Killer freeze hits Europe

Below zero: Snow falls on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue. Turkey was paralysed by the blizzard, and elsewhere in Europe the freezing temperatures proved deadly. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

FREEZING weather has killed dozens of people in central and eastern Europe over the past few days.

And temperatures are set to drop even further, authorities warned yesterday.

In Poland, police said 10 died over the weekend as temperatures plunged to -27C, raising the death toll from exposure to 46 since the start of the winter, which had been unusually mild up to now.

Ukraine’s health ministry said 18 people have died of hypothermia in the last four days. Most of them were homeless who froze to death in the streets or old people who died in their flats or after hospitalisation.

Nearly 500 people sought medical help for frostbite and hypothermia in just three days last week, the emergency situations ministry said. Authorities have opened 1500 shelters to provide food and heat, as temperatures plunge to 30 degrees below zero Celsius in some regions of the country.

Police also reported that at least three people died of exposure over the weekend in the Baltic state of Lithuania. A 91-year-old woman and a 78-year-old man were among the victims.

A Palestinian migrant froze to death trying to cross the river Evros between Greece and Turkey and two more were missing, one of them a nine-year-old girl, local police said yesterday.

The Palestinian, whose age was not disclosed, was part of a group of 15 Asians and Africans trapped by rising waters on the river, a key crossing point into Europe for scores of thousands of migrants annually.

Another nine migrants were rescued from the Evros on Sunday after their rubber dinghy allegedly overturned but a nine-year-old Afghan girl and her 55-year-old grandfather were still missing, a local police source said.

Temperatures in the area fall to around -20C after nightfall.

In the Czech Republic, a 26-year-old man was found frozen to death in a field near the eastern town of Opava on Saturday.

Forecasters have warned temperatures are likely to plunge to -30C in the country this week, after hitting -20C in some places on Sunday.

In Bulgaria, five died in snow storms last week, local media reported yesterday as a Siberian cold front hit the Balkan country with temperatures dropping to -24C in some places. Most were elderly people who lost their way and were left stranded out in the cold.

The towns of Chirpan in the south and Sevlievo in the centre recorded the lowest temperatures early yesterday, at -24C and -23.4C respectively, the national weather service said.

It forecast that the mercury would drop even further in the next few days.

Four more people died over the past 24 hours in Romania, the health ministry said, raising the overall death toll to six.

In Serbia, three died of hypothermia over the weekend, the Tanjug news agency said yesterday.

In the Valjevo region, 80km south-west of Belgrade, a 49-year-old woman was found dead by workers clearing snow on a road and a 52-year-old man died close to his home in the village of Bobovo.

An 81-year-old woman was found dead in her own home in the village of Taor, Tanjug said.

Heavy snowfalls, that seriously disrupted road traffic and power supplies, ceased yesterday but the country was still experiencing a fierce cold snap as temperatures fell to -20C overnight in central Serbia.

Heavy snowfall blanketed Turkey’s commercial hub Istanbul, a city of 15 million, yesterday, paralysing daily life and disrupting air and land transport.

Officials said almost 200 flights were cancelled due to the snow expected to continue until late today, while hundreds of people were stuck in private vehicles or public transport.

Turkey is facing a severe winter and temperatures in the capital Ankara are expected to fall as low as -15C in the next couple of days.

via Killer freeze hits Europe | The Courier-Mail.

Report: Turkey refuses to host Hamas HQ

Ankara dismisses reports suggesting Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal will set up movement’s new headquarters in Turkey; further denies pledging $300M in aid funds to Hamas

Elior Levy

Published: 01.30.12, 22:43 / Israel News

Ankara will not allow Khaled Mashaal to relocate Hamas’ Politburo to Turkey, the Turkish website Today’s Zaman reported on Monday.

According to the report, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc said that Meshaal’s stay in Turkey was “out of question.”

Related stories:

Report: Mashaal leaves Damascus for good

Hamas officials urge Mashaal to stay on

Op-ed: Hamas in deep trouble

He also denied reports suggesting that Ankara had pledged $300 million in aid funds to Gaza Strip’s rulers.

The Damascus-based Hamas Politburo has decided to relocate following the growing unrest in Syria. It has been looking for another Arab country to host its headquarters, but has so far failed to find one.

Mashaal had recently visited Turkey which, unlike its fellow NATO members, recognizes Hamas as a legal political party. The West considers Hamas a terror organization.

Still, Arınc insisted that the relocation was out of question.

Arınc stressed that Turkey’s ultimate goal was “to realize peace process between Israel and united Palestinian political factions,” adding that Turkey believes that “strengthening the Palestinians unity will benefit the Palestinian people and the peace process.”

Meanwhile, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza for a regional tour Monday.

Haniyeh’s tour is expected to include stops in Iran, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Haniyeh is travelling with his political adviser Yussef Rizq, his minister of housing and public works Yussef al-Mansi and two key Hamas members – Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha. The latter were released from Israeli prison in 2011 as part of the Shalit deal.

The trip is Haniyeh’s second since his appointment to Hamas PM.

AFP contributed to this report

via Report: Turkey refuses to host Hamas HQ – Israel News, Ynetnews.

Op-chart: Turkey’s changing world

Op-chart: Turkey’s changing world

Editor’s Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Hale Arifagaoglu is a research assistant at the Institute. Bilge Menekse is a former research intern at the Institute.

By Soner Cagaptay, Hale Arifagaoglu and Bilge Menekse – Special to CNN

Over the course of the 20th Century, Turkey’s world became increasingly Eurocentric. The country joined European and broader Western institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while also moving to become a member to the European Union (EU).

Today, however, the country’s single-minded European trajectory appears to be a thing of the past. Turkey, which has experienced phenomenal economic growth in the past decade, no longer feels content to subsume itself under Europe.

Since 2002, the Turkish economy has more than doubled in size, reaching a magnitude of $1.1 trillion. Gone is the Turkey of yesteryear, a poor country begging to get into the EU.

Enter the new Turkey: A country that feels confident, booming as the world around it suffers from economic meltdown. In the third quarter of 2011, the Turkish economy grew by a record 8.2%, outpacing not only the county’s neighbors, but also all of Europe.

Europe’s economic doldrums coupled with Turkey’s new trans-European vision under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government means that the country’s traditional commercial bonds with Europe are eroding while its trade links with the non-European world flourish. Accordingly, the Turks are increasingly trading with the non-OECD world (see the chart above).

Paralleling this trend, Ankara has pursued a foreign policy that transcends Turkey’s old European focus.

The AKP’s vision of reaching beyond Europe politically is now Turkey’s vision as well. The following graph shows the number of new diplomatic missions Turkey has opened up since the AKP came to power in 2002:

Source: Turkish Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs official website ( OIC stands for Organization of Islamic Conference.

If Turkey is no longer trying to fit into Europe, then what is it doing? The best way to describe the new Turkey is as a “Eurasian China” – a country that is aggressively trading with the entire world while building connections to distant destinations. The next graph compares direct destinations served from Istanbul by the country’s flagship carrier, Turkish Airlines, in 1999 and 2010:

Source: Turkish Airlines official website ( MENA stands for the Middle East and North Africa. CIS stands for the Commonwealth of Independent States, including Russia and former Soviet states.

Is the “Eurasian China” model sustainable? This requires the Turkish economy to keep humming along and the country’s politics to remain relatively stable.

There is a foreign policy angle at work here: Turkey is relatively stable at a time when the region is in upheaval. This, in turn, attracts investment from less-stable neighbors like Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Investors are looking for a stable economy. Ultimately, political stability and regional clout are Turkey’s hard cash. Its economic growth and ability to rise as a “Eurasian China” will depend on both.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay, Hale Arifagaoglu and Bilge Menekse.

via Op-chart: Turkey’s changing world – Global Public Square – Blogs.

If you don’t like the way big banks are run, move your money

The bankers’ pay issue is not just about Stephen Hester’s bonus at RBS. A boycott is a way of tackling the systemic problems

John Harris

Focusing on RBS threatens to restrict the debate to the morals of state ownership.' Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Where next for the story of Stephen Hester’s bonus? On Sunday, two papers reported that the now-infamous £963,000 is only a fraction of his treasure-chest. Partly thanks to something called a “long-term incentive plan”, by this time next year he is likely to have been handed another £8m in shares, which will take his rewards since he took charge of RBS in 2008 to not far short of £40m.

But herein lies danger. It suits the imperatives of the news media to have such a huge issue boiled down to the rewards package of one man; it’s also in the interests of the privileged people who own whole swaths of the press and broadcast media to do whatever they can to ensure that such a reductive script is followed to the letter. In that context, note the perfect role played by the RBS chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, now given temporary sainthood for turning down his bonus of £1.4m. His intervention has done its work: the issue is now in danger of becoming about matters of character and choice, rather than anything systemic.

So, what to do? Clearly, the argument about high pay is in danger of turning cacophonous, and thereby meaningless. Canards and dead-ends abound: focusing on RBS threatens to restrict the debate to the morals of state ownership; “transparency” is a crock. Talking about “rewards for failure” nudges the issue away from basic inequality, and even limiting the conversation to the banks lets plenty of companies off the hook (witness Bart Becht, the one-time CEO of the firm that makes Cillit Bang detergent, in 2010 given a cash-and-shares package of £90m).

Moreover, huge amounts are said, and almost still nothing done. Faced with global practices, even the most well-intentioned politicians – Ed Miliband, Vince Cable – can only try and keep the issue on the agenda in the hope that openings will eventually appear for more convincing policy.

But Lest anyone succumb to fatalism, some interesting developments are afoot. The last two years have seen national and local campaigns in the US, encouraging people to move their cash away from big financial institutions and into small banks and local credit unions. A big fillip came with Bank Of America’s decision to charge customers a $5 monthly fee for using their debit cards – which resulted in as many people joining US credit unions in a single month as usually make the switch in a year, and played its part in that bank and others dropping the plan. The campaigns’ focus, of course, is much bigger than that – but the episode proved they were hardly wasting their time.

That there are problems with approach is self-evident: Bank Of America has 58 million customers, whereas the campaigns were cheering about the defection of hundreds of thousands. But, in the form of the Move Your Money project and the US Move Our Money, they are still there. The former builds it activities around the recognition that “little has changed to prevent another financial crisis or to end ‘too big to fail'”, and wants to encourage people “to take power into their own hands by voting with their dollars and no longer contributing to a financial system that has led our country astray”. The latter claims it has so far deprived big banks of around $57m dollars.

But more important than any figures is what these protests represent: a focus for outrage, as networked and agile as modern protest demands, that can keep the issues simmering away.

This week, a British version launches, with the support of such unions as the GMB and Unite and the comparatively saintly Co-operative Group, along with some of the people involved in UK Uncut. They presumably know that the importance of high-street banking is dwarfed by the clout of the banks’ investment wings, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the damage to their brands that can be wrought by such targeted protest.

Cynics will scoff and claim the politics of boycotts can be just as distracting as the non-debates embraced by politicians and the press, reducible to the salving of consciences rather than any actual change. But with what is left of Occupy currently quiet and introspective, and the Hester case proving that spasms of righteousness are no substitute for the politics of the long haul, this latest move offers something very welcome: at least one means by which the arguments about the obscenities of inequality can be kept in roughly the right place., 29 January 2012

Coffee no longer grounds for beheading

We all know coffee powers us. Now, it’s helping to power the planet. Thankfully, it can no longer get you executed.

Starting with that last part, NPR’s Adam Cole just recounted the history of coffee prohibition, including 17th-century Ottoman ruler Sultan Murad IV’s habit of walking around Istanbul dressed as a commoner so he could personally decapitate coffee drinkers with his hundred-pound broadsword.

Murad apparently thought coffee would inspire indecent behavior. Other rulers also banned the drink out of fear it would roil the populace.

In 17th-century England, however, wives reportedly complained that coffee sapped their husbands’ ability to be suitably indecent with them.

Flash forward to 21st-century North Dakota, where the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota is leading a project to turn coffee-processing waste into energy.

The center is working with Vermont-based energy solutions company Wynntryst produce synthetic gas from coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth or burlap, and plastic cups coming out of Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Green Mountain sells Keurig individual coffee cups and supplies coffee products to Starbucks and McDonald’s, among others.

The “syngas” would then be used in an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell to produce electricity and heat or be converted to high-value biofuels or chemicals.

“The EERC system has already produced power by gasifying forest residues, railroad tie chips, turkey litter, and other biomass feedstocks and burning the produced syngas in an on-site engine generator,” center Deputy Associate Director for Research Chris Zygarlicke said in a news release. “The coffee industry residues will be similarly tested.”

Based on the outcome of the pilot project, the center plans to propose a full-scale system for use at various Green Mountain sites.

Speaking of beverages that incite people and can be used for power, Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Centre just launched Celtic Renewables Ltd, a company intended to commercialize a process for producing biofuel made from whisky by-products.

The “biobutanol” is made from “pot ale,” the liquid from the copper stills, and “draff,” the spent grains. It can be used as a direct replacement for gasoline, or as a blend, without engine modification, and with less emissions, according to the company.

“Scotland’s whisky has a world-wide reputation for excellence and generates huge benefits for our economy,” Fergus Ewing MSP, Scotland’s minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism, said in a news release. “It’s fitting, then, that the by-products of this industry are now being used in an area where we have so much promise – sustainable biofuels.”

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via Coffee no longer grounds for beheading | Seattle’s Big Blog –