a long chain of events that included decisions by others on the searches.

At his plea hearing, Bergahl himself said he now understands his disappearance triggered the missions, calling his actions “very inexcusable.”

President Barack Obama brought Bergdahl home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, leading to criticism by Republicans including Trump.

Bergdahl has said he walked away from his remote post with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.

One of the injured soldiers who could testify, former Army Cpl. Jonathan Morita, said in a phone interview after the plea hearing that he wasn’t sure whether to feel happy about Bergdahl’s admission of guilt.

“It’s good that he said it. But did he really mean it, or did the defense tell him to say it?” said Morita, who was injured after a rocket-propelled grenade struck his rifle. The grenade didn’t explode, but it shattered the bones in his hand.

Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch is expected to testify about a leg wound on a search mission that ended his career as a Navy SEAL.

“Senior Chief Hatch has always said he wants him to have a fair trial and a fair sentence, with the understanding of all the suffering that he caused by trying to support his own agenda,” said Buddy Rake, Hatch’s lawyer. He declined to say what level of punishment Hatch thinks is appropriate.

But Rake, himself a Navy veteran, believes Bergdahl should at a minimum be deprived of an honorable discharge: “As you go through life you get all sorts of trophies and awards, but the most important that I’ve ever received is the one that says ‘honorable discharge.’”

Source: AP       

Tillerson seeks Arab help in US effort to isolate Iran

 Tillerson seeks Arab help in US effort

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the Trump administration’s case for isolating and containing Iran in the Middle East and beyond to two Gulf Arab nations on Sunday, pushing for Saudi Arabia and Iraq to unite to counter growing Iranian assertiveness. He also called for a quick resolution to the ongoing crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbors, which he said was unintentionally bolstering Iran.

In Saudi Arabia and later Qatar, Tillerson denounced Iran’s “malign behavior” and urged nations of the region and elsewhere, notably Europe, to join the administration to halt any business they do with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard. He also demanded that Iranian and Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq either return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

“Those fighters need to go home,” Tillerson said. “Any foreign fighters need to go home.”

In Riyadh for the inaugural meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council — a vehicle that U.S. officials believe can wean Iraq from Iran — Tillerson told Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the nascent partnership between their countries held great promise for Iraq’s reconstruction after devastating battles to wrest territory from the Islamic State group and its independence from foreign influence.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has landed in Saudi Arabia to begin a diplomatic mission in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe focused on conflicts in Iraq and Syria and blunting Iranian influence in the region. (Oct. 21)

“We believe this will in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq,” he said at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after the council meeting.

Tillerson said countries outside of the region could also play a role, primarily by shunning the Revollutionary Guard, which play a major role in Iran’s economy and were added to a U.S. terrorism blacklist earlier this month. Companies and countries that do business with the guards “really do so at great risk,” he said.

“We are hoping that European companies, countries and others around the world will join the U.S. as we put in place a sanctions structure to prohibit certain activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that foment instability in the region and create destruction in the region,” Tillerson said.

At the council meeting, Tillerson praised the Saudi king and Abadi for the August reopening of a major border crossing and the resumption of direct flights between Riyadh and Baghdad last week.

“Both represent the beginning of what we hope will be a series of even more tangible actions to improve relations and strengthen cooperation on a host of issues,” he said. “Your growing relationship between the kingdom and Iraq is vital to bolstering our collective security and prosperity and we take great interest in it.”

His participation in the meeting comes as U.S. officials step up encouragement of a new axis that unites Saudi Arabia and Iraq as a bulwark against Iran’s growing influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Amid the push for that alliance, the Iraqi government is struggling to rebuild recently liberated Islamic State strongholds and confronts a newly assertive Kurdish independence movement.

History, religion and lots of politics stand in Tillerson’s way, but both the Saudi king and the Iraqi prime minister appeared optimistic about the prospects.

“We are facing in our region serious challenges in the form of extremism, terrorism as well as attempts to destabilize our countries,” Salman said. “These attempts require our full attention. ... We reaffirm our support for the unity and stability of our brother country of Iraq.”

Abadi expressed pleasure with “the thriving relations between our two brotherly countries.”

“We are open and we want to move away from the past,” he said. “The region cannot tolerate any further divisions. Interference in the internal affairs of other state should stop.”

Shiite-majority Iraq and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, estranged for decades after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, have tried in recent years to bridge their differences. Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 after a quarter century. The first visit by a Saudi foreign minister to Baghdad came in February this year, followed by the border crossing reopening in August and resumption of direct flights between the capitals suspended during the Gulf War.

Over the weekend, the Saudi oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, made a high-profile appearance at Baghdad’s International Fair, and held talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Jabar al-Luabi.

Nevertheless, the relationship is plagued by suspicion. Iran’s reported intervention in Iraq’s semiautonomous northern Kurdish region, after last month’s much criticized vote for independence in a referendum, has deepened the unease.;After his talks in Riyadh, Tillerson flew to the Qatari capital of Doha, a direct route that has been closed to commercial airlines since June when the now-five-month old crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates erupted, ostensibly over terrorism financing. Qatar and Bahrain are home to major U.S. military bases in the Middle East, the al-Udeid Air Base near Doha and the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Manama.

Tillerson has attempted to facilitate a dialogue through talks with the feuding parties as well as supporting a Kuwaiti mediation effort but has thus far been unsuccessful. He renewed those calls but allowed that progress seemed unlikely. “We cannot force talks between parties who are not ready to talk,” he said.

“The United States remains concerned that the dispute has had negative consequences economically and militarily; the U.S. has felt these effects as well,” he said. “None of us can afford to let this dispute linger. We ask that everyone ease the rhetoric and deescalate the tensions.”

Tillerson noted that the only country benefiting from the crisis is Iran, which is now Qatar’s lifeline as its neighbors have sealed their land, sea and air borders. He said Qatar’s new reliance on Iranian airspace is “the most immediate and obvious gain that Iran has.”

“Anytime there is conflict and destabilization among countries that are typically allies, someone will always come in to exploit those differences,” he added.

Source: AP

Japanese Prime Minister Abe heads to impressive election win

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s ruling coalition appeared headed to an impressive win in national elections in what would represent an endorsement for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nearly five-year leadership.

A victory would boost Abe’s chances of winning another three-year term next September as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. That could extend his premiership to 2021, giving him more time to try to win a reluctant public over to his longtime goal of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution.

In the immediate term, a victory likely means a continuation of the policies Abe has pursued since he took office in December 2012 — a hard line on North Korea, close ties with Washington, including defense, as well as a super-loose monetary policy and push for nuclear energy.

Japanese media projected shortly after polls closed Sunday that Abe’s LDP and its junior partner Komeito might even retain their two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

In unofficial results in the early hours of Monday, the ruling coalition had won 312 seats in the 465-seat lower house, exceeding a two-thirds majority at 310, and other parties had 143 seats, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. Final results may not be tallied until Monday.

Abe’s ruling coalition already has a two-thirds majority in the less powerful upper house. Having the supermajority in both houses virtually gives them a free hand in pushing even divisive policies and legislation.

Abe said the results indicate that voters support his policies and want to see his political leadership continue.

“I think the results reflected the voters’ preference for a solid political foundation and their expectations for us to push polices forward and achieve results,” Abe told NHK.

Abe’s support ratings had fallen to around 30 percent in the summer after accusations of government favoritism to people connected to him, sparking talk that he might be vulnerable as leader of his party and prime minister.

“I will humbly face the victory and continue to work humbly and sincerely,” he told NHK, noting lingering public distrust over the scandals.

Abe dissolved the lower house less than a month ago, forcing the snap election. The lower house chooses the prime minister and is the more powerful of the two chambers of parliament.

Analysts saw Abe’s move as an attempt to solidify his political standing at a time when the opposition was in disarray and his support ratings had improved somewhat.

His plan was briefly upstaged by the launch of a new opposition party by populist Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. But initial excitement faded and Koike herself decided not to run for parliament.

NHK projected that her Party of Hope so far has won just 49 seats.

Koike called the results “very severe” in a televised interview from Paris, where she is attending a conference of mayors. She said some of her remarks might have been taken negatively by voters, and that she would take the blame.

Projections indicated that another new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, could outpoll the Party of Hope and become the biggest opposition grouping. The Constitutional Democrats are liberal-leaning, while both the Party of Hope and Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party are more conservative.

Abe’s party and its nationalist supporters have advocated constitutional revisions for years. They view the 1947 constitution as the legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor’s world order and values. The charter renounces the use of force in international conflicts and limits Japan’s troops to self-defense, although Japan has a well-equipped modern military that works closely with the U.S.

Any change to Japan’s constitution, which has never been amended, requires approval first by two-thirds of parliament, and then in a public referendum. Polls indicate that the Japanese public remains opposed to amendment.

Source: AP