Monday, 25 November 2013

Yale Put On Lockdown Amid Reports Of Gunman

Police say a call that sparked fears of a gunman on the Yale University campus appears to have been a hoax.

Students had been urged to "shelter in place" following the security scare, but the lockdown has now been lifted.

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman told a news conference the campus was safe.

SWAT teams had been scrambled to the university, while students received a text message saying: "Confirmed report of person with gun on/near Old Campus. Shelter in place. This is not a test."
Police got an anonymous phone call from a phone booth at around 10am local time reporting a person on campus with a gun.

Streets close to the campus have been blockaded, and the FBI is looking at footage of the area around the phone booth to identify the caller.

Police spokesman David Harman had said: "We don't have a suspect. There's nothing tangible."

New Haven Police Department Lieutenant Jeff Hoffman said there had been no shootings and no injuries. Room-to-room searches conducted by Yale's police department found nothing untoward.

Several New Haven schools had also been placed on lockdown, as had a nearby community college.

Yale has been on November recess since Saturday, meaning many students have left to celebrate Thanksgiving.

US Slams China Over Defence Zone Declaration

The United States has slammed as "unnecessarily inflammatory" China's declaration of an air defence identification zone over much of the East China Sea, a move that has fuelled tensions with Japan.

"This announcement from the Chinese government was unnecessarily inflammatory," White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"There are regional disputes in that part of the world and those disputes should be resolved diplomatically.

"There should be in this case plenty of overlapping common ground to reach a resolution that doesn't involve inflammatory, escalating rhetoric."

Beijing said Saturday it had established an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) that requires all aircraft flying over an area of the East China Sea to obey its orders.

The zone covers the Tokyo-controlled Senkakus, where ships and aircraft from the two countries already shadow each other in a potentially dangerous confrontation.

Ties between the Asian powers have been strained for months by the row over the islands, which are believed to be surrounded by energy-rich waters.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament he was deeply concerned "as it is a profoundly dangerous act that may cause unintended consequences".

Syria: Foreign Secretary Welcomes Peace Talks

The Foreign Secretary has said a commitment by the Syrian government and opposition groups to peace talks next year is a "welcome" step forward.

The two sides have agreed to meet in Geneva in January in an attempt to end the civil war that has ravaged the country for almost three years, killing more than 100,000 people.

Sky's Middle East Correspondent Sam Kiley said the starting point for the talks was not a ceasefire but the establishment of "rules and regulations for a political transition".

A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al Assad in the old city of Aleppo
A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards Syrian forces
Britain and other countries have said President Bashar al Assad cannot be allowed to continue in power if a "roadmap" for Syria's political future, agreed at a summit in Geneva last year, is to be implemented.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would lend its "extended and sustained" support to the opposition National Coalition, which he described as "the heart and lead" of forces fighting the Assad regime.

"A negotiated political transition in Syria is the only way to end the conflict and alleviate Syria's humanitarian crisis," he said.

Damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria
Many towns and cities, including Deir al-Zor, have been left in ruins
"The Syrian regime is now in the spotlight. They need to take immediate steps to alleviate humanitarian suffering across the country and stop their brutal tactics, which include besieging and attacking civilian areas.

"In the coming weeks they need to demonstrate that they will go to the Geneva II talks prepared to negotiate a political transition and end the violence."

The UN said the talks, which are due to take place on January 22, would seek to establish "a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities".

Arab and western foreign ministers hold the 'London 11' Friends of Syria meeting
Mr Hague and foreign ministers at a recent Friends of Syria meeting
It called on both sides to go into the meeting with a "serious intention" to end fighting in Syria, which it said had "sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens" on the country's neighbours.

Kiley said the attitude among diplomats was one of "cautious optimism" after previous attempts at negotiations failed.

He said one of the stumbling blocks had been "pre-conditions set by groups of rebels, who said they wanted Mr Assad to agree to end his rule prior to the talks".

"It would appear now that elements, at least, of the rebels have agreed to unconditional talks," he said.

In a letter to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Syria's foreign ministry said that ending support for "armed terrorist groups" in Syria is "crucial for any political solution to the crisis to succeed".

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, added: "We want to have a successful conference and we are not interested in a conference that is going to waste time.

"We are not interested in a conference that is going to justify killing more Syrians."

Typhoon Haiyan: HMS Illustrious In Philippines

The Royal Navy ship is carrying supplies including 12,500 blankets, 20,000 candles, 30,000 bags of rice and 9,800 tins of sardines.

Thousands of tins of vegetables, shelter kits, jerry cans and water carriers are also on board.

The supplies have been provided by the Government's Department for International Development (DFID).

Typhoon Haiyan - said to be the strongest ever to make landfall with winds of up to 170mph - hit the Philippines on November 7, killing thousands and leaving many more without food and shelter.

HMS Illustrious is replacing HMS Daring, which has been distributing aid in remote communities for the past week.

Seven helicopters are on board to help get the aid quickly into remote areas.

The ship was off the east coast of Africa on counter-piracy operations when it was diverted to help the relief effort.
It is expected to stay in the Philippines until early December.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "The crew of HMS Daring have done a fantastic job in the Philippines and I am pleased that HMS Illustrious will be able to continue this good work by providing substantially increased helicopter capability, ensuring relief reaches all those stricken by Typhoon Haiyan."

The UK public has now donated more than £60m through the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal and the Government has given more than £55m.

The death toll from the disaster has risen above 5,000, according to the Philippine government, with around four million people displaced and more than 1,600 still missing.

Afghanistan: Karzai Defiant Over US Deal Delay

Afghanistan's President has refused to sign a security deal which could see all US troops leave the country next year.
There are still 47,000 American forces in the country and there have been discussions about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations in 2014.
But Hamid Karzai has told National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul the US must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact.
Following the meeting a White House spokesman quotes Ms Rice as saying: "Without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan."
On Sunday an assembly of Afghan elders endorsed the security pact, but Mr Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.
US troops have been in Afghanistan since leading multinational forces in ousting the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said the bilateral security deal must be signed by the end of 2013 to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.
Ms Rice told the Afghan president it was "not viable" to defer signing the deal until after the election.
The delay "would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence".
The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances - when an American life is directly under threat - but it would not take effect  until 2015.

Microsoft limits Xbox Live users' curse words

As Xbox players battled each other, uploading videos showcasing conquests and recording trash talking over the past couple of days, some players noticed that they lost their Xbox Live account privileges.
What gives?
Apparently, Microsoft has cracked down on the use of expletives in its Upload Studio videos.
"Excessive profanity and other Code of Conduct violations will be enforced upon. On Xbox One, we have a more sophisticated system of enforcement," a Microsoft spokesperson told CNET. "As a result, if someone misbehaves on the service, we may only suspend some of their privileges on Xbox Live such as access to certain apps or use of certain features."
"To be clear, the Xbox Live Policy & Enforcement team does not monitor direct peer-to-peer communications like Skype chats and calls," the spokesperson continued. "We take Code of Conduct moderation via Upload Studio very seriously. The team reviews every clip that is uploaded to the service to help maintain a clean, safe and fun environment for all users."
Xbox forums lit up over the weekend as some users lost control of their accounts and were unable to use Skype and other applications via their consoles. There was some confusion as to why user privileges were being yanked and the length of time the suspensions would last.
Rather than being upset at having to limit profanity, most players appeared to be more peeved at how Microsoft handled the situation -- by pulling privileges without explaining why.
"I get the message 'Choose something else to play' simply because I assume MS was not happy about a video I uploaded," a user who goes by rbevanx wrote. "I think I should have just had a warning and not to do it again (don't even know what I did wrong in the first place)."
Another user who goes by Rockettpunk wrote, "MS really does need to: a) be much clearer on their terms as to how strict they will be. b) implement a strike system or at least message people."

Iran talks reverberate through web of Mideast alliances

BEIRUT — The interim accord hammered out between Iran and global powers focuses narrowly on Tehran's nuclear ambitions but the reaction across the Middle East points to a broader significance: the prospect of a geopolitical shift with repercussions across the region.
The process is still embryonic and may go nowhere. But the Middle East is already abuzz with speculation about a thaw between Washington and Tehran emerging from the Geneva talks. Some analysts say it may turn out to be a "hinge" moment that — however gradually — alters the political landscape of the highly volatile region.
"This is already being seen as a kind of game-changer," said Paul Salem, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "This is not just about how much uranium is being enriched or when. It's about a new alignment and its potential impacts in Syria, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in all the regional arrangements."
Condemnation from Israel and angry silence from Saudi Arabia — both key U.S. allies and avowed enemies of Tehran — highlight a profound disquiet about much more than the letter of the preliminary six-month nuclear accord.
Antagonism between Iran and the U.S. has been a major factor in the region's web of alliances for more than three decades.
Saudi officials view their kingdom and its allies as being engaged in a colossal struggle for regional influence between Islam's two great branches.
The Sunni-dominated Persian Gulf kingdoms accuse Shiite Iran of meddling from Syria to Lebanon to Bahrain. Riyadh plainly would prefer to see Iran consigned indefinitely to membership in an "axis of evil" than engaged in direct and seemingly amiable negotiations with the U.S. secretary of State at a five-star Geneva hotel.
"It is clear that the traditional Arab allies of the U.S. in the region, the Saudis specifically but also the Jordanians, are shocked by this American transformation," said Fahed Khitan, an Amman, Jordan-based political analyst. "The Saudis and the Israelis are, perhaps for the first time, in a camp together."
While Saudi officials have kept their ire private so far, Israeli authorities have publicly denounced the preliminary nuclear accord with Iran as a "bad deal" and "historic mistake," in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
From Israel's perspective, Iran is a challenge on many fronts, including in Lebanon, which shares a tense border with Israel that is patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers. Iran's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, has a powerful military force and tens of thousands of rockets that it can use to target Israel.
In Israel, there has been media speculation that Netanyahu would derail the latest U.S.-backed initiative for peace between Israel and the Palestinians in retaliation for the Iran nuclear accord.
Any change in U.S.-Iran relations will be gradual, diplomats say. U.S. officials have been at pains to emphasize their sensitivity to their allies' misgivings. Upon announcing the terms of the nuclear deal, Secretary of State John F. Kerry went out of his way to stress that the accord did not necessarily augur a broader reconciliation.
"It is fair to say that Iran's choices have created a very significant barrier, and huge security concerns for our friends in the region, for Israel, for gulf states and others," Kerry told reporters in Geneva. "Obviously, one would hope that Iran will make choices ... to rejoin the community of nations in full. The first step is to resolve the nuclear issue."
U.S. officials have been careful in discussing wider regional implications. They've stressed that even while opening up this new diplomatic channel, they have kept the conversation focused narrowly on the nuclear issue — both in the public multinational negotiations and a series of secret bilateral talks between U.S. and Iranian diplomats. Other thorny issues such as Iran's support for Hezbollah were not discussed, according to a senior administration official who asked not to be identified when speaking about the negotiations.
Still, Kerry publicly shot down the idea still embraced in some circles — including among Obama administration critics in Congress — that piling on more economic sanctions will lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic.
"Some might say we should simply continue to increase pressure — just turn up the screws, continue to put sanctions on, and somehow that's going to push Iran toward capitulation or collapse," Kerry said, adding: "Not by any interpretation that we have from all the experts."
Though often described in the West as isolated, Iran has in fact cultivated a regional sphere of influence extending from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq. To the east, Iran has also sought to foster ties with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai in contrast to its hostile relationship with the Taliban.
It is close to the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that emerged after the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein, long Tehran's nemesis. Despite criticism of what many see as Maliki's autocratic style of leadership, the Obama administration has signaled its intent to increase military aid to Baghdad to help Maliki counter Sunni militants.
The difficult case of Syria — where Iran and Saudi Arabia are major players in a proxy war — may give some indication of whether a broader reconciliation between the West and Iran is on the horizon.
Tehran has supplied large amounts of financial and military aid to help keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, drawing sharp criticism from Washington. Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States, have backed rebels fighting to oust Assad.
On Monday, United Nations officials said it was not yet clear whether Iran would be invited to U.N.-backed Syrian peace negotiations scheduled for Jan. 22. But a senior Obama administration official cast doubt on Iran's participation.
The parties at the table in the upcoming Syria talks must agree to support the transfer of power from Assad's government to a transitional executive authority, language the U.S. interprets as a call for Assad to step down. The U.S. is not expecting Iran to agree to those terms, the official said.
Iran seems unlikely to abandon Assad and let Syria slip from its orbit. But as Western goals shift to stabilizing Syria from a threat of Al Qaeda-linked Sunni militants, some observers say Tehran could help to shape a new transitional government.
"If the West can talk to Iran about such a hugely sensitive issue such as Iran's own nuclear program, then I'm sure they can talk about what a transition might look like in Syria," said Salem. "Whether the talks will work or not is another matter. But I can certainly see them talking."