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У Сирії турецька армія разом з опозицією захопили стратегічно важливе місто

У Сирії турецькі військові спільно з сирійськими повстанцями зайняли «стратегічно важливі висоти в районі Ель-Баб», повідомляє армія Туреччини.

За повідомленням, внаслідок авіаударів і сутичок загинули 58 бойовиків «Ісламської держави». Крім того, загинули двоє турецьких солдатів, 15 були легко поранені, йдеться в повідомленні.

Як заявив міністр закордонних справ Туреччини Мевлют Чавушоглу, наступною ціллю буде оплот «Ісламської держави» у Рацці.

Міста Ель-Баб і Ракка в Сирії, а також Мосул в Іраку мають важливе значення для ісламістів. Спостерігачі заявляють, що взяття Ель-Баба піднімає питання про можливість протистояння турецьких військових і сирійської армії.

Раніше президент Туреччини Реджеп Ердоган заявив, що президент США Дональд Трамп подякував Туреччині за внесок в боротьбу з ісламістами. Представники президентів повідомили, що глави двох держав домовилися спільно боротися з ісламістами в містах Ель-Баб і Ракка.

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Вчені: популяції сайгаків у Монголії загрожує вірус PPR

У Західній Монголії від початку року загинули 2,5 тисячі особин сайгаків, зникаючого виду антилоп, заявляють вчені.

Як повідомили у Товаристві охорони дикої природи (WCS), смерть тварин викликана вірусом, який називають PPR. Дослідники вважають, що хвороба, яка виникла в тваринництві, тепер може загрожувати всій популяції сайгаків у Монголії.

Існує побоювання також, що зараження може поширитися на більш широку екосистему пасовищ, особливо на популяції сніжного барса. «Багато інших видів тварин проживають на цих територіях, зокрема козероги і велика рогата вівця», – сказала BBC вчений у галузі ветеринарії Енхтувшин Шиілегдамба.

Туші сайгаків спалюють, щоб запобігти поширенню хвороби, а домашніх тварин в ураженій місцевості вакцинують. Ветеринар Аманда Файн з Товариства охорони дикої природи вважає, що «подальша імунізація» необхідна як в ареалах проживання сайгаків, так і в інших місцях проживання постраждалих видів.

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Петренко: НАЗК блокує призначення переможців конкурсів на держслужбу

Міністр юстиції України Павло Петренко заявляє, що Національне агентство з питань запобігання корупції блокує призначення переможців конкурсів на державну службу, не надаючи висновків спеціальної перевірки кандидатів.

«Чому у нас зараз проблема зі спецперевірками щодо всіх без винятку кандидатів, які йдуть на посади за конкурсами, не лише на посади керівників центральних органів виконавчої влади, а й головних спеціалістів у регіонах? Національне агентство з питань запобігання корупції, яке має надавати один із висновків зі спецперевірки, просто цього не робить з 1 січня, саботуючи роботу», – сказав міністр під час засідання Кабміну. 

У НАЗК наразі заяв Петренка не коментували. Проте в агентстві повідомляли раніше, що в межах спецперевірки НАЗК розпочало перевірку достовірності відомостей, зазначених у деклараціях, поданих з 1 січня 2017 року. 

1 січня 2017 року стартував другий етап подання електронних декларацій осіб, що включає подання декларацій суб’єктами декларування – претендентами на державні посади.

Відповідно до закону «Про запобігання корупції», стосовно осіб, які претендують на посади відповідального або особливо відповідального становища, а також посад з підвищеним корупційним ризиком, проводиться спеціальна перевірка.

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Islamic State Kills 6 ICRC Employees in Afghanistan

Authorities in northern Afghanistan say Islamic State terrorists have killed at least six local employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Jowzjan province government spokesman Reza Ghafoori told VOA Wednesday’s attack occurred in the Qushtipa district and the assailants also took away two ICRC workers.  He said the ICRC staff were bringing animal food to farmer families in the district when IS militants ambushed their convoy.

An ICRC statement said the charity is, “Shocked and devastated,” and confirmed that six ICRC staff were killed and two are missing in Jowzjan province.

The Taliban has denied involvement in the incident, saying attacking ICRC is a crime. “We will find and punish the offenders,” a spokesman added.

IS has also claimed responsibly for Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Kabul and identified the bomber as Tajik.  The attack killed at least 22 people and wounded 40 others in Kabul.

Most of the victims Tuesday were employees of the Afghan Supreme Court.  Female judges and prosecutors were among those killed and wounded.  

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, Wednesday condemned the suicide attack outside the court building as “nothing short of an atrocity” and called for those responsible must be brought to justice.

“Since the beginning of 2015 alone, UNAMA has documented 74 attacks targeting judges, prosecutors and judicial staff, which have resulted in 89 dead and 214 injured,” according the mission’s statement issued in Kabul.

IS has been trying to establish a foothold in Afghanistan and has stepped attacks around the country, mainly targeting the Shi’ite Muslim minority community.

The number of civilian casualties caused by IS terrorists in Afghanistan increased nearly 10 times in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to a UNAMA report released earlier this week. It said that more than 200 people were killed and 700 wounded in comparison to 39 deaths and 43 injured in 2015.

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AIIB Helps Silk Road Plan, But May Fail to Protect China Against Trump

Multilateral banks based in China have defied critics over the past year with strong performances that include financing projects across a dozen countries. 

The new banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank (NDB), have given added political legitimacy to China, and helped to push forward Beijing’s geopolitical interests by extending $3 billion for projects under its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program, analysts said.

But questions are being asked about whether these banks can help China in its battle against adverse actions threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump.  

AIIB’s head Jin Liqun recently reminded Washington that that door remains open for it to join the bank. The Obama administration had decided against joining the AIIB even after 56 countries, including U.S. allies like Canada, Britain and Australia, became members.  

“AIIB is an institution that will help China get support from other countries in any direct confrontation with Trump,” Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics told VOA. “Setting up AIIB and showing that Beijing intends to play by the established rules has helped China, when Trump increasingly seems to be going rogue on not just America’s traditional role, but also many of the international rules it help set up.” 

But the advantage will mostly be in diplomatic and political terms, he said, adding the AIIB will not provide China any particular economic advantage in a bilateral confrontation with Trump.  

“China has gained in terms of soft power because it could bring several European powers on the table through AIIB.  At present, alot of European countries are concerned about what they see in the U.S. This might increase potential cooperation between China and the European countries,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist for Capital Economics.  

AIIB’s latest decision to lend $600 million for the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP), which will connect Azerbaijan to Europe fits snuggly into China’s plans to connect with Europe through Central Asia. Most of the other projects funded by the Beijing based bank support OBOR projects. They include the Dushanbe-Uzbekistan Border Road in Tajikistan, $100 million for National Motorway M-4 in Pakistan, $300 million for a hydropower project in Pakistan, and $301 million for Duqm Port in Oman. 

US membership

In a recent interview, AIIB chief Jin predicted that the U.S. under Trump would reject the decision of the Obama administration and choose to join the bank. 

“I was told that many in his (Trump’s) team have an opinion that Obama was not right not to join the AIIB, especially after Canada joined, which was a very loud endorsement of the bank. So we can’t rule out the new government in the U.S. endorsing the AIIB or indicating interest to join as member,” he told the Chinese media. 

He also complained that AIIB faced initiatial resistance from the U.S. “At the formation of the AIIB, the U.S., the base of the Bretton Wood Institutes that manage the world economy including the World Bank and the IMF, saw the new body as a threat to its dominance and importance in the world economic order,” he said.  

The Trump administration has not yet commented on the AIIB and analysts are skeptical that Trump will let the U.S. join and give the Beijing-based institution some added credibility.  

“Under no circumstances will Trump agree to join AIIB. Jin obviously knows that and cleverly created a headline again highlighting how it is now the U.S. that is isolating itself from the rest of the world,” Kirkegaard said. 

Lourdes S. Casanova, academic director of the Emerging Markets Institute at Cornell University, also thinks the U.S. will stay out of it.  

“I don’t believe the new administration one will join because, so far, they want to retreat back home and focus on investments in infrastructure at home.You also need the political will and on that front, President Trump has been more confrontational with Mexico and also with China, as well as critical of multilateral organizations, which makes us believe that he has no intention to join AIIB,” she said.   

What next? 

AIIB may seem to have turned up a stellar performance lending $1.7 billion to nine different projects in just more than one year. But it has been taking advantage of projects that had been carefully studied and vetted by entrenched players like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The real challenge comes now,  when many of the bankable projects have been covered, and the AIIB will have to start doing its own due diligence, analysts said.  

“The AIIB will find it very difficult to scale up its operations. There are significant political risks in many of the infrastructure projects,” Evans-Pritchard said. “A lot of projects don’t make commercial sense. There is the risk of running protests in several countries where projects have been planned. There is a protest against an industrial zone in Sri Lanka, which is part of OBOR program,” he said. 

Several members in AIIB, particularly those from Europe, do not share China’s geopolitical ambitions, which may come in the way of approving projects along the OBOR route, he said. Besides, there is the risk of the next round of elections installing protectionist governments in Europe, which may be less enthusiastic about funding projects in Asia and elsewhere, Evans-Pritchard said.

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Boom in Tourists Helping Stabilize China-Vietnam Relations

China has emerged as the top single-country source of tourism for Vietnam over the past year, a status that could help broader relations hurt by a maritime dispute and historical distrust. 

The number of Chinese tourists to the neighboring Southeast Asian country reached 250,000 in January, leading other countries with about a quarter of the month’s total. The headcount from China marks a 68 percent increase over January 2016, according to Vietnamese government figures cited by the state media. 

Chinese tourists have reshaped the economies of Hong Kong and Taiwan over the past decade, bringing those places closer to Beijing after periods of troubled relations. 

“There are some underlying tensions over the East Sea or the South China Sea, but nevertheless Vietnam is a place the Chinese feel comfortable going,” said Frederick Burke, partner in the multinational law firm Baker & McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City. “It’s accessible. It’s nearby. It’s culturally similar but it’s different so it’s interesting. It’s not expensive and they do cater to the Chinese.” 

Overcoming tensions 

The upswing in Chinese arrivals caught Vietnam’s attention last year as about 2.2 million reached the country from January through October. Their numbers fell in 2014 after Beijing let a state oil firm position a rig in the disputed South China Sea, touching off deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.  

Beijing and Hanoi bitterly dispute sovereignty over much of the sea, including two chains of tiny islets. 

But a sustained influx of tourism could ease people-to-people relations affected by centuries of political rivalry and a border war in 1979 as well as the maritime dispute, analysts say. 

The rise in tourism was a bright spot in Sino-Vietnamese business ties toward the end of 2016, said Hoang Viet Phuong, head of institutional research and an investment advisor at SSI Securities Services in Hanoi. 

“There is a desire to move away from being a manufacturing hub,” said Louie Nguyen, editor and founder of the news website VietnamAdvisors. “You can see that in the increase in the startup initiatives in terms of tech startups. Even in the film business, the latest King Kong was made in Vietnam. So there (are) various initiatives to move away from manufacturing. Tourism is one of them.” 

China is now Vietnam’s top source of tourism, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency. Although the Southeast Asian country depends largely on export manufacturing, one in eight jobs is in hospitality, Burke said. Tourism accounted for 6.6 percent of the GDP last year. 

Initial boost 

A land border crossing and short flights from southern Chinese cities gave tourism an initial boost.  

The Vietnamese border province of Quang Ninh, a popular holiday-making spot, was set in January to let Chinese group tourists stay three days visa free. Chinese are partial to coastal scenery, shopping and buffet meals, according to local media. 

“We’ve gone to Thailand and Maldives over the past two years, and then we saw some introductory material and thought (Vietnam) would be a bit better, more elemental,” said Ma Wensheng, 48, a Beijing tourist who just spent three days in South Vietnam with family.  

He said that while he encountered no anti-Chinese sentiment, not all was perfect. 

“The disadvantage is perhaps that tourist development lacks that of Thailand and the Maldives,” Ma said. “Some of the tourist infrastructure isn’t quite as friendly and in some places it’s incomplete. Its advantage is that prices are lower there compared to in the Maldives and so on.” 

The number of Chinese tour groups to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have largely held steady since those three countries became the first overseas markets in 2003. But the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in March 2014 hurt arrivals to Malaysia and Singapore had reported a drop of 24 percent between 2013 and 2014 before it sought to make permits easier for family travel.  

Thailand has not seen any long-term decline in arrivals from China, where the number of outbound tourists grew by 20 percent in 2015. 

Hong Kong and Taiwan 

Large numbers of Chinese travelers have shaped other parts of Asia, as well. For example, arrivals from China brought a boom to the service sector in Hong Kong after a relaxation of rules in 2003. Hong Kong received 45.8 million mainland Chinese visitors in 2015. 

Since 2008, Chinese travelers have lifted the service sector in parts of Taiwan near tourist attractions. Their headcount peaked at nearly 3.5 million in 2015. 

China does not appear to be pushing tourism in Vietnam for strategic gain, Burke said, but eventually it could ask Chinese travel agencies to scale back if relations sour. 

Taiwanese officials have reported declines of 30 to 40 percent in group travel from China since the May inauguration of a president who opposes Beijing’s goal of unifying the two sides politically. The decline has hurt hotels and tour bus operators. 

Visits from mainland China to Hong Kong dropped 3 percent in 2015, the year after the anti-Beijing Umbrella Movement protests. 

Vietnam understands the risk of a pullback, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the Taipei-based South China Sea Think Tank.  

“Beijing has been known to limit outbound tourism as a political tool, but the Vietnamese government understands that such risks are only a small part of its economic relations with China and broader diplomatic and political interests,” he said.

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‘Weak’ Taliban Leadership May Present Opportunity for Peace

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to a new high in 2016 amid the ongoing Taliban insurgency, with 3,500 killed and close to 8,000 wounded, the United Nations reported Monday. But a new analysis suggests the Taliban is deeply divided, presenting an opportunity for “insurgent peace-making.”

A study based on dozens of interviews with Taliban insiders suggests exploiting fractures within the group’s rank and file.

There were “senior commanders who were, in a sense, using suicide attacks to build up their reputation,” said professor Theo Farrell of the Royal United Services Institute, a co-author of the report. “So there are large parts of the Taliban that are fully committed to the fight, but there is a potential here, nonetheless, to de-escalate the conflict.”

That potential, according to Farrell, lies in the weakness of the Taliban’s leadership.

The new leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is widely seen as “weak and divisive leader,” Farrell said. “Many of our interviewees referred to him simply as a symbolic leader. The real power in the Taliban lies elsewhere. And so, therefore, there is a view among the rank and file that, effectively, the movement has become leaderless.”

Informal peace talks have taken place between the government and the Taliban leadership. However, senior Taliban commanders have demanded that the 13,000 NATO-led foreign troops in Afghanistan withdraw before formal talks begin.

Speaking in December, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the continuing bloodshed on Pakistan’s failure to take on militant groups in its territory; Islamabad denies the charge.

“Some still provide sanctuary in support or tolerate these networks,” Ghani said. “As [Mullah Rahmatullah] Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement, recently said, ‘If they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month.'”

Farrell argues the senior Taliban leadership should be circumvented, enabling dissenting commanders to meet and forge a common purpose of ending the conflict.

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Віталія Портникова обрали співголовою Українсько-польського форуму

Головою української частини Українсько-польського форуму партнерства став український журналіст, оглядач Радіо Свобода Віталій Портников, повідомляють в українському МЗС.

«7 лютого у МЗС України відбулася робоча зустріч української частини Українсько-польського форуму партнерства під егідою міністра закордонних справ України Павла Клімкіна. Під час зустрічі було обговорено ключові напрями українсько-польської взаємодії на громадському рівні, насамперед у контексті активізації роботи Українсько-польського форуму партнерства», – мовиться у повідомленні МЗС.

«Головою української частини Форуму партнерства став відомий український журналіст та політичний оглядач Віталій Портников. Також було затверджено оновлений склад української частини цієї громадської платформи», – додали в українському зовнішньополітичному відомстві.

Українсько-польський форум партнерства був створений 25 лютого 2011 року у Варшаві. Він працює під патронатом керівників МЗС України і Польщі.