North Korea used the Berlin embassy to procure technology for the nuclear program

North Korea used the Berlin embassy to obtain technology and equipment for its nuclear program, said on Monday the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, as reported by the German public broadcaster DW.

“We determined that procurement activities were taking place there, from our perspective with an eye on the missile program, as well as the nuclear program to some extent,”  the President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, told NDR.

Maassen said the information gathered by North Korea could be used for both civilian and military purposes, although he didn’t specify what can of technology was procured.

“When we detect something of this sort, we prevent it. But we can’t guarantee that we will be able to detect and thwart all cases,” he said.  During the broadcast he also added “that parts for North Korea’s launch program were acquired via other markets or underground buyers had acquired them in Germany”.

People at the North Korea embassy in Berlin didn’t release any comments after the allegation.

The accusations come after a report by the United Nation, which affirms North Korea is bypassing the sanctions by exporting banned commodities, as coal, iron and steel.

 

 

Singapore is preparing for militant attacks

Singapore’s armed officers are making several simulated gunmen attack demonstrations, as the wealthy island-state will host this week the defence ministers from around Southeast Asia. The government is always worried over terrorist attacks on its territory, and during the inaugural Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released in 2017, the Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said “Singapore is very much on its radar”- referring to the Islamic State – , and that the threat against the country is “the highest in recent years”.

“Singapore continues to face a serious security threat from both homegrown radicalised individuals and foreign terrorists who continue to see Singapore as a prized target,” said the MHA, who replied to Reuters’ questions.

Singapore is one of the safest place of the world and it hasn’t received any attacks since 9/11, which is why it is at bottom of the Global Terrorism Index. But even so, over 70 percent of Singaporeans are still worried of terrorist attacks and believe it’s just a matter of time before terrorists hit their country.

The government is using a hardline approach to counter the terrorism, and any people, children included, is encouraged to report suspect activities to police officers. For this purpose has been designed a mobile app, SGSecure, which helps Singaporean citizen to alert the authorities for dangerous situations, but the app so far hasn’t been positively welcomed, as it’s poorly designed.

 

 

Saudi Arabia: Alphabet and Aramco in talks to make a Saudi Silicon Valley

Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, is in talks with Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco in order to reach an agreement to build a technology hub in the Arab country, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The details of the agreement are unknown at the moment.

Riyadh has been in talks also with Google’s rivals Apple and Amazon, as the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is looking for strategic partners to give his country an high-tech look.

The Saudi Arabia’s kingdom, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the front line, is trying to put in action an ambitious plan to diversify its economy, which relies almost totally on oil exports. All OPEC countries, as well as any other oil economies, have been suffering since oil prices crashed in 2014, forcing the oil cartel to reach a cut production agreement in 2016 in an effort to sustain the prices.

Mohammed bin Salman had put in action an ambitious plan, Vision 2030, which should help his country to became less dependent on oil exports. At the same time the kingdom is implementing important reforms in order to shift towards a moderate Islam (just to mention a few: on September 2017 Saudi Arabia announced on that it would allow women to drive; in 2015 women were allowed to vote for the first time).

 

 

Lebanon hires McKinsey to restructure its economy

Beirut

At the end of this week, the Lebanon government will sign a six months agreement with McKinsey & Co. to restructure its week economy, announced the Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury. The consulting firm will start to work with various ministries to implement a long-term strategy for the Lebanon, which has the highest debt in the Arab world and the world’s third highest in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio.

The government implemented over the course of 2017 a series of structural reforms to boost revenue and stop the debt rising, but they had little effects on the fiscal balance and weren’t enough to lift the previous Moody’s downgrade.

Over 50 percent of Lebanese are living abroad, especially in other Gulf and African countries, and the weak economy survives through the remittances that have kept flowing in from outside the country. This helped Lebanon to accumulate big foreign reserves and to avoid a fiscal crisis, despite the political turmoils that left the country without a President or Prime Minister many times.

The Lebanon’s Economic and Trade minister said this model is no longer sustainable, and that the debt-to-GDP ratio could rise to 170 percent in the next years if no actions are taken. The country is changing its demography quickly, especially due to the Syrian civil war, which produced at least 1,5 million refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape from war atrocities. Khoury thinks Singapore is the model to follow for the Lebanon, as the two countries share a similar demographic structure.

Lebanon’s economy has many grey areas,  as the money controlled by the Hezbollah group, and will be difficult for McKansey’s consultants to analyze them.

Heavy rain and cold temperatures are hitting hard many Palestinians

Heavy rainfall and extreme cold are hitting the Gaza Strip region very hard, and the situation is getting worse for many Gazans living in precarious conditions. Weather forecasters said on Thursday heavy rains and strong wing, accompanied by a cold wave, will hit region, which is not new to extreme weather phenomena. Heavy storms had been hitting badly the Gaza Strip in the last three years, and thousands of residents were evacuated due to massive floods.

Local authorities said the extreme cold could lead to humanitarian disasters, due to a shortage of fuel and poor infrastructures. In the Gaza Strip several families live in makeshift houses or houses sheltering, and fearing the floods hundreds have already left their homes in many parts of the Strip.

Rescue teams were ready to deal with the natural disaster, and using fishing boats they were able to move residents to safe places, said the Palestinian Ministry of Works.

Gaza Strip’s residents are living in desperate state due to poor economic conditions, and Israeli media warned that the severe deterioration of living standards may lead to another war.

The situation in the Gaza Strip deteriorated since Israeli military offensives damaged sewage, water and communication infrastructures, while Israeli authorities don’t allow the import of many machinery, including pipes, pumps and steel cables.

Russia announced a new anti-aircraft artillery system

Russia’s Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday a new anti-craft artillery system is being developed in the Ground Forces. The new system, whose name was not mentioned, will replace the old ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” system, in service since 1962.

Russia’s new New anti-aircraft artillery system. Credit: © Russian Ministry of Defence/Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

“This complex is designed to engage air targets such as tactical UAVs, single rocket launchers, cruise missiles, shock elements of WTO systems and tactical aviation aircraft, fire support helicopters, as well as surface and surface lightly armored targets,” said Russian Ministry of Defence.

“In addition, in 2018, equipment was planned with modern weapons and equipment, including: two military formations of air defense – short-range antiaircraft missile system Tor-M2; an air defense unit operating in the Arctic and the Far North conditions with a Tor-M2DT short-range anti-aircraft missile system; air defense units of combined-arms formations – a portable anti-aircraft missile system “Verba”, added the Defense Ministry.

Russia is in the middle of military renewing, and in late 2017 President Vladimir Putin approved Russia’s State Armament Program (SAP) for 2018-2027. The SAP will give “specific attention on precision weaponry, as it is a present-day tendency in the development of all armed conflicts”, said Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov on 23 November 2017. “Top priority, naturally, will be given to the development of nuclear deterrence systems as a key type of armed forces which guarantees security of our country in conflicts of any kind,” he added.

Russia used Syria’s ground to test some of its most advanced new weapons, including SU-34 fighter jet and cruise missiles.

 

Norway: Electric Cars and Hybrids exceeded 50% of all new car sales

Norway is far ahead of other countries when it comes to Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Hybrid cars. The Norwegian Road Federation (OFV) reported that EVs  and Hybrids cars accounted for 52 percent of new-car sales, making Norway the country with the largest EV segment market share of new car sales, ahead of Netherlands, Sweden, China, France and United Kingdom, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This may sounds contradicting, as the country’s wealth is largely based on fossil fuels.

“No one else is close in terms of a national share of electric cars. For the first time we have a fossil-fuel market share below 50 percent”, said to Reuters Oeyvind Solberg Thorsen, chief of OFV.

The sales of electric and hybrid vehicles has been helped by Norway’s generous subsidies, introduced for the first time in the 1990s to help local carmakers, and which are now helping the country to shift from fossil-fuel engines. Norway set the ambitious goal that by 2025 all cars should be zero emissions, a target that seems reasonable considering the current sales rate, but that those incentives will remain untouched in the next years. In 2017 the Norway’s right wing attempted to remove a one-off tax exemption for new electric cars weighing more than two tonnes, a proposal later dubbed as “Tesla tax”.

 

Iran protests: corruption and economic issues are devouring the country

The wave of protests in Iran began on December 28, during a demonstration in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, against the President Hassan Rouhani. The protests quickly escalated across the country in all major cities, including Tehran, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Hamedan, Rasht, Qom, Sari, with Iranian people calling for the religious establishment to step down. In Mashhad people called for the “death of the dictator” (Ali Khamenei), which is a serious matter for an Islamic country where the supreme leader holds complete authority.

People have taken to the streets for six consecutive days and Iranian security forces struggle to contain the largest protest since 2009 presidential election, when Iranians protested against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection. The death toll have risen to 21 people nationwide on Tuesday, as reported  by state television, while clashes with police have intensified. All major news are being reported by state-controlled media and is difficult to confirm those reports independently.

On Saturday the government temporarily blocked many social networks, including Telegram and Instagram, which had been used by people to organize some of the anti-government protests. In the same day President Hassan Rouhan said “Iranians had the right to criticize but must not cause unrest”.

Why Iranians are protesting

The main factors fuelling the protests seem to be economic. Unemployment in Iran is at 12.4% and many university graduates struggle to find a job, while those who find one get paid sporadically. Poverty has increased since 2014 due to a decline social assistance in real terms, and between 44.5 percent and 55 percent of Iran’s urban population is living below the poverty line, showed the report “Measurement and Economic Analysis of Urban Poverty”.

Furthermore, inflation keeps rising and in November rose on 9.6 percent year-on-year, recording the highest inflation rate since July 2017, while most citizens must take on several jobs in order to survive.

Iran is the second largest economy of MENA region after Saudi Arabia, and in 2016 the Iranian economy bounced back at an estimated 6.4 percent, benefiting from the removal of oil sanctions and a recovery in exports. However, most people are not benefiting from the sanctions removal as the government is implementing a series of structural reforms to fight its debt problems.

Rouhani’s opponents often accused his administration of having ignored the poorest, and during the election campaign they promised to create millions of jobs and triple monthly cash payments to low-income families.

The corruption is killing the country

In Iran there’s a powerful system of political patronage and nepotism that pervades all sectors – including the judicial system, the police, the public sectors – and is killing the country. Rich people are often spared prosecution or fare well in trials, while public funds often find their way into few individual’s hands.

In the last six years there were four major financial corruption cases for approximately $17 billion: the 2011 Iranian embezzlement scandal; the Babak Zanjani case; the National Copper Company case.

 

“The world will recognize the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital”, said Turkish Prime Minister

“In the near future, the entire world will recognize the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, and this problem will cease to exist”, said the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Saturday, during a speech at a Justice and Development (AK) Party event in the northwestern province.

“Both the Muslim world and the Christian world, in short humanity, looked out for the rightful cause of the Palestinians, which has been going on for years”, he added.

Since 6 December, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza every day to protest against President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Many Arab leaders rejected Trump’s move, while European Union’s High Representative Francesca Mogherini said Europe will not follow the United States. “The European Union has a clear and united position. We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both”, said Mogherini in a press conference on 7 December.

Few days ago, during a visit in Riyadh, Binali Yıldırım  and Salman bin Abdulaziz invited the Islamic world to”act with unity” against the US decision and “emphasised the importance of Jerusalem’s status”.

During Saturday conference, the Turkey PM announced the resumption of US-Turkey visa services after nearly two months. “Relations have moved one step further towards normalization. The visa issue has finally been resolved”, said  Yıldırım.